In the Prince’s Bed
Miss Katherine Merivale is desperate to make a respectable match—if only her childhood sweetheart would propose! Until he does, she can’t touch the fortune she’s inherited. That’s why the last thing she needs is that notorious rogue Alec Black putting her matrimonial plans at risk with his smoldering gazes and moonlit kisses.
Alec, the Earl of Iversley—and one of three bastard sons of the Prince of Wales—is secretly searching for an heiress bride to pay his debts. Fiery Katherine seems the answer to his prayers, and her passionate response to his stolen kisses and practiced seduction soon assures him that she is his. But Katherine is looking for a love-match, and Alec can’t help but wonder what will happen when she discovers his deception?
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book hit the following bestseller lists:
- #69 on the USA Today bestseller list
- #9 on the Waldenbooks Bestselling Single Title Romances List
- Winner of the Holt Medallion Contest for Best Short Historical of 2004
- Winner of the Booksellers Best Award for Best Short Historical of 2004
- Nominated for the Maggie Award for Best Historical of 2004
“This first novel in Jeffries’s (Married to the Viscount) new Royal Brotherhood series demonstrates that there is still room in the flooded romance market for a traditional Regency told with sparkle and energy. At heart, this is simply a good girl-tames-rake romance, but the chemistry among all the characters—not just the hero and heroine—ensures that there is never a dull moment in this merry romp. …The attraction between the protagonists is electric, and it is consistently entertaining to watch them juggle their various secrets. Fans of historical romances will find the simple pleasures of this novel irresistible.” —Publishers Weekly
“Jeffries does sexual tension so very well, and her narrative flows so surely and smoothly, that there is no fear of a misstep when reading her books.” —Rakehell.net
Katherine Merivale couldn’t believe her eyes. Lord Iversley? Here on the gallery? Bad enough that she’d quarreled with Sydney so awfully, but to have a witness to her humiliation… Bother it all, had he heard the entire conversation?
“H-How long have you been there?” she stammered.
“Long enough.” The moonlight glimmered over his handsome features as he fixed her with a decidedly predatory look.
What incredible eyes he had, direct and focused and unearthly blue. Although he couldn’t be more than twenty-seven, his eyes said he knew secrets about life and the world beyond her ken. About her now, too, depending on how much he’d just heard.
Mortification seized her anew. “Why were you spying on us?”
Tossing down his cigar, he crushed it under his booted foot. “I merely came out for a smoke.”
“It’s rude to listen to other people’s conversations.”
“No more rude than talking about people behind their backs. Though I didn’t realize I was such a wicked rascal.”
Her face flamed. This was horrible. “We didn’t mean… that is… My goodness, you must think us awful.”
“I didn’t really mind. Especially after hearing about your plight.”
His low rumble of a voice and daring smile made her shiver deliciously. “My plight?”
“Twenty-two, and never been kissed. I stand ready to oblige you. As you said I would.”
A thrill coursed through her, and she stamped it out. The last thing she needed was a man like him pursuing her. Especially when his only purpose was seduction. Perhaps Sydney was right about her gown—perhaps it had given his lordship erroneous ideas about her chastity. She’d lose both Sydney and her virtue if she weren’t careful.
“Thank you for the offer, my lord, but I’m not yet sunk so low that I must beg a stranger for kisses.”
“I’m not exactly a stranger.” He stalked toward her with a panther’s lazy grace. “In the last ten minutes, I’ve learned quite a lot about you.”
“Like what?” Edging back, she came up squarely against the marble rail.
He stopped only inches away. “You’re straightforward and practical and—”
“Wanton? Isn’t that why you’re here—because I asked for Sir Sydney’s kiss within your hearing?”
His eyes riveted her. “I’d call it brave. And honest. You go after what you want without apology. I admire that trait in anyone, but especially in a woman.”
“Oh? Why ‘especially in a woman’?”
A shadow eclipsed his rakish smile. “Because women are too often taught to do as they’re told without question. That’s never wise for anyone.”
“Strange advice coming from a man accosting a young woman alone.”
The rakish smile reappeared. “I’m not accosting you. I’m only confirming what you already claimed—that I’d kiss you if you asked me to.” His gaze trailed leisurely down her throat to her breasts, then her belly, then lower. Bold and seductive, it seared her wherever it touched. “Believe me, if I’d been in Lovelace’s place, you wouldn’t have had to ask.”
Despite the thundering of her heart in her ears, she tried to sound light and sophisticated. “I’ve no doubt of that, judging from what I’ve heard about you.”
His eyes narrowed. “Oh?”
