At the Duke's Service

By: Carole Mortimer

“Of course they were to my liking,” he snapped impatiently. “That is not at all my point—”

“I am so glad that I pleased you, Alexander.” Angelina gave a delighted laugh. “Indeed, Miss Bristow considered me so able a pupil that I have spent the year since reaching my eighteenth birthday instructing the other girls rather than being one of their number!”

After this recent example of Angelina’s capabilities Alexander could well believe it!

He was a man of nine and twenty years, experienced in the many ways of lovemaking. But Angelina Hawkins, with her warmth and lack of all inhibition, let alone guile, had awakened a desire in him unlike any he had ever known before.

Or, indeed, should be feeling now!

“These lessons you mentioned…” He paused, searching for the correct—the most discreet!—way of posing his next question. “Were they only of a theoretical nature, or did practice enter into these—these teachings…?”

“Oh, they were purely theoretical,” Angelina assured him lightly. “Miss Bristow was at great pains to point out to all of us that one’s virginity was a precious gift to be given only to one’s intended protector.”

Dear God…!

This woman, at nineteen years of age, with all the theoretical knowledge of lovemaking, if not the practice, spoke and behaved with a candidness that was becoming more and more difficult for him—for any man!—to resist.

“I believe I shall very much enjoy living here with you, Alexander.” Angelina seemed unaware of his erratically brooding thoughts as she looked appreciatively at the elegant furnishings of the bedchamber.

Angelina live here with him? At St. Claire House? Impossible!

“That would be most unsuitable, Angelina,” he answered her, with an increasing impatience for this situation. “It is far too late for me to arrange for you to go elsewhere tonight, but you must leave here first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Why must I?” She frowned her disappointment.

What was to be done with this young woman? Alexander wondered with frustration. The school in Brighton—School? It sounded more like a bordello, with Miss Bristow as its patroness!—had obviously educated Angelina in a way that was most unsuitable for marriage to the parson Alexander had vaguely envisaged arranging for Hawkins’s daughter once she reached maturity!

A brothel was what Angelina was most educated for!

And how long after being forced to resort to such an occupation, Alexander wondered, would it take for Angelina to lose her infectious candidness and beguiling warmth of affection? Before she became jaded and hardened by the lack of love and warmth in such relationships?

Perhaps he could provide her with a dowry so that she might marry within society—

No, that would not do, either. Any man of means who might be persuaded into marrying Angelina would necessarily have to be told of her background. Besides, there was Angelina’s undeniable knowledge—even if that knowledge was not of a practical nature—of all things sensual…!

His mouth thinned as he answered Angelina’s question as to why she couldn’t stay. “There is no woman in residence here to act as your chaperone.”

“Why should I need a chaperone, Xander, when I am to be your mistress?” Angel reached up to once again smooth the frown from his brow. “Please do not scowl so, Xander.”

He grimaced as he shook his head. “Why do you persist in calling me ‘Xander’…?”

Why? Because it was how Angelina was quickly coming to regard him. Not the elderly and debauched Duke of Stourbridge she had always imagined as her protector. But a young and very handsome man, a vigorous man, with whom she would enjoy every sensual delight. A man whom she might love…

She eyed him teasingly. “Does it displease you…?”

“No.” His frown was now quizzical. “It is only—It sounds a little odd, when no one has ever before shortened my name in that peculiar fashion.”

Angelina laughed softly. “But I am not ‘no one.’ And when we are alone together like this you must always be ‘Xander.’”

Alexander found himself captivated by the warmth in the deep blue of Angelina’s eyes. No woman had ever spoken to him so warmly, and with such unaffected frankness. It would be so easy, he realized, to accept all that she offered so freely. So easy to lose himself in her loveliness, to become deeply enamored—

He stepped away abruptly. “I will leave you now—”

“Must you really go…?”

Alexander felt his heart contract in his chest, his gut clench and his breeches tighten as he once again found himself aroused and aching at the invitation writ so blatantly in Angelina’s innocently guileless gaze.

He should not have kissed her earlier. Should not have allowed himself to be drawn in by her burgeoning sensuality. “I most definitely must,” he stated coldly.

Angelina felt a terrible sense of loss as Alexander turned to leave. It had been so long, too long, since she’d had anyone whom she might love and be close to. “Will you not kiss me good-night first?” she prompted wistfully.

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