In the last opulent days of the eighteenth century, a friendly wager turns into a heated feud that spans decades...and a love affair like none other.
What does it take to tempt a lady...
London, 1792. The Duke of Blackbern and the Marquess of Norgrave are boyhood friends who will still compete at anything. Racing, drinking, gambling, even seduction-until Lady Imogene Sunter crosses their path. Achingly beautiful, and innocent, she has no understanding of the jaded gentlemen who are courting her for favors-of how far they are willing to go to get what they want...
In this game of seduce and destroy?
Fighting for Imogen's affection should have been no more than their usual spirited rivalry. But when Blackbern discovers his feelings for Imogen have deepened, all bets are off. Norgrave, driven by his own demons, won't forsake his pride-and with one shocking act of betrayal that threatens Imogen and Blackbern's newfound desire, Norgrave will set the course for a generation of Regency bad boys who will go down in history as the Masters of Seduction...in A Duke But No Gentleman by Alexandra Hawkins.
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A Duke But No Gentleman
By Alexandra Hawkins
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Alexandra Hawkins
All rights reserved.
March 4, 1792
Malwent Commons, England
Norgrave was a madman.
With one hand on the hilt of his sheathed short sword, and the other gripping the warm metal handle of a lantern, Tristan Bailey Rooke, Duke of Blackbern, watched intently as his friend parried his opponent's attack. The sharp, deathly clash of steel echoed in the night while Norgrave flirted as if the grim specter of Death was just another lady he needed to seduce into his bed.
No sane gentleman would duel in the fog at midnight, but too much brandy and pride had a way of dulling a man's wits. When Viscount Caxton knocked over the marquess's glass of brandy and issued his challenge, Norgrave eagerly accepted.
Caxton had been too blinded by his righteous anger to comprehend that he had been cleverly manipulated. If the gentleman had not been so generous in delivering his libelous insults not only to Norgrave, but to Tristan as well, he might have warned the man of his opponent's proficiency with both pistol and sword.
Instead he had remained silent.
Wronged or not, the pompous arse deserved the bitter taste of humiliation for his insinuations, and Cason Brant, Marquess of Norgrave, intended to be the gentleman who forced every foul drop down the man's throat.
"Already winded, and your elbow keeps dropping." Norgrave made a soft sound of disapproval. "Do you wish to yield?"
Caxton bared his teeth at the suggestion. "Nay." He brought his blade down, but it only stirred the air when Norgrave stepped out of range at the last second. "Not until I hear an apology from your lips."
Tristan glanced over at the viscount's second who was staring at the fighting men with the excitement of a chained dog that longed to be free of his tether. He paced the edge of the circle, his sword unsheathed. Tristan didn't trust the man not to interfere to give his friend the advantage.
Norgrave grinned. "On the contrary, you should be apologizing to me for not being a worthy opponent. It is apparent you have been neglectful in keeping your sword skills honed for these unpleasant affairs."
The viscount responded with the resounding clang of steel against steel. He used his hand to push the marquess away, but Norgrave was taller and slightly heavier. He held his ground, and it was Caxton who went stumbling.
"Hold, good sir!" Tristan ordered the viscount's second when he took a step forward. What the devil was his name? Prigs? Twigs? No, that did not sound quite right, but he was close. His lips curved in triumph as he suddenly recalled the man's name. "Briggs, your friend is fine. Do not interfere."
Caxton did not even glance at his friend. He charged Norgrave. "Stay back, Briggs. This bastard is mine!"
The marquess turned sideways and countered the man's blade. High and low, Norgrave's blows struck with accuracy and a ringing force that proved minutes later to be the thirty-eight-year-old gentleman's undoing. He had provoked the wrong man.
Norgrave shoved the viscount away from him.
"Are you satisfied, Caxton?" his friend taunted, his movements to evade his opponent swift and graceful. "Speak now, and you can return home to your sweet Audrey."
His brown eyes flared with indignation. "How dare you! You have no right to utter her name."
"I regretfully disagree. Audrey insisted that I take such liberties. As you know, it was just one of many," Norgrave said, his silky insinuation puncturing the other man's composure.
Anger strengthened Caxton's arm, and his blade sliced the marquess's upper arm. The viscount smiled at his small victory. "You might have caught her fancy, but her father accepted my offer of marriage, not yours."
Norgrave paused at the gentleman's words. "Who told you I offered marriage?" He cast an incredulous look in Tristan's direction. "Audrey's father accepted your timely offer because he knew —"
"Speak not another word!" the viscount roared as his expression darkened. "You are insulting my bride. If you continue, a mere scratch will not satisfy me."
"You truly believe you have the skill to best me, Caxton?"
"Love and justice will guide my arm."