“I’m sure you know the tale. Irresponsible young lord behaves badly, is sent off to foreign shores to keep him out of trouble, where he cavorts across the Continent until his father dies and the older—but probably not any wiser—lord comes home to see what havoc he can wreak there.”
Amusement glinted in his eyes. “How clever of you to reduce my life to a cliché.”
“How careless of you to turn it into one.”
His amusement vanished. “So you believe what’s said of me?”
“Your present behavior certainly confirms it.”
He advanced on her until she was staring right up at the boldly carved cheeks and two slashes of eyebrows that gave him a roguish appearance. “And here I’d thought you might give a man the benefit of a doubt. You certainly gave Lovelace quite a lot of it.”
She blushed. “I know that for all his faults, Sydney cares deeply for me.”
“Just not enough to kiss you when you ask.”
“You don’t understand—”
“Ah, but I do. He’s too much a coward to stand up to his mother, so he blames you and your family for his shortcomings.” He bent close to add in a whisper, “But I’m no coward, and I too go after what I want, Katherine.”
Exactly like the great Alexander himself, who’d conquered not only Asia, but several women, too. And why did his lordship’s husky voice make her own perfectly ordinary Christian name sound as exotic as Cleopatra? “How do you know my name?”
“Aside from the fact that Lovelace used it, I asked Lady Jenner about you.”
Excitement shot through her. No man had ever asked about her before. Of course, she’d hardly been in society at all, but it was still flattering.
Which was probably why he’d said it. Her eyes narrowed. “You shouldn’t call me Katherine. It’s not proper.”
“Would you prefer ‘Kit’? I don’t think that suits you nearly as well.”
Oh, he was very good at this—he’d probably memorized The Rake’s Rhetorick by the age of twelve. His compliments muddled her thoughts when rational thinking was crucial.
She forced herself to sound cool and unaffected. “I prefer ‘Miss Merivale.’ In fact, until we’re formally introduced, you shouldn’t even speak to me.”
He chuckled. “Aren’t you rather strict about the proprieties for an unmarried woman who only moments ago was angling for a kiss in the moonlight?”
She lifted her chin. “Sydney and I are very nearly engaged.”
“And he apparently intends to keep it that way forever.”
Although she’d thought the same thing, she hated hearing it from this eavesdropping wastrel. “You don’t know anything about him. He’s an accomplished poet, well-respected for his verse, and a better man than you are, for all your lofty title.”
“No doubt. But he won’t kiss you. And I will.” Catching hold of the gold sash tied around her waist, he tugged her closer.
Her pulse jumped in a frenzied dance. “I don’t want you to kiss me,” she protested feebly.
He cast her a mocking smile. “No? Then why are you still here, instead of racing off inside to join your lackluster suitor?”
No wonder he’d formed the wrong impression. Taking him off guard, she yanked her sash free, then hurried toward the gallery door.
She made it only a few steps before he caught her by the elbow. “Come now, don’t leave yet. There’s no one to see if you break a rule or two.”
A shiver went through her as he skimmed his gloved hand down her bare arm to capture her hand. It had to be fear she felt. So why didn’t she resist when he tugged her back to stand between him and the railing?
Because sometimes she grew tired of being responsible. Ever since Grandfather’s death, she’d been the one overseeing the servants, dealing with merchants, and teaching her siblings.
Still, she mustn’t forget the lesson her parents’ behavior had taught her daily—that recklessness led to ruin. “Sydney says you’re very good at breaking rules.”
“He also says you shouldn’t want to be kissed. But you do.” He braced his hands against the marble on either side of her to trap her between his arms. “So why not take advantage of a man who wants to satisfy your desire?”
How clever of him to make it sound as if she’d be taking advantage of him. “I don’t want to impose,” she said sarcastically. “I’m sure you’re much too busy obliging the Lady Jenners of this world to bother with the likes of me.”
“At least I’m not too busy catering to my mother.”
That hurt, especially since it echoed her deepest fears. She swallowed. “Sydney will kiss me when the time is right.”
The earl looked unconvinced. “Let’s say he finally does unbend enough to do it.” His warm breath wafted over her cheeks. “Perhaps on your wedding night, if that ever comes. That doesn’t mean you can’t kiss me tonight… to form a basis for comparison in the future.”
“Why should I want that?”
“So when you’re settled into your very dull marriage with your very dull Sydney, you’ll know exactly what you’re missing.”
She eyed him askance. “And I suppose you can show me what that is.”
“Tell me, do most women find your arrogance appealing?”
He cast her a rueful grin. “I’ve never tried it on anyone but you.”
“I seriously doubt that.” When his eyes darkened, she added, “I hear you’ve had plenty of experience with women. You don’t need me to add to your store.”
“Ah, but you need me to add to yours. Because if you wait for Sydney, you might wait a lifetime.”
