Spinster Miss Eleanor Lockhart is suddenly homeless and employment is her only option. Ruined after succumbing to a scoundrel’s excessive charm nearly a decade ago, she’s lucky to obtain a position as a paid companion and committed to behaving with the utmost propriety. She definitely shouldn’t be in the arms of a man capable of utterly destroying what little remains of her reputation...
Titus St. John, Duke of Kendal, is known as the Forbidden Duke, a mysterious, intimidating figure who enters Society just once each year at his stepmother’s ball. A decade ago, he was a devil-may-care rake until his idle roguery brought about the ruin of Eleanor Lockhart—and his resulting self-imposed isolation. Now she’s back, and she needs his help. But by “saving” her, he may just ruin her life all over again.
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“We need to take our place,” he said, guiding her to the dance floor, where Lord and Lady Satterfield were already in place at the top of the line that was forming. Kendal positioned Nora to stand beside Lady Satterfield so that they were second in the line. The musicians, set in the far corner of the makeshift ballroom, began to play, and panic seized Nora’s chest. Would she remember the steps? Would she make a fool of herself, or worse, of him?
She felt like an imposter in a scenario she’d mistakenly stumbled into. Surely someone would point her out and tell her she needed to leave. She was a pariah, an outcast. She had no place being here, let alone dancing with a duke.
But it was far too late to run away. The dance had started, and the line traveled the length of the drawing room. This dance would last quite some time, during which Nora would be the center of everyone’s attention and the source of everyone’s gossip. She could hear the exchanges now, imagined them starting up and spreading like a freshly-ignited fire.
“Look at who he chose. Who is that Nobody?”
“Don’t you remember? She ruined herself nine years ago.”
Lord and Lady Satterfield started, dancing their way between the lines. They were rather spry, given their age.
Nora nervously looked over at the duke. “Lady Satterfield is an excellent dancer.”
“Indeed.” The rich tone of his voice soothed her rioting nerves. “She always insists on calling the first, though it’s the only set she’ll dance.”
Nora nodded. Dancing was typically reserved for the young.
She tried not to stare at her partner, but it was difficult as he was situated directly across from her and she should look at him. Look, yes, but not gape. And he was gape-worthy. His reputation suited him for he seemed forbidden, otherworldly almost. Not in an ethereal way, but in a rustic, rough sort of manner, as if Society couldn’t possibly contain him.
Despite that or perhaps because of it, he wore his costume with ease. However, she suspected he was more comfortable in riding breeches and boots as he galloped his horse across the Lake District—she’d ascertained that was where his seat was located—his powerful thighs hugging the animal’s flanks as they moved as one.
Goodness, where had that astonishing image come from?
And then it was their turn to traverse the line. She prayed she would remember the steps and focused on the music as they moved toward each other.
“You look as if you’re headed to the guillotine,” he said just loud enough for her alone to hear.
“Do I?” She tried to laugh but was afraid she sounded like a wounded bird. She longed to ask why he’d chosen her and immediately wondered if Lady Satterfield had put him up to it. She decided she didn’t want to know.
“It’s just a dance.”
The superbly absurd comment coaxed a genuine smile to her lips and alleviated some of her discomfort. “With the ‘Forbidden Duke’ who only dances once each Season. Yes, you’re quite right to characterize it that way. Thank you for putting me at ease.”
He chuckled, and like his speaking voice, it sparked a tremor that seemed to start in her bones and move outward making her flesh tingle and her chest warm. “Don’t be nervous. And certainly don’t be nervous on my account.” He said the last with a tone so dry, she feared it might curl up and blow away in the breeze.
“That is easy for you, a duke, to say. I am just a simple girl who’s been away from London a long time.”
“I daresay you aren’t ‘just’ anything.”
Darcy Burke is the USA Today bestselling author of hot, action-packed historical and sexy, emotional contemporary romance. Darcy wrote her first book at age 11, a happily-ever-after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him, with exceedingly poor illustrations.
A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids-who each seem to have inherited the writing gene in some form-and two Bengal cats. In her "spare" time Darcy is a serial volunteer enrolled in a 12-step program where one learns to say "no," but she keeps having to start over. Her happy places are Disneyland and Labor Day weekend at the Gorge.