To Pleasure a Prince
Beautiful Lady Regina Tremaine has turned down so many suitors she’s called La Belle Dame Sans Merci. The truth: she won’t marry, because she carries a dark secret. Still she sees no reason why her brother shouldn’t court the lovely Louisa North—even if Louisa’s half-brother, the notorious “Dragon Viscount,” objects.
Marcus North, Viscount Draker—bastard son of the Prince of Wales—is rumored to be a monster who holds women captive only to have his way with them. Exiled from polite society, he strikes a deal with Lady Regina: her brother can court Louisa so long as Marcus can court Regina. Can the beauty and the beast survive a proper courtship when the chemistry between them threatens to cause the scandal of the century?
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book hit the following bestseller lists:
- #28 on the New York Times Bestseller List
- Three weeks on the USA Today Bestseller List
- Four weeks on the Waldenbooks Bestselling Mass Market Paperbacks List
- Three weeks on the Waldenbooks Bestselling Romance List
- #7 on the Borders Bestselling Mass Market Paperbacks List
- #19 on the Barnes & Noble Bestselling Mass Market Paperbacks List
- Winner of the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence for Best Historical of 2005
- Winner of the Best Historical K.I.S.S. Hero Award from Romantic Times
- Nominated for the Romance Writers of America Rita award for Best Long Historical Romance of 2005
- Nominated for the Booksellers Best award for Best Long Historical Romance of 2005
- Nominated for the Holt Medallion Award for Best Long Historical Romance of 2005
“Jeffries’ sparkling dialogue takes center stage in an emotional, highly sensual and powerfully romantic story. Regina’s dyslexia is an added point of interest, and all the characters have such depth they simply leap from the pages.” —Romantic Times
The door to the library opened, and Lord Draker scowled. No doubt his sister-in-law had returned to make sure he didn’t drink too much.
“You already said your piece when you banished me from the drawing room, Katherine.” Defiantly, he poured himself more whiskey. “You’re wasting your time continuing the lecture.”
“Yes, you don’t take lectures from anyone, do you?” answered a soft female voice from the doorway. It wasn’t Katherine’s.
A knot twisted in his gut. Damn, damn, damn.
Marcus faced Lady Regina with a scowl. “I certainly won’t take them from you. So if you thought to teach me a lesson with your little display in the drawing room—”
Her chin quivered. “I wasn’t trying to teach you anything.” With a glance down the hall, she entered and closed the door.
“Are you sure it’s wise to be alone with me with the door closed, madam?” He tried not to notice how prettily her cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkled when she was upset. “What would people think?”
“I don’t care. And anyway, no one saw me come in here.”
He gave a harsh laugh. “Of course not. You’re no fool when it comes to preserving your image as society’s reigning queen.” But she wouldn’t be so cavalier about it if she knew that just the sight of her looking like a goddess in that gossamer silk gown made him want to grab her by the throat and shake her.
Or kiss her senseless.
When she neared him, he tensed. “If giving me the cut indirect did you no good,” he said, “what makes you think—”
“I was not giving you any sort of cut whatsoever,” she said stoutly.
“Right.” He took a deep swallow of whisky.
“I simply didn’t want to make a fool of myself by bumbling through a song I didn’t know.”
Damn her for thinking he cared. And damn him for caring. “Whatever you say, madam. I understand how these things work.”
“Drat it, I am trying to explain!”
“There’s nothing to explain. I’ve already forgotten it.”
“I haven’t,” she said in those dulcet tones that cast a spell on every man who heard them. “I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings.”
A red haze formed behind his eyes. “Don’t flatter yourself. I’m not one of your slobbering sycophants who might moan and threaten to do himself in when you give him one of your famous set-downs. I don’t give a damn what you think of me. Go on back to your friends. I’ve no interest in listening to you chastise me for exposing your true nature to the crowd.”
“My nature?” Her eyes narrowed. “Now see here, you thick-headed dolt, the only nature you exposed in that drawing room was yours. You merely proved that you have absolutely no sense of proper behavior or gentlemanly discretion. What you said about me wasn’t true in the least, and everyone knew it.”
“Really? So you acquired your nickname by accident, La Belle Dame Sans Merci?”
