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The Reluctant Duke

By:Carole Mortimer

The Reluctant Duke
Carole Mortimer

       To Pete


"HAPPY New Year, Mr St Claire!'

Lucan-the Mr St Claire referred to-stood frowning in front of the huge  picture window in his executive office on the tenth floor of the St  Claire Corporation building.

It was still early on this cold and frosty January morning, only  eight-thirty, but Lucan had been at his desk working since six o'clock,  in order to deal with some of the work needing his attention following  the long Christmas and New Year break.

At least he had told himself he needed to come in early in order to deal  with the work needing his attention. The truth was he had been only too  glad to get back to normality after he and his two younger brothers had  spent a traditional Christmas at his mother's home in Edinburgh, before  all of them had decamped briefly-but not briefly enough for Lucan!-to  Mulberry Hall, the family estate in Gloucestershire, to attend his  youngest brother's wedding there on New Year's Eve.

Lucan had understood Jordan and Stephanie's reasons for wanting the  wedding to be held there-it was where the two of them had met, after  all-but as soon as he'd been able to do so politely, Lucan had made his  excuses and gone to Klosters, skiing for three days.

He turned now, that frown still creasing his brow as he looked at the  young woman who had just stepped in from the office that adjoined his.  The office belonging to his PA. Except the woman standing in the doorway  wasn't his PA. Wasn't anyone Lucan had ever set eyes on before, in  fact!

She was probably aged in her mid-twenties, very slender and a couple of  inches over five feet tall. The black business suit and the snowy white  blouse she wore beneath it took absolutely nothing away from the  gypsy-wild effect of her long ebony hair as it cascaded riotously over  her shoulders and down her back. Equally black brows were raised over  eyes of a deep sparkling blue, surrounded by thick sooty lashes, and a  small straight nose above sinfully and sensually full lips.

Lips that immediately-surprisingly!-stirred Lucan's body into arousal as  his thoughts shifted smoothly to bedrooms, and hot and nakedly entwined  bodies. Surprisingly because it was widely acknowledged that successful  businessman Lucan St Claire was as ruthless emotionally in the brief  relationships he had with women as he was in the boardroom.

Lucan didn't feel in the least ruthless as he stared at this dark and untamed beauty!

He scowled darkly. "Who the hell are you?'

Lexie might almost have felt sorry for Lucan St Claire's expression of  scowling bewilderment if it hadn't been for the fact that he had so  obviously brought this present situation completely upon himself.

If he weren't so coldly self-absorbed, so arrogantly unable to relate to  the people who worked for and with him, then perhaps his PA wouldn't  have decided to walk out on him on Christmas Eve, without even bothering  to tell him she was going.


Lexie had a suspicion that Jessica Brown's interest in Lucan St Claire  hadn't all been business-related, and that his lack of interest in  return-or inability to feel any-had been the reason the other woman had  finally left so abruptly …

Lexie walked over to stand in front of the imposing oak desk, aware of  the ease of power that surrounded Lucan St Claire as he towered on the  other side of that desk. Aware of how comfortably he wore the  charcoal-grey tailored suit, and the pale grey silk shirt with a darker  grey tie knotted meticulously at his throat.

This man wasn't only tall and impeccably dressed, but aristocratically  handsome, too, Lexie allowed grudgingly. Although, in her opinion the  dark, almost black, hair could have been worn a little longer than it  was, and those powerful good looks-enigmatic black eyes, haughtily long  nose, chiselled lips above a square-cut and determined chin-were stamped  with a haughty arrogance she didn't find in the least appealing.

Not that there had ever been any likelihood of Lexie finding anything  appealing about a single member of the St Claire family! Her mouth  twisted derisively.

"My name is Lexie Hamilton, Mr St Claire. I'm your temporary temporary PA,' she said as he still scowled.

Those dark eyes narrowed chillingly. "It's news to me that I'm in need of a temporary PA, let alone a temporary temporary one … '

Lexie's derision deepened. "Your ex-PA called my agency on Christmas Eve  to arrange for a temporary replacement until you are in a position to  arrange for a permanent one. Unfortunately, the lady most qualified for  the position isn't available for another three days.'

