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.
If you’ve read THE FORBIDDEN DUKE, book one in my popular series, The Untouchables, you will love this second epilogue featuring Titus and Nora’s first Yuletide together. Or, if you haven’t read THE FORBIDDEN DUKE, you’ll enjoy this short, sweet Christmas scene about a newlywed duke and his bride and the holiday surprises they have in store. Happy reading!
The Forbidden Duke
Lakemoor, Lake District, England, Yuletide 1811
“I’m so pleased the weather cooperated with us,” Lady Satterfield remarked as she gazed out the window at the clear blue sky. It had rained so much of late, so this was a welcome change. Particularly today.
Eleanor St. John, Duchess of Kendal, flicked a glance toward her mother-in-law before turning from the window. “Yes, I’m so relieved. I’d hate to have to postpone today’s activities.”
Lady Satterfield pivoted with her. “You’re certain Titus has no idea?”
A smile crept over Nora’s lips as anticipation welled in her chest. “If he does, he’s excellent at concealing it. He specifically said he was looking forward to a cozy day inside. Since the baby started kicking, he enjoys trying to provoke him.” Nora caressed her growing belly.
“Or her,” Lady Satterfield said, her eyes sparkling.
Nora chuckled. “Or her.”
Lord Satterfield entered the drawing room at that moment, rubbing his hands together. “Ah, here you are. Everything’s arranged.”
Nora nodded. “Titus is in his office with the steward attending to a few things. I will interrupt him shortly.”
“Excellent.” Lord Satterfield grinned, looking between them. “I admit I’m quite looking forward to this.”
“Me too,” Nora agreed. “I’ve never been on a Yule log hunt before.”
“Even if you had, I doubt it would compare to this” Lady Satterfield said. “My former husband made sure to include as many of the tenants and retainers as possible.” Her gaze glowed with love as she recalled the previous duke who’d died almost a decade ago. She moved toward her current husband and clasped his hand. She’d been lucky enough to find happiness a second time with the Earl of Satterfield.
Lord Satterfield squeezed her hand in return, and Nora felt a lump in her throat. Goodness, strong emotion came so easily since she’d become pregnant.
Nora coughed and blinked lest tears decide to pool in her eyes. “I’m quite excited for the feast afterward.” An affinity for food, particularly sweets, was another side effect of carrying the babe. “Keeping the feast planning secret from Titus has been the most difficult piece.” They’d enlisted everyone in the household to help with today’s surprise for Titus. It was astounding that no one had said anything to him—or at least Nora hoped they hadn’t.
She so hoped he liked what they’d planned. He missed his father and had felt guilty for many years about not spending more time with him when he was ill before he died. Nora hoped that this hunt would remind Titus of happier times as well as help him feel as though he could truly carry on his father’s legacy. The previous duke had been beloved by his retainers and tenants and Nora wanted the same for Titus. He was very dedicated and worked hard, but he didn’t always allow himself to relax and simply enjoy. It was a characteristic that had added to his reputation as the Forbidden Duke. He seemed unapproachable and aloof, and for the most part he was content to embody that role. Nora, however, knew a different Titus. Her husband of the past several months was warm and loving, and she wanted everyone to know it.
“I suppose I should go get him.” Nora looked expectantly between her in-laws, and they gave her encouraging smiles.
She made her way to Titus’s office and knocked softly on the door, which stood ajar.
“Come in,” Titus called.
Nora stepped inside as the steward stood from his chair. “I didn’t mean to interrupt,” she said.
Titus got up from behind his desk and smiled warmly at her. “You’re not, we’re finished.” He nodded at the steward who turned and started toward the door. He exchanged a knowing glance with Nora as he departed.
Nora focused her attention on her handsome husband, and her breath caught, as it often did. They’d married last spring, but her heart still beat wildly when she was with him. She smoothed her skirt over her belly as she moved farther into the office. “I thought we could go for a ride in the barouche today. It’s so glorious outside after all this rain.”
Titus came around his desk and approached her, his brows pitching down. “I wanted to stay inside and snuggle with my beautiful wife.” He slipped his arms around her and nuzzled her neck.
Nora giggled. “We do that every day.”
He kissed the flesh beneath her ear, his lips warm and soft. “Is there a limit?”
A sigh escaped her mouth as he trailed his mouth along her jaw. “No. But I really would like to go out while we can. Please?” She pulled her head back forcing him to stop and straighten.
He frowned slightly as he stared down at her. “I’d rather not. Truly. I think we should stay in. Especially in your condition.” He patted her belly and turned away from her to return to his desk.
Nora tried not to feel slighted. “That’s absurd. I can go for a ride in the barouche.”
