It’s in the Duke’s Kiss Excerpt

Book 3 > Danby

The Year of Our Lord 1817
The Serpentine, Hyde Park – Mayfair

Everyone knew older siblings loved to be bossy. Well, everyone saddled with an officious older sibling understood this. And Lady Emmaline Radcliffe had concluded long ago that her older sister Mary got exceptional pleasure from slipping into the role of nagging mother whenever their own was not present. Mary always did so with a zealous sort of enthusiasm. Just like today.

“Coming here to capture Lord Nathaniel’s attention wasn’t a good idea, Emmaline,” Mary grumbled.

Annoyance danced down Emma’s spine, but she’d not show it. She purposely stared past her sister and once more swept her gaze across the frozen ice of the Serpentine in search of Nathaniel Layton. He was supposed to be here. At least according to her lady’s maid, who had been told as much by her cousin, a scullery maid in Nathaniel’s home.

“Emmaline, did you hear me?” Mary snapped, her voice as piercing as her razor-sharp green gaze.

Emma clenched her teeth to fight the desire to set her sister straight on how impossible it would be not to hear her. Mary had the uncanny ability to make herself heard without raising her voice, exactly the way their mother did. They both had a certain distinctly peevish tone that caused one’s ears to tingle with awareness. Emma flicked her gaze to her sister and forced a smile. If she showed Mary she was disgruntled, Mary would leave, and if Mary left, Emma would have to leave as well, since Mother would have a fit if she dared skate unchaperoned.

“I heard you,” Emma replied, careful to keep her voice as nonchalant as she could. She tapped her skates against the ice while tugging her cap down tighter over her head, hoping the wool would muffle her sister’s voice.

Mary set her hands on her hips and looked down her nose at Emma, just precisely as Mother always did before announcing how Emma was failing to behave as a proper lady should. It was extraordinary and disheartening how alike Mother and Mary were and how very unlike them Emma was.

Mary narrowed her eyes. “I cannot remember why I let you persuade me to come with you on this escapade, but my senses have returned. We should leave.”

The wool experiment was a failure, and Emma stifled an irritated sigh, her pulse ticking up with worry. She couldn’t leave! Not until she saw Nathaniel. She’d long ago taken to thinking of him by his Christian name rather than Lord Nathaniel. One did not think of one’s future husband so formally. Ever since Emma had been eight and he’d wiped away her tears at the home of his great-uncle, the Duke of Danby, after a fight she’d had with her mother, Emma had thought of him secretly as Nathaniel. He’d run his bare thumb over her cheek and told her she was perfect. She thought him perfect, as well. Her adoration of him only grew from that day forward.

Fate, or rather his constantly being away at school, had made it impossible to spend much time with him to discern if he truly was as perfect for her as she thought. However, she had seen him here and there over the years, and twice more, he’d done things that made her heart squeeze and her breath catch. Like the time he’d threatened to plant a facer on Peter Strattford when the boy had teased her, or when Nathaniel had asked her to dance at his great-uncle’s ball last year, when no one else had asked her. She remembered the strength of his arms around her and the warm spice of his breath against her cheek.

And now that Mother was insisting Emma secure a marriage proposal this Season and Nathaniel was home from school at last, Emma simply had to get to know him. She needed to find out whether he was truly the man for her or not.

“Emmaline, are you ignoring me?” Mary demanded.

She looked Mary in the eye. “No, I thought I saw Lord Nathaniel. Please, give me a few more minutes. I shall endeavor not to embarrass you.”

Mary’s stern gaze softened. “If you’d only try to act more like a proper lady.”

“I do try,” Emma replied distractedly as she glanced back toward the ice. “It’s not as easy as you make it seem.”

Mary snorted. “I’d hardly call last week’s race in Hyde Park you attempting to behave as a proper lady.”

Emma stared down at the ice and half expected to see it thawing with the heat of her rising temper. Mary simply didn’t understand. Emma was different. She didn’t like all the things she was supposed to like, and no matter how hard she tried, it was clear to everyone around her. No one understood, except perhaps Papa, and that was because he was like her or rather she was like him.

