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Authors: Sabrina York

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Chapter Two

 

Kaitlin MacAllister clutched the book to her chest as she
made her way back to her chamber. Though she had fought to hide it from
his
Grace
, she shook with reaction.

He had been about to kiss her.

She was certain of it.

She knew the look.

Thank God she’d thought to slip her dirk into the pocket of
her nightgown. She didn’t fancy herself the type of woman who carried a dirk
around a duke’s mansion in the middle of the night, but experience had taught
her that dirks were handy things to have. Bringing it with her wherever she
went had become something of a habit.

And thank God. Because if she hadn’t had it, he would have
kissed her. He would definitely have kissed her. And that would have been…

Oh. That would have been.

Her face flushed. Nay, her entire body. She felt it from her
toes to the tips of her breasts. A damp heat. A softness.

Damn and blast. She was done with that. Never again, she’d
vowed. Never again. Still, a cloying regret over that missed kiss sat heavy in
her chest.

Annoyed with herself, she shook her head to dislodge the
unwanted thought. She was not doing
that
again. Ever. No matter how
alluring the man might be.

And Violet’s cousin was. Alluring.

So handsome and tall. Broad and braw. Manly. The features of
his face were rough-hewn. His cheekbones high. His brow wide, patrician. His
nose was a thick, strong blade. And his eyes were like warm chocolate on a cold
morning. The tantalizing mole on his cheek—so like the family mark on Ned’s
cheek. And Malcolm’s. And Sean’s and Dennis’ and Hamish’s and Tay’s. Yet
so…different. He had a
presence
. And he smelled…wonderful.

Quite unlike the simpering fops she’d known before
the
fall
, and the lords she’d met since she’d come to London to serve as
companion to her friend Violet, men meekly sipping tea in garish drawing rooms
or creaking through the steps of a reel at a soiree, reeking of sweat. The Duke
of Moncrieff looked like he belonged on the moors, standing atop a craggy tor
with his hands fisted on his hips, hair rippling out in the harsh wind as he
glared down upon a fierce battle.

But she was probably being fanciful.

She was certainly being idiotic. There was absolutely
nothing romantic about the Dark Duke. Aye, even in Scotland his exploits were
legend. The man would seduce a goat if it so much as fluttered an eyelash.

Still, the fact that he had tried to seduce
her
sent
a thrill straight through to her womb.

It really shouldn’t. She knew better, or hoped she did.

Men like him seduced women for fun. They enjoyed the hunt,
the chase, the conquest. The bragging rights. And the women were left with
nothing but tatters of a life.

She would do well to avoid him in future.

She snorted with exasperation. Damn and blast him for being
in that study. And why hadn’t she thought to find a book at a decent hour? When
there were people around? Like footmen? And maids?

And why on earth had she told him of her shame? He’d called
her an innocent and she’d opened her mouth and the truth had just fallen out.

That
was probably why he’d tried to kiss her. No
other reason. But then, men needed no other reason. Simply the knowledge that a
woman was no longer chaste.

Experience had taught her that.

Damn Dougal McDonald. Damn him to hell.

And herself with him.

As they said, it took two.

It was astounding how quickly one could ruin a reputation.
And how impossible it was to earn back. And how aggravating the consequences—

She turned the corner and stopped short. Growled under her
breath. A profanity, perhaps.

Malcolm Wyeth lounged against the wall by her door. When he
saw her, he straightened. Sent her a libidinous smile. At least, she supposed
he was trying forlibidinous.

He often did.

At sixteen, Violet’s younger brother was lean and lanky. He
was a handsome lad—had much the aspect of his cousin, the Dark Duke, about
him—but he was a boy. The disparity between the two was as vast as the difference
between the sun and the moon.

Also, Malcolm was a pest.

“There you are, Kate.”

“What are you doing here, Malcolm?”

He put out a lip. “What do you mean, darling? I came to see
you.”

She quirked a brow. “In the middle of the night?”

“I was lonely. Where were you?”

She didn’t answer. It was none of his business.
She
was none of his business.

He glanced at the book. “Ah. To the library. I should have
checked there first. You always were a bit of a bluestocking.”

She wasn’t. Not hardly. But she did like to read. That
didn’t make her a drudge as his tone implied.

“Did you want something, Malcolm?” Blast. An unfortunate
choice of words. She knew exactly what he wanted. He wasn’t going to get it.
Not if she had anything to say about it.

