A Gentleman and a Scoundrel (The Regency Gentlemen Series)

BOOK: A Gentleman and a Scoundrel (The Regency Gentlemen Series)
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A Gentleman
and a
Scoundrel

 

A Sparkling Regency Romance

 

By Norma Darcy

Copyright

 

 

A GENTLEMAN AND A SCOUNDREL

 

Copyright: Norma Darcy 2013

 

Published: 5
th
May 2013

 

Publisher: Sparkling Regency Romance

 

The right of Norma Darcy to be identified as author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the publisher.
You must not circulate this book in any format.

 

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. 
Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Find out more about the author and upcoming books online at www.myhistoricalromance.com.

Dedication

 

For Norma.

 

I miss you.

Chapter 1

 

“In short, I wish to ask you if you would do me the honour of accepting my hand in marriage.”

The gentleman who had spoken stood by the unlit fireplace in the drawing room of Lady Garbey’s Town house, addressing that noble lady’s niece, a pretty young woman of one and twenty who had suddenly become inordinately fascinated with the embroidered flowers on her riding habit.

“I go into the country for a while and I find I must put my affairs in order before I leave.” He continued when she had made no answer, clearing his throat and resuming in his habitual calm, steady manner, “I am sure that your father must have spoken to you regarding the matter. Indeed, the whole situation of your sister Sophie’s marriage has thrown my future into the air—and yours too. While we had not originally been intended for one another, you and I, the circumstances changed when she married. Thus I must look elsewhere for a wife. I still wish to honour my promise to your family and I have told your father of my intention to address you regarding this matter. I’m sorry if this conversation is abhorrent to you, but I must put my offer before you without further delay.”

The lady paused in the act of removing her bonnet, her hand frozen for a moment as she digested the import of his question. They had been out driving together in
Hyde Park and if ever a moment had been chosen for such a proposal, now was most definitely not the time. Her aunt could come in at any moment, she was expecting a morning call from a friend and she needed to go and change.

His words had been spoken calmly and with control, as if he were ordering a new wheel for his carriage rather than making an offer of marriage. This was hardly surprising given his reputation and how well she knew him. Of
course
such a question would be asked in a matter-of-fact way. Of
course
he would not allow a hint of emotion to colour such a moment! How else, pray, should he phrase the question that would define both his future and hers?

What had she been expecting? A declaration of his undying devotion? A passionate kiss on her hand as he dropped to the floor on his knees and swore eternally to be hers? She might have known he would have looked at her in the same way as he might if he had been telling his chef that the beef was overdone. There was to be no declaration of his regard, no solemn promise of fidelity and no fear of the gentleman clasping the young lady passionately to his breast. He simply was not made that way.

She thought, as she risked a quick look up at him, that he was sure of success. And who could blame him? He had everything a young woman could want—looks, wealth, position and a disposition so agreeable as to make him one of the most liked men in society. What woman in her right mind would refuse Jasper John Lansdowne, the Duke of Malvern?

He stood tall, his broad shoulders pushed back, one leg set slightly before the other and his hands clasped behind him, almost as if he were expecting a physical rebuff of some kind and needed to brace himself for the impact.

He was dressed for riding in a beautiful dark blue coat of impeccable cut, which fit snugly to his fine physique. A pair of buckskin breeches clung without crease to his legs and his top boots were polished to such a degree of perfection that his valet was frequently offered large sums of money to divulge the secret. A neckcloth arrangement of the valet’s own design completed the ensemble, and his dark brown hair was cut and arranged beautifully to accentuate his sculpted cheekbones and the planes of his handsome face.

He was, at two and thirty, as rich as a Nabob, and one of the most eligible gentlemen in the country. He was clever without being bookish, widely read and had travelled a great deal as a young man. His business dealings with a long-time friend, who had lived out in
India for many years, had greatly expanded the wealth of his estates and guaranteed his heir (whenever he begot himself one) a significant inheritance.

He was never in dun territory, never cheated at cards or at love and was always fair in everything he undertook. He was well liked by those in his circle and those beneath it; he was a fair and good employer, never out of sorts, never one to lose his temper and never argued with anyone if he could possibly help it. His manners were as impeccable as his coat and he never regarded himself in anyway superior to those less fortunate than himself. He was widely regarded as the most even tempered of men, an agreeable companion, an attentive escort to any social occasion and a stalwart friend. He had intelligence and amiability in equal measure and was handsome to boot. Equally at home in a society drawing room or at a mill, he had the ability to mix effortlessly with any society. He was a good judge of horseflesh and his stables were well stocked with fine hunters and fashionable carriages. He was pronounced a capital fellow by all who knew him. He was a very fortunate young man and  the catch of the season—as he had been the last ten years. He was known by all as
The Nonpareil
.

This paragon of masculinity stood stock still, his dark brown eyes fixed attentively upon the face of the only other occupant of the room.

Lady Louisa Munsford turned her slightly flushed face aside.

