How to Ravish a Rake


By Vicky Dreiling

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Amy Hardwick has one last Season to shake off her wallflower image and make a love match. If she can’t, she’ll set aside her dreams of romance and return home to a suitor who can provide security-if little else. What she doesn’t count on is the inappropriate-and irresistible-attention lavished on her in a darkened library by rake extraordinaire Will “The Devil” Darcett . . .


When Will is caught in a tryst with the ton’s shyest miss, he knows he must offer for her hand. Yet Amy is not the shrinking violet she seems to be. Passion lies beneath her prim exterior and Will is eager to release it. But winning Amy isn’t simply a matter of seduction; first, Will must convince her that he’s mended his wicked ways . . .


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Table of Contents

A Preview of How to Marry a Duke

A Preview of How to Seduce a Scoundrel

Copyright Page

Chapter One

London, 1818

This season would likely be her last.

The orchestra played a lively tune as Amy Hardwick followed her friend Georgette through the Beresfords' packed ballroom. The lively tempo pulsed through her veins, and she walked along to the energetic beat of the music. The heat in the crowded room accentuated the fruity aroma of numerous potted orange trees. Garlands of ivy adorned two cream-colored Ionic pillars and the gilded ormolu marble mantel as well. Everywhere Amy looked ladies in filmy white gowns flitted about the room like butterflies.

To her, the spring season represented a beginning and a last chance to blossom—to thrive—to be merry and carefree. A chance to break free of her doubts and feelings of inferiority. A chance to dance, flirt, and laugh without reservation. A chance to be the woman she'd always dreamed of being.

She dodged a footman in a powdered wig carrying a tray of bottles and hurried to catch up to her friend. "Lady Beresford must be thrilled. Her ball is a veritable squeeze," Amy said, raising her voice.

Georgette drew closer and pitched her voice a bit louder. "We're too close to the orchestra to talk. Let us find our friends."

As they wended their way past numerous groups of people, Amy recalled the first time she'd entered this ballroom when she was seventeen. On that evening, she'd spun girlish dreams of being the belle of the ball, but she'd been intimidated because she knew no one there. In comparison to all the ladies dressed in sophisticated gowns, she'd felt like a country mouse. Her simple white gown had hung sacklike on her spare frame, because she'd been too nervous to eat properly for a fortnight prior to her debut. She'd sat on the wallflower row, watching all the gaiety and keeping hope alive, but not a single gentleman had requested her hand for a country dance.

Only once in the intervening years had anyone asked.

Five unsuccessful seasons later, she'd set her expectations much lower. Plain, shy ladies like her didn't attract the notice of gentlemen. But this year, she meant to shed her wallflower reputation.

Amy lifted her chin and straightened her posture, even though she imagined doing so made her look like a giraffe. She glanced down at Georgette, wishing she could be as petite and dainty.

"Oh, look, there is Sally with some of the other ladies," Georgette said. "They are coming this way."

Amy recognized them. Sally, Catherine, Charlotte, and Priscilla all wore excited expressions. No doubt they intended to impart gossip. Catherine and Charlotte were particularly fond of tittle-tattle.

Sally reached them first. Her expression looked awed as her gaze swept over Amy's white gown. "You look like a goddess."

Warmth suffused Amy's face at Sally's absurd exaggeration. Amy expected the topic to turn away from her, but Charlotte fingered the white fabric of Amy's skirt. "It is crepe," she said with a touch of admiration in her voice. "The emerald ribbons flowing over your shoulders are so striking."

"Turn round," Catherine said. "Slowly, if you please."

Georgette grinned and twirled her finger, indicating Amy should comply. With a deep breath, Amy slowly turned—to the accompaniment of gasps.

"It is beyond beautiful," Charlotte said in a breathless voice.

"The red silk roses are impressive," Catherine said. "How very clever to feature them on the back of the gown. Everywhere you walk, others will be compelled to follow you with their eyes."

Amy lowered her lashes and murmured her thanks. While she was a bit abashed, she was also secretly pleased by their praise.

"You must tell us who your modiste is," Priscilla said. "I simply must have something equally lovely."

"I agree," Catherine said. "Your gown is bound to be all the rage."

