Read The Duke in Disguise Online

Authors: Gayle Callen

Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #General, #Love Stories, #Historical, #England - Social Life and Customs - 19th Century, #Historical Fiction, #Nobility, #Governesses

The Duke in Disguise (17 page)

BOOK: The Duke in Disguise
5.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Chapter 19

ichard was caught up in a need so profound he'd never felt its like before. To give Meriel pleasure had mattered more to him than his own. Now he was aching and unfulfilled, her hips cradling him, her warm depths still pulsating against the length of his erection.
He'd been amazed that she'd found her own pleasure, and it made him want to rip open her garments and give her more. Tasting warm, soft, bare skin— the imagined sensation screamed in his brain.
But Meriel had gone stiff in his arms.
"Did you hear that?" she asked in a low, tense voice.
He heard only his pounding heart, felt the throbbing in his groin as he began to move against her.
She sat up, pushing herself back along his thighs, trying to keep his arms from drawing her back.
"Meriel," he whispered her name.
"Richard, I think I hear Stephen in the corridor!"
He straightened and forced himself to think beyond his own lust. There was a soft cry from somewhere within the suite.
Richard's mind snapped back into awareness as a rush of worry moved through him. Was someone trying to get to Stephen?
"Oh heavens, Stephen can't find us together," she whispered, sliding to the floor. She pulled her dressing gown over the wet silk of her nightdress.
He rushed to the door, pressing his ear to it. Meriel joined him.
Stephen still cried, and he seemed to be wandering the corridor. Was he alone? Or was he running from someone? Richard couldn't afford to wait; he needed the element of surprise. As he went for the door handle, Nurse Weston's soothing voice joined Stephen's, and they could hear her leading him away.
Meriel slumped as she heaved a sigh.
Richard was glad he had said nothing to alarm her about the possibility of Stephen being in danger. He let his worry slumber again as he put his hands on her shoulders.
"So tense," he murmured into her hair. "I would have thought you totally relaxed by now."
She blushed and turned her face away. "I can't believe that I— I behaved like that."
He caught her face in his hands so she would look at him. "It was a true honor to have you enjoy yourself in my arms, to know that you trusted me that much."
"Did you think that was trust?" she whispered uncertainly.
"Oh yes."
"It didn't feel like that to me. I felt…overcome, as if I couldn't control myself."
He was beginning to realize how much she needed her control. "Meriel, don't— "
"You need to go now, Richard. I have to— to think about all this, about everything."
She still didn't want to meet his eyes. He knew she'd never experienced true passion, and that she was shocked by it. But was overanalyzing it the right thing to do? He doubted it, but he had to accede to her wishes.
As he stepped away from her, she gaped at his trousers.
"How will we hide
?" she demanded, her voice still soft but higher.
He hadn't had to worry about this problem in years, but he obligingly looked down and realized that the front of his trousers, still tented outward, were wet from her pleasure.
Her wide eyes met his, and he grinned.
"Did you bring a coat?" she asked frantically.
He shook his head. "It will dry."
"So you know that from experience?"
He shook his head. "I didn't mean— oh hell. Good night, Meriel. I'll be dreaming about you."
She bit her lip and nodded, and he went out into the dark corridor.
Back in the master suite, Richard found himself pacing. He'd experienced sexual frustration before after being drawn to women he'd resisted.
But that wasn't what concerned him. He had to be honest with himself. He didn't want to keep this affair for the public eye only. He wanted her in his bed. The nights stretched out endlessly without her. Before Meriel, the women in his life had always seemed too needy. So attracted to his money, they wanted only to be taken care of. But Meriel was a woman who stood on her own. Perhaps
was the needy one in this strange relationship.
That thought went against everything he believed about himself. He'd never needed anyone, for there was no one he could ever depend on. Surely these intense feelings for Meriel were only because of the isolation of his masquerade.

