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Authors: Isobel Carr

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Ripe for Pleasure

BOOK: Ripe for Pleasure
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ISOBEL CARR

NEW YORK   BOSTON

For Karin Tabke

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

As implied in the dedication, I owe my friend Karin Tabke a huge debt of gratitude. Without Karin, this book wouldn’t exist.
She’s the best non-agent a girl could have. I would also like to thank Jami Alden for being the best beta reader on the planet,
and Jessica Cohen for brainstorming fantabulousness and always being available for cocktails and plotting. My San Francisco
support network—Monica McCarty, Bella Andre, Carolyn Jewel, Poppy Reiffin, Veronica Wolff, Ann Mallory—as always, you ladies
rock! Also, my fellow bloggers over at History Hoydens. For long-distance help and support, they’re irreplaceable. My friends,
whom I’ve largely deserted over the past year, know how much their support has meant. I owe more than I can say to my sister,
Siobhan, for all the dog sitting it took to keep my mastiff Clancy happy and healthy while I worked. I’d also like to thank
my team of “Alexes”: my agent, Alexandra Machinist, and my editor, Alex Logan. Fantastic, insightful, supportive superheroines,
both of them. A writer couldn’t ask for a better team.

PROLOGUE

T
here are three private gentlemen’s clubs on St. James’s Street in London, each with its own rules and regulations governing
membership. They are filled each day with peers who can’t be bothered to attend to their duties in the House of Lords, let
alone what they owe to their estates and family. Their ranks are frequently swelled by the addition of their firstborn sons,
who gamble away their youth and fortunes while waiting for their fathers to die. What’s less commonly known is that there
is also one secret society, whose membership spans all three: The League of Second Sons.

Their charter reads:

We are MPs and Diplomats, Sailors and Curates, Barristers and Explorers, Adventurers and Soldiers. Our Fathers and Brothers
may rule the World, but We run it. For this Service to God, Country, and Family, We will have Our Due.

Formed this day, 17 May 1755, All Members to Swear to Aid their Fellows in their Endeavors, Accompany them on their Quests,
and Promote their Causes where they be Just.

Addendum, 14 April 1756. Any rotter who outlives his elder brother to become heir apparent
to a duke
is hereby expelled.

Addendum, 15 Sept 1768. All younger brothers to be admitted without prejudice in favor of the second.

CHAPTER 1

London, May 1783

T
here was someone in her room.

The floorboards creaked, the wood protesting in its shrill way. Muffled footsteps sounded across the room, the tread far too
heavy to be that of her maid. Viola Whedon froze beneath the covers, holding her breath. A faint line of candlelight licked
through a crack in the bed curtains. Her heartbeat surged in time with the ticking of the mantel clock, a thready, sickeningly
fast vibrato.

“It’s got to be here.” A man’s voice, thick, angry, and entirely unknown to her.

“May’hap we missed it in the last room?” Another man, no more familiar than the first.

Viola carefully folded the covers back, the slight rustle of feathers and linen as loud as the clatter of iron-shod hooves
on cobbles to her ears. She peered carefully out, not disturbing the curtains. Two men stood by the mantel, both squat and
solid. The kind of men one passed
near the docks or saw emerging from the slum of Seven Dials.

Just the sort of ruffians she’d have expected Sir Hugo to hire. They’d had such an enormous row when Sir Hugo discovered that
he was to be included in the second volume of her memoir. It wouldn’t surprise her at all if he were to attempt to steal.
Or perhaps one of her other former lovers had hired them? Several who had refused to buy their way out of her memoir had made
threats about taking more drastic actions to prevent publication. Despite the warm May night, Viola shivered. Did they know
she was here? That this was her room?

One of the men held a candle while the other explored the mantel, clumsy fingers roughly caressing the wood. He made a disgusted
sound in the back of his throat and spat. Viola clenched her jaw, revulsion pulsing through her. If only she were the heroine
of a novel with a pistol under her pillow… If only she weren’t alone in her bed.

Whoever had hired them, they weren’t going to find her manuscript—not where she’d hidden it—and she wasn’t going to simply
wait for them to beat its location out of her. She needed the money that the manuscript would bring. Couldn’t live without
it, in fact, thanks in no small part to Sir Hugo. And she planned on living to spend that money as extravagantly as possible.

Viola took a deep breath, the familiar scent of her perfume and hair powder and crisp, clean linen not at all comforting,
and steeled herself for a mad dash across the room. She was closer to the door than they were, and she had surprise on her
side, because they’d left the door wide open.

She slid her feet over the side of the bed, eased the curtain back, and sprinted for the door. A startled oath burst from
both men. Within seconds, they were pounding down the corridor after her, heels loud upon the uncarpeted floors, clearly not
afraid to raise the whole house. One of them caught her hair and pulled, hard. She yanked her head free, vision blurring as
she lost a chunk of hair.

Viola swung around the corner and half fell down the stairs, bouncing off the wall at the landing and skidding down the last
flight, clutching at the banister to keep from falling. Her only footman lay facedown on the floor in the entry hall.

Viola vaulted over him. Her hands shook as she fought with the latch and wrenched the front door open. Please let there be
someone on the street. Please.

One of her pursuers grabbed hold of her nightgown; threads popped and the gossamer nettle fabric tore. Viola screamed and
struck him in the face with her elbow. He went staggering back, cursing. Warm air rushed over her as she ran down the front
steps, searching the street for any sign of life, for any chance of rescue.

His cousin was a fool.

Leonidas Vaughn ran his fingers lightly over the cold hilt of his sword as two lumbering shapes slipped over the gate and
into the small garden of number twelve Chapel Street. A horse blew its breath loudly through its nose in the stable behind
him. A cat slunk by and disappeared into the dark recesses of the mews.

It was so like Charles to make a brash, frontal assault when the situation plainly called for subterfuge. For
subtlety. For seduction. But nothing he’d said had changed his cousin’s mind. Charles saw only what he wanted to see: a fortune
waiting to be claimed.

It had been only a few months since they’d buried their grandfather. A bare week since they’d marveled at the cache of letters
discovered among the mountains of papers at Leo’s newly inherited estate. And in the days since Leo had followed his cousin
back to town, Charles had already set the wheels of the hunt in motion… just as Leo had known he would. The fevered gleam
in Charles’s eyes had been all too clear as letter after letter revealed the details of the King of France’s attempt to support
Bonnie Prince Charlie’s bid for the English throne.

BOOK: Ripe for Pleasure
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