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Authors: Olivia Ritch

Duke Herheart Final

BOOK: Duke Herheart Final
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Duke of Her Dreams

By

Olivia Ritch

Duke of Her Dreams – Olivia Ritch

Published by

Melange Books, LLC

White Bear Lake, MN 55110

www.melange-books.com

Duke of Her Dreams – Margaret Ritchie

Copyright  2011

Names, characters, and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Credits

Editor: Jane Bonander

Copy Editor: Diane Pearson

Format Editor: Taylor Evans

Cover Artist: Mae Powers

2

Duke of Her Dreams – Olivia Ritch

Duke of Her Dreams

By Olivia Ritch

Kathryn Ragland never dreamed that one tiny portrait could dramatically alter her life until she woke after a vivid dream in which she changed time and place. Determined to find her way home, Kathryn befriends a mesmerizing stranger. While she has no choice but to accept aid from the brooding war hero, Kathryn learns that thawing the crusty exterior of England’s newest and most eligible Duke may just have rewards beyond her wildest dreams.

Captain Michael Stafford is reluctantly returning home to step into his role as the Duke of Asterleigh, an unexpected title.

After meeting the completely improper American on the last leg of his journey home, Michael quickly determines that Kathryn is destined to be his. Fate, in the form of mortal threats on Kathryn’s life, forces him to fight unseen enemies while he must face his own fears of sharing his life with someone, again. Determined, Michael sets out on his most difficult campaign… to show Kathryn he can be the man of her dreams.

Dedication: "Wishing you all your heart’s desire."

www.oliviaritch.com

[email protected]

3

Duke of Her Dreams – Olivia Ritch

Duke of Her Dreams

By Olivia Ritch

Chapter One

May 11, 2010

She held an oil painting that had power over dreams, over place and time, but Kathryn Ragland knew nothing of that magic as she dozed off to sleep and to dream of the fascinating images on the canvas.

Wilton, Herefordshire

May 12, 1816

Dawn

Kathryn woke with a start. There was something seriously wrong this morning. It should have been like any other workday. Instead, Kathryn blinked her eyes at the morning light streaming in the lace-covered window and whipped her gaze around the unfamiliar room, registering the conclusion that she was not where she belonged. Surely, she was still dreaming.

Mid-morning

Hours after waking up in a strange bed Kathryn Ragland was still at a loss to understand what had happened to her. Having wracked her brains since dawn for any recollection of what transpired in the night and where she was, Kathryn realized fully that the most bizarre event had occurred and that she was somehow, some way, transported back in time.

After hours of pacing, Kathryn plopped onto the bed, kicked the side rail and let out a frustrated growl. She looked up to find a very large man standing in the doorway of her room.

Surprised, and embarrassed to be dressed so scantily, Kathryn hastily drew the quilt from the bed around her and scrambled to her feet.

Not knowing anything about where she was or who
he
was, she asked,

“How did you get in?”

4

Duke of Her Dreams – Olivia Ritch

“Your door was unlocked and I heard your distress. I apologize for intruding.”

Relaxing slightly, Kathryn eyed him warily. The man was her first contact in this strange place and while she did not especially want to divulge the extent of her confusion to him, she was oddly relieved to have another human being with whom to talk. She inquired hopefully,

“Is your wife by any chance available? I need a little help.”

With an unreadable expression on his face, the man inquired, “My wife?”

“Yes, or your…
companion
?”

“Companion?” With subtle emphasis, Kathryn said the word; the man recognized her allusion to a possibly inappropriate traveling companion. Kathryn was used to watching people. Every day, she used her skills of observation to understand the true nature of her female clients. This man was clearly amused by her state and her question although his rigid bearing kept him from seeming too familiar. She would have bet a dollar he was a military man. Straight shoulders, wide stance, hands folded behind his back.

“Yes, is there a
woman
traveling with you?” It seemed a simple enough question to her.

“Ah, now I understand. No, there is no lady with me. May I fetch someone for you?”

She was so quickly intrigued by the military man’s surprisingly warm English accent that Kathryn almost lost the thread of the conversation and her purpose. While she had come grudgingly to realize she was far away from home, England was a bit too far for believability.


No!
Sorry, I mean, I don’t want anybody else to know I’m here.”

“Whyever not?”

“Because I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be.”

The man smiled fully now at her admission, revealing strong white teeth set in mobile lips and a face lightly tanned and roughened by the outdoors. Tiny lines fanned from his eyes and the cleft in his chin was as deep as her grandfather’s had been. “Indeed? And a lady will assist you, how?”

“Something has happened to my clothes,”
which is true since they’re
at home
“…and I need a dress.”

“A dress? Do you not have the carriage dress you arrived in?” She watched one of his black brows rise in question, absolutely sure she was amusing him now.
Nope, definitely didn’t arrive by carriage.
“No. Well, I don’t have anything appropriate for daytime.”

