Fifteen years ago, a marriage of convenience was arranged between Quentin D'Arby and Vanessa Graham by their respective grandfathers. The union would unite the vast wealth and landholdings of the Graham Heiress and the Duke of Straithe. From a very early age, Vanessa is trained and educated to be the duchess.
Now, as the wedding day fast approaches, she discovers she wants more than a marriage of convenience. Can she break through the barriers guarding the duke's impenetrable heart? Will she ever be able to win his love?
The duke approached the pianoforte and gave a little bow to Vanessa. "Please, be seated," he said, indicating the stool she'd just vacated. He searched through the stack of sheet music and handed her one. "Are you familiar with this piece?"
Vanessa sat down and nodded. Speech was impossible; the duke was standing extremely close, and she could feel the warmth of his big body. Her own body tingled in response. How was she ever going to accompany him on the piano without disgracing herself?
"Excellent." His arm brushed her shoulder when he reached over and arranged the sheet of music in front of her. Tiny slivers of awareness shot through her bloodstream, making it difficult to breathe.
"Are you ready?" The deep voice washed over her like a caress. Straithe gripped her shoulder, and she felt the hot imprint of his fingers through her thin muslin dress. He stayed but a moment, his touch lingering before moving away to stand at the side of the pianoforte.
Vanessa pressed her hands to her burning cheeks and tried to catch her breath. Goodness! What in the world was the matter with her? They were only going to perform together to entertain their grandparents. Vanessa scanned the music she was about to play, then glanced at the duke for the sign to begin.
He inclined his head, and she plunged into the introduction. As she ran her fingers over the keys, she speedily overcame her fidgets. Losing herself in the music, Vanessa listened as Straithe sang the old love ballad. How easy it would be to pretend the words were meant for her. She peeked at the duke and her eyes collided with his. He held her spellbound, and when he smiled, Vanessa blushed. For that one fleeting moment, she thought that maybe he was singing to her after all. A warm feeling floated through her as she broke eye contact.
When her fingers stumbled over several chords, she heard her grandfather harrumph in disapproval. Straithe slowly turned her way, inclined his head ever so slightly and smiled again, all the while continuing to sing.
Was the duke offering her encouragement? Could his heart be thawing toward her just a little?