Lessons in Seduction
Book 2 in the Once Upon an Accident Series
What is a lady to do when her chosen rake changes her lessons in seduction to lessons of love?
Cecily Ware understands how society works. At the age of twenty-six, she has been around long enough to know that she is doomed to spinsterhood. But she refuses to go without ever knowing what it is like to be with a man. So she comes up with a wonderful plan to find a rake to teach her, complete with a list of possibilities. At the top of that list sits Douglas the Duke of Ethingham.
When he asks Lady Cecily to waltz, Douglas never expected her to request seduction, or that it would intrigue him quite as much. With each glance, each smile, each touch, he finds himself falling under her spell, unable to resist her lure. In her he finds a soul mate, someone as lonely as he is, who understands his pain, and will give herself to him without demands or expectations. But as he finds himself falling in love, he also discovers a wicked plot to kill Lady Cicely. As they race to discover who wants her dead, they fall deeper in love, leaving them to decide if the lessons in seduction could lead to a lifetime of happiness
»WARNING: The following book contains: Explicit love scenes, propositions made on dance floors, mistaken identity of a kissing partner and many scenes of seduction.
This is a reissue that has not been changed substantially.
Lessons in Seduction
Book 2 in the Once Upon an Accident Series
Lessons in Seduction
In which Lady Cicely formulates a plan.
When a woman reaches the age of six and twenty, thought Cicely Ware with a matter-of-factness that would frighten the majority of the ton, she had to face the truth about her future. In her humble opinion, it showed an amazing fortitude and an abundance of maturity to contemplate what her future held for her. Unfortunately, with one as apparently bleak as hers, facing it was not a pleasant experience.
With interest, she watched the expert moves of the couples as they danced a country reel. The ladies’ beautifully ornate skirts floated about their ankles as the soft candlelight cast a golden shimmer on the magnificent surroundings. Even in the elegant setting and in the presence of some of the most attractive people in London, depression threatened to dim Cicely’s spirits. That troubled her. She had never been one to allow her emotions to consume or control her. Now it was different. This melancholy had been happening with greater frequency lately. It was her damned common sense that kept doing her in. Reality wasn’t something from which she shied, not with all her negative family history in these recent years.
She sighed, hating the fact she was so practical. Her life would be so much easier if she were a scatterbrain. If she gave a fig about her appearance—which only depressed her further—her life would be simpler. She could spend her time wrapped up in fabrics and designs. She would know what the latest was, and care. She could pour herself into wasting inordinate amounts of other people’s money on gowns and accoutrements that would be worn only once. Even the thought made her queasy. Maybe if she did those things…
If she could but smile and laugh when a man said stupid things. If she could look the other way at indiscretion. If she could whittle away the hours with embroidery or nonsense. If she could forget her worries, her family, her life… There had been that one glimmer of hope. That the dowry Sebastian provided might bring an offer of marriage.
Cicely snorted and received a look of remonstration from an elderly spinster seated to her right. Immediately, she pulled her features back into the placid expression of a soon-to-be spinster happy with her lot in life. If she must sit with them, she had to blend into the crowd. People wanted her there. They wanted her body in attendance, not her mind. They didn’t care about her feelings or desires. So it wouldn’t do to let others see that what she yearned for most was to marry and have children. It upset members of the ton, not to mention the other unwed women, to know that she was not truly and wonderfully happy alone. She had no idea why it was any of their business. As long as she kept her mouth shut, normally she was fine. The slip of the face had been a mistake. For some reason, the aristocracy couldn’t handle anyone being sad at a ball.
She wasn’t sad, actually. Disappointed would be a better word. No one knew this about her. She didn’t have close friends in which she could confide. There was no one to tell her innermost secrets too. More than anything she wanted to find a man to love, to have children to raise. Simple pleasures of life. But at six and twenty, she knew the truth. That was never going to happen. The last few years had been a strain. Now that the rumors about her family had reached polite society, hope of a match had dimmed. Suitable or otherwise. No matter how well the family hid the truth, part of it, the nastiest parts, had seeped out. Rumors that her mother was mad and had tried to kill her cousin, and that her father had died of an apoplexy in a whore’s bed tended to discourage even the most ardent admirer, let alone a man considering marrying her for no other reason than her money. Not to mention the slight detail that she had shot her own mother. That tended to put a man off.
