Authors: Lauren Royal
Tags: #Historical Romance
"In this case, he is." Kendra paced the red-velvet-hung bedchamber. "How dare you keep such a secret from me!"
"I don't hold with lying, Kendra. But your brothers asked me not to tell you, and I reckoned it was harmless enough, in the scheme of things."
"Harmless? You tricked me! I would never have married you had I known—"
"Rubbish. You were in love with me."
Kendra wanted to slap the smug look off his handsome face. "Love, hah! Why, I don't even know you. Wherever did you get such an absurd idea?"
"Your brothers told me."
"They knew nothing about it." Feeling color creep into her cheeks, she hastened to add, "It wouldn't matter, anyway. Whatever I may or may not have felt for you was destroyed by your lie, not to mention last night."
"Hearts wounds, not that again." Trick sighed and dropped onto a tufted brocade chair. "I told you, it was only the first time. It won't hurt from now on."
She only looked at him, her jaw set.
"And what, pray tell, is so bad about being a duchess? Most women would be thrilled beyond words."
"I am never beyond words."
"Why does that not surprise me?" Trick returned dryly. He crossed his long legs at the ankles. "I really don't understand this, Kendra. How can marrying a duke be such a disastrous occurrence?"
"It's too hard to explain."
"Try." He crossed his arms. "I'm listening."
With a huff of impatience, she sat on the red velvet bed. She parked her hands behind her and looked up, trying to think. Above her loomed the underside of a gathered silk canopy fit for a king.
Or a duke, ranked above everyone but royalty.
"Your grace, it isn't the title itself that sets my teeth on edge, but what it symbolizes. To me. To the world in general. All the good people who weren't lucky enough to..."
This wasn't working. Feeling beyond words after all, she sat straight. But the dazed look in Trick's eyes only frustrated her further.
"Just look at this!" She leapt up and gestured wildly at the room: the padded, satin-lined walls, the carved and gilded ceiling, the four-poster bed crowned with garish poufs of red-dyed ostrich feathers. "See what I mean? Who wants to live in a place like this? I swear, it puts Whitehall to shame!"
He gave a short bark of a laugh at what she knew must be a look of utter disgust on her face. "I know women who would kill for—"
"Kill for this? That's the first thing you've said all day that makes any sense."
"I don't care for this decor, either," he said evenly. "But why do you hate it so much? I want to understand."
"Oh, I knew this would be impossible to explain! It's long, and it's convoluted, and it doesn't seem to make sense to anyone but me. It's certainly never made sense to any of my brothers."
"I'm not your brothers. Tell me, however long it takes."
With a sigh, she sat back down and thought for a long minute, then clasped her hands in her lap before beginning.
"I won't pretend I don't enjoy balls and pretty clothes and the other things money can buy as much as the next woman. But I think I know what's important beneath all the trappings. I told my brothers again and again that I don't care about titles. I wanted to marry a man I was wildly in love with, but even more, a man I could admire. For who he was inside, not a false honor that society had settled upon him."
"I didn't ask to be a duke—" Trick began.
Waving him off, she jumped up again, not at all ready to listen yet. "During the Commonwealth," she said as she resumed pacing, "my family's title was a liability, not an asset. We hadn't the choice to stay home and go about our business like normal people. Instead we were exiled paupers, dragged from Paris, to Cologne, to Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp—wherever King Charles and his court wandered. It was then I learned it's what's inside a person that counts. Some people were kind to us, and some were not. And their rank had nothing to do with it." Her voice dropping, she stopped and turned to him. "And..."
"And what?" he asked softly.
She knew this would sound ridiculous, but she couldn't help it—it was how she felt. "As a little girl, I decided the dukes were the worst. The most pompous, the least caring, the most annoyed with orphaned children underfoot. Because of that, to me, they represent the worst of humanity. The worst of everything."
He swept the hair from his face, his expression clearing. "That's why your brothers asked me to marry you under my given name only," he murmured. "Because you would have refused."
"Probably," she conceded. "And now I'm stuck in this gaudy museum."
He looked heavenward—or rather, gilded-ceilingward. "Come now, it's not that bad."
"I would rather live in the cottage."
