Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake
By Sarah MacLean
Copyright © 2010 Sarah MacLean
All right reserved.
The incessant pounding woke him.
He ignored it at first, sleep clouding the source of
the irritating noise.
There was a long pause and a thick silence fell over the
Gabriel St. John, Marquess of Ralston, took in the early
morning light washing over the decadently appointed room.
For a moment, he remained still, registering the rich hues of
the chamber, adorned with silk wall coverings and gilded
edges, a garish haven of sensual pleasure.
Reaching for the lush female beside him, a half smile
played over his lips as she curved her willing, naked body
into histhe combination of the early hour and her heated
flesh returning him to the edge of slumber.
He lay still, eyes closed, trailing his fingertips idly across
his bedmate's bare shoulder as one lithe, feminine hand
stroked down the rigid planes of his torso, the direction of
the caress a dark erotic promise.
Her touch became stronger, firmer, and he rewarded her
skill with a low growl of pleasure.
And the pounding began againloud and constant on the
heavy oak door.
"Cease!" Ralston surged from his mistress's bed, entirely
prepared to terrify his intruder into leaving him in peace
for the rest of the morning. He had barely pulled on his silk
dressing gown before he tore the door open with a wicked
On the threshold stood his twin brother, impeccably
dressed and perfectly manicured, as though it were entirely
normal to call upon one's brother, at the home of his mistress,
at the crack of dawn. Behind Nicholas St. John stood
a sputtering servant, "My lord, I did my best to keep him
An icy look from Ralston stopped the words in the man's
throat. "Leave us."
Nick watched as the footman scurried away, one brow
arched in amusement. "I had forgotten how charming you
are in the morning, Gabriel."
"What in God's name brings you here at this hour?"
"I went to Ralston House first," Nick said, "When you
weren't there, this seemed the most likely place to find you."
He let his gaze slide past his twin to land on the woman seated
in the center of the enormous bed. With a lazy grin, Nick
gave a nod of acknowledgment in the direction of his brother's
mistress. "Nastasia. My apologies for the intrusion."
The Greek beauty stretched like a cat, sensual and sybaritic,
allowing the sheet she held in feigned modesty to slip,
revealing one luscious breast. A teasing smile played across
her lips as she said, "Lord Nicholas. I assure you, I am not
the least bit put out. Perhaps you would like to join us . . ."
She paused suggestively. "For breakfast?"
Nick smiled appreciatively. "A tempting offer."
Ignoring the interaction, Ralston prodded. "Nick, if you
are in such need of female companionship, I am certain we
could have found you a destination that did not so summarily
disturb my rest."
Nick leaned against the doorframe, allowing his gaze to
linger on Nastasia before returning his attention to Ralston.
"Resting, were you, brother?"
Ralston stalked away from the door, toward a basin in the
corner of the room, hissing as he splashed bracing water on
his face. "You are enjoying yourself, aren't you?"
"You have mere seconds to tell me why you are here,
Nick, before I grow weary of having a younger sibling and
toss you out."
"Intriguing that you would select such a relevant turn of
phrase," Nick said casually. "As it happens, your position as
eldest sibling is why I am here."
Ralston lifted his head to meet his brother's gaze as droplets
of water coursed down his face.
"You see, Gabriel, it appears that we have a sister."
"A half sister."
Ralston spoke flatly, staring down his solicitor, waiting
for the bespectacled man to overcome his nerves and
explain the circumstances of this surprise announcement.
Ralston had perfected the intimidation tactic in gambling hells
across London and expected that it would work quickly to
get the little man talking.
He was correct.
"Ithat is, my lord"
Ralston cut him off, stalking across the study to pour himself
a drink. "Spit it out, man. I haven't got all day."
"My mother, if one may use such a word for the unloving
creature who bore us, departed England for the Continent
more than twenty-five years ago." He swirled the amber
liquid in his glass, affecting a look of boredom, "How are
we to believe this girl is our sister and not some charlatan
eager to capitalize on our goodwill?"
"Her father is a Venetian merchant with plenty of money,
all of which he left to her." The solicitor paused, adjusting
his spectacles, warily eyeing Ralston. "My lord, he had no
reason to lie about her birth. Indeed, by all accounts, it
appears that he would prefer not to have alerted you to her
"Then why do so?"
