Read A Duke but No Gentleman Online

Authors: Alexandra Hawkins

A Duke but No Gentleman

BOOK: A Duke but No Gentleman
6.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

Begin Reading

Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page

 

Thank you for buying this

St. Martin's Press ebook.

 

To receive special offers, bonus content,

and info on new releases and other great reads,

sign up for our newsletters.

 

Or visit us online at

us.macmillan.com/newslettersignup

 

For email updates on the author, click
here
.

 

The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author's copyright, please notify the publisher at:
us.macmillanusa.com/piracy
.

 

It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce.

—Voltaire

 

Chapter One

March 4, 1792

Malwent Commons, England

 

Norgrave was a madman.

With one hand on the hilt of his sheathed short sword, and the other gripping the warm metal handle of a lantern, Tristan Bailey Rooke, Duke of Blackbern, watched intently as his friend parried his opponent's attack. The sharp, deathly clash of steel echoed in the night while Norgrave flirted as if the grim specter of Death was just another lady he needed to seduce into his bed.

No sane gentleman would duel in the fog at midnight, but too much brandy and pride had a way of dulling a man's wits. When Viscount Caxton knocked over the marquess's glass of brandy and issued his challenge, Norgrave eagerly accepted.

Caxton had been too blinded by his righteous anger to comprehend that he had been cleverly manipulated. If the gentleman had not been so generous in delivering his libelous insults not only to Norgrave, but to Tristan as well, he might have warned the man of his opponent's proficiency with both pistol and sword.

Instead he had remained silent.

Wronged or not, the pompous arse deserved the bitter taste of humiliation for his insinuations, and Cason Brant, Marquess of Norgrave, intended to be the gentleman who forced every foul drop down the man's throat.

“Already winded, and your elbow keeps dropping.” Norgrave made a soft sound of disapproval. “Do you wish to yield?”

Caxton bared his teeth at the suggestion. “Nay.” He brought his blade down, but it only stirred the air when Norgrave stepped out of range at the last second. “Not until I hear an apology from your lips.”

Tristan glanced over at the viscount's second who was staring at the fighting men with the excitement of a chained dog that longed to be free of his tether. He paced the edge of the circle, his sword unsheathed. Tristan didn't trust the man not to interfere to give his friend the advantage.

Norgrave grinned. “On the contrary, you should be apologizing to me for not being a worthy opponent. It is apparent you have been neglectful in keeping your sword skills honed for these unpleasant affairs.”

The viscount responded with the resounding clang of steel against steel. He shoved to push the marquess away, but Norgrave was taller and slightly heavier. He held his ground, and it was Caxton who went stumbling.

“Hold, good sir!” Tristan ordered the viscount's second when he took a step forward. What the devil was his name? Prigs? Twigs? No, that did not sound quite right, but he was close. His lips curved in triumph as he suddenly recalled the man's name. “Briggs, your friend is fine. Do not interfere.”

Caxton did not even glance at his friend. He charged Norgrave. “Stay back, Briggs. This bastard is mine!”

The marquess turned sideways and countered the man's blade. High and low, Norgrave's blows struck with accuracy and a ringing force that proved minutes later to be the thirty-eight-year-old gentleman's undoing. He had provoked the wrong man.

Norgrave shoved the viscount away from him.

“Are you satisfied, Caxton?” his friend taunted, his movements to evade his opponent swift and graceful. “Speak now, and you can return home to your sweet Audrey.”

His brown eyes flared with indignation. “How dare you! You have no right to utter her name.”

“I regretfully disagree. Audrey insisted that I take such liberties. As you know, it was just one of many,” Norgrave said, his silky insinuation puncturing the other man's composure.

Anger strengthened Caxton's arm, and his blade sliced the marquess's upper arm. The viscount smiled at his small victory. “You might have caught her fancy, but her father accepted my offer of marriage, not yours.”

Norgrave paused at the gentleman's words. “Who told you I offered marriage?” He cast an incredulous look in Tristan's direction. “Audrey's father accepted your timely offer because he knew—”

“Speak not another word!” the viscount roared as his expression darkened. “You are insulting my bride. If you continue, a mere scratch will not satisfy me.”

“You truly believe you have the skill to best me, Caxton?”

“Love and justice will guide my arm.”

“'Tis a noble declaration. A pity we did not invite a poet to our private gathering. He could compose a sonnet and deliver it to your widow.”

“Enough, Norgrave,” Tristan said in even tones. “An insult is not worth any man's death.”

“Most evenings, I would agree,” his friend said, his gaze fixed on his opponent's face. “However, I suspect Caxton is not planning to be reasonable.”

“So you admit it,” the viscount snarled.

The two men circled each other. “To what precisely? I have committed numerous sins … ah, but you are only interested in the ones that involve your delectable wife.”

