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A Devil of a Duke
HE MAY BE A DEVIL
He’s infamous, debaucherous, and known all over town for his complete disregard for scandal, and positively irresistible seductions. Gabriel St. James, Duke of Langford, is obscenely wealthy, jaw-droppingly handsome, and used to getting exactly what he wants. Until his attention is utterly captured by a woman who refuses to tell him her name, but can’t help surrendering to his touch . . .
BUT SHE’S NO ANGEL EITHER . . .
Amanda Waverly is living two lives—one respectable existence as secretary to an upstanding lady, and one far more dangerous battle of wits—and willpower—with the devilish Duke. Langford may be the most tempting man she’s ever met, but Amanda’s got her hands full trying to escape the world of high-society crime into which she was born. And if he figures out who she really is, their sizzling passion will suddenly boil over into a much higher stakes affair . . .
Amanda had never imagined that throwing herself at a man could be such hard work. Unfortunately, her quarry, Lord Harold, was of the distinctly shy variety. He barely spoke two words at a time and he avoided looking at her. But she was sure she could turn this to advantage.
She had used precious little subtlety, but it was time to discard what remnants remained. Perhaps if she appealed to his protective nature . . . Even the shyest of men wanted to be a knight saving the lady fair.
“Is it quite warm in here, do you think?” She batted her fan beside her face to capture his attention and direct it to her adorably demure smile.
“Passing warm, I would say.” Lord Harold’s gaze darted left and right, arcing over her head in the transition.
“I fear I am feeling a bit faint from it.” She held the open fan to her face so her eyes could plead for rescue over its edge.
His face remained blank.
She faked a little dizzy stagger in his direction for full effect. “Oh, my,” she said breathlessly, “I fear I am about to fall to the floor in a swoon from the heat.” She used the excuse of a deep breath to put a hand to her throat, bringing his attention to the swells of her breasts above her indecent décolleté.
That got his attention. He flushed deeply. He showed . . . not surprise—no, that was the wrong word. Shock would not do either, nor would saying he was aghast. Amanda could not escape the sense that Lord Harold revealed nothing less than terror.
She widened her eyes and feigned helpless vulnerability.
“If only I could have some fresh air out on the terrace . . . but it is not proper for a woman to go out there alone.”
He gazed past her desperately, as if seeking the path for a fast retreat.
Suddenly he calmed. “We cannot have you fainting, or assaulted by some fellow too far into his cups.”
Finally. Amanda turned to the door. Lord Harold fell into step. They paced forward. Amanda prepared herself for the battle to come. She needed to breech this man’s reserve and fascinate him. She wanted him so enthralled that he would do anything she suggested without thinking twice about the request.
She would have all of about ten minutes to achieve this.
She smiled over at Lord Harold. He even smiled back. This might just transpire according to her plans. From what she could see, he was a handsome man. That would make it easier when he kissed her. He needed to do that. She could never lure him in deeper if he did not.
She knew she had looked perfectly ravishing when she left home. She had chosen well in being a shepherdess. It added a touch of innocence to what was otherwise a fairly scandalous dress. The décolleté barely skimmed above the nipples of her breasts. She had discarded the fichu that was supposed to provide some modesty.
A few kisses and caresses, then she would cast the bait. He would take it, of course. He was a man, after all. She walked taller while she savored the exhilaration of a plan well executed. She turned to bestow another warm smile on Lord Harold.
Only to discover he was gone.
Another man paced in his place. A man a bit taller with a bearing a bit stronger. She recognized the unruly dark curls and the very blue eyes. The Duke of Langford now walked beside her. The mask that surrounded his eyes hardly disguised him.
His slow smile did not resemble Lord Harold’s tentative, shy ones, and his eyes carried none of Lord Harold’s dismay. Quite the opposite.
She halted in her tracks and looked behind for her intended escort. A firm hand took her arm.
“He is well gone, but have no fear, sweet lady. You are not abandoned.” He sped her across the threshold and onto the terrace.
“But I . . . that is . . .”
“You set your sights on my brother and did not expect a substitution. That is understandable. However, Harry must retire from the game. He has a long journey tomorrow and could not dally here with you, alluring though the opportunity might be. I, on the other hand, have nothing else that requires my attention and can devote myself entirely to your pleasure.”
He narrowed his eyes and scrutinized what could be seen of her face. Then his gaze fell to what her décolleté indecently exposed. The veranda had a few lanterns and they stood within the pool of light from one. She eased into the shadows beyond it. He strolled along.
“While you and your brother may have much in common, you are hardly identical. You each cannot replace the other as if it makes no difference.”
“We look much alike, and that is enough for your purposes.”
“That is not true.” She angled to try and peer into the ballroom, to see if indeed Lord Harold had departed.
“Come now, it is not as if you knew his character prior to flirting with him.”
