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Duke of Scandal
By Adele Ashworth
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 Adele Ashworth
All right reserved.
Late March 1860
It had been four long months since he'd been with a woman; probably a year since he'd touched a woman whose name he remembered. Tonight, though, he intended to seek out companionship regardless of the circumstance. He needed a toss between the sheets as he hadn't needed one in ages. Unfortunately, the circumstance to overcome was his very small selection of gently bred ladies flirting with discretion, snickering with intimidation, and prancing before him in a rainbow of richly colored gowns as they celebrated his distant cousin Beatrice's coming out. A typical party he felt obligated to attend, one of the Season's first, and not a great feminine offering for his trouble, to be sure.
The utter absence of female attention in his life of late was indeed a pathetic record, especially for him -- Samson Carlisle, the most distinguished, roguish, scandalous fourth Duke of Durham. Or so he'd been told. What would his fellow noble rakes think if they knew of his recent lack of preoccupation with the gentle sex? He had his infamous reputation to uphold. Of course, nobody really knew him as they thought they did. Not even his closest friends. Yet he needed it to be that way.
Standing against a tall marble pillar ofswirling bronze and gold, on the opposite side of the room of the elegant grand staircase, Sam steadily sipped a rather sour whiskey as he eyed the debacle on the dance floor before him. From his vantage point he could see most of the ballroom while still remaining relatively unobtrusive. He hated parties. He despised anything that drew attention to him, really, and nearly always being the highest ranking individual at any social function, not to mention one of the wealthiest, he tended to be the one person toward whom most people chose to gravitate. Sometimes it was obvious, sometimes not. Gentlemen wanted to discuss business propositions, young innocents giggled and begged for his interest with their eyes, married ladies flirted coyly, sometimes shrewdly offering their own invitations, which he refused, every one. The greatest lesson he'd learned in his thirty-four years was to never, under any circumstance, trust a married woman. Such faith in hidden, experienced charms would ultimately ruin a man. As it had nearly ruined him.
Groaning within, Sam had to wonder why his mind always wandered to his past at times like this. Considering lifelong struggles he couldn't change did nothing but agitate his mind and body, on many levels. And an obvious agitation at a carefree event such as this wouldn't help him seduce a woman, which was ultimately his only goal for tonight. He swiftly needed a change of attitude or he'd be riding home alone.
"Alone again, eh?"
That wry comment, echoing his thoughts, came from Colin Ramsey, his longtime friend, occasional competitor where women were concerned, and the only man at the party who fairly equaled him in rank. Aside from that, there were no two men more opposite in every regard in all of England.
"And you're not, I've noticed," Sam replied snidely without looking at him. "I think you've been with every lady here tonight."
Colin chuckled. "I'm certain you mean only on the dance floor?"
"Naturally. Then yes, I've danced with nearly every lady here tonight." He grunted. "My feet hurt."
"Try soaking them," Sam muttered.
"Ah," Colin remarked immediately. "That's what you do after a long night of waltzing?"
Sam fought the urge to snort. "Yes, that's what I do after a long night of waltzing."
Colin laughed again, glancing over his surroundings as he lifted his hand to take another full swallow of his drink. "You waltzing. On a frosty day in Hades," he added over the rim of his tumbler.
Sam ignored that and sipped his whiskey, noting how Lady Swan's daughter, Edna, didn't look at all like a beautiful, elegant bird, especially in the low-cut chiffon gown of pastel pink that exposed her thick neck. Then again, Edna, who stole glances in his direction and smiled prettily at him as she twirled with Lord Somebody-or-Other, wasn't all that unattractive. Sometimes in the future he might consider her a prospective wife, for she came from a good line, had a satisfactory face, and the general good health and roundness of hips to bear children easily. Producing an heir was really all his duty required, anyway. But in the last analysis, standard Englishwomen were one and the same to him, a blur of dainty expression, fair skin, and brown hair, and most of them bored him. He supposed at some point soon he would have to choose somebody to be his duchess, before he died of one malady or another and his wealth and assets became his brother's. He would marry an angel of death before he allowed that to happen. But probably not sweet, rather ordinary Edna, and not anytime soon.
"She fancies you, you know," Colin said, interrupting his thoughts.
Sam looked down at his friend, who stood only an inch or two shorter than his own extraordinary six feet three inches. Colin, who dressed only in expensive finery -- tonight black and white silk -- continued to gaze out across the dance floor, appearing totally at ease, as he always did under the scrutiny of the ton's roving eye. Sam almost voiced his disgust, for as long as he could remember he'd felt a certain mix of jealousy and admiration for Colin's easy charm, his confident, relaxed nature and intuition where ladies were concerned. In comparison, he had never had an easy moment with a woman in his life.
"She fancies my money," he corrected.
"An obstacle of which you should be deeply proud," Colin retorted.
He said nothing to that.
"Yet you don't fancy her in the least I suppose," his friend added.
"Not in the least."
Colin took another drink from his glass. "I know her family has you on their short list of eligibles and she's got a handsome dowry -- "
Excerpted from Duke of Scandal by Adele Ashworth Copyright ©2006 by Adele Ashworth. Excerpted by permission.
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