In more happy news, sale of the gold tooled set of your earlier novels has surpassed our expectations. We have alerted the printer that your new manuscript is imminent, and we will once again issue both a board binding with blue paper and a leather label on the spine, and a leather-bound, gold tooled volume on the same day, pleasing all your readers.

With deep respect, and in hopes of seeing you soon,


I remain,

William Bucknell, Esq.

P.S. I include herewith not only Miss Julia Quiplet’s works, but a new novel written by Mrs. Lisa Klampas, which I believe you will enjoy.

Vander dressed for the evening meal feeling unsettled. He’d left Chuffy in the alehouse surrounded by a ring of his cronies.

When he had returned to his stables, he had found Mulberry buzzing with excitement—about his wife. Jafeer was calmer in Mia’s presence? Mia, who rode a horse that moved like an ancient turtle, stiff-legged and slow?

Moreover, he couldn’t get their kiss out of his head. Most of his life, Vander had been attracted to tall, slender women. But now he was struck with raging desire for a woman who nestled into his shoulder. A woman who wasn’t even tall enough to look him directly in the eye. Who could be plucked from her saddle and kissed until both of them were breathless.

When Mia was irritated, her eyes darkened to a wintery green color that he’d never seen on another woman.

Suddenly Vander realized his valet was offering a waistcoat.

“Sorry. Do you know how my new ward fared in the nursery this afternoon?”

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His man grinned. “From everything I hear, he’s a character.”

“I would agree.”

“Mr. Gaunt is another one. He sat the household down and gave us all a good talking-to about how we’re to treat Master Charles.”

“Excellent,” Vander said with satisfaction. “Was there rejoicing below stairs at the departure of Nottle?”

“Certainly not.” But a momentary pause had told Vander exactly what he needed to know; he made a mental note to retire Nottle to a cottage on his Yorkshire estate.

He turned to shrug on his evening coat. “The duchess has summoned a modiste from London,” his valet reported. “Her lady’s maid is quite happy that Her Grace has decided to put aside her half-mourning.”

It seems his wife had truly mourned the death of her father. Vander didn’t like how much her tears had affected him. Mia’s soft mouth had quivered, and he’d wanted to kiss her until she trembled all over for a different reason. The moment he’d realized she was crying, he had wanted to take her into his arms and kiss her until she cheered up.

Absurd. He never felt that sort of thing, and he’d be damned if he let himself be disturbed by a wife, let alone a wife whom he hadn’t chosen for himself.

Not that he was complaining, he had to admit. Every time he saw Mia, his desire spiked higher. That was useful, insofar as they would have to come together enough times to create an heir and a spare.

Perhaps even a daughter. For a moment he imagined a little girl with Mia’s extraordinary hair and green eyes, and his heart skipped a beat.

Four nights . . .

He suppressed a bark of laughter.

It would take him more than four nights to get her out of his system.

A few minutes later he entered into the drawing room and was amused to find Mia in a high-necked, ruffled gown that resembled the garb of an elderly housekeeper. It didn’t matter. He took one look at her, and his cock stood to attention.

She was wearing her hair tumbling down her back with a bandeau holding it off her face. It suited her. With those big eyes, heart-shaped face, fly-away eyebrows . . . and hell, those lips . . .

Interestingly enough, Mia seemed to have no idea how beautiful she was. He was used to women who were polished and pruned, ruthlessly displaying their best assets in the marketplace.

The mere act of watching Mia’s throat ripple as she swallowed her wine excited him. Gaunt offered him a glass of claret. He took the glass and strolled toward his wife, adjusting his coat in order to conceal the situation below. “Good evening, Duchess,” he said.

Mia did not meet his eyes. “Good evening, Duke,” she murmured. Her nose had a perfect shape. It wasn’t bulbous or too pointed, as many women’s noses were.

“I have a question about your father,” he said, deliberately bringing up a subject that would create some distance between them.

Sure enough, her brows furrowed. “I do not wish to discuss my father.”

“Why did he give your poem to my mother?”

Mia finally looked at him. Her gaze felt like a hot poker that sent blood straight from his head to his toes, most of it pooling halfway between, if he were honest.

“He thought the poem was funny.”

“I presume you didn’t give him a copy.”

“My father had idiosyncratic ideas about ownership. He was also irrepressibly curious. That is undoubtedly how he came into possession of the letter your father wrote.”

“Do other letters of that nature exist?” he asked. “Have you a safe crammed with people’s secrets?”

She shuddered almost imperceptibly. “No. The theft of the poem was partly my fault, because I titled it in such a way that you were identifiable. I should have known he would find it irresistible.”

“I would have minded less if you had titled the poem to Evander. I’ve always hated my middle name.”

The corner of her mouth curled slightly. “At the time, I found Septimus a far more romantic name than Evander.”

She turned away and walked to a settee. Despite himself, Vander’s eyes followed her bottom. She had the most luscious arse that he had ever seen. Round . . . perfect.

To go with her perfect nose.

He followed her and dropped into a chair opposite, taking another swallow of wine. “Does that mean you’d prefer Septimus to Vander?”

“No,” she said thoughtfully. “I think you were right to request that we not address each other in such familiar terms. Whether or not our marriage survives—” She saw he was about to speak, and raised a hand. “My point is that neither of us wishes the other to develop an unwise affection.”

Vander was suddenly quite convinced that he’d like his wife to develop just such an affection. “Do you think it’s possible?”

A ripple of pain went through her eyes. It instantly disappeared, disguised by a veneer of well-bred courtesy.

“I gather you cannot imagine the situation in which you would fall in love with me,” she said, chin high. “But what if I were to fall in love with you, Your Grace? Again? I think we can both agree that it would be better to avoid that unfortunate situation.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” he said, the words coming out in a husky caress.

“You did not hurt my feelings,” she answered readily. “I am well aware of the differences between us, Duke. You do me no harm by reminding me to keep them in mind.”

He frowned. Differences? But before he could ask her to elaborate, Chuffy toddled in. His uncle wasn’t three sheets to the wind, as the saying went: he was more like six sheets.

“Evening, love birds,” he said, turning on his heel and looking behind him, for all the world like a puppy looking for its tail. “Have you seen that new butler of ours? He was here just a moment ago.”

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