"Georgette Heyer with a sexy twist." - Eloisa James

For the Duke’s Eyes Only

School for Dukes, Book 2

Now Available from HarperCollins Avon

For the Duke's Eyes OnlyIf adventure has a name…it must be Lady India Rochester. The intrepid archaeologist possesses a sharp blade and an even sharper knack for uncovering history’s forgotten women. Unfortunately, she has one annoying weakness: the dangerously handsome Duke of Ravenwood. Former best friend. Current enemy. And the man who dared to break her heart.

Daniel Bonds, the Duke of Ravenwood, is a thrill-seeking antiquities hunter who only plays by one rule: Never fall in love. He’s in it for the fortune and glory. At least that’s what he wants the world to think. He’s sworn to hide his tangled web of secrets, especially from the one woman he cares about and will protect at any cost.

But when a priceless relic is stolen from the British Museum, the rivals must align forces. Racing to recover the stolen antiquity and avert an international disaster? All in a day’s work. Avoiding their buried feelings? More and more impossible. For love is about to become the greatest treasure of all.

The grand adventure begins…now!

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HarperCollins Avon (September 18, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0062692496
ISBN-13: 9780062692498
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

London, fifteen years later

The trouble with fake moustaches, Lady India Rochester was discovering, was that they had an alarming propensity to come unstuck.

Especially when the lady wearing the clever disguise happened to be perspiring.

And most definitely when the lady was perspiring because she was currently committing at least four crimes in a daring attempt to infiltrate the all-male Society of Antiquaries.

The porter scrutinized her card, his ponderous jowls drooping as he frowned. “Mr. Pomeroy?”

“That’s right.” Indy cleared her throat, dropping her voice a half octave for good measure. She smoothed down her moustache, praying that the adhesive paste held. “My uncle, Lord Pomeroy, is excavating near Rome and sent me in his stead.”

“Highly irregular.”

“Is it really?” Indy shrugged, feigning a nonchalance she was far from feeling. “Well I don’t want to attend the meeting—bound to be a yawning bore, what?—But I did promise the old boy I’d send him notes. Do let me in, there’s a good fellow, and I’ll promise not to snore too loudly from the back bench.”

The man wasn’t budging. Apparently he’d been hired by the Antiquaries because of an abundance of caution and an utter lack of humor.

Frustration pulsed through her mind. She must pass through this door.

They’d left her no choice but subterfuge.

She had as much right as any to study the Rosetta Stone at close quarters before it was moved back to the British Museum for public display, always to be surrounded by onlookers and guards.

The stone was the key to unlocking the mysteries and secrets of hieroglyphics—the difficult-to-decipher written language of the ancient Egyptians. It bore three columns of the same inscription, each in a different language: Greek, Egyptian script, and hieroglyphics.

She’d spent much of the last two years on archaeological expeditions and needed to view the script on the stone to corroborate her translation of a text that she believed could lead her to one of archaeology’s greatest prizes—the burial place of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.

Even thinking about it quickened her pulse.

If she located Cleopatra’s tomb, the men couldn’t laugh at her anymore, they couldn’t exclude her from their societies and dismiss her work. Even the famous antiquarian the Duke of Ravenwood—her former best friend and current enemy—wouldn’t be able to ignore her achievements.

Indy had made it her life’s work to study the powerful, influential women who had helped shape history.

Her shoulders tensed thinking of the way Ravenwood had publicly challenged her theories on the female gender of the ancient Pharaoh Hatshepsut.

Shrug it off. Don’t let thoughts of Ravenwood destroy your dilettante disguise.

The scandal sheets called her Lady Danger. She’d survived multiple knife attacks, venomous snakebites—and the lady patronesses of Almack’s.

One overzealous porter was child’s play.

“Now see here, I don’t like this delay one bit.” She infused her voice with aristocratic disdain. “Sir Malcolm will surely hear of your insolence. Uncle sent word that I was coming.”

A letter she’d forged—yet another punishable offence.

Her own father was dead and her brother was now the powerful Duke of Banksford, but even he might not be able to save her if she were arrested today.

Men tended to take their rules very seriously, especially the ones that kept women submissive, subservient, and on the wrong side of doors.

“Wait here, sir.” The porter disappeared into the arched doorway of Somerset House, leaving Indy standing on the Strand. Carriages rattled past. A man attempted to herd sheep across the avenue. A rattrap vendor demonstrated his wares by shaking cages filled with live rats in the startled faces of passersby.

Had the porter noticed something odd about her appearance?

A quick check of her makeshift whiskers assured her the paste was holding . . . for now.

Blue-tinted spectacles covered her telltale grayish-purple eyes, and a short brown wig hid her long dark hair.