He preferred to have his nose in a book instead of keeping a discerning eye on the state of his affairs, and like her, no matter how hard Papa tried, everyone knew he was horrid at the role of pragmatic earl. He would have been much better suited to being a quixotic inventor, yet he’d been born an earl. She inhaled a long breath. She would have been much better suited to being an independent man, yet she’d been born a woman whose fate—everyone kept telling her—was to live and die by the thousands of rules Society forced upon her.

She curled her gloved hands into fists and tried to beat back the tide of annoyance that was rising up, but it was no use. Out came a hot, irritated breath, fluttering a loose strand of her inky hair, which had been hanging in front of her right eye. “Cousin Jeffrey practically challenged me in the park when he told everyone I was an inferior rider! What was I supposed to do?” she demanded, regretting the words and the slip of her temper the moment Mary’s eyes went from narrowed to slits.

“Ignore him,” Mary replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “He’s foolish and you know it.”

She did know it, but her pride had stolen her good senses as it so often did. “I am a far superior rider,” Emma muttered.

“No one saw that, Emmaline. All they noted was your galloping across Hyde Park like a man would. All they remembered was that you once again behaved improperly. However will you find a husband if you cannot manage to comport yourself like a lady?”

“I’m comporting myself like a lady now,” Emma retorted, keeping her voice low to prove it even though she wanted to scream. “What’s more ladylike than setting one’s sights on the gentleman one wants to marry?”

Mary scoffed. “Emmaline, your silly girlhood infatuation must come to an end today. Just because his lordship once told you that you were perfect does not mean he believed it. He was simply being nice.” Mary raised an eyebrow.

Emma’s stomach roiled. She swallowed hard. Mary had struck Emma’s biggest fear with an invisible hammer: that Nathaniel had simply taken pity on her that day.

“Just a half hour more, I beg you,” Emma pleaded. “If I don’t see him—”

“He’s to your left,” Mary blurted, her eyes widening with obvious surprise. “But don’t look!”

Emma immediately glanced to her left, and as her gaze found Nathaniel, her stomach knotted. He looked perfect, as always. The dark blue coat he wore nicely displayed his broad shoulders while superbly contrasting all that was golden about him, from his light hair to his brown, gold-flecked eyes. He stood facing his older brother, the always-serious Duke of Blackbourne. His Grace was speaking rapidly, as if he was lecturing, or at least it appeared that way to Emma. When her mother lectured, she always spoke in a rush.

Emma’s heart squeezed for Nathaniel. She’d heard the gossipmongers twitter about some scandal attached to him recently—something about being thrown out of Oxford—but Emma refused to believe he would compromise a lady. He was an honorable man. Well, her heart told her he was, anyway.

“I’m going to skate by him and drop my handkerchief,” Emma said hurriedly, her excitement exploding in her chest.

Mary gasped. “No, Emmaline! A true lady would never—”

Emma turned her skates sharply away from her sister and shoved off, blessedly not hearing the rest of whatever Mary said. She knew very well what she was supposed to do. She didn’t need Mary to tell her that a proper lady would simply stand there and wait and pray that Nathaniel noticed her and came to speak to her. A proper lady might even skate very slowly and primly by him in hopes that he would take note and say hello.

Emma had tried to be proper around him ever since when years before Mother had said that the only thing Nathaniel likely remembered about her was that she had climbed a tree at his great-uncle’s home when she was a child, fallen out, and received a much-deserved scolding. Yet the handful of times she’d seen him through the years, he only seemed to notice her when she was being her improper self, which only served to prove that they belonged together. He liked her as she truly was.

Emma glided over the thick, gleaming ice toward the edge of the Serpentine where Nathaniel stood with his brother near a mead tent someone had pitched. The cold, crisp air whistled in her ears as it washed over her face and made her cheeks burn. She slowed as she got closer, took out her handkerchief, and dropped it right in front of Nathaniel. “Oh, dear!” she exclaimed.

His eyebrows shot up, then slowly lowered along with his gaze, which slid down her body to her handkerchief before returning to her face.

He grinned. “Lady Emmaline?”