"'Tis a noble declaration. A pity we did not invite a poet to our private gathering. He could compose a sonnet and deliver it to your widow."
"Enough, Norgrave," Tristan said in even tones. "An insult is not worth any man's death."
"Most evenings, I would agree," his friend said, his gaze fixed on his opponent's face. "However, I suspect Caxton is not planning to be reasonable."
"So you admit it," the viscount snarled.
The two men circled each other. "To what precisely? I have committed numerous sins ... ah, but you are only interested in the ones that involve your delectable wife."
"Norgrave, cease provoking him!" Tristan pointed his sword at Briggs. "And you, back away. This duel is woefully unbalanced as it is."
Has everyone lost their head this evening?
"You seduced her." Caxton's mouth twisted with misery and pain.
The marquess's forehead creased in concern and disbelief. "Is that what she told you?"
If Norgrave had not spent several evenings regaling Tristan with titillating tales of his carnal exploits with the charming Audrey, he might have believed his friend was innocent.
Lord Caxton was also unconvinced.
The viscount shook his head. "She did not have to say a single word. I saw it in her eyes the moment you entered the ballroom."
A low chuckle rumbled in Norgrave's throat. "You poor gullible fool. You stand before me, willing to risk life and limbs for a duplicitous wench."
Caxton dragged his gloved hand through his dark brown hair. "You are wrong. My lady —"
The marquess slashed the air, cutting off the gentleman's words. "Cast her wiles in Blackbern's direction first. Is that not true, Tristan?"
"What transpired is no longer important." To Caxton, he said in apologetic tones, "It was a harmless flirtation."
Unhelpful as ever, his friend snorted in disbelief. "Audrey and her family had high aspirations to ensnare a duke's interest. Unfortunately for her, Blackbern was not attentive so she consoled herself in my arms."
Tristan frowned at Norgrave. His friend's retelling of last year's events was not quite accurate. He had been mildly smitten by Lady Audrey. If given the chance, he might have pursued the lady in earnest. However, Norgrave had swept her off her feet with his seemingly limitless charm, but he doubted the viscount would find comfort in the truth.
Nor did he seem to accept the marquess's half-truths.
"What are you saying?" The viscount lowered his sword as his fury increased. "That my wife seduced you? I refuse to believe such a preposterous claim."
"Oh, I seduced her, Caxton." The marquess closed the gap between them. "Did she claim that she was a virgin on your wedding night? Quite understandable since your valet is probably the only person who has handled your ballocks. Nevertheless, I can attest your devoted Audrey came to your bed with a bit of tarnish. I distinctly recall her crying out my name when I shoved my cock —"
Caxton bellowed, drowning out Norgrave's confession as he rushed forward. He knocked the marquess's blade aside as the two men collided, fell, and disappeared into the fog.
"God's teeth and toes, this isn't bloody mud wrestling!" Tristan jumped out of the way as the fighting men rolled too close to his boots, his lantern swinging wildly. The duel had been reduced to fisticuffs if glimpses of Caxton's elbow were any indication. "Get up and show some dignity. The retelling of this over brandy will not be favorable for either of you."
He raised the lantern higher, attempting to discern the health of his friend. Norgrave deserved a few bruises for taunting the viscount about his wife's not-so-innocent past. However, it wasn't Caxton's face that was illuminated in the lantern's light. During the fog-shrouded brawl, the marquess had gained the upper hand and was pummeling his opponent with his fists. Tristan wasn't the only one who noticed.
With his short sword menacingly poised to strike, the viscount's second was striding toward them.
"Put down your sword, Briggs, and help me separate them before someone actually gets hurt," Tristan snapped, hoping the man was too used to following orders to ignore him. Without turning his back on the man, he sheathed his own sword and slowly set down his lantern.
"Stand aside, Blackbern. I have no grievance with you. Norgrave is violating the terms. He has no honor," Briggs said, discarding his lantern as he prepared to skewer the marquess in the back.
"Bloody hell!" Tristan ruthlessly kicked his friend in the upper shoulder, knocking him off balance as he retrieved his sword. Briggs's blade missed the marquess and found purchase in Caxton's chest.
The viscount howled in pain.
Tristan blocked the man's second attack. Sporting a visible bruise on his cheekbone, Norgrave gave him an appreciative lopsided grin. "Knew you couldn't resist showing off your skills," he said, before he scrambled to his feet to face his opponent with his sword in hand.
Fresh blood flowed like a sluggish spring down Caxton's white linen shirt as he stood. His chest was heaving for air, but he seemed oblivious to his injuries. The viscount was too intent on maiming Norgrave to call an end to the duel.
