Tuesday, 1 January 2013

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To prevent three royal dukes from marrying their way onto the throne, heroic, selfless agents for the crown will be dispatched...to seduce the dukes' intended brides. These wickedly debauched rakes will rumple sheets and cause a scandal. But they just might fall into their own trap...

After he's blamed for a botched assignment during war, former cavalry officer Rhys Warrick turns his back on “honor.” He spends his nights in brothels doing his best to live down to the expectations of his disapproving family. But one last mission could restore the reputation he's so thoroughly sullied. All he has to do is seduce and ruin Miss Olivia Symon and his military record will be cleared. For a man with Rhys's reputation, ravishing the delectably innocent miss should be easy. But Olivia's honesty and bold curiosity stir more than Rhys's desire. Suddenly the heart he thought he left on the battlefield is about to surrender...

Get a sneak peek at Connie Mason and Mia Marlowe's Waking Up with a Rake (available January 1, 2013) with a special excerpt introduced by Mia Marlowe:

Connie Mason and I have been working on a trio of Regency stories called The Royal Rakes. They’re based on the very real “Hymen Race Terrific.” After Princess Charlotte died in 1817, the Prince Regent’s unmarried brothers realized they had an opportunity to wed, bed, and breed in order to present George III with a legitimate grandchild who would one day wear the crown. But not everyone wanted the royal dukes to succeed. And what better way to stop them than make sure a dedicated rake came between them and their intendeds?

In Waking Up with a Rake, Lord Rhys Warrington has been blackmailed into seducing Olivia Symon, a wealthy heiress who’s caught the interest of the Duke of Clarence.  However, when someone makes an attempt on Olivia’s life, Rhys realizes someone else might be trying to keep her from becoming royal in a more permanent way.

Chapter 9

Rhys was just about to reach for the crystal knob when the door opened a crack and Olivia peered out at him.

“What are you doing here?” she hissed.

“Standing in the hall where anyone might see me,” he whispered.

The door swung wide and she yanked him into her chamber. Then she carefully closed the door behind him. The latch clicked with an almost imperceptible snick.

“You’re far gentler with oak and hinges than you are my forearm,” he said softly.

“The door hasn’t done anything to irritate me,” she whispered back. “Now what do you want?”

In the soft light of the banked fire, he gave her a swift assessing glance. Her correctly virginal night rail was covered by an equally correct wrapper. Her long hair was plaited in a loose braid that draped heavily over one shoulder. Despite the fact that she was arguably the most “missish” woman he’d ever seen, his body was of the contrarian opinion that she was still entirely swiveable.

“What do I want?” Rhys repeated. “Besides to come in, you mean.”

“Yes, obviously, besides to come in. And for heaven’s sake, keep your voice down.” She crossed her arms beneath her breasts, unknowingly lifting them for his more careful perusal.

He forced his gaze away. No point in antagonizing her more.

“Keep my voice down, yes, of course.” He put a finger to his lips to shush himself, walked over, and plopped down on the foot of her bed. “As to what I want, why, I think that should be self-evident. I want to stay the night.”

“You most certainly—” her own voice had risen well above a whisper, but she caught herself and continued in a furious hiss, “—will not.”

He patted the mattress beside him, inviting her to sit. “What about our wager? May I remind you that you lost this evening?”

“I didn’t lose.” Olivia remained standing, and as still as if she was carved of marble. “You cheated.”

“I suppose I did from your point of view. Be that as it may, you still lost and therefore you owe me an unspecified favor.” He waved away her objections. “We didn’t set any ground rules that precluded trickery when we made our bet. Perhaps that’s something you should consider the next time you decide to wager with me.”

“There won’t be a next time.”

“So sure about so many things, aren’t you?” The fact that he suspected she was in danger should have made this little interview deadly serious, but he was enjoying the view too much. Backlit by the fire, her otherwise chaste night rail and wrapper were nearly transparent. The shadowy silhouettes of her legs were easy to make out. “And only this morning you were certain you’d never call me Rhys in public. Whether you like it or not, you owe me a favor.”

