Forbidden Night with the Duke

By: Annie Claydon

CHAPTER ONE

IN THE SCHEME of things it wasn’t so much of a catastrophe. The building was still in one piece, no one had died, and the sun was still shining outside. But as everyday disasters went, this one was about the worst that Megan Wheeler could imagine. She’d really wanted this job, and now it seemed an impossibility.

It had all been going so well. The interviews had been tough but constructive, and her confidence had been vindicated when a job offer had arrived in the post. There would be a four-day induction workshop in Gloucestershire, hosted by the charity she would be working for, which would be attended by delegates from a number of different charities.

She’d packed her suitcase carefully, allowing for an outfit to meet every eventuality, and an early start meant that she’d been able to make the drive to Holte Hall in good time, stopping off for a cup of tea to make sure that she didn’t arrive embarrassingly early, or mortifyingly late.

Excitement thrilled through her as she followed the signs which led from the elaborate gates up to the hall. The massive house rose on the horizon, all ornate stonework and grand windows, and as she drove towards the group of cars in the curving driveway, two teenaged boys waved her into a parking space and then directed her towards the impressive, canopied entrance.

John Ferris, the chief executive of the charity she was to work for, was standing in the cavernous hallway, ready to greet everyone. He expressed his pleasure at seeing her again, and passed her over to another teenager, who showed her to her room.

There was scarcely time to appreciate the elegant bedroom, with its modern, gleaming en suite bathroom, before she was summoned back downstairs again. Twenty or so people were chatting over coffee and pastries, and by the time the group was ushered towards the chairs that were set out at the far end of the room, Megan had exchanged nervous smiles with a number of her fellow delegates.

John Ferris had stood up to say a few words. All of the four different charities represented here would be holding sessions designed to equip the new recruits for the jobs that awaited them. He’d leave it to their host, the owner of Holte Hall, and chairman of the board of trustees of his own charity, to give them an idea of what the next four days had in store.

He gave a grinning shrug, running his hand across the bald patch on the top of his head. ‘When we can find him, that is…’

It was clearly not unusual for their opening speaker to go missing. Someone opened the door a couple of inches and called along the hallway, and a thrill of nervous laughter ran around the room. Then the bottom of Megan’s world suddenly dropped out, leaving her suspended in a mixture of horror and disbelief.

Jaye Perera.

Jaye had always known how to make an entrance, and this time it was no different. Fairy-tale handsome, with long-lashed brown eyes, which gave a touch of softness to an otherwise wholly masculine face. Dark hair that curled around the collar of his open-necked shirt. It was as if he’d been designed with the express purpose of making the female heart beat a little faster.

His dress and demeanour implied approachability, but his immaculate grooming indicated that he could be as smart as the next man if he put his mind to it. Megan heard the young woman sitting next to her catch her breath.

Most people did that. When she’d first seen him five years ago, sweeping through the hospital ward, deep in conversation with one of the senior doctors, Megan had done it. The dark good looks of his Sri Lankan father, along with the title he’d inherited from his mother’s family, tended to make an impression. And when Jaye apologised for not being where he was supposed to be at the appointed time, his regret seemed heartfelt.

But Jaye Perera had a history of not being where he was supposed to be. He hadn’t even turned up at his own wedding.

‘Welcome, everyone.’ His smile swept the room, and even Megan couldn’t help the involuntary response, feeling herself smile back at him. ‘This is a new venture for us. We’ve got together with three other charities to provide this induction course for doctors and nurses wishing to work abroad. We have session leaders here from each of the four charities, who’ll be sharing their experience and giving you a taste of the realities of what you’ve signed up for.’

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