He shook his head. “It’s far too cold.”
Frustration grew in her breast. “It isn’t. The sun is out, and it’s quite fair. Besides, I’ll have a blanket.”
“I’m afraid I insist we stay inside.”
He sat down in his chair. “Yes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few letters I must respond to before we can commence snuggling.”
As if she wanted to snuggle with him now. He was ruining everything! “What if I insist on going out?”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “I’ll give strict instructions that the vehicles are not to be taken out.”
Nora resisted the urge to stamp her foot. Or throw something at his stubborn head. “You’re being beastly. I just want to go for a simple ride.” And restore a long-held tradition. As well as create a memory they’d cherish forever. It was their first Yuletide season together after all. It was also Nora’s first away from her sister, a fact she tried not to think about. Today’s festivities would help with that.
Titus leaned back in his chair and looked up at her. “It’s not simple. The ground is saturated. It would be too easy for the barouche to get stuck in the mud. Why don’t you read for a bit, and I’ll join you shortly in the drawing room?” He gave her a bland smile before looking down at his work.
Having been dismissed, Nora stared at his dark head and scowled. She spun on her heel and stalked back to the drawing room where the Satterfields were expectantly waiting. Their faces fell in unison when they saw her.
“What’s wrong?” Lady Satterfield asked, rising from the settee.
“He refuses to go. He spouted some nonsense about my condition and mud.” Nora folded her arms over her chest. “Now what do we do?”
Lord Satterfield, who’d stood with the countess, exhaled. “I’ll talk to him. You both get ready, and we’ll meet you in the entry hall.” He gave them both a look of pure determination before leaving.
“Do you really think he’ll succeed where I failed?” Nora asked, dropping her arms to her sides.
Lady Satterfield patted her arm. “I hope so dear. Otherwise, we’ve gone to a lot of trouble for nothing, and many people will be greatly disappointed.”
Nora prayed that wouldn’t happen.
* * *
Titus frowned at the door after Nora had left. He was a beast. He wouldn’t have hesitated to take Nora for a ride, but it was imperative they stay at home today. He would move heaven and earth to give his wife her heart’s desire, which was precisely why he wouldn’t take her out in the barouche.
He winced as he recalled the disappointment in her gaze followed by shock and then anger. He hadn’t meant to patronize her and hoped she’d forgive him. Of course she would. Later today, she’d be too happy to remain upset.
Or so he hoped.
His stepfather walked into his office, his face dark and his mouth turned down. “Why won’t you take Nora for a ride? It’s absolutely beautiful, and she’s been cooped up inside for days.”
Titus stood up. “I just don’t want to go out today. I’ll take her out tomorrow.”
Satterfield, a typically affable fellow, gave him a hard look. “And what if the rain returns? There’s absolutely no reason you can’t go today.”
There was every reason, but he wasn’t going to explain himself to his stepfather. “This is my house, and I’ll decide what reasons are valid.” Titus inwardly flinched—that didn’t sound good or rational even to his ears.
“Would it help to know that your wife has planned a special outing for today and by not going, you’ll be crushing her?”
Hell. A special outing? What was he supposed to do now? He’d planned something special for today, and they could not leave.
Titus walked around his desk as he pushed out a breath. “I didn’t realize. Still, we can’t go today. Can’t we just do this tomorrow?”
“Certainly. If you’d like to sleep alone for the foreseeable future. You’re still a newlywed. You don’t understand a woman’s anger. It is a force unto itself.”
Titus wiped his hand over his brow. “I’m not trying to make her angry.” Damn it all, this was not going as planned.
“We never try, son. Nevertheless, that’s precisely what you’re doing.”
There had to be some sort of middle ground, but Titus couldn’t think of it. “I’m sorry, but we just can’t go today.”
Satterfield glared at him a moment, and Titus wasn’t sure he’d ever seen him that put out. “Then we’ll go without you. You really are the Forbidden Duke, aren’t you? You forbid yourself even the simplest pleasures. Enjoy your solitude.” He turned and strode from the office.
Titus gaped after him. He did like his solitude, but since he’d fallen in love with Nora, he far preferred her company. And actually the company of others he cared for. Including his stepfather.
He followed Satterfield all the way to the entry hall and stopped short. The butler began to help the earl into his great coat while Titus’s stepmother and Nora pulled on their gloves. “You’re going anyway?” Titus asked.
The bitter taste of defeat rushed over his tongue. He’d planned today’s surprise for Nora so meticulously. The rain had tried to ruin things, but after several delays, it was finally going to happen—Nora’s fondest Christmas wish.
Only she wouldn’t be here to receive it.
