About the Author
Sabrina Jeffries is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several Regency-set historical romance series, including the Royal Brotherhood, the School for Heiresses, the Hellions of Halstead Hall, the Duke's Men, and the Sinful Suitors. Visit her at sabrinajeffries.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
What the Duke Desires 1
Covent Garden, London
THERE WASN’T A single letter from Tristan in the whole lot.
As the misty morning brightened to a less gloomy gray, Lisette tossed the mail onto the desk in Dom’s study. Typical. When she’d left Paris, Tristan had promised to write her once a week. But though he’d started out well, two months had now passed without so much as a line from him.
She was torn between worry over what had stopped the flow of letters, and a desire to string her feckless brother up by his toes and let him see what it was like to be left hanging.
“Are you sure you don’t want to accompany me to Edinburgh on this case?” Dom asked. “You could take notes for me.”
Lisette looked over to see her half brother lounging in the doorway. At thirty-one he was leaner and harder than when they were young, and he now had a scar across his cheek that he wouldn’t talk about, which came from God knew where. But he was still in her camp.
Most of the time. She scowled. Sometimes he could be as bad as Tristan.
Ever since Dom had fetched her here from France six months ago, she’d worked hard to turn his rented town house into a home. Just because it also served as the office for Manton’s Investigations didn’t mean it had to feel cold and impersonal. But what had her efforts got her? Nothing but another man to govern her behavior.
Sitting back in the chair, she lifted an eyebrow. “You don’t need me to take notes—you remember everything word for word.”
“But you’re better at descriptions than I am. You notice things about people that I don’t.”
She rolled her eyes. “I will only go if you let me do more than describe things and make you tea.”
He eyed her warily. “Like what?”
“Interview witnesses. Follow suspects. Carry a pistol.”
To his credit, he didn’t laugh. Tristan would have laughed. And then tried, again, to find her a suitable husband from among his swaggering soldier friends in Paris, who acted as if a half-English bastard like her should be grateful for every crumb of their attention.
Instead, Dom eyed her consideringly as he came into the room. “Do you even know how to use a pistol?”
“Yes. Vidocq showed me.” Only once, before Tristan put a stop to the lessons, but Dom needn’t know that.
He was already cursing Eugène Vidocq, the former head of the French secret police. “I can’t believe our brother allowed you anywhere near that scoundrel.”
She shrugged. “We needed the money. And Vidocq needed someone at the Sûreté Nationale whom he could trust to organize all his index cards containing descriptions of criminals. It was a good position.”
And to her surprise, she’d enjoyed it. After Maman’s death three years ago, when Lisette had moved to Paris to live with Tristan, she’d craved useful work to take her mind off her grief. Vidocq had offered it to her. She’d learned about investigating crimes from him. Vidocq had even proposed hiring her as an agent for the Sûreté, as he’d done with other women, but Tristan had refused to allow it.
She snorted. Tristan thought it perfectly fine for him to be an agent for the Sûreté all these years, but his sister was to be kept wrapped in cotton until she found a husband. Which got more unlikely by the year. She was already twenty-six, for pity’s sake!
“What is your answer, Dom?” she prodded her half brother. “If I go with you, will you let me do more than take notes?”
“Not this time, but perhaps one day—”
“That’s what Tristan always said.” She sniffed. “Meanwhile, he was plotting behind my back to get me married, and when that didn’t work, he packed me off to London with you.”
“For which I’m profoundly grateful,” Dom said with a faint smile.
“Don’t try to distract me with compliments. I’m not going to marry any of your choices for husband, either.”
“Good,” he said cheerily. “Because I don’t have any. I’m too selfish to want to lose you to a husband. I need you here.”
She eyed him uncertainly. “You’re just saying that.”
“No, dear girl, I’m not. You’ve got a wealth of information about Vidocq’s methods stored up in that clever head. I’d be mad to marry you off and lose all that.”
Lisette softened. Dom had been much more accommodating about her learning his business than she’d expected. Perhaps it was because he’d struggled so hard to gain it, after George had cut him off entirely. Or perhaps it was because he remembered their childhood together fondly.
Whatever the case, she would allow him some time. Perhaps eventually he would consider giving her broader duties. More exciting duties. She might finally get to travel, to satisfy the wanderlust she’d inherited from Papa. It was a measure of how much Dom trusted her that he was leaving her here for a week with only the servants for company. This was the first time he’d done so.
“So you think I’m clever, do you?” she said.