"She has no other family to speak of although I am told
that friends were willing to take her in. According to the
documents that were sent to my offices, however, this is
your mother's doing. She requested that her"he paused,
uncertain"husband . . . send your . . . sister . . . here in
the event of his death. Your mother felt certain that you
would . . ." He cleared his throat. "Do right by your family."
Ralston's smile held no humor. "Ironic, is it not, that our
mother has called upon our sense of familial obligation?"
The solicitor did not pretend to misunderstand the comment.
"Indeed, my lord. But, if I may, the girl is here and
very sweet. I'm not certain what to do with her." He spoke
no more, but his meaning was understood. I'm not certain I
should leave her in your hands.
"Of course, she must stay here," Nick finally spoke, drawing
the grateful attention of the solicitor and an irritated look
from his brother. "We shall take her in. She must be rather in
shock, I'd imagine."
"Indeed, my lord." The solicitor readily agreed, latching
onto the kindness in Nick's eyes.
"I had not realized that you were able to make such decisions
in this house, brother," Ralston drawled, his gaze not
wavering from the solicitor.
"I'm simply shortening Wingate's agony," Nick replied,
with a nod to the lawyer. "You won't turn away blood."
Nick was, of course, correct. Gabriel St. John, seventh
Marquess of Ralston would not deny his sister, regardless of
his deep-seated desire to do so. Raking a hand through his
black hair, Ralston wondered at the anger that still flared at
the thought of his mother, whom he hadn't seen in decades.
She had been married at a young agebarely sixteen
and had borne twin sons within a year. She was gone a
decade later, escaped to the Continent, leaving her sons
and their father in despair. For any other woman, Gabriel
would have felt sympathy, would have understood her fear
and forgiven her desertion. But he had witnessed his father's
sorrow, felt the pain that the loss of a mother had caused.
And he had replaced sadness with anger. It had been years
before he was able to speak of her without a knot of fury
rising in his throat.
And now, to discover that she had destroyed another
family, the wound was refreshed. That she would bear
another childa girl no lessand leave her to a life without
a mother infuriated him. Of course, his mother had been
correct; he would do right by his family. He would do what
he could to atone for her sins. And perhaps that was the most
maddening part of this whole situationthat his mother still
understood him. That they might still be connected.
He set his glass down, resuming his place behind the wide
mahogany desk. "Where is the girl, Wingate?"
"I believe she's been placed in the green room, my lord."
"Well, we might as well fetch her." Nick moved to the
door, opening it and sending an unseen servant to retrieve
In the ensuing, pregnant silence, Wingate stood, smoothing
down his waistcoat nervously. "Indeed. If I may, sir?"
Gabriel fixed him with an irritated look.
"She is a good girl. Very sweet."
"Yes. You've mentioned as much. Contrary to your clear
opinion of me, Wingate, I am not an ogre with a taste for
young girls." He paused, one side of his mouth kicking up.
"At least not young girls to whom I am related."
The arrival of their sister prevented Gabriel from taking
pleasure in the solicitor's disapproval. Instead, he stood as
the door opened, his eyes narrowing as he met the eerily
familiar blue gaze leveled at him from across the room.
"Good Lord." Nick's words mirrored Gabriel's thoughts.
There was no question that the girl was their sister. Aside
from her eyes, the same rich blue as her brothers', she shared
the twins' strong jaw and dark, curling hair. She was the
image of their mothertall and lithe and lovely, with an
undeniable fire in her gaze. Gabriel cursed beneath his breath.
Nick regained his composure first, bowing deeply,
"Enchantée, Miss Juliana. I am your brother Nicholas St. John.
And this"he gestured to Ralston"is our brother Gabriel,
Marquess of Ralston."
She curtsied gracefully, rising and indicating herself with
a delicate hand, "I am Juliana Fiori. I confess, I was not
expecting" She paused, searching for the word, "I gemelli.
My apologies. I do not know the word in English."
Nick smiled. "Twins. No, I imagine that our mother did
not expect i gemelli either."
The dimple in Juliana's cheek was a perfect match for
Nick's. "As you say. It is quite striking."
