Read an Excerpt
Mad, Bad Duke
By Jennifer Ashley
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
Meagan jumped and thrust the fan in front of her face, but too
late. He was staring at her with harsh intensity, his eyes
sharp and blue, penetrating all the way across the room. That
gaze was for her, not for Deirdre preening herself next to
Meagan, not for the dowagers chatting together on Meagan's
other side. Grand Duke Alexander assessed Meagan, his gaze
like the edge of a razor.
But good Lord, how could he? She'd had a ridiculous dream, a
waking vision-it had not been real. No one could know, thank
heavens, what lurid thoughts went on inside Meagan's head.
She remembered the way he'd looked down at her in the bath
chamber when he'd come out of his sexual languor, his gaze as
intense as it was now. Who are you? he'd started to say before
the vision ended.
Across the ballroom, Alexander leaned to the Austrian
countess, murmuring to her while keeping his gaze on Meagan,
obviously asking who Meagan was. The woman glanced at Meagan
in eager curiosity, her eyes bright, her red-lipped mouth
moving in answer. Meagan imagined her saying in her rich
Austrian voice, That little one? She is nothing. The nobody
daughter of a nobody. Do not waste a second thought on her.
Deirdre pinched Meagan hard. "Oh, do you see? He is looking at
Meagan knew differently, but she held her tongue. The Grand
Duke murmured back to his companion, then the pair of them
began strolling in the direction of the potted palms and
Meagan and Deirdre.
"Lud, he is coming this way," Deirdre gasped. "I knew it. When
he asks me to dance, you run up to the sitting room on the
third floor, the one two doors from the top of the stairs, and
wait for me. I'll entice him up, and then you slip the
talisman into his pocket while I chat with him."
Deirdre was a fool, and Meagan was suddenly sick to death of
her. She'd put up with Deirdre's clinging friendship this
Season for old time's sake-they'd grown up near each other in
Oxfordshire and Deirdre had often joined Meagan and Penelope
in their games or dreaming talks of the future.
This spring, when Deirdre had begun including Meagan in her
circle, Meagan, lonely for Penelope, had let her. Her
stepmother, Simone, approved, mostly because Deirdre as a
married woman could take over chaperone duties and leave
Simone free to gad about with her friends unimpeded. Meagan's
father hadn't much use for Deirdre but understood this was
Meagan's first year without Penelope and did not stop Meagan
pursuing the friendship.
Meagan suddenly wished he had. "They will hardly speak to
either of us, as we have not been introduced," she said
"Oh, bother that. They are foreign. Perhaps they will speak to
us anyway, not knowing English manners."
Meagan had found that non-English Europeans often had even
more scrupulous codes of politeness than Englishmen, but she
Alexander's lovely countess solved the problem by stopping
their hostess Lady Featherstone on their way across the room
and conferring with her. Lady Featherstone, a graying, slim
matron, brightened and joined them on their promenade.
Meagan and Deirdre scrambled to their feet as the group
approached, Deirdre swaying in excited anticipation, her
diamonds rattling. Meagan edged behind Deirdre and lifted her
fan to cover her face.
Lady Featherstone began chattering before the three even
reached them. "Ah, girls, our distinguished guests were
curious about you." She stopped, all smiles, her rouge
staining her high cheekbones brilliant red. Lady Featherstone
loved gossip and social gatherings and was a kind and caring
woman, genuinely interested in giving all young ladies a
chance, not just the titled and wealthy ones. She was the
dearest friend of Lady Stoke, a woman who ten years ago had
married a pirate turned viscount.
"Miss Tavistock and Mrs. Braithwaite are childhood friends,"
Lady Featherstone rattled on. "It is pleasant to see them
together in London. Miss Tavistock's father recently married
Lady Trask, the mother of Miss Tavistock's dearest friend,
Penelope, who became Princess of Nvengaria. But of course
you'd know that, being the Grand Duke." She tittered.
The single word was rich and pleasantly accented. His voice
matched that of the man in Meagan's vision, down to the exact
way he formed the brief vowels and slurred the consonants.
"Ah, yes, well," Lady Featherstone burbled. "Your Grace and
Lady Anastasia, may I present Mrs. Braithwaite, wife of Hector
Braithwaite a prominent MP. Mrs. Braithwaite, Lady Anastasia
Dimitri of Nvengaria and Grand Duke Alexander-er ... I am so
sorry, Your Grace, the rest of the name escapes me."
Alexander, his eyes on Meagan, did not seem to notice. Into
the awkward silence, Lady Anastasia extended a slim gloved
hand. "How do you do, Mrs. Braithwaite?"
Deirdre shook her hand, but her rabbit-brown eyes remained
solidly on Alexander, examining his gold and blue sash, the
multiple medals that dangled from his chest, and the ruby
glittering in his ear. "Your grace." She disengaged from Lady
Anastasia and moved her hand toward his in hint.
Alexander, his eyes cool, lifted her hand to his lips, clicked
his heels, and made military bow. "Mrs. Braithwaite."
