Duke of Her Dreams
by Olivia Ritch
Kathryn Ragland never dreamed that one tiny portrait could dramatically alter her life until she woke after a vivid dream in which she changed time and place. Determined to find her way home, Kathryn befriends a mesmerizing stranger. While she has no choice but to accept aid from the brooding war hero, Kathryn learns that thawing the crusty exterior of England's newest and most eligible Duke may just have rewards beyond her wildest dreams.
Captain Michael Stafford is reluctantly returning home to step into his role as the Duke of Asterleigh, an unexpected title. After meeting the completely improper American on the last leg of his journey home, Michael quickly determines that Kathryn is destined to be his. Fate, in the form of mortal threats on Kathryn's life, forces him to fight unseen enemies while he must face his own fears of sharing his life with someone, again. Determined, Michael sets out on his most difficult campaign… to show Kathryn he can be the man of her dreams.
May 11, 2010
She held an oil painting that had power over dreams, over place and time, but Kathryn Ragland knew nothing of that magic as she dozed off to sleep and to dream of the fascinating images on the canvas.
May 12, 1816
Kathryn woke with a start. There was something seriously wrong this morning. It should have been like any other workday. Instead, Kathryn blinked her eyes at the morning light streaming in the lace-covered window and whipped her gaze around the unfamiliar room, registering the conclusion that she was not where she belonged. Surely, she was still dreaming.
Hours after waking up in a strange bed Kathryn Ragland was still at a loss to understand what had happened to her. Having wracked her brains since dawn for any recollection of what transpired in the night and where she was, Kathryn realized fully that the most bizarre event had occurred and that she was somehow, some way, transported back in time.
After hours of pacing, Kathryn plopped onto the bed, kicked the side rail and let out a frustrated growl. She looked up to find a very large man standing in the doorway of her room.
Surprised, and embarrassed to be dressed so scantily, Kathryn hastily drew the quilt from the bed around her and scrambled to her feet. Not knowing anything about where she was or who he was, she asked, “How did you get in?”
“Your door was unlocked and I heard your distress. I apologize for intruding.”
Relaxing slightly, Kathryn eyed him warily. The man was her first contact in this strange place and while she did not especially want to divulge the extent of her confusion to him, she was oddly relieved to have another human being with whom to talk. She inquired hopefully, “Is your wife by any chance available? I need a little help.”
With an unreadable expression on his face, the man inquired, “My wife?”
“Yes, or your…companion?”
“Companion?” With subtle emphasis, Kathryn said the word; the man recognized her allusion to a possibly inappropriate traveling companion. Kathryn was used to watching people. Every day, she used her skills of observation to understand the true nature of her female clients. This man was clearly amused by her state and her question although his rigid bearing kept him from seeming too familiar. She would have bet a dollar he was a military man. Straight shoulders, wide stance, hands folded behind his back.
“Yes, is there a woman traveling with you?” It seemed a simple enough question to her.
“Ah, now I understand. No, there is no lady with me. May I fetch someone for you?”
She was so quickly intrigued by the military man’s surprisingly warm English accent that Kathryn almost lost the thread of the conversation and her purpose. While she had come grudgingly to realize she was far away from home, England was a bit too far for believability.
“No! Sorry, I mean, I don’t want anybody else to know I’m here.”
“Because I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be.”
The man smiled fully now at her admission, revealing strong white teeth set in mobile lips and a face lightly tanned and roughened by the outdoors. Tiny lines fanned from his eyes and the cleft in his chin was as deep as her grandfather’s had been. “Indeed? And a lady will assist you, how?”
“Something has happened to my clothes,” which is true since they’re at home “…and I need a dress.”
“A dress? Do you not have the carriage dress you arrived in?” She watched one of his black brows rise in question, absolutely sure she was amusing him now. Nope, definitely didn’t arrive by carriage. “No. Well, I don’t have anything appropriate for daytime.”
He studied her for a full minute and Kathryn grew uncomfortable under his gaze, drawing the quilt higher and shifting her feet like a nervous child. Since she had been studying him equally as avidly just moments earlier, Kathryn felt guilty for being annoyed with his perusal, although she had always fancied her own powers of observation to include stealthy evaluation of her subjects. Having spent the last few hours in frustrated contemplation and pacing while simultaneously salivating over the smell of cooking meat from downstairs, Kathryn was not disposed to be patient nor self-flagellating. She hated feeling vulnerable. When the man finally spoke, it was a wry “Indeed?”
“It’s not what you’re thinking. I’m not here in a skimpy ball gown.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Ah.”
Kathryn struggled to hold her temper in the face of the man’s one-word answers. Clearly out of her social element and desperate for a way forward, Kathryn reigned in her frustration and asked in a calm voice “Would you please be willing to help me in getting something to wear?”