IN BED WITH THE DUKE: Governess Brides #9
New York Times bestseller Christina Dodd has sold over five million historical romances! Find out why when you read IN BED WITH THE DUKE of her acclaimed Governess Brides series!
Demure lady’s companion Emma Chegwidden never defies society’s rules. Until the night she runs straight into the arms of the mysterious and menacing Reaper…a man who rides the night-shadowed countryside and conceals his identity behind a mask. His goal is justice…or is it vengeance?
Cynical, dangerous and ruthless, Michael Durant, long-lost heir to the duke of Nevitt, is the last man on earth that sensible Emma should defy. But some challenges are too tempting to resist, and some passions too fierce to ignore. Soon Michael discovers in Emma the woman he has longed for…a woman whose beauty and courage touch his tortured soul. He will defy anything, even fate itself, to claim her . . .
IN BED WITH THE DUKE won the WaldenBooks Award for Bestselling Historical Romance!
IN BED WITH THE DUKE earned a starred review from Booklist, who said, “In best-selling Dodd’s triumphant return to historical romance, she offers all of the elements her fans crave: deliciously clever writing, sexy romance, and a swashbuckling plot.” It’s true — many swashes are buckled in IN BED WITH THE DUKE, and number eight in The Governess Brides series is one of my personal favorites.
The four-piece ensemble ceased playing, and with exquisite timing, Comte Cloutier delivered the line sure to command the attention of the guests within earshot. “Have you heard, Lady Lettice, of the ghost who rides in the night?”
Certainly, he commanded the attention of the Englishman Michael Durant. There had been very little to interest him at Lord Thibault’s ball, but now … Michael strolled closer to suitors surrounding Lady Lettice Surtees.
“A ghost?” Lady Lettice gave a high-pitched squeak. “Pray tell, what does this ghost do?” Before Cloutier could answer she swung around to her paid companion, a girl of perhaps twenty, and snapped, “Make yourself useful! Fan me! Dancing with so many admirers is quite fatiguing.”
The girl, a poor, downtrodden wisp of a thing, nodded in mute misery and fanned the flushed and sweating Lady Lettice.
Lord Escobar hovered at her left elbow. “Indeed, senorita, it is an unseasonably warm summer evening.”
It was a gross flattery to call Lady Lettice “senorita” — she was a widow in her early forties, but her bosoms were impressive and displayed to advantage by her low-cut bodice, and the impoverished men around her wooed her for her fortune.
“So, Cloutier, tell me about this ghost.” Lady Lettice withdrew a white cotton handkerchief from her cleavage and blotted her damp upper lip.
“This ghost — he rides at night, in utter silence, a white figure in fluttering rags atop a giant white horse. His skin is death, his clothes are rags, and where his eyes should be, there are only black holes. The peasants whisper he is the specter of the last king of Moricadian blood, and if you are unlucky enough to see this fearsome ghoul, you should flee, for this fearsome phantom” — Cloutier lowered his voice in pitch and volume — “is a sign of impending death.”
Michael snorted, the sound breaking the shocked silence.
At once, Lady Lettice fixed him with her gaze. “You’re impertinent.”
Her mouse of a paid companion made a small warning noise and flapped the fan harder.
Lady Lettice paid no heed. “This is Comte Cloutier, of one of the finest noble families in France. One does not snort when he speaks.”
“One does if one is Michael Durant, the heir to the Nevitt dukedom.” Cloutier bowed to Michael, then did the honors. “Lady Lettice Surtees, this is Lord —“
“Please.” Michael held up a hand. “In England, my name is old and honored. In Moricadia, I am nothing but a political prisoner. Call me Durant. It is the only decent title for a disgrace such as me.” He strolled away.
“The poor man.” Lady Lettice spoke in a whisper so high as to pierce the ears. “What did he do?”
Michael paused behind a marble pillar to hear the answer.
“Durant fell foul of the ruling family, and for two years, he was believed dead. Only recently has it come to light that he is being held prisoner. But we dare not talk of it. Prince Sandre has spies everywhere. Now if you’ll excuse me…” Escobar hurried away.
