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Authors: Cathy Maxwell

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BOOK: In the Bed of a Duke
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“You’ve done more today than an army of women,” he conceded. “If you need me, call.”

“I shall shout my lungs out.”

He smiled at her terminology.

“Careful, Your Grace, or you shall make a habit of smiling,” she chided.

“I’m always on my guard with you, Miss Cameron.”

His words seemed to catch her a moment. He expected her to offer another protest. But then, without so much as a murmur, she left the hayrick.

He listened to ensure she was going in the right direction.

She was.

Phillip sat and was almost overwhelmed at how good it felt to finally relax. He couldn’t wait to get these wet boots off. They felt molded to his feet.

Finally, he was able to have a moment of privacy for himself to review Nanny Frye’s letter. He removed his jacket. There were rips in the seams at the sleeve. He pulled the letter out and tossed the jacket aside.

There wasn’t enough moonlight this far into the hayrick to see the words, but Phillip knew them by heart. What he wanted to do was touch
the letter, to feel it, hoping for some divine guidance as to its authenticity.

What if all this was a hoax? What if his brother
had
died?

The idea didn’t ring true.

Whether it was false optimism or foolishness, deep inside, Phillip did believe the letter was true. Justin was alive.

But for what purpose would someone put into play such a treacherous scheme?

“Your turn.” Miss Cameron’s voice was the first he realized she’d returned. He’d not even heard a footfall. With a start, he quickly folded the letter and, because he’d thrown his coat aside and didn’t want to make an issue of the letter, he slid it under his greatcoat beneath him on the hay.

She noticed his hasty movements. “I didn’t mean to startle.” Her gaze went to where his hand rested on the coat over the hidden letter.

“You didn’t.”

Miss Cameron moved over to the greatcoat and sat down. Immediately, Phillip rose, wanting to act as normal as possible. He placed his foot over the spot where the letter was hidden. “Felt good to take my jacket off.”

She pulled her heavy honey blond hair over one shoulder and combed it with her fingers. “The stream is icy cold. It revived my spirits a bit.”

“Good.” He hesitated. She looked at him with askance. He realized she was waiting for him to settle down. He picked up his jacket. “Here, you can use this as a blanket.”

Miss Cameron smiled her appreciation, her teeth white in the shadowy darkness, and he was struck by what a good smile she had. It was an honest smile, and the tension her sudden appearance had caused eased.

He was overreacting. He was being a complete fool. Since he’d first met Miss Cameron in the coach, she’d acted with courage and candor, and the least he could do was give her a little trust. “I’ll be back,” he told her. “See if you can get to sleep.”

“Thank you,” she said. He’d taken a few steps before her voice stopped him. “Your Grace?” He turned. Her gaze met his. “I’ve been thinking. You are right. I should return to London.”

There. Proof that she wasn’t in league with MacKenna. A surprising relief flooded through him. “I’ll see to it in the morning. Now, sleep.”

He left, his step lighter.

It didn’t take him long to do what he had to do and during that time, he regained a bit of perspective. He was going to miss Miss Cameron. Most people never told him their true opinions. Charlotte Cameron couldn’t seem to hold hers to herself.

He’d like to bed her.

The idea seemed to have materialized out of the thin air but once in his mind, it would not be shaken.

He wanted Miss Cameron. He wanted to bury himself deep within her. Just the thought of it made him as hard as an iron rod.

Phillip plunged his hands up to his elbows in the icy stream. The cold had no impact on his lust.

Dear God, what had come over him?

Elizabeth had been a dutiful wife, but she’d not liked the carnal side of marriage. Out of respect to her, Phillip had kept his needs contained. He had control over himself.

But Miss Cameron wasn’t Elizabeth. She wasn’t fragile. Indeed, if her response to his earlier kiss was any indication, she’d give as good as she got.

Phillip lowered his head to the icy stream at just the thought and splashed water on his face. He had to keep his wits about him.

He reminded himself that in spite of her advanced age, and willing kisses, Miss Cameron was quite obviously an innocent. The pull between them was strong, but not so much that he would compromise her virtue.

He couldn’t bed her. He had to send her back to London. It was the right and honorable thing to do. Besides, if word escaped about their Scottish
holiday together, she would truly be ruined, and all of her dreams of respectability would be lost because Phillip would not marry her. Not after the scandal of Miranda.

