To Snare a Bride...
To Gabriel Devine, Duke of Wolverest, the bonds of marriage are nothing more than shackles. But if he's to remain a lifelong bachelor, that leaves only his younger brother to carry on the family name. Inviting the ton's most eligible ladies to an elegant ball, Gabriel is certain any one of them would be all too eager to become the next duchess and provide an heirâleaving Gabriel to continue his ecstatic pursuit of pleasure.
To Catch a Rogue...
Her social-climbing stepmother would give anything to have Madelyn Haywood betrothed to a future duke. But Madelyn believes the brothers Devine to be nothing more than heartless roguesâespecially Gabriel, whose rakish reputation precedes him. He is nothing more than a slave to passion, and she will not be conquered by his caressesâand yet his wicked ways tempt her so...
"Don't fret, my dear. Perhaps one day you'll blossom into a beauty like my Harriet."
Miss Madelyn Haywood nibbled on her bottom lip as she weighed her choices. She could scream, making a frenzied dash for the French doors in the adjoining room, or she could retain her composure and nod agreeably.
"Ah...thank you," Madelyn replied. Politeness won.
"Don't look so forlorn." Lady Beauchamp waved her fan vigorously in a vain attempt to mask a belch. Her aunt's stale breath was a clear indication the woman was good and foxed. "There are still two more cards to be presented, yes? You could be so fortunate. It's said miracles happen all the time." She started to giggle, but a hiccup cut her short.
"Let me assure you I haven't the slightest inclination to receive one." Madelyn lifted her chin and pretended to look about the room.
"Oh dear," Lady Beauchamp exclaimed, closing her fan with a snap. "That's why you're here, why we're all here. What great fun is this! Just think, soon even you could have a chance to be a duchess!" Using her fan, her aunt made a stabbing gesture toward four young ladies chatting excitedly by the foot of a grand staircase. "Look at them...smiling like simpletons. If my dear Harriet hadn't just received an invitation to the ball, I'd think they were deliberately flashing their cards so that I might see. What an atrocious display! Such a lack of decorum!"
Madelyn gave a short nod in response. Though anxious to quit her aunt's company, she prayed her association with her father's sister would forestall any strange possibility that either of the Devine brothers should come near. Lady Beauchamp had a habit of imbibing large amounts of wine at social functionsâreally, at any function save breakfastâand people seemed to avert their gazes, deftly avoiding the loud, opinionated woman as if she were a knot of rats.
Madelyn rose on the tips of her slippered feet, hoping to spot her friend amidst the crush of guests. "Aunt Lucinda, do you see Miss Greene?"
"Do you mean to say Miss Charlotte Greene? Good heavens, she's here? However does her mother think her scrawny, milk-and-water miss would ever land an invitation to His Grace's estate? Oh, I pity the girl and her mother for they will certainly walk away this evening disappointed. Charlotte Greene, you say?" Her aunt tossed back her head, bursting into unladylike guffaws.
Incensed, Madelyn opened her mouth to defend her friend when the ostrich plumes tucked inside the folds of her aunt's blue turban tickled the nose of the gentleman standing behind her. He erupted into a sneeze, then glared at the back of the viscountess's head. He was still looking at her thus when her aunt turned around, apparently to see what had collided with her headwear.
Madelyn stifled a small grin, satisfied the gentleman managed to give her aunt a scornful glare, encapsulating all of what Madelyn needed to say in defense of her dear friend.
The stout woman slurred her apology, then promptly excused herself from Madelyn's company with a swish of her skirts. She watched her aunt wander directly into the very crowd of young women she'd just admonishedâno doubt to find some other young lady to perk up.
After a brief inspection of the room's occupants, Madelyn located her stepmother, arms linked with Lady Beauchamp's Harriet. She made a wide arc around the pair as she passed, putting scores of guests between them. She felt her stepmother's arctic glare prickling the back of her head as she slipped into the adjoining room.
In the ballroom, she was about to give up hope of ever finding her friend when she spotted Charlotte, executing her best impression of a tea rose on the hand-painted Chinese wallpaper at...