Georgette gave Amy a speaking look. "Will you tell or shall I?"

Once again, Amy blushed. "I confess I drew the design for a local modiste back home." On a whim, she had bought fabric and trims in London at the end of last spring, because she couldn't resist them.

The other ladies, with the exception of Georgette, stared at her. Was it because she'd revealed her dress was not made by one of the foremost dressmakers in London?

"You drew the design?" Charlotte said in a shocked voice.

Amy nodded. "I've always enjoyed drawing. It is a pleasurable way to pass the time."

Catherine's jaw dropped. "Georgette, does Amy have any idea how talented she is?"

"No, she is too modest about her accomplishments," Georgette said. "Her talents go beyond mere drawing. Amy has an eye for fabrics and trims, too. I would never have thought to put the trim on the back of my gown."

At one time, Amy had possessed little knowledge of fashion, but two years ago, she'd befriended Georgette and Julianne and had asked them for advice. While shopping with them last spring, she had taken suggestions from a premiere modiste in London. She'd asked Madame DuPont questions about the fabrics and trims. The modiste had taken Amy under her wing and showed her which colors enhanced her appearance. She'd also demonstrated with pins how the perfect fit in both the gown and stays made a critical difference in how the gown draped her figure. When Amy had viewed herself in the long mirror, she'd gasped at her reflection. The beautiful gown had transformed her from a badly dressed wallflower to an elegantly dressed lady. In that moment, she'd seen the potential to change the way she viewed herself and the way others perceived her. While she'd always believed that inner beauty trumped everything, she'd learned firsthand that everyone, particularly women, were judged by their appearances.

"But where did this talent come from?" Sally asked.

"I studied the latest styles in La Belle Assemblée, and then I started to envision walking gowns and ball gowns as well. One day last summer, I drew what popped into my head for amusement."

"Oh, my, that is truly amazing," Charlotte said. "Did you have a drawing instructor when you were younger?"

She nodded. "My governess encouraged me." After seeing Amy's drawings and watercolors, her parents had praised her accomplishments. While Amy enjoyed their compliments, she'd taken them in stride since they could hardly be objective.

While perusing fashion plates, she'd realized her designs were unique. A few weeks prior to leaving for London with Georgette, she'd commissioned a local dressmaker to make up a few of her designs, according to her specifications. The dressmaker had been impressed and had told Amy she had a singular talent.

Of course, her mother had expressed delight, but when Amy had shown her designs to Georgette earlier today, her friend had literally gasped. Amy would never forget Georgette's words. Your designs put every fashion plate I've ever viewed to shame. Then her friend had begged her to design a special ball gown for her.

"Amy, I would love to see your sketches one day, if you are willing to share them," Sally said.

"Of course," she said. "I value your opinion."

Georgette's cheeks dimpled as she whispered to Amy. "I knew you would be popular this year."

Amy thought her friend's words rather overblown, but she was pleased that others had admired her gown. She would never be beautiful, but she could dress elegantly.

Catherine looked out at the crowd and gasped. "The devil is here."

Amy exchanged a knowing look with Georgette. The scandal sheets had saddled Mr. William Darcett with that moniker. By all accounts, he had earned his notorious reputation. Amy did her best to maintain a serene expression, but she did not welcome the news that Devil Darcett was present. She'd met him at her friend Julianne's wedding last summer and preferred to forget that mortifying encounter.

Charlotte clasped her hands to her heart and sighed. "He is so beautiful I think I shall swoon."

Amy rolled her eyes. Why did women make cakes of themselves over rakes?

"I am determined to flirt with him," Catherine said.

Priscilla smiled slyly. "Not if I get there first." She lifted her skirts and walked away. The other ladies laughed and followed in her wake.

When Sally hesitated, Amy made an exasperated sound. "Sally, do not be one of the herd. Charlotte and the others will make fools of themselves ogling him, but you have better sense."

Sally pouted and then laughed. "You must admit he is gorgeous."

"He is well known for his high-stakes gambling and wild parties," Georgette said. "But Amy, you cannot disagree that he is uncommonly handsome."

"His looks are unimportant," Amy said. "He is an indolent rogue who spends all of his time engaged in vice and depravity."

