Monday, January 2, 2017

A Scandalous Pursuit


June 1814 – Prestwick Chase, Derbyshire

Lord Staveley’s wire-rimmed glasses
Mr. St. Claire’s sapphire cravat pin
Epaulette from Commander Greywood’s uniform
Lord Carraway’s pipe
Cravat with Beckford insignia
Captain Seaton’s tricorn
Lord Carteret’s signet ring
Gold button with Kelfield crest
Mr. Greywood's pocket watch

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Olivia Danbury stared blankly at the list in her hands. Her friends had taken her simple idea of a treasure hunt and turned it into something quite impossible. 
“You can’t honestly be serious,” she said with a shake of her head. There was no conceivable way to get any of these items. One couldn’t just ask Lord Carteret for his signet ring or beg the wicked Duke of Kelfield for one of the buttons from his waistcoat. That was ridiculous.
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Felicity asked her as she linked her arm with Livvie’s.
Adventure? Had her friends all lost their minds? 
Cordie’s green eyes twinkled. “Come on, Livvie, this is the most fun any of us have had since we arrived.”
That was true. The house party at Prestwick Chase had been tedious at best. Still this charade was the most ridiculous thing Livvie had ever heard of. How unfortunate that it was her idea—at least in the beginning. She wasn’t keen to take the responsibility for what this had become. “I don’t even know how I’d go about acquiring any of these things.”
Phoebe giggled. “Then I suppose Cordie and I will win.”
“We have ‘til dinner to get all the items. The team with the most will win.”
“Yes, but—” Before Livvie could utter further protests, Phoebe and Cordie sprinted through the door, giggling the entire way. She turned a shocked expression to Felicity, her partner in this insanity.
Felicity looked quite determined, which was a rare look for her. Her blond curls bounced as she leaned in close to whisper, “All right. My cousin, Mr. St. Claire, will give me his cravat pin, no questions asked. I’ll also take Lord Carraway’s pipe. I know where he keeps it. We can get Staveley’s glasses from Caroline. And I’ll ask Jensen to get us one of Luke’s cravats.”
“There’s no point in us wasting our time on Captain Seaton, since he’s been making moon eyes at Cordie all week. Phoebe can get the ring from her Uncle James and the epaulette from her Uncle Simon. And I’m certain Matthew will give his pocket watch to them. Which means we’ll be tied. So, all we’ll need is one of Kelfield’s buttons to win.”
Livvie rolled her eyes. The idea that the arrogant duke would just hand over one of his buttons for a game was ludicrous. The man was completely unapproachable. If Felicity thought that Kelfield would help them win…
“And then I’ll meet you back here,” Felicity finished
Livvie shook her head. She must have missed something while she was woolgathering. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
With an exasperated sigh, Felicity towed her towards the door. “Get some sewing shears, sneak into His Grace’s room, and remove one of his buttons. I’ll get the cravat pin, the pipe, Staveley’s glasses and Luke’s cravat. Then I’ll meet you back here.”
Sneak into His Grace’s room and remove one of his buttons? “Absolutely not!”
“Come now, Livvie, don’t be a spoilsport. I’ve got to sneak into Carraway’s room for his pipe. I’d send you, but it would take too long to explain where he hides the thing. Besides, Luke has ordered me under no uncertain terms to go near His Grace or his room.”
Livvie didn’t know how Felicity talked her into participating in this ridiculous game. She berated herself for being a fool as she crept into Kelfield’s guest room. However, it was the most fun she’d had since arriving at Prestwick Chase. She wasn’t quite sure what that said about her, but the thrill of being somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be had her heart pounding excitedly.
She tiptoed to a large wardrobe on the far side of the room and inhaled the duke’s masculine, sandalwood scent as she pulled open the doors. It was almost as if he was there beside her, his silver eyes raking across her form. Chills crept up Livvie’s spine and she glanced around the room to make sure she was alone—which, of course, she was. So, she shook her silly head and focused on the job at hand.
Inside the wardrobe were several fashionable waistcoats, and Livvie ran her hands across the expensive silk. Kelfield always looked so devilishly handsome. He had excellent taste—not that she made a habit to notice such things about the scoundrel. She quickly selected a midnight blue waistcoat and fingered one of the gold buttons. Before she had time to consider what she was actually doing, she snipped the thread with her sewing shears and pocketed the coveted button. 
She started for the door, but froze when she heard footsteps outside the duke’s threshold. Then came a thump against the oak door and a feminine giggle, followed by a hushed but very masculine growl. Slowly, the doorknob began to turn. 
Panicked, and with her heart pounding viciously, Livvie looked around the room and dashed inside the wardrobe, just as the door flew open. 
That was close. Too close. And what was she to do now?
The giggling continued and two bodies stumbled into the room. Livvie could hear kissing and moaning. Her curiosity warred with her fear of discovery. Curiosity won out. 
Tentatively, she pushed the wardrobe door just a crack, so that she could see what was going on.
The Duke of Kelfield held a flame-haired woman against him. He was pulling down the edge of her serviceable gown, until her ample bosom spilled free from its confines. The duke took one nipple into his mouth and sucked. Good Heavens! Livvie shrank back against the edge of the wardrobe and closed her eyes tightly. How had she gotten herself into this situation? Stupid treasure hunt.
“Get on your knees,” the duke ordered.
