How to Tempt a Dukeby Kasey Michaels
How to tempt a duke? By refusing to be tempted at all
He'd returned from war a duke. Now Rafael Daughtry was battling a force more terrifying than Napoleon's armyhis family. Thankfully, his childhood friend Charlotte Seavers had agreedreluctantlyto a bargain. While Rafe would provide her with the home she'd lost, Charlotte would/p>/i>… See more details below
How to tempt a duke? By refusing to be tempted at all
He'd returned from war a duke. Now Rafael Daughtry was battling a force more terrifying than Napoleon's armyhis family. Thankfully, his childhood friend Charlotte Seavers had agreedreluctantlyto a bargain. While Rafe would provide her with the home she'd lost, Charlotte would provide him with a chaperone for his unruly twin sisters.
But who would chaperone Rafe? For the feisty young girl he remembered had blossomed into a sensual womana woman whose haunting beauty and deeply kept secrets drew him like no other. Charlotte had good reason to mistrust menyet could Rafe's sizzling seduction convince her to give in to temptation?
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Charlotte Seavers was on the hunt. And she was in a mood to take no prisoners.
Only scant minutes earlier Charlotte had been comfortably ensconced in the drawing room of her parents' small manor house, happy in her ignorance, enjoying the sight of a mid-November frost glittering on the newly bare tree branches outside her window while she stayed warm and toasty inside.
But then the housekeeper had brought her one of the letters just arrived with the morning post.
After taking another sip of sweet tea, Charlotte had opened the missive from her good friend, read it in growing apprehension and disbelief until, with her newfound knowledge, her blissful ignorance turned to righteous anger.
"Unrepentant liars and tricksters! Wretched connivers!" she exclaimed, her teeth chattering in the cold, for she'd left the house without taking time to search out a warmer cloak than the rather shabby one she used while gardening that hung on the hook just outside the kitchens. "They'll be lucky if I don't choose to murder them!"
She stomped along the well-worn path that led through the trees from the manor house, to end halfway up the drive to Ashurst Hall. "And worse fool me because I believed them!"
What Miss Charlotte Seavers was referring to was her discovery, after months of the aforementioned ignorant bliss, that Nicole and Lydia Daughtryin retrospect, mostly Nicky, with Lydia only following along because she felt she had no choicehad been pulling the wool over her eyes. Over everyone's eyes.
All this time, since the spring, when they'd first had word from Rafael Daughtry that he was well and aware of the deaths of his uncle and cousins, Nicole and Lydia had been cleverly putting one over on Rafe, on their aunt Emmaline, on Charlotte.
Oh yes, and Mrs. Beasley. But then again, pulling the wool over Mrs. Beasley's eyes was no great accomplishment, and the twins had the benefit of years of practice when it came to hoodwinking their governess.
In her haste to confront the Daughtry sisters and verbally rip several strips off their hides, Charlotte stomped on some wet, slippery leaves littering the path, and went down with a startled "Damn and blast!"
She just as quickly scrambled back to her feet, hurriedly looking about to be certain no one had heard her unladylike exclamation, and then brushed at the back of her cloak, pulling off damp leaves and bits of moss.
She took several deep breaths, hoping to calm herself, steady herself. After all, she was supposed to be a well-bred, civilized female, and here she was, racing through the trees like some wild boar.
But then she thought again of how Nicky and Lydia had spent the summer and fall posting letters back and forth, impersonating their brother to their aunt, and impersonating their aunt to their brother. Correspondence Charlotte had seen, had been allowed to readall while the twins were doubtless laughing behind their hands at her gullibility.
Worse, if Emmaline hadn't just now written to her privately, her words and her questions contradicting things she had already said in the letters Charlotte had been shown by the twins, she would still be none the wiser.
From the moment she'd begun reading the letter, Charlotte's suspicions had been raised, as the handwriting was so very different from Emmaline's letters supposedly posted to Ashurst Hall.
But those suspicions had turned to a cold certainty when she read the words, "Charlotte, I vow I sometimes think Rafe is Nicky in long pants. The girl never could get her mind around spelling any word longer than c-a-t."
And here Charlotte had thought Rafe, for all his on-again, off-again schooling alongside his cousins, was next door to a yahoo when it came to grammar and spelling.
"They'll pay for this," she promised out loud, wiping her hand across her cheek to push an errant chestnut-brown curl back beneath her hood and depositing a smudge of dirt on her otherwise flawless skin.
