Janna MacGregor

Excerpt: The Duchess of Drury Lane

Prequel: The Millionaires of Mayfair

Drury Lane

Chapter One

For most theatre lovers, the opportunity to have a private tour of Drury Lane would definitely be preferable to having a tooth pulled. However, this was not the case for Miss Celeste Worsley, who stood outside the noble theatre alongside Alice Cummings.

If Celeste’s grandfather found out that Alice was carrying a baby, he’d have her thrown into the street before Celeste could utter a word in her maid’s defense.

Since the first day she’d stepped into her grandfather’s house, he had repeatedly warned Celeste that under no circumstances could she bring scandal, dishonor, or embarrassment to the family name.

“Alice, how did this happen?” Celeste bit her tongue to keep from cursing. Alice’s stomach had become fuller, but Celeste had attributed it to the fact that she always asked her friend to share breakfast with her in her bedroom. It had been a godsend when Alice had agreed. It meant she didn’t have to face her grandfather’s inquisition about her friends or her parents’ letters.

The maid’s plump cheeks blossomed into a color that would make poppies jealous. “Well, Miss, you know about the birds and the bees. Not to mention his and her bits and how they fit together.”

Celeste lifted her palm. “That’s not what I meant. How did you and Benjamin…er…find the time and place?”

Alice chuckled. “That’s easily explained. Benjamin’s employer, Mr. Hollandale—”

“Wait, for goodness’ sake,” Celeste hissed. “Mr. Malcolm Hollandale?

Alice nodded. “He’s such a nice man.”

Celeste couldn’t attest to his pleasant personality. She’d barely said two words to the man, but she had studied him at every society event they attended together. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that she was an expert on his stunningly handsome good looks, the impeccably tailored evening clothes he wore, and how the skin around his captivating sapphire eyes crinkled when he laughed. Tall, blond, and ruggedly gorgeous described him perfectly.

Most of the ton considered him the perfect male specimen. But they refused to overlook one simple fact. He was not an aristocrat nor a member of the landed gentry. He was a man of trade. He might be a self-made millionaire and a member of the Duke of Pelham’s rarified Millionaires Club, but those facts didn’t change anyone’s haughty opinion regarding the man.

But Celeste had never cared a whit about that, nor had her heart. It tumbled anew into infatuation every time she saw him. But she had warned that traitorous organ repeatedly—it could gaze to its heart’s content, but there was to be no engagement.

Alice nodded as if she was privy to Celeste’s private thoughts. “Mr. Hollandale allows us to visit in Benjamin’s rooms whenever we have time together. They are over Mr. Hollandale’s laboratory.” She shrugged with a sheepish smile. “We might have gotten a bit enthusiastic during a few of our visits.”

“I see,” Celeste said. Enthusiastic was an understatement. She patted her maid’s arm. “No matter what comes from our conversation today, I’ll help you find a way to be with your Benjamin.”

“If he doesn’t marry me, I’ll be ruined.” Her maid’s throat bobbed when she swallowed, the movement betraying her fear. “I can’t go home, Miss. My mam will disown me.”

“It won’t come to that. Everything you’ve told me about your Benjamin leads me to believe he’ll welcome you and the baby.” Several inches taller than her maid, Celeste bent her knees until her gaze met Alice’s teary brown eyes. “Trust me?”

When Alice nodded, Celeste took her maid’s hand and tugged her up the front steps. “Why is Benjamin here today?”

“Mr. Hollandale’s experiment failed, so they must remove it.”

Celeste stilled. “They?”

“Ben and Mr. Hollandale,” Alice offered.

Celeste hardened her stomach. No matter what happened, her first and only concern was for Alice and her baby. She could not…would not…spend her precious time mooning over Malcolm Hollandale.

It made little difference that every part of her body seemed to tingle when she looked at him.

Without wasting another second, Celeste opened the theatre door and escorted Alice inside. As soon as they stepped into the main auditorium, it appeared that they’d entered a busy beehive. Workers milled around the stage while the pounding of hammers echoed throughout the theatre. A man shouted directions as he pointed at a drawing in his hands.