* * *

Meriel lay in bed and still experienced the tiny little tremors fading away inside her body. She felt new and different, now that she was truly aware of the powerful pleasure men and women gave each other. She was not foolish enough to think that Richard had experienced what she had.
But she was not going to feel guilty, not when he had known what to expect, and she had not.
Once again, she was giving in to feelings that were growing more powerful than her intellect. She barely remembered trying to resist the pull of desire. She'd been held hostage by her body, and it had taken over, using Richard's body for satisfaction.
With a groan, she pulled her pillow over her face. She'd just…rubbed against him mindlessly. And it had felt so good, so right.
How was she supposed to recover herself, to distance herself after this? Would Richard expect even more the next time they were alone— and would she give in and allow it? Was there nothing left of her common sense?
The questions hovered in her mind all the next morning, and she was glad when the post arrived with a letter for her. It was from her sister Louisa, who was working as a companion to an elderly lady. Meriel was so grateful for the diversion. She didn't want to think about her own problems anymore. And she so enjoyed Louisa's stories of helping the shy granddaughter of her employer prepare for her Season. Louisa had a true gift for understanding and compassion.
But Meriel's smile gradually faded the longer she read. Louisa was back in London, living with their sister Victoria. She'd had to resign her position because the male relatives of the old woman had pressed their attentions too forcefully, and the females of the household had blamed Louisa.
Meriel put her face in her hands and shuddered. Impoverished ladies were so often treated shamefully. What would Louisa say if she knew that Meriel was willingly portraying a mistress, and that the previous night it had almost become a fact? She'd begun this charade only to help Stephen, and instead she'd lost all sense of control.
Meriel tried to tell herself that Louisa would recover from her experiences, that she'd be happy again in London society, where she'd always had such success. But there was an undercurrent of sadness in the letter that Louisa had obviously been trying to hide. Meriel resolved to write her a funny, cheerful letter. She would not burden Louisa with her own problems.

