Coming October 13, 2015
A Duke to Die For
She was playing with fire...but was eager to burn.
Desperate and on the run from an arranged marriage, Erika von Ecker disguises herself as a cadet and joins the Prussian Army. At the very least, she hopes the scandal will condemn her in the eyes of the nobility. The last thing she expects is sharing very close quarters with a man forbidden to her, the devastatingly handsome heir to a vast duchy, Alaric Martens von Breidenbach.
All his life, Alaric has been groomed to take his place and title as Duke von Breidenbach. But first he must serve as a soldier for his king. He’s shocked when he realizes the coltish lad assigned to billet with him is, in fact, an alluring woman. Revealing her identity could bring dire consequences for them both. But, as war looms, keeping the intrepid beauty’s secret threatens everything Alaric holds dear, including his heart. He must do anything in his power to get Erika out of harm’s way—even it means making her more than his mistress…
*This book was previously published by Siren Bookstrand as More Than a Mistress
Read An Excerpt
“You’re…you’re a woman.”
Erika swallowed. Her heart pounded despite the searing pain in her back. What would he do now? Turn in her in? Walk out? Curse?
She was beyond caring. She rolled onto her side still clasping the shirt protectively over her exposed breasts. A heated blush of humiliation infused her cheeks that matched the scorching wildfire that was her back.
The ruse was up. And after only one day. Now she would have to return to Pomerania and marry von Ohlendorf.
What had made her think she could pull off such a farce anyway? Tears stung her eyes.
“Go away and leave me alone.” But despite her bravado, her breath froze when he made no motion to leave. Out of the corner of her eye, she detected him glaring at her, no doubt thinking back over the day he had spent with her. But then, he’d thought she was a man, a fellow cadet in the army.
He expelled a sigh, and she felt the bed sink as he sat down beside her. Her heart raced but she didn’t dare move.
Damn those ruffians! She was doing just fine until they had come along. They’d only lashed her three times but it might as well have been a thousand. Still, even this was better than marrying that horrible von Ohlendorf.
“Your wounds need to be attended.” Alaric’s voice was terse.
She considered refusing him but the pain was too great. Dismay choked her. She’d lost every shred of dignity. Silently, she damned her pride. There was nothing left to do but accept his help.
Bracing herself, she turned and gazed up into his eyes, the last remnant of decorum she possessed dissolving. “Very well,” she said, her voice but a whisper.
He held her stare for a heart-stopping moment before turning to the wash basin.
Erika couldn’t believe she was allowing this. It was scandalous enough to be alone with a man but to be half naked in his presence was ruinous.
He had removed his coat and was dressed in only his white shirt and tan breeches. He swept a strand of hair back into his queue before he washed his hands.
When he turned to her, she hid her face in the pillow, tensely aware of his weight as he sank onto the bed again. A hard, muscled thigh pressed against her side.
When he began to wash the cuts on her back, she gritted her teeth and tensed, expecting more pain. But instead, his touch was surprisingly gentle—gentler than she would have thought him capable.
“You brought this on yourself.” His words were not nearly as compassionate. “What made you think you could get away with passing yourself off as a man?”
“I had no choice.”
“No choice? That’s utterly ridiculous. Who are you?” he demanded as he continued to attend her wounds. “What’s your real name?”
“Erika von Ecker. Erik was…he was my brother. He…he died.” Just uttering the words rekindled her grief.
“That is unfortunate.”
His voice resounded with sympathy, but Erika sensed some other emotion, one that was not going to benefit her or her plan.
“But that hardly gives you license to think you can join the army.”
She turned just long enough to direct her stare into his eyes. “Did you not think I was a man?”
Alaric didn’t answer. Instead, he eased the waist of her buff breeches down just a little so that he could wipe away the blood that had run down her back. He couldn’t help but wonder how she had ever concealed these voluptuous curves—and those breasts he’d caught a glimpse of when he’d removed her shirt earlier.
“You’re angry because I fooled you,” she said, her voice muffled by the pillow.
He was damn angry, and his first thought had been to walk out on her, but the helpless look that pervaded her eyes tore at his conscience. She was injured, and if he didn’t dress her wounds, she’d surely suffer for it.
He knelt on the hardwood floor and slipped off her boots. How could such an attractive woman pretend she was a lieutenant in the Prussian army? He couldn’t fathom it. But whatever her reason, he couldn’t allow this farce to continue.