People still whispered. It would be wrong to talk openly about her and her pitiful situation. The whispers wounded her more deeply than she cared to admit. But the loneliness is what pained her the most.
She would never wed. She would never know the joy of having her own children reach for her hand or call her mama. And she would never fall in love. She would never be held in the adoring embrace of a man who saw her as his one and only. Love was complicated, and it hurt. She had seen it when Sebastian’s first wife had cheated on him, and she saw it within many marriages among the ton.
Each season, some misguided fool married for what she believed was love, only to find herself married to a man who only cared about her dowry. Her cousin, Sebastian, and his wife, Colleen, loved each other. Cicely knew without a doubt how special their match was. But they were an oddity. She would never be able to snag a man’s attention enough to make him fall in love and there was nothing sadder than a woman pining after a man who kept a string of mistresses.
Oh, she didn’t think she was ugly. People didn’t hide their children from her in fear, but she was plain. Freckles, boring brown eyes and straight brown hair, and a penchant for reading history didn’t make her the catch of the season. That much, she was sure of. She lacked the ability to attract men. The gallant flocked to the stunning. The scholarly to the brilliant. The rich to the rich. The few men she was close to tended to view her as a little sister.
She had always thought if her mother had not pushed her on the marriage mart all those years ago, she might have had a chance. There had been several local families near their Hampshire property with bookish types of sons. They would have been perfect for her. Those men would not care if she wasn’t dressed in the latest fashions, if she wasn’t an Incomparable. Men in London did.
After two years of hoping that the large dowry would help, Cicely had decided she needed a better plan. She confronted the truth of her spinsterhood with a brave face, turned-up, freckled nose included, and accepted that she may never marry, but she would not die a virgin.
As soon as the thought of her plan popped into her head, her face flushed with heat. She glanced around. Even though she had kept her thoughts private, she could not help but feel as if the whole world could hear them.
When no one appeared to notice, she relaxed. Silly, really, to think that someone would know what she was thinking. Most people probably thought she was contemplating her next meeting of The Historical Society or perhaps her next visit to the book loan. That is if they cared to wonder at her thoughts at all. Shaking away the worry, she thought about her plan. It was a brilliant notion, if she did say so herself. She’d turned the idea over in her mind for weeks, weighing the possibilities, and decided it was worth the chance. At first, she had worried that she wouldn’t be able to find a suitable candidate. But, she had come to the conclusion that would not be a problem. Men who would hesitate to marry her would not think anything of bedding her.
The next problem arose when she made her list of men. She didn’t want a man who didn’t know what he was about because she surely didn’t know anything, and this would be her one chance to experience the physical intimacies of a woman and a man. If she approached a buffoon, her only experience would be a disappointment. She’d had too many of those in her life to deal with one more. This was her chance to live and she desired to live well.
Restless, she stood and moved away from the darkened corner and out to the fringes of the milling crowd. Laughter and glasses chimed as the candlelight twinkled. Women and men spun around the dance floor. Others gathered, chatting amicably. They were not the focus of Cicely’s inspection. It was the men. There were rakes aplenty in the ton. Most of the unmarried men, and some of the married, had horrible reputations. She allowed herself a brief nod of confirmation. A man who’d perfected the art of seduction and had no qualms about deflowering her was just what she needed. Though, she had decided that she should concentrate on bachelors to begin with. She didn’t know if she could take the guilt of being intimate with a man with a wife at home.
The Earl of Dewhurst walked by. Just a couple years older than she, Dewhurst was an attractive gentleman, with chocolate brown eyes and a kind smile, complete with a dimple. He was on her list, although he had not ranked in the top five. She noticed a few more of her candidates loitering about the room, including Bridgerton. But he was at the bottom of her list. Not for lack of quality, but rather for the fact he would undoubtedly tell Sebastian in an instant.
