Nicole Jordan takes the delights of the Regency mating game to breathless new heights in this daring second novel of a superb new trilogy, The Courtship Wars.
Clever and charming Roslyn Loring, the middle child of three beautiful, independent sisters, knows that true happiness lies in a marriage of the heart–and she has hers set on a love-match with a neighboring earl. Yet her sharp mind has observed an undeniable truth: Gentlemen lavish passion on their mistresses, not their wives. Roslyn realizes that to win her future husband’s devotion, she must learn the secrets of kindling a gentleman’s ardor. Fortunately, she finds a willing tutor in Drew Moncrief, the Duke of Arden, a notorious rake whispered to be London’s most magnificent lover. If his searing kisses are any indication, the duke is the ideal man to teach Roslyn how to be the perfect mistress.
Drew begins schooling Roslyn while coolly guarding his heart. But as best-laid plans are thwarted by unexpected events–including a night of unforgettable passion–Roslyn and her wickedly arousing tutor discover how easily lessons in pleasure can become lessons in love. . . .
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Nicole Jordan is the nationally bestselling author of fifteen historical romances. She recently moved with her real-life hero to the Rocky Mountains of Utah, where she is at work on the next book of her scorching Notorious series–tales of dangerous rakes and bold adventurers during the Regency era.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
How astonishing that a gentleman would ask a perfect stranger to become his mistress without so much as an introduction. —Letter from Miss Roslyn Loring to Fanny Irwin
London, June 1817
“They say he is a marvelous lover.” Unable to ignore such a provocative comment, Roslyn Loring reluctantly shifted her gaze across the crowded ballroom to scrutinize the tall, lithe nobleman who had just entered.
She had never met the handsome, rakish Duke of Arden, although she’d heard countless tales about him. He was the picture of a wealthy aristocrat–his fair hair gleaming amber under the chandeliers’ light, his commanding, elegant form garbed in a black domino, the cloaklike garment his only concession to costume for the masquerade ball.
He wore no mask, so his striking features were clearly visible. And his attendance was obviously welcome to everyone but her. Immediately he became the intent focus of a bevy of beauties, all eager to attract his notice. “What makes him so marvelous?” Roslyn asked, intrigued despite her regret at the duke’s unwanted arrival.
Her friend Fanny Irwin smiled. “His amorous skills, my dear. It is said he has the power to make women weep.”
Lifting an eyebrow behind her own mask, Roslyn pursed her lips wryly. “Why in heaven’s name would making women weep be a coveted skill?”
“Weep with rapture, my dear. Arden is extraordinary because of the exquisite pleasure he can bring a woman.”
“I cannot imagine.”
Fanny responded with the musical laugh that had helped make her one of London’s most sought-after courtesans. “I should hope not, since you have no experience with carnal matters. But it is a rare man who is concerned with his paramour’s satisfaction, or who will see to her pleasure even before his own. That kind of lover is priceless.”
Roslyn’s gaze narrowed thoughtfully. She was here tonight in order to gain a measure of experience, yet she had no desire to begin with the duke. Arden was a close friend of her new guardian, the Earl of Danvers, who had recently become engaged to marry her elder sister Arabella. Roslyn didn’t wish for the duke even to see her, since she was courting scandal attending a notorious Cyprians’ ball. She expected to make his formal acquaintance at her sister’s wedding in a fortnight, and it would never do to have him recognize her.
No doubt his grace would disapprove of her brazen excursion into the glittering realm of the demimonde. According to Arabella, Arden had been severely critical of his friend’s betrothal, skeptical that Lord Danvers could have fallen in love with the eldest Loring sister so quickly or so wholeheartedly.
Viewing the duke now, Roslyn had little trouble understanding his cynical response. His lean, chiseled features were remarkably handsome but rather proud; his bearing much as she would have expected from an aristocrat of his consequence–refined, commanding, a bit imperious. But a duke of Arden’s extensive wealth and power had the right to arrogance, Roslyn supposed.
That he was reputed to be such an extraordinary lover, however, quite surprised her.
Her musings were interrupted as Fanny continued her frank observations. “Not that I have any personal knowledge of the duke, I want you to know. He prefers to keep one mistress at a time. Doubtless that is why he has come tonight–to choose a new mistress.”
“What happened to his last one?” Roslyn asked, interested in learning all she could from Fanny.