But none of it caught Celeste’s interest. Her eyes were focused on Malcolm Hollandale, the bane of her existence. It wasn’t that he was rude or ignored her. Quite the opposite. Whenever she’d seen him at a ton event, he had been most courteous to her and everyone else. But Celeste couldn’t concentrate on anything or anyone else when he was in the room. Consequently, men thought her standoffish. She wasn’t. She was simply under Malcolm Hollandale’s spell. Thankfully, he had no idea about her true feelings.

She’d be horrified if he ever discovered that she was totally and irrevocably in love with him. That proved her heart hadn’t listened to any of her warnings about looking but not engaging.

Alice bounced on her toes as she raised her hand in a wave. All Celeste’s attention was focused on Malcolm Hollandale, but then a man on his hands and knees stood and waved back.

Celeste bent her head and released a deep breath. She had to get ahold of herself. Alice wasn’t waving at Hollandale. She was waving at the young man working next to him, who must be Benjamin. Celeste would do well to remember that the world didn’t revolve around Mr. Hollandale.

Benjamin said something to Malcolm, who nodded. As Alice’s beau approached them, Celeste stood still like a rabbit caught by a fox’s penetrating stare. Malcolm’s eyes were locked on hers for a moment that surely lasted an hour. What kind of a man who was graced by the gods’ own hands and looked like Apollo worked as a common laborer?

A very real, but very sweaty Malcolm Hollandale.

Her cheeks grew unbearably hot, but she refused to turn away. Her grandfather was the Duke of Exehill. It was one of the oldest titles in the British Isles, and she’d always been taught never to lower her gaze to anyone.

And that included a devilishly handsome man who made her heartbeat accelerate faster than a thoroughbred at the Royal Ascot. She should know fast horses. Her father bred and sold them to peers, their heirs, other sons, and anyone else who was mad about the creatures.

Hollandale smirked when she’d lifted her chin. Without second-guessing her cause, she marched straight toward him. If her plan had any hopes of succeeding, she needed Malcolm Hollandale’s help.

And Malcolm Hollandale needed her.

He just didn’t know it yet.

* * * *

On his hands and knees scrubbing away his latest attempt at creating a hardwood floor varnish, Malcolm Hollandale didn’t know whether he was more frustrated that his failed varnish had turned into a sticky mess or the fact that he was sweating as if he were attending a smithy’s fire.

“Ack, Hollandale, I’m sorry I had to ask you to remove it.” Florizel Holland, the theatre’s stage manager, scratched his head as he grimaced at the floor. “If this exact spot weren’t where we mark the actor’s positions for tonight’s performance, I would tell you to leave it until the new production begins.” He shrugged.

Malcolm stopped. “Thank you, but that would be too dangerous. If one of your actors stepped in this exact spot, I’m afraid they’d be stuck until the final curtain.”

“It might help a few of them. Some of the actors don’t know how to stand still when they deliver their lines.” Florizel smiled. “I appreciate you coming so quickly. If you continue sanding at that speed, we will not have to miss rehearsal today.”

“Florizel,” someone called.

“You’re popular today,” Malcolm quipped.

“I always am when there are problems.” Florizel nodded at the understudy who called him. “I’ll bid you farewell.”

“Mr. Hollandale?” Benjamin Brannan stopped his work and sat on his haunches. He pointed at two women. “It’s my Alice. She’s been feeling poorly lately.” He turned and waved at her. “May I—”

“Go,” Malcolm said, not wasting a second. “I’m the one who created this mess. I should be the one to clean it.”

“Thank you, sir,” Benjamin said as he rose to his feet.

Malcolm smiled at the young man. Ben had been working beside Malcolm for nearly two years and was one of the hardest-working employees Malcolm had ever had the good fortune to hire. So, whenever Benjamin asked for a break, Malcolm never refused him.

