The Rake's Wicked Proposal

By: Carole Mortimer

Lucian’s mouth curled disdainfully. ‘Do try to look a little happier, Grace, when I am about to ask your guardians for your hand in marriage.’

Grace stared at him dazedly, sure that she could not have heard him correctly. He could not seriously think—could not imagine—

‘But I have no wish to marry you!’

‘Wish?’ He arched scathing brows. ‘Wishes, Grace, either yours or my own, do not enter into the situation we now find ourselves in,’ he assured her scornfully. ‘We have broken the unwritten law of Society.’

Grace was well aware that she should not have allowed this man the liberty of kissing her—and had no idea how she was going to face her aunt again—but surely that did not mean they had to actually marry each other?

Carole Mortimer was born in England, the youngest of three children. She began writing in 1978, and has now published over one hundred and forty books with Harlequin Mills & Boon. Carole has four sons, Matthew, Joshua, Timothy and Peter, and a bearded collie called Merlyn. She says, ‘I’m happily married to Peter senior; we’re best friends as well as lovers, which is probably the best recipe for a successful relationship. We live in a lovely part of England.’

Chapter One

‘Good gad! Is that you, St Claire?’

Lucian St Claire, having entered the coaching inn only seconds earlier, and feeling much relieved to at last be out of the relentless rain he had suffered for the last two hours, felt that relief replaced by a sinking dread as he easily recognised the boomingly jovial voice of the Duke of Carlyne.

‘It is you!’ The Duke strode forcefully down the hallway of the inn to where Lucian stood, removing his extremely wet greatcoat, a smile of pleasure lighting the older man’s features as he thrust a hand out in greeting. ‘Well met, m’boy!’

‘Your Grace,’ Lucian murmured softly, giving an abrupt inclination of his head even as he shook the proffered hand, his gaze dark and unreadable.

Deliberately so. He and the Duke had not met for almost two years, but Lucian knew that very shortly the Duke would remember the circumstances of that meeting, and the pleasure would fade from the older man’s face. It was a face that had aged considerably in the intervening years, making the Duke appear much older than the late fifties Lucian knew him to be.

Ah, there it was, Lucian recognised heavily. The frown. The flicker of pained remembrance in the eyes. Quickly followed by a forced return of the other man’s earlier pleasure in this chance meeting.

Lucian had suffered many such encounters since he had resigned his commission from the army almost two years ago. Too many. And neither time nor frequency had dulled the feeling of guilt he suffered at each such meeting.

For Lucian had survived five years in the army, only resigning his commission after that last bloody battle at Waterloo. A battle that had ensued after many Englishmen and women had thought Napoleon finished, routed, and incarcerated on the Isle of Elba. Only to have him escape that island to rouse his soldiers anew, renewing hostilities in a battle that had robbed Lucian of far too many brothers-in-arms. Most especially three fellow officers, his closest friends.

Including Simon Wynter, Marquess of Richfield, the Duke of Carlyne’s beloved only son and heir…

Lucian forced down the memories of his unhappy journey almost two years ago to the Duke’s estate in Worcestershire, where he had felt compelled to go in order to offer the Duke and Duchess his condolences on Simon’s death.

He had made similar journeys to several of the families of his slain friends, each of them harder than the last as, once his condolences had been expressed a certain look of resentment appeared on the faces of those families at their realisation that he, Major Lord Lucian St Claire, the second of the three sons of the deceased Ninth Duke of Stourbridge, had somehow survived whilst their beloved husband, son or brother had perished.

Lucian had felt no animosity towards those people for the emotion; how could he when he had so often been plagued with nightmares that made him, too, wish that he had not survived!

He decided it was time to take pity on the Duke of Carlyne’s confused expression. ‘You are visiting friends in the area, sir?’