Read The Taming of the Rake Online

Authors: Kasey Michaels

Tags: #Romance, #Regency, #Historical, #Fiction

The Taming of the Rake

Praise for
USA TODAY
bestselling author
KASEY MICHAELS

“Kasey Michaels aims for the heart and never misses.”


New York Times
bestselling author Nora Roberts

“A poignant and highly satisfying read…filled with simmering sensuality, subtle touches of repartee, a hero out for revenge and a heroine ripe for adventure. You’ll enjoy the ride.”


RT Book Reviews
on
How to Tame a Lady

“Michaels’s new Regency miniseries is a joy…You will laugh and even shed a tear over this touching romance.”


RT Book Reviews
on
How to Tempt a Duke

“Michaels has done it again…. Witty dialogue peppers a plot full of delectable details exposing the foibles and follies of the age.”


Publishers Weekly,
starred review, on
The Butler Did It

“Michaels demonstrates her flair for creating likable protagonists who possess chemistry, charm and a penchant for getting into trouble. In addition, her dialogue and descriptions are full of humor.”


Publishers Weekly
on
This Must Be Love

“Michaels can write everything from a lighthearted romp to a far more serious-themed romance. [She] has outdone herself.”


RT Book Reviews
on
A Gentleman By Any Other Name
(Top Pick)

“[A] hilarious spoof of society wedding rituals wrapped around a sensual romance filled with crackling dialogue reminiscent of
The Philadelphia Story.


Publishers Weekly
on
Everything’s Coming Up Rosie

Also available from
Kasey Michaels
and HQN Books

The Daughtry Family

How to Woo a Spinster
(ebook exclusive)

How to Tempt a Duke

How to Tame a Lady

How to Beguile a Beauty

How to Wed a Baron

The Sunshine Girls

Dial M for Mischief

Mischief Becomes Her

Mischief 24/7

The Beckets of Romney Marsh

A Gentleman By Any Other Name

The Dangerous Debutante

Beware of Virtuous Women

A Most Unsuitable Groom

A Reckless Beauty

Return of the Prodigal

Becket’s Last Stand

Other must-reads

The Bride of the Unicorn

The Secrets of the Heart

The Passion of an Angel

Everything’s Coming Up Rosie

Stuck in Shangri-la

Shall We Dance?

The Butler Did It

And coming soon, the next Blackthorn Brothers story:

A Midsummer Night’s Sin

KASEY MICHAELS
THE TAMING OF THE RAKE

Dear Reader,

In the more than thirty years I’ve been spinning stories, and with the more than one hundred heroes I’ve created, I’ve written about a few who have not qualified as “angels.” But none of them were bastards. Well, at least not according to the legal definition.

Then I had this idea about three bastard sons of an English marquess and an actress mother. Loved by their father, educated “above their station,” rigged out, with scads of money in their pockets and, of course, handsome as sin. Where do they fit in an age and a society that stakes so much on pristine lineage? Certainly no papa would hand his daughter over to a bastard, no matter how wealthy or civilized that suitor might be. No, the bastard would be relegated to the very fringes of society, caught between two worlds, belonging to neither.

Well, that couldn’t happen, not in
my
world! Love simply has to conquer all! But it would take three very special young ladies to defy convention and their families, and sacrifice their own place in society, all for the love of a brash, or a fun-loving, or a brooding and secretive Blackthorn brother.

Come along, meet Beau Blackthorn and the woman who will risk everything—not to defy her brother as she thought, but for the love of a most unacceptable yet irresistible man. Then, please, watch for
A Midsummer Night’s Sin
and
Much Ado about Rogues,
coming soon.

The Blackthorn Brothers. You’re going to love them!

Happy reading,

Kasey Michaels

To my daughters and best friends, Anne and Megan,
with love

THE TAMING OF THE RAKE
PROLOGUE

“Men have died from time to time,
and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”


As You Like It,
William Shakespeare

O
LIVER
L
E
B
EAU
B
LACKTHORN
was young and in love, which made him a candidate for less than intelligent behavior on two counts.

