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The Duke I'm Going to Marry

By:Meara Platt

CHAPTER 1


Mayfair District, London

November 1818

WHEN DILLIE FARTHINGALE crossed to her bedroom window to draw the draperies before retiring to bed, she never expected to wind up in front of the Farthingale townhouse, elephant gun in hand, worried that she’d just shot the Duke of Edgeware. Not that this season’s most eligible bachelor and dangerously handsome rakehell didn’t deserve shooting. He most certainly did, but not by her.

“Crumpets!” She fell backward after getting off a shot that merely startled the duke’s assailants. She aimed lower, getting off a second shot that almost ripped her shoulder out of its socket with its recoil. Scrambling to her feet, she reloaded and hurried out of the townhouse, shoving open the front gate that led onto Chipping Way, eager to inspect the damage and dreading what she might find.

Her street was one of those charming, quiet streets, a most desired location in London. Eligible dukes did not die on such streets. “Ian, you idiot! Are you hurt? Who were those awful men, and why were they attacking you?”

She knelt beside him, her heart firmly lodged in her throat. Her nightgown and thin wool shawl offered little protection from the midnight chill. Had Ian’s eyes been open, he would have been ogling her, for that’s what rakehells did best. Ian Markham, as the duke was known, was as rakish as they came, but he would never dare more with her. She was related to his best friend, and as disreputable as Ian was, he did have a code of honor. Of a sort.

She had never considered Ian more than a mere nuisance deserving of a frown or indignant tip of her chin. Certainly not worth shooting, except for that one instance when he’d thoroughly surprised her by kissing her with enough passion to curl her toes. It had been their first and only kiss, a case of mistaken identity in a moonlit garden, for he’d expected another lady to be standing beside the lilac tree where Dillie happened to be hiding while she innocently spied on her neighbor’s dinner party.

Dillie had been trying to forget that kiss for the past two years. No doubt the duke had put it out of his mind immediately.

“Ian?” He appeared to be unconscious, his large, muscled body sprawled beneath the tree she’d practically splintered in half with the force of the elephant shot.

She set down the gun and shook him lightly when he failed to respond. “Oh, please wake up.”

He opened his eyes with noticeable difficulty, his gaze decidedly fuzzy as he cast her a pained grin. “Bloody blazes, it’s you. What are you doing here?”

“I live here. You’re the one who’s out of place.”

His eyes were still unfocused. He blinked them slowly in an attempt to regain his vision. “Oh. Right. Then I ought to be going.” But he made no attempt to rise. “I’ll be off now. Good evening, Daffy.”

Dillie ground her teeth in irritation. “Don’t call me that.” In a moment of madness, her parents had named her Daffodil, but she’d managed to sail through most of her nineteen years avoiding that hideous appellation. Everyone called her Dillie. Everyone but Ian Markham, the arrogant, infuriating Duke of Edgeware, who took every opportunity to torture her with the use of her given name and every ridiculous variation of it that came to his fiendish mind. “The name is ‘Miss Farthingale’ to you.”

“And I’m a duke. That’s Your Grace to you.”

She fisted her hands, wanting to pound the feathers out of him, but those two blackguards who’d attacked him seemed to have done a wickedly good job of it already. They were hired ruffians, certainly paid by someone angry enough to want him dead. “Very well. Your Grace, you idiot! Whose wife did you seduce this time?”

“That’s better. About time you showed proper respect for my title.” He tried to sit up, but he couldn’t and fell back with a gasped oath, struggling for breath as he clutched his side.

Dillie shivered, not only from the wintery chill in the midnight air, but also from her concern that she truly might have shot him. She had been aiming for those awful men. To be precise, aiming a warning blast above their heads to frighten them off. She was sure she’d hit one of the larger branches of the sturdy oak tree standing by the front gate. It now lay splintered on the ground near Ian.

She glanced around. His attackers had run off, frightened but unharmed. So why was Ian still on the ground, fumbling to rise and determined to hide his obvious agony? “Let me help you up.”

He brushed her hand away when she reached out to steady him. “No, I can manage.”

“Are you sure? Because you seem to be doing a spectacularly dismal job of it.” She couldn’t see him very well. The only light available was from the moon’s glow, a full, silver moon that shone brightly against the crisp, starry sky.

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