At the Duke's Service

By: Carole Mortimer

“Not at my bidding, I do most fervently assure you!” he rasped. “Not that I am complaining, you understand?” he added gently as Angelina recoiled at his vehemence. “On the contrary—to date I have found your…tutorage more satisfying than anything I have ever before experienced. So much so, that after only a few hours of being apart from you, I find I wish to repeat it every day—and night—for the rest of my life.”

Angelina gave a confused frown. “I fear you must explain yourself better than that, Alexander.”

“You have only been with my aunt Elizabeth a matter of hours and already you are starting to sound like her!” His smile was rueful. “Yes, my dear Angel, I have no doubts whatsoever that you will make a formidable Duchess of Stourbridge,” he added appreciatively.

“Duchess—!” she gasped. “I—What on earth are you doing, Xander?” she protested as he fell to one knee in front of her.

His eyes glowed darkly gold as he looked up at her. “I believe, Angel, that I am endeavoring to propose to you. If you would be so kind as to allow me to proceed…?”

Chapter Eight

“Please rise and cease this nonsense at once, Alexander,” Angelina told him anxiously.

Not quite the response Alexander had been hoping for to his first attempt at a marriage proposal. His last, too, he hoped! “I assure you it is not nonsense, Angel,” he said gruffly, making no effort to stand. “It is perhaps a little soon in our acquaintance for you to know the state of your own heart—”

“Soon? Soon!” Angelina repeated incredulously. “We have known each other but two and a half days, Alexander.”

He raised dark, slanted brows. “During which time we have come to know each other as well, I believe, if not better, than most betrothed couples of the ton do on their wedding days!”

“Oh, please do get up!” Angelina clasped his arm and attempted to pull him to his feet. Unsuccessfully. “You must rise, Xander! What will your aunt think if she comes back into the room and sees you like this?” She shot a nervous glance toward the closed door. “I do not know her terribly well as yet, but I am sure she would not think it at all the thing for the Duke of Stourbridge to be down on his knees in this undignified manner!”

Alexander tried to hold back his amusement—he really did try—but in the end he failed miserably as a bark of laughter broke free, and then another, followed by yet another.

Angelina stared down at him incredulously. “Xander, have you completely taken leave of your senses?”

“Probably.” He sobered slightly, although he could not seem to prevent the smile that still curved his lips. Something he found he did all too easily when he was in Angelina’s company. “Do you have any idea how adorable you are, Angel? How utterly, utterly unique?”

Angelina ceased trying to force him to his feet to instead stare down at him in wary—if hopeful!—disbelief. Hopeful, because she was very much afraid she had forgotten Miss Bristow’s warning completely and fallen in love with the haughty and aristocratic Duke of Stourbridge the moment he walked into that cavernous hallway two evenings ago and demanded to know what she was about, interrupting his dinner party! And she was very sure that she had fallen in love with the Alexander with whom she had made love with and to the evening before!

Could Alexander really be serious in this marriage proposal? Surely he could not, she instantly rebuked herself. A duke did not marry the daughter of a—a—

“My mother was an actress and a mistress of my father,” she announced with a challenging rise of her chin.

“I am well aware of the fact.” Alexander gave an inclination of his head as he finally rose slowly to his feet and took both of her hands into his own. “Your father, until his death, was one of my closest friends.”

Angelina swallowed hard at this mention of the dear and kind man whom had visited her often whilst he was alive. “He was not married to my mother.”

“No,” Alexander acknowledged softly. “He was unfortunately married very young, an arranged marriage to a cousin, I believe, and so was not free to marry your mother when he met her several years after that marriage had taken place.”

“He would have married my mother if he had been free,” Angel protested fiercely.

“Again, I am well aware of the fact,” Alexander assured her gently. “Angel, your family history is of little matter to me—”

“How can you say such a thing?” she gasped incredulously.

“Quite easily—when it is the truth. I admit, sending you to a school, where you were tutored in subjects most young ladies are never fully made aware of, does not give that impression but…Angel, I had no idea, until you informed me of it two days ago, that you had attended such an academy.” His expression was grim. “I had been the duke only a matter of months at the time of your father’s death, and he made his request to me to see that you were not left alone and destitute now that both your parents were dead. In my preoccupation with my new duties, I foolishly left the details of your education to my then man of business. Obviously I was not clear enough as to my wishes in the matter.” He scowled.

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