Pleasured by a Duke – Carole Mortimer

“Not again!” Sebastian Falkner, the Duke of Stowmont, snorted his disgust as he threw down the letter he had been reading onto his desktop. “Lysander, is there a notice of some kind attached to the front door of Stowmont House in which I invite all motherless waifs and strays to enter?” “Not that I’m aware of, Your Grace.” Sebastian frowned across his study at the man seated at the smaller desk on the other side of the room. “Lysander, have I not told you, repeatedly, to call me Sebastian when we are not in the company of others?” “Many times, Your Grace.” “Then bloody well do so in future.” The duke scowled. “You’re my brother, not my lackey!” “Half brother, Your Grace, born to our widowed mother out of wedlock,” the younger man corrected. “I am also your secretary, and you are well aware the reason I prefer not to use the familiarity of your given name when we are alone is because I might then inadvertently do so when we are not.” “So?” “So it will not do for Society to know of the existence of your bastard half brother, Your Grace.” Sebastian had become heartily sick of hearing what “would not do” in Society since he had inherited the title of Duke of Stowmont a year ago. Previous to that, he had been plain Mr. Sebastian Falkner, only son of the third son of the brother of the Duke of Stowmont, and able to live his life in whatever way he chose. Whoever would have guessed that all the male heirs to that title would have perished, one way or another, by the time the old duke died and left Sebastian as the unexpected heir? Certainly not Sebastian. Nor had he welcomed this change in his circumstances. Oh, he had no problem with the fortune now at his disposal, but he could have happily done without the rest of the pomp and ceremony now expected of him as duke.

From the very beginning, Sebastian had found the easiest way to deal with the attention which had suddenly come his way was to effect a mantle of haughty superiority. Which, luckily, no one in Society questioned and all respected, and which had earned him the reputation of being somewhat contemptuous of that Society, as well as arrogant in the extreme. A reputation Sebastian was more than happy to foster if it meant, for the main part, Society left him alone. He also doubted very much that anyone looking at him and Lysander would ever make the familial connection. Admittedly, they were both a couple of inches over six feet tall and of muscular build. But Lysander’s hair was the color of spun gold and his eyes a clear Aegean blue, much like their mother’s. Sebastian took after his father, his fashionably styled hair black as night, and his eyes of a similar hue. Devil’s eyes, some people called them. Sebastian made no effort to disprove that belief either. Nor did he give a damn what Society thought.

Lysander was his brother, and that was an end to it as far as Sebastian was concerned. He made no distinction between legitimacy and illegitimacy, Lysander was the one who preferred not to make their relationship public. “What appears to be the problem with your letter, Your Grace?” Lysander had risen to stand in front of Sebastian’s desk. He eyed the missive he had thrown down on his desktop as if it were a serpent about to strike. “Some obscure female relative appears to have named me as guardian to her young son.” “Again?” Lysander arched surprised brows. “Again.” He sighed. He had only recently rid himself of the responsibility of his previous ward, Miss Darcy Ambridge, by marrying her off a month ago to the Scottish gentleman with whom she had fallen in love. Under the circumstances, Sebastian was not amused at being informed by some lawyer he had never heard of before today that he was now expected to take on the care of a seven-year-old boy.

“How so?” “It is this bloody title.” Sebastian scowled. “No one paid me the least heed until I became duke. Now every motherless child in England is being foisted upon me!” “Hardly that, Seb,” Lysander mused. “And you seriously underestimate the attention paid to you when you were without the title. By the female of the species, at least.” His brother leaned a hip against the imposing desk as he picked up the letter and scanned the contents. “Who is this Mrs. Mary Chelford to whom the lawyer refers?” “One of Mama’s many female cousins several times removed, and married to a naval officer, I gather. Mama has so many relatives, it is impossible to make heads or tails which one it is.

” He waved a dismissive hand. “Bit short notice.” Lysander continued to read the letter. “This lawyer says the boy should already be on his way here from Portsmouth.” “Accompanied by his stepsister. I am heartened to see I am providing amusement for someone!” He snorted his disgust as his brother attempted to hold back a smile. Lysander lost the battle, now openly laughing as he placed the letter back on the desk and momentarily shed that stiff-lipped attitude he irritatingly chose to adopt as Sebastian’s secretary. “God, Seb, whoever would have thought you would become guardian first to a beauty like Darcy, and now to an impressionable seven-year-old boy!” Sebastian perfectly understood his brother’s amusement at his expense. Aged five and thirty, Sebastian privately lived the life of a bachelor, both in bed and out of it. He liked to dine and gamble at his club in the evenings, followed by a visit to one of the houses of the demimonde to relieve his sexual needs.

