How to Romance a Rake
You can lead a wallflower to the ball, but you can’t make her bloom—unless one daring young bachelor turns up the heat…
DANCING WITH DANGER
What’s a nice girl like Miss Juliet Shelby doing in a place like Lord Deveril’s ballroom? With her shy demeanor, she’s a total stranger to the dance floor and a source of mockery for the ton. So imagine her surprise when Deveril gallantly comes to her defense—and offers to teach her to dance! Juliet can hardly believe the most handsome bachelor in London would notice her, until he takes her in his arms and sets her heart ablaze…
PLAYING WITH FIRE
Lord Alec Deveril has never felt such a spark of attraction for an unmarried lady before. Unlike the “fashionable” women he’s accustomed to, Juliet possesses a generous spirit, a fiery intelligence—and an explosive secret. Deep in the London underworld, a dear friend has vanished, and Juliet fears the worst. Deveril insists on helping, escorting her through the darkest alleys in town. But he too is hiding a shocking secret—and the only way he can defeat the devil in his past is to seduce the angel in his arms …
If someone had asked him what he expected to find when he entered the back garden of Shelby House, Alec would not have guessed he’d find Miss Shelby backing out of the French doors leading from the house onto the terrace.
The sky was dark with clouds, and the only illumination to the area was from the kitchens. The rest of the house, with its other inhabitants out for the evening, was dark.
He watched in fascination as Juliet continued walking backward, presumably watching for some authority figure, who would arrest her escape.
Not wishing to startle her, he hissed her name as he came up behind her. “Juliet.”
Even so, his quarry jarred with surprise, and turned to face him.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded, a hint of desperation in her voice. “Deveril, you must leave here at once.”
To his surprise, she made as if to push him away. Could she be expecting someone else? Or worse, was she running off to meet some other man? The very idea made his jaw clench.
“What are you doing?” he asked, not giving an inch. “Who are you sneaking off to meet?”
“None of your business,” she hissed. “Now kindly leave so that no one hears you.”
“You’ve already been detected,” he said in a low voice, “so go back inside and rest your leg as you told your cousins you were doing.”
She frowned at the mention of Cecily and Madeline. Perhaps her lie was bothering her conscience.
“How do you know what I told them?” she asked. “And it is highly improper for you to mention legs in my company,” she added, her mouth pursing in annoyance.
“They told me,” he said, pointing her toward the French doors, but finding her surprisingly strong in her resistance. “And you are hardly in a position to preach propriety, madam.”
“And you are not my father, my brother, or my husband and have no authority to tell me where to go or what to do,” she snapped, her voice a low hiss in the night air, her green eyes reflecting fire in the moonlight.
“As your friend,” he growled, “I have every right to prevent you from behaving rashly.”
“If you were my friend you would—”
Stopping mid- sentence at the sound of one of the kitchen maids giggling from inside, Juliet made a “follow me” gesture and led him into a small area of the garden that was enclosed on three sides by climbing vines. Nestled within the bower was an iron bench just large enough to seat two.
The hitch in her stride was more pronounced, Alec noticed as he walked behind her. So perhaps she had not been lying about her reasons for remaining at home. Still, there was something more that agitated her.
“Tell me what has happened to cause you such distress,” he said when they were far enough from the house for privacy, struggling to keep his tone gentle. The sight of her in such pain made him want to smash something, and he regretted his sharp words to her earlier.
For one of the most celebrated flirts in London he certainly had difficulty behaving like a gentleman in this lady’s company.
Juliet shifted from one foot to the other, leaning heavily on her walking stick, and it was impossible not to notice her wince.
“Sit down, for God’s sake,” he ordered. Part of him expected her to tell him to go jump in the Thames, but to Alec’s surprise, she kept silent, lowered herself to the bench.