She’d bound her bosom with linen to achieve the illusion of a young buck dressed in the first stare of fashion: blue greatcoat over a frock coat of black superfine, gold-embroidered waistcoat, buff-colored trousers, and polished black boots.

She looked quite dashing, if she did say so herself.

Indy’s mother loved to remind her that she displayed none of the pleasing traits of femininity. She never simpered or flirted, abhorred frills and furbelows, carried a dagger at her hip and knew how to use it, and had once been told that her gait resembled that of a swaggering tomcat.

Her one feminine indulgence was a bold, sensual French perfume, but today she’d remembered to douse herself with a masculine scent.

Every detail’s in place. There’s nothing to worry about.

Soon she’d cross the threshold of the most exclusive antiquities society in the world. And none would be the wiser.

Not even Ravenwood. Even her rival wouldn’t notice her because she planned on being entirely unexceptional. For once in her life she’d stay silent, suppress her flair for the dramatic, speak only when spoken to, and attract absolutely no undue attention.

Wouldn’t her mother be proud? Her etiquette lessons put to use at last.

What was taking the blasted porter so long?

Indy leaned on her ebony-knobbed walking stick and whistled a popular air, her breath visible in the cold October air.

A mother and her pretty marriage-aged daughter passed by and Indy tipped the brim of her beaver top hat with the knob of her walking stick. The daughter giggled and cast a flirtatious glance over her shoulder.

The poor thing looked as though her arms were lost in little hot-air balloons and she might lift off and float away at any moment, airborne by her sleeves. Women’s sleeves had widened to outrageous proportions of late. And the millinery. Don’t get Indy started on the hats. Monstrous straw bonnets the width of Viking shields, bristling with plumage and stiff satin bows.

They were weapons, those hats. Men had to move out of their path for fear of being blindsided, she’d found out today.

Indy flexed her shoulders, enjoying the comfortable fit of her custom-made coat.

Strutting the streets of London in male garb had been astonishingly freeing. Why hadn’t she done it before? The city had spread itself before her boots, whispering of untasted pleasures.

Smoky pubs where she could order a haunch of beef and a brandy without causing an uproar or being forced to deflect boorish advances.

Boxing establishments, clubs, and gaming houses . . . every door thrown wide.

The door of Somerset House opened again. “Apologies for the delay. Right this way, Mr. Pomeroy,” said the porter with an obsequious bow.

“Well it’s about time, my good fellow,” muttered Indy, striding through the arched doorway into the vestibule as if she owned the place.

They passed under an archway crowned by a bust of Newton, signaling that the Royal Society of scientists and philosophers shared this wing of Somerset House with the antiquaries.

No females except for serving maids ever passed through this doorway.

Did it give the gentlemen a feeling of superiority every time they entered their hallowed halls, free from feminine interference?

Nob-headed nonsense!

Hoarding knowledge for the consumption of only one sex was the greatest folly, and she was going to prove it to Ravenwood, and the other pompous lords, all puffed up with pride and prejudice.

She wasn’t just going to sneak through their precious door . . . she was going to blast the entire thing off its hinges.

She would prove that females were not inherently inferior to males. That women of vision and power had shaped history and would continue to do so.

Realizing her gait had taken on a militant cadence, she slowed her steps to an indolent amble befitting Mr. Pomeroy, bored dandy and rake-about-Town.

After climbing a semi-circular staircase, the porter led her to the meeting room and seated her in the backmost row of benches that lined the walls. The meeting hadn’t yet begun and a loud hum of conversation reverberated in the spacious room.

She noticed Ravenwood immediately—he was sprawled in a chair at the foot of the central table that must be reserved for titled members.

She had a habit of looking for him in every room she entered as her frame of reference.

If he was in the room it meant a public showdown—hackles raised and witty retorts and barbs at the ready.

Daniel, her fun-loving childhood friend, had become a rogue known for hunting beautiful women in England, and treasures abroad, amassing both amours and antiquities as nothing more than trophies.

Once upon a long-lost summer they’d dreamt of traveling the world together and making important archaeological discoveries.

What a cartload of steaming shite.

He’d betrayed her. And now his methods for hunting antiquities were as wildly unscrupulous as hers were rigidly ethical. She studied ancient cultures, she never stole their accomplishments. She surrendered any artifacts she discovered to the government of the country where she made the discovery for further study and display.

When she brought a small token back to England with her, she purchased it for a fair price through the proper channels and donated it to the British Museum for public display.

As far as she could tell, Ravenwood spent most of his time drowning in drink and lounging about instead of practicing any actual archaeology. He simply purchased whatever treasure he desired from the underworld. And then he kept the priceless antiquities locked away in his private collection. For his eyes only.

