Excerpt from the Victorian romance "The Bet" in Secrets, Volume 27

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Chapter One
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      “I can satisfy a woman using just my mouth.”
      Damian Hunt, Viscount Atherton, leaned back in his club chair after delivering that salacious pronouncement. He and his friend George Beringer had been drinking heavily for the past two hours, but what else was there to do to keep the boredom at bay on a cold winter’s night? Tucked away here at the Atherton country estate, they’d already discussed horses and politics -- hell, the only other thing of interest to a man was sex.

      “What’s so impressive about that?” George slurred, inching his chair closer to the roaring fire in the hearth. “Always been one of my favorite activities. Works like a charm every time. Sends a woman right over the edge.”

       Damian gave him a slow smile. “Oh, but I’m not talking about using my mouth on her. I’m talking about satisfying a woman using just the power of my words.”

       “What?” George nearly dropped his wineglass. “Balderdash! You may have a well-deserved reputation as a ladies’ man, but it’s impossible to make a woman climax using just words.”

       Damian took a deep swallow of his wine. His outrageous claim had certainly succeeded in perking up the conversation, but just how far was he willing to take it? “Care to place a small wager on that?”

       George stared at him, as if silently debating Damian’s abilities, and then obviously dismissed them with a shake of his head. “Why, I’ll place a large wager on it, you arrogant bastard. My London townhouse says you can’t do it!”

       Damian’s eyebrow quirked, and he held up his wineglass in salute. “I’ve always admired your house in town.”

       “Admire it as much as you like. You’ll never --” George frowned. “Wait a minute. Have you ever done it? Satisfied a woman using just words?”

       “Well… no,” Damian admitted. “But I’m certain I can.”

       “Hah!” George obviously felt some measure of reassurance at Damian’s response.

       “So.” Damian put down his wineglass. “The wager is your London house. Now we need to name the woman. How about Marie-Therèse D’Auberge? I have a fancy for something French.”

       “Oh no you don’t, you slick-tongued devil. That woman is so highly sexed she could climax from a man just looking at her! No. If I stand to lose my house, then we’ll have to make this a true challenge. I’ll be the one to pick the woman.” George stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Hmm…”

       “Well, get on with it,” Damian said impatiently. “How hard can it be? We know practically every woman in London.”

       “And bedded them.”

       “True.”

       George smiled slowly. “Which is why the woman in our wager must be a virgin.”

       “A virgin?” Damian bolted upright in his chair. “The devil you say!”

       “It’s perfect, don’t you see? The ultimate challenge for the ultimate rake.”

       “A virgin wouldn’t know what the hell I was talking about!”

       “Now, now, I’m sure you can be very, er… descriptive, shall we say. And I know just the girl for our purposes.”

       “Bloody hell.” Damian scowled. What had started out as a vain boast was quickly turning unsavory. “Who?”

       “Claire.”

       “Your younger sister?” Damian couldn’t believe his ears. Even for the notoriously disreputable George Beringer, the suggestion was beyond the pale.

       “Come on, man. There’d be no harm done there. She’s almost one-and-twenty, practically on the shelf.” George shrugged.        “No man’s ever even made an offer for her.”

       “But she’s --”

       “A prude. Prim, and proper to a fault. And, sexually, a block of ice.”

       “She’s a lady.” Damian’s face darkened. What the hell was George thinking? It was a brother’s obligation to protect his sister, not offer her up for some puerile bet. “I may be a rake, George, but I’m no seducer of innocents.”

       “Ah, but that’s the beauty of it, don’t you see? You wouldn’t be seducing her, not literally. Even if she does eventually marry, she’ll still be as innocent on her wedding day as she was when she came into this world.”

       Damian stared hard at George. Growing up, he knew George had always thought of Claire as an annoying tag-along, a nuisance, a familial irritation, but perhaps he didn’t realize until just now how deeply George’s resentment ran. “She may technically still be a virgin, but after I’m through with her she will no longer be innocent, George. Pick another woman.”

       George tilted his head and cocked an eyebrow. “What is it, you old sod?” he goaded. “Worried that you can’t do it, after your fine boast?”

       “I can do it,” Damian growled. “Just pick another woman.”

       “No. It’s either Claire, or you forfeit the wager. And if you forfeit, I believe it’s only fair that I get to claim a prize of equal value to my townhouse.”

       Damian gritted his teeth. How had this situation gotten so completely out of hand? “What would you want?”

       George tapped a finger against his lips, considering. “I’ll take -- Thunder.”

       “Bloody hell! My new horse?”

       They’d spent more than half an hour tonight discussing Damian’s recent purchase of the stallion, and his hopes for a win at Ascot this year. George knew full well he would never part with the horse. Aside from its value, it was too much his pride and joy.

       “He’ll make a fine addition to my stable,” George observed.

       “You will never get your hands on that horse,” Damian vowed.

       George took a swig of his wine and smiled wickedly. “Then I take it we have a bet?”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Copyright © 2009 by Leigh Court