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Authors: Kate Walker

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The Duke’s Secret Wife

BOOK: The Duke’s Secret Wife
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Kate Walker
was born in Nottinghamshire but she grew up in Yorkshire and has always felt that her roots were there. She met her husband at university and she originally worked as a children’s librarian, but after the birth of her son she returned to her old childhood love of writing. When she’s not working, she divides her time between her family and their three cats. Her interests include embroidery, antiques, film and theatre, and, of course, reading. You can visit Kate at www.kate-walker.com

The Duke’s Secret Wife

by

Kate Walker

CHAPTER ONE

S
O SHE
was here at last.

Luis de Silva watched from the shadows as the small group strolled towards him. There were perhaps twelve or fifteen of them, of assorted ages and nationalities. About them there was the buzz of faint excitement and anticipation, and they were clearly oblivious to the chill of the early spring evening.

But it was the young woman in the middle of the group who caught and held Luis’s attention.

‘Isabella…’

The name hissed through his teeth on the instinctive indrawn breath he couldn’t control.

It was two years since he had seen her but he would have recognised her anywhere. There was no mistaking the sleek, shining cap of blonde hair that gleamed silver in the moonlight. Her tall, slender figure was clothed in a dark velvet dress; green, he suspected, though the gathering shadows of evening made it impossible to tell for sure. Full length, and mediaeval in style, it had wide, silk-lined sleeves, falling almost to the ground from her fine-boned wrists. It was cinched around her slim waist with an ornate gold belt, and over the top she wore a heavy black cloak that swirled around her with every graceful movement.


Madre de Dios!

Luis choked back the exclamation that rose to his lips, taking several hasty steps backwards into the shadows of the
nearby buildings. He did not want to be seen until he was ready. It would mean losing the element of surprise he was determined would be on his side when he finally revealed himself to her.

But for now he was content to watch.

‘And so, ladies and gentlemen, we come to the site of one of the darkest events in the whole of the history of York…’

Her voice was light and sweet-toned; her actor’s training meant that it carried clearly across to where he stood watching her.

‘This building is Clifford’s Tower…’

The words blurred and scrambled inside his head, making no sense. Instead, he was swept away on a tide of memory he neither wanted nor welcomed as just the sound of that once well-known voice opened up the door to the part of his past he would sooner forget.

Once that voice had made his heart lift so high he had thought it might actually escape his body. It had made his senses kick on a pulse of desire so hot and strong that he had been totally at their mercy.

But most of all, it had once spoken to him of love and trust and belief in another until he had forgotten all his natural caution and fallen head over heels into the first, the most powerful, the only love of his life.

But then she had taken that love and crushed it underneath the heel of one of her elegantly shod feet. And now…


No!

Furious with himself, he refused to let his thoughts wander any further. He would not let himself think of those times. Could not let himself remember or he would turn and walk away from here, never looking back.

And he couldn’t afford to look back.

In the background a church clock chimed the half-hour, reminding Luis that the young man, a student he presumed, he had bribed to let him take his place had said that it was around now he should hear his cue. What was it he had said?

‘But before we move on…’

He’d waited long enough. He was going to have to do this so it was better to get it over with.

The muscles in his jaw tightened, his shoulders tensed, and he stepped out into the light of the street lamp.

‘Isabella…’

It was the last thing Isabelle had anticipated. With her mind firmly fixed on following her script, determined to get her timing exactly right, she had been oblivious to everything else around her. This group of tourists who had followed her around the carefully planned route of the York City Ghost Walk had clearly enjoyed every minute of it. Their enthusiasm bubbled in the air, sparking off her invention so that she had ad-libbed outrageously. And now they were approaching the climax of the night.

But first there was one more ‘apparition’ to tantalise them. Any minute now, when she spoke his cue, Andy would appear from the darkness, dressed as Dick Turpin, the famous highwayman, and say…

‘Isabella…’

The voice came from behind her, from where she had expected that Andy would appear. But it was not Andy. The voice was nothing like Andy’s Yorkshire tones for one, and…

Isabella
.

Only one man had ever called her that. Had ever added the extra syllable to her name. To make it easier, he had always claimed, for his Spanish tongue.

