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Miss Bridgerton,’ he said, whipping his head around to face Daphne, ‘would you care to dance?’

There was no way Daphne could refuse. First of all, her mother was impaling her with her deadly I-Am-Your-Mother-Don’t-You-Dare-Defy-Me gaze.

Secondly, the duke had clearly not given her brother, Anthony, the entire story of their meeting in the dimly lit hallway; to make a show of refusing to dance with him would certainly raise undue speculation. And finally, she kind of, sort of, just a little teeny bit actually wanted to dance with the duke.

Of course, the arrogant boor didn’t even give her the chance to accept. Before she could manage an ‘I’d be delighted,’ or even a mere ‘Yes’, the duke had her halfway across the room.

Miss Bridgerton,’ he said, whipping his head around to face Daphne, ‘would you care to dance?’

They had made a full circle of the ballroom before Daphne asked: ‘How much of our meeting did you reveal to my brothers? I saw you with them, you know.’

Simon (the duke) only smiled.

‘What are you grinning about?’ she asked suspiciously.

‘I was merely marvelling at your restraint.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

He shrugged slightly. ‘I hadn’t thought you the most patient of ladies,’ he said, ‘and here it took you a full three-and-a-half minutes before asking me about my conversation with your brothers.’

Daphne fought a blush. The truth was, the duke was an accomplished dancer, and she’d been enjoying the waltz too much even to think of conversation.

‘But since you asked,’ he said, mercifully sparing her from having to make a comment, ‘all I told them was that I ran into you in the hall and that, given your colouring, I instantly recognised you as a Bridgerton and introduced myself.’

‘Do you think they believed you?’

‘Yes,’ he said softly, ‘I rather think they did.’

‘Not that we have anything to hide,’ she added quickly.

Daphne fought a blush. The truth was, the duke was an accomplished dancer, and she¿d been enjoying the waltz too much even to think of conversation

Daphne fought a blush. The truth was, the duke was an accomplished dancer, and she’d been enjoying the waltz too much even to think of conversation

‘Of course not.’

‘If there is any villain in this piece it is most certainly Nigel Berbrooke [Daphne’s suitor].’

‘Of course.’

She chewed on her lower lip. ‘Aside from our little escapade, have you been enjoying your evening?’

Simon’s answer was so unequivocally in the negative that he actually snorted a laugh before saying it.

‘Oh, please,’ she scoffed. ‘It can’t have been that bad.’

‘Oh, it can.’

‘Certainly not as bad as mine.’

‘You did look rather miserable with your mother and Macclesfield,’ he allowed.

‘How kind of you to point it out,’ she muttered.

‘But I still think my evening was worse.’

Bridgerton on Netflix has captivated the nation and today Daily Mail readers will be able to download their own free audio book

Bridgerton on Netflix has captivated the nation and today Daily Mail readers will be able to download their own free audio book 

Daphne laughed, a light musical sound that warmed Simon’s bones. ‘What a sad pair we are,’ she said. ‘Surely we can manage a conversation on a topic other than our respective terrible evenings.’

Simon said nothing.

Daphne said nothing.

‘Well, I can’t think of anything,’ he said.

Daphne laughed again, this time with more gaiety, and Simon once again found himself mesmerised by her smile.

‘I give in,’ she gasped. ‘What has turned your evening into such a dreadful affair?’

‘What or whom?’

‘ “Whom”?’ she echoed, tilting her head as she looked at him.

‘This grows even more interesting.’

‘I can think of any number of adjectives to describe all of the “whoms” I have had the pleasure of meeting this evening, but “interesting” is not one of them.’ ‘Now, now,’ she chided, ‘don’t be rude. I did see you chatting with my brothers, after all.’

He nodded gallantly, tightening his hand slightly at her waist as they swung around in a graceful arc. ‘My apologies. The Bridgertons are, of course, excluded from my insults.’

‘We are all relieved, I’m sure.’

Simon cracked a smile at her deadpan wit. ‘I live to make Bridgertons happy.’

‘Now that is a statement that may come back to haunt you,’ she chided. ‘But in all seriousness, what has you in such a dither?’

‘How shall I put this,’ he mused, ‘so that I do not completely offend you?’

‘Oh, go right ahead,’ she said blithely. ‘I promise not to be offended.’

Simon grinned wickedly. ‘A statement that may come back to haunt you.’

She blushed slightly. The colour was barely noticeable in the shadowy candlelight, but Simon had been watching her closely.

She didn’t say anything, so he added: ‘Very well, if you must know, I have been introduced to every single unmarried lady in the ballroom.’

A strange snorting sound came from the vicinity of her mouth.

Simon had the sneaking suspicion that she was laughing at him.

‘I have also,’ he continued, ‘been introduced to all their mothers.’

She gurgled. She actually gurgled. ‘Bad show,’ he scolded. ‘Laughing at your dance partner.’

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, her lips tight from trying not to smile.

‘No, you’re not.’

