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London's Perfect Scoundrel
Lessons in Love
In law an infant, and in years a boy,
In mind a slave to every vicious joy,
From every sense of shame and virtue wean'd,
In lies an adept, in deceit a fiend;
Vers'd in hypocrisy, while yet a child,
Fickle as wind, of inclinations wild;
Woman his dupe, his heedless friend a tool,
Old in the world, though scarcely broke from school.
—Lord Byron, "Damaetas"
One year later
"I really wish you wouldn't make such a fuss about it," Evelyn Ruddick said, taking a step away from her brother. "Lucinda Barrett and I have been friends since we came out together."
Victor closed the distance between them again, his tone clipped and annoyed. "Be friends at some other soiree," he returned. "Her father doesn't even have a vote in the House, and tonight I need you to chat with Lady Gladstone."
"I don't like Lady Gladstone," Evie murmured back, stifling a curse when Victor clasped her arm, preventing her from sidling away again. "She drinks whiskey."
"And her husband is an influential West Sussex property owner. Putting up with a little inebriation is a small price to pay for a seat in the House of Commons."
"You only say that because she won't be breathing on you. Victor, I came here tonight to dance, and to chat with my fr—"
Her brother lowered his dark eyebrows. "You came here tonight because I escorted you. And I only did that so you would be able to assist me with my campaign."
They both knew she'd lost the argument before it began; she frequently had the suspicion that Victorallowed her to debate him only so he could put her in her place more often. "Oh, faddle. I liked it better when you were in India."
"Hm. So did I. Now go, before one of Plimpton's cronies gets to her first."
Pasting a polite, friendly smile on her face, Evelyn strolled the fringes of the crowded dance floor in search of her brother's latest source of possible votes. In all truth, Lady Gladstone's choice of liquor wasn't all that troublesome. Thirty years younger than her husband, the viscountess had worse habits than whiskey. And Evelyn had already heard a rumor that one of the worst was in attendance this evening.
She found Lady Gladstone seated amidst the scattering of chairs arranged in a shallow alcove to one side of the orchestra. Emerald-green silk clung closer than paint to the viscountess' much-lauded curves as she lounged, her head tilted to one side. Indecent as the sight seemed in Lady Dalmere's conservative ballroom, the man who leaned over her shoulder, his face so close to her ear that dark brown hair brushed her burnished gold curls, was even more unsettling.
For a moment Evelyn contemplated pretending that she hadn't seen anything and walking away, but that would only give Victor another chance to call her foolish and empty-headed. So instead she stood there until she began to feel like a voyeur, clearing her throat when she couldn't stand it any longer. "Lady Gladstone?"
The viscountess lifted dark eyes to her. "Saint, it seems we have company," she tittered, her voice a breathless giggle.
The form leaning over Lady Gladstone's shoulder straightened to his full height, and startling green eyes set in a face of dark, lean, masculine perfection took their leisure sweeping the length of Evelyn from her slippered feet to her face. She couldn't have stopped her blush if her life depended on it.
All young ladies mindful of their reputations made a point of staying well away from the tall, jaded, and devilishly handsome Marquis of St. Aubyn. If not for her brother's political ambitions, Victor wouldn't have allowed her anywhere near Lady Gladstone for exactly that reason.
"My lord," she said belatedly, gathering her wits enough to dip in a shallow curtsy, "good evening."
He gazed at her for another moment, his wicked, sensual mouth turning upward in the faintest of cynical smiles. "It's still too early to tell." Then, without another word, he turned on his heel and strolled away toward the gaming rooms.
Evelyn let out the breath she'd been holding. "That was rude," she muttered, once he was out of earshot.
Lady Gladstone chuckled again, her own cheeks flushed—and decidedly not from the warm room. "My dear Miss Whoever-You-Are," she murmured, "Saint doesn't have to be good, because he's so very ... very, bad."
Well, that made no sense. She hadn't barged in, though, to debate the merits of poor behavior. "My name is Evelyn Ruddick, my lady," she said, curtsying again. "We attended the Bramhurst Christmas soiree together, and you said I might call on you in London."
"Oh, dear me, I am too generous sometimes. What was it you wanted from me, then, Miss ... Ruddick?"
Evelyn hated this part, mostly because it always entailed lying. And she detested lying. "Well, first of all, I wanted to tell you that your gown is absolutely the most splendid creation ever."
The viscountess' lounging curves became even more pronounced at the compliment. "How very sweet of you, dear." Full lips smiled. "I would be happy to recommend my dressmaker to you. I'm certain you and I are of nearly the same age, though your ... bosom is less ... "
Obvious, Evelyn finished silently, hiding her scowl. "That would be most kind of you," she said instead. Then, though she would have rather swallowed a bug, Evie went closer to take a seat beside the viscountess. "I had heard," she continued in a more conspiratorial tone, "that you are greatly responsible for your husband's political success. I ... am somewhat at a loss as to how I might assist my brother, Victor, in the same arena."
Lady Gladstone's distant expression warmed into one of calm superiority . . .London's Perfect Scoundrel
Lessons in Love. Copyright © by Suzanne Enoch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.