In this excerpt, Captain Benjamin Frakes is taking the flirtatious August Weatherby to a ball to act as his bodyguard. Much as he tries to ignore his irritatingly attractive carriage-mate, he doesn’t do a very good job of it…
The carriage came to a shrieking halt. Benjamin peered out of the window at the lamp-lit street.
At first he saw no one of importance. Crowds of chattering people, gentlemen and ladies enjoying the night…and then, slipping from the threshold of a doorway like a smiling shadow, was Weatherby.
Benjamin swallowed, a lightning bolt of pure awareness travelling from head to foot.
He was at risk. Of course he was. At risk of making a complete fool of himself over a man ten years younger than himself, and ten times more attractive than anyone he’d met in years.
“Goodness.” Weatherby’s voice filled the carriage. “Surprisingly small in here.” A flash of silver disappeared into the coachman’s palm as Weatherby climbed into the carriage, all black curls and bright eyes and dark velvet. He waited until the door closed, then turned to Benjamin with that unmistakable smile. “How cosy we shall be.”
Nodding warily, Benjamin moved closer to the window as the carriage set off once more. He stared with deliberate, focused concentration at the streets as the vehicle rattled over the cobblestones. If he made a game of it, if he noted every aspect of the houses and shops and people he passed, he could ignore the scent that travelled with Weatherby. Some kind of flower blossom, faint but sweet, as ridiculously intoxicating as the man himself. If he treated these roads as a battlefield, full of information that had to be kept in mind, he could overlook the barrage of things about Weatherby that his brain was begging him to notice.
Good clothes, but faded. Good shoes, but scuffed. A face as mischievous as the devil—and we all know how attractive the devil is meant to be. Attractive enough to tempt anyone. Everyone.
Weatherby sighed. The languid, dissatisfied sound made Benjamin turn his head before he could stop himself.
“Are we really not going to speak at all?”
The young man was pouting, a quality Benjamin had never previously found attractive. Alas, that appeared to have changed. “What is there to speak about?”
“Should I answer honestly?”
“Absolutely not.” He couldn’t start enjoying such rapid-fire flirting. It only made the world tilt more wildly on its axis. “We’ll speak as if others are listening.”
“My goodness. What a spoilsport.” Weatherby leaned forward. Benjamin leaned as far away as possible from him, not caring if he looked impolite. “Speaking as if others are listening…about what? Your family? Your childhood? Your favourite horse?”
“All information that can be very easily located.”
“And I’ve located it. Believe me.” Weatherby bit his lip as he smiled. The sight sent a delicious jolt through Benjamin’s core, his desire stirring. “But I wish to know if the truth matches the current narrative that winds its way through the streets.”
“Perhaps I’ll lie to you now.”
“Come, come.” Weatherby moved his knee; it came within a hair’s breadth of Benjamin’s own. “Don’t pretend you lie, Captain. I’ve heard many things about you, but never that you indulge in falsehoods.” He paused, his smile growing. “Apart from the necessary, of course, to protect yourself.”
Benjamin glared. “I find it necessary to protect myself here and now.”
“Goodness.” Weatherby’s knee moved closer still; Benjamin jerked his own abruptly away. “I can’t imagine why.”
Benjamin deployed a scowl that had sent an entire regiment out into battle. “Leave me alone.”
Weatherby winked. “Understood.”
Benjamin waited for the next comment, the next brazen touch. Weatherby, with a sigh more languid than the last, turned to look out of the window.
Buggering, buggering bollocks. Now that the man had obeyed him, he was annoyed about it.
Benjamin kept silent for a brief, fraught moment before speaking again. “My family was a good one. My mother died peacefully in our Shropshire estate, my father fought his final illness with his customary bravery. My childhood was happy, if dull. My favourite horse was named Sir Archibald—he sired a generation of racers.” He folded his arms, trying to appear as if he hadn’t lost the conversational upper hand. “Happy?”
“Ecstatic. Although I would have assumed you had no favourite horse—you seem more of a hound man. Fond of young, disobedient pups.”
“If you don’t know how to hold a civil conversation, keep your mouth shut.”
“You’re such a bore. I suppose I’ll have to respond in kind.” Weatherby lifted his gaze to the carriage ceiling. “My father was a disgraced duke and my mother was a courtesan.”
“My father was a noted actor and my mother was a Spanish nun.”
“Such a thorough interrogation. You have me; my parents were neither nobles nor artisans. They were thieves. We were a travelling family of tricksters, swindling our way through the grandest houses in Europe until my father speculated his way into a windfall.”
“Stop telling falsehoods.”