Admiring a Cameron and trusting one were two separate and distinct things. London would go whirling off its axis if the scandalmongers even had a hint that he and Charlotte had been traveling together, and he’d had enough of being the object of gossip for one lifetime. It would not happen again.

Besides, Miss Cameron might have many charms but she didn’t have the requisite sense of class his duchess would need. Phillip had overlooked that trait once when he’d offered for Miranda and had paid a dear price. Never again would he join the ranks of those men foolish enough to compromise their public authority by chasing bits of muslin.

Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t admire her. And, if he were a less principled man, he wouldn’t hesitate to take complete advantage of their situation.

Of course, he’d first have to ensure there were no pistols or knitting needles close at hand.

This thought made him smile.

Charlotte
. He even liked the sound of her name. It was like a whisper.

But she was not for him.

Finally certain he had his baser emotions in hand, Phillip walked back to the hayrick in good spirits and would have stayed that way save for the sight of Miss Charlotte Cameron standing by the door in the moonlight reading Nanny Frye’s letter.

C
harlotte could not believe what she was reading. The moonlight had to be playing tricks on her. She strained her eyes as she reread the cramped writing two, then three times, her mind struggling to grasp the full import of the words.

Colster had a twin brother?
An
older
one who everyone had thought had died but had been kidnapped by Laird MacKenna?

When she’d caught Colster reading this letter, and then scrambling to hide the fact of it from her, her curiosity could not be stopped.

Besides, he’d left the letter out…sort of. She’d not had to go digging around in his pockets for it.

And, reading it, she understood why he didn’t want her to know of it. This brother would have been the duke. The
rightful
duke. The letter explained why he was traipsing around Scotland
by himself and why he was so tense, not that
he
needed an excuse.

A cloud crossed the moon, blocking all light—

No, not a cloud.
Colster
.

Charlotte’s throat went dry. She raised her gaze.

He pulled the letter from her fingers. She’d never seen him look so grim. “Curiosity is one of your failing virtues,” he said.

“The writing was hard to read,” she said, fear, and guilt, making her voice faint.

“But you read it,” he said with certainty.

His voice was so quiet. He was angry. Very angry.

“You said we were enemies,” she reminded him by way of a justification. “I caught you hiding it. I meant only to protect myself and my sisters…but I wish now I hadn’t read it.” She also wished her knees didn’t shake so. His calmness was frightening. Still, she could not resist asking, “Is it true?”

He folded the letter. “I don’t know.”

“But you are on your way to see Laird MacKenna to find out.”

“Yes.”

“And that is why you were so violent when you realized I was riding in the laird’s coach. You thought I was in league with him.”

“Are you?” He’d moved inside the hayrick.

Charlotte turned, following him with her eyes. “No. I know nothing of this.”

He picked up his jacket and tucked the letter into a pocket. His calmness unnerving.

“What are you going to do?” she couldn’t stop herself from blurting out. “If that letter is true, you stand to lose everything.”

“If that letter is true, I have a brother to protect and defend.”

“Yes,” she whispered, the true enormity of what he faced settling in. “I had nothing to do with this.”

Colster tossed the jacket down. “I am certain you didn’t. I didn’t know at first…but I do now.”

For the first time since he’d discovered her with the letter, Charlotte felt safe enough to release her breath in a sigh of relief. “And please, I won’t say anything to anyone in London. You can trust me,” she assured him, well aware that for the first time in her dealings with the duke, she had the upper hand.

He’d do anything to keep this information secret. Delicious possibilities poured into Charlotte’s mind. Colster could see that Constance’s name was on the list of all the important London hostesses. And with one word, he would return all the business her brother-in-law Alex’s shipping firm had lost over the scandal.

Even better, he could do nothing to her personally now. Colster wasn’t like Klem and his cousin. He was a man of honor.

She was as smug and happy as a cat who had the songbird in her mouth.

Some of what she thought must have shown on her face, because he said, “You aren’t going to speak of this to anyone.”

That depended on him, didn’t it?

His face was in the shadows, but it wouldn’t have made any difference. She was no longer intimidated by him.

“Of course not,” Charlotte answered with a purr. “I’ll keep mum to everyone in London.”

“Oh, no, you aren’t going to London.”

