One Night with a Duke (12 Dukes of Christmas #10) - Erica Ridley Page 0,1

the evergreen-furred mountain, the village had been completely hidden from view until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

This was interesting, indeed! H-A-R-P was just visible on a thick wooden sign blanketed in snow. A stud farm, by the looks of it. One of the most famous in England, to be specific. Everyone had heard of the Harpers.

One of their horses was of royal caliber, according to the broadsheets, and was the most in-demand of all the fine blood horses in Britain. No lesser personage than the Prince Regent had attempted to purchase it, but he hadn’t been able to, which only made the horse quintuple in value and the Harpers all the more infamous.

“Look!” A horse and rider cut across the Harpers’ snow-covered fields.

“I can’t look,” Beattie grumbled. “I can’t even see the road with you leaning past me like an overeager puppy. If you were inside the carriage, you could look out of the window and—”

“Nothing interesting happens whilst cloistered somewhere,” Jonathan scolded him.

He twisted backward onto the perch, his frozen knees balancing on the tattered squab, just in time for the rider to come within shouting distance.

“Ho, there!” he called out. “Lovely horse you’ve got! I’ll buy it from you!”

“What would you do with a horse,” Beattie asked, “when you haven’t even got a house?”

“Give it to you,” Jonathan replied sensibly. “What a wonderful story it will make! ‘How did you enjoy your time in Cressmouth?’ they’ll ask—”

“Christmas,” Beattie corrected. “It’s called Christmas.”

Jonathan wanted to like everything. He tried to like everything. But some things…

He continued on, ignoring Beattie’s interruption. “‘Och, you know, boring old seasonal nonsense,’ most people would reply. ‘Bought a watercolor of a pine tree, in case I forget what one looks like when I’ve gone back home.’ But not me, Beattie, and not you! ‘Bought a horse,’ I’ll say, ‘from the famous Harper stud farm. Gave it to my hack driver. Hope he likes it better than raisins.’ And you’ll say—”

“I won’t say a blessed thing,” Beattie said, “because that gentleman didn’t even look up when you called, so I daresay you won’t be buying any horses.”

“Perhaps not today,” Jonathan allowed, “but anything could happen tomorrow. The best adventures are unpredictable.”

“I predict I won’t be here to find out,” Beattie said. “Once you alight at your cottage, I shall turn around and go home. You might not believe in permanence, but I’ve got a wife who’ll be keeping supper warm for me. Something to consider.”

“Pah,” said Jonathan. “If I can’t decide on a home until I’ve seen them all, how am I supposed to take a wife? Do you know how many more women there are than cities and hamlets? Even if I limited myself to conversing five minutes with each one, I’d never meet them all in a hundred years.”

“You don’t have to meet them all,” Beattie said in exasperation. “Find a good one and keep her.”

“I don’t want a good lass,” Jonathan explained. “I want a splendid lass. I want the best lass. Nothing else will do.”

“And ‘nothing’ is what you’ll end up with,” Beattie predicted. “I hope you like suppers alone.”

“Be alone?” Jonathan clutched his chest. “I’ve taken every meal with a different person for as long as I can remember.”

Well, for as long as he’d been on the road—which was the only bit he chose to remember.

Not that Beattie was listening. He stared openmouthed at the majestic castle soaring up into the sky at the top of the mountain. It looked like something out of a fairy book. Or it would, if it weren’t surrounded by a living black moat of holiday-makers in smart carriages, and swarming pedestrians in bright-colored woolen caps.

“Turn here,” Jonathan commanded, shaking out the small hand-drawn map that had come with his invitation. “To the right, past the pond, curve about until... here!”

One might not think a village of a thousand souls would require much in the way of maps, but the Duke of Nottingvale was nothing if not thorough. It was a quality Jonathan very much admired, and it boded splendidly for their upcoming business partnership—if the presentation went as planned.

He leapt to the ground the moment Beattie halted the hack, and had to grab the edge of the footrest to keep his feet from flying out in front of him when his boots skated weightlessly across a hidden patch of ice.

Two matched footmen burst from the cottage with twin expressions of horror, but they were far too well-mannered to scold their guest for leaping down from a