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In Bed with the Duke

By:Annie Burrows

exhausted after the events of the past few days that he’d slipped into a state resembling a coma?

It wasn’t likely. And it didn’t explain the muzzy feeling in his head. That felt more as though he’d taken some kind of sleeping draught.

Except that he’d never taken a sleeping draught in his life. And he couldn’t believe he’d suddenly decided to do so now.

He rubbed his brow in a vain effort to clear his mind. If he could only recall the events of the previous night.

He concentrated. Ferociously.

He could remember having a brief wash and going down for dinner. And being served with a surprisingly good stew. The beef had melted in his mouth. And there had been cabbage and onions and a thick hunk of really good bread to mop up the rich gravy. He remembered congratulating himself as he’d come up the stairs on stumbling across an inn that served such good food.

After that—nothing.

Could the overseer and his accomplice have attacked him on the way upstairs? Had they followed him and sneaked up on him, intent on getting revenge? He felt the back of his head but didn’t find any lumps or cuts. No sign that anyone had struck him with a blunt instrument. It was about the only thing they hadn’t used. They certainly hadn’t hesitated to use their boots when they’d managed to knock him to the ground.

Not that he’d stayed down for long. A feeling of satisfaction warmed him. He flexed the fingers of his right hand, savouring the sting of grazed knuckles. It was one thing practising the science in a boxing saloon, where due deference was always given to regular customers, quite another to rise triumphant from an impromptu mill with a brace of bullies who had neither known who he was nor fought fair.

But, still, that didn’t answer the question of why this harridan had burst, shrieking, into his bedroom, nor the female he’d apparently taken to his bed without having any recollection of so much as meeting her.

He turned slowly, wondering just exactly what sort of female he had found in such a ramshackle inn, in such a dreary little town.

He took a good look at the girl, who was sitting up in the bed with the covers clutched up to her chin.

Contrary to what he’d half expected she was a pretty little thing, with a cloud of chestnut curls and a pair of huge brown eyes.

Which was an immense relief. He might have lost his memory, but at least he hadn’t lost his good taste.

* * *

Prudence rubbed her eyes. Shook her head. She’d never had a dream like this before. Not as bad as this, at any rate. She had sometimes had nightmares featuring her aunt Charity, for despite her name her mother’s sister was the kind of cold, harsh woman who was bound to give a girl the occasional nightmare, but never—not in even the most bizarre ones that had invaded her sleep when she’d been feverish—had her aunt spoken such gibberish. Nor had she ever had the kind of dream in which a naked man invaded her room. Her bed.

He’d stalked to the door and shut it, thankfully, though not before she’d realised that the landlord was staring at her chest. Her bare chest.

Why hadn’t she checked to see if she was naked before sitting up? And why was she naked? Where was her nightgown? Her nightcap? And why wasn’t her hair neatly braided? What was going on?

The naked man by the door was ruffling his closely cropped light brown hair repeatedly, as though his head hurt. And he was muttering something about horses and gravy.

Naked.

Man.

Her stomach lurched. She had a clear recollection of snuggling up against that man a few minutes ago. He’d had his arms round her. It had felt...lovely. But then she’d thought it was all part of a pleasant dream, in which someone was holding her, making her feel safe for once. Loved.

Instead he’d probably...

She swallowed. Heaven alone knew what he’d done to her.

And now he was standing between her and the door. The door he’d just bolted.

Don’t come near me. Don’t turn round. Don’t turn round.

He turned round.

Looked at her searchingly.

Appeared to like what he saw.

Started walking back to the bed.

She opened her mouth to scream for help. But the only sound that issued from her parched throat was a sort of indignant squeak.

She worked her tongue against the roof of her mouth, desperately trying to find some moisture so that she could call for help.

Though from whom? That landlord? The man who’d just taken a good look at her breasts?

Aunt Charity? Who’d come in here and called her a trollop?

Although...it didn’t look as though she needed to call for help just yet. The man was standing still. Fists on his hips. Glaring down at her.

Glaring down from a face she suddenly recognised. Now that she was actually looking at it. And not at those broad, bare shoulders. Or the bruised ribcage. Or the... Well, she’d never seen a naked man before. She couldn’t help looking at that. Even though she knew she shouldn’t.

But anyway, now that she was looking at his face she knew she’d seen it before. Last night. In the dining room.

He’d been sitting in the corner, at a table all on his own. Looking dangerous. And it hadn’t been just the bruise to his jaw, or the fact that one eye had been swelling and darkening, or that he’d had the grazed knuckles of a man who’d clearly just been in a fist fight. It had been the cold atmosphere that had surrounded him. The chill emanating from steel-grey eyes that had dared anyone to try and strike up a conversation, or walk too closely past his table, or serve him with anything that didn’t meet his expectations.

She hadn’t noticed him observing her. But he must have been doing so. He must have somehow known she was in a room on her own and followed her up here, and then...

But at that point her mind drew a blank.

He hadn’t handled her roughly—that much she knew. Because she didn’t feel the slightest bit sore anywhere. Though perhaps she hadn’t put up much of a struggle. Perhaps she’d kno

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