Home > The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4)(3)

The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4)(3)
Author: Kerrigan Byrne

That accomplished, she opened her mouth to address them—him—and froze, her mind seizing in panicked fits and groping for her memory. Anyone in service worth the starch in their skirts knew to address the person with the highest rank and work their way down the line. But just what title should she use for Trenwyth? A duke was the highest peer of the realm not in the direct line of the royal family. They were generally addressed as Your Grace. When in uniform, a soldier’s rank often superseded any other title, but Trenwyth’s uniform frock coat was like none she’d ever seen before. The dominant color black, rather than the traditional scarlet, and red only adorned the sleeves and high collar. He had no hat with him to help her to guess. The stitched braiding about his cuffs and shoulders was intricate and fine and utterly foreign to her. He could have been anything from a captain to a colonel and she had no sodding idea which.

“Better ye close yer mouth, love, unless ye’re advertising yer services,” the dark Scot drawled. “In that case, we appreciate yer eagerness, but we’d like to drink first, if it’s all the same to ye.”

Imogen snapped her mouth shut so hard she worried that she’d cracked a tooth as the dozen men surrounding the table guffawed at her expense. A tremor of misery clutched at her, and she chased it away with the brightest smile she could possibly muster and aimed it at Trenwyth. He, at least, wasn’t laughing.

“What—what would you like?” was all she could manage.

“What are you offering?” His question landed in her belly like hot coals tumbling out of the hearth. His mouth didn’t move much when he spoke, his voice barely above a murmur, but the register was of such depth and resonance that it vibrated through her, spearing her chest with the duplicitous meaning.

Again she found herself without words or breath.

“No punch, sherry, brandy, or port at the Bare Kitten,” the Scot answered for her. “Only the best ale brewed this side of the Thames, gin, absinthe, and whisky. A place for a real man, not a gentleman. But what they lack in their variety of alcohol, they more than make up for in their assortment of other vices. Is that not so, lass?” A sharp pinch of her backside brought a gasp and the prick of tears behind her eyes.

Imogen turned and placed her tray in between herself and the Scot, baring her clenched teeth at him in what she hoped del Toro interpreted as a smile. “It is indeed, sir,” she said stiffly, eyeing her astute employer as he glared daggers at her in a warning to behave.

This was turning into a disaster, she could feel it.

“Ye can call me Major Mackenzie, and that’s not just a title, it’s a promise.” He cupped himself lewdly as the table erupted with hilarity. “One that will be verified later when ye are unable to walk.”

Imogen’s breath whooshed out of her in a great gasp when she was abruptly seized around the waist. She lost her feet from beneath her and fell backward, panicking as she was pulled down onto Trenwyth’s knee, landing in a heap he controlled with his immense strength.

This seemed to greatly entertain everyone at the table except, of course, for Major Mackenzie, whose features tightened with mutiny.

Instantly she became rigid, preparing to spring back to her feet and retreat to the safety of the bar. She’d done it before, and used a limp, boneless sort of squirming to avoid the grapple of many a drunkard.

But none as big as this, none so intensely solid and unyielding.

“Don’t. Move.” The hard command froze Imogen in place, and she brought her chin to her shoulder, looking up in slack-jawed astonishment to assess just how much danger she was in from Trenwyth.

His eyes lit with perilous fire, the copper glowing in the forge of his temper, but he didn’t spare her a glance, nor did he speak another word. His unflinching stare captured and held that of Major Mackenzie’s with silent dominance. The air thickened, threatening to smother her in masculine challenge. Muscles tensed beneath her, around her, until she feared if he flexed any further, she might be crushed. Imogen held absolutely still, careful not to draw the notice of these two wolves, lest they rip her in half.

Major Mackenzie was the one to break eye contact, glancing down at the table.

Trenwyth’s arm about her waist relaxed, but he didn’t release her. “I’ll have whisky.”

“A whole case ought to do it,” a young lieutenant with a dark but sparse mustache chuckled. “It’ll at least whet our appetites for other pleasures the night may provide.”

Imogen nodded and hurried to stand, finding herself pulled tighter against the duke. Her legs were braced on either side of his knee, her back ramrod straight, straining to keep her body away from his torso.

“In order for me to fetch your drinks,” she began gently, “you’ll have to let me up.”

After a silent pause, he made a derisive sound from behind her, and the sweet-apple smell of brandy drifted to her from his breath.

He’d already been drinking.

Instead of letting her go, he gestured to del Toro who hovered at a discreet distance and hurried over as fast as his short legs could heft the rest of him.

“We’ll have your finest whisky. As many bottles as it takes.” This elicited hearty delight from his men.

Imogen could see del Toro counting his profits in his head. “We’ve just received a case of Ravencroft’s famous Scotch.”

“Make mine gin,” Major Mackenzie snarled. “I’d rather drink fetid water from the Thames than another drop of Ravencroft Scotch.”

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