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

“I was just telling this beautiful creature how beautiful she is,” Colton slurred.

Meg’s lip curled, and she snatched her hand away.

Jane touched the maid’s arm. “I’m so sorry, Meg.” Then she put herself in between them and glared at the viscount. “You’re drunk. And injured. Why are you even out of bed?”

He winced, his blue eyes squinting briefly. “How injured am I? I don’t recall—”

Jane pushed him against the side of the bed, her hands briefly connecting with his chest. He yelped in pain, and she felt a moment’s regret. But only a moment. He was behaving horribly. Perhaps she should throw him into a coach and send him home. Yes, that would be best.

Lord Colton pulled his coat off and dropped it to the floor, then began unbuttoning his waistcoat.

“What are you doing?”

“I fear my ribs are bruised. Or broken.” He winced again as he drew the waistcoat off. Then he tugged away his cravat and tried to peer down the open neckline of his shirt. Holding the linen away from his chest, he scowled. Muttering a curse, he pulled the shirt over his head with a groan. “That’s better,” he said as he surveyed his chest once more.

A faint bruise already colored the left side between his breast and abdomen. A rather muscular breast and abdomen.

Jane pivoted from him as she realized she’d been staring. Perhaps he should rest before she threw him out.

“I think I should rest,” he mumbled, giving voice to her thoughts. He fell backward onto the bed, gasping. “Ow.” He gingerly touched his face.

Jane looked toward the table on the other side of the bed and realized that was the one that had been overturned. “Where is the salve?” she asked.

“Somewhere,” Meg said. “I’ll find it.” The maid went to the other side of the chamber in search of the ointment.

“Jones, will you remove his lordship’s boots?” Jane asked. She felt bad asking him and Meg to help the viscount when he’d behaved so reprehensibly, but she knew his mind was altered by drink and likely pain. Yes, perhaps it was best that he stay. For now. She turned her attention back to him to see that he was staring up at her in consternation.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

She ignored the question. “You’re going to stay here for now.”

His lips spread into a leer—albeit a rather charming one. “Only if you promise to stay with me.”

Jane rolled her eyes. “You need sleep.”

Lord Colton stared down the bed as Jones pulled off his second boot. “Or him.” He waggled his brows suggestively.

Shaking her head, she sent another apologetic look to Jones. “Perhaps you should help him back to unconsciousness.”

The footman smirked. “I’d be delighted to.”

Jane smiled in return. “Just stay outside near the door, if you don’t mind. I daresay he will have tired himself out after all that nonsense.” In answer to her prognostication, the viscount’s snores filled the room.

Meg came around to her side of the bed with the jar of salve. “Found it.”

Jane took the medicine. “Thank you. Will you bring fresh water?” The cut on his cheek had started bleeding again. She wondered if it needed stitching, which would require a physician.

Meg took herself off, and Jane stared down at her patient. Yes, he was now in her care. At least for the time being. “You are a mess,” she said softly as she removed the lid from the salve.

Dipping her fingers into the thick unguent, she spread it along the redness of his jaw where another bruise was beginning to form. Then on his cheek, careful not to disturb the cut too much. She moved up to his swollen eye and then the other side of his face, which, while less battered, was beginning to show colors that said it had not been ignored during the tussle.

And what tussle was that? What had he done to warrant such a beating? She flinched inwardly, thinking of the violence that must have transpired even as she recalled seeing him fight at the masquerade ball at Brixton Park last month. Had this behavior become the norm for him? She couldn’t quite reconcile that with the gentleman she’d met a few years ago. But then that had been before he’d taken up with Phoebe’s husband, the Marquess of Ripley. Ripley was an inveterate rake with little concern for Society’s rules. Or he had been before he’d met Phoebe. Now he was hopelessly in love and quite reformed.

As far as Jane knew, Ripley hadn’t ever been a fighter. In fact, he was the one who’d put a stop to Colton’s altercation at the ball. Was he aware of what Colton had been up to? Perhaps Ripley could help.