“Possessiveness, my dear, which is a cardinal sin if you mean to keep your protector content. Particularly for a nobleman like Arden, who can have his pick of females.”
He did seem to be examining the merchandise, Roslyn saw as the duke casually scanned the ballroom. Just then his gaze lit on her and paused in obvious interest. Reflexively, she took a step backward, feeling the sudden urge to hide. She had come incognito, the upper half of her face concealed by a mask, her own pale gold hair covered with a powdered wig and widebrimmed bonnet.
But perhaps it was her uniqueness itself that attracted his attention. Although her décolletage was much lower than she liked in the costume she had borrowed from Fanny, she was dressed rather modestly as a shepherdess, while most of the other females here were scantily clad in the alluring costumes of Greek goddesses or Roman slave girls or Turkish harem beauties. Fanny had come as Cleopatra, which complemented her exotic features and raven hair.
When Roslyn saw that Arden’s focus remained fixed on herself, her heart skipped a beat. Even at this distance, she could feel the impact of his penetrating gaze.
“He is looking directly at me,” she murmured, half vexed and half concerned.
“That is hardly surprising,” Fanny said in amusement.
“Your combination of elegance and innocence is a novelty at a fete such as this. You are a rare English rose compared to the more exotic blooms for sale here.”
Roslyn slanted her friend an exasperated glance.
“You know very well I am not for sale.”
“But he does not know it. Arden naturally assumes you are here to display your wares and sell your services.”
“Well, I am not. I only came to find out how your colleagues comport themselves with their patrons.”
“You should be flattered to pique his grace’s interest,” her friend remarked, teasing.
“Good heavens, I am not flattered, Fanny! Rather I am alarmed. I don’t dare let Arden discover my identity. I will have to face him across the church aisle in two weeks, and I don’t want him bearing tales about me to my new guardian. I think I should find a potted palm to hide behind. Look . . . he is moving this way!” Taking another step backward, Roslyn slipped behind a marble column. Fanny joined her there, laughter lurking behind the eyeholes of her mask.
“You may cease laughing, traitor,” Roslyn muttered.
“It is not your reputation at risk.”
“No, I suppose not, since I gave mine away several years ago.” Fanny’s expression suddenly sobered a little.
“It is just as well that you have no interest in Arden, Roslyn. He may be a magnificent lover, but he reportedly has no heart. And you only want a man who is capable of falling in love.”
She intended to make a love match someday, and cynical, rakish dukes were not known for contracting matrimonial unions for any reason other than their duty and convenience.
Canting her head slightly, Roslyn peered beyond the column. “Blast it, he is still headed this way.” More urgently, she glanced behind her at the rear entrance doors. “I cannot stay here. There must be someplace I can take refuge until he quits the ball.”
“There is a gallery at the rear of the building with numerous alcoves where couples may be intimate, but they shouldn’t all be occupied yet, since the night is still relatively young. Why don’t you seclude yourself there for a time? Arden never remains long at these events. I will find you once he leaves.”
“An excellent idea,” Roslyn said, turning quickly.
“Don’t run,” Fanny advised. “That will only arouse his primal male urge to pursue fleeing prey.”
Forcing herself to pause, Roslyn threw an arch glance over her shoulder. “I have no intention of becoming any man’s prey. And if he should speak to you, Fanny, you cannot give me away.”
Her friend affected a mock wounded look. “I’ll have you know, I am the soul of discretion. In my profession, a guarded tongue is worth more than gold. Now go! He will forget all about you if he cannot find you. And if he persists, I will attempt to mislead him.”
“I wish you will send him to the devil,” Roslyn muttered as she moved away, vexed at having her plans for the evening spoiled by Arden’s unexpected presence. She was here to learn the secrets of attracting a gentleman’s ardor, and being forced to hide herself away would hardly help her attain her goal.
Keeping her head bent low to prevent her bonnet from being tracked, Roslyn skirted the crowd and slipped out the rear doors, only to find herself in a dim corridor. When her eyes adjusted, she made her way down the hall to an even dimmer gallery that apparently ran the width of the building. The yearly Cyprians’ ball was a public assembly, but for this occasion, all the rooms save the main ballroom had been poorly lit, the better for trysts and assignations.
