Blame It on the Duke(5)

By: Lenora Bell

Hadn’t even brought his own flowers. Wooing her was an afterthought. He’d assumed she would tumble easily into his arms.

I’ll outrun you yet, Alice thought. What she needed to do was turn the tables.

Hunt the hunter.

Her lady’s maid, Hodgins, was reading a book on a nearby bench. She must have been instructed to ignore small improprieties in pursuit of the larger goal.

Mama was counting on the earl’s proposal.

The wedding invitations had already been mentally composed; the trousseau ordered.

All part of her mother’s plans to scale the dizzying heights of London society.

Alice had a plan as well, and it did not include marriage to a vain and vapid nobleman. She would marry someday, but not until after she had at least one grand adventure abroad.

“Do stop waving those flowers about, Lord White.”

“Oh, that my lips were brushing yours.” The earl trailed one of the lilies across his mouth.

“I wouldn’t press my lips to that lily if I were you, Lord White. Lilium asiaticum are highly poisonous. We wouldn’t want you to begin drooling and cast your breakfast all over this blanket, would we?”

He dropped the lily. “I say, you’re not like other girls, are you,” he said peevishly, scooting farther from her on the bench in a sulk.

No, I’m not. Best do your wooing elsewhere, there’s a good earl.

Inconvenient things, suitors.

Stood in the way of one’s plans for adventurous voyages to India.

Her younger brother, Fred, who had reluctantly embarked on a Grand Tour of the Continent one year ago, would be home soon. And after he returned, Fred had promised to bring Alice with him on his upcoming voyage to visit potential sites for tea plantations in India.

Papa was a wealthy shipping merchant and wanted Fred to begin assuming responsibilities in the stewardship of his business concerns.

Alice had other plans for India.

When Papa had unexpectedly inherited the baronetcy after the tragic early deaths of his father and elder brother, the family had moved from the provincial Yorkshire town of Pudsey to her grandfather’s London town house.

There’d been no love lost between Sir Alfred and his father, who’d been a director of the East India Company, and a notorious voluptuary. Alice’s father had immediately discarded or burned most of the late baronet’s possessions.

Alice had rescued an entire box of ancient Indian manuscripts from the fire. Teaching herself to read them by studying A Grammar of the Sanskrita Language, she’d sent several short translations to Mr. Vidyasagar and Mr. Carey, Sanskrit scholars at Fort William College in Calcutta. The learned scholars had replied with great excitement to say that they believed one of the manuscripts she possessed to be the missing fragment of a larger work entitled The Kama Sutra of Vātsyāyana, an ancient Hindu text of great societal significance.

They had invited her to visit the college and bring her chapters of the Kama Sutra, along with her translation, and she had enthusiastically agreed.

There was only one slight wrinkle in her plans.

She might have signed her letters and translations as Fred Tombs.

It had seemed easier at the time to pretend to be male, to have her scholarship taken seriously.

Interrupting her thoughts, the earl abruptly leaned forward and glued his lips to hers, apparently deciding that where words hadn’t produced the desired effect, his kiss would bring her to heel.

Startled by the suddenness of the move, Alice didn’t immediately draw away.

She’d never been kissed before, and she’d been thinking quite a lot about kissing lately.

The Sanskrit fragment she’d been translating had proven surprisingly naughty. The Kama Sutra described in great detail the sixty-four arts of pleasure.

Sixty-four! Alice was fairly certain she’d translated the number correctly, although it had seemed incredible at first.

The ancient text had given her quite a number of questions about the practical application of its instructions. It described the various types of kissing, all of which were supposed to produce the most rapturous and voluptuous sensations.

Apparently, Lord White had never studied the Kama Sutra.

His kiss was rather alarmingly damp. His lips moved over hers with a smacking, rhythmic motion that made her feel seasick.

He smelled of lilies and overpoweringly musky cologne, and his hands were everywhere at once—in her hair, around her waist, stroking her cheek . . . rather like an octopus.

Ugh. This was not making her feel the slightest bit enlightened or amorous.

Deciding he had nothing to teach her about the art of kissing, Alice plucked a hairpin from her coiffure and jabbed it into his cheek in a defensive motion her friend Charlene, the Duchess of Harland, had taught her.

“Ouch!” the earl yelped, pulling back. “You needn’t poke a gentleman’s eye out.”

At his exclamation, Hodgins finally lifted her head from her book and glanced their way, frowning as she watched Lord White rub his cheek and pout.

“You brought my retribution upon yourself,” Alice said in a vehement whisper. “You shouldn’t try to kiss unsuspecting ladies without their consent.”

“You’d better not have left a mark.” His cheeks were red, his eyes stormy, and his languid, poetic air had vanished.