The Duke and the Lady
Coming November 19, 2020
She knew what her sisters would say.
They would say how it was just like her to be brought down by a litter of puppies.
To be fair, she wouldn’t have fallen for it if it weren’t coming from Jonathan Devlin, the second son of the Earl of Westrick. Devlin was a watery chap who whimpered about flat champagne and wrinkled cravats. He hadn’t committed any sin greater than wearing the wrong color waistcoat to a fox hunt, so why shouldn’t she have believed him when he said the Marquess of Lumberton’s prized Ridgeback had just birthed an extraordinary litter of puppies?
It seemed like such an innocuous thing, and something Devlin would have been interested in as it involved absolutely no effort on his part to enjoy it.
So she’d followed him.
The musicale was not overly stimulating. The Marquess of Lumberton had three daughters all of whom possessed less talent than a tarnished teapot, and the evening drew on insufferably. It was probably this which had her accepting Devlin’s story so quickly for in it she saw her way out.
The room where the marquess’s daughters performed was an assembly of drawing rooms with their doors opened to permit the gathering of all of the guests for it was quite a turn out. While the marquess’s daughters lacked talent, they did not lack in dowry, and all three were on the market that season.
Johanna, Louisa’s younger sister, had jumped at the chance to attend for it fulfilled their eldest sister, Viv’s quest to find them both husbands while also ensuring no such thing would occur that evening as all attention was on the Lumberton sisters. Johanna, ever reluctant to find a match, enjoyed the idea of being passed over very much.
Louisa did not.
While she was happy to do anything Jo wished, she was not so happy to endure the endless rendition of songs Louisa could not even decipher as the Lumberton sisters continuously mutilated the lyrics.
So if Jo were to gain something out of this, so would Louisa.
She was going to see some adorable puppies.
Devlin had easily slipped both of them from the crowd during a pause in the music as fortune hunters posing as eligible gentlemen surged forward to praise the sisters for their aptitude. Louisa and Devlin simply stepped from the room and into the empty corridor.
She should have known by how easy it was to escape that only bad things lay ahead.
The Marquess of Lumberton’s townhome was much like the other homes of the peerage, and it was easy to navigate through the endless corridors toward the back of the house.
“Do you know where you’re going?” She’d meant the question playfully as anyone who was familiar with dogs—and she was thanks to her sister, Eliza’s love of collies—would know the pups were likely being weaned near the kitchens. They would simply need to find the servants’ stairs at the back of the house.
That’s why she startled when Devlin whipped about, his jaw firm, his eyes wide with indignation.
“Do you not think I know what I’m doing?”
The light was dim here as the guests weren’t meant to be in this part of the house, and only a few sconces were lit along the corridor. The slanted light marked his face with valleys of shadows and spikes of light turning him suddenly ghostly before her. It was unsettling, but she shook it off. He was just being a spoiled child.
She picked up her skirts. “I didn’t say that. Perhaps you misheard.”
She didn’t wait for a reply and moved forward. She could find the puppies on her own.
She’d only gone a few steps when Devlin came up behind her. His footsteps were so solid and swift the mere sound of them startled her. It was this that would be her first mistake. She pivoted to see just what his rush was about and in doing so, she was slightly off balance. She was certain this was why he was able to grab her arm so quickly and sweep her into a room off the main corridor.
They plunged into almost complete darkness, and her senses were left rattled and useless. Her first thought was the puppies couldn’t possibly be in there. Who would leave a poor, defenseless pack of puppies alone in a dark room?
As soon as the question formed, however, she realized her mistake.
It was the same tragic tale of any number of debutantes in any number of seasons.
She straightened her shoulders, forced her ears to open, and willed her eyes to adjust.
She needed to get out of there.
“Devlin, whatever are you playing at?” She made her voice sound light and flirty.
The horrid look on his face moments earlier in the corridor danced all too clearly through her mind, and she knew she had to keep him calm. It appeared the dandy had a mean streak, and it was best not to rile him. Not until she could get safely away.
And then she would turn Viv on him.
She would turn all her sisters on him for that matter. Even Eliza’s collie, Henry, would enjoy getting in on the fight, she was sure of it.
“This is no game.” His tone was riddled with the moist sound of spit, and she wondered if he’d meant to sound menacing when in fact, it only sounded as if he were too overcome to properly form words.
Carefully, she slipped a foot backward, testing the floor behind her. Judging by the softness beneath her feet, she stood on a carpet, but when Devlin had swept her into the room, she’d lost her sense of direction. It was likely the door was behind her, but she didn’t know for certain if she was even near the door any longer. Was the carpet just inside of the room? Should she try to find it’s edge and follow it to the door? She just couldn’t be sure.
Achingly slowly her eyes began to adjust. At the far side of the room was a bank of windows, their drapes not quite closed against the cold night. Moonlight spilled through the smallest crack, illuminating the outlines of the furniture that littered the room. There was a sitting arrangement, sofa and chairs, a dormant fireplace, and near empty walls. It was likely an unused drawing room. The Marquess of Lumberton’s townhome had so many, he probably didn’t know what to do with this one.
