Kidnapping the Duke

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Felicity Beinfait has a problem. With no money to pay for her finishing school graduation, no dowry to attract a suitor and a tarnished lineage, it seems she will land in the gutters of London. Unwilling to face defeat she comes up with a plan to avenge her father and restore her family name. She can’t seem to do anything right until she kidnaps the wrong brother and quickly finds herself unprepared for the task of holding one handsome, witty and unusual Duke hostage. Lord William Carnduff has spent his life keeping his younger wastrel of a brother from ending up destitute and has little time for fancy balls and simpering ladies. He much prefers the quiet solitude of the family hunting lodge. His plans don’t include a wife, until she smacks him over the head with a skillet. Can a self-proclaimed chef and an admitted klutz mix up a batch of love, or will someone get burned before it is all done?

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Publié par
Date de parution 10 septembre 2015
Nombre de visites sur la page 1
EAN13 9781771454452
Langue English

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Kidnapping the Duke By Killarney Sheffield
Digital ISBNs EPUB 9781771454452 Kindle 9781771457408 Web/PDF 9781771457415 Print ISBN 9781771457392 Copyright 2015 by Killarney Sheffield Cover art by Michelle Lee All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights un der copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any mean s (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this boo k.
Prologue The Davenshire Countryside, England, 1818 Eight year old Felicity trembled at the thunder of hooves bearing down upon her father as he carried her. “Papa, put me down.” He kept running, ignoring her pleas. “Got to get yo u safe. Got to hide you before he comes.” “Before who comes, Papa? Who?” She looked over his shoulder expecting to see a man, or devil, or whatever manner of evil frighteni ng him. Nothing was there, only the rumble of pounding hooves growing ever closer. “Who is coming, Papa?” “The duke comes. He comes atop his damned black sta llion.” Her father faltered and then stumbled. She wrapped her arms tighter abo ut his neck, afraid he would drop her in his panic. He steadied himself and ran faster. Without warning he skidded to a stop beside an outcropping of rocks and gnarled old oak trees. Dro pping to his knees, he pried her arms from around his neck. “Hide Felicity, hide!” H e shoved her into a narrow crevasse between the two biggest rocks. “Be still now so the y do not find you.” His shaking hand rested on her head a moment. “Never forget I love y ou.” Scrambling to his feet, he wiped away a tear trickling unbidden down her cheek . “Go to your Aunt Victoria when it is all over. She will look after you in my stead.” He turned away and she clutched his fine wool jacke t. “Papa, do not go! Do not leave me!” “I must, Poppet.” He looked over his shoulder, prie d loose her fingers and bolted. They came like the waves she remembered when Papa t ook her to the seashore after mama died. Man after man on strong brown, bla ck, and gray horses. She shrank back into her hiding place in fear. Would they harm her if they found her? What had she done? What had Papa done to make them angry? Papa w as a good man. He loved her. He couldn’t do anything bad…. The horses slowed, trampling, snorting, and churnin g up the dirt beyond her hiding place. Would they hurt her? She began to cry, soft whimpers they did not hear over their own shouts and the commotion of the animals. She pe ered out of the crack to see better what was happening in the clearing. Horses, lathered, sweaty, and prancing, circled her father, and he spun to keep them all in sight, his hands raised in surrender. “ I did not do it! Please, listen! She was dead when I found her!” A large man on the biggest, blackest horse she had ever seen kicked out a booted foot catching her father in the chest and toppling him backward into the dirt. “Liar! How long did you think to keep your affair secret, Bein fait?” Her father scrambled to his feet. “I admit the affa ir, but I did not kill her, I swear I did not!” “Tell that to your Maker, you French swine!”
Two men jumped from their mounts and tied her fathe r's hands behind his back while two more flung a rope over a nearby tree bran ch. What were they going to do to her papa? She must st op them from taking him away from her. A loop was fashioned in the rope strung in the tree and forced over her father’s head to lie about his neck. No! They are going to h urt my papa! Screaming like a banshee from the tales her nursemaid used to tell, she bolted from her hiding place. The men turned to stare as she ran screeching into their midst, spooking their already flighty mounts. A man leaned down and scooped her u p onto his horse. She fought, kicking and screaming until she was too tired to mo ve. Pinned between the strong arm and the wide chest of her captor, she was helpless to do anything but watch and cry. The distraction contained, two men forced her papa onto a horse and backed it under the limb the rope was looped over. Another ti ed the loose end around the trunk of the tree, stretching the rope tight around her papa ’s neck. “To hell with you, Beinfait!” the man on the big bl ack horse bellowed while another slapped the horse’s rump where her father sat. The animal leaped forward, leaving her papa hanging in midair by his neck. He twitched for a few minutes before going limp and swaying back and forth from his bond. The man who held her lowered her by one arm to the dirt at his horse’s feet and rode off with the rest of the riders back in the direction they came. Felicity ran to her papa. “Papa! Papa?” Unable to r each him she sat in the dirt beneath him and cried.
