Death is just the beginning in this dark, chilling Gothic Regency Romance...
After the death of her beloved guardian, Miss Felicity Fields is left adrift, her future uncertain. Grief-stricken, she launches a plan to use her knowledge of alchemy to build a Philosopher's Stone, and bring back to life the woman who was like a mother to her. The last thing this blunt bluestocking needs is the return of Nicholas Harding, the Duke of Wycliffe and rightful owner of her home on the wild coast of Cornwall. He stirs an unexpected passion within her, and Felicity has had enough change in her life.
When they were children, Nicholas never understood his aunt's brilliant but unemotional ward, or her many strange scientific studies. He ought to take her back to London, so she can make a proper society match--except he can't stop thinking about her. But with the line between life and death blurred by Felicity's macabre experiments, can he convince her that she's no longer alone, and her proper place is by his side?
Previously released in CHARMED AT CHRISTMAS
Bocka Morrow, Coast of Cornwall, England
December 19, 1811
Death had taken everyone Felicity Fields had ever loved.
But soon, she’d have her revenge. She was so close to figuring out the formula for the Elixir of Life—an ancient alchemical serum that would not only give her eternal life, but provide healing powers.
And if she was lucky, she’d be able to use that serum to bring back those she loved from the choking grasp of Death by a process called palingenesis.READ MORE
This morning, as she hiked the familiar path that marked the end of Tetbery’s land and the beginning of the great wide Atlantic Ocean, she couldn’t shake the onslaught of memories. Six months had passed since the death of her beloved guardian, the Countess of Tetbery. There was only so long that her special blend of preservation chemicals and the cold stone mausoleum could slow the degradation of the body. If Margaret’s corpse slipped too far past the point of viability, all of her research would be for naught.
And Margaret would be gone forever, leaving Felicity alone.
She gritted her teeth against the cold, wishing she could turn back the clock to last year, when the countess had been alive and well. Christmas had always been Margaret’s favorite holiday—and the house had reflected it, with evergreen wreaths upon the doors and garland wrapping the stairwell. Everywhere Felicity turned, there’d been holly berries and gold ribbon.
But she couldn’t bring herself to decorate this year. Not without Margaret. The estate was barren—white cloths thrown over furniture in rooms Margaret would have aired out for her annual Yuletide celebrations, darkness in passageways she would have lit with beeswax candles.
It was as if the house mourned Margaret, just as Felicity did.
Not that the house was Felicity’s to control. Everything at Tetbery Estate belonged to the Duke of Wycliffe—from the servants Felicity had come to think of as family, to these wild shores.
Blast it all, at this point, she probably belonged to him too. He was the closest thing to family she had now.
That was some cruel twist of fate indeed. The boy who had plagued her childhood was now the one who would determine her future.
She dropped down onto a large piece of driftwood, setting her basket filled with different plants and specimens onto the sand. This had been the countess’s favorite spot on the estate, and she’d loved sharing it with her ward. Most of Felicity’s favorite memories were tied to this beach.
Felicity had been but a small child when her parents died in a carriage accident. Randall and Margaret Grantham, the sixteenth Earl and Countess of Tetbery, quickly took in their old friends’ daughter—they’d never been able to have children of their own, so Felicity was a welcome addition.
From the ashes of tragedy, the Granthams forged a new family, giving their ward the shelter and support she so desperately needed. Margaret had always told her friends that Felicity was their daughter by choice, and that made her even more special.
Choice. What a strange notion, when Death had taken away all her choices.
Margaret had always encouraged her to pursue her research, even if it wasn’t “proper” for women to be chemists. Instead, she’d used her considerable wealth and influence to shelter her ward, creating a safe haven upon the grounds of Tetbery.
That same safe haven that would disappear when Nicholas Harding came back to claim what was rightfully—in the eyes of the law, not in Felicity’s opinion—his.
Without Margaret, Felicity’s life was predestined. Determined by the rules of a society she did not comprehend.