"And Miss Meagan Tavistock," Lady Featherstone went on. She
took Meagan's arm and nearly dragged her out from behind
Lady Anastasia held out her hand, amusement dancing in her
dark eyes. "I am pleased to meet you, Miss Tavistock."
"Likewise," Meagan choked.
She knew she was expected to acknowledge Grand Duke Alexander,
but she clung to Lady Anastasia's hand in almost desperation.
In the vision, Alexander had been overwhelming enough. In
person, this close, he was impossible to look at. His presence
pushed aside that of the other four women, Lady Anastasia
included, demanding every inch of space.
He was a foot taller than Meagan, his broad shoulders at her
eye level. His masculinity, the scent of his cashmere coat and
the male musk behind it, the large, strong hand in the black
glove that he wrenched away from Deirdre, all made her weak in
the knees. She could not take him in. She had to sit down, or
run away somewhere, or maybe swoon.
No, then he might carry her out of the room, and she'd awaken
to find herself again in his strong arms, his heart beating
swiftly against hers.
Then again, from the look he gave her, he might simply let her
lie there on the floor, perhaps signal someone to come and
sweep up the mess.
His hair was dark, almost black, but shot through with lighter
streaks, as though the sun burned it here and there. His skin
was brown with tan, even more brown than Prince Damien's had
been. Where Prince Damien had a charming grace that could make
a girl smile and giggle without knowing why, Grand Duke
Alexander wanted you on your knees, and only social politeness
made him let you stay standing.
He executed another click of heels, another bow, and nearly
snatched her hand from Anastasia's. "Miss Tavistock."
He lifted her fingers to his mouth and impressed them with one
hard kiss, lips burning through her silk gloves. She slid her
slippered feet together, trying to stop the trickle of heat
that moved between her legs.
He raised his head and his gaze caught her like a bird in a
snare, a cruel snare she would have to beat against to escape,
and then she'd only get away wounded. His eyes were hard and
fierce, intensely blue, Nvengarian blue.
She'd come to like Nvengarians and their wild ways and
enjoyment of life. They loved nothing greater than dance and
revelry, unless it was fighting a dire enemy or making love to
a beautiful woman. The women, Penelope said in her letters,
were just as intense as the men and saw no shame in discussing
the handsomeness of their lovers or various techniques of
pleasure and erotic bed games.
Not that Penelope described any of these bed games, but Meagan
had an imagination and was no fool. She wondered suddenly what
it would be like to have Alexander stretched full length
beside her while he taught her various games.
His eyes flickered slightly, the pupils spreading black
through the blue. And she knew, in that moment, that he knew
what she thought. Perhaps not her specific thoughts, but the
gist of them. He knew about her vision, because he'd
experienced it too.
She did not know how she knew that, but his anger washed over
her like floodwater. She dragged in a breath and tried to
disengage her hand, but his fingers clamped hers like an iron
"Miss Tavistock," he said, his voice vicious and low. "There
is a waltz beginning. Will you dance it with me?"
No, I would rather struggle to the top of a mountain in
Scotland in the snow, thank you.
Then again, the thought of dancing in his arms, whirling with
his hand on her waist, looking deep into his eyes ...
Oh, dear, what was happening to her?
"I do not waltz," she babbled.
"Nonsense," Lady Featherstone said helpfully. "You have been
out three Seasons and you waltz beautifully. I have seen you.
Your step-mama would not mind."
Indeed, Simone Tavistock, thankfully across the room and
buried in gossip with her cronies, would not. She'd
practically shove Meagan at any gentleman who wanted to dance
with her. In Simone's opinion, Meagan simply was not trying.
"I am feeling unwell," Meagan began.
"Do not be silly, you look lovely," Lady Featherstone said.
"Go on, do. I will keep Deirdre company."
"As will I," Lady Anastasia announced. "Do not worry, Miss
Tavistock, we will keep Mrs. Braithwaite quite entertained."
Deirdre was breathing hard, her color high, bosom straining at
her tight bodice until Meagan fancied she heard the seams
"Of course," Deirdre said through her teeth. "I would be
Lady Anastasia laid her long fingers on Deirdre's arm. "Shall
we sit? Your tiara is lovely, my dear."
"Yes, isn't it?" Deirdre thumped to a chair. "My husband can
afford to give me as many diamonds as I want."
"How lucky for you," Lady Anastasia said, and gracefully sank
to the chair Meagan had vacated. Lady Featherstone, looking
motherly and very pleased with herself, made a shooing motion
Alexander made no sign he even noticed this exchange. He took
Meagan's hand and unceremoniously dragged her to the middle of
the room where couples were forming. Short of screaming,
kicking his shins, and fleeing, Meagan had no choice but to go
* * *
Miss Tavistock's waist just held the span of his hand. If
Alexander spread his fingers, the tip of his smallest finger
would brush her hip while his thumb would rest just below her
bosom. He felt her hand light on his, her arm a graceful arc.