Chapter One London England, October, 1828 “Again, Miss Beinfait.” The head of Madame Bernard’ s school for young ladies tapped the wooden pointer against the palm of her h and. Smothering a sigh of dismay, eighteen year old Feli city set the heavy book back atop her head and shifted it until balanced. When s he was confident it was as well positioned as possible, she dropped her hands to he r side and began a slow trek across the floor toward the line of her peers, who watched. Titters followed her wobbly progress and she frowned, trying to concentrate on the task at hand rather than her mean spirited audience. She was almost to the end of her trial when a movem ent caught her eye and she turned her head. The book slid from its precarious perch, despite a quick attempt to prevent it, and tumbled to the floor with a loud th ud. The flutter of the fan which distracted her ceased, and the gloating smile of th e girl holding it grew larger. “Miss Beinfait, how is it you are the only coming g raduate that still cannot master the basics of poise?” Felicity scooped up the book, casting a withering l ook at her nemesis, and turned to the head mistress. “I am sorry, Madame Bernard, I was distracted.” The Madame sighed and motioned for her to take a se at. “Lady Rebecca, will you please show us all how a poised lady should look?” Felicity’s nemesis, Rebecca Carivale, stood and gli ded across the room. With a smirk she held out her hand for the book, which Fel icity handed over. “Of course, Madame Bernard, it would be my pleasure.” After pla cing the book atop her head, she moved across the room, the epitome of grace. Grimacing, Felicity returned to her seat. Four years she had been ensconced at the school for young ladies. Long enough to know the le ssons taught there by heart, and still she could not master more than half of them, it seemed. She would never be a great lady. A tap on the door halted the lesson and the headmis tress crossed the room and opened it. The school butler stood there, a missive held in his hand. “An urgent message for you, Madame.” Madame Bernard took the envelope and opened it. Aft er scanning the contents she turned to the class with a grim look. “Ladies, you may retire to your rooms until dinner service.” One by one the girls filed from the room, but the h ead mistress stayed Felicity with a hand on her shoulder. “Miss Beinfait, a word with you, please.” Felicity held her groan in check and retreated to h er seat, eyes downcast, awaiting the scolding she dreaded was coming. “I am afraid I have terrible news, my dear.” The story of my life,Felicity wanted to retort, but she wisely kept quiet. “It seems your aunt has passed away abroad in Franc e.”
Sad as it was, Felicity could not summon any deep s entiments at the news. Her aunt turned her care over to a governess until she was old enough to ship off to finishing school. She could count the times on the fingers of one hand she had been in her aunt’s presence. It was hard to miss or morn on e you neither knew, nor loved. The headmistress continued after a suitable pause. “I have here the letter from her solicitor advising once your aunt’s final expenses are paid, you will be left quite destitute.” Felicity glanced up in surprise. “Destitute? How ca n that be? What about the dowry my father left me?” The headmistress frowned. “There never was a dowry, Miss Beinfait. All your father’s assets were seized by the crown, and your aunt’s stipend is all but used up.” Stunned, Felicity stared at the Madame.This cannot be happening.if privy to As her thoughts the headmistress broke the silence. “S ince you no longer have the funds to pay your final fee, I shall have to refuse your graduation.” “What am I to do?” Felicity turned pleading eyes on the Madame. “Where am I to go?” The woman shrugged. “If you were a model student I could give you a position here as a teacher but…well, we all know how unskilled yo u are. I suppose I might be able to give you a reference to get a shopkeeper position s omewhere to earn your keep, perhaps even a position as a governess for a well-t o-do merchant family. Of course, with your lack of skills, you will be unsuitable fo r most of the ton to guide their children, and without a dowry or…unsullied lineage, you will not be a marriage candidate.” Felicity hung her head. It was hopeless. She was to be turned out into the streets, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. It was al l his fault; the blasted duke atop his damned black stallion. He ruined her life. Well, no more would his actions dictate her fate. It was time to make him pay for what he had d one, to her mama, papa, and her reputation. The headmistress motioned to the door. “I shall giv e you until the end of the week to pack your things and find somewhere to go. I am sorry, dear.” Felicity stood and made her way to the door, too nu mb to even cry. The headmistress was not sorry—not one bit—for Felicity knew she never even liked her. The only reason someone in her position had been al lowed to step through the doors of the prestigious school was because her aunt’s husba nd paid a handsome sum to ensure her enrollment before he died. Neither could help her now, and it was clear the headmistress was glad to be relieved of her burden. Without bothering to curtsy, Felicity made her way to her room.
