Wednesday, October 21, 2015

*** Review of Duchess Decadence by Wendy LaCapra ***

Title: Duchess Decadence
Series: The Furies, #3
Author: Wendy LaCapra
Genre: Historical, Historical Romance, Georgian
Length: 284 pages
Release Date: October 19, 2015


  This was simply a wonderful book to read. I love historical 
romance, but this book is so much more. It had a great
 mystery unfold during the book. I loved the feisty furies.
 They were strong, smart, and fierce when they came to 
making sure their men were protected. This book had 
Thea returning to her Duke, to save him from of all things 
his brother. and oh man is he one evil messed up jerk. And
 poor Wyn stuck between protecting his wife and trusting 
his brother. I loved the sweet things Wyn did for Thea, 
I will let you discover those on your own. But you will 
love them. I read this book first but plan to read the first 
two books as well. I hope you enjoy this book as much 
as I did. If you do like this book, please consider leaving 
a review. The Authors really like it when you do, they 
value your opinions too.

A game of chance with love on the line…

London, 1784

Thea Worthington, Duchess of Wynchester divides her time 
between social engagements and playing her luck against
 fickle fortune. Yet every gamble is only a bluff-a means 
to hide from the pain deep within her, and the loss of a 
babe she never held in her arms. Now Thea’s luck is 
about to run out. Her estranged husband has returned 
and seeks a reunion…

Plagued with guilt over what happened to his wife three 
years ago, the Duke of Wynchester has kept his distance.
 The duke is resolved to piece his family back together, 
especially now that he’s discovered his beloved brother-long
 thought dead-still lives. But Thea’s lovely, porcelain facade 
is on the verge of cracking…spurred on by the duke’s 
brother’s secretive, malevolent animosity.

With everything riding on her future, Thea plays a daring
 game of chance for love and her marriage…and this time,
 the dice are most certainly rigged.