Sally beckoned them closer. "I heard he can charm a lady out of her petticoats in five minutes flat," she said under her breath.

"Ladies of questionable virtue, you mean," Amy said.

Sally lifted on her toes and surveyed the room. "Julianne is coming this way."

Julianne looked as slender as always, though she had given birth to her first child only two months ago. When she arrived, Amy kissed the air by her cheeks. "You look radiant."

"Thank you, but look at you, Amy. Everyone is talking about your elegant gown," Julianne said. "I love it." She leaned closer and whispered. "This will be your year."

Amy met her gaze and dared to hope her friend's words would come true. "I've missed you."

Julianne smiled. "I've missed all of you as well. We had such fun last season. My husband has never let me forget all of the trouble I caused. He is still suspicious of all of you and believes you influenced me—especially you, Amy."

"Me?" She laughed. "I always tried to caution all of you."

Julianne grinned. "He is convinced that you instigated the worst schemes. He believes you hid it all behind your quiet façade."

Georgette grinned. "Amy, you often have this look in your eyes, as if the cogs and wheels are spinning like a roulette wheel."

"I do not," she said.

Sally shook her head. "It's true, Amy. While everyone else is chattering like monkeys, you look as if you're plotting something."

"I'm not plotting; I'm thinking."

"Now there is a euphemism if I ever heard one," Georgette said.

Julianne and Sally burst out laughing.

"Amy, you had better prepare yourself, because everyone wants the name of your modiste," Julianne said. "Charlotte told me you had a local seamstress make up your dress from a drawing you made."

"It's true," Amy said.

Julianne smiled. "I think you should show your sketches to Madame DuPont. She would be very impressed. Perhaps she would even make up one or two. We could hold a little gathering of ladies at Ashdown House and display your sketches."

"That is a wonderful idea," Georgette said. "Would you considerate it, Amy?"

Excitement raced through Amy. She was proud of her designs, and tonight she'd received confirmation of her talent. The idea of other ladies admiring and perhaps even wearing her creations made her pulse quicken. All the years she'd spent sitting on the wallflower row, she'd felt inferior to the prettier belles. She'd felt she could never measure up to them, but she was confident of her gown designs and wanted to share them with others. "Yes," she said a little breathlessly. "I would love it above anything if Madame DuPont is amenable."

"If the rest of your sketches are as unique as the gown you're wearing, I know she will be interested," Julianne said. "In one night, you have become the fashion darling of society."

"Her designs are truly exceptional," Georgette said.

"Then it is settled. Let us call at Madame DuPont's shop on Thursday," Julianne said. "Amy, be sure to bring your sketches. Now I must return to my husband. We cannot stay long, because I must return home to nurse Emma."

"I cannot wait to see your daughter," Amy said. "I'm sure she's beautiful."

Julianne laughed. "According to my husband, she's the most beautiful bald-headed lady in London."

After Julianne left, Amy meant to suggest they take a turn about the ballroom, but Lord Beaufort and Mr. Portfrey approached. Instinctively, Amy lowered her lashes. Her heart beat a little faster as she desperately tried to think of something interesting to say, but her brain froze as it always did when she felt pressed to respond.

"Miss Shepherd, if you are not presently engaged, would you honor me with the next dance?" Mr. Portfrey asked.

"Thank you, I will," Sally said.

By now, Amy's heart was pounding. She knew what was coming and tried to force herself to raise her eyes, but she couldn't make herself do it. She feared her anxiety would show on her face.

"Lady Georgette," Lord Beaufort said. "Will you consent to partner with me?"

Amy's face burned. All of her hopes that this season would be different shattered like broken glass. She found herself wishing that she'd stayed home. Why had she thought anything would change?

"Oh, I thank you, Lord Beaufort, but perhaps we could talk instead." Georgette sounded flustered.

Georgette meant well, but Lord Beaufort undoubtedly knew the reason for Georgette's request, and that only made the humiliation worse. Amy couldn't bear it. With every ounce of strength she possessed, she forced herself to lift her chin. She did her best to pretend nonchalance, but she could not control the blush that undoubtedly made her face blotchier. "Please go ahead. There is s-someone I wish to see," she said.

