Authors: Julia Keaton
THEIR WICKED WAYS
Copyright June 2013 by Julia
Cover Art by Eliza Black,
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events,
and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact.
Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
Other Books by Julia Keaton:
Stranger in my Bed
His Forbidden Touch
Succumb to Me
Their Wicked Ways
It would have been difficult
for even their closest friends to say whether Darcy St. James and Nicholas Cain
were the best of friends or the most devoted of rivals.
The truth was they had been
nearly inseparable from early childhood, and they were, and had always been,
both. Although the contest between them was not nearly so obvious as it had
been when they were green boys, those who knew them well were always aware of
the war constantly waged between them beneath polite smiles and impeccable
manners in almost every aspect of their lives as each strove to best the other
at whatever they set their hand to.
They might almost have been
mistaken for twins. Aside from the fact that one rarely saw one that the other
did not also appear, both men were tall and dark, both were Corinthians of some
repute, and both were womanizers of even more renowned repute.
Darcy, the broader of the two
and the tallest by several inches, was known to be something of a charming
rogue. His mother had often lamented that he had more the look of a pirate
than the younger son of a peer of the realm with his unruly, dark brown hair
and the irrepressible gleam to be found in his hazel gold eyes more often than
not, as if he were contemplating some devilment he found supremely amusing.
She didn’t believe it, of course, only that he
to be a rogue.
She could not be persuaded to consider that any of her children were not
perfect in every way and would have been greatly disturbed to know how close
she was to the truth.
He had little reason to take
life seriously. As the third of four sons, he was too far removed from the
succession to concern himself with the responsibilities inherent in his
father’s estate as a Duke of the realm, and he certainly had no need to marry
and produce an heir of his own. He had enjoyed a brief stint in His Majesty’s
militia, but the death of a fond, and very wealthy, aunt had left him rather
well set up. At thirty, he had left his wilder years behind, but despite many
a hopeful glance cast his way by the unattached females of the ton, he showed
no inclination to settle and raise a brood in his own image.
Of the two, Nicholas was the
more somber and, whereas Darcy was accounted a charming rogue, Nicholas, with
his steely blue eyes and coal black hair, was considered a cold devil, nearly
as deadly with his rapier sharp wit as with sword or pistol on the dueling
field. He was slighter than Darcy, but it was not something generally noticed
by those unfortunate enough to fall on his bad side.
He was said to be the image
of his father, the late Marquis of Kent, who’d died at the ripe old age of five
and seventy, supporting the old adage that the good died young and the wicked
lived long and prospered.
It certainly seemed true of
Nicholas, who had parlayed his modest inheritance as a fourth son into a
sizable fortune, most of it, many said, at the gambling tables. Whether true
or merely a reluctance to give the devil his due, rumor had it that he was by
far the wealthiest of any of the old Marquis’ brood, including his eldest
brother, the new Marquis.
The rivalry between the two
was never heated and had not once over the years formed even the smallest wedge
between them, not surprising since they were so evenly matched that if one
triumphed today, it would almost certainly be the other who came out the victor
the following day.
Their ongoing contest was
limited, however, to a test of skill, wit, strength and stamina in games of
chance, racing, pugilism, or fencing. So far as anyone could see, it had never
extended to a rivalry for the favors of the fairer sex. They had been known to
swap, and sometimes share, their mistresses and since Nicholas, at one and
thirty, showed no more inclination to marry than Darcy, their friendship had
never been tested on the more serious matter of finding a bride.
It occurred to William
Moreland as he tossed his hopeless hand onto the table in disgust to wonder if
it was at all possible that he might see the day he bested the two of them, or
even one of the two. “That’s it for me,” he muttered, stretching his cramped
limbs and glancing around the virtually deserted men’s club in search of a
passing servant he might send to fetch him another drink. “My luck’s out
Boyd, the hopeless optimist
who’d made up their fourth, pulled his attention from his own hand long enough
to send William a sympathetic glance. “I’m sure it’ll turn soon, William. It
has to,” he added simply.
William grimaced. “If by
that you mean ‘or I won’t have a farthing to my name’, you’re not far off, but
you’ve been saying that for a good fortnight now, and lady luck has yet to
Darcy and Nicholas exchanged
a speaking glance before Darcy sent him a speculative look. “It’s not as
serious as that, surely?”
William forced a halfhearted
chuckle, shaking his head. “I’m not quite rolled up, but near enough I’m
thinking of rusticating for a bit … if my luck doesn’t turn soon.”
Darcy grinned. “It must be
bad if you’re considering a visit to your dear old aunt.”
“Not that!” William muttered
with an exaggerated shudder, suppressing the urge to grind his teeth and
thereby set off speculation as to his true reasons for leaving town, which
involved a female to be sure, but not of the lower classes.
The sad truth was that he
damned near was rolled up and his fond mama had been hounding him to present
himself to a young, wealthy widow only just returned to England from an
extended visit to relatives in the Americas. As reluctant as he was even to
consider it, he was very much afraid he’d reached a point where his wishes were
not nearly as important as his pockets, particularly since his ‘dear old aunt’
showed no signs of failing health. “I met a cozy armful the last time I was
down that way.”