“Not this one. You are not staying.”

He stood and walked toward her. “Shall it be noised about that the daughter of Horatio Symon is a welcher?”

“Shall it be noised about that Lord Rhys Warrington is a cad? Oh, wait, it already is. I was simply foolish enough to give you the benefit of the doubt.” She backtracked a few steps, then held her ground in a defensible position next to the pair of chintz-covered wing chairs by the fire. “Don’t you care what people think of you?”

“Not particularly.”

“Or what they think of me, evidently.”

“Nonsense. Unless you insist on talking too loudly, no one will know I’m spending my nights here.”

Olivia made a disgruntled little sound in the back of her throat as she plopped into one of the chairs. “I’ll know and—what do you mean by nights?”

“When the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense, my old tutor used to say,” Rhys said, settling his hands on the arms of her chair and leaning toward her. She pressed herself into the tufted back, but the way her breath hitched told him she was excited by his nearness. “I mean just what I said. Nights as in plural, as in more than one, as in for as long as I remain a guest here at Barrowdell. That’s the favor you owe me and that’s what I’ll have. These chairs seem quite comfy. If you don’t care to share the bed, we might push them together so you could sit in one and prop your feet on the other.”

“No, I don’t care to share my bed, and I will not sleep on a chair in my own room either.” She pressed her palms against his chest and shoved. “Rhys, you’re not staying. How can I convince you of that? I ought not to have allowed you through the door.”

“Why did you then?” He straightened to his full height but wouldn’t move away so she could escape him.

“Because someone…because you…because…oh, hang it all! I don’t know.” The way she rubbed her forehead made him think she hadn’t been pretending when she pleaded a headache at supper. “You are, without doubt, the most infuriating person I’ve ever met.”

“I shall take that as a compliment.”

She shot him an evil glare. “It wasn’t meant as one.”

“Anytime one is designated ‘the most anything,’ it indicates a certain level of accomplishment beyond the common. That raises your comment to the ranks of a compliment, don’t you think?”

The glare dissolved and was replaced by such a look of entreaty that his chest ached with guilt over the discomfort he was causing her.

“Oh, Rhys, please go away.”

“I can’t.” He’d hoped to protect her without having to tell her that she needed protection. It was time to fall back on the truth. It was supposed to set one free, he’d heard. Rhys sat in the opposite chair and leaned forward. “Tell me. When you went back to the stable today, did Mr. Thatcher show you Molly’s saddle?”

“No, he didn’t,” she said wearily. “He’d already sent it to the saddler to be repaired.”

“Just my luck. You have a servant who’s the soul of discretion.”

“Why are you trying to change the subject?” She stood, determination radiating from her slight frame. “You’re not staying, so we don’t need to talk about Molly’s saddle or the quality of our servants or anything else, because…you’re not staying.”

“You’ve said that once or twice already.”

“Yes, well, I meant it every time.”

“I can see that you do,” he said. “And usually when a lady tells me no—and believe me, I can count on one hand the number of times that’s happened—I don’t argue. I bid the lady adieu and there’s the end of it. But unfortunately, this time I can’t take no for an answer.”

“Do I need to scream to convince you I sincerely don’t want you here?”

“That would certainly convince me of your sincerity, but you don’t want to do that,” he said. “Fair or not, if the two of us are found alone in your bedchamber, it would undoubtedly enhance my reputation. However, it would do no favors to your good name.”

Her look of loathing made him cringe inside, but he was careful to give no outward sign of it.

“You are despicable,” she said.

“More than you know,” he admitted. “But I have good reason for my boorish behavior this time. You see, your accident today was no accident.”

She sank back into the wing chair, wind spilling from her sails. “What do you mean?”

“I mean Molly’s saddle was deliberately tampered with.” He described what he’d discovered. She listened with far more calm than most debutantes would if they’d been told someone meant them harm. Certainly more calm than he’d have been greeted with if he’d gone to her mother with the story.

“So, you see, until we learn why someone wishes you ill, I’ll rest better if I know you’re secure,” he said. “If this person was bold enough to sneak into the stable and alter your saddle, they may be bold enough to slip into your chamber as well. That’s why I want to spend my nights here. Let me stay to keep you safe.”