"Come to think of it, so would I." Evidently it was his turn to pace now, because he rose and did so before the carved stone mantel. "My father built this bloody palace, not I," he said contemplatively. "Let's move to the cottage. I'll alert Cavanaugh to pack my things, and Jane needn't even unpack yours. We'll make haste for the cottage immediately."
She swallowed hard. "Are you sure?"
He turned to her and raised a brow. "Are
A long silence stretched between them before Kendra sighed. "No," she said, unsure of anything at the moment. "I don't want to live in that little cottage. Well, actually, it's a big cottage, but you know what I mean."
She dropped to sit on the bed. "I'm accustomed to directing a large household, and I'll do you proud. It's only...when I think of all the money it takes to run a place like this—all the servants and goods—for just the two of us...can't we close up some of it? Close up most of it? Most of Cainewood is closed up. We could take the money and put it to good use, maybe help some orphans or something."
Trick sat beside her, smelling of sandalwood soap. He must have come here and bathed, the wretch, while she'd yawned her way through the day, reading poetry.
He took her hand. "If we close up most of the house, think of the people who will lose their jobs. My father hired them, not I, but I cannot find it in my heart to put them them out on the streets."
"Oh...I hadn't thought of that."
His smile, crooked but genuine, did much to thaw her icy anger. "And I've something to show you tomorrow. Something I think will please you."
"What?" She leaned closer to his enticing scent.
But then she caught herself and pulled her hand from his grasp. He'd still lied to her, tricked her, and that was hard to forgive. Especially now, with all the years that loomed ahead...years and years.
"What do you want to show me?" she asked.
"Patience, lass. Let's get you settled first. Tomorrow will be soon enough." His smile faded when she yawned. "Sleepy, are you?"
"Thanks to you." She glared at him, then fell back to the pillows. "I know it's early still, but I'd like to just call it a night."
"Excellent idea. Yesterday was a long and difficult day." Trick rose, shrugged out of his surcoat, and started unlacing his shirt. "I believe I'll join you."
She leapt from the bed. "Oh! I thought this was
"It is." The shirt came off over his head, and her palms itched as she remembered how he'd felt against her hands last night. All warm and firm.
She swallowed hard. "Then where is your chamber?"
"It's mine, too." He sat to pull off his boots. "We're married. We're allowed to sleep together. I've a piece of paper to prove it."
"But..." She glanced around wildly. "This is a suite, isn't it? What's on the other side of that door?"
"A dressing chamber. Feel free to use it. Your clothes are inside." At her look of astonishment, he added, "Jane has been here all day, arranging your things. I gave her the evening off."
"I thought you said she hadn't unpacked yet. And she's
"I believe she's in my employ, now." His second boot hit the floor with a thud, and he began unlacing his breeches.
"You're a duke, for God's sake. Don't you have a valet?"
"Cavanaugh. But I prefer to undress myself, much to the poor man's constant chagrin." He looked up. "Actually, I'd prefer to have you undress me, but..." A wry grin revealed that rakish chipped tooth, and the twinkle in his eye was unsettling. "No, I thought not. But I can play your maid again tonight, if you wish."
"No, thank you." She stalked over to the dressing room and shut the door behind her, then had to duck back into the bedchamber for a candle. Gritting her teeth against his laugh, she closeted herself again and began hunting for a night rail.
Every bit as fancy as the bedchamber, the dressing room had a delicate wood table and two upholstered, fringed stools in the center. One wall was covered with an enormous gilt-framed mirror, another wall was lined with wardrobe cabinets, and there were two walls of those newfangled chests of drawers.
The first drawer she opened was filled with Trick's folded things, and she slammed it shut. She found her own clothes in the third chest she tried. Quickly she stripped out of the wedding dress, diving into the thickest, most voluminous night rail she owned. Her fingers fumbled with the clasp of the amber bracelet, but she finally managed to remove it and set it on the little inlaid table.
The bracelet sat there, taunting her. Amber. The Duchess of Amberley...
Dear God, however had she ended up in this predicament? Exactly where she'd sworn she'd never be.
When she reopened the door, Trick was in the bed, and—from all she could tell—stark naked. She paced beside the carved gilt monstrosity, hoping he was already asleep.
