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NEVER DESIRE A DUKE
by Lily Dalton

Genre: Regency Period, England, Historical Romance

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“You’ve stained your glove,” he observed quietly, glancing down, then again into her eyes.

She did not breathe. Could not breathe with him standing so near and scrutinizing her with such interest. With his shoulder to the column, he held her gaze with the easy confidence of a roué who feared no rebuff, which only infuriated her because in contrast she had known nothing but his disregard.

“Of course my glove is stained,” she retorted. “It is your fault for startling me.”

Displeasure flickered across his countenance. “For the second time tonight, it seems.”

And yet in the next moment his lips slanted into a boyish half smile, one that sent her heart bounding about inside her chest like a happy hound greeting its master. Her heart had always responded in this manner at the sight of one of Claxton’s smiles. Only she wasn’t a sweet-tempered hound, she was a woman — and she hadn’t forgotten the bitter terms upon which they’d parted.

“The third time, actually,” she bit out. “The first being your unannounced arrival. You’ve been away seven months, Claxton. You ought to have sent word.”

He deftly lifted the glass from her hand and conveyed it to the nearby ledge. “It’s not my intention to be so startling.”

Before she knew what he was about, he’d pinched her fingertips and stolen her dampened glove from her hand. Cool air bathed her bare skin, sending a chill down her spine. While his free hand dispatched the glove into his coat pocket, the other held hers in place with a slight upward curl of his fingertips.

His lips pursed sensually. “As for your ruined glove, it would be my pleasure to escort you to your favorite shop and purchase another pair for you.”

She stared at him in bewilderment. He proposed togetherness? After months of bitterness and separation? She could only stand and stare, and wonder what he was about. Her bare hand appeared small and vulnerable in his much larger one, an unsuspecting bird alighted on a wicked trap. Indeed, with a curl of his knuckles, he secured hers within his and lifted—

“Claxton—” she warned, discomfited by his sudden foray into intimacy.

“Immediately. Posthaste.” He pressed his lips to the tops of her fingers. His gaze unwaveringly held hers. “Perhaps tomorrow morning?”

The warm bliss that was his mouth moved to the underside of her wrist, where he pressed his nose to her skin and inhaled, eyes closed, as if she exuded some intoxicating perfume. A mad, delicious tingling spiraled up from her toes along the back of her thighs.

His gaze captured hers. “If only you will say the word and allow it.”

Say what word? Half-drunk on sensation, she didn’t even recall what they were talking about.