Anger swelled, nearly propelling her toward him. Their constant rivalry kept the scandal sheets in business.

Lady Danger versus the Rogue Duke.

A public war of the sexes that usually devolved into cynical laughter on his side and shouted epithets and smashed porcelain on hers.

She did like giving him a sharp and biting piece of her mind every time she saw him.

But not today.

There would be no warfare today.

Stay seated. Keep your blade holstered. Don’t call attention to yourself. Look anywhere else in the room but at Ravenwood.

Study the oil lamps and candles spilling warm light over the books and artifacts arranged along the central table. Peruse the bust of George the Third presiding over the mantel.

Pretend to admire the Tudor tapestry woven in vibrant reds and blues hanging on the wall.

Don’t notice him.

Don’t notice that his eyes were the same color as the candle flames reflecting in polished oak. Pay no attention to the way the snowfall of his cravat served as a contrast to his tanned skin and the angular lines of his handsome face.

Perish the thought that his athletic frame seemed to have grown even more athletic about the shoulders and arms since she’d seen him last.

What did the infuriating man do, row the length of the Thames every day? His powerfully sculpted physique didn’t fit with his indolent reputation.

The problem with Ravenwood was that he was nearly impossible to ignore.

Take today, for example. All eyes in the room were on him and every ear tuned to his resonant voice because he was holding forth on the asinine topic of nipples.

Yes, nipples.

Indy heaved an inward sigh. Of course he was. Should she expect any less? And he wasn’t just holding forth.

He had visual aids.

“See here, chaps,” he said, gesturing at the marble bust of Aphrodite on the table in front of him. “This one is slightly larger than the other, which lends a wonderful air of veracity to the sculpture, wouldn’t you say?”

“Let me have a closer look.” The Earl of Montrose brought his monocle to his eye and peered at the statue’s rounded charms. “Ah yes, very lifelike indeed.”

Ravenwood skimmed his finger along the underside of a marble breast.

Which shouldn’t make her heart beat faster or do damnably fluttery things to her belly.

“Most females, I’ve observed,” Ravenwood continued, “tend to possess one breast that is slightly larger than the other. It’s like their charming bosoms are giving me a cheeky, lopsided grin.”

Oh ha ha, thought Indy. Very amusing.

“You’re the expert in these matters,” said the Duke of Westbury, who was sitting next to Ravenwood.

“I am, rather.” Ravenwood extracted a small silver flask from a pocket somewhere and took a long swallow.

Who brought a flask to an antiquities meeting?

And another thing—why didn’t women’s clothing possess enough pockets for stashing flasks and other important items? She’d have to ask her dressmaker to add more pockets to her traveling gowns.

“Care for a nip?” Ravenwood asked Westbury, who accepted the flask.

Indy had no idea why Westbury was here. She’d never known her brother’s friend to have any interest in antiquities. He was a notorious rake and inebriate, though she didn’t think he was the mean kind of drunk, as her father had been.

Westbury had the countenance of a fallen angel, aglow with wicked beauty, but who could pay attention to him when Ravenwood was in the room?

Every single time she saw him she momentarily abandoned her intellect. And it wasn’t just her—she’d seen it happen to countless other ladies.

Sensible, strong-minded, stouthearted ladies reduced to breathless, blushing, eyelash-flapping ninnies.

When he was in the room, she had a nearly uncontrollable desire to cause herself pain. Like that winter when they were children and he’d dared her to stick her tongue on a frosty iron gate.

She’d known she shouldn’t do it, but she never backed down from one of Daniel’s dares.

She’d had a raw patch on the tip of her tongue for days.

She hated that every time their paths crossed she couldn’t take her eyes off him.

Her hand rose to her cravat. The starched male neck cloth hid more than her lack of a prominent Adam’s apple. It hid the necklace she wore; a thin gold chain supporting the weight of a copper coin nestled within a pronged setting. The Minerva coin Ravenwood had chosen for her on that long-ago summer day, before everything went so wrong.

She didn’t wear the coin around her neck because she harbored a sentimental attachment to their lost connection.

Not in the least.

She wore it as a constant reminder that she must never trust her heart to anyone ever again.

She was completely on her own in life’s grand adventure.

Lady Danger versus the World.

She harbored no hope or illusions that Ravenwood might cease being the most infuriating numbskull known to man, and go back to being her devoted childhood companion.

The one with the devilish grin. The one who loved her for her.

The warrior goddess on the copper coin that lay against her breastbone was a talisman protecting her from further heartache.

He’s not Daniel, the boy who stole your heart.

