Lord Quentin Somerville is smitten with society’s most sought-after beauty. But as a debt-ridden second son, he knows his only chance of winning such a prize is to resort to trickery, and he concocts a plan to trap her into marrying him. But his plan to seduce Clarissa Edwardes at a masked ball backfires when he discovers that the woman in his arms isn’t the one he desires.
When Clarissa falls ill on the day of the ball, and the costume of her spinster stepsister, Jane Wentworth, meets with disaster, Clarissa hatches a plan of her own: Jane must go to the masquerade disguised as Clarissa. As planned, Jane is mistaken for Clarissa by everyone, including Quentin. Jane, who is secretly in love with Quentin, is thrilled by his notice. When her daring charade leads to a stolen kiss, she isn’t prepared for his passionate response—or for the ensuing scandal. With Jane’s honor compromised, Quentin proposes under the threat of being cut off by his father. Furious at being deceived, the young noble vows to continue his dissolute life in London and banishes Jane to his dreary estate in Worcestershire. But he underestimates the charms—and determination—of his wife, who has plans of her own.
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A Perfect Scoundrel
By Heather Cullman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2000 Heather Cullman
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She had loved him from the very first moment she saw him.
Jane Wentworth clasped her hands in her lap, her heart leaping as the majordomo ushered Lord Quentin Somerville into the drawing room. Oh, but he looked handsome this morning, so handsome that the sight of him quite stole her breath away.
Always impeccably dressed, today his lordship was the picture of urbane elegance. His coat, tailored to perfection and cut in the latest bobtail style, was a deep azure blue, and beneath it he wore a bright red waistcoat and immaculately starched linen. Hungry, as always, to view every magnificent inch of him, she furtively dropped her gaze lower to admire the fit of his nankeen trousers and the way his gleaming Hessians molded to his strong calves.
Perfection. Utter perfection. She had just shifted back up to his watch fob and was admiring its jeweled design when he stopped before the tête-à-tête upon which she sat with her stepsister, Clarissa Edwardes.
"Miss Edwardes. Miss Wentworth," he murmured, sketching a bow.
As always happened when in his dazzling presence, the normally outspoken Jane was struck speechless and was thus unable to respond but for a stiff nod.
Her stepsister, however, suffered from no such bashfulness. "Why, Lord Quentin, how very kind of you to call on us," she exclaimed, smiling the smile that had captured the hearts of the entire ton.
Had Jane been able to smile herself, she'd have done so at Clarissa's use of the word "us." Though the dear girl would no doubt have denied the fact until she was blue in the face, Lord Quentin, like the other nine gentlemen in the room, had come to see Clarissa, and only Clarissa.
Lovely, vivacious Rissa, as her stepsister was called by her friends and family, was the undisputed success of the Season, while Jane—well, she had begun to hear the terms "last prayer" and "on the shelf" used in conjunction with her name of late. And with good reason. This was her fifth Season, and as with her first four she had again failed to attract a beau.
That wasn't to say she completely lacked male attention. With her rich dowry there was always a debt-ridden wastrel or two eager to make her acquaintance. But Jane, being of the opinion that no husband at all was better than one she could neither love nor respect, always discouraged such fortune hunters out of hand. Besides, she had no interest in marrying any man save one, and at the moment he was gazing at her stepsister with the adoration she dreamed he would one day direct toward her.
Oh, she knew it was a hopeless dream, for never once in almost five years, years in which she and his lordship had moved in the same circles, attended the same soirees, musicals, and balls, had he indicated so much as a spark of romantic interest in her. Yet she continued to dream, clinging to the hope that he would someday come to love her as she loved him. And though she knew she was a fool for doing so, she couldn't help herself. Besides, where was the joy in living without dreams?
Aching with bittersweet yearning, Jane watched as he sat among Clarissa's bevy of admirers, awed, as she always was, how the other men seemed to pale, and then fade, beside his masculine beauty. And Lord Quentin Somerville was beautiful, undeniably so.
Lowering her lashes to hide her interest, Jane continued her infatuated scrutiny while Rissa dazzled her beaux with her much-admired wit. She studied him not to memorize his form or features—those were engraved upon her heart. She did so because she simply couldn't keep her eyes off him.
Thus she passed the time as she always did when he called, first examining his person, then remembering how he had looked in past Seasons, and now marveling at how he grew handsomer with every passing year. This Season his appearance had taken on a decidedly artistic, and in her opinion, romantic, quality. His hair in particular.