Her flinch told him he’d wounded her. It should have pleased him. It didn’t.
“Say what you wish about me,” she retorted, “but you ought to at least care how your reputation for churlishness affects Louisa. It’s the only thing marring her standing in society.”
“To hell with her standing in society. If this is society, she’s well out of it.”
“Oh? She’s better off stagnating in the country with no one but you for company? You, who’d rather bury yourself in a book than have a civil conversation with an actual person?”
“And what’s wrong with that?” With his whisky glass, he gestured to Iversley’s many books. “I’m not the only person who takes refuge in books. Just because you don’t like them—”
“I never said that.” She sounded surprisingly defensive. “I merely think there’s more to life. A person cannot find everything in a book.”
“Ah, but you’re wrong. I can find whatever I want in my library.”
“Music?” She strolled up to him. “You can’t find music.”
He set down his glass and turned to Iversley’s bookshelves. Searching until he found the right volume, he opened it and read aloud, ‘Golden slumbers kiss your eyes/ Smiles awake you when you rise.’ It’s a poem by Thomas Dekker, now used as a common lullaby. You probably heard the tune in your head as I read it.”
“That’s not the same as hearing it sung. Reading the words of my favorite opera, for example, certainly wouldn’t satisfy me.”
“But one can’t always attend the opera. One can always open a book.”
She uttered a frustrated sound. “What about physical things, like dancing? There’s no dancing in books.”
“No?” He drew down another book. “Here’s one that explains how to perform dances.” He flipped through it and showed her the diagrams. “You see? You can find dance in books.”
She shook her head. “You can’t possibly claim that reading about dancing is the same thing as performing a dance.”
“Actually, it’s better. If I read about it, I don’t have to deal with too-hot ballrooms or having my toes stepped on.” He cast her a cold glance. “Or superior females who think themselves too fine to dance with me.” And sing with me.
When she flushed, he knew she’d taken his point. Yet she wouldn’t let go of her argument. “You also don’t know the joy of touching another human being.” She approached him, and he sucked in a heavy breath. “Or the thrill of passion. Don’t you dare tell me you can get that from a book, because I know better.”
“Oh? I would have thought a well-bred lady like yourself hadn’t experienced ‘the thrill of passion.’”
A faint flush turned her cheeks rosier than before. “You know perfectly well that’s not what I meant.”
“Ah, yes.” He scoured her with a contemptuous look. “From what I’ve heard, you won’t even allow your sniveling admirers to kiss your hand.”
“At least I dance with them. The only females you allow near your estate are servants, for pity’s sake. Unless there really are women in your dungeon.”
“What are you talking about?”
Her blush deepened. “The gossips say that…that you chain women up in your dungeon to…have your way with them.”
Oh, for God’s sake— “And you believe that?”
She thrust her chin out at him. “I might. Especially given how much trouble you seem to have with pleasing women who aren’t chained up.”
Even knowing she was baiting him couldn’t assuage his temper. He stalked up to loom over her, but that proved a mistake, for now he could smell the seductive scent of honeywater wafting off her and could see the golden tendrils feathering her neck. Her aristocratic arch of a neck that he wanted to—
He dragged his gaze to her face. “I know how to please a woman well enough when I set my mind to it.”
“Do you?” She arched an eyebrow. “I’ve seen little evidence of that.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t.”
“No? Then prove it. Prove that you can please a woman.”
God help him. Somewhere in the dim recesses of his fevered brain, he realized she meant a different sort of pleasing than he did—compliments and courtesies and gentlemanly behavior. But at the moment he didn’t care. He’d had enough of her lies and her condescending taunts. He’d show her once and for all what happened to any woman foolish enough to bait him.
“Fine. Since you insist…” And without giving her a chance to protest, he bent his head and kissed her right on the lush red mouth that had tortured his dreams last night.
She jerked back, her eyes wide. “What are you doing?”
“You told me to prove I can please a woman.”
“I didn’t mean that kind of pleasing.”
I know. “But I did.” She hadn’t yet slapped him, which emboldened him enough to add, “Apparently, however, I wasn’t convincing, so I’ll have to try again.” Reaching up, he caught her chin in one hand.