For the first time, she felt a lick of fear.
If the room was unused, it would mean no one would find her because no one would have reason to come here.
She flexed her fingers, closing her hands into fists.
“Oh, Devlin, whatever do you mean?” She deepened her voice, hoping it would sooth him.
She heard him more than she saw him, shuffling somewhere in the corner across from her. There was the screech of wood against wood, and she realized he must have opened a drawer.
He was looking for something.
She slid her other foot back, thinking to widen the space between them. Quickly, she glanced behind her, but the darkness was too thick, the paneled walls too similar. She couldn’t make out which was the door.
There was another screech of wood and a snap. He’d shut the drawer.
Suddenly there was a flash of light, and she closed her eyes against it. When she opened them again, her throat closed.
Devlin had found a candle and lit it, it’s wavering light striking those shadowy valleys across his face once more. The watery boy she knew from countless social obligations suddenly didn’t appear so watery any longer.
The lick of fear grew stronger, and for the first time, she realized that noise was her heart pounding in her head.
“Devlin, what is this?” The playfulness had gone from her voice, and her fingers fell from their fists to grip nervously at her skirts.
The candlelight caught the spittle that had gathered at the corner of his lips. “My father thinks I’m not a man. He called me weak. He called me a pansy. He called me—”
Whatever the last insult was it was too great for Devlin could not speak it. Instead his face twisted into an unknown pain.
She slid another foot back.
“Devlin, I’m sure whatever—”
“Shut up, you whore!”
The words more than their volume startled her into stillness. She’d never even heard someone utter such a base word let alone hurtle it at her. It left her empty, shocked into nothingness. How could a single word have such power to completely undo her?
It was several moments as she tried to regain her breath, will the feeling back into her limbs, to realize that while Devlin held the candle aloft with one hand, his other hand was busy at the front of his jacket.
No, not his jacket. His trousers.
He was undoing the lacings of his trousers.
She didn’t speak again nor did she think. She threw herself backwards, her hands scrambling over the paneling to find the door. Her fingernails scratched at useless wood, slivers cutting through the fine silk of her gloves, but her hands found nothing.
He grabbed her before she thought he would, and the scream she had meant to scream got lost somewhere in her throat. He didn’t hold onto her but instead threw her back into the room. She stumbled and fell against the back of the sofa. She gripped it, allowing it to hold her upright as she tried to slide around it, put it between her and Devlin.
He’d put down the candle. Vaguely, she was aware of it sitting somewhere to her right, the single point of light strobing into the darkness. Shadows lurched at her, pantomiming until they became a sick chorus to Devlin’s advance on her.
This was it.
This was her ruination.
She closed her eyes, her past swimming up to her in a single surge.
She deserved this.
The thought came from no where, like a swallow sweeping down from the sky in a beautiful, pristine arc.
She deserved this because she had killed her mother.
When she opened her eyes again, she found Devlin had come closer but had stopped several feet in front of her. She became aware of pulsing along her arm where he’d grabbed her, and she knew there would be a bruise there.
Did it matter?
She waited for him to pounce on her, braced herself for what was to come, but it didn’t happen. Instead, he stood in front of her, studying her with an icy glare that was far more violating than any touch. She blinked, but she refused to move her gaze away from his.
The moment went on, and she didn’t know why he didn’t move, why he didn’t take his chance. She sucked in a breath, willed herself to calm, and tried to take in the rest of it. She was so certain of attack she hadn’t bothered to look down.
His hand was inside his trousers, pumping furiously as he watched her, pinned against the sofa where he’d put her.
Bile rose in her throat as the last of her self pity drained away.
She roared up, powered by a sudden rage and flung herself at him. Her fist struck bone, but he was already moving to pin her, and the blow glanced off harmlessly. He snatched both of her wrists in his steely grip and tipped her backwards. Once more the hard ridge of the sofa pressed into her back, but now he was atop her.
“Be a good girl, and it won’t hurt so much,” he whispered against her ear.
She tried to turn her head to bite him, but he was careful now, staying tucked under her chin so she couldn’t move. He captured her hands between her back and the sofa and pressed harder against her, effectively making her powerless.
When his free hand began to lift her skirts, she remembered she should scream. It was the only thing left to her.
“No.” The word came out as hardly more than a whisper, but behind it, a fire grew. Something wet and slimy pressed against her neck. His tongue. He was…licking her.
“No.” This word came out firmer, louder, and she was ready to scream the next one as his cold fingers touched the sensitive skin of her inner thigh.
But the scream never came.
Because just at that moment, Devlin was bodily lifted away from her and thrown across the room like he was no more than a dirty rug being tossed out for a beating.
She stared at Devlin’s crumpled body on the floor for a second, but the man who’d saved her captured her attention for eternity.
“The lady told you no,” said Sebastian Fielding, the Duke of Waverly.