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The Duke's Perfect Wife

By:Jennifer Ashley

e spread of sweet freckles that ran together when she wrinkled her nose, all the while smiling her little smile. She was tall for a woman, but filled out with generous curves. She’d been breathtakingly beautiful at age twenty, when he’d first seen her flitting about a ballroom, her voice and laughter like music, and she was beautiful now. Even more so. Hart’s hungry gaze feasted on her, he imbibing her like a man who’d gone without sustenance for a very long time.

He forced his voice to remain steady, casual even. “What is this important thing you need to speak to me about?” With Eleanor it could be anything from a lost button to a threat to the British Empire.

She leaned forward a little, the hook at the top of her collar coming loose from the frayed fabric. “Well, I cannot tell you, here, in an open carriage plodding through Mayfair. Wait until we are indoors.”

The thought of Eleanor following him into his house, breathing the same air he did, made his chest constrict. He wanted it, he craved it. “Eleanor…”

“Goodness, you can spare me a few minutes, can’t you? Consider it my reward for distracting those rabid journalists. What I have discovered could border on the disastrous. I decided it best I rush down and tell you in person instead of write.”

It must be serious to make Eleanor leave her ramshackle house outside Aberdeen, where she lived with her father in genteel poverty. She went few places these days. Then again, she could have some covert motive in that head of hers. Eleanor could do nothing simply.

“If it is that important, El, for God’s sake, tell me.”

“Goodness, your face looks like granite when you scowl. No wonder everyone in the House of Lords is terrified of you.” She tilted back the parasol and smiled at him.

Soft flesh beneath his, her blue eyes half closed in sultry pleasure, Scottish sunshine on her bare skin. The feeling of moving inside her, her smile as she said, “I love you, Hart.”

Old emotions rose swiftly. He remembered their last encounter, when he hadn’t been able to stop himself touching her face, saying, “Eleanor, whatever am I going to do with you?”

She popping up here before he was ready would force him to alter the timing of his plans, but Hart had the ability to rearrange his schemes with lightning speed. That’s what made him so dangerous.

“I will tell you in due time,” Eleanor went on. “And give you my business proposition.”

“Business proposition?” With Eleanor Ramsay. God help him. “What business proposition?”

Eleanor, in her maddening way, ignored him to look around at the tall houses that lined Grosvenor Street. “It has been so long since I’ve been to London, and for the Season, no less. I am looking forward to seeing everyone again. Good heavens, is that Lady Mountgrove? It is, indeed. Hello, Margaret!” Eleanor waved heartily to a plump woman who was alighting from a carriage in front of one of the painted doors.

Lady Mountgrove, one of the most gossipy women in England, fixed her mouth in a round O. Her stare took in every detail of Lady Eleanor Ramsay waving at her from the Duke of Kilmorgan’s carriage, the duke himself planted opposite her. She gaped a long time before lifting her hand in acknowledgment.

“Goodness, I haven’t seen her in donkey’s years,” Eleanor said, sitting back as they rolled on. “Her daughters must be, oh, quite young ladies now. Have they made their come-outs yet?”

Her mouth was still kissable, closing in a little pucker while she awaited his answer.

“I haven’t the faintest bloody idea,” Hart said.

“Really, Hart, you must at least glance at the society pages. You are the most eligible bachelor in all of Britain. Probably in the entire British Empire. Mamas in India are grooming their girls to sail back to you, telling them, You never know. He’s not married yet.”

“I’m a widower.” Hart never said the word without a pang. “Not a bachelor.”

“You’re a duke, unmarried, and poised to become the most powerful man in the country. In the world, really. You should give a thought to marrying again.”

Her tongue, her lips, moved in such a sultry way. The man who’d walked away from her had to be insane. Hart remembered the day he’d done so, still felt the tiny smack of the ring on his chest when she’d thrown it at him, rage and heartbreak in her eyes.

He should have refused to let her go, should have run off with her that very afternoon, bound her to him forever. He’d made mistake after mistake with her. But he’d been young, angry, proud, and… embarrassed. The lofty Hart Mackenzie, certain he could do whatever he pleased, had learned differently with Eleanor.

He let his voice soften. “Tell me how you are, El.”

“Oh, about the same. You know. Father is always writing his books, which are brilliant, but he couldn’t tell you how much a farthing is worth. I left him to amuse himself at the British Museum, where he is poring over the Egyptian collection. I do hope he doesn’t start pulling apart the mummies.”

He might. Alec Ramsay had an inquisitive mind, and neither God nor all the museum authorities in the land could stop him.

“Ah, here we are.” Eleanor craned to look up at Hart’s Grosvenor Square mansion as the landau pulled to a halt. “I see your majordomo peering out the window. He looks a bit dismayed. Do not be too angry with the poor man, will you?” She put her fingers lightly on the hand of the footman who’d hurried from Hart’s front door to help her down. “Hello again, Franklin. I have found him, as you see. I was remarking upon how tall you’ve become. And married, I hear. With a son?”

Franklin, who prided himself on his forbidding countenance while guarding the door of the most famous duke in London, melted into a smile. “Yes, your ladyship. He’s three now, and the trouble he gets into.” He shook his head.

“Means he’s robust and healthy.” Eleanor patted his arm. “Congratulations to you.” She folded her parasol and waltzed into the house while Hart climbe

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