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Authors: Sabrina Jeffries

The Dangerous Lord

BOOK: The Dangerous Lord
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S
ABRINA
J
EFFRIES
The Dangerous Lord

To Rexanne,
without whom this book would not be possible

Contents

Chapter 1

Some fool was spreading rumors about him again.

Chapter 2

The red missile dropping past the window of Miss Felicity Taylor's…

Chapter 3

Felicity scratched out a word, then scribbled another in the…

Chapter 4

Deep in thought, Ian descended the carpeted stairs of the…

Chapter 5

Felicity glanced up as Mrs. Box entered the bedroom, her hair…

Chapter 6

Ian scanned the Worthings' crowded ballroom with an expert eye.

Chapter 7

Thunderclouds formed ugly gray bruises across the dawn sky when…

Chapter 8

Even John Pilkington has his price.

Chapter 9

Felicity hurried up the wide staircase to her room, wondering…

Chapter 10

Ian could tell from Felicity's incredulous expression that he'd surprised…

Chapter 11

Sara sat on Felicity's bed with her legs tucked up…

Chapter 12

Felicity scowled fiercely at the pale-cheeked face in the huge…

Chapter 13

Thank God I'm rid of him, Felicity thought as she…

Chapter 14

Even a blind man couldn't miss the four scamps alighting…

Chapter 15

“She's mad at us, ain't she?” Georgie whispered to Ian…

Chapter 16

“Th-the monster h-had three heads,” William was sobbing into Mrs. Box's…

Chapter 17

Lying in Felicity's bed wide-awake, Ian heard a distant clock…

Chapter 18

It was Christmas Eve morning, and Felicity and Mrs. Box had…

Chapter 19

Ian strode to the window of the vestibule in St. Augustine's Chapel…

Chapter 20

Felicity came awake slowly, morning light glowing through her closed…

Chapter 21

On the third night after her wedding, Felicity sat writing…

Chapter 22

As Ian left Felicity's bedchamber, her parting words echoed sweetly…

Chapter 23

Ian stood frozen with his wife's mouth on his. Damn…

Chapter 24

Felicity sat frozen, uncertain how to understand him. “You mean,…

Chapter 25

Felicity glanced over at Ian as the carriage approached Lord…

Epilogue

Three identical blond heads bent over Felicity as she sat…

December 1820
London, England

LIBERTY OF THE PRESS is the Englishman's second most important privilege and should be preserved even when the results alarm us, for alarm induces reform, and the ability to reform society is the Englishman's
first
most important privilege.

L
ORD
X,
T
HE
E
VENING
G
AZETTE
,
D
ECEMBER
5, 1820

S
ome fool was spreading rumors about him again.

Ian Lennard, the Viscount St. Clair, deduced that the moment he entered his gentleman's club and the butler greeted him with a knowing wink and a muttered, “Very good, milord,” while taking his coat.

Brooks's somber butler had winked at him.
Winked
at him, for God's sake. Since congratulations were not in order, Ian could only assume the worst. He scowled as he strode down the carpeted halls to the Subscription Room where he was to meet his friend Jordan, the Earl of Blackmore. Then a reassuring thought occurred to him. Perhaps the butler had been tippling on duty again and had merely mistaken him for someone else.

Then a group of men he barely knew stopped their conversation to congratulate him. The comments—“Who is she?” and “So you've done it again, you sly dog”—were accompanied by more winks. They couldn't all be mistaking him for someone else.

With difficulty, he suppressed a groan. God only knows what the tale was this time. He'd heard most of them. His favorite had him rescuing the King of Spain's illegitimate daughter from a den of Barbary pirates whom he'd vanquished single-handedly, thus gaining the reward of a mansion in Madrid. Of course, the King of Spain had no daughter, illegitimate or otherwise, and Ian had never even met a Barbary pirate. The only truth to the tale was that Ian had once been presented to the King of Spain and that his mother's family owned a mansion in Madrid.

But rumors, by their very nature, required no basis in truth, so denying them was pointless. Why should anyone believe
him
when the gossip was so much more interesting? Thus he gave his usual response—a noncommittal answer and an ironic look meant to get the fools out of his bloody hair.

He'd nearly made it to the Subscription Room when the Duke of Pelham accosted him. “Good evening, old chap,” the stout lord said with uncharacteristic joviality. “Wanted to invite you to a small dinner I'm having tomorrow, you and a few others with their inamoratas. Be sure to bring along your new paramour. Like to get a look at her.”

Ian gazed down a good foot at the man he disliked. “My new paramour?”

Pelham nudged him smugly. “No point in trying to keep the woman a mystery now, St. Clair. The cat—or should I say, the kitten—is out of the bag, and everyone wants to know the color of her fur and how deep her claws are dug into you.”

