Excerpt from A Matter of Temptation
Several hours later, Robert
awoke with a start, disoriented, his heart thundering. The bed was too soft,
the room too large. Slowly, it all came back to him.
His hiding in the shadows.
His creeping into the house.
His finding John, asleep,
The Warder arriving just after
midnight to let the duke know that prisoner D3,10 had escaped. Knocking John
unconscious with a good solid punch that had gone a long way toward appeasing
his anger at the time, but now the fury was roiling through him again and he
worked hard to squash it. It had been festering for far too long. .
He'd always thought revenge
was supposed to be sweet. He was surprised to discover that it tasted bitter.
He shook off the guilt. He'd given John what he deserved.
Lying still, he listened to
his own rapid breathing, his heartbeat thrumming between his ears. Then the
sweet song of a lark. Outside the window. Was that what had awakened him?
Relaxing his taut muscles, he
inhaled deeply, a fragrance so pure that if he were a sentimental man he might
have wept. But he feared whatever tendency toward sentiment he might have once
possessed had been brutally stolen from him.
Still he could appreciate the
scent of cleanliness and the comfort brought by a soft, feathered mattress
beneath his back. Tonight he would indulge in all the vices he'd been denied
by his brother's calculating schemes. Denied through no fault of his. It was
an aspect of this entire untenable situation that nagged at him.
Had he done something to
deserve his brother's unjust treatment? He'd committed no crime, harmed no
one. He'd gone to school, studied hard. He'd learned manners, etiquette, and
protocol. He'd been prepared to step into his father's shoes when his father
left this earth--which he'd assumed would be after a long life--but until that
precise moment he carried out his duties and respective responsibilities with
the proper decorum expected of the heir apparent.
He'd been an exemplary
firstborn son. Was it his striving to make his parents proud that had turned
John against him? Or was it simply his entry into the world first? It was
hardly something over which he'd had control. Come to think of it, he'd had no
say in a good part of his life. Obligations were thrust upon him, and duty
dictated that he accept and meet them head on, never shirking his
And yet he'd been unjustly
punished and found himself in the untenable position of having to prove who he
was and taking some recourse to ensure that he managed to hold onto the
dukedom. He had little doubt that John would attempt to usurp him with some
sort of treachery, and the next time he intended to be prepared. He'd not be
caught unawares again.
He stretched his
muscles--relishing the luxurious sensation of silk gliding over his
skin--shoved his hands beneath his head, and stared at the canopy above his
bed while the first fingers of dawn spilled into the bedchamber. He'd left the
draperies at the windows and those around the bed pulled aside. He wanted
nothing denied him. And he had such grand and self-indulgent plans for his
first day and night as the Duke of Killingsworth.
A steaming, hot bath with
sandalwood soap. Followed by warm towels rubbed briskly over his entire body.
A hot, hearty breakfast while
he read The Times.
A leisurely walk through
A brisk horse ride through
A carriage ride.
More clean clothes.
And then a night of revelry to
celebrate his newfound freedom.
A bottle of the finest wine.
A cigar. Perhaps a hand of
And then a woman. A beautiful
Tonight he would have it all,
after being denied everything for so long.
He would do the same tomorrow
night. And the next. He had a youth denied to make up for. And then he would
see to his dukedom.
He'd known a moment of worry
that his plans would unravel when he'd carried his unconscious brother to Mr.
Matthews. He'd recognized the warder as one of the more brutal ones. The guard
had recognized him only as the man who had paid him. Matthews's fear had been
palpable as he'd stammered his profound apologies for the prisoner's escape,
and Robert was left to wonder if it was more than coins that had made the man
serve as John's henchman. Matthews had been only too willing to accept
Robert's explanation that the prisoner had come here to cause him harm, and
once again he was to be returned to Pentonville and held as before.
A prisoner without the promise
Another niggling of guilt
pierced the contentment of the morning and Robert pushed it aside. He'd not be
denied this day, no matter how selfish. He deserved it: the drinking, the
womanizing, the sating of his long-denied body, the self-gratification. As
long as John kept his mouth shut and his cap covering his face, he'd survive
exceedingly well until Robert determined the best manner in which to prove the
truth of what had transpired.
The door leading from the
bathing room into the bedchamber opened, and Robert held his breath. His next
test was descending upon him with rapidity. He'd once theorized that servants
didn't truly look at their masters, but kept their eyes averted or downcast.
If his theory were proven correct, then he would be fine. If false . . . well,
he'd had worse things to worry over.
The servant quietly entered
the room. His valet. Or more precisely, his brother's valet. And he suddenly
realized that he was in a spot of trouble because he didn't recognize the man.
He was tall, slender, held himself well, and while he appeared to be
relatively young, he was balding, the top of his head reflecting the sunlight
streaming into the room.
Robert had expected Edwards
who had once been his loyal valet to still be serving his brother, but as he
pondered the situation it made sense that Edwards had been let go. The man
might have had the ability to detect subtle differences in the heir apparent,
and while he might have held his doubts to himself, it was probably a chance
John had been unwilling to take.
And this unknown valet might
notice subtle differences in today's duke as compared with yesterday's. Mainly
that today's duke hadn't a clue as to his valet's name.
"Good morning, Your Grace,"
the man said, as he crossed the room.
"Good morning." Robert cursed
beneath his breath. The words had come out hesitant, unsure, not at all the
tone usually rendered by a man in control, a man to whom deference was given
by virtue of rank if nothing else.
The valet suddenly stopped in
the center of the room as though aware that something was terribly amiss. He
looked at the bed--not so much the man lying in it--the windows, then quickly
at the walls, the ceiling, the floor, and Robert wondered if the servant was
feeling the room close in on him as Robert was. Robert should have held his
tongue, kept his silence.
"I'm not accustomed to the
draperies already being pulled aside," the servant said. "You must be
anticipating the day."
"Indeed I am." The truth was
easily spoken. It was the first time in years that he'd awoken and actually
looked forward to the day ahead.
"I've had your bath prepared."
The servant walked to the wardrobe, opened the doors, and began gathering
Robert contemplated lying abed
a bit longer, perhaps even having breakfast brought to him on a tray, but the
amount of food he planned to eat was best handled by a sideboard. He slid out
from beneath the covers. Standing in a nightshirt he'd confiscated from a
drawer, with his bare feet on the floor, he suddenly felt exposed.
The servant had yet to take a
full measure of him, and when he did . . .
He was a duke now. Closing his
eyes, he drew on the memories of his father's commanding voice. His father had
never left any doubt as to who was in charge, even before he inherited the
dukedom from his father. Self-assured, confident. Robert simply had to
follow his father's example and teachings now. He felt calmness descend over
him. He could do this. He would do it. He opened his eyes.
"I should like to take a ride
in the park this morning," he said. "See to having my horse readied."
The servant turned slightly,
his brow creased to such an extent that it seemed to roll his balding pate
forward, and Robert easily determined that he was hesitant to speak.
"What is it, man?" he demanded
to know--impatiently, as his father had when a servant was slow to respond.
"With all due respect, Your
Grace, I'm not certain you have time for a ride this morning."
"Why ever not? Is there some
pressing appointment that can't be put off?"
"Only your wedding, Your