A well-dressed youth of twenty-two stepped into his place, jockeyed for position, and the result was disaster — for the companion. He bumped her arm. The fan smacked the back of Lady Lettice's head. Turning on the girl, she bellowed, “You stupid thing. How dare you hit me? I should throw you out on the street right now!”
“No, ma’am, please. It won’t happen again.” The girl looked around at the men, seeking help where there was none. “I beg you. Let me stay in your service.”
“She isn’t really sorry,” Lady Lettice told the others. “She only says that because she’s an orphan and she would starve without my kindness. Wouldn’t you, Emma?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Emma adjusted Lady Lettice's shawl across her shoulders.
“All right, you’re annoying me. Actually …” Michael could see the spark of some dreadful mischief start in Lady Lettice’s brain. “I’d like this handkerchief dampened. Go to the ladies’ convenience and do so.”
“As you wish, Lady Lettice.” Emma took it and scurried away.
“Watch, gentlemen,” Lady Lettice said. “The stupid girl turns right when she should turn left, goes north when she should go south. The ladies’ convenience is to the right, so she’ll turn left.”
Emma walked to the door, hesitated, and as promised, turned left.
Michael, ever the fool for the underdog, quietly went to rescue the girl.
Emma was lost. She stood in the garden looking back at the chateau. From here, she could hear the music and see the lights from the ballroom. Surely, she could find her way back. But then what? She wouldn’t have accomplished her mission, and she knew the price of disobeying Lady Lettice's commands. But she had an analytical brain, so walking to the splashing fountain, she dipped Lady Lettice's handkerchief into the pool — and heard a warm, rasping chuckle behind her. Dropping the handkerchief, she turned to face Michael Durant.
“I came out to direct you to the ladies’ convenience, but I see you found a better solution.” He nodded toward the fountain.
“It’s not what you think.” He would report her. She was going to be thrown onto the street in a strange country. She was going to die a slow death. “I didn’t come out here on purpose.”
He held up one hand. “Please. Lady Lettice made clear your amazing ability to get lost. She didn’t realize your ability to improvise. Miss …?”
“Chegwidden.” She curtsied. “Emma Chegwidden.” In the ballroom, she had watched him, and thought him a handsome brute, big-boned, tall and raw. His height made her uncomfortable, and he had big hands. Hands weathered by fighting experience. Out here, he had a quality of stillness about him, like a tiger lying in wait for its prey. She hoped she was not that prey.
“Shall I help you retrieve Lady Lettice's handkerchief?” he asked.
Glancing down into the clear water, she saw the white square floating just below the surface. “Thank you, I can do it.” Without turning her back to him, she leaned down, caught it in her fingertips, and wrung it out over the pool.
He walked up the steps and looked back at her. “Shall we go in?”
Cautiously she followed him.
“This way.” He took a twisting route down corridors lined with closed doors. “I never get lost.” He sounded so sure of himself.
Irksome man. He might not get lost, but he was certainly in trouble. “What did you do to get yourself arrested as a political prisoner?”
“In Moricadia, it doesn’t do to poke your nose into local troubles.” He tapped her nose with his finger. “Remember that.”
“I certainly would not do something so stupid.”
His eyebrow lifted quizzically. “Of course not. You’re supremely sensible.”
The way he spoke made her realize — she’d just called him stupid. “My lord, I didn’t mean —“
“Not at all. You’re quite right. Now.” He opened a door to his right.
Music and laughter filtered through, and Emma saw the dining hall, and beyond that, the ballroom. She watched him walk away, then hurried toward Lady Lettice and stepped into the circle of suitors.
Lady Lettice jumped. “Where did you come from, you vexsome girl?” She plucked the handkerchief out of Emma’s hand. “It’s too wet. You’re so stupid. Can’t you do anything right?” With a flip of the wrist, Lady Lettice opened the handkerchief — and a tiny, still-wiggling goldfish slipped out and down her cleavage.
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