Mad About You, Desperate and Daring Series, Book 6
by Dayna Quince
Love is a singular madness…
Miss Madeline Prescott’s father issues an ultimatum: marry the suitor of his choice, a man thrice her age, or find her own husband by month’s end. Yet men are not exactly lining up to court the girl known as Mad Maddie. With time running out, she chooses rashly: a rake so disillusioned by love that he may consider her strange offer of marriage to relieve the burden of having to marry at all. All she has to do is ask…
After nursing his wounded heart for more than a year, Lord Jonathan Flynn, Viscount Rigsby, reluctantly returns to society, only to be cornered by Mad Maddie with a ridiculous request. If he considers her proposal for even one second, he will prove himself to be as mad as the chit is rumored to be. Questionable sanity aside, after some consideration, he agrees to court her and see if her plan holds water. What he finds is that Maddie is more than mad. She is brave, intelligent and kind. If he can’t marry for love, marrying Maddie could be the next best thing.
They embark on a whirlwind courtship to convince their families of the veracity of the match. Neither anticipates the intense passion that sparks between them. But Maddie’s troubled past may prove to be a barrier that even the strongest love cannot overcome.
Read an excerpt from Mad About You.
If Jonathan had been a rake before, he didn’t know what he was now. He’d spent a year abroad after Thea’s wedding, searching for anything that pleased and distracted him—including women. He had used up all his energy in his pursuits to forget her, however, and it was completely extinguished. Now that he’d returned to England, he just wanted to leave again. There was something about his homeland that chafed him somehow, as if he no longer had a rightful place here.
He’d missed the season purposefully. His mother was worried, and part of that worry erupted in the form of throwing innumerable marriageable young ladies his way. Since he’d been gone for so long, she had done this by letter, but now that he was home, he was worried she’d lower herself to actually physically shoving women at him.
He had promised to meet her at the annual Worthington medieval-themed house party. The week-long spectacle boasted a fair, some sporting events, and a masquerade at the conclusion. There would be many places to hide on the massive property, and many unhappily married or widowed women to indulge in.
He was waiting for such a woman right now. He’d received a secret missive upon his arrival, and he wasn’t about to let an impromptu tryst go to waste. Unless she was unattractive, or clearly an innocent.
He tiptoed down an empty hall toward the conservatory. Spying the doors, he slipped inside, searching carefully for his paramour. He moved silently among the potted palms and fragrant citrus trees, hoping to spot her before she was aware of his presence. Coming toward the center of the room, he saw a circle of padded benches around a fountain. A naked marble woman poured water into a pond with a vague and playful smile.
There on the bench, another woman lounged, this one of flesh and blood, and not sitting primly like a lady, but draped on her side, her legs tucked up, bare feet nestled next to her derriere. The inviting dip and swell of her waist and hip drew Jonathan closer. Her dress was the palest blue, and her hair was an uncommon shade of red, rioting against an attempt to be tamed by pins.
I’ve stumbled upon a goddess.
Mesmerized, he didn’t see the little pot until he’d kicked it to the side and it crashed into another one. He cringed.
The goddess jumped up from her decadent pose and spun around.
Jonathan stepped into the open and faced her. He held up the paper between his pinched fingers. He glared at her. “I sincerely hope this isn’t from you, Miss Prescott.”
“How else was I to get your attention?”
“I intend to, but you startled me, and my heart feels like it’s going to gallop out of my chest.”
“I seem to have that effect on women.”
Jonathan strolled around the benches and sat. He crumpled up the letter, disappointed there was no goddess to toy with him, only Mad Madeline Prescott.
“It isn’t the effect of your presence,” she went on. “It is the effect of being surprised.”
Then she resumed her seat, sitting primly as she ought to have been.
He sighed. “What do you want?”
“I have a proposition.”
“You don’t even know what it is!” she cried.
“It involves you, so therefore, no.”
“That isn’t very kind.”
“I’ve had to tolerate my sister for the whole twenty-two years of her life. You are like three of her at her worst.”
“That is a compliment,” Miss Prescott replied. “Your sister is a marvelous woman.”
Jonathan rolled his eyes. “Get on with it, so I can refuse whatever it is one more time and be on my way.”
He watched her grit her teeth, smiling in the face of her anger. Her green eyes were spitting fire at him.
She huffed and sat up straighter. “Fine. I prefer bold honesty, anyway. Lord Rigsby, we should be married.”
He scoffed. “I can’t have heard what I think you just said.”
