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The Regimental Heroes Anthology

By´╝ÜJennifer Conner

The Duke and the Lost Night

Amelia raised and lowered her hand three times before she finally rapped her knuckles on the heavy wood door. She’d known Spencer since they were children, but tonight was different. She hadn’t seen him in almost a year, but she was going to have to take advantage of their friendship. There was nothing he could do about it.

There was one thing he could do, he could say no.

He liked to spend time in his smaller guest house by himself. Spencer grew up in a life of luxury, but that didn’t mean he particularly liked servants. Unlike most dukes, she knew he preferred to live without people constantly under foot.

She knew that he was inside, she saw him walk by the window. Why was he taking so interminably long to answer the door? She raised her hand to knock again, irritation replacing nerves.

She almost stumbled forward as the door swung open.

 “Amelia?” Surprise washed over Spencer’s face. He looked back in the room at the clock above the fireplace. “It’s halfpast one. What in God’s name are you doing out at this hour?” He drew the suspenders over his shoulder, but he was still partially undressed.

 “I need to talk to you.” Her nerves were frayed. She fought to keep the tremor from her voice.

 “How did you know I was out here?”

“You’ve told me a hundred times you come here to spend your evenings.”

“Maybe I have.” He eyed her dubiously. “Are you alone? Where’s your handmaid?”

 “I waited until she was sleep. I had to see you.” She chewed her lip. He was probably thinking of all the reasons it was wrong to let a single young woman into his house. At this hour, he was right on all counts.

 “Come in. Come in,” he finally said and stepped to the side to allow her to enter.

Amelia shivered against the stark contrast in temperature. “It’s freezing outside,” she exclaimed and rubbed her hands briskly together.

Spencer took her hands and led her to the fire. “And I am sure if I comment on the fact that you are not wearing a coat, I will most undoubtedly be hit.”

 “When have I ever hit you?” she asked. He always made her smile.

“When we were twelve. I put a frog down your dress. You hit me right in the middle of church services.”

She remembered now. “Mother told me I was going to go to hell for acting out with such an act of violence in church.”

 “I think we would have to ask God about those rules. I think if he had a frog put in his clothes, he would misbehave too. I did do some horrid things to you when we were young.”

 “I always assumed you did those things because you liked me. All these months you’ve been gone, I’ve missed you.” His military jacket was hung to dry by the fire. Amelia traced the medals on the lapel. “You were sent to Turkey, did you fight?”

 “Yes, I was a part of the 17th Lancers.”

“What was it like?”

“Nothing I can repeat to a lady.” He looked away, his eyes dark. “We fought in a land we did not know, against enemies we did not understand. It was a war. It was duty. It was not a choice.”

“You have been back for weeks, but you have not come to see me once since your return.”

“What was there to say? Much has changed since I left.” He walked over to a large side bar and poured two glasses of brandy. When he handed her one of the snifters, his hand lingered against hers. “You fingers are like ice. Drink this, it will help.”

“What on earth would my mother say?”

 “You are in a single man’s house at one o’clock in the morning. I would say a drink of brandy is the least scandalous thing your mother would think.”

“I forgot. My mother told me I am already going to hell.”

Spencer swirled the amber liquid in the snifter. “No, my dear Amelia, you are the sweetest woman I know.”

             She fought to keep her emotions at bay, but felt collapse quickly overcoming her.

“I’m sorry.” He looked baffled. “What did I say? I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Can’t you see? That’s the problem. I don’t want to be a nice girl. I’m always doing what everyone else wants and now it has gotten me into this mess!” She wiped a tear with the back of her hand.

 “Please, don’t cry.” Frustration was clear on his face. “I can’t think when you cry.” He meant his words.

She took a step and closed the gap between them. She needed him. Damn propriety! As she laid her head against his chest, his body shifted into her touch. There had always been a secret attraction she could never dare admit to.