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By SHARON PAGE
APHRODISIACopyright © 2012 Edith E. Bruce
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Proposition
The Home of the Duke of Greystone London, March 1818
The Duke of Greystone gave her an appraising smile, the devil personified, then he tipped his tumbler and drained his drink. Lady Lucy Drake held her breath for the time it took His Grace to set down the glass.
What was he going to say?
Surely, it would be yes. The duke was a notorious rake and libertine. He was called a thorough and absolute rogue. How could he possibly turn down the chance to debauch a maiden?
But instead of giving her an answer, the duke slowly, gracefully rose from his wing chair. Groaning, he gave a sinuous stretch, one that made his muscles flex and ripple beneath his coat. Then he turned his back to her and took his glass to the decanter. He did not look at her. He filled the tumbler half full with a dark liquid—perhaps port—and threw that back in one swallow. Then he filled it again.
While she waited.
While her heart thundered.
Lucy tapped her foot in fury. For heaven's sake, she was offering him the only thing she had left of value: her innocence. She was going to surrender her very future. If he said yes, she would be ruined and considered a scandalous wanton. She would be destined to remain unmarried forever. She would never have a husband. Or children. She would never, ever have love. If Father had been alive, he would have suffered despair and a broken heart over what she was about to do.
Yet the blasted Duke of Greystone did not even have the decency to give her an answer.
She cleared her throat.
He sipped his liquor—she could smell a strong metallic aroma—and walked to one of the windows. Sumptuous curtains of sapphire blue framed the floor-to-ceiling windows. This room, his drawing room, was massive and luxuriously decadent. Watered blue silk covered the walls, elegant Grecian chaises were placed here and there, and gilt glimmered everywhere.
The duke continued to drink. His long, graceful gloved fingers were wrapped around the cut-glass tumbler. Her nose detected a blend of delectable scents on him. Sandalwood, citrusy bergamot, the crisp bite of shaving powder. He was partly en dishabille: coatless, with his collar open, his cravat dangling over shirt and waistcoat. His unfashionably long, golden hair brushed his shoulders. He was wearing black leather gloves, trousers, and polished black boots as reflective as a mirror. He was utterly gorgeous and he looked thoroughly ... bad.
Obviously, he knew it. He wore arrogance the way some gentlemen wore cologne: liberally applied and rather overwhelming. Lucy rolled her eyes. If her siblings' lives did not depend on the success of this plan, she would turn and stalk out of the duke's residence right now. This man might be astoundingly handsome, rich as Croesus, and reputed to be wickedly intelligent, but in her opinion he was an utter boor.
She was inured to a handsome face: a chiseled jaw, the light shadow of a beard, a strong aristocratic nose, and long lashes did nothing for her. True, her breathing was faster, her palms damp in her gloves, and she could feel perspiration beneath her hair....
But that was because she knew the weight of her responsibility. It was nothing to do with the careless way he lounged, and how muscular his legs looked in his trousers.
Boor. Most definitely.
After all, he must know how nerve-racking it was to make this proposition. Finally, after several more infuriating minutes of foot tapping, Lucy cleared her throat again. She added a gentle reminder, forcing her voice to softly prod, "Your Grace?"
He drew a cheroot out of a pocket in his waistcoat and paced to his well-polished walnut desk, where he struck a match and lit his cheroot. A shake of his hand extinguished the flame and he puffed circles of rich-scented smoke into the air.
This was outside of enough. "Your Grace," she snapped. "Are you considering my proposal or have you drifted off into a drunken stupor?"
She could see his profile—admittedly remarkable. His cheekbones were sculpted ridges, his forehead broad and noble. He possessed a perfect, straight nose. The lashes framing his unusual silver-green eyes made her want to grind her molars in envy.
Remember, Lucy, you know better than to let a gentleman's appearance turn you into a giddy, careless girl. She knew the most gorgeous man could prove to be the most dangerous. A man could look like an angel, but be willing to kill you. Even after he'd said he loved you.
Her courage quavered.
From where she stood, she saw His Grace's lips twitch. Then lift in a smile.
He turned, crossing his arms over his broad chest. White teeth dazzled her. As well as rugged lines framing his mouth and the wink of dimples.
His golden brows lifted superciliously. "This, my dear, is your idea of a seduction? Snapping at me for my answer? You are asking me how much I'm willing to pay to debauch you. You should feel flattered that I am taking some time about this. It is a matter that requires a great deal of consideration."
"Flattered?" Lucy gaped at him. "Are you saying I am not worth my brother's vowels?" She had expected she would be fighting now for the courage to do what she had proposed: go to bed with him so he would forgive her brother's massive gaming debt.
His gaze raked over her, blatantly assessing. His smile vanished and she almost expected him to stride to her and run his hand over her legs, the way gentlemen did with horses they planned to purchase. "Lady Lucy, your brother's debts are a small price for your virginity. I wonder that you would sell yourself so cheap."
