After killing his opponent in a duel, Lionel Maitland, Marquess of Axbridge, is known as the Duke of Danger. Tortured by guilt, he shields himself with a devil-may-care attitude. However, when he kills another man in another duel, he’s beyond redemption, even though it wasn’t his fault. He refuses to smear a dead man’s name, especially when he’s left behind a blameless widow who doesn’t deserve an even bigger scandal.
Widowed and destitute, Lady Emmaline Townsend must marry the man of her parents’ choosing or beg unsympathetic relatives for support. The only way out is to ask for help from the one man she’s sworn to hate, the man who owes her anything she asks, the man who killed her husband. They strike a devil’s bargain in which passion simmers just beneath the surface. But her dead husband’s transgressions come back to haunt them and threaten their chance at love.
“Good afternoon, Lady Townsend. May I offer my deepest condolences?”
She turned on the chair, barely curious as to who might be visiting and eager to send him on his way. But as soon as she pivoted, it was as if a dam inside her split in two and a cascade of emotion tumbled forth.
Bolting from the chair, she took two long steps toward him. “You.”
“Yes, me.” The Marquess of Axbridge didn’t flinch. Indeed, he stared into her, his blue eyes clear and piercing.
“You’ve a singular audacity to come here.”
The marquess bowed deeply. “I beg your pardon.” He looked at her once more. “And your forgiveness.”
Rage spiraled through her, and it was glorious to feel. “You’ll never have either.”
“That is completely understandable.” His tone was tight, measured. His cool reserve antagonized her.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m so glad I have your approval.”
“I wouldn’t ever ask for, nor expect that.”
“And yet you ask for my forgiveness. It hardly seems to matter—I’ll give you nothing save my undying hatred.”
“Which I deserve. Nevertheless, I would apologize for what happened.”
“Apologize? You didn’t step on my foot during a dance. Nor did you spill a glass of ratafia on my gown. You killed my husband.”
Now he flinched. His eye twitched, and his lips pressed together so hard, they turned white. And yet he was still incredibly handsome. That hardly seemed fair.
He took a step toward her. She didn’t retreat, but her body tensed. She clenched her hands into tight fists. Her spine was so straight and stiff that she could have flown a flag from her shoulder.
“I didn’t come to make excuses, but please know I had good reason to demand satisfaction. I’d hoped he would settle the matter before moving to weapons, but he refused.”
She gaped at him. “Are you somehow trying to blame my husband for your actions?”
His jaw tightened, and he blew out a breath. “No. I came to offer my condolences, beg your forgiveness, apologize, and offer any assistance you may need—ever.”
He wanted to help her? She stared at him, the anger inside her curdling. “I would never want anything from you, nor would I ask.”
“I certainly understand you not wanting anything from me; however, if a need should ever arise, I would very much like to help you.”
“I think you’ve done quite enough.” Fury churned through every part of her, and she wanted to lash out. Needed to. “Actually, I can think of one thing I would like from you.” She took a step toward him, her lip curling. “I should appreciate it if you would be miserable for the rest of your life. I would take great joy in knowing that you will wallow in guilt and anguish for all your days.” She glared at him, long and hard.
“I can do that,” he said softly, without a shred of irony. “You may be pleased to know that I am already well on my way. And I shan’t trouble you with my presence. I’m leaving England today.”
“My offer will always stand, whether you choose to take advantage of it or not. Should you require anything at all, please contact my man of affairs.” He held out a card.
She didn’t want to take anything from him. “Choke on it,” she spat.
He withdrew his hand to his side. “Again, my deepest apologies, Lady Townsend.” He turned and strode from the room, his broad shoulders straight, his gait sure.
About the Author
Darcy Burke is the USA Today Bestselling Author of hot, action-packed historical and sexy, emotional contemporary romance. A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids who seem to have inherited the writing gene, and three Bengal cats. Visit Darcy online at www.darcyburke.com and sign up for her newsletter, follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/darcyburke, or like her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/DarcyBurkeFans.