ChapterTwo Felicity groaned and swiped a wayward blonde curl f rom her cheek as the little cart lurched to one side. Clutching the narrow seat with one hand, she pulled on the reins with the other to halt the startled mare in the har ness. Once she wrapped the leather lines around the hand brake, she climbed down from the precariously teetering buggy, only to find the wheel cracked in half and sunk in the mud. “Oh fie and fire!” She shook her fist at the vexati ous conveyance and looked down at the mud already oozing into her patent leather k id boots. “Why me? Why now?” With a heavy sigh she stripped off her gloves and stalke d toward the harnessed pony. Before she had taken two steps her feet slipped out from u nder her in the slimy footing. A shriek escaped and she landed with a soggy splat on the mucky road. “Ohh!” The little bay pony turned her head and nickered. Felicity scowled. “What are you laughing at, you ol d nag?” Disgusted, she picked herself up and made her way to the pony’s head. The animal pinned her ears and shook her head, as Felicity steadied herself agains t the muddy traces and attempted to keep her soiled skirt from sticking to her derriere . “Now what am I to do?” The pony nickered again. “Oh stubble it, you bag of bones.” Felicity wiped h er hands on her skirt, and accidentally dropped one of her gloves in the mud a t the pony’s feet. True to the animal’s nature, the pony immediately stomped on it . “Now just look at what you have done! You have ruined my last pair of gloves,” she scolded, stuffing the remaining mate into the pocket of her skirt. She fumbled with the buckles on the straps securing the pony, not really sure how to accomplish the feat of freeing it, but reasonably confident eventually she would manage the task. When she thou ght she had all the buckles undone she pulled on the pony’s headstall to lead i t free of the shafts, only to find the animal still secured by some strap she could not se e. To make matters worse, a rumble of thunder gave only seconds’ warning before the cl ouds unleashed torrents of icy rain down upon her. Turning her face to the angry heavens, she shook he r fist. “Just what have I done to deserve this?” Not expecting a reply, she pulled he r soggy bonnet from her head and surveyed the now sagging peacock feathers once ador ning it with perky splendor. “Oh, fie.” A flash of lightning followed by a defining crack o f thunder spooked the pony. With a shrill neigh, it threw up its head and bolted. The undetected strap of leather snapped and the frightened animal galloped off, spraying mu d in all directions. In a fit of anger Felicity slapped the disheveled hat against her mud splattered skirt. “Oh, fie and fire infinity! Is the whole world against me this day?” She tossed her hat in the back of the little cart. Now what was she supposed to do? The d uke’s hunting lodge was still a long way through the woods, and her horse was now gone. “Noddy, hay burning, bag of bones,” she muttered scowling at her trunk and vali se threatening to slide from the tilted deck of the cart. With a groan she snatched up the valise, the lighter of the two to be sure, and picked her way to the grassy side of the narrow road, where it was drier.
The rain seeped down the collar of her royal blue k erseymere cloak, sending shivers down her back as she marched.Fie on the weather, the pony and everything else I can think of! As if taunting her, the sky darkened and the rain began to come down harder until everything became distorted under its murky dousing. Swiping away a lock of wet hair plastered to her nose, she lugged the valise down the road. Eventually the wagon trail narrowed until the tree branches ov erhead overlapped, sheltering her from the worst of the rainfall. Though the shelter was welcome, it was a little too late to keep her from ending up soggy and cold. Her throat hurt and unbecoming streams of snot tric kled down her lip. She swiped it away with a saturated sleeve, which only succeeded in smearing it.Lord, I must look a fright.Teeth chattering, she squinted up at the tiny gaps in the forest canopy. Either the light was fading, or the clouds were darkening. Pro bably the first. She trudged on, droplets of water dripping off her nose. What she w ould not give for a warm fire and a cup of strong tea right about now. The light faded until the brush beside the trail resembled nothing more than lumps of differing shad es of gray. The rain eased off, and here and there through the limbs reaching skyward, the stars twinkled. When she rounded a corner a large box shape loomed in a dark clearing. The duke’s hunting lodge, she presumed. She noted with thanks the windows were dark, evidence the duke had not arrived early as she fear ed he might. Stepping up onto the narrow deck surrounding the lodge, she tried the do or. It refused to budge.Of course it has to be locked. Nothing about my plan is going to be easy it would seem. Hurrying around back she tried the other door. It t oo was locked, but the window beside it was ajar. She set down her valise and wed ged her fingers under the sill. With effort the window slid open. Stretching her arm aro und she groped for the knob on the inside of the door to find the key. Just her luck t here was no key sticking from the latch. “Oh Fie!” Wet, cold and fed up, she chucked the val ise in the window and scrambled in after it. Her footsteps echoed across the floor as she groped her way to the shadow of what she assumed was a table. She trailed her hand