Five Ways to Seduce a Duke Outtake

Alternate Chapter 4 from Simon's Point of View

Chapter Four from Simon’s Perspective

Simon, along with Finola, Zinny, and Robert, arrived on the hilltop in his best carriage. He wished he could have taken Granston up on his offer to play a few hands of cards, despite the man’s known propensity to cheat. He would have preferred losing a fair sum to his friend over spending more time in the company of the engaged couple, but he had duties to attend to, and there was no time like the present.

The coachman eased them along the side of the dirt road across from Miss Barstow’s studio. Odd that the woman wasn’t waiting outside the building to greet them, she who was so anxious to make a good impression on her future brother-in-law.

“I expected Miss Barstow to be waiting for us,” Robert told the ladies, echoing Simon’s thoughts. He furrowed his brow and glanced to his right, in the direction of the manor house. “Perhaps I didn’t give her enough notice.”

As if to prove his suspicion, a horse-drawn wagon crested a distant ridge. The driver was a dark-haired woman, and Simon had no doubt they had located their missing hostess. He raised his eyebrows as he realized just how quickly she was approaching.

“She drives like she’s being chased by hell hounds,” Simon muttered.

“She drives like a perfectly respectable lady,” Robert whispered to him, but he was frowning in the direction of his approaching fiancée.

“Is that her?” Zinny’s eyes were round as she stared at the approaching wagon. “Oh, Robert, she’s marvelous! Just as I knew she would be.”

Zinny had been thrilled with the prospect of meeting a lady artist when Robert had proposed it earlier, but now fidgeted and rolled onto the balls of her feet like a child anticipating sweets. She looked beside herself with joy at meeting the exotic creature approaching them. Simon felt just as much excitement at her arrival, but for an entirely different and wholly inappropriate reason.

Miss Barstow pulled her wild conveyance to a halt several feet behind Simon’s carriage. The wind had whipped bright color into her cheeks and pulled out tendrils of her black hair from its pins. Her wanton appearance looked far too familiar. This was the image of her that had tortured his sleep last night. If only there were no one else with him, he could lift her down off that wagon, pull the rest of her hair out of its pins, and press the full length of his body, his aching, longing body to hers.

She stood up from the wagon bench and Simon returned to his senses. He willed himself to utter calmness while the woman of his fantasies appeared more and more distressed. Her wide eyes and slightly open mouth hinted at shock at seeing them. Robert must not have mentioned that his surprise was a cadre of visitors. Simon considered boxing the man’s ears for being so inconsiderate. Then again, the lady’s current disadvantage could give Simon the upper hand he needed to uncover whatever it was that was hidden by her beautiful face and lucious body, which was outlined all too clearly in her drab, gray work dress that appeared to have no crinolines underneath it.

Robert stepped forward and offered his hand to help his fiancée down from the wagon while the footman who tended to the studio unhitched and tethered the horse. Miss Barstow, clinging to Robert’s hand, lifted her face and fixed Simon with a steady gaze from her wide, violet eyes. The cool day was suddenly too hot and Simon longed to shed his layers of linen and wool.

And then remove her clothing piece by piece.

He fought against his indecent thoughts as Robert reached for the woman Simon longed to touch. She still hadn’t taken her eyes off Simon’s, but then the wagon lurched and she shifted and she lurched and she nearly fell off the wagon. Robert’s reacted quickly, catching her in his arms and holding her there, safely and tenderly. Simon needed to look away from them, but he couldn’t risk anyone noticing his discomfort.

A second later, Robert bent his head and pressed a lover’s kiss to Miss Barstow’s lips, and Simon rued his decision to maintain a stiff upper lip, which had led him to bear painful witness to their amorous display. But setting aside his own feelings on the matter, they really had gone too far and he would have to insist on better conduct. Why was his mother never here when someone had to play the part of Robert’s disciplinarian.

Zinny gasped and whispered rather loudly, “Isn’t it romantic?”

Robert released Miss Barstow and stepped aside so she was in Simon’s sightline again. He willed every muscle to perfect stillness so she couldn’t guess at the untoward thoughts he had about her. She met his gaze briefly, then modestly glanced away from him. The couple bent their heads close together and shared confidences, now seemingly oblivious to Simon and the ladies’ presence. Robert looked tense, Miss Barstow appeared upset, then Robert tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and placed a chaste kiss on her cheek. After whispering one more thing in her ear, he smiled and she leaned against him. Whatever had briefly passed between them, all was well now.