She moved to the bench nearest his and sat. “Listen, you fool. You need a wife who isn’t a wife, and I need a husband who isn’t a husband. I’ve failed yet another season, and I’m about to be auctioned off to a man thrice my age. All things considered, I’d rather… Well, you know.”
She wiggled her head.
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
He mimicked her head wiggle.
“The experience, I shall say, would be so much better with a young man,” she explained. “I know enough to know that.”
Jonathan launched to his feet. “Good God, Miss Prescott! We cannot have this conversation.”
He looked around frantically to make sure they were alone.
She jumped to her feet, too. “Well, it wouldn’t be abhorrid with you.”
“I started to say abominable, and then changed my mind to horrid midsentence.”
Jonathan stared at her for a moment, utterly flabbergasted. “What would I do with a wife like you, Maddie?”
He used her name carefully. They had been acquaintances for many years, after all, and though he could not call her a friend, she’d certainly been an odd and unforgettable presence in his social circle.
“Drop me off at whichever home of yours that has the largest library, and leave me be,” she begged.
“Is this before or after our non-abhorrid coupling?”
“After, of course. Everything must be up to scratch—assuming you can do the job.”
Jonathan narrowed his eyes at her. “Do the job?”
A slight like that could not go unchallenged. He took two steps and grabbed her, pulling her into a rough kiss. Then he let go and she blinked owlishly at him, properly dazed.
“I hope that wasn’t meant to be a superb example of your expertise?”
“Bloody hell, Maddie,” he grumbled, and turned his back to her. “Be off with you now.”
Shoddy or not, and his ego said not, that kiss was just enough to stir his appetite.
“So you won’t marry me because of that kiss?” she asked, astonished. “Perhaps I am better off—”
“Don’t say it,” he tossed over his shoulder. “I’ll think about it.”
“We can forgo kissing, if it isn’t your strong suit.”
“For the love of God, Maddie.” He faced her again, irritation overriding the taste of lust the kiss had stirred inside him. He stepped closer to her, almost nose to nose. “I said I’ll think about it. But if I agree, come our wedding night, you won’t be able to even remember your own name. Think about that!”
Then Jonathan turned heel and strode away, smirking.
Let her stew about that.
“Why would I forget my own name?” she muttered to herself.
He’d heard her, but he didn’t turn around. Once more in the hall, he stopped and pressed his back against the wall. What had he just agreed to? Nothing, he reminded himself. All he’d said was that he’d think about it. Of course, the most logical response was no. He didn’t need to marry. Ever. He didn’t need a wife. Not one like Maddie, or any other woman of his acquaintance. All he wanted was a stiff drink and the occasional woman to slake his desires with.
What Maddie wanted was foolish romance, and it was one more point against her claims to sanity.
Holy hell, she was mad, and right now, she truly deserved her Mad Maddie nickname. A more unusual girl had never graced the ballrooms.
Jonathan pushed away from the wall and made his way back to the drawing room. Maddie should be happy with whatever marriage proposal she had received, and thank her lucky stars she hadn’t yet been committed to Bedlam.
He shook off the strange feeling from his meeting with her as he entered the drawing room. His mother was due to arrive later today. Thankfully, Lucy was too busy with the new baby to join them at the house party. She had been content with his visit when he’d returned to England.
His niece had graced the world with her presence at last, and he was certain a more beautiful baby had never been born. The constant adoring grins on Lucy and Winchester’s faces were slightly sickening, but Jonathan couldn’t blame them. They were happy, and they had every reason to be. He wanted nothing less for them.
It was he who was the problem.
He’d spent so much time away, he’d thought the unpleasantness in his recent past had surely died, too, but no. Stepping foot inside Winchester’s cottage again had brought it all back to him. Heartache still burned inside him, like embers that wouldn’t die.
He nodded to an acquaintance now, feigning interest as he joined a group of men and listened to them converse. God, he hated it now. He hated all of it. The forced politeness, the boring platitudes of friendliness. It was all such a farce.
Jonathan surveyed the circle of faces around him, and they all resembled paper. They had no substance, no depth, and were very likely to be ripped away by the wind.
Only one face stood out.
Her gaze bored into him from across the room, and she raised her brows in question. “Well?” her expression said.
He laughed quietly. He’d found some distraction, at last. He decided to tease her with his indecision as punishment for luring him to a nonexistent assignation. He’d lead her on a merry chase, and perhaps his evening wouldn’t be so boring after all.
But her lips were pinched now, and she was glaring daggers at him.
He held her gaze, smiling slowly, imbuing it with enough wickedness to melt her garters.
