Wagered to the Duke (MF)
[BookStrand Regency Romance, HEA]
En route to a dreary governess position, Katherine Baxter meets a frightened young woman whose brother wagered and lost her to a Scottish duke traveling to London, where Kate longs to go and be reunited with her own brother. Craving the adventure she’s never had, Kate brazenly takes the girl’s place but must hide her growing attraction to the dashing duke she can never hope to have.
Nathan Fraser, Duke of Loring, has no need for the plain, bespectacled woman he won at cards, for he plans to choose his bride from a bevy of beauties at a London ball. But when an enemy from his past threatens to claim the prize, Nathan’s honor forces him to keep this headstrong lass under his protection. As they travel incognito on a rollicking odyssey as husband and wife, the high-spirited Kate proves to be more trouble than he gambled for, yet Nathan risks all to win her heart while losing his own.
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
“Do you have anything in writing from the duke that states he has forgiven the debt?”
Bloody hell. He didn’t think he’d need to present such a document. He’d assumed that just his word would be enough for this hoyden.
Maybe his word would be enough if he told her that he was, in fact, the duke. But would she believe him? The duke’s signet ring was packed away in his baggage, and he wasn’t exactly dressed in the first stare of fashion. Even his equipage was more suited to a duke’s man of affairs than to a duke. Perhaps, once she saw it, she would change her mind.
“I’m afraid His Grace neglected to give me such a document,” he said ruefully.
She tilted her head to one side. “Upon my word, but what sort of duke is he?”
“The sort who only became duke a few months ago, so you might say he’s still learning all the little intricacies that go into being a duke. Like providing documentation that certifies your brother’s debt is hereby forgiven.”
“Actually, isn’t that your job?” she countered. “You are his man of affairs, aren’t you? That’s what a man of affairs does. He’s a man who oversees the duke’s affairs. Honestly, Mr. Fraser, it’s not astronomy or mathematics—it’s a very simple, apt term. But to be a man of affairs means he—which is to say you—are responsible for drawing up and presenting the document in question.”
Nathan was rapidly starting to regret he’d ever set foot in this parlor.
“Oh, don’t tell me,” she said. “You’ve only been his man of affairs for a few months yourself, so one might say you’re still learning all the little intricacies that go into being one.”
“I’m afraid you have the right of it, Miss Hathaway,” he answered. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe I will step into the taproom and see if I can’t find your brother myself. The innkeeper seems to have lost his way.”
As he turned to quit the parlor, he thought he understood why her ne’er-do-well brother sought to unload her at the gaming table. At the time Nathan had thought that Frederick Hathaway didn’t know an ace of spades from a queen of hearts. Now he wondered if the fop wasn’t extraordinarily adept at bluffing and had thrown the game and lost on purpose just to be rid of his sister.
So it should have come as no surprise that when he entered the lobby, he did so just in time for the innkeeper to emerge from the taproom and say, “Oh, there you are, Mr. Fraser. I’m afraid Mr. Hathaway is no longer here.”
“But he was supposed to meet me here at this hour.”
“The barkeep says Mr. Hathaway gave him an extra shilling to show him out the back way.”
Since there was no one else in the lobby, Nathan felt quite comfortable saying, “Damn!”
“What’s wrong?” came a voice from behind him that was starting to sound just a little too familiar, and far too annoying. He almost jumped out of his skin. Damn again!
He refused to turn around and thus acknowledge her. He forced his focus on the innkeeper. “Are you absolutely certain about this?”
“Aye, Mr. Fraser. He said he already bade farewell to his sister, and that he didn’t want to go out the front way for fear he’d see her yet again only to have her start crying anew and pleading with him not to let her go.”
That didn’t sound like the woman behind Nathan at all. Indeed, it would have made better sense if the craven Mr. Hathaway had balked at seeing her again for fear she’d bend an umbrella over his head or even beat him half to death with her reticule.
“Why, that cur!” she seethed, as she came abreast of him. “That worm! To think he left his own sister here, without even bothering to learn what ultimately became of her!”
The innkeeper scuttled into a back room, apparently wanting no further part of this, but he wasn’t the only one.
She looked up at Nathan, the lamplight hitting her spectacles in such a way to make her eyes look as if they were blazing with fury—or maybe they looked like that even without the spectacles. “You do realize what this means, don’t you? He’s abandoned me. Left me to a fate unknown. Maybe the duke meant to forgive the debt, but ’tis clear Freddy means to honor it.”
Nathan planted his right fist on his hip and leaned his left elbow on the counter as he cocked his head to one side. “Now that seems rather out of character for Freddy, don’t you think?”
“Not if he’s resolved to mend his ways,” she replied. “Perhaps this whole affair has given him an epiphany, and he’s decided he must behave responsibly and honorably now.”
“Then he’s chosen a devil of a way to do it,” Nathan said grimly.
“Well, seeing as how he has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned me here, there’s only one thing to do, isn’t there? You shall have to take me to London.”
The trap was sprung, and Nathan felt the sharp teeth snapping closed over him.