Rules for Reforming a Rake(3)

By: Meara Platt

Indeed, marriage was the farthest thing from his mind. Bad women and good times were what he wanted.

He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and marched straight past Number 3... well, almost.

“You, sir! Please! Stop that baby!”

“Wha-at?” Gabriel turned in time to see a little boy toddle at full speed from the Farthingale drive onto Chipping Way. The infant was stark naked and headed directly toward a carriage that was traveling much too fast for this elegant neighborhood.

“There, sir! Please stop him!” a young woman cried, leaning precariously from one of the upper windows.

Gabriel tore after the little fellow, snatching him into his arms just as the little imp was about to fall under the hooves of the fast-moving team of horses. The boy squirmed in his arms, but Gabriel wouldn’t let him go. “Let’s get you back to your derelict governess, young man,” he said, wrapping the unclad child in the folds of his cloak, for there was a chill to the air.

But the boy, having no enthusiasm for the idea, began to shriek. “No! No!”

Lord! Where was that governess?

Gabriel drew the inconsolable child against his chest, speaking to him quietly but sternly in an even tone until his shrieks subsided. As they did, Gabriel patted his small back and soothed his anguished sobs. “There, there,” he said, quite at a loss. “No need to fuss.”

His actions worked to some extent, for the boy did suddenly stop wailing. “Papa... Papa...” he repeated softly, resting his head against Gabriel’s shirt as he emitted trembling gasps of air from his little lungs.

“I certainly hope not,” Gabriel muttered, brushing the tightly coiled gold curls off the boy’s moist brow. “Ah, there’s a good lad. Feeling better now?”

The boy responded with a tiny nod.

Quite pleased with himself and the efficiency with which he’d restored order, Gabriel turned back to the Farthingale house as the young woman burst through the gate, followed by a small army of children in varying states of disarray. She paused but a moment to order her squealing troops “Back inside!” and to Gabriel’s surprise, they promptly complied.

The young woman then turned toward him, her black hair half done up in a bun and the rest of it falling in a shambles about her slender shoulders. “Thank you! Thank you! You saved Harry’s life! We’re so grateful.”

He frowned down at the seemingly appreciative girl. She was young and slight, barely reaching his shoulders. She took no notice of his displeasure, and instead smiled up at him, her eyes glistening as if holding back unshed tears.

Still smiling, she turned to the boy. “You gave me a terrible scare, you little muffin. I’m so glad you’re unharmed.”

Gabriel thought to chide her, but the girl chose that moment to smile at him again, and the words simply refused to flow from his mouth. Well, she did have an incredible smile. The sort that touched one’s heart—if one had a heart—which he didn’t, having lost it sometime during the war.

Her eyes were bluer than the sky.

His frown faded.

She shook her head and let out the softest sigh. “You’re so wonderful with him. Do you have children of your own?”

“You ought to be more careful with your young charge,” Gabriel said, clearing his throat and speaking to her with purposeful severity. The girl’s attributes, no matter how heavenly, did not excuse her lapse in duty.

“Oh, Harry’s not my charge... well, he is in a way. You see, he’s my cousin. And the nannies have all quit our household, so I’m left all alone with the seven children until my family returns.” She wiped a stray lock off her brow, then put her arms forward to show him her rolled up sleeves. “I was trying to bathe the littlest ones.”

He noticed that her finely made gown was wet in several spots. “It seems they bathed you.”

“What? Oh, yes. They did give me a thorough soaking.” She laughed gently while shaking her head in obvious exasperation. “Harry was the last, but now I’ll have to bathe him all over again.”

“Don’t let me delay you.” He attempted to hand the squirming bundle back to her, but before he could manage it, Harry decided to leave him a remembrance.