Muse Books
The Lost Lords, Book 1
Release Date:

Jul 11, 2024



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Rumors, Ruin and the Duke


Karla Kratovil

He needs the truth and then revenge…

The Duke of Hartwick returns to London for the sole purpose to find and punish those who murdered his father and brother and nearly killed him for getting too close to the truth. But he doesn’t count on his great aunt and her charming and intelligent companion, Lucy Middleton awaiting his return. In another life, he and Lucy flirted and danced around their attraction. But his close brush with death has forever changed him. Lucy is as lovely as ever, but he won’t lose focus on his quest for the truth.

Lucy bursts back into his life like a ray of very determined sunshine. She needs his help avoiding an unpleasant suitor, and she declares he needs her help to rejoin society. As he begins his search, Lucy continuously interferes, no matter how much he growls at her. How is a man supposed to exact revenge with a persistent and beautiful companion always at his side?

As the Duke and Lucy join forces to investigate, they risk physical danger, scandal, and both of their hearts.

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June 2, 1826

The Duke of Hartwick glanced down again at the missive that had just been delivered. As he tried to decipher the cryptic message it contained, he paced the plush carpet.

I have the information you are seeking. Please allow me to ask your forgiveness in person. Meet me on the south side of St. James Park at midnight. Look for my coachman. Be careful not to be followed. ~Galey

A thousand questions raced through his mind. Galey was one of his father’s oldest friends; what did he know about the circumstances around his family’s deaths? What could he possibly need to apologize for? Why the clandestine meeting? Why not just meet in a private room at the club? Or visit him at his home? Very strange indeed. And how did Galey even know about his inquiries? Could Hart finally receive answers to the suspicions that had eaten at him for years?

The thief who killed both his father and older brother five years ago, and thrust him into the role of Duke of Hartwick, had snatched away the two men he admired most in the world. He had been quietly investigating the circumstances surrounding their deaths ever since to no avail. Hart knew deep down in his soul that the two had been dead long before their bodies had been found shot through the chest in a hack on the Strand. If Lord Galey had any information that would help Hart discover the true cause of their demise, then he would meet him anywhere he wished, under any circumstance.

The low rumble of music and voices filtered through the door and beckoned him back to the party. Lucy would be waiting for him. Exiting the quiet of his study, he strode down the corridor and approached the doors to his ballroom.

Two footmen flanked the double doors. “Good evening, Your Grace.”

“Tell Mr. Kent to have the carriage brought around in thirty minutes.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” One of the footmen scrambled off to find Hart’s coachman.

The other opened the massive, gilded door that led into the ballroom.

Hart walked into the crowded room. Music from a string quartet and the rise and fall of conversation assaulted his ears. The ballroom of Hartwick House was illuminated by hundreds of candles. Guests danced across the intricately pattern wood floors; some mingled along the edges, sipping wine and spirits, and many spilled through the open French doors onto the large stone veranda in search of cooler evening air. He scanned the crowded ballroom for Lucy. He had promised her a dance, and even with the urgency clawing at his gut, he wouldn’t go back on a promise. He flipped open his pocket watch; it was only eleven. Where was the birthday girl?

Then he spotted her standing next to his great-aunt Trudy. The two of them stood next to an open glass-paned door that led to the outside. Lucy’s cheeks were flushed pink from the heat. She took a sip from the glass she held, and her nose wrinkled in distaste. He chuckled. Moving toward them, he snatched two glasses of champagne from the tray of a roving footman. Today marked Lucy’s twenty-second birthday.

Lucy’s father, Captain Middleton, had been a good friend of the family, and when he and his wife died, Hart’s father had been designated as the young girl’s guardian. Hart had unofficially been looking out for Lucy since his father’s death, but really, watching out for Lucy had been his job for years. A job that should have been an easy one. He sighed; nothing was easy when it came to Lucy Middleton.

His father had sent him to smooth things over at Ms. Bolen’s School for Young Ladies of Quality countless times over the five years Lucy had attended. And each time she had promised to behave better. Since her time at school, she had been living with Aunt Trudy, and the shenanigans had continued as Trudy sponsored Lucy’s foray out on the marriage mart. He grudgingly gave Lucy credit for her spirit. Nobody pushed around her or her friends, for that matter. But she should have been safely married off by now … and not his problem anymore.

Thank God for Great-Aunt Trudy. The old girl had taken Lucy into her home and under her care when Hart’s world had been flipped upside down. Lucy acted as Trudy’s companion and the two got along famously. Not that Trudy was the ideal chaperone, more likely to join into the trouble than put a stop to it. Hart plastered a smile on his face as he approached the two ladies.

As always, Lucy looked beautiful. A blue ribbon weaved through the chestnut curls piled high on her head. Her dress fell in a waterfall of shimmering blue silk that complemented the startling blue of her eyes. Those eyes were fixed on him, and her pink lips turned up into a smile. “Hart!”

Hart nodded. “Good evening, Aunt Trudy, Lucy. Enjoying your birthday celebration, brat?” He handed a glass of champagne to his aunt, then plucked the lemonade from Lucy’s hand, and replaced it with the sparkling wine.

“Very much, Your Grace.” She raised an eyebrow. “So, I’m allowed wine now?”

He shrugged. “Today is your birthday. It’s no time for tepid lemonade.”

The grin she flashed him was blinding. She took a swallow of champagne. “Delicious.”

“Hartwick, where have you been all evening?” Aunt Trudy trilled. “You are the host, and I have seen nary a hair on your head since the receiving line.”

“I received an important missive and needed to take care of crafting an immediate response.”

“Bah, you are the most eligible bachelor here. You have been hiding. Don’t bother to deny it.” She waggled a finger at him.