The truth of that statement struck her mute. And it kept her mute when Lord Iversley lowered his head.
To be fair, he gave her plenty of time to protest. His lips lingered a breath away from hers for a long moment. When she did nothing, he took that for consent, which she supposed it was. She was curious, after all.
But the minute their lips met, she knew why curiosity was so dangerous. Because although her mind sputtered its outrage, her body gave in like the shameless wanton Sydney probably thought her to be.
Then the earl fit his mouth snugly over hers, and Sydney became irrelevant. He had never smelled of smoke and secrets. He had never made her pulse race madly, except in her dreams at night.
Now her dreams would never be the same. But how could she have guessed kissing would be so . . . so delicious, even with the wrong man? And Lord Iversley was definitely the wrong man. Too bad he kissed like heaven, his lips gliding over hers softly… subtly—
She jerked her mouth away. How could she have let him go so far? “Enough, sir. You’ve shown me what kissing is. Now let me go.”
Seizing her chin between his thumb and forefinger, he turned her face up to his. “Ah, but there’s more to kissing than that. So much more.”
“How can that be?” she blurted out, then cursed herself for the question.
His gaze smoldered as it played over her flushed cheeks and quivering chin. By the time it rested on her mouth, the fire was rising inside her, too. “I’ll show you if you like.”
If there was more, perhaps she ought to learn it, so she wouldn’t seem completely inept when Sydney finally did kiss her. “You may show me, I suppose.” She added quickly, “But only for a moment.”
With a chuckle, he ran his thumb sensuously over her lower lip. “Such a sweet mouth you have. Let me inside it.”
Inside it? Before she could question the curious demand, he bent to kiss her again, but this time his thumb pressed down on her chin, urging it open. And then his tongue slid right into her mouth.
Ohhhh. Inside it. So that’s what he meant. How very… odd.
And hot. And bold and thrilling and…
His tongue withdrew, only to advance again. He repeated the intimate motion until she grew too flustered to think, too dizzy to stand. Grabbing at his shoulders, she held on for dear life.
With a low groan, he pressed against her. His arm gripped her about the waist, plastering her to him from breast to thigh, igniting fires wherever his body joined hers.
Lord preserve her, she’d had no idea kissing felt so… wonderful. And reckless. Anything this intensely pleasurable had to be reckless. She should stop him, really she should.
Instead she clung more tightly to his neck, savoring every bit of his kiss. It went on and on, a feast of sensation beyond her experience. She smelled the smoke on his breath, tasted the tart sweetness of champagne on his tongue, felt the muscles in his shoulders flex beneath her fingers as his kiss grew rougher, fiercer, faster, until her head swam and her body surged against his lean, hard frame, the way she’d always imagined it would do if Sydney ever—
Sydney! Oh, Lord!
Shoving the earl away, she broke the kiss. For a moment they merely stood staring, both panting too heavily for decorum.
Somehow she found her voice. “Thank you. That was a most enlightening… lesson. Now if you’ll excuse me—” Her heart pounding, she started to escape before she lost complete control.
No such luck. That cursed hand of his shot out once more to stay her.
She glared at him. “You must let me go in, before my mother comes looking for me.” Or worse, Sydney discovered them together.
Her commanding tone only made him smile. “Must I?”
Panic swirled in her chest. “Please?”
His smile faltered. He searched her face. “Afraid to continue the lesson, sweetheart?”
The rasped endearment gave her pause. She’d assumed this was merely some whim of his, but if he meant more by it…
No, that was absurd. The Earl of Iversley could have any woman he wanted—he didn’t need to seduce a virgin. And if he really was as wild and reckless as everyone said, he certainly wasn’t ready to settle down with a wife.
“The lesson is over,” she said firmly.
“Surely it’s a lesson that bears repeating.”
“Definitely not, Lord Iversley.”
For the first time that night, anger darkened his features. “Call me Alec, not Lord Iversley. I don’t want you thinking of me as anything but Alec.” He tugged her closer. “Who’s already eager to repeat your lesson on kissing.”
“No, we can’t.” Shaking her head, she struggled against his hold. “I have to go… Alec. Please.”
Something dangerous flickered in his eyes. Then it vanished, replaced by a smooth smile she didn’t entirely trust. “All right. For now.” He dropped her arm. “But I warn you—this isn’t the last you’ve seen of me.”
“It has to be,” she protested. “I’m marrying Sydney.”
The words hung in the air, their very existence questioning all her plans for her future. “I am. So I suggest that you leave me alone from now on.”
As she turned and fled into the ballroom, she heard him murmur in that husky rasp of his, “There’s little chance of that, sweet Katherine.”