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?
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.
With four bedchambers above and four more in the attic for servants, this household could never grow very large. The bedchambers were unlike what she had known at Gifford House. She had no apartment here. No sitting room and little private library. No huge dressing room and separate wardrobe. Here she used just one chamber and an attached dressing room, where she also stored her garments.
This library was of good size, however, as was the dining room. There was no drawing room as such, but instead a nice sitting room that also served duty for breakfasts.
Well, she was only one woman. How much space did she need? And the public rooms would do nicely for her other plans.
Jocelyn finally approached the chair. With a heavy groan she pretended to try and lift her side, only to let it fall at once from her grasp. “I fear I used all my strength on the last one.”
Clara was about to scold her when a knock sounded on the front door. “Go and see who that is, please, while you recover from your sudden weakness.”
“Ladies’ maids do not answer the door, ma’am.”
“Oh, for goodness sake.” Clara marched out of the library to tend to the door herself.
She grasped the latch, expecting to find a neighbor or soliciting tradesman. Instead she opened the door on the Duke of Stratton.
“Oh. You.” The lack of welcome slipped out before she could catch it. She blamed that on her surprise to find him on her doorstep. And on her dismay at the way a beam of joy shot through her unexpectedly. “How did you find me?”
“Langford, his brother, and I called on your family, only to learn from your brother that you no longer resided there.” He gazed up the façade. “I have always thought Bedford Square attractively designed, with houses most fitting for its size and scale. It is a good distance from Mayfair, however.”
“You explained how you learned I was not at Gifford House. You did not explain how you discovered I was here instead.”
“If you invite me in instead of expecting me to converse across the threshold, I will tell you.”
She held the door wide. “Of course. Please, come in.”
He did so, proving at once that the more modest scale of houses on Bedford Square made men like Stratton appear all the bigger. He so dominated the small reception hall, and her, that she led the way to the library mostly to give herself more space. She found it empty. Jocelyn had taken the opportunity to disappear.
He took in his surroundings, as if assessing whether they would do. For him or her, she could not tell. She did not sit because she did not want him to stay. She had things to do, and his arrival promised nothing but trouble. She almost never felt nervous, but increasingly this man caused a cautious jumpiness inside her. Unfortunate memories of allowing his embrace affected even the simplest conversation between them.
“Are you going to explain now? How you found me?”
“Many coachmen are not opposed to receiving gratuities in return for their helpfulness.”
“In other words, you bribed my brother’s servant.”
“I suspect your brother would have told me for free, but I did not want to create trouble between the two of you.” He once more surveyed the chamber. “It is a handsome library.”
“Thank you. I like it. I have some changes to make and was attempting to do so when you arrived. Actually, you can help.”
“I would be happy to do so.”
She pointed to the second chair, then the new spot where she wanted it to go. “I need that moved to there. My maid and I managed the first one, but she rebelled at lifting the second.”
“She showed more sense than you did. You should not be lifting furniture.” With two strides he faced the chair. He moved it right where she told him.
She should thank him, and be more polite. Only he had accompanied his help with a scold, and she thought that negated her obligations. Only it didn’t. She wished she could pretend he did not fluster her. Only he did. Enough that she had some trouble maintaining her cool disdain and thinking clearly enough to find a way to get him out the door.
He acknowledged that with a bare nod before pacing the length of the library and gazing out the back French windows. “You bought this, I assume.”
“Why do you think so?”
“The furniture is too fine for a house that you let. No one would risk these drapes to the care of tenants. They are not utilitarian but speak of the taste of a woman denied the indulgence of her wardrobe for a while.”
His interpretation of the drapes proved very accurate. She had relished the chance to choose the fabric and trim and consult on the style.
“The furnishings also mean that you have owned it a while too, even if you only now have taken residence.”
“I do not know why you are wasting your superb talents of perception on me and my humble abode, Duke.”
“I am wondering why you bought this house if you did not intend to live in it. It is idle curiosity on my part, nothing more.”
Not too idle, from the look he gave her.
She really shouldn’t. Truly she ought not. But—“You have found me out. I needed a secret place to meet that my lover.”
“Ah. Well, we cannot have that now.” He walked back through the room, his attention all on her. “I will have to post a guard at the door to discourage such visits. Should no lover arrive, I am left with the conclusion you spoke of the future, and of me.”
He stood too close now, looking down in a way that did not bode well for her composure. She was determined, however, not to make a fool out of herself the way she had in the park. “That is a shocking thing for you to say. It is bad enough for you to make assumptions regarding a marriage. It is far worse to imply what you just did.”
“If you would prefer marriage to a love affair, the offer still stands. However, if you are set against it, as you claim, I will accommodate your desire.”
She never found herself speechless, but she did now because she could not conjure up a good response. How had she allowed him to trap her between two options that consisted of the same thing, only one was honorable and one not? It did not help that his eyes all but glowed when he added that accommodate your desire part. She could not ignore the double entendre, nor the way an unhelpful thrill streaked through her body.
He appeared amused at her predicament. “This house will be convenient in either case.”
“It would not be appropriate for you to call on me here with any frequency, if that is what you mean.” She stammered it out. She felt as though a cloud had entered her head.
He reached out and softly stroked her lips. Only then did she realize they were trembling. She was being an idiot again but could not stop, especially since that feathery touch felt very nice and made her face and neck tingle.
“I will be very discreet. There will be no scandal. However, I like the idea of visiting you here, where the dowager and your brother cannot interfere.”
Interfere with what? She had no idea if she said it or thought it.
“With this.” He bent until his lips met hers.
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