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Authors: Cathy Maxwell

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BOOK: In the Bed of a Duke
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Phillip looked up, not truly comprehending what he was saying. He needed a moment alone to think. He forced a smile. “Nothing’s wrong.” He sat back against the seat, folding the letter.

“You appear upset.”

“I’m not.”

Heaton noticed he’d opened the letter. “Distressing news?”

“It’s from my childhood nanny. She’s dying. Wanted a last request.”

“And she’s a regular at the Old Ship down by the docks?”

Phillip wasn’t in the mood for his probing. No one must know what was in the contents of this letter. It was probably a hoax. A cruel one.

He hid his alarm behind a smile. He was a skilled diplomat. He could hide every feeling. “It’s sad. That’s all,” he heard himself answer.

Heaton accepted his explanation without question—because, as it turned out, he had his own interests in mind. “Actually, I did want a moment to discuss a matter with you.”

“Your agricultural legislation? I have every intention of supporting you.”

“No, something a bit more personal.” Heaton
shifted his weight on the soft leather seat uncomfortably. “I have a niece I believe you should meet—”

Dear God, not Heaton, too.

“—She’s a lovely girl, fluent in French, her manners impeccable, a true English rose—”

“I don’t want to marry. I’m done with it. Losing Elizabeth tore me apart.” Especially having childbirth claim her life. It was the same death his mother had suffered. They said she’d died of grief over losing her baby. His brother. His
twin.

No wonder he didn’t want to marry. Subconsciously, Elizabeth’s death had triggered an overwhelming sense of remorse that he’d kept bottled inside…until this moment.

He longed to crush the letter in his hand. He didn’t. He didn’t move even so much as an eyelash.

“But your title, Colster. You have a responsibility to your title.”

Mutiny welled up inside him. He tamped it down. “I know my responsibilities, Heaton.”

“Very well then. You should marry for yourself.” Heaton sat back. “You live like a monk. It’s not healthy for a man to hold himself off from women.”

“Now you are calling my manhood into play? Forget Monarch. I’m closer to calling
you
out.”

“I mean no insult,” Heaton hurried to declare.
“I’m speaking as a friend, and I’ve been thinking. We are both two-and-thirty. It’s a good age for a man to start a family. Alicia is such a comely girl. Delightful even. And, differing political views aside, it would be an advantageous marriage for both of us—”

“I won’t marry again.”

Heaton remained unconvinced. “I remember you telling us all that once before, and then you met Miss Cameron.”

“And I damn the day she ever crossed my path, both she and those fortune-hunting sisters of her. They’ve turned me into food for scandalmongers.”

“The gossips talk about each of us from time to time.”

“Not I.”

“Yes, they did,” his friend told him gently. “You were just less sensitive to it.”

The coach rolled to a stop. “We’re at your club,” Phillip said pointedly.

The footman opened the door, but Heaton didn’t budge. “So you won’t even come round for a peek at Alicia?”

“No, Jack.”

Heaton studied him for a moment. “Elizabeth’s death wasn’t your fault,” he said with startling insight.

The letter was a heavy weight in Phillip’s pocket. Heaton didn’t know what it was like to
have a person ripped out of one’s life by death. Phillip had lost everyone close to him. Mother, brother, father, wife…and even the fickle and silly Miranda Cameron. It was easier to shut it all out. “My cousin will make an excellent duke. Introduce Alicia to him.”

Heaton knew he’d been dismissed. He climbed out of the coach. “Thank you for the ride.”

“My pleasure.” Heaton closed the door, and Phillip was finally free to unfold the letter and read the deathbed confession.

…Your twin brother did not die. He was stolen by the Laird MacKenna, whose sister your mother unwittingly hired as a midwife. ’Twas on my recommendation. I told Her Grace that Rowena was a cousin. She was nothing of the sort. She paid me well for my hand in the foul deed, and I was greedy and foolish enough to agree.

The duchess, may God have mercy on her soul, was in pain and so trusting of us who had the care of her. When the first babe was born, she didn’t see the drops of tincture Rowena placed in his wee mouth that caused him to fall into such a deep sleep he appeared as if dead.

’Twas a blessing Rowena had already left the room with Justin when we realized there wasn’t
one babe but two, or who knows what she would have done to you?

Later, I had no choice but to help her. We placed a dead dog in the casket that had been prepared for your brother. Everyone was so consumed by grief, they trusted us to do what was right, and we betrayed them.

I do not know the fate of your brother. However, if Justin Maddox is alive, he is in the hands of Laird MacKenna and his blackhearted sister Rowena. I have heard no word from any of them since she disappeared with the baby.