His expression shifted. He stepped closer. Far too close.
“As a matter of fact, I did.” His arm snaked around her waist and he tugged her
against him, crushing her arm holding the book against his chest. Thank God for
small barriers. He was hard and warm, but not in the way she liked. Bony and
clammy was closer to the truth. “Give us a kiss, Kate,” he burbled. Whiskey
wafted on his breath.

Blast. He was foxed.

Someone had been in the duke’s decanters. Deep in the duke’s
decanters.

She hated to do it. Twice in one night. But his approaching
lips, his hot breath and far too avid grip on her hips forced her to. She
slipped her free hand into her pocket and pulled out her dirk.

He blanched as she prodded him with the blade. “Not again,
Kate,” he whined. “Do you always carry that damned thing with you?”

“Always.” She gave him a nudge. “Now back away.”

“Kate…”

“Don’t call me that. Go on. Back away.” He did, but slowly.
His muscles were tense, as though he would spring at any moment should she
lower her defenses. She would not.

Holding him off with the slender knife, she edged to her
door, opened it and slipped inside. Before he could lunge forward, she turned
the lock. And just in time.

Wood shook as he slammed against it. She stepped back,
praying it would hold.

Saints preserve her from drunk lads with horns.

They seemed to be everywhere.

 

As it was, Malcolm banged on her door and warbled at her to
let him in until he woke Violet, whose suite was down the hall. Originally,
Kaitlin had been housed in the servants’ quarters to keep up their pretense,
but the late-night visits from Malcolm—and the occasional footman—began to
annoy the staff. So Violet had moved her to this floor.

The footmen had stopped scratching on her door, but
apparently the move had not deterred Malcolm.

Kaitlin listened through the wood as Violet tore into him, a
familiar lecture. Malcolm howled—clearly Violet had grabbed his ear and was
leading him back to his own wing. Their voices receded.

Only then did Kaitlin let herself relax.

Only then did she realize how nervous she’d been.

She dropped the book on the bedside table and laid her
precious dirk next to it. Tears sprang to her eyes and she swiped them away.
Damn and blast. She hated this. Hated it.

All she wanted was to live in peace, untroubled by the
mischief of men.

Every one of them—every single one of them, from her father
to her brother to her best friend’s brother to Dougal
the dog
McDonald—had caused her no end of misery.

All right, yes. It was partly her fault. She should never
have allowed Dougal to take her into the woods that day. Should never have
allowed him to kiss her and fondle her and…so much more.

But that tiny bit of pleasure—and it had been tiny—hardly
made up for the nightmare her life had become. She had hoped coming to London
with Violet, playing the role of a prudish companion, would free her from her
past.

She had been wrong.

There was no escape from oneself. No escape from the past.

But at the very least, she
had
escaped from her
brother. And the McCloud.

She should be happy for that.

She shook with rage whenever she thought of what Callum had
done. She wasn’t a piece of property he could barter at will. She couldn’t help
wondering, had she been pure, would he still have sold her to the most
nefarious brigand in Scotland?

She sighed. Probably. His desperation was that acute. He
owed the McCloud a fortune. And regrettably, in payment, McCloud wanted her.

Without Violet’s help, spiriting her out of the country
under the cover of night, Kaitlin would be in those evil clutches at this very
moment.

Ah Violet. Bless her heart.

When she scratched on the door a few moments later, Kaitlin
had reclaimed her composure, or at least enough of it to mask her despair. She
let her friend in and relocked the door. Just in case.

Violet flopped down on the bed, her sable ringlets bouncing,
and pursed her pouty lips. Violet was a beautiful girl, with an alabaster
complexion and round eyes a startling shade of blue, so blue they were almost,
well, violet. She always made Kaitlin feel like a dowd—with her red hair and
spots. Also, Violet was slender. Kaitlin was not.

“Darling. Are you all right?”

“Yes, Violet. Thank you.”

“Ooh. That boy. I could shake him. I’ve told him time and
again to leave you be, but he just won’t listen. I don’t know what’s wrong with
him.”

“He’s a man.”

Violet snorted a laugh. “Oh darling. You are so droll. But
really. Something has got to be done. This is the third night in a row. I must
have some sleep.”

Kaitlin smiled. “We could sprinkle saltpeter into the duke’s
whiskey.” Nothing less than saltpeter would work.

“Was he drinking? That scamp. I shall have to tell Ned.”

