1. Anticipating your partner's every move, working them into the exact position you desire.
2. Being completely attuned to each other's bodies.
3. Absolute dedication, no matter how many hours are spent sweating it out.
Viscount Amersham has come to Paris to prove his skill with the blade. But feisty Alyssandra Leodegrance is not the opponent he was expecting! As expert swordplay leads to sizzling sensuality, it's difficult to say who will win and what they will claim as their prize!
Rakes on Tour
Outrageous hell-raisers let loose in Europe!
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Dover docksMarch 1835
There were no pleasures left in London. One could only hope Paris would do better. Haviland North turned up the collar of his greatcoat against the damp of the early March morning and paced the Dover docks, anxious to be away with the tide.
All of his hopes were pinned on France now and its famed salle d'armes. If springtime in Paris should fail to stimulate his stagnant blood, the rest of Europe awaited to take its turn. He could spend summer among the mighty peaks of the Alps, testing his strength on their crags, autumn among the arts and graces of Florence, winter in Venice feasting on the sensuality of Carnevale and another spring, if he could manage it. This time in Naples, basking in the heat of southern Italy with its endless supply of the ancient. If those destinations did not succeed, there was always Greece and the alluring, mysterious Turkey.
The exotic litany of places rolled through his mind, a mantra of hopefulness and perhaps a mantra of fantasy. His father had promised him six months, not a year or two. It would all have to be managed very carefully. In truth, Haviland preferred it not come to that simply because of what the need for such lengths indicated about his current statethat at the age of twenty-eight and with everything to live for: the title, the vast fortune that went with it, the estates, the horses, the luxuries other men spent their lives acquiringhe was dead inside after all.
He'd had to fight hard for this Grand Tour, abbreviated as it might be. His well-meaning father had relented at last, perhaps understanding the need for his grown son to spread his wings beyond London and see something of the world before settling down. Haviland had won six months of freedom. But it had come at a great cost: afterwards, he would return home and marry, completing the plans that had been laid by two families three generations ago.
He could hear his father's voice, see him behind his massive desk in the estate office as he delivered his verdict.
'Six months is all we can spare. You're different than your friends. They don't have your expectations. Even Archer is a second son and when it comes down to it, his duties are different than yours. They can be gone for years. We can't possibly spare you that long. The Everlys are eager to see the marriage done, and why delay? You're twenty-eight and Christina is twenty-one. She's been out for three Seasons, which is very respectable at this point, but to make her wait any longer will arouse unnecessary suspicions where there are none.'
His marriage, like everything else in his life to date, had been arranged for him. Everything had been accomplished for him. He simply had to show up. He often thought it was the very idea that there was nothing to turn his hand to, nothing that required his effort that had spawned this dark yawning gap in him. He'd struggled for nothing, been denied nothing, not even good looks. He'd managed to snare the lion's share of the family's handsome genetics along with the fortune. Perhaps that was why fencing appealed to him so intenselyit was something he could work at, something he could personally excel at on his own merits.
Excel he had. Haviland touched his booted toe to the long, slim case lying at his feet to assure himself it was still there, the one piece of luggage he hadn't allowed to be stowed out of his sight: his rapiers, specially made for him from the fit of the grips to the weight of the thin blades. There wasn't a gentleman in London who could touch him in the art of the foil and still it wasn't enough. There was more to know and he hungered for the excellence that would come with new knowledge. He would go to Paris and study. With luck, he'd move on to the Italian masters in Florence. He knew six months wouldn't see him to Italy. It wasn't near enough time. He would need a miracle, but anything could happen if he could just be off.
Haviland took out his gold pocket watch, a gift from his grandfather upon completing Oxford several years ago, and flipped it open to check the time: quarter past five. His companions should have been here by now, which meant they'd show up any moment. None of them were extraordinarily concerned with punctuality but all of them were as eager as he for this journey, for reasons of their own. He closed the watch, his thumb running over his grandfather's carefully chosen, although not highly original inscription: tempus fugit. He'd wasted enough time already. This journey was a chance for the clock to start again, however briefly, for his life to start again.
