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Regency Rumour: Never Trust a Rake / Reforming the Viscount

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«Regency Rumour: Never Trust a Rake / Reforming the Viscount» - Энни Берроуз

Never Trust a RakeRumour has it that the Earl of Deben, the most notorious rake in London and in need of an heir, has set aside his penchant for married mistresses and turned his skilled hand to seducing innocents!But if Lord Deben expects Henrietta Gibson to respond to the click of his fingers – he’s got another think coming. For she knows perfectly well why she should avoid gentlemen of his bad repute:1. One touch of his lips and he’ll ruin her for every other man.2. One glide of his skilful fingers to the neckline of her dress will leave her molten in his arms.3. And if even one in a thousand rumours is true, it’s enough to know she can never, ever, trust a rake….Reforming the ViscountViscount Rothersthorpe can’t tear his eyes from Lydia Morgan any more than he can calm the raging fury coursing through his veins. Is there no end to the irony? Come to town to find a wife only to be taunted by the past?Furtive glances across the ballroom are not helping to ease Lydia’s state of shock – the man who once uttered a marriage proposal as one might remark upon the weather has returned. But when he stuns her with a second outrageous – but now wickedly delicious – proposal, it is clear that despite the rumours, the rake from her past has not reformed!
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Table of Contents

Regency Rumour

Never Trust a Rake

Annie Burrows

Reforming the Viscount

Annie Burrows

Table of Contents

Title Page

Never Trust a Rake

About the Author


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Reforming the Viscount


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen


Never Trust a Rake

ANNIE BURROWS has been writing Regency romances for Mills & Boon since 2007. Her books have charmed readers worldwide, having been translated into nineteen different languages, and some have gone on to win the coveted Reviewers’ Choice award from Cataromance. For more information, or to contact the author, please visit

uk or you can find her on facebook at

With thanks for all the help and support the Novelistas of North Wales provide. You are a great bunch of ladies.

Chapter One

Ye Gods, he’d known it would not be easy, but he hadn’t expected them all to be quite so predictable.

Lord Deben strode out on to the terrace, deserted since the night air was damp with drizzle, made it to the parapet and leaned heavily on the copingstone, where he drew in several deep breaths of air blessedly unadulterated by perfume, sweat and candle grease.

First to run true to form had been tonight’s hostess, Lady Twining. Her eyes had practically popped out of her head when she’d recognised exactly upon whose arm the Dowager Lady Dalrymple was leaning. He had only ever once before had anything to do with a come-out ball, and that had been his own sister’s—a glittering affair which he’d hosted himself some four years ago. He could see Lady Twining wondering why on earth he had suddenly decided to accompany such a stickler for good form to such an insipid event, held in the home of a family who would never aspire to be part of his usual, racy set.

While they had slowly mounted the stairs, he’d watched her rapidly working out how to deal with the dilemma his attendance posed. She could hardly refuse to admit him, since she’d sent his godmother an invitation and he was evidently acting as her escort. But, oh, how she wanted to. She clearly felt that letting him in amongst the virtuous damsels currently thronging her corridors would be like opening the henhouse door to a prowling fox.

But she didn’t have the courage to say what she was thinking. And by the time he’d arrived at the head of the receiving line, it was all what an honour to welcome you into our home, my lord, and we did not think to have such an august presence as yours …

No. She had not actually said that last phrase, but that was what she’d meant by all that gushing and fluttering. The presence of a belted earl was such a social coup for her that it far outweighed the potential danger he posed to the moral tone of the assembly.

And as for those assembled guests—his lip curled in utter contempt. They had divided neatly into two camps: those who reacted solely to his reputation by clucking and fluttering like outraged hens in defence of their precious chicks and those, he grimaced, with an eye to the main chance.

He’d felt their beady eyes following his progress into the house. Heard the whispered swell of speculation. Why was he here? And with Lady Dalrymple, of all people? Was it a sign that this Season he was at last going to do his duty to his family and take a wife?

