Speak of the Duke (The Wayward Woodvilles, Book 3) (Ebook)
Speak of the Duke (The Wayward Woodvilles, Book 3) (Ebook)
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Speak of the duke and he shall appear…
Julia Woodville knew the kiss she’d shared with Lord Cyrus Franklin, known rake, couldn’t have meant as much to him as it had to her. And he proved her right by leaving London and marrying another. But now he’s back, and this time, she’s not about to let him anywhere near her heart…
Leaving Julia behind was one of Cyrus’s greatest regrets. But even now, pursuing her is out of the question. As a widower who must re-marry well to safeguard his daughter’s future, his own desires must be stifled. Even if pretending to be nothing more than her friend nearly destroys him…
But when Julia is almost compromised by a fortune-seeking suitor, Cyrus must protect her in the only way he knows how—by marrying her. Can their tentative union survive when Cyrus’s dark secrets are revealed? And more importantly, will Julia be able to forgive him?
Read a Sample
Read a Sample
Julia inwardly groaned when she spied Lord Cyrus Franklin, Marquess of Chilsten, heading her way after speaking to her newly minted brother-in-law, the Duke of Derby.
Why he was making a direct line toward her was anyone's guess, and she could only think of one. The marquess knew the monetary amount of her dowry and wanted to meet one of the sisters not yet engaged.
Well… She steeled herself to be cold and aloof. After all, this was not her Season to even look for a husband. She wasn't even out yet, so his lordship's needing to speak to her was nothing more than a man looking for a rich bride.
She would not be his rich bride, that was for certain.
She knew all about him and his rakish past…or present. Really, she ought to amend. The gossip rags of London printed nothing but Marquess of Chilsten's nights of revelry and vice. The rumored lovers whom she had heard whispers of the moment she stepped into this very ballroom.
That he was the duke's friend was unfortunate and not something she could change. But that did not mean she had to be welcoming of his address.
"Mrs. Woodville, I know this is very forward and untoward of me but would you do me the honor of introducing me to your daughter?" he said, grinning at her mother as if that would make any difference to Julia. She couldn’t care less that he was one of the most handsome men in England. His reputation was atrocious, and the last thing she wanted was to marry a man who broke her heart a month after saying their vows.
And he would break her heart. No man as wicked and wild as he would change his ways to suit a woman. Even if that woman was his wife.
"Lord Chilsten, may I introduce you to my daughter, Miss Julia Woodville." Her mama smiled as if she were doing Julia a great favor, but she could not see it that way. She saw a wolf, ready to pounce on her and leave her brokenhearted in his wake when he was through with his little diversion.
She would not be a diversion for him. Not if she could help it.
"Lord Chilsten, it is very nice to meet you," she said, her tone one of boredom and one she hoped he would understand soon enough.
His smile looked forced, and she inwardly crowed that he had picked up on her cue.
"Would you care to dance?" he asked her, looking at her mama. "If your mother does not mind?"
Julia shook her head, speaking before her mama had a chance. "I'm not dancing this evening, my lord. But I'm certain my refusal is another lady's crowning moment, do you not agree?"
His eyes widened, and instead of being shocked by her words, he grinned, throwing her completely off course. She clamped her mouth shut, not needing to see how handsome his grin made him look, even more devastatingly good-looking than when he was merely smiling.
"Perhaps another time then," he said, bowing. "If you'll excuse me."
"Of course," Julia answered, watching with not a little bit of pride as the wolf walked away, tail firmly between his legs.
"Julia," her mother scolded, digging her fingers into her arm. "Why would you deny such a catch a simple dance? You should have obliged him. Do you not know who he is?" Her mother looked back to where Lord Chilsten had walked as if she already missed his presence.
Julia did not, nor did she care. She shrugged. "No, why would I know who he is or any of these people? It is not like anyone has gone out of their way to befriend me. I'm not even out yet. I should not be here at all."
"You are old enough to attend a ball, even if you have not made your curtsy to the queen. But that is the Marquess of Chilsten and future Duke of Rothes."
"He's going to be a Scottish duke? That would explain the wildness that so obviously runs through his veins."
Her mother gasped, shushing her. "Whatever has got into you, child? Why would you say such a thing about his lordship?"
"Because it's true, Mama," she answered. "Do you not read the society pages in the paper? They are always talking of Lord Chilsten and his wayward lifestyle. Anyone who marries his lordship should brace themselves for heartache, for he will not keep a wife well pleased for long. Not if what they write about him in the papers is true."
