9 Playful Princes with Maya Rodale
Maya began reading romance novels at her mother’s insistence, and it wasn’t long before she was writing her own. Her next release is The Tattooed Duke (March, 2012), book three in the Writing Girls Series. Check out www.mayarodale.com for sneak peeks and prizes.
Nine playful princes, one scorned duke and daring wallflower
22nd December, 1820
It was the sort of occasion for which marriage-minded mamas resorted to all manner of nefarious trickery, for which obscenely expensive and exquisite gowns were purchased, and upon which the hearts and hopes and dreams of many a maiden were fixed.
The occasion which had all of London in a froth (the female half, particularly) was the first ever gathering of the League of Princes. Nine European Princes gathered in London to pledge their friendship and unite their nations for the greater good of Europe. Or something to that affect; most of London was in an utter frenzy because there were Princes in town. Eligible, marriageable Princes. Nine of them, in fact.
A ball was held at the Palace to celebrate. Invitations were highly coveted. The Duke of Uxbridge sold his for three thousand pounds to some title-hunting American. Five hundred invitations were sent. Six hundred favorable replies were received. The ball was an absolute crush.
The women were agog over the Princes. One man was decidedly not.
“How does it feel to not be the highest ranking chap in the room?” Jack Fitzwalter asked, clapping his friend, the Duke of Ashbourne on the back.
“I have never enjoyed myself at a ball more, now that the vicious machinations of debutants and their mothers are not directed at myself,” Ashbourne answered truthfully. On every other occasion, since the day of his birth, he’d been The Most Eligible Bachelor In The Room.
Thus, it was strange to be able to relax, rather than be on guard for a wicked female to tear her bodice, muss up her hair and throw herself into his arms, as Miss Trawicke had done just Thursday last at the Westlake Soiree.
“Not one single female is remotely interested in you this evening,” Fitzwalter said, awed. “It’s as if you were manure on the bottom of one’s boot.”
“Ridiculous. I could still have any woman I chose,” Ashbourne scoffed.
“Indeed? I wager that Lady Ophelia Marchant will not waltz with you,” Fitzwalter said, inkling his head to the lady in question. Her family occupied the house next to Ashbourne’s in London. While they were familiar to each other, his determination to avoid any suitable and unmarried female—as the Most Eligible Bachelor In The Room was wont to do—meant they were not close.
She was on what, her third season now? She was a plain lass, and too quiet and steadfast to draw many suitors. She was not the sort of woman to inspire mad passions in a man.
“Twenty pounds says she will,” Ashbourne said, shaking his friends hand and strolling over to Lady Ophelia. Surely, he’d be twenty pounds richer in just a few moments.
“Good evening, Lady Ophelia.” He bowed before her. She spared him the briefest of glances.
“Go away,” she hissed. When he recovered from the surprise of being refused, Ashbourne delighted in the challenge before him.
“Would you like to waltz?” he asked, undeterred.
“No thank you,” she replied.
“You realize you have just refused a duke,” Ashbourne pointed out. It seemed overmuch to add that he was generally considered The Most Eligible Man In The Room.
“Pshaw. A duke is a trifling thing tonight. I’m saving myself for a Prince.” At the mention of her quarry, Lady Ophelia’s eyes brightened with excitement and her cheeks flushed with anticipation. Had he said she was plain? She was really pretty, in truth.
“Any particular Prince? I hope you hadn’t set your heart on the Prince Furstenberg for he’s been ‘discovered’ with Lady Samantha Weatherby. They were in the conservatory. Certain items of attire were missing.”
Ashbourne and Lady Ophelia both turned to look at the ashen-faced Prince, who appeared shell-shocked and Lady Samantha, who smiled triumphantly and toasted her champagne flute.
“Oh well, one down. Eight options left,” Lady Ophelia said.
“Seven. The Prince of Schleswig-Holstein retired early,” Ashbourne said and Lady Ophelia scowled. “He tired of being hunted, I presume.”
“That doesn’t show much stamina now, does it?” Lady Ophelia murmured to his absolute shock.
“See, some things are more important than a title,” The duke said, uttering a sentence he never imagined would cross his lips. “Like stamina.”
“Your point, Your Grace?”
“A title isn’t everything,” he said.
“Really? Funny, that, coming from a Duke,” she said, glancing away from the crowds and Princes and fixing her gaze upon him. Suddenly, he felt warm. Overheated.
“A duke whom you refused not a moment ago.” He’d never been refused. She so clearly wasn’t the slightest bit interested in his company, yet a team of horses could not have dragged him away from her. It so happened that Lady Ophelia was pretty and intriguing.
“That was before I knew there were only seven princes left,” she said, sighing.
“Six,” the duke corrected. The Prince of Piacenza was entering the ballroom from the terrace, arm in arm with a very smug Lady Melinda Buckley. His cravat was askew, her hair was disheveled.
“Five, really. The Prince Volkonsky is supposedly a crashing bore. I’m not sure I could tolerate that, not for all the tiaras in Europe,” Lady Ophelia said. This elicited a grin on his part.
“Would you care to waltz now?” he asked. He didn’t need twenty pounds but he did need to win. More than anything, he now really, truly desired a waltz with Lady Ophelia.
“There are still five princes left,” she pointed out.
“Shall I dispatch them all?” he offered gallantly. Finally, she turned to look at him.
“You have never been so keen to dance with me before, duke. We are not strangers to one another.”
“You never would have refused me before,” he said frankly. Like many a man he was aroused and enthralled by the thrill of the chase, but despised being hunted himself. He did not puzzle on this double standard for he was noticing, for the first time, that Lady Ophelia possessed a marvelous, mouth watering figure. He clasped his hands behind his back, lest he surrender to the impulse to touch, to caress.
“Shh. The Prince of Capua is coming this way!” She cried.
“I believe he is headed toward the punch bowl.”
“Well then to the punch bowl we must go.”
“We?” That was a good sign, at least. Off to his left, Fitzwalter was laughing heartily at the sight of the Duke of Ashbourne trailing after Lady Ophelia Marchant, who was in hot pursuit of a Prince of Capua.
A mob swarmed the Prince as he arrived at the punch bowl. Apparently, the entire ton was suddenly, outrageously parched. He might have wished to watch the scene about to unfold—enhanced by the gin that young Lord Derby had spiked the punch with.
But Ashbourne noticed that he stood under the mistletoe. With Lady Ophelia. To hell with the waltz. He suddenly, desperately wanted a kiss.
Lady Ophelia noticed that she stood under the mistletoe with the Duke of Ashbourne whom she had adored a la distance for quite some time now. Years of pining for him had met with no success. Tonight, she deliberately switched her tactics to rebuff him rather than throw herself at him, as per the advice of her other neighbor, the devious Lady Palmerston.
She had curbed her impulses to waltz, to banter prettily with him. She had, by some Christmas miracle, managed to maneuver them under the mistletoe under the pretence of following the Prince of whatever to the punch bowl.
“There are still 5 Princes left,” Ashbourne said. The ninny.
Lady Ophelia heaved a sigh. “I suppose a duke will do.”
And before a gaggle of princes and ballroom stuffed with the haute ton, the duke of Ashbourne kissed Lady Ophelia Marchant.
After that, their betrothal was announced. And after that, he paid twenty pounds to Fitzwalter for though he failed to obtain a waltz, he’d scored a kiss. It was worth every penny.
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