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In Bed with the Duke

By:Annie Burrows

ing to the back of the house, to the room her aunt and the vile Mr Murgatroyd were sharing. There was nothing for it. She’d have to intrude, even though they might be—she shuddered—embracing, which they tended to do with revolting frequency.

She braced herself and knocked on the door. When there was no reply she knocked again, and then gingerly tried the handle. The door opened onto an empty room. No luggage. No personal clutter on the washstand or dresser.

As if they’d gone.

She blinked a couple of times and shook her head. This must all be part of the same nightmare. That was it. In a minute she’d wake up, back in... Back in...

She pinched her arm—hard.

But nothing changed. She was still standing on the landing at the top of an inn, in a little town whose name she couldn’t remember. After waking up in bed with a naked man.

It couldn’t be happening.

Her aunt and her new husband must be downstairs. Paying the bill. That was it. They couldn’t have abandoned her. They just couldn’t have.

Her heart fluttering like a butterfly trapped in a jam jar, she turned away from the empty room and ran down the stairs.

Chapter Two

‘We run a respectable establishment,’ said the landlady, glaring at Gregory as she folded her arms over her ample bosom.

‘Really?’ If this was what passed for a ‘respectable’ establishment, he hated to think what she considered unrespectable. Disrespectable. He gave himself a mental shake. Why couldn’t he think of the word for the opposite of respectable?

‘So we’d be obliged if you’d pay your shot and leave.’

‘I haven’t had my breakfast.’

‘Nor will we be serving you any. We don’t hold with putting our guests through the kind of scene you caused this morning.’

‘I didn’t cause any kind of scene.’

Why was he bandying words with this woman? He never bandied words with anyone. People did as they were told or felt the force of his displeasure.

‘Well, that’s not what my Albert told me,’ said the landlady. ‘Came to me with tales of guests complaining they’d been woken up by screaming women in the halls, naked girls in rooms where they didn’t ought to be, and—’

He held up one imperious hand for silence. Very well, he conceded there had been a scene. In which he’d become embroiled. Now that he came to think of it, did he really want to break his fast here? The last meal he’d eaten under this roof, although palatable, had ended with him sinking into a state of oblivion so profound it appeared a band of criminals had attempted to perpetrate some kind of...of crime against him.

Dammit, he’d thought his mind was getting clearer. He’d managed to summon up words like palatable and perpetrate. Why, for heaven’s sake, had he been unable to come up with another word for crime?

It felt as though someone had broken into his head and stolen three-quarters of his brain. When he’d first awoken he’d likened it to the kind of haze that followed a night of heavy drinking. A state he disliked so much he’d only very rarely sought the form of release that alcohol promised. And then only when he’d been young enough to know no better.

And the landlady was still standing there, hands on her hips now, glaring past him at the state of his room as though expecting to see the naked girl he’d ejected the moment she’d put on her clothes. That sounded wrong. As though he’d only tolerated her in his room while she was naked. What he’d meant was that of course he wouldn’t have thrown her out until she was dressed. That would not have been a decent thing to do.

While he was standing there, wondering why his thoughts were in such a muddle when he was used to making incisive decisions about complex issues in the blink of an eye, the landlady’s eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared. He followed the direction of her fixed stare to see what had put that disgusted expression on her face. And spied a stocking. A lady’s stocking. Dangling from the mirror over the washstand. Looking for all the world as though it had been thrown there during an explosion of frenzied undressing.

He stalked across the room, wrenched it from the mirror and shoved it into his pocket, feeling...cheated. If he really had torn that girl’s clothing from her in a burst of passion so overwhelming he’d thrown her stockings clear across the room, then he ought to be able to remember it. Remember being so out of control that he’d not only scattered her clothing all over the room but his own, too.

He shivered in distaste at the recollection that his shirt had spent its night on the floor. A floor that was none too clean.

‘I will be down directly,’ he said, coming to a sudden decision to shake the dust of this place from his shoes. As he’d had to shake the dust from his shirt a short while ago.

The landlady gave him one last basilisk stare before very pointedly stepping over the stays that lay on the floor by the door through which she exited.

He strode to the door and slammed it shut after her. Picked up the stays. Glared at them. Wondered for a moment why he felt such reluctance to leave them lying exactly where they were.

Because he didn’t want any trace of himself, or whatever had happened here, lingering after he’d gone, he decided. Which was why he thrust them into the one meagre little valise he’d brought with him. Then he went to the washstand and rolled up his shaving kit, tossed it into the valise with the stays and the rest of his things.

Not that the stays were his.

And who was likely to look in his valise and imply that they were?

Nobody—that was who. Not once he’d returned to where he belonged. Which he planned to do as soon as possible.

He paid his bill downstairs at the bar, rather than calling for the landlord to come and attend to him. The sooner he’d done with this place, the better. He needed to get outside and breathe fresh air. Perhaps even find a pump under which to douse his head with cold water. He certainly n