It will come as no shock to any of you that I (Heather) am a huge Alexandra Hawkins fan. Her Lords of Vice series is one of my absolute favorite historical romance series. So when Alexandra emailed me to let me know ARC’s would be going out for her new series I was ecstatic. Life however got in the way of me being able to read it before now, but I just started it and let me tell you so far I’m loving it. Hawkins is the queen of creating bad boys of the Ton who should have zero redeeming qualities and yet, she makes us love them.
The Duke of Blackbern and the Marquess Norgrave have always had the wildest of friendships. Best friends growing up, they bask in the pleasures the rich, opulent world that London has to offer, consuming drink and women at their leisure.
But Norgrave has always been a step behind. Blackbern can best him at anything—playing cards, riding horses, and bedding women. So when the stunningly beautiful but innocent Lady Imogen Sunter strays across their path, both men agree a friendly competition for the lady’s affections cannot hurt.
But when Blackbern’s feelings turn into something deeper and Lady Imogen’s desire become clear, Norgrave will do anything to win the wager. Only one man can lay claim to Lady Imogen’s heart… and one shocking act will change them all irrevocably.
She shook her head as if denying their attraction would quell it. He desired her. The damn wager might have spurred him into action, but she had unknowingly sealed her fate when she had accidentally collided into him. Each meeting whetted his appetite, leaving him yearning for a few more minutes with her, a flirtatious glance, and the sound of her laughter caressing him like a lover’s hand.
Lust nibbled at his restraint until he thought he might go mad if he did not bed her. He had seriously contemplated losing himself in another woman, but he had dismissed the notion the moment she had kissed him.
Imogene was unaware of the power she had over him. His virginal goddess had placed a spell on him, and a part of him resented her for it. He felt as if she had gelded him, because no other lady would do until he could break the enchantment.
Her sudden wariness made him realize that he had been staring at her lips. He retrieved the reins, and they continued the drive. This time, he was heartened by her silence. She was not screaming at him, demanding that he return her to her parents.
“I am astounded you have thought of me at all,” she finally said. “The last time I saw you, you were kissing a redheaded woman.”
Tristan did not have to guess how she felt about it. His gaze unerringly found hers, and he was not immune to the hurt in her dark blue eyes. “The redhead is an old friend.”
“Norgrave told me that she was your mistress.”
He silently cursed his friend for his helpfulness. “The lady and I have some history,” he said, treading carefully. “And for the record, the lady kissed me.”
“I felt nothing but pity as I watched you fight her off,” she said dryly.
He grinned at a hint of jealousy in her voice. “Well, I did not wish to be rude. There was a time when she was a good friend. A very good friend,” he teased.
Imogene’s chin tilted a degree north. She shrugged. “It is your business.”
Tristan chuckled. “Have you not been listening, Imogene? The redhead is an old friend, and whatever our arrangement, it was a long time ago. Norgrave implied otherwise in hopes that you would turn to him for comfort.” An unpleasant thought occurred to him. “Did he succeed?”
She suddenly found the countryside fascinating. The faint blush on her cheeks confirmed his suspicion.
Norgrave was a cunning bastard.
“You kissed him.”
Tristan wanted to quietly murder his friend for touching her. Nor was he happy with her behavior, though he conceded that the marquess could be quite convincing. If given a choice, Norgrave preferred lies over truth.
Ten minutes later, she and Blackbern had arrived at their destination. She glanced at her dress in dismay. She was properly attired for social visits.
“What are you thinking?” she asked guardedly.
“I am tempted to paddle your backside,” the duke confessed. He disembarked from the carriage and took a few minutes to secure the horses. “Though I am willing to forgive you for a price. A kiss will suffice.”
The man was incorrigible. It was difficult to remain annoyed with him when Blackbern was so determined to tease her out of her foul mood. During the drive, Imogene had already decided to forgive him. She accepted his hand, and mischievously grinned up at him once both shoes were firmly planted on the dirt road. “If you want a kiss, you will have to catch me first!”
She grasped her skirts and rushed toward the lake in the distance. Needless to say, she ignored his command to slow down. In Blackbern’s company, she felt her first taste of freedom. He encouraged her spirited nature, and dared her to explore boundaries she had never considered crossing until she had met him. Glancing over her shoulder, she noted the duke had grabbed a blanket and basket before he chased after her. His burdens had not slowed him down because he was quickly catching up to her.
“Keep running, darling,” Blackbern said, his laughter making her shiver with anticipation. “Though I should warn you that I always catch what I pursue.”
She had no doubt he spoke the truth.
Pulling on the ribbons under her chin, she tugged off her bonnet and threw it over her shoulder. The duke swore as he dodged to avoid trampling it. She followed the edge of the small lake, heading for the taller grass where she glimpsed what appeared to be an old red brick folly. It was an impressive three-turret structure with a stone veranda that nature had been slowly claiming.
