“You will sleep in my chamber tonight.”
Theo was persuaded that she must have misunderstood entirely. “I do beg your pardon, Your Grace. Surely you will not occupy the same space…or the same bed?”
The darkening of his eyes sent another ripple of shock through Theo, for within their depths, she spied a flash of desire. “I do not believe my nerves can endure any more surprises,” she cried.
His lashes lowered, and when those eyes met her again, all traces of want vanished. Had she imagined it?
“Must I truly repeat myself again, Lady Winfern?”
She choked on her gasp of outrage. “Your Grace! I will most certainly not sleep in your private chamber. I will not slink away in the night if that is your fear.”
“It is exactly that, my lady.”
Her heart pounded, and her breathing turned rapid. “I suspect you are trying to shock my sensibilities as some sort of punishment for what you imagined I did.”
“Never that,” he said drily. “We can end this charade now if you tell me exactly how you helped my sister to leave town. Or is she still in town? Is she at a private home of yours?”
Theo scoffed. “You’re goading me with your outrageous suggestions will not prompt me to give you a different answer.”
And she did understand how alarmingly suspicious it appeared. With a huff, she whirled around and started to march away. If he dared to think she would spend a minute in his chamber, he was sorely mistaken. The scoundrel! He was taking his gamble too far. Theo stopped at the door a few paces down and tested the handle. It opened into a room that gave the impression of largeness and open space. Without any fire lit in the hearth or gas lamp, she could not decipher if it was a guest bedroom. Before she could step inside, someone lifted her from behind.
She wriggled like a fish on a hook, but the duke only tightened his arms about her. Theo growled low in her throat, and a sound suspiciously like a chuckle emitted from the man.
“Set me down this instance, or you will face my wrath and let me assure you it is formidable.”
His steps faltered for a moment, and she glared up at him. The duke was not deterred, and soon they were in his room, the door slamming behind them. He deposited Theo on her feet, but she was already jumping from his embrace. She gaped at him when he locked the door and pocketed the key.
Narrowing her eyes, she strolled toward him. “You underestimate me, Your Grace.”
An arrogant brow lifted. “A lesser woman would have surely descended into throes of nervous spasms or swooning fits by now, so I suspect I might truly find myself in a position to worry about your formidable wrath; however, you will stay in this room where I can keep a watchful—”
Moving with speed, she hooked her feet at his ankle and deftly twisted. The duke went down, twisting with agility to break his fall. He too was trained in the art of fighting, and unexpectedly the knowledge thrilled Theo. Before she could dance back from his reach, he grabbed one of her knees and tugged. “Your Grace,” she cried as her feet vanished from beneath her.
The brute! She braced for the impact, except she didn’t slam into the ground as she had expected, but onto a very solid and muscular chest as they rolled to a stop on the carpet. Theo’s face was pressed into the curve of his throat, one of her legs draped across his thighs, the other thankfully on the floor. She was maddeningly conscious of her body on top of his; she could feel the press of his length…and muscles against her softness. The breadth of his shoulders seemed to surround her. The duke hadn’t seemed so overpoweringly male or muscular a few minutes ago. An odd feeling of awareness and vulnerability cascaded over her senses, and she curled her fingers into the carpet by his head.
Theo swallowed, alarmingly savoring the feeling of being surrounded by him. Her heart felt as if it had stopped. This is reckless madness. The thought beat restlessly at her, yet she did not want to push away from it. With a sense of astonishment, she wondered if this was what desire felt like. This hot weak feeling low in her belly, the odd flutter in her heart, and the surge of hunger, as if she smelled Mrs. Gooden making ice-cream using one of Frederick Nutt’s delightful recipes. She wanted to lick the duke. Theo almost dissolved into a giggle at the very improper and unexpected thought.
“Are you hurt?” he gruffly asked.
Theo’s heart started beating again, if unevenly. She pressed a palm against his chest and pushed herself up, only to freeze. The intensity with which the duke stared at her made Theo’s body felt flushed and unfamiliar. “I…I am not hurt, Your Grace.”
“Perhaps it is time you call me, Seb…or Sebastian should you prefer it.”
It was unbearably tempting to press her nose into the crook of his neck and inhale his rich masculine scent. “You may continue calling me, Lady Winfern,” she muttered crossly, annoyed that his nearness wreaked havoc on her senses.
His eyes widened before crinkling at the corner. The duke chuckled, the rich and very warm sound rolling through her and filling low in her belly with strange fluttering. The duke’s eyes lost their cold and rather arrogant expression. Now they were heated with humor…and desire. That desire hooked something low in her belly and sharply pulled. He seemed aware of her fear, of her hot, flushed skin and acutely sensitive nerves. Unexpectedly, he lifted a hand to her forehead, where he tenderly brushed aside a few curled tendrils.