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The Devil's Temptation
"His name is Lord Philip Daventry, and he came backstage to beg an introduction after last night's performance. I cannot explain the connection I felt the moment I looked into his eyes. I only know he is the one . . ."
From the diary of Elise Marchand,
April 5, 1794
What the bloody hell am I doing here?
Not for the first time that evening, Gabriel Sutcliffe, the tenth Earl of Hawksley, mulled over the answer to that question as he folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against a stone pillar, viewing the bacchanalian scene taking place before him with a curious mixture of detachment and discontent.
Masked revelers in various stages of undress frolicked about the Viscount Lanscombe's moonlit garden, indulging in all manner of lascivious activities. In groups of two, three, and sometimes more, naked limbs entwined and gleaming with the sheen of their carnal exertions, they cavorted to the strains of music coming from the gazebo, where a costumed orchestra presided over the goings-on with admirable stoicism.
Those of long-standing acquaintance with Lord and Lady Lanscombe were well aware of what an invitation to one of their "special" affairs entailed, and Gabriel had known what to expect from the moment he had arrived at Lanscombe Manor. But he found he could summon none of his customary interest in the proceedings. A fact that left him more than a trifle bemused.
His forehead furrowing, he pivoted on a booted heel to face the man standing next to him with a frown. "This was amistake."
At the disgruntlement that laced his words, his companion turned from his own brooding contemplation of the licentious spectacle to eye him askance through the narrow slits of a black demi-mask.
"And you are just now coming to this conclusion? You, who dragged me here to begin with? You, who insisted that I had hidden myself away long enough and needed a night of orgiastic debauchery to take my mind off of—"
Gabriel cut him off with a sharp, impatient gesture. "You can stop there, Stonehurst. I am well aware that I am the one at fault for our presence here. But had I known you were going to stand about like a waxwork with that forbidding expression on your face, I never would have made the suggestion. You've frightened away half the willing females in the vicinity with that fierce scowl of yours."
Royce Grenville, Viscount Stonehurst, shrugged a massive shoulder, his attitude one of careless unconcern. Reaching up, he fingered the long, pale scar that snaked out from underneath the edge of his mask and ran the length of the right side of his face, compliments of a French saber on the battlefield at Waterloo. Its jagged starkness against the bronze of his skin gave him a rather disreputable appearance. "I'm afraid since I came by this that members of the fairer sex tend to avoid me whenever possible."
He paused, then surveyed Gabriel with an arched brow. "But what about you, Hawksley? Those two luscious blond wenches next to the gazebo have been fluttering their lashes and sending you seductive looks for the last hour, yet you behave as if you don't even notice."
Gabriel slanted a glance in the direction of the blondes his friend had indicated. He had most definitely noticed them. Lovely and curvaceous, they looked ripe for just the sort of lusty sport he normally enjoyed. But he felt no desire to join them, or any of the other nubile beauties in attendance, and he was at a loss to explain his utter indifference.
Perhaps this was what those in elitist circles liked to refer to as ennui. Although, at only eight and twenty, he hated to think that he was already starting to lose his taste for such diversions.
After all, he did have a certain reputation to live up to.
In the five years since the late earl's suicide and its resulting scandal, Gabriel had set out with an almost single-minded determination to follow in the footsteps of his notorious sire, and had aptly succeeded. To the ton, he was the Devil's Own, and tales of his rakehell exploits were told in hushed whispers in dimly lit corners of salons and drawing rooms, like bedtime stories meant to frighten small children. Never mind that most of the rumors had been exaggerated to the point of absurdity. He had learned long ago that it was far easier to give people what they expected rather than to try to turn the tide. And what they expected was a man just like his father. An unfaithful drunkard and wastrel.
Not to mention a murderer.
One corner of Gabriel's mouth twisted cynically. It was perhaps a blessing that his poor, beleaguered mother hadn't lived to see what he had become. Always a delicate and fragile woman, the countess had been unable to bear up under the ton's censure and had passed on soon after her husband, leaving her son to face the slings and arrows alone.
Just one more sin he could lay at his father's doorstep.
Shoving away the unwanted emotions of rage and grief that memories of the old earl's transgressions always seemed to stir within him, he forced himself to turn his attention back to the current discussion.
"We are not here for my benefit," he reminded his friend bluntly. "We are here because of you and your refusal to see that you can't keep punishing yourself for things beyond your control. This self-imposed exile of yours has gone on long enough."
The viscount's craggy visage instantly hardened with displeasure, his gray eyes darkening to the color of slate. "Damnation, Hawksley, you know nothing about it."
No, he didn't. Royce had been stubbornly reticent about his time with the British Cavalry, even though it obviously haunted him more than he would ever admit. The war with Napoleon had taken its toll, both physically and emotionally, changing him from the carefree boy he had once been. And when he had returned home, only to discover that his estranged elder brother had died in his absence, leaving him heir to the Stonehurst title and fortune, he had withdrawn even more, isolating himself behind the walls of his family estate in Cornwall.The Devil's Temptation. Copyright © by Kimberly Logan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.