“And managing and opinionated and a pain in the arse—” At her frown, he softened his tone. “But yes, also very clever. You have many good qualities, dear girl, and I do appreciate them. I’m not Tristan, you know.”
“I know.” She thumbed through the letters spread out on the desk. “Speaking of our rapscallion brother, I haven’t heard from him in months. It’s not like him to be so silent. Generally he writes once a week.”
Dom strode up to the desk to collect some papers for his trip. “He’s probably on a case for Vidocq.”
“But Vidocq was forced to resign as head of the Sûreté last year.”
After Vidocq had left, Tristan had retained his position as an agent by the skin of his teeth. Because she hadn’t been an agent, she’d lost her position entirely. So her brother had decided it was time that she find a husband, even an English one. And since he dared not return to England because of the theft warrant against him, it had been left to Dom to take her to London.
“Then he’s probably on a case for the new fellow,” Dom said as he shoved documents into his satchel.
“I doubt that.” She rose to wander toward the window. “The new head of the Sûreté doesn’t exactly like Tristan.”
“That’s because Tristan is damned good at what he does. That new fellow couldn’t investigate a fruit seller for bruising an apple, so he resents anyone who shows him up.” He shot her a side glance. “Although, to be fair, our brother can try any employer’s patience. He makes his own rules, keeps odd hours, and has a tendency not to tell anyone what he’s up to.”
“You’ve just described yourself,” she said dryly.
A laugh sputtered out of him. “All right, I’ll concede that. But I work for myself, so I can act that way—he has superiors who expect regular reports.”
“True,” she said absently as she gazed out the window, her attention caught by a man in a gray surtout across the street, who was staring at the town house most intently. He looked familiar. He looked like . . .
She moved closer to the glass, and the man disappeared into the fog. A chill skittered down her spine that she forced herself to ignore. It couldn’t be Hucker. He wouldn’t be in London; he’d be in Yorkshire with the rest of George’s minions. If he even still worked for George.
Dom walked toward her. “There’s also the fact that he has an annoying tendency to land himself in trouble without even trying.”
“Who?” she asked, startled into turning from the window.
“Tristan.” He steadied a curious gaze on her. “That is who we’re discussing, isn’t it?”
“Yes, of course.” She forced herself to forget about Hucker. “His penchant for getting into scrapes is precisely why I’m worried. Even Vidocq used to say that Tristan purposely courts danger.”
“True, but he always manages to extricate himself from it, too. He doesn’t need you for that.” Dom’s gaze on her softened. “I, on the other hand, need you for lots of things.” Holding his gloved hand out to her, he pointed to a rip in the palm. “You see? I did that just this morning. Can you fix it?”
He was trying to distract her from her worries, which was sweet of him, though completely transparent. Wordlessly, she drew off his glove, took out her mending box, and began sewing the rip closed.
As she worked, her mind wandered to the man she’d seen outside. Should she mention him to Dom? No, that would be foolish. He might decide to stay in London, which they could ill afford. His business was growing by the day, but he still couldn’t pass up a case as lucrative as the one in Scotland.
Besides, she wasn’t even sure it was anything to be concerned about. It had been years since she’d left the estate—the man might not be Hucker at all. No point in alarming Dom for no reason.
She’d nearly finished repairing his glove when Dom’s lone manservant—butler, valet, and footman all in one—entered the room. “It is nearly nine, sir. You have only half an hour to make it to the docks.”
“Thank you, Skrimshaw,” Dom drawled. “I know how to read a clock.”
The florid-faced fellow stiffened. “Begging your pardon, sir, but ‘Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end.’ ”
When Dom began to scowl, Lisette smothered a laugh and said hastily, “I’ll make sure he gets off in time, Shaw. He’ll be along soon.”
Skrimshaw looked unconvinced but turned and left.
“I swear, if that man quotes any more Shakespeare to me, I’ll turn him off,” Dom complained.
“No, you won’t. You’ll never find another who’ll do what he does for so little salary.” She tied off the thread and handed the glove to Dom. “Besides, you provoked him by using his real name.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” he said as he jerked his glove on, “I’m not going to call my servant by a stage name, no matter how he spends most of his evenings.”
“You should be kinder to him, you know,” she chided. “Because of your insistence that he stay here to look after me at night while you’re gone, he gave up his minor role that begins rehearsals this week. And in any case, he’s right. It’s time for you to leave.” She fought a smile. “All those minutes are hastening away.”
With a muttered oath, Dom turned for the door, then paused to glance back at her. “About Tristan. If you haven’t heard from him by the time I return from Scotland, I’ll see what I can find out.”
