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The Haunting of a Duke

By:Chasity Bowlin

” she said smoothly.

It was a lie. He couldn't say exactly how he knew that, only that he did. A pretty explanation, but too rehearsed for his liking. He sensed that he would get nothing further from her, and decided that the best option then would be to appear as her ally.

With that thought in mind, he said crisply, “We will use the secret passageway, Miss Walters. It is much quicker and there is far less risk of discovery."

As an afterthought, he shrugged out of his coat and placed it around her shoulders.

The weight of the dark blue superfine settled around her shoulders, and Emme was grateful for the warmth, but disturbed by his scent, which clung to the fabric. It was pine and sandalwood, with a hint of smoke and something else that was simply him. It wasn't unpleasant, not at all, but it left her very unsettled.

It made her even more painfully aware of him and how intensely masculine he was. Its absence from his person also revealed the breadth of his shoulders and the hard planes of his chest, which owed little to his tailor's skill. Quickly, she averted her eyes. It didn't matter, for the image would be permanently etched in her mind.

For Rhys, offering his coat had been as much for his own benefit as for Miss Walters'. This sight of her full breasts, their dusky tips faintly visible through her gown, had been having a disastrous effect on him. Of course, covering her up did not erase the memory. He doubted that anything could. But he could not afford to become entangled with an innocent, and for all her perfidy and mysticism, he could not afford the temptation that would result from thinking her less than chaste. He needed all the impediments he could find between himself and the temptation she presented.

"The passage entrance is through here,” he explained, leading her into the library and directly to a bookcase beside the fireplace.

He depressed a small lever beneath one of the shelves and a small section shifted backward, revealing a narrow staircase. Striking a flint, he lit one of the candles from the side table. The flare of light cast menacing shadows over the hard planes of his face. With the candle gripped firmly in one hand, he took her smaller hand with the other.

"The stairs are quite steep and can be treacherous,” he warned.

With her hand clasped firmly in his, Rhys led her up the stairs and into another long narrow corridor. He was distinctly aware of her in that small space. She smelled faintly of lilies, and her hair, which was loose and wild, brushed the back of his hand where he held hers. It was like silk and his traitorous mind could envision that silken mass tangled about them. He cursed himself, he cursed her, and he cursed his raging libido. This dangerous level of attraction was not something he had expected to encounter.

"Secret passageways,” Emme said, aloud, a touch of wonderment in her voice. “It's rather macabre, like something from one of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels."

Receiving no response aside from a noncommittal grunt, Emme sensed that conversation was an unlikely event, and focused instead on keeping her footing. They moved through what seemed an endless labyrinth of tunnels, with various twists and turns, before he opened a door that led into the corridor only a few doors from her chamber.

At the door, she slipped his coat off and returned it. “Thank you, Your Grace."

"Rhys,” he corrected.

It might be a disastrous mistake to encourage the familiarity, but in private, at least, he wanted to acknowledge the strangely intimate if painfully platonic encounter. It would also keep her wary and he wanted to rattle her, he realized, to shake her composure. That desire wasn't due entirely to his concern for his mother. His desire to unnerve her was far more self-serving than that. He wanted her to be as disturbed by his presence as he was by hers. The idea that she might be utterly unaffected by him was lowering.

"That would hardly be appropriate, Your Grace,” Emme said, demurely.

He let his eyes travel the length of her, from the wild, disheveled waves of her dark hair, over the length of her voluptuous figure, pausing at the generous swell of her breasts and again at her hips.

"Indeed, Emmaline,” he leaned closer as she spoke, until his face was only inches from hers, “but I think following this night, clinging to propriety for its own sake would be hypocritical. I shall see you at breakfast."

Emme had felt the weight of his gaze as surely as if he'd touched her with his hands. For one brief moment she had thought he meant to kiss her, and in all honesty had hoped that he would. Her entire body suffused with heat and it shamed her to admit that it was not the flush of embarrassment that warmed her skin. She couldn't breathe and she didn't trust herself to speak. Backing toward her chamber door until she bumped against it, she stepped over the threshold, her eyes never leaving his. It took all of her willpower to sever the contact of his penetrating gaze and close the heavy door.

Behind the closed door she reminded herself that he was not a man to be trifled with. He could and more than likely would ruin her, and in spite of his apparent helpfulness, there was still a very real possibility that he had murdered his wife. She could not afford to forget that. With effort, she raised her hand and turned the key, before resting her forehead against the heavy door and trying to calm her racing pulse.

Rhys heard the snick of the lock engaging and smiled with satisfaction. Curiously pleased, he contemplated the enigma she presented as he made his way back through the maze of tunnels. It was a balm to his ego to know that he unnerved her as he returned to the billiard room and the company of the gentlemen he had left behind.

Lord Michael Ellersleigh looked up at him when he entered. “Where did you run off to? Some enchanting widow or better, some bored wife awaiting you in the corridor?"

Michael c