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Authors: Cathy Maxwell

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

In the Bed of a Duke (3 page)

BOOK: In the Bed of a Duke
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Secretly, Charlotte had to admit that when she’d first met him, she’d been jealous of Miranda for having attracted his attention. Charlotte even liked the premature hint of gray at his temples.

He appeared younger now, and less well groomed. He must have been on the road for some time. A shadow of a beard was forming along his jaw. There was an intensity about him, something beyond the force of his normal personality. She wondered why he was traveling through Scotland…and why alone? Dukes rarely went anywhere without fanfare. Or so she had heard.

Certainly when she’d first met Colster at his home even the servants had servants.

One thing, she was glad she wore her best day dress, which was a forest green high-necked dress with a triangle of let-in work at the bodice. When they had started out this morning, Klem had thought that if they pushed hard, there was a possibility they could arrive in Nathraichean by nightfall. Consequently, Charlotte had chosen her finest clothes including her kid leather slippers, of which she was inordinately proud. After years of wearing moccasins or going barefoot, these shoes and her white silk stockings with their red ribbon garters were a potent symbol of all she hoped to achieve.

Outside, the rain hit in sheets. The coach seemed to slow down to a crawl. She tried not to think of what further dangers lurked ahead for them.

Nor was it in her nature to sit silent.

“How is your horse?” she asked civilly.

He didn’t open his eyes.

She’d not be ignored. Not by him. She repeated her question.

The duke still didn’t open his eyes, but he said, “I put him down.” Terse, clipped words that belied the emotions she sensed behind them.

“I’m sorry,” she replied honestly.

At last, the duke opened his eyes and looked right at her, evaluating her sincerity—just as he appraised everything, and everyone, around him.

Refusing to be cowed, she met his gaze with a level one of her own.

His jaw tightened. “I’m sorry, too. He was a good horse. A companion. He deserved better than to be left at the bottom of that gorge. When I get to a village, I’ll send someone back to bury him.”

It was a simple admission, but heartfelt. She’d known men who valued the friendship of their four-legged beasts more than that of humans. They were the sort of men accustomed to being alone.

She would never have considered Colster one of their number.

Against her better judgment, a crack formed in her shell of anger toward him.

Was it possible their paths had crossed for a reason? Maybe that was why Fate had thrown them together on the road to Nathraichean. After all, she did owe him an apology. Miranda would have married him, at considerable misery to herself, if Charlotte hadn’t interfered and stopped her. At the very least, Miranda should have cried off earlier
and
in private. Perhaps if she explained that Miranda had only wanted to help her sisters, Colster could forgive all of them…even just a little.

Charlotte cleared her throat, gathering her courage. Apologies didn’t come easy to her. She decided to ease into it. “You are fortunate that we came upon you,” she said, wanting to remind him gently she was doing him a service. “Few travel through a storm like this.”

He’d settled back, once again pretending to sleep, ignoring her.

Stubbornly, Charlotte continued, “And the Laird MacKenna’s coach may be old, but it is dry and sturdy—”

“MacKenna?” He bolted across the coach at her, moving so quickly she barely registered his movement before he was on top of her. He
pinned her against the hard leather upholstery, his forearm pressing her windpipe, cutting off her air. His weight held her down. “MacKenna owns this coach? What the devil are
you
doing with Laird MacKenna?”

Charlotte couldn’t answer. His arm across her throat was cutting off the flow of air to her chest. If she didn’t act quickly, he’d kill her.

H
e had her frightened,
and that was what Phillip wanted because then he’d hear the truth.

Certainly he was being no gentleman, but he’d been on the road for two days and the trip had been one frustration after another, culminating with Dynasty’s death.

Nor did he believe in coincidences. Miss Cameron’s presence on the road to Nathraichean, MacKenna’s family seat, had a significance, possibly a sinister one, and he wanted answers.

It also felt good to finally have a flesh-and-blood target for his temper. What had seemed a simple undertaking had already cost him dearly.

“Answer me,” he demanded.

But instead of obeying, he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye a second before she
attempted to stab him with what appeared to be a knitting needle.

He raised his elbow and deflected the blow. He’d heard these Americans were little more than savages. She was proving the point, and he was too damn tired for nonsense. He squeezed her wrist until she was forced to drop the needle, but that didn’t stop her from fighting.

Charlotte Cameron was taller than her sister and surprisingly strong. Instead of listening to reason, she bucked and twisted like a madwoman. Her strength was no match for his. He leaned all his weight upon her, using his legs to keep her from kicking him. She arched, attempting to throw him off—and he found himself settled intimately against her.

Just as he realized where he was, what position they were in, she froze, also aware.

In spite of himself, Phillip went hard.

She felt the movement. Her expressive eyes came alive with shock. She opened her mouth to scream. He clamped a hand over her lips. “Don’t,” he warned in her ear. “Answer my questions and I’ll let you go. Untouched.”

Her response was to attempt to take a bite out of his hand. He yanked his hand back, her teeth skimming his skin. She got one wrist free to knock the side of his head with the heel of her palm with enough force to hurt.

