Miss Collette Jones, as the illegitimate daughter of a baron, is determined to become a respectable teacher.
The Duke of Bedwell isn’t interested in respectable teachers. He’s interested in being proper, honorable, and fulfilling his duties to his title.
So what is Bedwell to do when honor demands he shows more than a little interest in one particular respectable teacher? Why, marry the chit, that’s what.
Trapped with the Duke
Release Date: August 3, 2021
Series: Miss Primm's Secret School For Budding Bluestockings
Book Number: 1 in the series
She had not been born to be a duchess. She’d been born to be a secret.
“There are two stairwells and although this one isn’t nearly as impressive, it is the closest,” Miss Jones glanced over her shoulder as she fumbled with a latch. “This shouldn’t be locked,” she mumbled before jerking the door open.
Filtered sunshine from a window high above provided just enough illumination for him to know that he’d have much preferred to utilize the larger staircase—one that was more than spiraling steps winding up a space that qualified as little more than a closet.
He set his jaw and inhaled a deep and calming breath. Chalk dust, lemon oil, and some other scent that was only ever present in schools assaulted his olfactory sense. Except for a hint of something sweet—the same scent he’d caught a whiff of when he’d kissed her hand.
He certainly hoped Miss Jones was more proficient at languages than she was at propriety. Offering her hand to him as though she were a gentleman intent upon sealing a contract. And no gloves!
The back of her wrist had felt cool when he’d brushed his lips over her skin. She’d smelled like chalk dust but also something sweet.
He clasped the rail of the spiral staircase and glanced up to find her derriere directly in his line of sight. Nothing spectacular about it, really. She was petite and thin but not quite bird-like. Even so, he didn’t immediately drag his gaze away.
“The older girls’ dormitory is on the top floor,” she explained as she climbed past the first landing. “The youngest girls are on the same floor as a few of us teachers. Since this is my first-year teaching, I don’t rank my own chamber just yet.”
Addison forced his attention away from the gray walls to the fabric of her gown fluttering in front of him.
The walls are not closing in on me. He knew this rationally and yet despite being in excellent physical condition, air failed to fill his lungs as easily as it had a moment before.
Ignoring the stirrings of his irrational fear, he pinned his gaze on the schoolteacher’s bum and reassured himself that they would be exiting the confined space in a matter of seconds.
Her gown was prettier than something he’d imagined a teacher wearing. An eggshell-blue color, and someone had crocheted tiny daisies around the hem. A filtered ray of sunshine from the window overhead caught her blond hair, which might be attractive if she’d not bound it so tightly.
She was of average height and not as frail as most English ladies. Only she wasn’t a lady, really. She was Lord Chaswick’s illegitimate sister. The scandal had been just significant enough to create a stir for the last half of last spring’s season.
Truth be told, Addison rather admired the baron for publicly acknowledging his sisters—even if some members of the ton disapproved. He, himself wouldn’t have given it a second thought if his mother hadn’t made such a fuss over it.
Addison forced his hand to relax as he slid it along the rail. This was only a stairwell. He was in no danger, for God’s sake, and yet a bead of cold sweat dripped down the back of his neck.
From what he’d gleaned before entering, the building was four stories high. He glanced longingly at the door that exited onto the third floor but refused to give in to his incomprehensible weakness.
Miss Jones, however, oblivious to the state of his nerves, lifted her dress and took each step carefully, not showing herself to be in any sort of hurry.
Her ankles were prettier than he would have expected as well. Shapely.
With only one flight remaining, Addison allowed himself to focus his attention on the swaying movement of her hips, barely discernible beneath that light blue muslin. Her legs would be strong, muscular, no doubt, but slim. When she arrived at the last landing, she dropped her skirts, and he trailed his gaze up to her back, relieved and disappointed at the same time.
But mostly relieved.
Because as much as he’d enjoyed the view climbing these stairs that had been designed, it seemed, to only accommodate small children, the ability to breathe normally held a higher place on his current list of needs.
Addison stepped onto the landing which was barely large enough for the two of them and draped his arm over the balustrade to keep from having to drop it around her.
Only… Perhaps he was thanking his maker too soon.
Miss jones was frowning and tugging at the door. “What the devil?” She was mumbling beneath her breath again.
Foreboding tightened his chest even more.
“It’s locked.” She exhaled and then grunted. The ceiling was angled above them, making this particular landing smaller than the ones exiting onto the lower floors. Was it getting even smaller?
“Move aside.” Despite his heart pounding in his ears, he checked his impatience as she maneuvered herself around him, unable to avoid his arms brushing against hers. She was all but pressed against his back as he took his turn at the handle and tugged.
The door didn’t budge.
After a few more attempts, he conceded that someone had locked it from the other side.
“It’s usually propped open. I can’t imagine why it would be locked.” She’d apologized at least ten times now in between expressions of dismay as she edged around him again and gave the door one last tug. “Hello out there!” She pounded. “Is anyone there? We’re locked in here.” Her calls for help echoed loudly and after a moment, Addison became painfully aware that they would go unheeded.
“Nothing to worry about. We can exit on the third floor.” Her voice sounded tighter than it had moments before. “If this is some sort of prank, so help me…”
Addison wasn’t comprehending much of what she was saying as all his focus was trained on his breathing—or rather lack thereof. He wiped one hand across his brow.
“Yes. The third floor,” he said, barely capable of expressing his agreement. Although he didn’t wait for her to descend first.
Only because he couldn’t wait for her to descend first. He couldn’t, that was, if he wished to maintain his dignity. The steps he took were swift and deliberate as Addison all but flew down to that third-floor landing.
Where this door, too, refused to budge.
“I don’t understand it!” her voice wailed from behind him as they descended to the second floor, where yet again, and almost not surprisingly by now, discovered it to be locked as well.
That drop of cold sweat he’d felt earlier had multiplied into several now, on his brow, his hands…the back of his neck.
He needed to get outside. He needed to see the sky—the sunlight. He needed to breathe fresh air, unconfined by this godforsaken stairwell. Addison skipped every other step on the way to the first floor where they’d entered.
But when he grasped the handle in order to escape to his freedom, black crept around the edges of his vision.
It was locked.
Holy Mother of God, they were trapped.