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Authors: Elizabeth Michels

Must Love Dukes

BOOK: Must Love Dukes
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Copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Michels

Cover and internal design © 2014 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover illustration by Jim Griffin

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

www.sourcebooks.com

For Mr. Alpha Male—for the hugs when things don’t go well, the cheers when they do, and the football-themed pep talks in between. You are my big fish. I love you.

One

London, England

Spring 1815

As Devon paused to allow a carriage to pass, a heat spread across his back. Someone was following him.

Turning, he cast a quick glance down the street toward Habersham’s shop. He would not be at all surprised to see old man Habersham running after him to continue their chat of the Mad Duke’s antics. Yet all that met his eyes was a group of austere-looking ladies ordering some poor footman to load their packages into a carriage.

Then he noticed a set of ladies’ boots scurrying around them before disappearing behind a food vendor.

He was being ridiculous. Why would anyone be stalking him? He shook off the thought and continued down the sidewalk. The clean buildings of Bond Street began to diminish, making way for simple shops, taverns, and the occasional brothel. The crowds thinned and the people traversing the area now were common folk out running errands.

A comfortable feeling of peace filled Devon as he left the trappings of wealth behind, favoring the simplicity of a society revolving around trade. It was as if two separate worlds inhabited the city. As usual, he wanted nothing to do with the world to which he belonged.

Moving onto a side street, he strode into the shadows of stone buildings that grew closer together as he progressed. He had just rounded another corner when he heard footsteps at his back. Being followed in this section of town was never a good sign. He’d only needed to lose all the money in his pocket once to discover the truth of that sentiment.

He spun, determined to catch whoever it was off guard. The only movement that met his eyes was the swirling edge of a blue dress as it whipped around a corner.

Was that a woman following him? Why? He didn’t want the answer to his question as much as he wished her to stop. He had endured enough for one day and wanted nothing more than to have a drink and escape life for a few hours. He passed onto a wider street and continued walking, still aware of a heated gaze across his back and quick footsteps behind him. This had gone on long enough. Someone would surely be missing the lady back at the shops where she belonged.

He turned, ready to confront her and send her on her way, but saw no one. Good. That was done. Yet, as he was pivoting to continue down the street, something made him look back once more. It was then that he caught sight of the voluminous skirts of a blue dress extending from either side of a light post. The occupant of the dress was carefully hidden from view, but she was no spy. She had clearly underestimated the size of the dress she was wearing. He hadn’t seen a dress that large in ten years. Devon smirked. Perhaps she was stalking some other prey, but glancing around the empty street, he knew they were alone.

Devon decided to ignore her. She would give up her quest soon enough. He was heading into the darker side of London, after all. Surely, she would not dare follow him there. He passed the window of a small shop and saw the reflection of the hem of her dress behind a horse tethered across the street. What did she want of him? Could she not see that he was in no mood to entertain ladies?

Lengthening his stride, Devon soon neared the entrance to the Stag and Doe. The tavern was seedy enough that no lady in her right mind would pursue him inside, yet it offered the highest quality drink on this end of town. Best of all, within these doors he was a nameless, untitled man and nothing more. Whatever the lady in blue wanted of him, she could damn well wait in the street surrounded by dirty sailors for all he cared.

He was finally free—free of whispers behind his back, free of his own identity, and free to spend the evening drinking his problems away.

Pausing as he opened the door, he smiled at the thick smell of lager and smoke hanging in the air. As he breathed in the sweet smell of anonymity, something careened into his back with a small “Umph.”

He turned and looked down into the face of the woman in blue. “Woman in blue” indeed, for staring up at him were the purest blue eyes any man could behold. Her golden hair slipped from its elaborate style where it was topped with a hideous hat covered with several large flowers. She was lovely in an unconventional way. Perhaps he was in the mood to entertain women…one woman in particular. He grinned.

“Is there a reason you’re following me, ma’am?”

“Following you? I’m not following you! I’m simply entering this fine establishment for some refreshment on a warm afternoon,” she blustered.