Her mother paled a little at her words. "I have read the stories, but we do not know that they are true," she defended him.
"Do we not?" Julia nodded in the direction where she watched Lord Chilsten talk with another lady guest. Their conversation she garnered by the lady's lascivious pout was much less innocent than the conversation he had with her. "Look, Mama. Look at him now. Why, if I were to lay some of my pin money down, I would say that his lordship is trying to woo his way into the widowed Dowager Duchess of Barker's heart right at this minute." And woo his way under her skirt. Not that she was that forward with her mama, but it was so obvious to anyone with eyes what he was doing.
Julia had little doubt that his lordship would leave with the Dowager Duchess of Barker or someone else. Whoever fell for his false charms and seductive wiles.
Her mama glanced in his lordship's direction. "Well, I never," she said as Lord Chilsten picked up Her Grace's hand and kissed it, lingering over her fingers for longer than was proper. "Mayhap you are right, my dear. We will look elsewhere."
Julia smiled. "My thoughts exactly," she said, determined not to look in his disgraceful direction again for the entirety of the ball.
Cyrus leaned against the window, watching the delectable Miss Julia Woodville as she warded off suitor after suitor who bowed before her precious silk slippers asking for an introduction or dance.
The woman never lost her sweet visage, even when the words that spilled from her lips seemed to satisfy the men she was denying while also cutting them off at the knees. He shook his head, unable to fathom how she was doing it without them all knowing what she was actually doing. And yet, her mother's less-than-pleased visage told Cyrus that at least when it came to her mama, the woman was not fooled by her daughter's actions.
His eyes slipped over her form. A tall meg, that was certain. She had come up to his nose, and he was over six feet himself. Many men bowing before her had to look up at her to meet her eye. It was odd to see a woman towering over most of those in attendance.
Not that Cyrus minded that so much. The thought of her long legs wrapped about his hips as he pleasured her left him aching to study her in a more private setting. Her wit and veiled insults had not dissuaded him. No, indeed not. If anything, they made him more curious to learn what it was exactly that Miss Julia Woodville would look for in a gentleman admirer.
Why she did not like him. Not that he needed to really think too hard on that matter, if truth be told. He knew his reputation proceeded him. He was a rake, a legacy he had earned from both his parents, who had remained married but had numerous lovers coming and going from both their country estates and London homes. Oddly enough, their marriage had been a contented one, and he could not fault them for their choice if it made them happy. Even if that meant he most likely had a bevy of siblings he did not know about.
He took a calming breath, thankful that his own legitimacy had been verified and his name and homes could not be taken from him. His parents had been less than proper when courting, and Cyrus knew their marriage had only occurred days before his birth. He thanked God every day his grandfather had forced the marquess to marry his daughter or face him on a field at dawn.
He sipped his drink, his eyes following her as she excused herself from her mama. He expected her to head for the door that led to the lady's retiring room, and at first she did, but then, glancing over her shoulder and noting her mama's attention was not on her person, diverted toward the terrace.
Cyrus pushed off from his post and followed her, wanting to see where the chit with the viperish tongue was going. Mayhap she was meeting an admirer that no one knew of. The thought made his steps increase. Why he could not fathom. He had only just met the chit, and if she could find a husband who wanted a traditional marriage, then all power to her.
Even so, he followed close on her heels. He looked along the terrace, not seeing her admiring the gardens, but then he spotted her blue silk skirts slipping around the corner.
He smiled, following to catch her out for whatever she was up to. The minx Miss Julia Woodville was a lady with secrets, and he could not wait to uncover them and mayhap use them to his advantage.
Julia strolled along the darkened terrace, pleased to be alone at last. She pulled out a cheroot from her reticule and lit it using a wall sconce that burned nearby before moving farther into the darkness to where a lone seat sat against the wall. She breathed a sigh of relief for the first time that night as only the muffled sounds of the ball sounded far away, and the stars were her only company.
Being here this evening was an absurdity that her mama ought to have denied. She wasn't even out yet, and already she was exhausted from the society with whom she had to circulate. Her coming out would be as far from her lifestyle at Grafton as living on the moon would be.
Her gaze wandered upward to the bright, circular shape far up in the sky, and she studied it, wondering if it had valleys and mountains similar to those on Earth. Footsteps nearby pulled her attention away, and she looked toward the direction she had come, only to see Lord Chilsten strolling her way.
She stood, needing to face him and not be subservient to his presence. There was something about the man that put her on guard. Not only his infamous reputation but something she could not put her finger on. He made her wary, and she did not like the fluttering in her stomach whenever she viewed him.