Father Nicholas is helping me write this letter. He serves as my witness.

By the time you read this, I may no longer be on this earth. I can’t ask for forgiveness for I have never been able to forgive myself. May God have mercy on my soul for what I’ve done.

The letter was signed by Meredith Frye and witnessed by Father Jean-Pierre Nicholas.

Phillip sat very still.

He
wasn’t
alone.

He had a brother.

One who was in the hands of his family’s enemies.

Phillip frowned. He knew the tale of the feud between the MacKennas and the Maddoxes, but it had taken place close to two hundred years
ago. It could not be important now. The tale was impossible to believe—
save that his brother might be alive.

And if he was, Phillip was not the rightful Duke of Colster.

The thought sucked the air out of the coach. He couldn’t breathe.

Colster was more than a title; it was Phillip’s very being, his purpose. He looked out the window at the expensive stone houses of the quiet, elegant neighborhood and told himself his whole life couldn’t have been a lie. The letter was nothing more than paper and ink. It would burn in a blink, and no one would be the wiser—except for himself.

And if Phillip Maddox believed in one thing, it was honor.

A sense of destiny stirred within him. A twin. Another half to himself. The light to his darkness.

And the reason why he’d always felt alone.

Before his coach reached his front step, he knew he’d be leaving for Scotland.

But he’d not take servants and outriders. This matter was too personal. If he was being played for a fool, he didn’t want the gossips to know.

And, if Nanny Frye’s claim was true?

He might not want that known either.

Chapter 2

Scotland

G
ale-force winds of a sudden Highland storm pounded Charlotte Cameron’s coach, accentuating the desperateness of her situation. But she would not turn back. Indeed, she would have traveled to meet the devil himself if marriage could undo all the harm her ambitions had caused her family.

For that reason, when Laird MacKenna had invited her to visit his Highland home, Nathraichean, located on the northernmost coast of Scotland, she’d accepted. Granted she didn’t know him well; but the two of them had one thing in common—they were both enemies of the Duke of Colster. With the duke as one’s enemy, friends were few and far between, as were marriage offers.

And besides, she told herself repeatedly, although Laird MacKenna was really quite old, he didn’t
truly
have horns and a tail. Marriage to him would provide respectability, which was what she needed to find a suitable husband for Constance.

Nor was Charlotte in a position to be choosy over choosing a husband. At seven-and-twenty, she was beyond the pale for the marriage market. An old man is all she would have caught anyway. It was her penance to put aside her romantic dreams and ensure that Constance’s were fulfilled.

Or would be,
Charlotte amended, if she survived the fury of this storm. She rode in Laird MacKenna’s own coach, an old, heavy vehicle that was no match for the force of wind, hail, and lightning Mother Nature threw at them with all her might.

Charlotte gripped the leather seat and anything else she could grab and tried to think positively. Everything would work out.
It had to

A particularly strong gust of wind hit the side of the coach, interrupting her fervent prayers. The motion was like being slapped by the hand of God, and she could have sworn she felt the wheels on one side of the vehicle lift off the road. She caught her breath. The last time she’d dared to look outside the coach, there had been a huge
drop off the side of the road into a rocky gorge. They’d all be smashed to pieces.

Her fears were confirmed as the laird’s men, Klem and Fergus, cursed the horses. One yelled, “Weight on the other side, weight on the other side.”

Charlotte grabbed her precious knitting bag and scrambled as best she could toward the opposite door, bringing every ounce at her disposal toward the task of preventing the coach from flipping.

For one horrifying second, the vehicle heeled, suspended over disaster.

She thought of her sisters, whose lives she had ruined by insisting they leave the Ohio Valley and come to England. She’d wanted to reclaim their birthright as granddaughters of the Earl of Bagsley. As the oldest, she’d assumed she’d known what was best for the three of them. She’d been mistaken. Terribly mistaken.

Every wrong thing that happened since their father had died almost two years ago had been her fault. It was because of
her
that Miranda and her husband Alex were fugitives from England.
She’d
encouraged them to defy the powerful Colster. She had even stood up to the man himself and had pushed Miranda to jilt him—no, to jilt him
publicly
.

She now knew how heinous a crime that was amongst the
ton,
the leaders of polite society.

In that one moment, Charlotte’s dreams of her and her sisters being the Toast of Society had turned to dust. The
ton
had been scandalized by her audacity. They’d made both her and her youngest sister, Constance, pariahs in society. The only invitations they had received were to children’s musicales and church suppers.

