Home > Scoundrel of My Heart (Once Upon a Dukedom #1)

Scoundrel of My Heart (Once Upon a Dukedom #1)
Author: Lorraine Heath

Chapter 1

 

London

June 9, 1873

 

“I say, this is a marvelous opportunity for one of us to snag herself a duke.”

The raspy voice—like fine sandpaper massaged over velvet, a bit of roughness against tantalizing softness—forced Lord Griffith Stanwick to come awake with a jolt of pure physical want that nearly made him groan as his cock responded with a need that would go unsatisfied that morning. Not that he had a particular interest in bedding this particular woman.

On the best of days, he found Lady Kathryn Lambert’s optimistic presence deuced irritating, but at this precise minute her wretched cheerfulness was particularly annoying because tiny hammers were bombarding his skull, his stomach was roiling, and he was striving to remember how he had come to be lying facedown in the dirt behind the hedgerows near the terrace where his sister was no doubt enjoying a morning repast with her dear friend, who had been residing with them for a fortnight now, while her parents toured Italy. Obviously too much scotch the night before was partially responsible for his unwelcomed state, but he was no stranger to inebriation and had never before ended up where he didn’t want to be. What else had he gotten up to that had led him to a garden bed rather than a more enticing one with sheets?

“But surely the duke is in want of a debutante,” a sterner voice suggested. Lady Jocelyn, another friend to his sister, was equally irritating. Apparently, she had decided to join them at this ungodly hour, whatever it was. When the trio was together, gossip flowed, and silence was not to be found. Right now, he dearly craved silence. “Closing in on four and twenty, we’re nearly on the shelf. We’d be lucky to attract a spare.”

“Not a spare. Never a spare,” Lady Kathryn insisted. “That would not work for me at all.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d overheard her make such a claim in a tone that implied to find herself shackled with a spare would be the equivalent of encasing herself in horse manure. In spite of his foggy mind, the words stung. Capturing the heart of a second son was not the worst circumstance that could befall a woman. He knew dukes whose breath could knock a man over at twenty paces, marquesses whose laugh resembled a mule’s bray, earls with hands as soft as porridge, and viscounts with boils. Although considering his present state, he had to acknowledge that he might not be the best one to cast stones.

Besides, he was well aware that Lady Kathryn was not alone in her distaste for those never destined to inherit. It was one of the reasons that at seven and twenty, he had yet to do any serious wooing. Another reason was that as the spare, he was not required to provide an heir. And he enjoyed bachelorhood. No responsibilities. A modest allowance. An abundance of spirits, wagering, and women of questionable moral character at his disposal. Every night was bursting with escapades, although the mornings were beginning to become quite tedious. It wasn’t bad when he awoke next to a warm, willing adventuress, but of late, if he was honest, he was growing a bit bored with them as well. Not so bored, however, that he preferred awakening among the hedgerows.

How the bloody hell had he ended his night here?

“As Cupid’s arrow has struck true in my case,” Althea announced with calm determination and a bit of glee at her recent good fortune, “I cannot help but believe, dearest friends, that you both will join me in betrothal bliss before this Season’s end.”

“Chadbourne is one fortunate fellow,” Lady Kathryn said. “All of London knows you’ve completely won him over, and he will make a marvelous husband. He is besotted with you. Absolutely besotted.”

He imagined his sister, blushing and smiling at the mention of the earl. Althea was equally besotted with the gentleman she was to marry in January.

“As I said, like me, you will soon receive offers. I’m positively certain of it. And here is the perfect opportunity to put my prediction to the test.”

“But is this the best way to go about it?” Lady Jocelyn asked. “To write a letter to the duke outlining why he should choose me over all others? It seems rather forward.”

“The Duke of Kingsland is an extremely busy man, overseeing his vast estates and increasing his fortune, by all accounts,” Lady Kathryn said. “He doesn’t have time to court one woman after another until he finds one who might be suitable. I think he’s brilliant to come up with this strategy.”

The Duke of Kingsland, the most eligible and sought-after bachelor among the ton. The man avoided the social scene, stayed in London only long enough to see to his duties in the House of Lords, and never lost at games of chance. As far as Griffith knew, the duke had few close friends. He wielded wealth, power, and influence in equal measure thanks to a title that had carried weight for generations. Which might explain the advert he’d placed in the Times encouraging the daughters of peers to write him explaining why he should consider them as a potential duchess. Audition for him through the post. He would announce his selection at a ball he was hosting the last evening in June, would court her the remainder of the Season, and if he found her to be as appealing as her letter indicated, he would marry her before the end of the next Season.

Neat and tidy and so deuced boring. Griffith preferred to experience that first unexpected hint of allure, of interest, and then to explore the potential in a slow, seductive unraveling that revealed commonalities, differences, and secrets. He liked discovering how everything came together to make a woman intriguing. Some things he discovered before he bedded her, some things during, some things after. But always he enjoyed uncovering the various parts that created the whole. Even if, when the whole took shape, he lost interest, he still relished the journey. For him, it was always about savoring the discoveries, appreciating each nuance as though it was a fine wine he’d never before tasted.

“I’m not certain it’s brilliant,” Lady Jocelyn said. It wasn’t. It was damned lazy. It was an injustice to the woman, reduced her to a list of attributes, as though she was no more important than cattle. Besides, could a woman even know herself well enough to understand what any particular man might fancy about her? “But I suppose there is no harm in writing him. It’s not as though I have suitors falling at my feet.”

“Jolly good! I’ve always found competition encourages us to call to our better selves,” Lady Kathryn exclaimed heartily, causing insidious pain to travel through Griffith’s ears and brain. He couldn’t hold back his groan of discomfort.

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