Another sigh escaped before she could stop it.
You really must learn control, she reprimanded herself.
Sebastian used to be fun, until he’d taken over as head of the family. Now he took his duties seriously. Not a week went by when he didn’t lecture his sister Anna on her behavior. Cicely was quite put out that he didn’t feel the need to lecture her. It was as if he was sure of her conduct. However… She pursed her lips. This could work in her favor. Sebastian would probably doubt Bridgerton if he claimed she’d propositioned him. Perhaps she could add him back to the prey…perhaps even move him up the list. She had other candidates if he should decline. It was such a bother having a boring reputation.
She shook her head. No. Bridgerton was a last resort.
There was also the problem of finding a man who made her insides turn to mush and her skin tingle. Bridgerton didn’t actually do that, but he was well known for his skills in the bedroom.
No. She had another man in mind. Every time she saw him, her brain went blank. She knew he would be perfect, if only he would agree with her plan. Ahhh. A murmur of feminine whispers rose above the music, signaling his arrival. Whispering and giggling always rose to an irritating volume when he entered the room. It was as inevitable as William the Great’s success in 1066.
She slowly turned in the direction of the entrance, her heart pounding, her body warming just at the thought he was there. Then, she saw him.
Douglas, Duke of Ethingham, was every matchmaking mama’s dream come true and nightmare rolled into one delectable package. Cicely had always thought him attractive, although she’d only observed him from a comfortable distance. Since the familial connection between he and Colleen had been revealed, he’d become a regular fixture at the Penwyth townhouse and estate. Cicely and he had become acquaintances of a sort. He rescued her from being a wallflower. She saved him from debutantes and mamas.
She watched him walk through the crowded ballroom, the candlelight caressing his sculpted facial features. From where she stood, his eyes looked ordinary grey. But, she knew about the hint of blue around the iris of his eye and the way it lightened even more when he laughed. Her heart skipped a beat as he headed in her direction.
“You would think he would have been caught by someone by now.”
Cicely jumped, startled by the familiar faint whisper in her right ear, then looked over her shoulder at her aunt Victoria. Petite, yet rounded, Victoria was still the beauty she had been in her youth. While fine lines around most ladies’ eyes would make them appear older, it just added character to Victoria’s face.
They were much the same height, yet Cicely always felt like an elephant next to her. She turned back around but realized she’d lost sight of Douglas. Disappointed, she gave her attention back to her aunt, an empty feeling lining her gut. He had seen her. She knew it. But, he’d seen something better. She tried to push the negative thoughts from her mind and focus on her aunt.
“I have a feeling that His Grace will not be caught unless he wants to be caught.”
Victoria laughed and stepped forward to stand beside Cicely. “That much we agree. Still, he is getting to the point where he should think about putting up a nursery. He is the end of his line. Well, the only one worth anything anyway. I know there is a cousin or two somewhere, but rumor is they are as ghastly as his father and grandfather.”
Something cold slithered into Cicely’s stomach and settled there. Not from her aunt’s description of Douglas’ extended family, but rather from the thought of him with another woman. She knew he had to marry, though she had hoped it would not be so soon. At least not until after he helped her with her plan. Okay, really never. If he did have to wed, sharing one memorable night with him would be enough for her to endure whatever simpering fool he married.
She cleared her throat delicately. “His Grace has said before he does not intend to marry for some time.”
When Victoria didn’t respond, Cicely glanced at her. A mysterious smile played about her aunt’s lips.
“You know what they say, Cicely. The right woman could make any man change his mind.”
She doubted any woman would change the duke’s mind, but she nodded just to agree and get the conversation moving. Knowing that this would probably disintegrate into another discussion on her lack of beaus, something that apparently confused her aunt, Cicely decided to change the subject.
“Did I tell you about the diary I found today at the bookstore?”
Victoria gave her a knowing look but said nothing about her lack of tact. “No, you didn’t.”
“It was quite amazing I found it because it was buried at the bottom of a crate. The proprietor told me he’d bought it at some estate sale.”
