Bound by a Duke’s Timeless Love (Post 28)

Over the next few weeks Catherine learned her role as Lady of the manor. The mornings were filled as she worked alongside her new mother-in-law, Charlotte, and Cook planning the weekly menus for the household, the separate menus for the upcoming ball, then advising Janet and Charles on the setup of the ballroom and the cleaning of the household. Mallory occupied her afternoons with their frequent trips to the seamstress where Catherine was fitted for dozens of dresses of varying styles and colors, chemises, petticoats, cloaks, and riding habits. She couldn’t understand the reasoning for so many outfits, but Mallory was insistent that it was necessary to have a full wardrobe to choose from for any event they attended. Sometimes they were invited to have tea with some of Mallory’s friends and she would sit there listening to them prattle on for hours about their lives wondering if she would be required to do this very often. She wanted to appear friendly towards the ladies to help keep up appearances, but she’d rather be anywhere else during these times. During all of this she’d barely seen Devlin as he was staying just as busy.  When she inquired as to his whereabouts, Charles informed her that her husband had taken to the stables to help break in a newly acquired mare. When he wasn’t doing that, he was in the study going over the books with his adviser Mr. Wallace or out with Eddie having a few drinks and playing cards.

After the first week of their marriage she began to notice that he never joined her for meals unless the whole family was dining together. The servants let her know that he either woke before the dawn’s first light and grabbed a quick bite before he headed out or at night he had a tray brought to him in the study as he labored over the books, had meetings with his attorney, or handled any problems with the tenants. In the beginning she paid no mind to his absence since her days were just as full with learning her new role and spending what time she could with her father before he took his leave to return back home. However, as the days turned into weeks with no chance to speak with him, she began to worry that he’d changed his mind about their original agreement. Over time her worry turned into anger as she was made to wait and wonder what he was up to. In the end she realized he was purposefully avoiding her and that just wouldn’t do.

She could tell that something about him had changed, though she couldn’t explain it. The way he was acting around her lately, the way he looked at her with his smokey grey eyes, even the way he spoke to her seemed different from before. Had something changed since the ceremony? Could she have done something that caused him to no longer want her? Was he still going to make her hold to the bargain or had he changed his mind and no longer desired to use her as a pawn in his game? If so then why did he keep her here instead of letting her leave the day her father had?

She began to believe she was just over thinking her situation until the night before when she accidentally came upon a couple of the maids in the kitchen that were discussing the changes in her husband’s behavior towards them and his overall attitude. She knew it was wrong to eavesdrop when the ladies believed they were alone and free to talk among themselves, but it was the only way she might be able to figure out what was happening with Devlin. Even if she were bold enough to directly ask the servants, she was certain they would never speak harshly against their employer for fear of being tossed out onto the streets penniless and left to beg. With Devlin’s influence surely he could make it near impossible for them to find work in any other household. She knew the right thing to do at that moment would be to walk away when she heard their hushed tone, but curiosity got the best of her when she heard her name mentioned. That was when she plastered herself against the outer wall of the kitchen, hoping not to be discovered as she listened to what they had to say.

Bound by a Duke’s Timeless Love (Post 27)

James wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close, wanting to feel her body pressed against him again even for only a few moments, as he led her away from the dining hall so they could take a walk in the gardens. He couldn’t deny that he was physically drawn to her like a moth to a flame, but knew there could never be anything between them for both of their sake and hoped to ease her fears of him forcing himself upon her once they were away from prying ears and able to speak. He’d seen the terror in her eyes when he took her hand as he made an excuse to be alone with her, though the tension in her body relaxed some when she realized he wasn’t whisking her upstairs right away.

Soon she would find out that he had no intention of divesting her of her maidenhead tonight or any other night, nor was he going to hold her to the agreement that she was forced into by his ancestor. He just needed to formulate a plan to release her and send her back to her family. He would just have to bide his time until Devlin’s family left to return to their own homes. According to Charlotte, Devlin’s mother, she was planning to hold a party for them in one month’s time to show off the happy couple, so until then he would need to keep up appearances while also keeping his wife at arm’s length without making anyone suspicious of what he was doing. He would need to figure out where Catherine stood in all of this, but wouldn’t know until he spoke with her. Maybe she would agree to it and be happy to leave this place behind.

“Cat, we need to discuss our arrangement.”

“What is it,my lord?”

“For starters, you can call me Devlin. You’re my wife now and there is no need for such formalities between us any longer.”

She stopped and took a step back so she could look at him, but lost her balance as she tripped and nearly landed in the red and white rose bushes that lined the path. Without thinking, he stepped forward as he wrapped his arms around her and caught her up against him to keep her from landing in the razor-sharp thorns. The shock of having her warm curves pressed so intimately against his body made him forget for an instant the reason he’d brought her out here for in the first place. He held her close, her head resting on his chest, as he ran his hands up and down her back until he felt her muscles slacken under the thin pink silk gown as she must’ve realized he didn’t intend to attack her out here in the open like some sort of animal, though he was tempted to do just that.

The moonlight shone upon her mahogany curls which appeared to be streaked with strands of fiery gold and was a contrast against her creamy white skin. He slowly reached up so as not to startle her and began gently removing the pins that swept her hair back away from her face one by one dropping them on the ground without a care. She raised her head to gaze up at him with a look of bewilderment at his gentle yet expert touch. A soft moan escaped her parted lips as she closed her eyes when he ran his fingers through her loose curls and leaned down, unable to resist the urge to taste her lush pink lips again.

