When Seducing A Duke

By: Kathryn Smith

Chapter 1

London, May 1877

There were few things Greyden Kane, Duke of Ryeton, had been denied in his privileged life. Generally his every whim was indulged with cheerful abandon. Despite such fortune, life was not without its ironies and Grey had often been given things he never once asked for or, for that matter, wanted—such as the six-inch scar that ran down his left cheek. A scar that was hidden for the time being beneath a supple leather mask that obscured most of his face.

And so self-denial became something His Grace sought, but like all things, the taste of it often dulled.

It was that same sense of denial that had driven him to Saint’s Row that evening. Like the society it catered to, the club located on that abbreviated lane gave the appearance of propriety and good manners, but beneath that façade—if one sought them out—there were all manners of scandalous and seductive delights to be found. In one section, proper ladies and gentlemen might attend a special ball or spectacle of some kind. In another section, less decorous patrons could indulge in their fantasies without risk of their carnal delights ever being found out.

In short, it was a place where elegance and debauchery often crossed paths, but were never formally introduced.

The large, cream stucco building sprawled like corpulent King George IV, during whose reign it had been built. Back then it had been intended as a theater and had continued as such for fifty years before the owner, one Mr. Threwsbury, lost it and everything else he owned years ago in a card game. That he would risk his livelihood was scandal enough. That he lost the club to a woman…well, Threwsbury had to leave England—not just to escape his creditors, but to avoid being a laughingstock as well.

Vienne La Rieux was no ordinary woman. That soon became apparent when she assumed ownership of the Saint’s Row theater, and took it from tattered street urchin to diamond of the first water in its first six months. Now it was a high-class club open to any man or woman wealthy enough to afford the price of walking through its doors. Oh, there were balls and parties, and a restaurant open to the public, but balls like this one, where everyone wore a mask and spirits flowed freely…those were open by subscription only. The only way a non-subscriber could attend was as the guest of a member.

Archer was there as his guest. Not because Grey needed his brother’s support, but because he knew how futile it was to attend such an event without his younger brother tagging along.

And tonight, Grey had a need that would no longer be ignored regardless of his brother’s presence. Saint’s Row bustled with energy and gaiety and, beneath that, a frisson of sensual promise. It was this promise that Grey chased as the ball ebbed and swelled beneath the balcony where he sat, watching. Waiting.

Archer, younger by a scant ten months, sat with him. The younger Kane hadn’t Grey’s particular fussiness when it came to women and was ready to dance and subsequently romance with whoever would have him. Arch had the look of a racehorse about to storm the gate.

“Sweet Christ, Arch.” Grey couldn’t keep the edge from his voice. Being watched over by his brother like a governess hovering over a precocious charge was as maddening as it was humiliating, especially since it was obvious Archer would rather be elsewhere. “If your bollocks are that backed up, go find some lady willing to relieve your discomfort and leave me to my own.”

Archer shifted against the padded velvet chair. Like his brother he wore a simple black mask. “My bollocks are just fine, thank you. See anything you like?”

Turning his attention to that brilliant swirl of a crowd beneath him, Grey shrugged. “Not yet.”

“I don’t understand this impossible criterion of yours. Is not a pair of fine eyes, a pretty smile, and a willing nature enough for you?”

“No,” he replied, never lifting his gaze from those damned dancers. “They are not.” Grey’s needs in a partner weren’t quite so disinterested, or so noble. His desires went beyond simple companionship to border on something uncomfortably like obsession.

All he required was thick dark brown hair, cupid’s-bow lips, and a lush figure. That was enough for him to pretend that his partner was the woman he really wanted.

Rose. The last time he’d laid eyes on her sweet curves and big brown eyes had been several months earlier when he visited his estate in Kent. Bramsley was close enough that he could visit more often if he so chose, but with just enough miles between it and London that he could always find an excuse to play absent. Why torment himself with the agony any more than necessary?

The full pressure of that torment bore down upon him as he observed the merriment below from the darkness of the box. Silent as a shadow, he drained the last of his champagne and set the empty flute on the table beside him. He was a patient hunter, but the hunger inside him frayed the edges of his nerves to raw, jagged strips.

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