What the Duke Desires
The Duke’s Men
What the Duke Desires
Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons, accepted long ago that his kidnapped brother was dead. When a cryptic note from investigator Tristan Bonnaud claims otherwise, Max seeks out Tristan’s sister, Lisette—and is infuriated to learn that Tristan has also mysteriously vanished. Have the siblings perpetrated an elaborate hoax? Or is the fiercely protective beauty as innocent as she claims them to be?
Fearful that the powerful duke will destroy Tristan’s career in his zeal for the truth, the clever Lisette convinces Max to accompany her to Paris in a joint search for their loved ones. But their journey takes a seductive twist when they pose as an ordinary husband and wife—not an English duke with a tarnished family name and the illegitimate daughter of a viscount—and discover an exhilarating passion free from the damning secrets of the past. With the line between danger and desire enticingly blurred, they discover that some mysteries, like those of the heart, are answered tenfold in the bliss of a true and trusting love.
When Lisette Bonnaud was awakened just past dawn by a pounding on the door downstairs, she nearly had heart failure. Who could be coming here so early? Oh dear, had something happened to delay Dom’s ship to Edinburgh?
Hastily donning her dressing gown over her nightrail, she hurried into the hall just in time to hear Skrimshaw grumbling to himself as he headed for the door downstairs. He’d scarcely got it open when a male voice snapped, “I demand to see Mr. Dominick Manton.”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” Skrimshaw said, donning his butler role with great aplomb. “Mr. Manton does not see clients at this early hour.”
“I’m not a client. I’m the Duke of Lyons,” the man countered, his tone iced with the sort of frosty anger only the aristocracy could manage. “And he’ll see me if he knows what’s good for him.”
The bold statement sent Lisette rushing forward in a panic.
“Otherwise,” the duke went on, “I will be back with officers of the law to search every inch of this house for him and his—”
“He’s not here,” she said as she flew down the stairs, heedless of how she was dressed. The last thing Manton Investigations needed was an officious duke barging in with a crowd of officers merely because he was up in the boughs over some foolish matter. The gossip alone would ruin them.
But as she reached the bottom of the stairs and caught sight of the man, she skidded to a halt. Because the fellow looming in the doorway beyond Skrimshaw did not look like a duke.
Oh, he wore the clothing of a duke—a top hat of expensive silk, a coat of exquisitely tailored cashmere, and a perfectly tied cravat. But every duke she’d seen depicted in the papers or in satirical prints was gray-haired and stooped.
This duke was neither. Tall and broad-shouldered, he was the most striking fellow she’d ever seen. Not handsome, no. His features were too bold for that—his jaw too sharply chiseled, his eyes too deeply set—and his golden-brown hair was just a touch too straight to be fashionable. But attractive, oh yes. It annoyed her that she noticed just how attractive.
“Dom’s not here,” she said again, inanely.
“Then tell me where he is.”
The expectation that she would just march to his tune raised her hackles. She was used to dealing with his sort—the worst thing she could do was let him bully her into revealing too much. After all, she still didn’t know what this was about. “He’s on a case out of town, Your Grace. That’s all I’m at liberty to say.”
Eyes the color of finest jade sliced down, ripping away whatever flimsy pretensions she might have. In one savage glance he unveiled her age, family connections, and station in life, making her feel all that she was . . . and was not.
Those all-seeing eyes snapped back to her. “And who are you? Manton’s mistress?”
His words, spoken in a tone of studied contempt, had Skrimshaw turning positively scarlet, but before the servant could speak, she touched him on the arm. “I’ll handle this, Skrimshaw.”
Though the older man tensed, he knew her well enough to recognize the tone that presaged an epic set-down. Reluctantly, he stepped back.
She met the duke’s gaze coldly. “How do you know I’m not Manton’s wife?”
“Manton doesn’t have a wife.”
Supercilious oaf. Or, as Maman would have called him … English. He might not look like a duke, but he certainly acted like one. “No, but he does have a sister.”
That seemed to give the duke pause. Then he caught himself and cast her a haughty stare. “Not any that I know of.”
That really sparked her temper. She forgot about his threat to call in officers, forgot about the early hour or what she was wearing. All she could see was another version of her other half-brother George, full of himself and his consequence.
“I see.” She marched forward to thrust her face right up to his. “Well, since you know so much about Mr. Manton already, you obviously don’t need us to tell you when he’s returning or how you can reach him. So good day, Your Grace.”
She started to close the door, but he pushed forward to block the motion. When she lifted her livid gaze, she found him staring at her with the merest hint of respect. “Forgive me, madam, it appears that you and I got off on the wrong foot.”
“No,” she shot back. “You got off on the wrong foot. I merely watched you shove it into your mouth.”
He raised an eyebrow, clearly unused to having people of her inconsequence speak to him in such a fashion. Then he nodded. “A colorful way to put it. And perhaps apt. But I have good reason for my rudeness. If you will allow me in to explain, I promise to behave like a gentleman.”
