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By Mullins, Debra
Avon BooksISBN: 0060561661
Aveline stared at the drab stone walls of Thornsgate, clutching her cloak around her with icy fingers that had nothing to do with the chill in the late November air.
Everyone said that Thornsgate's master had a heart as black and empty as the pits of Hell. That he was cold, ruthless. That growing up as the baseborn son of a duke -- spoiled though he had been by the wealth of the father who'd acknowledged him -- had made him hard and bitter.
Aveline chose to believe there was some good in him. Somewhere.
In the house, a clock struck eleven. Whispering a prayer beneath her breath, she began the long, lonely trek up the winding drive to the forbidding manor.
Lucien DuFeron reclined in the overstuffed chair near the fire, a glass of fine French brandy in his hand. He stared into the flames, his mind on the coming sunrise. The large ruby ring on his finger glittered as he lifted the glass to his lips.
He was getting tired of appointments at dawn.
Contemplative, he swirled his brandy and leaned back against the soft burgundy cushions of the chair. The same thing happened at each early morning encounter. He showed up. He shot. He won the match. Nothing ever changed.
Perhaps he should hire someone to see to the duels for him. At least then the outcome wouldn't always be so certain. With a dark chuckle, he drained the glass.
A knock sounded at the door. He scowled. The servants knew he preferred to be left to his thoughts the night before a duel. "Come, blast you!"
The door creaked open to reveal the hesitant face of his butler, Stavens. "Your pardon, sir, but there is a lady here to see you."
"A lady?" He sneered. "I never knew you to refer to Charlotte as a lady before."
The butler colored at the reference to Lucien's mistress. "It is not Mrs. Everston, sir. It's a lady -- a young one. She refuses to give her name."
"Indeed?" Arching one thick black brow, Lucien refilled his empty glass from the decanter on the table beside him. "Well, we don't see many ladies at Thornsgate, do we, Stavens?" He capped the decanter. "Show her in."
"As you wish, sir." The butler withdrew, and a moment later a woman entered the room, her features shadowed by the hood of her dark blue cloak. All he could see was her pale hands where she gripped the garment with tense fingers. She glanced around her, and one burnished curl spilled out from beneath the hood.
His curiosity caught, Lucien slowly rose to his feet.
She stepped back, and he had to smile. His size of-ten intimidated people; it had helped much in his youth when the wellborn boys at school had thought to torment the Duke of Huntley's bastard son. He had earned their respect with his huge stature and ready fists.
And their fear.
But he didn't want this mysterious young woman afraid of him. Quite the opposite.
He bowed. "I am Lucien DuFeron. How may I be of service?"
He saw her hesitation in the stillness of her body. Then she slowly loosened her grasp on her cloak and reached up to pull back the hood.
Desire struck like an arrow.
Hair the shade of warm honey glimmered in the firelight, its beauty undiminished by the sedate knot in which she wore it. Delicate curls swept her small ears and teased her neck. Her smoothly curved cheeks held a delicate peach tone, like the inside of an orchid, and looked to be petal-soft.
Above the slight dent in her chin, her full, lush lips captured his attention, bringing to mind all manner of lusty images involving that siren's mouth on various parts of his body. His loins tightened in immediate response, and he raised his gaze to meet hers, expecting some acknowledgment of the attraction to show in her face. Exotic green eyes surrounded by gold-tipped lashes watched him with unflinching caution.
Arrested by this sudden -- but not unwelcome -- surge of lust, he gave her his most sincere smile. "Again, lovely lady, how may I be of service?"
Either she was too innocent to understand the innuendo or she simply ignored it. "I have come to speak to you on a matter of great urgency, Mr. DuFeron."
"Indeed?" He swept a hand toward the other chair. "Do sit down, that we may discuss this urgent matter in comfort."
She hesitated once more, watching him as if he might pounce on her at any moment. Smart girl.
He smiled again. "Please, do sit down."
Watching him from the corner of her eye, she slipped past him toward the chair. As she went by, he laid his hands on her shoulders. She gasped with alarm and spun around to face him, leaving her cloak dangling from his fingers.
Which was what he had intended.
"May I take your cloak?" he asked, every inch the congenial host.
She swallowed hard and gave a small nod. "Yes, thank you."
He turned away to lay her cloak over a nearby settee, the smile fading from his face. Good God, she had a body made for a man's hands. For his hands.
Turning back to her, he gestured for her to sit down. As she moved to obey him, he closed his eyes in torment at the view of her from behind. The prim green dress with delicate embroidery around its modest neckline and hem could not disguise her generous bosom, her slender waist, her lushly curved bottom.
He clenched his hands to stop himself from reaching for her. She was made for sex.
She perched on the edge of the chair like a young novitiate, hands folded in her lap. "Thank you for seeing me, Mr. DuFeron."Continues...
Excerpted from Three Nights... by Mullins, Debra Excerpted by permission.
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