A Duchess in the Dark

By: Kate McKinley

Acknowledgments




With deepest gratitude to my editor, Lauren Plude, and my agent, Helen Breitwieser, for believing in me.

To my writing sisters, Maria Powers, Jennifer Haymore, and Brenna Aubrey, for their endless support and encouragement. This book wouldn’t exist without their honest and insightful critiques, and I am tremendously grateful for their friendship.

Special thanks to my children, who give me “just five more minutes” several times a day, and to my husband, who is always willing to offer himself up in the name of research.





Chapter One



Yorkshire, England, 1813

Daphne Hayward slipped into the room silently, shutting and bolting the door behind her. Edward’s room was pitch-black, the curtains pulled tight against the moonlight, the air around her still and quiet—the only sound came from the far side of the room, where Edward lay in his bed. His loud, measured breaths assured her he was fast asleep. Her sweet, pliable Edward.

Tonight he would finally be hers.

With trembling fingers, Daphne untied the sash at her waist and let the pale-pink robe slip from her shoulders and pool onto the floor. Her chemise and slippers quickly followed. Cold air nipped at her naked skin as she hurried to the bed—from instinct rather than sight—quickly sliding beneath the coverlet.

For several minutes, she lay there, frozen, too afraid to move. Her heart hammered against her ribs and the crisp air caught in her lungs. Before she lost her nerve, she reached over and trailed one tentative finger down Edward’s muscled arm. He felt smooth like granite, but warm to the touch.

When he didn’t stir, her touch grew bolder. Moving closer, she drew the coverlet back and skimmed her hand up his naked torso. In the darkness, she could feel every ridge and muscle that lined his stomach. She’d never realized how deliciously strong he was. In daylight, he looked every bit the respectable gentleman—tall with wavy blond hair, pale-blue eyes, and a frame that leaned toward boyish. She was delighted to discover it was just an illusion—no doubt created by his very talented tailor. It was a wonder what miles of fabric and fine tailoring could conceal.

Licking her lips, she let her hand trail downward to the crisp hairs that peeked just above…He moaned a little, waking, and she snatched her hand back. He was completely naked. A split second before she’d pulled her hand away, she’d brushed against the hot ridge of his erection.

Suddenly, she felt out of her depth. What was she doing? Despite her sister, Margaret’s, frank discussions about sex, Daphne hadn’t the faintest idea how to seduce a man—but she must. Their future happiness with Edward depended on it.

He groaned. The sound of his voice was richer, heavier in sleep than she’d imagined. But before she could contemplate that too deeply, he rolled over and dragged her beneath him with a low growl.

“I hoped you’d come,” he said, his voice roughened from sleep.

Daphne let out a startled gasp, excited, as the weight of his body pressed her into the mattress. Her sister was right. Men really did abandon all civility and surrender to their animal natures in bed. Again, she had no time to contemplate this wondrous transformation as he swiftly caught her lips in a deep, passionate kiss, obliterating any further thought. All she was left with was the wicked sensation of his tongue sweeping into her mouth, stroking her senseless, melting her fears. He tasted rich, like brandy, mixed with cigar and wood smoke—wholly male, and so unlike the man she knew in daylight.

It was clear by the way he took control that he wanted this. She had long suspected it to be true, but his gentle and honorable nature had always been an obstacle. Now, in the darkness, the world, society, melted away and there was only the two of them. And it felt right, so very right.

Deliriously right.

He released her mouth and trailed wet kisses down her neck, biting as his hand found the patch of curls between her thighs. A thrill of excitement rushed through her as he toyed with her there, running his finger along the seam of her sex, while his lips lowered to play havoc with her left nipple. His tongue swirled and licked, sending ripples of heat spreading through her veins. His mouth felt so good against her skin, wet and hot, and she lost herself to the sensation.

“Mmmmm.” With one hand, he spread her thighs wide and settled himself between them, his lower half hovering just inches above her. Instinctively, she arched her hips upward, grinding into his pelvis, searching for more of that delicious friction. She wanted more. So much more. Everything he had to give.

In one swift thrust, he entered her. The sharp sting was so painful it took her breath away. She bit her lip to keep from crying out. Edward had always been gentle toward her. If he knew he’d hurt her, he’d pull away, and she simply couldn’t let that happen. She needed this. They needed this.

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