Excerpt 2: Five Ways to Seduce a Duke

Meet Miss Angelique Barstow

Miss Angelique Barstow stepped back from the small canvas on her easel and closed one eye, assessing the sketch for her next project from a different angle. On the other side of her studio’s floor-to-ceiling windows was the breathtaking view of the valley that cradled her family’s estate, and closer still, Mrs. Jensen, leading a session with the colony’s painters on the lawn. In the large adjacent room, on the other side of the closed door, Mr. Grim taught casting to a group of aspiring sculptors. With all the students gainfully occupied, it was Angelique’s favorite time of day, the precious hours she had to shed her role as administrator and focus on her secret work.

Robert, her fiancé, lounged in the velvet-upholstered window seat and watched the painting class. He was a golden prince surveying his future kingdom, or so he would look in the portrait she would give him as a token of her affection on their wedding day. Robert’s lips curved into a half-smile as he watched through the smooth glass. “Such a lovely view.”

Angelique cocked her head. “My darling, are you referring to the autumnal landscape or the colony’s newest painter?”

Robert winked at her. “Bit of both, I suppose. He does cut a dashing figure with his slightly askew chapeau, don’t you think?” Robert sighed. “Sadly, the lad only has eyes for my fiancée.”

“Me?” Angelique widened her eyes. “If that’s truly the case, I’ve given him no encouragement, I assure you.”

“Perhaps you should.” Robert swung his long legs off the ledge and joined her in front of her easel. “Our arrangement is set. You’re free to take your first lover whenever the mood strikes you.”

Heat rushed to her face. Despite the secrets they shared, it still sometimes came as a shock to have such candid conversations with anyone, let alone a man. A man who would be her husband in name only, allowing him to maintain his clandestine proclivities, and her to pursue the one element she knew was missing in her artwork: passion. Her mother would be pleased Angelique was finally heeding her advice take lovers for the sake of her art, and thanks to Robert’s complicity, Angelique needn’t leave England and her beloved colony to seek carnal knowledge. As long as she practiced discretion, the cover of her marriage and Robert’s powerful family name would grant her unparalleled freedom. Now she need only find the wherewithal to seize upon her good fortune.

“As fine a figure as he cuts, I fear Mr. Crumby is a bit young,” she said. “And then there’s that ghastly monkey he brought with him. I never should have agreed to allow it.”

Robert chuckled. “That thing is a hellion. And aptly named—Lucifer. I do believe I’ve seen him make an appearance in some other students’ work, though, so perhaps he is a muse for them as well as for Crumby.”

Angelique rubbed at the slight throbbing in her left temple which conversations about the lion-tailed monkey always produced. “I fear he’s eaten more work than he’s inspired.”

“It eats paintings?”

“Only the corners of them,” she said. “But the habit has caused quite an uproar. Yesterday, Mrs. Jensen had to banish him from the studio and insist he be kept on a leash everywhere else on the estate.”

Robert sighed. “More’s the pity. I did quite enjoy watching Crumby strip off his waistcoat and shirt to calm the little beast.”

“Do you really believe the monkey is more comforted by his bare chest than his linen shirt?” Angelique wrinkled her brow.

“Perhaps it’s ruse, an excuse to show off his physique to you.”

“Do you suppose he learned that seduction technique from watching his monkey? It won’t do him any good. As I’ve already said, Mr. Crumby is too young for me.”

“He’s twenty, old enough to know what he’s doing and young enough to bring great enthusiasm to the endeavor. And if you don’t like his seduction techniques, you could seduce him.”

Angelique shook her head. “I think I shall wait until after we’ve exchanged vows to begin my new education.”

“Are you certain?” Robert frowned as he surveyed her sketch. “This is lovely, darling, but rather…docile, I suppose. I’m not sure Bervoix should create another commission until the mysterious artist is more intimately familiar with the subject matter.”

Angelique tilted her head again and considered the rendering of the lovers as Robert might see it. She’d capture the shirtless man’s half-lidded eyes and parted lips to perfection, she was quite sure. She’d seen that look enough times from erstwhile suitors hoping to steal affections from her in darkened rooms. Occasionally, she had even conceded to a kiss. The face of the woman whose dress the cad had pulled up to reveal the entire length of her leg… Well, her mild surprise and moderate interest reflected everything Angelique had experienced in those moments. The lady in the sketch was tame. Controlled. Which—as Robert tried to impress upon her regularly—was the problem.

“First, our wedding, then, a lover.” Angelique picked up a cloth and wiped the charcoal off her fingers. “Perhaps this sketch can wait for another day. My benefactor is aware creating a new piece will require a few months of work. It needs to be just right, as he told my manager he expects it to be the last naughty box he orders, at least for some time.”

