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In Bed with the Duke

By:Annie Burrows

Chapter One

‘Vile seducer of women!’

Gregory winced and pulled the quilt up over his ears. What kind of inn was this? Surely even travellers to such a Godforsaken backwater shouldn’t have to put up with deranged females bursting into their rooms and screeching at them before breakfast?

‘Oh! What wickedness!’

Pulling the quilt up round his ears clearly wasn’t a strong enough hint that deranged females weren’t welcome in his room. For the voice was definitely getting louder. Coming closer.

‘What is the world coming to?’

Just what he’d like to know, he thought resentfully, dragging his eyelids open and seeing the owner of the strident voice standing right over him, jabbing a bony finger at his face.

‘How could you?’ the bony-fingered, screeching woman shouted into his face. Right into his face.

Enough was enough. He knew that public inns were of necessity frequented by...well, by the public. But surely even here a man was entitled to some privacy? At least in his own bedchamber?

‘Who,’ he said, in the arctic tone that normally caused minions to shake in their shoes, ‘let you into my room?’

‘Who let me into your room? Why, I let myself in, of course.’ She smote her breast theatrically. ‘Never have I been so shocked!’

‘Well, if you will invade a man’s chamber what can you expect?’

‘Oh!’ the woman cried again, this time laying the back of one hand across her brow. ‘Was ever there such a villain? Truly, your soul must be stained black with depravity if you can treat the seduction of innocence with such levity!’

Seduction of innocence? The woman must be fifty if she was a day. And she’d invaded his room. Nothing innocent about that.

‘And as for you!’ The screeching woman’s finger moved to a point somewhere to his left side. ‘You...you trollop!’

Trollop? There was a trollop in his bed as well as a hysterical woman standing next to it?

A brief foray with his left foot confirmed that, yes, indeed there was another pair of legs in his bed. A slender pair of legs. Belonging, he had to suppose, to the trollop in question.

He frowned. He wasn’t in the habit of taking trollops to his bed. Nor any other kind of woman. He always, but always, visited theirs. So that he could retire once he’d reduced them to a state of boneless satiation and get a peaceful night’s sleep at home. In his own bed. Where he heartily wished he was now. For there wouldn’t be a strange woman in his bed if he’d stayed at home. Nor, which was more to the point, would anybody be daring to stand over him screeching.

‘How could you repay me by behaving like this?’ The hysterical woman was still ranting. ‘After all I have done for you? All the sacrifices I have made?’

Her voice was rising higher and higher. And getting louder and louder. But even so there seemed to be a sort of fog shrouding his brain. He couldn’t for the life of him pierce through that fog to work out why there was a woman in his bed. He couldn’t believe he’d hired her. Because he had never needed to hire a woman. So how did she come to be here?

How, for that matter, did he come to be here?

And how was he to work it out with that harpy shrieking at him?

He put his hands over his ears.

‘You ingrate!’

No use. He could still hear her.

‘Madam,’ he said coldly, removing his hands from his ears, since ignoring her in the faint hope that she might go away wasn’t working. ‘Lower your voice.’

‘Lower my voice? Lower my voice? Oh, yes, that would suit you just fine, would it not? So that your vile misdeed might be covered up!’

‘I have never,’ he said in outrage, ‘committed any vile misdeed.’ Nor used the kind of language that more properly belonged on the stage.

He pressed the heels of his hands to his temples. His throbbing temples. How much must he have had to drink last night to wind up in bed with a trollop he couldn’t remember hiring and be parroting the vulgar phrases of a woman who seemed intent on dragging him into some kind of...scene?

‘Get out of my room,’ he growled.

‘How dare you order me about?’

‘How dare I?’ He opened his eyes. Glared at the screeching woman. Sat up. ‘No. How dare you? How dare you walk into my room and address me in that impudent manner? Fling accusations at me?’

‘Because you have seduced my own lamb! My—’

Indignation had him vaulting out of the bed.

‘I am no seducer of innocents!’

The woman shrieked even more loudly than before. Covered her eyes and stumbled towards the door. The open door. Where she had to push her way through a crowd of interested bystanders. Who were all peering into his room with a mixture of shock and disapproval.

Except in the case of a plump girl he recognised as the chambermaid. She was gazing at him round-eyed and slack-jawed.

At which point he realised he was stark naked.

With a low snarl he stalked across the room and slammed the door shut on the whole crowd of them.

Then shot the bolt home for good measure.

He had a brief flash of his nurse, clucking her tongue and quoting that proverb about shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted.

No horse. He shook his head. A horse was about the only thing that didn’t appear to have wandered into his room while he lay sleeping.

Sleeping like the dead. Which made no sense. How had he managed to get to sleep at all? When he’d decided to rack up here for the night he’d suspected he wouldn’t be getting a wink of sleep. Other, similar inns in which he’d stayed had made a restful night well-nigh impossible. If it wasn’t travellers in hobnailed boots tramping up and down the corridor at all hours, or coaches rattling into the inn yard with their guards blowing their horns as though it was the last trump, it was yokels with lusty voices bellowing at each other in the tap. Over which his room was always inevitably situated.

Although this chambermaid had brought him to a room right up in the eaves. So the noise wouldn’t have been an issue. Had he been so