* * *

That afternoon Richard's men began to arrive, and Meriel was glad his attention was diverted from her. For the benefit of the servants, he managed to make it seem that he was concerned about security after a nobleman's recent kidnapping.
When Stephen wasn't working on his lessons with her, she allowed him to tag after his "father." She knew that she was encouraging this as a diversion. She felt too raw, too uncertain to be alone with Richard. But at dinner she wore another of her beautiful London gowns, and afterward, when Stephen went up to bed, she allowed Richard to persuade her to join him in the drawing room.
The doors were open to the corridor, servants came in and out, and Meriel still felt too publicly alone with Richard. She burned with the memory of how brazen she'd been, what pleasure she'd taken in his touch. As she paced, he just smiled and watched her, pleasure in his eyes, reminding her of the pleasure she'd taken from him.
She hastily retreated to the piano and began to play. He came over and used his body to make room for himself beside her on the bench. Closing her eyes, she did her best to concentrate on the music. How did people ever behave normally toward each other after they'd shared such intimacy?
Finally, she glanced at him and whispered, "Isn't this too public for a man's affair with his mistress?"
He grinned and leaned close to speak in a low voice. "Normally I'd agree with you, but I consulted Mrs. Theobald, and she claims that once chosen, a mistress did little work, and enjoyed a life of leisure— which included keeping the duke company wherever and whenever he wished."
Her breathing was far too rapid with his nearness, and she took refuge in her practical governess voice. "Make sure you tell your brother that he should find a wife to perform that function, so that his son doesn't grow up as he did."
"You mean as
did, he and I?"
She looked for signs of distress, but he showed none. "Didn't it…bother you, knowing what your father had done to your mother?"
She thought of her own family and what her father had done, the suicide that had been even more of a betrayal than the secret of their faltering finances. But she would not let self-pity distract her.
He looked down at his brandy for a moment. "I never could find a way to ask my mother if she had been willing or…forced."
"Oh, Richard," she murmured, feeling the sting of tears.
"When I was young, I chose to think she had wanted the duke's attention, her own house, and never having to work again. I thought she was proud that her son was raised in the duke's household."
"I'm sure she was."
"No. As I grew older, I began to think that she resented me." He laughed without humor. "God, that sounds selfish, as if it were all about me."
She stopped playing and put her hand on his arm, reminding herself of his masquerade. "No, Your Grace. But why would you think that about your mother?"
"I believe the allure of her own home blinded her for a while to how isolated she truly was from everyone she knew. The duke had several new mistresses before I was even born." His face darkened. "The duchess did her best to make my mother miserable. Then Mother took to drinking, and it ruined her health. She was dead before she even saw me enter Cambridge."
"You can't think she resented you, Your Grace. You were an innocent in the decisions made by adults. Maybe she was disappointed in the choices she'd made as a young woman."
"I'll try to think of it that way," he said, giving her that little half smile. "Because of course I turned all my resentment on my father. He'd used her for a momentary pleasure, and left her to suffer the consequences."
"But he did support her, and you. Maybe he even loved her in his own way," she suggested, hoping to ease his pain.
"If so, it was a brief love. That's what this place"— he waved an arm to encompass the room— "this vaunted position in life does to people. Even I, who should know better, occasionally enjoy the power of dozens of servants at my beck and call."
"But you're a wealthy man, aren't you? Don't you have your own servants in Manchester?"
"A few. But trust me, it is not the same. I guess I never realized it," he added with a sigh. "I keep telling myself that I wouldn't have been like Cecil, like my father, if I were in their shoes."
"I'm sure you wouldn't have."
He laughed with little apparent amusement. "Humoring me, are you? That's what one does to a duke."
She nudged him with her elbow. "You know that's not what I'm doing."
She went back to the music, and it made her feel safe, removed from the frightening emotions he so easily inspired in her. In her mind, she kept hearing her own words of comfort to him, that he was an innocent in decisions made by adults. She was good at giving out advice, but not at accepting it. She, too, had been an innocent in her parents' blunders— logically, she knew that. But she could not escape her own deduction that she should have seen it coming, should have been prepared. She was no child, as Richard had been when tragedy had happened to him.
"So tell me about the spectacles," he said.
Meriel looked down at the keyboard. "They're spectacles."
"But they're made of simple glass."
"Very well, yes, they are."
"So they
a disguise."
She smiled and shook her head. "No, they're protection."
"That, you're going to have to explain," he said dubiously.
"I had one other position as governess before I came here. After that, I decided it was best to…downplay my features."
He put his hand on her thigh and spoke in a low, controlled voice. "Did your employer try to hurt you?"
"Heavens, no. You were far worse than he was."
He blinked. "Oh. Well then. What happened?"
"His wife could not overcome her jealousy toward me. She was convinced that her husband hired me for inappropriate reasons— "
"Like my brother did," he said softly.
"Exactly. The husband could not accept her constant need to keep track of me— and to keep track of him. Finally, he had to let me go. After that, I resolved to…alter my appearance a bit. He gave me wonderful references though," she added brightly.
He leaned closer. "And I'm sure Cecil was very concerned about those."
She lifted her nose in the air. "He was. We discussed Stephen's education extensively. He wanted only the best for his son."
"I'm glad to hear it."
If he was smiling, he hid it behind his glass.
"Stephen often comments on how pretty you are," Richard said. "He tries to be very casual about it, but I think he's matchmaking."
She softened at the thought. "What a sweet boy. Surely someone on the staff must have told him that a duke could not possibly marry a governess."
"Of course he knows that, but— " Richard suddenly cleared his throat.
Meriel got a strange feeling, and she stopped playing to face him. "If he knows that, then why would he— " She broke off and stared aghast at Richard. "He knows!"
"Meriel— "
Her voice dropped to a shocked whisper, and she glanced at the open drawing room door. They were still alone. "He knows who you are!"
"I didn't tell him," he said tiredly. "He's just too smart to believe that his father might have changed so easily toward him. I first found out that Stephen knew the truth when he was correcting my food preferences. He's been very helpful ever since."
She stared at Richard as if she didn't know him. "You used that boy as a— a coconspirator! You let a six-year-old lie for you?"
He shrugged. "What else was I supposed to do? I couldn't leave. I told Stephen the truth, that his father is still sick and doesn't want to appear weak before the world. That made perfect sense to him."
"But— "
He took her hand and she let him, but only so that no one would see her struggling in anger.
"Meriel, he's been invaluable to me in my disguise. He wanted to help; how could I refuse him?"
She sighed, knowing he was right. "This just isn't natural. What if this somehow…hurts him?"
"He could be hurt far worse, if we're not careful. He's been very good, never calls me anything but Father. Even you were fooled, and you spend most of the day with him."
"Your Grace, I— " Meriel broke off as Beatrice entered.
The maid's expression was respectful, even toward Meriel, as she asked if His Grace needed anything else. When she'd gone, Meriel used the awkward pause to rise to her feet.
"I'll wish you a good night, Your Grace."
He stood and took her hand between both of his. He lifted it to his mouth and kissed her a bit too long. His lips were warm and soft and made her feel almost faint with longing. She admitted to herself that she wanted to be close to him.
And she'd just discovered another of his lies! Well, an omission, anyway.
"Your Grace," she murmured. "Please do not come to me tonight."
He studied her, betraying neither anger nor disappointment. "Are you well, Meriel?"
She nodded. "I just…It's all so new to me that…Oh, heavens."
"Go to your solitary bed then." One corner of his mouth teased her with a smile. "Dream of me."
Her eyes widened, and she fled the drawing room. Did he already know he'd invaded her dreams?

BOOK: The Duke in Disguise
5.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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