“Really?” Victoria’s attention had now turned back to the dancers on the floor, but Cicely knew that her aunt had a habit of keeping one eye on her surroundings and her ear to the conversation.
“It is more an accounting than a personal diary. I am not sure what it means or if it is real. But it seems that one of five men kept a diary while they conspired against the throne about the time of the Terror. I have no idea from where they came, but I think they may be very significant.”
The first strains of a waltz sounded before Victoria could answer. Cicely really hated this dance. While she sometimes had requests for country dances from various cousins and gentlemen she knew from The Historical Society, she rarely was asked to waltz.
She glanced over her shoulder to find Douglas standing to her left, a smile curving his beautiful lips. Curling her toes into her slippers, she told her heart to stop doing flip-flops. All she could do was stare at him. His wavy dark hair never seemed to stay in place, yet always looked tidy. The mischievous twinkle in his eye sent heat racing up her spine. A few murmurs reached her and brought her out of her stupor. It was then she realized her faux pas. Flushing, she curtsied.
He took her offered hand and waited for her to rise before asking, “Would you honor me with this dance?”
She didn’t pretend not to hear the whispers growing louder. Accustomed to them or not, they were still disturbing. Regardless, she held her head high and looked him right in the eye. “I would be delighted to dance with you, Your Grace.”
He led her out to the dance floor and within moments they were whirling with the other dancers. The feel of his strong hand providing gentle pressure on her waist, his body close to hers made her head spin. The heat of him warmed her front, though she tried not to think about it. Her body already tingled, and she knew from experience she lost all thought when that happened.
“I owe you a world of thanks, Lady Cicely.” He smiled down at her, a genuine smile because the man thought she was no threat to his bachelorhood. And she wasn’t. She didn’t want marriage, but she did want him. “Lady Sara has been after me since I walked in the door and I shudder to think what would happen if I had to dance with her.”
She tried not to laugh, but she couldn’t help it. “You should be ashamed of yourself, Your Grace. She cannot help it that she can’t dance.”
“I danced with her last week and my feet will never be the same. Who would have thought such a small woman could inflict that much pain?” He shook his head and chuckled, clearly amused with himself. “So I am serious when I tell you I owe you a boon.”
This was almost too good to be true. “You will grant me a favor in return?”
He nodded and expertly twirled them around a slower couple. She licked her lips and numbly followed his lead. Truthfully, she knew he thought nothing of the offer. In Douglas’ mind, she was sure he assumed she might ask for a ride in the park, or the use of his box at the theater. This had been handed to her on her silver dancing card.
He leaned closer to hear her. She normally didn’t speak that loud, but with the sound of the orchestra, not to mention the fact she was out of breath from dancing, she understood he was having problems hearing her.
“I call in your boon. I do have a favor to ask of you.”
Nodding, he straightened and again twirled her around. “Ask and you shall receive.”
“I was wondering, if you wouldn’t mind, would you teach me how to seduce a man?”
Douglas, Duke of Ethingham, stopped in mid-step and stared down at Lady Cicely completely nonplussed. Never in his life did he expect that to be the favor she asked him.
“What did you say?”
She frowned at him, a little wrinkle appearing between her finely sculpted brows. A couple ran into his back, causing him to trip forward, his body brushing against Cicely’s. For that instant, her breasts, amazing breasts he’d had no idea she had, pressed against his chest, and it knocked the wind out of him. In his arms he felt a woman, lush in all the right places. He shook his head and stepped away, bumping into a dancing couple. Douglas turned and said with a growl, “Would you mind watching where you are going?”
The Earl of Trent and his partner laughed. Trent said, “If you want to hold a discussion, Your Grace, I suggest you leave the dance floor.”
“Your Grace? Do you mind?” Cicely asked. Embarrassment and reprimand colored her voice.
The nerve of the chit. She was looking up at him with those velvet brown eyes, and a little pout forming on her full mouth—not that he had ever noticed that either, until now. He pulled her back into his arms and started to waltz again. The steps were automatic. He didn’t hear the music. He no longer noticed his surroundings. She demanded his attention—her and her damned question. He forced his grip to gentle and his expression back to bland, which was not easy to do with his heart beating the way it was—or the rush of blood to his groin. Something he had never experienced in her presence before now.
