Four Nights With the Duke

By: Eloisa James



“Your Grace,” she said, dropping a curtsy. “How very wonderful to see you again.”

Was that a drop of sarcasm in her voice? Surely not. After all, she was the one who had come, uninvited, to his house, not the other way around.

He bowed. When he straightened, he found that she was observing him, gloved hands folded, with the air of someone watching a play.

Peculiar.

“Miss Carrington, what can I do for you?” he inquired.

“I have come to request a favor.”

Vander’s shoulders relaxed. This missionary woman had likely joined a mission in an effort to atone for her licentious father’s sins. She wanted a contribution. He was accustomed to solicitations: virtually everyone in his life except his friend Thorn had asked him for money at some point. It was part and parcel of being a duke.

A donation was a perfect way to assuage the last of that inconvenient guilt he felt due to hurting her feelings years ago.

“I would be most happy to help,” he said. “Would you care to be seated? I could ring for tea if you wish.”

She stood as still as a tree, only her hands twisting together. “You might not feel inclined to be generous after you’ve heard my request.”

“If only on the basis of having known you since childhood, I assure you that I will agree to whatever sort of help you wish.” He gave her a measured smile, wondering how quickly he could bundle her out of the room. His secretary could hand over the actual sovereigns. “How much would you like?”

She had a quite delicate jaw. He noticed because it visibly tightened, as if she were grinding her teeth. As a child, she used to be shaped like a stout pigeon, with a little potbelly and legs that whirled across the lawn as she tried to keep up with him.

Not that she ever could.

“Miss Carrington,” he prompted, when she didn’t answer, “I gather that you are collecting for a charity, and I assure you that I will contribute.”

“No,” she said, her jaw tightening again. “I came to ask for something quite different.”

“I am happy to assist you,” he said, allowing a trace of impatience to leak into his voice.

“Marriage,” she blurted out, and took a gulp of air.

He stared at her for one perfectly silent moment.

“I should like you to marry me.” She said it fast and the words ran together.

He frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

“I am proposing marriage,” she stated. Then she closed her mouth.

Vander had to curb an impulse to shake his head to make sure he had heard correctly. The woman must be touched, though madness ran in his family, not in hers.

But mad she must be, because she was looking at him expectantly, for all the world as if she thought there was a possibility he took her seriously.

He cleared his throat. “Well, how kind of you to offer.” Surely this was some sort of ruse? “However, I regret to inform you that I have no intention to marry at this time.”

Something crossed her face—disappointment? Was that possible?

“I suppose you think I’m mad. I’m afraid that I am, a bit.”

“I see.” Vander was, against all expectations, starting to enjoy himself. After all, her family had ruined his. Her father’s seduction of his mother had made the Duchess of Pindar the laughingstock of the ton.

And now Carrington’s daughter had the temerity to think that he would consider marrying her? Truly, the family had balls.

Even the women.

“So you are looking for a husband,” he said agreeably. “And you thought, hey ho, I’ll have a go at a duke?”

“That is not kind of you,” she said, her eyes narrowing.

Her eyes were a remarkable green, with thick eyelashes. Not that their color made her in the least attractive; rather the opposite. He preferred women with melting blue eyes. Eyes like the sky in summer.

“I must insist that you be seated,” he said. “Wooing is such an arduous business, don’t you think?”

After a long second she moved to a chair opposite his, and damned if she didn’t try again. “Will you marry me, Your Grace?”

“Absolutely not.” The words shot out like a bullet. “Given our family history, you are the last woman in the world I’d marry. In fact, I believe that you expressed the same sentiment to me some years ago, and I cannot imagine what has changed your mind.”

She was unbalanced. There was no other explanation for a woman’s proposing to a duke, let alone imagining that he would accept. She suffered from delusions.

“I can hardly imagine the scandal that a marriage between us would cause,” he added.

“I am aware that our union       would be a subject of speculation,” she said, for all the world as if they were discussing the weather. “I try not to let gossip bother me. Besides, I have come to view our parents’ relationship as something of a star-crossed tragedy.”

“It’s a tragedy, all right,” he drawled. “Your bastard of a father seduced my mother, made her into a whore, and ruined my family name.”

Her grip tightened on the arms of her chair, but she showed no other sign of being intimidated. “Our parents loved each other, Your Grace. Their union       was not sanctioned by society, but to the best of my observation, it was positively tedious in its domesticity. If not for the accident that took their lives, I am certain that they would have spent the next forty years together.”

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