He studied her for a full minute and Kathryn grew uncomfortable 5

Duke of Her Dreams – Olivia Ritch

under his gaze, drawing the quilt higher and shifting her feet like a nervous child. Since she had been studying him equally as avidly just moments earlier, Kathryn felt guilty for being annoyed with his perusal, although she had always fancied her own powers of observation to include stealthy evaluation of her subjects. Having spent the last few hours in frustrated contemplation and pacing while simultaneously salivating over the smell of cooking meat from downstairs, Kathryn was not disposed to be patient nor self-flagellating. She hated feeling vulnerable. When the man finally spoke, it was a wry “Indeed?”

“It’s not what you’re thinking. I’m not here in a skimpy ball gown.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Ah.”

Kathryn struggled to hold her temper in the face of the man’s one-word answers. Clearly out of her social element and desperate for a way forward, Kathryn reigned in her frustration and asked in a calm voice

“Would you please be willing to help me in getting something to wear?”

Kathryn saw the moment he recognized her plight for the very real problem it was and the instant he softened. She watched the man’s lovely dark eyes shift as he scanned the room for her nonexistent luggage and the changes of his expression from exasperation to confusion and finally concern. While the gentleman, because he surely was that in her humble opinion, concentrated, she studied him in greater detail. At first look, his size, his commanding carriage and the sheer maleness of him had made him seem rather forbidding, but there was intelligence and a gentle sense of humor in his personality that Kathryn found surprising.

On even closer conspicuous inspection, his period attire of tight riding pants molded to huge muscular thighs and what she knew to be a riding jacket that was itself stretched over amazingly broad shoulders marked him as a prosperous man from the 1800s. This man, with his deep drawling English accent and regal bearing, was the real, in-the-flesh confirmation of Kathryn’s time travel. Her resolve wavered as the enormity of Kathryn’s dilemma became clear. She was, she could not even imagine, in another time and place.

”It has been quite a while since I have been dispatched on a woman’s errand. I might not be
up to the task,” he demurred with a rather charming grin.

Kathryn chuckled at the man’s attempt to put her at ease, feeling a little better. “Thank you for accepting my challenge.”

“Aye, madam. But, so far giving you a chuckle is all the assistance I have rendered.” Even while bantering with her, he had not relaxed his rigid stance, the changes of facial expression the only hints of his amusement.

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Duke of Her Dreams – Olivia Ritch

“It definitely would have been helpful if you had had a five-foot tall wife with a spare size four dress to loan me, she said, gesturing to her still as yet not appropriately clothed form.

“Pardon my thick-headedness. Your sayings are quite unfamiliar to me although I believe I understand you well enough.”

“Sorry, I guess I’m not exactly speaking King’s English and it has been a totally trying day already. I don’t mean to be crass. I’m just…a little stressed.”

“Based on your circumstances, I would understand your distress.”

He smiled at her and moved for the first time to lean against the doorjamb. “Where did you say you were from?”

“America.”

“Really?” At that, he crossed one booted leg over another.

“Why do you ask that? Surely I don’t sound like I’m from around here?”

“I know several Americans and they don’t speak…as you do,” he answered with hesitation while crossing his arms over his massive chest.

“Doesn’t surprise me.” She sighed. “I’m from the…”
South and
2010
“uhh…newer region in the south. We don’t get a lot of Boston accents.”

“Ah, I think...,” he struggled to reply to that strange description of the modern-day American South.

“Don’t try too hard to figure it out.” She laughed again now at the absurdity of it all and because of course he wouldn’t recognize her accent.

Although Kathryn was really not any nearer to a solution for her lack of dress, she was no longer quite as uneasy as she had been since dawn when she had woken up in the quaint but totally foreign little inn.

The bizarre cultural exchange with the large gentleman had lightened her mood and eased her stress somewhat. Before Kathryn could form her next question, the man prompted her.

“Now, would it be improper of me to ask how it is you came to be in this predicament?”

Because he’d been an almost perfect gentleman, and was taking her difficult requests in stride, Kathryn decided the truth would be the best answer. “I awoke here.”
Accompanied by an odd assortment of stuff
including a totally useless portable phone, wristwatch, one diamond stud
earring, and a miniature portrait from the 1800s that now seems to
figure somehow in this debacle.

“I gathered that much, I thought to know
how
you got here, conveyance, companions, route? And how it is you are now stranded 7

Duke of Her Dreams – Olivia Ritch

without proper clothing?”

“That’s just it,” Kathryn tried to explain. “Truthfully I don’t know. I fell asleep in my own bed in America last night. I’m sure of it and woke up here in this inn. I have
no idea
how I got here and I’m not sure even where ‘here’ is,” she declared peevishly. Kathryn felt frazzled and tired and hungry and was struggling to not let all of that irritation show to the nice stranger.

“As you’ve deduced, you’re not in America. This is Herefordshire, England,” he said in monotone. Kathryn realized that her admission had caused a new skepticism in his attitude toward her. Darn it all if he didn’t believe her.
What would she do then?

“Definitely not in Kansas anymore,” she muttered to herself. “So, England?”

BOOK: Duke Herheart Final
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