This was just too satisfying. “I will go wherever I wish, Your Grace,” she told him, proud to have finally outwitted her opponent. It was everything she could do to not dance a little jig. “You will have to trust me. You have no other choice.”

Tension emanated from him. She couldn’t see his expression, but she knew he didn’t like this one bit—and that made her feel all the more powerful, something she’d rarely experienced in her life.

She braced herself, anticipating his worst.

Instead, he surprised by saying, “Well done, Miss Cameron. You’ve won the point.”

“I’ve won the battle,” she countered.

He stepped forward. She held her ground, uncertain whether she should run or not…until she saw he was smiling, his lips twisted in rueful respect. “Aye, perhaps the battle.”

Charlotte was tempted to ask him to repeat those words. As it was, she couldn’t help but happily smile right back to him. She’d done it. She’d won and victory was so sweet.

“You
can
trust me,” she reiterated.

His smile flattened. “I pray it is so.”

“I’m not that sort of person,” she informed him.

“Are you saying I am?”

There was an edge of self-mockery in his tone. It pricked her conscience. She shouldn’t feel any sympathy for him. “No, I’m saying I wouldn’t blackmail you,” she said, even though she would if
he
made it necessary.

His eyes, silvery in the moonlight, studied her a moment, his expression sober. “Thank you,” he said at last. “But may I ask one favor of you?”

“What is it?”

“Would you help me get these boots off? The wet leather is about ready to drive me to madness, and I can’t remove them myself.”

The change of subject caught her off guard, and then made her laugh. “I know how you feel. I kicked off my shoes the first minute I could.”
They were lined up beside the wall of the hayrick.

She held out her hand. “Here, let me have your heel. I used to do this for my father.”

He sat back on the coat spread over the hay and raised his right foot, placing the heel in her offered palm. She tightened her grip. He pretended to wince. “You are a strong woman, Miss Cameron.”

She nodded, relieved the unpleasantness of the letter was behind them. “It comes from years of chopping my own firewood, Your Grace.”

“I daresay there are few earls’ daughters who could make that claim,” he answered, and she nodded her agreement. He really wasn’t a bad sort. He just didn’t like to be crossed…like any other man she’d ever met. She pulled on the boot.

It moved, not far, but it did move.

It was now a challenge.

Charlotte tugged again. This time the boot held fast. “Who made these? Hoby?” she asked him with a grunt, naming the most fashionable bootmaker in London. She yanked on the boot so hard she almost fell back on the ground. No wonder he wanted the boots off. She went back at it again.

Fighting the battle from his own end, with his own share of grunting, Colster repeated, “My bootmaker? No, Lobb.”

Catching her breath, Charlotte said, “Lobb?
Isn’t he out of fashion? I thought everyone of importance used Hoby.”

His brows drew together. “You shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspapers. My father used Lobb—” He offered his boot to her again. She took it. “My grandfather used Lobb.
His
father used Lobb, and I—”

“Use Lobb,” she said in unison, giving the boot a pull. It finally slid off. She took a step back from the exertion. In spite of being wet, the leather was still good and soft. She could see why he used Lobb. Setting the boot on the ground, she asked, “Will the next be as difficult?”

“No, this one is easier.”

It wasn’t.

But by the time they were done, she was laughing. She couldn’t help herself. The hour was late, she was tired, and she’d spent a good portion of time being the Duke of Colster’s lackey. She sat down on the far side of his greatcoat. He took off his stockings.

Her feet were bare, she’d removed her wet stockings when she’d taken off her shoes, but there was something, well, intimate about seeing
his
bare feet. They were strong, handsome feet. Long and masculine.

Heat crept up her neck at the yearnings his feet seemed to stir inside her. She reached for his coat, which he’d offered her as a blanket.

Colster was not for her
. He was everything she’d ever dreamed of in a man—in spite of being such a formidable enemy—but no, he could not be hers.

After all, why would a duke marry an insignificant earl’s granddaughter? Before coming to England, Charlotte wanted to dream such things were possible. However, now, after being around the
ton,
she knew she had a better chance of sprouting wings and flying than to ever become a duchess.

She settled in, wiggling into the hay, and tried to distract herself with its earthy, green scent.

He’d stretched out on the coat beside her, not really making a great effort to keep space between them.