In the fog with four small lanterns to shed some light on the evening's violence, Tristan distracted Briggs while the other two men continued to battle. Norgrave was correct. He was eager to display his sword skills to a worthy adversary, but he preferred a less bloodthirsty setting. Usually, his reputation was enough to discourage most disgruntled rivals. However, Norgrave was driven to prove himself on the field of honor. He was never satisfied unless blood was spilled. His loyalty and longstanding friendship with the marquess placed Tristan at his side.
Briggs had some training, but it was apparent he had never faced a seasoned opponent. Although Tristan did not seek out battles, he had the skill to finish and win them. His persistent attacks and parries kept Briggs away from Norgrave, and it wasn't long before the man began to tire. Briggs was sweating, while his lungs were working frenziedly like inefficient bellows.
With a look of disgust, Tristan swiftly disarmed his opponent and pressed the tip of his sword to Briggs's throat. "I trust you have the good sense to sheath your sword."
The man hastily nodded. "Aye, I do." It took him a few attempts, but he managed to put away his short sword. "Only a madman would continue."
"I cannot fault your reasoning. Now, if you don't mind, why don't you fetch the surgeon who had the good sense not to leave his coach. Caxton will need his skills since you managed to stab him."
His burly shoulders hunched as the man winced at the reminder that he had contributed to his friend's injuries. He picked up one of the lanterns. "What about them?" He gestured in the direction of the sounds of grunts and heavy breathing. "No one mentioned this was a battle to the death."
"It isn't. I have no desire to abandon my estates and flee England." Tristan glanced over his shoulder, and shouted into the fog. "Gentlemen, blood has been shed. Can we assume everyone is satisfied?"
Norgrave and Caxton staggered into view. The viscount had enough blood on his shirt to make it appear that he had sustained a mortal wound. Their short swords were nowhere in sight. His friend had fared better, but he was not walking away from this duel unscathed.
"What say you, Caxton? Are you satisfied?" Norgrave asked too cheerfully for their situation.
The man loved a good fight.
"I'm too tired to fight you," the viscount responded sullenly. "Aye, I'm satisfied — as long as you stay away from my wife."
Brazen bastard that he was, the marquess clapped the gentleman on the shoulder as if they were old friends. "A reasonable request I am happy to oblige. I have a bottle of brandy in my coach. What the surgeon cannot fix, a glass or two will help ease."
Tristan ruefully shook his head at Norgrave's mercurial mood as the two men headed for the coaches. Lord Caxton was never at risk of losing his wife's affections to the marquess. Norgrave had sampled Lady Audrey's charms and moved on to other conquests. No lady had ever claimed his friend's heart for long. He doubted such a female existed.
* * *
Hours later, Tristan and Norgrave were still celebrating their triumph at the marquess's residence. Along the way, they had collected two courtesans from their rented theater box. Jewel Tierney was an Irish beauty who had left her small village at sixteen and through a series of lovers had found her way to London. It wasn't long before she had secured a string of wealthy protectors. Both he and Norgrave had some history with the lovely Miss Tierney. He had been twenty when the dark-haired enchantress had cast a calculating glance in his direction. Their time together had been costly, but well worth it. Even so, he had been young and too wild to be tamed by any comely wench. His interest in her had quickly waned. There had been no recriminations. Ambitious and quite fickle in her affections, Jewel had moved on to other lovers — including Norgrave.
To Tristan's surprise, Norgrave and Jewel still shared a friendship of sorts, even though the fiery passion that had brought them together had burned out years ago. Occasionally lovers, Norgrave had an amicable arrangement with the twenty-nine-year-old courtesan. Intimately familiar with his carnal predilections, Jewel often handpicked young women who had recently arrived in London and would be appreciative of the marquess's protection.
She had issued the same offer to Tristan, but he had politely refused. His title and the Rooke family's good looks ensured he had a willing female in his bed whenever he desired. He also did not want to be beholden to the courtesan. He had never inquired into the particulars of her arrangement with Norgrave, but Jewel was too shrewd not to demand a price.
"Tristan, I pray you are not spoiling my victory by passing out on us," grumbled Norgrave from the bed.
He had insisted that the four of them retire to his bedchamber so Jewel could clean the shallow scratches the surgeon dismissed as minor. The man had stitched up the wound on Norgrave's arm, and told him that he should confine his activities to his bed. His friend laughed and vowed to follow the old man's medical advice. Considering he was lying naked on the bed with only a sheet draped across his lean hips while two pretty women fussed over him, Tristan bemusedly wondered if Norgrave had bribed the surgeon for his opinion.
Reclining against the glassy blue silk cushions of the sofa, he did not bother opening his eyes when he replied, "More tired than foxed. It was a bloody long day and I had already developed a mild headache before we spent half the night drinking and playing cards. Not to mention our little adventure with Caxton." As an afterthought, he added, "And don't think I won't collect my winnings on that last game."