She stood and paced before the fireplace, arms wrapped around herself. “It makes no sense. Why would anyone want to harm me?”

“You have captured the attention of the Duke of Clarence,” Rhys said. “Royal favor sometimes comes with unintended consequences.”

Mr. Alcock might not be the only one who wanted to see the match between the duke and Miss Symon fail. Someone else may have decided the best way to go about it was to remove the potential bride for good. It was a bloodthirsty scenario, but the scheme of seducing her was at least as underhanded. In both cases, the results would be lasting.

Rhys stomped down his guilt. He was trying to protect her now. That ought to count for something. For the moment, at least, he was on the side of the angels.

The guests in residence at Barrowdell didn’t seem the sort to be swept up in political intrigue. But in the shadowy realm of royal machinations, that only made it more likely Rhys’s supposition was right.

After all, who would guess the duke’s emissary was also trying to sabotage the match?

Or was there another unrelated reason Olivia Symon had fallen afoul of someone who would go to great lengths to harm her?

“So you want to spend the nights with me simply to keep me safe.” She cast him a wry smile. “That has to be a first for you.”

He shrugged. “You have the right of it. My motives are pure for once. I am here to protect you.”

She cocked her head at him, as if weighing his words for veracity. “You certainly kept me safe this morning. In the confusion and with my mare’s injury and all, I’m not sure I even thanked you properly.”

“Thank me now by letting me stay.”

She sighed. “Very well. If I can’t trust the man who pulled me from the ‘jaws of death,’” —she crossed her eyes, stuck out her tongue, and gave a quick imitation of her mother’s histrionics at the dinner table, collapsing back into her chair in a fake swoon—“whom can I trust?”

Rhys swallowed back a laugh but grinned so widely his cheeks hurt.

Then her expression sobered. “Thank you, Rhys. Truly.”

“It was my pleasure.”

“However, most people would not consider having a rake in my boudoir the least conducive to my safety.”

She had him there. Perhaps he’d been wrong to be so honest with her about his reputation. Then he noticed she bunched her wrapper tightly in her fists, the only outward sign of her inner turmoil. She’d just learned someone had tried to do her harm, yet she wasn’t dissolving into a frantic puddle.

His respect for her ticked up several notches. Rhys reached across the space between them and took one of her hands between his. Despite the warmth emanating from the banked fire, her skin was icy.

“I give you my word, Olivia. Nothing will pass between us that you don’t wish as well.” He brought her hand to his lips and pressed a chaste kiss to it. He detected a slight tremble in her fingers. The softness of her skin made him ache to do more, but if he was going to win back her trust, he needed to be on his best behavior. “On my honor as a dissolute libertine, I so swear.”

She laughed, covering her mouth with her other hand to muffle the sound.

“I like hearing you laugh.” He rubbed the pad of his thumb across the back of the hand that he still held. “You ought to do it more often.”

“Not recommended when there’s a man in my chambers, I expect.” To his surprise, she smiled and actually squeezed his fingertips.

“Quite right. In this situation, there are better things to do.”

“No doubt.” She lifted a brow at him. “Those ‘better things’ are also not recommended for a young woman whose chief value is the possession of a maidenhead.”

“No matter what else might happen this night,” he said, lacing his fingers with hers. The tremble he’d noticed earlier ceased. “I promise you’ll greet the dawn in the same state of purity you now enjoy. However, it’s your choice whether or not you become a knowledgeable virgin.”

Wide-eyed, she gazed at him, as if she were trying to penetrate to the last wrinkle of his misshapen soul.

She really ought to turn away.

His profligate life of the past three years rose up to taunt him. The last thing he deserved was this delicate creature treating him as if he weren’t some sort of monster. She should raise the alarm, call out the peasants with pitchforks, and have him tossed off her father’s estate for good.

Instead she did the last thing he expected.

“If I were to let you educate me,” she said with only a slight quaver in her voice, “what would the first lesson be?”
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