Handing Jupiter’s reins to a waiting groom, Royal Dewar eased his future bride off the big gray stallion into his arms. Standing at the door, his butler made an odd, sputtering sound at the sight of him carrying a half-conscious woman up the stone stairs into the house.
“There was a carriage accident on the road,” Royal said. “Miss Caulfield was tossed out of the vehicle. Send someone to get the physician.”
Greaves scurried toward a footman who stood in the entry, one of only fifteen servants in the house, all that were left of the eight-five men and women the household had employed before the late duke, Royal’s father, had lost the Bransford fortune.
The marriage his father had arranged to Jocelyn Caulfield, an extremely wealthy heiress, would soon remedy that.
The footman bolted for the door while Greaves dispatched a list of orders. Royal didn’t slow, just continued up the wide, carved mahogany staircase, the lady nestled against his chest, her gleaming blond hair spilling loose around her shoulders, her rose velvet skirts draped over his arm.
“She needs someone to attend her,” he said to Greaves, who hurried to catch up with him. He looked down at his future wife, her face and figure as winsome as his father had promised. “Which room is to be hers?”
“The duchess’s suite, Your Grace. It was the nicest in the house.”
Because his father couldn’t bear to sell the elegant furnishings in his beloved wife’s bedroom. Though it wasn’t quite the thing to ensconce a duke’s future bride in a room adjoining his before they were wed, it was probably the right decision.
Royal turned the silver handle on the door, kicked it open with his boot, and strode into the room. Greaves raced ahead to turn back the covers on the big four-poster bed and draw back the damask curtains. The chamber, done in a soft, sea-foam green with lovely rosewood furniture, was a room his mother had loved.
Royal wondered if Jocelyn would approve, looked down at her as he laid her on the bed, and realized her eyes were open and that they were the exact same soft green hue.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. Pulling off his gloves, he reached down to take hold of her hand. It was icy cold and she was shivering.
“The fire, Greaves. The lady needs warming.” But the old man had already set to the task and low flames had begun to lick over the grate. With his permission, the door swung open to admit one of the chambermaids, who carried a long-handled warming-pan hot from the kitchen. Another maid appeared to help remove the lady’s gown and get her settled beneath the heated sheets.
“I’ll come back once you are at rest,” he promised, stepping impatiently into the hall. He could hear the maid chattering away and found himself smiling at Jocelyn’s sigh of pleasure as she settled into the deep feather mattress.
Another maid appeared. “I’ve a heated brick for your lady’s feet, Your Grace.”
He nodded his approval and she disappeared into the room. “It feels wonderful,” Jocelyn said to the women as they quietly fled the room. “Thank you all so much.”
Royal didn’t wait for the door to close, just walked back into the bedroom. He smiled down at the woman in his mother’s bed and tried not to think that once they were married, she would be spending most of her nights in his.
“I hope you are feeling a little better.”
Jocelyn smiled up at him. “My head still hurts, but now that I am warm, I am feeling a good deal more myself.”
“The physician should be here soon, and my aunt is due to arrive at any moment, so you will be properly chaperoned.”
“I look forward to meeting Lady Tavistock.”
“As she looks forward to meeting you.”
She moved to sit up and winced.
“Are you certain you are well enough to sit?”
“I need to get my bearings.”
He reached over and helped her adjust the pillows.
“Thank you. I appreciate your care of me, Your Grace.”
Instead of leaving as he had planned, he sat down in the chair beside the bed, reached over and took her hand. “Your ordeal is over. We shall find the brigands who attacked your carriage and deal with them, I promise you. Now try to get some rest.”
She smiled at him so sweetly his chest tightened.
“I’m immensely grateful you came along when you did. If you hadn’t, I should probably still be lying out there, frozen utterly stiff by now.”
He smiled. “But I found you and now you are safe.”
She gave him a last soft smile and her eyes slowly closed. Royal resisted an urge to lean over and press his lips against her forehead. “Sleep well, Miss Caulfield.”
Her lovely pale green eyes popped open. “Oh, I am terribly sorry for the misunderstanding, Your Grace. But you see I am not Miss Caulfield. I am her cousin–Miss Lily Moran.
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