He had never contemplated taking a permanent mistress, preferring variety in his women rather than the boredom of bedding the same one. His guardianship of Miss Darcy Ambridge had succeeded in curtailing those activities for several months, and now it seemed his nocturnal activities were almost immediately to be interfered with by taking on the guardianship of a seven-year-old boy. The mention of the stepsister sounded slightly ominous too. No doubt she was some giddy-headed young miss the deceased Mrs. Chelford had not considered mature or sensible enough to care for her young stepbrother. Sebastian intended sending the stepsister on her way at the earliest opportunity, had no intention of being made responsible for her too. “I believe I heard a carriage drawing up outside a few minutes ago, so perhaps it is your new ward arrived already?” Lysander teased. “Do not joke about such things.” Sebastian scowled his displeasure as he reached forward to remove one of the strong-smelling cigars he favored from the box on his desk. He clipped the end before standing to select and then light a taper from the fire blazing in the hearth.

He lit his cigar and then resumed his seat behind the desk. “Better.” He sighed his satisfaction as he was very quickly surrounded by the flavorsome smoke. “I trust that disgusting habit is not something you intend to continue whilst Martin is in residence?” Sebastian drew in a startled breath at the sound of that unexpected and disapproving female voice, and instantly began to choke and cough on the acrid smoke he had drawn far too quickly into his lungs. Chapter 2 Tia waited until the blond-haired gentleman had given the dark-haired one a hearty thump on the back, restoring some semblance of order to the other man’s breathing, before she spoke again. “I presume one of you two gentlemen is His Grace, the Duke of Stowmont?” “And who the devil are you, madam?” To her dismay, it was the dark-haired gentleman who answered her. He snuffed out the cigar in a receptacle on his desk, instantly drawing her attention to his lean and elegant hands. She had always thought a gentleman’s hands told one a lot about the man himself. Her father’s hands had been square and solid, in keeping with his position as captain of a ship in His Majesty’s Navy. The Duke of Stowmont’s long, graceful hands said he had never worked a day in his life.

Outside of the bedchamber, at least. What on earth…? Tia was slightly taken aback at the direction in which her thoughts had wandered. It was not her custom to look at a gentleman and immediately assess his prowess in the bedchamber. And yet something about the devilishly handsome gentleman seated behind the desk had now caused her to do so… “And what do you mean by just walking in here without a by your leave?” The man who had identified himself as the duke gave his butler a censorious glance as the elderly man stood outside in the hallway behind Tia and Martin. “My name is Horatia Chelford.” She made a formal curtsey. “This is my brother, Martin. We are your new wards, Your Grace.” She kept her gaze lowered, not out of modesty, but because she did not wish the duke to see any evidence of falsehood in her eyes. She had been heartbroken when her dear stepmother had been set upon by cutpurses in Portsmouth a month ago while on her way back from attending the funeral of an elderly friend of theirs.

Mary had received a blow to her head which had proved fatal. Tia had been in such a state of shock at the time, it had taken her several days to feel in the least grateful she and Martin had not also been in attendance. She and Mary had discussed the matter and decided Martin did not need to be subjected to such a sad occasion, and that Tia should remain at home with him. So far, the authorities had proved ineffectual in finding the men responsible for killing Mary. Nor had they ascertained who had broken into the cottage whilst Tia and Martin were attending Mary’s funeral a week later. Not that there was anything of value there to be stolen. But it had seemed like the final blow when they returned to the cottage with Mary’s lawyer for the reading of the will and found their own and Mary’s belongings ripped and strewn about, and the furniture overturned or broken. It was not the final blow Tia was to suffer that day. Mary’s death had been so unexpected, so shocking, it was not until the lawyer read Mary’s will that Tia realized she had absolutely no familial right to keep Martin. Martin had been merely a baby when Tia’s father married Mary Foster six years ago, the young widow of one of his fellow officers in His Majesty’s Navy.

At the time, Tia had been a rather outspoken miss of fourteen summers, and instantly laid claim to the baby boy as her brother. She had duly treated Martin as such ever since. When her own father died three years ago in yet another sea battle, there had never been any question that Tia would remain with Mary and Martin. They were a family. Except, legally, they were not. A fact brought home to Tia when she had questioned the lawyer as to why Martin must go to the home of the Duke of Stowmont, who had proved to be Mary’s closest male relative, rather than allowing Tia to take on the guardianship of Martin herself. Not only had that gentleman informed her she was far too young to be given such a responsibility, but he had also gently reminded her she was not legally related to Martin. He had added that once she had duly delivered Martin to his new guardian, she would have to make her own way in the world. He had gone further and suggested that might be done by finding herself a husband and having babies of her own. She blushed even now to think of what her acerbic reply had been to that advice.

