I received an email from a reader letting me know there’s a problem with How to Distract a Duchess. She pointed out that after Chapter 15, the next chapter seems to indicate that Trevelyn and Artemisia have had a confrontation, but there was nothing of the sort in Chapter 15. It seems the original Chapter 16 has been deleted from this ebook somehow. I’m so very sorry for this snafu.
Rest assured, I have contacted my formatter and asked them to fix the problem. I’ve posted the missing chapter here and to make it up to my readers, I have a special treat planned for you from May 1st-5th. Be sure to check back then so you don’t miss out!
Trevelyn stopped by the small suite of rooms he kept as Thomas Doverspike and changed into his alter-ego’s threadbare cast-offs. After his sleepless night, he looked even more ragged and unkempt than usual in his guise as Doverspike. It was early enough that the duchess should be working in her studio. He planned to keep his appointment with Artemisia as if nothing untoward had happened. But after the way she fled the ballroom when his father made his cursed announcement, Trev knew he had some explaining to do.
He only hoped she’d let him do it.
He banged the knocker twice and received no response. Then he drummed his knuckles on the imposing door of the duchess’s home and was greeted after a few moments by the ubiquitous butler.
“Hullo. Cuthbert, ain’t it?” he said in his best country burr. He smiled ingenuously, hoping to slide by the man’s eagle eyes and continue to pass as Thomas Doverspike long enough to work his way into the duchess’s studio.
“Quite, sir.” The crusty gentleman’s gentleman inclined his head slightly. “If you will be so good as to follow me, please.”
The butler turned and walked in the opposite direction of Artemisia’s studio.
“That’s the wrong way, guv,” Trevelyn said. “I’m here for Her Grace.”
“Indeed, Mr. Deveridge.” Cuthbert never slowed his stately pace. “Madam gave specific instructions regarding you, sir. This way, if you please.”
So, she’d given her butler his real name. The game was definitely up. Trevelyn trailed Cuthbert through the empty ballroom, now cleared of all evidence of a late-night revel, and down a hall lined with suits of armor and portraits of past Dukes of Southwycke. The ancient peers seemed to glare down at him as he trod by them.
Cuthbert paused a moment before the French doors leading into the solar and cast a scathing look at him. The butler was too well-trained to voice his poor opinion of Trevelyn, but the frosty glance plainly said he’d been weighed in the balance and found sadly wanting. Trev wondered how much Artemisia had confided in Cuthbert and how much he had deduced from his own observations.
Small wonder servants were always the best source of information in any great house.
The butler rapped smartly on the door and Trevelyn heard Artemisia’s soft “Come.”
The solar was the exact twin of her studio on the far side of the expansive house. Floor-to-ceiling windows bathed the room in early morning light, but the space seemed strangely bereft without the hodge-podge assortment of paints, pots and chalk that were the staples of her artwork. Instead of the scent of oil-paint and canvas, this room smelled of lavender and slightly musty Brussels lace and, of course, her.
The duchess was seated on one of a pair of matching settees with her cats, Castor peeping from behind her skirts and Pollux snugged against her hip. A book was open on her lap and she held a china cup to her luscious lips.
Trev was used to seeing her in her paint smock, totally unfussy and all business. The Indian princess costume last night cast her in the most exotically alluring light and stark naked she was the finest thing he’d ever seen, but he was unprepared for the sight of Artemisia in the guise of an English rose.
She wore the latest Parisian fashions with casual elegance, the lines of her dress molded to her curves, her breasts modestly concealed with a filmy fichu. A tasteful strand of pearls looped her neck and a gem-encrusted brooch winked over her left breast. She was every inch a duchess, and he knew he looked like a vagabond from Fleet Street.
“Good morning, Mr. Deveridge,” she said. “Pray be seated. Will you take tea? Cuthbert can fetch some fresh scones, if you like.”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Just tea, please.” He’d expected stormy recriminations, not this stony civility. As he perched uneasily on the opposite settee, he noticed faint smudges of fatigue beneath her green eyes. They gave him hope. Perhaps he wasn’t the only one who’d lost sleep last night.
“That will be all, Cuthbert,” she said crisply.
“Very good, madam.” The butler gave a sharp bow, then for Trevelyn’s benefit, he continued. “I shall remain within easy call should you require anything.”
He pulled the double doors closed behind him. Trevelyn didn’t doubt Cuthbert remained standing at the keyhole ready to protect his mistress from any and all threats.
“Larla—” he began.
“Mr. Deveridge, I seem to have forgotten how you take your tea,” she interrupted, giving him a sharp set down. There would be no secret names used during this interview. “One lump or two?”
The glance she cast him as she poured out a steaming cup suggested she’d rather give him lumps on the head than in his tea.
“Two, please,” he said, God help him. How could he hope to bridge this chasm of excessive manners?
She plopped the sugar into the dark liquid and stirred it with barely restrained viciousness.
“Thank you,” he said as he accepted the cup and saucer from her pale hand. He wondered fleetingly if she’d thought to lace the sugar with strychnine.
He raised the cup to his lips and drank manfully. “About what happened last night . . .” he said, unsure how to begin.
