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Forbidden to Love the Duke(97)

By:Jillian Hunter

Elora looked at Ivy in reluctant admiration. “What happened to his gun?”

“How should I know?”

“Can you find it? I never intended to hurt you, Ivy!”

She wasn’t sure she believed Elora. She had a vague idea where the gun had fallen, but it didn’t seem like a good moment to make a dive for it. Ainsley was weaving around the carpet like a boxer dodging the blows of an invisible opponent. Elora walked calmly around the tea table, holding her pistol high, her reticule wrapped around her wrist.

Aware that this was a temporary reprieve, Ivy began throwing glasses at her would-be captors like a barmaid in a drunken brawl.

“Ivy, stop it!” Elora cried. “Look for the gun,” and then, to Ivy’s amazement, Elora raised her pistol to the chandelier and shot at the links that secured it to the ceiling.

The fixture swayed back and forth in a mesmerizing arc. Ainsley looked up as the chandelier tilted, spilling burning candles and melting tallow on his recently abused head. He screamed and threw up his arm to shield his eyes. One candle remained lit in the listing chandelier. In the shadows Ivy saw Elora dart across the room and disappear through the door to the back of the house.

Ivy reached down beneath the drapes and felt for the gun in the corner. She heard footsteps in the street and a carriage door slam. Had Elora escaped and left her alone with Ainsley?

She peered through the drapes.

There was shouting in the hall. Ainsley stood up and backed into the tea table. Two men appeared in the doorway, a pair of the grimmest-looking ruffians Ivy had ever seen. She prayed it was a trick of the light and not nature that had played such unkind favor on their appearance. The tallest man stared at her with an intensity that made her feel faint.

She would rather jump out of the window and beg for the mercy of a stranger than to surrender to those fiends. Ainsley must have hired them from the roughest stews to subdue her.

“Elora?” Ainsley called again. “Where the hell are you?”

The men rushed into the room, one with a pistol in each hand, the other, as she had feared, heading straight toward her.

“Do not move!” he shouted.

Too late. She had already parted the drapes and drawn them back together. Thus hidden, she turned frantically to find the window latch.

“Did I not order you to hold still?” a deep voice rumbled, and a large familiar hand reached through the drapes to feel for her.

“James?” she whispered, hopeful but uncertain.

She gasped as a hideously bruised face poked through the drapes. It pained her to look her beloved in the eye—the one eye not swollen into a slit, that was. “What happened to you?”

“Get down on your knees.”


“On the floor. Hide behind the sideboard until Oliver or I tell you it is safe to show yourself.”

She grabbed for the brandy bottle before her descent, just in case, and folded to her knees. Her position prevented her from witnessing what next occurred, but from what she could gather, Ainsley’s defeat was swift and bloodless. She heard him beg, “Ellsworth, for the love of God, don’t kill me. I wouldn’t have harmed her. She was only to be my ticket to the coast.”

“Sit down on the sofa,” James said, “or I shall give you a ticket straight to hell.”

“The Runners are here, Your Grace,” a third male voice said, and Ivy realized that the other man at the door with James had been Oliver. Was it possible they had made amends during the evening? Was a duel no longer an inevitability?

She fervently hoped so. And she hoped that the police had arrived. For now, however, she wasn’t sure whom to trust anymore beyond the duke. Elora had portrayed herself as a friend and had betrayed society as a whole. Oliver—she didn’t know what to make of him at all. She pulled out the stopper on the brandy decanter and sniffed its contents as a restorative.

She trusted her sisters.

“Ivy?” a concerned voice said.

She trusted Quigley, Carstairs, and Captain Wendover.


Above all, she trusted James.

“Are you drinking?” he demanded.

She glanced up at the face that appeared through the drapes and recoiled. “Is it over? May I come out?”

He bent down and lifted her through the drapes to her feet. The muscular arms that offered her refuge felt like the duke’s. The hard body against which she leaned comforted and radiated a male heat that her senses instantly recognized. The bliss that she knew only when he held her gradually stole over her.

But she had to steel herself to look up into his battered face without wincing. “Is Ainsley gone?”

“Wendover summoned the Runners and they’ve taken Ainsley away.”