Darcy Burke

Excerpt: The Duke of Kisses

Book 11: The Untouchables

“I’m going to sit on a bench,” Miss Colton announced. She curled her arm through the marchioness’s. “Come with me, Lavinia.”

Any doubt as to whether they were aware of the connection between David and Frances was completely demolished. As the two women walked toward a nearby bench, David turned to Frances. “That wasn’t very subtle.” He kept his voice low, though he wondered why he should bother. “Do they know everything?”

She shrugged. “They know you aren’t a steward.” She fixed him with an irritated stare.

“No more than you’re a housemaid.” He offered her his arm. “Shall we walk for a spell?”

The moment she placed her hand on his sleeve, he suffered another shock of heat, and he was suddenly overwhelmed with the memory of her soft lips and the intoxicating scent of lilies of the valley.

He guided her along the bank of the Serpentine. “It’s good to know you didn’t lie about everything,” he murmured. “You really are a terrible dancer.”

Frances squeezed his arm and sucked in a breath. “You aren’t much better—on either count. You’re an earl?”

He looked down at her upturned face. “And you are clearly not a housemaid.”

“It seemed…prudent to mislead you,” she said defensively.

“Why?”

“Because if I told you my brother-in-law is the Duke of Clare, you never would have kissed me.”

Another flash of heat. Why did she have to bring that up? As if he wasn’t thinking about it. He looked quickly over his shoulder at the two women sitting on the bench and farther down the bank at the group of gentlemen talking. “Keep your voice down.”

“No one can hear me,” she said. “And even if they could, it would only be Lavinia and Sarah, and they already know you kissed me.”

He exhaled, trying to keep his wits amidst his frustration—both from the conversation and his troublesome desire. “Frances—” He looked down at her again. “Is that really your name?”

“Everyone calls me Fanny.”

“I can’t call you Fanny.”

“Why not? I can’t keep from thinking of you as David.”

This dialogue was veering into territory that was beyond acceptable. He was never more acutely aware of his new and rather cumbersome title. “Let me understand. You told me you were a housemaid because you wanted to entice me to kiss you.”

“Not at all. I was being cheeky a moment ago. But it’s true. If you knew who I really was, you wouldn’t have kissed me, and I rather enjoyed it. As I recall, I tried to tell you I was from Stour’s Edge, and you didn’t seem to believe that could be true.” She gave him a pert look. “So I told you what I thought you wanted to hear.”

She was right, damn it. He’d seen her walking and had followed her, which had turned out to be a good thing since she’d been lost. But stalking after a young lady was somehow worse than stalking after a housemaid. And yet it wasn’t. They were both equally cringe-inducing. “I heartily apologize.”

“For what?”

“For all of it. Making assumptions, kissing you, generally behaving like an ass.”

She smiled broadly, with a hint of coquetry. “I thought you were incredibly charming, and if you apologize for that kiss again—you already did it once, and that was one time too many—I’ll kick you in the shin.”

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