Home > Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)

Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)
Author: Tessa Dare

Chapter One

Griff cracked open a single eyelid. A bright stab of pain told him he’d made a grave mistake. He quickly shut his eye again and put a hand over it, groaning.

Something had gone horribly wrong.

He needed a shave. He needed a bath. He might need to be sick. Attempts to summon any recollection of the previous evening resulted in another sharp slice of agony.

He tried to ignore the throb in his temples and focused on the tufted, plush surface under his back. It wasn’t his bed. Perhaps not even a bed at all. Was it just a trick of his nausea, or was the damned thing moving?

“Griff.” The voice came to him through a thick, murky haze. It was muffled, but unmistakably female.

God’s knees, Halford. The next time you decide to bed a woman after a months-long drought, at least stay sober enough to remember it afterward.

He cursed his stupidity. The epic duration of his celibacy was no doubt the reason he’d been tempted by . . . whoever she was. He had no idea of her name or her face. Just a vague impression of a feminine presence nearby. He inhaled and smelled perfume of an indeterminate, expensive sort.

Damn. He’d need jewels to get out of this, no doubt.

Something dull and pointed jabbed his side. “Wake up.”

Did he know that voice? Keeping one hand clapped over his eyes, he fumbled about with the other hand. He caught a handful of heavy silk skirt and skimmed his touch downward until his fingers closed around a stocking-clad ankle. Sighing a little in apology, he rubbed his thumb up and down.

A squawk of feminine outrage assailed his ears. An unyielding object cracked him over the head, but hard. Now to the pounding and throbbing in his skull, he could add ringing.

“Griffin Eliot York. Really.”

Bloody hell.

Forget the headache and piercing sunlight, he bolted upright—bashing his head again, this time on the low ceiling. Blinking, he confirmed the unthinkable truth. He wasn’t in his bedchamber—or any bedchamber—but in the coach. And the woman seated across from him was all too familiar, with the double strand of rubies at her throat and her elegant sweep of silver hair.

They stared at one another in mutual horror.

“Mother?”

She smacked him again with her collapsed parasol. “Wake up.”

“I’m awake, I’m awake.” When she readied another blow, he held up his hands in surrender. “Good God. I may never sleep again.”

Though the air in the coach was oven-warm, he shuddered. Now he most definitely needed a bath.

He peered out the window and saw nothing but vast expanses of rolling green, dappled with cloud-shaped shadows. The coach’s truncated shadow indicated midday.

“Where the devil are we? And why?”

He tried to piece together memories of the previous evening. This was hardly the first time he’d woken in unfamiliar surroundings, head ringing and stomach achurn . . . but it was the first time in a good long while. He thought he’d put this sort of debauchery behind him. So what had happened?

He hadn’t imbibed more than his usual amount of wine at dinner. By the fish course, however, he seemed to recall the china’s acanthus pattern undulating. Swimming before his eyes.

After that, he recalled . . . nothing.

Damn. He’d been drugged.

Kidnapped.

He snapped to alert, bracing his boots on the carriage floorboards.

Whoever his captors were, he must assume they were armed. He was without a blade, without a gun—but he had eager fists, honed reflexes, and a rapidly clearing head. On his own, he would have given himself even chances. But the bastards had taken his mother, too.

“Do not be alarmed,” he told her.

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it. Bad for the complexion.” She touched the double strand of rubies at her throat.

Those rubies. They gave him pause.

What shoddy excuse for a kidnapper used the family coach and left the captive wearing several thousand pounds’ worth of jewels?

Devil take it.

“You.”

“Hm?” His mother raised her eyebrows, all innocence.

“You did this. You put something in my wine at dinner and stuffed me in the carriage.” He pushed a hand through his hair. “My God. I can’t believe you.”

She looked out the window and shrugged. Or rather, she gave the duchess version of a shrug—a motion that didn’t involve anything so common or gauche as the flexing of shoulder muscles, but merely a subtle tilt of the head. “You’d never have come if I asked.”

Incredible.

Griff closed his eyes. Times like these, he supposed he ought to remind himself that a man only had one mother, and his mother only had one son, and she’d carried him in her womb and toiled in labor and so on and so forth. But he did not wish to think about her womb right now—not when he was still trying, desperately, to forget that she possessed ankles.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Sussex.”

Sussex. One of the few counties in England where he didn’t claim any property. “And what is the purpose of this urgent errand?”

A faint smile curved her lips. “We’re going to meet your future bride.”

He stared at his mother. Many moments passed before he could manage coherent speech.

“You are a scheming, fiendish woman with entirely too much time at leisure.”

“And you are the eighth Duke of Halford,” she returned. “I know that doesn’t mean much to you. The disgraces at Oxford, the gambling, the years of aimless debauchery . . . You seem determined to be nothing more than an unfortunate blot on the distinguished Halford legacy. At the very least, start on the next generation while I still have time to mold it. You have a responsibility to—”

“To continue the line.” He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “So I’ve been told. Again and again.”

“You’ll be five-and-thirty this year, Griffy.”

“Yes. Which makes me much too old to be called ‘Griffy.’ ”

“More to the point, I am fifty-eight. I need grandchildren before my decline. It’s not right for two generations of the family to be drooling at the same time.”

“Your decline?” He laughed. “Tell me, Mother, how can I hasten that happy process? Other than offering a firm push.”

Her eyebrow arched in amusement. “Just try it.”

Griff sighed. His mother was . . . his mother. There was no other woman in England like her, and the rest of the world had better pray God had broken the mold. Like the jewels she delighted in wearing, Judith York was a formidable blend of exterior polish and inner fire.

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