A first-rate scoundrel.
A desperate wallflower.
Lessons in seduction.
The woman no one notices . . .
Shy heiress Alice Lusk is tired of being overlooked by every bachelor. Something has to change, else she’ll be forced to marry a man whose only desire is her fortune. She needs to become a siren, a woman who causes a man’s blood to run hot . . .and she’s just met the perfect rogue to help teach her.
He’s the life of every party . . .
Christopher “Kit” Ward plans to open a not-so-reputable supper club in New York City, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to hire the best chef in the city to guarantee its success. Even if it requires giving carnal lessons to a serious-minded spinster who has an in with the chef.
Their bedroom instruction grows passionate, and Alice is a much better pupil than Kit had ever anticipated. When the Society gentlemen start to take notice, Kit has to try to win Alice in other ways . . . but is he too late to win her heart?
Coming October 26, 2021.
Chateau de Falaise
“You are the most adorably charming man,” the older woman said as she patted Kit’s arm. “This house party would be dreadfully dull without you.”
Since the end of dinner service, Kit had held court in the drawing room, with no less than eight pairs of eyes on him at all times. Over coffee and port, he joked and smiled, nodded and winked. Dazzled everyone in attendance without breaking a sweat.
In fact, charm was his only strength. He’d spent a lifetime perfecting a genuine-sounding laugh, a grin to win over the hardest of hearts. He knew how to put others at ease and make them feel important. Now he did this without even thinking, the effort so rote he’d forgotten why he started doing it in the first place.
And he’d started to hate himself for it.
“While all that is undoubtedly true,” he said to the small group of mothers and chaperones, “I fear it is time for me to return to my room. If you ladies will excuse me.” He inclined his head and stepped back.
“But it’s early yet,” one of the women protested, even though most everyone had retired hours ago.
Kit let his lips curl with a hint of wicked intent. “I never said I intended to sleep.”
They tittered and fanned themselves—as he knew they would—which gave him the opportunity to slip away. The corridors were blessedly empty and the farther he got from the others, the more he was able to relax.
When he finally reached his guest room, he unknotted his bow tie and splashed bourbon in a crystal tumbler, not stopping until the glass was nearly full. The silence calmed him, a soothing respite from talking for six hours straight.
You have no one to blame but yourself.
True. In the beginning, his finely honed skills were his armor, a way to ensure he was never lonely or felt out of place ever again. But the problem with armor was twofold: it was hard to shed and he was vulnerable without it. Who was he underneath? The possibilities were too terrifying to contemplate.
A quiet knock sounded on his door. A tap, actually, as if someone was trying to get his attention while not causing too much noise. It was a familiar technique, one he’d employed often—as recently as this afternoon, in fact.
He hadn’t been in the house even a full day when one of chaperones invited him to her bedchamber, asking for help with her window casing. There’d been no problem with the window, of course, but Kit had provided other kinds of help, the kind that required little clothing and a flat surface. The interlude had been enjoyable for both of them, but she’d worn him out.
Any more window-casing issues would need to wait until the morning.
A second knock, slightly louder this time, had him striding to the door. As he pulled it open, he said, “Mary, my dear—” The words died in his throat. A slight girl, looking quite nervous, stared up at him. He remembered seeing her at dinner but couldn’t recall her name. Had they even been introduced?
He gave her an easy smile. “Hello. Are you lost?”
“No.” She darted a glance down the corridor. “May I come in?”
Interesting. He was still confused, though. This was one of the virginal heiresses trying to catch Harrison’s eye at the house party. True, Harrison had already set his eye on someone—Maddie—but the heiresses didn’t know that. So, why was the girl here?
He cocked his head. “You want to visit my room? Alone, at night?”
“Yes,” she said through clenched teeth. “Please. Before someone sees me.”
