Authors: The Duke's Return
ball. You’re the guest of honor! You’re to find your wife here!”
“Do not speak to me as if I were a child, Sara, to be ordered about and married off. I am a man, alive, with feelings.”
“I am sorry,” she said, ashamed. “I am so anxious that everything happen as planned, though.” She opened her eyes, staring straight into Trevor’s. “You are a good man.”
He chuckled, a dark sound. “Oh, Sara, you have no idea how good.”
His mouth came down on hers so suddenly she was shocked. Every time he did this to her, she just wanted more. Sara trembled as she thought of how it felt to have Trevor’s beautiful hands against her naked skin.
She groaned, using every ounce of her willpower to pull her lips away from Trevor’s mouth. She did not turn away from him, though, but stayed within his arms, her fists curled in his shirt and her forehead against his chest. How could something that was so wrong feel so right?
“You must find your wife,” she said quietly.
This book is lovingly dedicated to six extremely important people without whom I truly could never have finished.
First to Jon and Melani for giving me a quiet sanctuary to write. And, of course, for the late-night doughnut runs.
To Maile for giving so generously of her time and watching my children at a dire time in the development of my sanity and the end of this book. The Bataan Death March through Santa Cruz was not in vain, promise.
To Ruth for tireless plotting sessions and general, all-around supportiveness of a deluded artist’s id and ego. Who would have thought I’d get the best agent in the world on my first try?
A very special thank you to my editor, Lyssa Keusch, who gave me hope for this book with the best revision letter ever and supported me unconditionally through all the problems I had getting it just right.
And, of course, to Steve. Who would have thought I’d get the best husband on my first try as well? I love you.
Paris, Spring 1819
‘ve got to get out of here
, Trevor Phillips thought, waking with a jolt.
Glancing down, he watched Marie sleep and jerked at the sound of her loud snore. It would be morning soon anyway, and he was not in the mood to be there when Marie awoke.
Trevor sat up, yawned, stretched, and braved the icy floorboards to find his boots. He glanced at the woman he had taken to visiting more often than most. She gurgled, snorted, and flipped onto her stomach, her bare bottom peeking from beneath the covers.
Trevor looked away and found his clothes. He made a bit of noise leaving, stepping on Marie’s poodle’s fluffy white tail. Despite the ruckus, Marie did not move.
After soothing the little yapper, Trevor left Marie’s room, went down the deserted hall, and
took the back stairs that let him out in the alley. Cold wet air met him, and he pulled his coat tighter about himself.
Finding a hackney would be difficult, so Trevor set out to walk across town. He liked to walk, anyway, in the gray hours before dawn with only the newspaper boys and the milk wagons as company. It was good to be alone.
Trevor skirted a dank-looking puddle and realized that he had spent nearly three nights this week with Marie. Perhaps he should quit frequenting her. He did not like to make attachments, even with a woman of the evening.
He liked her, though.
Trevor spied shapes sitting on a bench about half a block away. He slowed, wary, then realized as he came nearer that it was a couple. The man had his arm around the woman; their heads were close together and they were laughing. Giggling, really.
They did not look up as he passed. Trevor shook his head. The two had probably been out all night, sitting on a cold, hard bench . . . talking, of all things. He just did not understand some people.
Trevor quickened his pace and banished the laughing couple from his mind, for they made him nervous for some reason. A reason he did not want to fathom. So he thought nothing more of it.
When Trevor reached his small apartments very near a rather bad part of town, he grinned. He could not wait to get inside, cook up a fresh pot of chocolate, and heat bricks for his bed. He had a couple hours of good sleep ahead of him, no snoring allowed.
Trevor took the steps quietly, thoughtful of Madame Bouvier, who lived below him. She was the oldest lightskirt he had ever known, and although she teased him constantly and offered herself for free, Trevor had yet to partake of her questionable charms.
He chuckled as he came to the dark hallway that led to his door. Trevor opened his coat and dug in the inside pocket for his key.
Trevor jumped as a man moved from where he stood in the shadows of the hall.
“Yes,” Trevor said warily.
“Trevor!” The man advanced toward him, and Trevor took a step backward.
“Do you remember me, Phillips?” The man came nearer, and Trevor saw he had thinning hair on top of his head and pinched features. The man’s nose was what attracted his full attention, twitching like a weasel’s sniffing the air.
remember!” Andrew Stuart bussed him ineffectually on the arm. “I am offended that you forgot even for a minute, old man, seeing as I got you through Eton.”
Trevor cleared his throat.
. The very word made his throat dry. In fact, just seeing
Stu made Trevor’s palms begin to sweat as they did whenever he became nervous. And nervous was what any reference to his schooldays or the so-called chums he had entertained over ten years before made him feel.
Trevor forced himself to straighten to his full height, well above Stu’s, and find the key in his pocket. “Would you like to come in?” he asked, hoping the man would say no.
“Sure, yes, of course.” Stuart nodded, his nose twitching. “I have news for you, actually, old friend.”