She barely resisted frowning. “You say my name as if you’re unsure it’s me.”

Nathaniel chuckled. “You’ve changed greatly since last I saw you.”

“Well, it has been a year,” she blurted, before she thought better of revealing that she knew exactly how much time had passed since she’d last seen him.

Nathaniel threw his head back and laughed, but the duke frowned. Emma struggled not to scowl at the man. The few times she had run across His Grace, he had offered the necessary greetings, yet his words held no warmth, much like his cool gray eyes. Nathaniel, on the other hand, had warm eyes and an even warmer smile. She felt positively heated by his appreciative gaze.

He bent down, retrieved her handkerchief, and handed it to her. “The last year has been well to you,” he said in a voice that made her belly flutter.

“Nathaniel,” His Grace said in a warning tone that reminded Emma of her mother.

Nathaniel cut his gaze to his brother then back to her. He let out a sigh, and she tensed. He was going to bid her good day, and all because of his brother! She could feel it! She openly scowled at the Duke of Blackbourne now, who appeared not to notice, but when she looked at Nathaniel from under her lashes, she noted his lips twitching upward into an amused smile.

Nathaniel met her eyes. “Perhaps, I will see you in a bit? I must finish discussing some business with my brother.”

The Duke of Blackbourne inclined his head to her, and she couldn’t help noticing how lovely and thick his black hair was…and how perfectly it suited his dark personality. A nervous laugh escaped her with the errant thought, and she quickly slapped a gloved hand over her mouth. She positively hated when she did that.

She took a deep breath and spoke. “Good day, Your Grace. And Lord Nathaniel, perhaps we will see each other again soon.” Emma forced herself to turn and skate away through the throng of people. Her heart pounded as she headed toward a less crowded section of the ice where hopefully Nathaniel would see her and join her.

To her right, she saw a flash of purple, and she knew immediately that her sister, always too proper to actually skate, had followed Emma’s progress along the edge of the Serpentine.

When Emma stole a glance, her sister’s scowl was plain enough even from the distance that separated them. Emma frowned. From Mary’s irritated expression, she had no doubt her sister’s patience for this outing was almost expired. She spun around and glanced toward Nathaniel, who was still talking to his brother. She had to do something drastic to get him on the ice with her or Mary would drag her home.

Mother would likely blister her ears tonight for seeking out Nathaniel’s attention, but Emma didn’t care. If Mother had her way, she’d marry Emma off to a dull gentleman who wouldn’t let her race horses, skate too fast, laugh too loud, or dance with too much enthusiasm. Emma shuddered. Such a life would kill her.

She sucked a breath of cool air into her lungs. Her limbs tingled in anticipation as she took off around the wide-open space. She made a circle as she glided around, picking up speed as she went. Her cap flew off and her hair blew behind her. The distant noise of people talking faded as the swish of her skates against the ice and the hiss of the air from her pace filled her ears.

She skated around once, twice, three times—so exhilarated that she whooped with joy—and then she did something her mother would surely scold her for later, saying it was the most unpardonable, unladylike faux paus ever: she threw her arms wide and she spun until she was laughing so hard that tears leaked from her eyes. If Nathaniel didn’t join her now, then so be it.

~ ~ ~

Lucian pulled his gaze away from Lady Emmaline’s lithe, graceful form as she skated away. He rarely thought Nathaniel was correct about much, but his brother was perfectly right that Lady Emmaline had greatly changed. The last time Lucian had seen her—had it truly been a year since his great-uncle Danby’s Christmas party?—she’d been all gangly limbs, and he could clearly recall her standing alone in a corner staring at the dancers. He’d asked Nathaniel to partner with her and then ordered him when he’d refused. Lucian would have partnered with her himself, but by the way she always stared at Nathaniel, Lucian knew that she liked his brother.

Nathaniel hiccupped and Lucian frowned. “You’ve drunk too much mead,” he growled under his breath just as his brother seemed to sway with the wind. Nathaniel tipped precariously to the right, and Lucian grabbed his elbow and steadied him.