Their behavior this afternoon chased any lingering doubt—or hope—that there was anything other than love compelling them to marry. Robert and Miss Barstow appeared smitten.

“Angelique,” Robert said as they approached the ladies, “please allow me to introduce Lady Granston, the wife of Captain Lord Granston, and Lady Zinnia, the captain’s sister.”

The ladies exchanged polite introductions, then Zinny spoke in a rush of words. “What a spectacular entrance, Miss Barstow! And that kiss.” She pressed the back of her hand to her forehead and sighed. “Romance is alive and well.”

Simon went to great pains not to groan at Zinny’s youthful and dramatic display.

Lady Granston took her sister-in-law’s other hand. “Yes, it is dear, but we needn’t be so dramatic about it.” She smiled at Miss Barstow. “Lord Robert has told us so much about your studio and your artists’ colony. I must admit, I’ve been quite looking forward to seeing it.”

“Lady Granston.” Robert held out his free arm to the countess. “Shall we?” He glanced at Simon.

Simon stepped forward and offered his arm to Lady Zinnia. They preceded Robert and the other ladies up the stairs toward the entryway.

“You must call me Finola,” Lady Granston was saying to Miss Barstow. “It’s the habit among my husband’s friends and their wives. And Robert is a bit like Percy’s honorary younger brother, so you and I are nearly sisters-in-law.”

Zinny twisted around and smiled at Miss Barstow, ignoring where she was walking. “And you must call me Zinny. I’m so excited to have a friend who’s an artist.”

“Lady Zinnia,” Simon said, picturing himself having to explain to Granston why his sister had turned an ankle while under Simon’s care, “please watch your step.”

Zinny turned forward.

“Oh, I’m not an artist.” Miss Barstow answered. “I was just taking inventory of the paints and supplies—”

“And an artists’ colony, right here in Cambridgeshire!” Zinny turned around again. “It’s becoming such a fascinating locale. Do you know, just this morning, while I was walking my dog Howard, we ran across a monkey?”

Miss Barstow’s voice came out high-pitched. “A monkey?”

Simon couldn’t blame Miss Barstow for her reaction to Zinny’s bizarre claim. He didn’t mind needing to change the subject. “Lady Zinnia,” he said, his voice smooth as silk, “please.”

“Oh!” Zinny gasped as her foot grazed the edge of the stair she hadn’t stepped high enough to clear.

Simon kept a tight grip on her arm and by some miracle, neither of them stumbled over the threshold and into the building. He was delighted to relinquish the inattentive young lady’s arm and hand over his hat and walking stick to Miss Barstow’s footman.

Robert introduced first Simon, then the ladies, to Mrs. Jensen, who was cleaning brushes in a small bucket of mineral spirits. Simon knew the name. Mrs. Jensen was a talented sculptor in her own right, and he’d heard she was a competent painter and a brilliant teacher.

“You must let me show you some of our talented students’ work,” Mrs. Jensen told the ladies.

“That would be delightful,” Finola said.

Simon thought the same thing, but unfortunately, he couldn’t indulge in the niceties of a social call when there were so many problems that required his attention, beginning with the immodest displays of affection between his brother and Miss Barstow. Before he could announce his need to speak with them privately, Zinny took Miss Barstow’s arm.

“Do they ever paint nude models?” Zinny asked.

Simon supposed the gloved hand over her mouth was to have kept the words between the two women, but her voice carried and echoed in the empty room. At least Zinny had the decency to blush. And Simon had the decency to stare straight ahead as though he hadn’t heard her. Robert grinned and winked at Zinny, which made her smile. Simon stifled the urge to groan. Miss Barstow might not be an appropriate bride for Robert, but neither would Zinny, Simon had determined just that morning at breakfast. First, she’d given a half-hour dissertation on the finer points of suffrage, a noble cause to be sure, but not one Robert should implicitly support as far as the stodgy old Trust board members were concerned. Then she’d moved on to an animated description of a woodland creature she’d mistaken for a monkey. Perhaps her flights of fancy were charming in some quarters, but Robert needed someone more solid.

Perhaps someone capable of running her own estate and artists’ colony. As quickly as the thought occurred to Simon, he banished it.