That would be a pity, as she had enjoyed being able to pay for the lovely windows in her studio with the commission from the unknown-to-her wealthy man who had requested, through her intermediary, one-of-a-kind, lacquered mother-of-pearl boxes, fitted with velvet inlays to secure custom cufflinks. The art dealer who served as Angelique’s manager, as he had also been for her late mother, had learned the boxes and cufflinks were presents for friends upon the occasions of their marriages. Who on earth knew five different men who would take pleasure in tiny, naughty paintings, all marrying in just over a year? It was none of her business, though, because while the colony’s finances were well in order, she did so enjoy proving to herself—even if she and Robert were the only ones who could ever know it—that she could create works of art that someone appreciated enough to buy.

“Are you getting cold feet?” Robert asked.

“About our wedding? You know I’m not.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “About taking a lover.”

She rubbed a stubborn streak of charcoal off her fingernail. “No. I merely prefer to wait until we’re properly married.”

“Don’t do so on my account.” Robert leered at her. “I have no interest in entertaining a virgin on my wedding night.”

She tossed the soiled cloth at him. “You’re under no obligation for wedding night entertainment, thus the status of my virginity is irrelevant to you.”

“Good, because I think we shall use the time for me to teach you the ways of seduction. Beyond the obvious ones like removing one’s shirt.”

“Is there really any more required than that?”

Robert laughed. “Only if you want to make it much more fun. Take, for instance, the fine art of seducing with words.”

Angelique pressed her cool hands to her hot cheeks. “Please stop.”

“Not those kinds of words,” Robert said. “At least not in the first lesson. Lesson number one in the art of seduction, according to Lord Robert: speak about whatever makes you passionate. In your case, art, obviously. And music. And perhaps Mr. Crumby’s bare chest.”

“Absolutely not!”

“All right, then, maybe his monkey?” Robert’s laughter was infectious. It would be one true thing about their marriage, their ability to amuse each other greatly.

A movement outside the windows caught Angelique’s eye. “Is that the servants’ wagon? And two of my footmen?”

Robert nodded. “I hope you don’t mind, I took the liberty of instructing them to bring tea at precisely two o’clock.”

She didn’t mind. After all, once they were married, he would have as much right over her household as—actually more than—she. Still, she narrowed her eyes at him. “I take it there is a precise reason to go along with such a precise time.”

“Yes.” Robert lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. “I also took the liberty of inviting my brother to join us. Knowing his travel schedule and his fastidious nature, I expect him at two on the dot.”

“The Duke of Wrexham?” She snatched back her hand. “Oh, Robert, how could you not warn me? I’m to meet your family patriarch for the first time, and I look a fright!”

“You look beautiful, darling.” He touched a lock of black hair that hung over one of her eyes, and tucked it back into a hairpin. “Just perfect. And telling him of our impending nuptials on our own province will have its advantages. although it is technically my family’s land. But it’s your studio, and our love nest.”

“We’ve been engaged for a month and he doesn’t yet know? My sister has known for weeks. Did you not post a letter to him? Or a telegram. How could you not have sent a telegram?”

Robert gripped her shoulders. “Darling, take a deep breath. It will all be right as rain. Ah, and the scurrying in the next room sounds like the scraping and bowing required in the presence of the duke, so chin up.”

She straightened her shoulders, pasted on a smile, and prepared to present a deep curtsey to her future brother-in-law.

“But you might want to cover Bervoix’s next project before he joins us,” Robert whispered.

With a gasp, Angelique snatched up the larger canvas she always kept propped beside her easel to protect her risqué work, and balanced it on the ledge in front of the sketch of the amorous couple. Once again, the easel appeared to be a means to display an unremarkable landscape she’d painted at age 12. She slipped her smock over her head and threw it onto the chair behind the roll-top desk in the corner, where ledgers lay open, at the ready as a cover for her surreptitious activity.

The footman’s knock sounded on the door. Robert bid entrance. Angelique plastered the smile on her face again and turned to greet the duke.

And froze.

She hadn’t been near a man of such high position since her family had attended a lawn party at Wrexham Hall ages ago. She couldn’t have been older than eleven or twelve at the time. Robert’s father, the old duke, had still been alive. Robert’s older brother, with his courtesy title of Lord Rosen, had been home from Harrow school. He was tall, a bit gangly but handsome, with a thick fringe of dark hair that fell forward into his face when he laughed, and dark, intense eyes that had seemed focused only on her when they’d been introduced. He had been kind, and concerned she not miss out on having an iced lemon with the other children. Then he had disappeared into a crowd of boisterous young men and she had quite forgotten about him.

Until now.

The man in front of her, the man the gangly boy had grown up to become, was broad-shouldered and slim-hipped and dressed to the nines in the finest gray silk morning suit, starched white linens, and a burgundy cravat. He carried an ivory-inlaid walking stick that no doubt cost more than her beloved windows, which he handed over—along with his fashionable, black silk top hat—to her footman. His once unruly mane was tamed into deep, shiny waves. His dark eyes were more intense, which she wouldn’t have believed possible. Where Robert’s allure was that he was light and open and golden like their mother, his brother’s was that he was dark and forceful and unfathomable like their father.  But it was his presence, the gravitational pull he exerted on the small space, that held her rapt.

The boy had grown into a man who’d turned into a duke.


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