Home > The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4)(11)

The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4)(11)
Author: Kerrigan Byrne

Trenwyth’s hand curved over the slight swell of her hip exposed by her barely modest posture. He traced a little shape found on the swell of her buttock, a mark she’d had since birth.

“Has anyone ever told you this looks precisely like our island?” he asked, bending down to press delighted lips to the mark.

“No,” she admitted shyly. No one but her mother had ever seen the shape, let alone remarked upon it, but it wouldn’t do to tell him that.

“I do believe I just kissed you somewhere near Cornwall.” His lips moved slightly to the right and north. “And here’s Edinburgh.” He pressed his warm mouth to her again, eliciting delicious shivers of sensation along her skin, raising little needles of gooseflesh.

He crawled up her body, nuzzling at her nose with his before sealing his lips to hers in a rather pleasant, if casual kiss. “How very patriotic of you to carry such a representation upon your person,” he teased with a breathtaking half-grin. “And on such a lovely spot. I commend you on behalf of your queen and country.”

Despite herself—despite everything—shy mirth tugged Imogen’s lips into an answering smile.

That is until he moved her arms from where they shielded her modesty before burrowing his rather tousled head against her breasts and settling his body around her.

Dear Lord. He meant to … sleep with her.

His great body heaved with such a sigh, she didn’t ever think he’d cease exhaling until finally it ended on a sound of—dare she think?—contentment.

“Thank you.” He yawned. His hand settled over her breast, and Imogen tried not to be embarrassed by the way it barely filled his palm, let alone his long fingers. Though he didn’t seem to mind. In fact, his hold there had a rather possessive quality to it.

Or perhaps she only imagined it did.

“You can’t know what you’ve done…” His slur became more pronounced now, as exhaustion settled over his big body. “You’ve turned this nightmare of a day into … something else.”

Moved by his words, she covered his hand on her chest with her own, wondering if he could feel the heart beating right above her breast. “I know we’re not speaking of it,” she ventured. “But I’m very sorry for your loss, all the same.”

He became dreadfully still, and her heart gave an extra thud.

“You know … everyone keeps congratulating me,” he finally said as though he couldn’t believe it. “I’ve lost … nearly every person who ever meant a fucking thing to me, and all anyone can talk about is my good fortune at being the youngest of three and still inheriting the ducal title and all of Trenwyth.”

Imogen couldn’t think of a thing to say to that, mostly because she agreed that the sentiment was deplorable.

“I loved my brother,” he said darkly. “He and Hamish Mackenzie were—are—the closest people in the world to me. And my father … he was so dear, so upright and stalwart and strangely sentimental for a man. I’ll miss him.”

The hollow note creeping into his voice broke her heart. “And your mother?”

“Of course. Of course my mother. We weren’t particularly close, but I loved her. And she loved me, in her own way, I suspect. Though she loved Robert the most, as I caused her no end of trouble as a boy. He was the heir, and I was the spare, as they say.” The caustic sound he made tickled her bare skin. “If she’d—lived, she’d just detest that I’m the duke now.” His laugh contained a suspicious hitch.

“I’m certain she’d be proud of you.” Imogen knew nothing of the sort, but she desperately wanted to lend him some comfort.

He nuzzled in closer, and something warm melted her heart.

“I don’t want to be a duke,” he lamented around a yawn. “I never did.”

“You’re likely the first man to ever say that.”

That sound again. Like a laugh, but not quite.

Imogen contemplated the loss of her own father. A kind man, when he remembered to come home. When he hadn’t left them to gamble and drink away all the money. Leaving them with nothing. “Fathers.” She sighed. “They don’t always leave us the legacy we are prepared for, that’s for certain. The best thing we can do is try to muddle through, I suppose. Try our hardest to make the best of things and not give a fig what anyone else has to say about it. You grieve as long as you like, Collin Talmage, and anyone who has a thing to say can go hang.”

“You are a rare find, Ginny,” he murmured, and nuzzled her breast.

“How’s that?” Imogen found that she rather liked the warm weight of his body chasing the chill of the spring night.

“A genuine person in a world full of deceit.”

Touched, she squeezed his hand and his fingers threaded with hers.

“Is Ginny your real name?” he queried.

“No,” she confessed.

“You’ll have to tell me what it is.” His words were barely intelligible now, and Imogen didn’t have to wait long until a soft snore vibrated against her skin.

“It’s Imogen,” she whispered. A tear slid into her hair as she realized she’d shared the most physical and emotional intimacy she’d ever known with a man who didn’t even know her name. They’d never even been introduced, and likely never would be. “My name is Imogen Pritchard, Your Grace. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

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