Curtain Raiser 2: Duke versus Duke: Releasing on Amazon on 01 MAY

Men cannot attempt a serious conversation with a beautiful woman without trying to impress her or worse, seduce.

Lady Solace Busybody

 

Bella looked at her reflection in the full length mirror of the inn and sighed. She was stripped down to her chemise. She ran her hands over her body cupping the small breasts. Ignoring the tug between her legs she inspected herself academically. Still no matter what angle she looked at herself from she lacked the bounteous charms that appealed to men. The lush, womanly curves were absconding just as it was difficult to retain a curl in her straight long black hair. She felt wretched and marching to the window flung it open allowing the breeze to come in and cool her agitation.

 

The playful breeze teasingly sifted through the pages on the writing desk and with a stifled gasp Bella pulled the window shut to run gather them up. She carefully read through what she had written so as to not lose a single sheet even by accident. Sheets from the private journal of a duke’s daughter would be of interest to any person wishing to incite scandal or earn money through illicit means.

 

Bella spun around as the windows opened again to let in a fresh gust of wind. And gasped. A man jumped in lightly through the window, pistol in hand. A man she knew and a man who from the arching of his left brow signaled his surprise to see her. He turned swiftly to close the window and drop the curtains. Bella turned automatically to look at the inn door that was bolted shut from inside. Outside the door she knew guards were posted.

All she needed do was scream for hell to break loose.

 

“Greetings resident ghost of the Windermere Hall library!”

“Wha-” she spun around to glare at the hateful man. “Your lordship what are you doing in my room?”

“Asking myself the same question,” he replied grimly. “Do not tell me you have misplaced your maid- why is she not in the room with you?”

Bella looked at him dumbstruck. Dane Hamilton always had this appalling effect on her. He now advanced to her writing desk to glower at her from a height of six feet which was significant enough for a five feet two inches tall Bella.

He quirked that hateful brow at her again.

 

“I write at night and my maid wished to sleep. Since I am one of those spoilt duke’s daughters who is not sadistic enough to torture people for my recreation she is sharing a room with the other maids. I do have my bodyguards standing outside the door if you need them.”

Maybe it was the surprise or her annoyance or her frustration. She had never spoken to him thus. In fact, she quaked in her shoes at the prospect of speaking to Dane. He was the kind of man who had no qualms in informing a girl she was a lazy slugabed if she missed breakfast because she had overslept.

 

Jade green eyes flashed. He reached over and dropped his pistol on the writing desk. Light from the candles burning in the room and the fire in the fireplace made his bronzed skin appear golden. Black hair sparsely covered a muscular chest across which he folded two brawny arms. She looked up at his face. What had he done with his shirt?

He watched her with an amused expression on his face. As if he knew exactly what thought had caused her face to color and the room to heat.

 

“So you write at night and sleep in the morning, hmm? Only a duke’s daughter would have no consideration for the cost of tallow…”

“You…” She gasped aloud as his hand snaked out and tugged the papers she clutched to her chest, out of her hands.

“I used to wonder what you were doing in the library at such odd hours. The books there might be shrieking in agony with their scepter gone.

So what do you write?” He half-cocked his head to the side considering.

 

Bella’s face flamed. This was not happening. Her brother’s closest friend in her room at night reading private confessions.

“Dane,” she hissed forgetting she never referred to him by name. “Don’t you dare!”

“Wrong man, wrong dare Bella,” he replied calmly his eyes skimming the first page, “and do put on your nightdress and robe. A pity if one buys then never uses them.”

It was sheer madness to lunge at him but it was her only option.

He raised his arm aloft and she fell against his chest unable to check her momentum. She heard him gasp audibly as her cold hands braced on his chest for support. His chest was like a rock wall. He stood firm his feet planted slightly apart as if rooted to the spot. But his stomach caved in on the sudden intake of breath and a hand instinctively curled about her body.

I lied to Charlie. I am in love. My emotions are sincerely engaged. That is how I know love is not so superficial a cut. I bleed and the scar aches.

Be it betrayal of our friendship but time is running out for me once I debut in London

 

“Give my papers back.” Fury made her light eyes flash and her chest heave.

“Lower your voice unless you want to advertise my presence in your room,” he snapped.

It was then she became aware of doors banging and muffled shouts. She looked to the window he had locked behind him instead of looking at the bare chest pressed to her nose. The chest she had noticed the moment he had stepped in.

“What have you done? Did you,” she looked at his face aghast. “Did you shoot somebody?”

 

He stared at her for a long minute incredulous then suddenly chuckled. “O innocent one do you think I need to remove my shirt to shoot at someone?”

“A woman? Here in this inn?” Bella felt fury rage through her like a forest fire. “With all of us here? How could you?”

“Bella…”

“Lady Valerie to you,” she snapped cutting him off. “And kindly remove yourself from my presence at once. I refuse to protect…”

“Shut up Bella.” He retorted tightening his arm around her when she writhed huffily. “I am the one who is the offended party here.”

