From New York Times bestselling author Tracy Anne Warren, the first in a series about the most dashingly dangerous men in London. Pay a call to the most seductive address in London and meet the Rakes of Cavendish Square...
Lord Leo Byron is bored with the aristocratic company he keeps; he needs a distraction, preferably in the form of a beautiful new female companion. So when he sets eyes on fascinating and scandalous divorcée Lady Thalia Lennox, he’s determined to make her intimate acquaintance. But the spirited woman seems to have no intention of accepting his advances no matter how much he chases—or how hard he falls...
Once a darling of Society, Thalia Lennox now lives on its fringes. The cruel lies that gave her a notoriously wild reputation have also left her with a broken heart and led to a solemn vow to swear off men. Still, Leo Byron’s bold overtures are deliciously tempting, and, for the first time, she finds herself wondering whether it just might be worth the risk to let the attractive rake into her life—and her bed...
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Tracy Anne Warren is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than a dozen romance novels, including historical romances such as the Princess Bride trilogy (The Princess and the Peer; Her Highness and the Highlander) and contemporary romances such asThe Last Man on Earth and The Man Plan. After working in the corporate world for a number of years, she quit her day job to pursue her first love: writing. She has won numerous industry awards, including Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award, the National Readers’ Choice Award, and the HOLT Medallion. She currently lives in Maryland with a small clowder of rescue cats.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Praise for the Novels
of Tracy Anne Warren
Also by Tracy Anne Warren
“This party is duller than a Sunday sermon,” Lord Leopold Byron complained, with a sigh.
From where he stood with his elbow crooked idly atop the fireplace mantelpiece, he surveyed the other guests. Not for the first time, he wondered why he’d bothered to accept this evening’s invitation; the only amusing activity was drinking, and he could have done that anywhere. At least the champagne was a palatable vintage. Taking consolation from the thought, he drank from the crystal flute balanced in his other hand.
At the opposite end of their host’s mantelpiece stood his twin brother, Lord Lawrence Byron. Given that they were identical, Leo supposed they must make a picture, particularly dressed as they both were in black silk evening breeches and black cutaway coats with crisp white shirts, waistcoats and cravats.
Lawrence looked at him and raised an eyebrow, its color two shades darker than his golden brown hair, which fell past his jaw; Leo also tended to wear his hair slightly long. “Just be glad you aren’t actually in church,” he said.
“If I were, at least I’d be able to catch up on my sleep. Rather handy, being able to doze off with my eyes open; fools the vicar every time. Tough to do standing up, though.”
“I can manage in a pinch, so long as there’s a convenient wall to lean against. Last time I tried it, though, I started snoring. Great-aunt Augusta caught me and boxed my ears.”
Leo chuckled in sympathy. “She may be pushing eighty, but the old gal can still pack a wallop.”
Lawrence nodded. “I’ll wager she could make even the great Tom Cribb shake in his boots.”
Both men grinned for a moment at the image of their formidable aunt taking on one of England’s fiercest boxers.
“You can’t expect London to be terribly exciting this time of year,” Lawrence said, “what with most of the Ton off at their country estates. I don’t know why you didn’t stay at Braebourne with everyone else for another few weeks.”
“What? And leave you rattling around Town all by yourself? I know you’ve taken it into your head to actually do something with your legal studies, but coming back to London early in order to set up your own practice? It’s beyond the pale, even for you.”
Lawrence gave him a wry half smile. “At least one of us values his education. I happen to like the law; I find it fascinating. And might I remind you that you also studied the law, same as me?”
“Just because I earned a degree in jurisprudence doesn’t mean I want to spend the rest of my life pitching my oars into legal waters. You know I studied the law only because I couldn’t stomach anything else. Now that the war’s over, the military holds little appeal. As for taking ecclesiastical orders—” He broke off on a dramatic shudder. “Not even Mama can see me in a vicar’s collar with a Bible tucked under my arm.”
Lawrence laughed. “No one could see you in a vicar’s collar with a Bible under your arm. The very idea is sacrilegious.”
“You’re right,” Leo said. “I prefer to live a gentleman’s life, as befits the son of a duke. And thanks to some sound financial advice, courtesy of our inestimable brother-in-law, Adam, and our brother Jack’s friend Pendragon, I can afford to do so, even if I am the fifth youngest of six sons.”
“Only by two minutes,” his twin reminded. “You know, I’ve always wondered if the nursemaid didn’t switch us in our cribs and I’m actually the elder.”
“Not likely, considering I’m the brains behind the majority of our greatest schemes.”
“The brains, are you? I’ll admit you’ve got a God-given flair for making mischief that few others can match, but I’ll thank you to remember who it is who always manages to talk our way out of the thicket when we land ass-first in trouble.”
