A Duke’s Sinful Arrangement – Preview

A Historical Regency Romance Novel

About the book

“Perhaps one night with her will release me from this torment. Just one night..”

 

Up until the death of her husband, Sophia has lived her life exactly as she was supposed to. She was a perfect lady, and always did as she was told. Now, however, she is ready to live life exactly as she wants to.

 

Jeremy has a rule he never breaks: He doesn’t sleep with women he knows well. Strangers and acquaintances are fine, but nothing more. That’s his way of keeping things simple. Uncomplicated. Until he makes a scandalous arrangement with a woman he knows very well..

 

Sophia and Jeremy agree to spend just one night together. He would show her what she has been missing all these years, they would get each other out of their systems, and then go their separate ways. But they keep burning for each other long after their arrangement is over. And they find out just how addicting bending their own rules can be..

Prologue

London, England

“Lady Rumpton, where are you taking me?” Sophia lifted her head and brushed back the loose locks of her chestnut hair from her cheeks, peering out of the carriage window and into the thick darkness. “This hardly seems like the way to Almack’s Assembly Rooms.”

“Ha! We are hardly going anywhere so traditional. Now you are a widow, you shall see that there is more freedom to be had in where you choose to go in an evening.” Lady Rumpton sat forward from her place on the opposite side of the carriage, her countenance so enthusiastic that her cheeks were rosy, even in the dim candlelight. “Before we go any further though, there is something we must change.”

“What is that?” Sophia asked, sitting back and looking at her new friend.

“No more ‘My Lady’ or ‘Lady Rumpton.” With these words, Lady Rumpton moved across the carriage and sat beside Sophia. “If we are to be true friends, and as I am about to share my secrets with you, then it is high time you call me Rachel.”

“Truly?” Sophia couldn’t stop the amused smile spreading across her face.

“You look ready to laugh, dear,” Rachel said, gesturing to Sophia’s face in amusement.

“It is just that I have been told for so long I must address people by their titles. Good Lord, to think of my husband’s response if he were to ever hear me address a marchioness by her Christian name!”

“He cannot hear you now, can he?” Rachel said, her smile still beaming. “You have done your grieving, and the time has come for you to take your place in the world again. Even if that means bending your old husband’s rules a little.” She added the latter sentence in a conspiratorial whisper, as if it was a scandalous thing to utter.

Sophia laughed once again, just as the carriage came to a jolting halt. Turning her head to peer beyond the window, she could see nothing except streaked lantern light, and cobblestones that gleamed with the day’s rain still speckled on their surface.

“Well, you have me intrigued, My Lad…” Sophia broke off when she saw Rachel lifting her fair eyebrows in her direction. “Rachel,” she hastily corrected herself. “Where exactly have you brought me?”

“I thought for your first night of freedom, away from that rather careful eye of your brother-in-law, this would be the perfect place.” She reached for the carriage door and opened it without waiting for the footman to do it for her and jumped down. Sophia rushed to follow, climbing down too and holding her paisley shawl tighter around her shoulders.

There was a chill in the air tonight, one that bristled at her exposed neck and teased the loose locks of her hair. As Sophia turned her head back and forth, all she could see was a darkened building, with very few hints of what was inside.

“You are keeping secrets,” she whispered to her friend as Rachel offered her arm to her. “Tell me, are we at some seedy house in Soho? Or a theatre where we shall have to wear masks to hide out identities?”

“All grand ideas, but something tells me you will enjoy this a little more.” Rachel waved a hand at the footman who attempted to follow them into the building, clearly showing what she thought of his advances. He scurried back on instruction, leaving Rachel to hold the door open for Sophia with a bold smile, curving her pink lips. “Men are not permitted here. This is our place,” she whispered, so only Sophia could hear her.

Rather thrilled by the prospect, Sophia stepped in through the door and into a candlelit corridor.

For so long, Sophia felt as if she had been in a man’s world. She went from her father’s house to her husband’s house, doing as she was told, the perfect ‘proper lady’; that at least was what her father would have called her. Now, her late husband, the last Earl of Elkins, was no longer around to watch over her shoulder and tell her how to act. He was not standing by her side, quelling her wish to dance or have another glass of sparkling wine.

There are no rules now… No men to give instructions.