Her face was flushed, her eyes starry, but she would not look
The music took them into the waltz. Couples whirled around
them, ladies holding skirts to the side, going round and round
like butterflies. Miss Tavistock held her skirt as well, but
more like she'd seen a rat on the floor and didn't want it
running across her train.
She was absolutely and stunningly beautiful. Her red hair had
been severely tamed into a tight bun surrounded by ridiculous,
unnatural ringlets. He knew that unbound, her hair would be
long and thick and lush with unruly waves of its own.
He wanted it flowing over his hands, over his face, over his
naked body. He wanted to cup her pointed little face in his
hands, tilt it upward, and lean to kiss it. He wanted to lay
her on a bed and hover over her on hands and knees, parting
her legs and drawing his fingers through the fiery tangle
between her thighs. She'd be wet for him, and he'd withdraw
his fingers and lick her honey from them.
She'd gripped him good and hard in this spell and was not
letting go. The proximity of her only made it worse.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice harsh.
Miss Tavistock at last looked up at him. Her eyes were
brown-gold, surrounded by thick, dark lashes, and so damn
beautiful he wanted to bend and kiss them, giving them the
attention they deserved.
"I am Miss Tavistock, as Lady Featherstone told you."
A nice, evasive answer. "You know what I mean. Who are you?
What are your connections, and why have you come here?"
Now that she'd finally looked at him, she was giving him
thorough scrutiny. Her gaze raked him from forehead to waist,
studying him similarly to the way most women did, but with an
important difference. Ladies like Lady Featherstone and Mrs.
Braithwaite hungrily took in his medals and sash, the outward
trappings of the Grand Duke, second most powerful man in
Nvengaria. Meagan Tavistock looked at Alexander the man. She
could care less about his medals and his sash of office and
everything that being Grand Duke meant.
She examined the black hair that swept back from his forehead,
the bronzed skin of his face, the black of his lowered brows,
the ruby earring he always wore. She took her time studying
his mouth then examined his throat where it disappeared into
the high collar of his coat. Her gaze drifted down his chest,
skimming his medals, but he had the feeling she looked at what
was beneath, his dark skin over pectorals, the tight points of
his nipples as they responded to her scrutiny.
"Answer the question, Miss Tavistock," he said sharply.
She raised her gaze to him, her eyes wary yet holding a
quietness he'd never beheld in any person, male or female. "I
have come here to dance, this being a ball. My stepmother
brought me here to get a husband, if you must know, because I
am rather on the shelf."
He clamped his fingers on hers, and she flinched. "Your banter
is amusing, but the effort is lost on me. I want to know who
employed you to use a love spell, and why."
Her eyes widened the slightest bit, and her slim throat moved
in a swallow. Alexander had recognized right away that this
woman held no guile and was likely not a conspirator herself.
She was an innocent tool, a means to an end, and he would make
her lead him to whoever had manipulated her.
"You are quite mad, Your Grace. I have no idea what you are
"You do," he returned. "This is a dangerous game, Miss
Tavistock, and you would be wise to inform me of everything.
Who do you work for and what did they promise you if you
Her red ringlets trembled, her face turning pink enough to
highlight the freckles on her nose. "I work for no one. This
is a silliness, Your Grace, that is all. Not worth bothering
about, I vow to you."
She was giving her word. In Nvengaria, giving a word was
binding even unto death, but he had no way of knowing whether
an English miss regarded things in the same fashion.
"Tell me," he said, "and I will tell you if it is worth
Miss Tavistock looked away. He read in the set of her mouth
that not only did she not want to reveal the name of the
person who'd put her up to this but that she was not afraid of
Alexander. That only betrayed her ignorance, and her
innocence. Alexander did not hurt pawns to prove he could, but
he had to know who was using her and he would employ any
method he could.
"You dance quite well, Your Grace," she said suddenly, as
though trying to change the subject. "Not like I thought
Nvengarians danced at all. I thought you grabbed each others'
waists and snaked around in a line."
"That is a peasant dance. The dances of Nvengarian aristocrats
use are far more intimate."
Her lips parted, her body swaying a little toward him at the
He had a sudden vision of himself and this beautiful
red-haired woman dancing alone in the fantastic ballroom in
his Berkeley Square house, drifting round and round under the
arched, red-painted and gilded ceiling. He'd hold her much
closer than this, of course. The room would be lit by sunlight
from the windows on the far end, and there would be no music,
just the pair of them dancing and dancing and dancing.
He was extremely aware of her waist beneath his palm, of her
legs pressing at her gown as she glided in time with him,
their feet a mere whisper of distance apart.
Miss Tavistock's eyes were soft, her gaze no longer wary or
evasive. She was looking at him, at Alexander, as though she
saw past his cold façade to all his flaws.
"The vision we shared came from a spell, Miss Tavistock," he
said, reminding himself of the danger.
"Yes, I thought it must have done."
"At least you acknowledge that. Where is the talisman?"
She hesitated a moment, then she silently raised her hand. A
small silk bag with roses embroidered on it dangled from her
Excerpted from Mad, Bad Duke
by Jennifer Ashley
Copyright © 2006 by Jennifer Ashley .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.