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What's a Duke Got to Do With It
Author: Christina Britton



London, 1817

Miss Denby, how wonderful to see you here this evening.”

Miss Katrina Denby’s heart leapt in her chest at the sound of his voice, so close behind her his breath stirred the fine hairs at the nape of her neck. We’ve been acting out a meaningless flirtation for nigh on two months now, she told herself severely. Tonight is certainly no different. God knew she was fully aware he didn’t mean anything by it. He was the darling of the ton, showering his attentions on the wallflowers and diamonds alike—and vocal about the fact that he had no plans to marry anytime soon.

Yet that did nothing to stop a kaleidoscope of butterflies from fluttering like mad in her abdomen. Nor did it stop a traitorous, hopeful voice from whispering through her mind that maybe, just maybe, he wanted something more with her.

That voice only grew louder as she took a step away from her chaperone, Aunt Willa—who had not been paying any attention to her anyway—and turned to face him. Sebastian Thorne, Marquess of Marsten, smiled down at her with that endearingly crooked twist of the lips that she had come to adore over the past months of their friendship. He was one of the season’s most eligible bachelors, the devilishly handsome firstborn son of the Duke of Ramsleigh, and was on every matchmaking mama’s list of potentials for their daughters.

Which was exactly why he was not on her list. Not that she had a list, per se. Lists of matrimonial prospects were for those who had ambition in marriage, something she lacked completely. Of course, she did want eventually to find a man to love her and who she could love in return. But she had no lofty aspirations. Yes, it was fun to be popular and adored, to dance and flirt and receive outrageous proposals from all manner of titled, wealthy men. But affection was what she wanted more than anything, a quiet and happy home life, security and contentment and a family that loved her. All those things she had lacked throughout her life.

Useless; stupid; know your place. Her late father’s cruel words were sharper for all she had not expected them. She forcefully banished them. For now, she was simply happy to no longer be rotting forgotten at her family’s ancestral estate near Lincoln.

But if she did have a list, it would certainly not include Lord Marsten, who was quite openly enjoying his popularity and had been vocal in his intention to remain blissfully single. He was a rake of the first order, and as she had her own rake in the family in the form of her elder brother Francis, one of those pinks of the ton who flirted and charmed his way through life, she knew there was no hope in Lord Marsten settling down until he was good and ready. Which to a rake such as him may as well be when hell froze over.

Knowing this, she had happily begun a mutual flirtation with the ever-so-charming marquess. A silent arrangement that had seemed to work perfectly for them both: he could lavish attention on her with no worry of being pursued for matrimonial purposes, and she could have something of a friend in the marquess. A novel idea for her, truly.

Yet over the past weeks, through balls and picnics and outings of all sorts, their friend groups meeting and mingling almost daily, a new awareness had cropped up where he was concerned. The playful flirtation that had bounced back and forth between them like a child’s ball had transformed, the tone of the game turning more serious, more anticipatory. That same anticipation filled her now as she gazed up at him.

“Lord Marsten, I’m so happy to see you here this evening. I feared for a moment you would not arrive.”

“As if I would miss an opportunity to see you,” he murmured in a tone that had goose pimples dancing across her skin. “Dare I hope that you have a dance open for me? Mayhap… the supper dance?”

Katrina drew in a sharp breath. The supper dance. It was well known that Lord Marsten did not secure any young woman for the supper dance. He was carefully circumspect in his attentions to any one woman, and no doubt he felt the supper dance had too much expectation riding on it.

Yet here he was, asking her for that very dance, an almost vulnerable look in his eyes.

She swallowed hard, those butterflies in her stomach starting up again, their wings creating a kind of hurricane of hope within her.

“I—I do, actually,” she managed, sending up a swift thanks that she had as yet not felt compelled to accept anyone for that particular set. Holding out her wrist, she offered up her dance card to him, trying and failing to stem the shaking in her limb that sent the small, intricately decorated card and pencil dancing about.

He smiled, white teeth flashing, sending her brain packing for parts unknown. Taking up the pencil and card, he quickly wrote his name in before, gently grasping her hand, he lifted it to his lips to press a kiss to her knuckles. And Katrina found herself wishing fervently that elbow-length gloves were not the fashion for balls.

“I look forward to it,” he said, his voice an intimate rumble as he lowered her hand, gently squeezing her fingers before reluctantly releasing her. His smile widened. “And I do hope you will indulge me with more tales of your new puppy. Mouse, wasn’t it? No doubt he is growing hale and hearty, blessed as he is with your careful ministrations.”

She blinked. “You remember his name.”

“Of course I do,” he declared. Then, taking a step closer to her, he whispered, “I remember everything you have ever told me.”

Goodness. Cheeks hot, Katrina could only gaze up at him with what she supposed was a slightly silly smile on her face. This was not their typical flirtatiousness. No, this was most definitely that something more she had felt earlier, that heightened anticipation that had her feeling as if something was about to change between them, that something momentous was about to take place. She should perhaps play coy, batting her lashes and hiding a coquettish smile behind her fan. It was quite possible that she was reading much too much into his attentions; she had a very active imagination, after all. And the last thing she wished to do was to show her hand regarding her deepening feelings when all the cards had not yet been played.

But gazing into his gray eyes, eyes that skimmed over her face with such care, as if he were memorizing her, she found herself hoping that it wasn’t her imagination, that there truly was something more to this attraction between them. For she knew, with very little effort on his part, he could make her fall in love with him.

The music ended just then. And suddenly Lord Landon was there, pushing his way between them.

“Pardon me, Marsten,” the baron said as he held out an arm for Katrina, “but I believe this dance is mine.”

“Of course,” Lord Marsten murmured, inclining his head before turning his warm gaze Katrina’s way. “I shall see you later this evening, Miss Denby.” And then he was gone, leaving Katrina to sigh dreamily at thoughts of being swung in his arms across the dance floor, of him escorting her into dinner and fetching her a plate, perhaps even of him taking the opportunity to sneak her away to the gardens…

“Miss Denby?” Lord Landon’s voice broke into her fantasies, dragging her back to the present.

She blinked before, smiling, she placed her hand on his sleeve and allowed him to lead her onto the floor. “Forgive me, Lord Landon. My mind was wandering. But I admit to being surprised to see you here this evening. You are marrying Miss Lenora Hartley in two days’ time if I am not mistaken.”

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