And so it was that, with the clouded vision of a man besotted, that same Oliver Le Beau Blackthorn, raised to think quite highly of himself, the equal to all men, did, with hat figuratively in hand, hope in his heart and a bunch of posies clutched to his breast, bound up the marble steps to the mansion in Portland Place one fine spring morning and smartly rap the massive door with the lion’s head brass knocker.

Oliver, known to his family as Beau, performed a quick mental inventory of his appearance, one he’d worked over for a full two hours, crumpling both a half dozen neck cloths and his valet’s abused nerves in the process.

He was presenting himself in a morning rigout of finest tan buckskins, dazzlingly white linen, a stunning
yet unobtrusive waistcoat of marvelously brushed silk shot through with cleverly designed stripes made of the lightest tan thread and a darkest blue jacket that so closely followed the lines of his young, leanly muscled body that he could not manage to get his arms in or out of the sleeves without assistance.

He’d practiced the jaunty positioning of his curly brimmed beaver in front of the pier glass in his dressing room for a full ten minutes before pronouncing the angle satisfactory; showing off his thick crop of sun-streaked blond hair rather than crushing it, providing just enough cover from the brim that his bright blue eyes were not cast into the shade.

It only just now occurred to him that the hat would be handed over to the Brean footman, along with his new tan kid gloves and walking stick, and Lady Madelyn would never see them.

Hmm, no one had as yet answered his knock. Shabby, that’s what that was. He lifted his hand to the knocker once more, just as the door opened, and very nearly tapped on the footman’s nose.

Beau glared at the fellow, who stepped back quickly, and the well-tailored Mr. Blackthorn sauntered into the black-and-white marble-tiled foyer, feeling his cheeks growing hot and damning his lifelong tendency to blush.

Shortly thereafter he was admitted to the Grand Drawing Room by the family butler, who seemed disapproving in some way as he looked at the flowers, to await the appearance of Lady Madelyn Mills
Beckman, elder daughter of the Earl of Brean, and Beau Blackthorn’s beloved.

“Quite a lot of Bs in there,” he murmured to himself, an outward sign of the nervousness he felt but had thus far managed to conceal. There had been that small slip with the footman, but by and large, Beau was still feeling quite confident.

Or he was until a young female voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Talking to oneself is considered by some to be an indication of madness. At least that’s what Mama said once about Aunt Harriet, and she was mad as a hatter. Aunt Harriet, that is. Mama was simply silly. I once saw Aunt Harriet with her clothes on backward. Are those flowers for Madelyn? Should I tell you that she loathes flowers? They make her sneeze, and her eyes water, and then her nose begins to drip…”

Beau had already turned about smartly, to see Lady Chelsea Mills-Beckman, a rather pernicious brat of no more than fourteen, ensconced on a flowered chaise near the window. She had her bent legs tucked up under the skirts of her sprigged muslin gown, and an open book was perched on her lap.

His reluctant scrutiny took in her long and messily wavy blond hair that had half escaped its ribbon, the eyes that were neither gray nor quite blue below flyaway eyebrows that could make her look devilish and pixyish at the same time, the budding young body that should certainly be positioned with more circumspection.

The wide, teasing grin on her face, he ignored.

Beau had suffered the misfortune of Lady Chelsea’s presence twice before in the past month, always with a book in her hand and a too-smart tongue in her head, and he was as loath to see her this morning as he’d been either of those other times.

“Your father should order a lock put on the nursery door,” he drawled now, even as he strode to the French doors and unceremoniously tossed the posies out into the garden.

Lady Chelsea laughed at this obvious silliness, be it directed at his statement or the flowers he couldn’t be certain. But then she told him, drat her anyway.

“I’d only find another way out. I’m motherless, you understand, and allowances must be made for me. Too young for a Come-out, too prone to mischief to be left with my governess in the country while Madelyn is being popped off. I suppose you want me to vacate the room now, before Madelyn makes her grand entrance and you delight her by drooling all over her shoe tops. Oh, look at that, you’ve got a wet spot from the stems on that odiously homely waistcoat. I’ll wager that’s put a crimp in your airs of consequence.”