Like all the gentlemen in his set, a set currently absorbed in the rage of composing poetry, Lord Quentin had grown his hair until it just swept his shoulders. Unlike those other gentlemen, however, who managed to look merely unkempt, his hair curled naturally, creating a glorious mane of dark mahogany ringlets. Those ringlets, so fat and glossy, framed his handsome face and tumbled over his brow, emphasizing his amethyst eyes in a way that was nothing short of stunning.
As Jane admired the effect, he laughed at something Rissa said, flashing strong, white teeth and a rakish pair of dimples. Instantly she was besieged with a faint, familiar fluttering deep in her belly. Disturbed by her response, she tore her gaze away. After a beat during which she frantically looked everywhere except at Lord Quentin, she dropped her gaze to her hands. The moment she did so, she almost groaned aloud.
Hateful things! They were wringing together like those of the overwrought heroines in Mrs. Smith's novels. Praying that no one had noticed their telltale motion, she pried them apart and commanded them to lie still. They had just begun to obey when she heard her stepsister utter her name, as if in query.
Anxious at being called to attention, certain that she would be struck dumb or, worse yet, say something stupid, she reluctantly looked up.
"Lord Quentin asked if we are looking forward to Lady Kirkham's masqued ball next week," Rissa said, giving her an encouraging smile. Aware of Jane's feelings for his lordship and wishing to help further her cause, Clarissa had taken to deferring his lordship's questions to her. Though Jane appreciated her stepsister's good intentions, she lived in dread of such moments as this.
Not, of course, that she would ever tell Rissa of her feelings. Rissa was a dear, sweet girl who would be beyond wretched if she learned that she'd caused her stepsister even the smallest measure of distress. And because Jane loved her so, she'd sooner die than say anything that might bring her grief. Thus she forced herself to return the other woman's smile and croak, "Yes."
There followed a pause, during which the gentlemen politely waited for her to elaborate. As she miserably grappled for something to add, Rissa gave her hand a quick squeeze and came to her rescue. "Our Jane has created the most original costume for the ball. Clever girl that she is, she has decided to go as—" she broke off with a small laugh. "Oh, but of course I mustn't tell. I shan't. It is a masqued ball, after all, and you gentlemen are supposed to guess at the ladies' identities."
"You can disguise your beautiful face, Miss Edwardes, but I shall know you the instant you walk into the room. You float like an angel upon the clouds of heaven." The duke of Goolding waxed poetic, his jowly face as rapturous as his words.
"And I should know your voice. 'Tis like the sweetest of celestial music," interjected Viscount Dutnall, not to be outdone by his rival.
One by one, the other gentlemen rushed to add their flowery tributes, praising everything from the tilt of Rissa's head to the way she carried her fan. All except Lord Quentin.
Jane stole a glance at him. He lounged in a Sheraton chair, his eyebrows raised and his arms folded across his chest, looking immensely amused by the other men's fawning. For the first time since being in his presence, she smiled. For all his dedication to poetry, he wasn't given to cooing insipid, prosy praise. No. When he flattered a woman, he did so in a straightforward yet gallant manner, one that left little doubt as to the sincerity of his esteem.
At least that is what she'd heard said by women who had received his compliments, and they weren't inclined to lie. Indeed, so admired was Lord Quentin by those ladies, and a good many others in the ton as well, that had he not been a second son they would have been tripping all over themselves in their rush to set their caps for him. As it was, more than one had professed a willingness to forgo the titles and greater fortunes of their other suitors for the sheer pleasure of being his wife. To Jane's eternal relief, he had yet to declare himself to any of them.
When at last the poetry duel ceased, leaving Rissa prettily flushed from the glut of flattery, Lord Quentin finally spoke. "As you can see, ladies, your attempts to disguise yourselves shall be quite in vain. Hence, you might as well spill the bag and save us poor gentlemen the torment of wondering at your costumes."
Jane felt a surge of gratitude at his use of the words "ladies" and "yourselves." He was being gallant, of course. For she knew perfectly well that none of the gentlemen, most probably including himself, had the least bit of interest in learning her disguise. Indeed, she doubted if, the day after the ball, any of them would even be able to answer correctly whether or not she had attended.
Not that she cared to be noticed—well, except by Lord Quentin, of course. No, she was perfectly content to sit alone, observing those around her. She'd found that one learned a great deal about people by watching them, and after five seasons of doing little else, she probably knew more about the members of the ton from her observations than their confidantes knew from their conversation.
