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Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane #2)

By:Elizabeth Hoyt

Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane #2) - Elizabeth Hoyt
Chapter One





Once upon a time, in a land quite on the other side of the world, there lived a queen both beautiful and wise. She was called Ravenhair….

—from Queen Ravenhair





LONDON, ENGLAND

OCTOBER 1737

The daughter of a duke learns early in life the proper etiquette for nearly everything. What dish to serve roasted larks in. When to acknowledge a rather risqué dowager countess and when to give her the cut direct. What to wear while boating down the Thames, and how to fend off the tipsy advances of an earl with very little income at the picnic afterward.

Everything, in fact, Lady Hero Batten reflected wryly, but how to address a gentleman coupling vigorously with a married lady not his own.

“Ahem,” she tried while gazing fixedly at the molded plaster pears on the ceiling overhead.

The two people on the settee appeared not to hear her. Indeed, the lady gave a series of loud animal squeals from under the skirts of her atrocious puce-and-brown-striped gown, which had been flipped up to cover her face.

Hero sighed. They were in a dim little sitting room off the library of Mandeville House, and she was regretting choosing this particular room in which to fix her stocking. Had she picked the blue Oriental room, her stocking would be straight by now and she’d already be back in the ballroom—far away from this embarrassing predicament.

She lowered her eyes cautiously. The gentleman, wearing an anonymous white wig, had discarded his embroidered satin coat and was laboring atop the lady in his shirtsleeves and a brilliant emerald waistcoat. His breeches and smallclothes were loosened to facilitate his endeavors, and every now and again a flash of muscled buttock was visible.

Sadly, she found the sight mesmerizing. Whomever the gentleman was, his physical attributes were quite… astonishing.

Hero tore her gaze away to look longingly at the door. Really, few would find fault with her should she turn and tiptoe from the room. That was exactly what she would’ve done when she’d first entered had she not passed Lord Pimbroke not two minutes before in the hallway. For, as it happened, Hero had noted the atrocious puce-and-brown-striped gown earlier in the evening—on Lady Pimbroke. Much as Hero was loath to embarrass herself, her own feelings were not, in the end, as important as the possibility of a duel and subsequent injury or death to two gentlemen.

Having come to this conclusion, Hero nodded once, took off one diamond earbob, and lobbed it at the gentleman’s backside. She’d always quietly prided herself on her aim—not that she used it much in everyday life—and she was rather gratified to hear a yelp from the male.

He swore and turned, looking at her over his shoulder with the most glorious pale green eyes she’d ever seen. He wasn’t a handsome man—his face was too broad across the cheekbones, his nose too crooked, and his mouth too thin and cynical for true masculine beauty—but his eyes would draw any female, young or old, from across a room. And once drawn, their gaze would linger on the look of arrogant male virility he wore as naturally as he breathed.

Or perhaps it was merely the, er, circumstances that gave him the look.

“D’you mind, love?” he drawled, the anger in his expression having changed to faint amusement when he’d caught sight of her. His voice was gravelly and completely unhurried. “I’m busy here.”

She could feel heat suffusing her cheeks—really, this was an impossible situation—but she met his gaze, making quite sure hers did not wander lower. “Indeed. I had noticed, but I thought you should know—”

“Unless you’re the type who likes to watch?”

Now her face was aflame, but she wasn’t about to let this… this wretch get the better of her verbally. She allowed her gaze to drop swiftly and scornfully down over his rumpled waistcoat and shirt—fortunately the tail hid his open breeches—and back up. She smiled sweetly. “I prefer entertainments in which I’m not in danger of falling asleep.”

She expected her insult to anger him, but instead the rogue tutted.

“Happens a lot to you, does it, sweetheart?” His voice was solicitous, but a sly dimple appeared beside his wide lips. “Falling asleep just as the fun’s about to begin? Well, don’t blame yourself. Like as not, it’s the gentleman’s fault, not yours.”

Good God, no one ever spoke to her like this!

Slowly, awfully, Hero arched her left brow. She knew it was slow and awful because she’d practiced the movement in front of a mirror for hours on end at the age of twelve. The result made seasoned matrons tremble in their heeled slippers.

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