“Thank you, Lucian,” Nathaniel slurred, then offered a mock salute before turning his attention back to the ice where hundreds of people were skating. The lot of them seemed unencumbered with responsibility. He, however, had so much responsibility that he had a constant ache coiling across the breadth of his shoulders.

He tried to force his mouth into a smile, but his skin felt like it would crack under the foreign movement, so he let the effort go. Dukes didn’t smile anyway. It was a known and accepted fact. Dukes made decisions that would increase the family money. Dukes solved problems, offered advice, and commanded when necessary. Lucian took a deep breath and prepared to do the last three directly.

He tugged a hand through his hair as he looked at his brother. Nathaniel was younger by seven years, yet at times, Lucian felt as if he were easily twenty years older than his brother. He was tired of feeling so old and burdened, but what choice was there? He was the duke and had been since his father’s death fourteen years ago. “Nathaniel, we need to discuss your problems.”

“I don’t have any.” Nathaniel’s expression grew hard and resentful.

“I’d say you do,” Lucian countered, careful to keep his tone neutral to avoid a quarrel.

“And I’d say”—Nathaniel’s voice was distinctly bitter—“that you need me to have problems so you will continue to feel like the better son.”

Lucian felt a tick start in his jaw. He’d expected resistance, but this nastiness was new. “That’s not true, and you know it. I have never thought I was better than you. This talk today is not about me. Your love of gambling and innocent debutantes, whom you somehow persuade to do unwise things, is a problem.”

“I’ve stolen no innocence.” Nathaniel offered a cheeky grin. “Only kisses.”

“This damnable attitude is what keeps getting you into trouble,” Lucian growled.

Nathaniel clamped Lucian on the shoulder. “I do believe you’re simply jealous because I have fun and you never have any,” he finished, blowing his mead-drenched breath at Lucian.

Lucian shrugged his brother off. “When the devil are you going to grow up?”

Hostility flared in Nathaniel’s eyes, and stark relief filled Lucian. Lately, with all the messes Nathaniel had created, Lucian had been wondering if his brother cared about anything. But if he was angry, he must care.

“Why do I need to grow up?” Nathaniel demanded. “You’re mature enough for both of us.”


“For God’s sake,” he snapped. “You’d think after years of me telling you to call me Nathan you’d damn well do it.”

Lucian clenched his jaw. He couldn’t call his brother Nathan, and he could never explain why. To embrace that casualness again meant he thought he could be anything other than the duke who sorted out the complications his family created, and he knew well he could not. He could never be carefree again as he’d been before Father died. He wasn’t Luc anymore, as his brother had finally quit calling him, and Nathaniel could never be Nathan again. Their mother had seen to that when her actions had inadvertently led to their father’s death. He forced himself to loosen his jaw. Dukes got angry, but they never showed it.

He’d agreed to come here today only because he’d hoped that talking to Nathaniel in a more relaxed setting, would keep him from becoming angry and then maybe he’d listen. Lucian refocused on the matter at hand. He softened his voice, trying to sound casual rather than critical. “What are you going to do now that you’ve been kicked out of Oxford?”

“I’ve not given it much thought,” Nathaniel snapped as he turned and gazed out at the ice. Lucian stared in the direction his brother was looking and tried to determine what had caught his eye. It only took a moment to discern what—or rather who—had Nathaniel’s rapt attention. In the distance, Lady Emmaline spun in fast circles, her arms splayed wide, her face turned up to the gleaming sun, and her long black hair—a stark contrast to the snowy cape she wore—billowed around her.

“You’d do well to leave the enchanting snow fairy alone,” Lucian said.

Nathaniel snorted as he took a step toward the ice. “How surprisingly poetic of you, Lucian,” Nathaniel said as he took another step.

Lucian clutched his arm. “Didn’t getting booted from Oxford for dallying with the chancellor’s daughter teach you anything about the complications that enticing innocent debutants can create?”

“The man is a stuffy prig,” Nathaniel retorted without so much as a glance back.

Lucian ground his teeth. The promise he’d made his father to help Nathaniel become a good, honorable man seemed almost impossible to keep at times. “I hardly think being angry at finding his daughter in your arms in his library makes him a stuffy prig.”

