The Rake's Wicked Proposal(2)

By: Carole Mortimer

‘Just come from spending a few days at m’brother Darius’s new estate in Malvern.’ The older man’s expression brightened as he thankfully grasped this innocuous subject.

‘I trust he is well, sir?’ It had been far less than two years since Lucian had last seen his friend Darius—only seven months or so. But a lot had happened to the other man in that time…

The Duke’s face took on a suitable look of melancholy. ‘Bearing up, don’t you know.’ A glint of rueful humour entered his eyes. ‘Some would say perhaps too well!’

There was an answering glint in Lucian’s gaze as it knowingly met the older man’s.

Lord Darius Wynter, Lucian knew, had taken himself a wife seven months ago. A Miss Sophie Belling, from the north of England. Her father owned several mills in the area, and so had been easily able to provide a more than generous dowry for his only child. It had not been a love-match, on either side: Miss Belling had wanted a husband with a title, and Darius had required a wife with a fortune. Conveniently—for Darius, that was—Lady Sophie had been killed in a hunting accident only a month after the wedding, leaving Darius in possession of the fortune but not the wife.

Darius had always been a rogue and a gambler. His profligate lifestyle meant that he had quickly gone through the fortune left to him by his father when he reached his majority, thus necessitating a need in Darius to marry for money. He had even, Lucian recalled with some amusement, offered for Lucian’s young sister Arabella at the end of last Season. An offer Hawk, their haughty older brother and the the Duke of Stourbridge, had felt absolutely no hesitation in refusing!

‘A brief diversion, for we’re on our way to London,’ the Duke of Carlyne continued lightly. ‘For the Season. Or at least we were.’ He frowned. ‘Damned coach has developed a rickety wheel. But I mustn’t keep you standing about here when you are obviously wet and uncomfortable.’ He frowned as Lucian’s greatcoat chose that moment to drip water on to the wooden floor. ‘You surely aren’t travelling on horseback, St Claire?’

Lucian grimaced. ‘It was very fine when I set out from London two days ago.’ After days, often weeks, spent in the saddle during his years in the war against Napoleon, the rain of an English spring did not seem like such a hardship to Lucian.

‘That’s the English weather for you, hmm?’ The older man smiled ruefully. ‘On your way to visit your brother and the family in Gloucestershire, are you?’

‘I am, sir.’ Lucian gave an inclination of his dark head.

‘Inferior inn, I’m afraid, St Claire,’ the Duke confided dismissively. ‘But ’m reliably informed that the food makes up for the lack of other comforts. Join us for dinner once you have procured a room and changed out of those wet clothes.’

‘I do not have the necessary clothes with me for dining in company—’

‘Nonsense,’ the Duke dismissed warmly. ‘Do say you will join us, St Claire. I have no doubt the ladies will be relieved to have more diverting company than a crusty old man and his boorish brother.’

Ladies? Plural? Which obviously meant there would be another lady other than the Duchess present. And the Duke’s ‘boorish brother’ had to be Lord Francis Wynter, the youngest of the three Wynter brothers—a young man Lucian had known for many years, and found pompous and opinionated in the extreme.

But good manners dictated that Lucian could not continue to refuse the Duke of Carlyne’s gracious invitation. ‘In that case I would be honoured, Your Grace,’ he accepted stiffly. ‘If you will allow me but half an hour in which to make good my appearance…?’

‘Certainly, m’boy.’ The Duke now looked pleased by this turn of events. ‘I am sure m’wife will want to hear all about your brother and his pretty new Duchess.’

Lucian was equally sure, as he strolled upstairs to his bedchamber several minutes later, having procured a room and demanded hot water for a bath, that his brother Hawk would not appreciate having his beloved Jane discussed in a public coaching inn or anywhere else!