When he’d been called upon to serve, as was the custom for the nobility, he’d accepted King Frederick’s code of honor. Allowing a woman to make a mockery of the institution was not his idea of upholding his pledge to king and country.
“I’m going to have to tell them who you really are.”
“No…” Her voice was charged with alarm. She struggled to sit. Desperation, undaunted by her pain dulled her eyes as she clutched the white linen shirt to her breasts—a gesture which made her even more irresistibly beautiful and vulnerable. This soft, alluring creature had no business in the military. She was meant for delicate things. For being held and kissed and…
No, he wouldn’t think about that. Not now. She was obviously in dire circumstances to have done what she did. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t turn you in,” he said, trying very hard to direct his stare into her eyes, to keep his gaze away from her bared shoulders, away from the hollow that was visible just beneath one of her breasts.
“Because if you do, I shall have to go back home and marry a horrible old baron. My father arranged the union to cover his gambling debts. My brother was our only hope and…” Her voice trailed off, and then she grasped his sleeve in her tiny fist. “He’s twice my age. Please…Alaric. Give me one week.”
The sound of his name coming from her lips disturbed him, nearly made him lose every ounce of iron control he possessed. He glanced down at her hand and then back into her eyes, the heat of her touch scorching him through the linen fabric.
Alaric was hardly a stranger to the lengths to which a woman would go in order to avoid a loveless union. Grimly, he recalled discovering his sister, Marta, her body slowly twisting, hanging from the makeshift noose she’d made out of one of her petticoats. She’d died at her own hand rather than submit to an arranged marriage. He shut his eyes briefly and forced the black thoughts out of his mind.
Still, even given Erika’s circumstances, how could he not report her?
Erika brought him abruptly back to the present.
“I know the drills as well as any man.” Defiance sparked from her eyes as she jerked her chin at him.
“Knowing them and executing them are two different things, Erika.” He emphasized her name, still feeling foolish for having believed she was a man.
“No,” he protested. “There’s the impropriety of it. At the very least, if you’re found out, I’ll be court-martialed. Or flogged. No. Absolutely not.”
“Give me the opportunity to prove myself. I cannot go back home.” The note of quiet desperation in her voice almost made him change his mind. Almost.
He shook his head. “I’m not going to be quartered here with a…a woman.”
“I won’t demand any special treatment,” she argued. “I swear it.” Her eyes darkened dangerously. “Are you a betting man?”
“Of course. Every man is.”
“Then I’ll bet you a week’s pay I can continue to fool everyone here.”
A week’s pay? Was she that desperate? Why was he even considering this? It was ludicrous. But what must it be like to have one’s life and mate chosen? To have no control over one’s own destiny? He couldn’t imagine the horror of such an existence. He sighed. “Absolutely not. There’s only one bed.”
“It’s big enough for the both of us.”
What was she suggesting?
She swallowed hard. “If you won’t take my bet, I will…I will make another trade for your help.”
He did not mistake her meaning, and it was quite a tempting offer. He looked her up and down. She was most likely a virgin. She was too modest to be otherwise.
Despoiling innocents was not an option for him—not after what had happened with Elisabeta von Mardefeld. Despite his scandalous past, he was no indiscriminate predator. Still, the thought of it made his cock strain against his tight uniform breeches.
Still, he had to wonder if she was serious. Perhaps she was not as innocent as she appeared. He hadn’t mistaken the desire in her eyes when he’d thought she was a man. It wouldn’t hurt to find out.
He slipped his hand around the back of her neck, threading his fingers through her hair. Peering hard into her eyes, leaving her with no doubt as to his intentions, he pulled her toward him until her lips were only inches from his own, but when he brushed her mouth with his, a whimper escaped her lips. Her eyes squeezed shut, and her entire body grew rigid.
Drawing back just far enough to look at her face once more, he noticed a tear seeping out of her black lashes and rolling down her cheek. She hadn’t cried after being beaten. Neither had she shed tears when he’d discovered her secret. But this—the idea of trading her body for his silence—brought this proud creature to tears.
He released her. Erika von Ecker had probably stumbled into the world of the one man who wouldn’t take advantage of her innocence. But he could help her, far more than she knew.
Being the son of one of the wealthiest and most powerful dukes in all of Prussia did not come without its benefits. He would arrange to have von Ecker’s debts paid so Erika could go home where she belonged.
In any case, he knew Erika’s pride would prevent her from accepting either offer. He would have to go along with her ruse until the funds were transferred.
“Forget it,” he said. “I’d rather take your bet.”