“Yes, the Stag and Doe does often draw the Bond Street shopping crowd on warm afternoons.” Whatever the reason this vision in out-of-date fashion had followed him here, it was certainly not for afternoon refreshments.

“I can see why, with its convenient location and inviting décor. Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to go inside.” If her chin tilted any higher, she would be thrown off balance and fall into the street behind her.

Devon quirked a brow and gave a tip of his hat as he motioned her inside. “By all means.”

She paused just in front of him and appeared to be admiring his waistcoat with odd intensity. He glanced down but only saw the gold chain of his new watch glinting in the sun. She gave him an assessing stare, shot a quick glance down the street they had traveled, and then entered the tavern. Who was this lady? And what the devil was she playing at?

The same elderly man who always tended bar set a glass down on the long wooden surface that ran along one side of the room. A wall covered in bottles of spirits stood at his back. He nodded in Devon’s direction, eyes lingering on the lady standing frozen beside him. She had the look of a wide-eyed fawn in a room full of hunters.

A few brave women were in the tavern, all drinking merrily, yet from the look of her, this lady was just that—a lady. She most likely had never been inside a tavern and had chosen a poor time to follow him, for this was where he planned to while away the remainder of his afternoon.

“It is customary to continue walking through a door and then sit at a table,” he rumbled over her shoulder, causing her to jump.

“Of course. I was merely assessing where I might find the best table.”

“I’m planning to sit there by that dirty window. I always find the afternoon light to be the nicest when viewed through a hundred years of grime.” He took a few steps across the room before turning to look at her with an easy smile. “Care to join me?”

He moved past barmaids stepping around them as they dipped between tables serving drinks. The men in the room sat gathered, laughing and telling stories, while swirls of smoke rose from their cheroots.

He pulled her chair out and watched in amusement as she dusted it off before sitting. With her back straight and her hands folded neatly in her lap, she looked more out of place than a fish resting comfortably on a grassy hill. He sat opposite her with the hint of a curious grin lingering on his lips. Her hand darted to the pearl necklace around her neck. That piece of jewelry was a bit too fine for this part of town. She would likely be set upon by thieves if she was found alone. He said nothing, only watched her, willing her to speak and tell her reason for following him through the city.

“I do believe I should know your name if we’re to have refreshments together.”

A smile curled the corners of his mouth. She made the Stag and Doe sound like the finest of London salons where they would chat over a cup of tea. She was in for a rude awakening when the drinks came, if that was her anticipation. “That may be the first time drinks have been referred to as ‘refreshments’ inside these walls,” Devon mused.

As a barmaid approached, he ordered something potent and equal to the task of erasing the day he was having.

“I’ll have one of those as well,” she offered politely.

“It appears the lady will have one as well,” he repeated with a smile aimed at the barmaid.

When they were alone again, she added, “I have heard that they are well known for that drink here. That’s why I came.”

“A sangaree?”

“A what?”

“The drink you ordered. Your reason for coming here,” Devon supplied.

“Yes, I’ve heard that, um, sangarees are delicious.” She was clearly bluffing, because her cheeks were turning deeper shades of pink by the second. “You never said your name.”

“That I did not, did I?” He stretched his legs, crossing them at the ankle, and narrowed his eyes on the woman across the table. The irony was not lost on him of having traveled this far into the shady side of town for anonymity, only to be asked who he was upon arrival. Of course she would want to know his name.

Although, if she had followed him from Bond Street as he suspected, then she most likely already knew the answer to her question. Therefore, he looked her straight in the eye and lied. “Mr. Grey. Since we’re on such friendly terms as to share a few sangarees, you may call me Devon.”

“That doesn’t seem quite proper. Calling you by your given name, I mean.”

“Will you tell on me?” he asked with a conciliatory tone, granting her the roguish smile that tended to make ladies swoon.

“No, I won’t be telling anyone of this.” She smiled a quiet, secret smile, clearly delighted with the idea of sharing a secret with him. Some part of him was enjoying this clandestine meeting as well, which was odd since he grew bored with all females within seconds of being introduced. Surely, the same would be true today. Perhaps what held his attention were the mystery surrounding her arrival and the low point in life at which she had found him.