A paramour?
That
was the rumor? How disappointing. They could at least have made him into a highwayman. “I
tell you what, Pelham. When I acquire this paramour of mine, I'll be sure to bring her to one of your dinners. Until then, I must decline the invitation. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment.”

Leaving the duke gaping after him, Ian strolled to the Subscription Room. A paramour—he couldn't remember the last time he'd had one. Certainly long before his return to England. Before he'd been forced into this search for a wife.

Not that he couldn't take a mistress if he wished, but he wanted to focus all his energies on courtship without some other female bedeviling him with jealous questions. Pelham wouldn't understand that, however, since his only aim in life was to debauch as many young virgins as he could lay his hands on. The man was a pig.

Entering the Subscription Room, Ian immediately spotted Jordan's auburn hair, like a beacon against the dark damask of a wing chair. Jordan lounged beside a mahogany console table, reading a newspaper. Ian dropped into the chair opposite him and chose a cigar from the humidor, looking forward to a companionable evening of smoking, reading the papers, and consulting with his closest friend.

As he snipped off the end of the cigar, Jordan glanced up. “There you are. I wondered what was keeping you. I've been impatient to hear what happened. Did she accept? Are congratulations in order?”

For a second, Ian thought Jordan alluded to the rumored paramour. Then he remembered. “Ah, you mean Katherine.”

“Who else? Sir Richard Hastings' daughter. Did you propose to some other woman recently?”

He smiled. “No, only Katherine. One's enough, don't you think?”

“So when's the wedding?”

“It's not settled yet.”

Jordan's eyes narrowed. “Surely she didn't refuse your offer.”

“Not exactly.” Lighting the cigar at a nearby candle flame, Ian drew hard on it. “She used that old female tactic of begging time to ‘consider my proposal,' which was probably Lady Hastings' idea. The woman's a shark in skirts—hoping to get a higher settlement for Katherine by making her daughter play coy. Poor Katherine doesn't excel at playing coy, however. I felt sorry for her while she stammered about how she must consider my proposal further.”

“Forgive me for saying this,” Jordan put in, “but I don't understand what you see in the girl. She's plain and painfully shy. She wouldn't say two words to me when we met. And you're obviously not marrying her for her paltry fortune, or for her connections since her father is only a baronet.”

“Your wife has no fortune and her father is only a rector, yet that didn't deter
you
from marrying and making her a countess.”

At the mention of Emily, Jordan's face lit up. “Yes, but she has a number of other wonderful qualities that compensate for her lack of fortune and connections.”

Ian chuckled. “Still in love, I see. Well, I'm not looking for love, Jordan—I'm looking for a wife. Despite your unusual experience, they rarely go together. All I require in a wife is respectability and good character.”

In fact, a gorgeous, interesting young woman who could snag any man was the last thing Ian needed. He already despised himself for having to drag a woman into his troublesome situation. At least he could be assured that whoever married him would gain something she'd had no chance of gaining before.

“Well,” Jordan remarked as he returned to reading his newspaper, “you know Miss Hastings won't refuse you in the end. She'd be a fool to do so.”

“Yes.” But he almost wished she would. He felt no enthusiasm for the marriage.

Enthusiasm isn't required
, he reminded himself.
She suits my purposes
.

If only the woman didn't shy away when he looked at her. Or jump when he spoke. He knew why she did so—the rumors about him understandably made her edgy. But her skittishness irritated him all the same. Well, once they were married and she came to know him better, she'd relax. And he'd learn to deal with her timidity in time.

Jordan suddenly shook the newspaper and held it up to examine more closely. “I hope Miss Hastings isn't the jealous type, or you may find yourself refused after all.”

“Why?” He blew a puff of smoke into the air.

“This column reports that you've kept a mistress for over a year.”

“Column? In the newspaper? You must be joking.”

“Not at all.” Jordan held up the paper. “It's right here in
The Evening Gazette
.”

“My God, where do they get these things?” Ian's eyes narrowed. “Though that does explain why everyone's congratulating me tonight. Hand it here—let me look.”

Jordan tossed the newspaper to Ian. “It's the ‘Secrets of Society' column. You know, the one Lord X writes.”

“I don't read Lord X's column.” Ian barely had time to read the daily news, much less gossip written by anonymous rumormongers for third-rate newspapers. He picked up the paper, and added, “I'm surprised
you
read it.”

Jordan shrugged. “The man's sense of humor appeals to me. Besides, some of the people he attacks need to be brought down a peg.”

“Including me, I suppose,” Ian said dryly as he scanned the page.

“Not at all. He compliments your good taste in women.”

“This I have to see.”