He was the last man any woman in London wanted to marry. She wasn't even certain she wanted to marry at all, not unless her love for her prospective husband outweighed all her reservations and concerns.
She had never found it easy to trust people she did not know for a particularly long time, so making a match within three months or thereabouts during a London Season seemed almost impossible.
"Miss Julia," he said, chuckling slightly when he spied her cheroot held between her two fingers. "Well, let me start by saying I did not think I would ever see a debutante outside a ball smoking. An oddity indeed."
She finished her cheroot, throwing it onto the lawns where she knew it would do no harm. "And you still have not, my lord, for I'm not yet out and therefore not a debutante."
"Touché." He strolled past her and sat on the bench. Feeling oddly tall with him seated, she joined him, looking out onto the grounds. "I must say, Miss Julia, please do not take offense, but you are extremely tall. Are any of your sisters still in Grafton as tall as you, or are you the only one blessed with such length?"
She raised her brow, giving him a displeased look. "I'm the only one. Well, the only one who is taller than my parents." She paused. "Is there any other reason as to why you've followed me outdoors, my lord? It seems very odd, not to mention ill-advised, considering I'm unchaperoned."
"No one will come looking around here. I'm confident we're safe enough."
Julia fought not to sigh. She had not wanted company on her sojourn outdoors. She wanted five minutes to herself. To be alone without the cloying smells of sweat and perfume and the incessant gentlemen who thought to talk their way into her heart. "And if I did not want you to join me? Do my wants and needs not factor into your conscience when this is what you want?"
He narrowed his eyes, and she noticed their color was such a dark brown they could almost be termed black. Being so dark, one would think they would be soulless, but they were not. They sparkled with mirth and interest. Mirth she could stomach. The interest that burned in his eyes was a waste of his time.
"You do not like me very much, Miss Julia. May I ask as to why?"
"Why?" she replied, wondering where she ought to start. "You have a terrible reputation. You are written about in the paper almost weekly with some escapade or scandal. You are rumored to have numerous lovers, all of whom are married women to other lords, and you are as far from what a lady would look for in a husband as one could get. I know you're friends with my brother-in-law, the duke, but that does not mean that we can be or that I will allow you to believe you have a chance at winning my hand, for you do not."
His mouth gaped before he threw back his head and laughed. Julia stared at him, seeing his smile that literally took her wits from her. She stifled a sigh of wonder at his beauty. The man was a rake, a rogue, a sinner of the worst kind, but oh dear, she could see why women would sin with him. He was wild and carefree and did not care what people thought. Certainly, he appeared to relish the scandals that society wrote about him.
"I am no more interested in your hand in marriage than I believe you are in gaining mine, but I find you charming in your own prickly way. And there is nothing I like more than a challenge."
She raised one brow, trying her hardest to stare down her nose at him. "I'm not a challenge you'll win, my lord."
He tipped his head, shrugging. "I think you may be, even if that challenge is not to secure your hand, but merely a kiss. You are disillusioned by the prospect of marriage, and after watching you this evening, I'm certain of this fact."
"You were watching me?" she asked, aghast to learn he had been. What had he seen? What did he surmise from keeping accounts on her?
"Yes, I watched you a great deal, and I noted that while you're very polite to prospective gentlemen, you do not show any interest besides that of a woman meeting a person she will never see again after the fact."
"And you're going to change my opinion on men and make me more interested in what they have to say? How will you do that, my lord? You're not a magician."
He chuckled. The low and gravelly sound made her body thrum in places it ought not. "I do not think you've experienced passion enough to know what the opposite sex could offer you. If you allowed me to kiss you, to show you what us mere men of the world can make you feel, I think it will only help you decide what is best for you when you make your curtsy to the queen next Season." His devilish grin almost pulled one from Julia's lips. Almost. "What do you say, beautiful? Are you willing to test my theory, or are you too frightened?"
His last word was not what she appreciated. If she were one thing in this world, it was not frightened. Not of anything and certainly not of him. The pompous, self-loving popinjay. "Very well. I shall allow you to kiss me. Once. And then you may leave me alone for the rest of the evening." Let him try to show her what men could make her feel. He would fail, and she would revel in her triumph.
He nodded. "Agreed."
Cyrus took the opportunity to study Julia's beauty, a beauty that had pulled his attention from the first moment he happened upon her. Her skin, unblemished and perfectly English, shone under the moonlit night. Her full lips beckoned him in a way that others never had before.
