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In Bed with the Duke

By:Annie Burrows

wn it would have been useless, given the size of the muscles bulging out all over that huge, great body...

‘It won’t work!’

‘Pardon?’ The word just managed to crawl over her teeth.

‘This—’ The big, dangerous, naked man waved his arm round the room. Ended up pointing at her. ‘This attempt to compromise me.’

Compromise? What an odd choice of word. Besides, if anyone was compromised it was her.

She tried clearing her throat, in order to point this out, but he’d whirled away from her. Was striding round the room, pouncing on various items of clothing that lay on the floor. He bundled them up and threw them at her.

‘Get dressed and get out,’ he snarled. And then, for good measure, he drew the hangings around the bed, as though to blot out the very sight of her.

Which at least gave her the privacy to scramble into what turned out to be the clothes she’d been wearing last night. Clothes which had been scattered all over the room as though they’d been torn off in a frenzy and dropped just anywhere.

Which wasn’t like her at all. She was always meticulous about folding her clothes and placing everything she might need upon rising close at hand. It was a habit ingrained during the first dozen years of her life, when the ability to move out of a billet at a moment’s notice might have meant the difference between life and death.

Still, she wasn’t going to dwell on that. If ever there was a time to make a swift exit then that time was now. She needed to get decently dressed, as fast as was humanly possible, and out of this room before the gigantic, angry, naked man changed his mind about letting her go.

She untangled her chemise and pulled it on over her head. Reached for her stays. And considered. It would take some time to wriggle it into a comfortable position and do up all the laces. Better just to get her gown on and get out of here.

When she peeped out through the bed hangings she saw that he was sitting on a chair, stamping his feet into a pair of scuffed, rather baggy boots.

Which reminded her. Shoes. Where were her shoes?

There. Right by the door. Next to each other, although one was lying on its side.

She grabbed her stays and waited until the man—the no longer naked man, since he’d pulled on some breeches and a shirt—reached for his second boot. He didn’t look like the kind of man who’d sacrifice his dignity by hopping after her. So as he started easing his foot down the leg of that boot she made a dash for the door.

As quickly as she could, she thrust her feet into her shoes, and went to open the door.

It wouldn’t budge.

She tugged and tugged at it, but no matter how hard she pulled, or how frantically she turned the handle, she simply couldn’t get it open.

And the man must have got his second boot on. Because she could hear him walking across the room. He was coming in her direction.

In panic, she dropped her stays so she could tug at the handle with both hands. But she wasn’t quick enough. He’d come right behind her. Was reaching up. Over her head.

And drawing the bolt free.

The bolt. In her panic to escape she’d forgotten all about the bolt.

‘Allow me,’ said the man, opening the door and making a mockingly courteous gesture with one hand.

Before putting the other on her back.

And shoving her out onto the landing.

The beast. The rude, nasty, horrible man! He hadn’t even let her pick up her stays! Not that she really wanted to be seen running round an inn with her stays in full view in her hands.

But still— Her lower lip trembled. If she’d had a drop of moisture in her parched body she was sure tears would have sprung to her eyes.

She rubbed at them, but got no relief. The gesture only made the landing spin, and then sort of ripple—the way the surface of a pond rippled when you threw in a pebble.

And there was something else odd about the landing. It all seemed to be the wrong way round. True, she hadn’t spent much time exploring the place when they’d arrived, but it had been such an odd little space, up under the eaves, that it was bound to have stuck in her mind. The owner of the inn had made clever use of his attics, fashioning three rooms around three sides at the top of his property, with the head of the stairwell and a broad landing taking up the fourth side. Last night, when she’d come up the stairs, she’d had to go right round the narrow gallery which bordered the stairwell to reach her room. But now she was standing right next to the staircase, which meant she hadn’t been in her room just now.

But his.

Why had she been in his room? Could she have stumbled, sleepily, into the wrong room last night?

No...no, that wasn’t it. She distinctly recalled starting to get ready for bed and her aunt coming in with a drink of hot milk.

A sound from inside the room she’d just shared with a total stranger made her jump out of her skin.

She shouldn’t be loitering here. Who was to say he wouldn’t change his mind and drag her back inside?

With legs that felt like cotton wool, she made her way round the gallery. She passed the door to the room where her aunt and her... She shook her head. She still couldn’t think of her aunt’s new husband as her uncle. He was no relation of hers. It was bad enough having to share her home with him, let alone address the old skinflint as though he was family.

She stumbled to a halt in the doorway that stood open. This was her room. She was sure this had been her room. The bed was just where it should be. And the washstand. And the little dormer window with the seat underneath on which she’d knelt to peer down at the view. She’d been able to see along the road that led to the market square. Even from this doorway she could just spy the top of the market cross.

But—where were her things? Her trunk should be just there, at the foot of the bed. Her hatbox beside it. Her toiletries, brush and comb should be on the washstand.

Confused, she tottered round the land