“You needn’t look so appalled, Your Grace.”
So he had not succeeded with his card face. “I’m not appalled.”
She laughed. He realized he hadn’t heard her laugh that carefree before this night. The sweet sound captured him and almost had him stopping again on the floor. “Your Grace, I know better than that. The expression on your face was beyond priceless. Do not worry, you have schooled it well.”
Another bubble of laughter rose from her throat. Douglas knew he should be mad at her amusement at his expense but he couldn’t. In the time he’d known the young woman, he’d not often seen her smile, let alone laugh. He was pleased to see that she seemed to be moving on from her past. And her pleasure was the reason for the delight that wound through him, curling into his heart.
But if he let her know how it had affected him she’d use it to her advantage. It was what women did. Retreating into his role of duke, he said, “Lady Cicely, I doubt very much that Lady Victoria would approve of your suggestion.”
She didn’t laugh, but she did smile. “I think at my age I can make my own decisions about this. But, since you appear to be so appalled by the idea—”
“I didn’t say I was appalled.”
She continued as if he hadn’t said a word. “Then I shall mark you off my list.”
The music drew to a close when she made that comment. They stopped and he released her from his arms, but noticed they were near the French doors that led to the terrace. He should walk her back to Lady Victoria, but her last statement piqued his interest. Against his better judgment, he took her by her elbow and ushered her out into the night.
The dimly lit area was perfect for liaisons, and he had used it to his advantage more than once before. He knew a corner where they would be left alone. He pulled her along in a not-so-gentlemanly fashion.
Once there, he ushered her into the darkened corner. He backed her up against the wall, stepping close enough that the skirts of her gown brushed his legs. They hadn’t been this close when they had been waltzing. There was a hint of lavender in the air. He didn’t know if it was from her or the garden behind them. Resisting the urge to lean closer and sniff, he crossed his arms over his chest and gave her his best “I am the duke” stare. Bloody chit just smiled at him.
“Really, Your Grace, it is fine. I completely understand. I am a bit plain and not at all to your normal tastes.” She licked her lips nervously and he followed the movement. Aggravation burned a hole in his gut as he realized he was wondering how she would taste.
He shook his head, trying to focus. “What I want to know is what you mean by propositioning me while we are waltzing, and what do you mean by mark me off the list?”
She frowned now. He could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Lady Cicely was reserved, but Douglas had always sensed something just below the surface. He knew there were many times, probably through habit, that she refrained from making any comments on a subject. Her intelligence was not unknown, but he wondered how much of it she did hide.
“It really isn’t important now that you took yourself out of the running, Your Grace. You offered a boon, I simply asked for what I needed fulfilled. I understand you not wanting to. So this conversation should be closed.”
The calm, rational tone of her voice had him grinding his teeth. “I think I need to know just exactly what you are talking about.”
She stepped back and came to an abrupt stop when she hit the wall behind her. Narrowing her eyes, she placed a hand on each hip.
“Since you have declined participation, it isn’t any of your business.” She noticed something over his shoulder and her eyes widened. He turned to look and saw nothing, but had left just enough room for her to scoot around him and out of the corner. Before he realized what she was about, she’d stepped far enough away that he wouldn’t be able to grab her arm without some of the other occupants of the terrace noticing. Without turning around she said, “No worry, Your Grace. I will see myself inside. Thank you for the dance.”
So the little minx thought she could get away that easily? Irritation lit through him. He was not used to people ignoring his requests.
Suppressing the urge to shout, he said, “Lady Cicely.”
She stopped and glanced back at him, one eyebrow cocked. The fire that flashed in her eyes did nothing to cool his reaction to her.
“I would like to discuss this further.”
Sighing, she turned completely around to face him. “Your Grace, I know you are accustomed to throwing out orders and having them followed.” She drew closer. At first, he thought she might have been a bit apologetic until they made eye contact. Irritation and anger colored her brown eyes, darkening them. “But, you see, you turned me down, so therefore it is none of your business. I am neither your family nor your charge. And I doubt that your ducal powers would encompass my list. We are through here. Now.”