He cradled her face in his hands, tipping up her chin to make her look at him. She stared at him with a boldness that suited her words. Deep in his soul, he knew this woman did not lie or deny herself anything she wanted. He did not want to refuse her a thing either.
He lowered his head toward her, watching as her eyes fluttered closed, her long, dark lashes fanning over her cheeks. His gut clenched, and he swallowed the fit of nerves that followed. So damn beautiful that it wasn’t any wonder that his heart stopped. He brushed his lips over hers. Soft and malleable, she opened for him, giving him the ability to kiss her as she deserved.
"You're so beautiful," he whispered before kissing her with more force. Her small sigh as their lips touched and fused made his body hard. He wanted this woman in his arms. He wanted to kiss her until the early hours of the morning. Never go back within the bounds of the ballroom walls and be separated from her touch.
Cyrus frowned, unsure where such thoughts came from. The feel of her tongue slipping over his lips caught him unawares. He held the nape of her neck, his other hand tipping her head back farther to deepen the kiss. She was sweet, luscious, and bold.
Their tongues tangled, and the kiss changed. Altered. No longer was it an example of what she could have with another man. The man she would eventually marry. No. This was a kiss from a man who desired the woman in his arms. A kiss one gave a lover before thoroughly bedding them. Inappropriate and scandalous, a kiss he could not stop and did not want to end.
Her hands settled against his chest, judging the muscles beneath her palms. Her little murmur of delight told him she liked what she touched.
"I could eat you alive," he said, kissing her hard, devouring her mouth as if his life depended on her kiss. Her fingers gripped his hair before her arms went about his neck.
Images of them abed, of her wild and fired hot from his touch, bombarded his mind. He wrenched her onto his lap, his hand slipping from her waist to mold her breast.
She undulated against him, pushing into his touch, seeking more. He gave her what she wanted. Hell, what he wanted. His cock, rigid in his pants, craved her heat. He wanted her, here and now.
Stop, Cyrus. She's innocent.
He fought for control, to rein in his desires. He could not take a virginal miss, but damn it all to hell, there was something spectacular about the one in his arms.
He had thought her prickly and cold. She was anything but. She was all soft curves and ample flesh. Her kisses rocked him to his core and made him as hot as Hades.
He slipped the bodice of her gown down, sliding his finger over her pebbled nipple. She gasped, and the kiss turned molten, fast and wanton. She pushed into him, and his back came up hard against the house's stone wall, and he groaned.
"Julia," he begged. "You're a seductress who'll haunt my dreams."
"You tease as well, my lord," she gasped.
"Cyrus. Call me Cyrus, please," he begged of her.
Her wicked grin almost undid him. "I cannot return to the ball having spent in my breeches. You must stop, for I do not have the power to do so."
"Stop what?" she asked, all innocence. "I thought it was you who was to show me what I could have with a husband?"
He laid his hand over her hip, stilling her movements. He took the opportunity to feel her thigh and work it beneath his fingers. "I'm sure you're an educated woman who's read books and does not need me to explain in any further detail what should happen if you keep rubbing against my cock." Her eyes flared at his crass speech, but she did not flee. On the contrary, she grinned, raising one brow.
"Whatever do you mean will happen?" she asked again, moving once more against his manhood. He clamped his jaw shut on the expletive he wanted to shout out. He was a marquess, for God's sake. The future Duke of Rothes. Not a man who came in his breeches after an interlude with a virginal debutante at a society ball.
She's not even a debutante, you dunce.
"Do you not like how I make you feel?" she asked him, placing small, quick kisses against his lips.
"It is me who is supposed to be showing you what it is like to have a man kiss you. Show you how pleasurable the mouth can be when joined with another."
"Hmm," she sighed. "I think I know now what you're referring to in this little game, my lord. I do think you have won."
He clasped her hip, helping her undulate against his cock. He wanted to come, to find pleasure from her even if that meant that he would have to leave. He would see her again. There would be other nights to seduce her away.
The Season was young, after all. "Kiss me again," he begged her, feeling his balls tighten. She did as he asked, the force of her embrace snapping his head against the wall. He came, hard and long, groaned his release into her mouth like a green lad during his first time with a woman.
She kissed him as the last exquisite tremors settled through his body. "Actually," she said, pulling back and meeting his gaze. "I think in this game, we have both won. Do you not agree?" she asked him.
He nodded, fighting to keep his bearings. "I do," he gasped. Determined that this would not be the only time they were together. Not if he could convince her otherwise.
It was not over between him and Julia Woodville. Not by any length.
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