Home > Devoted to the Spanish Duke (London Lords #3)

Devoted to the Spanish Duke (London Lords #3)
Author: sasha cottman

Chapter One

 

 

Narros Palace, Spain

September 1816

 

* * *

 

Lisandro de Aguirre, Duke of Tolosa, was not one for parties or balls. They were usually dull affairs put on purely for political purposes. He wouldn’t even be here tonight if it weren’t for the fact that this magnificent gathering at Palacio de Narros was to commemorate the marriage of King Ferdinand to the Infanta of Portugal, Maria Isabel.

The wedding itself had taken place in Madrid some two hundred and seventy miles away. Those who supported the king were keen to celebrate, while everyone else had clearly made the effort to attend the party in order to keep up appearances.

Lisandro was firmly one of the latter. He knew that if he didn’t make an appearance, his absence would be noted. And with the king becoming more unpopular every day, his spies were everywhere, looking for possible dissenters. There were rumors of people being arrested and disappearing. A smart man did not tempt that sort of fate.

He finished the last of his wine and handed the glass to a passing servant. He turned back to face the dance floor, continuing his slow search of the room. Somewhere in this crowd tonight there had to be a buxom señora willing to share his bed.

Come now, ladies. Gift me with your smile.

The back of a long blue gown caught his eye and he paused. While it was not unusual to see a garment of such color in Spanish society, it was the style which took him by surprise. Almost every other woman there was dressed in the high fashion of the Spanish royal court; this particular female was most definitely not.

Someone draws her inspiration from the English and French. Bravo.

Keen to get a better look, he waited for the wearer of the gown to turn around. When she finally did, Lisandro was certain that his heart had stopped. For a moment or two he simply stared.

From the light brown tresses that carelessly kissed her pale cheeks to those intoxicating full lips, she was every inch a true Basque beauty.

Lisandro licked his lips.

Perfection.

A pair of warm coffee-colored eyes stared back. He smiled at her. The slow, deliberate blink she gave in return was all the encouragement he needed.

His plans for seducing one of the noble wives would have to wait. He must meet this young woman.

Quickly, but not too obviously, he made his way around to the other side of the dance floor, stopping every so often to make sure she was still standing where he had last seen her.

She was; he knew this because he caught her gaze every single time he halted in his progress.

Where have you been all my life? You are stunning.

He could only pray that this mystery woman wasn’t going to turn out to be some distant relative his mother had forgotten to mention. Lisandro was certain he was somehow related to every noble family in this part of northern Spain.

She gave a quick look back over her shoulder as she turned and headed for a nearby archway. The invitation for him to follow was clear.

My wish is your command.

On the other side of the arch, a door led to a wide stone terrace. The moment he stepped outside Lisandro took a deep breath. The cool night air was a welcome respite from the heat and cigar smoke of the crowded ballroom.

Brightly burning fire-cages and torches lit the terrace, while down below beyond the edge of Zarautz Beach lay the inky black of the Cantabrian Sea.

The mysterious woman made her way toward the set of steps leading down the rocky seawall and onto the sand. Lisandro followed, keeping a respectable distance.

A perfect, private interlude on the beach? What an excellent idea.

She reached the top of the stairs and stopped. Blast. He slowed his steps. She turned and faced him.

In the light from the flickering flames of a nearby torch, he caught the unmistakable look of uncertainty on her face.

Damn. She is an innocent playing at a game for grown-ups.

Lisandro had rules about young, sexually inexperienced women. Unless a man had in mind to marry the girl in question, they were strictly off-limits. Perhaps he would toy a little with her, rewarding her boldness, but go no further.

Finally, he reached her side and dipped into a low bow.

She gave him a soft but clearly practiced smile. Lisandro stifled a grin. Someone had trained her well in the art of the subtle flirt. Of showing a hint of interest but nothing more. Women kept their reputations carefully guarded in this part of the world.

“Buenas tardes, señorita,” he said.

“Is it? I am not so certain. Considering that you, a perfect stranger, have been staring at me for the past while and have now followed me outside away from the other guests, I do have to question whether you are sincere in wishing me a good evening. Or is that just your usual opening line for women?” she replied.

Oh yes, you have been well taught. Under other circumstances, you and I could have a spot of delightful fun. Such a pity.

He chanced a look at her hands, grateful that the weather made it too hot to wear formal gloves. A white fan was held fast to her wrist with a piece of matching ribbon. Around her neck was a thick gold chain upon which hung a Santiago medallion. On her long, slim fingers there was no sign of a wedding or betrothal ring.

An unmarried beauty.

Whoever this vision of loveliness was, it seemed no one had yet laid claim to her. Interesting.

“You have me all wrong. I wish nothing but the best for you,” he replied.

She looked him up and down, the soft smile on her lips informing him that she was pleased with what she saw.

“Are you enjoying this evening?” he asked.

She shrugged. “It is as I expected. A party full of people discussing politics and gossiping about one another. Most people are just here to be seen.”

Lisandro raised an eyebrow at her words. It was unusual to find a young woman of quality who didn’t enjoy major social events. It spoke of a mind that found interest in more substantial matters. “I thought all the young señoritas would be excited about this evening. It is not every day that the king takes a new bride,” he said.

Her eyes narrowed. Her easygoing demeanor changing to one of guarded wariness. He was probing, seeking to discover what she really thought of the king. Did she see him as a tyrant too?

“Well, of course I was excited about tonight. All loyal subjects wish happiness for His Catholic Majesty. But the rooms of Narros Palace are stifling and crowded. That was all I meant,” she replied.

Wise words. Never let anyone know what you truly think of the king unless you fully support him.

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