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An American Duchess (Mass Market Re-release)

An American Duchess

Set on a crumbling English manor estate during the height of the Roaring Twenties, an American duchess must decide how much she’s willing to risk for the life she truly desires…

It’s 1922, and New York heiress Zoe Gifford longs for the freedoms promised by the Jazz Age. Headstrong and brazen, but bound by her father’s will to marry before she can access his fortune, Zoe arranges for a brief marriage to Sebastian Hazelton, whose aristocratic British family sorely needs a benefactor.

Once in England, her foolproof plan to wed, inherit and divorce proves more complicated than Zoe had anticipated. Nigel Hazelton, Duke of Langford and Sebastian’s older brother, is as austere and imposing as the family’s ancestral estate. Still reeling from the Great War, Nigel is now staging a one-man battle against a rapidly changing world—and the outspoken Zoe represents everything he’s fighting against. When circumstances compel Zoe to marry Nigel rather than Sebastian, their heated quarreling begets passion of another sort. But with Nigel unwilling to change with the times, will Zoe be forced to choose between her husband and her dreams?

What people are saying:

“Fans of Downton Abbey should reach for An American Duchess…Page’s captivating prose evokes the Roaring Twenties with skillful and vivid detail and creates a searing romance with a timeless message: it is not just the love we find, but living it on our own terms, that matters.”
—Pam Jenoff, International bestselling author

“Sharon Page shines with this riveting tale of true love. Real emotion, captivating characters, and a rip-roaring plot kept me turning pages far into the night.”
—Sabrina Jeffries, New York Times bestselling author

Top Pick!An American Duchess is a sweeping story that realistically depicts the trials and tribulations of a family picking up the pieces after World War I. Merging the flavor of Downton Abbey with her own special touches, Page crafts a vibrant novel and a dramatic love story with strong, well motivated characters and completely captures the angst and glamour of the era.”
—RT BOOKreview, 4 ½ stars

“This is a novel that is beautiful, touching, informative and fun. I know I shall remember this plot for some time to come.” —Bookworm2Bookworm

An American Duchess is the perfect read for fans of Downton Abbey like myself, who need a distraction from the interminable wait until its January 2015 première. Page has taken some classic tropes and combined them beautifully resulting in an exciting glimpse into the Roaring Twenties and the epic struggle between the old standard and the lure of the modern age.”
—Penny Dreadful Books

Read an Excerpt

(unedited version)

“I’m Zoe Gifford,” she shouted, leaning on the stone wall. “I was on my way to Brideswell Abbey when my car went off the road. We’re stuck, and we have no idea how to get to the house. Do you know where it is?”

The gentleman drew his horse to a halt more than six feet from the wall that separated them. Perhaps this was what was meant by British reserve—a good few yards were required between people or an interaction became too terrifyingly familiar.

Still, she was not going to shout as if across a chasm. Zoe planted her bottom on the wall, swung her legs over. Her coat once again fell open and her skirt flew up, revealing her stockings and a glimpse of her garters.

The horse reared as she jumped to the ground.

The huge legs pawed at the air, and Zoe’s heart banged against her ribcage as if it were dancing the Charleston. CHANGE DANCE! She scrambled back, expecting to be crushed—

“Easy, easy,” the man commanded, as he pulled on the reins and controlled the horse with his thighs. The enormous hooves thudded the ground, two feet to the side of her body. She fought not to sway on her feet as she gulped cold breaths of relief.

“Brideswell is my home. I am the Duke of Langford.” His voice was cool, calm, utterly without emotion. She would never have known he’d almost been tossed off a horse if she hadn’t witnessed it. “So you are Miss Gifford. My brother has told me a great deal about you—it helped to reinforce the impression I had already made, given what I have read about you in American newspapers.”

This was her fiancé’s brother and as Sebastian had warned, ice coated his every word. It was true there had been several stories about her in the papers. She had defiantly chosen not to care what was said about her. “Don’t believe everything you read.”

The duke sat on his horse, glaring at her—at least she believed he was since she could not see for the shadow cast by his hat—so she approached, putting out her hand. At this moment, she had no desire to curtsy. Not to a man who was peering down his nose at her.