"Well, Jane?" Rissa queried, interrupting her musings. "What do you say? Shall we tell them?"
Though Jane would have preferred to keep her costume a secret, being hopeful that Lord Quentin might notice it and be intrigued enough to ask her to dance, she nodded. She could see from the sparkle in her stepsister's eyes that she was bursting to tell. No doubt she wished to ensure that she was asked to stand up for every dance, though Jane felt certain she had nothing to fear. As the men said, it would be impossible for Clarissa to hide her charms.
"Well, in that instance ..." Grinning impishly, Rissa slanted her suitors a glance.
All the gentlemen, save Lord Quentin, leaned forward, eager to learn her disguise. They no doubt planned to use the advantage to claim all her dances before her other admirers had a chance to identify her.
"As you know, the theme of the ball is 'An Evening on Mount Olympus,'" her stepsister began, "and ..."
"And a devilishly fine theme it is," boomed Lord Witley, or Lord Witless, as the harebrained young man was referred to by his peers. By the exasperation on the other men's faces, it was clear that they thought his interruption yet another justification for his unflattering nickname.
"Very fine, indeed, as shall be the ball," Rissa concurred. "I hear tell that Lady Kirkham is having her ballroom transformed into a glittering Grecian temple set among clouds. The host and hostess are to reign over the merriment from bejeweled thrones, disguised as Zeus and Thetis. Thetis, as you might recall, was the sea nymph whom Zeus loved but didn't dare wed. Lady Kirkham said that she chose to portray her, rather than Zeus's wife, Hera, because she finds the tale deliriously romantic."
"You don't say?" murmured the flame-haired Lord Henson, exchanging a look of dismay with the stout, yet immensely wealthy, Lord Beveridge.
Jane was hard-pressed not to laugh aloud. What a minx Rissa was, tormenting the poor gentlemen like that. The slyboots knew that they were in an awful stew to learn of her costume, and she had chosen to tease them by changing the subject.
Nodding, her stepsister rattled on. "There is to be an oracle beneath the oak tree in the garden, from which shall fall golden stars bearing the answer to whatever question one chooses to ask. The answers are to be written in riddle, which Lord Gramshaw, who shall be dressed as a mystical priest, will interpret."
"Er, how very amusing." This was from Viscount Dutnall.
Rissa nodded again. "More amusing yet, the menu is to be comprised entirely of foods described as ambrosia, though I simply cannot imagine what sorts of foods those might be." She paused a beat to ponder. "Hmm. If I am not mistaken, there is a dessert of oranges and coconut called ambrosia. Perhaps all the dishes shall contain either oranges or coconut, or a combination of the two. What do you think, Lord Fitton?"
The earl of Fitton, a smug, rather pompous sort of gentleman who more than made up in wealth for what he lacked in looks and personality, preened like a peacock beneath her regard. "I think your guess quite clever, my dearest Miss Edwardes."
Rissa graced him with a beatific smile, then slanted a meaningful glance at Jane. "And what say you, Lord Quentin?"
Rather than answer with the eager-to-please immediacy that the other men demonstrated, Lord Quentin took his time to consider her question. After several moments, during which Jane didn't dare breathe for fear of missing a single word of his response, he slowly smiled and replied, "I agree with Lord Fitton that your guess is quite clever. Since, however, the Kirkham cook is decidedly lacking in both skill and originality, my prediction is that we shall be served his inevitable menu of beef Tremblant and pickled grapes."
The corpulent Lord Beveridge groaned aloud at that prospect.
Rissa laughed. Except for Lord Quentin, who merely continued to smile, the other men laughed with her, stopping abruptly when she did. "No doubt you are right, my lord," she said. Then she fell silent, leaving her admirers to glance at each other helplessly.
Jane bit her lip to keep from giggling. The men were growing visibly uneasy, most probably wondering if Rissa was going to reveal her costume and trying to think of a way to broach the subject should she continue to stray off course. If the game continued true to form, they would start dropping hints any moment now to nudge the conversation back in the desired direction.
It was the balding, sharp-featured Mr. Cuddimore who dropped the first hint. "The menu aside, the ball should prove an excellent affair. It shall be most amusing to see the disguises and guess at the identity of their wearers."
"Most amusing," Rissa serenely agreed.
