Pelham dumped the pelisse he still had strewn over one
arm into the marchioness's hands and marched through the
ballroom until he reached the hall. A footman in the
prince's livery bowed to him, and Pelham demanded, "Have
you seen the duchess?"
"Which duchess, Your Grace?"
Pelham clenched his fists impatiently. "The one they
call Duchess," he ground out. "The courtesan."
"Ah." The footman smiled. "The Duchess of Dalliance."
Was that her sobriquet? Devil take her.
"Yes, Your Grace. She just took her leave."
Pelham was already striding for the doors. "Did she call
for her carriage?" he called over his shoulder.
"I don't believe so, Your Grace. She arrived in the
Pelham stopped. "Which countess?"
"The Countess of Charm."
Of course. Pelham stepped under the portico of Carlton
House and ordered a groom to fetch his coach. "And be quick
about it," he demanded. "If you can't be quick, bring me
one of my horses."
Pelham paced while he waited, grunting out greetings to
the ball's late arrivals. The duchess couldn't have gotten
far on foot. He could easily catch her, if the damn groom
didn't observe all the niceties of Society and allow every
other carriage to go ahead of him. He would catch the
courtesan and teach her to manipulate him as though he were
one of the fools fawning over her.
Just as he was about to start off on foot, his coach
thundered onto the drive. His coachman reined the horses in
but at Pelham's gesture only held them long enough for the
duke to jump in. "Drive to the gates. Slowly. I'm looking
for a woman on foot."
"Yes, Your Grace!"
They reached Pall Mall without spotting her, and Pelham
was about to instruct the groom to head for the park when
he noticed members of the crowd outside the gates of
Carlton House craning their necks to stare along the
street. Pelham followed the direction of their gazes and
saw a figure in shimmering silver.
"Found you." He stuck his head out the window. "Fetch
her." He ordered his footman and pointed at the duchess.
"Your Grace?" The footman looked horrified and
understandably so. It was not every day his employer asked
him to kidnap a woman off the street.
"Never mind." Pelham shoved the door open, not even
waiting for the coachman to fully stop the carriage. He
jumped out, landed easily, and went after her. The crowds
outside Carlton House didn't part quite as easily as those
inside the ballroom, and he had to shoulder his way through.
Until he was recognized.
"It's the Duke of Pelham!" someone shouted.
"The Dangerous Duke!"
And then everyone moved aside, and he had a clear shot
at the duchess.
And an audience.
Several long strides later, he reached her. He grasped
the flesh of her arm between her glove and the sleeve of
her gown and released her just as quickly. Her skin was
amazingly soft—a fact he wished he could erase from
his mind. And where were his bloody gloves? He'd misplaced
them somewhere, another indication the night was going to
"You!" The duchess was staring at him. "Did you follow
"You tell me my fiancĂ©e has been—" He lowered his
voice. "—murdered, and don't expect me to follow you?"
She shook her head. "I don't have time to discuss this.
If he sees me, if he catches me..." She began walking away.
Pelham grasped her arm again and hissed. Devil take it
if he didn't touch that velvet skin again. But he didn't
release her this time. Only because he didn't want her to
get away. Not because he enjoyed touching that silky skin.
And oh, what an accomplished liar he was becoming.
"You're coming with me," he told her. "I don't know
what's frightening you, but you can explain in my coach."
"I'm not..." But she looked over her shoulder and seemed
to reconsider. "Very well. You do realize, Your
Grace—" Somehow she made the title sound like an
epithet. "—that your actions tonight only confirm the
rumors about us and incite new ones."
Reluctantly, Pelham looked over his own shoulder. A
crowd of onlookers was watching them, most of them
murmuring and whispering behind their hands. He scowled at
them, and several scurried away. Others took a step back.
"I'll squash any further rumors," Pelham said between
"Wonderful," she muttered.
He signaled to his coachman, and his carriage was beside
them in mere moments. A footman opened the door and handed
the duchess up. He was right beside her. Once inside he
closed the curtains and instructed his coachman to wait.
He turned his attention to the woman across from him and
tried not to stare. The color was high in her cheeks, and
her eyes were bright. He did not think it possible, but she
was even lovelier than when he'd first seen her tonight.
His gaze—completely of its own
accord—flicked to her mouth. She'd rouged it because
it was far too perfectly red to be natural. It reminded him
of some exotic fruit, and he desperately wanted to sample
it. One kiss...
He tightened his hands on his knees. What was wrong with
him? He couldn't kiss her. She wasn't an acceptable kissing
partner in the least. She was a courtesan—a whore.
She seduced men for money, and he was falling under her
She narrowed her icy blue eyes at him. "Why are you
looking at me like that?"
He blinked. "I..." He couldn't think of an answer.