The duke did not take her hand.

“Can you do anything about my car?” she asked. “My mother is waiting there for me to return. She’s afraid she’ll be stuck in the car overnight.”

“You should take better care on these roads.”

“Aye,” the farmer added, with startling clarity. The man drew on his pipe, before stating, “Aye, said that to the lass meself, Yer Grace.”

That was news to her. But the duke nodded, as did the farmer, and the two men seemed to share some sort of quiet communication about her inadequacy behind the wheel.

She pursed her lips. “America has some bad roads, I’ll admit, but your roads are horrible. There are sheep everywhere. I had to pull off to avoid a flock as I came around a corner, and then we ended up stuck.”

“Then perhaps next time you will know to slow down.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Your Grace. And while we’re discussing how things are done over here, doesn’t a gentleman tip his hat?”

The farmer let out a muttered sound of shock, but she didn’t care. It didn’t matter to her where the duke believed he was positioned socially—she put no stock in that kind of thing. If he chose to be cold and austere, then she would choose to point out where his behavior was at fault.

“My apologies, madam. I am no longer in the habit of doing so—the war left me with scars and my face is not pleasant to look at.”

The farmer let out a sharp whistle and both she and the duke jerked to stare at him. The man tipped his cap, then lumbered away across his field. Again he whistled and a small black dog raced to his side, scampering around him as he walked.

Suddenly she and the duke were alone, surrounded by a patchwork of small, sloping fields and a wind that threw misty rain on them. “I think I will survive,” she said gently. “I don’t faint.”

With an elegant sweep of his long leg, the duke dismounted. Holding the reins, he lifted his hat and gave her a bow that spoke of a lifetime of dipping his torso in this old-world greeting. She had to admit: experience and schooling could make a man’s bow positively dreamy.

It was her invitation to respond with a curtsy, but Zoe found she just couldn’t do it despite the training she’d received before leaving New York. The duke’s bow was not really intended to show any respect. It was a perfunctory thing, offered only after she’d insisted on some courtesy.

She watched as he straightened, curious now. She’d seen the ravages of war on young American men. Boys who’d come back with missing limbs, or some who were what they called shell-shocked; who shook all the time and jumped at a loud noise.

The duke was not all that bad. Scars marred the left side of his face. But it wasn’t enough to horrify her.

He had Sebastian’s features, but on Langford, every plane and line was harsher, more angular, as if his face had been sculpted with hard slashes—abrupt cheekbones, a blade of a nose, straight, dark brows, and a strong chin with a deep cleft in its center. His eyes were a brilliant blue and his lashes were thick and black.

He obviously expected her to look away or gasp with shock.

Sympathy rose. Perhaps it wasn’t disgust with his brother’s inappropriate American fiancée that had led the duke to keep his distance. He put his hat on quickly, and for one second, he’d looked awkward and unhappy instead of condescending and annoyed, and she knew revealing his injuries had made him vulnerable.

“I lost a brother to the war,” she said simply. “It was a horrible thing.”

He said nothing for a moment. It was amazing he could look at her so directly without feeling any need to respond, as one would in conversation. Though, she had to admit—what could he say? She changed the subject. “What do we do now, Your Grace? Is it far to walk to Brideswell?”

“I will escort you back to your automobile,” he said stiffly. “You may wait there with your mother, and I will send the Daimler for your persons and your belongings.”

His expression was that of a man who had bit into a lemon.

Her heart sank. She was going to be trapped in a house with this man for a month. Perhaps the house was enormous and she wouldn’t encounter him very often. Hopefully, he had a dining table the size of one of the Olympic’s decks and he sat at the opposite end of it.

They walked in silence along the uneven, muddy road, stepping around piles of manure left by the sheep. Then Langford stopped, and she halted too. The duke cleared his throat and glared down at her. He intended to say something but, just as with the farmer, it seemed to take forever for an Englishman to speak.

“Is there something you wished to discuss, Your Grace?”

“Sebastian tells me you are marrying so you can have access to your trust fund.” His words came in a rush, as if they’d burst out on a geyser of emotion he could no longer contain. “That you plan to divorce immediately after you have achieved that goal.”

“That’s right.”