His hand shot out to grab hers, stopping her in her tracks. "I won't ever take you against your will. You needn't worry."
She bit her lip, eyeing his bare arm and shoulders. "Is that so?"
"Aye. You're safe, I assure you."
"Can...can I not have another room?"
"Is something wrong with this one?"
"Yes." She accompanied the word with a brazen stare, since nothing could be farther from the truth. The red chamber was satin and velvet, feathers and lace—altogether too fussy for her tastes. It looked like a brothel. Or what she imagined a brothel might look like, in any case. "This was your father's chamber, wasn't it? I believe I'd be more comfortable in your mother's chamber. Where is it?"
"In Scotland," he said shortly, patting the mattress beside him. "Come, Kendra, enough of this. I'm sleepy, and you look ready to drop."
With a sigh, she walked around the bed and gingerly lay on top of the covers.
Sounding exasperated, his voice drifted over his shoulder. "Get under the blanket. It's drafty in this gargantuan house."
Giving in, she scooted beneath the coverlet. The feather bed was soft and comfortable. Lying flat on her back, she could feel the rise and fall of Trick's breathing next to her, the warmth of his body even across the space that divided them.
When he rolled close and laid an arm loosely across her middle, she flinched.
. Rest." He raised himself to kiss the tip of her nose, his lips soft and temptingly damp. His amber eyes burned into hers, making her stomach flutter. Against her will, her arms ached to wrap around his neck and pull his mouth to meet hers.
But she knew what that would lead to.
"Aye, you're right." His whisper was husky with meaning.
Had he read her mind?
His mouth brushed hers; his tongue came out to trace her bottom lip. Despite her reservations, her body melted beneath his.
He chuckled low. "Aye, you'll be begging soon enough," he said, then turned away to blow out the candle.
Shaking, from vexation or unwelcome lust—for the life of her, she wasn't sure which—Kendra stared into the darkness and wondered if she'd ever get any sleep while she was married to Trick Caldwell.
"Wake up, milady. I mean, your grace."
Kendra forced open her eyes to see Jane standing over her.
"I've brought you some breakfast, or should I say dinner?" The maid set a tray on the bed. "It's late, and his grace is waiting to take you somewhere. A surprise, he said."
"A surprise?" Struggling into a sitting position, Kendra reached for a cup of chocolate. "He said he had something to show me today, but—"
"A surprise, yes." Jane's tall, thin figure disappeared into the dressing room. "He suggested you wear your simplest gown."
The sound of wardrobes opening and closing came through the open door. "Why would that be?" Kendra asked.
"Well, if you're not knowing, then how could I?" The maid came in with a peach-velvet gown. Other than a narrow edging of lace around the neckline and some wider matching lace that spilled from the wrists, the dress was plain. No overskirt, no jewels or embroidery on the stomacher. "Do you suppose this will do?"
"I'm sure it's fine."
Kendra slapped a slab of cheese on a slice of bread while Jane ducked into the dressing room again. Her sweet voice drifted back out. "Brown shoes rather than gold, I'm thinking."
Kendra chewed and swallowed, not thinking at all. Her brain was now fuzzy from too much sleep.
"And a chemise, and...lud, would you look at this lovely bracelet? Where'd this come from, milady? I mean, your grace?"
"Milady will more than do," Kendra grumbled. "And leave the bracelet there."
Jane appeared in the open doorway, her plain face marred by a puzzled frown. Winking in the noon sun that streamed through the window, the amber bracelet dangled from her fingers. "Was this a gift from your husband?"
"A wedding gift, yes."
"Then for certain he'd want you to wear it."
Setting down the bread, Kendra caught a glimpse of the gold ringing her finger. Enough of a reminder that she was married to a lying duke. "I don't care for it, Jane."
Her maid's mouth hung open. "But it's so beautiful. And his grace is so handsome and kind—do you not want to please him?"
Of course Jane would think Trick was kind—he'd given her half a day off. And he hadn't lied to her, either. "I really don't care for it," Kendra repeated. "Put it away for me, will you? I expect his grace will forget all about it—you know how men are."