She flamed in humiliation. It was a wonder the scorching blush on her cheeks didn't set her hair on fire. "You have left me no choice, Your Grace. It might not be very much money to you, but it means devastation for my family."
"You don't like me, do you, Lady Lucy? Some men would find that appealing in a bed partner. Some men enjoy rogering an angry woman. I don't. I like my ladies to admire me."
Oh dear God. This was what he needed to agree? Well, she would have to fake it. She gave a simpering smile. "Of course I admire you."
"Good God, is that hideous look on your face supposed to be a smile? I preferred your expression of extreme distaste." He stubbed out the cheroot into a crystal dish. Three long strides brought him right in front of her. She expected he would stop a respectful distance away. But he didn't. He moved so close, she had to retreat. For his every step forward, she took one back. Until something firm and velvety pressed against her back. A chair.
She could retreat no further. Smiling, the duke took one more step so his broad chest brushed her breasts. Her stays lifted them and the low scoop of her tight bodice let them almost spill over. She had hoped to look enticing. But now having her bare flesh brush against his satin waistcoat had her trembling with nerves.
She had to look up to meet his eyes. Foolishly, she tried to hold her breath—if she drew a deep one, it would push her breasts against his chest.
The duke literally had a wicked glint in his eye. His large green eyes sparkled at her as though reflecting the light. It fascinated her so, she suddenly realized she was gawking at his handsome face.
"If I'm going to ravish you, Lady Lucy," he rumbled, in a lazy, drawling baritone, "I intend to take my time. It won't take me one night to properly debauch you. I'd need at least a week."
"What are you talking about? How could it require a week?"
"Give me seven days as my lover and I will show you."
Seven days? She'd thought she would have this business done within just a few hours. "I cannot do that! How could I return here night after night? Someone might see me. Someone might suspect ... my reputation would be ruined."
He stepped back, as though giving her space to breathe. Greystone ran his hand over his jaw, his expression thoughtful. "Given you proposed to trade your quim for your brother's vowels, I assumed you had already accepted ruination, love."
Quim. The word left her lips flapping in mute shock.
"You do understand what you are offering me, don't you?" he asked.
"Yes." Somehow, she found her voice. "But I thought it would happen tonight. I thought it would be one night. Then I could sneak home and no one would have to know."
"I will accept your proposition, Lady Lucy, but not on those terms."
Panic turned her voice to a high-pitched squeak. "What do you mean?"
"There are my conditions, my dear. I will tear up your brother's vowels, forgive his debt to me of thirty thousand pounds—"
"Thirty thousand," she cried. "He told me it was five!"
An expression of sympathy tugged at the duke's handsome mouth. "It was thirty. And I will forgive every penny of it if you spend a fortnight with me, here, in my house, as my partner in carnal pleasure."
Lucy had never fainted. Not once. Not even the time when her life had been in danger. But the room seemed to take flight around her now. Her brother owed this peer an absolute fortune. She took deep breaths. She put her hand behind her and gripped the chair to steady her. Her hand curled hard enough that her fingers punctured the velvet. Unfortunately, there were times she could not quite control her unusual, remarkable strength. She must restrain it now. She could not let the duke know she was not a normal lady, at all. That she, like the rest of her family, could change her shape and transform into a dragon.
She fought to regain control while one thought whirled in her head. The duke was willing to forgo thirty thousand pounds to take her to bed.
It was a fortune. And he was willing to trade it for sex with her. Sex for a—
A fortnight. Had he truly said a fortnight? "I—I think two weeks is a bit unnecessary, Your Grace."
Slowly, he stripped off his right glove without a word. She was so struck with shock, she couldn't help but gape at the slide of black leather over his hand. He revealed tanned skin and long, elegant fingers.
"Nonsense," he said, as he removed his left glove. He laid both of them on the arm of a chair. "I don't doubt, at the end of two weeks, my concern will be convincing you to leave." He gave a careless gentlemanly shrug. "If you want to save your family, you will contact whoever is now the head of your household. You will inform them you will be away for a fortnight. Have them send any clothing or ... feminine things that you will require."
"You want me to stay here? For two weeks? You mean night and day? Constantly? Every minute?"
With one deft motion, he pulled off his cravat. This he also dropped on the arm of the chair. "Exactly. For what I intend to do to you, I need time, my dear. Besides, I can hardly send you home with rope burns on your wrists, can I?"
The velvet in the chair back beneath her fingers tore with a soft rrrip, the frame gave an ominous crack. She released the chair. "You have no need to tie me up," she declared. "I am going into this willingly. You don't need to restrain me and have your wicked way with me."
He laughed. The impossible, annoying man laughed at her.
"This is impossible," she cried. "I cannot stay with you for a fortnight. I cannot ... live with you. Here."