Chapter One
To His Grace, the Duke of Wynchester
You have demanded reconciliation. To that end, I propose a wager. Two throws each, the highest total wins. Equal numbers will merit a third throw.
Should you win, I will return to you for the summer.
Should I win, we will discuss a Parliamentary divorce.
Consider this letter a widely-coveted invitation to tomorrow’s Fury Soiree.
With anticipation of your arrival,
Thea Marie, Duchess Decadence
Thea Marie Worthington, Duchess of Wynchester—alias the Fury, Duchess Decadence—ignored the obscenely large pile of gold sovereigns she just wagered. Smiling as serenely as her friend Sophia’s “Fine Lady” Bow Porcelain Factory figurine, she dealt the last round of her game.
Thea’s affinity for bone ash was no wonder. Once, she, too, had lived, before being crushed to paste, re-sculpted, and then fired into a thing of beauty, a thing of decadence. And also like fine china, she could crack at any time.
In the four years since the Gordon Riots had brought a harsh end to Thea’s nascent pregnancy, she’d kept the door between what had been and what could be firmly bolted. By day, she traded wit and barbs with her closest friends—oh, very well, her only friends—the other two Furies, Sophia, The Countess of Randolph and Lavinia, Baroness Vaile, and, on nights like this one, when the Furies held their infamous gaming soirees, she studied the lop-sided tangle between fortune and fate.
In other words, she had made excellent use of sarcasm and gambling.
But tonight would end the denouement which had begun several weeks prior, when her estranged husband had ridden into the midst of a violent crowd to secure her life, looking every inch the fierce and protective duke of her girlish dreams. And if Wynchester’s belated heroics had not been enough to return him to prominence within her thoughts, soon after the duke quelled the crowd, agents of the crown had informed Thea that Lord Eustace, the duke’s younger, presumed-dead brother, was secretly alive and intent on resuming his place as the duke’s heir.
The agents delving into the mystery of Eustace’s presumed death and mysterious reappearance, were testing the theory that Eustace committed acts of treason under the assumed identity of Kasai, a bloodthirsty mercenary who had menaced the East India Company for years. But members of the Privy Council argued Eustace was likely nothing more than a wronged prisoner. Without proof of a crime, the Privy Council would not act against a duke’s only heir, nor would they continue to allow the duke to remain ignorant of said heir’s survival.
Concerned, the agents had approached Thea, requesting she stay close to her husband while they pursued the truth.
She had agreed. Not because of their pleas, but because experience with Eustace had taught her the duke’s brother was not content as the heir to the Duke of Wynchester. His driving ambition had always been to be the Duke of Wynchester.
So, though fate had sliced the fragile bridge between Thea and the duke on the horrible days of the riots, she’d be damned before she would allow Eustace—the bastard whose false accusations had blown open the chasm in the first place—to harm his brother in his grasp for power and possibly even the title.
The polished figurine she’d become was about to reanimate. Fragile or not, it was her turn to ride into a metaphorical riot and save her husband. Whether or not she could save her marriage—or herself—was another question…
She fanned her cards as her opponent laid out his hand. Blinking away the sharp burn of disbelief, she studied her hand a second time.
…A question so forbidding, she had just lost a small fortune to Sir Bronward Layton—a man with little talent for strategy.
She tossed her losing hand onto the table as Sir Bronward, nephew to the Under Secretary of State, let out an ungentlemanly whoop of triumph. Her back hit the chair with a jarring thud. Should her loss of hard-won gold matter? She was about to lose something more essential. Her independence.
“Congratulations Sir Bronward,” she said.
Bronward collected his gold as the other two Furies, Sophia and Lavinia, materialized out of the crowd of velvet and lace.
“How lovely,” Bronward said as the last of the gold coins disappeared into his coat. “The three Furies are together again at last, Lady Scandal, Lady Vice, and Duchess Decadence.” He glanced toward Sophia with a knowing gleam in his gaze. “As you can see, Lady Scandal, the clamor for your attention did not dim during your absence.” His eyes narrowed. “Your departure a few weeks back was abrupt, was it not, my lady?”
“A gentleman,” Sophia’s lash-flutter added a subtle touch, “allows a lady her secrets.”
“And we all know,” Thea remarked dryly, “Sir Bronward is quite the gentleman.”
“Forgive me. I have missed your soirees these past weeks.” Speculative amusement flashed across Bronward’s features. “I must say,” his gaze dropped to the black beads sparkling on the edge of Thea’s coral-red bodice, “the Furies are at their finest tonight.”
Thea draped her hand over the revealing aspects of her décolletage, covering a display not meant for the brash, young baronet.
“Thank you for your compliments, Sir Bronward,” Lavinia said with smooth diplomacy, “We are happy you chose to attend. But now—”
“There is a rumor,” Bronward interrupted, “that the Duke of Wynchester will make an appearance tonight.” He glanced from one lady to the next. “Is it true?”
Sophia donned her da Vinci smile. “You are welcome to stay and find out. Now you must excuse us.” She helped a reluctant Thea to her feet. “Come, dearest,” she continued, “I would like your opinion on the most delightful figurine Lavinia has given…”
Sophia’s voice faded as the drawing room doors opened.
“The Duke of Wynchester,” Sophia’s footman announced, “and Mr. Maximilian Harrison.”
