Alec McBride, Duke of Gleneden, is the very first Duke I’ve
The pirate you read about in the excerpt, Grace O’Malley,
really did exist. Until my research trip to Ireland, I hadn’t
a clue there had ever been a female pirate, yet alone a 16th
Also in the aforementioned excerpt, Maura tells
Alec the legend of how Giant’s Causeway came to be -- the legend
of Finn McCool, an Irish giant pitted against a Scottish giant.
I had no trouble envisioning Finn McCool lumbering toward Scotland
and leaving those giant stair steps behind. Pretty amazing.
Giant’s Causeway is sometimes called the eighth natural wonder
of the world.
My fellow travelers laughed at me for packing
a stocking cap, gloves, scarf and winter coat for a mid-July
trip to Ireland. Did I need it? Oh, yes. My advice for a summer
in the Emerald Isle? Pack your winter gear—and hang onto your
if you’re at the Cliffs of Moher. A gust of wind took mine
sailing away across the Atlantic.
Driving can be a little tricky
in Ireland. No big deal, I thought, since a handheld navigation
system came with the car rental. The nav was quickly nicknamed
Molly. Molly liked to take shortcuts – soon to be dubbed Molly-cuts.
Mischievous Molly liked to take one far-afield . . . Molly
must have been taken over by leprechauns.
on the New York Times bestseller list for
the week ending March 15th - it spent a total of
three weeks on the NYT!
on the USA Today list – a total of
three weeks on the USA Today
Times Top Pick with 4 1/2 stars!
"With a hero who's not so much
wicked as delicious, James merges the aura of an ancient
legend into a wondrous love story. The magic is truly
in her storytelling and the depth of emotion and sensuality
she brings to each perfect tale."
-- Kathe Robin
for Romantic Times BOOK reviews
McBride, Duke of Gleneden, stood at the edge of the ballroom
and scanned the crowd once more. It was really quite a crush.
A faint smile rimmed his lips. He'd never been particularly
fond of masquerades. But as he was the guest of honor, he was
obliged to work his way around the room, shaking the hands
of those he’d met during his time here -- despite the costumes.
He spied Lady Alicia McDormand, dressed as a vampiress. Another
dressed as Marie Antoinette with her great white wig. A man
sauntered by, enrobed in black, with a deep cowl that completely
shadowed his face. The man paused, and when a hand with great
claws emerged to bring the fingers of a gaily laughing witch
to his lips, Alec chuckled. He was acquainted with the inspiration
for the man’s costume. Tonight he was The Demon of Dartmoor penned
by his brother Aidan’s wife, known to the world as F.J. Sparrow.
They would laugh when they learned the frenzy had extended
to Ireland. Of course now they were halfway around the world
on their honeymoon.
Ah, yes, while he’d enjoyed his time in Ireland, he was chafing
to be home. He’d remained in London in the spring for Aidan’s
wedding. He’d visited Annie and Simon in Yorkshire, and his
mother in Bath prior to making his trip to Ireland. He wouldn’t
forego the baron’s invitation, not when his father and the
baron had been such great friends. But the thought of returning
to Gleneden, sitting in the great hall in his favorite chair,
his feet propped up and sipping a whiskey at his leisure, was
appealing beyond belief. And--
The thought stopped mid-stream.
He was obliged to revise it.
Ah, yes, he decided. Appealing beyond belief . . .
His return to Scotland was forgotten. He stood some twenty
paces distant near a tall fluted column when he spied her .
. . a woman who gazed into the throng as if searching for someone.
The set of her shoulders was proud. She was tall for a woman,
but small-boned. Brave of her to appear with her hair loose
-- and bold of her, he thought with a vent of admiration, to
wear a skirt that clung to her hips, revealing the shape of
her buttocks as she turned ever so slightly. Aware of a low
simmer alight in his belly, he surveyed her, an admiring assessment.
She was exquisite. Indeed, there was much to appreciate about
And most fortuitous for him that her costume of choice was
the same as his, for it provided him an avenue of introduction.