On the outside chance that the most notorious womaniser of his generation, the most dangerous flirt, was actually going to look about him for a woman to take her place at his side in society, as his legally wed countess, the most ambitious amongst them had promptly begun elbowing each other aside in their determination to thrust their simpering charges under his nose.

The fact that they’d guessed correctly didn’t make their approaches any less repellent. Which was why he would have to attend more events such as this and endure the vapid discourse that passed for conversation and the gauche mannerisms … and sometimes even the spotty complexions. How else could a man be absolutely sure that his first child, at least, was of his own get unless he married a girl who’d only just emerged from the schoolroom? And the duty he owed his proud lineage made that an absolute imperative.

But did they really think he’d propose to the first chit he met, at the first event he attended since he’d made up his mind it was time, and past time, he knuckled down to the fate his position made inescapable?

He leaned back and tilted his face to the rain. It managed to cool his skin, even if it could do nothing to soothe the roiling bitterness churning in his guts. Nothing could do that.

Unless … He stilled, as the most fantastic thought occurred to him. He didn’t think he could face many more such events as this. And what was there to choose between all those pallid, eager, young females, after all? Why the hell shouldn’t he just propose to the very first chit to cross his path when he went back inside? That would at least get the whole unpleasant business over and done with as quickly and painlessly as possible.

What would it take—a year out of his life? Propose to one of those girls who’d been paraded before him like brood mares at Tattersalls. Get the banns read, go through the travesty of a ceremony, bed her, then keep on bedding her until he could be certain she was increasing. Hope that the child was a boy. Then, with the succession sorted, he could return to his carefree existence and she could …

He sucked in a short, sharp breath, bowing his head again as he considered what his wife would get up to, left to her own devices.

Anything. Anything and everything. Nobody knew better than he just how far bored young matrons would go in the pursuit of sexual adventure.

With an exclamation of impatience he pulled his watch from his waistcoat pocket and turned to catch the light from the ballroom windows so that he could check the time. His brow raised in disbelief. Had he only been in this house for thirty minutes? It could be hours before Lady Dalrymple was ready to leave. She would want to watch the dancing, gossip with those of her cronies who were present and take supper.

So be it. His mouth twisted with distaste. He had to fill in the time somehow, so it might as well be following his impulse to deal with the marriage situation as swiftly and cleanly as possible. He would return to the ballroom and ask the first girl to cross his path to dance with him. If she accepted, and if he didn’t find her too repulsive, he would locate her father and start talking settlements.

There. The whole abominable, damnable thing settled. He would not even have to alert the ton to his intent by setting foot in that hellhole known as Almack’s.

And yet, when he replaced his watch in his pocket, his feet remained welded to the spot. And his gaze stayed fixed straight ahead, though his eyes were not seeing the dampening gardens below the terrace, but the abyss into which he was about to throw himself.

It would not matter if he could not grow to like the anonymous chit who waited for him inside that house very much, as long as he could contemplate bedding her for the requisite amount of time to get an heir. If he didn’t grow fond of her, she wouldn’t have the power to hurt him. Humiliate him. He could watch her carrying on her love affairs with the same kind of amused indifference displayed by all the husbands he’d cuckolded over the years. Whose bored, dissatisfied wives had been actively seeking younger, more energetic men to provide them with the spice their dutifully contracted marriages so singularly lacked.

Within the bounds of such a lukewarm arrangement, he might even be able to tolerate her offspring. Perhaps even treat them with kindness, rather than calling them bastards to their face. And they’d think of each other as brothers and sisters, and care for and support each other, instead of …

A swell of music issuing from the ballroom pulled him abruptly from the maelstrom of negativity that always churned through him whenever a stray thought escaped its confines and crept back towards his childhood.

He turned slowly, annoyed to have his brief interlude of solitude interrupted, though he hadn’t expected to see a female silhouette in the doorway that led back to the house.

‘Why, Lord Deben!’

The girl gasped and raised her hand to her throat in a dramatic gesture, intended, he supposed cynically, to betoken surprise.

‘I did not think anyone else would be out here,’ she said, glancing along the length of the otherwise deserted terrace and back.

‘Why, indeed, would anyone venture forth in such inclement weather?’