“God, Margaret, I miss you so much.” She ran her thumb across the golden mourning ring on her left hand. Diamonds encircled the glass-encased circle, macerated hair set on ivory to look like the very same waves she peered out at now.
Technically, Nicholas had inherited the estate three years ago, when his father had passed. Because the estate was not entailed and Randall and Margaret had no male heirs, they had willed the estate to Nicholas’s father—Margaret’s brother. But just like his father before him, he’d allowed Margaret to remain on the estate—and Felicity had stayed with her, because Margaret was the only family she had.
Without Tetbery and her laboratory, Felicity had no choices. No chance at living the life she wanted.
Sighing, she stretched her legs out, scuffing the heel of her boot against the sand. She had become complacent, believing the countess would live for many more years. Margaret had been relatively young, and in good health—until the influenza took her life.
Just as it had in the passing of the earl and her parents, Death caught Felicity unaware.
But never again.
Because if Felicity knew anything, it was that everything could be explained by science, if only one was persistent enough. She had plenty of persistence.
What she didn’t have was time.
She pushed herself up off the log, her gaze once again drifting across the seaside, trying to imprint it upon her memory. If she couldn’t restore Margaret, then this would be her last Christmas at the estate. Nicholas certainly wouldn’t honor the arrangement he’d had with his favorite aunt.
They were simply too different. He’d tell her society would be fine with her, if she simply tried to be normal.
Even if she’d known how to do that, she didn’t want to be someone else.
She shouldn’t have to be someone else.
Devil take it, she was a brilliant alchemist. Not that the world knew it—she rarely received a response to her letters to other chemists. And Septimus Locke, Earl of Carwarren and the only other scientist in Bocka Morrow, refused to meet with her any longer. He claimed that when she’d embraced alchemy six months ago, she was no longer a real scientist, and he wanted nothing to do with her.
If only the world didn’t agree with him—both in his beliefs in alchemy being a step away from witchcraft, and his desire not to share her company. By and large, other people found her too peculiar, too cold, too brusque to warrant their affection.
Which was why she couldn’t rely on Nicholas to save her.
When they were children, Nicholas had always said she was too “mechanical” for him to understand. She, on the other hand, had hated his polished manners and his innate sense of the right way to respond to any given situation. He’d always reminded her of all the ways she was lacking. She was too abnormal, too unfeeling, to ever feel comfortable among the ton.
Felicity picked up her basket, and set off down the shore. For years, she’d walked this very path with Margaret, this same basket swinging between her hands.
Margaret would have known just what to say to make everything better. She’d always understood what Felicity needed, even when she couldn’t properly express it.
What would Margaret have advised?
Deal with the things she could control first, and then consider the rest. Until Nicholas usurped her—which hopefully wouldn’t be for months—she functioned as lady of the estate. There was a party arriving at the estate soon. Usually, she despised having guests, but this time she’d be hosting Lady Hettie Hughes and her niece Mallory, one of the few people on God’s green earth that had never minded Felicity’s direct, oft-deemed-inappropriate-but-in-the-name-of-science questions.
Quickening her pace, she plucked out her watch from her pocket and checked the time. Two hours until the Hughes arrived, give or take a few minutes, because the peerage could never be trusted to be prompt. She did not like this. Lateness indicated a general disregard for others, usually accompanied by the belief that said individual’s time—and life—was worth more.
Felicity did not need any further reminders of her place in the world.
Turning, she retraced her steps more briskly. She’d made it about halfway up the beach when a figure appeared in the distance, stopping her in her tracks.
She shaded her eyes against the sun, squinting. Yes, that was definitely a man striding over the dunes toward her. Trust her luck that her company would be early. Lady Hettie must have sent her footman to find her.
Frowning, Felicity dropped her hand, setting off again. He was too close to the rockiest part of the beach, where the tide sometimes pooled in the small crevices made by the stones. It wouldn’t do for the poor footman to get his livery sopping wet. Sand clung horribly to starched fabric.
Hitching up her skirts above her ankles with one hand, Felicity set off at a rousing clip toward him. Knowing the seashore as she did, she was soon close enough to identify him clearly.
