At the Duke's Service

By: Carole Mortimer

Such had been the older woman’s force of will that Angelina had felt compelled to comply with the instruction. Quite what had taken place between aunt and nephew in her absence Angelina had no idea, but when she returned down the stairs, her appearance suitably tidied and her belongings duly repacked into her trunk, she had found Alexander to be in complete agreement with his aunt’s arrangements.

Angelina had personally received no word of rebuke from that lady, either last night or this morning, Lady Montague seeming to attribute any and all blame, for the intimacy of the situation she had so obviously interrupted, to her nephew.

Something Angelina knew she must now correct. “Lady Montague, I feel I must tell you—”

“I would rather you did not, my dear,” the older woman assured her hastily. “I saw enough yesterday evening to know the way things are between you and Stourbridge,” she added kindly. “The sooner the two of you are married the happier I shall be!”

Angelina’s eyes widened in alarm. “Oh, but—”

“The Duke of Stourbridge, my lady,” the butler announced while standing in the doorway, only seconds before Alexander himself strode forcefully into the room.

Angelina was only vaguely aware of the butler withdrawing and closing the door behind him, her attention all on Alexander as he crossed the room to bend and place a kiss upon one of his aunt’s powdered cheeks. He looked every inch the haughty duke this afternoon, his hair tied back meticulously, his dark blue jacket and paler blue waistcoat impeccably tailored above cream silk breeches.

At last, Alexander turned to look at Angelina, frowning darkly as her lashes instantly fanned down onto the paleness of her cheeks and so hiding her expressive blue eyes from his gaze.

“What have you been saying to Angel in order to cause this uncharacteristic demureness, Aunt?” he drawled ruefully, his gaze unrepentant as Angelina’s lashes rose instantly so that she might give him a censorious frown for his levity in the midst of a situation that was obviously causing his aunt some distress.

“I am afraid that your aunt is under the misapprehension that the two of us are to be married, Your Grace,” she informed him worriedly.

“Indeed.” He gave an inclination of his head.

“Yes,” Angelina confirmed breathlessly. “When you arrived I was just about to inform Lady Montague that I am intended as your mistress and not your wife!”

“Stourbridge!” his aunt prompted in alarm at the same moment as Alexander gave an uncontrolled shout of laughter. “I fail to see anything in the least amusing in this situation!” she admonished severely.

Alexander smiled ruefully. “That is because you are you and not me, Aunt.”

She looked scandalized. “Stourbridge—”

“Aunt Elizabeth—” he sobered, his narrowed gaze still fixed intently on the beautiful vision Angelina made in her cream gown “—would you be so kind as to allow Angel and I a few minutes alone in which we might converse privately?”

“Very well. But a few minutes only,” his aunt warned sternly as she rose majestically to her feet. “I am expecting dozens of visitors this afternoon, all of them anxious to meet and gaze upon the young lady who has succeeded in capturing the elusive Duke of Stourbridge’s heart!”

Angelina waited only long enough for the elderly lady to leave the room before rising sharply to her feet, her expression one of alarm as she beseeched. “Xander, you must put a stop to this instantly!”

“Must I?” he drawled mockingly.

“But of course you must!” Angelina chided impatiently. “Your aunt is under the misapprehension that the two of us are to be married. You must go to her and tell her the truth. That I am to be your mistress—”

“I have always found it wiser by far never to lie to my aunt Elizabeth,” he assured softly.

“But you would not be lying in this instance—What on earth do you mean, Xander…?” Angelina now eyed him guardedly.

Alexander’s eyes glowed as he looked across at her. As he took in the glorious gold of her hair. The pale beauty of her face. The depth of her blue eyes, the sprinkling of freckles upon her tiny nose and the full and sensuous curve of her lips. As for the fullness of her breasts…! She really was the most exquisite creature.

St. Claire House, the place Alexander had called home all of his adult life, where he had always been perfectly at his ease, had seemed empty and cold today without Angelina’s warmth and laughter in it. All of which had told Alexander exactly what his future relationship with Angelina must—had—to be!

He drew in a ragged breath. “I mean, my dear Angel, that it is my intention to marry you at the earliest opportunity.”

She gasped. “Xander, you cannot possibly mean to marry me simply because your aunt expects it of you!”

He gave a pained wince. “I do not recall ever saying that was my reason for marrying you.”

“But of course it is the reason—”

“You claim to know my thoughts and emotions so well, then?” he mused.

Angelina frowned her consternation with his behavior. “Of course I do not,” she assured agitatedly. “But I have been…tutored, groomed, these past three years for the role of your mistress—”

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