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The Duke's Perfect Wife


Page 5


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But perhaps this would be better. If he inserted her into his life now, she'd grow so used to being there that when he put his hand out for her, she'd take it and not say no.
He could find some nominal employment for her, let her track down who had these photographs-she was not wrong that they might help his opposition make a fool of him-while he slowly closed his fist about her. So slowly that she'd not know he had her in his grasp until too late.
Eleanor would be with him, at his side, as she was now, smiling her red-lipped smile. Every day, and every night.
Every night.
"Hart?" Eleanor waved a hand in front of his face. "Woolgathering, are you?"
Hart snapped his focus back to her, on the kissable curve of her mouth, the little smile that had once made him determined to have her. In all ways.
Eleanor tucked the photograph into her pocket. "Now, as to salary, it needn't be large. Something to get us by, that's all. And accommodations for myself and my father while we're in London. Small rooms will be fine-we are used to scratching for ourselves, as long as the neighborhood is not too seedy. Father will walk anywhere alone, and I do not want street toughs bothering him. He'd end up trying to explain to his assailants how knives like the one with which they are trying to stab him first came to be made, and finish with a lecture on the best methods of tempering steel."
"El…"
Eleanor went on, ignoring him. "If you do not wish to admit to engaging me for looking into who sent the photograph-and I can see why you'd need to be secretive-you can tell people that you've engaged me to do something else. Typing your letters, perhaps. I did learn to use a typing machine. The postmistress in the village was given one. She offered to teach spinster ladies how to type so that they might be able to find a job in a city instead of waiting in vain for a man to take notice of them and marry them. I, of course, could not move to a city without Father, who will never leave Glenarden for more than a few weeks at a time, but I learned the skill anyway, not knowing when it might become useful. Which it has. And anyway, you must give me a post so that I can earn the money to take us back to Aberdeen."
"Eleanor!"
Hart heard his voice fill the room, but sometimes the only way to stop her flow was to boom over it.
She blinked. "What?"
One curl dropped from beneath her hat and snaked down her shoulder, a red gold streak on her serge bodice.
Hart drew a breath. "Give a man a moment to think."
"Yes, I know I can run on. Father never minds. And I am a bit nervous, I must say. I was once betrothed to you, and now here we are, face-to-face, like old friends."
Dear God. "We are not friends."
"I know that. I said like old friends. One old friend asking another for a job. I've come here in desperation."
She might say that, but her smile, her open look, spoke of eagerness and determination.
Once upon a time Hart had tasted that eagerness, her zest for life, and he longed to taste it again.
… To unbutton the buttons of her bodice, to open them slowly, to lean in and lick her throat. To watch her eyes go soft while he kissed the corner of her mouth.
Eleanor had been responsive. So loving and strong.
Dark need stirred in the places he'd kept it long buried, tantalizing and sharp. It told her he could lean down to Eleanor right now, pin her arms behind her on the straight-backed chair, take her mouth in a long, deep kiss…
Eleanor sat forward, the collar of her dress brushing her soft chin. "I'll look for the photographs while you tell your staff you've taken me on to help with your pile of correspondence. You know you need everyone you can to help you with your never-ending goal of becoming prime minister. I gather that you are close?"
"Yes," Hart said. Such a short answer to summarize his years of work and diligence, his countless journeys to assess the state of the world, the politicians he'd endlessly courted at endlessly dull gatherings at Kilmorgan Castle. But he felt the need, the obsession boil up in his brain. It drove him every day of his life.
Eleanor's gaze had gone soft. "You come alive when you look like that," she said. "Like you used to. Wild and unstoppable. I very much liked that."
His chest felt tight. "Did you now, lass?"
"True, you've become a bit cold these days, but I am quite glad to see that the fire is still within you." Eleanor sat back, practical once more. "Now, then, as to the photographs-how many were there in total?"
Hart felt his fingers press down on the desk, as though they'd go through the wood. "Twenty."
"As many as that? I wonder if the person has them all, or where they obtained them. Who took them? Mrs. Palmer?"
"Yes." He did not want to talk about Mrs. Palmer with her. Not now, not ever.
"I suspected so. Though perhaps whoever is sending them found them in a shop. Shops sell photographs to collectors-of all kinds of people and all kinds of themes. I'd think yours would have come to light long ago if so, but…"
"Eleanor."
"What?"
Hart reined in his temper. "If you'll stop talking for the space of a moment, I can tell you that I'll give you the post."
Eleanor's eyes widened. "Well, thank you. I must say, I expected much more of an argument-"
"Shut it. I'm not finished. I won't put you and your father in some crumbling rooms in Bloomsbury. You'll stay here in the house, both of you." READ MORE ...

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