The thin hold he held on his temper snapped. “Damn you and damn your sister,” he said. He grabbed her wrist and forced it back. His life had been peaceful until he’d run into Miranda in the lending library that summer afternoon. Ever since that moment, everything had gone to hell. The Cameron sisters had made him appear weak, and he couldn’t let one of them escape unscathed.

Still, he did not strike women.

And so Phillip took the only course open to him. He kissed her.

It wasn’t the path he wanted to take, but it was either this or strangle her…and strangely, he really had no choice. Instinct guided him, even as his conscious mind said no.

Her mouth was open when he brought his down over it. He was not gentle. He didn’t want to be. This kiss was punishment. His intention was to break her to his spirit, to overpower her into submission.

It became a war of wills.

But only for a moment.

Phillip was many things—duke, diplomat, legislator…but he was first and foremost a man. A man whose desires had not been slaked in years of self-imposed celibacy. His secretary Freedman and others had warned him it wasn’t wise for a man to be alone. Phillip hadn’t agreed. He was a
rational man. He’d never had difficulty controlling his lust.

Until now.

His body responded to this woman with a force that was staggering. His brain went blank. He no longer cared about questioning her. Instead, his interest shifted to lips that God had fashioned to be kissed…and the knowledge that only the leather of his breeches and thin material of her dress and undergarments separated his sex from hers.

Her skin smelled spicy sweet and inviting. His thumb rested over the pulse point of her wrist. He could feel the rushing, anxious beat of her heart. It mirrored the rapid pounding of his own as if they pulsed together, and he was lost.

He shifted his hold, capturing both her wrists in one hand, freeing his other to explore. He’d forgotten the feel of a woman’s breasts crushed against his chest. Or the pleasurable curve of her waist to the flare of her hips designed for a man’s pleasure.

Freedman was right. There was a thing a man
had
to have. Although Charlotte Cameron was the first to inspire this overwhelming, primitive drive inside him.

The nature of their kiss changed. There was an unexpected connection. Desire sparked into a flame. She was hot, and moist, and suddenly very willing.

He released her wrist and moved his hand to cover her breast. Her nipple was hard and begging. There was fire in this woman. Spirit. He longed to feel her naked, to have her tighten around him.

His fingers found the bare skin of her thighs. He traced the ribbons of her garters, which held her stockings in place, before moving upward toward a more intimate place—

The coach rocked violently as if a wheel had come off the road. The movement brought Miss Cameron to her senses. The magic of the moment disappeared. The kiss broke just as she bucked, catching him off guard, and throwing him toward the floor.

Phillip managed to catch himself. He moved over to the opposite seat, leaning back against the hard leather. He never lost control. Ever.

And yet, he had with this woman.

Miss Cameron scrambled back into her corner, pulling her skirts down with shaking hands. She appeared as stunned as he felt.

Charlotte was not as lovely as her sister Miranda. Both sisters had blond hair and clear, ocean blue eyes. But there, similarities ended.

Miranda was a goddess, a woman with the sort of looks that stopped a man in his tracks or would make him gloat to have her on his arm.

This older sister was more human. She had hair
that was more the rich color of honey than the golden radiance of sunlight. Her nose was shorter than Miranda’s, too. It lacked aristocratic straightness, and yet it, along with her arched brows, gave her face character. Here was a woman who did not hold back on her thoughts or emotions.

Her curves were less generous than what Phillip would have liked in some places and more in others, though he had no complaint. She’d felt good,
womanly
beneath him.

A man could easily picture himself in bed with her.

Phillip was doing that right now.

Nor had he ever kissed Miranda, or even his late wife, the way he’d kissed Charlotte.

His gaze went to her lips.

Of all her attributes, he was attracted to her mouth the most. It was generous and inviting. He’d liked the way she’d opened to him.

He
didn’t
like the way her mouth was frowning at him right now or the snap of anger in her eyes.

She noticed the knitting needle on the floor and swooped it up to point at him with trembling fingers. “Come near me again and I shall gut you.”

Gut you.
He marveled at her choice of words and her bravery. A proper miss would be in hysterics, but not Miss Cameron. She was threatening to use her knitting needle to split him open
like a hare. She’d probably use it as a spit to roast his heart, too—and therein lay the danger.

Her threat reminded him that there was nothing proper about any of the Cameron girls. The laws of polite society held no sway inside this coach.

“Why are you so dramatic, Miss Cameron? I thought you and your sisters were selling yourselves to the highest bidders? Or,” he said with sudden insight, “have I been replaced in your money schemes by MacKenna?”

Her jaw tightened, and her eyes burned bright at his challenge.

Phillip decided that, for once, he was wrong—she
was
more beautiful than her sister. In spite of her mussed hair and lips still swollen by his kiss, she appeared as regal as a queen—until she reached up and with a very deliberate movement, wiped his kiss off her lips with the back of her hand.

The insult was surprisingly effective. A shot of temper whistled through him. She’d been a willing partner, and he was tempted to kiss her again to prove it, but Phillip sensed he’d best not push his luck.

Charlotte had been the first woman who’d made him lose the careful control he kept over himself. He told himself it was because he was tired. Under normal circumstances, she’d mean nothing to him.