He began slowly so as not to spook her, though she surprised him by leaning into his embrace with another sigh and wrapped her arms around his neck. He deepened the kiss, gently running his tongue over her lips seeking entrance and she opened to him like a blossoming flower. She tasted of sweet plum wine and it felt as though he were intoxicated by each touch, nearly driving him insane with need. He tightened his hold on her as she rose up on tiptoe, crushing her to him. His body yearned for this and seemed to have a mind of its own, knowing that he’s never felt such physical hunger for someone’s touch before. He brought his hands to the front of her dress, gently caressing her breasts as he slid his mouth across her cheek to nibble at her delicate ear. Slowly he kissed his way down her slender neck while brushing his thumbs across her taut nipples that were straining against the thin fabric of her dress. It’d been to long since he’d held a woman like this and she was there in his arms willingly, yet he couldn’t bring himself to take advantage of her innocence no matter how tempted he was. He knew the only way to regain control of himself was to put as much distance between them as he could. If not, he might cross that very dangerous line and he didn’t want Cat to end up living with the consequences of their irresponsible actions tonight.

He dragged his mouth away from hers and took a step back, holding her at arm’s length as he watched her flushed expression turn to one of stricken horror at what had just happened between them. Was it because she enjoyed it as much as he had, but hadn’t wanted to or was there another reason? This was not something he’d planned and to make sure it didn’t happen again he would have to do something he wasn’t proud of. He felt a pang of guilt for what he was about to do, knowing it would upset her, but at the moment it was either that or give into his hunger and ravish her here under the night sky on the cool grass with her skirts hiked up around her waist. The thought of her legs wrapping around his hips as he slid inside her velvety sheath set his blood on fire with a hunger for her. This was the only way to keep her safe from his savage desire to take her for his own.

“Cat, you need to go now, run to your room quickly and don’t look back. Once you’re inside bolt the door shut,” he growled. “If you do not wish for me to bed you here on the ground, you will obey me.”

He’d prayed that when he spoke it would scare her enough to make her hightail it out of there, but instead she stood there staring at him without moving an inch. It appeared he would need to be more threatening to get her attention.

“Unless of course that is something you might desire,” he said as he took a menacing step in her direction.

She surprised him by slapping his face and then running in the direction of the house as he’d told her to do. He rubbed his stinging cheek knowing that he’d acted like a brute when he’d said those awful things and he deserved much worse for frightening her. With the feelings she aroused in him, he didn’t think he had much choice if he wanted to keep from defiling her. What would happen if he didn’t control himself and took her to his bed only to have the real Devlin return and find that not only was he wed to her, but that she was also no longer a virgin? Instead he was going to follow through with his plan and wait for everyone to leave, then return her back to her family in Scotland.

He turned towards the stables, deciding to take Artemis, Devlin’s prized black stallion out for a ride in hopes of giving them both a much-needed workout. If the ride didn’t help then he would take a dip in the cold pond out in the woods behind the estate to help cool his lust. Maybe then he would be able to think clearly and come up with a solution. He needed to keep his thoughts off of his desire for her and instead figure out how he was supposed to help save her family’s bloodline so he could return back home. With that decision made, he called out to the stable lad to saddle Artemis.

Bound by a Duke’s Timeless Love (Post 26)

She knew soon enough they would be retiring to his bedroom and it terrified her to think that if she’d done something to embarrass him by the kiss then how was she going to satisfy him in the marriage bed? She hoped that when it came time he’d become the sensitive man she’d glimpsed at the church when he genuinely smiled and gently touched her, not the angry brooding man who sat beside her now. Her minuscule amount of knowledge on the opposite sex was solely based on what she’d overheard from the women she’d grown up around. She remembered how they would gossip among themselves while they bathed in the loch about their husbands’ prowess. The details about the male bodies, along with the descriptions of how some were tender lovers while others seemed to enjoy inflicting pain, frightened her young mind.

There was one man in particular they loved to talk about. She was warned to keep away from old man Jacob when it appeared that he was interested in asking for her hand in marriage. When she inquired about him after her uncle mentioned to her that he was taking it into consideration on her fifteenth birthday, she understood why. The ladies told her that he’d already been married three times in six years and each of his wives was found floating in the loch after they drowned. That was until earlier this year with wife number four. It was well-known that he imbibed too much which led to him being quite loud and obnoxious, but never did anyone think he could do such a thing, until the night her aunt who was returning from a visit to one of the tenants that had recently given birth, had come upon him. Jacob was standing over his young wife’s body which appeared to be curled around her bulging midsection as if she were trying to protect her unborn child and he was covered in her blood. She recalled that one night as she lay in bed, a week after the unfortunate incident, her uncle came by to ask for her father’s assistance. It seemed that one of his tenants had found Jacob floating face down in the loch after he’d had too much to drink, tripped on something, and ended up tumbling into the water where he drowned.

Now she sat here wondering what kind of man Devlin would be with her. Would he be gentle, rough, or downright brutal? She’d witnessed from afar how caring he was with the women in his family and hoped that was a sign of what to expect. Before they’d left yesterday afternoon, she found him playing with his young nephews by getting down on all fours as he acted like a pony which brought forth peals of laughter as the boys took turns galloping across the parlor on Devlin’s back before they all ended up on the floor exhausted. When it was time for them to leave she and Mallory went in search of them and found Devlin curled up on the sofa with the boys snoring softly and knew at that moment if they were to have a child, he’d be a wonderful father. Seeing all of that eased her mind somewhat, but did that mean he would be careful with her in the bedchamber and show her what lovemaking could be? Or would he even care enough about her comfort as he took what he believed was rightfully his before he sent her away?