One had only to look at her, with her unremarkable mousy hair, blue eyes, pale complexion, and unfashionably slender figure, to know that finding herself a husband would not be the easiest of tasks. If she had wanted one. Which she did not. She’d had her chance at love and marriage once, and it had been snatched away from her by the death of her betrothed at Waterloo. Nowadays, Tia much preferred to lose herself in the pages of a good book rather than have to curtail her own wishes in deference to some boorish gentleman she could not love and who did not love her. One of the four trunks, packed with everything that she and Martin owned in the world and currently being brought in from the carriage they had taken from the public coach depot, contained her extensive collection of books. She had come up with a plan once the lawyer had left her that day, and decided to try to brazen it out when she met the Duke of Stowmont. She would inform him that he was to become her guardian as well as Martin’s and hope he would accept the statement as truth. Except she had not expected that gentleman to be quite so young—the duke could be no more than five and thirty. Or quite so handsome—his profile resembled those depicted in the pictures she had seen in books of Roman coins.

Or quite so tall and muscular, she acknowledged, as he now stood from behind the desk and instantly towered over her own slender five feet and two inches, in his fashionable blue superfine, close-fitting pantaloons, and highly polished black Hessians. The look in those cold, black eyes was not in the least reassuring either as he looked down the haughty length of his nose at her. Why, oh why could the duke not have been the blond-haired gentleman, with the less harsh face and teasing blue eyes? “Correct me if I am wrong”—the duke’s voice was coolly condescending, implying she would be wise not to even think of correcting him—“but I believe my guardianship is of Master Martin Foster and no one else?” Tia went hot and then cold at the knowledge the whole of her future rested on this conversation. That this duke had the power to separate her from Martin forever, if he so chose. She would not be parted from Martin. She could not. He was all the family she had left in the world, and she loved him dearly. In which case, she had better start tempering her usual brisk and determined nature into one of compliance and sweetness. She had fully intended to do so, until she found herself totally disconcerted by being confronted with such a strikingly handsome gentleman as this cold and haughty duke. She moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue before forcing herself to smile pleasantly.

“I am sure that Mary—my stepmother—would have wished for me to accompany Martin to his new home.” “Accompany, perhaps, but not for you to continue to stay once your charge had been delivered,” the duke replied in clipped tones. “Is Martin’s nursemaid waiting outside?” “He does not have a nursemaid.” “Your own maid, then?” “I have never had the luxury of a maid, Your Grace.” “Why not?” Her brows rose. “Perhaps because a nursemaid for Martin and a maid for either myself or my stepmother was an unnecessary expense we could ill afford on a sailor’s pension.” As it was, they had only had enough money to pay for the meager lodgings she and Martin had moved into after everything was destroyed in the cottage, and the public transport which had brought them both here today. The duke’s scowl deepened. “Does that mean you traveled here unescorted?” “With Martin.” She nodded, sensing something brewing inside the duke and threatening to burst or lash out at any second.

“I think this is a good moment for Martin and me to go and organize some tea and leave the two of you to continue your conversation in private,” the blond-haired gentleman suggested brightly, no doubt having also sensed the duke’s increasing impatience. He did not wait for acknowledgment of his suggestion as he turned Martin around and marched the boy ahead of him out into the hallway before closing the door softly behind him. Leaving Tia feeling very much alone with the man who held not only Martin’s future in the palm of his arrogant hand, but also her own. “It is completely unacceptable that you, a young, unmarried woman, should have traveled all that way with only a child for company.” The duke voiced his disapproval. “I can think of no other way in which Martin and I might have arrived here.” “Perhaps a letter informing me of your circumstances might have been in order, at which time I might have organized a coach to be sent to collect Martin.” Perhaps, but Tia had not wanted to give the duke the opportunity to prevent her from accompanying her brother. “It is done now. No point in crying over spilt milk, as my stepmother used to say,” she dismissed with a lightness she did not feel.