Almost before he knew it, Alec found himself standing before
her. He had no memory of crossing the black and white tiled
He executed a slight bow. As he straightened, he secured two
glasses of wine from a passing footman and handed one to her.
“Good evening, my fellow pirate,” he said smoothly. “Are you
expecting someone? Your escort, perhaps?”
He gazed straight into her eyes, eyes that were a startling,
vivid shade of green. At his question, the lovely said nothing,
but shook her head. The tip of her tongue came out to run over
her lips, leaving them dewy and damp, the color of blooming
heather after a misting of rain. Desire, sharp and swift, clamped
hold of him. He was a startled at its strength.
Alec’s gaze had already roved her from head to toe. Her skin
was almost iridescent, and no doubt as smooth as a pearl, he
was certain. Alec battled the impulse to reach out and touch,
to confirm his assessment.
As if he needed such an excuse. He was well aware he was right.
Her breasts quivered with a deep, indrawn breath. Alec quite
enjoyed the view. She gazed up at him. Her feet were braced
slightly apart, one slim hand on her cutlass, as if, indeed,
she balanced herself on the rolling deck of her ship.
And certainly there was nothing tentative in her appraisal
of him. It was no less thorough than his. Alec took
a swallow of wine, aware of her forthright study. Was it bedding
she wanted? If so, he would accommodate. Oh, indeed, quite
But he discovered himself rather impatient. Dammit, he wanted
to hear her voice. Sweet and musical? Low and sensuous? The
latter, he decided.
“I applaud your costume.” He allowed a faint smile to curl
his lips. “I believe it is the first time I’ve seen a lady
play the part of pirate.”
“Indeed.” He was right. Her voice was low. Vibrant. “Have
ye never heard of Ireland’s most famous lady-pirate, Grace
“I have not. Pray tell me of this pirate.”
She smiled, running her tongue over her lips again. A stab
of sheer, raw desire bolted through Alec. Vaguely he wondered
how she would taste . . . He had to drag his gaze away from
her lips to concentrate on what she was saying.
“Many called Grace O’Malley The Sea Queen Of Connaught. Her
father was involved in shipping and trading. Irish legend tells
it that as a young girl, Grace wished to accompany her father
on a trading expedition. When she was told she could not because
her hair would catch in the ship's ropes, she cut it off.”
She gave a low, husky laugh, flipping her own hair back over
Alec took a sip of wine. His gaze had sharpened. Beneath her
pirate’s scarf, her hair was beautiful. Thick, tumbling waves
flowed down her back, the glossy black of a raven. Of course,
if their meeting had been under other circumstances, her hair
would have been hidden neatly tucked beneath a bonnet, or pulled
back into a tight, restrained bun, no doubt. Instead, it was
wild and unrestrained . . . as wild and unrestrained as she
was, he suspected.
“I should imagine every man here is glad you did not do as
the young Grace O’Malley,” he murmured. “I should consider
it almost sacrilege.”
She made no comment, but continued. “Even once she was wed,
Grace sailed the seas. A fierce sailor, our Grace O’Malley,
who would not be beaten down by the English as they tried to
take over Irish lands.”
“She sounds quite fierce. Why, I almost hate to reveal to
you that I am half-English.”
Her head tipped to the side. Black, piquant brows arched high.
Wordlessly she eyed his plaid.
Alec gave a mock sigh. “And aye, half-Scots.”
“Oh, aye, in truth. Does that mean I shall be unable to curry
favor with you?”
A slow-growing smile edged her lips. “Are you familiar with
the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim?”
“I am. I visited there a scant three days ago.” Alec was reminded
of the huge basalt columns, descending from the cliffs to the
sea like giant steps.
“Then perhaps you’ve heard of the legend of Finn McCool, who
lived there with his wife Oonagh. From across the channel there,
the Scottish giant Benandonner began taunting him, telling
Finn that he was but a wee giant compared to him. Benandonner
declared that he was the stronger and he could prove it, if
only the channel did not stand in the way.”