Shrugging, Kit widened the crack until the girl was able to squeeze through. She stood in the middle of his bedchamber, head swiveling and hands wringing, as if she didn’t know what to do with herself. Brown hair was elegantly styled atop her head, and she still wore her evening gown, an expensive cream silk with no embellishments or dazzle, as if she didn’t need frivolity. It was a refreshing and straightforward approach to sartorial matters and he liked it. She was adorable, in a younger sister sort of way.
He closed the door quietly and found his bourbon. “Would you care for a drink?”
She blinked several times, her expression shocked. “Goodness, no. I can’t drink.”
Even more interesting. “Because?”
“Because . . . Well, I don’t know. My mother never lets me and—”
“Your mother isn’t here at the moment.” He went ahead and poured her a small drink. “And I think an illicit visit requires illicit refreshment, don’t you?”
She took the heavy glass from his hand and stared at the contents as if waiting for something to happen. Were all virgins this cute?
The side of his mouth hitched. “It won’t bite, I promise. Go on, sip it.”
Shaking her head, she placed the glass on the dresser without sampling the spirits and walked to a pair of armchairs by the fire. “May we sit? You are making me nervous standing there all . . .” She waved her hand at him, as if to indicate his general self.
“All . . . ?”
“All tall and handsome. It’s quite disorienting.”
Amused, he lowered himself into a chair. “I’d apologize but I fear I wouldn’t mean it. I’ve never been handed a more flattering comment, unintentional as it may have been.”
“I beg your pardon. I tend to say the wrong thing. It’s a terrible habit.”
“If complimenting me is a result of that terrible habit, then may you never reform.” He took a sip and watched her over the rim of his glass. Her cheeks were flushed and she was breathing heavily. Embarrassment? Excitement? “A bit unusual for me to be the responsible party in this situation, but I feel I must point out the danger of what we’re doing. If we’re caught, it could prove incredibly awkward for you.”
She didn’t flinch. “We won’t be caught. My mother has taken her nightly laudanum and I made sure the maids were dismissed for the evening.”
“Ah. Then all that’s left is for you to tell me why you’re here.”
Clearing her throat, she folded her hands in her lap, fingers twisted tightly. “From what I have observed, you seem to know what you are doing with women.”
He pressed his lips together to avoid laughing. Something told him amusement would offend her, and he had the strangest urge to protect her feelings. “I do have a bit of experience with women, yes. Comes with the tall and handsome territory, I’m afraid.”
“That’s perfect,” she said, looking oddly relieved. “You are exactly what I need.”
Indeed, this conversation was taking an unexpected turn. “I don’t understand. You are here to try to marry Harrison Archer.”
The young lady waved her hand. “Oh, Mr. Archer is in love with Miss Webster. Everyone can see that.”
She’d noticed as much after one dinner? Perhaps his late-night visitor was more than she seemed. “You are very astute, aren’t you? I mean, you say I’m handsome and you aren’t wrong, but you also picked up on Harrison’s feelings for Maddie.”
She sank into the plush armchair, shrinking before his eyes. “Oh, it’s merely a lucky guess. I don’t know anything.”
“Are you embarrassed of being called clever?” When she sighed and looked down at her hands, he had his answer. “Being smart is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Of course you’d say that,” she said. “You’re a man. It’s not the same for women. We shouldn’t aspire for intelligence.”
“That’s absurd. Who told you such nonsense?”
No spirits and an attitude of women worthy of a caveman? “I believe I don’t care for your mother.”
“We are losing focus.”
He grinned as he sipped from his glass. This young woman was entertaining, in an unusual way. “And what focus is that?”
“I would like your help in learning how to seduce a man.”
The bourbon slid down the wrong pipe and Kit choked, bending over and coughing as he struggled for air. Droplets rolled down his chin, so he wiped his face. “You what?”
She swallowed, her delicate throat working. “I’d like you to teach me how to seduce a man.”
“Because I need to seduce and marry one.”
Her tone indicated that the explanation was simple, like he was an idiot for not understanding. He held up a hand. “Wait a moment. We should back up and begin again.” He put the heavy glass on the side table. “First things first. What is your name?”
©Joanna Shupe 2021