Excerpt from A Rake's Guide to Pleasure - Zebra Books

London, December 1844

. . . Emma smoothed a hand down her deep blue skirt. If there were ladies at this party who cared about such things, they likely thought her unfashionable, or at least too poor to afford more elaborate dresses. The truth was that she could not afford dresses at all, except to buy them second-hand, then alter and dye them until it seemed she owned a full wardrobe. It would not do to appear too desperate, after all, or her gambling would take on the taint of work instead of eccentricity.

"The lovely Lady Denmore," a man purred from close behind her.

Emma glanced over her shoulder to spy Lord Marsh leering down. She fought the urge to sigh in disgust. "Lord Marsh."

"I hoped you might make it to my little gathering."

"I'm pleased to be here. I understand the play is excellent at your tables."

"Indeed. I endeavor to please."

"Mm." She pretended not to notice his flirtation. She couldn't stand the way he licked his lips whenever he looked at her. He'd likely be terribly chapped by the end of the evening.

"Let me show you my home."

Unable to think of a polite way to extricate herself, Emma was forced to take his arm and follow him up to the first floor of his townhouse. Several gentlemen tipped their heads in her direction as they passed, but none stopped to introduce their companions. This affair was less than respectable, and she'd never have been admitted if anyone knew the truth about her marital status. But widows could get away with more than virgins, and the presence of a few of the demimonde was hardly enough to shock her.

Still, she was slightly nervous as Lord Marsh led her to the first room and stopped just inside. "Piquet," he said simply, and indeed, that's all it was.

It's just a gambling party. Nothing more. Nothing like her father's "gambling" parties, for instance, where you were as likely to see a man laying a woman on a table as you were to see him laying down cards.

"But piquet is not your game, is it?" Marsh asked.

"I play, but 'tis not my preference."

"Too simple, I'd imagine. You enjoy more stimulation."

Emma cut her eyes at him to let him know he'd gone too far, but he only smiled back unashamedly. "Come. The next room." And so they proceeded through six rooms, each one eliciting some barely veiled entendre from Lord Marsh until Emma didn't care if she offended him or not.

"Thank you for the tour, Lord Marsh. You may leave now."

Unfortunately the man remained unoffended. He waggled his fingers in farewell as she turned and headed for the second room she'd seen. A footman stood at attention with whiskey and champagne. Emma chose a whiskey and tossed it back as she observed the play.

"Lady Denmore?" a familiar voice growled as she took a step toward the nearest table.

Emma spun around to glare at the Duke of Somerhart. His sudden, unexpected presence flashed heat through her blood.

His blue eyes scorched her as they flicked down over her body. When he met her eyes again, he scowled. "What are you doing here?"

"Why, gambling, of course. What else do I do?"

"Nothing, as far as I can tell."

"Just right, Your Grace. A pleasure to see you again. So charming."

Except that he didn't need to be charming. When she started to turn away, Somerhart wrapped his hand around her elbow and sent more warmth gliding into her veins. Overbearing bastard. He could be as rude as he wanted, because his hands were hot and strong. She could still feel his thumb exploring the most sensitive parts of her foot, her ankle. . .

"Is there something wrong?" Emma snapped.

"Yes. I'm shocked to find you in this place."

"And yet you are here."

"I am not a very young woman from the country."

A laugh broke free from her irritation. Oh, yes, she was all bluebirds and innocence. "Somerhart, I am not a young miss, fresh off the estate. I'm a widow and free to do as I please. A fact I feel certain you've made note of."


"Widows. They are your companion of choice, are they not?"

His scowl turned into a sneer as he dropped her arm. "I cannot believe I thought you subtle."

"Subtle? Good God. How very misguided."

His anger kept him from stopping her this time, and Emma made her way to a vacated seat at the whist table. She hoped the man would leave before she started play, but she did not turn around. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction, nor the people in the room who were watching with happy interest. And she would not let him chase her from her work again.

Throwing herself into the game, she quickly accumulated three hundred pounds, then just as quickly lost it all.

One of the men at the table laughed. "Lady Denmore, you are reckless tonight."

"Yes," she snapped and placed a new bet. She could feel him there, a few feet behind her, glaring a hole into her neck. She wished her hair weren't up. Wished she hadn't worn a dress with such a low back. Wished the thought of him looking wasn't quite so thrilling. . .

Watch for A Rake's Guide to Pleasure in August!!!