Home > The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1)(3)

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1)(3)
Author: Tessa Dare

Before he could do so, she exhaled decisively. “Fine.”

Her hands went to the side of the gown. She began to release a row of hooks hidden in the bodice seam. One by one by one. As the bodice went slack, her squeezed breasts relaxed to their natural fullness. The sleeve fell off her shoulder, revealing the tissue-thin fabric of her shift.

A wisp of dark hair tumbled free, kissing her collarbone.

Jesu Maria.

“Stop.”

She froze and looked up. “Stop?”

He cursed silently. Don’t ask me twice. “Stop.”

Ash could scarcely believe he’d managed the decency to say it once. He’d been on the verge of a private show for the price of two pounds, three. Significantly higher than the going rate, but a bargain when the girl was this pretty.

Not to mention, she was a vicar’s daughter. He’d always dreamed of debauching a vicar’s daughter. Really, what man hadn’t? However, he was not quite so diabolical as to accomplish it through extortion.

A thought occurred to him. Maybe—just maybe—he could still manage that fantasy, through different, somewhat less fiendish, means. He regarded Emma Gladstone from a fresh angle, thinking of that list of requirements in his interrupted letter.

She was young and healthy. She was educated. She came from gentry, and she was willing to disrobe in front of him.

Most importantly, she was desperate.

She’d do.

In fact, she’d do very well indeed.

“Here is your choice, Miss Gladstone. I can pay you the two pounds, three shillings.”

He placed the stack of coins on the desk. She stared at them hungrily.

“Or,” he said, “I can make you a duchess.”

 

 

Chapter Two

 


A duchess?

Well. Emma was grateful for one thing. At least now she had an excuse to stare at him.

Ever since the duke had revealed the extent of his scars, she’d been trying not to stare at him. Then she’d started worrying that it would be even more rude to avoid looking at him. As a result, her gaze had been volleying from his face, to the carpet, to the coins on the desk. It was all a bit dizzying.

Now she had an unassailable excuse to openly gawk.

The contrast was extreme. The injured side of his face drew her attention first, of course. Its appearance was tortured and angry, with webs of scar tissue twisting past his ear and above his natural hairline. What was more cruel—his scarred flesh stood in unavoidable contrast with his untouched profile. There, he was handsome in the brash, uncompromising way of gentlemen who believed themselves invincible.

Emma didn’t find his appearance frightful, though she could not deny it was startling. No, she decided, “startling” wasn’t the right word.

Striking.

He was striking.

As though a bolt of lightning had split through his body, dividing him in two, and the energy still crackled around him. Emma sensed it from across the room. Gooseflesh rippled up her arms.

“I beg your pardon, Your Grace. I must have misheard.”

“I said I will make you a duchess.”

“Surely . . . surely you don’t mean through marriage.”

“No, I intend to use my vast influence in the House of Lords to overturn the laws of primogeniture, then persuade the Prince Regent to create a new title and duchy. That accomplished, I will convince him to name a vicar’s daughter from Hertfordshire a duchess in her own right. Of course I mean through marriage, Miss Gladstone.”

She gave a strained laugh. Laughter seemed the only possible response. He had to be joking. “You can’t be asking me to marry you.”

He sighed with annoyance. “I am a duke. I’m not asking you to marry me. I am offering to marry you. It’s a different thing entirely.”

She opened her mouth, only to close it again.

“I need an heir,” he said. “That is the thrust of the matter.”

Her concentration snagged on that word, and the blunt, forceful way he said it.

Thrust.

“If I died tomorrow, everything would go to my cousin. He is an irredeemable prat. I didn’t go to the Continent, fight to preserve England from tyranny, and survive this”—he gestured at his face—“only to come home and watch my tenants’ lives crumble to ruins. And that means those laws of primogeniture—since I don’t intend to overturn them—require me to marry and sire a son.”

He crossed the room, advancing toward her in unhurried strides. She stood in place, unwilling to shrink from him. The more nonchalant his demeanor, the more her pulse pounded.

His face might be striking, but the rest of him . . . ?

Rather splendid.

To distract herself, Emma focused on her own realm of expertise: attire. The tailoring of his coat was immaculate, skimming the breadth of his shoulders and hugging the contours of his arms. The wool was of the finest quality, tightly woven and richly dyed. However, the style was two years behind the current fashion, and the cuffs were a touch frayed at the—

“I know what you’re thinking, Miss Gladstone.”

She doubted it.

“You’re incredulous. How could a woman of your standing possibly ascend to such a rank? I can’t deny you’ll find yourself outclassed and un-befriended among the ladies of the peerage, but you will no doubt be consoled with the material advantages. A lavish home, generous lines of credit at all the best shops, a large settlement in the event of my death. You may pay calls, go shopping. Engage in some charitable work, if you must. Your days will be yours to do whatever you wish.” His voice darkened. “Your nights, however, will belong to me.”

Any response to that was beyond her. An indignant warmth hummed over every surface of her body, seeping into the spaces between her toes.

“You should expect me to visit your bed every evening, unless you are ill or having your courses, until conception is confirmed.”

Emma tried, one more time, to understand this conversation. After running through all the possibilities, one alternative seemed the most likely.

The duke was not merely scarred on his face. He was sick in the head.

“Your Grace, do you feel feverish?”

“Not at all.”

“Perhaps you ought to have a lie-down. I could send your butler for a physician.”

He gave her a quizzical look. “Do you need a doctor?”

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