Undeterred by the dryness of his tone, she advanced a step or two and giggled.

‘I should not be out here with you, all alone, should I? Mama says you are dangerous.’

Now that she was closer he could see she was quite a pretty little thing. Good features, clear skin, expensively and fashionably clad. And well used to male attention, to judge from the way she was preening under his leisurely, not to say insolent, perusal of her assets.

‘Your mama is correct. I am dangerous.’

‘I am not afraid of you,’ she said, sashaying right up to him. She came so close that the perfume she wore wafted to his nostrils from her hot little body. She was breathing hard. She was excited. A little nervous, too, but mostly excited.

‘You have never been known to harm a virtuous damsel,’ she said breathily. ‘Your reputation has all been gained with young matrons, or widows.’

‘Your mama should have warned you that it is not the thing to discuss a man’s amours with him.’

She smiled. Knowingly.

‘But, Lord Deben,’ she murmured, sliding one hand up the lapel of his jacket, ‘I am sure you want your future wife to understand these things. To be understanding …’

He gripped her hand and detached it from his clothing, filled with a gut-deep revulsion.

‘On the contrary, madam, that is the last thing I want from the woman I shall marry.’

It was no good. He was more like his father than he’d thought. Even if he took the greatest care never to fall in love with his own wife, he wouldn’t be able to bear the thought of her being understanding. Of expecting him to carry on as though he was still a bachelor, so that she could enjoy her own sexual adventures.

In short, of becoming a cuckold.

‘You had better return to the ballroom. As you yourself said, it is quite improper of you to be out here, alone, with a man like me.’

She pouted. ‘It is absurd of you to preach propriety, when everyone knows you have never had any time for it.’

Then, in a move so swift it took him completely by surprise, she flung both arms about his neck.

‘God dammit, what are you about?’ He reached up and tried to disentangle himself from her hold. He managed to prise one hand off, but then she dropped her fan, leaving her other hand free to find purchase. When he stepped smartly back in a more determined effort to evade her grasping hands, she clung tighter, so that he found himself dragging her with him.

‘Let go of me, you impudent baggage,’ he growled. ‘I do not know what you think you will achieve by flinging yourself at me like this, but …’

There was a shriek. Light flooded the terrace as the doors from the house burst open. The girl who had been clinging so tenaciously slumped against him, pressing her cheek to his chest.

‘Lord Deben!’ A well-built matron stalked towards him, her jowls quivering with indignation. ‘Let go of my daughter this instant!’

He still had his hands on her wrists, from when he’d been trying to prise her off. As he attempted to push her upright, she gave a little moan and arched theatrically backwards, as though in a faint. Instinctively, he caught her as she began to fall. And though part of him would have dearly liked to let her slump into a crumpled heap on the damp flagstones, another part of him knew that were he to give in to such a base instinct, it would only make the situation look worse for him.

At any moment, another person might take it into their heads to come outside, and what would they see? The wicked Lord Deben standing over the prone body of a shocked, half-ravished innocent? Or the wicked Lord Deben standing with the swooning victim of his attempted seduction clasped in his arms? With the indignant mother demanding the release of his supposed victim?

Whichever tableau they would see, the outcome would be the same. These two females would expect him to make reparation by marrying this scheming little baggage.

He had never been so angry in his whole life. Caught in the kind of trap a greenhorn should have seen coming. And on his first foray into the world of so-called innocents! How could he have so woefully underestimated the predatory nature of womankind? He’d dismissed those virtually indistinguishable white-clad girls in the ballroom as vapid, brainless ciphers. But this girl had a quick mind. And an immense amount of ambition. He was the wealthiest, youngest, most highly ranking man she was ever likely to get within what he guessed was her limited social reach. And she had taken ruthless advantage of his momentary lapse of concentration to compromise him. She didn’t care a whit for his character. Or have a qualm about marrying a man she believed was incapable of fidelity. In fact, she’d told him she would condone it.

What was worse, the chit was not to know he was, in actual fact, looking for a wife. For all she knew, he was still an obdurate rake.

