Home > The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1)(9)

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1)(9)
Author: Tessa Dare

To begin, he was vaguely insulted by the suggestion that he might need help from a wisp of a girl. That led to a growing desire to possess her, to show her just who protected whom in this exchange. And then, beneath everything, there was some quiet, unnameable emotion that made him want to lay down his pride, rest his head in her lap, and weep.

That third was, of course, unthinkable. Never going to happen. Nevertheless, the decision was made. She’d sealed her own fate.

If she meant to escape him, she’d missed her chance.

He’d be damned if he’d let her get away now.

 

Emma sensed the change in him. The stony set of his jaw. The furious rise and fall of his breath. No blue remained in his eyes—only a cold, glittering black.

He’d been intense from the first, but now he was . . . so intensely intense, she couldn’t find a word to properly describe it. But she felt it. Oh, she felt it to her toes. Each hair on her body lifted at the root; her every nerve jumped to attention.

Her body knew something would happen.

Her mind had no idea what it would be—except that it would involve the unleashing of formidable power.

“Your hat,” she said. As if it might need explaining that the hat-shaped object in her hand was indeed a hat and not, say, a joint of mutton.

He took the hat.

He took his cloak from where it had fallen to the spongy turf.

And then he took her.

He didn’t offer his arm, as gentlemanly custom would dictate. He gripped her by the elbow instead, herding her toward the street. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“I’m not,” she muttered.

Not that Emma was happy they’d been set upon by thieves. That had been terrifying, and she had no desire to ever experience it again. However, now, with the benefit of knowing they’d escaped unscathed, she could revisit the memory and feel a thrill at his instinctive move to guard her and the outraged precision with which he’d dispatched the two men.

No one had ever protected her that way.

Whatever attraction she’d felt toward him beforehand—and she had felt an attraction, no matter how unwillingly—was increased a hundredfold.

“I’m the one who should apologize,” she said. “It was all my fault. We would not have ended here in the park if—”

“If I’d paid the slightest attention. The fault was mine.” He led her out of the park without further conversation. At the nearest crossing, he hailed a hackney cab. “You’re going home. My carriage will come for you tomorrow. Have your things ready.”

The air vacated her lungs. “Wait. What are you saying?”

“From there, you’ll go to a hotel. Mivart’s, I think.”

Mivart’s. The finest, most luxurious hotel in Mayfair. Emma had visited it once, to hem a gown for a visiting Austrian baroness. She had never imagined she would stay in such a place.

“I’ll send for you once the solicitors have finished the contracts.” The duke opened the hackney’s door and stuffed Emma into it. “We’ll be married at Ashbury House.”

“But . . . but . . .”

He gave directions to the hackney driver, then moved to close the door and shut her inside. “On second thought, don’t pack your belongings. I’ll buy you new. I’ve no use for moldy potatoes.”

She thrust her boot into the door opening before he could close it. “Wait.”

He stared at her. “What?”

Excellent question. Emma didn’t have the faintest idea what. Only that this was all happening so fast. Too fast. Her life had been set spinning, and she didn’t want to make it stop—but she needed some sort of handle to grasp.

“I . . . I insist on bringing a cat.”

He made a noise of unmitigated disgust. “A cat.”

“Yes, a cat. My cat.”

Emma, you idiot. You don’t even have a cat.

She would find one, she decided. If she meant to enter a marriage with no promise of affection and inhabit that vast, elegant house, she needed at least one ally. What better than a fuzzy, wide-eyed kitten?

“For a bride of convenience, you are proving to be a great deal of trouble.” He tucked her foot into the hackney, then leveled a finger at her before closing the door. “This cat of yours had better be well-behaved.”

 

 

Chapter Five

 


The cat was the most foul, filthy, repulsive creature Ashbury had seen in his life, outside of the rare occasions when he regarded himself in a mirror. It was no more than a collection of bones encased in smudge-colored fur, and doubtless crawling with fleas.

His bride clutched the beast with both hands, holding it in front her like some sort of spinster bouquet.

Excellent. What was it they said? Something old, something new, something borrowed, something yowling.

Ash scowled at the thing.

The creature hissed in reply.

The dislike would seem to be mutual.

“Does it have a name?” he asked.

She looked up, as if startled by the question. “What?”

“A name. Does the cat have one?”

“Oh. Yes. Breeches. His name is Breeches.”

“Breeches?”

“Isn’t that what I said?” She showed no signs of releasing the thing. Instead, she looked about the hall. “Where are we reciting our vows? The library?”

“You can’t mean to hold that thing throughout the ceremony.”

“But if I put him down, I fear he’ll run off. Besides, he wants to be a witness. Don’t you, Breeches?” She turned the cat to face her and made a kissy face. “This is the Duke of Ashbury. Aren’t you pleased to meet him?” She took the creature’s paw and mimicked a wave of greeting in Ash’s direction. “He’s quite friendly.”

The cat’s claws made a vicious swipe through the air.

Right. That was it.

Ash reached out, wrested the animal from her grasp, and set it on the floor. The gray beast darted off at once.

“This house is enormous,” she objected. “He might be lost for days.”

“We can only hope.”

He tugged at the front of his waistcoat and turned to have a proper look at his bride. Of all that cat’s many offenses, its worst by far was obscuring his view of her. Thus far, he had seen her only two ways: first, wearing a gown made of leprous icicles, and second, wearing a modest shopgirl frock.

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