Duke of SinBy: Elizabeth Hoyt
Thank you as always to the people who help me write my books: my wonderful beta reader, Susannah Taylor, and my inexhaustible editor, Amy Pierpont.
Special thanks to Facebook friends, Lara Mansfield, who named Pip the dog; and Desiree Cleary-Lacasse, who named Hecate the cat.
Thank you all!
Once upon a time there was a king who had no heart.…
—From King Heartless
There are few worse places for a housekeeper of impeccable credentials to be caught than kneeling on her employer’s bed. But two factors conspired to make this situation particularly fraught, Bridget Crumb reflected. One, that the employer in question was His Grace the Duke of Montgomery, widely regarded as the most wicked man in London. And two, that she happened to be clutching a just-purloined miniature portrait in her right hand.
Really, she was going to need a very strong cup of tea after this was all over—always assuming, of course, that she actually survived the duke’s ire.
“Tell me, Mrs. Crumb,” His Grace drawled in a voice filled with honeyed menace, “what are you looking for?”
The duke was neither a particularly large man, nor what one would normally think of as intimidating—quite the opposite, in fact. His face might’ve been carved by a Greek sculptor, so perfect were his cheekbones, lips, and nose. His eyes were of the clearest azure. His curling hair was the color of polished guineas and quite gorgeous—which the duke obviously knew, since he wore it long, unpowdered, and tied at the nape of his neck with an enormous black bow. He wore an elegant purple velvet coat over a cloth-of-gold waistcoat embroidered in black and crimson. Fountains of lace fell from wrists and throat as he lounged in a winged armchair, one long leg thrust forward. Diamonds on the buckles of his shoes glinted in the candlelight. His Grace was urbane male sophistication personified—but anyone who therefore dismissed him as harmless was a rank fool.
The Duke of Montgomery was as deadly as a coiled adder discovered suddenly at one’s feet.
Which was why Bridget made no sudden moves as she stood up from the bed. “Welcome home, Your Grace. Had I known you’d be returning from the Continent, I would’ve had your rooms aired and prepared.”
“I was never on the Continent, as I’m sure you’re quite aware.” The duke gestured with an indolent hand to a shadowed corner of the room.
Bridget was too good a servant to let her eyes widen at the sight of a small half-open door cleverly set into the paneling. She’d never noticed the door before. She’d had her suspicions, but until this night she’d had no real evidence. Now she knew: he’d been here all along—hiding in the walls of his own town house. How long had he been watching her—days? Weeks? The entire three months that he was supposed to have been gone? More to the point, how long had he been watching her tonight? Had he seen her find the miniature portrait in a hidden hole in the bed’s headboard?
Did he know she clutched it in her hand right now?
The duke smiled, flashing white teeth and deep dimples on both cheeks. “I’m afraid I never left.”
“Indeed, Your Grace,” Bridget murmured. “How very brave of you, considering the Duke of Wakefield banished you from England.”
“Oh, Wakefield.” The duke flicked his fingers as if shooing a fly instead of one of the most powerful men in London. “He’s always taken himself far too seriously.” He paused and eyed her as if she were an agate discovered in gravel. “But what a very sharp tongue you have for a housekeeper.”
Bridget’s heart sank—she knew better than to speak so frankly. It was never good for a servant to be noticed by a master—particularly this master.
“Come.” He beckoned her closer with his forefinger and she saw the flash of a jeweled gold ring on his left thumb.
She swallowed and opened her right hand, silently dropping the miniature to the lush carpet. As she walked toward him she nudged the little painting under the enormous bed with the side of her foot.
She stopped a pace away from him.
His lips curved, sly and sensual. “Closer.”
She stepped nearer until her plain, practical black linsey-woolsey skirts were crushed against his purple velvet knees. Her heart beat hard and swift, but she was confident her expression didn’t show her fear.