More Than a Duke (Heart of a Duke Book 2)By: Christi Caldwell
In a Society that placed such value upon honor, respectability and virtue, Lady Anne Arlette Adamson came to a very interesting revelation. A young lady would discard her self-worth and sense of decency...all for a glass of champagne.
Or more precisely, two glasses of champagne.
The full moon shone through the Marquess of Essex’s conservatory windows and splashed light on the two sparkling crystal flutes. Drawn to them, Anne wet her lips and did a quick survey of her host’s famed gardens, searching for any interlopers. Lured by the forbidden liquor, she wandered over to the table strewn with vibrant pink peonies and blush roses and picked up a flute. She angled her head. Eying the pale, bubbling liquid contained within, a sudden desire filled her, to taste the fine French brew.
Of course, young, unwed ladies did not drink champagne. At least that was what Mother was forever saying. A mischievous smile tugged at the corners of her lips. Then, she’d never been lauded as the obedient, mild-mannered daughter. Anne raised the glass to her mouth…and froze. An honorable young lady however didn’t drink champagne belonging to two other people.
She sighed and set the glass down.
With a frown, she began to pace the stone floor. Where was he?
She’d heard rumors of his notorious assignations, knew he planned to meet…she wrinkled her nose, some widow or another, in the marquess’ conservatory.
Perhaps the rumors were just that, mere rumors. Perhaps…
The click of the door opening sounded off the glass walls of her floral haven. Anne jumped. Her heart pounded hard and she raised a hand to her chest to still the sudden increased rhythm.
For the first time since she’d orchestrated this madcap scheme involving Harry Falston, the 6th Earl of Stanhope, she questioned the wisdom of such a plan. Enlisting the aid of one of Society’s most scandalous rogues would hardly be considered one of her better ideas. The ladies adored him, the gentlemen wanted to be him, the leading hostesses frowned at him from one side of their fans and tittered behind the other.
He also happened to be the gentleman who’d tried—and failed—to seduce Anne’s twin sister, Katherine.
For all Anne’s twenty-years, she’d forever been considered the more spirited, imprudent twin sister. Of course, being the more sensible of the twins, Katherine had not fallen prey to his devilish charms. However, in a wholly insensible thing to do, her sister had befriended him, a rogue of the worst sort who didn’t even have the decency to respect Katherine’s marriage…or any marriage, for that matter.
The door closed. With breath suspended, she slipped behind one of her host’s towering hibiscus trees.
Good, respectable young ladies, marriageable young ladies at that, should have a care to avoid Society’s most notorious rogue.
Her nose twitched and she widened her eyes in attempt to hold in a sneeze. Then, she’d not paid too close attention to the tons rigid expectations for a young lady.
The tread of a gentleman’s footsteps echoed off the glass windows. “Hullo, sweet.”
Oh, by Joan of Arc and all her army. Hullo, sweet? That was the kind of claptrap this rogue was known for? His husky baritone however, well, that was better suited for the Gothic novels she’d taken pleasure in reading before her mother had gone and stolen her spectacles. But, “hullo, sweet?” She shook her head. It would take a good deal more than an unclever endearment to earn her favor.
The bootsteps paused. She peeked out from behind the tree.
Her breath caught. The moon bathed the lean, towering gentleman in soft light. The earl’s gold locks, loose and unaffected, gave him the carefree look of one who flouted Society’s rules. But then, isn’t that what the Earl of Stanhope had earned a reputation for? Which made him perfect. Perfect for what she intended, anyway.
The sweet fragrance of the hibiscus tickled her nose yet again. She scrubbed a hand over her face hard and drove back a sneeze.
The earl cocked his head, as if he knew she stood there secretly studying him, quietly admiring him. It really was impossible not to. His black-tailed evening coat clung to sculpted arms. Anne continued to scrutinize him with objective eyes. Gentlemen really shouldn’t have sculpted, well-muscled arms. Not like this. Why, they were better suited to a pugilist than a nobleman.
A grin tugged the corner of his lips up in a hopelessly seductive smile. She fanned herself. Well goodness…mayhap it wasn’t the champagne flutes after all but the pirate’s grin that made foolish young ladies toss their good name away.
She stopped mid-fan. Not that she would be swayed by such a smile. No, the gentleman she would wed was serious and respectable and obscenely wealthy and unfailingly polite and just enough handsome. Not too handsome. Not unhandsome. Just handsome enough.