‘All right,’ she admitted, ‘I’m not. But only because I have had to suffer the same torture for two years. It’s difficult to summon too much pity for a mere evening’s worth.’ ‘Why don’t you just find someone to marry and put yourself out of your misery?’

She shot him a sharp look. ‘Are you asking?’

Simon felt the blood leave his face.

‘I thought not.’ She took one look at him and let out an impatient exhale. ‘Oh, for goodness sake. You can start breathing now, your grace. I was only teasing.’

Simon wanted to make some sort of dry, cutting and utterly ironic comment, but the truth was, she had so startled him that he couldn’t utter a word.

‘To answer your question,’ she continued, her voice a touch more brittle, ‘a lady must consider her options. There is Nigel, of course, but I think we must agree he is not a suitable candidate.’

Simon shook his head.

‘Earlier this year there was Lord Chalmers.’

‘Chalmers?’ He frowned. ‘Isn’t he . . .’ ‘On the darker side of 60? Yes. And since I would some day like to have children, it seemed . . .’

‘Some men that age can still sire brats,’ Simon pointed out.

‘It wasn’t a risk I was prepared to take,’ she returned. ‘Besides . . .’

She shuddered slightly, a look of revulsion passing over her features. ‘I didn’t particularly care to have children with him.’

Much to his annoyance, Simon found himself picturing Daphne in bed with the elderly Chalmers. It was a disgusting image, and it left him feeling faintly furious. ‘Before Lord Chalmers,’ Daphne continued, thankfully interrupting his rather unpleasant thought process, ‘there were two others, both just as repulsive.’

Simon looked at her thoughtfully. ‘Do you want to marry?’

‘Well, of course.’ Her face registered her surprise. ‘Doesn’t everyone?’

‘I don’t.’

She smiled condescendingly. ‘You think you don’t. All men think they don’t. But you will.’

‘No,’ he said emphatically. ‘I will never marry.’

She gaped at him. Something in the duke¿s tone of voice told her that he truly meant what he said. ¿What about your title?¿

She gaped at him. Something in the duke’s tone of voice told her that he truly meant what he said. ‘What about your title?’

She gaped at him. Something in the duke’s tone of voice told her that he truly meant what he said. ‘What about your title?’

Simon shrugged. ‘What about it?’

‘If you don’t marry and sire an heir, it will expire. Or go to some beastly cousin.’

That caused him to raise an amused brow.

‘And how do you know that my cousins are beastly?’

‘All cousins who are next in line for a title are beastly.’ She cocked her head in a mischievous manner.

‘And this is information you’ve gleaned from your extensive knowledge of men?’ he teased.

She shot him a devastatingly superior grin. ‘Of course.’ Simon was silent for a moment, and then asked: ‘Is it worth it?’

She looked bemused by his sudden change of subject. ‘Is what worth it?’

He let go of her hand just long enough to wave at the crowd. ‘This. This endless parade of parties. Your mother nipping at your heels.’

Daphne let out a surprised chuckle. ‘I doubt she’d appreciate the metaphor.’

She fell silent for a moment, her eyes taking on a faraway look as she said, ‘But yes, I suppose it is worth it. It has to be worth it.’

Daphne snapped back to attention and looked back to his face, her dark eyes meltingly honest.

‘I want a husband. I want a family. It’s not so silly when you think about it. I’m fourth of eight children. All I know are large families. I shouldn’t know how to exist outside of one.’

He wanted her. He wanted her so desperately he was straining against his clothing, but he could never, ever so much as touch her. Because to do so would be to shatter every one of her dreams

He wanted her. He wanted her so desperately he was straining against his clothing, but he could never, ever so much as touch her. Because to do so would be to shatter every one of her dreams

Simon caught her gaze, his eyes burning hot and intense into hers. A warning bell sounded in his mind.

He wanted her. He wanted her so desperately he was straining against his clothing, but he could never, ever so much as touch her. Because to do so would be to shatter every one of her dreams, and rake or not, Simon wasn’t certain he could live with himself if he did that. He would never marry, never sire a child, and that was all she wanted out of life. He might enjoy her company; he wasn’t certain he could deny himself that. But he had to leave her untouched for another man.

‘Your grace?’ she asked quietly.

When he blinked, she smiled and said: ‘You were woolgathering.’

He inclined his head graciously. ‘Merely pondering your words.’

‘And did they meet with your approval?’

‘Actually, I can’t remember the last time I conversed with someone with such obvious good sense.’ He added in a slow voice: ‘It’s good to know what you want out of life.’

‘Do you know what you want?’

Ah, how to answer that. There were some things he knew he could not say. But it was so easy to talk to this girl. Something about her put his mind at ease, even as his body tingled with desire.

By all rights they should not have been having such a frank conversation so soon into an acquaintance, but somehow it just felt natural.

Finally, he just said: ‘I made some decisions when I was younger. I try to live my life according to those vows.’

She looked ravenously curious, but good manners prevented her from questioning him further.

