Home > Duke, Actually

Duke, Actually
Author: Jenny Holiday

 

 

Chapter One

 


When Dani Martinez woke up on Friday the tenth of December, she thought, It’s going to be a good day.

And then she thought, Liar.

But whatever, just because it was the last Friday of the semester and she was about to be inundated with forty-seven essays on The (Not So) Great Gatsby, it didn’t necessarily follow that today was going to be bad.

So she hadn’t done a lick of Christmas shopping, forget the fruitcake she was supposed to have started months ago. That didn’t mean this particular day was automatically going to suck.

And just because the cherry on top of the day was going to be the English department’s holiday party, at which she would “get” to see her still-not-quite ex-husband with his trade-in trollop didn’t mean— Ah, forget it. This day was going to be crap.

Her phone dinged. It would be Leo, which would be a fortifying way to start this all-downhill-from-here day. Because of the time difference between New York and Eldovia, they often talked early in the mornings New York time. Dani missed Leo and his sister, Gabby, something fierce, missed being able to go across the hall and have coffee in the mornings. Sometimes, before she was caffeinated, she forgot he wasn’t there anymore. And then it would hit her anew: her best friend lived in Eldovia, where he was engaged to a princess. Dani was going to be his best woman in the fall at a freaking royal wedding.

Eyeing the slumbering ball of fur next to her, Dani executed a slo-mo roll to grab her phone from the nightstand—she wanted the ball of fur to stay slumbering until she’d had coffee.

The text was not from Leo. Good morning. It’s Max von Hansburg. Marie gave me your number. I’m in New York for a few days. Can I take you to dinner tonight?

Speaking of royal weddings. Dani blinked, surprised to hear from Max, who was Princess Marie’s best friend—and her ex-fiancé. Despite having been thrown over in favor of Leo, Max was currently scheduled to serve as Marie’s man of honor in the wedding.

Marie and Max’s past was like a telenovela, complete with glittering balls, arranged marriages, and conniving parents. Leo had crash-landed in the middle of it, getting swept up in a gender-swapped Cinderella story that had made even Dani’s stone-cold heart defrost a degree or two. Except in this version, Cinderella had left a bestie behind in the ashes. Or maybe Leo had passed the Cinderella mantle on to Dani?

Max—Dog Max, the main Max in Dani’s life—did one of his signature snore-snorts. Look, she even had an animal companion like Cinderella, except hers didn’t flit around helping with the tidying.

Max: The concierge at my hotel can get us into Momofuku Ko. I could send a car for you.

 

 

The thaw in Dani’s heart did not extend to Human Max, who, in addition to being a member of the Eldovian aristocracy, was insufferable. “I could send a car for you.” What, like this was Pretty Woman? She considered the various ways she could decline his invitation. In the end, she went with brusque efficiency.

Dani: No.

Max: Lunch?

Dani: No.

Max: A drink?

Dani: No.

Max: Coffee?

Dani: Coffee is a drink.

Max: So that’s still no?

Dani: Yes.

Max: Yes that’s still no, or yes you’ll have coffee with me?

Dani: Listen, dude. Or should I say listen, duke?

 

 

Ha! She cracked herself up. She sat up against her headboard to allow for easier texting, eyeing Dog Max, whose breathing did not change.

Max: Baron, actually.

 

 

She knew that. She’d googled Maximillian von Hansburg when she met him in Eldovia last summer. He was, despite his personality, unnaturally good-looking. And, really, who wouldn’t respond to meeting a baron by googling said baron? She had learned that he was low-level famous—or should she say infamous?—in European circles for being a globe-trotting, womanizing playboy. The European tabloids called him the Depraved Duke, which as far as she could tell was a nickname that originated when he was photographed frolicking with a mystery woman while wearing an adult onesie on the deck of a yacht during the Cannes Film Festival.

Max: My father has to shuffle off this mortal coil before I attain dukedom, and I can report that he is in fine health.

Dani: Okay, but here’s my point: I am post-men. As I told you last summer.

Max: Yes, meaning you don’t want to date, correct?

Dani: Correct.

Max: But what about Leo? You talk to Leo all the time. You flew across the Atlantic last summer to visit him.

Dani: Leo’s my best friend.

Max: I rest my case.

Dani: What does that mean?

Max: Leo is a man.

Dani: Your powers of observation are astounding. You’ll forgive me if I’m suspicious, but I seem to have read an article with a headline that referred to you as a “man-whore.”

Max: Were you googling me? I’m flattered.

 

 

She didn’t bother replying. She wasn’t about to defend said googling. That would sound like protesting too much.

Max: My point is, I’m not asking you on a date. I merely want to spend time with you.

 

 

Not sure what to say to that and seduced by the smell emanating from her programmable coffeemaker, Dani army-crawled out of bed. Minute shifts in the mattress were enough to wake Dog Max, but once she was out of bed, she could turn on the radio and have a dance party and he’d be oblivious. She contemplated Human Max’s last text as she padded to the kitchen.

Dani: Why do you want to spend time with me?

Max: I like you.

 

 

That was such a weirdly straightforward answer.

Dani: Why?

Max: Because I get the sense that you are unimpressed by the fact that I’m an almost-duke.

Dani: That is correct.

Max: I would even go so far as to say that my almost-dukeness works against me.

Dani: Still correct.

Max: I like that about you. You’re normal.

Dani: Is that supposed to be a compliment or an insult?

Max: You don’t like me. Therefore I like you. I’m like a kid who wants what he can’t have.

 

 

That tracked with her image of him. Also, she was texting with a baron over her morning coffee—how surreal was that?

Dani: So in this scenario, I’m a toy you want. Nice.

Max: No, you’re just an interesting person I would like to spend time with since I happen to be in your city.

 

 

She almost cracked as she took her coffee back to her bedroom to try to figure out what to wear that telegraphed “It’s just a normal day, a day in which I continue to be unbothered by the fact that my husband is boning Undergrad Barbie, tra la la.” You’re just an interesting person I would like to spend time with. When was the last time someone had said anything like that to her? Well, never, because grown-ass adults did not speak like that, so openly and without guile. Her limited interactions with Maximillian von Hansburg suggested that he did, though. He told the truth. And even though that truth was often about his many and varied romantic and sexual conquests, there was something refreshing about his cheerfully relentless honesty. Max was a fuckboy, basically—a fuckbaron?—but he was a remarkably self-aware one.

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