Rendezvous with a Duke
Anna Fournier never intended to fall in love. Not with any man. Especially not a duke. But Hugh Lattimer persists in courting her despite the scandal that surrounds her—and the innuendo that could ruin him.
Can she escape her past and embrace a future as Hugh’s duchess? Or will the man who murdered her father return to ruin her future once and for all?
Read an Excerpt
Anna took another drink of her wine and wiggled her toes to the lively strum of the small string ensemble. A few dancers who did not know the steps appeared sheepish and embarrassed on the floor. But one couple sailed along, so facile, that Anna would have guessed they had practiced together often. She scanned the others and wished she might join them. Turning that hope aside, she examined those who stood along the far wall. A white-haired dowager in a red feathered turban held forth with another, the two of them looking through their monocle glasses and remarking upon the crowd. Next to them stood two men conversing with each other. One was dark as the devil, hair black as India ink, his speech animated and his eyes twinkling as he spoke with his friend, a tall blond creature who grinned and chuckled, then glanced at her and looked away. But who swiftly returned to lock his silver gaze on hers.
Anna swallowed her wine.
She could not look away.
Nor did he.
She turned aside. It was he. The duke of Kendal. Why had she not anticipated that he might attend this ball?
She’d been so overwhelmed at the prospect. So delighted. So ridiculously spurred to go to an event so grand that she could watch the One Hundred in their own setting. Dine at their supper table. Not dance. No. But—
Her eyes strayed back to the blond man against the far wall.
The Duke of Kendal in all his finery still gazed at her. His expression blank, unreadable.
She licked her lips, tore her gaze from him. She must not be rude and stare at him. And she must escape. But where?
The ladies retiring room would be a wise choice. But where was it? She hadn’t noticed.
Instead—foolish move—she allowed herself to look once more upon the handsome face of the Duke of Kendal. Their eyes held.
She sucked in her breath.
He murmured a few words to his companion and turned from him, moving toward Anna. At each step, the dancers blocked his path and he wove around one couple, then another. With every new attempt to get past those who stood between them, he sought her gaze as if to pin her to her chair.
Her heart picked up a beat. She cast about, searching for a tray to deposit her glass. She spied one a few feet away and headed for it. It took her that much nearer the entrance to the supper room. The butler had not yet announced the serving of the meal, but she could hope that the ladies’ retiring room might be through there. Then she could elude him. She hurried around a few small groups, looking to one corner and another for an escape.
She stopped. To fail to acknowledge him would be such a faux pas and she dare not do anything that would embarrass her or Lettice. Besides, she had no reason not to acknowledge him. Simply because she thought of him like a besotted girl since their chance meeting months ago was no reason be so unkind and give him the cut direct. She could hope he did not read minds and see her fascination with him.
She turned, on her face the friendly greeting that he deserved. He remembered her. Even her name. For that, she was more than grateful. She was foolishly overjoyed.
“Your Grace.” She did a small curtsy, happy to do something other than drown in the delight she saw on his face. “How wonderful to see you again.”
His quicksilver eyes danced merrily as he took her fingertips and bent to bring them to his mouth. The heat of his hands and the blessing of his lips through the silk of her gloves swirled through her in a whirlwind. “I am delighted to find you here, Miss Fournier.”
“Thank you, Your Grace, you are kind.” And in that black superfine and blinding white cravat, you take my breath away.
“Not kindness at all,” he said in a low spare voice, his hand still holding her fingers. “Truth.”
“I am honored.” She found herself admiring his perfection. The strong jaw, the sculpted cheeks, his sparkling eyes. Her memory of him had failed to do him justice.
“It is I, my dear lady, who am honored.” His lips spread in a broad grin. “And relieved.”
She had distressed him? “How so?”
“I have looked for you everywhere. At routs and balls. In garden mazes.”
Flattered, she felt her cheeks heat—and she had to tease him. “I never stroll in gardens in February.”
He stepped nearer. “I began to think you were a phantom.”
“No phantom,” she told him in rash exuberance. “I live and breathe.” As do you.
“I was assured of that by Herr Breyer. I went to see him often, asking about you, hoping you would return by accident when I did. You never did. And yet…”
Lost in the compliment, she found herself memorizing the wide arch of his pale brows and the elegant length of his nose. “Yet?”
“Here you are. Real and very, very lovely.”
She tugged back at her hand. Confusion reigned in her muddled head. “Oh, sir, I mean Your Grace, I—I—“
He took her hand again, topping it with his other one. “I am too forward. I have frightened you and I don’t mean to. I mean to say—“ He gave a short laugh. “Well, have pity on me, Miss Fournier, will you?”
“But why?” His confusion was captivating, stealing her reason.