Discussion of private matters was nothing new in the
press, but Lord X was said to be particularly adept at it. No misstep escaped his attention; nothing was too private. Exposing the foibles of those highest in society seemed not only his profession, but his pleasure. Then again, it was easy to speak one's mind when writing under a nom de plume.

With growing impatience, Ian skimmed past the man's moralizing about the press, his accounts of a “scandalous to-do” at Lady Minnot's, and his criticism of the excesses of the Earl of Bentley, whose extravagant new house was an “abomination in an age when soldiers' widows go hungry.” Then he caught sight of his name:

Though rumors about the Viscount St. Clair's six-year absence from England abound, he keeps his love affairs so private that even rumor disguises his paramours. Thus your faithful correspondent was surprised to see the viscount enter a house on Waltham Street with a beautiful, mysterious woman. Further investigation revealed that the house belongs to the good viscount and the lady has resided there for over a year. Other men would flaunt such a treasure, but Lord St. Clair hides her away, which only proves that discretion is indeed the better part of valor.

He read it again, the words searing into his brain. Bloody hell. Waltham Street. He should have realized when everyone began discussing his “mistress” that they meant Miss Greenaway.

But how had Lord X found out about the woman and how much did he know? Had he questioned her? Although she wasn't likely to reveal anything, gossiping scribblers like Lord X could be very persuasive. Ian would have to speak to her at once, make sure she watched what she said to strangers.

He jerked his head up to find Jordan regarding him with undisguised curiosity. “Well? Who is she?”

Coolly, he tore the page from the newspaper, folded it in two, and slid it into his coat pocket. “I'll tell you who she's not. She's not my mistress. Lord X is mistaken.”

And about to discover that not everyone would tolerate the man's loose tongue. If the man knew about Waltham Street, he might know other things, and before he revealed them all in his nasty column, Ian
would
put a stop to it.

“But you do have a house on Waltham Street?” Jordan asked.

Ian considered telling him it was none of his concern, but that was sure to rouse Jordan's curiosity further. “I have a house on Waltham Street, but not for the purpose Lord X implies. I lent it to a friend of the family fallen on hard times. Nothing more.”

“Really?”

“Really,” he said firmly. “No matter what that fool gossip says.”

Jordan leaned back and folded his hands over his waistcoat. “Is this friend of the family as beautiful as Lord X claims?”

“Why do you ask?” he snapped.

Mischief sparkled in Jordan's eyes. “It would explain your lack of concern about Miss Hastings's physical attractions. If you have a beautiful mistress on the side—”

“Damn it, Jordan, you didn't listen to a word I said!”

“Sorry, old friend, but one doesn't help a beautiful woman who's fallen on hard times by providing her with a house in a very expensive part of town.”

“I don't expect you to understand.” Ian stubbed out his cigar in irritation. “You don't have a noble bone in your body.”

“My wife would take exception to that statement,” Jordan said, smirking.

“Would she? You nearly destroyed her reputation during
the first weeks you knew her, and over my objections, as I recall. It was only after you figured out what a fool you were being that you decided to marry her.”

With a thunderous look, Jordan opened his mouth to retort. Then he snapped it shut and surveyed Ian a moment. “I see what you're doing: trying to get me off the subject of your mistress.”

“Not at all.” That was exactly what he'd been doing, and it usually worked with Jordan, whose temper erupted at the slightest provocation. Jordan had never been forced to learn the dangers of an ungoverned temper the way Ian had. “Besides, she's not my mistress.”

“Lord X thinks so.”

“Lord X is an ass. I'll have to talk to the bastard—make him stop maligning my friend publicly.” His voice hardened. “I know exactly how to deal with his sort.”

“If you can find him.” Jordan hunted through the humidor. “No one knows his real identity.”

“Someone does. There's generally a confidante or a servant or a relative to point the way. And surely there've been rumors—”

“There are always rumors.” Jordan nudged a cigar aside, then picked up another. “Pollock was mentioned, though we both know he lacks the ballocks for it. Someone suggested Walter Scott. But no one really has a clue. Lord X keeps to himself.”

“I'm sure he does,” Ian remarked dryly. “Otherwise, one of his enemies might slice off his wagging tongue in a dark alley when he least expects it.”

Jordan's gaze met his. “Is that what you mean to do?”

Ian laughed. “Slice off his tongue? And what would I do with it afterward? I doubt there's much of a market for gossip tongue at the butcher's.” When Jordan's only response was a thin smile and a sudden absorption in his cigar, Ian stared at him. “My God, you were serious!”

Ever since Ian's return to England, the chasm between
Ian and his childhood friend had yawned wider and deeper with every day—and suddenly it angered him. “Did you really think I would cut out his tongue for printing gossip about me?”

BOOK: The Dangerous Lord
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