The Mad, Bad Duke (Nvengaria #2)(9)

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 at Meagan.

Alexander made no sign he noticed the exchange among the ladies. 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 with him.

Chapter 3

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 immediately 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 at him.

The music took them into the waltz. Couples whirled around them, ladies holding skirts out to the side, going round and round like butterflies. Miss Tavistock held her skirt as well, but more as though 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, but the forced style didn’t mar her. Alexander knew that unbound, her hair was long, 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 face in his hands, tilt it upward, and lean to kiss it. He wanted to lay her on a bed and be over her on hands and knees, drawing his fingers through the fiery tangle between her legs. She’d be wet for him, and Alexander would 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, voice harsh.

Miss Tavistock at last looked up at him. Her eyes were brown-gold, surrounded by thick, dark lashes so beautiful that Alexander wanted to bend and kiss them, giving them the attention they deserved.

“I am Miss Tavistock, as Lady Featherstone told you.”

A good, 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, Meagan was giving him a thorough examination. She slid her gaze from his forehead to his waist, studying him with intensity, as many women did, but with an important difference. Ladies like Lady Featherstone and Mrs. Braithwaite hungrily ogled his medals and sash, the outward trappings of the Grand Duke, second most powerful man in Nvengaria. Meagan Tavistock was looking at Alexander the man. She could care less about his medals and his sash of office, and everything that being Grand Duke meant.

She took in the dark hair that swept back from his forehead, the black of his lowered brows, the ruby earring he always wore. Meagan took her time studying the firm line of his mouth then his throat where it disappeared into the high collar of his coat. Her gaze drifted down his chest, skimming his sash, but he had the feeling she saw what lay beneath, his skin dampening with perspiration, the tight points of his flat nipples as they responded to her scrutiny.

“Answer the question, Miss Tavistock,” he said sharply.

Miss Tavistock 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 to dance, this being a ball. My stepmother brought me here to get me a husband, if you must know. I am rather on the shelf.”

Alexander clamped his fingers down on hers. “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.”

Miss Tavistock’s 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. She was an innocent tool, a means to an end, and he would make her lead him to whomever had manipulated her.

“You are quite mad, Your Grace,” she said after a moment. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Yes, 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 ensnared me?”

Her red ringlets trembled, her face turning pink enough to highlight the freckles on her nose. “I work for no one. It 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 Alexander had no way of knowing whether an English miss regarded things in the same fashion.

“Tell me everything,” he said, “and I will inform you if it is worth dismissing.”

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. This 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. He would employ any method he needed to in order to find out.

“You dance quite well, Your Grace,” Miss Tavistock said abruptly. “Not at all as I believed Nvengarians danced. I thought you grabbed each other’s waists and snaked around in a line.”

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