Her Gift - Bundle PackBy: Laurel Bennett
Her Gift -- the Duchess
By Laurel Bennett
Charlotte paced from one side of the library to the next. If His Grace didn’t arrive soon, she would go out of her mind with worry. She raised a finger to her mouth and absently nibbled at a nail. The sun was already setting. Where on earth could he be? It had been hours since he’d delivered her to his home. Hours since he’d left her there in the library, with no more direction than, “Wait for me here. I’ll not be gone long.” Then, with a quick and rather chaste kiss to her forehead, he’d left her there. And hadn’t returned. Now she knew why he was considered to be the disappearing duke. It wasn’t because of all the hearts he’d broken throughout the years. It was because he couldn’t be found.
Finally, the rhythmic click of footsteps in the corridor got her attention. She held her breath as the library door creaked open. But instead of the dashing duke she expected, his butler came through the door. Her hopes crashed like waves against the shore. She may as well have him call a carriage for her. Obviously, she wasn’t going to get the assignation she’d hoped for. She had no husband to go home to. Not anymore. Not since the doddering old fool had finally drank himself to death.
“I consider it being cautious, rather than doddering,” the butler said, his nose rising in the air.
Goodness. Had she said doddering out loud? “Apologies,” Charlotte murmured. “That wasn’t directed at you.” She couldn’t very well explain to the duke’s butler that she had just lost her husband and gone through proper mourning for the old codger, could she? He was a doddering, mean old man, not nearly as spry or gay as the butler appeared to be. Telling him the truth would be a disaster. “Have you any idea when His Grace will return?” Or any idea where he is at all, she wanted to ask as well.
“His Grace sent a runner a moment ago. He has been unavoidably detained.”
Charlotte’s heart sank. This was to be the very first time she’d had any sort of assignation. And she had planned so well, choosing the disappearing duke, because he was known for loving and leaving. And she wanted both. She wanted to be loved… well, loved was a very broad use of the term…. And left. She wanted to be pleasured, for one single night. For one single time in her life. Then she could retire to the country and enjoy her solitude, her dogs, and her knitting. Charlotte shook away the errant thoughts. It looked as though she’d been left. But not loved. What a disappointing turn of events.
“His Grace asked that I show you to his chambers. He has left a present for you there.” He inclined his head toward the door.
“His chambers?” she squeaked. At some point, she’d assumed she’d end up in his chambers. But not when he was not in residence.
“Yes, my lady.” He started for the stairs, and she followed blindly, lifting the edge of her skirts so she could follow his quick strides up the grand staircase.
When they came to what she assumed was the duke’s chambers, he stopped, opened the door and stepped to the side. “Mary will be along to assist you,” he said.
“Assist me with what?” Charlotte asked as she stepped into the room. Instead of answering, he closed the door. She wanted to run after him. To bring him back. He obviously knew more than Charlotte did. Charlotte laid her forehead against the door with a heavy thump and muttered, “What do I do now?”
“I believe he means for you to dress,” a silky voice called from the corner of the room. Charlotte spun quickly, relieved and not relieved all at the same time to find a young woman standing in the corner beside a steaming tub of water. The full bath rested before a crackling fire. “His Grace sent me for your pleasure,” she said with a smile. Charlotte stopped short. She didn’t look like a servant. She looked like a lady. One of odd circumstance, but still a lady. “You are Mary?”
The lady laughed, a soft sound that moved across Charlotte’s skin like satin. “May I help you disrobe?”
“May I ask what your position within the household is?” Charlotte squeaked.
“I am not a member of the household staff,” she said, shaking her head. Her silky blonde curls danced across her shoulders. “I am here for your pleasure.” She had a voice like a siren and a smile that could sink ships. All gracing the most perfectly proportioned figure.