XOXO After Dark is so excited to announce that the newest print and ebook from historical romance writer, Sabrina Jeffries, just hit stores yesterday! Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons, long ago grieved for his missing elder brother, Peter, who was presumed dead after being kidnapped. But then a mysterious note arrives from Tristan Bonnaud informing the Duke his brother is alive. Max’s search leads him straight to Lisette Bonnaud, illegitimate daughter of a viscount and Tristan’s sister. Soon Max and Lisette travel to Paris posing as husband and wife, in search of Tristan, who has disappeared. The more time Max spends with Lisette, the easier it is for him to see that the line between dukedom and desire is easier to cross than he imagined…
Check it out below.
From What the Duke Desires
As soon as the innkeeper left, scurrying off to arrange for their dinner, the Duke of Lyons walked over to the ewer, poured some water in the basin, and began to wash his hands.
The silence stretched maddeningly between them. “I imagine that you find the public coaches very dirty, Your Grace,” Lisette said.
“I find traveling very dirty regardless of the coach, Miss Bonnaud.” He dried his hands, then faced her, leaning back against the sturdy bureau that held the wash basin and crossing his arms over his chest.
His unreadable stare made her feel the first tendrils of alarm.
“It is, that’s true.” She walked over to her bag and opened it, determined to appear as nonchalant as he.
“That was a very enlightening performance you put on in the carriage,” he said at last. “I was impressed.”
She didn’t suppose “Thank you” was the appropriate answer. “You pushed me into a corner,” she said defensively. “I didn’t have a choice. We agreed that I would help you find Tristan if you would let me go along. You couldn’t expect me to jeopardize his safety by telling you too soon where he is.”
She shot him a veiled glance. Her voice grew stronger the longer she talked, but it didn’t seem to change his stance any. He just kept staring at her with a piercing gaze. An oddly compelling gaze.
It was most unsettling. “Because you know very well,” she went on, “that the minute I do, you’ll abandon me and go off on your own.”
She gaped at him. He didn’t even bother to deny it. “Well, I can’t have that. I have to protect my brother.”
“Do you?” He pushed away from the bureau. “I’m beginning to think you have a darker goal.”
That took her completely by surprise. “Darker goal?” she asked, her blood freezing in her veins.
“When I first met you, I assumed you weren’t part of his scheme. But your play-acting today proved that you are masterful at pretense. How do I know that our entire conversation this morning wasn’t a pretense? That you aren’t leading me away from London at this very moment for some devious purpose?”
Devious purpose? Masterful at pretense? He thought she was some sort of swindler! “That’s a vile accusation! I would never do such a thing!”
“And why should I believe you?” He strode nearer, his face dark with threat. “You’ve proved yourself very good at dissembling. For all I know, you and your brother cooked up this plan together.”
“B-but why? Why would I do that?”
“That’s what I want to know.” He loomed over her. “I ought to have you tossed in the gaol until you tell me the truth.”
“Because I cry well?” she squeaked.
“Because you are attempting to defraud me,” he said in an ominous tone.
He was going to throw her in irons, just because she could do some acting in a pinch!
“I swear I’m not doing any such thing,” she said, her heart in her throat. “You know why I insisted on your taking me with you. You do! I don’t know where you’ve got this daft idea that I’m some swindler, but nothing could be further from—”
He started laughing. She gaped at him, now all at sea.
That merely made him laugh harder, and he gasped, “You’re not . . . the only one . . . good at pretense.”
And suddenly she understood. This was revenge for her play-acting this afternoon.
Planting her hands on her hips, she glared at him. “You are a horrible, horrible man! How dare you terrify me like that? Why, I ought to —”
He dropped onto the settee, laughing so hard he could scarcely speak. “If you . . . could only have seen . . . your face . . . when I mentioned . . . gaol . . .”
She walked up to hit him on the arm. “That was not remotely amusing!”
“I . . . beg to . . . disagree . . .” he choked out, holding his stomach in mirth.
Glowering at him, she strode over to the ewer, brought it back, and poured its contents on his head.
He jumped up off the settee, sputtering, “What the devil was that for?”
“For making me think you were going to pack me off to gaol, you . . . you . . . oaf!”
“Oaf?” he said as he removed a handkerchief from his pocket and began to wipe his face. “That’s the best you can do?”
She narrowed her gaze to slits. “Cretin. Devil. Arse.”
He smirked at her. “Careful now. Aren’t you supposed to be a respectable married lady?”
“You nearly gave me heart failure!”
“You deserved it, after all that crying and nonsense.” He mimicked her. “M-my brother was right. I sh-should never have m-married you!”
Tossing the empty ewer onto the settee, she crossed her arms over her chest. “The words might have been feigned, but the sentiment is still valid.”
“It wasn’t my idea to do this,” he reminded her.
“And it wasn’t my idea to pose as a married couple. Thank God that’s pretend.” She headed for the other room.
“Oh yes,” he said irritably as he followed close behind her. “You would hate being married to a wealthy duke who could buy you whatever you wanted and show you the world you so obviously crave to see.”
That he had noticed her love of travel vexed her immensely. She whirled on him in a temper. “I would hate being married to any man who would own me. Who would want to tell me what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and with whom. No, thank you.”
He slicked back his wet hair. “Is that really how you see marriage?”
“As a prison for women? Yes.”
“And you see no advantage in it,” he said as he came right up to her.
“What about children?”
“My mother had two. She wasn’t married.” Though Lisette would never follow that example, she wasn’t about to admit it to His High-and-Mighty Grace.
He lifted one imperious brow. “And you ended up in poverty as a result.”
“So did my half brother, and he is legitimate. The fact is, in this country, unless you’re the eldest, you inherit at the whim of your father. Marriage is no protection against that, especially if a woman is marrying far above her, as Dom’s mother did.”
“What about companionship?” he prodded.
“I have two brothers who will never abandon me. That’s companionship enough for me.”
“And love?” he asked softly. “What about that?”
She glanced away, not wanting him to see her ambivalence on that subject. “Love is the chain men use to hold a woman prisoner. They offer her love and in exchange for her devotion, they give her none. I learned that well from my mother’s example.” Forcing a bright smile to her face, she met his gaze once more. “So you see, Your Grace, I find no advantages to be had in marriage.”
“You’re forgetting one more,” he said, his eyes locked with hers.
“Oh, and what might that be?”
She fought a shiver at his provocative tone. She hadn’t forgotten that one. She’d ignored it. “Desire is only an advantage for the man.” She’d been telling herself that for years, but it somehow rang hollow when she said it to him.
“You can’t be that naive.” His voice was now a low thrum. “Surely your mother enjoyed her nights in your father’s arms.”
“I wouldn’t know. Maman didn’t talk about such things.” Her mother had been determined to act respectably outside the bedchamber, probably thinking that it would convince Papa to marry her. Obviously it hadn’t worked.
“And you? No man has ever tempted you with desire?”
Not to any great extent. Until he had come along. And she wasn’t about to admit that to him. “No.”
Something flickered in his face. The thrill of a challenge? Or something darker, more visceral? “Then it’s about bloody time someone did.”
He grasped her face between his hands and sealed his lips to hers.
Copyright © 2013 by Deborah Gonzales