The Duke and The Baron — Illustrated







Barnes & Noble




This book was formerly titled ABSOLUTE SURRENDER

(no other changes have been made)

A secret that could destroy her…

Lady Amelia fears that her darkest secret will come to light, destroying her in society. She hopes to secure her future by marrying Charles Jackson, Duke of Castleberry. Planning to come between Amelia and the Duke, Amelia’s oldest friend, Baron Endsleigh longs to have Amelia as his own. Ender is determined that nothing can stop him, not even a duke as powerful as Castleberry. But the Duke has other plans and he wants Amelia to himself… Charles will not rest until he destroys the one thing Amelia loves the most in this world–Baron Endsleigh.

Now it’s up to Amelia to choose between the one man she speaks her mind to and the other who holds her desire.

Unless….can the three of them find a common ground, one that pushes the boundaries but keeps them bound by the heart with want and passion?


Amelia stood. It was the simplest explanation, really. She did nothing else. Her back straight, her hands held gently—not too tight—just below her waist. Her reticule dangled from one wrist, resting just behind her hands. Her skirt did not sway—as she did not twitch.

She blinked.

The room was full.

Nobody looked her way.

She corrected the angle of her chin because it had been too severe. She lowered her chin slightly and tilted her head gently to the left to balance the flowers in her hair because her girl had angled them to the right.
She smiled gently—there’s that word again—and shook her head. Gently, she thought. Gentlygentlygently. Amelia’s shoulders drooped at the thought, so she lifted and rolled them back gently—no, unnoticeably. Yes, I rolled them unnoticeably, not gently. Well…gently as well, but more unnoticeably than gently. Or perhaps so gently as to be unnoticed? Perhaps that’s it.

She twitched.

Amelia wished she knew what was wrong with her. If she could give a name to this malady, perhaps it would lose its power over her.

That’s a ridiculous thought. The fact was, to give it a name would be to give it more power—to the people who would diagnose her, to those who would judge her, to the doctors, physicians and others who would determine she was unhealthy, unworthy…unwell. Power to those who would then control her future, and that of her entire family with her. Giving a name to her illness was an impossibility. She had to remain hidden.

“Amelia.” Her name rolled across her senses like a heavy fog. He should not be using my common name. I am not common. He is not common. It is not done. What if…what if someone hears?

“You,” she whispered, and Amelia’s eyes darted to and fro to ensure their conversation was private as he reached for her hand. “Endsleigh,” she said just a bit louder to deflect any complaints that she’d not responded to his greeting. That would be improper, unheard of. A terrible cut.

Amelia looked down. Hugh had her hand, and her heart skipped a beat as her breath increased as if to make up for it. It was her right hand that he held, as is proper, and her reticule hung straight down. It did not catch on her gloved hand or her gown. She’d chosen this particular reticule because once she’d chosen one with cute little baubles and shiny beads and the beads and baubles had snagged her gown and—

“Might I have the honor of this dance, my lady?” Hugh interrupted the train wreck of her thoughts.
Amelia’s eyes widened as she shook her head quickly to bring herself back to the ballroom, to the man, to the hand on her hand—certainly for an inappropriate amount of time by now. But his hand was warm and as he tightened his grip…she could breathe.

Hugh waited more patiently than he ought. He was regal in his black and white, his broad shoulders enhanced by the stark lines. Amelia took another breath. It was a concerted effort until—cinnamon and rich cigar, perhaps a hint of brandy—the knot in her belly loosened just a touch. She looked up to the all-too-familiar whiskey-colored eyes and forced a smile. “Yes, my lord, yes. The honor.”
Amelia’s hand slipped from his, and her breath caught. Her eyes drifted as she checked the ballroom to see who was watching, but the answer was simpler than “who.” The answer was everyone, and she knew it before she looked, as well as she knew the chill on her skin was caused by the trickle of sweat rolling slowly down her spine, pausing every so often like a tease as the bead of sweat rounded a small bone then continued on its merry way.
She looked past him to see that the eyes of the ton were on her, but were not yet narrowed.

Hugh took her hand, this time her left, which was good, because her left hand was rather cold and the other was a bit warm now. The warmth of his hand on her hand—or rather my hand in his warm hand—called her back to the ballroom.

“Bollocks.” Amelia’s eyes went wide as she heard the word come from her mouth so softly she could only hope it made it just as far as her own ears. But when she heard Hugh clear his throat—more loudly than was seemly—she knew that was not to be.

He smiled at her gently—yes, gently, it had to be gently—as he turned her and rested his hand, his other hand—that first warm hand—on her back. Very low on her back. The heat sank through the layers of her gown and stays and underthings and straight through her skin to her soul.


As much as her pulse raced, her body softened, sinking into the safety of his embrace. Warmth. Security. It rankled at times that her body calmed to him even when her mind wished to revolt. If she could have been constrained beyond the boundaries of her corset, she might have been okay—but that was not within the realm of possibility here in this room.
Amelia shivered. Logically, she knew she wasn’t cold, because the room was brimming with bodies. Bodies with eyes and opinions and all of them on me. Breathe. Damn you, she thought, then twitched and sent the thought from her head. She glanced up from below her eyelashes to see if he’d noticed, and he had—of course he had. How could he not, after all? His hands are on me—they are ON me. Breathe. Damn me!