Of course, she was so very conscious of him that even if he slept outside the hayrick, she’d be aware of every nuance and movement. She wondered if he was as aware of her?

She rolled on her other side, giving him her back.

He rolled, too—closer to her.

Charlotte could almost feel his breath against her shoulder. She debated moving farther away. It would move her off the coat and into the hay. For a long moment, she weighed her options, and in the end didn’t move. He couldn’t read minds. He didn’t know what she was thinking.

And perhaps it wasn’t prudent, and was certainly a bit silly, but she wanted to just lie still and pretend that a man like him could be hers. Was it so wrong to do so, just for this night?

Was it wrong to
like
having him this close?

Tomorrow she would be leaving for London, and they would, once again, be strangers. Just for tonight, she wanted to savor the camaraderie they’d discovered.

Colster wasn’t asleep. She
knew
he was awake, just as she was aware of almost every little detail about him. She could even feel his mind was working.

“What are you going to do if the story in the letter is true?” she asked. “What if your brother is alive?”

“I’ll bring him home.”

“You won’t worry about the gossip?” He’d been furious over Miranda’s jilting.

“This is beyond the pettiness of gossip.”

That was the right answer.

Charlotte folded her arms under her head. “If your brother was kidnapped at birth, I’d say this goes beyond retaliation for an ancient feud.”

“I agree,” he answered without reservation. “This is too evil to have survived centuries. Even if the letter is a hoax, what prompted it is something current. Something that happened recently.”

She turned to look at him. “And you’ve never been to Scotland?”

“Not in my memory.”

She waited a beat, and then whispered, “I know how you feel. I would fight demons for my sisters. I would give up everything for them.”

“So I’ve learned,” he answered dryly.

Their eyes met. It wasn’t her imagination that she saw respect in his. Respect for her. It made her fluttery and tight inside.

Charlotte turned back on her side, knowing she’d best leave well enough alone. Colster was still dangerous to her, but in a completely different way than before. No man should have the power to make a woman feel the way he seemed to touch her.

She tried to focus on anything but him. She thought of Constance in boarding school not far from Edinburgh. Perhaps she should pay her a visit with the good news that they no longer had to worry about the Duke of Colster.

The diversion worked. Her eyelids began to get heavy. She closed them, thankful she didn’t face the concerns Colster did about his brother—

He rolled closer.

Her drowsiness vanished. He was so near she could smell the spicy warm, masculine scent of his skin. If perfumers could capture that scent, she’d buy a dozen bottles. Perhaps even a hundred—

His arm came down over her waist. His relaxed hand rested close to her abdomen.

Charlotte couldn’t breathe.

She should move.

She didn’t
want
to move.

He must have fallen asleep and wasn’t aware of what he was doing. It was natural that he turned toward her. He was probably being protective…or so she hoped—

His lips nudged her hair aside and kissed the sensitive skin of her neck below her earlobe.

Shock shot through her, mingling with the heat of desire centering in her pelvic region.

Charlotte knew she should edge away from him. It was the only thing she could do and keep her sanity. This man was dangerous. “I need to sleep—”

He cut her off with a kiss on her lips.

Charlotte knew she shouldn’t let him do this. She should tell him to
cease
immediately—but she didn’t want to.

They were alone in the dark. The air was sweet. His body warm and safe…and kissing him seemed the most natural thing in the world to do.

He raised his hand, placing fingertips against her cheek and turning her completely toward him. Just as it had been in the coach, she could only resist for the slightest moment before wanting to breathe him in.

His hand came back to her waist. The weight of it felt good, possessive. He nestled her hip against the flat of his abdomen and his legs. He was aroused. The length and hardness of him set her blood pounding. He wanted her.

She wanted him.

The first touch of his tongue against hers was startling. It brought her out of the moment. She shifted, pushing away. He returned his hand to her face, lightly holding her while he ventured further into the kiss and won her over completely.

Charlotte surrendered.

And why should she not? This was not London or any place of importance. There was no society, no rules, no responsibilities. All that there was, all that mattered, was the way his body fit with hers. He knew what they were about far better than herself. He was the teacher and she an apt and willing pupil.

His hand covered her breast. Her nipples tightened. He began placing small kisses along the line of her jaw, down her neck. His unshaven whiskers were rough, and exciting, against her skin. His fingers wound themselves in her hair, holding her fast.

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