Plucked by the Orc
(Regency Monster Romances, #1)
Publication date: February 5, 2024
Genres: Adult, Historical, Romance
Carnival Row meets My Fair Lady with a steamy sensibility. Welcome to the first Regency Monster Romance, in which the Lords of the Hidden Realm have a place in Society but never in the hearts of London’s fine human ladies.
Scratching by as a flower girl, Iris Gabbert speaks first and asks questions later. All the better to survive the rough and tumble East End streets. So if an odd-looking bloke knocks over a basket brimming with a girl’s means of making a living, what else is she to do but give him a tongue lashing he won’t soon forget? Even if it was an accident. Even if his lordship dresses like a right dandy. Even if he is more alluring than any gent who has passed her way before.
Broad of shoulder and abrupt in manner, the infamous Lord Barrington presents a proposition that promises all the honey with none of the bee’s busy work. And no one ever accused Iris Gabbert of passing on an opportunity. Especially not if it brings her one step closer to her dream of buying a shop. For the small price of improving her manners and donning gorgeous gowns, no less.
Duncan Higgins, Second Duke of Barrington, prides himself on his astute observations of human behavior. All the better to mask the pain of never truly belonging in their sphere. Rejected by the woman he’d hoped to woo, Duncan has withdrawn from Society to focus on his anthropological magnum opus: The Curious Customs of the Human Ton. But when his mischievous younger brother Albion presents him with a dare, Duncan quickly embraces the challenge.
To win the wager, Duncan must transform a humble flower girl into a lady “worthy” of acceptance in Society. His work is cut out for him. The girl he intends to slip into their ranks is uncouth. She refuses to soften her voice. Her favorite bonnet sits crooked on her head, and the rest of her wardrobe is appalling. Yet when Iris Gabbert emerges from her first bath at his elegant Mayfair townhouse, the power of Duncan’s desire ignites.
With sufficient income from his family’s mines to indulge her every whim, Duncan draws Iris into his private and luxurious world. Duncan intends to fulfill her every desire. Every last one. But as a newly refined Iris makes her debut, she catches the eye of the Season’s most eligible human bachelor, triggering Duncan’s deepest fears of rejection. Faced with jealousies, misunderstandings, and a treacherous social landscape, can true love—and lust—prevail?
Duncan Higgins, the Second Duke of Barrington, tucked his muslin cravat tighter underneath his Parisian greatcoat. The evening performance of How You Like It had been crowded with patrons eager to see the new gas lighting at the Theatre-Royal. It was difficult to tolerate the stares his massive form and green-tinged skin attracted, but he could ensure his attire reflected the latest demands of the season.
Better to be respected, or even feared, than to find himself an object of scorn.
His father had stepped foot in London eighteen years prior, the first orc to do so. But Duncan’s height, the horns curling back on his head, and his unusual coloring—unusual on the streets of this city, at least—still drew stares. As in all things connected to the frivolous ton, no one stated anything outright. Rather, he was subject to the averted glances of children seeing one of his kind for the first time. Or the pursed lips of a mother with a daughter of marriageable age looking to catch a gentleman’s eye. A gentleman of wealth, manners, and title.
A human gentleman. They were not eager for their daughters to marry Duncan Higgins, even if he were five and twenty and met their other requirements. He’d learned that lesson well enough.
So be it. Duncan would remain at a distance, observing and taking notes on human society as a scientist would a colony of lemurs or some such.
His younger brother, Albion, would have deemed that too harsh. Albion and their mother came to London from the Hidden Realm two years after Duncan accompanied Father here. He didn’t understand what it had been like for Duncan in those early days. When grown women had screamed at the sight of orcs, no matter how fine their English clothes, and boys hurled rocks at their backs.
As he stepped out to the street this evening, an assortment of dandies packed the space outside the venerable theater, waiting on the carriages that would propel them to the next stop on their nightly rounds about the city. Despite the chill in the air, they left their greatcoats open, the better to showcase ruffled shirts, cravats folded crisply on the cross, and fitted trousers.
Albion often laughed at Duncan’s propensity for tracking human fashion, whilst Duncan argued that all manner of human customs were of interest. The apparel chosen for a particular season spoke to the values and aspirations of the ton. When living as an outsider, one could never know too much about a culture.
And Duncan was an outsider who literally stood out in a crowd. He ducked under the arches outside the theater’s foyer, side-stepping a matron with two daughters prancing before her. The ladies wore stunning multi-colored sapphires—pink, orange, amber, in every shade and gradient—sparkling on pendants hanging from the short pearl necklaces that were all the rage this season.
The rare gemstones originated in his land and were the source of his family’s wealth. Nevertheless, when the mother caught him glancing at her daughters’ jewels, she called them closer to her. Their finery was for the benefit of the human dandies. Not Duncan Higgins. Even if he could have made either of them a duchess.
At one time, such a snub would have caused Duncan great shame. Now, however, these women meant no more to him than the portraits he might examine at a public exhibition in one of the city’s galleries. He tipped his bespoke hat in their direction and continued, wanting only to locate a hackney coach so he might return to his townhouse in a timely manner.
Despite the indulgence of taking in a performance this evening, he wished to abide by his customary schedule, drafting three pages over a glass of port prior to retiring for the night. Duncan aspired to publish a book in the Hidden Realm so the orcs who came to London in the future were better prepared than he had been.
Considering additional comments for his section on the shenanigans of human mothers, Duncan neglected to mind his feet. Distracted, he stumbled over one of the humans milling in front of the theater, tipping a woven basket filled with flowers over in the process. The blossoms hit the sodden ground in a colorful spray of wilting clumps—pansies, snowdrops, and clematis. He nearly tumbled down beside them.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered, reaching for his handkerchief, twice the size of those used by other gentlemen, to wipe away the mud that had spattered his new coat. And just as the French styles were once again making their way across the Channel. Thanks to that scoundrel Napoleon Bonaparte, London had been deprived of Parisian fashions for several years.
“Hey there, ‘ya big lug!” a female voice called, rising above the din of the humans still bustling out of the theater. “Watch where you’re putting them huge green feet of yours, kitten.”
Duncan had been called many names in his life, but “kitten” had never before counted among their number. It took him a moment to realize the young woman was addressing him.
She clicked her tongue between her teeth as she attempted to reclaim the flowers. “A girl’s tryin’ to make a living here, you know.”
Her voice held the distinctive tinge of the East End, an accent he sometimes heard from shopkeepers. This woman’s outlandish appearance matched the Cockney drawl. Her walking dress and pelisse, both of which might have been a startling bronze hue when in fashion five years ago, clung to her slender figure in an indecent manner. A flamboyant blue-purple iris, its petals shaped like the fleur-de-lis of the old French royal family, with a jagged shot of golden color in the center, topped her bonnet.
To make matters even more ridiculous, he found himself staring at this woman, whose delicate form and features were at odds with the boldest feminine voice he’d had the pleasure of hearing since he left the Hidden Realm. In Duncan’s homeland, women were not given to the performative modesty of the ton. What was that phrase he’d heard a human gentleman use to describe a beguiling young lady who had only recently arrived in London from the country? A diamond in the rough. At the time, the expression had confused him, but now he thought he understood what it meant.
Author Bio:Jenna Larkin writes historical romance and fiction under different pen names. She is now ready to enter the world of monster romance with an alternate Regency era featuring the brash and powerful Lords of the Hidden Realm. Jenna lives in California with a spoiled tabby cat named Jonesy. When not reading or writing, she enjoys planning cosplay for the next San Diego Comic-Con, experimenting with vegetarian recipes (to mixed results), and obsessing over House Targaryen.
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