Alarm flickered in her eyes. “This is not acceptable. We are not in your dungeon here, I’ll have you know.”
“What a pity.” He snaked his free arm about her waist. “You could use some chaining up.”
She fisted her hands against his chest. “You’d never dare. And I’d never allow it.”
“Oh? What would you do to stop me? I hate to tell you, but your little ‘cuts direct’ won’t work in the dungeon.”
“I did not give you the cut di—”
He blotted out the words with a fiercer, bolder kiss. He didn’t want to hear her lies. He didn’t want to think about those bastards in the drawing room. He only wanted to kiss her again.
She made a token resistance at first, pushing feebly against his chest. But she didn’t pull her lips from his, and after seconds, even her hands flattened against him. That left him free to really kiss her, to linger over her mouth, driven by the impulse to prove her wrong about him, to make her acknowledge him as something more than a loutish beast.
But that wasn’t all he wanted. He wanted to eat her up, get inside of her, figure out why she drove him insane with just a look.
God help him. He’d expected kissing her to be like kissing a marble Venus, the lips cold and unyielding, her body stiff against his. Instead, her lips were warm and trembling, her body fluid in his arms and growing more so by the moment.
When she actually clutched at his coat lapels, triumph surged through him. He drew back to stare at her smugly. “Now, tell me again that I don’t know how to please a woman.”
Her closed eyelids drifted open to reveal dove-gray eyes dazed with need. “You know how to be impertinent,” she said in a throaty voice. “I’ll give you that.”
“You haven’t begun to see me impertinent.” Cupping the back of her neck in his hand, he drew her close for another kiss. Except that this time he dared to deepen it, thrusting his tongue against her parted lips until he gained entry to the heady warmth of her mouth.
Great God, what a seductress’s mouth she had, as sweet and bewitching as any siren’s. He wasn’t idiot enough to question why Lady Lofty was letting him kiss her so outrageously. He merely took advantage of the fact that she was, relishing the heartfelt moan she made in response to his bold forays.
She lifted her dainty arms to encircle his neck, and that emboldened him further, until he was plundering her soft lips over and over, drinking in every richly perfumed breath. After all, how many chances did a man have to taste the elusive La Belle Dame? To bury himself in the hot silk of her mouth and stroke the eloquent contours of her waist and hips with his greedy hands?
Not until he had her reeling, boneless and limp in his arms, did he tear his mouth from hers. “Now that’s impertinent.”
Her breath came in staccato bursts. “It certainly is,” she said, but without rancor.
“So is this.” He brushed a kiss to her blushing cheek. “And this.” He explored other parts of her with his mouth—her fragile eyelids, the throbbing pulse at her temple, the delicate curve of her ear.
But when he traced it with his tongue, she gasped. “Lord Draker—”
“Marcus,” he corrected. “If we’re courting, you should call me Marcus.”
She hesitated, then breathed, “Marcus,” in that seductive whisper that drove him insane. There was nothing for it but to kiss her again.
Pressing her back against the bookshelves, he ravished her mouth the way he wanted to ravish her body, until the taste of her so filled his senses that he actually began to contemplate lifting her skirts and—
The sound of applause outside the library broke through his fever. But only when she pushed against his chest did he stop kissing her.
“We should not be doing this, Marcus. Someone might find us here.”
Frustration made him growl, “And that would not do for my lady, would it?”
“If my brother found us, it would not do for you either.”
He smiled grimly. “It might. Foxmoor would demand satisfaction on the dueling field, and then I could—”
“Don’t even think such a thing!” she cried, covering his lips with her fingers.
They stood frozen a moment, both staring, both painfully aware of their intimate position, yet neither moving to change it. Then she traced his mouth with a gentleness he wasn’t used to from anyone. He dragged in a ragged breath, but didn’t stop her.
Until she ran one finger along his scar.
“Don’t,” he murmured.
Curiosity glinted in her eyes, but something in his face must have warned her not to ask, for she merely changed the direction of her exploration, slipping her fingers down to caress his jaw. “Your beard is soft. I expected it to be prickly.”
Her tenderness unsettled him. “It’s no different from other hair,” he said gruffly. “It’s only prickly after it’s shaved off. But I’m surprised an elegant female like you would even touch a man’s beard.”