And in that instant, everything Felicity had assumed came to a screeching halt.
Nicholas was here.
Bloody, bloody hell.
She didn’t even have time to compose herself before he was right smack in front of her. Looming over her, really. How had he become so tall? She did not remember him like this. But, she hadn’t seen him in six years.
Confound it all, the man was so…muscular. His perfectly tailored black coat emphasized broad shoulders that tapered down to the narrow vee of his waist—and certain other regions she’d certainly never thought about with him. She couldn’t stop her gaze from traveling down his frame, taking in the way his breeches so encased his strong thighs. His jet black Hessians shined, even in all this sand and grit, the tassels silver to indicate he was still in half-mourning.
That broke whatever hold he had over her. How dare he act as if he cared—truly cared, the way she did—about Margaret’s passing! He hadn’t even come to her funeral, claiming that he was too deeply involved in the passage of some highly important law in the House of Lords to leave London.
Of course, his absence had made it easier. She’d dissected Margaret’s body without interference, preserving her with formalin, zinc salts, salicylic acid and glycerin. Her organs had been removed and packed in salt for conservation. The family mausoleum had been the perfect resting chamber, as the stone made it easier to keep the body at optimal cold temperature.
Nicholas hadn’t known any of that, and if she had her way, he never would. No one but her best friend, Tressa Teague, knew the full extent of her experiments.
And Tressa had made it clear she was concerned by Felicity’s attempts to tinker with the natural cycle of life. Her friend supported her—as she always had, with that fiercely loyal, compassionate way of hers—but she did not understand Felicity’s desire to bring back Margaret.
No one did.
She grimaced. He knew she hated when he shortened her name like that—but then, he’d never cared about her preferences for anything.
“Hello, Nicholas.” She did not try to force warmth into her voice.
Instead of wounding him, her briskness amused him. His lips formed that same smug smirk he’d always had, except now it didn’t contain any of the awkwardness of youth. Somehow it managed to make him look even more attractive: chocolate eyes dancing, chin notched high, self-satisfaction permeating his every inch. The sun lit the golden highlights in his short, brown hair, adding to the effect. The lanky, autocratic boy she remembered had become a well-toned, chiseled Corinthian aware of his own attributes and very used to getting his own way.
Bloody, bloody hell, indeed.
She knit her brows. She wasn’t some simpering miss he met in a ballroom. She was Felicity Fields, the last of her line. Even if she didn’t have a right by law to be here, Tetbery Estate was her home and he wouldn’t take it from her without a fight.
She couldn’t fail. If she had any hope of bringing back Margaret, she needed to remain at Tetbery.
Drawing herself up to her full height—which was a head shorter than him, she noted with chagrin—she eyed him with all the steel and mettle she could summon. “What are you doing here?”COLLAPSE
Christy Carlyle, USA Today Bestselling Author wrote:
Dark, edgy and gripping romance. Monroe captures the essence of the time period, while entwining each scene with Gothic goodness.
Kathy on Amazon Reviewer wrote:
Erica Monroe's dark, gothic romance THE DETERMINED DUCHESS is Monroe at her best. The characters are fierce and admirable, the emotions are intense, and the story evoked memories of a keeper shelf classic, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Monroe writes heroines who are flawed, gritty, and relatable. Felicity's uniqueness and tenacious loyalty make her one of my favorites.
Rosemary on Amazon Reviewer wrote:
"So Gothic that the romance really brightens a compelling story that balances on taking you to the dark side."
The Determined Duchess we see Felicity Fields try to bring back her deceased Aunt Margaret. Nicholas Harding tries to convince her to stop. I liked Felicity. She's both strong and vulnerable. I could feel how her loss made her afraid. Nicholas was such a charming hero and their attraction was so romantic that I was pulled into their love story. I wanted them to get their HEA. Erica Monroe is a new to me author, but I plan to change that. I enjoyed her characters and the story line.
Epigraph for the book
"Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world."
-Mary Shelley, Frankenstein