She ran a finger around the rim of her wine glass, all the
while maintaining that alluring smile. “Now, Finn could not
stand for such insult from his Scottish rival. So Finn built
a causeway out of the stones to cross the water and demanded
that Benandonner come prove himself. Alas, Finn was so exhausted
from building the causeway, that when Benandonner came, he
needed a wee rest before battling him. Thus, his wife Oonag
disguised Finn as a baby and put him in a cradle, should Benandonner
come before Finn was ready.” His lady-pirate spread her hands
wide. In some far distant part of his mind, he noted her tendency
to speak with her hands as well.
“And Benandonner did indeed come chasing after Finn, thinking
to best him. Yet when Benandonner arrived and spied Finn sleeping
quietly in his cradle, he feared the mighty giant Finn even
more after seeing Finn’s ‘baby’. So frightened was he that
he had not the courage to face Finn. He fled back to Scotland,
terrified, tearing up the causeway so Finn could not follow.”
Alec tipped his head to the side. “I have heard this story.
But I was told the Scottish giant was much larger than the
His lovely lady-pirate waggled her finger back and forth.
“Oh, no, no.” She spread her fingers, turning her hand palm
up. “However, even if that were true, Finn’s wife Oonagh proved
herself the smarter of either of them.”
Alec laughed softly. “At first I was convinced I must prepare
to defend my Scottish heritage. And now I find I must defend
my gender as well.” He gazed down at her. “Perhaps we should
resume our role as pirates. Are we acquainted with each other?”
“I think not.”
“Never on the high seas? Fighting over the booty of a ship
gone down? In port where we shared . . . perhaps . . . a pint
or two of ale or a bottle of rum?”
“I daresay,” she said lightly, “that we are evenly matched
on the high seas, sir. And” -- she drank from her wine, smiling
as she did so. That seductive smile was still in place as she
lowered the glass. “Perhaps elsewhere as well,” she finished
with a faint laugh.
“I see.” Alec leaned against the pillar, as if considering.
“A pity. I could hardly call myself a pirate were I not the
sort to kidnap ladies and do . . . ” He let the sentence trail
away, his meaning clear.
She met and matched him full-on. “Perhaps you should fear
what I might do were I to kidnap you, Scotsman. Why,
I might take you to some warm, distant island across the ocean.
You’d be forced to spend long nights alone in my cabin. And
when we arrived, why, I might bind you. Tie you to a tree so
I might indulge my preferences. You see, at such times I have
this urgent . . . need, shall we say.”
“Need?” He arched a brow. “What need?” Her lips were damp
and red from the wine. He wanted them wet with the wash of
“It is the land, you see. After those many days and nights
at sea, I revel in the feel of land beneath my feet. And it’s
“--that I prefer to dance naked round the fire. I fear it
is the pirate in me.”
Alec threw back his head and laughed. A coquette? Without
question. No timid miss here. The brazen display of her breasts,
her suggestive, outrageous banter, all proclaimed otherwise.
A tiny smile lingered at the corner of her lips. Alec watched
as she swallowed the remainder of her wine. “Why have I not
seen you before today? Are you a guest of the baron’s?” Lord
above, he’d have remembered those emerald eyes. He’d never
seen such lush, brilliant green . . . as green as the landscape
of this rocky isle.
“Only for tonight,” she said.
“Then perhaps introductions are in order.” He wanted to know
who she was. “I am--”
“Wait!” She held up a hand. “No, no! Do not tell me. This
is a masquerade, is it not? A night to disguise our true selves.
What say we dispense with names?” That tiny smile evolved into
Alec laughed. She was sheer delight. And quite the flirt.
“As you wish, Irish.”
“That is my wish, Scotsman.”
Alec settled down to enjoy the thrust-and-parry. “May I get
you something? A plate perhaps? The desserts are quite exquisite.”