“There is no shame in admitting to human frailty, Juliet,” he said quietly. “Even battle- scarred soldiers must bow to their body’s wishes from time to time.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” she grumbled. “You’ve never—”
“What? Fought in a battle?” he asked wryly. He was well aware that his position as the heir to a peerage had given him a handy excuse to remain in England during the wars with Napoleon. But he was not ashamed of the fact. There were plenty of small services that could be helpful to the crown here at home, many of which he had undertaken.
But Juliet was talking of something else.
“No,” she said with impatience. “I’ve never fought in a battle either. What I was going to say is that you’ve never had to confront the fact that your own body is failing you. You’re a young man. You’re fit. You’re handsome. You’re in the prime of health and, with a few exceptions your body will do whatever you tell it to do.”
Thinking of one particular part of him that seemed to have a mind of its own, he disagreed, but did not say so aloud.
“And mine,” she continued with obvious annoyance, “does not even allow me to stand without assistance. It is maddening sometimes.”
Knowing some of what Winterson had gone through with his war injury, Alec was surprised to realize that Juliet might have some of the same complaints. Ladies, after all, were not expected to be active and participate in all manner of sporting activities. There had been her issue with dancing, but that had seemed different to him at the time. Perhaps because that was an activity which required a partner.
Which reminded him again of other activities requiring two people. He was a cad and ruffian to think of such things while she was telling him of her struggles.
“So, it is the state of your health that has you in such a fit of pique?” he asked, firmly returning his mind to the subject at hand.
“Not my health,” she admitted, with a frown, twisting the silver ring she wore on her right hand. Around and around and around. “Well, not only my health.”
He lowered himself to the bench beside her, the vulnerability in her voice and mien making it impossible to deny her some human contact. He wanted to take her in his arms and offer her reassurance, but contented himself with taking her hand in his. Though she gave a small gasp, she did not pull away.
“I don’t know how much you have heard about my mother’s attempts to make a match between Lord Turlington and me,” she continued, staring out into the darkened garden.
What he knew was that Lady Shelby was dead set on marrying Juliet off to Turlington whether Juliet liked it or not. But he only said, “Enough.”
“She informed me this evening,” she said, her voice laced with contempt, “that my father has already given him his consent and that she is pushing Lord Turlington to apply for a special license so that we may be married as quickly as possible.”
“What?” Deveril turned to face her and knew from her expression that she was serious. He had known Lady Shelby was determined but he was under the impression that her plans would not be put into motion for some months. “Why is she rushing this?”
Unable to sit still, he stood and paced the small area of the bower, thrusting a hand through his hair. What he wanted to do was get his hands round Turlington’s neck, but as the man was not there with them, he had to content himself with a string of oaths.
Juliet watched him, her expression resigned. “I think you know that my mama was not best pleased about my dancing lessons. I thought it was because . . .”
She paused, making Alec wonder what she wasn’t telling him.
“Well, for another reason,” she finished. “But I think she was planning all along to make me marry Turlington. And calling attention to myself by dancing increased the likelihood that someone else would make an offer. She needs me to remain an ugly duckling.”
He frowned. “Do not call yourself that. Amelia is a spiteful cat and only said that because she feared you three would eclipse her.”
“Oh, I know very well that I am not nearly as beautiful as Mama,” Juliet said wryly. “She has told me so herself for many years now.”
There was a special place in Hades for spiteful parents, and Alec was quite sure that his father was there warming a seat for Lady Shelby.
“You are lovely. Take it from a man who knows.”
The compliment pleased her, he saw it in the upward curve of her full red lips.
“Thank you, my lord,” she murmured softly. If he hadn’t known she was untutored in the art of seduction, the downward cast of her dark lashes, and the smile as ancient as Eve would have fooled him. But Juliet Shelby was as innocent as she was beautiful. And the sight of her resting in a moonlit bower of roses was as tempting a sight as Alec had ever seen.
As if pulled by a web of her creation, he stepped forward and knelt before her, like a knight swearing fealty to his lady.
“May I kiss you, Juliet?” he asked, even as his mouth took hers.