“Because I have looked for you for months and suddenly, miraculously, here you are.” He stepped nearer and wound her hand through the crook of his arm. “You must come and talk with me. Have you had wine?”
“Oh, I mustn’t.”
“It’s very good. Won’t make you dizzy.”
She chuckled, swept up by his dashing manner. “I’ve already had two glasses. It is very fine champagne and I dare not have any more, thank you.”
“All right. No wine.” He led her along the perimeter of the supper room as he patted her fingers along his forearm. “Talk to me then.”
In her peripheral vision, she could see how others whispered and nodded, noticing the Duke of Kendal’s attentions to her. “I doubt I should.”
“Why ever not?” he asked with all the assurance of one who has position and power, fearing no censure.
“Because, Your Grace, many observe that you are being kind to me.”
He gazed at her, confusion wrinkling his brows. “You are a lady. I am a gentleman. We are here to meet and dance, converse and dine. It is the purpose of such gatherings to further the acquaintance of people of the ton with each other.” He stopped and squeezed her hand. “Look at me, please.”
She raised her gaze and swirled in the cauldron of his eyes. He looked at her with a hunger and an admiration she had never seen on any man’s face. The joy of it set her body blossoming in a yearning that was new and welcome and exhilarating.
He peered down at her. “My god, you are lovely.”
His voice, spare and desperate, rolled into her bloodstream like wild fire. “You must not say such things.”
“If they are true, and they are, why can’t I?”
“Because it is not seemly.”
“Tell me why.”
“I—“ She lifted her shoulders in a sign of resignation. “What can I say, Your Grace—“
“Kendal,” he corrected her.
“Oh, no.” She stared at him, horrified. “I cannot call you that.”
“I give you leave. Do not stand on ceremony with me. If I wanted insignificant conversation I would never have sought your company.” He gave her a small and sorrowful smile. “And if you could meet me with polite indifference, you would never have tried to escape me.”
Trapped by his insight and snared by her own desire to see him again, this admission by him roiled her. “You praise me without even knowing me.”
“Allow me to become better acquainted with you and see if I compliment you more.” His silver eyes probed hers, his smile a charming lure.
“You flatter me, Your—“
He cast her a warning glance.
Be practical. “I cannot stand and talk with you. You must walk me to my chair along the wall and leave me, please.”
He frowned. “You have some chaperone here who forbids you to talk with gentlemen?”
“No, Your Grace. Kendal. I am the chaperone. I am the dragon.”
At that, he threw his head back and laughed loud and long. Others turned, struck by his outburst. Some even commented upon it to their companions. Kendal, however, did not seem to mind at all. Instead he grinned at her.
Fear raced through her. If Lettice saw the Duke of Kendal with her, if she told her mother, if perchance someone here irritated Lettice and in spite, she told them the truth about Anna…
Absurd. Lettice would not dare. That would ruin her as well as me.
Anna swayed close to Kendal. “Please, sir, walk me to my chair.”
“You really do hate being with me?” All laughter wiped from his face, he looked as if she’d stabbed him.
“No. I welcome your attentions. I mean, I would welcome your attentions if—“ She frowned at her honesty and the way his eyes narrowed. “You make this so difficult for me. Please, Kendal, my chair. Do not ask more of me.”
He inhaled, but then strolled leisurely toward the ballroom as if…as if he were proud to have her on his arm. “So I take it that I may not accompany you in to supper?”
“And I cannot ask you to dance?”
That she had to refuse him wrung her heart. “Absolutely not.”
“Very well. I will call on you, then.”
Alarm had her digging her nails into his sleeve. “Never. You must not.”
He arched a blond brow. “Is there some rumor abroad that I am a blackguard? Or do I have some scandalous secret?”
“No. Please don’t continue,” she begged. “You know you don’t.”
He escorted her to her chair and hovered there. With his back to the throng, he leaned near to her. “So you will not dine and you will not dance. Not with me? Or with any man?”
“Not with any man.”
“I see.” He straightened. “Is there a reason? Are you a blackguard or do you have a scandalous secret?”
That he could so easily hit the mark shot despair through her. She clasped her hands tightly and stared into her lap. “Please, leave me. And do not return.”
“Very well.” He took one hand. Enchanted, disappointed, sapped of the power to thwart him, she watched him raise it to his tender lips and kiss her fingertips. His silver eyes grew dark gray with disappointment. “I will go, my dear Miss Fournier.”
She found her manners and a wee voice. “Thank you.”
“And I will not return.”
She nodded, her heart cracking into a thousand pieces.
“But I will learn why.”
“You do not know much about me, do you?”
She shook her head.
He smiled, rueful charm alive on his face. “I am a tenacious man. Good night, Miss Fournier. Until we meet again—and you smile at me once more with your heart in your eyes.”