Before Georgette could reply, Amy bobbed a quick curtsy and walked away. She applied her fan as she skirted the perimeter of the ballroom. All the while, she darted glances into the crowd, hoping to see someone she knew. At that moment, she felt as awkward as she had at seventeen.

She kept walking through the packed room. As she neared the chairs where the dowagers sat gossiping, Amy saw the familiar faces of her oldest friends. Eugenia, Bernice, and Cecile watched the dancers with undisguised yearning. Amy knew all too well how they felt.

She remembered how they had shared amusing observations of the ton. They had laughed and called themselves the invisible belles.

Temptation gripped her. She wanted to see her friends. She wanted to sit in a safe place where no one would slight her or pass her up for prettier girls. She wanted to sit in a place where she felt she belonged.

She took a step in that direction, and fear clawed at her lungs. If she ventured to the wallflower row, she knew she would never be brave enough to leave again.

With a deep breath, Amy turned and made herself stroll away. Regardless of how difficult it was for her, she was determined to overcome the curse of being shy. Yet, as she surveyed the crowd, the idea of approaching a group intimidated her. She'd always found it difficult to converse in large groups, but when she grew anxious, she found it almost impossible to think, let alone converse.

All she needed was a few quiet moments to regain her composure. She thought of going to the ladies' retiring room, but she didn't want to face a crowd of ladies there. Instead, she would find her way to the garden for a bit of air. The breeze would cool her heated face quickly.

After she left the ballroom, she walked through a crowd on the landing. As she approached the stairs, she noted a tall gentleman with black, tousled hair speaking to a "lady" with painted cheeks. Something about him seemed familiar. When the man leaned back against the stairwell rail, Amy winced. It was Devil Darcett.

He was the last man she wanted to encounter tonight.

She scurried down the stairs before he caught sight of her. Upon reaching the marble floor, she turned right and treaded along an unlit, deserted corridor, hoping to find her way out to the garden. She trailed her hand along the wall to feel her way in the darkness. Then she came upon a door that was slightly ajar. The dim room beckoned her. She looked left and right, but no one was about. Promising herself she would stay only a short while, she slipped inside, closed the door, and waited for her eyes to adjust. Although the objects in the shrouded room remained indistinct, she could make out tall shelves along one wall. Obviously, this was Lord Beresford's library.

She padded across the plush carpet and collapsed on a sofa. Amy clasped her hand to her bosom as she waited for her heartbeat to slow. Thank goodness Devil Darcett had not seen her. She knew he would relentlessly tease her, the same way he'd done last year.

Amy blew out her breath, relieved to have escaped his notice. She wondered how long she should remain here before returning to the ballroom. Of course, she wouldn't have to worry if she hadn't left. She ought to have forced herself to stay, but she'd felt so uncomfortable. No matter how hard she tried, she could not be at ease with approaching a group and joining the conversation. She became tongue-tied when others spoke all at once. Often, she spent hours in her room, because she needed to be alone in order to think.

Now she had nothing else to do except twiddle her thumbs in a dark library. She sighed, wondering if she'd made a mistake by coming to London. Amy's parents had offered to bring her. She knew they did not share her fondness for the city, but her father had insisted she deserved to have another season in London. Amy had thought of all the years she'd failed miserably. Her wonderful parents would do anything for her, but she couldn't bear to disappoint them again. They would not view it that way at all, because they loved her, but she couldn't stand to fail them.

She'd told them she had no wish to go and had informed her friends. Then one day, she'd received a letter from Georgette, begging her to spend the Season with her. Georgette had said she had looked forward to seeing her all winter and would be miserable without her. In truth, Amy had missed Georgette and Julianne very much. She had read their letters again and again, always recalling their adventures of the last two years. After a great deal of thought, Amy had decided to accept Georgette's invitation, but a complication had arisen in the month prior to her journey to London, one that still unsettled Amy.

A light tap startled her out of her ruminations. When the door opened, she cringed. To her utter horror, a man walked inside and shut the door. In the darkness, she couldn't see his features.

"Alicia? I thought you were going to the retiring room first," he said as he shut the door.

