Lady Caitlin Southall’s temper has finally got the better of her. She’s challenged Harlow Telford, the Duke of Dangerfield, the most notorious rake in all of England, to a wager. She wants her house back. The one her destitute father lost to Dangerfield in a card game. But if she doesn’t win their bet, she not only loses her home, she loses her dignity and pride and damn it all, maybe her heart... For the handsome Duke has decreed, when he wins, she must spend the night in his bed.
Harlow Telford is amused by his hellion neighbor, Caitlin, or Cate to her friends, who seem to encompass everyone on earth except him. When she bursts into one of his private gatherings, he mistakes her for the entertainment. Her slap across his face sets him straight and raises the absurd desire to seduce the unconventional beauty into his bed. When she issues her daft challenge to win back her father’s pile of rubble, the terms are set. And he’ll do anything to win—except fall in love...
She turned to the man who’d spoken and her mouth went dry. He lounged in his chair with a half-naked woman on his knee. One of his hands held a nearly empty brandy balloon. The other appeared to be glued to the woman’s breast. He looked like the Devil himself—with his dark brown hair and darker, hooded eyes, regarding her with bored amusement.
This, Caitlin thought, frantically, had been a terrible mistake. Her body had already come to that conclusion and begun its retreat.
But Dangerfield was too fast. He reached the door first and shut it. Inside the room the heat seemed to double.
“Are you the entertainment?” Dangerfield asked. “I’m never sure what to expect when you are in my presence, Lady Southall.”
The other two men threw startled and worried looks at each other.
“Lady Southall?” The third man, the fair-haired man, sat up straighter and began to retie his cravat.
His Grace ignored his friend’s concern. He moved until he stood quite close behind her.
“Yes, I am Lady Caitlin Southall.” She shivered even though she could feel the heat from his broad chest through her light jacket. “And no, I most certainly am not part of the entertainment.”
“I struggle to see what purpose, other than for our entertainment, you’d have for arriving at my home, without a chaperone, this late at night. Or should I say ‘early in the morning’? And dressed in such a provocative fashion. You know how much I admire you in trousers.”
Late? Provocative? She was the one decently dressed, even if she was in men’s clothing. “I came for a private word with you over three hours ago. I grew tired of waiting. I must get home before dawn.”
“I was not told you were here.” A gentle touch on her back made her jump. “A private word?” The pressure of his touch grew. Glided slowly down her spine. “Now that sounds promising. However, my friends and I share everything. Don’t we, ladies?”
Two of women giggled and crooned. The third simply sent her a frosty stare. Caitlin reached behind and swatted Dangerfield’s finger away.
“Harlow,” his fair-haired friend warned. “This is not a good idea.”
The duke moved to her side. “Henry is worried about my reputation, given you’ve walked into one of my private bachelor parties.”
“Your reputation?” Caitlin couldn’t help herself.
“Yes, mine. A lady discovered in this room at this moment would be compromised beyond repair. It would likely mean I’d have to offer her marriage—and that is something a man of my reputation fears most of all.”
She scoffed. “Then your reputation is quite safe. I have no intention of allowing myself to become wed to a man such as you.”
His two friends burst out laughing, with Marcus stating,
“Oh, my. She’s priceless. Wherever did you find her?”
“Marcus doesn’t know you as well as I do.” His Grace continued, “Lady Southall has a terrible habit of bothering me.”
She couldn’t suppress her shiver of awareness as he moved to stand over her, brushing her with his body. Blocking her view of the others in the room he looked down his perfect nose at her. “Did you come for your pleasure?” he purred. “Or mine?”
It was the arrogant smile that did it. Her hand, apparently operating on its own initiative, whipped up like a snake. The sharp crack of flesh meeting flesh—together with the pain in her palm—brought Caitlin to her senses. She gasped and stumbled back as the marks of her fingers began to appear on Dangerfield’s cheek.