“Thank you, Dom,” she said softly, knowing what a concession that was.
“But don’t think I’ll be running off to France after the rascal,” he grumbled. “Not unless someone pays me for it.”
“Perhaps while you’re in Edinburgh I’ll solve a case or two,” she said lightly. “Then I can pay you.”
He scowled. “That’s not remotely amusing. Promise me you won’t try any such fool thing.”
Casting him an enigmatic smile, she glanced at the clock. “You’ll miss your ship if you don’t leave.”
“So help me, Lisette, if you—”
“Go, go,” she cried as she pushed him toward the door. “You know perfectly well I’m teasing you. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
At last he left, muttering about insolent servants and troublesome sisters. With a laugh, she returned to dealing with the mail, sorting each letter by the case it involved, then putting the inquiries for new cases into a pile to go through last.
She spent the day responding to the correspondence, making notes on the cases she thought Dom might take, and dealing with household matters. It was nearly midnight before she got to bed. There was no point in retiring before then—crowds of theatergoers thronged the streets most evenings. She enjoyed the noise and the bustle, which reminded her of the theaters where Maman had acted in Toulon.
The streets were a bit quieter once she did go to bed and they generally stayed that way until midday, at least at their little end of Bow Street.
So when a pounding on the door downstairs awakened her just past dawn, she nearly had heart failure. Who could be coming here so early? Oh dear, had something happened to delay Dom’s ship to Edinburgh?
Hastily donning her dressing gown over her night rail, she hurried into the hall just in time to hear Skrimshaw grumbling to himself as he headed for the door downstairs. He’d scarcely gotten it open when a male voice snapped, “I demand to see Mr. Manton.”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” Skrimshaw said, donning his butler role with great aplomb. “Mr. Manton does not see clients at this early hour.”
“I’m not a client. I’m the Duke of Lyons,” the man countered, his tone iced with the sort of anger only the aristocracy could manage. “And he’ll see me if he knows what’s good for him.”
The bold statement sent Lisette rushing forward in a panic.
“Otherwise,” the duke went on, “I will be back with officers of the law to search every inch of this house for him and his—”
“He’s not here,” she said as she flew down the stairs, heedless of how she was dressed. The last thing Manton Investigations needed was an officious duke barging in with a crowd of officers merely because he was up in the boughs over some foolish matter. The gossip alone would ruin them.
But as she reached the bottom of the stairs and caught sight of the man, she skidded to a halt. Because the fellow looming in the doorway beyond Skrimshaw did not look like a duke.
Oh, he wore the clothing of a duke—a top hat of expensive silk, a coat of exquisitely tailored cashmere, and a perfectly tied cravat. But every duke she’d seen depicted in the papers or in satirical prints was gray-haired and stooped.
This duke was neither. Tall and broad-shouldered, he was the most striking man she’d ever seen. Not handsome, no. His features were too bold for that—his jaw too sharply chiseled, his eyes too deeply set—and his golden-brown hair was a touch too straight to be fashionable. But attractive, oh yes. It annoyed her that she noticed just how attractive.
“Dom’s not here,” she said again.
“Then tell me where he is.”
The expectation that she would just march to his tune raised her hackles. She was used to dealing with his sort—the worst thing she could do was let him bully her into revealing too much. After all, she still didn’t know what this was about. “He’s on a case out of town, Your Grace. That’s all I’m at liberty to say.”
Eyes the color of finest jade sliced down, ripping away whatever flimsy pretensions she might have. In one savage glance he unveiled her age, family connections, and station in life, making her feel all that she was . . . and was not.
Those all-seeing eyes snapped back to her. “And who are you? Manton’s mistress?”
His words, spoken in a tone of studied contempt, had Skrimshaw turning positively scarlet, but before the servant could speak, she touched his arm. “I’ll handle this, Shaw.”
Though the older man tensed, he knew her well enough to recognize the tone that presaged an epic set-down. Reluctantly, he stepped back.
She met the duke’s gaze coldly. “How do you know I’m not Manton’s wife?”
“Manton doesn’t have a wife.”
Supercilious oaf. Or, as Maman would have called him . . . English. He might not look like a duke, but he certainly acted like one. “No, but he does have a sister.”
That seemed to give the duke pause. Then he caught himself and cast her a haughty stare. “None that I know of.”
That really sparked her temper. She forgot about his threat, forgot about the early hour or what she was wearing. All she could see was another George, full of hi...
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