Before she could reach the folly, strong arms encircled her waist and the landscape tilted and whirled as he spun them about.
“Caught you,” he growled, his lips brushing her ear as he embraced her from the back. “What shall I do with you?”
She noticed the wicker basket and the blanket had been discarded several yards away. “You could always feed me since it appears you have brought me on my second picnic for the day.”
“You should have been waiting for me in your mother’s drawing room, not flirting with Lord Asher.” He pulled her closer. “Besides, I hunger, my lady, but not for food.”
Imogene trembled in his embrace. His words did not merely fill her ears. His voice slipped beneath the layers of clothing and caressed her skin like warm smoke. Her nipples tightened in response. She danced out of his arms and turned around to face him once she was beyond his reach.
“Kissing you always leads to trouble, Blackbern,” she teased, even though she was eager for him to kiss her again. “I would not wish to give you the wrong impression.”
The duke casually removed and discarded his coat. “And what impression would that be, my sweet Imogene?” His striped waistcoat landed on his coat.
The only gentleman she had seen without his coat was her father. Her eyes widened as she stared at the white linen stretched across his chest. In the sunlight, the whiteness was almost blinding.
“I would not wish you to think that I will surrender my virtue to you.”
And have you treat me as casually as you did the redhead.
Blackbern stalked toward her. “I like how you flirt with me.”
“You do?” She smiled and moved again, keeping out of his reach.
The duke grinned as they circled around each other. “Indeed.” He feinted left, and she gleefully squealed when his fingers brushed her hip. “You tease me until I would sell my soul for a taste of you.”
Imogene smirked at him. “That does not seem very sporting of me.”
“You are worth the challenge and the torture.”
He abruptly lunged for her. Imogene shrieked and ducked under his outstretched arms. She ran in the direction of the folly, but Blackbern was close on her heels. He easily caught her against him and they tumbled onto the grass. She was breathless from the chase and her side ached from laughing.
Imogene was grateful he had ruined her outing with her friends.
Blackbern rolled onto his side and she reclined on her back. He tenderly smoothed away the strands of hair covering her face.
“I must look frightful,” she said, her discomfort growing at his serious expression.
“Not in the slightest. In the sunlight, the hair curling around your face looks like spun gold and honey. Your eyes remind me of a cloudless sky, and your lips—”
“My lips?” she echoed.
“Forbidden fruit,” he murmured, tracing the contour of her shapely lips with his finger. “Which happens to be my favorite sweet—and the one temptation I cannot resist.”
To prove it, he leaned forward and kissed her. His mouth was gentle and coaxing against hers. She felt his hand on her shoulder, and he pulled her closer so her body molded against his. Blackbern tasted like salt and sunshine, and a flavor that seemed to belong uniquely to him. Her lips parted, and to her delight he took advantage of her silent invitation. His tongue speared into hers and dueled with hers, the soft press of flesh against flesh making her lightheaded.
A wordless sound of disappointment hummed in her throat when he stopped.
“Blanket,” he muttered. He grasped her hands and pulled her to her feet. “Your dress is too lovely to ruin, and I know the perfect place for our picnic.”
“Your Grace,” she said, when he left her to retrieve their basket of food and the blanket.
“Tristan,” he corrected, over his shoulder. “You can call me Blackbern in front of others, but it would please me to hear my name upon your lips.”
His stride was purposeful as he returned to her. His fingers tangled with hers, and he led her to the folly that had intrigued her.
“How old is it?” she asked, squinting against the sunlight.
“The foundation dates back to the sixteen hundreds,” he said, not even glancing up as they climbed the stone steps. “The main structure was built ninety years ago by one of my ancestors. I was told my grandfather used it as a hunting lodge, but it was already in disrepair when I was a young child.”
Imogene stood on the stone terrace, and admired the view. “Perhaps you should be the one to restore it?”
“Perhaps,” he said agreeably. He shook out the blanket and smoothed the fabric with the edge of his boot. “I have other estates that have required more of my attention. Like my father before me, I have been content to rent the house and surrounding lands to tenants.” Once he was satisfied with his efforts he joined her and took a moment to enjoy the lake view. His arm curled around her waist. “I had forgotten the beauty of this old place.”
They stood in comfortable silence, watching as several ducks glided over the mirrored surface of the lake. Imogene was also keenly aware of the duke’s closeness. She could feel the heat of his body against her back, the quiet intimacy of his hand on her left arm, and the light caress of his jaw as it brushed the side of her head.
She was wholly aware of him—and the fact that they were alone.
Copyright © June 2015. Excerpt from A DUKE BUT NO GENTLEMAN by Alexandra Hawkins. Published by St. Martin’s Paperbacks. All rights reserved.