The Art of Seduction
Parris Sutherland cares little for the gossip swirling about her after she is left at the altar. She is far too busy with a new project: masquerading as "Lady Scruples" and exacting justice on philandering men. If only she could resist the desire aroused by her childhood protector, Dominick Carlisle, recently returned home after eight years.
As the new Duke of Wakefield, Dominick has no interest in the aristocratic duties foisted upon him. He'd rather unmask Lady Scruples -- especially if it distracts him from his long-suppressed feelings for Parris and the dreams that have haunted him since a sultry night with a mysterious girl so long ago. But when Dominick discovers that all of the women on his mind are one and the same -- Parris -- he vows to teach the minx a lesson by seducing her all the way to the altar.
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About the Author
Before she discovered romantic fiction, Melanie George was the CEO of an executive-search consulting firm. Her most important job, however, has always been that of mother, to both a much-adored son and two precious dogs. When she is not writing, she is trying to restore her hundred-year-old house and has come to the conclusion that paint speckles will more than likely be a permanent part of her person. Melanie enjoys hearing from readers, and you can visit her website at melanie-george.com.
Read an Excerpt
Half our mistakes in life arise from feeling when we ought to think, and thinking when we ought to feel.
-- John Collins
"That's the spot, love. A little harder. Right...there...ah, yes."
Dominick's fingers tightened around the waist of the barmaid who was straddling his lap, her hands, deft and incredibly masterful, working their magic on his heated flesh.
Blessed Jesus, she was good. He had never been massaged in quite this way, amid a crowded taproom with a mountain of cleavage staring him in the face, only the barest wisp of material covering the girl's enormous breasts.
He hooked his finger over the top of her gypsy blouse, lightly caressing her dewy skin, watching as her nipples peaked and strained against the flimsy cotton.
She gazed at him with heated eyes, her look amply conveying that he could do whatever he liked, that she did not care about the onlookers gathered around them, drool practically dribbling from their mouths.
Perhaps this time he would take her up on her offer.
"Ssh," he murmured, sweeping the very tip of his finger over one hardened nub, hearing her quick intake of breath and smiling. She squirmed against him, wanting more. He obliged.
He dipped a hand inside her blouse, boldly cupping her while keeping his prize hidden from the leering eyes hoping for a glimpse at Sally's elusive bounty.
How could he deny her when she begged so sweetly? "All right, my girl. You've won."
Dominick leaned forward, very slowly tugging the material down, his tongue running over his lips as he anticipated the unveiling of that dusky pink tip.
He scowled as the voice beckoning him changed from soft and infinitely feminine to grating and annoyingly male.
The barmaid's image began to waver, as though he looked at her through a water-filled glass globe. Then, like a vapor trail, she disappeared.
"Sir?" croaked that same bloody voice, ruining a perfectly lascivious dream. "Are you awake?"
Dominick growled and rolled onto his back, grabbing the pillow under his head and throwing it at the speaker. "Bugger off, damn you!" he barked as reality pummeled him, along with a throbbing in his skull that told him he had imbibed far too much at his club the previous evening.
"Are you all right, sir?"
No, he bloody well wasn't all right. Since his homecoming a week earlier, everyone felt inclined to ply him with drinks as though he were some conquering hero, instead of a retired army colonel who had returned only because he had been forced to.
With a great deal of reluctance, Dominick lifted his forearm off his face and was immediately assaulted by a brilliant burst of golden light.
He closed his eyes against the unwanted intrusion. "Sweet Jesus," he rasped, "what is that?"
"The sun, my lord," replied that now familiar voice, creaky as an unused gate and just as irritating. Hastings, his bloody butler. Soon to be his ex-butler for waking him.
"Good Christ, is it always that...bright?"
"For as long as I can remember, sir. Yes."
Dominick groaned. "What time is it?" His throat felt like someone had poured sand down it.
"Two in the afternoon."
"On what day?"
"Friday?" Dominick frowned. He remembered Monday fairly well. Tuesday was a bit hazy. Wednesday was somewhat of a crapshoot, and Thursday...well, what could one say about Thursday? Nothing, apparently.
