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Once Upon a Duke by Sandra Masters

The Duke Series, Steamy Regency Romance

This author based her books on women’s issues and the effect on all manner of women during the Regency. In this case, it is—to use modern words—spousal abuse. Belief in the existence of a "rule of thumb" to excuse spousal abuse goes as far back as 1782.

Although there is no other written record of Buller making such a pronouncement, this so-called law inspired me to write Serena’s story.

For those of you who asked, my broken right arm and left rotator cuff surgeries have challenged my ability to type. I am on my way to recovery. If there’s any bad that brings good with it, I have time to read more. The power of positive thinking is amazing. As an author, there are times when I like to read the entirety of one of my past novels. In this case, my debut novel called out to me. I smiled and also sighed, my duke was so…unforgettable.

Our sizzling hero, Geoffrey Austen, Duke of Sutton, has been a rogue longer than he cared to remember. The marriage of his mother and father was not one of warmth and love, but rather he likened it to the polar regions of the planet. Annoyed at his mother’s constant insistence he finds a suitable wife and performs his duty by producing an heir, he cringes at the thought. The women she promenaded in front of him were exact replicas of her artificial, cold, calculating wiles.

Quite by accident, he meets the sister of a friend at a hunt, Lady Serena Worthington. The exotic raven-haired widow’s marriage was a nightmare until her despicable husband died in a duel. Vowing never to marry again, she fears intimacy with any man. Serena resides in a private house on her brother’s property. Free to explore her artistic talents, Serena is content to live an isolated existence except for the times when her brother requests she serves as his hostess for his social and political events.

Serena is not prepared for the onslaught of his suave advances as he requests she paint his portrait. The visits to her studio provide ample time for the couple to share conversations and intimate moments. When he gifts her with a puppy, Adonis, her fate is sealed.

Excerpt: Chapter Ten:

Serena has refused all advances until one night, restless and unfulfilled, Geoffrey goes to the lake for a cold swim, and finds Serena naked in the water under the moonlit sky. He teased her, and as she attempted to cover her nudity, he stripped and went into the water. She retreated. He followed. She turned, and in the full night’s moon, he discovered her secret.

He scooped her up into his arms and splashed his way to the grassy knoll, and sat her on the bench. The lantern light showed the marks on her back. He helped her into her chemise; then he placed his shirt tightly around her to calm the tremors. He stooped and rubbed her legs to get the blood circulating. He’d been a fool to keep her in the water for those few moments. “Come to me. I will not hurt you.” His arms encircled her shoulders, and he cradled her. “I offer you the warmth of my body, Serena. It is adequate for both of us.”

He pulled her close and nestled her head against his shoulder.

“Answer me, my sweet Serena. Are your scars the reason you will not give yourself to me?” He tilted her chin to him. “Did you think I would find you repulsive?”

“Yes.” Tears trickled down her cheeks.

Geoffrey no longer wanted to seduce her, but only to protect her from whoever harmed her.

“Your husband did this, did he not? If he were not already dead, I would kill him myself—a slow painful death.”

She sniffled. “You honor me with your vow.”

She raised one hand and placed it in the nest of fur on his chest. Her touch ignited strong emotions—fury—desire— compassion—sympathy, each one in combat with the others. He wanted retribution for the wrongs done to her, but vengeance would not be his.

Serena again sobbed. He rocked her in his arms while his lips tasted her salty tears. He kissed her temple. “Shush, love. Those scars do not make a difference to me. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever known, inside and out.” His lips thinned in anger at the harm done to her beautiful body.

“Are your wounds the reason you come to the lake at night?”

“The freedom of the water makes me forget…for a short time.”


His Grace was a marvelous storyteller in his own right. Eventually, he took Serena on imaginary sensual travels all over the world. She fell under his spell. What woman could resist when he brings her the harem outfit so she could dance for him in his role as a sheik? Serena has fallen in love with Geoffrey, but he has only fallen in lust with the woman he calls, My Sultana.

“Excerpt: Page 161

“I will create a story for us,” he whispered hoarsely. “Imagine yourself in my draped tent in the desert. There is a small brazier to provide light and warmth. Somewhere outside a woman sings a Turkish love song and strums a lute. Your belly moves and writhes. I’m driven mad with desire.” He sucked in a long breath.

“I am stripped to the waist in nomad fashion. There are satin cushions strewn along one side. Incense fills the air. I sit in the chair in the tent. You undulate before me, and your sensuous lithe movements promise an invitation of things to come. The dance escalates as you move and swirl in spiral steps. Faster, faster.”

Geoffrey licked his lips, watched her every motion. His body stiffened, he fought for control of the relentless passion. It forged through him like a raging mythic god.

Serena moved toward him.

His voice was soft as a warm desert wind that caressed and tempted. “Can you smell the incense, Serena?”


When she refused to become his mistress, they part. Her heart broken, but her resolve strong, she’d savor the beautiful memories of their lovemaking.

Upon Geoffrey’s return to London, he had an epiphany, and after finding the theatre women and others unsuitable, he returned to Serena—only to find she is gone! Her villainous brother arranged for her betrothal to another man. The despicable gentleman, Lord LeBran, now held her captive on his remote fortress in the south, until their marriage in three weeks. LeBran’s only interest was her money. The nefarious brother had told Geoffrey a monstrous lie which caused him to curse the day he ever met her. However, determine to be with Geoffrey or end her life, Serena does find a way to have a message delivered to the duke that she was a prisoner and would love him either in this world or the next.

Now he believed she always loved him, and sends a letter back to her to prepare for their marriage or his funeral.


Serena, an artist, and widow, has no desire for another husband. When she meets Geoffrey Austen, attraction sizzles to a scorch. Stolen days and nights ignite forbidden passion. Geoffrey asks Serena to be his mistress, but she wants commitment, love, and marriage, not an affair with a notorious rake.

Geoffrey realizes Serena might be the one woman who can care for his tortured soul, and maybe release his demons. The magic they shared shatters when he learns of her engagement with another. He vows to save her even at the cost of his own life.

Will Geoffrey’s gallantry prove he truly loves Serena?

If he survives, will Serena surrender all to him? Amazon US AmazonUK The Wild Rose Press

From the author: I so enjoyed writing and rereading this book. As a debut novel, it set the pace for the rest of the Duke Series. Check out:


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