He was back.
Noelle Pratchett gazed at the imposing, impossibly handsome gentleman before her in disbelief. For years, she had vowed that if she ever crossed paths with the Duke of Silkridge again, he deserved nothing less than the cut direct.
And yet she was rooted in place. Her knees were locked tight to keep from trembling and her traitorous eyes could not be distracted from his form.
Tall, intense, tightly controlled. It wasn’t just that his clothing had been perfectly tailored to his lean, muscular body. Every thread, every stitch had been selected with the same care and precision that ruled the rest of his life.
He was never well-dressed; he was perfectly dressed. Every fold of his cravat, a work of art. Every crease, starched and crisp. Every hair just so, with nary a tendril out of place. His jaw, smooth and clear of stubble.
He wasn’t a fashion plate come to life. The duke was no dandy. Rather, he was the very embodiment of rules and expectations. His hair, the perfect length. His waistcoat, the ideal pattern. His choices in color and style, muted but elegant. Timeless. As if an artist might paint his portrait at any moment.
And this magic, despite having just stepped inside from a long drive on a blustery day. Not even wrinkles would dare to mar the plans of the Duke of Silkridge.
He was not here for her, of course. For a while—a very short while—her naïve heart had once believed such a thing possible.
Back in those days, he was not yet a duke but rather Benjamin. Irresistible, despite the same haunted eyes and carefully controlled exterior. If it had not been for that one reckless kiss, she would not have believed passion capable of sneaking past his defenses.
At the time, she had been delighted. It was a fairy story. She, the penniless orphan. He, the handsome prince. What had begun as friendship had turned into so much more. He would not have kissed her otherwise. Surely this meant they had a future.
He had been horrified. They had no future at all. Indeed, the next morning he was in the first coach heading out of town. That was the last time she saw him.