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How to Seduce a Duke
By Kathryn Caskie
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Kathryn Caskie
All right reserved.
Berkeley Square, London
In the blue veil of night, three human statues stood clustered behind a prickly screen of holly bushes, their voices carefully held to mere whispers.
"He's just there." Mary, the eldest of the Royle sisters, poked her white, heavily powdered index finger through a gap in the branches. "Do you see him? He's the blond gentleman before the fountain. Is he not exquisite?"
"I cannot see anything other than the back of your head." Her younger sister Anne did not find tonight's adventure nearly as diverting as Mary did. Since the moment they'd left their great-aunt Prudence's house, she'd done nothing but complain about the nonsensical nature of their invasion of the garden rout next door.
But standing hidden along the hedge was perfectly logical to Mary's way of thinking. They weren't invited to the rout this eve . . . but he was.
What else was she supposed to do? Sit in her bedchamber while he was walking through the gardens only yards away? No, she was not about to miss an opportunity like this.
Until this night, Mary had only seen the viscount five times in passing. And though she was an excellent judge of character--everyone said so--she had had to concede that she needed more time to gather a bettersense of him . . . to be sure. For she was nothing if not decisive. And once she made a decision, she never changed her mind. Ever.
Being able to watch him from the holly bushes, undetected as she was, would allow her to confirm her initial opinion of him, even though in her heart she already knew her perception was correct. He was exactly as he appeared--positively perfect.
Anne huffed and tugged hard on Mary's shoulder to move her out of the way.
Snapping her head around, Mary grimaced at her sister. It had taken her a full two hours to achieve the correct marbled effect. "You needn't be so impatient. I shall step aside if you'll lift your hand carefully."
Obliging her, Anne raised each finger in turn, then lifted her damp palm from Mary's powdered skin.
Mary twisted to peer at the damage to her white finish. "I knew it! You've smudged the powder. Your fingers have left prints all over me."
"Will both of you please lower your shrieks?" Elizabeth, the youngest of the triplets by almost ten minutes, according to their father, blinked her powdered white lashes angrily. "What if we're caught? Our family will be ruined. Am I alone in considering this?"
"It's dark, Lizzie. No one can see us here." As she stood, Anne tripped on the hem of her Grecian gown, sending a puff of white powder into the air.
"Anne is right." Mary edged around the thick bush. "But we can't see or hear what's going on either. I daresay we have to move closer." She turned and signaled for her sisters.
It was then that she saw Anne and Elizabeth exchange loaded glances. Oh no. They weren't backing out now. They were going through with this. They were. After all, they'd promised her. "Do not even consider leaving. This was the plan, or have you forgotten? We dress in white and powder ourselves, then invade the rout, posing as garden statuary."
Elizabeth huffed at that. "And as I said at the house, your scheme is madness. Though I have to admit, in the moonlight, our marbling looks flawless. The effect is really quite amazing."
Anne flinched as she gazed down at her gleaming white arm. "What else is in this powder anyway? I feel as though ants are crawling all over me. Lud, Mary, I don't know how you convinced us to do this. And why--because you're smitten with some dashing soldier? I agree with Lizzie, this is madness."
"There is an ocean of difference between a simple soldier and a war hero. Did I mention that a viscountcy was newly bestowed on him, by the Regent himself? It was a grand reward for his valor in battle." Movement caught Mary's notice. "Blast, he's leaving. Come along, we have to catch him up. He's probably headed for the lawn."
Elizabeth shook her head vehemently. "The only place I am headed is back over the wall, and into a bath to wash this coating of white powder from my person." She came to her feet, then lent Anne a hand to help her stand.
"Please. Not until you've at least seen him. I am going to marry him, you know." Mary finished her sentence with a firm single nod.
"So you've said." Anne brushed the crumpled, dried holly leaves from the knees of her snowy gown. "But you don't need to marry the man just to secure your future. We've got the entire season . . . and more to find the proof we need."
Mary huffed at that. "I am not about to bank my life on such a slim possibility. I am being realistic about our prospects--and so should you." She watched the viscount lift a glass to his mouth, saw the crystal sparkle in the moonlight, and a sigh fell from her lips. "Beginning with that gentleman . . . that beautiful gentleman."
"Oh, very well, show me." Anne stood on the toes of her slippers and peered over the top of the hedge. "Which one is he?"
Mary looked closer and saw that there were two men now. But while her viscount--because indeed she already thought of him that way: her viscount--had golden hair, the other man's hair was as dark as jet, and he stood at least a head taller.
"Well, certainly not that hulking giant. My tastes are much more refined." Mary trotted a few steps along the hedgerow and beckoned for her sisters to follow, which they reluctantly did.
She paused only twenty paces from the two gentlemen. "There. The one with the cane," she whispered when her sisters drew alongside of her as she peered over the holly. "What did I tell you? Such fine, aristocratic features. Shows good breeding."
Excerpted from How to Seduce a Duke by Kathryn Caskie Copyright © 2006 by Kathryn Caskie. Excerpted by permission.
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