Excerpt from ROYAL AFFAIR

“What does a Duke do, exactly?” I asked sheepishly.

“Nothing,” he replied curtly. “Not these days anyway. My grandfather represented the Queen on State visits a few times and organized the State Opening of Parliament, and there are some other command performances. Apart from managing the estate, it’s all pomp and circumstance. Presumably my father will be doing some of that soon, though if I were the Queen I wouldn’t let my father near anything of import.” There was obviously a story there, and not a good one, but it didn’t seem like the time to explore it. I certainly wasn’t ready to talk about my family, or lack thereof.

“And what exactly is a Marquess? I’m sorry for not knowing.”

“Don’t be,” he replied firmly. “I’m the son of a Duke, that’s all. It’s a title and excuse for people to be interested in my personal life.” This was obviously not his favorite topic.

“Anyhow,” he continued, “the house had been bought and sold and broken up into flats, but a few years ago I made the owners an offer, and here we are.” There was a subtle pride in his voice.

“Buying it back on your own merit.”

He gave a subtle nod in acknowledgment. “Many of the furnishings once belonged to my grandfather, though I’ve added quite a bit of technology and sustainability features, and you’ll see that the upstairs has been modernized quite a bit.” He paused. “More wine, Lydia?”

I gulped and nodded. “You think I’ll see the upstairs? Confident, aren’t you?” I had no idea where my occasional bursts of self-assurance were coming from. Dylan exuded total competence, and I was pretty sure I was completely out of my depth.

“Always,” he said and smiled knowingly.

We ate in silence for a few minutes, and I could feel the tension rising. “You’re not eating much,” he observed.

“It’s delicious. I’m just…distracted.” I crossed and uncrossed my legs, attempting to curb the growing need between them. My skin was beginning to heat up. The way he looked leaning on the island in front of him, his shirt unbuttoned and exposing a hint of chest hair, left me breathless. He was so goddamn masculine. He checked my body over, clearly taking in my flushed state.

He shoved his empty plate aside and turned to me. “Tell me about your previous relationships, Lydia. You don’t have a boyfriend back in the States, do you?”

I shook my head. “There’s not much to tell.” I shrugged. “You know, town harlot and all that,” I said, willing a joke to somehow make me feel like I had a better grip on what I was doing. It seemed we were about to get somewhere, and my body was on high alert.

He barely smiled at my feeble attempt at humor, and continued his interrogation, sweeping away my plate. “I don’t believe you. Has there ever been anyone serious?”

I shook my head. “No one lasting more than a couple of months.”

“Why?” He was genuinely puzzled. He leaned on the far side of the kitchen island, his forearms resting on its shiny surface.

“I’ve never been that interested. I mean. Before—” I stopped myself, and he smiled.

He leaned in further, reaching over the island, and whispered conspiratorially, “I want you too.”

I gulped and felt the tension thicken between us. “Have you had many girlfriends?” I asked. I was talking, but I was only half processing anything other than the sensations beating through my body.

“I don’t have girlfriends.”

“Ever?” He shook his head in confirmation.

“Not in a long time. I don’t do relationships, Lydia. You should know that before we go any further.”

“What do you want then, Dylan? I feel like I’m being courted here—effectively, I might add.” He smiled knowingly at the compliment while I crossed my arms in front of my chest, trying to protect myself a little, as futile as it might be. “Or I was being courted…” Dylan got up and came to stand before me, making me pause.

“Lydia,” he said, looking straight into my eyes. He grazed my arms with the backs of his hands, and my skin hummed with his touch. He was looking right into me. He cupped my chin with his hand, and drew my gaze up to his. He placed a gentle kiss on my lips, instantly calling all of my blood to my cheeks. Then he said, in a playful but firm whisper, “I want to fuck you.”