Nathaniel finally faced Lucian with the lazy, devil-may-care smile he so often wore. “As I explained, I merely caught her when she fell from the book ladder.”

Lucian cocked his eyebrows. “That was quite some fall to have made her hair come unpinned and her lips swollen.”

Nathaniel raised his hand as if studying his nails in boredom. “Her lips are naturally big. Her poor father refuses to admit she has a flaw, and the ladder was high.”

“Hmm…I was told it was three steps.”

Nathaniel smirked. “Three steps is quite the height for uncoordinated people.”

This was getting them nowhere, and Lucian needed to return home. He had ledgers to go over. “Let’s dispense with this farce, shall we? In the last two years, you’ve managed to get yourself kicked out of Oxford and Cambridge, and all over dallying with women with whom you have no damn right to dally. These girls have reputations, Nathaniel. You risked their futures.” And Lucian could not seem to stop his brother from doing things to purposely bring trouble to himself. It was maddening.

Nathaniel gave him a look of mock horror. “You mean I risked their chances of marrying stuffy, boring dukes such as yourself?”

Lucian ignored the barb and focused on the very real problem that his brother didn’t seem to see what had really been at stake for those young ladies. “I mean that if any of them were compromised by you, the only choice would’ve been for her to marry you or to likely spend her life as a spinster.”

“I’d marry anyone I compromised,” Nathaniel said with an infuriating shrug.

Lucian inhaled a long steady breath, searching for a sliver of calmness in the sea of turbulence his brother always created. “I’d think you’d have more of a care for whom you’d choose as your wife. Marriage is for life.”

Lucian grinned. “If I don’t like who I end up marrying, I’m sure you’ll see to her welfare while I see to my enjoyment.”

His brother’s words pierced the heart of what was bothering Lucian. Was Nathaniel really so self-interested? If so, Lucian had failed miserably in helping him become the honorable man as he’d promised to do. “Nathaniel—” Lucian started, then clamped his jaw shut as his brother skated off. Lucian watched him go without trying to stop him. If he caught Nathaniel now, he’d likely give him a much-needed facer to knock some sense into him. Lucian stared out at his brother and followed his progress across the ice and toward Lady Emmaline. Nathaniel stopped in front of her. After a minute, her dizzying circles halted.

She tilted her head back to look up at his brother. Then she nodded, and Lucian groaned. He knew enough of Lady Emmaline and her races in Hyde Park over the last several years to know the young girl who’d fallen from his great-uncle’s tree was still very impetuous…and apparently still just as easily dazzled by Nathaniel as she’d been for so many years. Should he go put a stop to whatever trouble the two would likely find together?

As soon as the idea hit him, an undeniable realization struck: Nathaniel’s biggest problem was Lucian.

Hell and double hell. He had been so busy trying to save Nathaniel from himself that Lucian had failed to let him grow up. His brother had never been accountable for any of his mistakes because Lucian always fixed them for him. Well, no more.

Lucian turned his back on his brother and Lady Emmaline, and marched with determined steps to the mead tent. Whatever folly Nathaniel led her into on the ice, he would have to correct it on his own. As Lucian ordered a mug of mead, he comforted himself with the knowledge that there was surely not much trouble his brother could find while skating. What was the worst that could happen? Nathaniel might steal a kiss, but Lucian didn’t think his brother was quite that foolish. Every fiber of Lucian’s person entreated him to turn around and ensure all was well, but he forced himself not to move and to slowly drink his mead and to contemplate how he might help his brother out of this, and then dismissed those thoughts as he remembered that Nathaniel needed to get himself out of his mess.

Several acquaintances passed through the tent and offered greetings. Lucian responded automatically, barely hearing what they said, his mind so preoccupied with what Nathaniel might be doing. But when his distant cousin, Nicholas Beckford, Lord Edgeworth stepped into the tent, Lucian genuinely smiled.

“Nick,” he exclaimed. “I’m surprised to see you here. I thought you were still traveling with your wife.”

His cousin grinned, looking relaxed and happy. Jealousy twisted through Lucian. Would he ever look like that?