Emitting another painful groan, he levered himself up onto his elbows. Once settled in his new position, he fixed his irritated gaze on his rigidly erect, gray-haired butler, who had been with his family since Dominick was in short coats, and who took it upon himself to peck at Dominick like a mother hen whenever Dominick got out of line -- which had been quite often as a youth, and almost as often as an adult.
It didn't seem to matter to Hastings that Dominick was now the ninth duke of Wakefield, albeit ushered into the position reluctantly because of his older brother's untimely demise in a hunting accident.
It was still damned hard to believe; Freddie had been only forty years old. But Dominick felt little loss. He and his brother had not spoken since the night he had found Freddie in bed with Annabelle Sutherland.
But Annabelle's perfidy had not caused the rift. He and Freddie had always been rivals rather than brothers, and the way the bastard gloated as he fucked Annabelle had irrevocably severed any remaining familial bond.
Dominick figured he deserved what he got for being such a gullible sod and falling for Annabelle's ploy. She had had one Carlisle; why not another? Being a duke's wife was certainly more appealing than being the wife of a lowly second son. But when Frederick had tossed her aside she had come crawling back to Dominick, begging his forgiveness.
Seeing him unmoved by her tears, she changed from contrition to indignation, her acting skills laudable. Later, in front of the assembled guests, she had even produced a single fat tear as she told them she could not marry him, allowing her tortured expression to imply that he was the dishonorable party.
Dominick had nearly applauded, but then he caught sight of Parris's stricken face in the crowd, those eyes branding him with all the heartless traits that Annabelle's silent censure had heaped upon him.
Her look of betrayal and anguish still haunted Dominick. He had hurt her, destroyed something special and rare. Somewhere in the mess that had become his life, he had lost the only thing that had truly meant anything to him. Parris.
He forced down the regret that churned in his gut whenever he thought of her, and concentrated his efforts on glaring at his butler. "Hastings, a bit of advice?"
"Yes, Your Grace?"
"It would behoove you to keep in mind that I've killed men for lesser offenses than rousing me from sleep." Let the fastidious old prune digest that. Dominick had to set the tone for his reign as reluctant liege, and thus far, either he hadn't made himself clear or Hastings was dense.
"My most heartfelt apologies, sir," Hastings intoned, not looking the least bit worried. "I would not have disturbed you had I not been led to believe the matter was of some importance."
"And what matter is that?"
"Lord Stratford is here to see you. I told him you were abed, but he said it was imperative that he speak to you. He looked rather agitated."
Good Christ. Stratford thought telling the world he had a hangnail was imperative. Why Dominick had remained friends with the annoying blighter all these years was another of life's little mysteries. Perhaps it was merely ghoulish curiosity about what might befall the man next. Trouble seemed to always be just around the bend wherever Jason was concerned.
"He awaits you in the library," Hastings added.
"Bloody hell." By now, Jason would have worked his way through half of Dominick's finest liquor and pocketed several of his expensive cigars.
"Might Your Grace like a spot of tea to refresh himself before rising?" Hastings inquired, clearly assuming that Dominick would not tell him to pitch Stratford headlong into the street.
"No," Dominick grumbled, concluding that the only thing more annoying than Hastings's infernal presence -- besides Stratford's infernal presence -- was Hastings speaking in the third person. "His Grace does not want any damn tea."
Reluctantly, Dominick swung his legs over the side of his bed. "Guess I might as well rise, since the best part of the day has been shot to hell."
"Shall I call Smithson to assist you in dressing, sir?"
Dominick slid a sidelong glance at Hastings. "I've been dressing myself my whole life; why the hell do I need someone to help now?"
"If I may be so bold as to remind you of your station in life. You are a duke now and no longer serving in Her Majesty's Royal Army. There are certain things expected of you."
Dominick gritted his teeth. He did not need another reminder of his responsibilities. Every day, they were there, ready to irritate him, like a bucket of cold water to the groin. Glorious freedom had become an elusive commodity.
For eight years he had been a soldier, living hard, playing hard, and all this damn mollycoddling was grating on his last bloody nerve.