along it until her fingers found a candle stub and a flint. After striking the flint she lit it. A simple kitchen and sitting room in one greeted her eyes. A large stone fireplace took up m ost of the one end wall, logs already set for the next use. She crossed the room and lit the tinder with the candle, blowing on it to make it go. Though it sparked and popped, the flames refused to take to the logs. Will nothing go right this day? Finally, legs aching from crouching so long in the cold, she stood with a sigh. Well, a change of clothes and a quilt would have to suffi ce. Picking up the valise from the floor she staggered to the door in the far wall opp osite the fireplace. She opened it with ease, almost surprised not to find it locked, and w ithout a key. A large bed stood in the center of the room, a wall length wardrobe on one s ide, and a thick braided rug on the floor between the two. After setting the candle on a small beside table, she opened her valise and fished for a clean cotton nightdress and slippers. Once changed, she picked up the candle and headed b ack to explore the rest of the lodge. A narrow staircase made of rustic small logs led to a half loft which contained a
couple of old trunks, two cots and a nightstand. A child’s room, she surmised by the dusty collection of tops and wooden soldiers scatte red across the small book shelf. She descended back to the main floor. Another door besi de the one to the master’s bedchamber revealed a servant’s small room, complet e with a narrow cot, stacks of linen and a large brass bathing tub. After snatchin g up a towel to dry her still dripping hair, she headed for the main room to see if she co uld find something to eat. The shelves and cupboards, she discovered, were wel l stocked, as if someone had been there recently to prepare for the duke’s arriv al. Without a fire she had little choice but to eat a cold meal of jerky, bread and cheese. After fixing herself a tin plate full she took it and a jar of apple cider back to the bedcha mber to feast under the warmth of the thick down quilt on the bed. Tomorrow she would put her plan in action. The duke would pay for what his father had done years before.
Chapter Three Felicityhe tiny flecks of Dust indlinkeD at the pale morning sunshine Dancing with t its deam. It was strange to awake in an unfamiliar deD. For the past ten years her Aunt Victoria’s LonDon townhouse haD deen home…well sort of. It was more of a place she returneD for holiDays when not in school. A sigh es capeD her lips anD she rolleD over. If I haD any frienDs I woulD miss them right now. Shivering, she DresseD in chill of the deDchamder a nD then hurrieD out to the main room. A cup of tea or chocolate woulD de a welcome start to the Day. However, after eying the undurneD remains from her last fire start ing attempt she settleD for a glass of ciDer anD a dit of dreaD layereD with cheese anD a thick slice of colD ham she founD in the well-stockeD larDer. She maDe her way to the wi nDow next to the front Door anD lookeD out over the little clearing. As she daskeD in the thin stream of sunlight warmin g her skin, it suDDenly occurreD to her the supplies necessary to complete her missi on were still on the DamageD pony cart. She groaneD anD lowereD her heaD to her hanDs .I am such a blunderbuss.Now what am I going to do? She coulDn’t go dack to the cart, get the supplies , anD risk her prey arriving in her adsence. No, that woulD not Do , it woulD ruin everything. She glanceD arounD the room for any sign of a weapon. A s luck woulD have it there was nothing which woulD suit her purpose. Leaving her c ozy patch of sun, she hurrieD to inspect the kitchen cupdoarDs. A couple of larger c hopping knives helD potential, she supposeD. Her gaze traveleD to the rack adove the t adle from which hung an assortment of heavy skillets, pots, anD kettles. Sh e hoisteD the heaviest-looking one Down anD juDgeD its weight in her hanDs. It might D o, proviDeD she haD the element of surprise, of course. All she haD to Do now was finD some rope. A search of the loDge came up empty. Perhaps she shoulD try the little st adle out dack. Surely there woulD de some rope of some kinD in the little sheD. After popping the last dite of her impromptu dreakf ast sanDwich into her mouth, she glanceD out the winDow dy the front Door anD froze.It cannot be! A man roDe into the clearing on a glossy chestnut horse, leaDing a plai n day. The chestnut pranceD, showing off his four white socks anD a wiDe white p atch dlazeD face in style, anD the man grinneD as he reineD the animal in. Panic seize D her.I am not ready!a With squeak she snatcheD up the heavy iron skillet from the tadle anD ran to stanD desiDe the Door. Peeking out the winDow, she watcheD the m an Dismount anD then leaD the two animals to the hitching post anD secureD them. It o ccurreD to her as he attenDeD the packs on the plainer horse that he was much taller than she. An iDea came to minD anD she set Down the pan, spri nteD to the tadle anD carrieD dack a small three leggeD stool. After placing it d ehinD the arc the Door woulD travel when openeD, she again hefteD the heavy pan anD cli mdeD onto the stool. A quick glance out the winDow revealeD the man haD removeD a set of large satchels from the pack animal anD was now heaDing for the Door with them slung over his shoulDer. HolDing her dreath, she raiseD the pan anD waiteD. Heavy footsteps pauseD outsiDe the Door, anD then came the thump of the pack deing set Down anD the scrape of a key