He held up his hands in protest. “Truly, I had business to take care of, Aunt. Your accusations are unfounded. You know how much I like to flirt.” He winked at Lucy, making her smile behind her glass.

“Well, perhaps before the flirting begins and ladies begin swooning at your feet, you can claim the dance you promised me,” Lucy said.

“Indeed, I did not forget.” He transferred their empty glasses to a passing footman and held out a hand as the music changed.

Lucy laid her hand in his, and they strolled to the center of the room. The waltz began. He pulled Lucy into his arms. “So, who here tonight does Auntie have her eye on for you?”

Lucy’s nose wrinkled again as she glanced up at him. “Colonel Harrington. But I won’t have it; he’s even older than you.”

Hart twirled her out with one hand and clasped the other to his chest in mock horror. “You wound me and all men of maturity with your derision.”

Her unladylike snort of laughter caught the attention of couples around them. “Ha! You mature?”

He slid a hand back to her waist and gave a playful squeeze. “Shush, you. You’re one to talk, you naughty thing.”

Lucy’s lips turned up into a small smile, which meant she was secretly pleased by his comment. Her gaze caught his as they moved across the parquet floor, and Hart recognized the flirtatious gleam in her eyes. She was incorrigible. He was far from immune to her beauty. But Lucy was under his protection and, by honor, off limits, not to mention that he was far too old for a girl so fresh-faced. The ten years between them made him feel positively lecherous. So much so that a year ago, he had sent Aunt Trudy and Lucy off to the continent on a grand tour just to have her out of his hair and off his mind.

“He is a terrible bore, and he looks at my person as though I am a present he can’t wait to unwrap.” She fluttered her eyelashes. “Perhaps you can scare him off for me with one of your stern ducal glares.”

Hart frowned. Despite her light tone, a tightness around her eyes spoke volumes to her discomfort. “I have something important I must attend to tonight, but I will have some words with the Colonel next time I see him at the club. He is far too old for you. What is Trudy thinking?”

“Perhaps she is tired of me.” Then Lucy shook her head, her sapphire earrings catching the candlelight as they swayed. “No, that’s not it. I am a delight.”

Hart laughed as Lucy intended. But as the music stopped, he lifted her chin with one finger, so she was forced to look at him. “I know that you think you no longer need someone to watch out for you, but if you ever need help, I want you to know you can count on me. I will always protect you.”

Her expression softened. “I know.” She turned and laid her hand on his arm as they headed back to where Aunt Trudy stood chatting with Lady Hathaway. “Where are you off to? You know Aunt Trudy will not approve of you slinking away to meet one of your mistresses during the party.”

“One of my mistresses?” He raised an eyebrow. “How many do I have?”

She shrugged. “I imagine a small harem perhaps?”

“As enticing as having my own harem sounds, tonight’s outing is strictly business.”

The night was thick with fog as Hart stepped down from his carriage. The mist wrapped around the light poles across the street and covered the trees in the park like a ghostly blanket.

His coachman, Thomas Kent, tilted his head toward the only other conveyance on the quiet street. “That is Lord Galey’s coach down there. I recognize Jack Davies, his coachman.”

“Thank you, Thomas. Just wait here.” Hart walked the fifty yards down to the other town coach.

Galey’s driver scrambled down from the box. “Good evening, Your Grace.” He pulled open the door.

Hart climbed into the carriage. Two matching oil lamps illuminated the interior and the tense features of the older man seated on the velvet squabs. Hart settled himself across from Galey and nodded. “Galey.”

“I’m glad you agreed to come, Hartwick.” He turned to his coachman. “Take a walk, Davies.”

The man nodded and shut the carriage door. Hart sat back and folded his hands in his lap. This was Galey’s show; he was here to listen. Galey took out a handkerchief and blotted his brow. The silence stretched. Hart wished to shake the man, to demand he tell him everything he knew about his father and brother’s deaths. Was Galey toying with him? Would he demand something first in payment for the information?

“Thank you for meeting me.” Galey cleared his throat. “What I am going to tell you has long weighed on my conscience.”

Hart again waited silently.

“But you must understand … what I mean is that the people who are responsible for the murder of your family are very powerful.”

He sat forward. “Murder? Do you know that it was not a random robbery?”

Galey nodded. “Your father’s betrayal was not taken well. He chose to support your brother instead of sticking to the agreement.” He shook his head. “I never thought that was so wrong. We all are just trying to protect our own, aren’t we?”

“I don’t understand. What are you getting at? Who did he betray?” Hart shook his head. None of this made sense.

The older man straightened, and his gaze snapped back to Hart. “They have ears everywhere. That’s why no one could see us meet tonight. But I can’t live with this guilt anymore. It’s not right. Henry was always a good friend.” His handkerchief came out again. He mopped his brow once more.

Hart was losing patience with the man. “Galey, what happened to my father and brother?”

“They were killed. For not following the plan—”

Next to him, the window shattered.

“They know!” Galey gasped.

A small earthenware jar sailed through the broken window and landed with a thud on the carriage floor. Hart stared at the lit fuse burning bright in the dark. His brain finally comprehending the danger, he flung open the door and vaulted onto the cobblestones. Turning, he reached out a hand. “Quick—”

The blast knocked him backward onto the hard pavement. Searing pain raced over his arm and chest. The smell of burning fabric filled his nostrils. Flames surrounded him. He flailed at them with his hands, but he could not fill his lungs with enough breath to call for help. Then he heard yelling and the heavy fall of footsteps. He was enveloped in black cloth that smelled of horse. The flames were extinguished. As the heavy cloth lifted, he tried to focus on the face above him. When he blinked, a sharp tearing agony tore through his right eye. His scream rent the air, and his vision dimmed as he slid into unconsciousness.

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping July 11, 2024

Rumors, Ruin and the Duke is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN: 978-1-962707-60-2

July 11, 2024

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