Thea’s lips parted in astonishment as she turned her gaze to the doorway. Lavinia’s Max and her duke stood on the threshold. Only the man she saw wasn’t her duke at all. The Wynchester she knew was perfectly turned out. Always. And, the Wynchester she knew never, ever over-indulged.
This Wynchester, however, swayed against Harrison’s arm while his bloodshot gaze raked the assembled guests. His unpowdered black locks lay about his shoulders in knotted disarray and dark circles marred the skin beneath his eyes.
“Where is she?” His rumbling voice reverberated beneath her ribs.
Run. The crisp, internal command came viscerally. Her muscles seized, her breath quickened, her gaze sharpened. Her body primed for flight in the same elemental way it had done since she was a child.
“Consummate-duchess” instruction ordered by the duke’s deceased mother had drilled away Thea’s natural impulse, but the Gordon Riots had revived it with a vengeance, and she’d been running ever since.
Lavinia’s hand slipped into hers, solid and warm. Thea heaved aside the urge to flee, and instead concentrated on the stakes—the duke’s life; justice for Eustace’s victims.
“There she is!” The duke gestured in Thea’s direction.
“He is as drunk as a wheelbarrow,” Lavinia breathed.
“Oh,” Thea quelled a shiver, “how the mighty have fallen.”
“Let us hope his weapons of war have also perished.” Sophia modified the remainder of the verse.
Grim-faced and intent, Harrison guided the duke to a place beside the duchess. Wynchester’s gaze traveled slowly over her gown as if he were plucking out stitches, one by one. Thea shifted, allowing the light from Sophia’s massive chandeliers to catch the black beads sewn into her bodice. She’d chosen the accents to complement her pale skin and midnight hair, and she had chosen well, if the duke’s reluctant appreciation was any measure.
With an air of detachment, she returned his appraisal. Despite the shocking state of his rumpled neck cloth, his well-tailored clothes displayed his tall, muscular frame to his advantage. Handsome, he was not. He had too wide a mouth and too small a nose for common praise. He was more than handsome. He exuded aristocratic appeal. His height intimidated while his bone-deep confidence made him vital. As for the arresting look in his eyes, well—Thea inhaled—that look could only be described as virile.
Allure had never been his problem.
“You, duchess,” his words were no less affecting for their slur, “promised me a game.”
“Indeed I have,” she said smoothly. “And we shall retire to Sophia’s study to play.”
Murmurs of disappointment rustled within the crowd.
“Oh come now,” Sophia scolded their guests, “Duchess Decadence has already provided ample entertainment for one evening.”
“Duchess Decadence,” Wynchester said in a derisive whisper. “I suppose that makes me Duke Decadence?”
“No.” Thea pasted on her fine-lady smile. “In this realm, I am a peeress in my own right. You must be satisfied by the title of consort.”
Sophia’s throaty chuckle preceded a cool-lip kiss to Thea’s cheek. “Good luck, dearest.”
Thea turned to thank Sophia with a genuine smile, but it stalled. Sophia’s normally pink cheeks were parchment-pale. But of course, Sophia worried for herself, too. Lord Randolph, Sophia’s husband, had not yet appeared, and her future rested on his public acknowledgment of their marriage…tonight.
“Randolph will come,” Thea assured.
Randolph had better come. Randolph, along with Harrison—who was both Lavinia’s betrothed and the duke’s trusted colleague—provided clandestine service to the crown and East India Company. They were the agents who asked Thea to protect the duke. For their plan to succeed, she needed both men as much as she needed the Furies.
She hated to depend on others, but in this she had no choice.
She squeezed Sophia’s hand one last time before threading her arm through Wynchester’s.
“Shall we, Duke?”
He grunted, but allowed her to guide him toward the study.
As they walked side by side, the guests’ blatant stares weighed against her back like a heavy train. She had worn such a trailing skirt—inspired by Queen Charlotte’s gown in a painting by Allan Ramsay—on her wedding day. She’d leaned on Wynchester then as he leaned on her now, foolishly hopeful and blissfully unaware of the heartbreak to come.
She glanced askance. His onyx eyes met hers.
“Do not think,” he warned, “my state will give you an advantage.”
She fixed her gaze ahead. “Oh, I could not be so mistaken,” she replied with wispy carelessness. She’d been mad to think she could manage Wynchester. Absolutely mad. Where you are concerned I have never had an advantage.”
His muscle grew taut beneath her arm.
“Not,” he emphasized the final consonant, “so.”
A light-fingered chill passed over her skin and settled unevenly into her stomach. She had intended to trick the duke into welcoming her home while keeping her pride intact—a delicate maneuver designed to keep Wynchester from questioning her purpose while she prevented Eustace from gaining undue influence.
However, when she and the Furies had made the plan, she’d been expecting an entirely different man…a cool, deliberate man, a man secure in his superiority. Her expectations did not match the person effusing heat at her side. The enormity of her task suddenly seemed Sisyphean.
They entered Sophia’s study and she bid him sit. With a cursory glance to the pewter cup and pair of dice she’d set atop the desk, she returned to close the door. Lavinia and Harrison stood just beyond the doorway, arm-in-arm.
“Duchess,” Harrison frowned with weighty seriousness, like the former judge he was, “Wynchester is not himself. Perhaps you should delay your wager?”
“Yes,” Lavinia hurriedly agreed, “do delay. We will devise another plan.”
Thea’s fingers turned white around the door handle.