“Devon.” She tried his name out tentatively. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Lil—” She paused to clear her throat before saying, “Lily Whitby.”

“A pleasure, Miss Lily Whitby. Are you from London?”

“No. Are you?” She still sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap as if they were at tea and half the
ton
were present. Would she ever reveal her interest in tracking him through the streets of London today? She didn’t seem disposed to offering any information about herself.

Perhaps if he spoke freely, she would as well. “God, no,” he said. “My home is in North Yorkshire. I’ve only been forced to endure the city recently.”

She was looking like a tightly bound ball of nerves as two large men sat down at the table beside theirs and began a loud conversation about bosoms. He shot one of the men a look that could slice tough meat and they quieted down. Lily, unfortunately, still looked ill at ease. She would never confide her reasons for following him if she felt uncomfortable. He sighed, not sure how to calm her.

She looked like a bird about to take flight as she asked, “Say, do you have the time?” Her eyes flitted across his chest for a moment before returning to his eyes. What was that about? He supposed he would find out soon enough. How odd this encounter was becoming.

“Do you need to leave so soon? Our drinks look to be arriving.”

Just then the barmaid set two large tankards on the rough wooden table between them. He watched Lily’s eyes grow wide. She leaned forward and took a tentative sniff of the brew. Being made of Batavia Arrack, citrus fruits, spices, and sugar, it was a sweet drink, thick and soothing after a long day. This little tavern was the only place he’d managed to find rack punch outside the Antilles.

He took a swallow. It could also knock you on your arse if you had more than one. He smiled. This little meeting could get very interesting if she took a sip.

Her gaze turned thoughtful as she took in their surroundings once more and then glanced at him. What was she considering?

With a nod of agreement over some unsaid inner battle, she lifted the tankard to her lips and began to drink. “Gulped” was a more apt word because she did not come up for air for quite some time.

Devon chuckled. “Easy. It won’t grow feet and walk away. You don’t need to down it so fast.” He watched as she drained half of her glass. “Or perhaps you do.”

“Perhaps I do.” She smiled. “I confess that I have not had the opportunity to do…” She broke off to wave her hand in the air indicating their surroundings. “Things like this. My home life, such that it has been, has not allowed for freedoms like time with friends or…” Her voice disappeared into a bubble of laughter that overtook her for a moment before she could continue. “It has not allowed time for me to eat or sleep. No, beverages partaken with strange men in taverns simply do not happen. Not to me.”

He could see that the liquor she had just ingested was taking effect because her posture had relaxed a fraction. She glanced out the grimy window with a pensive frown. “This city doesn’t seem at all bad to me. Then again, a crossroads with a flock of ducks would be more exciting than my life as of late.”

“To be entertained by London, you must be easily entertained by society.” He repeated the word, grinding it out with a clenched jaw: “
society.
” He looked down at the table, studying the beverage in his hand. “I much prefer a life lived outside its constraints.” He spun his tankard around in a slow circle on the table before him.

Glancing up, he noticed she was watching him. Wasn’t he supposed to be interrogating her? He blinked away his disparaging thoughts about the London peerage and got back to his task. “Where is your home? Or do you no longer live there? You spoke of it as if you had moved away.”

“Oh, I live there still. In a small town with no society to speak of. This is practically the first time I’ve left home, other than my time at finishing school.” She tipped up her tankard, looking into its almost empty depths. “I used to look out at the sea that borders our estate and dream of traveling to distant lands.” She set the stein down with a clink on the wooden table, looking at him with a dazzling smile. “You know, if a book exists on the subject of travel, I believe I have read it. However, London is as far as I have gotten as of yet.”

His eyes flashed at her mention of travel. “An affinity for travel is something I can relate to.” That was an understatement. “I spent five years on an expedition to Africa studying native plant life and geographical mapping. That was after a Himalayan Mountain excursion but before a brief stop off in Spain.” But now he was home. His jaw clenched and he worked to keep the frown from his face.

BOOK: Must Love Dukes
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