A Duke Will Never Do (The Spitfire Society #3) by Darcy Burke

Chapter 1

London, May 1819

Jane Pemberton hummed to herself as she tied the ribbons of her bonnet beneath her chin. “I’m just going for a quick walk around the square before the meeting, Culpepper.”

The butler, a thoroughly capable and unflappable man in his late thirties with thick sandy-brown hair and sherry-brown eyes, inclined his head. “Enjoy your walk, Miss Pemberton.”

“Thank you.” Jane smiled at him as he reached for the door. Though she’d only moved to the house just over a fortnight ago, she felt completely at home, and that was due in large part to Culpepper’s kindness and support. It was most welcome considering the disaster she’d caused by taking up residence here in her friend Phoebe Lennox’s house.

No, not Phoebe Lennox. She was Marchioness of Ripley now, after marrying the marquess a fortnight before. Today would be the first time Jane had seen her since the wedding.

Culpepper opened the door, and Jane stepped toward the threshold. Where she stopped short before tripping over a…

“Good heavens! There’s a man on the doorstep!” Jane squatted down and moved his hat, which was sitting askew and covering most of his face. At least she thought it was a face. His eye was so swollen, she doubted he could open it, and a cut, coated with dried blood, marred his upper cheek. Dried blood also covered the space between his nose and mouth, and his lower lip was split. Whoever he was, he’d been in a terrible fight.

“Is he alive?” Culpepper asked.

Jane leaned over him, lowering her cheek to his mouth and nose. His breath, reeking of alcohol, told her he was. “Yes. Let’s take him inside.”

“I’ll fetch Jones.” Culpepper referred to one of the footmen.

While the butler was gone, Jane brushed the stranger’s dark, wavy hair back from his battered face. Who was he, and why was he on her doorstep?

Culpepper and Jones arrived and hefted him into the entry hall. The stranger moaned but didn’t open his eyes.

“Take him up to the front bedchamber.” It was the room Jane had used when she’d first arrived, but Phoebe had insisted she take her chamber, which was larger and boasted an adjoining sitting room. Since Phoebe now resided with her husband just down the street in Hanover Square, Jane hadn’t refused.

“Yes, Miss Pemberton,” Culpepper answered as he led the way, carrying the man’s shoulders, going backward up the stairs.

Jane untied her bonnet and removed her gloves as she followed them. Depositing the items on a table at the top of the stairs, she trailed them to the bedchamber, where they placed the man on the bed.

Culpepper turned to her in question.

“Please fetch cloths and water so we can clean him up,” Jane said, moving to the bed.

The butler and footman left, and Jane studied the stranger. She could see the other side of his face now, and it was a bit less damaged than the other. “Who are you?” she murmured, gently touching his forehead, which seemed the only unhurt part of his face.

Simultaneously, his hand curled around her wrist, and his lids opened to reveal stunning cobalt eyes. She gasped as recognition finally shot through her. “Lord Colton!”

His eyes narrowed briefly, then his features relaxed into a lazy smile. “Good evening, my lady.”

“It is neither evening nor am I a ‘my lady.’ Don’t you know who I am?”

He struggled to sit up and loosened his grip on her wrist, but didn’t let go. Instead, he caressed her forearm up to her elbow. “Sorry, love, I’ve forgotten your name. It’s no longer evening, you say? We must have had a lovely time.”

Jane stared at him, thinking he had to have lost his senses in the fight. “You don’t remember?”

He winced. “It seems not. Ah well, all the reason to begin again.” He released her elbow and snaked his arm around her waist, pulling her down.

Surprised by his maneuver, Jane lost her balance and landed against his chest.

He let out a howl of pain that ended in a groan. “Bloody hell, that hurts.” He let her go and lifted his hand to his head. “Everything hurts.”

“I should think so,” Jane said, working to push herself off him without causing him more discomfort. Given how he’d reacted, she assumed his body was also injured.

A maid entered at that moment with towels as well as fresh water, which she brought to the table beside the bed. Jane turned to her. “Thank you. Did you happen to bring some salve?”