When she eyed him skeptically, Skrimshaw stepped forward to murmur, “At the very least, miss, you should come away from the open door before someone sees you dressed as . . . well . . .”
It suddenly hit her that she was standing here practically in view of the street wearing only her nightrail and dressing gown. “Yes, of course,” she mumbled and backed away, allowing Lyons to enter.
The duke closed the door behind him. “Thank you, Miss . . . Miss . . .”
“Bonnaud,” she finished for him, then groaned at her rashness.
But before she could even explain that Dom was her half-brother, the duke said in a strained voice, “Ah. You’re that sister.”
The wealth of meaning in his words made heat rise in her cheeks. “The bastard one?” she said tightly.
“The one who’s also a sister to Tristan Bonnaud.” His hard gaze flicked down her again.
Alarm rose in her chest. “You know my other brother?”
“You might say that. He’s the reason I’m here.” His eyes narrowed on her. “I was hoping Manton would reveal where the scoundrel is hiding in London. But I don’t suppose there’s much chance that you will do so.”
A chill coursed down her spine. This wasn’t good at all. If Tristan had been fool enough to come to England even with the price George had placed on his head years ago . . .
No, it was impossible. “You must be mistaken, sir. Tristan hasn’t visited London in years. And if he did, we would be the first to know. But Dom and I have had no word from him.”
He searched her face. “Which only proves me right about his character. I did think it odd that a man of Manton’s sterling reputation would countenance Bonnaud’s actions, but if he was unaware of them—”
“What actions, sir?” she asked, her pulse jumping up a notch with the duke’s every word. “What has my brother done?”
“Forgive me, madam, but I prefer to discuss this with a more disinterested party. Tell me where Manton is, and I will leave you in peace.”
After hinting that Tristan had done some awful thing? Not a chance. “As I said before, I’m not at liberty to do so. But if you’ll reveal what it is you think Tristan has done, I promise to be as impartial a judge of his actions as you have been.”
Behind her, Skrimshaw let out what sounded like a laugh, but it turned into a cough when the duke shot him a withering glance.
“It seems that we have come to an impasse,” the duke told her icily.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “It does appear that way, doesn’t it?”
“I’m not leaving without the information I seek.”
“And I’m not telling you anything without knowing what is going on. So you have two choices, Your Grace. You may speak to me clearly and honestly of your grievance, and I will help you resolve the matter in any way I can. Or you can bed down in our parlor for the next week or so until Dom’s return.”
“A week!” the duke exclaimed.
“As I told you, he is on a case. Sometimes they go on for a while.”
Lyons appeared to be considering that. Then he muttered an oath under his breath. “You realize I could bring half a dozen officers in here to search the place for the information I seek.”
It was her turn to cast him a withering stare. “You could. But you’ll find that such behavior will only make me more recalcitrant. By the time you can return with officers, I will have spirited away any information of use to you. And then you’ll have to toss me in the gaol to get anything out of me.”
He blinked, then surprised her by letting out a harsh laugh. “You make a formidable adversary, Miss Bonnaud.”
“I take that as a compliment,” she said archly.
“Of course you do. Very well, I’ll tell you what I know if you’ll tell me what you know.” He nodded at Skrimshaw. “But only if we can continue this conversation in private.”
Now that she’d won the skirmish, she began to be worried about the battle. If he wanted privacy, Tristan must have done something very bad indeed. “Certainly, Your Grace,” she said shakily, then turned to Skrimshaw. “If you’d be so good as to ask Mrs. Biddle to bring us tea, we shall take it upstairs in the study. I believe this discussion is going to require it.”
“It will require something more than tea, I expect,” Skrimshaw muttered as he took the duke’s hat and coat, then headed for the back of the house.
Lisette began climbing the stairs. “If you’ll follow me, sir, I’m sure we can sort out this muddle.”
The duke fell into step behind her. “I damned well hope so.”
So did she. Because if she couldn’t handle this to the duke’s satisfaction, she had a feeling the result would be disaster for both of her brothers. And she would do just about anything to prevent that.
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“The first of the Duke’s Men series offers fans a totally engaging, adventurous love story, dovetailing with the Hellions of Halstead Hall series and delighting readers with a strong plot, steamy desire and an oh-so wonderful ending.”
—RT Book Reviews, 4½ stars, Top Pick
“This unusual tale of interlocking mysteries is full of all the intriguing characters, brisk plotting, and witty dialogue that Jeffries’s readers have come to expect.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“What the Duke Desires is the first in a new series of books, The Duke’s Men, by Sabrina Jeffries, and I certainly plan to read/listen to the others in the series on the strength of this one. By the end of this prologue I was already impressed by Corrie James’ characterization. The two women and three men were all very clearly defined and there was never any confusion as to who was speaking. George sounded suitably nasty and I really liked the way she voiced Dom, who sounded exactly like the very young man he was. There was a very easy-going quality to his voice that made him immediately endearing, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to listening to his story when it appears.”