And yet she had persisted in setting out to ruthlessly snare him.

Cunning, ambitious, ruthless and amoral. If his mother were still alive, she would have seen this girl as a kindred spirit.

‘It is quite obvious what has been going on out here,’ said the girl’s mother, drawing herself up to her full height. Then, just as he’d expected, she said, ‘You must make amends.’

‘Offer marriage, you mean?’ That did it. He no longer cared if the old besom did think him ungallant. He thrust her clinging daughter from him with such determination she tottered a few steps and had to clutch at her mother to prevent herself tripping over.

Had he really been toying with the idea of proposing to the first apparently eligible female to cross his path? Was he mad? If he married a creature like this one, history would repeat itself, with the added twist that he would never be entirely certain who had fathered any of the children for whom he would be obliged to provide.

He leaned back against the balustrade and folded his arms. He was just about to inform them that no power on earth would induce him to offer this girl his name when another voice cried out, ‘Oh, please, it is not what it looks like!’

The three of them at his end of the terrace whirled towards the shadows at the far end, from whence the voice had emanated.

He could just make out a slender female form wriggling out from between two massive earthenware planters, behind which she had clearly been concealing herself.

‘For one thing,’ the still-shadowed girl said, reaching down to free her gown from some unseen obstruction, ‘I was out here the whole time. Miss Waverley was never alone with Lord Deben.’

Having freed her skirts, she straightened up and walked towards them. She hovered on the fringe of the pool of light in which they stood, as though reluctant to fully emerge from the shadows. But he’d glimpsed moss smearing the regulation white of her gown as a corner of it had fluttered into the light. And there was what looked like dried leaves caught in the tangled curls which tumbled round a pair of thin shoulders.

‘That’s all very well,’ the outraged mother of the scheming Miss Waverley, as he now knew her to be named, put in, ‘but how did he come to have her in his arms?’

Miss Waverley was still clinging to her mother with the air of a tragedy queen, but on her pretty face he could see the first stirrings of alarm.

‘Oh, well, she …’ The dishevelled girl hesitated. She darted a look towards the worried Miss Waverley, then drew herself upright and looked the older woman straight in the eye. ‘She dropped her fan. And then she sort of … stumbled up against Lord Deben, who naturally prevented her from falling.’

Well, she’d certainly presented the whole sequence of events in such a way as to put an entirely different complexion on the matter. Without telling an outright lie.

In fact, it had been very neatly done.

He pushed himself away from the balustrade and took the two paces necessary to reach the fan, which he bent down and retrieved.

‘No gentleman,’ he said, having decided to take his cue from the girl who, for some reason, reminded him of autumn personified, ‘not even one with a reputation as tarnished as my own, could have permitted such a fair creature to fall,’ he said, returning the fan to the set-faced Miss Waverley with a flourish. He had no idea why the Spirit of Autumn had decided to put a stop to Miss Waverley’s scheme, but he was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Miss Waverley’s mother was looking pensively at the uneven edges of the damp flagstones on which they stood.

Miss Waverley’s eyes were darting from him to the girl who had emerged from the shadows. He could almost see her mind working. It was no longer a case of her word against his. There were two people prepared to swear nothing untoward had occurred here this night.

‘Sir Humphrey should get these flags attended to, don’t you think?’ He smiled frostily at the girl who had attempted to compromise him. ‘Before somebody comes to grief. But at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that you have not come to any lasting hurt from this night’s little encounter.’

She flung up her chin and glowered at him.

Her mother, however, was more gracious in defeat.

‘Oh, well, I see now how it was, of course. And I do thank you for coming to my daughter’s aid, my lord. Though why she was out here with Miss Gibson, I cannot begin to imagine. She is not our sort of person. Not our sort of person at all.’

The matron shot the bedraggled nymph a look of contempt.

Did he imagine it, or did she shrink from the scrutiny, as though she was half-thinking of ducking behind the ornamental urns again?

