The Duke's Shotgun Wedding (Entangled Scandalous)(2)

By: Stacy Reid

His brows flickered.

“Despite my weapon’s fragile appearance, Your Grace, it is not easy to aim a derringer at a man this long. My hand tires…I may accidentally pull the trigger.”

“Ah, so it is not your intention to shoot me, Miss Rathbourne?”

She ignored the eyes that roved over her. “It’s Lady Rathbourne. And most assuredly, my intention to shoot you is genuine, if I do not receive justice. I would hate for my shot to be accidental. It will be done very deliberately when I choose to fire.”

The duke unlocked his hands from under his chin and leaned back in his chair. He drummed his fingers on his desk with a click clack sound, possibly hoping to unnerve her as he studied her. She had to admit she was slightly intimidated by the glare from his eyes.

Despite being an Earl’s daughter, due to their dire financial straits she had not received the chance to have her season, her foray into society. Today was the first she’d laid eyes on the formidable duke, knowing him only by reputation and Anthony’s recounts.

“Are you with child?” he asked evenly.

She spluttered, a wave of heat blossoming on her entire body at his unexpected question. Mortified, she gazed at his expressionless face, uncertain how to answer.

“A seduction does not necessarily result in a child, Your Grace.” At the slow raise of his eyebrows, she hazarded a guess that what Anthony had told her was correct. “As you are a man of the world, I am sure you are aware that the outcome of a child can be prevented?” She posed the question, and her lips tightened in a moue as she awaited his answer with heart pounding.

“You may lower your weapon, Miss Rathbourne. And do not presume to correct me of your title, as a lady would not barge into my home under false pretense and threaten me at the point of a gun.” His fingers halted their drumming. “Indeed, I am uncertain as to what you require of me.”

Her eyes narrowed at the insult of him referring to her as Miss. A scathing reply formed on her lips, but she had to remind herself of what her aim was. After a brief hesitation, she lowered her arms, but she did it slowly, and rested the derringer in her lap, continuing to point it directly at him. For some unfathomable reason, she liked the amused twitch of his mouth as his wintry gaze thawed. He shifted, his jacket stretching over his very broad shoulders. His blue waistcoat was the finest she had ever seen.

“I have no pretenses, Your Grace, and everything I said in my note is the absolute truth.”

He looked skeptical. “Your note claimed a dire situation of grave misfortune that threatens scandal and death for my family—namely my wicked brother Anthony Williamson Thornton.”

“Despite what polite society would have many believe, a seduction does not have only one perpetrator, Miss Rathbourne. Now, let’s get down to business. What is it you want? Money? A house?”

Affront flared through Jocelyn and she raised her weapon with such speed he froze in the act of opening his top drawer.

“How dare you!” She breathed deeply to contain the rage that burned through her. “Do you not have a sister enjoying her first season? If a cad had used her, enticing her with promises of love and marriage, then abandoned her, what recompense would you demand? Money? A house? A duel? Or a marriage?”

“Only death would suffice.”

She flinched at his unwavering response, the derringer jerking in her clasp. “I do not desire Anthony’s death.” Her stomach churned at the mere thought of it. “It discredits you to speak so easily of your brother’s demise.”

Once more, amusement twisted his sensual mouth, infuriating her.

“I spoke to the demise of a hypothetical cad who had seduced and abandoned my sister. Not of my brother, Miss Rathbourne.”

“But it was your brother who seduced and abandoned me. I demand marriage!” she said, trying to keep her voice from trembling.

“Request denied.”

She felt her back go ramrod straight and she vibrated with rage. “I beg your pardon?”

He held up a hand. “I do not deliberately stoke your scorned woman’s wrath, but I am afraid Anthony is already married.”

She darted a gaze to the Gazette with a frown. “You lie!”

The smile that twisted his lips at her slander was not one of amusement.

She flushed and swallowed. No. It couldn’t be true. “I—”

“Let me be clear. Money is all that will be offered. Do I believe my brother seduced you? Frankly, yes. Only a madwoman would storm my estate with such an elaborate story that can be so easily verified. And make no mistake, it will be verified.” The muscle in his forehead ticked again. “However, Anthony and Miss Peppiwell had the brilliant notion to abscond to Gretna Green with a special license two weeks past. Ergo, they are now married and she may be enceinte. Thus the reaffirmation of vows in three weeks that will appear to polite society as their actual marriage.”

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