Suddenly a Duke

Her blush remained, but her eyes nar­rowed. “You are still the arro­gant beast you were when I first made your acquaintance.”

Yes, I do recall you men­tion­ing I was arro­gant,” Daniel said cheer­i­ly, know­ing he got under her skin with his tone.

Being a duke has not changed that,” she not­ed. “In fact, I am cer­tain it has made you even more arro­gant than before. That is not a qual­i­ty that appeals to me, Your Grace.”

Lady Mar­garet, there is a fine line between arro­gance and con­fi­dence. I like to think of myself as mere­ly being extreme­ly confidant.”

She gave a very unla­dy­like snort. “Arro­gant and bold,” she observed. “Not exact­ly a way to endear your­self to me. And that is what it would take for me to even con­sid­er kiss­ing you.”

He was glad she was con­sid­er­ing it. It gave him hope. “Have you ever been kissed before?” he inquired polite­ly, as if ask­ing her what her favorite food or col­or might be.

Her jaw dropped. “You did not just ask me that!”

He smiled, a smile he reserved for when he wished for some­thing impos­si­ble. “I believe I did ask you that, my lady.”

You go too far, West­field,” she rebuked. “I know from what both Mama and Dol­ley spoke of that nice women do not go about kiss­ing gen­tle­men. Why, Dol­ley even bragged to me that the first time she was kissed was after her betrothal to Lord Bax­ter. That she had snagged a mar­quess with­out hav­ing to share any­thing of her­self at all with him.”

Pity,” he com­ment­ed. “Kiss­ing can be ever so much fun.”

The kiss was rem­i­nis­cent of the waltz as they moved to a music of their own mak­ing, inti­mate, pas­sion­ate, and dri­ving Fia to yearn for more.

But she was no typ­i­cal mem­ber of the ton—and Lin­ber­ry wasn’t just a titled gen­tle­man. He was a duke, some­one total­ly beyond her reach.

Fia turned her head, break­ing the kiss. When she got up the courage to look him in the eyes, she saw the heat there and knew it was desire.

Desire for her.

She pulled her hand from his and stepped back a few paces.

I am not sor­ry that I asked you to kiss me, Your Grace, but it would be unwise to repeat such an action.”

Dis­ap­point­ment filled his face. “I asked to kiss you, Fia. Not the oth­er way around. I am sor­ry the kiss went so far.”

I’m not,” she said bold­ly. “You have giv­en me a love­ly mem­o­ry, Your Grace.”

He stepped toward her. “What if it did not remain a mem­o­ry? What if it became a dai­ly reality?”

She placed her palm against that rock-hard chest. “There will be no oth­er kiss­es for us. You will wed a woman of wealth and intel­li­gence, while I have no plans to wed at all. My goal is to play at ton events, Your Grace—not dance at them. You and I both know my place is no longer in the glit­ter­ing world of the ton.”

Fia dropped her hand, bereft as the con­tact between them end­ed. “Your duchess may one day be gra­cious enough to hire me to play at a ball you hold in this very room. I might even teach the pianoforte to your chil­dren. But we will nev­er speak of this kiss again, Your Grace. It is as if it nev­er happened.”

With regret, Fia turned away from the hand­some Duke of Lin­ber­ry and left the ball­room, her head held high.

Do not waste my time ask­ing a ques­tion you already know the answer to, Your Grace. I am being paid a good deal of mon­ey to teach you and Her Grace how to move into Polite Soci­ety seam­less­ly. Your father want­ed you to succeed.”

Nalyssa tem­pered her tone. “His Grace knew he had wronged all of you ter­ri­bly by not acknowl­edg­ing you. His last wish was to make it up to you by hir­ing me. He asked me to bring you to Stonecrest, so that we might have these lessons in pri­vate. I intend to hon­or his wish­es. You need to see that you do, as well.”

I owe him noth­ing,” the duke said angri­ly. “He set us aside. We learned to stand on our own, with­out his money.”

She heard anger in his voice—but also hurt. Nalyssa doubt­ed the duke even knew how hurt he had been by his father..