Sophia breathed deeply as she followed Rachel through the corridors, their only sounds the brushing of their chiffon and silk skirts as they hurried. At the end of the corridor, Rachel paused with her hand on a gilt door handle.

“Be prepared, Sophia,” Rachel said dramatically. “It might surprise you what I am about to reveal.” With these words, the door was opened.

Sophia stepped forward. First, she was struck by the sheer amount of candlelight in the room, then her eyes adjusted to that yellow glare. The grand hall was full of women. They were all sat at circular tables or standing around with glasses of wine and port in their hands.

One table was full of decks of cards, and the women were wagering on their hands, piling their betting chips high. At another table, women were exchanging papers bearing sketches, discussing art and drawing to such an extent that their passion was plain in the redness of their cheeks. At another table, politics was discussed. Each woman gave a view and the others responded, passing round bowl-shaped glasses of brandy and offering pipes for smoking.

“Smoking? Gambling? Politics?” Sophia saw it all as she wandered forward, her head turning back and forth so fast that she cricked her neck. “If my husband ever saw all of this…”

“He cannot see it, remember?” Rachel followed her in with glee in her tone. “Welcome to a world free of men, my dear. There is no man here to tell us we cannot smoke, or gamble, or talk politics. We can do as we like.” With these words, Rachel took Sophia’s hand and led her across the room. They headed toward another table entirely where women were sat together, their heads bent toward one another in whispers. “Allow me to introduce you to my favorite table.”

“What is discussed here?” Sophia whispered, just as she overheard some giggles from some of the ladies. Some of the ladies blushed so strongly at what had been discussed, that it became evident it was of a suggestive nature.

“Here we discuss perhaps the thing that was forbidden most to us by our husbands. Here, we talk of lovers.”

“Lovers!?” Sophia nearly dropped the glass of sparkling wine that was placed into her hand.

“Of course. Oh, you are an innocent, Sophia, look at that blush on your face.” Rachel urged Sophia to take a sip of the wine. “Have you truly never thought of it?”

Of taking a lover?

Sophia’s wrinkled nose seemed to answer the question without words, prompting her new friend to laugh heartily.

“I see you have not yet experienced a good night in a man’s arms. Perhaps that should be your first experience now you are a widow. To take a lover.”

Could I?

As Sophia looked around the room, she began to feel a surge of excitement. Nothing was out of bounds here, and nothing was frowned upon.

 

Maybe I could…

Chapter One

“Give me a man’s name then. If we are to play this game, then let us begin now,” Rachel declared, the center of their little group.

Sophia didn’t bother to hide her laugh behind her wine glass, as she would have done in the old days. Now, she indulged in that laugh. Since Rachel had introduced her to the events attended only by women, Sophia felt she was becoming a new person. So much so, that even tonight at Almack’s Assembly Rooms, where gentlemen and ladies gathered together, she felt free to laugh.

“Well, let’s see who there is here tonight…” Another lady tapped her chin beside them. This was Lady Harrington, not a widow, but with a husband who preferred his valet’s company to hers; he neither took note of her presence nor cared where she went. The eldest of their little group, she turned her head back and forth, unashamedly letting her eyes wander over some of the gentlemen present. “What of Sir Arnold?”

“Who is that?” Sophia asked, to which both Lady Harrington and Rachel pointed out this particular gentleman. He was young indeed, and so striking in appearance that they were hardly the only women in the room looking at him. “Oh my.”

“Quite so!” Rachel laughed heartily at Sophia’s reaction. “Having spent a night with Sir Arnold, though, I am not inclined to repeat it. He was good for one night, but not for another.”

Sophia jerked her head back round to face Rachel. As the shorter of the two, she had this habit of lifting her chin up toward Rachel, her mouth agog each time she was amazed.

“You take the lover by the night?” she whispered in amazement.

“Good Lord, you’d think I had committed some sin!” Rachel laughed, to which Lady Harrington raised her eyebrows.

“It may be a sin in some men’s eyes, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a sin when you’re in the arms of a man,” Lady Harrington whispered behind her fluttering fan. The two laughed once again, but this time, Sophia didn’t join in.

She lifted her wine glass to her lips and indulged in the bubbles, looking down at the glass in deep thought.