"I don't need Smithson," he bit out, stalking nude past Hastings and throwing open his armoire. "I can put on my own blasted clothes. Get rid of him." Dominick could almost feel the stiffness creeping into his butler's limbs at his last remark.
"I would be remiss in my duties were I to do such a thing, Your Grace. No person in your position can be without a gentleman's gentleman."
It was on the tip of Dominick's tongue to inform Hastings that he first had to have a gentleman to work with, but he refrained. Between his throbbing skull and his throbbing leg -- compliments of a gunshot wound to the thigh while on maneuvers in the Peninsula -- he wasn't quite up to having holes bored into the back of his head as his butler glared at him in silent umbrage.
Stoked by renewed disgust at the unexpected turn his life had taken, Dominick grabbed the drawers Hastings held out to him and shoved his legs into them. Then he yanked on a pair of black trousers, threw his arms into his shirt, and fumbled with the buttons.
Grimacing, he stared at his reflection in the mirror, catching only a shadowy outline of the tattoo on the left side of his chest: a hissing serpent that coiled in an S-pattern, the tail curling around his nipple.
He had gotten the tattoo shortly after he had joined the army. The snake seemed appropriate, considering his experience with gardens and forbidden fruit. It served to remind him of his folly.
His day now thoroughly soured, Dominick rolled up his shirtsleeves and brushed past Hastings, who stood like a wax effigy holding out his waistcoat. Dominick grabbed it and headed resolutely toward the door.
Hastings beat him to it. "Your jacket, sir." He held up the garment and Dominick's brows drew together, warning the meddling little philistine not to push. The warning went unheeded. "Here, let me help you."
The next thing Dominick knew, his sleeves were rolled down, his cuffs fastened with gold links bearing the ducal emblem, and the jacket was sliding up his arms. Then his cravat was looped around his neck like the hangman's noose it resembled and properly tied in the requisite number of knots.
"There. That's better." Hastings smoothed the jacket's lapels. Dominick growled, but his butler merely glanced at Dominick's earlobe, holding out his hand. "The stud, please, Your Grace."
Dominick leaned down close to Hastings's face and said through gritted teeth, "Over your dead body." Then he nudged the irritating specimen aside and practically sprinted from the room.
Hastings got the stud before Dominick had reached the landing.
Muttering curses all the way down the stairs, Dominick entered the library to find his assumption had been correct. Stratford was helping himself to a fresh glass of port, most likely his third or fourth by now, and had one of Dominick's finest cigars clamped between his teeth.
Jason was the fifteenth earl of Stratford, and the youngest at thirty-one years of age. He was also a prime example of vice if ever there was one, well on his way to becoming a complete degenerate.
Dominick had met the heir apparent to the Stratford fortune at boarding school. Both their fathers had claimed they were in need of discipline or else they would grow up to be complete wastrels, a possibility they both courted with a near religious fervor.
Together, they rebelled, bucking the restrictive ties of being born into the aristocracy, with all the minutiae it entailed. Expulsion loomed on the horizon during their entire academic careers.
Stratford, however, had drawn the line at army life and shivered at the prospect of such a regimented existence, unwilling to go that far to stay free of the tentacles of his title.
Some females -- who were blind to Jason's numerous faults -- might call him handsome with his dark, unconventionally long hair, his swarthy features, cobalt blue eyes, and his height of six-two.
His body, like Dominick's, had been honed in the boxing ring, where Jason delighted in pummeling unwitting dupes who were ignorant of his skill.
Stratford needed to remain fit, so he could fend off the irate husbands looking to end his life in the most painful way possible -- an idea that held a great deal of merit at that moment as Dominick observed the rotter pocketing his antique sterling snuffbox.
Stratford caught sight of him then, grinned like the unrepentant rouÉ he was, and raised his glass in salute. "Ah, the prodigal son has arrived! Let us all hail this miracle."
Dominick growled in response. His head still pulsated from the previous night's overindulgence, and he was not in a particularly benevolent frame of mind.
Not that Stratford deserved any form of benevolence; the man was irritating at his best and a rousing pain in the ass at his worst. It defied logic why Dominick liked him.
