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In Bed with the Duke

By:Annie Burrows

red,’ she ended with a sniff, looking round the study and then at Gregory. ‘It’s just typical for you to end up with a duke.’

‘You left Prudence money?’ Gregory was frowning, looking from one woman to the other.

‘Yes. Twenty pounds. As you very well know,’ she said indignantly. ‘It would have come in very handy in our new lives, let me tell you. Quite a sacrifice it was, parting with that amount. But I insisted.’

Prudence pressed one hand to her forehead. She supposed it might be true. That her aunt had left her some money. Aunt Charity would have seen her tuck her reticule under her pillow when she’d brought her that hot milk. She might have put some money in there.

‘And all my things? What did you do with those?’

‘Your things? Why, I packed them all up neatly and had them sent back to Stoketown by carrier as soon as we arrived in Liverpool. In fact it was while I was doing that that he gave me the slip,’ she added bitterly. ‘He said he was going to see about our berth on the ship, but when I got back to the hotel from the carriers it was to find all his luggage gone.’

Tears streamed down her face unchecked.

‘I was afraid to go down to the docks at first, because he’d told me it was a rough, horrid place and that he’d handle things. By the time I’d plucked up the courage, the ship had sailed. And I was left there alone, with no means of paying the bill, since he hadn’t left me with anything! And I know you sent that young man—’ she gestured to the door through which Wrothers had gone ‘—to hunt me down and bring me to justice, but I have never been so glad to see anyone in my life.’

‘It appears,’ said Gregory with scorn, ‘that rather than own up at once that she had no means to pay her shot your aunt stayed at the inn, racking up a substantial debt.’

‘I spent most of my stay there on my knees,’ said the tearful older woman. ‘Praying for inspiration. Or a miracle. I know it will be hard for you to forgive me, Prudence, for the part I played in all this, but at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that I have already been punished by a higher authority.’

Gregory made a sort of snarling sound. He was looking at Aunt Charity as though he couldn’t believe his ears.

‘That’s true,’ Prudence pointed out. ‘All the things she did to me have now been done to her. She has been robbed and abandoned. By a man she loved, at that. So you could say her punishment is greater, since I found you.’

She got up and went to him, hands outstretched.

‘You are going to ask me to let her off, aren’t you?’

She nodded. ‘We learned something about giving people a second chance, didn’t we? In that barn? The farmer forgave us for literal trespass and spared us both a horrible time trying to explain everything away to the law. Could we not now forgive Aunt Charity for her trespass against us?’

He was still glowering.

‘You have already forgiven her, haven’t you?’

She nodded. ‘Because if it hadn’t been for her giving way to Mr Murgatroyd’s persuasion we would never have met. Besides, she took me in when nobody else would.’

‘Grudgingly, you said.’

‘Nevertheless...’ She spread her hands wide.

He stepped forward and took them. ‘You are the most generous-hearted, lovely creature on God’s whole earth. No wonder I love you so much.’

‘Then you won’t have her prosecuted?’

‘How can I when to do so would offend you?’

As he drew her into his arms Aunt Charity collapsed into a fresh spurt of sobbing. Though now, Prudence suspected, they were tears of relief.

‘Thankfully,’ he said dryly, ‘I have no end of properties in which I can stow indigent aunts. Some of them even further from London than Bramley Park.’

‘So there are some benefits to marrying a duke, after all,’ she said with a smile.

‘Baggage,’ he murmured, pinching her chin. ‘You know very well that you adore being married to a duke.’

‘Only because I happen to adore the Duke in question,’ she countered.

‘Long may that continue,’ he said.

‘Oh, it will,’ she vowed, reaching up to kiss his cheek. ‘It will.’

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