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WHAT THE DUKE DESIRES
by Sabrina Jeffries

Genre: England, Historical Romance

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Lisette Bonnaud didn’t know how long she’d been sleeping when she came awake abruptly, some sound having awakened her. She lay there with her heart in her throat, the covers up to her chin. Until she heard it again. Singing. Male singing.

What the devil?

Sliding from the bed, she went to crack the door open just as a chair fell over in the next room.

“Shh,” said a voice none too quietly, with a slight slur to the words. “Shh, mustn’t wake her.”

Good Lord. It was the duke. And he was drunk. Now that was something she hadn’t expected. She edged into the room just as he stumbled over the chair he’d already knocked over.

“Stop moving!” Max growled at the chair. “I demand that you . . . that you . . .” He paused, as if trying to find his place in the sentence. “I forgot. But whatever it is, stop it.”

“I doubt that the chair will listen,” she said dryly as she walked forward. “Chairs have a tendency to be oblivious to commands, even those given by a duke.”

He whirled to face her and nearly fell over. “You’re awake.”

She hurried to support his swaying form. “Hard to sleep when there’s so much racket.”

Looping his arm about her shoulders, he said in a confiding tone, “I’m foxed.”

“I know.” If she hadn’t already been able to tell from his behavior, she would have noticed from the brandy lacing his breath.

She led him toward the settee. “Why you would get yourself into such a condition the night before you’re going to be tossed about on the Channel, I can’t fathom. But then men are never logical about drinking.”

As he dropped heavily onto the settee, she sat down beside him and started to untie his cravat.

He flashed her an almost boyish smile. “You took off your gown.”

Blushing deeply, she kept her attention on his cravat. “I don’t generally sleep in it, no.” And she’d rushed in here so fast she hadn’t thought to throw on her wrapper over her nightrail either.

“Good thing.” His gaze scoured her, sultry and hot, making her painfully aware of just how thin her nightrail really was. “I like you best in your nightdress.”

Fighting to hide the warmth that his words provoked, she knelt in front of him to take off his boots, something she’d done a time or two with her brothers.

Except this was different. He was different. When her brothers got drunk, they turned into sullen and unmanageable beasts. But Max, who usually wore his air of stiff reserve as a knight wore medieval armor, had now turned into a rumpled, seductive devil.

“You’re so pretty,” he murmured as she struggled with his boots. He ran his hand over her curls, tangling his fingers in them. “Your hair is like . . . it’s like . . . I dunno. Something black and shiny.”

She smothered a smile. Apparently when the duke was jug-bitten, he became somewhat inarticulate. “Like beetles, perhaps?” she joked. “They’re black and shiny.”

“Right, beetles.” He blinked, then scowled. “Not beetles. Don’t be daft.” He’d filled both his hands with her hair and was smoothing it and caressing it. “Something prettier.”

The ineptness of the compliment was oddly endearing, which was ludicrous. How could she countenance a single thing he said right now?

She tossed aside the boot she’d freed, then went to work on the other one. “Well, don’t expect me to provide you with a prettier compliment to give me. I’m too tired.”

“Me, too. You should go to bed. Here, let me help you.” He bent forward to catch her beneath the arms as if to lift her from her kneeling position. Then he paused like that, and before she realized what was happening, he angled his palms in further to cup her breasts.

For a moment, she was too shocked to do anything but gape at him. But then he kneaded them and murmured, “These are pretty, too,” and that galvanized her into action.

“Stop that!” She shoved his hands away. “We had an agreement, you and I!”

He nodded solemnly. “No kisses.” Then a gleam entered his eyes and he reached for her breasts again. “Didn’t say anything about this, though.”

Jumping to her feet, she snapped, “You can take care of your own dratted boots, Your Grace.”

She started to walk away, but before she could escape he dragged her down onto his lap. Even as she tried to wriggle free, he pressed his mouth to her ear and whispered, “Want to know a secret?”

“No,” she muttered as she tried to push herself off of him.

“I like you.”

That halted her. She twisted her head to shoot him a skeptical glance. “Do you? Or is that just the brandy fogging your brain?”

“Nope,” he said, his eyes turning a molten green. “I mean it.”

She frowned at him. Just when she wanted to conk him on the head with his own boot, Lofty Lyons had to come out with something like that.

Although right now he didn’t look a bit lofty. He looked like any man after a long day, with his golden-brown hair mussed, a day’s growth of whiskers dusting his chin, and his cravat hanging loosely about his neck. He looked appealingly ordinary for once.

There was something so intimate about being atop his lap in her nightrail. It made her wonder for the first time what it might be like to sit on a husband’s knee, to have him holding her and looking at her the way Max was looking at her now  . . . with interest and longing and far too much heat. 

Lord help her.

His gaze drifted down her body. “I like you. I do.” Then he filled his hands with her breasts. “And I really like these.”

Thrusting him away, she jumped to her feet and rounded on him to give him a piece of her mind. But he was laughing now, as if possessed by some grand joke. As she narrowed her gaze on him, he hiccupped and keeled over on the settee.

She glared at him, waiting for him to start laughing again. When he not only kept quiet, but kept inordinately still, she started to worry. She nudged his knee with her foot. To her relief, he moved, but only to drag his knees up onto the settee, turn onto his side and . . .

Snore.

Good Lord. He was well and truly passed out.

Men!

She headed for the bedroom, thoroughly disgusted, but then halted at the door. He’d made her comfortable when she was sleeping; she ought to do the same for him, even if his sleep was brandy-induced.

Telling herself she was daft, she turned back to him. He lay completely inert, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. As she grumbled to herself about fools in their cups, she marched over and finished pulling off his boots. He did nothing more than mumble and settle back into sleep. With a roll of her eyes, she found a cushion to slip under his head and managed to unbutton his waistcoat without awakening him.

That wasn’t going to help him much, however. His body was too big for the settee and stuck out over the edges—an elbow here, a stocking foot there. In the morning, he was going to be stiff in every joint after being crammed into that position all night.

Feeling an unreasonable pang of guilt, she covered him with his great coat. It wasn’t her fault that she’d offered him the bed and he hadn’t taken it. And it certainly wasn’t her fault that he’d gotten himself foxed enough to make a fool of himself, tripping over chairs and passing out and saying such ridiculous things as—

I like you.

She snorted. He probably hadn’t meant a word of it—he’d just been softening her up so he could grab her breasts.

Still . . .

“I like you, too, you ill-mannered oaf.” Then, annoyed with herself for even admitting as much, she added, “But if you ever grab my breasts like that again, I swear I will box your ears.”

Then turning on her heel, she marched off to bed.