She had not given herself much time to think it all the way through, but now she began to wonder how this was all going to work out for them. In the beginning she didn’t think she could spend an entire year under his roof, though now she wasn’t so sure since he appeared to be different from when they’d first met. For instance, during the ride back to the estate, he withdrew into himself as if deep in thought, though he held her hand the entire way as he mindlessly caressed her knuckles with the roughened pad of his thumb which sent shivers through her body. She could tell his thoughts were somewhere else, but she was unable to think past what he was making her feel with just the touch of his hand. So the moment they arrived home, she fled upstairs to her room with the excuse of needing to change into something more appropriate for dinner. It wasn’t long before Mallory came looking for her to drag her back in time to greet their guests beside Devlin and Eddie as they arrived, but it had given her enough time to regain her composure so she could appear the loving wife and good hostess.

Now here they sat surrounded by so many people who wanted to be a part of the Duke’s celebration for his newfound happiness, but even with the food drink and laughter, her husband seemed oblivious to all of it. What could he be thinking about that had him so distracted? Was he unhappy about his decision to marry her? Or was it due to the arrival of his family who’d made a big deal out of their wedding when he’d been very clear about wanting to elope quietly?

“What do you think Catherine, my dear,” asked the dowager duchess.

“Think of what,” she asked realizing she’d been caught staring at Devlin and not paying attention to the conversation going on in front of her.

“My plans for the ball I plan to throw next month to introduce you properly to society as the new duchess.”

“Oh,” she stuttered. “I think it will turn out wonderfully. I’ve heard from many that you have hosted some of the grandest parties that everyone hopes to get an invitation to. I have a feeling this will be the grandest one yet.”

That seemed to pacify her for the time being as she turned back to her companion and rattled off more details about the party she was planning. Beside her Mallory giggled and Catherine turned to see the amused look on her face.

“That was quick thinking, Cat. I believe you are going to fit into this family just fine,” Mallory whispered to her conspiratorially. “We all try to make her happy when it comes to small things like what you just did. As long as we do then there are fewer consequences to deal with later.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why do you think my brother had to marry? Mother mentioned it a few years ago to him, but he refused to even consider the idea. After being pushed aside so many times, she went to father and told him that he needed to step in and do something before Devlin’s reckless choices ended up leaving them without an heir. After finding Devlin had taken part of a duel, father saw the wisdom in her words and sent a message to his cousin, the king, for some assistance in the matter a few months before he passed away. Since than mother has done everything in her power to push the issue and remind my darling brother of his obligations as a Duke.”

“Why would he do something as stupid as dueling?”

“Actually that was all my fault. My childhood friend, Maggie was assaulted by one of her suitors to force her hand in marriage. She didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t want to ruin her chances of a good match and she didn’t want her reputation to be ruined. She finally came to me when she realized she was with that bastard’s child, so I told Devlin. He promised to deal with the fiend and even offered to marry Maggie and raise their child as his own.”

“Did she not want to marry him?”

“On the contrary, Maggie had always had a soft spot in her heart for Devlin and was more than willing to marry him, but the day they were supposed to be wed, she disappeared without a trace. No one has seen her in the last year.”

Before she had time to absorb this new information, Devlin stood up and reached for her hand so they could take their leave. She was certain he felt her hesitation as her fingers trembled in his. When she looked into his eyes, he winked at her as he gave her a devastatingly wicked smile that made her toes curl and gently squeezed her hand.

“Thank you all for coming here tonight to join my lovely wife and I in our celebration. I do hope to see all of you again soon, but for now I am going to whisk my wife away so I can have her all to myself,” he said as everyone cheered and then leaned down to kiss his mother’s cheek before they left the dining room.

Bound by a Duke’s Timeless Love (Post 25)

A grand celebration was held at the Rothsbury estate later that evening as many came to join the wedding feast and hoped to be the first to greet the new duchess. Catherine sat silently to the right of her husband who was at the head of the table, but she felt out of place among so many strangers.

Beside her sat Mallory who was kind enough to include her in the conversation she was having with the people beside her. Even the Marquis, or rather Eddie, chimed in by asking her opinion of the horses in Devlin’s stable and even stunned her when he even wondered her thoughts on the recent politics. Not many men cared for a woman’s opinion, let alone willingly ask for it. However, recently she’d come to realize that the members of her new family were different in many ways including this. She even noticed that each time Mallory moved or spoke, Eddie sat beside her enthralled, as if she were a fairy sprite dancing naked under a full moon, never once looking away. To witness such love and adoration flowing freely between them upset her, knowing that it was genuine unlike her own union. She felt terrible for deceiving not only her father, but Devlin’s family too.

