Griffin Stone:Duke Of Decadence(2)

By: Carole Mortimer



His decision to come to his estate in Lancashire had been forced upon him by circumstances. The open war against Napoleon was now over, thank goodness, but Griffin, and several of his close friends, who also bore the title of Duke and were known collectively as the Dangerous Dukes, all knew, better than most, that there was still a silent, private war to be fought against the defeated emperor and his fanatical followers.

Just a week ago the Dangerous Dukes had helped foil an assassination plot to eliminate their own Prince Regent, along with the other leaders of the alliance. The plan being to ensure Napoleon’s victorious return to Paris, while chaos ruled in those other countries.

A Frenchman, André Rousseau, since apprehended and killed by one of the Dangerous Dukes, had previously spent a year in England, secretly persuading men and women who worked in the households of England’s politicians and peers to Napoleon’s cause. Of which there were many; so many families in England had French relatives.

Many of the perpetrators of that plot had since been either killed or incarcerated, but there remained several who were unaccounted for. It was rumoured that those remaining followed the orders of an as yet unknown leader.

Griffin was on his way to the ducal estates he had not visited for some years, because the Dukes had received word that one of the traitors, Jacob Harker, who might know the identity of this mysterious leader, had been sighted in the vicinity.

It just so happened that three of the Dangerous Dukes had married in recent weeks, and a fourth wed just a week ago, on the very day Griffin had set out for his estate in Lancashire. With all of his friends being so pleasurably occupied, it had been left to him to pursue the rumour of the sighting of Harker.

Running a young woman down in his carriage, in the dark of night, had not been part of Griffin’s immediate plans.

 * * *

She hurt.

Every part of her was in agony and aching as she attempted to move her legs.

A wave of pain that swelled from her toes to the top of her head.

Had she fallen?

Been involved in an accident of some kind?

‘Would you care for a drink of water?’

She stilled at the sound of a cultured male voice, hardly daring to breathe as she tried, and failed, to recall if she recognised the owner of it before she attempted to open her eyes.

Panic set in as she realised that he was a stranger to her.

‘There is no reason to be alarmed,’ Griffin assured her firmly as the young woman in the bed finally opened panicked eyes—eyes that he could now see were the dark blue of midnight, and surrounded by thick lashes that were very black against the pallor of a face that appeared far too thin—and turned to look at him as he sat beside the bed in a chair that was uncomfortably small for his large frame.

She, in comparison, made barely an outline beneath the covers of the bed in his best guest bedchamber at Stonehurst Park, her abundance of long dark hair appearing even blacker against the white satin-and-lace pillows upon which her head lay, her face so incredibly pale.

‘I assure you I do not mean you any harm,’ he added firmly. He was well aware of the effect his five inches over six feet in height, and his broad and muscled body, had upon ladies as delicate as this one. ‘I am sure you will feel better if you drink a little water.’

Griffin turned to the bedside table and poured some into a glass. He placed a hand gently beneath her nape to ease up her head and held the glass to her lips until she had drunk down several sips, aware as he did that those dark blue eyes remained fixed on his every move.

Tears now filled them as her head dropped back onto the pillows. ‘I—’ She gave a shake of her head, only to wince as even that slight movement obviously caused her pain. She ran her moistened tongue over her lips before speaking again. ‘You are very kind.’

Griffin frowned darkly as he turned to place the glass back on the bedside table, hardening his heart against the sight of those tears until he knew more about the circumstances behind this young woman’s flight through his woods. His years as an agent for the Crown had left him suspicious of almost everybody.

And women, as he knew only too well, were apt to use tears as their choice of weapon.

‘Who are you?’

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