To cover his now foul mood he spoke in his most soothing tone. “Miss Barstow, Robert, might I have a word?”

Miss Barstow lifted her hand and indicated her smaller, private studio. “Of course, sir.”

He strode toward her private enclave with the besotted couple following behind him. Robert closed the studio door. When Simon turned to assess them, they were holding hands. The sight of it made him want to wince. Dare he demand they keep their distance and Robert not so much as touch his fiancée until the wedding? No, probably not. Such an unreasonable demand was bound to raise Simon’s hackles, and then Robert would involve the dowager duchess, and then all hell would rain down upon Simon.

He took a deep breath instead. “Miss Barstow,” he said, “I know at times I might seem—”

“Arrogant?” Robert offered. “Overbearing? Stodgy?”

Simon kept his eyes on Miss Barstow and off his annoying brother. “Overly concerned with my family’s reputation,” he said. “But it is an awesome responsibility that falls to me, and I will do all that is necessary to keep our good name untarnished.”

Miss Barstow looked on the verge of crying. Hells bells, had he sounded so beastly as to draw that reaction?

“I’ll not be unreasonable,” he continued, “but I must insist we observe some proprieties.”

“Proprieties?” Miss Barstow asked. Her eyes lit up with hope.

Robert scowled. “Don’t be cryptic, Simon. What are your terms?” His voice was edged with anger. He rarely took that tone with Simon and never used it with anyone else.

Despite his best efforts, Simon had upset both of them. They would have to buck up, as he had no intention of softening his stance. “You’re not to spend any more time alone together until after the church has blessed your happy union.” He bowed slightly in Angelique’s direction and steadied himself for the words he had to speak and the images they would invoke in his mind. “Pardon my bluntness, Miss Barstow, but that means no more late-night trysts, no more leisurely afternoons spent alone in each other’s company. You are to meet only when an appropriate chaperone is available.”

“That’s silly,” Robert said. “We’ve been together for months, and there’s no one here to judge us, anyway.”

“I’m here, as are Lord and Lady Granston, and an impressionable young lady. Mrs. Jensen would be an excellent attendant.”

“She has her duties to the colony,” Robert said.

Miss Barstow smiled at her fiancé. “It’s all right, Robert. We can rearrange our schedules as necessary. She’s always teaching in the afternoons when you visit me here. I’m sure if we left the adjoining door open, the duke would find that sufficient.”

Simon nodded. “Quite. As I said, I don’t intend to be unreasonable. And I don’t expect Mrs. Jensen to be unduly burdened with the task, so any time she is unavailable or unwilling to accompany you, I will take her place.”

“My own brother chaperoning me like a schoolboy?”

Simon longed to grit his teeth and snap at his brother. After all, he was the one who would endure the torture hours in the company of the woman he wanted but could never have. But that was the last thing the young couple could know. “Think of it as chaperoning your fiancée, keeping her fine reputation intact for your wedding day.”

“We’ll make it work, Robert.” Miss Barstow. “It’s only another month, and once we’re happily married, all can return to normal.”

Robert scowled but relented. “If it suits the lady, I’ll agree to it. One month of undue scrutiny for a lifetime of happiness.”

“Good, that’s settled,” Simon said. Now, there is one more matter to resolve: that of the easement I granted you on this piece of land, Miss Barstow.”

“You can’t ask her to tear down this building,” Robert said. “Because in case it’s not clear, that would be unreasonable.”

His protectiveness should have been endearing, but Simon found it nettling. “It would have been best if we’d come to terms before the building was erected, but no, I will not demand it be destroyed. However, I will require some modifications to the grounds to suit my purposes. I need to send off paperwork today to my solicitor regarding the matter, so we must postpone any discussion until later this afternoon. For now, we should return to our guests.”

Miss Barstow cleared her throat. “Sir, please join Robert and me for high tea this afternoon, sir, and we can discuss the pressing matter.”

“That’s not possible,” Robert said. “I promised to take Lady Granston and Lady Zinnia for high tea in town. I’d hoped you and Mrs. Jensen might join us. The young lady seems quite keen on adding you to her list of impressive contacts.”

“I’m afraid the matter of the easement cannot wait.” Simon’s garden designers and their work crews had warned him they needed to break ground before the winter frost set in or they would start the spring months behind. “It is a shame to cancel the ladies’ plans, especially since the Granstons leave tomorrow, but perhaps they’ll visit again soon.”