Livvie’s eyes flew open. Oh, she shouldn’t be doing this, but she didn’t seem to be able to help herself. What was the man doing now? She edged closer to the opening of the wardrobe and peeked through the hole with one eye.
Kelfield stood with his back towards her, but Livvie could clearly see the red-haired woman, whom she thought she recognized as one of The Chase’s maids, kneeling between the duke’s legs, with her mouth around…Merciful heavens! Kelfield’s head fell backwards and he let out a low, guttural moan. The sound that came from him was primitive. It reverberated through Livvie—her knees even weakened in response.
After a moment, Kelfield hauled his lover to her feet and yanked the gown completely over her head. Livvie gulped. She should not be witnessing this. Not any of it. But she also couldn’t make herself step away. Most importantly, she couldn’t let them discover her.
The duke was slowly kissing the woman and backing her against the four-poster bed at the same time. When her legs hit the bed frame, Kelfield easily lifted her up in his strong arms and dropped the sultry-eyed maid in the middle of the mattress. Then he discarded his own clothing in no time at all.
Livvie swallowed. Hard. Then she blinked. He was magnificent. She had no idea the male body could be that exquisite. His shoulder blades flexed as he tossed his shirt and then his trousers across the room to land on a chair. He had muscular, well-shaped thighs and an amazing bottom. Livvie hadn’t realized that a bottom could be amazing—but his was like a work of art, sculpted from marble.
Heavens! She should not be here. 
Kneeling on the bed before the red-haired maid, the duke held her legs open with his large hands and then he pushed himself inside her. The sensual moan the woman emitted echoed around the room. Livvie couldn’t watch anymore. She carefully edged herself to the back of the wardrobe to avoid detection. Though she doubted anything could distract the pair on the other side of the door.
The maid’s moans turned to giggles, and Livvie tried to cover her ears. 
The duke groaned loudly.
This was torture. 
After what seemed like forever, Livvie’s legs cramped and all she could breathe was sandalwood. Did the duke douse everything he owned in the scent? Her nose tickled and she tried to breathe through her mouth, but she was felt lightheaded. And still the giggles and groans went on and on. How long could the man keep up this sort of activity? People were probably already looking for her, for heaven’s sake.
And then the worst possible thing happened.
 Livvie sneezed. 
The giggling and groaning stopped instantly and Livvie closed her eyes tight. If she prayed hard enough, perhaps she’d awaken in her own bed and this whole thing would be a terrible dream. Though she knew it wasn’t the case. Her imagination had never been wild enough to conjure the images she’d seen today. 
 “Leave,” the duke barked, and for a moment Livvie thought he was talking to her. But from the crack in the wardrobe she saw the man toss the maid her discarded dress. 
Livvie’s world went dark when Kelfield stepped in front of her hiding place and closed the wardrobe door. She felt a thump against the furniture and she imagined him blocking her exit with his body. 
She heard the rustle of clothes and the maid grumble under her breath. A moment later the room fell silent, except for an irritated sigh that seemed so close, right on the other side of the door.  “If that’s you, Greywood,” the duke growled, “I’ll have your head.”
Tears threatened to spill down Livvie’s cheeks. Her life was over. The duke would surely kill her on the spot, and she was powerless to keep him from finding her. There was nowhere else to hide. 
Then the wardrobe door wrenched open and Livvie squeaked in fear. She expected him to be furious when he found her, but when Kelfield’s silvery grey eyes settled on her, he seemed more stunned than angry. His inky black hair was disheveled from his most recent activities, and he looked down his aristocratic nose at her. “Miss Danbury?” he asked in bewilderment. 
Completely mortified, Livvie blushed deeper and redder than she ever had in her entire life. “Ex-excuse me,” she stammered and tried to brush past him. Even after everything she’d just witnessed, she wasn’t accustomed to conversing with naked men, no matter how impressive they were. And she especially didn’t want to talk to this naked man. She didn’t even want to converse with him fully clothed.
Kelfield chuckled and blocked her path from the wardrobe with his body and an outstretched arm. “I don’t think so.” Then his eyes narrowed and he inched closer to her. “Did you enjoy the performance, sweetheart?”
Wishing that the floor would open up and swallow her whole, Livvie pushed against his chest. His strong and very naked chest. She gulped as she met his silver eyes. “Please, let me pass, Your Grace.”
The bedroom door suddenly opened behind them. “Alex, did I leave my spectacles in here?” Lord Staveley’s voice preceded him into the room. Livvie sucked in a breath, certain her heart stopped beating at the sight of her guardian.
Staveley stopped dead in his tracks. He looked from Kelfield to Livvie and back again. Despite missing his glasses, it would have been impossible for him to miss the duke’s unclothed state. 
“Think you could knock next time, Staveley?” Kelfield drawled easily, though he never removed his eyes from Livvie.
She couldn’t breathe.
A muscle twitched near Staveley’s eye. “Olivia, go find Caroline and do not leave her side.”
“But, my lord,” she began, though she wasn’t sure what she could possibly say to explain the situation. 
Lord Staveley kept his gaze steady on the duke and barked sharply. “Now, Olivia!”

Livvie escaped as fast as she could into the hallway. She fingered the Kelfield button in her pocked and gulped. This was the worst possible thing to happen. 

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