In this captivating novel, Mary Balogh, the premier writer of Regency romance, invites you into a world of scandal and seduction, of glittering high society and intrigue, as an arrogant duke does the unthinkable—he falls in love with his mistress.
She races onto the green, desperate to stop a duel. In the melée, Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, is shot. To his astonishment, Tresham finds himself hiring the servant as his nurse. Jane Ingleby is far too bold for her own good. Her blue eyes are the sort a man could drown in—were it not for her impudence. She questions his every move, breaches his secrets, touches his soul. When he offers to set her up in his London town house, love is the last thing on his mind.
Jane tries to pretend it’s strictly business, an arrangement she’s been forced to accept in order to conceal a dangerous secret. Surely there is nothing more perilous than being the lover of such a man. Yet as she gets past his devilish façade and sees the noble heart within, she knows the greatest jeopardy of all, a passion that drives her to risk everything on one perfect month with the improper gentleman who thinks that love is for fools.
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The two gentlemen who were in their shirt sleeves despite the brisk chill of a spring morning were about to blow each other's brains out. Or attempt to do so, at least. They were standing on a secluded stretch of dew-wet lawn in London's Hyde Park, facing in different directions, each ignoring the other's existence until the moment should come to take aim at each other and shoot to kill.
They were not alone, however, this being a duel of honor in which due process had been followed. A gauntlet had been thrown down, even if not literally, and challenger and challenged had progressed toward this morning's meeting through the medium of their seconds. Both seconds were now present, as were a surgeon and a gathering of interested spectators, all male, who had risen early from their beds--or had not yet gone to them after the revels of the night before--for the sheer exhilaration of watching two of their peers attempt to put a period to each other's existence.
One of the duelists, the challenger, the shorter and stockier of the two, was stamping his booted feet, flexing his fingers, and licking his dry lips with a drier tongue. He was almost as pale as his shirt.
"Yes, you may ask him,'' he told his second through teeth that he tried in vain to keep from chattering. "Not that he will do it, mind, but one must be decent about such matters.''
His second strode off smartly to confer with his counterpart, who in his turn approached the other duelist. That tall, elegant gentleman showed to advantage without his coat. His white shirt did nothing to hide the powerful muscles of his arms, shoulders, and chest, as his breeches and top boots only accentuated those of his long legs. He was nonchalantly engaged in smoothing the lace of his cuffs over the backs of his long-fingered, wellmanicured hands and holding a desultory conversation with his friends.
"Oliver is shaking like a leaf in a strong breeze,'' Baron Pottier observed, his quizzing glass to his eye. "He could not hit the broad side of a cathedral from thirty paces, Tresham.''
"His teeth are clacking like trotting hooves too,'' Viscount Kimble added.
"Are you intending to kill him, Tresham?'' young Mr. Maddox asked, drawing to himself a cool, arrogant stare from the duelist.
"It is the nature of duels, is it not?'' he answered.
"Breakfast at White's afterward, Tresh?'' Viscount Kimble suggested. "And Tattersall's after that? I have my eye on a new matched pair of grays for my curricle.''
"As soon as this little matter has been taken care of.'' But the duelist was distracted both from straightening his cuffs and from his conversation by the approach of his second. "Well, Conan?'' he asked, a touch of impatience in his voice. "Is there good reason for this delay? I must confess myself eager for my breakfast.''
Sir Conan Brougham was accustomed to the man's cool nerve. He had served as his second during three previous duels, after all of which his friend had consumed a hearty breakfast, unharmed and perfectly composed, as if he had been engaged for the morning in nothing more lethal than a brisk ride in the park.
"Lord Oliver is prepared to accept a properly worded apology,'' he said.
There were jeering noises from their acquaintances.
Eyes of such a dark brown that many people mistook their color for black looked back into Sir Conan's without blinking. The narrow, arrogant, handsome face to which they belonged was expressionless except for one slightly elevated eyebrow.
"He has challenged me for cuckolding him but is willing to settle for a simple apology?'' he said. "Do I need to spell out my answer, Conan? Did you need to consult me?''
"It might be worth considering,'' his friend advised. "I would not be doing my job conscientiously if I did not thus advise you, Tresham. Oliver is a pretty decent shot.''
"Then let him prove it by killing me,'' the duelist said carelessly. "And let that be within minutes rather than hours, my dear fellow. The spectators are displaying distinct signs of boredom.''
Sir Conan shook his head, shrugged, and strode away to inform Viscount Russell, Lord Oliver's second, that his grace, the Duke of Tresham, did not acknowledge the necessity of any apology to Lord Oliver.
There was nothing for it then but to proceed to business. Viscount Russell in particular was anxious to have the meeting over with. Hyde Park, even this secluded corner of it, was a rashly public place in which to hold a duel, illegal as such meetings were. Wimbledon Common, the more usual venue for affairs of honor, would have been safer. But his friend had insisted on the park.
The pistols had been loaded and carefully inspected by both seconds. While an expectant hush fell over the spectators, the protagonists each picked up a weapon without looking at the other. They took up their positions back to back and at the agreed-upon signal paced out the regulation number of steps before turning. They took careful aim, each standing sideways in order to offer as narrow a target as possible to the other. They waited for Viscount Russell to drop the white handkerchief he held aloft, the signal to fire.
The hush became an almost tangible thing.
And then two things happened simultaneously.
The handkerchief was released.
And someone shrieked.
"Stop!'' the voice cried. "Stop!''
It was a female voice, and it came from the direction of a grove of trees some distance away. An indignant buzz arose from the spectators, who had held themselves properly silent and motionless so that the protagonists would have no distraction.
The Duke of Tresham, startled and furious, lowered his right arm and turned in order to glare in the direction of the person who had dared interrupt such a meeting at such a moment.
Lord Oliver, who had also wavered for a moment, recovered fast, corrected his aim, and fired his pistol.
The female screamed.
His grace did not go down. Indeed at first it did not appear that he had even been hit. But a bright red spot appeared on his calf, an inch or two above the top of one perfectly polished leather boot, just as if suddenly painted there by an invisible hand with a long-handled brush.
"Shame!'' Baron Pottier called from the sidelines. "For shame, Oliver!''
His voice was joined by others, all censuring the man who had taken unfair advantage of his opponent's distraction.
Sir Conan began to stride toward the duke while the crimson spot increased in diameter and the surgeon bent over his bag. But his grace held up his left hand in a firm staying gesture before raising his right arm again and taking aim with his pistol. It did not waver. Neither did his face show any expression except intense, narrow-eyed concentration on his target, who had no choice now but to stand and await his death.