‘My goodness,’ she said with a slightly forced smile, ‘we’ve grown serious. And here I thought all we meant to debate was whose evening was less pleasant.’

They were both trapped, Simon realised. Trapped by their society’s conventions and expectations. And that’s when an idea popped into his mind. A strange, wild, and appallingly wonderful idea.

And it was probably also a dangerous idea, since it would put him in her company for long periods of time, which would certainly leave him in a perpetual state of unfulfilled desire, but Simon valued his self-control above all else, and he was certain he could control his baser urges.

‘Wouldn’t you like a respite?’ he asked.

‘A respite?’ she echoed bemusedly. ‘I had hoped to ignore London society altogether,’ he explained, ‘but I’m finding that may prove to be impossible.’

The music drew to a close, and Simon took her arm and guided her to the perimeter of the ballroom

The music drew to a close, and Simon took her arm and guided her to the perimeter of the ballroom

The music drew to a close, and Simon took her arm and guided her to the perimeter of the ballroom. Their dance had deposited them on the opposite side of the room from Daphne’s family, so they had time to continue their conversation as they walked slowly back to the Bridgertons.

‘What I was trying to say,’ he said, ‘was that it appears I must attend a certain number of London events.’

‘Hardly a fate worse than death.’

He ignored her editorial.

‘You, I gather, must attend them as well.’

She gave him a single regal nod.

‘Perhaps there is a way that I might be spared the attentions of the Featheringtons and the like, and at the same time, you might be spared the matchmaking efforts of your mother.’

She looked at him intently. ‘Go on.’

‘We . . .’ he leaned forward, his eyes mesmerising hers, ‘. . .will form an attachment.’

Daphne said nothing. She just stared at him as if she were trying to decide if he were the rudest man on the face of the earth or simply mad in the head.

‘Not a true attachment,’ Simon said impatiently. ‘Good God, what sort of man do you think I am?’

‘Well, I was warned about your reputation,’ she pointed out.

Simon gave her a startled look. ‘I don’t believe I have ever been condescended to by a woman before.’ She shrugged. ‘It was probably past time.’

‘Do you know, I’d thought that you were unmarried because your brothers had scared off all your suitors, but now I wonder if you did it all on your own.’

Much to his surprise, she just laughed. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I’m unmarried because everyone sees me as a friend. No one ever has any romantic interest in me.’

Simon pondered her words, then realised that his plan could work to her benefit even more than he’d originally imagined.

‘Here is my plan,’ he continued, his voice low and intense.

‘We shall pretend to have developed a tendre for each other. I won’t have quite so many debutantes thrown in my direction because it will be perceived that I am no longer available.’ ‘No it won’t,’ Daphne replied. ‘They won’t believe you’re unavailable until you’re standing before the bishop, taking your vows.’

The very thought made his stomach churn.

‘Nonsense,’ he said. ‘It may take a bit of time, but I’m sure I will eventually be able to convince society that I am not anyone’s candidate for marriage.’

‘Except mine,’ Daphne pointed out.

‘Except yours,’ he agreed, ‘but we will know that isn’t true.’

‘Of course,’ she murmured. ‘Frankly, I do not believe this will work, but if you’re convinced . . .’

‘I am.’

‘Well, then, what do I gain?’

Daphne looked at Mrs Featherington, who looked like a bird of prey, and then at her brother, who looked as if he had swallowed a chicken bone

Daphne looked at Mrs Featherington, who looked like a bird of prey, and then at her brother, who looked as if he had swallowed a chicken bone

‘For one thing, your mother will stop dragging you from man to man if she thinks you have secured my interest.’ ‘Rather conceited of you,’ Daphne mused, ‘but true.’

Simon ignored her gibe.

‘Secondly,’ he continued, ‘men are always more interested in a woman if they think other men are interested.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning, quite simply, and pardon my conceit . . .’ he shot her a sardonic look to show that he hadn’t missed her earlier sarcasm, ‘. . . but if the world thinks I intend to make you my duchess, all of those men who see you as nothing more than an affable friend will begin to view you in a new light.’

Her lips pursed.

‘Meaning that once you throw me over, I shall have hordes of suitors at my beck and call?’

‘Oh, I shall allow you to be the one to cry off,’ he said gallantly.

He noticed she didn’t bother to thank him.

‘I still think I’m gaining much more from this arrangement than you,’ she said.

He squeezed her arm slightly. ‘Then you’ll do it?’

Daphne looked at Mrs Featherington, who looked like a bird of prey, and then at her brother, who looked as if he had swallowed a chicken bone.

She’d seen those expressions dozens of times before — except on the faces of her own mother and some hapless potential suitor. ‘Yes,’ she said, her voice firm. ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’

Extracted from Bridgerton: The Duke And I by Julia Quinn Little, Brown, £8.99). © 2000 Julie Cotler Pottinger. To order a copy for £7.91, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193 (valid until March 6). Free UK delivery on orders over £20.

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