Lost in Pleasure

By: Marguerite Kaye

Chapter One

Kilcreggan     House, London, 1816

Richard, the third Earl of Kilcreggan, picked up his     newly delivered package of books, crossed his legs, clad in tight-fitting     pantaloons and polished leather boots, and settled into his favourite wingback     chair. Amongst the bundle was a new German edition of Gauss, but as he idly     flicked through the uncut pages, the book he had been so eagerly awaiting failed     to hold his attention.

The library, his favourite room, was located at the back of     Kilcreggan House, which itself stood on the south corner of Cavendish Square.     Sash windows looked out onto the garden where Richard kept his treasured     telescope, made to one of Mr Herschel’s designs. Much of the library’s wall     space was taken up by glass-fronted bookcases, but a large mahogany cabinet with     a rosewood veneer stood in the corner by the fireplace, its innumerable drawers     containing the most prized of Richard’s specimens—butterflies and insects,     semi-precious stones, fossils, and a plethora of other curios he had amassed on     his extensive travels. His famed exotic botanical specimens, also collected     abroad, were cultivated at his country seat in a number of expensively heated     custom-built succession houses. These featured in the background of the painting     that hung above the mantel.

Richard’s portrait, by the renowned Scottish artist Henry     Raeburn, was, even he conceded, a good likeness. It depicted a tall man with a     darkly brooding face, too forbidding to be considered classically handsome, but     arresting enough to be unsettling. Mr Raeburn had captured the earl’s air of     amused detachment, as if the sitter took neither the portrait nor himself too     seriously. A volume of Erasmus Darwin’s Zoonomia was     held open in his hands but his golden-brown eyes gazed out intently at the     viewer, something that Richard’s friends and family found so disconcerting that     he had been forced to move the portrait from the dining room, in which it had     originally been hung. ‘Can’t eat with you staring over my shoulder like that, my     dear fellow,’ his friend Nick Lytton had joked.

Richard drummed his fingers on the frontispiece of a volume of     poems. He was bored. No, not just bored, he was malcontent, though it pained him     to admit it, for there was no logical reason to be so, and he was a man who     valued logic above all else. Getting to his feet, he strode over to gaze out of     the window. He was in no mood to be convivial, he had no urge for intellectual     debate, and even the thought of whiling away an afternoon making love to a     beautiful woman roused in him little more than mild ennui. Despite the endless     opportunities with which his acknowledged charm and considerable wealth     presented him, the pleasure he derived from lovemaking was becoming ever more     unsatisfactory, leaving him spent but not sated. The sense that there was     something vital missing from his life nagged at him.

He sighed heavily. Nick Lytton insisted that what he needed was     a wife. Nick, who had for years forsworn matrimony, had recently been felled by     a beautiful French heiress and had now become a staunch advocate of the married     state. Richard was not persuaded. Love was a transient illusion, a trick of     nature designed to ensure the continuation of the species, nothing more. There     was no such thing as eternal love, nor such a woman as the perfect mate. Richard     had never even come close to being mildly infatuated, never mind beguiled. Now,     at six-and-thirty, he considered himself pretty much immune to emotions of that     sort. As a man of science, he held that to be an entirely appropriate state of     affairs.

Outside, the rain started to fall, the kind of soft grey     drizzle that enveloped one like a damp blanket. It matched Richard’s mood     perfectly. He pressed his forehead against the windowpane and closed his eyes.     There was much to be said for the reassuring predictability of science, but     sometimes, just occasionally, it would be nice to experience the thrill of the     unexpected.

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