“Good God, Miss Gifford, have you no breeding? Only the most scandalous and appalling women get divorced. As for planning to end a marriage before you have even wed…this I will not allow.”

Zoe squared her shoulders, ready to do battle just as her father would have done when dealing with a cut-throat business opponent. What had Sebastian been thinking? They’d agreed not to explain their plan to either family, knowing it would just cause trouble.

“I have better breeding than you are displaying, Your Grace,” she answered, coolly. “Sebastian is a chivalrous gentleman. He’s saving me from a disaster, and he’s happy with the terms of our agreement. I have the contract drawn up, ready for his signature, and I don’t believe your consent is required at all. I assure you I’ll become Sebastian’s wife, just as we’ve planned. The settlement I am giving him is money he said your family desperately needs. We’re making a modern version of a transatlantic marriage—I need a marriage, he needs money, and we don’t need to make matrimony last.”

“You have no idea what you are doing, Miss Gifford,” he snapped.

If the Duke of Langford thought his scowls could make her retreat, he was wrong. “Sebastian intends to use the money to help your family. My trustees, who are solid financial men, are going to work with him to invest it. I think your brother is being very noble.”

“I refuse to allow you to drag my family into scandal—”

“It’s a small price for financial rescue, is it not?”

His eyes narrowed. His eyes were vividly blue—like the sky over the beaches of California. The Duke of Langford had the same smoldering gaze as Valentino, who had once crept into her girlish fantasies about passionate love-making. With his dark hair, slashes of black brows, and glittering eyes, the duke looked so much like the seductive movie star, she almost forgot to breathe. “A decent young woman avoids ignominy, she does not embrace it,” he growled.

That shattered the mesmerizing spell of his sapphire eyes. “You’re a relic from medieval times. Sebastian and I both need a marriage of convenience. You’re stuck with me, whether you like it or not.”

“No bold, calculating American heiress is going to disrupt my family.”

“Your Grace, my arrangement will help your family. But it’ll be a pleasure to disrupt you.”

He glowered. “You are exactly what I expected of an American woman. Americans set my teeth on edge with their explosive, vulgar emotion. You gush, you flaunt, and you have no idea of proper restraint. Your behavior in this is both vulgar and repugnant.”

She yearned to slap him. But with his scars, she could not bring herself to smack her palm against his face. Apparently, she’d been misled on another aspect of the British. They were more blunt and straightforward than she’d expected.

Taking a step closer to him—her eyes were on level with his lips—Zoe lifted her chin with pride. “You set my teeth on edge. You are the most irritating and prejudiced man I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. I’m visiting Sebastian’s home. It’s unfortunate you happen to be in it. And I suppose you don’t intend to send a car for my mother and me now.”

He bent toward her. A warm, exotic aroma clung to the duke—sandalwood, she believed it was, and he smelled of leather. For a moment, they traded breaths, his scented with toothpowder and smoke.

“I will, Miss Gifford. What sort of host leaves guests stranded in the countryside?”
She almost laughed. “Good.” She flung back her arms and stretched, as if thoroughly bored with the whole conversation. “I am looking forward to a long, luscious, hot soak.”

“A what?” the duke asked sharply. His boot twisted in a rut on the road and he fell forward an inch, his mouth almost bumping against hers. Up close his lips were full and sensual, and she was suddenly, breathlessly waiting for their mouths to collide. But before it happened, he jerked back and she did too, and in a heartbeat they were two awkward steps apart, each standing at the edge of the cart track that was called a road.

Her stomach felt as it did when her aeroplane hit wind shear and suddenly dropped.

She had to be out of her mind. She hadn’t let a man kiss her since Richmond had, just before he took off on his flight over the Atlantic. She hadn’t even done it with Sebastian. She was hardly going to let it happen with an obnoxious, insulting duke.

Zoe jutted out of her hip. “What I meant was a bath. You know: turn on the tap and fill a nice big tub with a lot of hot water, and then soak in it. You do have baths over here, don’t you?”

Abruptly she was looking at the duke’s back. Without a word, he had swung away from her. Then he stopped and motioned for her to follow. “We do, indeed, have baths, madam. What we do not have is taps.”