Haviland's gaze strained in the lifting gloom, trying to make out the arrival of his companions. Who would come first? Perhaps Archer Crawford, his oldest friend. They'd suffered Eton together and then Oxford before moving on to the Season, exhausting the joys of London year after year after endless year until the pleasure had become de rigueur. Only loyalty to his mother had kept Archer in London this long. Now that anchor was gone and Archer was as anxious as he to be off.
Then again, the first to arrive might be Nolan Gray, depending on whether or not he'd had a good night at the rough tables of Dover. Nolan had ended more than one night with a tersely offered invitation to duel. His extraordinary skill at cards left many gentlemen lighter in the pockets. Over their years on the town, Nolan had developed the ability to defend his talent and his honour from the business end of a pistol at twenty paces.
Whoever arrived first, it wouldn't be Brennan Carr. He would most definitely be last and he most definitely hadn't spent his last night in England sleeping. If he knew Brennan, the night had been spent in the arms of a willing woman. Haviland chuckled to himself at the thought. Brennan could always make him laugh. Brennan had made London survivable long after it had lost its appeal.
Hooves and wheels clattered on the docks, a coach emerging from the lifting fog. Two men jumped out, coats swirling about them. One of them barked an order in a deep commanding baritone that carried in the morning air. Haviland smiled, recognising the voice. Nolan and Archer had come together and it looked as if Archer had brought a horse. Or the horse had followed Archer, which wouldn't surprise Haviland at all. Archer was always collecting stray horses the way some people collected cats or dogs. In the gloom, Haviland could see Archer tying the beast to the back of the carriage. He heard Nolan's voice carry across the pier.
'I win!' Nolan shouted as they approached. 'Havi-land is already here and he has his case.' Nolan clasped him on the shoulder affectionately. 'Good morning, Old Man. Is everything loaded? I told Archer you'd be here overseeing.'
Haviland laughed. 'You know me too well. I saw the two coaches go on an hour ago and they loaded our trunks last night.' They'd decided the best way to make haste to Paris and then to destinations beyond would be to supply their own private coaches for travel. They'd have to buy or rent horses in Calais, but Calais was prepared for such purchases. Travellers who could afford it crossed the Channel with their own carriages. Those who couldn't afford to were reliant on public transport or whatever vehicles were for sale. Haviland had been more worried about finding two coaches for sale at prices that didn't border on extortion when they arrived.
'You trusted them with your trunks, which, may I emphasise, contain all your necessary belongings for the duration, but not with one small fencing case?' Archer pointed to the case at his feet.
'I told you that, too.' Nolan crowed. 'But, no, you insisted he'd have sent it ahead.' Nolan tapped his temple with his forefinger. 'I know these things. I'm a student of human nature.'
'Too bad you couldn't study that at Oxford.' Archer goaded him. 'You might have got better marks.'
But Nolan merely laughed. He and Archer had been sparring for years. They had each other's measure. 'What can I say? It's true. You two were the scholars, not me and Brennan.' He looked around. 'Is Brennan here yet?'
'No.' Haviland couldn't resist the ribbing. 'Did you expect him to be? Scholar of human nature that you are?'
Nolan gave Haviland a playful shove. 'A scholar of human nature, yes, a psychic, no.' He grinned. 'So who is she? We've only been in Dover a night. It's not the barmaid from the inn. She went off with another fellow.'
Haviland shrugged as the captain of their packet approached. 'Milord, you'll want to get on board. We'll be leaving in twenty minutes or so.'
'Thank you.' Haviland gave the man a short nod. 'We're waiting for the last member of our travelling party.'
He didn't expect the captain to be sympathetic and the man wasn't. 'The tide does not wait, milord. You've been lucky. We can leave at once. Some folks sit in the inns for weeks, waiting for the right wind and weather.'
'Understood,' Haviland answered, casting a final look at the docks as if he could make Brennan materialise. The captain spoke the truth. He'd heard all nature of accounts from others who'd made the Channel crossing about the risk of having to wait, their travel plans at the mercy of the elements.
'I should have stayed with him.' Haviland said as the captain moved off. He blamed himself. One of the things that made his friendship with Brennan work was balance. Brennan made him laugh and, in return, he kept Brennan focused and out of trouble. But last night he'd been worried about the luggage and the arrangements and he'd left Brennan to fend for himself. Admittedly, he thought there'd be very little damage Brennan could do knowing there was an early departure. Apparently, he'd been wrong.
