The Mad, Bad Duke (Nvengaria #2)(8)

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 accepted her greeting but her rabbit-brown eyes remained solidly on Alexander and his gold and blue sash, the multiple medals that dangled from his chest, the ruby glittering in his ear. “Your Grace.” Deirdre disengaged from Lady Anastasia and moved her hand toward his in hint.

Alexander, his eyes cool, lifted the outstretched hand to his lips, clicked his heels, and made a military bow. “Mrs. Braithwaite.”

“And Miss Meagan Tavistock,” Lady Featherstone went on doggedly. She took Meagan’s arm and nearly dragged her out from behind Deirdre.

Lady Anastasia held out her hand, amusement dancing in her dark eyes. “I am pleased to meet you, Miss Tavistock.”

“Likewise,” Meagan choked out as she clasped Lady Anastasia’s hand and made a polite curtsey.

She knew she was expected to acknowledge Grand Duke Alexander, but she clung to Lady Anastasia’s hand in almost desperation.

The Grand Duke had been overwhelming enough in the vision. In person, this close to him, he was impossible to take in. His presence pushed aside that of the four women around him, Lady Anastasia included, demanding every inch of space.

Alexander stood a foot or so taller than Meagan, his broad shoulders at her eye level. The wool scent of his cashmere coat and the male musk behind it, the glitter of his very blue eyes, and the large, strong hand in the black glove that he wrenched away from Deirdre—all made Meagan weak in the knees. She had to sit down, or run away somewhere, or maybe swoon.

No, if she fainted, Alexander might carry her out of the room, and she’d awaken to find herself again in his strong arms, her heart beating swiftly against his chest.

Then again, from the look Alexander was giving Meagan now, he might simply let her lie senseless on the floor, perhaps signal someone to come and sweep up the mess.

Alexander’s hair was dark, almost black, but shot through with lighter streaks, as though the sun had burned it here and there. His skin was sun-bronzed, even darker than Prince Damien’s. Where Prince Damien had a charming grace that could render a young lady smiling and silly without knowing why, Alexander made it clear he wanted everyone before him on their knees—only social politeness made him allow Meagan to remain standing.

He executed another click of heels, another bow, and nearly snatched her hand from Anastasia’s. “Miss Tavistock.”

He lifted Meagan’s fingers to his mouth and impressed them with one hard kiss, lips burning through her silk gloves. Meagan slid her slippered feet together, trying to stop the trickle of heat that stabbed her entire body.

Alexander raised his head, and his gaze caught her like a bird with a snare, a cruel snare Meagan 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, their great enjoyment of life. They loved nothing more than dance and revelry—unless it was fighting a dire enemy or making love to a beautiful woman. The women, Penelope wrote Meagan in her numerous 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 bed games.

Not that Penelope described any of these bed games, but Meagan had a vivid imagination. She wondered suddenly what it would be like to have Alexander stretched full length beside her while he taught her how passionate a Nvengarian could be.

Alexander’s eyes flickered slightly, the pupils spreading black through the blue. Meagan realized, in that moment, that Alexander knew what she was thinking. Perhaps not her specific thoughts, but the gist of them. He knew about the vision of the two of them in the bath as well, because he’d experienced it as well.

Meagan did not know how she knew that, but his rage washed over her like floodwaters. She dragged in a breath and tried to disengage her hand, but Alexander’s fingers clamped hers like an iron vice.

“Miss Tavistock,” he said, his voice low but fierce. “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 Alexander’s arms, whirling with his hand on her waist, looking deep into his eyes …

Oh dear, what was happening to her?

“I do not waltz,” Meagan babbled.

“Nonsense,” Lady Featherstone said brightly. “You have been out three Seasons and you waltz beautifully. I have seen you. Your step-mama would not mind.”

Indeed, Simone, 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 said quickly.

“Do not be silly, dear. 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 her tight bodice until Meagan fancied she heard the seams ripping.

“Of course,” Deirdre said, lips stiff. “I would be enchanted.”

Jennifer Ashley's Books