“You do have a knack for turning a story on its head.” Leo drank more champagne. “Which leads me back to this career nonsense of yours. You invested successfully with Pendragon, same as me, so I know you don’t need the blunt. Why, then, do you want a job? You know as well as I do that gentlemen don’t engage in trade.”
“It’s not trade. The law is a perfectly honorable profession,” Lawrence said as he fiddled with his watch fob; it was a gesture Leo knew always indicated defensiveness on his twin’s part. “As for my reasons, it keeps me from being bored—unlike you.”
Leo rolled his eyes. “God, save me. Next you’ll be telling me I should join you in chambers and hang my shingle up next to yours. Or worse, take up a cause and run for Parliament. I can see it now: the Right Honourable Lord Leopold, standing on behalf of Gloucester.” He shook his head, smiling at the absurdity of the idea.
But his twin didn’t return his grin. “Might be good for you. You’re five-and-twenty now. You could do with some purposeful direction.”
“The only direction I need is to be pointed toward a fresh glass of wine,” Leo said, tossing back the last of his champagne. “That and a proper bit of entertainment.”
“A woman, you mean? Maybe you shouldn’t have broken things off so soon with that pretty little opera dancer you were seeing over the summer. She was a prime bit o’ muslin.”
Leo scowled. “Oh, she was pretty enough and most definitely limber, but after a couple of weeks, the attraction began to wear thin. Outside the bedroom, we had absolutely nothing in common. Her favorite topics were clothes and jewels and the latest amorous intrigues going on backstage at Covent Garden. It got so that I had begun making excuses not to visit her.”
He paused and briefly drummed his fingers against the mantelpiece. “I knew enough was enough when she started hinting that she wanted to quit dancing so I could take her on a tour of the Continent. As if I’d consign myself to spending weeks alone in her company. I’d rather be clapped in irons and paraded naked through the streets than endure such tedium.”
Lawrence chuckled. “I hadn’t realized the situation was quite so dire.”
“That’s because you were too busy with your own flirtations.” Slowly, Leo turned his empty glass between his fingers. “No, if I wanted to set up another mistress, she’d have to be someone unique, someone incomparable, who other men would go to great lengths to possess. Someone like—”
And suddenly, from across the room, a woman caught his eye.
Her hair was as dark as a winter night, upswept in a simple yet refined twist that showcased the delicate, creamy white column of her throat. Around her neck hung a plain gold chain with a cameo that nestled between her breasts like a cherished lover. Despite the surprisingly modest décolletage of her silk evening gown, the cut served only to enhance the lush curves of her shapely figure, while the brilliant emerald hue of the material cast no illusions regarding her sensuality and allure.
He knew who she must be, of course. He’d heard talk that she might make an appearance tonight—none other than the infamous Lady Thalia Lennox.
Ever since the firestorm of scandal that had erupted around her nearly six years earlier, she’d become both disgraced and notorious. Even he, who had been no more than a green youth reveling in one of his first years about Town, had been aware of the uproar at the time.
The gossip had ignited first over her much-publicized affair, then exploded during the divorce proceedings that followed. Divorces were virtually unheard of among the Ton, and extremely difficult to obtain due to the necessity of three separate trials and an Act of Parliament. Nevertheless, her cuckolded husband, Lord Kemp, had sued against her and been granted a termination of their marriage.
And while a taint of scandal continued to trail Lord Kemp even to this day, the proceedings had turned Lady Thalia into a social outcast. Once a darling of the Ton, she now dwelled along the fringes of genteel respectability, invited out only by those who either were dishonored themselves or simply didn’t care what anyone thought of them—or so said the gossips who continued to relay stories of her alleged exploits.
This evening’s supper party was hosted by a marquess who was separated from his wife, lived openly with his mistress and most definitely didn’t give a fig about other people’s opinions.
Frankly, his host was one of the reasons Leo had attended tonight’s revel, as Leo had assumed the party would be wilder and more amusing than it had turned out to be thus far. But now that he knew Thalia Lennox was among the guests, his expectations for a lively evening were reinvigorated.
“You were saying? Someone like who?” Lawrence asked, picking up on the sentence Leo had never finished.
“Her.” Leo set his glass aside.
Lawrence’s gaze moved across the room. “Good Lord, surely you aren’t thinking what I think you’re thinking?”
“And what would that be?” he said, not taking his eyes off Thalia, who was conversing with an elderly roué who couldn’t seem to lift his gaze higher than her admittedly magnificent breasts.
“We were discussing women, and, if I’m not mistaken, that’s the scandalous Lady K. over there. You must be out of your mind to even consider making a play for her.”
“Why? She’s stunning. One of the most enchanting women I’ve ever beheld. And I believe she goes by her maiden name of Lennox these days.”