As Fanny had advised, Roslyn found numerous empty alcoves stationed along either side of the gallery. Slipping into the last one on her left, she let the velvet draperies fall closed behind her, yet she could still see well enough in the moonlight flooding through the floor-length window at the rear of the alcove.
Too restless to sit, Roslyn disregarded the welcoming chaise longue and instead pushed open the window. The June night air was cool and damp compared to the stuffy, perfumed warmth of the ballroom, and with a sigh of resignation, she stepped out onto a narrow balcony, prepared to outwait the duke.
“Devil take him,” Roslyn muttered another recrimination at the vexing nobleman. “Why must he appear just when the ball was getting interesting?”
She’d had high hopes for the evening. Until now she had never mingled with a company of lightskirts, and she was fascinated by what she had seen and learned thus far.
Indeed, until recently, Roslyn had rarely mixed with any sort of society during the past four years. Instead, she’d lived quietly in the country–at Danvers Hall near Chiswick, some half dozen miles west of London– with her sisters and their curmudgeonly step-uncle and guardian, the Earl of Danvers, who had grudgingly taken them in after their parents mired them in shame and scandal.
Four years ago their mother had run off with her lover to the Continent. Then their libertine father had promptly gambled away the last of his fortune and been killed in a duel over his mistress, which had ruined any last-gasp chances the Loring sisters had of making good marriages.
They had endured with fortitude the disgrace and rejection and poverty that followed. They’d even found a way to earn their own livings so they would no longer be at the mercy of their miserly step-uncle for mere sustenance. With the support of a wealthy patroness, they had started a successful academy to teach the daughters of wealthy merchants and industrialists how to be proper ladies and compete in the lofty, disdainful world of the ton.
But the lack of matrimonial prospects had struck Roslyn the hardest. Of the three sisters, she was the one who still secretly dreamed of marrying for love and having children. Although her birth and breeding were impeccable, being penniless and tainted by her parents’ scandals severely limited her choices.
Even more detrimental were her looks. She was widely considered the most beautiful of the three sisters, to her immense regret. Her golden hair and fineboned features along with her tall, slender build made her seem deceptively delicate. That appearance of fragility, combined with her family’s disgrace and the lack of a strong male protector, had left Roslyn vulnerable to the unwanted advances of disreputable rakes and roués, and she’d suffered more than one mortifying proposition that entailed sordid debauchery rather than respectable marriage.
Just remembering now made her shiver.
Clenching her jaw, Roslyn stepped closer to the balcony railing to gaze down at the nearly empty lane below. She would never settle for becoming some man’s mistress. Nor would she ever marry for any reason but true love.
Which is why you resolved to take control of your own fate and find a husband who could share that elusive ideal.
Before she could act on her resolve, however, her pitiful prospects had improved significantly. Several months ago, their elderly step-uncle passed away and the new Earl of Danvers, Marcus Pierce, assumed their guardianship. Loath to be saddled with three impoverished almost-spinsters, Marcus had declared his intention of finding husbands for them all–which had precipitated a spirited battle with the eldest, Arabella, over their independence and resulted in an unexpected love match between her and Marcus.
Roslyn was overjoyed for Arabella . . . and grateful for her own sake as well, since Marcus had generously granted his two youngest wards their legal and financial independence so they could choose their own futures. Roslyn had known exactly what future she wanted, only she wasn’t quite sure how to achieve it. Thus, she’d called on the experience and expertise of her childhood friend, Fanny Irwin, a once genteel young lady who had left home at sixteen to become one of London’s most celebrated Cyprians.
When they first broached the subject last week, though, Fanny had responded with consternation. “Surely you are not planning to take up the life of a courtesan, Roslyn?”
“No, not at all.”
“Good, because I have no intention of corrupting you.”
Roslyn smiled. “I don’t wish to be corrupted, Fanny. I simply want to learn your secrets . . . specifically how to make a gentleman enamored of me.”
“Because I hope to make a respectable marriage before long, but I want my husband to love me first. It seems clear that gentlemen commonly fall in love with their mistresses but rarely their wives, so I concluded I should study the experts to learn how a mistress arouses a man’s ardor.”
Fanny stared at her for the space of several heartbeats before breaking into laughter. “I forgot how scientifically minded you are, my dear.”
“I am that,” Roslyn agreed amiably. “But regrettably,&...
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Book Description Thorndike Press, 2009. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P111410411664