To Pleasure a Prince – Sabrina Jeffries

He couldn’t see a damned thing from here. Marcus North, the sixth Viscount Draker, rose from the marble bench and crossed the terrace to survey the ballroom through the glass doors. Much better. Too bad he couldn’t stand here. But someone might see him. It wouldn’t do for him to be caught skulking about like a French spy. “What in God’s name are you doing?” asked a voice behind him. Marcus turned to find his half brother scowling at him as he came up the steps from the garden of his new town house. So much for not being caught. Alexander Black, the Earl of Iversley, strode onto the terrace. “I thought you went home to Castlemaine hours ago.” “I did.” Strolling back to the marble bench, Marcus picked up the glass of Madeira he’d left there. “But halfway to Hertfordshire, I decided to come back.” “Why?” He sipped the wine.

“To watch and make sure everything goes all right.” “And if it doesn’t? What will you do, leap inside and take care of it?” “Very amusing.” Marcus stared through the glass doors into Iversley’s ballroom. The guests were entering, and at their center was Marcus’s half sister. He caught his breath. All he could see of his precious Louisa was her head, but with her hair up in a fashionable coiffure adorned by a large ostrich feather, she looked beautiful. And too damned grown-up. Sloe-eyed and black-haired, she was the very picture of their late mother, and that could not be good. Marcus drank deeply. What did Iversley and his wife Katherine really know about presenting a young woman to society? Especially one whose pariah of a brother was only mentioned in vicious whispers.

He tore his gaze from the doors. “How was Louisa’s presentation at court?” “It went very well. She didn’t trip over that ridiculously long train they make the girls wear, and according to Katherine that’s every girl’s greatest fear.” When the crowds parted enough to reveal Louisa’s low-cut bodice, Marcus cursed the day he’d agreed to let her come to town. Confound it all, she looked more like a married woman of twenty-five than a maid of nineteen. “I hate that gown. It shows too much.” “Ah, but they like the girls to wear gowns cut down to their navels,” said a familiar voice from behind Iversley. “Louisa’s is actually modest by comparison.” “Why the hell are you here?” Marcus asked as his other half brother, Gavin Byrne, walked up holding a glass of champagne.

“She’s my sister, not yours.” Byrne shrugged. “Louisa’s debut was part of our bargain when we began the Royal Brotherhood of Bastards. The least I could do was attend her ball.” He shot Marcus a faintly contemptuous glance. “Since her own brother won’t.” “You know damned well I can’t—it would ruin everything.” “Then for God’s sake, don’t sneak about out here. If you won’t come inside, you overprotective ass, go home and leave things to Iversley and me.” Marcus snorted.

“Iversley, I can trust, but you—” “Come now, gentlemen,” Iversley broke in, “we’re all on edge this evening. But the worst part is over, so there’s nothing more to worry about.” Fat lot he knew. There was always more to worry about with a sister. Marcus glanced through the glass, then scowled when he saw Louisa smile shyly at some handsome devil being introduced to her. “Who’s that rascal?” “Relax,” Iversley said. “He’s perfectly respectable and quite a catch, I’m told. Simon Tremaine, the Duke of Fox-something.” “Foxmoor?” Marcus growled. “Katherine invited the duke to this?” “Why not? He’s young, he’s rich, he’s unmarried—” “He’s Prinny’s close friend, that’s who he is,” Byrne put in.

He walked up to stand beside Marcus. “How very interesting.” Iversley blinked. “I’m sorry, we didn’t know. Neither of us pays much attention to society gossip.” Byrne shot Marcus a knowing glance. “They’re too busy doing…other things.” “There hasn’t been much of that lately,” Iversley grumbled. “Katherine had a baby two months ago, remember?” “Ah, the life of the married man,” Byrne said smugly. “Give me a bachelor’s life any day, eh, Draker?” “Damned right.

” But Marcus actually envied Iversley his adoring wife and infant daughter. He’d trade all his riches to have either. But he never would. He had to accept that. Marcus narrowed his gaze as he saw Foxmoor take Louisa to the floor. “Was Prinny at court today?” Iversley made a sound of disgust. “I heard he was. I didn’t see our blasted father myself, however.” “You’ve never met him, have you?” Byrne asked Iversley. “No.

Not that it would matter if I did. He doesn’t even realize I’m his by-blow. What about you?” “Saw him once at the theater when I was a boy. Mother pointed him out to me from backstage.” Byrne scowled. “She never stopped trying to make him acknowledge me, if only privately. Of course, Prinny would die before he’d admit to fathering a child by a common Irish actress. What would his bloody friends think?” He shot Marcus a glance. “He only admits to the ones like Marcus, born to ‘respectable’ wives of gentlemen.” “Trust me,” Marcus muttered, “the last thing you want is Prinny in your life.

Why do you think I’ve kept Louisa away from him all these years?” Iversley blinked. “Louisa is Prinny’s, too? You said it was just you, but if we have a half sister —” He scowled. “It is just me. Louisa was born the year Prinny got married, while he and my mother were on the outs. But although the girl is definitely the viscount’s daughter, Prinny has shown a sudden interest in her. The devil sent a messenger a month ago requesting a meeting ‘to discuss Louisa’s future.’ I sent the man packing.” Byrne lifted an eyebrow. “Perhaps Prinny knows something we don’t—he never claims any byblows he doesn’t have to.” “She’s not his,” Marcus growled.

