Excerpt 3: Five Ways to Seduce a Duke

Meet Lucifer the Monkey

♥♥♥ Scene Excerpt ♥♥♥

Angelique’s fiancé, Robert, and his brother, the Duke of Wrexham, have brought Lady Granston and her eighteen-year-old sister-in-law, Lady Zinnia (Zinny) to visit Angelique’s artist studio. The visit does not go as well as Angelique or Robert hoped it would.

“Do they ever paint nude models?” Zinny whispered to Angelique, but her voice carried in the empty room. She blushed and pressed her lips tightly together.

The duke stared straight ahead as though he hadn’t heard it, personifying the well-bred gentleman. Robert grinned and winked at Zinny, which made her smile. Ever the peacemaker, dear Robert. For him, Angelique would play whatever part was necessary to appease the duke.

“Miss Barstow, Robert, might I have a word?” The duke’s voice was distressingly calm again.

Angelique was beginning to think she should like to hear him shouting at all times. It would be less discomfiting. “Of course, sir.”

He strode toward her private enclave. She and Robert glanced at each other, then at Cordelia to make sure she would look after their guests. Cordelia nodded, and Angelique and Robert fell into step behind his brother. She silently prayed he wasn’t here to discuss the monkey who must have moved beyond her property and onto his.

Robert closed the studio door behind them, then took Angelique’s hand as Wrexham assessed them.

“Miss Barstow,” the duke finally said, “I know at times I might seem—”

“Arrogant?” Robert offered. The high color in the duke’s cheeks suggested his annoyance. “Overbearing? Stodgy?”

“Overly concerned with my family’s reputation,” the duke said without looking at his brother. “But it is an awesome responsibility that falls to me, and I will do all that is necessary to keep our good name untarnished.”

This was it, the pronouncement she’d feared since Robert had warned her that Wrexham would likely resist their union. The duke was going to insist they break off the engagement. He might even forbid their friendship. Angelique would lose a sorely needed confidante her own age, not to mention the chance to pursue passion for the sake of her art. Or they would have to proceed with their plan against the duke’s wishes. In that case, Robert would lose the protection of his family name, protection a man of his inclinations needed.

“I’ll not be unreasonable,” the duke continued, “but I must insist we observe some proprieties.”

“Proprieties?” Angelique echoed. That didn’t sound like a ban on their marriage, nor an admonishment about Lucifer.

Robert tightened his grip on Angelique’s hand. “Don’t be cryptic, Simon. What are your terms?”

His voice was hard, edged with anger she didn’t know her dear friend possessed. It could be that way between siblings, of course, and it had become clear the brothers didn’t have as cordial a relationship as Angelique had with Vivienne, but she hadn’t grasped the depth of their rift until now.

“You’re not to spend any more time alone together until after the church has blessed your happy union.” Wrexham bowed slightly in Angelique’s direction. “Pardon my bluntness, Miss Barstow, but that means no more late-night trysts, no more leisurely afternoons spent alone in each other’s company. You are to meet only when an appropriate chaperone is available.”

“That’s silly,” Robert said. “We’ve been together for months, and there’s no one here to judge us, anyway.”

“I’m here, as are Lord and Lady Granston, and an impressionable young lady.” The duke’s voice took on the same hard edge as Robert’s. Angelique preferred it to his ominously calm affectation, but not by much. “Mrs. Jensen would be an excellent attendant.”

“She has her duties to the colony,” Robert said.

Now Angelique squeezed his hand. “It’s all right, Robert. We can rearrange our schedules as necessary. She’s always teaching in the afternoons when you visit me here. I’m sure if we left the adjoining door open, the duke would find that sufficient.”

Wrexham nodded. “Quite. As I said, I don’t intend to be unreasonable. And I don’t expect Mrs. Jensen to be unduly burdened with the task, so any time she is unavailable or unwilling to accompany you, I will take her place.”

“My own brother chaperoning me like a schoolboy?”

“Think of it as chaperoning your fiancée, keeping her fine reputation intact for your wedding day.” The duke had slipped into his deceptively calm voice.

“We’ll make it work, Robert.” Angelique caught her fiancé’s eye. “It’s only another month, and once we’re happily married, all can return to normal.”