He undid his waistcoat and removed it. He stood in his shirtsleeves, and she couldn't stop staring at his broad shoulders, the bulge of muscles at his arms, his broad chest.
She shook her head, trying to put sense back in it. "What are you doing?" she gasped. "Why are you taking off your clothes?"
He shrugged and tugged the hem of his shirt out of his trousers. "You are offering sex in return for a debt. Sex is best enjoyed when both partners—or all participants—are naked."
With his fingers on the tails of his shirt, Sinjin Montjoy, the Duke of Greystone, could not quite believe what had just happened.
He had been trying to get the information he needed from this woman's brother, the young Earl of Wrenshire, but with no success. The earl was only twenty-four, but his mind was too strong for Sinjin to penetrate with his vampiric mind-reading skills. And the earl was too damnably loyal to his damned dragon family to give Sinjin what he needed to know.
He had been at his wits' end, unsure what to do next to the young earl to make him talk. And now one of the sisters had come to his house and served herself to him on a silver platter.
This was perfect.
He had tried to look into her thoughts, but she was also a preternatural being—an immortal. He could not see inside her mind. To gain information from her, he would have to do it the old-fashioned way. Seduce her, win her trust, make her fall in love with him, then coax her to tell him what her family had done with his nephew.
Damn them for making a child a pawn in this battle. But what else could be expected of dragons?
Poor Lady Lucy stood, her mouth slack with appalled shock, as he pulled his shirt over his head. He saw her eyes go wide and her gaze race over every inch of his naked chest. She had pretty eyes—deep, indigo blue, fringed with dark lashes. Her hair was raven black and fell in lovely curls around her face. As much as he hated dragons, it would be no hardship to seduce her.
"You must reconsider, Your Grace. I will do anything you wish ... but I cannot stay with you."
Laughing, he settled into a chair, and with quick tugs, pulled off his boots. "It is not worth thirty thousand pounds to you to invent a fabrication? Lady Lucy, you came here intending to relinquish your innocence. Yet you are unwilling to tell a lie and say you are visiting a friend."
She gave him a fierce scowl. Given her beauty, her scrunched-up forehead and screwed-up mouth even looked fetching. Those blue eyes were annoyingly naïve and innocent. She appeared young—perhaps two-and-twenty. The poor thing certainly had a fool for a brother—
He broke off that train of thought. Lady Lucy Drake was a dragon and he could not let himself feel sympathy for her. Innocent she might be now, but she would ultimately prove to be like every other member of the Drago species: ruthless, destructive, and predatory. Dragons looked on humans as prey. Dragons killed families. And the monsters stole innocent young boys to hold as hostages—as they had done with his nephew. If he felt his resolve softening, if he felt her large blue eyes begin to tug at his empathy, he only had to remember that her family had stolen his young nephew and were keeping the boy as a hostage.
With his hands on the waistband of his trousers, Sinjin paused. "It is a bargain, Lady Lucy? If you aren't interested, I may as well preserve my modesty."
She sputtered. Her cheeks flushed a vivid red. Hades, this innocent could prove to be explosive in bed. The thought intrigued him. As flinty and cold as his heart was toward dragons, there was no reason he couldn't indulge in some pleasure before he had to do what duty demanded of him. But he had to be careful—he could not let her discover what he really was.
A vampire. He was one of the most powerful dragon slayers; he had been given the gift of immortality. It made him indestructible. And to get what he wanted—his nephew—he couldn't let her find out he killed her kind.
"Lady Lucy?" he prompted.
She breathed a heavy sigh. "All right. I will do it."
"Good then." He left his trousers fastened. "I will have a footman show you to the appropriate bedchamber. A maid will help you undress. I'll be along in a few minutes."
It was going to happen.
Lucy wrapped her arms around her chest and paced along the beautifully woven Turkish carpets strewn on the floor of the bedchamber. An elderly footman had led her to this room. It was a guest bedroom, apparently, not the duke's room. In the center stood an enormous oval bed, with a canopy that soared to the heavens. A fire blazed, warding off the cold dampness of a March evening. Fog wreathed the house—she could see it from the windows. It blanketed Upper Brook Street, and rolled down Park Lane.
On the mantel, a clock ticked. She had been here for only five minutes, waiting for the maid, but it felt like one hundred years. She let her gaze go to the licking flames of the fire.
And her lips twisted in a grimace.
What would she do if it happened again?
She had never done more than kiss a man. The first time she had, she'd felt the change sweep over her as she responded to the kiss. She'd gone hot. Her blood had turned to fire. Her body had felt sort of molten, the way it did before she shifted shape. She'd broken free of the kiss, and had astonished the gentleman who was kissing her—a mortal—by running away.
Excerpted from Blood Secret by SHARON PAGE Copyright © 2012 by Edith E. Bruce. Excerpted by permission of APHRODISIA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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