A coy look crossed her face. “Believe it or not, sometimes elegant females try things they’re not supposed to.”
“Right.” That was why she’d let him kiss her. Apparently even La Belle Dame craved excitement occasionally, and couldn’t get from her idiot suitors. He bent his head to nibble her earlobe. “Try anything you want with me,” he whispered. “I won’t tell a soul.”
She jerked back, her face aflame. “I didn’t mean—” She broke off at the sound of the door knob turning, then wriggled out of his arms just as the door swung open.
Iversley stepped inside, then froze. His gaze swung from Marcus to Regina. “Sorry to interrupt,” he said tersely.
When Regina faced Iversley, that reserved mask she generally wore had already slipped down over her face, banishing the tenderness of a few minutes before. Marcus wanted to howl his frustration.
“It’s no problem.” Her voice was as unruffled as if she’d just been taking tea. “His lordship and I were merely talking.”
Marcus knew she was perfectly in her rights to preserve her reputation. But with his blood still in wild riot, he reacted to her calmness as if it were an assault.
“Yes.” He couldn’t keep the sarcasm from his voice. “Lady Regina was explaining to me why she prefers private duets to public ones.”
The gaze she swung to him was so wounded that he knew in an instant her reserved mask had been only a façade. Anger flared in her eyes, and she slapped him. Hard. “Go to the devil,” she choked out. Then she fled.
As soon as she was gone, Iversley shut the door. “You deserved that.”
“I suppose.” Marcus rubbed his jaw. For an elegant female, her ladyship had quite a swing. And quite a little temper. “But I was merely stating the obvious.”
Iversley shook his head. “Any other woman you set your sights on might put up with your grousing and your insults, but not Lady Regina, society’s reigning—”
“I don’t have my sights set on Regina…Lady Regina.” Marcus strode over to the table with the whisky decanter and picked up the glass he’d left there.
“Liar. I’ve seen how you look at her.”
“No differently than I look at any other attractive female.” His hand shook as he poured himself more whisky. “I’m sure I look at your wife exactly the same.”
“If you did, we’d be dueling at dawn,” Iversley said dryly. “Because you look at Lady Regina as if you want to bed her.”
God help him, he did. “Any man who looked at her would want to bed her.” He downed the whisky. “What of it?”
“Be careful, that’s all I’m saying. She’s not…er…”
“My kind? We were doing just fine until you interrupted us.”
And until I insulted her.
No, he wouldn’t chastise himself for that…or for her look of betrayal. She’d experimented with kissing the Dragon Viscount, and then turned around and expected him to pretend it hadn’t happened because she was ashamed. A pox on her. “Why are you here, anyway?” he asked his brother.
“Katherine said you were getting drunk. I didn’t think that was wise. Of course, if I’d realized you were engaging in another vice—”
“Didn’t you hear Lady Regina? Nothing happened. So go back to your guests, and send someone for me when dinner is served.”
“All right.” Iversley opened the door. “But take my advice—next time you engage in ‘nothing’ with Lady Regina, you might want to lock the door.”
As his brother left laughing, Marcus gritted his teeth. Damned interfering relations. Louisa with her matchmaking duets, Katherine with her lectures, and Iversley with his annoying observations. They were blind to the truth—that Foxmoor and his sister represented everything wrong with polite society that Marcus had spent his life avoiding. Foxmoor was a schemer, and Regina…
Well, he hadn’t figured her out yet. After all, no one had forced her to come in here to “explain.” Why bother? Was she genuinely sorry she’d balked at singing with him, or did she have some other murky motive?
It hardly mattered. After her slap, she couldn’t possibly mean to continue this insane bargain. She would probably make that clear later, and then he could demand that Foxmoor stay away from Louisa, too. So he would win.
And there would be no more kisses. No more tender caresses, no more—
With an oath, he slammed his whisky glass down on the table, wishing he could squelch his thwarted lust that easily. There wouldn’t have been any more kisses anyway. Lady Regina’s little adventure had surely been enough to teach her what he already knew—they were not suited for each other in any way.
Too bad he already ached to kiss her again.