“We just returned,” Nick replied. “Lillian is skating.” He turned toward the ice and pointed. “She’s just there in the red cape.”

Lucian looked out at the ice. Nick’s wife was easy to spot in her red cape with her black hair tumbling over her shoulders. “She’s lovely as always,” Lucian said politely, even as his attention was drawn to his brother, who was now skating side by side with Lady Emmaline. Suddenly, Nathaniel took her hand, and Lucian muttered to himself.

“What’s the matter?” Nick asked.

“My brother’s the matter.” Lucian pointed to Nathaniel and Lady Emmaline. “He’s stirring trouble again. Talking foolish, innocent ladies into forgetting themselves.”

“Are you going to run off to rescue him per your usual form, or do you care to walk with me and say hello to Lillian?”

“I’m taking a sabbatical from saving my brother,” Lucian declared. “I came to the realization that he needs to suffer some consequences in order to grow up.”

Nick arched his eyebrows. “When did you come to this understanding?”

“About a minute ago,” Lucian said, forcing a laugh, even though new knots formed in his shoulders as he thought of what exactly it might mean to let Nathaniel pay for his mistakes. Had Lucian failed, then, to live up to his promise to his father and the promise Lucian had made himself to be the father of whom Nathaniel had been robbed?

~ ~ ~

Emma’s heart fluttered as Nathaniel tightly held her hand in his. He looked the other way to guide them in another turn, and her breath caught as she pulled back.

He glanced at her as they glided. “Whatever is the matter?”

She bit her lip. She hated to sound like a ninny, but the ice to their right looked dangerous. “Doesn’t the ice look thin to you, Lord Nathaniel?”

He squeezed her hand. “Call me Nathan.”

Her pulse ticked up several beats. He was perfect. So casual. So friendly. So indifferent to the rules, just as she was. “Nathan, I think we should avoid that ice.” She inclined her head toward the area of which she spoke.

He chuckled. “I’ll keep you safe. I vow it.”

The way he said it with such surety almost made her concern slide away. Still…she couldn’t help but glance down and tense as they skated near the edge of the patch of ice that was worrying her.

“You’ve become a stunningly beautiful woman in this last year, Emmaline.”

It might be cold outside, but his words made her feel hot on the inside. She’d never been called beautiful or a woman. “Do you say that to all the ladies?” she teased, pleased she had found witty banter even as her mind felt scrambled.

“Only to you, my enchanting snow fairy.”

“You think me enchanting?” she managed to say without gushing.

He offered her a dazzling smile. “Especially when you’re spinning and your hair fans around you. Shall I spin you?”

She nodded, feeling as if her every wish were about to come true.

He swung her out to the right, directly over the thinner ice. Her fear spiked, but as they glided over it and nothing happened, she let the fear go, and when he spun her around again, she simply closed her eyes, determined to enjoy the moment.

~ ~ ~

Lucian followed Nick out of the tent through the crowd. They walked onto the slick ice, heading toward Lillian.

“So this new attitude of yours regarding your brother has yet to be tested,” Nick teased.

Lucian laughed. “I hear the disbelief in your voice, but I’m determined to stay this course. Unless Nathaniel is in danger of killing someone, I’m going to let him be accountable for his next mistake. I just pray it’s not a rather large one and that the lesson will sink into his thick skull.”

“Well,” Nick started, but whatever else he said was drowned out by a sudden piercing scream.

Lucian whipped his head in the direction of the dire sound, and his mouth fell open. Over where Nathaniel had been skating, his brother stood stock-still, looking down at the ice where hands appeared just above the surface, then a head. Another loud scream rent through the air, and then the hands and head disappeared. For one brief moment, things seemed to move in slow motion as another scream resounded. This one was to Lucian’s left, and he turned his head to see a woman in a purple cape running, then sliding, across the ice. She went down in a heap, yet her screams didn’t stop.

“Jesus,” Nick murmured, snapping Lucian out of his daze and into action.