With that pronouncement, she turned on her heel and marched back into the ballroom. At first, he couldn’t think. He was too stunned. He’d never in his life had a person refute his command. And Cicely, who nary said boo to him in the two years he had known her, had the nerve to tell him no? Then walk away from him?
He stalked toward the French doors, barely able to keep from growling. As he stepped into the ballroom, a wave of heat swept over him and he tugged at his collar. Damn crowds. Even as the mixture of scented perfumes and body odor reached him, he knew his discomfort was more from the social environment than the actual temperature. Matchmaking mamas and their clinging, simpering daughters bored him to tears. He had come tonight because Lady Victoria had asked him to attend. He could never turn down Colleen’s mother-in-law. He had a weakness for pretty women, but it went beyond that. Since the discovery of his relation to Colleen, Lady Victoria had treated him as one of the family. To him, that meant the world.
He spotted her talking to Lady Bridgerton in the corner with the other matrons and decided to seek her out. Normally, he would avoid most of the women in that area. More than one of them had a family member they were trying to foist upon him. He took a deep breath. He could take it.
He ground his teeth together when he recognized Bridgerton’s voice. Douglas repressed the urge to tell the earl to bugger off. He’d gained Bridgerton as a friend when he was accepted as part of the Penwyth family. Just a few years older than Douglas, Daniel still had the matchmaking mamas after him too. With his title, looks, not to mention his ready wit, he was considered a great catch. The same age as Sebastian, he had taken another path than his happily wedded friend. Daniel seemed as disinclined to marry as Douglas was.
“Bridgerton.” Douglas nodded as he completely turned to face him. This had better be short. He was on a mission. “Is there something you need?”
He couldn’t stop from clenching his teeth. Aggravated didn’t begin to describe what he was feeling. His friend’s eyebrows rose all the way to his hairline and Douglas silently cursed himself for revealing his feelings. He just could not accept that he had been dismissed, and by a woman who was known for being even-tempered and soft-spoken.
Daniel noticed his state, but didn’t comment. “Sebastian wanted me to make sure you came for Jane’s baptism tomorrow.”
He sighed, thinking of his cousin’s newest addition to the family. “I take it that it was my cousin and not Penwyth who asked?”
Daniel’s grin grew as did Douglas’ irritation. “No. But then, Sebastian lives to make Colleen happy, so I am sure she is behind his request.”
Douglas hated family gatherings of any sort. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, trying to quell the uneasiness that had risen. “I told them I would try to make it.”
“Not good enough.” Daniel grabbed a glass of champagne as a waiter walked by. “Colleen apparently wants you front and center, and you are to ride there with the family. And, before you complain, I have to be there, too.”
Sighing, Douglas looked out over the sea of dancers trying to locate Lady Cicely. When he spotted her, standing in a corner sipping champagne and talking to Dewhurst, panic set in. He didn’t have time for this.
“I will be there, what time?” He didn’t take his eyes off her as he asked his question. What the devil did she think she was doing with Dewhurst? He was a rake of the first order. When he saw her smile up at the earl, looking through her long lashes, his stomach muscles clenched. Why had he never noticed her smile before tonight? And why was she flirting with Dewhurst? Was he on the blasted list? Whatever that list meant.
Daniel’s amused voice broke into his thoughts. “Eleven.”
Laughter laced the words, but it had not yet come bursting forth from Daniel’s ear-splitting grin. “You asked me what time you were to arrive at the Penwyth townhouse.”
“Right. I will see you there.”
Without another word, he strode across the ballroom, never taking his eyes off his quarry. He would not allow Lady Cicely to go off making advances on the male population of the ton. Since Sebastian wasn’t there, it would have to be he who stepped into the role of guardian and protected the chit. He reassured himself it had nothing to do with his own strange reaction to her this evening. If she were left to her own devices, which apparently she was, she would find herself ruined. He was only trying to save her from herself.