Jason quirked a brow. "Someone's in a foul temper today. That glower is practically blinding." He gave Dominick a quick once-over and remarked, "Let me guess? Hastings?"
Dominick scowled and held out his hand for his snuffbox.
Jason chuckled, clearly amused by Dominick's black mood as he offered up his pilfered booty. "I cannot begin to fathom why you let the frail old boy irritate you so. He's just doing his job. You can't fault the man for that." He eyed Dominick's attire, adding in a tone that proclaimed his jaw was asking for a punch, "Besides, I think you're looking exceptionally handsome today. All the other dukes will be green with envy."
"Unless you're hoping to leave here with fewer body parts than when you arrived, I would advise you to refrain from further comment."
Jason held up his hands in supplication, but his mocking grin only broadened.
Dominick shoved past the idiot and strode to the sideboard to pour himself a drink. Normally he waited until the evening hours to indulge -- a growing habit of late, considering the company he had been keeping -- but something told him he was going to need the mellowing aspects of alcohol this afternoon.
He downed a half glass of Madeira, felt it warm his gut and begin to spread before he turned to face his friend. "So what's on your mind? If you'll forgive the overstatement."
Jason flopped down in one of the chairs scattered about the library and hooked a booted leg over the arm. "I received a letter."
That revelation straightened Dominick up. "From her?"
"The lady herself. Lord, the termagant has got brass; I'll give her that. She left her little love note inside my coach. The witch is like a bloody phantom. Nobody has ever caught a whiff of her."
So the infamous Lady Scruples had struck again, and very close to home this time. She was a menacing enigma, keeping London's entire male population on their toes, wondering who would be her next victim.
She had been dubbed Lady Scruples because of her moral do-gooding on behalf of women everywhere, and damn if she didn't intrigue Dominick as nothing else had in a long while.
The uproar she had been causing in town for the past few months was all people could talk about. Men everywhere were nervous. Though Stratford tried to hide his concern behind his insouciant manner, Dominick knew better: The man was a wreck.
"What is she threatening?" The revenges the lady came up with to put the targeted male in his place were not only inventive, but sometimes vastly entertaining.
Stratford scowled. "The shrew told me that if I do not stop seeing the Earl of Markham's daughter an unpleasantness would befall me. More specifically, she said I would be afflicted by a flaming attack of conscience in the one place I cherish most."
Dominick let out a bark of laughter.
"Not funny, you miserable sod."
Dominick imagined that whatever punishment the lady had in mind for Stratford, she wouldn't disappoint. He couldn't help being reluctantly intrigued by the puzzle she presented. He seemed to have cultivated a certain unhealthy fascination for women who were shrouded in mystery.
He suspected that in real life Lady Scruples was a dour-faced spinster who was taking out her unhappiness on the male population of London, whom she blamed for overlooking her.
"I wonder if she's ever been bedded," he mused.
Jason shot him a look over the rim of his glass. "What difference does it make?"
"It could make quite a big difference. Unlike you, most people generally do things for a reason. Perhaps you could offer up your services? Put yourself out there for stud purposes, so to speak. I realize you're spread rather thin at the moment, with all your incoming and outgoing conquests, but consider this a humanitarian effort."
"I know my prowess is legendary, but jealousy does not become you, old boy. And let me point out that as a member of the male populace, you are not immune to becoming an object of female vengeance."
"I haven't been home long enough to corrupt anyone. And I suspect it would take me twelve lifetimes to catch up to you."
"I do a rather brisk business, don't I?" Jason reflected, radiating cockiness. Then he sighed and regarded the shine on his Hessians. "But now we must consider our innocent brothers-in-arms who are being tormented by this virago."
"Innocent? We know most of these men, and everything they have been accused of has been true. Even your crimes, Stratford. You have been making a habit out of tupping chits barely out of the schoolroom recently."
"So?" Jason said petulantly. "Perhaps I've grown bored with married women. There's simply no sport in the pursuit these days. It's like having nothing but brisket for six months, and then seeing a succulent braised duck and knowing you simply must have it or you'll go mad."
"What an interesting analogy," Dominick murmured dryly, trying his damnedest not to be amused.