‘Nor can I imagine how my dear Isabella has come to be on such intimate terms with her. Really, child,’ she said, addressing her daughter, whose mouth was pouting sulkily, ‘I cannot think what on earth possessed you to accompany a person like that out here, where you might have soiled your gown. Or caught a chill. How on earth,’ she said, rounding on the hapless Miss Gibson, ‘did you manage to persuade my daughter to come out here? And what were you doing, hiding at the end of the terrace down there, leaving my daughter alone with a gentleman? Have you no notion how improper your action was? How selfish?’

Though he couldn’t help wondering himself how Miss Gibson would answer that barrage of questions, he had his own list, which were far more pertinent, given that he knew what had actually occurred.

The one which was uppermost, however, was to wonder why she had not taken the chance to expose Miss Waverley for the scheming jade she was, if she was so keen to put a spoke in her wheel. Her description of the sordid little scene had been so neatly wrapped up that Miss Waverley would walk away from this encounter with her reputation untarnished. Yet concern for Miss Waverley’s reputation could not have been what prompted her. She’d come out of hiding before he told them he would never offer her his name, no matter what tales they told. His reputation was already black as pitch, so he had nothing to lose. But the Waverley chit would most definitely have got her just deserts if this pair of designing females had attempted to cross swords, socially, with a man of his standing.

All Miss Gibson had needed to do, so far as she was concerned, was to stay concealed behind her plant pots and wait for them all to go away. Had she acted from friendship, then? Had she wanted to save a friend from a disastrous marriage?

No … he didn’t think that was it either. Miss Waverley had, at no point, looked as though she felt anything … friendly about the girl who’d thwarted her ambition. She certainly had not expected her to be out here. She had scanned the terrace for witnesses before staging her attempt to compromise him. And been furious when the Gibson girl had emerged and scotched her plans to bag herself an earl.

Enemies, then? No … from what the mother had said they barely mixed in the same social circles. Which meant they were not likely to have had opportunity to become either enemies, or friends.

Whichever way he looked at it, he kept on returning to the same unsettling conclusion. Her actions had nothing to do with Miss Waverley at all.

She had been attempting to rescue him.

He leaned back against the parapet once more, one hand on either side of him, and watched her in fascination. She was not making any attempt to defend herself while Miss Waverley’s mother rang a peal over her. She scarcely seemed to notice either the tirade, or the poisonous glances Miss Waverley kept darting at her.

She was just standing there, shoulders slumped, as though she simply did not care what anyone thought of her, or said of her. As though she wasn’t even fully attending to the vitriol being poured upon her innocent head.

Right up until the moment when Miss Waverley’s mother said, ‘But, then, what can one expect from somebody hailing from such a family as yours?’

At that, the change which came over her was remarkable. She lifted her head and stepped forwards, so that she was for the first time fully illuminated by the light streaming from the ballroom windows. All the colours of autumn glowed in her wild tresses. Rich conker browns, threaded with gold and russet of leaves on the turn. And her demeanour was so fierce, it was like witnessing a storm whipping up out of nowhere, blasting away all shreds of one of those drear November mornings which so depressed him.

‘One can expect honourable behaviour,’ she said. ‘I was concealing myself only because I did not wish anyone, especially not a gentleman, to see that I had been crying.’

Now that he could believe. Miss Gibson did not weep prettily. Her nose, which was a shade too large for her rather thin face, was red and running. Her cheeks were mottled and streaked with what looked like not only tears, but horrifically like the effusions from that abomination of a nose.

It made it all the more remarkable for her to have exposed herself to view, in order to intervene in the affairs of two people who were neither her friends, nor, in his case, even a remote acquaintance.

‘I might have known,’ the matron snapped. ‘I hope you are thoroughly ashamed of yourself, young lady. You see what comes of giving way to such a vulgar display of emotion? Not only do you look an absolute disgrace, but your selfish, wilful behaviour has exposed my own, blameless daughter to a situation that might very easily have been misinterpreted!’

Miss Gibson clenched her fists. She looked at the blameless Miss Waverley and took a breath. She was just about to blurt out the truth that would send shock waves rippling through the tranquillity of Miss Twining’s come-out ball, when he saw a look of chagrin cross her face.

