Welcome back to my Spring Cleaning Challenge!
While editing, I’ve learned my story starts in the wrong place and I need to throw them into action together faster. Rewrite! lol. Although this is common and don’t fret if you discover the same in your story. IT’S OKAY!
I hope everyone is working hard and having fun like me! Spring Cleaning never felt so good.
This week, I picked a chapter where Athena and the Mad Duke, “Stratton” aka Savage just met.
Athena has forced her way into the Duke’s home, thinking he is the Savage mentioned in her brother’s letter. Confronted with the “mad” Duke, she must fight to gain his trust and learn his secrets.
“Start explaining what’s so bloody damn important, or I will toss you out.” Stratton covered up his instant attraction the only way he knew how, by command. The words came out exactly like he wanted; cool, abrupt, harsh. His body’s temperature though shot up, when Athena ran a hand down her bare neck drawing his attention towards her plentiful cleavage.
The minx was trying to seduce him? “You have three seconds.”
A mixture of emotions ran across her face and she fisted her delicate hands. Good, she thought him a rude beast. Focus on that and not how smooth and creamy her skin appeared.
“I am here for your services.” Her large golden-colored eyes widened as much. Fascinating, she hadn’t meant to say such provocative words, but Stratton was a strategist and willing to dominate her weakness. Anything to hasten her departure.
“My services?” He couldn’t stop his instant look of interest that roamed over her body, soft as a lover’s touch and made her blush red as a cherry tomato, any more than he could stop breathing. Dressed in high fashion, she was a lady. So what was she doing here? And what game was she playing?
She bit her lip and looked ready to cry.
“Your Grace. I did not phrase myself correctly,” her head shook side to side causing her light brown hair to shimmer in the sparse light. Her hand rose and she pointed one finger at him reclining in the chair. “While I’m flattered, you took my words out of context.”
Their gaze caught and he swore he saw her lips twitch in amusement before she quickly repressed them and looked down. Fine, he’d let her think she had the upper hand. What harm could come?
“Explain, my services, you do want?” he repeated slowly and stretching out his legs, opening them ever so slightly almost touching her shoe.
Her head jerked up and the smile, diminished. “I apologize. I don’t normally act so outspoken or forward. My only excuse is I am out of sorts from the long journey.”
He doubted both statements, but inclined his head anyway.
Moving her foot away, she straightened. “I will start at the beginning. My brother is missing. He never returned home from the war. The letters he sent to me led me here.”
This was not good. How could this slip of a girl find him when he was supposedly dead? By letter was impossible. “Here? I fear you are mistaken.”
Her eyes narrowed. “There is a good possibility you know my brother. He was last seen and heard of in France?”
He tried to hide any discomfort at her words. The last thing he wanted was to be involved in a hunt for a dead solider. No matter how attractive the sister was. And France would only be a suicide mission. “Your point? I don’t see how I can be of assistance. Contact his commanding officer.”
“I feel I’ll have better luck with you since you were mentioned in his letter. He saw you command a charge that probably won the battle. The letter was the last one I ever received and since he admired you so I figured he’d had sought you out. You could tell me if you knew what has happened to him.”
“How do you know I’m the same man mentioned in the letter?”
“Although, he called Savage, when I heard your full name, James Savage Stratton, I had to come to see if you and that person were the one and same. Everyone assumes he’s dead, but I know that’s not the truth.”
“He referred to me as Savage?” Abruptly standing, all thoughts of her beauty and seduction were doused. A cold feeling swept inside, making him on guard and alert. “What kind of letter are you referring?”
“Personal correspondence. My brother wrote whenever he was able”
Trying not to appear overly concerned, he examined the beauty sitting so blasé in his study. Her sudden presence in his home could be associated with the recent attacks against him. The many missions he’d been associated with in the past had been sent in letters, but no civilian should know of his secret identity. Was it possible that she was a spy trying to get information? The war was over, but many that were still fighting their own personal wars. Just how far was she willing to go to get information; was she willing to use her body?