“Is he often like this?” she asked Harrison.
Harrison hesitated. “Of late.”
Her fear was confirmed: Wynchester had come undone and she was the cause. She, who had never before been able to move Wynchester to any feeling but annoyance. Unexpected. Disturbingly unexpected.
“Delaying, Duchess?” the duke called.
She glanced over her shoulder. “Requesting a moment alone, Wynchester.” She turned back to Harrison. “Answer me this,” she whispered, “have you found Eustace?”
Harrison grimaced. “He has returned to London, but we are uncertain of his exact location.”
“Well then, our problem and purpose remain. Eustace will seek Wynchester’s protection and, when he does, he must not be allowed exclusive influence.” She set her shoulders back. “Tonight is my best chance to return without rousing Wynchester’s suspicion. He knows I hate his brother.”
Harrison exchanged a significant look with Lavinia. Their unspoken communication left an uncharitable ache in Thea’s heart, which she instantly suppressed. Lavinia deserved someone who loved her as much as Mr. Harrison. That such love was beyond Thea’s grasp was not Lavinia’s fault.
“We will be just outside the door,” Lavinia said with a reassuring touch to Thea’s arm.
“Good luck, Duchess,” Harrison added.
With a quick nod, Thea closed the door. Her petticoats whispered as she turned.
Wynchester sprawled over the desk chair, legs stretched and eyes closed. He looked like an angel fallen from the heavens—broken, bewildered. Her gaze softened. Somewhere between Wynchester’s expectation of god-like perfection and her realms of embittered disgrace, a less hostile plain must exist. She sighed. Even if no such place existed, loyalty to the Wynchester title and the many tenants who depended on the duke were enough for her to remain constant.
Beneath her sleeve, Thea touched the weighted dice inside the small pockets her new-and-clever maid, Polly had concealed behind the beading. Cunning, indeed. But to succeed, she’d need something more than cunning. She’d need Grace. How else were two such hearts as theirs—proud and battered and wary—to come together once again?
“Are you ready for our game?” she asked.
Scythe-like eyelashes flew apart and stormy eyes fixed on her face.
“This is no game, Thea Marie.”
“Everything is a game, Duke.” And the stakes were much higher than he could imagine.
“You can call our life a game,” his tone held a sneer, “only because society’s shaming means nothing to you.”
Thea bristled, reliving the sum of a hundred hollow looks of spite and shallow triumph that had been cast her way since she’d left Wynchester.
“Even if that were true,” she said, “I am not the one who sauntered into Sophia’s home like a leather-headed, gin-bitten drunk.”
“Not gin.” He snorted. “An exorbitant indulgence that Harrison imports—Armagnac.” He lifted his right brow. “One way or another, it seems my predisposition for decadence will be my ruin.”
“A single night’s excess will hardly be your ruin.” She frowned. “Even if it was, I would not be the cause.”
“Wouldn’t you?” Slowly, he rose from the chair, eyes hurling accusation with the same force he’d use to thrust one of the centuries-old Wynchester swords. “Every choice I made has been a sacrifice to the Worthington name and Wynchester title, the name and title you carry and have blackened without cause or feeling.”
Without cause? Without feeling? She inhaled sharply. My pregnancy ended in violence and pain because your loyalties lay elsewhere.
The words clanged against her teeth, straining to be spat in a final act of defiance that would, no doubt, result in a permanent rupture. She waited for the dark haze of anger, fear, and grief to dissipate, as she learned it would do with time and steadied breath. Old wounds may fester, but, right now, the slanderer Eustace was scheming his way back into their lives, and she believed he would be more than happy to see her husband in the grave.
She donned her most haughty expression, the one she used when returning a cut-direct.
“Well,” she said, “I never asked you to sacrifice for me.”
He held his breath as if he, too, struggled to restrain horrible words. Internally, she crumpled. Damnation. Even three sheets in the wind, he held sway over her spirit. She had courage and cunning but she hadn’t the strength. Truly, she hadn’t. And what deity in heaven or on earth would grant her angry heart Grace? The air was hot. Her skirts were heavy. Unattractive perspiration dampened her neck. She looked toward her mottled reflection in the night-dark window.
Run, her reflection ordered.
“No,” he said softly.
Wynchester’s quiet resignation slithered under her skin. Her fingers stretched and stiffened inside tight gloves.
“Pardon?” she asked.
“No,” he repeated, “you never asked me to sacrifice for you.”
Something in his tone forced her to turn. His gaze dealt a stunning blow.
“And if I had?”
He straightened. “Let us lay the past aside. I am here, aren’t I? I responded at once to your challenge. Have you no guess as to why?”
She held his words in mental hands as if they formed the last piece of a puzzle. She turned them this way and that, but no matter which direction she tried, his words did not fit the scene she’d painstakingly created during their years of separation. She knew he wished for her return—but believed he acted for propriety’s sake, not his own.
…Yet the yearning in his gaze was not just for the restoration of appearances.
A slanted smile lifted one side of his mouth as he touched the pewter cup on Sophia’s desk. “What say you, Decadence? Shall we rattle fate?”
“We have a wager,” she said, almost by rote.
“Yes,” he drew out the single syllable and dangled the word into the silence.
She moistened her lips. “If I win, we discuss a Parliamentary divorce.”