She twitched again and his fingers tensed as his hands relaxed. Odd, that—that his hand could attempt to let go as his fingers tensed to…to what? She knew she shouldn’t be seen dancing with him. Not tonight, of all nights, because Charles was here. Somewhere.

She needed to get away, before Charles saw her dancing with Hugh. She looked up again, and her eyes went wide as they caught Hugh’s. Then his eyes narrowed. Oh…oh no.

Hugh knew without doubt she was preparing to bolt like a spring lamb—awkwardly and without proper balance—and yet he was not prepared to let her get out of this as easily as with an inopportune and well-placed twitch. She was not going to run from the room. For one, he was bigger than she.

Hugh relaxed incrementally, lulling her, letting her believe he was unaware of her intention.

Damn me. His grip tightened, and he pulled her toward him through the corner—a warning of sorts.

“Amelia…” he managed through a clenched jaw. What he wished to say was, Do not make me regret this. But that would have been too harsh, too much for her delicate state to handle at the moment.

They sailed down the far side of the ballroom, his arms so tense he knew they would cramp that night. Hugh worked toward relaxing his features—at the very least. Because were this to be effective, he had to appear happy to be pulling her through the turns. Hugh had to give her the restraint she required without providing a show upon which the ton gossips could flourish.

Damn me twice. Why? He watched the emotions fade and pulse across her features like so many birds flocking from a predator.

She twitched.

Damn me twofold.

He stumbled.

God in heaven.

The song ended.

Praise be.

Hugh tightened his hand on hers—we are not yet finished here—then turned them toward the balcony bordering the ballroom over the gardens. He shook his head to stay her and moved her hand to his elbow but did not release his grip.

“You’ve no idea the effect you have, do you?” Amelia said nearly sotto voce, her smile solidly in place. “You’ve no idea the power you wield so easily.”

Hugh grunted, then checked to make sure the sound was not so loud as to draw more attention, and politely raised his hand to clear his throat. Again. Certainly tomorrow he would receive all manner of gifts and cards to usher a speedy recovery from whatever malady they believed him to have—if they only knew.

In fact, he was aware of his “power,” as she chose to call it. But his heart rent to see her in these situations, where she could so easily be ruined for all the world. It was a very precarious position. In the wrong hands, she could easily end up in Bedlam, never to return to the world. Her mother didn’t understand, and her father…well. He believed the duke was either entirely too ill to notice much beyond himself, or much too calculating to care what would happen to his daughter, who was currently charged with securing her own future and that of her mother. Hugh thought it terribly cruel, but it was the way of the world. There was nothing to be done about it. Her illness was not compatible with the pressure of the ton.

If only to satisfy her, he kicked up a smile on one side and knew the minute she saw it—because she twitched.

The strange thing was that no thought had come before the twitch, as was common. Hugh’s hand tightened on hers as he handed her through the narrow doorway to the balcony, then followed without letting go. If she could just breathe.

Damn me twice. But his hands are on me. On me, touching me, on me.

Her arm jerked and managed to dislodge him, and she turned, her eyes wide. This was her chance to run. She shifted left, only to find the outside wall of the ballroom, and when she looked right, the high balustrade blocked her, the rest of the space taken by that giant ominous beast of a man who insisted on rescuing her.

Damn him again. She huffed and stomped her foot. “Must you be so pervasive? Must you be so insistent? And why?” she whispered viciously to the floor before he could answer, as her eyes shifted around the balcony.

She knew he smiled.

Damn him twice.

She turned away from him toward the gardens, watching the moonlight paint the ground with patterns from the oldest trees in the county. She’d no idea how long she stood there before the air shifted behind her, and his hand brushed her neck.


The anger left her then like a muddied body diving into a clear blue lake—a cleansing. She closed her eyes. “Hugh.” But his name sounded more like “you” on a breath. She absorbed the calming effect of his very presence. Why do I fight this?

“Yes, Amelia mine, none other than I. I only wish to help. You can put an end to my incessant pestering with one word. Should you choose to.”
Amelia could feel the words as he spoke against her neck, then the absence of heat when he stepped back. When she turned, he was gone, as though he’d never been there.

Perhaps just a memory.


A powerful sob threatened to rend her stays, and she squeezed herself tightly as though to prevent herself from falling into a million tiny pieces on the balcony. The truth was, she couldn’t give him the word he wanted. She loved him, true, but her father would never agree to a match with a mere baron, particularly a baron with no income to speak of—no matter her dire circumstance.

“Ma belle!” her mother shrilled. “You should not be out here alone.”

Amelia turned to see her overbright mother traipsing toward her with the air of grace and the intent of mastery. No wonder Hugh had disappeared so quickly.

“Yes, Mother.” Improper, improper, improper. How many noticed, how many wondered, how many remarked that he left me here?

“Back inside now,” her mother singsonged with saccharine sweetness in her fading French accent. “They’re waiting for you to return. Where is that smile?”

Amelia looked down and pulled from the depths of her toes the most brilliant smile possible, then strode lightly back toward the ballroom.

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