Some time after donning a dress which matched
the periwinkle colour of her eyes and topping it with matching
pelisse suitable for calling at Aldridge House, Lady Elizabeth Upton
found herself knocking upon the door of the Duke of Aldridge's fine
house on Berkeley Square. She wondered how many times Charles had
passed through this door during his two and thirty years. Since she
had only come out three years previously, she had never had the
opportunity to pay a call upon the duke, owing to his long absence
The white-haired butler who answered her knock
looked as if he'd been in the employ of the Aldridges for at least
two generations. He quickly offered her a tight smile and spoke
before she had the chance to offer her card. "Please come in. His
grace awaits. If you will just follow me up the stairs."
She supposed with this being the duke's first
day back, he was entertaining callers in the drawing room. She had
not considered that she would not have him all to herself. It would
be difficult to beg him for the significant donation in a room full
of people. Her brother had once said the duke did not like to have
his charities acknowledged, preferring anonymity.
Her gaze lifted to the massive chandelier that
glistened above, then she began to follow the stooped-over butler as
he mounted the stairs, his movements slowed by age. All the way up
the impressive, iron banistered staircase portraits of long-dead
Aldridges stood almost one on top of the other and seemed to be
staring at her.
To her surprise, when they reached the first
floor he did not stop but continued mounting stairs to the next
level. Though her experience with ducal residences was limited, she
was unaccustomed to finding a drawing room so far removed from the
home's entrance. In most of the houses with which she was familiar,
the third level was reserved for bedchambers.
They reached the third level. It was slightly
less formal than the second level, actually looking remarkably like
the third--bedchamber--level at Haverstock House. The butler turned
to the right and shuffled along another corridor until he reached
the first paneled and gilded door. It was closed. He teetered to a
stop and turned to face her with a somber countenance. "You will
find his grace in here." Then he began to retrace his steps.
She drew in a breath, reached for the door
handle, and opened it.
She heard a splashing sound before the door was
fully open. How peculiar. When she had clear view of the room, she
gasped. There in its center, framed by the fireplace behind him, the
Duke of Aldridge was emerging from his bath. His long, glistening,
gloriously formed body was completely naked.
In her entire life Lady Elizabeth Upton had
never seen a naked man in the flesh. Though her first instinct
should have been to run screaming from the chamber, she was frozen
to the spot, unable to remove her gaze from . . . the manly part.
And so much more. From his wide shoulders along his burnished skin
and muscled limbs, the dark-haired duke exuded a masculinity like
nothing she had ever seen.
A flood of memories of her former adoration of
this man many years ago walloped her. She felt the heat climbing
into her cheeks and knew she should flee from the profligate duke.
Yet, like a compulsion to watch a grim sight not suitable for female
sensibilities, she was incapable of turning away.
"You're not Belle!" he said, snatching his
toweling and covering the lower portion of his statue-worthy body.
His voice held a note of incredulity.
No doubt, Belle was a lady of the demimonde.
What a wicked man he was! To think, his first day back in the
kingdom he chose to spend with a woman of that sort.
At the sound of his voice, she realized how
shameless she must appear. And how very improper it was for her to
be there. She came to her senses, let out a full-fledged scream,
turned on her heel, and fled down the stairs.
And came face to face with her brother.
"Haverstock!" she cried.
His brows lowered with concern. "What's the
She tossed her head back in the direction of
the duke's private chamber. "That man! He's thoroughly debauched."
Then she scurried down the stairs. Never again would she come to
this . . . this temple of profligacy.
Aldridge was having the devil of a time trying
to remember where he had seen that chit before. No doubt, she was a
lady of Quality. He'd likely scared the poor thing senseless. There
had obviously been a serious misunderstanding.
As soon as he called for Lawford, Haverstock
came striding into Aldridge's bedchamber. When he saw that Aldridge
was without clothing, his facial expressions thundered. "What in the
hell were you doing with my sister?"
Oh, damn! That's why she looked familiar!
The duke grimaced. "It's not what you think."
Haverstock's gaze raked over him from the top
of his wet head down the full length of his nakedness. "Oh, isn't
it? My god, Aldridge, she's an innocent! How could you?"
By then Aldridge's valet had come striding in
with fresh clothing for his master, and Aldridge began to dress. "It
seems I owe her an apology. I assure you I have no dishonorable
designs on your sister."
Haverstock regarded him thoughtfully for a
long, silent moment. "Then are you saying your intentions toward
Elizabeth are honorable?"
"But of course. What do you take me for?"
"It appears I shall now take you for my