The trio headed towards the gangplank to board. 'I'll wager five pounds Brennan misses the boat.' Nolan announced. 'Archer, are you in? If I'm wrong, you can win back your losses.'
Once on board, they leaned against the rail, all three of them scanning the docks for a last-minute sign of Brennan. Haviland checked his pocket watch, the minutes racing by. It wouldn't be the same without Brennan. Perhaps Bren could catch a later boat and meet them in Paris? Brennan knew the route they'd planned. Did he have enough money? Probably not. Brennan never had enough funds.
Beside him, Nolan started at the sound of chains rolling up. 'They're pulling the anchor. He's not going to make it.' Nolan blew out a breath and leaned on his arms. 'Dammit, I didn't want to win that bet.' The three of them exchanged glances, their disappointment silently evident. Their trip was off to an ominous start.
The boat began to nudge slowly away from its moorings as commotion broke out on the docks. A horse pulling a heavy dray full of crates reared in its traces, followed by a loud, vituperative spray of cursing. A barrel fell. More cursing. Something, someone, was on the move. Haviland squinted. There was something else running too. Was that a horse? He hadn't time to consider it, all of his concentration was fixed on the figure sprinting towards them, two more figures some paces behind giving serious chase. Bare headed, shirt-tails flying, and coatless, the figure came racing.
'It's him! It's Brennan!' Haviland shouted. He waved and called out, 'Come on!' He didn't like the looks of the men behind. As they closed, Haviland could see a pistol flash in one of the pursuers' hands.
He definitely didn't like the looks of them now. Haviland cast a glance at the gradually widening gap between the boat and the dock. It would be impossible, even dangerous from where they stood, to hazard a leap. The gap was too wide, but at the rear, where the boat was still near the dock, it might be possible. It would be a hell of a jump, but Brennan would have his speed to carry him.
Haviland gestured wildly to the rear of the boat, shouting instructions through cupped hands as he raced towards the stern. 'The back, Brennan, head for the back!'
Nolan and Archer were behind him. Archer shouted something that sounded like, 'The horse, Brennan, get on the horse!' The horse Haviland had spied had now passed the men in pursuit and had pulled up alongside Brennan, matching his stride to Brennan's as if to encourage him to get on. This was madness! But facing two men with guns didn't seem like much of an alternative. Brennan's pursuers were too close now, the boat moving too fast for Haviland's tastes. The horse would stand a better chance of making the leap. Haviland added his voice to Archer's. 'Bren, the horse, now! ' he urged.
Haviland watched Brennan swing up on the fast-moving bay, and watched the pier end.
The horse went down on his knees. Brennan rocketed towards Haviland, taking him to the deck as a pistol report sounded from the docks, a bullet whistling overhead. 'Dammit!' In the excitement over the horse, he'd forgotten about the gun and nearly gotten himself shot. What a fine start to the trip that would have been. Instinctively, Haviland wanted to rise and see where it had come from. He grunted at Brennan's weight on top of him, but Bren-nan wouldn't let him up.
'Stay down!' Only when the boat had moved a safe way from the docks and Brennan deemed it safe to rise did he let him up.
'Good lord, Bren, what have you got yourself into now?' Haviland rose and dusted off his trousers. Beyond Brennan's shoulder he could see the men on the docks shaking impotent fists their direction. Whatever it was, it had been worth shooting someone over.
Brennan stopped in the midst of tucking in his shirt tails and quirked an auburn eyebrow at him in mock chagrin. 'Is that any way to greet the friend who just saved your life?'
Haviland answered with a raised dark brow of his own. 'My life, is it? I rather thought it was yours.' He stepped forward and pulled Brennan into an embrace, pounding him on the back affectionately. 'I thought you were going to miss the boat, you stupid fool.' Sometimes Brennan worried him. He took too many risks, treated his life too cavalierly as if he doubted his own worth.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved it! Scott crafts a fantastic tale with the first of her Rakes on Tour series. Can't wait for the next books! I have already pre-ordered Book 2.