Beau hastily brushed at his waistcoat before his brain could inform his pride that the blasted girl was making a May game out of him. Had he really only considered the nursery for her banishment? He would rather the cheeky child left the continent, perhaps even the universe, but refrained from that particular honesty. “I would like to converse with Lady Madelyn in private, yes.”

“Oh, very well, if you’re going to be all starchy about
the thing.” Lady Chelsea got to her feet and smoothed down her gown. She was a rather attractive child, he supposed. She’d probably break a dozen hearts in a few years. But she didn’t hold a patch on her sister, she of the ice-blue eyes and nearly white-blond hair, her mouth a pouty pink, her skin so creamy and flawless above the low bodice of her gowns.

Beau inserted a finger beneath his collar and gave a small tug, as it had suddenly become difficult to swallow. That action then turned impossible as the object of his affection entered the room.

“Mr. Blackthorn, what a lovely surprise. I hadn’t thought to see you so soon after our dance at Lady Cowper’s ball. Naughty man, showing up uninvited as you did. Quite shocking, really. And just to dance with me and then take your leave? It was all quite romantic and daring.” Lady Madelyn tipped her head to one side as if trying to somehow see behind his back. “Did you bring me a gift? I adore gifts.”

Beau bowed to the love of his life and apologized for his sad lack of manners.

Lady Madelyn looked crestfallen for a moment but then brightened. “Very well, I accept your apology. Next time, perhaps you’ll bring me flowers. I do love flowers.”

A giggle from the corner alerted Beau to the fact that the brat was enjoying another small joke at his expense, but he refused to look at her or acknowledge the hit. “I will buy you an entire hothouse full of flowers,” he promised Lady Madelyn earnestly, bowing yet again.
“And now, if I might have a word with you in private? There is something of great personal importance I wish to ask you. After the events of last night, I should think you know what that is.”

She didn’t move, didn’t blink, and yet something changed in Lady Madelyn’s ice-blue eyes. Her smile became frozen in place, and her creamy-white skin seemed to pale even more, all the way to porcelain, and looked just as cold and hard.

“Now, Mr. Blackthorn, you know that is quite impossible. No young lady of quality is ever without a chaperone in the presence of a gentleman, as we both know. I do believe, if I am interpreting your statement correctly, that it is my absent father you should be asking for, not me,” she scolded in a rather strangled tone. “Chelsea, would you be a dear and ask our brother to step in here for a moment? Mrs. Wickham is still dressing, I’m afraid.”

“But I saw her earlier on the stairs, and she was completely—”

Lady Madelyn whirled about to glare at her sister. “Do as I say!”

“You’re such a snob,” Chelsea said as she flounced out of the room.

Oliver Le Beau Blackthorn was young and in love, and like many of his similarly afflicted brethren, not thinking too clearly. But it didn’t take a clear thinker to recognize that the rosy scenario he’d pictured in his brain and the scene playing out in front of him now were poles apart.

She was probably nervous. Women tended to be nervous at times like these; they couldn’t seem to help themselves. He’d make allowances.

“Lady Madelyn…and if I might be so bold, dear,
dear
Madelyn,” he said, taking quick advantage while they were still alone, dropping to one knee in front of her and clasping her right hand in his, just as he had practiced the move on Sidney, his horribly embarrassed valet. “It can be no secret that I have admired you greatly since the moment we first met. With each new meeting my affection has grown, and I believe it has been reciprocated, most especially after our walk together the other evening when I so dared as to kiss you and you did me the great honor of allowing me to—”

“Not another word! How
provokingly common
of you to speak of such things! No gentleman would ever be so crass as to throw a moment’s folly into a lady’s face. A single kiss? It was a lark, a dare, no more than that. Get up! You’re a dreadful creature.”

A single kiss? It had been considerably more than a single kiss. She’d allowed him to cup her breast through the thin fabric of her gown, moaned delightfully against his mouth as he’d run his thumb across her hard, pert nipple. If not for the sound of approaching footsteps, there would have been much more. He’d nearly been bursting, had come within moments of thoroughly embarrassing himself, for God’s sake.

