The Rake's Wicked Proposal(3)

By: Carole Mortimer

‘I am sure you will find St Claire extremely diverting, m’dear,’ Grace’s uncle, the Duke of Carlyne, continued to assure her with a merry twinkle in his eye. ‘Most of the single ladies of the ton seem to find his broodingly dark good-looks extremely appealing. Several of the married ones, too—eh, m’dear?’ He gave his Duchess a knowing smile.

‘I am sure I do not know what you mean, Carlyne.’ Grace’s aunt, a plump matronly woman still deeply in love with her equally smitten husband, dismissed him frowningly. ‘Neither is it a fitting subject on which to converse in front of a young lady of Grace’s sensibilities.’

‘Certainly not,’ Lord Francis Wynter agreed haughtily. ‘In fact, George, I am not sure that it was a wise decision on your part to invite St Claire to join us for dinner at all, with two ladies present.’

‘Don’t be such a pompous ass, Francis. Oh! I am sorry, m’dears.’ The Duke at once apologised to his wife and Grace for his outspokenness. ‘But St Claire’s entitled to sow a few wild oats,’ he added defensively. ‘What you should remember, Francis, is that Major Lord Lucian St Claire is a hero of the Peninsula War—and most especially that last bloody battle at Waterloo.’

Grace saw the flush of resentment on Francis’s cheeks at this reminder that, despite being a youngest son, he had chosen not to enter into that particular war. A war, moreover, in which his only nephew, Grace’s cousin, had lost his young life.

Grace was not sure either, after her aunt’s whispered comments about Lord Lucian St Claire, and her uncle’s more risqué ones, that the man was a fitting dinner companion. But she would not for the world have said so. She was deeply resentful of the almost proprietorial air that Francis Wynter had lately started to adopt towards her and her welfare. Especially as she had given him no encouragement, by word or deed, to behave in such a familiar manner.

Besides, Lucian St Claire sounded exciting, at least, and after weeks of Francis’s tedious attentions Grace welcomed even the thought of that diversion.

‘He sounds very—interesting, Uncle George,’ she assured him softly.

‘The man may well be a war hero.’ Francis persisted. ‘But rumour has it that since his return to Society he has become something of a rake and a—’

‘That is enough, Francis,’ his brother cut in warningly. ‘I will not have any of our heroic soldiers denigrated in this way.’

Grace watched as another tide of resentment flashed across Francis Wynter’s youthfully handsome features.

There was no doubting he was very handsome—his hair a rich burnished gold, his eyes a pale blue, his shoulders wide, waist tapered, legs muscled, in black evening clothes and snowy white linen. If only his nature were as pleasant as those looks. But his lengthy visit to his brother and sister-in-law’s estate in Worcestershire, following on from a much shorter one to his brother Darius’s new home at Malvern—the two younger brothers did not get on—had allowed Grace to learn that, besides being extremely opinionated, Francis was also completely lacking in a sense of humour.

He was not her Uncle George’s full brother, of course, which could explain at least some of the reasons Francis was so different from his good-humoured eldest brother. George Wynter, aged eight and fifty, had been born to the first wife of the previous Duke of Carlyne; Darius Wynter, aged one and thirty, had been born to the second wife, and Francis Wynter, aged five and twenty, to the third and final one.

Grace could only assume, having now met and become better acquainted with all three brothers, that they must all favour their individual mothers—because they certainly bore little resemblance to each other. George was the warm, amiable-natured one, Darius the consummate rake—and Francis, she was sorry to say, was a complete bore.

Although it was distinctly ungrateful of Grace to think so, when the Wynter family had all been so warm and welcoming to her. Having lived quietly in the country with her parents for the first nineteen years of her life, Grace had suddenly found herself orphaned, her parents having both been killed in a boating accident a year ago. Her mother’s sister and brother-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Carlyne, were now her guardians, the Duke also being trustee of her considerable estate and fortune until she married.