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The Haunting of a Duke

By:Chasity Bowlin

now. They were the lightest shade of brown, so pale that in the light they glowed like gold. Thickly lashed and topped with slashing, dark brows, they could make him appear quite fierce.

Everything about him was masculine—overwhelmingly so. His sharp, chiseled features, his deep, rich voice, and the sheer size of him, for he towered over her, even at her own impressive height—all of those traits combined to make him seem larger than life, and in her current state, incredibly intimidating. When he met and returned her assessing stare, the heat of embarrassment and something else she could not name, snaked through her veins.

"A thousand pardons, Your Grace,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I was lost, I fear, and then, I am afraid that I panicked."

Her voice was low and husky, like velvet. The sound of it shivered over his skin like a caress. Wide-eyed, pale and disheveled, she was lovely and tempting. With the distance between them, he managed to reign in his libido, though only barely.

He reminded himself that she was out of reach for a multitude of reasons. As an unmarried woman of good breeding, let alone one he suspected of activities that, if not criminal, were certainly immoral, she was most unsuitable.

With chagrin, he acknowledged to himself that it was the latter and not the former that placed her entirely out of his reach.

While he had little patience for the magic and mysticism that his mother was so very fond of, he had even less patience for the idea of being leg-shackled again.

Aware that the silence had stretched taut and uncomfortable between them, Rhys spoke. “And you lost your wrapper as well, I see."

The phrase had no sooner escaped his lips than he realized they would do little to ease the tension. He gave a mental shrug. Perhaps if she were unsettled, he would have more answers.

Emme blushed. “Indeed, Your Grace. I am quite chilled and would very much like to return to the warmth of my—".

Bed had been on the tip of her tongue, but in her present state of undress there were few men who would not see that statement as an invitation.

Quickly rephrasing, she said, “To my room".

Her hesitation had not been subtle. He might have told her that any man blessed enough to view her in that diaphanous gown would be thinking of her and a bed regardless of whether she said it or not. Nonetheless, the unspoken word hung in the air between them.

Again, he cursed her purported abilities and her presumably chaste status, both of which made her completely unavailable. With her dark hair and pale eyes, she was striking.

The moonlight cascading through the windows had painted her body silver and illuminated her lush form through the fine lawn of the garment. The exaggerated curves of her generous breasts, small waist and flared hips would haunt him.

It had been far too long since he'd been with a woman. That the mere sight of her body could incite such lust in him was proof of that.

"Can you find your way?” he asked solicitously, though that was not what he wanted to say.

Speaking was the furthest thing from his mind. He wanted to pull her to him and feel the softness of her flesh against his, to taste the sweetly voluptuous lips he had so recently felt pressed against his hand. There were other things, far more wicked and wondrous, that teased his mind and stoked a fire in his blood.

Emme was hesitant to admit that she didn't know the way but it would be foolhardy to deny it. She barely knew her way through the public areas of the house, much less the convoluted twists and turns she had undoubtedly taken to get to her present location.

There were other concerns, of course. Though it appeared her host was a gentleman, to a point, there were others who were not. Falling down a flight of stairs or getting lost were not the only perils she faced in an unfamiliar house. He was the devil she knew in this instance, even if their acquaintance was brief.

"I am not sure, Your Grace. If you could but direct me,” she said.

Her voice sounded tremulous and uncertain even to her own ears. There was a faint breathiness to her voice that was unfamiliar. She attributed it to her anxiety of being discovered, but the truth was far more damning.

Rhys would have cursed. It would not do. For the most part, the guests were an honorable sort, but some of the gentlemen were questionable. Lord Pomeroy was thoroughly debauched and thoroughly enamored of her. His own friends who were in attendance were little better. Though he'd left them in the billiard room, there was no way to be certain she wouldn't cross paths with them. Many of the gentlemen had only recently retired, having consumed copious amounts of brandy and indulging in numerous games of chance.

Letting her wander alone through those halls would be like setting a fox in a circle of hounds. In her present state of undress, she was fair game for any lecherous sot she might stumble across.

Though his own thoughts were painfully carnal, he was determined not to act on them. Considering the distance to the wing where the guests were being housed begged the question of how she had come to be so far from her chambers in such a state.

It was undoubtedly a mistake to allow his thoughts to linger on the subject, still he asked, “If I may ask, Miss Walters, what are you doing about at this time of night in such a state of undress?"

What could she say? That she had been in a trance, communing with a spirit who had led her to the dungeons for reasons as yet unknown? Hardly, she decided. That was asking to be locked up in Bedlam. In fact, it hadn't been so long ago that one of her female relatives had been placed in an asylum for far less. She had not fared well there. When she replied, her voice was calm, even if her pulse was not.

"I sleepwalk, Your Grace. Normally my maid will prevent me from wandering too far afield, but she had a megrim and had taken a sleeping draught,