In response to these disastrous circumstances, Charlotte had sent Constance to a boarding school for young ladies in Scotland, where she could safely stay until Colster’s terrible temper and society’s condemnation had been expended.

And then Laird MacKenna had come into her life, begging an introduction through mutual acquaintances. His unusual introduction had caught her interest.

He’d said, “So, we have a common enemy.”

“I have no enemies, my lord,” she’d answered.

“Not even Colster?”

Charlotte had attempted to dissemble, but Laird MacKenna was well aware of her troubles. He’d understood, and Charlotte had been in need of sympathy.

For two weeks, he’d called on her daily before abruptly returning to his Highlands. Charlotte had assumed that was that, until she’d received the invitation to visit, giving her a second chance to bring him up to scratch.

But now, she’d never succeed in any of her dreams because she was going to die a horrid death in a coach accident. The coach and all were going to be blown off the side of the mountain, not ever to be seen again. Miranda and Constance would wonder what had happened to her and never know that she’d given her life trying to exonerate their family name—

The coach gave a violent jerk, and the wheels hit the road with a teeth-jarring bounce.

Once again, the horses had saved the day. Klem and Fergus gave out a shout as the coach rolled to a stop.

Charlotte didn’t move.

She was too busy thanking God that she was still alive.

The small door in the roof that served as a means of communication between the driver and the passenger slid open. Rain splashed in as Klem asked, “Did that give you the frights, miss?” His brogue was so strong she had to listen hard to understand him. He had a broken tooth right in the middle of his mouth, chubby cheeks, and deep circles under his eyes as if he spent too much time up at night plotting dangerous deeds. Fergus was half a head taller and a bullyboy with a high forehead and a belligerent attitude. If she hadn’t met Laird MacKenna, and could
only judge him by his servants, she would have thought him a perfect scoundrel instead of a sophisticated gentleman in search of a wife.

“It did, Mr. Klem,” she responded.

He cackled his pleasure. “Scared me, too. Fergus told me I couldn’t make it through the pass at that speed, but I was out to prove him wrong. I should have listened to him.”

“You should indeed,” she agreed, fighting the urge to throttle him for his stupidity. “Where is Mr. Fergus now? I don’t hear him gloating.”

“He fell off.”

Shocked, she asked, “Good heavens, is he all right?”

Klem grinned at her. “He splashed around a bit in the mud, but he’s climbing aboard.” The coach gave to one side, proving the truth of his words.

“You could have helped me up,” Charlotte heard Fergus complain.

“You’re fine,” Klem said, dismissing him.

“I told you to slow down,” the other Scotsman said, but Charlotte had had enough.

These two had bickered all the way from London.

She cut through any retort Klem was preparing to make. “We must pull over and wait this storm out.”

“And sit on the road twiddling our thumbs? No, can’t do that, miss,” Klem assured her. “Although, there are better places to wait.”

“The laird wants her at Nathraichean as soon as possible,” Fergus reminded him.

“He’d understand a storm and a man’s need to see a bit of his family,” Klem argued.

“I don’t know—” Charlotte started.

“You don’t need to,” Klem said cheerily. “I’ll handle the laird. I know what to say to keep him happy.” He shut the trapdoor, leaving Charlotte with a very bad feeling about the questions forming in her mind.

The coach jerked, and then went forward. They were on their way again.

Charlotte sat back against the seat. What had she gotten herself into?

Thankfully, the storm settled into a steady, miserable rain. Her fingers trembled as she pulled out her knitting needles and wool and set to work. The murky afternoon light inside the coach was not good for handwork, but she needed something to put her fears at bay.

Isabel Severson, who, along with her husband, had invited the Cameron sisters to live under their roof, had urged her to hire a maid to travel with her, but Charlotte could not spare the expense. Besides, she was long past the age of
needing to hire a lady companion for the trip, and Laird MacKenna had assured her he had maids on his staff she could use.

Instead of fears and doubts, as she worked the wool around her needles, Charlotte focused on what she did like about the laird. In spite of being well close to the age of sixty, he’d had little gray in his dark hair, had been soft-spoken, and well mannered—
in fact, Colster had more gray at his temples than the laird
—and she’d liked his musical accent. It gave him character.

Looping the wool around her needle and finishing a row, Charlotte allowed herself to imagine what it would be like if Constance were to marry a Scottish fellow, too, and they could live close to each other. There was a certain charm to being a Highland lady. Or so she’d thought until she’d had a taste of the miserable weather—

Her thoughts were broken when the coach came to an unexpected halt.

Now what?

