The Rake's Wicked Proposal(4)

By: Carole Mortimer

In fact, now that Grace’s year of mourning was over, it had been her aunt’s insistence that Grace really must have a Season that had necessitated them undertaking this uncomfortable journey to London in the first place—slightly earlier than was necessary, as her aunt intended to acquire a completely new wardrobe for Grace before any of the entertainments began. She had declared Grace’s scant wardrobe of three day dresses and two evening gowns completely inadequate for a London Season, where she would be introduced to all the ton as the ward of the Duke and Duchess of Carlyne.

Grace was grateful for all the loving attention her aunt and uncle had bestowed upon her in the last year. She simply wished that Lord Francis Wynter were a little less proprietorial of her.

‘Lucian was such a dear boy when he was younger,’ her Aunt Margaret mused wistfully. ‘Do you remember what great friends he and Simon always were, Carlyne? How the two of them were at Eton and then Cambridge together, before taking up a commission in the army on the same day?’

The Duke reached out and patted his wife’s hand consolingly. ‘There, there, m’dear. What cannot be changed must be endured.’

Grace’s heart ached at how stoically her aunt and uncle bore the tragic blow of their only son’s death. She had not known Cousin Simon very well, his being ten years her senior, but the little she did remember of him was as a man as good-natured and charmingly amiable as his father.

How strange, then, that he should be particular friends with a man her uncle described as possessing ‘broodingly dark good-looks’, and Francis claimed was ‘a rake and a—’ And a what? Grace wondered curiously. Whatever it was, as far as her uncle was concerned it was not a fit description for the ears of an innocent like herself.

Contrarily, Francis’s disapproval of Lord Lucian St Claire only made him all the more appealing to Grace!

Lucian drew in a weary breath as he stood outside the parlour where the Wynter family were awaiting his appearance so that they might dine. The thirty minutes or so since Lucian had parted from the Duke had not improved his disposition. The accommodation at the inn had proved as inferior as Carlyne had claimed it to be, and the furnishings in Lucian’s room were sparse, to say the least, with not even a lock on the door to keep his belongings safe while he was downstairs dining.

Which was perhaps the point…

Not that Lucian was carrying anything of particular value to a thief—chance or otherwise. Having arranged for his valet to depart for Mulberry Hall—the principal St Claire seat in Gloucestershire, and Lucian’s home for the first eighteen years of his life—a day ahead of Lucian travelling on horseback, Lucian was carrying only the barest necessities with him. As he had already explained to the Duke, he did not even have with him appropriate evening clothes for dining in female company.

Stop delaying the inevitable, Lucian, he instructed himself severely. There was no getting out of dining with the Carlynes, so he might just as well get this initial meeting with the rest of the family out of the way as quickly as possible. After all, Margaret Wynter was pleasant enough, and if Francis Wynter was not to be tolerated he could at least be ignored. As could whichever elderly twittering female the Duchess had brought with her as companion for this visit to London.

He could hear the murmur of voices in the private parlour as he reached out and turned the door handle. One of those voices was raised much louder than the others, and the words reached Lucian as plainly as if he were already in the room.

‘Say what you like about the man’s war record, George, but I remember him as being wild and undisciplined in our youth. Neither do his years in the army alter the fact that St Claire has become nothing more than a rake since his return to polite society, and as such rendering him unfit company for the likes of Grace—’ Francis Wynter abruptly broke off his tirade as Lucian stepped nonchalantly into the room.

Grace, along with everyone else present, turned her attention sharply towards the door as it was softly pushed open and an unknown gentleman stepped lightly into the room.

And what a gentleman!

Grace had never seen a man so tall, so fashionably attired—in a superbly tailored jacket, waistcoat and cream breeches with highly polished Hessians, his linen snowy white, with delicate lace at the cuffs and throat—and so aristocratically and darkly handsome as Lord Lucian St Claire.