Another glance among the gentlemen, one that eventually funneled to Lord Henson. Having been thus elected, he delivered the second hint. "A-hem! I, for one, am having difficulty deciding whether to go as Helios, the Sun God, or Hephaestus, God of Fire. Which do you ladies think most fitting?"
"Hephaestus," Jane surprised herself by replying. "With your red hair, you shall make a wonderful fire god."
Rissa eyed him thoughtfully, then nodded. "Yes, I do believe you are correct, Jane." She nodded again, then transferred her gaze to the man seated to the would-be fire god's left. "And what about you, Lord Beveridge? Who shall you be?" As he opened his mouth to reply, she cut him off with a wave of her hand. "No. On second thought, let us guess. You go first, Jane."
Not daring to look away from Rissa for fear of seeing Lord Quentin and losing her tongue, she promptly said, "King Midas."
"By Jove, that is correct," Lord Beveridge exclaimed, sounding genuinely surprised. "How ever did you know?"
Rather than point out his obvious fondness for gold, which today was evidenced by a pair of gold watches, gold fobs, gold buttons, a gold-topped cane, three gold rings, and an enormous gold cravat pin, she replied, "I can assure you that it was nothing more than a lucky guess."
That statement was greeted by a soft chuckle, one that she instantly recognized. "Very lucky, indeed," Lord Quentin drawled. By his tone it was apparent that he knew exactly how she had come by her so-called guess. "And since you seem to have such luck at this game, let us see if you can guess whom I have chosen to portray."
His challenge left her with no choice but to look at him. Hoping that her face wasn't as red as it felt, she reluctantly glanced his way. He returned her gaze with a smile, his cheeks dimpling in a way that always wreaked chaos on her emotions ...
And her tongue. Oh, dear! However was she to reply when he smiled at her like that?
"Well, Jane?" Rissa murmured, giving her hand a squeeze. "Who do you suppose Lord Quentin shall be? Heracles, the hero god, perhaps? Or maybe the valiant Perseus?"
His smile broadened into a devastating grin.
"Adonis," she blurted out. "He is a perfect Adonis." The instant the love-struck words left her mouth, she wanted to die, especially when the gentlemen chuckled.
Always the mistress of every situation, Rissa again came to her rescue. "I think that a perfectly wonderful guess, Jane. With his curls and dimples, Lord Quentin does bear a remarkable resemblance to Lady Saxby's garden sculpture of Adonis."
To Jane's relief, his lordship appeared to accept the explanation. "Indeed? Well, in that instance, I shall keep your observation in mind the next time I am called upon to disguise myself as a mythological character." He nodded. "Since, however, I was unaware of the resemblance, I have chosen to portray not Adonis but Morpheus, God of Dreams."
An even better choice, for did he not rule her dreams, both sleeping and awake?
"Now that you know my disguise, might I guess at yours?" he smoothly inquired.
Jane didn't miss the looks of gratitude the other gentlemen shot his way.
"But, of course. Fair is fair," Rissa replied.
Excerpted from A Perfect Scoundrel by Heather Cullman. Copyright © 2000 Heather Cullman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
**I received an ARC of this story in exchange for an honest review** Lord Quentin Somerville is in love with Clarissa Edwardes, as is every other man in London. When he hears that another competitor will be asking for her hand in marriage, he decides to be caught with her during a masquerade ball in a scandalous position, forcing her to marry him. What he doesn't plan on is her getting sick and her spinster step-sister Jane having to wear her costume. I really struggled with this book. I didn't care for either main character and actually liked Clarissa. Usually when it's some sort of mistaken identity, it's the other way around. Even with Quentin not once even acknowledging (or any man actually), I'm not sure with either sister would think he might like Jane. In the end though, if you don't like the characters, it's hard to actually like the book.
*I received this ARC via Netgalley* A Perfect Scoundrel is a regency re-release that was originally published in 2000. The first part of this book was difficult to find a footing to like. Between the self-absorbed, drunken reprobate of a hero and the fawning, self-esteem lacking heroine it was hard to keep going with this work but I did and I am glad that I did. The second part of the book really took off and made for a story worth pursuing. The author did a good job of redeeming the hero and growing the heroine a spine. As a whole this novel definitely merits taking the time to explore.
THIS BOOK WAS GREAT,I HAVE NO OTHER WORD FOR IT.SHE LIVES UP TO LINDSAY AND DEVERAUX! I HOPE YOU ENJOY THIS GREAT BOOK. SIN FOXY