Today's Reading

How interesting. Perhaps a different tactic was in order. She flashed her brightest smile and stepped a few paces closer so the expensive scent she wore would waft toward him. "Forgive me. I did not intend to be rude and just blurt that out. However, I am at a disadvantage. I am grateful that you received me at all. It was very kind of you to do so."

"You could have written first."

"I assumed my letter would never make it past the desk of your secretary. I have no references. No family here. I am not an ordinary petitioner."

A half smile formed. He gestured to a settee and chair against the far wall. "Perhaps you will sit and explain about this promise you claim my uncle made."

She sat, leaving enough space for the duke to sit beside her. Which he did not do. So much for a few feminine wiles gaining her all that she sought.

"You say 'claim.' You probably have had a long line of people approach you and say the late duke promised them this and such," she said.

"A fair number."

"Were they all liars?"

He smiled. Goodness, what a nice smile it was too. The kind that could warm a woman all the way down to—

"A fair number were," he said.

"I am not lying. I met with your uncle not long before his passing. He promised to help me find something that I believed he owned. A manuscript. A very fine one from the early 1400s. A Psalter, full of superb illuminations. I had heard that it was bought by his father—your grandfather—and wanted to know if it was still in the ducal library."

Curiosity joined male appreciation in his eyes. "Why would you care if it were in the library?"

"I have a buyer for it. It is worth a small fortune. I trade in rare books and manuscripts, you see. In such a sale I would act as a go-between." Lies, most of it. It would not do to explain the real reason she wanted to find that manuscript. He would never help her then.

"Did he tell you that his father's library was divided upon his death? Each son received a portion of it."

"He did tell me, and he promised to look into which son had received the Psalter. When word reached me that he had died—I had not heard from him in so long, but I never guessed that was why. I thought perhaps he had not found it, or changed his mind, or that his letters had not found me yet. I realized then that perhaps he had not even had the time to look into this for me."

More curiosity. Too much.

"When did you have this visit with him, when you asked about the Psalter?"

"In February, or early March. I can't remember the exact day."

"Was it here in London?"

"He wrote and told me to come to his estate in Sussex. Melton Park."

The duke seemed to ponder that. He stood and walked to one of the windows and gazed out. Then he looked back over his shoulder and examined her from hat to shoes. "Is this the only reason you have called today, Miss Barrington? Is there anything else that you want to address with me?"

Her mind, which had begun dallying on inappropriate musings while she observed his tall, lean form and perfect profile at that window, scrambled to right itself and guess what else she was supposed to want from him.

"There is nothing else," she finally said, stupidly.

He looked out the window again. "This house has an extensive garden. The day is fair. Would you like to take a turn with me? As it happens, I have something other than old books I want to talk about."

She could hardly refuse, since he had bothered to see her at all. However, while he escorted her out and down to the garden, it crossed her mind that this could be a very decisive man, and that she was about to hear a proposition that indeed had nothing to do with old books.

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