“Bah! So said python after swallowing a ladybird? Perhaps you did not like the after taste?”

“Damn right,” Dane glowered. A hand snaked up to catch fistful of her hair holding her in place. “For your kind information I was sleeping in my bed when a modest, genteel lady Sara Wolverton stole into my room in a state of dishabille…”

“I don’t believe this,” Bella gasped rhetorically.

He misunderstood. “Believe it. Her sneaky parents must have bribed the innkeeper to give them a duplicate key. You can imagine the outcome if I am compromised in the presence of a duke and an earl besides others. Fortunately I sleep with one eye open and the chit is half terrified to death of me,” he broke off in mid-sentence to look at Bella curiously. “Which brings me to the question why are you not stammering and stuttering and quaking in your boots in my presence anymore?”

 

Oh how Bella hated the man. The horrid wretch who could make her face flame and quite deliberately did it for he had as much as confessed he knew her bashful reaction to him.

“Dane the last I checked I have been out of the nursery for many years now,” she said sarcastically.

“Are we grown so forward Bella that you can address me by my first name now, without requiring my permission?”

“I do not recall you asking mine to call me Bella. Or, whether I minded you dropping in to pay me a midnight call in my bedroom?”

“This is not a midnight call you fool! I did not want to end up betrothed to her. So I had to dive into the first window I found open which incidentally happened to be yours. Why was your window open?”

“I needed some fresh air.”

“Fresh air or the man you love is planning a midnight tryst in your room. For if he is- I promise you he will not like the surprise I have planned for him.”

“What will you do?” She asked and his gaze fell on his pistol lying on the writing desk. “Oh my God you plan to shoot him?”

“Indeed.” Dane nodded grimly.

“What about the scandal that will ensue if you kill a man in my bedroom?” She was curious now.

“What scandal? You are the daughter of the duke of Rawlings. Nobody in their right mind will even think to whisper a bad word about you. The man will be declared a thief, an opportunist who gave you a frightful scare and you screamed alerting me. I followed the thief in through the window and killed him.”

 

“How obliging of you,” she could not help her acerbic tongue.

He bowed bending her backwards in a dance like move. “I aim to please.”

The metallic glare of the Hamilton greens impaled her. She felt lightheaded.

“Is he the reason why you are not wearing your nightgown?” Dane was serious.

Involuntarily her gaze flew to her unclad body and lack of modesty she had forgotten all about seething in a jealous rage. Her breasts strained against the fine silk and she could see the tops of her rounded if meager breasts popping out. Shocked she realized so could he?

 

“Wh-what if he is the son of a peer?” She asked in a dry raspy voice.

“Who?” Dane looked like he had lost the thread of their conversation. He did not even raise his eyes to glance her way.

“The man I love. What if you kill the son of a peer? You cannot call a lord a thief, can you?” Bella demanded.

He released her. Just let her go and she fell with a painful thump. Her bottom hit the stone floor and at the last minute she raised her head up to prevent knocking herself out cold. For all he cared. He turned around. His bare foot, she blearily noted, arose above her prostrate body as he pivoted around and walked to the fireplace to sit down on an armchair placed invitingly close.

 

She wanted to die from the embarrassment of it all. Every word she had written believing it would never be exposed to another’s eye scrolled in her mind.

“I know it would be a kind world if you could expire right there from pneumonia but going by your luck possibly it will be just common cold with a raw, scratchy throat, a runny nose and a blinding headache…”

“So? What do you care?”

“I don’t. But you can register your protest better from the warm, toasty comfort of a bed. Just think of the hot, simmering looks you can throw my way.”

“Cold, glacial ones can work wonders too,” she retorted but got into the bed anyway. She was no votary for self-punishment.

 

“This is serious Bella. Are you even thinking?”

She turned her back to him.

“You are going to London to throw yourself at a man who you clearly write does not even know you exist. Why? Because you love him. How intelligent is this?

But no, wait a minute. For this man you will break off your engagement to Luke and I expect you think Luke will be a jolly good sport about it.

Hell the crowning glory of it all is you are using my innocent cousin and her family who have no clue about your real ambitions. You could end up ruining close relationships and starting blood feuds. I have half a mind to grab you by the hair and shake some sense into your addled head.”

Dane arose from the chair and agitatedly paced close by her bed. Disgusted when no response was forthcoming he walked across the room to fume at her.

 

“I am going to Aunt Charlotte right now and showing her these sheets. She will, I presume, want to talk to your mother. So you can safely debut, marry Luke and get this love nonsense right out of your head.”

“You do that Dane and please do explain to her how you came across my private papers.” Bella sat up in bed to taunt him.

“Are you threatening me?” He did not raise his voice. The deathly calm was no less intimidating.

“No just explaining that instead of Sara Wolverton you will be married to genteel, modest lady me. Do you really want that?”

He did not answer.