Oh, dear God. She knew that voice. It was the devil himself. He'd come here for an assignation. "Wrong woman," she said.

His low chuckle irritated her.

He strode across the carpet, sat beside her, and stretched out his long legs. "Red? This is an unexpected pleasure."

Drat it all. He'd recognized her voice. "My name is Miss Hardwick, and the pleasure is all yours, I assure you. Now if you will excuse me, I must leave."

"Not so fast. Why are you hiding in here?"

He'd caught her off guard. "I'm not hiding."

He leaned closer to her, threatening her peace of mind. The scent of him, something she could not identify, curled inside her like a dangerous elixir. He was close enough that she could hear the sound of his breathing. His face was in shadows, but she sensed he was watching her as if he were the predator and she his prey.

"You're either hiding or you're waiting for someone. Which is it?" he asked.

She owed him no explanation. "My reason for coming here is none of your concern."

"I promise not to reveal your secret," he said, chuckling.

"You may go to the devil," she said.

"You do have a temper, don't you? I'm only teasing," he said.

"I got my fill of your teasing at your brother's wedding," she muttered.

"Are you still miffed? It's been nearly a year."

Her mother had warned her about the consequences of having a long memory, but Amy was in no mood to forgive the rogue who had embarrassed her. "You spilled punch all over me."

"Yes, I got you wet," he said, chuckling in a wicked manner.

She would never forget how the cool punch had pooled inside her bodice. Everyone had stared. "If you were a gentleman, you would not mention that incident."

"Ah, but I'm the devil, and as I recall, you bumped into me." He paused and added, "I did try to apologize for the mishap."

"You made a jest of it," she said.

"I thought it would put you at ease if we both laughed about it," he said.

At the time, she'd thought he meant to poke fun at her, but that did not matter. She could not stay alone in a dark room with a rake. "I would say it has been delightful, but I don't like to lie. Now, you will excuse me," she said.

When she rose, he stood as well. She was tall, but he was half a head taller, and for reasons that made no sense, that intimidated her.

She lifted her skirt and took a step back. He stepped forward.

She stepped sideways in an effort to evade him.

He followed.

She couldn't help laughing. "Stop that."

His wicked chuckle reverberated all along her spine.

She'd thought herself impervious to rogues, but despite her poor opinion of him, he'd managed to make her laugh with his antics. "You are determined to bedevil me."

"I think you like it," he said, his voice a little husky.

A warning clanged in her head. He had no doubt learned his seduction techniques from Satan's mistresses. "Mr. Darcett, I must leave now."

"Yes, I can see that I'm too much temptation for you."

She scoffed.

"It was a jest, Miss Hardwick."

She thought better of answering him, because it would only delay her escape. Amy turned, took one step, and halted at the sound of a rap on the door.

He grabbed her hand and pulled her behind the sofa. Then he crouched beside her. Amy's legs trembled, but she mustn't move or her rustling skirts would give away their hiding place.

A feminine voice called out, "Will?" After a moment of silence, she added, "Are you here?"

Amy's heart beat madly. She squeezed her eyes shut and prayed for deliverance. If they were discovered alone in the dark, she would be ruined.

Footsteps padded across the carpet. "Will?"

The tick, tick, tick of the clock seemed to go on forever, though only a moment could have passed.

"That sorry rake," the woman muttered.

Amy squelched the hysterical urge to laugh, even though there was nothing funny about her predicament. Oh, Lord, please let the woman leave.

The woman's skirts swished as her footsteps retreated. Then mercifully the door slammed.

The devil rose and offered his hand. She took it gratefully, because her legs felt a bit wobbly.

"Well, that was a lark," he drawled.

She stared at him. Though his expression was hidden in the dark, she heard amusement in his voice. "Do you realize what would have happened if we'd been caught?"

"I suspect Alicia would have grabbed the nearest makeshift weapon and thrown it at my head."

How could he be so cavalier about a near disaster? "You do realize the servants would have come running to investigate the disturbance. You may think it funny, but, unlike you, I value my reputation."

He chuckled. "Actually, I'm rather fond of mine."

"Is everything a joke to you?" Why had she bothered to ask when she knew the answer?

