Two Georgian-era noblemen, a duke and a marquess, spur each other to ever greater depths of depravity, until the duke falls in love with one of their victims.
Hawkins (Twilight with the Infamous Earl, 2013, etc.) returns with the first book in her Masters of Seduction series. Tristan Rooke, Duke of Blackbern, has been friends with Cason Brant, Marquess of Norgrave, since they were children. The two have spent their formative years wenching and brawling like most gentlemen of their class, with perhaps a bit more ruthlessness in their sexual exploits. But when they wager over who can seduce Imogene Sunter, the virgin daughter of the Duke of Trevett, Tristan begins to resent his friend’s competitive nature. Still, they enter into the bet even though Imogene is a lady, unlike the women they usually use and discard. More than once Tristan wishes that Imogene didn’t share his social class. If she had been a servant, “he could have enjoyed her company for a time, and eased her disappointment with a few dresses or a piece of jewelry.” For her part, Imogene quickly figures out that the two men are competing over her, but she prefers Tristan from the beginning. Eventually, due to some shocking lack of supervision on the part of her parents, she manages to start a full-blown affair with Tristan. Tristan conceals his success from his friend because he is smitten with Imogene and knows he’s being a blackguard by sleeping with her. But the villain of the piece is much smarter than either the hero or the heroine, and he figures out that the two have become involved. His revenge is swift and vicious.
The book is full of tiresome inconsistencies and weak-willed characters, but readers who enjoy dark sex scenes may find it entertaining.