“Norgrave, cease provoking him!” Tristan pointed his sword at Briggs. “And you, back away. This duel is woefully unbalanced as it is.”

Has everyone lost their head this evening?

“You seduced her.” Caxton's mouth twisted with misery and pain.

The marquess's forehead creased in concern and disbelief. “Is that what she told you?”

If Norgrave had not spent several evenings regaling Tristan with titillating tales of his carnal exploits with the charming Audrey, he might have believed his friend was innocent.

Lord Caxton was also unconvinced.

The viscount shook his head. “She did not have to say a single word. I saw it in her eyes the moment you entered the ballroom.”

A low chuckle rumbled in Norgrave's throat. “You poor gullible fool. You stand before me, willing to risk life and limbs for a duplicitous wench.”

Caxton dragged his gloved hand through his dark brown hair. “You are wrong. My lady—”

The marquess slashed the air, cutting off the gentleman's words. “Cast her wiles in Blackbern's direction first. Is that not true, Tristan?”

“What transpired is no longer important.” To Caxton, he said in apologetic tones, “It was a harmless flirtation.”

Unhelpful as ever, his friend snorted in disbelief. “Audrey and her family had high aspirations to ensnare a duke's interest. Unfortunately for her, Blackbern was not attentive so she consoled herself in my arms.”

Tristan frowned at Norgrave. His friend's retelling of last year's events was not quite accurate. He had been mildly smitten by Lady Audrey. If given the chance, he might have pursued the lady in earnest. However, Norgrave had swept her off her feet with his seemingly limitless charm, but he doubted the viscount would find comfort in the truth.

Nor did he seem to accept the marquess's half-truths.

“What are you saying?” The viscount lowered his sword as his fury increased. “That my wife seduced you? I refuse to believe such a preposterous claim.”

“Oh, I seduced her, Caxton.” The marquess closed the gap between them. “Did she claim that she was a virgin on your wedding night? Quite understandable since your valet is probably the only person who has handled your ballocks. Nevertheless, I can attest your devoted Audrey came to your bed with a bit of tarnish. I distinctly recall her crying out my name when I shoved my cock—”

Caxton bellowed, drowning out Norgrave's confession as he rushed forward. He knocked the marquess's blade aside as the two men collided, fell, and disappeared into the fog.

“God's teeth and toes, this isn't bloody mud wrestling!” Tristan jumped out of the way as the fighting men rolled too close to his boots, his lantern swinging wildly. The duel had been reduced to fisticuffs if glimpses of Caxton's elbow were any indication. “Get up and show some dignity. The retelling of this over brandy will not be favorable for either of you.”

He raised the lantern higher, attempting to discern the health of his friend. Norgrave deserved a few bruises for taunting the viscount about his wife's not-so-innocent past. However, it wasn't Caxton's face that was illuminated in the lantern's light. During the fog-shrouded brawl, the marquess had gained the upper hand and was pummeling his opponent with his fists. Tristan wasn't the only one who noticed.

With his short sword menacingly poised to strike, the viscount's second was striding toward them.

“Put down your sword, Briggs, and help me separate them before someone actually gets hurt,” Tristan snapped, hoping the man was too used to following orders to ignore him. Without turning his back on the man, he sheathed his own sword and slowly set down his lantern.

“Stand aside, Blackbern. I have no grievance with you. Norgrave is violating the terms. He has no honor,” Briggs said, discarding his lantern as he prepared to skewer the marquess in the back.

“Bloody hell!” Tristan ruthlessly kicked his friend in the upper shoulder, knocking him off balance as he retrieved his sword. Briggs's blade missed the marquess and found purchase in Caxton's chest.

The viscount howled in pain.

Tristan blocked the man's second attack. Sporting a visible bruise on his cheekbone, Norgrave gave him an appreciative lopsided grin. “Knew you couldn't resist showing off your skills,” he said, before he scrambled to his feet to face his opponent with his sword in hand.

Fresh blood flowed like a sluggish spring down Caxton's white linen shirt as he stood. His chest was heaving for air, but he seemed oblivious to his injuries. The viscount was too intent on maiming Norgrave to call an end to the duel.

In the fog with four small lanterns to shed some light on the evening's violence, Tristan distracted Briggs while the other two men continued to battle. Norgrave was correct. He was eager to display his sword skills to a worthy adversary, but he preferred a less bloodthirsty setting. Usually, his reputation was enough to discourage most disgruntled rivals. However, Norgrave was driven to prove himself on the field of honor. He was never satisfied unless blood was spilled. His loyalty and longstanding friendship with the marquess placed Tristan at his side.

BOOK: A Duke but No Gentleman
6.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Artful Egg by James McClure
Emma's Deliverance by Susan Vance
Ghost Month by Ed Lin
Vernon God Little by Dbc Pierre
Seasons Greetings by Chrissy Munder
The Day We Found the Universe by Marcia Bartusiak