Welcome to my first official Mills & Boon review as an Insider. To say I’m thrilled is an understatement.
I opted to bring you an extract as part of this Blog Tour as I wasn’t sure I’d get the full book read in time to give an honest review. I don’t know what I was thinking because I read this in a matter of 24 hours (possibly less!).
Have a read of the extract below …
A droplet of sweat rolled between the shoulder blades of Thomas Edward O’Connell Cúchulain Powell, Earl of Langdon, as he steadied the cocked duelling pistol and took aim. He looked down the weapon’s barrel, his concentration fixed on his target twenty paces away. His exhalation misted in the chill midnight air as he fought for calm.
He inhaled, held his breath, then pulled the trigger.
There was a flash and a cloud of smoke as the weapon’s concussion split the night’s stillness.
Twenty paces away, glass shattered.
The hushed crowd burst into applause and cheers of “Bravo!” as Tom lowered the pistol and grinned. He kept his footing as people swarmed around him, offering their congratulations and hearty thumps on the back. Numerous women, scented heavily with perfume, kissed his cheeks—so many that he imagined it looked as though he wore rouge.
“The hero of Regent’s Park,” George Mowbray declared.
“Not to Culver, I’m afraid.”
Tom looked over at his opponent, Lord Culver, who sulked as he handed his dueling pistol to a footman. Culver had missed when taking aim at the bottle of claret. Perhaps if Tom had been more virtuous, he would have deliberately missed so that there was no winner and no loser. Though Tom was an earl and the heir to the Duke of Northfield, no one would ever call him virtuous.
“Ah, shag him,” Mowbray said magnanimously.
“I’ll leave that to the professionals.”
Tom smiled ruefully as Culver’s hired companion for the evening attempted to soothe her client. When Culver shoved her away and she stumbled, Tom immediately strode through the crowd and jammed his fist into his opponent’s sternum.
“You may have lost, but you’re still a gentleman,” Tom said in a low, warning voice. Gently, he took the woman’s arm to make sure she kept her footing.
“Apologize to the lady.”
“She’s just a whore, Langdon,” Culver said.
“Apologize.” Tom’s jaw firmed as he held up the pistol. “Or else the next time I fire this, it will be at your worthless heart.”
Culver scowled, but said in a grudging voice, “I’m sorry.” Under his breath, he muttered, “You Irish son of a bitch.”
Tom narrowed his eyes. “Repeat that.”
“I . . .” Culver gulped. “It was a jest.”
“A poor one.” Since the age of twelve, when he’d been brought from his mother’s Irish home to be educated in his father’s country of England, Tom had heard some variation of Culver’s insult. Why anyone thought Tom ought to be embarrassed about his Irish blood, he’d no idea. But he wouldn’t tolerate slurs.
“Must I ask for another apology?”
“My sincere contrition,” Culver said. After casting Tom a wary glance, he hurried toward his waiting carriage.
“Hope I didn’t cost you your night’s earnings,” Tom said to the woman.
“Ah, no.” She gave him a dry smile as she eyed the throngs of young, wealthy bucks passing bottles back and forth as they caroused. “There’s plenty of pickings in this crowd.” She glanced at him and her smile turned more genuine. “Happens that I’m free right now, my lord. If you’re interested.”
“Perhaps another evening.” He wasn’t ready for bed yet.
One of the rakes came forward with a substantial bundle of cash and jammed it into Tom’s hand. “Your winnings, Langdon.”
No sooner than the cash was in his hand than Tom turned and handed it to the woman.
“For putting up with Culver.”
“I couldn’t, my lord,” she said as she tucked the money into her bodice. She gave him a wink. “ ’Night, love.” She pressed a quick kiss to his cheek, then strode off into the darkness.
“That was near seventy pounds, Langdon,” Mowbray said in shock.
“She’ll have better use of it than me.”
There was no shortage of funds in Tom’s coffers, between income from his earldom as well as his generous allowance provided by his father, the duke. Other lordlings and bucks swam in seas of debt, hounded constantly by tailors, club proprietors, and wineshop owners. Tom made certain to pay everyone on time, for no other reason than the fact that he could.