She could tell their guests and Devlin’s family members were enjoying themselves, between the laughter and conversation, along with the compliments given about the array of dishes that were being served all around her. Cook had definitely outdone herself tonight with the delicious elaborate foods that were set before them on the table. There was a roasted pig and mutton, a delectable pheasant covered with a cherry relish, fish with potatoes and onions covered in a dark rich wine sauce, fresh breads, a variety of fruits, cheeses, pastries filled with a sweet cream, and a thick plum pudding. Everything looked and smelled amazing, but she was unable to eat more than a few bites with the knots in her stomach that began to form since their return. Every now and then she would sneak a glance at her husband, though from the look upon his face she assumed she could’ve jumped in his lap and he still wouldn’t have noticed she was there. He appeared to be lost in his own thoughts just as he’d been during their journey home. He’d devoured the food on his plate and drank many glasses of wine with each toast given in their honor, but still seemed withdrawn.

She wondered if his silence had anything to do with the kiss they’d shared. Had he felt the same jarring sensation she had the moment their lips met? There’d been a split second where she could’ve sworn she’d seen amusement flash across his face when he whispered low enough that only she heard to not be afraid before pulling her into his arms as he tenderly kissed her. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected him to do, but the soft touch of his lips was far from what she’d imagined. It was pleasant enough that she didn’t feel an urge to recoil from his touch as she had the first time he tried to claim payment for his assistance in saving her father. It was when he deepened the kiss that she lost herself in his embrace as a surge of heat coursed through her body that pooled in her midsection. It felt as if she were standing close to an open flame that was licking at her skin. She couldn’t recall how her arms ended up around his neck or entangling her fingers in his thick black hair, though when he ended the kiss she’d felt embarrassed for her actions when he quickly stepped back. That was when she saw the dark sinister look on his face before he turned to thank their guests for coming and she realized the same cold heartless man she’d first met was back.

How could he be warm and gentle with her one minute and then cold and distant the next? She’d never been kissed so expertly in all of her twenty years and wasn’t certain what to do or how to react. Had she done something wrong that upset him, or had she been to bold in front of everyone? Was that the reason for his silence now?

Bound by a Duke’s Timeless Love (Post 24)

As the doors of the church opened, many strange faces turned towards Catherine with various looks ranging from awe, to jealousy, and even outright hatred from some of the younger girls and their mothers who she presumed were hoping to make a smart match with the duke for themselves. None of this helped the inner turmoil she’d begun to experience the night before once they’d reached the inn and sat down to dinner together in near silence. She was still in shock at how her father had disappeared so quickly after she spun the web of lies to create a fairy tale story to convince him of her feelings for Devlin. At first he seemed wary, though the light in his eyes told her something different. She wasn’t sure, but it he appeared almost happy to leave her in that brute’s care. She was disappointed when she didn’t have to be as persistent as she’d expected, nor did he ask the important question about how this all transpired while he was ill which in the end led to marriage. He didn’t seem to worry that the man might have taken advantage of her virtue, but why would he? Her father met Devlin after he’d recovered some and spoke to him many times when Devlin would stop by his room to check in on him. She assumed her father must’ve seen something honorable in him to agree to this without giving it a second thought.

The organ music seemed to grow louder with each step while the stays of her corset felt like they were getting tighter with each breath she took. A cold sweat broke out across her skin as she approached the front of the church where Devlin stood next to the priest immobile and expressionless while he watched her like a hawk stalking its prey. The only thing that kept her moving forward instead of running for the nearest exit was her honor. She’d given her word to marry him in exchange for him taking care of her father and keeping them both safe. He’d even made sure to send word to her father about the change of plans for the wedding so he could be there for her. The strength in her father’s arm was the one thing keeping her steady as they walked down the aisle and if it hadn’t been for Devlin than her father might not have lived long enough to see her wed and she was grateful for that. Once she reached her place beside him, her father placed her hand in Devlin’s and said a prayer with the priest for them before sitting in the front row with the dowager duchess, along with Malory and Eddie.

She thought she imagined the tremble of the hand holding hers until they turned to face each other when instructed as the ceremony began. That’s when she noticed the paleness of his face and wondered if hers looked the same. For a split second she felt a connection with him until he began to recite his vows, repeating them after the priest, his voice faltering and his grey eyes growing darker like a Scottish storm blowing in as they bore into hers full of anger and something akin to sorrow before the connection vanished.

She recalled earlier today when Mallory told her of the events leading up to this farce of a marriage while Abigail and Mary were curling her hair and applying rouge to her pale cheeks. She learned that his hand was being forced or he would lose his title along with the money along with being stripped of his land and the home where he’d been raised. However, as far as everyone here believed, they were marrying for love not just because he had to.

If they only knew the circumstances in which we met or the contract I signed that led to this moment, she thought to herself. If they did, would it make any difference to them?

She felt the sting of tears well up in her eyes when it came her turn to repeat her vows, knowing that with each word she was tying herself to a man she didn’t love and felt that it was wrong since she wasn’t sure what kind of man he truly was. That was until she watched his facial expression soften somewhat when he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a silver necklace with a gorgeous ring that hung upon it. She could’ve sworn she heard a gasp and turned to see her father staring at Devlin with an awkward look on his face.