"You will forgive me for not beggaring you at the table as I often do."
His brows lifted in feigned outrage. "The devil you do!"
Jewel and her friend Eunice laughed.
"I was distracted by Caxton," his friend complained. "I had heard rumors at the club that he was working up the courage to challenge me."
"You deserved it," Tristan muttered without a trace of sympathy. "You were Audrey's first lover and then you made certain he knew it once he married her."
"Cason, that was terribly wicked of you!" Jewel admonished the marquess. The bed creaked as the woman moved closer to soften the sting of her words with a kiss.
"Do not tell me that Caxton didn't deserve it. Besides, it was his wife who caused all the fuss when she fainted at my feet. How was I to know that the lady still harbored feelings for me?"
The other woman sighed. "You poor man ... it must be difficult to have all of your lovers fall in love with you."
Norgrave chuckled. "It is a curse."
Tristan groaned. The man's arrogance was boundless. "Love is not the appropriate word. Most of your former mistresses despise you."
When there was no sarcastic response from Norgrave, he opened his eyes and glanced over his shoulder at the bed. While he had been lightly dozing, Jewel and Eunice had disrobed and joined the marquess in bed. In spite of the colorful bruising on his body, Norgrave had positioned Jewel so she sat astride his hips. She slowly rode his cock while Eunice cushioned his swollen cheek with her breast.
Excerpted from A Duke But No Gentleman by Alexandra Hawkins. Copyright © 2015 Alexandra Hawkins. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A bet among two boyhood friends on who can take lady Imogen ' s virginity first...they ate two rakes of the worst kind...the duke pretty much got pushed into his friends bet by the marquise...the duke ends up fallen for her and he wins the bet but not tell his friend...Couse he loves her...but the marquis has a dark side and refuses to let his friend win...this was a good book with good love scenes but also you see a dark side to an evil man who abuses and gets off on raping and controlling women....the auther did a great job with this book...I just wish there were a little more emotion's from the characters, with all that had happened ....but still a grateful read..
I can't wait for the next book to get here.
This story has everything. Friends who become enemies, a naively innocent heroine, darkly handsome men, romantic obsession that leads to dark love and anger. Alexandra Hawkins' A Duke but No Gentlemen was a disturbing read for me. Am not a fan of manipulation of innocents and questionable sexual situations. This book will linger with the reader, but it just was a little too much for me.
I like Alexandra Hawkins' books but will admit this one may not be for everyone. Her books are always well written with great characters. I couldn't put it down! This series is set before the Lords of Vice series. In this one, the hero and his best friend are a little darker than the Lords of Vice. The friend has a lot of problems and there was not enough of his background to know what his childhood was like. That may be explained in a later book. The hero was wild but not evil. The heroine was naive but not stupid. As a Duke's daughter, I did think she was less chaperoned than she should have been for the time frame. At least a maid should have been with her even if she ordered her away.
Alexandra Hawkins in back with a vengeance with the first book in her newest series the Masters of Seduction, A Duke But No Gentleman. The reigning authority of charismatic Regency rogues Ms. Hawkins has set the mark high for the books to follow in this series. A hero to die for coupled with a fetching heroine steam up the pages of this story of love and betrayal. Absolutely enthralling this author’s latest work is sure to seduce you. *I received this ARC via Netgalley*
Review Courtesy of April Hollingworth This is the first book in the brand new Master’s of Seduction series, and it throws you for a loop. What this book makes you feel is a wild range of emotions, amusement, hope, giddy, frustration, worry, anger and love. You feel all the emotions of the characters, the ones that are wonderful and devastating. Be prepared to fall in love with a handsome rogue, and to pray that he gets his happily ever after. After all, all’s fair in love and war. Or is it? The Review: The Duke of Blackbern and the Marques of Norgrave are boyhood friends and compete in everything, including women. As it keeps the boredom away, both are happy with their games, until Lady Imogen Sunter crosses their paths, when Blackbern realizes that he cares for Imogen more and more each day, and all bets are off. Lady Imogen is stunningly gorgeous, and an innocent and has no understanding of the jaded men who are courting her, and just how far they are willing to go. Blackbern’s and Norgrave’s fight for Imogen’s affections should have been the usual spirited affair, until Blackbern realizes just how deeply he cares for the beautiful woman, and that with each passing day his feelings deepen even more, and then all bets are off. Norgrave, is fighting his own demons, and his pride won’t allow him to be forsaken. With one final act of betrayal he threatens Imogen’s and Blackbern’s new found desire, setting a course of Regency bad boys who will go down in history as the Masters of Seduction. FTC Advisory: St. Martin’s Press through Net Galley provided me with a copy of A Duke but No Gentleman by Alexandra Hawkins. Published through St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.