“A masked ball is always marked by flights of fancy,” she said as coolly as if she commented upon the weather. “A night filled with surprises, was it not?”
“No one was more surprised than I.”
“I take leave to doubt that,” she said in a tone dripping poison.
“Madam, I had no idea my father was planning to make that announcement.”
“That I will believe,” the duchess said. “It would be extremely bad form for one to seduce the elder sister on the same night one announces his troth to the younger. After all, one must pace one’s self.”
“I made no pledge to your sister.” Trev raked a hand through his hair in annoyance. “This is some scheme hatched by your mother and my father for God knows what reasons. By Heaven, a single dance constitutes my familiarity with the girl. I barely know the chit.”
One of her brows lifted in reproof. “Careful, Mr. Deveridge. You are speaking of my dearly loved sister.”
“I realize that and I mean no disrespect to her, but you must believe me when I say I had no knowledge of this supposed engagement.” He placed the china teacup and saucer back on the low ivory-inlaid table that stretched between them. “I have no intention to marry. Not ever. Not to your sister or anyone else.”
A shadow passed behind her eyes and for a moment he wondered if she was expecting him to say something different, to make some sort of declaration to her. Given the degree of intimacy that had developed between them—Heaven help him, he could still taste her—it would not be surprising for her to expect a proposal of marriage. Part of him would be willing to give it, he realized with a start, if not for his covert work in the Great Game. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a woman to accept the risks he was planning to take.
She sipped her tea, snatching a glance at him from beneath her lowered eyelids.
“Probably a very wise course for one such as yourself, Mr. Deveridge. I seriously doubt you’d make a faithful husband for any woman.” She looked away from him. “However, the deed has been done. Your father has declared your intentions before the entire ton and I, for one, will not allow you to make a mockery of my sister by trying to wiggle out of your obligations.”
“If my father made the announcement, then perhaps he should be the bridegroom. The man is a bachelor, after all,” Trevelyn said.
She skewered him with look of distaste. “And a man three times the bride’s age.”
“As was your late husband,” he reminded her.
“I will thank you to refrain from comment upon the duke. It is clear you know little of honorable men and even less of women.” Her lower lip trembled, and she drew a deep breath. “Anyone who could so toy with another’s affections and then fail to live up to his commitments . . .” She was unable to finish her thought for the tears she was trying to blink back.
Trev moved quickly to her side and gathered her in his arms. “Larla, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t call me that.” She balled her hand into a fist and pounded his chest once, but she didn’t pull away from him. “You’ve no right. All you’ve done is lie to me from the moment I first laid eyes on you.”
“Truly, I never meant to hurt you. If you believe nothing else, I beg you to believe that,” he whispered into her neck. She smelled so tantalizing, all fresh and dewy; it was all he could do not to eat her up. “I have no name for what it is between us, but can’t seem to stay away from you.”
He covered her mouth with his, hunger flaring white-hot inside him, burning away reason. More than anything on earth, he wanted this woman. If he wasn’t able to bury himself in her sweet flesh soon, he was sure madness would descend upon him in earnest.
He couldn’t get enough of her.
At first, she answered his kiss with desperation, thrusting her tongue into his mouth. His hopes soared. But when he slid a hand under her skirt, she fought free of him. Her face was flushed with longing, but she scrambled to her feet and put as much distance between them as she could.
Wide-eyed, she looked on him with something resembling horror. “Get out of this house.”
“Larla—” He moved to embrace her.
“No, I mean it.” She straight-armed him. “If you come any closer, I shall cry out and Cuthbert will call the constable. I will see you hauled before the magistrate on charges of attempted rape, I promise.”
It wasn’t her threat that stopped him. It was the terror in her eyes. Had he become such a ravening beast? No, he realized. She was afraid of herself and the way her body responded to his.
“It would be no rape and you know it,” he said.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Insulting me will not save you from prison.”
“Lying to yourself will not change the truth,” he said with as much gentleness as he could muster given his state of frustration. “Whatever else is true, this much is certain. I am not engaged to your sister. To continue that farce is to court disaster. Do you think there’s the slightest chance you and I could see each other at family gatherings and not eventually tumble into the same bed?”
“I asked you to leave.”
“I will go as you request, but know that I will not wed your sister.”
“After your behavior this morning, sir, I will do all in my power to make certain of that,” she said. “I presume you still possess enough decency to allow Florinda to claim she rejected you.”
He nodded his acquiescence. “Whatever tale you wish to circulate, I will be happy to corroborate.”
Trevelyn turned and walked toward the door. He stopped with a hand on one of the ivory knobs. “Whatever this is between us, Your Grace, it will not go away just for the wishing. Somehow, you have marked me and I believe your heart bears a similar mark. I am at your disposal, madam. If you should require my services, however slight, inquire for me at the Golden Cockerel on Tydburn Street.”
“That will never happen,” she said with vehemence. “I wouldn’t know which name to use.”
Thank you again to my sharp-eyed reader. And I apologize again for the mistake. This is an author’s worst nightmare. I still remember my friend Alissa Johnson whose debut novel was published without the final chapter. She posted the ending on her website, but how frustrating all around.
Again, please check back on May 1st for a special treat from me to YOU!