“Do you really wish to hear the salacious details of my upbringing?” There was a glint of something dangerous in Weatherby’s eyes. “Why? Can’t I be easily assigned a class?”
“A gentleman doesn’t enquire into another gentleman’s breeding.”
“Usually because they don’t need to enquire—the answer is evident enough. Am I not evidently noble, despite my lack of title?”
“The only thing evident about you is that you’re a damned nuisance. And slightly too intelligent to be a true aristocrat.”
“An unusual thing for a man like you to say.”
“My reputation was made under a military title. My birth had nothing to do with it.” Benjamin glared, regretting his hasty compliment. “And my mother’s father made cabinets.”
“A fate worse than death. How many victories did it take to remove the stain of cabinet-making from the bloodline?”
“Once again, you’re uncivil.”
“No, Captain. Playful, as young dogs are apt to be.” Weatherby leaned away; Benjamin stopped himself from leaning forward. “And perhaps a little nervous about the night to come.”
Benjamin looked out of the carriage window, determined to fight the odd flush of sympathy that rose in him. “There’s no need for nervousness. You’ll be quite safe.”
“I know it and yet fail to feel it. Don’t worry, I won’t cry into your shirt.” Weatherby laughed, but the sound didn’t have much humour in it. “Distract me a little.”
“I’m not in the business of providing distraction.”
“You are, even if you don’t know it. Please. Humour me.”
Benjamin had never been asked to humour anyone. He blinked, alarmed at his lack of expertise. “How?”
“You know the Wellands. Speak of them, of the ball. Of the people I’ll meet in Daisy’s absence. Anything to dispel the images of cloaked figures lurking behind candlesticks.”
“Cloaked figures behind candlesticks? What novels have you been reading?”
“Do you really wish me to answer?”
“Robert Welland is a fine man. He was a very good soldier. His wife is as strong as a soldier’s wife should be. I know little of the guests who’ll attend tonight. I don’t normally attend at all.” A thought came to Benjamin with a swoop of dread. “There’ll very probably be a very talkative gentleman by the name of Percy Holloway in attendance. Disregard everything he says.”
“Holloway…Holloway.” Weatherby frowned. “Is he going to tell me something exciting?”
“No. No, he isn’t.” Percy Holloway was the most indiscreet member the Society of Beasts had ever managed to collect, constantly dropping hints that had him on the point of being unceremoniously thrown out. Before he had the complete measure of Weatherby, Percy Holloway’s company was not a good idea. “Avoid him if you can. Ignore him when needed.”
“I say. Such mystery, before we even arrive.” Weatherby leaned forward again, his habitual smile playing about his lips. The man’s mouth was oddly fascinating. “You make me eager to talk to Percy Holloway.”
“I forbid you to speak to Percy Holloway.”
“Now, now, Captain. I’m not under your command.” Weatherby paused. “Or am I?”
If only you were. The thought shocked Benjamin with its brazen clarity. He stared at Weatherby, unblinking, the carriage filling with potent, unexpected heat.
He had touched him before. Touched his arm. He could do it again, now; he could grip the man’s coat, pull him closer, and—
A knock came from the roof of the carriage. As the wheels slowed, the excited chatter of a nearby crowd suddenly evident, Benjamin bit back a hearty curse.
“Look.” Weatherby smiled. “We’ve arrived.”
(c) Annabelle Greene, Carina Press/Harlequin, 2021. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Society of Beasts #2
A beholden man finds himself falling for the war hero he’s destined to double-cross.
Three hundred pounds for one night of protection. It’s a job offer, but it’s also a ruse. Captain Benjamin Frakes, war hero and de facto head of the Society of Beasts—a club for gentlemen who prefer gentlemen—is tempted to turn it down. But August Weatherby, the sexy, brazen stranger making the offer, has captivated him completely.
August is hardly the flush flirt he claims to be, however. An indebted man, desperate to save his infirm sister, August makes an ideal pawn for a lord eager to bring down the Society of Beasts once and for all. But August’s charge to find evidence against Frakes is at odds with his own virgin desire to entice the captain into showing him the true meaning of pleasure.
As August’s infiltration pushes him deeper into the beguiling world of delights behind the Society’s closed doors, he and Frakes discover new ways to push the boundaries of their own cravings. But with mounting pressure to complete his devious mission, August finds himself torn between the man his heart yearns for and the sister whose life depends on his betrayal.
Society of Beasts
Book 1: The Vicar and the Rake
Book 2: The Soldier and the Spy
Romance Historical [Carina Press, On Sale: April 20, 2021, e-Book, ISBN: 9780369700124 / eISBN: 9780369700124]