He’s Ravenwood, the man who broke it.

Her sworn rival. A cold iron gate on a wintry day that could only end in torment.

And that was why she wouldn’t even glance at him the rest of the afternoon.

She must stay intent on her mission.

As soon as the meeting began, she’d find a pretext to slip out of the room and go to the ground-floor library where she could examine the stone undisturbed. It should only take a short time to compare the hieroglyphics on the map in her pocket with the script on the stone.

“You know what they say about antiquarians, don’t you?” Ravenwood’s rich tones ended her reverie. “We like it dirty,” he said with a throaty chuckle.

Upending the flask over his lips he drained the last drops. “Have you gents heard the one about the archaeologist and the bone—” he began, but Sir Malcolm Penny, president of the Society, arrived before Ravenwood could regale his adoring public with more bawdy archaeological humor.

Seeing the two men together reminded Indy of the terrible day when Sir Malcolm had arrived to relay the news of the Duke of Ravenwood’s death.

“Gentlemen, order please,” said Sir Malcolm, taking his seat of honor at the raised table in the front of the room. The secretary seated behind him readied his paper and pens.

Indy shivered, and not because of Ravenwood’s proximity this time. She was about to become the very first female to attend an antiquarian meeting. A historic first, and no one even knew.

How she wished she could lord it over Ravenwood.

She glanced at him.

Hellfire. He was staring directly at her.

She ducked her head behind the back of the bench in front of her.

Oh that wasn’t obvious.

Willing herself to appear casual and disinterested, she relaxed in her seat, fixing her gaze forward.

Sir Malcolm, with the aid of his secretary, began detailing a list of architectural etchings that had recently been bequeathed to the Society.

After what seemed like hours, Indy risked a sideways glance at Ravenwood.

He wasn’t looking at her anymore. His eyes were unfocused, and his chiseled jaw kept sliding closer and closer to his chest. When it made contact, his head jolted upright, and then the downward journey began all over again.

Was he . . . snoring?

Indy snorted under her breath.

She needn’t have worried about Ravenwood recognizing her.

The duke was obviously three sheets to the wind.

Or thirty.

 

Even from his slumped position Raven could tell that the stranger with the narrow shoulders and tinted spectacles was furtively watching him.

The pretend-to-be-drunk-and-make-an-arse-of-yourself routine definitely had its uses.

It made people less wary, made them underestimate you. Under the cover of inane jokes and patter, he’d assessed each man present and either added or discarded them from his list of suspects.

He wasn’t here as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

He was here to expose a traitor.

Tinted Spectacles had arrived just before the meeting began. There was something familiar about him, though Raven couldn’t place his finger on where he’d seen him before.

He almost looked like a Frenchman, with that slim moustache and his brown hair combed fashionably forward. His delicate, elongated fingers gripped the back of the bench in front of him with such force that his knuckles were white—a sure sign of mental turmoil.

Raven’s job was to notice the small, overlooked details.

Fingernails too polished. Cuffs slightly too long.

Details could be exploited.

He was watching for anomalous behavior. Laughter where there should be solemnity.

A gaze that darted here and there instead of holding steady.

He didn’t want to believe that one of his countrymen was behind the recent spate of security breaches within the Foreign Office’s covert operations, but he couldn’t trust anyone, not after what had happened in Athens.

He had to keep the smile on his face, keep the jokes flowing from his lips and the brandy pouring down his throat.

He had to pretend to be carefree when his entire life was crashing down around him.

Don’t dwell on it, Sir Malcolm had said during Raven’s briefing, after Raven had returned to London, battered, bruised, and shaken. It happens to the best of men, Malcolm had said.

It doesn’t happen to me. And it will never happen again, Raven had replied through gritted teeth. I’ll find the traitor. I’ll make him pay.

Malcolm had given him a hearty clap on the back that had made Raven wince from the sharp pain in his ribs.

Perhaps you should take a holiday first.

That’s what they said to agents they were ready to put out to pasture, Raven thought bitterly.

He’d been careful, he’d hidden his movements, coded his communications, but a fellow British operative, known to Raven only as Jones, had died in Athens during what should have been a clandestine rendezvous.

Raven had nearly died as well.

Staring up at a stained-glass window the color of blood and bruised flesh . . . the color people were on the inside.

The soft insides . . . the vulnerable places.

Jab a finger into a kidney and watch a man crumple.

There was nothing soft about Raven. Nothing vulnerable. He’d rid himself of all weakness and emotion long ago.

He’d given everything up for a higher purpose, and for the chance to clear his father’s name.

When he became an agent for the Crown he’d been forced to alienate Indy. His best friend, his future life companion.