Robert scowled but relented. “If it suits the lady, I’ll agree to it. One month of undue scrutiny for a lifetime of happiness.”

“Good,” the duke said. “That’s settled. Now, there is one more matter to resolve: that of the easement I granted you on this piece of land, Miss Barstow.”

First her relationship with Robert, now her colony’s long-needed studio. Was the man hell-bent on rending her life asunder?

“You can’t ask her to tear down this building,” Robert said. “Because in case it’s not clear, that would be unreasonable.”

Wrexham smiled tightly. “It would have been best if we’d come to terms before the building was erected, but no, I will not demand it be destroyed. However, I will require some modifications to the grounds to suit my purposes. I need to send off paperwork today to my solicitor regarding the matter, so we must postpone any discussion until later this afternoon. For now, we should return to our guests.”

If playing a demure young lady and reaching a compromise about the grounds allowed her to keep Robert and her studio, Angelique would acquiesce. And she would do so in the way she’d been taught by her parents in her early years, when her father had still been alive and her mother had modified her unorthodox lifestyle to satisfy the requirements of British society. “Please join Robert and me for high tea, sir, and we can discuss the pressing matter.”

“That’s not possible,” Robert said. “I promised to take Lady Granston and Lady Zinnia for high tea in town. I’d hoped you and Mrs. Jensen might join us. The young lady seems quite keen on adding you to her list of impressive contacts.”

“I’m afraid the matter of the easement cannot wait,” the duke said. “It is a shame to cancel the ladies’ plans, especially since the Granstons leave tomorrow, but perhaps they’ll visit again soon.”

“No,” Angelique said. “Don’t disappoint the ladies, Robert. The duke and I will conduct our business meeting while you escort them to town. Cordelia will help you keep them entertained.”

“Very good.” The duke smiled. “I have duties to attend to this afternoon, but I’ll return at precisely four o’clock.”

If she was going to impress the duke, she had to erase the image she’d created earlier. For that, she needed to show him the other side of her family, the one influenced by her aristocratic father who had been the youngest brother of an earl, in the manor house that—while not part of the earldom—had been in her family for nearly as long as Wrexham Hall had been in Robert’s. “Actually, I was hoping to welcome you to the manor house, sir.”

“Very well. I look forward to it. Robert.” He nodded to his brother, then swept past them to take his leave. He stopped short and stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Cold sweat dripped down Angelique’s back. Please, do not let it be Lucifer, do not let it be Lucifer.

“It appears Lady Zinnia’s monkey has made its way to your property,” the duke said. He glanced at her. “Friend of yours?”

If the words had come from anyone else, Angelique would have laughed. But with the duke’s cold, assessing gaze upon her, she turned to see the little beast for herself. Lucifer was running back and forth on the grounds where the painters usually set up their easels.

“He belongs to one of my students,” she said, doing her best to make it sound like they were discussing the most natural thing in the world. “His name is Lucifer.”

The duke quirked an eyebrow. “The monkey or the student?”

She cleared her throat, trying not to laugh with hysteria, praying the duke would lose interest and stalk out of the studio. “The monkey.”

The duke furrowed his brow. “Now he’s found a black cat. Is that also your student’s pet?”

She sighed. “No. Hecate belongs to Mrs. Jensen. She and Lucifer have become quite fond of each other. By she, I mean the cat.”

“Lucifer and Hecate.” The duke nodded slowly. “I see.” His eyes widened. “And the half-naked man running after them?”

Angelique leaned against the edge of her worktable to keep from slumping to the floor from humiliation. “That would be Mr. Crumby. Lucifer’s owner. He claims bare skin soothes the little animal.” She glanced at Robert, hoping for support, but her friend stood wide-eyed and still, obviously as mortified as she was. “It’s a very unusual circumstance, I promise you, sir. Mr. Crumby brought his pet and we could hardly turn them out, but they’ll be gone in a few weeks and we’ll keep Lucifer under lock and key from now—”

The duke held up his hand. “Thank you, Miss Barstow, for that thorough explanation. If you would be so kind, please do keep him confined to your side of the property line.” He nodded to her, then Robert, then turned and stalked out of the room.


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