She leveled her gaze on the irritating man who had just ruined days of planning and hours of hard work. “One can tell much about a character without knowing a person. He looked a little shy to me. You do not.”
“He is not shy. He is, however, reserved in the extreme and very private. He is also no fun. Trust me, you are far better off with me.”
“Does his conceit match yours? Is that a family trait?”
“I speak honestly, not with conceit. We are all blessed with special talents. My brother’s gifts will benefit mankind down through the ages, I expect. My gifts benefit womankind here and now.”
“Your gifts must be significant if you assume in advance any benefit at all. Most men merely hope that their efforts are seen that way after the fact. I suppose your skills took much practice.”
“It always takes practice to develop a natural talent, but it is worth it. A life without purpose has no meaning.”
The word conceited did not do this man justice. He had just proclaimed himself a great lover, natural born from the sounds of it. Which probably meant he barely made do, but women pretended otherwise because he was rich.
Tempted though she was to prick the hot-air balloon of his pride, she needed to find out if anything of this night’s plan could be salvaged. “Your brother is leaving town, you said?”
“At dawn. He is a studious type. His home will be locked as tightly as a reliquary while he goes off to rusticate for a few months and write a book. See what I mean? No fun at all.”
Months? She almost cursed aloud due to disappointment. If Lord Harold would not be in town for months, she really had no use for him. With this news, the entire night became worthless. It was time to remove herself from this disaster and find another way.
“I was not looking for fun, whatever you meant by that. You misunderstood my interest in him.” It sounded very weak even to her own ears.
“Come now. You threw yourself at him. Like many people here, you came to flirt freely while hiding behind a mask. Well, here I am, and I promise to accommodate you. Flirt away.”
She could not flirt now even if she wanted to. In the ballroom, Lord Harold had been at the disadvantage. Now she was instead. Thoroughly.
He stepped closer. “Have you lost your nerve?”
Goodness, he was big. She much preferred his brother, who did not exude this overweening confidence and . . . danger. She expected no assault. However, she could not ignore how she had to muster her will to keep his presence from dominating her.
“Not at all. I will admit to losing a sense of adventure, however. The man I sought to know was all subtlety and nuance, while I find his substitution rather obvious and predictable.”
Even with the mask and the dark, she saw his eyes narrow. He had not liked that.
“Thank you for trying to ensure I was not abandoned,” she said. “However, I think I will do very well without the fun you promised, and must decline the bountiful gifts you offer. My experience has been the more sumptuous the meal, the less talented the chef.”
“I think I just heard a challenge, shepherdess. I trust you know I cannot stand down.”
“Only the most arrogant man would consider my words a challenge, instead of a statement of indifference and skepticism. Now, I will take my leave of you.”
She turned toward the door, but he took her hand in his, stopping her. “I cannot allow you to leave with such a poor opinion of me. This chef insists on at least giving a taste of the savories he can create.”
With one fingertip, he slowly slid the top of her high glove down her arm. His sly touch skimmed her skin in a sinuous path.
A mesmerized reaction claimed her. No man had touched her like that in years. Not since she’d accepted the truth about Steven and left him. Her mind recoiled at the imposition, but her physical self celebrated with exhilarating thrills.
Stunned, she watched that glove go down until it bunched near her wrist. Then his head dipped. He kissed the inside flesh of her elbow. Warmth. Intimacy. It had been so long. So very long to be alone. One kiss. Two. Both warm and luring. With the third press of his lips, he found a spot that sent an intensely sensual shiver up her arm.
He kissed down toward her wrist. An explosion of excitement made her heady. She saw herself like she watched a character on a stage. The lanterns on the terrace and in the garden joined the stars as a backdrop of dancing lights.
Her other hand instinctively moved to push him away, but it halted and hovered over his head while she battled the urge to comb her fingers through his dark curls. Just a bit more. Another moment of feeling so gloriously alive.
He looked up into her eyes in a frank acknowledgment that she had done nothing to stop him. “Was that nuanced enough? Suitably subtle?”
He straightened and pulled her to him. He placed his palm on her face while his other hand continued stroking her inner palm. He held her to a kiss.
It shocked her to discover that he did indeed possess inordinate skills. Despite the sensual stupor dulling her mind, she could tell that he noticed her responses and altered the kiss accordingly in a superb display of the subtlety and nuance she had said he lacked. How else would he know just how to communicate both dominance and care at the same time? How else to tell just when she would let caution fly and succumb to the insinuation of pleasure untold? With one kiss, he won the duel he claimed that she demanded.
Then he sped her along the terrace, pulling her by the hand. She tripped along, her thoughts scrambled, trying to find herself within the excitement that had changed this night into one of audacious magic.
Despite her confusion, one clear thought emerged. If she did not lose her head entirely, she might succeed with the Duke of Langford after failing with his brother.
A Devil of a Duke, copyright © 2018 Madeline Hunter