“No,” Angelique said. “Don’t disappoint the ladies, Robert. The duke and I will conduct our business meeting while you escort them to town. Cordelia will help you keep them entertained.”

“Very good.” Simon smiled, glad to have a solution that would allow him to wrap up the discussion and escape. “I have duties to attend to this afternoon, but I’ll return at precisely four o’clock.”

“Actually, I was hoping to welcome you to the manor house, sir.”

Simon’s heartbeat picked up. He’d longed to get a peek inside the manor house since Robert had mentioned how much of L’Orent’s artwork the family still kept there. “Very well. I look forward to it. Good day Miss Barstow, Robert.”

Simon turned to leave, then stopped short when something moved outside the window. It was small and furry and long-tailed windows, and unless he was sorely in need of spectacles, he owed Lady Zinnia a silent apology for doubting her. It took all his composure, perfected from years of practice, to stifle his laughter and stop himself from asking Miss Barstow whether she was running an artists’ colony or a menagerie. “It appears Lady Zinnia’s monkey has made its way to your property.” He glanced at her. “Friend of yours?”

“He belongs to one of my students,” she said. “His name is Lucifer.”

Another ridiculous twist in the story. He quirked an eyebrow. “The monkey or the student?”

She cleared her throat. “The monkey.”

The duke furrowed his brow as another small beast caught his eye. “Now he’s found a black cat. Is that also your student’s pet?”

She sighed. “No. Hecate belongs to Mrs. Jensen. She and Lucifer have become quite fond of each other. By she, I mean the cat.”

“Lucifer and Hecate. I see.” As he watched the animal show outside the window, yet another unexpected vision came into view. He couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. “Is that a half-naked man running after them?”

Miss Barstow leaned against the edge of her worktable, then quickly straightened herself and met Simon’s gaze. The way she regained her equanimity as a half-naked man streaked across the lawn, pursuing the monkey who was following the cat, was a testament to the woman’s steely determination, if nothing else. But there was something more. So, so much more.

There was the shrewd intelligence behind her eyes as she considered the situation. The resigned tilt of her head that drew attention to a few wayward curls as she boldly met his eyes. The silkiness of her voice as she explained the situation as if it were to be expected.

“That would be Mr. Crumby. Lucifer’s owner He claims bare skin soothes the little animal.” She glanced at Robert, perhaps for support.

Robert avoided her eyes, which inexplicably pained Simon.

“It’s a very unusual circumstance, I promise you, sir,” Miss Barstow was saying. “Mr. Crumby brought his pet and we could hardly turn them out, but they’ll be gone in a few weeks and we’ll keep Lucifer under lock and key from now—”

The duke held up his hand. If she said one more inane and charming word, he would be reduced to a puddle of laughter. Or he would sweep her into his arms and kiss her in a most unbrotherly way. “Thank you, Miss Barstow, for that thorough explanation,” he said. “If you would be so kind, please do keep him confined to your side of the property line.” He nodded to her, then Robert, then turned and stalked out of the room.

Simon strode through the main studio. He stopped to give the ladies his regrets at needing to tend to pressing matters of the estate, promise to send the carriage back in time for Robert to take them to tea, and bid them adieu. Minutes later, he was settled into the carriage as the coachman turned them around to return to Wrexham Hall. He shifted in his seat to watch the studio recede into the distance, then flopped back into the cushions and yanked at his suddenly choking cravat.

Only then could he finally give into his compulsion to laugh until tears welled in his eyes. Despite the madcap circumstances, Miss Barstow had remained delightfully unflappable. And when she’d looked to Robert for support… Simon’s smile faded. The more pluck she’d shown, the more withdrawn Robert had become. When she’d looked to her fiancé for support, he had avoided her. Dammit, the man didn’t appreciate her.

Where had that errant thought come from? Simon ran a hand through his hair and took deep breaths to collect himself. did more than stoke his lust. She ignited his curiosity and roused his own mischievous nature. And the forlorn part of her that had reached out to Robert spoke to Simon’s own loneliness. The more he learned about Miss Barstow, the more he realized she was not at all suited to be Robert’s wife. But Simon wasn’t sure whether he had the woman’s best interest at heart or was making excuses for so desperately wanting her for himself.