“What was that?” he asked. “Some sort of
frontier
slight?” He shook his head. “I hate to think what my life would have been like if I
had
married Miranda. Oh, put your knitting needle away. I’m done with you.”

Heat rose to her cheeks, emphasizing their high bones and the blueness of her eyes. He forced himself to focus on what had first started the clash between them.

“What are you doing with MacKenna?” he repeated, this time, keeping his voice civil.

“That’s my business,” she replied, equally cold, her fist still holding that damn knitting needle as if she would come at him.

“Miss Cameron, I’m not accustomed to people not answering questions when I ask them.”

“You can go to the devil,” she said.

She was so graceful in her curse that instead of being offended, Phillip caught himself chuckling. “It seems I already have,” he admitted, reaching for his beaver hat, only to discover it had been crushed during their tussle. He slapped it into shape, put it on his head, and pulled the wide brim low over his eyes. It was an effective way to shut her out.

So what if he’d wanted to bed her? He stretched out his legs, uncaring if he took up all the foot room in the coach. He needed sleep. Hours ago he’d stopped in an inn to snatch a
nap, but his busy mind had prevented him from relaxing. However, the swaying of the coach and a sense that he was closer to his destiny eased his fevered brain a bit.

As he had done a hundred times, perhaps thousands since he’d started this trip, Phillip reached inside his coat and touched Nanny Frye’s letter. He needed the physical reminder of why he was making the journey. He was tempted to unfold it and read it again. He knew the words by heart, only now, after repeated readings and his being closer to his goal, they took on legitimacy.

He rode in MacKenna’s coach with a woman who had just cause to hate him. Could it be possible that she knew the contents of the letter? That she was in league with the devil?

Phillip knew Miss Cameron still watched him closely. He could feel her scrutiny. Good. He wanted her wary of him.

As for him, the answers would come soon enough. They were both traveling the same road. Right now, he needed a few moments’ sleep.

But God help her if she was part of the machinations behind this letter.

 

The last thing Charlotte expected the duke to do was fall asleep in a blink.

He
was snoring after a feel, a pat, and a jolly good kiss.

Whereas
she
was tense, angry, and ready for a fight. If his goal had to been to completely humiliate her, he’d met it.

Hot tears burned her eyes. She forced them back. She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Besides, if she hadn’t let herself cry over Thomas all those years ago when she’d been younger and more innocent, she wouldn’t do so now over this arrogant, selfish, spiteful
worm
of a duke.

She was
glad
Miranda had jilted him.

And to think she herself had once dreamed of marrying a duke. She’d imagined them to be the noblest of the noble.

Of course, that was before she knew how the
ton
treated those it felt were inferior. Growing up, listening to her mother’s stories of her “come out” and the parties she attended, Charlotte had believed there was no greater place on earth than London.

Now, she knew differently. The
ton
looked down their noses at her, and always would. They laughed at her accent, her ingenuousness, and every one of her family’s misfortunes.

Her one saving grace, as far as she was concerned, had been that she’d stood up to Colster. All of London, of England, bowed and scraped to him, but she had faced him in front of everyone
of importance. No matter what they said about her, she’d reclaimed a bit of her own.

She wasn’t so confident of that now. Convinced he truly slept, she picked up her knitting bag from the floor where it had fallen and started to put the needle back. Her hand shook…but not from fear, or even from anger.

No, what unsettled her was his kiss. It had shaken her to her core. Her legs still felt weak and, in the deepest, most secret female recesses of her body, something had been awakened. Something that she’d not known had existed.

That wasn’t true. From the first moment she’d laid eyes on him, Colster had made her edgy and too aware of him—and she didn’t know why. She seemed to understand his drives and motivations better than she comprehended herself. He was angry she had responded to their kiss. He’d meant to punish her, but it hadn’t worked as he’d planned.

Nor could she believe she’d responded as wantonly as she had.

Charlotte had always guarded her virtue. It was the only thing of importance she owned that was truly hers to give. She’d been ten when her mother had been murdered, old enough to receive and remember her advice about men. There had been those who had tried, but only Colster had breached her defenses, and she didn’t like it.

She thought about knitting, but knew it wouldn’t relieve the tension inside her. Her lips still tingled and she remembered too clearly the way their mouths had melded together.

Charlotte had to stay away from the Duke of Colster. She didn’t want to understand his faults or forgive his temper. She wanted him angry and distrustful.

Unfortunately, that didn’t mean that she wasn’t wildly attracted to him.

“He is your enemy.” She spoke aloud, quietly, needing to impress the words on her rebellious senses. “Don’t be a fool.”

A heavy murmur as if answering in agreement escaped him.

She started. What if he’d heard her?

The cynical curve of his lips confirmed her worst fears. He raised the brim of his hat. His gray eyes were sharp, focused as he said, “You’re right, Miss Cameron. Don’t be a fool.”

For a second she feared he knew exactly what she was thinking, and then realized he couldn’t. She hadn’t given away anything, or so she thought until his gaze dropped to her breasts.

BOOK: In the Bed of a Duke
7.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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