"It was rather exciting there for a bit. But if we had been caught by the servants, I would have bribed them," he said.

"The first time we met, I formed a low opinion of you. I regret to inform you that you have just sunk even further in my estimation."

"I'm sorry to hear it, but I would have done whatever was necessary to get us out of hot suds. If it had come to that, I imagine you wouldn't have been so quick to object."

She refused to admit it. "Good-bye, Mr. Darcett."

As she marched toward the door, he said, "You intrigue me, Red."

She halted at the door and looked over her shoulder. "You delivered that line as badly as the worst actors at Drury Lane." Then she opened the door and sashayed out of the library with a smug smile. Tonight, she'd taken him down a peg or two.

By Jove, she'd dealt him a verbal hit.

He closed the library door, because he didn't want to risk following too closely behind her.

Curiosity had gotten the better of him. He still didn't know for certain why she'd chosen to hide in the library, but it didn't signify. She was a virtuous lady, and he ought to have escorted her to the door the moment he'd recognized her voice. He'd rather enjoyed sparring with her, but he'd detained her a bit too long. There would have been hell to pay if they'd been caught.

He knew the rules, and respected them out of self-preservation. Virtuous ladies were off-limits. He'd always kept his distance from marriage bait, though quite a few had taken to following him around. They were titillated by his reputation and the danger he represented.

He hadn't lied when he'd told her she intrigued him. Earlier, he'd watched her enter the ballroom in that remarkable ball gown with the green ribbons. Ordinarily, he paid scant attention to women's clothing, unless he was trying to strip it off. But she'd drawn everyone's attention, including his.

When he'd first met her at his brother's wedding, she'd walked past just as he was turning with that cup of punch. She had not accepted his apology and definitely had not appreciated his attempt to make light of the matter. Tonight, he'd thought to charm her and then attempt to apologize again, but she'd made her low opinion of him quite clear.

Ah, well, it didn't signify. With a shrug, he took a step and noticed something on the carpet. He bent to retrieve it and strode through the corridor. When he reached the great hall, he saw it was a red silk rose. He pocketed the silk rose with the intention of returning it to her, but he glanced up at the crowd on the landing and spotted Alicia scowling at him. He decided to leave this tepid ball for a far more interesting entertainment. His friends had told him about a party given by the demimonde. He might as well live up to his devilish reputation.

Later that night

"Miss, one of the silk roses is missing from the gown," Lizzy, the maid, said.

Amy's night rail and robe swirled round her ankles as she walked over to examine the gown.

"I thought they were all secure," Lizzy said in an anxious voice. "Perhaps you could find another to replace it."

"It's not your fault, Lizzy. I'll probably have to replace all of the roses as I doubt I can find a perfect match."

"Then you could wear it again," Lizzy said. "It is such a beautiful gown."

Amy doubted she would ever want to wear the gown again, because it would remind her of her failure tonight. "Will you braid my hair?"

"Yes, of course," Lizzy said.

When Lizzy finished, Amy thanked her. Her hair had grown well past her shoulders in the last two years. She wondered if a shorter style would be more becoming. "I'm considering cutting my hair short."

Lizzy shook her head. "I know it's the fashion, but keep it long for your future husband. Gentlemen prefer it."

Amy thought about Mr. Crawford, the vicar back home. He was the first man to express real interest in her, and that thought alone made her lungs feel constricted. She didn't want to think about the end of the Season and the choice she would undoubtedly have to make. Her stomach clenched. She had so many doubts about him. How could she turn down the only proposal she was likely to ever get?


On Sale
Mar 27, 2012
Page Count
400 pages

Vicky Dreiling

About the Author

Vicky Dreiling is a confirmed historical romance junkie and Anglophile. Frequent business trips to the United Kingdom allowed her to indulge her passion for all things Regency England. Bath, Stonehenge, and Spencer House are among her favorite places. She is, however, truly sorry for accidentally setting off a security alarm in Windsor Castle. That unfortunate incident led her British colleagues to nickname her Trouble.

When she’s not writing, Vicky enjoys reading, films, concerts, and, most of all, long lunches with friends. A native Texan, she holds degrees in English literature and marketing.

You can learn more at: Twitter: @vickydreiling

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