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Sins of a Duke

By´╝ÜStacy Reid




Chapter One

London, April 1883

Lady Constance Thornton stood apart from the swirl and buzz of the midnight ball she was attending, watching Lucan Devlin Wynwood, Duke of Mondvale, with the utmost discretion. The haute monde found him deliciously dangerous and unpredictable. Constance thought he might easily have been her prince charming…except, of course, he was a degenerate, a dangerous libertine a young lady of virtue should stay away from.

But then, that was one of the things that drew her—Mondvale was even more notorious than she.

She watched his dark head dip as he whispered in Lady Shrewsbury’s ear, and suspected he was arranging a clandestine meeting. As if he felt Constance’s eyes on him, he glanced up. Her breath seized. Cold silver eyes captured hers before insolently caressing the length of her body. He seemed terrifyingly exotic with his strong jaw, sensual mouth, savagely high cheekbones, and thick raven-black hair.

Heat flushed her body, but she could not look away. Why was he looking at her? She prayed Lady Shrewsbury was not gossiping about her. Constance glanced at the widow and noted she clung to his dark jacket sleeve as if enraptured by whatever he murmured in her ear.

Mondvale had the most unsavory reputation, yet he intrigued Constance. Unlike her, he was uncaring of what society thought about him. He appalled them all by owning the famous gambling club, Decadence. He titillated some, repulsed others, yet they were all too fascinated to banish him from their circles. Mondvale was fawned over, revered even, and Constance wanted to know how he did it. It could not be by virtue of him being a duke alone. Her brother, Sebastian, ruled one on the most powerful dukedoms in England; her family’s wealth was unmatched. Yet all that had faded in the disdain society currently showed her. The only testament to her family’s wealth and power were the few invitations to the Season’s social events.

Constance lowered her lashes and turned away from the cold, magnetic, and penetrating gaze that stared at her.

“She is indeed a bastard! Look at her, the very image of Viscount Radcliffe himself. How did we not notice the likeness? They have the same blond hair and vivid green eyes.” The loud whisper of Lady Daphne, the Earl of Wakefield’s daughter, clearly designed to reach Constance’s ears, had the desired impact.

A sharp tremor of bitterness quivered through her. She refused to show any emotion, trying to draw upon the coldness she had seen her brother display on numerous occasions. She feared she failed abysmally when tears pricked behind her eyelids. She swallowed, but the lump that formed in her throat seemed to lodge itself, immovable despite her several gulps.

God, why am I here? Why did I not tell Mother no?

Constance had been in town for the past several weeks, and after a number of miserable social events, it had taken tremendous courage to attend the ball tonight, knowing the condemnation that awaited her. She felt so branded, cut off, and isolated from the very people who had fawned over and loved her last season.

Only a year ago, she had been one of them, the belle of the ball, her presence sought after by both young men and ladies. She had been so thrilled when she made her debut into society, so excited to go about securing a well-made match. Sebastian had been overly indulgent, declining all offers for her last season. It was a decision she had no doubt he now regretted. Then the rumors of her illegitimacy had surfaced, and overnight she had become a pariah—the Beautiful Bastard. The haute monde had deemed her imperfect, and had moved with swift and brutal efficiency to cut off the one who offended their sensibilities. Friends had turned cold, and her laughter and joy had withered.

Even though the rumors also hinted at her brother Anthony’s illegitimacy, it seemed that being a female bastard was more unforgivable. Yet her mother was still determined she be displayed on the marriage mart. Constance did not delude herself by thinking she was being seriously considered by any suitors. What lord would want to marry a lady with such inferior circumstances? Not even the misters seemed interested in winning her favor.

She had believed after rusticating in Dorset for almost five months, away from the prying eyes of society, the gossip would have moved onto greater scandals. But she had been in London now for almost three weeks, and not one of her many former friends had presented themselves at the townhouse in Grosvenor Square. Even her dearest friend from last season, Lady Annabelle, had been notably absent. Constance had written to Lady Annabelle while in the country, but after her reply demanding to know the truth of the rumors, no further correspondence had followed.

Shame burned in Constance’s veins, because despite her elder brother’s efforts, even a duke’s influence could not coerce people to actually speak with her. The only people at tonight’s ball who had conversed with her, apart from her sister-in-law, Lady Phillipa, were the host and hostess. And their reluctance had been clearly evident.

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