James was unsure if he was doing the right thing, but he didn’t have much choice as he stepped behind Catherine and slipped the chain around her slim neck, the ring upon it dangling near her soft supple breasts. Eddie had seen it lying on the desk in his study before they departed from Rothsbury and had given it to James thinking he must’ve purchased it as a token of his affection for her. He’d forgotten about its existence with everything that had happened. He noticed the thin gold ring she was wearing and refused to be rude by asking her to remove it in case it was important to her, so instead had chosen to go a different route. His fingers trembled as he struggled to hook the clasp of the necklace, but her warm rose scented skin was enticing his senses making it difficult to be this close to her without wanting to draw her closer to his body. He thought that his gentleness towards her would help calm her fear, but instead he felt her stiffen at his touch and the guilt washed over him once again for not being able to find a way of setting her free before today. It was too late for that now and he needed to go along with this charade until it was possible to find his way back home or worse, be caught. Until then he would do his best to treat her with respect by keeping his distance and not hurt her anymore than his ancestor already had.

As he returned to his place the image of her nearly bowled him over as the memory of the miniature portrait he’d held just weeks prior came to life before his very eyes. She was just as he remembered standing in the picture wearing the elegant wedding dress, which her father had brought back with him early this morning, her hair piled high with a few loose curls framing her face, the sadness lurking in the back of her eyes, and the necklace with the ring hanging around her neck. Before he had time to cope with what he was seeing, the priest completed the ceremony, instructing James to kiss his bride. Everyone fell silent, waiting in anticipation to witness it, especially Devlin’s family. He could only hope she was willing to follow his lead and not cause a scene. He began to wonder if the real Devlin had ever kissed her as he stepped closer, pulling her into his arms, for surely if he had then she would be able to tell the difference and call him out for it.

“Don’t be frightened,” he whispered as he leaned down to kiss her and felt her body shudder at his touch.

He wasn’t sure if he was saying it more for her or himself, but as his lips touched hers he stopped thinking all together. It began as a simple feathery brush of his lips across hers. That was until she let out a soft sigh and leaned into his embrace, wrapping her arms around his neck. He was unable to resist the temptation of making it last for a moment longer to enjoy the pleasure of holding a woman in his arms once again. It would also give people something to gossip about later with their open display of affection. He tightened his grip on her waist, trying to pull her closer as he delved his tongue into her warm honey sweet mouth. Her fingers were entwined in his hair tugging him down as if she couldn’t get enough and he would’ve embarrassed them both with his roaming hands, having forgotten that they were surrounded by others, but was saved as Eddie coughed loudly to get his attention. Releasing her from his embrace, he quickly stepped back feeling like a cad for letting it go that far.

After the priest said another small prayer wishing them a long life of happiness and healthy children, James took his new wife by the hand and walked her down the aisle towards the exit as he wondered where his ancestor was and what he would do when he returned to find out he was already married. Until that time came, he would try to come up with a plan that would help her get what she needed and see if he could remember what Megan’s letter had said. If he was here for a reason and he was able to accomplish the task required of him, did that mean he would be able to return home? If that was the case, he would need to find out what it was and take care of it so they all could go back where they belonged.

Bound by a Duke’s Timeless Love (Post 23)

James remembered the only encounter he’d had with Lady Catherine that first morning. Her spirited nature and her passionate outburst of anger, told him that she was unhappy about the marriage arrangement, yet for some unknown reason she was still willing to go through with it, or so he assumed. He unsuccessfully tried to find her a few times since then to speak with her, but was quite certain that she despised his ancestor even though he didn’t know all of the details on what had occurred between them. He wanted to hash things out with her, even hoped to set her free once her father was pronounced healthy enough to leave, but with her spending most of her time tending to her father and him with Charles learning all he could to keep impersonating Devlin, it was difficult to find a free moment with no one else around to do that.

The night before Charles had informed him that Lady Catherine was heard to be arguing with her father as she tried to convince him to stay until after the wedding, but the man was stubborn and wouldn’t budge on the subject. Something about wanting to distance himself from her and her future husband so that he wouldn’t cause any further problems, though he did agree to stay put one more night. He knew it was his last chance to speak with her so he woke early before the sun broke through the horizon, and waited for her in the stables. He figured she would want to see her father off and that would be the perfect time for him to gift her with her freedom so they could ride away together. It wasn’t long before he realized his plan had been thwarted when he noticed the stall that housed her father’s horse for the past week was now empty.

He was frustrated and angry for the lost opportunity of allowing her to leave quietly that vanished with the arrival of Devlin’s family. At that very moment Mallory was indelicately dragging him along the path towards the house as she chattered about the trip and how the boys had enjoyed it, the plans they’d come up with and set into place for the wedding, the list of guests they’d invited, and the menu that their mother was giving to Cook that very moment for the wedding feast they would hold afterwards.

“Eddie and Harry are waiting upstairs to assist you and have no worry dear brother, I will make sure to take good care of your lady. You know how mother hates to be kept waiting so don’t take too long in packing,” she said as they entered the house and she gave him a small push towards the stairs.

“What do you mean? Why are they waiting and why are we packing? Where do you think I’m going,” James asked as he wondered what this woman was up to.

“Did you really think mother was going to let you rush off to Greta Green with Lady Catherine to elope? If so, maybe you should’ve thought it through completely before you sent the letter informing us of your upcoming nuptials,” she teased him as she smiled up at him affectionately. “We arrived in town early yesterday morning and everything is all set. We will be leaving in a few hours which should give us enough time to get settled at the Inn and rest. In the morning we will head to the church. It’ll be a smaller ceremony than mother had envisioned for you, though she’s contented herself with it once Eddie reasoned with her. He convinced her that this was perfect because it would give her more time to put together one of her famous balls that everyone hopes to be invited to, in order to introduce the new duchess into society properly.”