Poor Emmaline, happy in her newly wedded bliss as she continued her long honeymoon in the Lake District, comforted with the knowledge that Rafe had sailed for home immediately upon receiving the news of his change of fortune.
And poor Rafe, going about his duties on Elba, assured that Lady Emmaline had everything at Ashurst Hall firmly in hand until his mission was completed, including the care of his young sisters.
"And me, duped by two miscreant monsters not yet out of the schoolroomexcept that they most certainly did escape the schoolroom with their little trick," Charlotte muttered, lifting up the hem of her gown even as she stepped up her pace along the path. "Commiserating with the girls about how much they missed their brother joking with them about how Emmaline seemed to have thrown all sensibility to the four winds thanks to her newfound love. Running tame through the house all these months, leaving the nursery and their governess behind, because their brother wrote that he would be delightedno! de-littedto allow them more freedom. Their brother wrote? Ha! I'll have their heads on a platter, I swear I will!"
Her mind on contemplated acts of mayhem, she broke free of the trees, stepping onto the gravel drive that twisted and turned on its way through the well-landscaped park.
The horse and rider appeared out of nowhere, heading for her at a vigorous canter.
Charlotte slid to a halt on the stones even as she threw up her hands and gave a quick, faintly terrified cry.
The horse, either in response to her unexpected appearance, or in reaction to his rider's immediate sharp tug on the reins, gave a rather frightened cry of its own. It then reared onto its hind legs, pawing at the air as if attempting to climb an invisible ladder.
The hapless rider was immediately deposited on his back on the hard-packed gravel.
No fainthearted miss, Charlotte had already collected herself. She bravely grabbed at the horse's now-dangling reins to keep it from bolting off down the lane, which, she readily saw, it appeared to have no intention of doing. She then walked toward the man she had unhorsed, hoping he'd get to his feet without assistance, which he would most probably do if he hadn't cracked his skull, or worse.
"Are you all right, sir?" she asked rather cautiously, keeping her distance even as she leaned over the man, whose many-caped brown traveling cloak was twisted up and around his head. "I'm most terribly sorry. I am entirely at fault for your misfortune, I know, but I believe it would be extremely considerate and gentlemanly of you to pretend that you hadn't noticed."
The man mumbled something Charlotte couldn't quite make out, which was understandable, what with him still all but strangled by his extremely fashionable cloak. She was, however, fairly certain that his response to her hadn't been quite as forgiving as she might have hoped.
"Excuse me? Perhaps if you were to loose the fastenings of your cloak you'd be able to free yourself from its grasp?" She rolled her eyes, knowing that she was most probably only making things worse. "Shall I shall I fetch help?"
"God's teeth, no," the man said, struggling to sit up while fighting his way out of the cloak. "I feel bloody well embarrassed enough, thank you. I've no need of an audience." At last his head emerged from the tangle of cloth, his healthy crop of nearly black hair falling over his eyes. "Where's my bloody hat?"
"I've got it," Charlotte said, holding it out to him. "It's barely dented, and I'm confident that it will clean up quite nicely once the mud is dry and can be brushed off."
He still hadn't looked at her, instead busying himself attempting to rearrange his many-caped collars so that they lay flat over his shoulders once more. She counted four capes, graduated in sizevery impressive. More would have classified him as a dandy, and less wouldn't be half so fashionable. Upside-down and over a man's head, however, all that fine London fashion was probably little more than a nuisance.
"Next, madam, I suppose you'll say I should be delighted with that piece of information. How fortunate I am. My cloak is only tornah, in two placesand my new hat is barely dented. Lucky, lucky me. Perhaps you believe I should be thanking you."
"There's no need for rudeness, sir," Charlotte told him, knowing that there was probably every need. She'd unhorsed the man, for goodness' sakes, ruining his fine clothes, which were apparently very dear to him. She probably also shouldn't point out that if he hadn't sawed so on the reins, his mount, which seemed a placid sort, may not have reared at all. No, she probably shouldn't mention that, either. "I didn't mean to unhorse you, you know. It was an accident."
"An accident, of course. I believe the fool who touched off the Great London Fire attempted the same sorry excuse. You ran into the roadway, madam. Next you'll probably say it was all my fault for having been on the drive in the first place."
"Don't be ridiculous," Charlotte said tartly, beginning to lose patience with the man. "You had every right to be here." Then she frowned. "And why are you here?"