He would have thought her a cold, heartless tease if he’d been in his right mind. But no, he was in love. And she was clearly upset.

“I know I’m being forward,” Beau persisted—he’d been up all night rehearsing this speech. “I ask only that I have your permission to address your father. I would not wish to do so if my affection truly wasn’t returned.”

“Well, it isn’t,” Lady Madelyn responded hotly, pulling her hand free. “You overreaching nobody. Just because your father is one of us, and you’ve been accepted in some quarters because of him and because of that ridiculous fortune he’s bestowed on you, doesn’t mean you’ll truly ever be one of us. Don’t you even know when someone is making a May game of you? You’re a joke, Beau Blackthorn, a laughingstock to everyone in Mayfair, and you’re the only one who doesn’t know it. As if I or any female of decency in the
ton
would deign to align herself with a—a
bastard
like you.”

Beau would later remember that the lady’s brother entered the drawing room at some point during this heart-shredding declaration, along with two burly footmen who quickly grabbed hold of Beau’s arms and hauled him to his feet and beyond, so that he was dangling between them, his boots a good two inches off the floor.

He called out his beloved’s name, but she had already turned her back and was walking away from him, holding up the hem of her skirts as if to avoid stepping in something vile.

A dare? A joke? That’s all he’d been? She—and God only knew who else—had been encouraging him, yet secretly
laughing
at him? Is that how Society really saw him? As some sort of monkey they could watch dance?
A performing bear they could prod with a stick, just to see how he’d react? Here, bastard, kiss me, touch what you’ll never have. And then go away.
You’re not one of us.

His mother had warned him, warned all three of her sons. Beau had never believed the dire predictions that she ascribed to the ridiculous notions and actions of their father. The world had to have been better than she’d painted it. But she’d been right, and he and his father had been wrong.

At last Beau, his dreams, all of the assumptions and hopes of his young life shattering at his feet, came to his senses. He struggled violently to be free, to no avail, until he was carried out the way he had come in and been thrown down the marble steps to the flagway. He could hear as well as feel the crack of a bone in his left forearm as it made sharp contact with the edge of one of the steps even as all the air left his lungs in a painful
whoosh.

Then the first snap of the whip hit him across his back, and he could do nothing more than curl himself into a ball and take each blow, trying to protect his face, his eyes, his injured arm.

“Insult my sister, will you? Take advantage of her innocence?” The viscount flourished the coach whip again and again, the braided leather with the hard, metal tip slicing Beau’s new morning coat straight on through to his skin, setting his back on fire. “Putting on airs above your station? That’s what coddling your type leads to, damn it. Society in shambles! The very
breath you take is an abomination to all that is decent. I should have you bound and tossed in the Thames like the worthless dog you are!”

At last the assault with the whip ended, followed briefly by some well-placed kicks from the footmen, and Beau heard the slam of a door. He tentatively got to his feet, his body a mass of pain, his heart and soul in tatters, just like his fine coat. One of the footmen spat at him before they both shouted at him to go away, their coarse oaths drawing the attention of any passersby who hadn’t already stopped to stare at the spectacle.

Still crouching like a whipped dog as he supported his broken arm, Beau turned to look back at the mansion, only to have the door open slightly and the face of Lady Chelsea peek out at him, her eyes awash in tears.

“I’m so, so sorry, Mr. Blackthorn,” she said, sniffling, tears running down her cheeks. “Madelyn is vain and heartless, and Thomas is just an ass. They can neither of them help themselves, I suppose. I don’t think you a joke. I…I think you’re entirely worthy, if a little silly in your head. But perhaps you should go away now. Very far away.”

And then she closed the door, and Beau was left to stare down his own groom, who had been waiting with the new curricle that had also been purchased to impress Lady Madelyn. He’d planned to take her for a drive, once he’d spoken to her father, and perhaps steal another kiss—and more—as they rode out to Richmond Park.

“Thank you, no, and thank you so much for springing
to my aid with all the loyalty of a potted plant,” Beau said stiffly, gritting his teeth against the nausea that threatened as the groom stepped forward to lend him support. “Return that damned thing to my stables. I’ll walk back to Grosvenor Square.”

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