The Black Duke's Prize

The Black Duke's Prize by Suzanne Enoch

Book: The Black Duke's Prize by Suzanne Enoch Read Free Book Online
Authors: Suzanne Enoch
Your Grace."
    "Walk them?" Reluctant amusement began to war with the
frustration on Nicholas's face.
    "Did that, Your Grace."
    ''Go away, Jack."
    "Can't do that, Your Grace."
    "Well, we can," the duke stated. rising to his feet. He held a
hand down and pulled her up after him. He reached down again and handed her the
parasol before he placed her hand over his arm. Without a backward glance he
led her along the creek. After a moment he looked down at her. "Again you
make me forget myself. Baiting me can be a dangerous thing for a young lady to
do."
    "Yes," she answered, again unwilling to let him cow her.
"I know."
    He shook his head. "Damn it, Katherine! I'm not used to this kind
of game, and I'm afraid I don't play it very well."
    ''Thomas said as much," she replied, swinging her parasol back and
forth in her hand and wondering what kind of game he thought he was playing
with her, and what winning it would entail.
    "What exactly did Thomas say?" the Black Duke queried, his
tone sharper.
    "Only that you were used to a different kind of woman than I. He
implied that I might need rescuing."
    "He's right. On both counts." He stopped and moved in front of
her. "You've likely heard a great many things about me," he said
slowly, his gray eyes serious, "and most of them are probably true. Some
things I did simply because I could, because there was no one willing to try to
stop me." He paused for a moment, then smiled. "And believe me, you
are the first person to ever accuse me of being a high stickler."
    She grinned back. "I can believe that."
    He laughed, taking her hand to raise it to his lips. "I am pleased
you came to London this Season," he murmured, chuckling, and, still
holding her hand, started to move forward again.
    She remembered what she had heard about how dubiously he had begun the
summer. The Black Duke before her little resembled the rakehell she had heard
discussed. "I miss home a little, but so am I."
    "Where is home?"
    "A tiny estate a few days north of here." She pursed her lips
ruefully. "I daresay Crestley is probably smaller than your stables at
Sommesby."
    His hand jumped in hers. "Crestley?" he repeated slowly.
    "Mm-hm. Crestley Hall. You should see it. It's so beautiful. Mama
loved roses, and the whole garden blooms all summer. I used to love to open my
window in the evening and let the smell of the flowers inside my room."
Nicholas didn't say anything, and she thought she must be boring him. "I'm
sorry if I'm prattling."
    He looked over at her, his expression more solemn than she would have
expected. "I have yet to hear you prattle, Kate. Crestley sounds
enchanting."
    She sighed when Nicholas finally glanced down at his pocket watch.
"I would hate to have put up with all of this to preserve your reputation
and then ruin you by keeping you out after dark," he muttered with a
glance at his groom as they turned back, and she laughed again.
    They loaded the remains of their picnic back into the hamper, which
Nicholas carried back to the phaeton. While he put it away she walked up to
where Jack stood holding the horses. "These are beautiful animals,"
she said.
    "Aye," Jack agreed, "and His Grace is real particular
about who holds the ribbons. Only him 'n' me ever driven 'em before
today."
    She looked at the groom closely, finding that piece of information very
interesting. "Why is―"
    "Ready to go?" Nicholas asked, coming up beside her. She
wasn't, but nodded as he helped her up into the high seat. "The Magic
Flute comes to the opera next week," he said, moving around and
climbing up beside her. "You and the Hamptons would be welcome to join me
in my box."
    She nodded, grinning. ''That would be grand." After a moment she
laughed.
    "What now?" he asked, clucking at the team.
    "You sounded so . . . proper," she said with a chuckle.
Nicholas looked over at her and furrowed his brow.
    ''There's no need to be insulting," he returned. He faced forward
for a moment, then snorted and glanced sideways at her. "'Proper'?

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