God help him, the dessert he had in mind was her.
“I am quite satisfied just as I am.”
He was not, thought Alec with unabashed fervor. “Well, then,
Irish, perhaps you would care to dance?” Manners dictated he
ask. He allowed a smile to curve his lips. “Much to my regret,
however, I fear you’ll not be able to dance naked round the
Oh, but that was a sight he would dearly love to see! Beneath
her eye mask, her cheekbones were high, the line of her jaw
daintily formed. He longed to tear away the mask, to see the
whole of her face, to appreciate every last feature.
She gave a mock sigh. “Alas, you are right, Scotsman. And
truth be told, I should only be so inclined if you were to
dance naked round the fire with me.”
By heaven, he was right. She was not just a flirt, she was
quite an accomplished flirt!
Their eyes met. Meshed. Alec moved so that their sleeves touched.
Her smell drifted to his nostrils. Warm, sweet flesh, and the
merest hint of perfume.
He wanted her. He was not a rogue. Not a man for whom lust
struck quickly and blindly. He was not a man to trespass where
he should not. He was discreet in his relationships. He was
not a man to take a tumble simply for the sake of slaking passion.
Never had he experienced a rush of such passion. Moreover,
so quickly. He'd wanted women before, but not like this. Never
like this. Never had Alec desired a woman the way he desired
this one. What he felt was immediate. Intoxicating. A little
overwhelming, even. Not that he should desire her. She was,
after all, a woman who would turn any man’s eye. It was simply
that the strength of his desire caught him by surprise.
Perhaps it was this masquerade. Her suggestion that they remain
He cupped his palm beneath her elbow. “There are so many people.
The air grows stale. Shall we walk?”
Laughing green eyes turned up to his. “I thought you should
A stone terrace ran the length of the house. They passed a
few other couples, strolling arm in arm. All at once, she stumbled.
Quite deliberately, Alec knew. Not that he was disinclined
to play the rescuer.
He caught her by the waist and brought her around to face
him. “Careful, Irish.”
“Thank you, Scotsman. I am in your debt.” She gazed up at
him, her fingertips poised on his chest, moist lips raised
Alec’s gut tightened. She was so tempting. Too tempting to
resist. Too tempting to even try.
A smile played about his lips. Behind her mask, invitation
glimmered in her eyes. “Is it a kiss you’re wanting, Irish?”
He knew very well that she did.
“Are you asking permission, Scotsman?”
The smoldering inside him deepened. “No. But, I have a confession
to make.” He lowered his head so that their lips almost touched.
“I’ve never kissed an Irish lass before.”
“And I’ve never kissed a Scotsman before.”
“So once again it seems we are evenly matched, are we not?”
“Mmmm, so it would seem--”
Alec could stand no more. That was as far as she got. His
mouth trapped hers. A jolt shot through him the instant their
lips touched. He felt a tremor of reaction in her, and he knew
then just how much she returned his passion. His mouth opened
over hers. He'd wanted women before. But not like he wanted
this one. It was as if she'd cast a spell over him.
And he kissed her the way he’d wanted to all evening, with
a heady thoroughness, delving into the far corners of her mouth
with the heat of his tongue. Tasting the promise inside her.
Harder, until he was almost mindless with need.
She tore her mouth away. She was panting softly. “Scotsman!”
Alec opened his eyes. His breathing was labored. It took a
moment for his eyes to focus, for her words to penetrate his
“What if we should be seen? Perhaps – we should go elsewhere.”
There was no mistaking her meaning. His Irish lady-pirate
was willing -- and he was quite wanting. Oh yes, definitely
“I agree, Irish. I quite agree.” He tugged at her hand and
started to lead her toward the next set of double-doors.
“Where are you taking me?”
He stopped short. “What! I thought you knew, Irish.”
He slid his hand beneath her hair and turned her face up to
his. “Why, I’m about to kidnap you, Irish.” He smiled against
her lips. “I fear it is the pirate in me.”
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