This is an early version of the first chapter of A Rake's Guide to Seduction.

Draft scene from A Rake's Guide to Seduction.

At least once in her life, every girl should be told she is the loveliest, sweetest, and most charming girl in the world. Celia Reece had been told so many times, and although she didn't quite believe it, she was enjoying every minute of it.

Her present escort had told her twice tonight already. Mr. William Hammersley had been one of her first suitors, and was charming enough that when he asked her to take a turn on the terrace after the quadrille, Celia said yes. When he contrived to stroll beyond the terrace, into the gardens, she also acquiesced. When he put his arms around her and tried to kiss her, though, she had enough.

"You are an angel come to earth," he told her, pulling her close.

"Really, sir, you flatter me." She dodged his hand, groping for her shoulder. "I believe the next dance is starting."

"A goddess," he went on fervently. "A nymph! Please Lady Celia, I beg you, just one kiss."

"Mr. Hammersley, please," she said, pushing against his chest. "Let me go!"

"Your lips are like berries," he moaned, gripping her shoulders as he tried to kiss her. "Let me have but a taste." Celia ducked her head, hiding her face from his wine-soaked breath. She hadn't realized he was drunk.

"Stop! I don't wish to kiss you!"

"Then just let me kiss you." His mouth brushed her cheek, and Celia squeaked in alarm. She really ought not to have walked out with him. She had assumed there would more people in the garden than there were. She grimaced and braced herself, recognizing that he was much too strong for her to fight off.

"Hammersley," said a soft voice behind her. Disoriented, it took her a moment to realize who it was. Mr. Hammersley looked up, his jaw dropping just as a fist crashed into it. He wavered on his feet for a second, then his eyes rolled up in his head and he crashed to the gravel path with a solid thud.

Celia stumbled backward, shocked, before tripping and falling to the ground. Her rescuer stepped forward, his hand still balled into a fist, and glared down at Mr. Hammersley.

"Oh!" Celia gasped, recovering herself. "Oh, good heavens!"

Anthony Hamilton jerked his jacket back into place and put out his hand, helping her to her feet. "He's fine. Likely so drunk, he shan't remember a bit of this in the morning."

"Are you certain? But he's so—so big!"

He glanced at her. "I am aware of that." He flexed his hand as he said it.

Mr. Hammersley forgotten, Celia stepped forward and took his right hand in hers. She turned it over, looking for any cuts or other injury. "Are you all right? That must have hurt dreadfully."

"Oh, it wasn't so bad," he said, letting her examine his hand only a moment before withdrawing it from her hold. " Did he harm you?"

She shook her head, touching the ripped sleeve of her gown. It had caught on the buttons of Mr. Hammersley's coat and the lace had torn loose. "No, not really. He was just a little rough."

Anthony's eyes narrowed on the lace. "More than a little, it appears," he said shortly. He whipped a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her, then stooped down and none-too-gently flipped Mr. Hammersley onto his back. He flopped like a landed fish, his arms splaying out to the sides and his mouth sagging open. "Damn fool," muttered Anthony. He leaned down and grasped Mr. Hammersley by the ankles, dragging him onto a nearby patch of grass. "He'll have the very devil of a headache tomorrow, but it would be best not to say anything about this. In my experience, the humiliation ought to be enough to keep his mouth closed."

"No," said Celia, looking down on her former suitor with disgust as she rubbed her hands on the handkerchief. "But I shall never dance with him again."

"A wise decision." Anthony glanced over his shoulder. "You should return to the house before someone comes looking for you."

"Yes, of course." She turned toward the house, but a burst of laughter quite close by caught her. She paused uncertainly. With her gown torn and her hair mussed, she didn't want to be seen—but she had to get back to the house to repair herself.

Anthony put an end to her uncertainty by seizing her hand. "This way," he whispered, pulling her deeper into the shadows of the garden.