The hat was all but ripped from her hand as the man finally got to his feet. But when he slammed the thing back on his head he uttered a quick curse and quickly removed it once more; it dropped, unnoticed, onto the drive.
She went up on her tiptoes. Goodness, he was a large man. Quite imposing. "What is it? What's wrong? Is it your head? I don't see anything." But, then, how could she? He was very tall. Charlotte was rather impressed; she'd known few men who stood a full head and shoulders above her not inconsiderable height. He actually made her feel small.
"Damn," he said, touching the back of his head and then bringing his hand forward once more, looking at the blood on his fingers. "Six years of war all but unscathed, and I take a head wound not a mile from home. Inflicted by a woman, no less."
Home. He'd said that. She'd heard him. He'd said home. Charlotte's eyes went so wide she was amazed they didn't pop straight out of her head.
While he fished in his pocket for a handkerchief to press against his wound, Charlotte eyed Rafael Daughtry, whom she'd last seen in the flesh the day he rode off to war, and only in her foolish, maidenly dreams in the intervening years.
He didn't look at all as she remembered him.
This man seemed to be twice the Rafe she remembered, or perhaps that was only because he weighed a good three stone more than the gangly youth whose wide, unaffected smile had always had the ability to make her knees buckle. The hair? Yes, that was the same coal-dark hair she remembered, if longer than she remembered.
But his features seemed sharper, more mature, and his skin was tanned from the sun in the way that the farm laborers were tanned years and years of exposure to the elements that toughened the skin, made for small crinkles around the edges of his eyes.
She looked at him again, examining him.
These weren't Rafe's eyes. They were the same color, a warm, rich brown, almost sherry. But they were hard eyes, centuries-old eyes, not the laughing eyes of the boy she'd known. These eyes had seen things she could never imagine.
Charlotte suppressed a small shiver, one born of vague nervousness coupled with a definite curiosity. Why had she never realized that he would be changed by war, changed by his six long years away from Ashurst Hall?
He still held the handkerchief pressed to the back of his head. "Pardon me?" he asked, looking at her. Finally looking at her. Was that interest in his eyes? "I'm afraid you have the advantage of me, madam."
"If I do, Your Grace, it would be the first time," Charlotte said, dropping into a fairly mocking curtsy. But she couldn't seem to curb her tongue. "Perhaps I should have thought to unhorse you six years ago. Perhaps on the day you and George and Harold saw nothing out of the ordinary in speaking freely around me about the charms of the new barmaid in the village, just as if I wasn't there at all."
"Again, madam, I don't believe I" Rafe blinked and leaned closer, looking intensely into her face. "Charlie? By God, it is you. And still wreaking havoc all over Ashurst Hall, I see. I should have realized at once. Maybe you should have thrown another apple at my head. I would have remembered then. You always were a bit of a menace."
Charlotte fought down the urge to go up on tiptoe again and box the man's ears. "While you, Your Grace, always were a bit of an insensitive beast. And it's Charlotte. Not Charlie. I detest Charlie."
"Really?" His quick, unaffected smile caused her stomach to perform a small flip. It was still the smile Charlotte remembered, if not the Rafe she remembered. "I rather like it. Charlie. Why would anyone with the least sense wish to be called Charlotte?"
She silently acknowledged that he had a point. She hated her name, passed down to her from a great-aunt who'd been so kind as to establish a small dowry in exchange for the infant carrying on her name. Still
"Everyone calls me Charlotte," she informed Rafe tersely. "But you may address me as Miss Seavers."
"The devil I will," he told her, checking the state of his handkerchief and then, seeming satisfied with what he saw, returning the thing to his pocket. He looked at her again. "You grew up pretty enough, didn't you? But then, you probably frightened all the men away. I know you frightened me. You must be all of what, two and twenty?"
"Not quite, Your Grace."
"Then close enough," Rafe said, taking the reins from her and turning once more toward Ashurst Hall, leaving her to either pick up his hat and follow him or just stand here in the drive looking like the sorriest looby in Creation. "I imagine you'll be putting on your caps any day now, preparing to lead apes in Hell."
Charlotte looked down at his fine, fancy hat and then raised her skirts slightly to employ one half boot to send the thing sailing off into the bushes. "Indeed no, Your Grace," she said sweetly, catching up to him. "I've simply been waiting for you to return so that we could marry, for I have always loved you from afar. I would think that should be obvious."
Ah! Now she had his complete attention. And all she'd had to do was tell the truth, shameful though it was. After all, it was the one thing she was confident Rafe would never believe.
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