"Besides" -- Jason shrugged -- "it's not as if I'm going after these women. They are coming after me -- rather ardently, in fact. And as you well know, I'm an obliging sort of fellow. I did endeavor to protect my virtue for as long as I could, but I am a man, not a saint -- so please refrain from going pious on me."
There was no arguing with Stratford on this particular issue. When it came to women, he could be so narrow-minded that should he fall on a pin, he would be blinded in both eyes.
Dominick leaned against the sideboard. "Well, it seems your newly acquired love for braised duck has earned you a formidable rival."
Jason brushed a speck of dust from his trousers.
"I'm not worried."
Dominick raised an eyebrow. "No? Then why are you here? If I recall correctly, you had Hastings wake me from a dead sleep, claiming it was imperative that you speak to me."
Stratford rendered such a perfect expression of affrontery, his ancestors would have been proud. "The man exaggerated."
Dominick highly doubted that. Hastings prided himself on being utterly precise when relaying a message, to the point that Dominick often considered killing the man justifiable homicide.
"If that's the case, then what did you want to talk to me about that couldn't wait until later?"
"Later I will be attending the Beechams' rout, where I hope to make an assignation to meet a special friend at a dark, little tavern on the outskirts of Spitalfields tomorrow night."
"I see. And would that Œfriend' happen to be the rebellious Lady Claire Markham, belle of this year's crop of hopefuls, who apparently doesn't realize she's playing with fire?"
"And if it is?" Jason returned defensively.
"Then I guess I'm just curious as to why you felt it necessary to tell me of your plans -- as if you thought I might care."
Jason avoided looking at him and instead concentrated on the dwindling alcohol in his glass. "I thought you might like to join me?" His attempt to sound offhanded fell short of the mark.
The unspoken request was that Dominick stand vigil and make sure Stratford didn't suddenly vanish from the face of the earth or develop a painful case of hanging testicles, due to defying the avenging angel of women everywhere.
"I'm not into threesomes, thank you."
Jason pushed himself from the chair and stalked to the sideboard, glaring at Dominick. "You're being a rotter, you know."
"Just come tonight, will you? By now, everyone must know of your return. This evening's event will solidify your homecoming and get all those tedious greetings and insincere well-wishes out of the way."
That much was true. Dominick had been acquiring invitations since the moment of his return, and steadfastly avoiding all of them. Every mama with an available daughter would parade her in front of him now that his status had sufficiently elevated.
But perhaps tonight he could finally put to rest the speculation about his hasty departure eight years ago. It was well past time to bring everything full circle. But that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy another moment of making Stratford sweat.
"Look," Jason said, his tone bordering on desperate, "it'll be worth your while. There's a new batch of beauties just waiting to be plucked. They'll be fawning all over you, salivating at the prospect of catching your eye and becoming the next duchess, to which you can dash all their hopes with that surly expression."
Dominick held out a moment longer, then sighed like a martyr. "Fine. I'll go." Let the man believe he was interested in immersing himself in a gaggle of tittering misses, who would probably faint dead away should he tell them about his time in India, of the rebellions, the poverty -- and what fate would befall any man who found himself inside the maharajah's harem.
"Good." The glint returned to Jason's eyes as he swigged down the last of his drink and plunked the empty glass on the sideboard. "I'll see you tonight." He turned to go. "Oh" -- he paused, pivoting halfway around -- "and keep tomorrow evening open."
"Why?" Something told Dominick he wasn't going to like whatever scheme Stratford was hatching.
"We're off to the Wrack and Ruin for a bit of fun."
Dominick cocked an eyebrow. "We?"
"You, me -- and Lady Claire, should I succeed in my mission. For a bit of blunt, you can get a tumble from one of the serving wenches. They're a voluptuous bunch. The proprietor only hires ones with big -- "
Dominick held up his hand. "Pray, do not elaborate."
Jason gave him a cocky half-grin, then turned on his heel, calling over his shoulder, "See you tonight."
Dominick watched his friend depart, wondering what he was getting himself into by agreeing to go slumming in the East End with Stratford.
The Wrack and Ruin. How apropos. Something told Dominick that tomorrow night would be more than just another drop of water in the ocean of pointless frivolity that was Stratford's life.