“Think,” she continued. “You would have to fight a duel with Luke if you married me. With Matt who is your best friend if you refused. Also do stay to ponder over how many relationships you will break and how many blood feuds will be started by you.”

 

She had bested him. She, Bella, had soundly whipped her childhood nemesis hollow. Her lips curved with a delight she could not contain as she crossed her arms over the heavy blankets that cocooned her.

He stood there in a mighty powerful rage holding the sheets in his hands.

Suddenly he hurled the papers at her and they fluttered about. Some fell to the floor or drifted towards the bed like paper snowflakes.

She smirked back unimpressed.

“You might have won a battle Bella but this is war. Every move you make, I will watch. Every step you take, I will follow. Your shadow will drop away in fright Bella but I will be right there relentless in my pursuit.

If you love this man you will stay away from him in London or I vow I will make his life so miserable he will beg you to leave him alone.”

 

She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing out loud and nodded demurely lowering her head to shield her face. Thankfully for once the long black hair was an asset for they covered her face in a silken fall from both sides.

He was a clever man. It would not do to arouse his suspicions.

“Just listen to your parents Bella,” Dane suddenly said in a softer voice from which he had wiped out all traces of the earlier anger. “Forget him.”

“No.” She raised her face to jut her stubborn chin at him as he settled his body in the armchair again to wait the night out till it was safe to return to his room without having to fend off the amorous advances of a wallflower.

 

Dane looked at her as if he could not figure Bella out anymore. Especially when she picked one blanket and threw it at him. He caught it reflexively for he was not really looking at her but at the fire. He gave her a surprised look.

“With your luck you might catch pneumonia and die then just to be obtuse come back to haunt me.”

“Can love change a dormouse into a she cat,” he asked intrigued. But his green eyes could not contain his laughter.

“I thought love was just nonsense to you.”

 

“It is. Believe me you will be just as happy with Luke as you would be with the man you profess to love.”

“How do you know,” she asked hurt. “Have you ever been in love?”

He shook his head laughing. “Don’t plan to neither.”

“Why?”

“Why,” he echoed taken aback as if amazed at her temerity for questioning him.

“Why?”

“Maybe,” his green eyes glinted. “Because women give me what I want from them without having to invent such falsehoods as love to bribe them with. I think it is men who have no clue what to do with a woman in bed that propagate the myth of love so the woman who marries them will not elope with someone who does.”

 

She should have blushed at his crude speech but she was too upset.

“So you cannot imagine a woman who you would look at and she would be the tipping point for you? Where you see the one who embodies all your dreams, hopes and aspirations? A woman you look at and you never want to remove your gaze from her face to look another woman in the eye again?”

He chuckled. “Bella, my innocent one. When I am enamored of a woman she is all this. But once my hunger is sated, I bore of the dish. Think of your favorite dessert. Would you like it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day?”

“Then love means different things to you and me Dane. While for you it is dessert, to me it is like common salt in my food.”

 

He arose. “Don’t spout utter nonsense. All those books you have been cloistered with have garbled your reasoning.”

“Have they? Then how come it seems to me I am winning this argument?”

“Precisely!” He pounced as if spotting the flaw in her logic.

“Precisely what?”

“You should not be having such a vulgar conversation with any man. Have you lost all sense of propriety? Telling a man such bold things can incite him to… ”

“What?” Bella asked confused at his agitation.

“Have you lost all sense of self-preservation too with love?” He leant over the bed.

“Dane will you please explain,” she demanded leaning forward.

 

He pulled the sheet from under her chin with his left hand. His right hand, palm down, he pressed to her lips and then in a sinuous wavelike motion trailed down her neck to her collarbone. He did not touch her breast but she convulsed on a gasp of electric current and just toppled over on the bed.

Every muscle in her body arched as a moan she could not stifle escaped her lips. Even her toes curled from the helpless pleasure streaming through her lissome body. She clenched fistfuls of the blankets and hid her face as memory of the touch brought about a fresh set of the shivers. It seemed where he had touched his fingers had seared an imprint on her skin.

She tossed her head side to side trying to control her body.

When she finally mustered the sense to look up he was not in the room. The window was gaping open.

 

Papers fluttering about compelled her to arise from her bed. Bella ran to the window and locked it first. Then gathered the papers and piled them on her desk.

He had forgotten his pistol. She picked it gingerly and packed it in her portmanteau before her maid Sally saw it in the morning and drew her own conclusions.

 

Hell and blast! How the devil had he known she would come apart with just one touch? Where had he learnt to touch a woman like this?
If he had not left she might have even got on her knees to beg him to take her virginity. She was devastated with just one flick of his wrist. Out of control lust rampaged in her body. Just because she had not experienced it before did not mean she did not recognize it. Possibly she had disguised her lustful nature and given animal passion a tender name. So it would become more palatable to her. Maybe all she wanted from him was that heartbreaking touch. No more. She craved millions of such heartbreaking touches.

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