You may feel as if you owe him noth­ing,” she said qui­et­ly. “But you do owe your moth­er and sis­ter the best of you. The impres­sion you make upon Polite Soci­ety will be reflect­ed upon them.”

Nalyssa paused. “If you love them, take my lessons to heart. Become the duke your father nev­er was. Care for and pro­tect your loved ones in a way he nev­er did. Are you up for that task, Your Grace?”













You are sug­gest­ing a false romance?” the duke asked.

If Polite Soci­ety thought we were a cou­ple, that would allow us to move among them freely. It would also help my busi­ness. An asso­ci­a­tion with a duke would not go unnoticed.”

We would have to look as if we cared for one anoth­er, Miss Trent, or we will not fool anyone.”

I believe I can gaze ador­ing­ly at you for a few weeks, Your Grace,” she said, mis­chief shin­ing in her eyes. “Could you do the same?”

Eli­jah knew he was play­ing with fire and that being burnt was more prob­a­bil­i­ty than pos­si­bil­i­ty. Still, to be able to be in Miss Trent’s pres­ence would be worth it. She might even agree to a few kiss­es to make their romance seem all the more real.

He thrust out a hand. “You have your­self a bar­gain, Miss Trent.”

She took his hand in hers, and they shook. The touch between them was electrifying.

Yes, this would take no act­ing on his part.

Delaney didn’t know how it hap­pened, but her fin­gers were tan­gled in his hair, run­ning through the dark waves of silk. It felt mar­velous. Exhilarating.

Heat poured from her now, envelop­ing her. They were so close she didn’t know where she end­ed and he began. Her breasts grew heavy and her limbs lan­guid. His arms now encir­cled her, his kiss­es so hot and demand­ing that she believed she would burst into flames.

What was she doing?

She had let a hand­some man’s kiss turn her head. She was not going to make the same mis­takes her moth­er had and have her world upend­ed. She would hold on to her dig­ni­ty. Her pride.

Her vir­gin­i­ty.

Slid­ing her fin­gers from his hair, she moved her hands to the duke’s chest and pushed against it. Hard.

He didn’t go anywhere.

She turned her head, break­ing the kiss, but his lips mere­ly caressed her cheek. They moved to her ear, his breath hot as his teeth found her ear­lobe and tugged. Hot light­ning tore through her, siz­zling, as he did so. Delaney shud­dered and turned her head again to face him.

He took advan­tage of that, seiz­ing her mouth once more, his kiss demand­ing. All-con­sum­ing. Brand­ing her.

Her thoughts were scat­tered, and she forced her­self to ignore the phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions. She must break free. If she didn’t, she would wind up a pud­dle at Abington’s feet.

And nev­er want to let him go.

Willa had sensed that the kiss was com­ing, but she was pow­er­less to stop it. No, she lied to her­self. She would nev­er have stopped this kiss. She want­ed it.


His mouth touched hers, and a shiv­er raced through her. His hands still framed her face, and his thumbs began to stroke her cheeks as his lips moved gen­tly over hers. He brushed his lips soft­ly against hers, let­ting her get used to the con­tact between them.

He broke the kiss and gazed at her with such inten­si­ty she should have been fright­ened. She wasn’t, though. Willa felt safe with this man.

I am going to kiss you for a very long time, Willa,” he promised.

Xan­der bent again, and his mouth fused to hers. The gen­tle kiss from before became hard­er. More demand­ing. Her hands slipped from his coat and wound around his neck so she could be clos­er to him. His hands caught her waist, and he pulled her to her feet, envelop­ing her in his arms, their bod­ies pressed against one anoth­er. His was hard, sol­id mus­cles every­where, so dif­fer­ent from her own body. Then he teased her mouth open and sud­den­ly, his tongue was inside. Sweep­ing. Search­ing. Tast­ing. Tak­ing. She had had no idea that a kiss could be like this. Fierce. Drug­ging. Empowering.