Ah. She had just worked out that she could not now tell the complete truth without exposing herself. That was what happened when a woman began to spin a web of lies. She only had to put one foot wrong, to run the risk of becoming hopelessly enmeshed herself.

At least she had the intelligence to see it. She closed her mouth, lifted her chin and regarded the mother in stony-faced silence.

He felt his lips twitch as the gale blew itself out. Really, this was better than a play.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Miss Gibson glanced at him at the exact moment he began to see the humour in the situation. She caught his amused expression and returned it with a scowl that could have curdled milk.

‘Well,’ said the matron, who had missed the exchange of glances, because she’d been busy placing a comforting arm about her thwarted daughter’s shoulders. ‘I can see that you were motivated by the kindness of your heart, my dear, but really, it would have been better to have sought out Miss Gibson’s chaperon and let her deal with it.’

His brief foray into amusement at the absurdity of it all was over. The matron’s attitude was almost as offensive as that of her daughter. Here was a young female, so distressed that she’d run outside to give way to her emotions, and all she was getting was a lecture. It was not right. Somebody ought to be offering her some comfort. After all, females did not weep with such abandon, not in private, without having very good reason. They must know that, surely?

He looked at the mother. At Miss Waverley herself. And frowned.

He did not have much in the way of empathy for the sensibilities of females, but he was clearly the only person out here who felt even the tiniest scrap of it towards the bedraggled Miss Gibson. Not that he would dream of attempting to deal with her personally. He’d never had any success soothing weeping females. On the few occasions he’d attempted to offer consolation to one of his sisters when indulging in a fit of tears, his brand of rational argument had thrown them into something bordering on hysterics.

She needed a sympathetic female. The chaperon that the Waverley woman had mentioned—that was the woman who would know how to deal with her.

He pushed himself off the balustrade. ‘Allow me to rectify that error,’ he said, ‘by performing that office this very minute. If one of you would be so good as to furnish me with her name?’

‘Oh,’ said the matron with a sneer, ‘she is a Mrs Ledbetter. I dare say you would not know her, my lord. Indeed, I cannot think how a woman of her station in life came to secure an invitation to an event such as this.’

He smiled. ‘Indeed. One attends private balls in the expectation of only encountering a better class of person. Mrs Waverley, is it?’

‘Lady Chigwell,’ she simpered.

‘Lady Chigwell,’ he replied, with a bow of acknowledgement. As he straightened up, he caught Miss Gibson’s eye and gave her a wink. But if he had thought she might have relished the thinly veiled snub he had just administered, he was disappointed, meeting only disapproval in her gaze.

Perhaps she had not understood the gesture he had made on her behalf.

‘Miss Gibson,’ he said, closing the distance between them so that he could take her hand, ‘may I tell Mrs Ledbetter you will wait for her out here?’ In an undertone, he added, ‘What does she look like?’

Miss Gibson blinked up at him with eyes that, at close quarters, he could see were still swimming in unshed tears. He squeezed her hand gently, trying to offer her both his gratitude and, somewhat to his surprise, some reassurance. There was not another female in the world, to whom he was not related, who could testify that Lord Deben had shown the slightest hint of concern for her welfare.

But no man, not even one as immune to fellow feeling as people often accused him of being, could fail to be moved by her plight. She had come out here to indulge in a private fit of tears, only to find herself obliged to have her breakdown exposed, and, to crown it all, to have not only her own character, but that of her chaperon quite unjustly ripped to shreds.

‘She is wearing a purple turban,’ she hissed in an undertone, ‘with one white and one purple ostrich feather in it. You really cannot miss it.’ And then, snatching her hand from his, she said, ‘I think it would be for the best if I wait out here.’

‘Yes, indeed,’ put in Miss Waverley in a sugary-sweet voice. ‘You would not want to walk across that ballroom, not as you are. You really need to give your face a good wash before you let anyone see you.’

Miss Gibson hastily swiped at her cheeks with the backs of her hands. The effect, since her gloves were as badly soiled as her gown, was unfortunate.

