Duke of Decadence (Lords of Scandal #9) - Tammy Andresen

Chapter One

Miss Isabella Carrington sat in front of her sister’s dressing table mirror. They only had the fire burning in Eliza’s room, so she’d had to get ready in here or risk freezing half to death. It was dratted annoying.

Then again, it meant she and her sisters spent a great deal of time together.

Which was both a blessing and a curse. As the second oldest in her family, she loved her sisters with all her heart. They were her entire life.

But gads, she could use just a bit more space.

“Can you see? I’ll light a few more candles,” Emily called from the bed as she rose. Night was quickly falling, and a chill filled the air even with a small fire burning in the hearth.

To be fair, it might help if they’d been able to put more wood in the grate but even having the single fire, there was no money for such decadence.

Abigail didn’t look up as she stared in concentration at Isabella’s head. “That would be lovely. I can’t tell. Does she look like she has side whiskers?”

All three of her sisters crowded about them. They had matching dark hair and eyes, exactly like their father’s.

Isabella nearly sighed as she thought of his handsome smiling face. Would that he were here. She said a silent prayer that wherever he was, he was all right. And still alive. His daughters needed him to be alive.

Eliza cocked her head to the side, her high cheekbones dancing in the flicker of candlelight. “It’s startling really, how real the side whiskers look. You’ve got a real talent, Abigail.”

Abigail gave a light snort. “A talent for making a woman appear like a man?” But she saw Abigail smile, nonetheless. “I’m going to use the tiniest bit of dust from the fire to make her look as though she’s got a shadow of a beard.”

Emily returned carrying another candle as she touched Eliza’s shoulder on her way past. “Where did you get the breeches and shirt again?”

Eliza waved her hand. “Some baron’s son.”

Abigail’s hands stilled on Isabella’s hair. Isabella felt a familiar jolt in her stomach. Eliza often bore the brunt of the danger in the effort to keep them warm and fed. Isabella narrowed her gaze at her sister in the looking glass. “And how did you get him to part with them again?”

Eliza had the decency to blush. A rarity in her older sister. “It doesn’t matter—"

“Let’s have it.” Abigail’s hands came to her hips. “How did you do it?”

Eliza let out a long, drawn-out sigh. “Fine. I may have suggested that we have a tumble in the hay of the barn…”

Isabella gasped, her hand slapping down on the top of the desk. “You didn’t—”

“Of course not,” Eliza snapped. “I’m not a fool. I also suggested that I was very eager to see his skin and that he might undress first. He was quite obliging. And then, of course, he couldn’t chase me when I ran off with his garments because he had no clothes…”

Abigail groaned as cold, hard fear trickled down Isabella’s back. She gave her sister a sharp glare. “Oh Eliza. Why didn’t you tell us that was the plan? A hundred things could have gone wrong. One of us should have been there with you.”

Eliza waved her hand in the air, her back growing straight as a board. “Clearly, I had it under control.”

“Yes, but…” she started, her arms crossing over her silk shirt tucked into her trousers. Funny, she’d never considered how exposed men were in such clothing. She felt like anyone was free to assess the curve of her derriere.

Eliza stared at Isabella in the mirror, her chin notching. “Our plan tonight is far more dangerous. You ought to focus on that.”

Isabella’s mouth snapped closed. Her sister was right on that account.

Their plan was very risky.

And it began with Isabella dressing like a man.

There were two reasons they’d chosen her for the role. First, she was the tallest and most slender of her sisters. She surpassed most men in height; she’d been the one to inherit her father’s stature.

It made it easier to disguise herself as a man.

But the other, more important factor was her unique ability to keep track of numbers.

She wasn’t just good at it. She was flawless.

Numbers had always stuck in her head and stayed there. They made sense to her.

She could remember all the cards that had been played in a hand and the hand before it and the hand before that. Her skill