“Ned was probably tippling with him.” Violet’s older brother
Edward, oft called Ned to avoid confusion with the many other Edwardses
swinging in the family tree, was something of a scamp as well. All of Violet’s
brothers were, in varying degrees. At least Ned had listened when Kaitlin had
told him, in no uncertain terms, to leave her alone.

“Perhaps I shall tell Edward.”

Kaitlin’s heart stuttered. “The duke?”

Violet shot her a dry look. “They
are
drinking his
whiskey.”

“Yes. Of course. He shouldn’t like that.”

“I should say not. They are far too young. Oh bother. I
shall have to beg an audience on the morrow.” She sighed and stood. “Will you
be all right, darling?”

“Yes, dear. So long as he doesn’t come back.”

“Oh, he won’t come back. Not tonight at least. Still…” A
frown flitted across her exquisite brow. “You’d better lock the door.”

Mercy. There was no doubt about that.

“Good night, darling.” Violet kissed her cheek. “Do sleep
well.”

“You too, Violet. Sweet dreams.”

“Sweet dreams.”

Violet took her leave and Kaitlin locked the door in her
wake. Exhausted, she crawled between the covers and closed her eyes. But it
took a long time for sleep to descend.

And her dreams were not sweet in the least.

Chapter Three

 

Edward struggled with the turn of a phrase. His writing had
once been so easy. Words had flowed from him like honey in the summer heat. Now
nothing sounded right.

If he didn’t finish this manuscript soon, his publisher
would have apoplexy.

Not that he particularly cared if his publisher had
apoplexy. He could always find another publisher. But he did like Dithers. They
had an understanding.

A profitable understanding.

Apoplexy would be…inconvenient.

Especially right now.

Dithers was on the hunt for a new illustrator to bring the
works of Lord Hedon, Edward’s
nom de plume
, to life. Finding a talented
hand—one who was willing to create the kinds of drawings Edward’s illicit
manuscripts demanded—was proving to be a challenge.

What a pity Richard Mabry had gotten it into his head to
race along Rotten Row stinking drunk. In the dark. It was a lucky thing he
hadn’t maimed his cattle. As it was, he’d only broken his neck.

Leaving Edward at a loss for inspiration.

Dickie had always provided the drawings upon which Edward’s
naughty stories were based. Dickie provided the pictures, Edward provided the
words. It had been a perfect partnership.

But now Edward struggled with—

He winced as a bellow shattered his calm, obliterating the
incessant ticktock of the clock on the mantel. A responding warble rattled the
window pane, followed by the clash of steel. Or something like it.

Apparently, there was a battle underway in the garden.

He set down his useless quill, strode to the window and
peered out. Yes. Two of his cousins were dueling with swords—not real swords,
thank God. Edward had had Transom hide all the weapons weeks ago after
discovering a Chippendale in the Blue Salon shattered to smithereens by a
decorative mace. At least, he’d assumed it was a decorative mace. It had been
hanging on the wall in the billiard room his entire life.

Evidently it was a real mace.

And now Dennis and Sean—or was it Hamish and Taylor? He
could never remember who was who—were embroiled in a fierce skirmish with
swordlike metal spikes. Where they had come from, he had no clue. They looked
vaguely familiar, with a distinctive
fleur de lis
on the end of each—

Realization, and horror, washed through him. Good God. Those
were spears from the metal fence surrounding the family crypt. Somehow they’d
pried them loose and were now bashing each other with them.

“Transom!” he bellowed as he rushed into the hall. And
promptly tripped. He would have fallen flat on his face if Transom hadn’t
caught him.

Together, they glared at a small boy crouched by the
doorjamb with a hammer in his hand and a mischievous grin on his face. For he’d
just finished nailing a wire across the threshold.

Edward gaped. He feared his eyes were quite wild. Why on
earth would anyone—

“You called, my lord?”

“What… Why… Who…” Dukes should not sputter. But again, he
struggled for a phrase. He gave up and snarled, “Where the hell is Hortense?”
His aunt was supposed to be managing
this
. She had promised to
manage
this.

“Shopping, my lord.”

“Shopping! Why the hell is she not here, corralling these
hellions?” What was the point of having the old bat living beneath his roof if
she couldn’t provide some miniscule service? Such as exorcising demons?

The boy with the hammer took his chances and scampered off
into the bowels of the house. Maniacal laughter trailed in his wake.

Transom cleared his throat. “I believe she went shopping to
escape these hellions, my lord.”