"Anthony, thank you," she whispered as they hurried along even darker paths. "I should never have walked so far into the garden with him…"

"You certainly should not have," he said without looking at her. Behind his back, Celia rolled her eyes. He was not her brother, but sometimes he acted just like he was.

"He was quite charming until the end," she said in her own defense.

Anthony stopped. "And that's the important part, isn't it? How he treats you when he's got you alone."

Her mouth dropped open. "How dare you—you—say that to me!"

He sighed impatiently. "Someone must. You're looking for a husband, aren't you?" He didn't wait for her reply; of course she was. This was her first Season in London, and what else was the purpose of a Season in London for an unmarried girl? "A man who will lure you into the garden and try to kiss you against your wishes will only be worse when you are his legal wife."

"Anthony Hamilton, I know that very well," she said indignantly. "But I suppose you are the expert on what to do with women after getting them alone, aren't you?"

He paused. "Now, Celia…"

"Everyone knows you are the greatest rake in London, so don't pretend you aren't." Anthony was motionless. Celia couldn't resist a small teasing grin. "Why, if ladies dueled instead of gentlemen, the fields around London would be littered with your distraught admirers."

"Don't be ridiculous," he said.

"Why, I heard just this evening that Lady Cunningham threw a whole poached salmon at Mrs. Ridgely the other night, just because you escorted Mrs. Ridgely to the opera the other night."

He sighed, then put his hands on his hips and let his head hang forward. "You've been listening to gossip again."

"But it is so wonderfully entertaining." Now she wanted to tweak his nose about his many escapades, just for the scolding tone of his voice.

"And so patently false." Celia pressed her lips together. Before she could speak, though, he extended one hand. "Would you like to return to the house and have your gown repaired, my lady, or shall we stand here and argue in the dark?"

Anthony only called her 'my lady' when he was annoyed with her. Chastened, she picked up her skirts and hurried in the direction he indicated. They skirted the main steps of the terrace, coming up the side instead. Light and music from the soiree spilled out of the open French windows that led into the ballroom. There were a few guests on the terrace, but none nearby. In the shadowy garden, Anthony stopped and turned to her. "You'd best go in alone."

"Yes, of course." She held out his handkerchief. "Thank you, Anthony. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't happened by."

His smile was slight as he took it. "You would have managed something, no doubt, but I am pleased to have been of service.'

Celia remembered not to laugh out loud, but her eyes crinkled merrily. "Of service! Dear Anthony. What would I do without you?" She bent her head and shook out her skirt, checking for grass stains now that there was light to see. "I hope Agnes can clean this. I should hate to explain it to Mama." She glanced up to see him staring at her with an odd expression. In the dim light, he appeared strangely fierce. She blinked, and the look was gone. He was just Anthony again. Celia smiled in relief. "Thank you for rescuing me."

"It was my pleasure," he said quietly.

She laughed. “Perhaps you won’t think so when your hand is swollen and painful tomorrow! But I am grateful you found me.”

A sound behind her made Celia look anxiously over her shoulder. She still had to have her gown repaired, hopefully before her mother saw the damage. Celia did not want a lecture on going into the gardens with gentlemen. "I am in your debt," she whispered.

"And yet you never pay up," he said. Celia glanced back, laughing. He blended into the night, except for his white shirt and cravat, and his face. With a sigh she ran back down the steps and reached up to brush the disheveled hair back from his forehead and give his cravat pin a quick twist to straighten it. “You look like you’ve been fighting in the garden!” On impulse she went up on her toes and pressed a quick kiss to his cheek.

"There," she whispered with a grin. "Now no one will." And she turned away to hurry up the steps and into the house, her silk skirts swishing about her ankles.

Anthony stayed where he was for several minutes. His hand crept up to his cheek, where her lips had touched him. His other hand squeezed tighter around the handkerchief she had returned to him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly, he climbed the steps and went back into the ballroom.

The Reece Family Series

<What A Gentleman Wants What a Rogue Desires A Rake's Guide to Seduction'