He’d left her behind, choosing instead this dangerous, solitary path.

Closing himself off from his emotions and severing all connections with those he loved. He hadn’t seen his mother, or his younger brother Colin, in years.

He’d chosen this life. And he did not need a holiday. He needed to prove his fitness for duty.

Jones had been about to tell Raven something urgent about the Rosetta Stone when the surprise attack occurred.

Which had led Raven here.

Which had led him to Tinted Spectacles.

He knew the private details of the lives of every man at this meeting except for his.

“Who’s the slender fellow sitting on the back bench?” he asked Montrose in a low whisper.

“Dammed if I know,” the earl whispered back, shrugging his shoulders. “Never saw him before. Don’t like his appearance, I must say. Loathe those dainty dandies.”

Montrose was the model of an English lord with ruddy cheeks, an expansive waistline, and a very high opinion of himself. Raven had already crossed him off his list.

Too sluggish for espionage.

“Are you acquainted with the man in the tinted spectacles?” Raven whispered to his friend Westbury, who was seated on his other side.

“Never seen him before in my life.” West sighed. “Tell me, are the meetings always this skull-crushingly dull?”

“Always. Why are you here, anyway? I didn’t know you were interested in antiquities.”

“I’m thinking of selling a few pieces from my ancestral collection. Wanted to have an opinion on what prices I might expect. Never thought it would come to this,” West whispered morosely. “But I’ve made several bad investments, and have too many sisters to bring out and it’s damned expensive with their music instructors, and dancing masters, and new gloves and bonnets every time they leave the house. May have to bring myself out and find an heiress to marry.”

Raven had kept a close eye on West of late. He hadn’t made bad investments—he had a bad gambling habit.

Debts exposed a man to the threat of blackmail, but West wasn’t on his list of suspects. He didn’t speak multiple languages, and, even though he had vices, murder certainly wasn’t one of them.

“Next we have a very handsome bequest of a Viking hoard found on the properties of the late Sir Stanhope,” said Sir Malcolm. “If you will direct your attention to the crucible steel sword displayed at the center of the table . . .”

Sir Malcolm’s job was to keep droning until Raven signaled that he’d finished his observations.

Malcolm was the closest thing Raven had to a father.

They’d gone to stay with him that summer Raven’s father had died. Malcolm was a spymaster who had revealed that Raven’s father had been an agent of the Crown.

He’d given Raven his father’s private journal, a thin volume bound with cracked brown leather and tied with a silk cord. The last pages spattered in blood.

His father’s blood.

The last entry scrawled in a shaking hand. A directive to Malcolm to give the diary to Raven and then a few lines for Raven, the words wavering, nearly illegible: My son. I was going to tell you when you turned fifteen. That’s the age I was when I became . . . what I am . . .

Raven locked away the memory.

Something was happening on the periphery of his vision.

Tinted Spectacles whispered something to the man sitting next to him, slid out of his bench seat and crept from the room.

Anomalous, indeed.

Raven waited exactly three seconds before hiccupping loudly.

Sir Malcolm paused but kept reading from his ledger.

Several hiccups later, Malcolm finally stopped reading. “Your Grace, if you please,” he remonstrated.

“Apologies, I’ll just go and walk these off.”

Raven bumbled out of the room but when he was out of sight he dropped the inebriated ruse and sped toward the central stairs. The attic held only the apartments for the resident secretary, which meant Tinted Spectacles must have gone below.

At the foot of the staircase he caught sight of a flash of blue and brown entering the library.

His hand moved reflexively to the pistol tucked into the back waistband of his breeches.

Not necessary. The man was too slender to pose a threat.

“Did that man say anything to you?” he asked the porter.

“Mr. Pomeroy? He said Sir Malcolm asked him to retrieve a volume on Viking mythology.”

“Did he now.”

“Is there a problem, Your Grace?”

“Not at all. I was sent on a similar errand. Back to your post.”

“Very good, Your Grace.”

Raven entered the large library noiselessly. Lamps burned on the tables, casting half-moons of light over broken columns, statuary, and piles of books and scrolls.

Pomeroy was examining a large shadowy object, mounted on a wooden frame, with a magnifying glass. He held a scrap of paper in one hand and was comparing it to the markings on the . . .

Rosetta Stone.

“Looking for something, Mr. Pomeroy?” Raven asked. “If that’s truly your name.”

The man spun around and his spectacles slipped down his nose, revealing eyes of a peculiar light purple color.

A color Raven would know anywhere.

He should. He dreamed of those eyes every night.

“Indy?” he exploded on an exhale, as though someone had punched him in the gut. “What in the name of Aphrodite’s perfect tits are you doing here?”