“Christ.” Edward raked his fingers through his hair. He
caught a glimpse of himself in the pier glass and winced. His hair stood
straight up on end. There were bags beneath his eyes—he hadn’t slept well…there
had been clumps of dirt in his sheets—and his face looked as sour as a fishwife
sucking on a lemon. “I need some fresh air.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“While I’m gone, see if you can draw up a battle plan, will
you?”

“My lord?”

“You were in the Horse Guards, weren’t you? You fought in
the war.”

“As you know, my lord.” It was, after all, how they’d met.
Edward had been a delusional idiot on a glorious mission and Transom had saved
his arse. A number of times.

“Well, my man.” He clapped his butler on the shoulder. “This
is
war.”

And by God, he was going to win.

Edward skirted the mêlée in the garden and made his way to
the far end of the estate, where there was nothing but flowers and trees and a
placid little pond. Nothing to attract diminutive fiends bent on mischief. He
would sit in the folly until his temperature returned to normal.

Perhaps until spring.

Dear God. He’d had no idea having the Wyeths of Perth take
over his house would be such a nightmare. If he had suspected as much, he would
have turned them away at the start. They would probably have crawled in under
the door. Through the cracks in the flue. Vermin had a way of finding entrance.

But now. Now they were here.

Entrenched.

He had to get rid of them.

Perhaps he could send them back to Scotland.

Scotland would revile him for it, but he had little use for
rocky tors, lochs and sheep.

Then he thought of Violet and his heart lurched. It would crush
her to be trundled back to what she referred to as “the bleak wilderness”. She
was looking forward to a glittering season in London. She was seventeen. She
needed a husband. A husband of quality. That might be difficult to find in the
wilds of Scotland.

And Ned. Ned was twenty. He was just starting to find his
way with the
ton
. He’d made some friends—decent fellows. He’d even been
receiving invitations to game at White’s.

The two of them—the normal two—deserved better than being
lumped in with the rest.

He whacked at a rosebud as he passed. It exploded into a
flutter of petals. He refused to feel any sympathy.

He couldn’t send them packing.

Then what?

Hell. He was a duke of the realm. He had six houses spread
throughout the empire. Why hadn’t he thought to purchase a spare in London?

Aha!

That was brilliant.

He would. He’d buy them their own house. Move them all,
lock, stock and—well, maybe not the barrels, as the older boys did like to
drink. He’d move them all into their own domicile.

With Aunt Hortense. Let her manage them.

His life would once again be orderly. He would be the master
of his own abode. Free to pursue the life of a wealthy dilettante.

Perfect.

He rounded the bend with a satisfied smile on his face. The
trickle of the fountain in the pond was a balm to his tormented soul. Birds
sang in the trees. The sun—well, it almost shone. It was a beautiful day.

Soon, the world would be right again.

Soon, they would all be gone.

He skipped up the steps of the folly with a lightness of
heart he hadn’t felt in ages. A book on the bench snagged his attention and his
mood dipped, but only a bit. Someone had been here. But they were gone.

He picked it up and flipped through it and stilled.

Good God.

It was a sketch book.

The first page was an attempt at this scene. The flowers and
trees, the pond and the little fountain. Not very good. But the second arrested
his attention. It was a simple line drawing of Violet. And it was stunning. The
artist had managed to depict her beauty, but also captured that glint in her
eye, the particular quirk of her lips. Her soul.

The next sketch was one of Ned, showing a brash young man,
standing insouciantly with his hands shoved into his pockets, whistling a
silent tune. The next was of the twins—whatever their names were—dark heads
together plotting some manner of mayhem.

It was so realistic Edward expected them to leap from the
page and whack him with a cricket bat.

But it was the last sketch in the book that stole his
breath. It was a portrait, in profile. His own face. But not an Edward he would
ever recognize. This man was heroic, tragic, a solitary soldier. It was only a
few lines drawn in charcoal, but it revealed so much about him. Things he
didn’t want anyone to ever know.

It was horrifying. And remarkable.

“Your Grace.”

He snapped the book shut and spun around.

Of course. What’s her name. The girl. The owl. From last
night.

“Oh, you found it.” She stepped into the folly and took the
book from his hands. He did not know why he let it go.

“You left it here.” An accusation. Really? He hadn’t
intended for it to come out like that.

She chuckled. “I had to go rescue Hamish. I was coming
back.”

