Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt (Dec. 18, 2018)
Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she’s attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: She starts planning her revenge.
Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading among the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins–sins he’d much rather forget. But she’s also fiery, bold, and sensuous–a temptation he can’t resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he’ll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, he will have to earn Freya’s trust…by whatever means necessary….
Freya laid her hand on the doorknob and carefully turned it without making a sound.
Well. A sound a human could hear.
It wasn’t until she saw the eyes at hip height reflecting back her candlelight that she remembered Tess. Harlowe kept his dog in his rooms.
Freya froze…or she started to in any case. A large, masculine hand seized her arm and dragged her into the bedroom.
She gasped as the door was closed behind her and she was shoved up against it.
Her candle was plucked from her hand.
Harlowe set the candle on a table by the door. He propped his hand on the wall and leaned over her, smiling a very untrustworthy smile. “Had I known you were coming to visit me tonight, Miss Stewart, I would’ve called for a tray of bonbons.”
What a maddeningly capricious creature he was.
And that was not excitement rising in her breast at the realization that he was awake and ready to spar.
She put both hands on his chest and pushed.
“Let me go,” she snarled at him.
“Oh dear, I am sorry,” he said with patently false concern. “You must’ve mistaken the room. Were you looking for Lord Rookewoode? Or was it Lord Stanhope?”
Her nostrils flared with rage. “I—”
“No.” His smile disappeared and what remained on his face was an expression that made her shiver involuntarily. “Whatever lie you were about to tell me, darling, don’t.”
For a moment he simply stared at her and she stared back, her breaths coming faster and faster.
Tess sat down and whined under her breath.
“Now,” the Duke of Harlowe said, “why are you in my rooms?”
She raised her eyebrows and said in a voice made steady only through great will, “You’ve already guessed, Your Grace. I find I’m overcome by a sudden tendre for you.”
His mouth twisted into something ugly and for a second—just a hair of a second—she thought he might strike her.
Then he straightened. “Tell me, Miss Stewart, do you loathe all men or am I special?”
“Oh,” she whispered, and this time she couldn’t still the waver of pure hatred in her voice, “you’re very special.”
His brows drew together. They stood only inches apart. Every time he inhaled, his chest nearly touched her unbound breasts beneath her chemise and wrap. They were so close, she could almost hear his heartbeat.
They might’ve been lovers.
Or enemies about to kill each other.
“Do I know you?” he murmured. “Have I caused you harm in some way?”
She couldn’t afford to have him recognize her.
She should apologize. Let him believe whatever he wished so long as he let her go and she left.
That was the smart thing to do.
The responsible thing.
Rings, memories, and revenge shouldn’t matter at all.
She reached up and placed her palm gently—so gently!—against his hard cheek, feeling his bristles, and widened her eyes. “If you can’t remember, I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”
His eyes began to narrow, but she rose on tiptoe, wrapped her hand around his fingers, and jerked him toward her in a single movement.
She ground her mouth against his.
His lips tasted of betrayal and wine. Night and childhood memory.
Love and loss.
The emotion he aroused in her was so profound she almost lost herself in the embrace.
She opened her mouth, licking across his bottom lip until his own tongue came out to tangle with hers.
Then she bit him.
“Fuck!” He stepped back, blood beading on his mouth, his face twisted in confusion and outrage. “You’re insane.”
The dog was on her feet, whining in distress.
“No. I’m not.” Freya opened the door and all but ran down the corridor, her breath coming in shaky gasps. When she reached her own room she shut the door behind her and pushed a chair under the doorknob.
She sat on the side of her bed, trying to calm her heart.
Perhaps she was insane.
For five years she’d been nothing but dull and circumspect, polite and utterly forgettable. She’d served the Wise Women well as the Macha. Every step she took, every word she spoke, was considered carefully so she would not be revealed. She had a mission that was vitally important to the continued existence of the Wise Women.
And yet in less than twelve hours she’d thrown all that away.
Freya opened her hand. Nestled in her palm was Ran’s ring. She’d wrested it from Harlowe’s finger when she’d bitten him.
She held it up, studying the worn gold of the band. It was a signet ring with a carved onyx meant to be used to seal wax. The intaglio was of a bird of prey. The bird, worn about the edges, might’ve been a falcon or even a hawk, but Freya knew that it was a merlin.
The de Moray family symbol.
Merlins were the smallest of the falcons. Swift and ruthless, merlins caught other, smaller birds on the wing before landing and devouring their prey.
This ring had been worn by generations of de Moray men, including her own papa before he’d given it to Ranulf on his eighteenth birthday.
Freya closed the ring in her fist again. No doubt Harlowe would soon realize his ring was gone.
He might be a duke now, but she was a de Moray woman, small, swift, and above all ruthless.
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