It was Trevor’s turn to twitch at Stu’s choice of words.
He remembered vividly Stu’s degrading taunts at school. Brainless twit, Eton’s jester—oh, yes, he remembered them well.
The only reason Stu had spoken to Trevor was because even as a boy Stu had been shrewd. He knew that Trevor was desperate to pass his classes. Stu had become rich off the money Trevor had paid him for papers.
But Trevor had left that life behind him when he had become an officer in His Majesty’s army. His father had disapproved, of course, as he’d disapproved of everything Trevor did. And even when Trevor had proved himself quite a capable officer during the war, his father had refused to acknowledge Trevor’s accomplishment.
With his mother’s death and the end of the war, Trevor had decided to stay in France. He
had not even returned to England for his father’s funeral three years before.
Trevor shoved his key into the lock and pushed open the door. He had been very happy to leave his previous life behind him and make a new one in Paris. The feeling of those miserable schooldays haunting him in the form of Stu, and corrupting this little haven he had made for himself, caused Trevor to yank his key from the door with a grunt.
“Well, now, Trev, it would have been much better for you if you had kept more of your wealth in hand. But then, I hear you’ve turned into quite a gambler.” Stu pushed past Trevor and into the small apartment.
Trevor frowned. “My financial affairs are none of your business, Stu.” Trevor curled his fingers around the brass key and shoved it back into his pocket. “I wasn’t expecting callers. I do not have any tea.”
Stu waved a thin, pale hand. “Not to worry, old man. This will only take a moment.”
“And what would
Stu laughed, a grating, high-pitched sound that made Trevor wince. “Are you ready for a shock, Trev?”
Trevor braced himself, wondering suddenly if his old schoolmate had dredged up some prank from the past with which to plague him. He clenched his fists, berating himself for flinching. Andrew Stuart was a sniveling little nit, and Trevor no longer had to put up with
his high-handed attitude. They were not in school anymore. It mattered not one whit that Stu excelled at mathematics and could write dry, boring papers one hundred pages long.
It no longer mattered that Trevor could barely read the primers set out for ten-year-olds and did not own one scrap of parchment or even a quill.
It did not matter, damn it! Trevor scowled at his caller and froze his face into the mask he had perfected as an officer in the war.
“Don’t look at me as if you would squish me beneath your shoe, Trev.” Stu pinched his plum-colored lips together and arched his colorless eyebrows. “I bring you good news.” He clicked his tongue against his teeth as if mimicking a drum roll.
Trevor swallowed hard, sweating despite his resolve to look down upon his childhood tormentor.
“You, my man, are a duke,” Stu said, and slapped a large leather satchel upon Trevor’s rickety side table.
Stu laughed again, an awful sound. “I have here,” Stu flipped open the top of his bag, “all the legal papers making you the new Duke of Rawlston.”
Trevor could only stare. “Is this a joke?”
“No. Your third cousin—my client, as it were—just died of apoplexy, poor lout. You are his closest heir, since his wife was childless. So
that makes you Duke of Rawlston, the new Lord over Rawlston Hall and the estate that entails. Quite a responsibility, sir!” Stu fairly clicked his heels with the announcement.
Trevor could swear the room tilted beneath his feet.
“You had better sit down, Trev . . . or should I say, your grace?”
Trevor felt his stomach roll. Your grace? Duke? Responsibilities? This must be some sort of nightmare. Trevor moved haltingly to his favorite soft chair and dropped into it.
“There is more, your grace.” Stu seemed to snicker at him, but Trevor could not get his eyes to focus. “It seems that the title is quite bankrupt. The estate is not at all prosperous, and there is no money with the inheritance.”
Trevor shook his head dazedly. “I have money.”
“Oh?” Stu glanced around. “You hide that fact very well.”
“I am content with the way I live,” Trevor said defensively.
Stu just chuckled. “Quite a change from your father’s extravagance. We all still remember the entourage that would arrive with you at school.”
Trevor stared at the skinny little man in his apartments. It had been hell going to school with two valets, a secretary, and a man to take care of his affairs. But his father had insisted that it showed breeding.
It showed off his father’s wealth, actually. Even though it had all come from his mother. Trevor sighed, shoving the memories out of his thoughts. He had bigger problems now. His lovely, quiet life had just been disrupted by the most horrendous disaster he could think of.
“A dukedom?” he asked stupidly. “I did not even know there was one in the family.”
“It’s quite an unstable title, actually—bounces around from family to family because not one duke has ever sired an heir.”
Trevor pushed himself up and walked to the window. The sun had come up. It was going to be a beautiful sunny day. “Why the hell could it not have been a barony, for Christ’s sake?” Trevor asked no one. “I can’t begin to undertake running a dukedom!” He realized that he had spoken aloud when his last statement reverberated in the room. Silence followed, and Trevor wondered if Stu would revert to form and taunt him, make fun of his difficulties, again.