They talk of sex as if it is the greatest enjoyment in the world.

She could not think why. The nights she had spent with her husband before he had passed were awkward and fumbled in the darkness. It had been more of a chore she had to complete, something that had to be done to produce a child and heir, yet that child never came.

“I see our young friend has gone quiet again.” Lady Harrington moved to Sophia’s side with a carafe of wine in her hand and topped up Sophia’s glass.

“I can tell you why that is.” Rachel stepped close to Sophia’s other side with her words, eyeing her closely. “You have not yet taken a lover. It is high time that you did.”

“Am I not enjoying the freedoms a woman in my position has to offer?” Sophia asked with a smile. “I gamble, I talk politics, in fact, I talk of anything these days, without fear or restraint.”

“True.” Rachel nodded approvingly.

“I have even tried smoking, though I do not think I will repeat that again.” She shuddered at the memory of the one puff she had taken on a pipe.

“You have indeed embraced your freedoms, but to the full extent? Well, there is certainly something you are missing.” Rachel linked her arm with Sophia and used it to steer her to look round the room. “Trust me when I say there is a part of life you are missing out on, my friend. It can be…” She paused, searching for the right word.

“Scintillating,” Lady Harrington offered.

“Just so. Thrilling, exciting, breathtaking. All of it!” Rachel added eagerly.

“Had my husband heard that I even thought of taking a –” Sophia got no further, for Lady Harrington topped up her wine glass to the rim and Rachel tugged on Sophia’s other arm.

“No husband to rule you now, remember?” Rachel whispered in her ear. “All you need is one man for one night, to show you all that you have missed in this area.”

“Now, this is the game we should be playing.” Lady Harrington turned to lower the carafe to the drinks table behind them, then she turned her tall frame toward the dancers, looking across the gentlemen there. “We should be searching for a gentleman for Sophia.”

“Just so.” Rachel disentangled her arm from Sophia and clasped her hands together, moving to Lady Harrington’s side as they surveyed the dancers.

Sophia laughed as she watched the two of them together. With their eyes narrowed, and the feathers stuck in their hair twitching back and forth with their movement, they could have been birds on a branch, watching the world go by.

“You seem to be judging the gentlemen as a man would judge horses at Ascot,” Sophia murmured, earning wry smiles from the two women beside her.

“Maybe we are,” Lady Harrington said with humor, pulling a deep laugh from Rachel. “A good lover must be well groomed and athletic after all.” At her words, Sophia nearly choked on her wine with laughter.

“Ah! Now, I see a gentleman who could be perfect.” Rachel fluttered a hand in the direction of the dancers, gesturing to two gentleman that were walking alongside the violinists. “You know him well, do you not, Sophia?”

Sophia paused, as she understood which of the two gentlemen her friend was referring to. The taller of the two, with a shock of dark brown hair on his head, and such blue eyes that they stood out against the high cheek bones in his face, made her breath hitch as she stared at him.

God’s wounds, why do I always react to him in such a way?

She had known him for years now. At her first debut, he had asked her to dance, where they had quickly discovered an equal interest in arguing and bickering with one another. Since then, they hardly missed an opportunity to land a jibe at each other, as if it were a well-aimed arrow. Yet, whenever she saw him, she felt that same clamminess down the middle of her spine that she felt now. He was truly handsome, but the problem was… he knew it.

Even as he walked now, he tossed the loose dark hair back from his forehead. It was wild and unkempt, as if a lady had just played with those locks. The stubble on his chin added a ruggedness to his countenance that was somehow very alluring against the stuffy formality of this room.

He hadn’t yet seen she was staring. It meant that Sophia could watch him at length as he talked animatedly with his friend at his side, watching those broad shoulders shake as he laughed.

“The Duke of Pemberton?” Lady Harrington murmured his title. “Goodness, what a man to begin your love affairs with!”

“God have mercy, we are jumping ahead here, are we not?” Sophia asked, shaking her head back and forth. “I have not agreed to take a lover yet,” she whispered hastily, looking back and forth to ensure no one overheard her words, “and I have also not agreed for that lover to be the Duke of Pemberton.”

“He is handsome enough, surely?” Lady Harrington said with a wry smile.