Unpredictably, her cheeks exploded with pink color, and she glanced away.
Well, now. What is this?
Something inside him perked up. So, she was not immune to him. This made things drastically more interesting. Jonathan was, after all, a highly sought-after bachelor. But he had never considered being pursued by an innocent like Maddie.
She was so…unusual. The poor girl stood out from a crowd, but in the very worst way. It wasn’t just her brilliant red hair. No, Maddie was the opposite of everything she was supposed to be, and strangely, she knew it and reveled in it.
He watched her flit from group to group like a hummingbird. She was never invited to join, but she relentlessly approached them with a serene smile. She would sample the atmosphere for a moment and then move on, oblivious or uncaring about the mocking smiles at her back. She stood tall and confident as she moved through the room, and yet she was scorned by all, snickered at, and even cut by some.
Her father, Sir William, had good standing in Society, and was even an acquaintance of Jonathan’s father. Her family frequented most of the same parties as his own family.
So why was Mad Maddie—er, Miss Prescott so openly mocked?
Jonathan chastised himself for using the nickname which most of Society now used for her—even directly to her—just as he had done. He supposed it was because she didn’t seem to mind it. She stared a person right in the eye, and never blinked at the arrows aimed her way.
How curious she was. He’d never thought much about her until now. He couldn’t remember an occasion where he’d properly conversed with her until the moment in the conservatory, but he knew her—or rather, knew of her.
She was infamous simply because she went so far against the grain of what a proper young lady was supposed to be or do, like the time she kept an injured hedgehog in her pocket during dinner, and it crawled out onto Sir Philip’s lap and bit his unmentionable bulge. He’d screamed, and Miss Prescott had laughed whilst scolding him for wearing such indecent pantaloons.
Jonathan chuckled as he remembered the incident.
And now she wants to marry me?
He blinked and refocused on the people around him. He couldn’t remember what was being discussed. Probably the weather. Again.
“Another storm brewing?” he asked.
A chorus of equally bland replies. He fought the urge to sigh and made excuses. Then he wandered out of the room and up the stairs to a balcony that overlooked the drawing room. Very convenient for spying on the people below.
He sought out Miss Prescott again, finding her easily among the crowd. Now she was examining a figurine on the mantle. As he watched, the little porcelain arm snapped off. He could see the alarm on her face, and he smiled.
She quickly looked around and put the maimed figure back. But then she picked it up again, turned, and marched up to their hostess.
Jonathan couldn’t hear what was being said as Maddie—Miss Prescott, he reminded himself—handed the figurine over with a frown as she spoke to Lady Worthington.
Their hostess was not pleased. By her expression, she was responding harshly.
Miss Prescott nodded and dejectedly retreated from the drawing room.
Jonathan scowled darkly at the scene. It was nothing more than a bloody trinket. He pushed away from the balcony and went in search of Miss Prescott.
She wasn’t coming up the stairs, so he ventured a guess that perhaps she had gone outside. On instinct, he headed toward the back of the house, rather than the front.
He found her on the terrace, leaning on the balustrade. He stopped at the door, suddenly nervous. He hadn’t meant to charge to her rescue like this. As he watched her, she didn’t appear the least bit upset, but instead she seemed serene as she peered out over the gardens.
He stepped out the terrace door, scuffing his boot heel so he wouldn’t startle her.
She turned, surprise briefly crossing her features, and then she waited as he came to stand beside her.
“Don’t you love the way the air feels charged before a storm?”
He took a moment to feel the air around him. The clouds had thickened and darkened. He would wager that it would be raining shortly.
“Everything stills—birds, frogs, crickets…” She paused. “They take shelter, knowing, anticipating…”
Jonathan had no response.
She was staring out over the gardens again with wonder, as if she was waiting to see something, something only she could see.
Oddly, he wished he could see it, too, but studying her was more interesting than anything the garden had to offer.
“It will rain soon,” he stated.
“Yes. I will take one last walk before returning to that bothersome drawing room.”
“May I join you?”
The words came out of him without thought.
She smiled at him. “Of course! Does this mean you’ve given my proposal due consideration?”
“Hush.” He glanced around to make sure they were alone. “The word proposal can have many meanings to different ears.”
“You can trust that no one lingers near me hoping to hear anything intriguing,” she whispered. “It’s a shame, really. I say many interesting things.”
Jonathan raised an eyebrow as he offered his arm to her. “Indeed. I’m very interested to know more about why you are proposing marriage, of all things.”