The Mad, Bad Duke (Nvengaria #2)(5)

As Meagan waited for the lady’s maid, Rose, to come and dress her hair, she studied the talisman. It lay innocently on the handkerchief, nothing but cloth and wire with a braid of dark hair. It had nothing to do with love and everything to do with Black Annie beguiling foolish Deirdre out of fifty guineas.

“I ought to go into business,” Meagan declared. “I will become Madame Meagan, telling ladies what they want to hear for a guinea a turn. I shall become quite rich.” She picked up the talisman, turning it toward the light.

A wave of dizziness abruptly swamped her. In the next instant, the small bedchamber with its yellow and white wallpaper, comfortable furniture, and her dressing table and mirror, smeared like still-wet watercolors and went away.

Meagan gasped and closed her eyes. When she opened them again she found herself in the arms of a brutally handsome man, their entwined bodies making love in the warm water of a sunken bath.

Deep, satisfying love. Meagan clearly felt the imprint of the man’s fingers on her skin and the heat of his breath on her face, smelled the scent of lavender in the bathwater. She was also vividly aware of the exact shape and length of every inch of him inside her.

The man had his eyes closed, black lashes against his skin. His mouth came down on hers, opening her lips without permission, his tongue scraping into her mouth.

He eased from the kiss and pressed his lips to her cheek, her forehead, murmuring words she didn’t understand. His voice deep and melodious, his accent rich.

Meagan drew a sharp breath. The man lifted his head, eyes opening, as though just becoming aware he held Meagan in his arms.

They stared at each other, his eyes hot blue under a slash of black brows. He had skin darker than that of most Englishmen’s, reminiscent of the Romany or the Magyar tribes on the eastern edge of Europe. Water slicked his black hair from a broad forehead and square face. An intricate, interlaced tattoo snaked around his right bicep, his only adornment. Otherwise, he was entirely naked.

Meagan recognized him. He was Grand Duke Alexander, ambassador to England for Prince Damien of Nvengaria. Meagan had seen pictures of him in the newspapers and had glimpsed him at opera houses and theatres, but she’d never met him in person.

Under Alexander’s scowl, his lips formed the English words Who are you?

Before Meagan could answer, the vision tore away, and she then was once more sitting in her chemise at her dressing table, her body trembling and her mouth dry. The gold wire of the talisman shone in the candlelight.

Meagan was not soaking wet, nor in a marble bath chamber, nor making love to a wildly handsome man with sinful eyes. She stared at the talisman, still experiencing the sensation of Alexander’s hands on her body and his vast hardness pressing her open.

Meagan had never been intimate with a man—she’d known only rather chaste kisses from the one or two gentlemen she’d let corner her on ballroom terraces. The sheer carnality of the vision with Alexander of Nvengaria shook her from head to toe.

Her maid popped her head around the door. “Ready for your hair, miss?” Rose asked cheerily.

Meagan squeaked and jumped. She thrust the talisman out of sight, her heart banging, as Rose bustled inside, smiling and ready to serve her young miss.

* * *

When Lord Featherstone’s majordomo intoned, “Lady Anastasia Dimitri and Grand Duke Alexander Octavien Laurent Maximilien of Nvengaria,” Meagan vowed the temperature in the ballroom jumped twenty degrees.

She thrust her painted Chinese fan over her scalding face and peeped over its slats as the man from her vision glided down the ballroom stairs, a beautiful woman on his arm.

Oh, dear heavens.

Chapter 2

Meagan thanked all the stars that as usual, she was a wallflower. Simone had planted her in a corner of the vast ballroom behind potted palms, where Meagan was surrounded by plump matrons as well as other wallflowers who wistfully scanned the room. Meagan could continue to hide behind her wide fan, pretending she was overly warm.

Which she was. The memory of the vision flooded back to her so vividly that her skin flushed and perspiration beaded on her forehead.

A dream. She’d fallen asleep waiting for Rose and had a dream, that was all. Her vision had nothing to do with the talisman and Deirdre’s wishful thinking—it had everything to do with Meagan being overly tired and distraught by Black Annie’s pronouncements. She’d simply remembered seeing Grand Duke Alexander in the newspapers and conjured him in her dream. Meagan had never been in a lavender-scented bath chamber, never let Grand Duke Alexander make love to her while holding her in his powerful arms.

But the sensations had been so real that seeing him now made Meagan doubt her own senses. She remembered with precision the imprint of his lips on hers, his tongue scraping into her mouth as though he wanted to scoop up every bit of her. The room had smelled of steam and sex, and the sensation of him inside her had awakened feelings she’d never known.

Meagan watched over the top of her fan as the Grand Duke and his companion moved across the polished parquet under the gleam of every quizzing glass and lorgnette in the ton. The Grand Duke was tall and imposing, and lesser men stepped out of his way. His back was ramrod straight, his unruly hair tamed into an old-fashioned tail at the nape of his neck. His severe military blue coat glittered with medals, and a gold and blue sash stretched from his broad right shoulder to cup his firm left hip.

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