He broke the kiss. “You are the most fas­ci­nat­ing crea­ture I have come across. You are the woman I want by my side, Willa. With­out even real­iz­ing it, you have con­vinced me that not only can I be a bet­ter man, but that I am a bet­ter man when I am with you.”

Cy slipped his arms about her as his lips moved over hers, his warmth envelop­ing her. She placed her palms against his chest and found it hard as a stone wall. Cy’s lips caressed hers, and then his tongue swept across her bot­tom lip, as if he tast­ed her. The thought intrigued Finola.

She want­ed to taste him, too.

Sud­den­ly, he broke the kiss.

I must apol­o­gize, Fino­la,” he said, his voice husky. “I do not know what came over me.” He searched her face as if it hunt­ed for some answer to a ques­tion he had yet to ask. Then he said, “No, I knew what I was doing. And I still want to kiss you.”

His arms fell away from her, leav­ing her bereft. Des­per­ate, she clutched the lapels of his coat, their gazes meeting.

I don’t want you to stop, Cy. I want you to kiss me again.”

Fino­la had nev­er made such a dar­ing state­ment and was afraid Cy would be too much of a gen­tle­man and leave her now. She would do what­ev­er it took to pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing. With a bold­ness she did not know she even pos­sessed, Fino­la yanked hard on the coat she grasped, his mouth crash­ing down on hers. Once more, his arms encir­cled her, hold­ing her flush against his hard, mus­cu­lar body. He did not hide his hunger for her and in fact, cel­e­brat­ed it. Fino­la opened to him—to this unknown world—and he kissed her with a sense of des­per­a­tion, min­gled with desire. She knew the com­bi­na­tion because she felt the same. It was as if she had been set adrift at sea many years ago, alone and with no hope.

Until this man appeared in her life, mak­ing her think hope still existed.

I turned thir­ty this past Christ­mas Day, Your Grace,” Jasper told the Duke of Brad­ford. “I had decid­ed it was time to take a wife and start a fam­i­ly. Since I have become the duke, I have met some­one. A woman who, in her own way, is as unique as your fur­ni­ture-design­ing duchess.”

Does this woman have a name? And how did the two of you meet? Espe­cial­ly since so much of the ton remains in the coun­try at this time of year.”

He chuck­led. “She is far from a mem­ber of Polite Soci­ety. In fact, she is the antithe­sis of most women of the ton. She actu­al­ly works for her liv­ing. I met her because I hired her when I went to Bow Street recently.”

Brad­ford smiled broad­ly. “Then you must be refer­ring to none oth­er than Miss Shel­by Slade.”

Sur­prised filled him. “You know of her?”

I know her—not of her. She han­dled a del­i­cate mat­ter for me. I would rec­om­mend Miss Slade to any­one who need­ed a sat­is­fac­to­ry con­clu­sion to a mat­ter trou­bling them.” Then the duke paused, under­stand­ing dawn­ing in his eyes. “It is Miss Slade you referred to.”

Yes,” Jasper con­firmed. “Might I ask your opin­ion of Miss Slade?”

What­ev­er you have hired her to do or dis­cov­er, she will nev­er quit until she accom­plish­es her task. Miss Slade is com­mit­ted to solv­ing her cas­es and set­ting your world right again. She cham­pi­ons those who seek jus­tice and has an innate com­pas­sion for the downtrodden.”

But do you know any­thing more per­son­al about her?” he pressed.

I have come to know Miss Slade well because she and my Abby are friends. Miss Slade is coura­geous. Per­sua­sive. Head­strong.” He chuck­led. “And most opinionated.”

Jasper smiled. “I am learn­ing that for myself.”

Her back­ground is most hum­ble a sto­ry she must choose to share with you,” the duke con­tin­ued. “I will warn you to be respect­ful to Miss Slade, Edgeth­orne. I would not see her abused in any way—or you will answer to me.”

He liked that this man was stand­ing up for Shel­by. It told Jasper a good deal about Bradford’s character.

Have no fears, Your Grace. My inten­tions toward Miss Slade are hon­or­able.” He paused. “She doesn’t know it yet—but I plan to make her my wife.”