“However she’s called, she uses men like toys and discards them once they’re broken, to say nothing of the fact that she’s several years your senior.”
Leo couldn’t repress a slowly forming grin as he turned to his twin. “Just look at her. She can’t be that much older, even if she has been married and divorced. As for her using me like a toy, I look forward to being played with. Anywhere. Anytime.”
Lawrence shook his head. “I’ll be the first to admit she’s attractive, and I can see why you’d be tempted, but do yourself a favor and find another opera dancer. Or better yet, go visit one of the bawdy houses. You can slake your thirsts there without causing any lasting damage.”
“Ah, but where is the challenge in that?” Leo said. “I want a woman who can’t be had simply for the price of a coin. A spirited female with some good solid kick to her.”
“The only kick you’re going to get is in your posterior when she boots you out of her way. My guess is she won’t look at you twice.”
Leo raised a brow. “Oh, she will. Care to wager on it?”
Lawrence narrowed his eyes. “All right. Ten quid.”
“Make it twenty. Ten’s hardly worth the effort.”
“Twenty it is.”
They shook, sealing the bet.
Lawrence stepped back and crossed his arms. “Go on. Amaze me, Don Juan.”
Leo brushed the sleeves of his coat and tugged its hem to a precise angle. “Take the carriage home if you get tired of waiting. I’m sure I’ll be otherwise occupied tonight.”
With that, he set off in search of his quarry.
* * *
I should never have come here tonight, Lady Thalia Lennox thought as she forced herself not to flinch beneath the leering stare of Lord Teaksbury. She didn’t believe he had met her eyes once since they had begun conversing.
Old lecher. How dare he stare at my breasts as if I’m some doxy selling her wares? Then again, after nearly six years of enduring such crude behavior from men of her acquaintance, one would think she would be well used to it by now.
As for the ladies of the Ton, they generally looked through her, as if she were some transparent ghost who had drifted into their midst. Or worse, they pointedly turned their backs. She had grown inured to their snubs as well—for the most part, at least.
Still, she had hoped tonight might prove different, since her host, the Marquess of Elmore, had known his own share of personal pain and tended to acquire friends of a more liberal and tolerant persuasion. But even here, people saw her not for the person she was, but for who they assumed her to be.
Ordinarily, she tossed aside invitations such as the one for tonight’s supper party—not that she received all that many invitations these days. But she supposed the real reason she had come tonight was a simple enough one.
She was lonely.
Her two friends, Jane Frost and Mathilda Cathcart—the only ones out of all her acquaintance who had stuck by her after the divorce—were in the countryside. They had each invited her to join them at their separate estates, but she knew her attendance at the usual autumn house parties put each woman in an awkward and difficult position. Plus, neither of their husbands approved of their continued association with her, their friendship limited to occasional quiet meals when they were in Town, and the back-and-forth exchange of letters.
No, she was quite alone and quite lonely.
Ironic, she mused, considering the constant parade of lovers she supposedly entertained—at least according to the gossip mavens and scandal pages that still liked to prattle on about her. Given their reports of her behavior, one would imagine her town house door scarcely ever closed for all the men going in and out—or perhaps it was only her bedroom door that was always in need of oil for the hinges?
She felt her fingers tighten against the glass of lemonade in her hand, wondering why she was dwelling on such unpleasantness tonight. Better to put thoughts like those aside, since they did nothing but leave the bitter taste of regret in her mouth.
A hot bath and a good book—that’s what I need this evening, she decided. That, and to tell the old reprobate still leering at her to take his eyes and his person somewhere else.
If only she hadn’t given in to the temptation to wear emerald green tonight, perhaps she wouldn’t have ended up being ogled by a loathsome toad like Teaksbury. But she’d always loved this dress, which had been languishing in the back of her wardrobe for ages. And honestly she was tired of being condemned no matter what she wore or how she behaved. In for a penny, in for a pound, she’d thought when she made the selection. Now, however, she wished she’d stuck to her usual somber dark blue or black, no matter how dreary those shades might seem.
Ah well, I shall be leaving shortly, so what does it really matter?
“Why, that’s absolutely fascinating,” Thalia said with false politeness as she cut Teaksbury off midsentence. “You’ll have to excuse me now, Lord Teaksbury. After all, I wouldn’t want to be accused of monopolizing your company tonight.”
Teaksbury opened his mouth—no doubt to assure her that he didn’t mind in the least. But she had already set down her glass, turned on a flourish of emerald skirts and started toward the door.
She had made it about a quarter of the length of the room when a tall figure stepped suddenly into her path, blocking her exit. She gazed up, then up again, into a boldly masculine face and a pair of green-gold eyes that literally stole her breath. The man sent her a dashing, straight-toothed smile, candlelight glinting off the burnished golden brown of his casually brushed hair in a way tha...
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