It HAD to Be a Duke
The Liar's Club Book 1
December 26, 2023
Publisher: Avon Romance
USA Today bestselling author Vivienne Lorret launches a new series with a sparkling romance about a spinster, a duke, and a fake engagement that blurs the lines between enemies and lovers…
Verity Hartley always tells the truth. Well, mostly. However, when her snooty neighbor returns to their small hamlet to brag about having a grand Season, a plethora of ballgowns, and so many suitors that she cannot possibly decide which one to marry, Verity tells a lie. She claims to be betrothed. To a duke. Who happens to be her family’s sworn enemy. But what are the odds that he would ever learn of this one, little, harmless falsehood?
Magnus Warring, the Duke of Longhurst, is on the precipice of marrying an heiress to save his estate from financial ruin. At least, he was. Until he hears an unbelievable rumor that he is already betrothed. To the daughter of a liar, cheat, and swindler! Needing to protect his reputation, he hunts down the culprit. And when he finds the untamed beguiler, she has the audacity to ask him to lie for her. To pretend to be her fiancé!
One week, that’s all Verity needs. Then Magnus could return to his life. But nothing is ever that simple. Sometimes it doesn’t take that long to fall in love, even with the enemy.
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“It was you. There! Are you satisfied? I pictured you naked,” she admitted just to shut him up.
And it worked, too.
His lips parted on a breath and those burning cinder eyes bored down on her. But when he said nothing in response, her embarrassment turned to insecurity which turned to aggravation and before she knew it, her temper was starting to climb.
“It meant nothing. It was just a dream,” she spat. “My lucid mind would never have the remotest inclination to conjure such an image.”
Still, he remained silent and she interpreted that as judgment.
She advanced on him, taking that one step that separated them and hiking her chin. “And I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’ve never been plagued by a thought, invading wholly uninvited into your mind, hmm?”
In the periphery of her vision, she saw his arms move, hands lifting as if he were going to take her by the shoulders again. This time, he would surely throttle her.
She moved without thinking. Reaching up, she put her hands against the solid wall of his chest and shoved him back as hard as she could.
But she forgot that they were standing on the verge of the riverbank . . .
The next thing she knew, he was falling backward. His eyes went wide the instant before he fell with a great splash.
She was in such shock that all she could do was stare. Had she really done that?
He came up sputtering. “Did you just . . . push me?”
Not even she could believe it. And yet, it felt sort of . . . good. Really good.
So much of the tension she’d been carrying all week suddenly had a physical outlet. Perhaps that’s what she’d needed all along.
She batted her lashes demurely. “It seemed like the sensible thing to do.”
“Sensible?” He ranted, angrily swiping the water from his face as he stood. “What woman in her right mind would— No! That is precisely it. You, Miss Hartley, are insane. Which is likely inherited. You have no sense of decorum. Hell, you’re practically feral, climbing trees and whatnot, forever out of doors without proper attire, hair disheveled with strands in five hundred different hues, and don’t even get me started on those changeable eyes of yours . . .”
As his list of all her failings faded to a grumble, she squared her shoulders. “Perhaps you’re right. I might be a lunatic for all I know, because I think I’ve wanted to push you in the water since the day we met. I only wish I could push you in again.”
She added a haughty Ha! for good measure.
His eyes slitted in her direction, the muscle ticking in his jaw. “Do you find this amusing?”
“As a matter of fact, Iiiiiiaaahhh—”
Her defiant declaration came out on a shriek as she slipped down the wet bank, her arms windmilling. She fought for balance, but lost her footing and fell with a soggy splat. Flat on her bottom. In the river.
Longhurst threw back his head and roared with laughter.
The sound was so raw and gravelly that it seemed to abrade something inside her, itching just under her skin until all she wanted was to feel her hands on him again, pushing, shoving, gripping, curling them into fists . . .
Not liking the sensation in the least, she shoved at the water, cupping it in the way her brother had taught her and sent a huge splash in Longhurst’s direction.
It hit him like a tidal wave, full in the face.
His amusement faded at once.
She snickered. “On second thought, it is rather amusing to see my enemy all wet.”
Longhurst scrubbed a hand over his eyes, his jaw clenched. Straightening his waistcoat, he approached her, his stride cutting through the water. Then, reluctantly, held out his hand. “No need to behave like a child.”
“I thought I was feral. Now I’m a child?” She splashed him again, the need to aggravate him—to see that flash of cinders in his eyes—too strong to deny.
“Miss Hartley.” His tone was low and forbidding. But she didn’t care, and moved to splash him again. “Verity, I’m warning you.”
Her breath caught.
It was the first time he’d used her given name. And yet, it seemed so familiar on his tongue as if he’d said it a dozen times. A hundred. It slid warmly inside her, curling low in the pit of her stomach like it belonged there. And it took everything inside her to keep from asking him to say it again.
“What do you plan to do once I’m standing?” she taunted with a wary glance down to his hand. “Throttle me? I promise that will not end well for you.”
His eyes were blazing, fierce with intent. And he didn’t wait for her to grasp his hand. Instead, he reached out, took her by the shoulders and lifted her.
“How dare y—”
He silenced the last syllable on a deep growl and crushed his mouth to hers.