“If you say no, I will certainly offer my attentions,” Rachel said flirtatiously, earning another giggle from Sophia. She shook her head once again and turned her eyes on the Duke.

He is not a man to take as a lover.

Everything about the very notion felt wrong to Sophia. He was a Duke, for one thing, above her as she was now a Dowager Countess. He was also a known rake who never visited a lady twice, and they knew each other too well. Yet as Sophia let her mind wander, thinking what a kiss from such a man could be like, her breathing grew jittery.

“The pinkness of your cheeks suggests you are not so averse to the idea after all,” Rachel murmured.

“Rachel…” Sophia said warningly, but she got no further.

“You shall have to orchestrate an introduction for us.”

“What? I shall do no such thing.” Yet again, Sophia had no control. As the Duke and his friend passed closed by, Rachel stepped out, into his path. On cue, Lady Harrington scuttled off, but Sophia did not have time to make a similar escape.

“Sophia, you simply must introduce me to your friend here,” Rachel said loudly with due formality, though the smile on her face was a much warmer and informal thing. She offered the Duke and the gentleman at his side a deep curtsy. “Your Grace, she has been singing your praises for so long, I am afraid I have quite insisted on an introduction.”

I have done no such thing!

As Sophia stood tongue tied, the Duke of Pemberton turned his eyes on her. At once, those dark blue eyes were amused. He lifted a single eyebrow in her direction.

“Singing my praises, eh?” he said with humor.

“Well, now you have discovered my friend here tells the occasional fib,” Sophia said and sighed as she moved to Rachel’s side. “Rachel, the Duke knows I would never sing his praises.”

“Sing of my sins and my flaws though? Now, that I would have believed.” He held Sophia’s gaze as he bowed, and she curtsied to him.

“This is my friend, the Dowager Marchioness of Rumpton.” Sophia gestured to Rachel.

“How do you do.” The Duke bowed another time then gestured to the gentleman beside him. “Viscount Thorne. You may have heard me mention Lady Elkins before?”

“Ah, yes, of course.” Lord Thorne bowed to Sophia, completing their introductions.

“I must ask, what comments have you been making, Lady Elkins,” the Duke asked, with a mischievous smile playing on his lips. Something in Sophia jolted, a sensation deep down in her stomach.

Why does he have to be so handsome? It is infuriating!

At least if he were less handsome, she would be able to come up with quicker retorts to his mischief and her mind would not be so addled.

“I was warning my friend here to stay away from you,” Sophia said in challenge, lifting her chin higher.

“My guard dog, as ever.” He nodded, as if in approval. “Ignore your friend, Lady Rumpton.” He addressed Rachel directly. “She is hardly my biggest admirer. I have the power to exceed her expectations in my goodness of course, but she would not acknowledge such a thing.”

“Exceed expectations? How intriguing,” Rachel said with a touch of flirtation in her tone. “My expectations are growing higher by the second.”

“Good Lord, Rachel, you are as subtle as a bumble bee,” Sophia declared and looped their arms together, intending to pull her away from the Duke. Her wit brought laughter to the group, especially to the Duke whose eyes met hers, and didn’t move on very quickly.

“Care to let me prove your opinion of me wrong tonight, Lady Elkins?” He offered her his hand.

This is our game.

It had started years ago, and it seemed the game was not yet over. After their first dance together, she had vowed not to dance with him again, knowing she did not want to fall prey to a rake.

“Dance with me?” he said softly.

“I am afraid I am engaged for this dance, Your Grace.” Sophia lifted her glass to her lips, busying herself with her drink, hoping it would help her sudden parchedness.

“You always say that,” he murmured with a playful smile.

“Yet you keep asking.”

“And I will continue to do so.” He winked at her with the words.

How dare he!?

Despite the thought, Sophia could feel that stirring deep within her gut. It was a temptation to place her hand in his and give in.

No. I must not do it!

“Jeremy,” Lord Thorne said at his side. “We must see to our drinks.”

“Yes, we must. Until next time, Lady Elkins.” The Duke bowed to Sophia and then acknowledged Rachel too. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Lady Rumpton.”

As the two gentlemen wandered off, Sophia followed the Duke with her eyes. She soon saw she was not the only one. Rachel let her eyes follow him too. Once they were out of earshot and had disappeared behind a sea of tailcoats and silk gowns, Rachel sighed dramatically.