“I’d do it again for free if it meant humiliating Culver. Bloke’s had it coming since he refused to cover his mistress’s bills.”
“You’re a daft bastard,” Mowbray said with a shake of his head.
“I’d agree,” Tom said affably, “except everyone knows about my parents’ celebrated fidelity. Bastard in deed but not blood.”
Someone handed him a bottle of whiskey and he took a drink before passing the spirits along to a trio of bucks who looked in dire need of refreshment.
“Good Christ, here you are!”
The throng opened up just enough to allow Christopher Ellingsworth to emerge, looking slightly bedraggled despite his military bearing. Since returning home from the War a year ago, Ellingsworth had re-newed the friendship he and Tom had begun at Oxford, and from that point forward they had been nigh inseparable, with the exception of tonight.
“Missed the excitement.” Tom handed his pistol to the footman, who returned it to its polished mahogany case.
“Not for want of trying,” his friend said. “I’ve been to the opera, two gaming hells, and a phaeton race. Everywhere I went, I’d just missed you by ten minutes.” He shook his head but his eyes gleamed with reluctant admiration. “Good thing we’re not competing for the title of Most Scapegrace Gentleman in London, or else you’d best me.”
“That trophy isn’t much sought after, anyway. Why such urgency to find me?” Tom lifted an eyebrow.
“My father’s not looking for me, I hope.”
The duke periodically got it into his head that Tom would somehow reform and conduct himself with the dignity and sobriety of a ducal heir with a family history of deeply traditional beliefs, but that was precisely why Tom spent his days asleep and his nights in endless rounds of revelry. One day, hopefully in the far distant future, Tom would inherit the title, and with it, the morass of responsibilities and duties that came with being one of the most powerful men in England—and a voting record dedicated to preserving the ancient systems of power.
Life as Tom knew it would end. He’d say goodbye to nights entertaining opera dancers, midnight swims in the Serpentine, and behaving like the kingdom’s veriest rogue, with his equally dissolute companions keeping him company.
As a marquess’s third son who had recently sold his commission, Ellingsworth had considerably less money but shared Tom’s appetite for running riot. There wasn’t one corner of the city they hadn’t explored in search of amusement and pleasure.
Ellingsworth hooked an arm around Tom’s neck and led him several paces away from the celebrants.
In a low voice, he said, “I’ve heard about something that I knew would interest you. A place in Bloomsbury called the Orchid Club.”
Tom groaned. “I’ve grown weary of clubs. Same games of chance, same people, same wine, same everything.”
His friend’s grin flashed. “This club is different. For one, it opens its doors only once a week and it just so happens to be open tonight.”
That wasn’t enough to snare Tom’s interest. Many clubs did what they could to cultivate an air of mystery in order to ensure steady business from those eager to discover its secrets.
“What else makes it so special? Is it a brothel?”
“It is most decisively not a brothel. You’ll need this, however.” Ellingsworth unhooked his arm from around Tom’s neck. He reached into his coat before producing something, then slipped the item into Tom’s hand.
Tom held up the object so he could study it better. It was a half mask made of midnight blue satin.
“What the devil . . . ?”
Ellingsworth chuckled. “You’re intrigued.”
“You’ve gotten my attention.”
Tom had torn all over London tonight, but still edginess and restlessness pulsed just beneath his skin. He needed diversion. Surely there had to be something in the city he hadn’t already done.
“Excellent.” Ellingsworth clapped his hands together. “I left my horse with the boy watching yours.”
He headed toward where the animals waited, and Tom quickly followed.
“Won’t you tell me more about this mysterious Orchid Club?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t dream of ruining the surprise.”
They reached the horses and after tossing coins to the lad holding the reins, Tom and Ellingsworth swung up into the saddles.
“Not even a hint?” Tom pressed.
In response, Ellingsworth put a finger to his smirking mouth, then wheeled his horse around.
Together, he and Tom rode off into the night.
Intrigued yet? You should be ….
Thanks so much Mills & Boon for my copy of this book and for the chance to take part in the blog tour.
Dare to Love a Duke is available to purchase right now.