He continued to sand away on the floor but slowed his motion when he noticed Celeste Worsley’s fragrance wafting in the air around him, which was amazing since the entire theatre could host over three-thousand-six-hundred visitors at a time. Yet even in such a cavernous space, he knew the exact moment she’d entered the building.

She stood back from the stage and seemed to be comforting Alice, the lady’s maid whom Benjamin had taken a fancy to. Ben and Alice were from the same small town. Malcolm would wager that the two of them would marry if Alice could be convinced to give up her position as Celeste Worsley’s maid.

Malcolm had met Miss Celeste Worsley over a year ago at a ton event. Even though she was the very definition of an incomparable beauty who possessed excellent poise and deportment, he always detected censure in her gaze when she looked upon him. For some unknown reason, she’d taken an instant dislike to him and had never bothered to hide her contempt. She always smirked, although slightly, whenever she glanced in his direction.

As Malcolm stole a peek, he sighed. She wore her typical expression of disapproval.

It aggravated him to no end. Her parents were the definition of scandal. He’d wager that their daughter was on a first-name basis with scandalous behavior. The apple never falls far from the tree and all that. He wiped the sweat out of his eyes. For God’s sake, he was one of the rare millionaires of Mayfair. Alas, there were only a select few peers he considered friends. Though, his friends had no trouble accepting him for who he was, an inventor with impeccable manners. They were the rare exception. Most people could not ignore his humble upbringing despite his wealth.

Including Celeste Worsley. Though a mere viscount’s daughter, she walked and talked as if she were a duchess in her own right. He chuckled, wondering what she’d think of the moniker he’d given her. She’d likely scowl even more if she knew that he called her the Duchess of Drury Lane.

As he continued to sand the sticky varnish from the floor, Malcolm stole another glance in her direction. He slowed the repetitive sanding motion while tracking her movements but leaned his weight into the work.

As Celeste held her head high, she walked as if she indeed were a duchess. If it were anyone else, he’d smile in welcome, but it was Celeste Worsley in all her judgmental glory. Even if she did think she was better than any other human, he couldn’t deny that watching her was one of his favorite pastimes.

He returned to staring at his hands but knew the moment when she was before the stage. Less than ten feet separated them.

“Mr. Hollandale? I wonder if I might have a word with you.”

Her sweet voice twisted itself around his chest and squeezed like a clinging vine, robbing him of breath. For the love of heaven, even his cock took notice and twitched at the sound. How could a woman such as she cause all his logic and intelligence to take its leave?

“Mr. Hollandale?” she repeated.

This time at the sound of his name, he pushed all of his weight into the sandpaper. That’s when he heard the sound of the wood creaking and cracking beneath him.

“Mr. Hollandale, you’re bleeding.”

He looked down to see a splinter the size of a one-hundred-year-old elm stuck in the middle of his palm. It didn’t register what was happening until the excruciating throbbing struck him with the force of a hurricane.

Bloody hell!” Pure instinct drove Malcolm to shake his hand as if that would dislodge the offending tree. Blood trailed down his arm. He pulled his hand to his chest. For a moment, he was afraid he would cast up his accounts from the pain.

“Let me help.”

When he looked up, he couldn’t believe the sight before him. Somehow, Celeste had climbed onto the stage and reached for his hand.

“There’s no need,” he said brusquely.

“There’s every need,” she said, not paying a whit of attention to his curtness. “You’re bleeding, and I have a clean handkerchief at my disposal.

Like a wounded animal, he flinched when she reached for his hand.

“I have suffered splinters myself. They can become quite nasty if you don’t clean the wound and dig out the irritating piece of wood.” Instead of chiding him for acting like a child, she soothed him. “Do you suppose there’s any brandy around?” She laughed. “What am I saying? There must be. This is a theatre, after all. Actors are notorious for insisting upon only serving the finest brandy in such an establishment.” She leaned close and lowered her voice. “I dare say that you and I could use a little tipple ourselves after this day. Come with me.”

Tipple? What lady of good breeding used that term?

Who was this woman standing before him, and what had she done with the incredibly proper and enormously conceited Celeste Worsley?

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