“Well, the tension between the two of you is palpable indeed.”

“Tension? What tension?” Sophia asked, playing with the glass in her hands.

“I know you are new to the idea of a lover, my friend.” Rachel turned and whispered in her ear, so they were not overheard. “Yet allow me to illuminate one matter. When a pair feel a mutual attraction for each other, there is this… tension. Longing looks, flirtation and bickering, not to mention blushes.”

“I did not blush!” Sophia insisted. In answer, Rachel merely gestured to her cheeks with gloved fingers. “That is merely the effect of the wine.”

“It is a fair lie, but it is not a believable one.” Rachel turned her eyes to follow the Duke once again. “If you ask me, Sophia, I think you have found your first lover.”

“I have still not agreed to this idea. Besides, even if I did, the Duke would not be the gentleman to take to my bed.” Sophia spoke with insistence, though her eyes lingered on the Duke. She looked from the broadness of his shoulders to the snug fit of his tailcoat around his biceps. She could have moaned at the sight, but she kept her lips clamped together.

“Why not?” Rachel asked. “Is he not the perfect man for the task? He is a known rake; therefore, he would not speak of it, and your secret would be safe. What is more, he is handsome, almost divinely so.”

“You mean infuriatingly so.”

“Ha! That simply speaks of your attraction to him.” Rachel turned to face Sophia and chinked their glasses. “Let us make a toast to him.”

“To him? Why?”

“Because if you do take him as your first lover, then from his reputation, something tells me it would be a memorable night for you.” As Rachel knocked back her drink, Sophia took a small sip and let her eyes dart to the Duke across the room.

It would never work. He never spends a night with a lady he knows.

She had observed this in him over the years. Therefore, even if she suggested the idea, he would clearly keep her at arms’ length. Yet there was something that lingered within Sophia, tempted by the idea.

 

Could it be a memorable night?

Chapter Two

As Jeremy left the dancefloor, he felt the lady on his arm clutch a little too tightly.

Oh no, it is happening again.

“Thank you, Lady Finch.” He lifted her hand from his arm and kissed the back. He ensured it was a formal touch. His lips did not linger on her glove, even when he noticed her breath escape her lips suddenly, as if breathless at such a simple touch. “It was a pleasant dance.”

“Pleasant?” She giggled with the word as a blush lit up her cheeks. “It was not quite the word you used when I kept you company the other night.”

Her boldness made him step away as he looked around the room. Talking of such things near other dancers that were retreating from the floor was a great risk, and not something he was willing to indulge in.

“That was for one night only. If you would excuse me, Lady Finch.” Jeremy bowed, attempting to make his escape, but he did not get far. Lady Finch was in front of him once again.

“May we not share another dance, Your Grace?” she said, her excitement so apparent that her lips twitched. “I would like the opportunity to know you better.”

Jeremy fought the smirk that tempted his lips.

I feel I know you very well by now, Lady Finch.

He had shared her bed the other night, but that was as far as he knew any lady these days. He never got close, he did not ask after their interests, their passions, or their pursuits. Neither did he ask what was in their hearts. Deep down, he knew it was cold, but it was a way to live.

It is the safest way to live if the past is not to be repeated.

“Forgive me, Lady Finch, I thought you understood our arrangement.” He hated this part, seeing the disappointed look on a lady’s face. “I enjoyed your company the other night, but…” He didn’t need to say anymore. She stepped back and her eyes cast downward.

“I understand. Goodbye, Your Grace.” She made a hasty retreat and backed away from him, turning her head to hide her blush.

As she went, Jeremy lifted a hand and pinched the brow of his nose in frustration. Most of the time the ladies he shared his bed with knew his rule. They understood it was about fleeting excitement, enjoying that moment for what it was worth, nothing more. Yet every now and then a lady came along who thought she could change him and his rule.

I cannot be changed.

“Well, there’s another one that goes scurrying away like a mouse.” The deep voice made Jeremy jump and turn round, to see his good friend had approached offering a glass of brandy forward. “Here, you look like you need this.”

“Thank you, Stephen.” Jeremy took the glass and nearly downed it in one.