‘Allow me,’ he said, producing a square of monogrammed white silk from his tailcoat pocket with a flourish and offering it to her.

‘Thank you, sir,’ she said gruffly and proceeded to take it from him with such reluctance that he suspected she would have refused it altogether were she not so desperate.

Why was that? he wondered. If she had taken a dislike to him, as seemed to be the case from the way she glared at him, after blowing her nose with a very unladylike thoroughness, then why had she come to his aid in the first place?

Or perhaps, as she had stated, it was just that she did not like to have any gentleman see her in such an unbecoming state of distress.

That must be it.

He turned, satisfied that he had accounted for the unwarranted hostility he could detect in her attitude, and made his way along the terrace, back to the ballroom.

Now all he had to do was find a woman of advancing years, in an ostrich-feathered purple turban, pass on the information that Miss Gibson was outside awaiting her assistance and he could lay the whole matter to rest.

Although he could not quite shake off an unfamiliar feeling of wishing he could do something to alleviate Miss Gibson’s distress. He’d realised, in the instant the threat of becoming leg-shackled to a creature of Miss Waverley’s calibre loomed before him, that he would rather die than face a marriage such as the one endured by his own father. And he was becoming more and more convinced that Miss Gibson had intervened to save him from just such a fate.

That must be it. She could not bear to see anyone forced into a marriage that was not of their own choosing.

Perhaps that was why she was out here crying. From what Lady Chigwell had said, she was not from a very good family. Perhaps she was being coerced to marry ‘well’ in order to advance their social standing. Perhaps that was what she was doing here tonight. Being put on display, to be sold off like a slave at auction. He had not seen her at her best just now, but her very youth, her very vulnerability, would hold enough appeal to interest several men he knew who were casting about them for wives this Season. It was the way of the world. Older men with money and status could more or less have their pick of the young virgins who came up to town each year to find a husband. The families of said virgins practically sold them off to the highest bidder, no matter what their feelings.

Denied choice in the matter, they eventually rebelled and took lovers of their own choosing.

Having freedom of choice was the one benefit that, as a man, he had which many women were not permitted. And he’d almost thrown it away.

It had been Miss Waverley who had shocked him out of the apathy that had almost led him to make a disastrous error. He held such cynical views of marriage that he’d been on the verge of allowing fate to take the choice out of his hands. Like a gambler, who tossed a coin to determine his next move. He’d thought it would simplify things to remove the element of choice from the equation. No such thing. Marriage, once entered into, was an inescapable bond. Reluctance to enter that state did not excuse a cavalier attitude towards the choice of bride. Though he still could not imagine finding any real pleasure for himself, in marriage, he owed it to his children to thoroughly investigate the character of the woman who would bear them. He would never knowingly foist a parent like his own mother upon poor innocent children. Nor a woman like Miss Waverley.

She might have jolted him out of his fatalistic attitude this evening, but it was only because she epitomised all he most despised in females.

He felt no gratitude towards her whatsoever. And yet, in spite of her intervention being quite unnecessary, the fact that Miss Gibson seemed to have acted out of concern for him did make him feel as though he wished he could repay her in some way.

For nobody, male or female, had ever attempted to rescue him from anything.

Good God. He stood stock still, smiling with unholy mirth at the thought that suddenly struck him. He’d just been rescued by a damsel in distress.

Not that anyone could, by any stretch of the imagination, think of him as a knight in any kind of armour. He fought his battles in the House of Lords, with cutting words rather than at tourneys, with lance and mace.

He turned, he was not entirely sure why, to take one last look at her—and caught Miss Waverley shooting her a look of pure venom.

He’d already ascertained that she was amoral and ruthless. And though Miss Gibson clearly possessed a great deal of courage, she appeared to be socially inferior to the scheming Isabella. Which rendered her vulnerable to the kind of attack he had no doubt the girl would launch at the first available opportunity.

He had wondered how he might repay Miss Gibson for helping him preserve his liberty. Now he knew. Over the next few weeks, at the very least, he would keep a discreet watch over her.

Or heaven alone knew what twisted form of revenge the thwarted Miss Waverley would exact.


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