Realizing this had moved past his ability to control, Titus surrendered. “How long will this excursion take?” Perhaps if they hurried, they would still arrive home in time.
Nora gave him a cool stare. “All day. Don’t let us disturb you.”
“I’ll go,” he said somewhat listlessly.
His stepmother pursed her lips at him. “We don’t want to force you.”
He didn’t say anything, just waited for a footman to fetch his greatcoat and hat.
A few minutes later he joined them outside where the barouche was already waiting. He blinked toward the bright sky. It was an especially fine day. Perfect for a surprise.
Ah well, it would still be a surprise, just not the way he’d conceived it.
He climbed into the barouche and sat beside his wife who refused to look his way.
This was not how he’d envisioned this day at all.
* * *
Nora slid a curious glance toward her husband. He looked incredibly disappointed. He really didn’t want to go out today. And here she was forcing this on him. How much fun were they going to have now?
She opened her mouth to tell him what they had planned when the sound of a coach drew her attention. The barouche slowed as the coach came toward them.
The other vehicle eased to a stop beside them in the drive. Nora’s heart stuttered. She recognized that coach.
The door flew open, and her beloved sister, Joanna, popped her head out as the footman rushed to put down the stairs.
“Nora!” Jo cried, her hazel eyes sparkling in the sunlight.
The tears Nora had kept at bay earlier swelled in her eyes she stood up in the barouche. “Jo, you’re here.” She could hardly believe it.
The footman opened the door to the barouche and helped Nora down. As soon as her feet hit the earth, she rushed forward and wrapped her sister in a tight hug. Tears tracked down her cheeks, which were pulled taut with the smile that came from her very soul.
When they finally parted, Nora could see that Jo was crying too. “I was certain we wouldn’t be together.” Nora wiped her eyes.
“I was too, until your husband invited me to come.” Jo looked over Nora’s shoulder at Titus.
Nora turned her head and saw Titus watching them with a wide grin. “This is why you didn’t want to leave.” How she loved this man.
Lady Satterfield dashed her fingertips over her eyes. “Well, this is just the loveliest surprise.”
Yes, it was. Or was it? They still had one to go. Nora hugged her sister again and whispered, “Come in the barouche with us, I have a surprise for Titus as well.”
Jo’s eyes glinted with mischief. “You two are inspiring.” She sighed, and Nora detected a bit of envy. Belatedly, she looked toward the coach.
“Your husband isn’t with you?” Nora asked.
Jo shook her head. “No, he didn’t wish to leave the vicarage.” She didn’t sound disappointed in the slightest. There would be time to talk about that. Hopefully she’d be staying for a nice long visit.
“Come,” Nora said, turning.
The footman helped them both into the barouche and soon they were on their way again.
With the addition of Jo, Nora was pushed up against her husband, but there was nowhere she’d rather be. “Thank you,” she murmured. “I understand why you were being awful before.”
He chuckled softly. “I hated every moment of it.”
She beamed up at him. “I love you so very much.”
He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “And I adore you.”
She hoped he still did in a few minutes.
They left the drive and made their way toward the village before veering onto a track that led to one of Titus’s tenant’s houses. She tensed and held her breath as she watched for his reaction.
Dozens of people were clustered about, and their voices rose with cheer as the barouche approached.
“What is this?” Titus breathed.
“We’re going on a Yule log hunt,” Nora said, hoping he would be as happy as he’d made her.
His gaze was fixed on all of the tenants gathered together. His steward stood in the front, grinning. “My father used to have those,” Titus said.
Nora clutched his arm and gave him a loving squeeze. “I know. Everyone was thrilled to have another. It was long overdue, they said.”
He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He snapped it shut and nodded. A moment later he turned toward her, the shine of unshed tears in his lush green eyes. “Thank you.”
“Happy Christmas, my love.”
He kissed her again. “Happy Christmas.”
After five years on the Marriage Mart, Miss Aquilla Knox is ready for spinsterhood until a benefactress steps in to help her secure a husband. Only Aquilla doesn’t actually want to marry—her failure is entirely on purpose. When the earl she’s nicknamed the Duke of Deception sets his sights on her, she refuses to be drawn in by her attraction to him. If there’s one thing she knows it’s that a gentleman is never what he seems.Edward Bishop, Earl of Sutton, has a reputation for courting young misses and dropping them without a second thought. This has earned him a reputation for deceit, a description he can’t refute because he does in fact, harbor secrets and will do anything—deceive anyone—to ensure they don’t come to light. As he comes to know the charming Miss Knox, his resolve is tested. However, trust comes at a price and Ned won’t pay with his heart.
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