“Slow down, Jeremy,” Stephen said with a laugh. “They’ll be out if you continue at this rate. Was the lovely Lady Finch not enough to hold your charms for a second night?”

“You know my rule.” Jeremy levelled his gaze at Stephen who still chuckled.

“I do, even if I do not understand it. Come, this way, people can overhear us here.” Stephen led Jeremy across the ballroom.

As they walked, many ladies looked their way. Jeremy was no fool and he was also not blind. He saw the way ladies looked at the two of them. Either they were drawn to Jeremy’s dark chestnut hair and striking blue eyes, or they preferred Stephen’s fair hair, and rather unusual dark eyes. Together the two could command the attention of a room.

When they reached the edge of the assembly rooms, the two of them sat down in chairs as Stephen reached for a brandy carafe and topped up their glasses for them.

“Tell me again…” Stephen whispered.

“Tell you what?”

“Why you keep to this rule of yours.”

Jeremy didn’t answer but had another swallow of brandy. They’d had this conversation often enough for him to realize that Stephen was trying to change his mind on his own rule.

“Come on, do not look at me like that.” Stephen laughed with the words. “You puzzle me, that is all.”

“You are hardly a pillar of virtue yourself, Stephen.”

“Far from it.” Stephen acknowledged with a nod before he leaned forward, whispering to Jeremy so no one else could overhear them. “Yet I think I would have also spent a second night with Lady Finch.”

Jeremy wrinkled his nose and looked down into his glass.

Lady Finch deserves better.

That thought came through starkly before he lifted his gaze once again, only to find Stephen’s gaze was no longer on Lady Finch at all, but on another lady in the room.

“Who are you looking at? The lady you hope to spend your night with?” Jeremy asked, eager to change the conversation.

“Far from it. I think this lady would prefer you to I.”

“Who?”

Stephen lifted his hand and used his brandy glass to point across the room. He was gesturing to a lady Jeremy knew well, and who was currently taking to the dancefloor on the arm of Sir Arnold.

Lady Elkins.

Jeremy sighed as he looked at her. It was the same every time that he saw her. The same attraction, the same stiffening, the same want lingering beneath the surface, and then there was the refusal. He looked away, trying to forget she was there at all.

“What? You are pretending she does not exist now?” Stephen scoffed at the idea, shaking his head. “Jeremy, you have told me again and again that you only spend nights with women you do not know.”

“Just so. It is the way to avoid any personal attachment to the lady.”

“Yes, but are you not tempted to bend your rule for the lovely Lady Elkins?” Stephen gestured to her once again. “Is she not a beauty?”

“A beauty? To be sure. I knew that the first night I saw her, and it is not something that has gone away.” Jeremy’s eyes settled on her as Lady Elkins took to the floor.

If anything, her beauty has only matured.

He could not put his finger exactly on what had changed, but since she had become a widow, Lady Elkins seemed a little different. She no longer turned her head to hide away, nor did she stay quiet. He had seen on more than one occasion of late that she would speak her mind and lift her chin in challenge. It made their bickering sessions all the more alluring to him.

“You are not tempted?” Stephen asked, elbowing Jeremy when he grew impatient for an answer. “Judging from the way she was looking at you just now as she introduced us to her friend, I do not think she would say no.”

“She would say no.” Jeremy was firm with the words as he sat forward. “Lady Elkins is not that kind of lady. She is proper, rigid in her formalities.”

“She doesn’t seem so proper to me right now,” Stephen said with a chuckle and gestured forward. Jeremy watched as Sir Arnold was bold with Lady Elkins in their dance together. His hand wandered further across her back, suggesting an intimacy between them.

It was an action that was hidden by the crowd of dancers, and would have gone unnoticed by most, yet Jeremy and Stephen had the perfect view between two couples that had parted.

“How dare he touch her like that?” Jeremy snapped and lowered his glass. “It is audacious.”

“Listen to you?” Stephen chuckled. “You sounded almost formal.”

“If Lady Elkins is considering lowering her standards of propriety, then it should not be for a man like him.” Jeremy motioned forward, feeling a sudden surge of anger overtake him. His eyes flitted between Lady Elkins and her dance partner once again.