Only one man had pronounced the four syllables in quite that lilting way, turning her name into a form of poetry that twisted in her heart with the bitterness of memory.

Only one man had ever spoken to her with quite that accent. But this could not be him. That man had left her life two years before, vowing never, ever to return. He was thousands of miles away, in another country, another world.

He could
not
be here!


Buenas tardes, mi mujer
,’ that taunting, terrifyingly familiar voice continued, pushing her into whirling round, eyes wide, fearful of who she might see.

‘Luis!’

It was a choking cry of stunned disbelief and horror as she took in the lean, powerful height of him, the forceful width of chest and shoulders, under the black jacket and jeans, the dark, glossy hair and brilliant, gleaming eyes, and she took a couple of hasty steps backwards in an instinctive urge to flight.

‘L-Luis? Is that you?’

The tall, dark man took another couple of steps forward, moving right into the pool of light shed by a street lamp. And Isabelle knew with a terrible sense of inevitability that there was no chance of escape. No hope that she had made a mistake.

The two years since she had seen him had changed him little. He had matured in that time, obviously, and now, at thirty, he was a man in his prime. He had filled out, any lingering awkwardness of youth being replaced by powerful muscles and a dignified control that gave every movement an elegant restraint, like the approach of a prowling hunting cat.

‘Good evening,
querida
.’

The rich, deep voice seemed to curl around her senses like warm smoke, making her nerves prickle just under the delicate surface of her skin. With her ears accustomed to the flat vowels of the Yorkshire accent, his intonation seemed even more exotic and foreign than ever, making her feel as if some alien and dangerous visitor had just intruded into her happy and secure way of life.

‘What a pleasure it is to see you again,’ he drawled, his smile a flicker of pure menace, teeth very white against the tanned skin of his face.

‘Now that I really doubt!’

Isabelle was gradually regaining some degree of control over her reactions. Okay, so her heart was pounding in double-quick time, her breath coming in a distinctly uneven pattern, but she was determined not to let him see that.

‘I don’t think that
pleasure
would be the right word.’

‘Well, then, you would be wrong,
mi angel
,’ Luis drawled in a voice as smooth as silk. ‘You would be completely wrong.’

As he spoke he let his darkened gaze drift downwards, over the shock-whitened skin of her cheeks, past the fine lines of her throat, to the creamy flesh of her breasts exposed by the low-cut neckline of her velvet gown. The slight curves were pushed upwards and forwards by the tight lacing and the bones in the bodice, so that they were enhanced and displayed in a way she had never really minded before but now found positively uncomfortable.

‘Pleasure is exactly the right word.’

‘For you perhaps, but not for me!’

Instinctively she gathered the folds of her cloak around her, enveloping herself from head to toe, just in time to conceal the sudden rush of blood to her skin that washed her pallor with a tinge of pink, betraying her inner turmoil. And what made matters infinitely worse was the knowledge that it wasn’t only embarrassment that made her feel this way.

In spite of every effort to control it, her frantic struggles to push down the unwanted feelings, her heart still raced in excitement, a betraying pulse throbbing at the base of her neck. This man had always had this unsettling effect on her. And if she had hoped that an absence of years would have reduced the impact of that tall, muscular body, those lethal good looks, then she was bitterly disappointed.

If anything, the effect was even stronger because she hadn’t seen him in so long.

‘I thought that you never, ever wanted to see me again. At least, that was what you said the last time I saw you.’

The time that he had flung his wedding ring in her face and told her that the shop they had bought it from might actually take it back.

‘If you’re lucky,’ he had spat at her, his bitterly scathing tone seeming to flay several layers of skin from her vulnerable body, ‘you might even get a full refund. After all, it hasn’t been on my finger long enough to show any wear and tear. Barely long enough to consummate our union—but that was quite long enough for you to grow tired and bored and look for new amusements.’

Then she had been too stunned, too devastated, to fight him. She hadn’t been able to find the words to convince him he was wrong and to call him back. Now all the pain, the horror of that moment came flooding back, putting a biting bitterness into her tone as she faced him with what she hoped looked like confidence.

‘I had hoped that you’d meant it—that you planned to stay away for good.’