“What…why did you have to rescue Hamish?” This was her work?
She saw him like that? And hell, she was a damn fine hand. How he would love to
turn such talent to…darker purposes. What a pity she was such a prude. The kind
of work he could offer her would make her rich—rich enough to quit serving as
Violet’s companion.

But she would never do it. No decent woman would.

He must be crazed, truly crazed, to even think on it.

The gripping sketch of his wounded countenance lingered in
his brain. If she could do that, if she could see through to his soul and bring
it to life on paper—

“And then he got stuck. In the tree. So I had to rescue
him.”

Lord. She’d been talking. He’d missed the entire
explanation. No matter. The question had been purely rhetorical.

“How long have you been drawing?”

She winced, clutched the book to her breast. He recalled
what fine breasts they were. “I… What?”

“How long have you been drawing? You’re quite good.”

“You looked at my book?” She squawked as though he’d just
admitted to peering up her skirts. The lemony face returned. A beetled brow and
pursed lips. It was, upon reflection, rather adorable.

“It was lying here.”

“You shouldn’t look at someone’s sketchbook.”

“You shouldn’t leave it where it can be found.” He crossed
his arms over his chest and grinned at her. Damn, he loved her accent.

She sputtered. “I told you. Hamish and Tay—”

“Tay?”

“Taylor. Hamish and Taylor were building a fort in a tree—”

“Yes. Yes. I know. You had to rescue him. Tell me, have they
always been this much trouble?”

She blew out a breath. “You have no idea.”

They both laughed. It was a nice moment, because it seemed,
for that brief flash of time, they were friends, bound in mutual misery.

And then he went and ruined it by letting his lust intrude.
“So tell me, what did you think of that book?”

She tipped her head. “What book?”

“The one I gave you last night.”

She blinked several times, as though she had to try very
hard to remember. “Oh.
That
book. I didn’t read it.”

He stepped closer. “Ah. You like to look at the pictures,
then?” He knew the sort.

“Look at the… What? No, Your Grace—”

“Edward.” He infused his voice with a low thrum.


Your Grace
. I didn’t have a chance to open it.”

Why petulance curled within him, he had no clue. “What do
you mean you didn’t have a chance to open it?” She was supposed to have read
it. Or at least looked at the pictures. She was supposed to be gazing at him,
right now, with a dewy look.

She brushed an invisible speck from her skirt. “There was…a
distraction.”

Well hell. “What kind of distraction?”

Her lips pursed. The look she shot him was not dewy in the
slightest.

Still, he wanted to kiss her.

He wasn’t sure why. She was certainly not the most beautiful
woman he’d ever seen. But her face had character and charm—especially when she
smiled. Her figure was full—the way he liked them—but she didn’t show it off to
its best effect. In fact, if he hadn’t known what lay beneath the thick layers
of crinoline and bombazine, he would have been fooled. She was prickly as a
hedgehog and smacked him down at every turn.

So why did he want to pull her into his arms and smother her
mouth with his?

Perhaps because of all those things.

Then again, perhaps just because.

So he did.

He took the girl—whose name he could not remember, whose
face he could not forget—into his arms and kissed her. It was a gentle buss, as
kisses went, but extremely sublime. Because he’d surprised her.

Her lips were open, as though poised to speak. He took full
advantage, sweeping in his tongue to dab at hers, nibbling and licking and
tasting her sweet breath.

The prick at his side was not a surprise. He’d expected it.

He lifted his head and stared down into her eyes. Her
expression was dazed and determined and perhaps a little dewy. “Not this time,
darling,” he murmured. He took the knife from her hand and tossed it aside and
then pulled her more fully against him.

And ah. She was soft. Sweet. Her breasts pressed against his
chest. Her hips molded the cradle of his groin. Of course, he was the one doing
the molding, but she didn’t fight him.

No. She sighed and tipped her head to the side so he could
deepen the kiss. She tasted like ambrosia. A tantalizing flavor of cinnamon and
woman and surrender. His ardor rose, and with it, his cock. He rubbed it
against her belly.

She stiffened and tried to push away, muttering something
into his mouth that sounded like, “No.”

He changed his tack, running his lips down her cheek and
along the line of her jaw to nestle in the crook of her neck. She shuddered.
Some groan-like sound emanated from her throat. She clutched at his hair.

Thusly encouraged, he sucked at the tender skin of her neck.
Nipped.

“Oh! Saints preserve us,” she whispered.

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