And his own, if he wasn't careful.
Copyright © 2002 by Melanie George
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the first book by Melanie George I bought via B & N. She seemed liked a newer author so, I gave her a try. ¿The Art of Seduction¿ started out good but, it fizzled for me. I liked the premise that the hero and heroine, Dominick & Parris grew up next to each other and were close childhood friends. They appeared to spend many years growing together ¿ scraping knees, climbing trees, playing outdoors and getting in and out of trouble together. They had a true affection for one another. When they got older, Parris declared her love for Dominick and he turned away ¿ not ready or prepared for such emotion from her even though he was deeply attracted to her as well. They later met up at a masked ball and Parris seduces him in the garden and he never knows it was her. He thought it was her beauteous sister who seduced him instead ¿ Annabelle. So¿he proposes in order to do the right thing, she agrees and then he finds Annabelle in compromising situation with his brother Frederick. The wedding is declared off and Dominick leaves for eight years. Life goes on in his absence ¿ Annabelle marries another, has children, Parris got engaged but, broke things off and Dominick stayed busy touring the globe learning about life. While gone Dominick gets an earring and a tattoo (which almost no one of nobility did back then ¿ too much of a modern twist). He finally returns home to do his duty as his father/brother are dead and he becomes the Duke. The reason this one flopped for me as there was too much inconsistency. Each time Parris gets intimate with Dominick ¿ she is not herself ¿ first a seductress in the gardens at the ball, then as a masked bar maid she called Megan etc. Parris could never open up and come clean with Dominick as an adult as she truly didn¿t trust him when it came to her sister and her own emotions. Dominick also didn¿t seem to picky about having sex with women he didn¿t know or were in masks ¿ that wasn¿t appealing to me. He even had the audacity to get angry in the story when he learned Parris wasn¿t a virgin ¿he wanted to be the first. Yet¿he was the one who ran out eight years earlier and left her behind without ever saying how he really felt. Dominick didn¿t spend much time trying to discover who Lady Scruples was¿ and Parris spent little time in that disguise either. The author kept looking back in time to make the characters seem more real and have depth but, I never felt I knew the adult characters and that¿s what counts. Even the love scenes were flat and should have been more powerful. The sex seemed superficial as neither had worked out what went wrong, where they were at now and where they planned to go in the future. The explanations and declarations once they arrived seemed simply too late to connect to the hero, heroine, and story line. I should have liked this book ¿ but, it just didn¿t draw me in. I was disappointed by the middle of the book and it never picked up even at the end. I gave two stars to be nice. I didn¿t think the title worked either, ¿The Art of Seduction¿ as nothing was artful or seductive in this book. Perhaps her later works are more interesting and memorable.
Let me start out saying I LOVE DOMINICK!!! This guy is mine! A man with a tattoo AND an earring. Pant, pant. If you're looking for a book that will heat you up on a cold night, look no further!
In 1842 Kent, Dominick Carlisle makes love to the seductress wearing the domino, but is shocked to realize she had been a virgin. After she leaves, he finds the handkerchief she left behind containing the monogram A.S. Dominick thinks he made love to Annabelle Sutherland, but in actuality it was her sister Parris. Dominick becomes engaged to Annabelle only to catch her in bed with his brother. Dominick makes her call off the engagement. After being away as a soldier for the next eight years later, Dominick comes home. When he sees Parris, he realizes the mistake of almost marrying the wrong woman, as he wants her by his side. He is also determined to unmask Lady Scruples, a female avenger wrecking havoc on the libidinous male populace. He concludes Scruples is Parris, which adds fervor to his need to seduce Parris into marrying him. He now knows which sister he always has loved, but to persuade her that he desires her, not her sibling, will take all his skills. THE ART OF SEDUCTION is an exciting Victorian romance that stars two wonderfully intelligent lead charcaters. Dominick and Parris are the strength of the novel yet their acumen is also the flaw as the problems between them sees too trivial for such astute individuals. The absorbing story line contains clever exchanges between the protagonists that amuse sub-genre readers who will appreciate Melanie George. Harriet Klausner