She patted his cheek like he was a small child and gave him another push towards the stairs before turning in the direction of the parlor. He waited for her to pass through the doorway so he could make his escape and head back to the stables, until a noise from above caught his attention. He glanced up hoping to see Catherine and wondered if there was still time to save her from this unsavory union with a scoundrel she despised. If they hurried, they could catch up with her father, who was supposedly visiting nearby relatives, and give Catherine the chance to leave with him. However, his hopes were quickly squashed when he saw his valet, Harry alongside another man about his age that he assumed to be Mallory’s husband coming down the stairs.

“Don’t think about it Devlin. Your sister would never let me hear the end of it if I let you escape. It’s only last-minute jitters that are causing you to look for a way out. All men feel this way, even I did when I married Mallory. Though that may have had more to do with your threats of bodily harm if I were to ever make her cry. Why do you think your dear sister asked me to assist you in getting ready? It’s her way of keeping an eye on you while they are helping Lady Catherine get ready,” he said looking quite amused at James’ discomfort.

Eddie seemed quite jovial and good-natured, but there was a sort of tension in his stance that told James there was no way out of this room without a fight.

“How about you follow us without causing a ruckus so we can be ready to leave when our women are?”

“Do I have much choice in the matter?”

“You started this by bringing a young woman into your home without a proper chaperone and to keep her from ruination you will follow through with your promise of marriage. Plus from what I’ve heard already, it seems she will keep it quite lively around here and put you in your place when needed. I like the idea that you will get to experience what it’s like,” Eddie said with a smirk on his face that James wished he could smash his fist into.

It appeared that the Marquis was enjoying this torture a little too much which made him wonder what his ancestor had done to the man who married Devlin’s sister.James heaved a sigh, feeling as though he were a prisoner being escorted to the gallows, as he followed the men upstairs to get ready.

Bound by a Duke’s Timeless Love (Post 22)

For the next week James spent most of his time in the company of Charles as he learned everything he could about the notorious rake, Lord Devlin Danvers a.k.a. the ‘Devil Duke of Rothsbury’. If his memory served him right, Devlin was his ancestor, though he didn’t remember much about him except that he died childless sometime in the 1740’s, but he’d never taken the time to research how since he was only a seven-times great-uncle and not a direct ancestor. The duke was the older brother to James’ direct ancestor who’d bought a commission into the military prior to Devlin’s death. With the way the man had led his life over the past year or so since his father passed away according to the things Charles told him, there was no doubt in his mind why the man’s life was cut short. Devlin was a gambler, a womanizer, and reckless with no care for anyone. From all accounts, before he became the Devil Duke, the man was known for his generosity and his love for his family, especially his younger sister. Yet, according to Charles Devlin had not seen his family since his father’s funeral.

As he stood in the stables early one morning admiring the handsome cinnamon red thoroughbred named Frog as he fed him an apple, James contemplated his next move. He’d finally come to the conclusion that this was no mere dream as he’d first assumed, but somehow he had traveled through time and space, crazy as it sounded, to the year 1743 if the letter he’d discovered the night before in the duke’s desk the night before meant anything.

How did this happen? Will anyone even realize I’m missing? Probably not with the way I pushed everyone out of my life as my great-uncle did.

 He’d asked himself those same questions many times since it dawned on him that he was trapped in this strange place hoping that an answer would miraculously come to him, though none had. Everyone here assumed he was the Duke and after he came upon a family portrait hung in the library, he understood why. It was quite a shock to see his own face staring back at him, almost like he was looking into a mirror. After that day he began to wonder where on earth the real Devlin could be and what might happen when he himself was discovered to be an impostor. The idea of being thrown in one of these prisons or worse, being hung then drawn and quartered, didn’t sit very well with him. However, until the time came he would keep up appearances of being the man everyone believed him to be. He tried to think back to the night he came to be here to see if he could remember what he’d done to land himself here and maybe find a way to reverse it so he could return to his own time, but it was no use. None of it made sense.

The sound of footsteps behind him pulled him out of his reverie, but before he could turn to see who had walked in, small feminine hands covered his eyes. His body tensed as his mind began to race with the worry of being discovered as he feared the impending doom that was sure to follow.

“Guess who,” a soft chipper voice asked from behind.

Taking a deep breath to steady his breathing and calm his nerves, he reached up to gently remove the hands from his eyes and turned to see a pretty young woman with soft chestnut-brown hair pinned up away from her face except for a few tendrils that had escaped and were floating around her rosy cheeks and in that instant he remembered who she was.

“Mal, is it really you?”

“Of course it’s me silly. Who else were you expecting?”

James relaxed, thankful for being able to recall her face from the family portrait where she’d sat between both brothers with their hands laying protectively upon her shoulders. Charles had been a great teacher this past week and made sure he was very thorough with Devlin’s family history. The man had taken it upon himself to help James with certain details so it would appear as if nothing untoward had occurred. From all accounts Charles was a loyal servant and had been with the family for numerous years and would do anything to safeguard the family’s name and reputation. After everything James learned about the duke one thing was for sure, he didn’t deserve such kindness with the way he had treated the people in his employ.

“Where is everybody, or did you outrun them so you could be the first to meet my soon to be bride? I assume they are behind you somewhere and you didn’t do anything foolish like coming here without a proper escort,” he stated, raising a questioning eyebrow as he tried to sound like a concerned brother.

