It was said that he knew every pleasure a woman desired and exactly how to give it to her. Hart wouldn’t ask what the lady wanted, and she might not even know herself, but she would understand once he’d finished. And she’d want it again.
He had power, wealth, skill, and intelligence, and the ability to play upon his fellow man—or woman—to make them do anything he wanted and believe it to be their own idea.
Eleanor Ramsay knew firsthand that all of this was true.
She lurked among a flock of journalists in St. James’s Street on an unexpectedly mild February afternoon, waiting for the great Hart Mackenzie, Duke of Kilmorgan, to emerge from his club. In her unfashionable gown and old hat, Lady Eleanor Ramsay looked like any other lady scribbler, as hungry for a story as the rest of them. But while they craved an exclusive story about the famous Scottish duke, Eleanor had come to change his life.
The journalists snapped alert when they spied the tall duke on the threshold, his broad shoulders stretching out a black coat, Mackenzie plaid swathing his hips. He always wore a kilt to remind everyone who set eyes on him that he was, and always would be, Scottish first.
“Your Grace!” the journalists shouted. “Your Grace!”
The sea of male backs surged past Eleanor, shutting her out. She jostled her way forward, using her folded parasol without mercy to open her way to the front of the pack. “Oh, I do beg your pardon,” she said, when her bustle shoved aside a man who tried to elbow her in the ribs.
Hart looked neither left nor right as he pulled on his hat and walked the three steps between the club and the door of his open landau. He was master of not acknowledging what he did not wish to.
“Your Grace!” Eleanor shouted. She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Hart!”
Hart stopped, turned. His gaze met hers, his golden stare skewering her across the twenty feet of space between them.
Eleanor’s knees went weak. She’d last seen Hart on a train, almost a year ago, when he’d followed her into her compartment, his hand warm on her arm, and made her take a gift of money from him. He’d felt sorry for her, which had rankled. He’d also tucked one of his cards into the collar of her bodice. She remembered the heat of his fingers and the scrape of the card, with his name, against her skin.
Hart said something to one of the pugilist-looking bodyguards who waited next to his carriage. The man gave Hart a nod, then turned and shouldered his way to Eleanor, breaking a path through the frantic journalists.
“This way, your ladyship.”
Eleanor clutched her closed parasol, aware of the angry glares around her, and followed. Hart watched her come, his gaze never moving. It had been heady, once upon a time, to be the center of that very studied attention.
When she reached the landau, Hart caught her by the elbows and boosted her up and inside.
Eleanor’s breath went out of her at his touch. She landed on the seat, trying to slow her pounding heart, as Hart followed her in, taking the seat opposite, thank heavens. She’d never be able to get through her proposition if he sat too close to her, distracting her with the heat of his very solid body.
The footman slammed the door, and Eleanor grabbed at her hat as the landau jerked forward. The gentlemen of the press shouted and swore as their prey got away, the landau heading up St. James’s Street toward Mayfair.
Eleanor looked back over the seat at them. “Goodness, you’ve made Fleet Street unhappy today,” she said.
“Damn Fleet Street,” Hart growled.
Eleanor turned around again to find Hart’s gaze hard on her. “What, all of it?”
This close to him, she could see the gold flecks in his hazel eyes that gave him the eagle look, and the red highlights in his dark hair from his Scottish ancestry. He’d cropped his hair shorter since she’d seen him last, which made his face sharper and more forbidding than ever. Eleanor was the only one among the crowd of journalists to have seen that face soften in sleep.
Hart stretched one big arm across the seat, his large legs under the kilt crowding the carriage. The kilt shifted upward a little, letting her glimpse thighs tanned from all the riding, fishing, and tramping about he did on his Scottish estate.
Eleanor opened her parasol, pretending that she was relaxed and happy to be in the same carriage as the man to whom she’d once been engaged. “I apologize for accosting you on the street,” she said. “I did go to your house, but you’ve changed your majordomo. He did not know me, nor was he by any means impressed by the card you gave me. Apparently ladies make a habit of trying to gain your house by false pretenses, and he assumed me one of those. I really cannot blame him. I could have stolen the card, for all he knew, and you have always been quite popular with the ladies.”
Hart’s gaze didn’t soften under her barrage of words as it used to do. “I will speak to him.”
“No, no, don’t shout at the poor man too much. He wasn’t to know. I expect you tell him very little, in your maddening way. No, I came all this way from Aberdeen to talk to you. It’s really quite important. I called in at Isabella’s, but she was not at home, and I knew that this could not wait. I managed to get it out of your footman—dear Franklin, how he’s grown—that you’d be at your club, but he was too terrified of the majordomo to let me wait in the house. So I decided to lurk and catch you when you emerged. It was such fun, pretending to be a scribbler. And here I am.”
She threw out her hands in that helpless gesture Hart remembered, but woe to any man who thought this woman helpless.
Lady Eleanor Ramsay.
The woman I am going to marry.
Her dark blue serge dress was years out of date, her parasol had one broken spoke, and her hat with faded flowers and short veil perched lopsidedly on her head. The veil did nothing to hide the delphinium blue of her eyes or the spread of sweet freckles that ran together when she wrinkled her nose, all the while smiling her little smile. She was tall for a woman, but filled out with generous curves. She’d been breathtakingly beautiful at age twenty, when he’d first seen her flitting about a ballroom, her voice and laughter like music, and she was beautiful now. Even more so. Hart’s hungry gaze feasted on her, he imbibing her like a man who’d gone without sustenance for a very long time.
He forced his voice to remain steady, casual even. “What is this important thing you need to speak to me about?” With Eleanor it could be anything from a lost button to a threat to the British Empire.