"Well." Wingate cleared his throat, drawing the attention
of the rest, "I shall take my leave, then, if my lords have
no further need of me." The little man looked from Nick to
Ralston, eager to be set free.
"You are free to go, Wingate," Ralston said, his tone icy.
"Indeed, I look forward to it."
The lawyer exited, bowing quickly, as if afraid that he
might never escape if he tarried too long. Once he had left
the room, Nick consoled Juliana, "Don't let yourself be
fooled by Gabriel. He's not as wicked as he seems. Some
days, he simply likes to play the lord of the manor."
"I believe that I am the lord of the manor, Nicholas,"
Ralston pointed out dryly.
Nick winked at their sister. "Four minutes older, and he
cannot help but hold it over me."
Juliana offered Nick a small smile before turning her clear
blue gaze on her eldest brother, "My lord, I should like to
Gabriel nodded. "Understandably. I will have your things
brought to one of the chambers above stairs. You must be
weary from your travels."
"No. You do not understand. I would like to leave England.
To return to Venice." When neither Gabriel nor Nick spoke,
she continued, her hands moving in time with her words, her
accent thickening as emotion crept into her speech. "I assure
you, I cannot comprehend why my father insisted I come here.
I have friends at home who would happily welcome me"
Gabriel cut her off, firmly. "You will stay here."
"Mi scusi, my lord. I would prefer not to."
"I'm afraid you do not have a choice."
"You cannot keep me here. I do not belong here. Not with
you . . . not in . . . England." She spat the word as though it
"You forget that you are half-English, Juliana," Nick said,
"Never! I am Italian!" Her blue eyes flashed.
"And your personality shows it, kitten," Gabriel drawled.
"But you are the very portrait of our mother."
Juliana looked to the walls. "Portraits? Of our mother?
Nick chuckled, charmed by her misunderstanding. "No.
You will not find pictures of her here. Gabriel was saying
that you look like our mother. Exactly like her, actually."
Juliana slashed one hand through the air. "Never say such
a thing to me again. Our mother was a" She stopped herself,-
the silence in the room heavy with the unspoken epithet.
Ralston's lips twisted in a wry smile. "I see we have found
something upon which we can agree."
"You cannot force me to stay."
"I am afraid I can. I've already signed the papers. You are
under my protection until you marry."
Her eyes widened. "That is impossible. My father would
never have required such a thing. He knew I have no intention
"Why ever not?" Nick asked.
Juliana spun on him, "I should think you would understand
better than most. I will not repeat my mother's sins."
Gabriel's eyes narrowed. "There is absolutely no reason
that you would be anything like"
"You will forgive me if I am not willing to take such a
chance, my lord. Surely we can reach an accord?"
In that moment, Gabriel's decision was made.
"You did not know our mother?"
Juliana held herself perfectly straight and proud, meeting
Ralston's gaze without flinching. "She left us nearly ten
years ago. I believe it was the same for you?"
Ralston nodded. "We were not even ten."
"Then I imagine neither of us has much love lost for her."
They stood like that for a long moment, each testing the
truth of the other's words. Gabriel spoke first. "I will offer
you a bargain." Juliana shook her head in an instant denial
before Ralston lifted one hand and halted her words. "This
is not a negotiation. You will stay for two months. If, after
that time, you decide that you would prefer to return to Italy,
I will arrange it."
She tilted her head as though considering the offer and the
possibilities for escape. Finally, she nodded once in agreement.
"Two months. Not a day more."
"You may have your pick of the bedchambers above stairs,
She dropped into a deep curtsy. "Grazie, my lord." She
turned toward the door of the study and was stopped by
"How old are you?"
Nick cast a fleeting look at his brother before continuing.
"You will need to be introduced to London society."
"I hardly think it necessary as I am only here for eight
weeks," Her emphasis on the last words was impossible to
"We shall discuss it when you are settled in." Ralston
ended the conversation and escorted her across the room,
opening the door to the study and calling for the butler.
"Jenkins, please escort Miss Juliana upstairs and have someone
assist her maid in.
Excerpted from Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean Copyright © 2010 by Sarah MacLean. Excerpted by permission of Avon. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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