‘That was my original intention. But circumstances change. And I have had to change with them.’

‘And this change means precisely what?’

‘That we have things to discuss. Your letter, for one.’

He was going to agree to a divorce
.

The words sounded in her head like the death knell to any hopes she might have had that one day they could revive their relationship. That somehow they could find a way to get past all the hurt, the lies and devastation on both sides, and find a way to get through to each other again.

They had been so in love once. And deep down inside she knew that she had never truly given up on the hope that that love wasn’t totally dead. That there was still a chance it could live again.

But Luis’s expression had nothing of love in it. It was hard and cold, the eyes that she knew to be a glittering golden brown were shuttered and withdrawn from her, hooded by heavy lids with thick, black, lustrously curling lashes. And it had been because she had known that this was how he would react that she had finally made that act of desperation and written asking for a divorce.

‘We can talk here.’

‘Not in front of an audience.’

The autocratic gesture he made brought her attention back to the fact that they were not alone. Stunned and confused, Isabelle belatedly remembered the Ghost Walk group who still stood clustered about them, their original smiles of approval and appreciation changing by turn to frowns of confusion and then to concern. Clearly this was no longer part of the Ghost Walk performance. And, equally obviously, their guide was genuinely distressed.

Now one of the Americans moved forwards.

‘Are you all right, miss? Is this guy bothering you?’

‘He…’

Luis turned to face him, proud head held arrogantly high, all his breeding and status showing in every haughty line of his body.

‘This
guy
…’ he echoed, injecting a biting satire into the words. ‘Allow me to introduce myself. I am Don Luis Alejandro de Silva, heir to the Dukedom of Madrigalo.’

He waited a nicely calculated moment for the impact of the title and the innate, bone-deep pride that went with it to hit home on the other man, then coolly and cold-bloodedly went for the knockout verbal punch.

‘I also happen to be the lady’s husband.’

That caused a ripple of shock to flow through the group, murmurs of astonishment and confusion greeting the announcement.

‘Is this true, ma’am?’

For one brief, weak-kneed moment, Isabelle actually considered saying no, this man was not her husband. He was nothing to her; never had been anything in her life. But almost immediately she reconsidered.

For one thing, she dreaded the thought of the possible consequences. Luis de Silva in this sort of coldly determined mood was imposing enough, but Luis angry was quite another matter. And he would be angry—furious—if she denied her relationship with him. He might have rejected that relationship, declared he wanted nothing more to do with her, but he wasn’t going to stand by and let her do the same.

‘Yes,’ she said tiredly, her voice a flat monotone. ‘Yes, Don Luis is my husband. It’s just that I wasn’t expecting to see him. We—we’ve been separated for some years.’

‘So naturally my appearance was something of a shock to her.’

Luis’s tone made Isabelle blink hard in bewilderment. In a split second he had switched from being pure blue-blooded aristocrat, arrogant and condescending as could be, and adopted a softer, more affable mood, using a matey, all men together approach.

And the new technique was working. She could see it in the faces of the group around her. The women were quite simply melting in the warmth of that deliberate charm, the carefully switched-on smile, the lowered, deeper voice. And the men were nodding understanding. Even the American, her self-appointed protector, was clearly having second thoughts.

‘But, believe me, I mean her no harm. I simply want to talk to her. I had to resort to this subterfuge simply in order to get her attention. I’ve been trying to get in touch with her for days but she doesn’t answer the door—her phone is never picked up.’

‘I’ve been away!’ Isabelle interjected, but she might as well not have spoken.

Luis had the group in the palm of his hand. His act was near perfect, giving the impression of being a concerned husband who only wanted to mend the rift that had arisen between himself and his wife. A rift that had been something and nothing, his attitude implied.

And they were swallowing it. Every word.

‘I could not wait any longer…’

He didn’t need that faintly wry shrug of his powerful shoulders, the supremely Spanish gesture with his hands, Isabelle thought cynically. But he used them anyway. They were his trump card, saying without words that he couldn’t help himself. That he was only a man, and a passionate man at that. A man who was so in love with his wife that he couldn’t endure another moment’s separation from her.

BOOK: The Duke’s Secret Wife
2.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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