elite Society of Decadent Dukes. Family history: Scandalous.
Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge.
Ideal romantic partner: A woman of means, with beauty and brains,
willing to live with reckless abandon. Desire: Clara Cheswick,
gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.
more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting
married—especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance.
Though, with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for
justice is sincere—along with his incredibly unnerving intention to
be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any
indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew
courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?
Clara quickly read her morning mail while eating breakfast in Gifford House, the family’s London home. Two letters in particular received very brief attention.
Her grandmother had written a scold. I am told that you have refused to receive Stratton twice since you went up to London ten days ago. I must insist that you cease such provocations.
Theo’s letter said much the same thing. We are unlikely to make progress with Stratton if you continue insulting him. Think of Emilia’s future. Think of mine. Surely you can find a modicum of gentility where he is concerned.
She was thinking of Emilia’s future. And the family’s. This whole idea of bridging the divide between her family’s and Stratton’s struck her as ill-advised and disloyal. Let them try it if they wanted to, but she was not going to cooperate. Grandmamma knew that. It was why no one had told her about this plan before embarking on it.
Donning her pelisse and her bonnet, she lifted a wrapped package and descended to the reception hall. Eschewing the family carriages, she told a footman to get her a hackney.
She took some air on the portico while she waited. Unfortunately, while she did, a carriage pulled into the drive. She cursed under her breath.
Stratton again. And here she was in plain view. She could hardly have the butler tell him she was not at home.
On the other hand, it should be obvious she was leaving. A few polite words and he would be on his way.
The duke stepped out of his carriage and approached her. After a greeting, he stopped with one foot on the lowest step of the portico and eyed her.
“You go out a great deal.”
“I may be in mourning, but I am not dead.”
He gestured to his carriage. “Allow me to take you to your destination.”
“Very kind of you, but my carriage is on its way.”
“It may be some time before it arrives.”
Indeed it might. With an inward groan of resignation, she turned to the house. “Since you have called on me, let us go inside and have a proper visit while I wait.”
She led the way into the house and deposited her package in a footman’s hands. Up the stairs she led the duke, and into the drawing room.
She perched herself on a chair and hoped she appeared at least half as formidable as her grandmother.
The duke took a seat in the chair closest to hers and settled in comfortably. His hair had been styled since she last saw him on that hill. His now disheveled cropped locks brought more attention to his liquid dark eyes and to that sensual mouth and hard jaw.
“It is kind of you to receive me, Lady Clara.”
“Since you saw fit to report to my family that I did not receive you previously, I now feel obligated to pretend I am amenable to this inexplicable desire of theirs to form a friendship with you.”
“You are a very direct woman.”
“You are a most persistent man.”
“Persistence in man is a virtue, while directness in a woman—”
“Is a nuisance. Which begs the question of why you have bothered being so persistent with this nuisance of a woman.”
“That is an excellent question. If you had seen me on my first call, by now you would have a full understanding of my intentions.”
What an odd way to put it. Whatever his intentions were.
“Perhaps you will enlighten me now, and quickly, so I can resume my own plans—plans which you have interrupted.”
He laughed quietly, as if at a private joke. “Your brother called you shrewish. I can see why.”
Shrewish? Why, that spoiled, disloyal boy. “I prefer being called direct. As a gentleman, I am sure you prefer
that word too.”
“Of course. Allow me to be direct in turn, so you can be about your day’s business.” He leaned forward and set his arms on his knees. It brought his fine face quite close to her. “You know your grandmother’s plan to have me marry Lady Emilia.”
“I have decided to decline the offer.”
It was all she could do not to cheer with relief. Thank heavens someone in this sorry business was using some sense.
“I have decided that you will suit me, and the dowager’s plan, much better.”
A stillness rang in the chamber. It took a good long moment for her mind to absorb what he had said. Even then it sounded too bizarre to be accurate.
“Your sister is too young for me, and whatever settlement is offered with her, it will never be as good as a wife with her own property and income.”
She gathered her wits, but it took some serious groping through her stunned reaction. “Have you even met Emilia?”
“No, but it does not signify. I am quite sure that while she is lovely, she is not the bride for me.”
“How can you say that when you have not even—”
“You had better know differently, and quickly, because I am not available instead.”
He sat back in his chair, not the least impressed by her definitive rejection. “It is understandable that you are surprised by my proposal. I am confident that you will come around, however.”
Too agitated to sit, she stood and glared at the presumptuous idiot. Regrettably that brought him up too. Instead of what had been a satisfactory staring down, she now had to look far up at a face that hovered over her own.
“I heard no proposal. I heard an edict. I cannot imagine what gives you cause to think I would obey it. You are the last man I would marry, should I marry at all. Indeed, my father would turn over in his grave if I even considered the idea. Now, sir, I thank you for your call, but I must be about my day’s business. Already I will be late.”
She pivoted and strode out of the drawing room and down the stairs. She retrieved her package from the footman and headed outside. She sensed the duke on her heels the entire way.
Her hackney coach waited behind the duke’s carriage.
He gazed hard at that hackney. “Why are you not using the family’s equipage?”
“I chose not to.” She descended the stone steps and aimed for her coach.
He walked alongside her. “You are going to a secret assignation, I assume. One that you prefer the family servants not know about. There is no other explanation for using a hackney instead of a family carriage.”
She truly wanted to hit him with her package for saying that within hearing of the footman waiting to hand her into the coach.
She settled herself on the seat while the footman closed the door. The duke rested his forearm on the window’s edge and waited while the servant walked away.
“I will not demand an explanation now,” he said. “However, if you are going to meet a man, that liaison must end immediately, now that we are engaged.”
She stuck her face to the window. “We. Are. Not. Engaged.” She was almost yelling by the end of it, but the coach had rolled away by then, and only the air heard her.
print. She has twenty-nine nationally bestselling historical romances in print, including most recently, The
Wicked Duke, Tall, Dark, and Wicked, His Wicked Reputation, and The Accidental Duchess. A member of
RWA’s Honor Roll, she has won the RITA Award twice and been a finalist seven times. Her books have appeared on the bestseller lists of the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly, and have been translated into thirteen languages. She has a PhD in art history, which she has taught at the university level. Madeline also writes the Romance Unlaced column for USAToday.com’s Happy Ever After site.
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