How could she when there was still the possibility the duke might not allow her to stay, even temporarily? Sebastian did not feel the same lightness of mood Horatia Chelford currently displayed. Indeed, he felt completely out of sorts, from both the untimely arrival of this young woman and her charge and the manner in which she had done so. He also felt more than a little irritated for having been placed in this position when he was ill-prepared for it. Which had, perhaps, been the lawyer’s intention with the late delivery of his letter. Far better, that gentleman might have thought, to present the duke with a fate accompli than spend weeks or months arguing the details. Even so, the lawyer’s letter clearly stated that it was Martin Foster who was Sebastian’s ward, and Miss Horatia Chelford merely the stepsister who was to deliver the boy to Stowmont House. Much as he might sympathize with the stepsister’s feelings in the matter, Sebastian had no wish to house the sharp-tongued Miss Horatia Chelford too. Nor to, perhaps, hire that maid for her or even escort her about in Society next Season in the hopes of finding her a husband, as had happened with Darcy Ambridge. He shuddered at the very thought of it. Martin Foster’s stepsister was not at all the giddy-headed young ninny he had thought she would be… She was aged perhaps nineteen or twenty, her nondescript hair pulled back in an unfashionable bun.

Dark blue eyes dominated an otherwise unremarkable face: pale cheeks, small nose, a deceptively sweet mouth, and a pointed chin that perhaps showed a little too much stubborn determination for any man’s comfort. Even bundled up beneath a warming cloak, her body was clearly devoid of the soft curves currently the fashion, and the black mourning gown she wore buttoned up to her throat gave her skin an almost sallow appearance. Miss Horatia Chelford was decidedly not an example of what he, or any other gentleman in Society, would consider a desirable female. In which case, marrying her off could prove decidedly difficult. So it was just as well Sebastian had no intention of even considering undertaking such an onerous task. Yet, at the same time, Sebastian appreciated, perhaps better than most, the familial love one felt for a half or stepsibling one has watched grow to adulthood. In his case, Lysander, in Horatia Chelford’s, her stepbrother, Martin. Good God, Horatia really was a horrendous mouthful of a name, and one that should never have been applied to a female. He doubted the admiral would have appreciated the sentiment either. No, Sebastian was not unsympathetic to Miss Chelford’s dilemma.

He simply had no answer to it which did not involve inconvenience to himself. Something he refused to countenance. “Perhaps I might be allowed to stay with Martin until after the Christmas holiday, at least?” she ventured timidly. The Christmas holiday was still almost six weeks away! Nor was Sebastian wholly convinced by the sincerity of that timid tone, the demur lowering of Miss Chelford’s long lashes, or the sweetness of her expression, when the first words out of her mouth upon her arrival had been to chastise him for smoking one of the cigars he favored. And yet allowing Miss Chelford temporary accommodation could prove useful when he was so totally unprepared for the arrival of his young ward. Yes, a few more weeks would give him time to find a suitable tutor as well as a nursemaid for the boy. Perhaps he might allow Horatia Chelford until after the Christmas holiday to find suitable accommodation or employment for herself. “Do not think I am unaware of the smirk currently upon your face, Lysander.” “I never smirk, Your Grace.” His brother met his gaze with innocent blue eyes.

The two gentlemen were enjoying a brandy together in the study before Sebastian went out to a dinner engagement. The smoke-filled study, Sebastian noted with satisfaction as he leaned back in his chair and placed his booted feet up on the edge of his desk before drawing happily on his cigar. “You are most definitely smirking,” he assured Lysander. “But as I have already explained to you, the girl will be gone immediately after Christmas.” “She’s hardly a girl, Seb.” He raised surprised brows. “Do not tell me you find her in the least attractive.” His brother shrugged. “Miss Chelford has a certain…presence.” Sebastian snorted.

“She is a plain and bossy young miss!” “Her hair is thick and shiny and of a rich brown, and would no doubt be quite beautiful if it were styled differently,” Lysander insisted. “There is an intelligence in her eyes. They are also an unusual indigo color, and surrounded by thick lashes.” Sebastian grimaced. “She also has no tits to speak of, her waist is too thin, and her hips are far too narrow. No doubt her virginal pussy is equally as tight.” He gave a snort. “I doubt it would be able to accommodate a cock with a girth any wider than a quill.” “I wondered if you would care to come upstairs and say good night to Martin, Your Grace, now that he has been bathed and fed.” Sebastian choked on his cigar for the second time today, eyes watering as he turned to look at Horatia standing in the now open doorway of his study.

Bloody female had caught him unawares again, and this time, he really was seriously at fault for having talked about her with such intimate crudeness. That Sebastian felt irritated and put upon by the arrival of his ward and his stepsister was really no excuse for the insulting remarks she had just overheard him make.

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