Such simple words for a public scandal that would, in truth, be Wynchester’s ruin.
He veiled his gaze with lowered lids. “And if I win, you return home for the summer, with further consideration to be given at summer’s end.”
Home, for her, had been with The Furies. She’d never once set foot in the fortress he’d built following the riots. She swallowed.
“If you win, I will return for the summer.”
“Well, then, we are agreed.” He dropped the dice into the cup and swirled. “Shall we?”
He tossed the contents on the table. Five and four.
“A respectable throw,” she said.
He picked up the dice, dropped them into the cup, and scowled. “If I win,” he said slowly, “you will not just return. You will make every effort.”
Request-framed-as-fact. Now there was the Wynchester she recognized.
“I will,” she echoed, “make every effort.” God help her.
He threw again. Two and six.
She exhaled with relief, her worst uncertainty allayed. Against those throws, her two sets of weighted dice—one three and two, one four and two—could only lose. She plucked the cup from his hands and then dropped her arm, rattling the bone against pewter to block her exchange of dice.
She applied gentle pressure to his chest until he sat back down. She circled behind his chair, trailing fingers along his shoulders. As she removed the non-weighted dice, she leaned down and placed her cheek against his. Then, she inhaled.
His was not the country-spring scent favored by men of the court, but a scent of richness and spice, a scent as expansive as the timbre of his voice was deep. It lingered, as did the vague presence of a thousand shared-and-forgotten moments. He’d been hers for a very long time. Longer, even, than they’d been wed. And yet, he’d never been hers at all. He’d been ice and crag, as distant and isolated and beyond her power to reach as the mass of glacier and rock known as Old Greenland.
“When my father pledged me to you,” she whispered as she tucked the honest dice he’d used inside her sleeve, “I was little beyond the cradle.”
A slight exaggeration, but not entirely untrue.
Their unusual childhood betrothal had been more of an honor-bind than a legal contract. Thea’s father had been indebted to the duke and the only possible payment was his deceased wife’s property, held in an unbreakable trust for Thea. A settlement had been proposed. Thea Marie had been presented. Thea’s bloodlines met the dying duchess’s expectation; her property met the duke’s need. The anticipated marriage brought a satisfactory resolution to all.
All but the two whose lives would be joined.
“You were well-beyond milk-and-toast. You,”—the duke made an indeterminate sound—“with your large, knowing eyes fixed on my every move, as if I’d been summoned solely for your entertainment.”
Thea’s memory was less visual—a queasy flutter that had spun in her heart when the serious, red-cheeked boy had grasped her hand in his and bowed.
“No matter what my age,” she said, “from the moment our fathers came to terms, I was raised by my family to belong to yours. I was drilled in duty, history, and practice until my greater loyalty belonged to the Worthington name and the Wynchester title.”
“Loyalty?” he out-and-out snorted yet again. “Was it loyal of you to abandon our marriage bed?”
She smoothed the wrinkles out of her gloves before sliding between his knees and perching on the desk. An encore of the queasy flutter-dance of long ago sped up in tempo until it reached a Bedlam-frenzy. Tonight, she may have lost a fortune, but she had guided Wynchester’s mental shuffle to her only ace. She braced herself with one hand, leaned forward, and caressed his tangled hair.
“What are you about?”
She smiled, faint. “I am proving my point: you have no cuckold horns.” She let her hand fall from his hair into her lap. “I abandoned our marriage home, Wynchester. The bed remains undisgraced…at least by me.”
His pupils expanded, turning dark orbs to India ink. Her gamble had paid returns. Good. Her chest-flutter settled—a sensation much like a caged bird abandoning hope of escape.
“Thea Marie,” his Adam’s apple bobbed, “do you mean to say you have not…?”
“Are you so perfect,” she narrowed her eyes, “you cannot even speak sin?”
He blanched and she cursed her penchant for sarcasm.
“I have been no saint,” she intentionally softened her voice, “but the answer is no, I have ‘known’ no other man.”
He took hold of the hand in her lap. The rough edges of his signet ring pressed into her thigh. “Why not?”
She read urgency in his gaze. “Your father’s affair—and subsequent marriage—caused irreparable damage to your family. And,” she spoke honestly, “I would not hoist on you a bastard duke.”
A wild light entered his eyes. “Is that why you proposed this wager? Do you wish for divorce because you have found another?”
“Many tried.” She silenced the excited bird trilling in the hollow between her neck bones. “None succeeded.”
He rose to his feet. “Thea Marie…”
Bending down, he touched his forehead to hers. Wisps of their hair mingled, brown-to-black, like parted veins of a feather. Could they too, be smoothed together with just the right touch? Thea closed her eyes as her heart cried, please.
“Where those throws test throws,” she forced out, before she lost nerve, “or do you hold?”

 ~*~*~ Wendy LaCapra ~*~*~

Wendy LaCapra has been reading romance since she 
sneaked into the adult section at the library and discovered 
Victoria Holt & Jane Aiken Hodge. From that point on, 
she dreamed of creating fictional worlds with as much
 richness, intrigue and passion as she found within those
 books. Her stories have placed in several contests, 
including the 2012 Golden Heart. She lives in NYC with 
her husband and loves to hear from readers. If you'd like 
to be informed when a Wendy releases a new book, sign 
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