Lucan St Claire looked totally baffled by this explanation-as well he might.                       


Lexie had decided before coming here that even the curiosity she had  always felt concerning the St Claire family should have its time limit.  Three days would be quite long enough for her to confirm every bad thing  she had ever thought or heard of them.

As it turned out, she had overestimated-three minutes in this cold and  haughty man's company was quite long enough for her to know he believed  himself to be arrogantly superior!

His scowl deepened. "Exactly why and when did Jennifer make these arrangements?'

Now it was Lexie's turn to frown. "I thought your PA's name was Jessica … ?'

"Jennifer-Jessica,' Lucan St Claire dismissed irritably. "Her name is of  little relevance if, as you say, she has now left my employment.'

Lexie gave a rueful smile. "Perhaps if you had taken the trouble to  remember her name she wouldn't have felt the need to leave so  abruptly … ?'

Lucan's eyes narrowed to steely slits. "When I want your opinion, Miss Hamilton, then you can be assured I will ask for it!'

"I was merely pointing out-'

"Something that I believe, as a temporary temporary employee, is absolutely none of your business?' Lucan rasped harshly.

"Probably not,' she conceded with a rueful grimace.

An attitude completely lacking in genuine apology, Lucan recognised with  a dark frown. "Why would Jen-Jessica,' he corrected irritably, "leave  in that unprofessional way?'

Lexie Hamilton gave a shrug. "I believe she mentioned to someone at the  agency that the final insult came when you didn't even bother to send  her so much as a Christmas card-let alone buy her a present.'

"She received a Christmas bonus in her pay cheque last month-the same as all my other employees.'

"A personal Christmas present,' Lexie Hamilton drawled pointedly.

"Why on earth would I do that? " Lucan was genuinely astounded by the accusation.

"I believe it's customary for one's immediate boss to-never mind,' the  raven-haired beauty dismissed, as she obviously saw his impatience. "I  had no idea you were already in your office-I took a call just now that I  believe is in need of your immediate attention. I wrote the details  down for you.' She handed him a slip of paper.

Lucan glanced down at the neatly written message before crushing it in his hand.

John Barton, the caretaker of Mulberry Hall, was reporting some damage  to the west gallery of the house, following the rapid thaw over the last  two days. Damage that John believed was in need of Lucan's personal  attention.

As the eldest of the three St Claire brothers, Lucan had inherited the  Mulberry Hall estate on the death of their father eight years ago. But  it was an estate he had rarely visited following his parents' separation  and acrimonious divorce twenty-five years ago, and a place he certainly  had no inclination to return to again so soon after his last visit.

The first eleven of Lucan's thirty-six years had been spent happily  living at Mulberry Hall with both his parents. The three brothers had  been in complete ignorance of their father's affair with a widow who  lived in one of the cottages on the estate with her grown-up daughter.  Or of the unhappiness that affair had caused their mother. An  unhappiness that had imploded twenty-five years ago and resulted in  Molly moving back to Scotland and taking her three sons with her.

Lucan had forced himself to return to Mulberry Hall for Jordan and  Stephanie's wedding, almost a week ago, as no doubt had his brother  Gideon, and their mother; to be asked to go back there again so soon was  unacceptable.

Barton had said the damage was in the west gallery …

That was the long picture gallery, where the portrait of Lucan's father,  Alexander St Claire, the previous Duke of Stourbridge, now hung in  majestic state.

A portrait which revealed that Lucan, of all the three St Claire  brothers, most resembled their dark-haired, dark-eyed and adulterous  father!

"Mr Barton sounded as if he considered the matter urgent,' Lexie  Hamilton told him now, and she looked pointedly at the message she had  written out so neatly, which Lucan had crushed in his hand.

"I believe that is for me to decide, don't you? " His voice was silky soft.

"It's probably too late for me to do anything about your ten o'clock  appointment.' She completely ignored his setdown. "But I could probably  cancel the rest of your appointments for the next couple of days if you  were thinking of-'