“The year of her birth was the only time he avoided our estate. Besides, if he’d believed her to be his, he would have challenged me for guardianship long ago, like he did with that girl Minney a few years back. The viscount believed Louisa to be his own daughter, society accepts her as the viscount’s, and I’d better not hear you implying otherwise.” “But she must know that you’re Prinny’s son—” “If she does, she never speaks of it. And I won’t have you rousing painful questions in her mind about her own blood when there’s no reason for it. So keep your damned mouth shut, do you hear?” “Fine,” Byrne muttered. “I don’t know why you’re so testy about it. It’s not as if being Prinny’s by-blow would hurt her. The ones he’s privately acknowledged have done quite well as a result of the association. Hell, you could have done well yourself if you hadn’t publicly tossed him and your mother out of Castlemaine.

” That one act had tarnished him in society, but his mother’s revenge, the lies she told her friends about him afterward, had blackened him forever. Nine years later, he was still paying for it. And all because of that damned lecherous prince. “He deserved what I did.” The old anger boiled up inside Draker. “So did my mother. They were lying in each other’s arms a mere week after Father died.” “So what?” Byrne drained his glass. “The viscount never protested it. Why should you? He was dead, for God’s sake, and he wasn’t even your father.

” “He acted like one. And he deserved some respect from them for treating me like a son all those years.” Byrne snorted. “He let his wife cuckold him—” “You’re certainly one to talk,” Marcus ground out. “If not for obliging husbands, you’d have no bed companions.” Byrne’s blue eyes hardened to chips of ice. “Now see here, you pompous—” “That’s enough, both of you.” Iversley stared through the window. “It’s Louisa we should worry about. Should Foxmoor be kept away from her?” Marcus gulped some wine.

“Most certainly. It can’t be coincidence that Prinny’s most ambitious friend is sniffing around Louisa.” “Fine. After tonight, he won’t be invited to our functions.” “You can’t stop him—or Prinny, for that matter—from approaching her at other affairs.” Marcus stared sullenly into the jeweled depths of his empty glass. “Oh, yes, I can,” Iversley said. “I won’t let anyone near who might harm her. In the months Louisa has been coming here to prepare for her debut, Katherine and I have grown fond of the girl. We wouldn’t want her caught in Prinny’s machinations.

” “You’re both probably worrying for nothing.” Byrne sipped his wine. “Just because Foxmoor is dancing with her doesn’t mean Prinny put him up to it. She’s a beautiful girl, after all.” “True. But it makes me damned nervous.” For the first time in years, Marcus wished he could go into society without stirring up nasty comments and drawing hateful looks. He wished he could shave off the beard that hid his ugly scar without fearing it would draw even more vicious rumors. He didn’t care what they thought or said about him, but Louisa… He couldn’t mar her come-out by accompanying her. Nor could he demand that she remain exiled with him at Castlemaine, much as he wanted to.

Louisa deserved better. And the only way she would get it was if he trusted Iversley—and Katherine —to look after her in the next few weeks while she lived in their home, flitting from party to ball to soiree. Without him. He stared back through the glass. “I hope you and Katherine know how much I appreciate what you’re doing for her.” “It’s the least we can do after all you did for us,” Iversley said in a voice deep with emotion. “It was nothing,” Marcus mumbled, unused to being thanked. Unused to having friends—brothers —who could thank him. An awkward silence ensued before Iversley cleared his throat. “I’d best return to my guests.

Do you two plan to stand out here all night?” “So Draker can grumble whenever Louisa dances with someone he doesn’t like?” Byrne retorted. “Not on your life. We’re going to the Blue Swan.” Marcus shot Byrne a dark scowl. “I’m not sitting around your dingy gaming establishment while a lot of sots speculate on my beard and my past and my—” “Clearly you’ve never been to Byrne’s club if you think it’s dingy,” Iversley remarked. “And I’m sure he has private rooms.” “Not to mention the best French brandy a smuggler can provide,” Byrne said. “Come on, you big grouse. This bloody ball will go on for hours, and you know you don’t want to lurk about out here cooling your heels until it’s over.” He hated to admit it, but Byrne was right.

“I suppose I could go home.” But he wasn’t in the mood to return to Castlemaine and the emptiness that Louisa would have left in her wake. “Do you indeed have private rooms?” “Of course.” A devilish smile broke over Byrne’s face. “And if you like, I can have female company fetched for us. I’ll even pay for it myself.” Marcus was sorely tempted. Although he’d never kept a mistress and he seldom used whores, tonight wasn’t a night for scruples. And Castlemaine might seem less lonely if he returned by light of day. “Go on, Draker, go with him,” Iversley prodded.

“We brothers have to stick together when we can.” Brothers. The pain in Marcus’s chest eased. “All right, I’ll go.” “Excellent.” Byrne picked up the bottle of Madeira and refilled Marcus’s glass; then handed the bottle to Iversley and raised his own glass in a toast. “To the Royal Brotherhood of Bastards.” They echoed the toast, with Iversley swigging straight from the bottle. Then Marcus lifted his glass again. “And to our royal sire.

May he rot in hell.”

.

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