Lady Elkins’ brown locks had a touch of amber to them in this light. Those curls that framed her face teased the curve of her neck, letting his eyes drop down to the curve of her bosom. There was a rosiness to her cheeks and chest too, prompting Jeremy to wonder of what ways he could make her blush more.

Keep your mind off such things, Jeremy.

He lifted his gaze then, observing her dark brown eyes, so deep it was easy to get lost in them. Those dark eyes were staring at Sir Arnold.

Why does she stare at him like that? He hardly warrants staring at!

When Sir Arnold bent down to whisper something in Lady Elkins’ ear as they danced together, Jeremy lost control. He downed what was left in his glass and stood to his feet.

“Where are you going?” Stephen asked, tipping his head back to watch Jeremy.

“I suddenly have an urge to dance.” Jeremy lowered his glass down to a table and took off in the direction of the dancefloor, only just catching Stephen’s words before he left.

“I wonder why,” he murmured.

Jeremy watched the dancers for a second, observing what sort of dance it was: a quadrille, where they frequently exchanged partners. Jeremy hardly cared that the dance had already started and even if it was a little unorthodox to join it now. He felt he had to be on that dancefloor.

Near the dancers, he found a young lady he knew hovering beside it. Lady Hayes was humming the tune of the music to herself as she watched.

“Lady Hayes?”

“Your Grace!” She turned to him with a grand smile on her face. Jeremy was comfortable at once. He and Lady Hayes had spent a night together once, but it was a long time ago, and she had understood what it was. She knew it was fleeting and had never made the attempt to know him better.

“If you are not otherwise engaged, would you care to dance this number with me?” he asked, offering his hand to her. At once, she placed her hand in his, allowing him to lead her to the floor to join the others.

Once again, he let his eyes linger on Lady Elkins on the floor. As she parted from Sir Arnold’s arms to walk around him, as per the choreography of the routine, her eyes met Jeremy’s. He could have sworn her cheeks blushed further, before she snapped her gaze away.

It is as if that look burned her.

Jeremy found the very thought thrilled him.

He tried not to think of what he was doing as he and Lady Hayes took their place in the dance with the other couples. It was merely a dance after all, what did it matter if he was trying to get Lady Elkins’ attention?

Jeremy and Lady Hayes performed their first few figures, the dance so upbeat that Lady Hayes was lost in her enjoyment of it. When the time came to split from one another, and take a new partner in the dance, Jeremy was careful where he angled himself. He moved to his right and took up a place opposite Lady Elkins.

This time, when their eyes met, those dark eyes of hers widened.

He walked forward and offered his arms to her. As per the routine, she had to take his arms, so that they formed a circle, just the two of them, then they galloped sideways, up and down the floor with the other dancers.

“At last, we are dancing, Lady Elkins,” he whispered to her as they moved back and forth.

“Only by your trickery,” she said, with a narrowing of her eyes.

“I still feel as if I have won our little game.” He referred to the sheer number of times he had asked her to dance in the past over the years. After her first refusal, it had become this playful thing to him. He would keep asking until she said yes.

“You haven’t.” She lifted her chin with confidence and shot him a smile. That look had something stirring in his chest. “Because you are about to lose me.” She stepped out of his arms and returned to Sir Arnold.

Cursing under his breath, Jeremy returned to Lady Hayes. They danced together, back and forth, but Jeremy kept moving his eyes back to Lady Elkins.

She seemed bored with her partner now, for her eyes barely rested on Sir Arnold at all. On the contrary, she kept looking at Jeremy, then sharply looked away when he caught her staring.

When the time came to swap partners again, once more Jeremy found Lady Elkins and took her in his arms. The moment he touched her, he felt this burning sensation in his gut, as if this simple touch was not enough.

“Why are you dancing, Your Grace?” she asked as they galloped back and forth.

“I was struck by a merry mood.”

“Not out of a wish to dance with me then?”

“Well, maybe I thought you needed rescuing,” he said, teasing her.

“Rescuing?” She laughed at the idea, tipping her head back with the movement so that his eyes wandered down the curve of her neck to the top of her bosom, entranced. “I do not need rescuing by any man.”

“I thought you looked rather bored with your dance partner,” he whispered to her as they turned in a circle round one another, their only touch the press of their fingers together. “I thought it only right you should be offered some more exciting company.”

