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She couldn’t stand that anymore.

Chapter 10

Two days later April 24

The Duke of Villiers lay in bed. His shoulder burned in the spot where the rapier thrust had gone through, with an intensity unabated by cold compresses. “The brandy makes it worse, dammit,” he said through clenched teeth.

It was mortifying to discover just how much he did not like pain. At the moment, for example, he was pretending to be lying down simply due to surgeon’s orders but in truth he wasn’t sure he could rise. It must be blood loss.

“Brandy kills infection, Your Grace,” his valet told him. As if he were some sort of idiot child.

“I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be done; I’m just saying that it increases the—the discomfort.” Surely men didn’t suffer pain. Anyway, this didn’t feel like pain. It felt like something on a much higher magnitude, like a red-hot poker straight to the gut.

“More barley water, Your Grace?” Finchley said.

Villiers narrowed his eyes and watched his valet sweep about the room. Finchley was the sort of valet who would have made a better duke than Villiers himself. Villiers knew it; Finchley knew it. Villiers had presence, arrogance and blood lines. Finchley had presence, arrogance, a ducal way of walking, a penchant for wigs and high heels, and—alas—no blood lines.

Finchley turned around and Villiers realized he had forgotten to answer. The odd thing was that Finchley’s face looked exactly like his old nanny’s. In fact, for a moment, he saw her broad disapproving face superimposed over Finchley’s long-jawed one. He watched in fascination as Finchley and Nanny’s nose wavered and seemed to come together.

“Your Grace?”

“Finchley, do you have any relatives in Somerset?” Villiers said, narrowing his eyes again to try to bring Finchley’s noses down to one. Which—he was fairly certain—was the right number of noses for a face like Finchley’s.

“None whatsoever, Your Grace. Why do you ask?”

“You share a great deal with my childhood nanny,” Villiers muttered, not wanting to admit that what Finchley shared was a nose.

Finchley didn’t like the idea of sharing anything with a nanny; Villiers could see that. His back became even more erect, and his chin went further into the air. In short, he looked even more ducal, barring the fact that he still had two noses.

“I’d forgotten Nanny’s nose had that wart on it,” Villiers said, almost dreamily. “I loved her anyway, you know. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never married…do you think it was because I’ve not found a woman with a wart on her nose, Finchley? Do you suppose that’s the reason? If you, Finchley, were a lady with a wart on your nose, do you suppose I would marry you?”

Finchley’s mouth fell open for a heartbeat and then he said: “Your Grace, I shall summon the surgeon.”

“I would get that nose removed, if I were you,” Villiers said, squinting at him. “After all, you had a fine nose before. A ducal nose, really.”

“Yes, Your Grace. If Your Grace will excuse me.” He moved toward the door.

“Not yet,” Villiers said. “I’d like a glass, Finchley.”

“Your Grace?”

“A glass! Bring me that small mirror. I need to see how many noses I have.” That seemed to get Finchley moving. He plumped a small mirror into Villiers’s hand and left the room as if the bats of hell were after him. In fact, Finchley looked rather like a gargoyle, not a bat. It was the two noses.

For a moment Villiers was almost afraid to look in the mirror. Would he too have grown an extra nose?

But no. There he was…big nose and all. He felt it cautiously. There was only one. He still didn’t look like a duke. Dukes had pale complexions and long delicate features, like a superior kind of hunting dog. Or they were remarkably beautiful, like his old friend Elijah. But he’d grown practiced over the past few years at not thinking about Elijah, otherwise known as the Duke of Beaumont, and so he dropped that thought immediately.

In contrast, Villiers looked like a docksman. His hair was jet black—except where there were streaks of pure white. His hair would probably turn all white now. The shoulder didn’t seem to be burning quite as much. In fact, he felt a floating sensation, which was a pleasant change.

At least his eyebrows were still black. A woman had told him once that he had the eyes of a snake. By closing one eye, Villiers discovered that he could almost see what she meant. The one open eye was black as midnight. Peculiar, really.

He only had one nose, but he was a damned ugly specimen, anyway.

The door burst open as that hopeless fool of a surgeon, Banderspit, charged in, followed by Finchley. Finchley had lost a nose and looked entirely normal. Banderspit, on the other hand, was sprouting red feathers from the back of his head. It looked most peculiar.

“Your Grace,” Banderspit said, moving over to the bed and pawing at Villiers’s forehead in a distasteful way, “a fever is come upon you. We shall have to bleed you.”

“Too late,” Villiers said, laughing. “I was already bled. Fought a duel, didn’t I? And lost. Damn it!” He sat up. “I have to get to Beaumont House. It’s time for our next move!”

A few seconds later he found that he was struggling against Finchley and Banderspit, who were holding him down to the bed.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he roared. “Take your hands off me.”

“Your Grace?” Finchley asked in a quavering voice that was unlike his usual ducal drawl. “Are you yourself again?”

“I am always myself,” Villiers said promptly. “It may not be pleasant, but it’s the only choice I have.”

Banderspit wiped his forehead. “We’ll have to do it immediately,” he said to Finchley.

“Do what?”

“Bleed you, Your Grace,” Banderspit replied.

“Like hell,” Villiers said, suddenly remembering again that he had to go play chess with the duchess. “I must play my piece! I must play my piece.” He started to rise, only to find that Finchley was practically throwing himself onto his uninjured side.

“Really,” Villiers said, rather coldly. “I have always shown you a measured amount of affection, Finchley. Do you keep to the same boundaries. I have no wish to share a bed.”

“What are these pieces he’s talking about?” Banderspit asked Finchley.

“Surely you know that His Grace is playing a chess match with the Duchess of Beaumont?” Finchley said.

“I am,” Villiers interjected. “And she won the first game, dammit.”

Finchley ignored him. “His Grace is anxious to continue their current game.”

“One move a day,” Villiers said. “If we go to a third game, it’s in bed and blindfolded. Surely you can understand that I must win this game.” He grinned at the portly doctor. “If only to blindfold the duchess.”

Banderspit looked appalled. “The Duchess of Beaumont? Are you talking about the Duke of Beaumont’s wife?”

“Not the dowager duchess,” Villiers put in. He was beginning to feel a most unpleasant spinning sensation. “I’d never bed her. Nor play her at chess either. Though the two activities aren’t so far apart as you might think.”

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