For prim and shy Daphne Wade, the sweetest guilty pleasure of all is secretly watching her employer, Anthony Courtland, the Duke of Tremore, as he works the excavation site on his English estate. Anthony has hired Daphne to restore the priceless treasures he has been digging up, but it's hard for a woman to keep her mind on her work when her devastatingly handsome employer keeps taking his shirt off. He doesn't know she's alive, but who could blame her for falling in love with him anyway?
Anthony thinks that his capable employee knows all there is to know about antiquities, but when his sister decides to turn the plain young woman in gold-rimmed glasses into an enticing beauty, he declares the task to be impossible. Daphne is devastated when she overhears… and determined to prove him wrong. Now a vibrant and delectable Daphne has emerged from her shell, and the tables are turned. Will Anthony see that the woman of his dreams has been right there all along?
No one who glanced at Daphne Wade would ever imagine that she had a guilty, secret pleasure. Her countenance was plain, made more so by the spectacles perched on her nose. Her hair was light brown and fashioned into a functional bun at the nape of her neck. All her dresses were varying shades of beige, brown or gray. Her height was average and her figure was usually concealed beneath a loose-fitting work apron of heavy canvas. Her voice was low and pleasant to the ear, with nothing strident in its tone to evoke one's attention.
No one judging her by her appearance would dream that Miss Daphne Wade had the rather salacious habit of staring at her employer's naked chest whenever she had the chance, although most women would have agreed that Anthony Courtland, Duke of Tremore, had a chest worth looking at.
Daphne rested her elbows on the sill of the open window and lifted the brass spyglass. Using the instrument was awkward when she was wearing her spectacles, so she pulled them off. After setting the gold-rimmed pair on the window sill, she once again raised the spyglass to her eye. Through its lens, she scanned the archeological site in the distance, searching for Anthony amid the workmen.
She always thought of him by his Christian name. In speech, she called him "your grace" just as everyone else did, but in her mind and her heart, he was always Anthony.
He was talking with Mr. Bennington, the excavation architect, and Sir Edward Fitzhugh, the duke's closest neighbor and quite the amateur antiquarian himself. Three men stood in a huge pit of excavated ground amid the crumbling stone walls, broken columns, and other remnants of what had once been a Roman villa. At the moment, they appeared to be discussing the mosaic pavements beneath their feet that had been uncovered by the workmen a few days before.
The moment she froze the spyglass on Anthony's tall form, she felt that familiar twist of her heart, that addictive mix of pleasure and discomfort. It was a combination that in his presence always tied her tongue and compelled her to withdraw into herself until she seemed part of the furniture, but when she watched him like this, she always longed to be the subject of his full attention. Love, she thought, should be a pleasant thing, warm and tender, not something that hurt one's heart by its intensity.
Daphne felt that intensity now as she watched him. When in residence at Tremore Hall, he was wont to spend two or three hours each day working alongside Mr. Bennington and the men on the excavation. Sometimes, if she was not on the dig and he found the August afternoon exceptionally warm, Anthony was compelled to remove his shirt. Today was a very warm day.
To Daphne, he almost seemed a part of the Roman excavation around him, for Anthony was one of those rare men who looked like a living statue. With his uncommon height of over six feet, with his broad shoulders and sculpted muscles, he could have been a Roman god carved of marble, were it not for his dark brown hair and tanned skin.
She watched him as the three men continued their discussion of the floor, and she felt that odd, melting sensation that came over her every time she saw him this way, a sensation that somehow made breathing difficult and made her heart race as if she had been running.
Sir Edward bent to move a heavy stone urn that was blocking a portion of the mosaic from their view, but Anthony stopped him and lifted the urn himself. Daphne was delighted by this gallantry, which only served to reinforce her high opinion of him. A duke he might be, but he wasn't so overproud that he would stand by and let a much older man like Sir Edward injure himself.
Anthony carried the urn to the cart nearby, placing it beside a crate filled with broken pieces of wine amphorae, bronze statues, fresco fragments and other discoveries. At the end of the day, the pieces would be taken to the antika, a building nearby where artifacts were stored until Daphne could repair, sketch and catalog them for Anthony's collection.
The sound of footsteps coming down the corridor toward the library brought Daphne out of her clandestine observations. She pushed the ends of the spyglass together, collapsing it. As she moved away from the window, she shoved the spyglass into the pocket of her skirt. By the time Ella, one of a dozen maids in the duke's employ at Tremore, entered the library, Daphne was seated at her desk with a text on Romano-British pottery open before her, pretending to be hard at work.
"Thought you'd like some tea, Miss Wade," Ella said, setting the teacup and its saucer on the edge of Daphne's large rosewood desk, beside the stacks of books on Roman antiquities and Latin.
"Thank you, Ella," she answered, trying to sound absorbed in her book as she turned a page.
The maid turned to leave, saying over her shoulder, "Didn't think you could see a thing, miss, without them spectacles. Seems t'me they don't do you much good sitting over on the window sill."
The maid disappeared into the hall and Daphne lowered her flushed face into the open book before her. Caught again.
Still, could anyone blame a plain, quiet, self-contained young woman who spent most of her time buried in ancient artifacts and Latin lexicons for being in love with her utterly splendid employer?
Daphne straightened in her chair with a sigh and rested one elbow on the desk. Chin in her hand, she stared into space, dreaming of things her rational mind knew could never happen.
He was a duke, Daphne reminded herself. Nearly five months now she had worked for him, and he paid her the quite generous salary of forty-eight pounds per annum to repair frescos and mosaics, to restore antiquities, and create a catalog of the collection for a museum he was building in London. It was a demanding position with a demanding employer, but she was happy. She did every task he required of her not only because that was her job, but also because she was in love with him, and loving him was Daphne's guilty, secret pleasure.