“How bold you are!” She laughed at him once again. “You think of yourself as exciting company, do you?”

“I can certainly try to be.” Before anymore could be said between them, they were forced to part and return to their dance partners.

Jeremy longed for the dance to not be over yet. He was not done with this conversation and wanted another chance to take Lady Elkins in his arms, yet the music was coming to an end. As he and Lady Hayes faced each other, bowing and curtsying, his eyes were already back on Lady Elkins.

What am I doing!? Am I pursuing her? No. Perhaps I am just distracting myself with her? Yes, that sounds about right.

His thoughts came fast in his confusion as he escorted Lady Hayes from the floor. After they had said goodbye to one another, he crossed the room, following where Sir Arnold had taken Lady Elkins.

The two crossed near the drinks table where Sir Arnold quickly departed, leaving Lady Elkins alone with her friend, the Marchioness of Rumpton. As Jeremy moved toward them, he could not hear their conversation, but he could see they must have been speaking of something illicit for they both blushed red and laughed deeply. Lady Elkins took a glass of sparkling wine proffered by her friend and tipped it back to her lips.

How many has she had?

When Lady Elkins wobbled on her feet, it seemed to answer his question. She’d had enough to make her lightheaded at least. She nearly lost her balance, just as Jeremy reached her side and brought up his hand to her back. He held her up, with her free hand reaching out and clinging to the crook of his arm.

A gasp escaped her lips, apparently only just realizing the way she was clinging to him as her dark eyes lifted to meet his.

“Your Grace,” she murmured as she retracted her hand from him.

“Please, hold onto me longer if you like,” he said softly, so only she and Lady Rumpton could hear him. From what he had heard of Lady Rumpton’s escapades, and could see now in her humored smile, she would hardly care if he spoke with flirtation. She was not one for propriety. “I would rather that than to see you fall, Lady Elkins.”

Lady Elkins kept her hand off him nevertheless and lifted her glass to her lips another time.

“A fine dancer you are, Your Grace,” Lady Rumpton said, capturing his attention. “The sight of you and my friend here dancing together was quite something.”

“Was it?” Lady Elkins said, twisting her head sharply to look at her friend before Jeremy could utter a word.

“Quite something indeed,” Lady Rumpton declared with a playful smile.

“Rachel…” Lady Elkins’ tone had become a warning as she stepped away from Jeremy’s hold. He inched to follow her, though he held himself back, worried she would totter on her feet once again.

“What did you think of Sophia’s dance partner, Your Grace?” Lady Rumpton said, still smiling up at Jeremy. From the way Lady Elkins was pulling on her friend’s arm, it was clear she thought the Marchioness was up to no good. “A fine gentleman, is he not?”

“Sir Arnold has a habit of making an impression wherever he goes. That impression is not always a good one.” Jeremy couldn’t resist the words. He and Sir Arnold would hardly ever be called the closest of friends but seeing him with his arms around someone like Lady Elkins made Jeremy’s blood boil.

She deserves someone better now she is free from her husband.

“You are worried for my friend in accepting his offer of a dance?” Lady Rumpton asked.

“Perhaps a little.” Jeremy kept his eyes on Lady Elkins, unsure what else to say. He hardly had the right to warn her off men like Sir Arnold.

“Well, as it happens, your timing is quite perfect, Your Grace.” Lady Rumpton appeared ready to walk away.

“It is?” Lady Elkins asked, her eyes wide.

“My friend has a favor to ask of you. Do ask him, Sophia.” As Lady Rumpton walked off, Jeremy returned his eyes to Lady Elkins, watching as she stood there dumbstruck, with her lips parted.

 

“What favor is it you wish to ask of me, My Lady?” 

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16 comments

  1. I thouroughly enjoyed the preview.I am really keen to read more of this story esp where the preview ends.Lady Rumpton put lady Sophia on the spot and she was compelled to ask the Duke Jeremy and make an indecent request. The preview gave us a glance of what this book will be —“Enjoyable and Passionate” just like the author

  2. Cannot wait to read what happens with Sophia and Jeremy it sounds very interesting love what I have read so far.

  3. Totally in love with this book already. Lady Rumpton is a hoot and I can’t wait to see how many times she puts Lady Elkins on the spot and where it leads.

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