Mallory Jenkins, the Marchioness of Belrone and Devlin’s only sister, stood before him with her hands on her hips and a mischievous smile curving her lips which spoke volumes of what type of youngster she must’ve been while growing up. In that split second he felt a crushing blow of regret for the loss of his own brother and wondered if he would ever get another chance to make it up to Danny for how badly he’d treated him the last time they were together.

“Eddie and mother took the boys up to the house to see if Cook could whip up a snack for them before they are put down for their naps. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow, if you know what I mean,” she said as she looked off towards the house, watching as their trunks were unloaded from the carriage and carried inside. “I must say, dear brother, that I was rather surprised when mother showed up at Belrone with your letter in hand. I am most anxious to meet the woman who finally caught your attention. If I remember correctly, the last thing you said to our uncle was ‘Go to hell old man and take the title and money with you’, when the subject of marriage was broached for the hundredth time. So there must be something special about this mystery woman who made you change your mind.”

Bound by a Duke’s Timeless Love (Post 21)

Down the hall, Catherine sat, once she finished changing her father’s bandages, to read to his slumbering form and prayed that he would heal and return to her soon. She’d lost too many loved ones in her lifetime and wasn’t willing to go through that heartache again if she could help it.

She knew that earlier was a mistake when she’d confronted Lord Danvers, especially since he’d brought in the finest physician around to care for her father. She could blame it on the fact that she was still fuming from the way he’d treated her from the moment they’d met or how he’d abandoned them at his home with no word to his staff of who she was or why they were brought here.When she heard voices outside of her father’s room this morning, she’d moved closer to the door so she could listen to what was happening. She overheard Charles and another man named Harry, saying they had found the Duke unconscious, most likely drunk again, in the garden and needed to carry him inside. The thought of that man doing something so outlandish knowing that he had guests who needed his attention, made her blood boil and she was unable to hold her tongue when she stormed into his room.

Now the question remained, would she still hold up her end of the bargain knowing that she didn’t love him? Truthfully it didn’t matter either way as this was a means to an end for the two of them and it would only be temporary. She would follow through with it if only for her father’s sake. If all went as planned then she could be free to do as she pleased within a year’s time. Besides, many young girls married without love these days and instead enjoyed the protection of their husband’s title and money while living good lives. Afterwards she would find a place for her and her father where they might live in peace and never have to run from danger again.

Maybe if her father had confided in her, they wouldn’t be in this predicament she now found herself in. She only hoped that he wouldn’t blame himself for her making a deal with the devil to save his life. How would he feel when he woke to discover his only child was betrothed to an Englishman instead of the MacKinnon heir who’d come last week to ask for her hand in marriage. He was nice to look at, but nothing about him stirred any feelings in her, so to her it wasn’t a loss, but to her father and her uncle it would have been a good match to bring an alliance between the families. She was certain that he would approve of this match so long as she was happy and in love no matter who she chose to be with. The only flaw in her plan was that she was neither happy or in love with the brigand.

She stood and leaned over to apply another cool cloth to his forehead when she was struck by an idea. If he thought she was in love with Lord Danvers then he might give his blessing instead of worrying about her. She recalled all the stories he used to tell her about her mother and how he’d loved her the minute she passed him on the street in Edinburgh. She could use those to her advantage in creating a tale and if she was convincing enough about her happiness, then this could work out for all involved. If only he would wake to hear it.

She sat back down to read more as she thought about the questions she had for him about the night he dragged her from bed in the wee hours of the night to travel to England in a hurry. She remembered how he’d acted and how they’d ridden through the night as if they were being pursued through the darkness by a monster. They had barely eaten or slept until he finally stopped after she begged him to. He’d nearly fallen head first of his horse from weariness, but the minute they did, he was attacked. If he’d told her whom or what they were running from, then maybe all of this could have been avoided. Why had he not spoken to his brother to request extra protection if he thought they were in danger? Instead thy were in this godforsaken place and she was left to do what she could to keep him safe even if it meant she wasn’t.

After some time she closed the book, laid it upon the table beside his bed, and gently kissed his balding head before leaving the room. She shut the door quietly and walked to the kitchen in hopes of finding a warm cup of tea and a pastry before retiring. She wanted to be there when her father opened his eyes. Hopefully she would be able to avoid any further encounters with Lord Danvers until their wedding day. It was best if she didn’t have another chance to lash out at him or cause a scene as she had earlier. It wouldn’t do them any good if he decided she wasn’t worth the trouble and tossed her and her father out in the cold before he fully recovered. Once they were married she would do her utmost to keep up appearances and be a dutiful wife for as long as it was required. It couldn’t be that difficult of a task, could it?

Bound by a Duke’s Timeless Love (Post 20)

An hour later James emerged from the bedroom to inspect his surroundings while he searched for someone who could direct him to where Charles was so he might have a word with him. He moved easily enough through the enormous house feeling a sense of déjà vu as he came upon the winding staircase. He made his way below as he recalled the party he’d followed Megan’s spirit through when he’d first come upon the young lady who he was supposedly now engaged to. This place seemed surprisingly solemn, almost cold and lifeless, compared to the crowd he remembered filling each and every room with music and laughter.

He walked through the empty ballroom into the foyer where he came upon Charles speaking with the young redhead who’d run from his room earlier. When he drew closer to them he noticed the tears in her eyes. It disturbed him immensely to see any woman cry and it tugged at his soul proving to him once again that he was human and still had feelings that he thought he’d locked away long ago.