“A country maid?” Boyd asked
“A clever milk maid,” William
responded and chuckled at the look on Boyd’s face. “You are far too green to be
playing with the likes of these two if you think by that that I’m referring to
bovines, which I can see that you do.”
Boyd’s brows descended in a
perplexed frown. “Goats, you mean?”
Darcy burst out laughing and
even Nicholas’ lips twitched on the verge of a smile.
“No,” the three of them said
almost in unison.
Catching the eye of a servant
at last, William ordered a round for the table and settled back to study Boyd
with keen interest. “Here’s a youngster who needs to be taken under someone’s
Boyd flushed. “I can take
care of myself,” he said stiffly.
William lifted his hand and
gestured at Darcy and Nicholas. “But, my lad, you see before you two of the
most notable Corinthians in all of England, both of whom have also been touted
as England’s greatest lover. You cannot go wrong to be advised by such
paragons of manhood such as Darcy St. James and Nicholas Cain.”
Boyd’s eyes widened
slightly. “Is that who you are, then? I hadn’t made the connection.” He
frowned after a moment. “The greatest lover by whose authority?”
“They talk of such things?”
Boyd demanded, aghast and obviously chagrined at the notion.
“Among themselves,” William
said, grinning, “but one hears these things.”
Boyd thought that over before
glancing first at Darcy and then Nicholas speculatively. “There can be only
one ‘greatest’,” he said simply.
Nicholas and Darcy, who’d
returned their attention to their cards, looked up at that, exchanging a
challenging glance at one another.
William had no sooner
observed it than his mind kicked into high gear and began to formulate and
discard one plan after another. “From the mouths of babes … I hadn’t actually
given it a thought,” he murmured slowly. “I suppose, if I were a betting man,
I’d put my money on Nicholas.”
Darcy sent him a look. “Why
William shrugged. In truth,
he had no reason to suppose either man lacking in prowess since, to his
knowledge, neither man had left behind a female with complaints in that
direction. They were more inclined to go into a decline when Nicholas and
Darcy moved on than to complain that they had lingered overlong. He’d
suggested it for the simple reason that he thought Darcy more inclined to rise
to the challenge than Nicholas. “Something my mistress said about deep waters
… or maybe it was still waters?”
When he glanced at Nicholas,
he saw that those steely blue eyes were narrowed upon his face speculatively.
“What are you about, I wonder?” he murmured coolly.
William felt a faint flush
rise in his cheeks. “Nothing. Only that, as Boyd pointed out, ‘greatest’
suggests the single best of all others.”
“I sense a challenge … and a
wager,” Darcy murmured lazily. “I’m game.”
“I, on the other hand, am
not,” Nicholas said coolly.
William feigned a look of
stunned surprise. “Refusing a challenge?”
“Is that what it was?”
Resisting the urge to tug at
his cravat, which suddenly seemed uncomfortably tight, William glanced at the
three faces before him and finally shrugged. “Isn’t the proposal of a wager
always a challenge of sorts?”
“A proper wager involves
chance, or skills, but in either case, it is a contest where a clear winner can
be determined. In this particular case, it could not … even if there were a
true challenge, which there is not.”
“Why not?” Boyd asked,
suddenly interested once more.
Nicholas studied him
speculatively for several moments. “Put simply, the ladies of the demimonde
can be had for coin, the daughters of the ton for a wedding ring, and the bored
wives of the ton for a smile and wink.”
Boyd was obviously aghast,
and disbelieving besides. “You’re saying there would be no point in wagering
on it because you could have any female you chose, merely by casting your handkerchief
in her direction?” he demanded.
Nicholas and Darcy exchanged
“Yes,” Darcy said
William thought long and hard
about the wager. The truth was, he considered his chances with the ‘fair’
widow virtually nil, particularly since he had no burning desire to acquire a
wife at all and certainly not one who’d been rusticating in the Americas for
the past five years and was probably a complete bumpkin. Besides, from what
his mother had had to say, he rather thought her perfect for his purposes. In
all of England, what female would be more resistant to the two of them than one
who had reason to hate them both? “Just suppose a female might be found who
would present a challenge? You are certainly right about the majority of England’s
fair ladies, and also about determining a winner in such a contest, but suppose
the challenge was to see which of the two of you could succeed in seducing a
female disinclined to favor either of you?”
“Why do I have the feeling
you have someone particular in mind?” Nicholas asked dryly.
William reddened. “Actually,
she only came to mind because my mother mentioned her to me when I dined with
her earlier this evening.”
“You cannot mean to bandy a
lady’s name about in a gentleman’s club,” Boyd put in disapprovingly.
Nicholas gave him a look that
caused the color to leave his face for several moments before it rushed back
with a vengeance. “As little as I like being chastised by a green boy, he’s
right,” Nicholas said coolly, turning his attention to William once more.
uncomfortably. “If you will but notice, we have cleared the room.”
Darcy glanced around in
apparent surprise. “It must be later than I thought.”
“Nigh on sunrise,” William
pointed out, after studying his watch for a moment through blurry eyes. “If
you’ve no interest in the bet, I suppose I’ll take my leave.”