Could he withstand?
She went on, oblivious to his mistrustful thoughts or an excellent actress. “My brother mentioned your courage and how much he respected you. He called you Savage. Only I could never find anyone with that last name, believe me I looked for the past year. But then it really isn’t your last name, but your middle. It explains why I could never find you.”
He remained silent.
Her head tilted and in a hesitant voice asked, “You did serve in the war? In the cavalry?”
While the urge to play words games was considered, yet the sooner she was gone the better. The small chance she was a spy would over shadow his focus on more important matters needing his concern. “I do not discuss personal matters with anyone, let alone a female that showed up uninvited on my doorstop. Since I’m feeling charitable, I’ll make exception since you went to the trouble of traveling so far
since I’m feeling charitable. I did serve in the war, in the cavalry, but I was never called savage. Except for perhaps by my nanny,” he smiled sardonically while the intense need to prowl seized him.
“That’s it? That’s all you wish to say?” She watched him with curious eyes. “What do you wish me to say?” Suddenly, he was disappointed in his hasty decision to not find out who she was and what she might know. Was it possible she was behind the attack in France that killed the general?
As he continued to watch her, the desire to keep her there shot like a wave through his body. The lack of control showed him that he was weak against her beauty and would be too deadly to let her stay near. He turned away in self-abomination. He hated to feel weak. No one had had this effect on him since he was an adolescent and he did not care for it one bit.
“You’re not insane,” just pigheaded Athena muttered under her breath, “just pig-headed.”
“What!” Certain this time of what he heard, not like in the parlor before, he swung around and stared incredulously at the gumption she showed.
“I can see where this is headed, Your Grace. That is what I said.” She nodded once and sniffed into her handkerchief held up a hand trying to calm him. “Please, reconsider your harsh attitude and try to remember anything that you can about the River Nivelle and Clavinets Heights. Who you might have met there-”
“I am not insane.” Why he felt justified to add, he knew not. To care what others thought drained too much common sense.
“Just pigheaded,” slipped between her perfect white teeth before she could stop herself. At least she could have the decency to look embarrassed.
“Blast, I did not mean to say that. Well, I did. But not so you could hear. I’m afraid I sometimes speak before I think things through.” She lifted her chin as she replied, “I am ruining my chances of gaining your help every time I speak, aren’t I?”
“My hide is tougher than that, do not worry.” He replied, oddly amused by her frankness. And the opposite was true, the more she spoke the more she was winning her chances with him. A spy would not be so gauche. Yet, he wanted her to have no hope and choose his next words carefully. “I do not talk of my time at war. What is done is done. It is over and I will not open the wounds.” He sat back down with a slash of his hand.
She tilted her blond head in interest.
And before he knew it, he heard himself explain, “Someone such as you doesn’t need to hear about the carnage I have witnessed. I spent a long time in war, was wounded, then came home. I try not to think about it. That’s all I have to say.”
She nodded in sympathy and he frowned.
He clearly didn’t want her understanding. He wanted her anger. “I don’t know anyone from the last battle. They all died.”
“I wonder the real reason for such bitterness. Is it because of the wounds you suffered or that you survived? I have a good friend back in London who feels useless and stays drunk most of the time due to his wound.”
How dare she. He leaned forward with a black stare. “Do not imply as if you knew me. And I’m not useless.”
“Prove it. Help me.”
Christ, he’d fallen neatly into her trap. “First, I was insane, now I am wounded beyond repair. And you want my help? What does that make you?”
“Determined.” She reached over and patted him.
She irritated the hell out of him. He clenched his fists to keep them from breeching the distance between them and strangling her.
“I only say those things because I have a feeling you would rather deal with honesty.”
She was right. Damn her. “I can’t help you. I’m wounded, useless and insane.”
“We both know that’s not true. Now’s your chance to prove to them that you’re not. Help me, help you.”
“How could you help me?”