“Things are going to change for the better Abigail, just watch and see. I have a feeling that you and the others will never have to watch over your shoulders anymore like you’ve had to do in the past,” he said as he patted her on the back in a fatherly manner. “I give you my word that all will be well.”

“Is everything all right,” James asked as he walked over to them. At the sound of his voice Abigail jumped and turned towards him, her eyes wide with terror.

“I’m s-s-sorry, my l-lord. I will j-just get b-b-back to my duties,” she stammered as she took a step towards the door to leave.

“Please wait,” he said softly in hopes of calming her fears. “I want to apologize for frightening you earlier and again just now when I came in unannounced. I didn’t mean to startle you. I only wanted to ask you a question, but you ran out before I was able to,” he stated as he gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “Has someone upset you or hurt you in any way? If so all you have to do is tell me and I will deal with the person responsible myself. A pretty girl like you should have no cause for tears and I’ll do what I can to make sure of it. I bet if you smiled a little, you would dazzle the world with it.”

“Miss Abigail was just leaving, my lord,” said Charles. “Everything will be taken care of without you needing to involve yourself in such trivial matters.”

Abigail took that as her cue to exit the room, but not before she timidly bestowed a wavering smile on him.

“Now as for you, my lord. What is it you would like to know?”

“To start with, where am I? Something about this place feels familiar, though I know it’s not where I went to sleep last night.”

“Are you saying you truly do not know where you are,” asked Charles with a look of concern etching his thick white brows. “Then this is worse than I thought. The doctor only mentioned that you might forget a few things as in you might lose the memories of what transpired last night. Though I believe it might be more than that if you can’t remember your own staff or even your ancestral home. Is that the way of it, my lord? You’ve forgotten everything?”

“As I said, I do not know where I am nor how I came to be here. Also, why does everyone insist on calling me ‘my lord’ and why does it seem that every female I come into contact with is either frightened of me or wants to thrash me.”

“Then we don’t have any time to waste. We will need to refuse all callers with an excuse that you are not feeling well or that you want to spend time alone with your betrothed to plan your wedding over this next week, if we even have that long. If your family is at the country estate when the letter is delivered, then it should take that long for them to pack and travel here,” he said as he cocked his head to the side, appearing to be contemplating the difficult task ahead. “I think we might be able to pull it off without anyone discovering what is afoot if we are careful.”

“And pray tell what it is we will be trying to pull off,” James asked, growing irritated at not getting a straight forward answer.

“There are many who would enjoy seeing the ‘Devil Duke of Rothsbury’ befall a tragedy for his recent actions and bad behavior, my lord. And if somehow word got out that this has happened, there are some who would try to take advantage of the situation.”

“How does that concern me?”

“Because my lord, you are the Duke of Rothsbury.”

Bound by a Duke’s Timeless Love (Post 19)

“You mean to tell me that I’m supposed to wed the young lady that just ran out of here as if the hell hounds were nipping at her heels?”

“I believe so, my lord. I didn’t accept it when the doctor said you might experience a memory lapse, but now I see he was correct in his assumptions.”

“I apologize but I have no recollection of you or any of these events you’ve mentioned,” James said hoping the man would give him some sort of idea as to why he was trapped inside his own mind.

“The name is Charles, but it’s always been Charlie for you since you were a small lad,” he stated kindly as he introduced himself. “I’m sure it won’t take long before something jogs your memory and everything will come rushing back. I just wanted to let you know that I sent your message as you requested first thing this morning to your family’s country estate. I know they will be overjoyed when they receive word of your upcoming nuptials. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them arrive in the next few weeks to help you with the planning, unless of course your mother finds a way of doing so before she even steps foot through the door. She’s been waiting for the day that you would find a suitable bride, though your uncle will assuredly not feel the same once he learns of her background. Now I will leave you to break your fast and soon a bath will be sent up for you.”

Charles turned on his heel and walked out of the room leaving James to his own devices. He filled a cup with coffee as he contemplated the situation he found himself in, though he didn’t have much time to dwell on it before there was a knock upon the door. It opened when he bade them to enter and watched as two burly men came in carrying a large wooden tub followed by three young maids with buckets of steaming hot water in each of their hands to fill and prepare his bath as he’d been informed. He noticed through the entire process not one of the ladies would make eye contact with him, or even acknowledge his presence which irritated him.

“Excuse me, miss,” he said to one of the maids. “Do you…”

As he reached over and touched the redhead’s arm to get her attention, she squealed in fright as if a hot poker had seared her skin. Before he had a chance to apologize for scaring her, all three of the ladies scrambled out of the room, but not before the other two gave him dirty looks as they left.

Enough is enough, he thought. Someone around here is going to explain why it appears that I’m despised by each and every woman I’ve come in contact with since the moment I opened my eyes.

He decided once he finished his second cup of coffee, which was by far the best he’d ever tasted, he would take a quick soak in hopes of easing the tension in his aching muscles. It did strike him as a bit odd that they would bring up an old wooden tub to the room rather than let him use the shower. Afterwards he would set out to track down Charles so he could get some real answers. Never before had a dream been this realistic so he was unsure how long it would last. Whether this was purgatory or just a dream he was unsure, but he planned on taking this opportunity being presented to him so he could try his best to forget all about his problems in the real world for a short time. He was going to relax and enjoy what time he had here in this strange place he’d conjured for himself.