With Nick on his heels, Lucian tore off across the ice toward Nathaniel and the drowning Lady Emmaline, who’d been twirling in carefree circles not so long ago. It seemed like forever, yet it was mere seconds before he reached Nathaniel. One glance at his brother’s bulging eyes and white face told Lucian that Nathaniel was frozen in fear. Lucian shoved him out of the way, as much to get to Lady Emmaline as to ensure his brother’s safety. He dropped to his knees and plunged his hands into the icy water of the Serpentine.

Fear hammered through him as he reached desperately for her. His fingers touched nothing but water. Cold, deadly water. Then Nick was beside him, along with a score of nameless, faceless people, except for the lady’s sister. Tears streaked Lady Mary’s face, and fear filled her eyes.

“My sister!” she cried out through her sobs. “My sister, my sister!” And then her face went as white as snow as she fainted. Nick lunged for her and caught her just before she hit the ice.

Lucian’s heart clenched as he kicked off his boots among the shouting and confusion. He stood as Nick shoved his hands in the water, and as he was yanking off his overcoat, Nathaniel seemed to break free of his daze.

He blinked at Lucian. “What are you doing?” His voice throbbed with concern.

It was about damn time.

There wasn’t a second to answer, and all the words Lucian wanted to say to Nathaniel would only serve to lengthen the distance between them. Without another thought, Lucian jumped into the water. His lungs seized in his chest for one moment as the freezing temperature enveloped him. His mind and body immediately rebelled against the shock of icy cold, but he forced himself to focus and his hands to search, as seeing was nearly impossible. He immediately grazed something distinctly soft and human. Fingers, small and delicate and near to frozen as far as he could tell, gripped him in a death clutch. Good, she was not unconscious.

His lungs burned and his heart pounded vicious, needy beats that thumped in his ears. The ice under the surface burned and hurt, and he was positive he’d die if he stayed under too long, yet he could not surface without Lady Emmaline. He somehow tugged her to him, slid his arm around her waist, and together they moved toward the slice of light he could see above them. Then he hoisted her up as high as he could, and suddenly, she was gone.

He broke the surface immediately after, and Nick’s face, pinched with worry, was the first one Lucian saw. He gripped his arm and tugged him out of the freezing water and onto the ice, where they both landed on their backs. Chaos reigned above Lucian. People seemed to be scrambling this way and that, and then a red cloak was thrown over him and Nick’s wife kneeled beside the two of them.

Lillian gave him a concerned look and then focused her attention on her husband. “Whatever happened, darling?”

Nick frowned as Lucian sat up and glanced around for his brother. He spotted Nathaniel walking away and carrying Lady Emmaline, whose white cape was thrown over his shoulder like a sodden mess. Lady Mary Radcliffe walked with the help of another gentleman, and even from here, Lucian could hear the lady’s voice raised in sharp reprimand.

Disgusted with Nathaniel, Lucian turned and met Lillian’s gaze. “My brother happened.” He had attempted to answer politely but was certain by the way her eyes widened, that he must have growled it.

Lucian stood and Nick followed, as did Lillian. Questions from onlookers came from every direction. For one brief moment, Lucian pondered his new resolve to let Nathaniel sort out his own messes, but then he thought of Lady Emmaline and how this could ruin her. He could not allow such a fate to befall her. “Thank goodness,” he said in a voice loud enough to be heard over the hum of excited conversation, “Nathaniel skated by when he did and called out for help. Poor Lady Emmaline is subject to terrible megrims, and she fell onto thin ice when one struck her. If it had not been for my brother, the lady could have drowned.” The whispers continued, and he rushed on. “He saw earlier that she was unsteady skating and helped her then, and has been determined to keep a watchful eye on her since.” Lucian met the gaze of each person who appeared as if they might question his explanation.

A few bold people gave him disbelieving looks, but no one challenged his proclamation. He turned away from the prying eyes and in the direction his brother had gone. Lucian started toward the tent where Nathaniel sat, but as he walked, he swore that his brother would feel the sting of his actions and learn from it. One way or another, Nathaniel had to grow up, but Lucian simply didn’t have the heart to ruin Lady Emmaline’s life to make his brother’s maturation happen today.

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