This time, the door in the roof didn’t slide open. Instead, she heard a man’s voice outside the coach. “I need a ride to the next village.” It was an English voice, one with a note of authority as if he were a soldier or accustomed to being in command. He must have waved her coach down. “My horse lost his footing on the road and fell. Can you help me?”

Charlotte waited, expecting Klem to say yes. He didn’t.

The man, too, must have been vexed by Klem’s reluctance because he said with a note of exasperation, “I’ll pay handsomely for the ride and not trouble you once we reach an inn or village where I can hire a mount.”

The rain had let up a bit, but it was still a wet, uncomfortable day. The man was probably knee deep in mud. She waited for Klem or Fergus to answer.

They didn’t. They seemed perfectly content to make the stranger stand in the rain and beg.

She’d had enough. She’d been raised on the Ohio Valley frontier, where a person didn’t hesitate to help another in distress. She reached up and knocked on the trapdoor.

Klem slid it open. “Yes, miss?”

“Give the man a ride.”

He stared at her before drawling, “Are you certain, miss? The laird might not like this.”

Charlotte couldn’t understand why he was challenging her. “Of course I’m certain, and I’ll be happy to explain all to the laird.”

“Aye then.” He closed the door, and she heard him say to the stranger, “The lady says you can join her in the coach.”

That wasn’t exactly what Charlotte had said, and she was irritated that Klem had phrased it that way.

However, the gentleman was grateful. “May I put my saddle and tack in the boot?” he asked.

Klem must have nodded because a moment later, Charlotte felt the lid lift on the storage boot located on the wall behind her seat, then slam shut. His footsteps squished in the mud.

The horses were restless to get moving. They took a step or two forward, and Fergus shouted at them to quiet.

The door opened. Wind and rain swept in. Gathering her knitting into its bag, Charlotte moved her legs to make room for him to take a seat on the bench across from hers.

The man had manners. He removed his hat and drenched greatcoat as he hurried to climb inside and shield her from the storm. He slammed the door shut and settled back saying, “Thank you. I was afraid I’d have to walk for miles—” He stopped, obviously as surprised to see her as she was shocked to realize it was
he
.

The Duke of Colster, as wet as a drowned rat and still looking every inch The Duke, sat across from her.

The line of his mouth flattened. He stood, reaching for the door handle, but at that moment, the coach lurched forward, throwing Colster off-balance to land on top of Charlotte.

Her immediate instinct was to push the wet
man off of her and scramble as far away from him as possible. But she didn’t get a chance.

He practically leaped to the other side of the coach to get away from her. It wasn’t a great distance. Their knees still touched and would have to. There was no way to avoid him. He was a tall man with broad shoulders and a presence that filled every corner, every crevice of the vehicle.

Colster pounded on the roof. “Driver, stop this coach immediately.”

But his order must have gotten lost in the sound of wind and rain, for neither Klem nor Fergus responded.

All the anger she’d been carrying inside, the indignation, fear, and humiliation, rose to the surface. He didn’t want to be in the same coach with her?

She
didn’t want to ride with
him
!

“You could jump,” she suggested.

He eyed the door.

“Oh, don’t be a fool,” she said crisply.

His Grace moved to the corner on his side of the coach, placing his wet hat and folded coat on the seat beside him as if warning her not even to
think
of getting close to him.
As if she would.

It was only then she realized she’d just called the Duke of Colster, confidant of kings, statesman extraordinaire, chosen god of the
ton
, a fool.

For a moment, she tasted panic, before willing herself to be brave. After all, he
was
one.

And from Miranda’s jilting, she knew better than to offer an apology. He wouldn’t accept one; and she wouldn’t have meant it.

She pulled her knitting out of her bag and started her needles working. She was knitting a pair of warm socks for her new brother-in-law. Practical socks. She’d wager the duke had never made anything practical in his life. She just wished her fingers didn’t tremble. It ruined the impression she wanted to give of ignoring him.

She tucked her needles back in the bag.

More minutes of stony silence passed between them.

Colster appeared to be sleeping, but Charlotte doubted that he was. There was too much tension in his body.

It really was a sin to have so much power and waste it on a petty vendetta against her and her sisters. He was no better than a worm in her estimation. A squirming, sightless, fish bait worm—although he didn’t resemble a worm. Not by any stretch of her very capable imagination.

No, the Duke of Colster was a finely made man. Charlotte could understand why half the female population in England fawned over him. His shoulders were broad, his nose straight, intelligence clear in his eyes. Add to the mix his
devotion to his late wife, and he became the tragic hero. What woman could resist that?

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