She had known this moment would come, indeed she had been expecting it any time these last six months. Ever since her sister, Sophie, had married Mr Trent, she had known that the alliance with the desirable Duke would fall to her lot instead. Their families had been plotting a union of this kind ever since Sophie had come into the world nearly thirty years ago.

Louisa was well aware he was a great catch. She was also very fond of him. Who could not be? There was nothing to dislike. He was a good, kind, amiable sort of man but…

Dull.

Oh yes, he was handsome enough and had quite the best figure of any man of her acquaintance but…

He liked to read about burial mounds and ancient tombs. They said that he was happier wandering around a ruined cathedral than he was making love to a woman. He was a good ten years older than she and very clever. He had the precise knack of making her feel like an ignorant child, as if he were the great learned professor and she, an ignorant halfwit who needed to be educated in the ways of the world.

He had known Louisa and her family for years. They were more like siblings than lovers. They had been much in each other’s company since she had graduated from the school room and they had developed a very easy friendship born of affectionate teasing and a mutual love of beautiful things. It was one thing to value Malvern as a friend, but that he would now seek her hand in marriage was a different kettle of fish altogether.

She was one and twenty but the desirable Duke did not seemed to notice that she had developed curves, or recognise the fact that she was a grown woman with desires beyond quoits and geography lessons. He treated her like his baby sister and it was a state of affairs that had started to irk her more and more over recent months. A recent trip they had taken to the British Museum had been the final straw. She had wanted to shake him when he asked if she was familiar with the Elgin Marbles.

She had never seen him show an ounce of feeling about anything, except his wretched artefacts. She had never seen him with one hair out of place. She had never seen him anything other than how his reputation portrayed him; calm, unflappable, amiable.

She wanted more. So much more.

She craved romance. She longed to see him excited, angry; anything that showed he felt emotion. She wanted to be clasped to his manly bosom and feel desired. She wanted him to cast aside his prim propriety and talk to her of poetry and love. She wanted him to be what she knew he could not be. She wanted the impossible. She wanted passion.

“Shall I ring for tea, your grace?” she asked, almost as if he had not spoken. “I am quite thirsty all of a sudden.”

He blinked at her. “Tea? Well, yes, thank you―” He broke off abruptly. “Forgive me, my lady, but did you not hear what I said?”

She smiled brightly and moved over to ring for her aunt’s butler. “Oh yes! I heard you perfectly well but a decision such as that needs to be considered very carefully and for that I need tea.”

“I see,” he murmured and almost imperceptibly squared his shoulders.

“Well and what a fine afternoon it has turned out to be, has it not? With all that rain we had this morning, who would have thought it would recover in quite such a charming manner? And Harriet, my most particular friend, you know, is arriving here within the half hour to talk of fashions―ah, Hoskins; may we have some tea, if you please?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“I hope he brings some of the plumb cake too. You really should try it, your grace; Mrs Henderson has quite perfected her recipe. Not that I mind her experimenting on me, you understand…Oh that brings me in mind of something I wished to say to you.”

“I do hope that there is
something
you wish to say to me,” murmured Malvern with a frown, evidently expecting some kind of an answer to his proposal.

“Yes,” she answered with a nervous little laugh. “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind escorting my aunt and me to the Royal Academy. There is a new exhibition that we are both keen to see.”

He bowed slightly. “But of course, my lady. My time is at your disposal.”

“Thank you. I should like to see it and no one is as knowledgeable about paintings as you are. I am sure my governess had not the skill to instruct me half as well as you do, for you are
quite
the tutor.”

His grace looked at her for a moment, unable to decide if she was taking him to task. Her eyes were certainly bright, but there was something about the fixed nature of her smile that led him to believe that the lady was upbraiding him. He eyed her speculatively and said, “I am glad that my discourse is of interest to you.”

“Of course, who could not be enchanted to learn of King Whatshisname and how many battles he won and peer at a fusty old brooch that looks exactly like fossilised dung?”

The duke’s lips twitched. “It was a very ancient brooch and would once have been very beautiful.”

“Indeed? You have quite a fascination with old things, do you not? I wonder that you do not move into the British Museum and spare yourself the expense of travelling there.”

He threw her a long suffering look. “As one of the exhibits, no doubt.”

“No,” she protested with a smile. “I was not going to say that.”

“Because I am so very ancient, am I not?”

“You put words in my mouth, your grace.”

The Duke looked amused. “Do I? Knowing you as I do, I think only that I saved you the trouble of saying it yourself.”

She blushed faintly. “I think you are in a very provoking mood.”

He gave her a knowing smile. “And I think that you are out of temper with me. Have I done something to offend you, my lady?”

“Offend me?” she asked as if greatly astonished. “What could you possibly have done to offend me?”

“I wish I knew. But you seem a little…on edge this morning.”

“Ah, Hoskins…thank you. Please set the tray over here. And plumb cake too. You are indispensible.”

Hoskins smiled and the wrinkles on his face folded together, almost hiding his merry blue eyes. “My lady,” he murmured and withdrew.

“It is very good cake, do try some, your grace. Have this large slice here. There you are. And do take your cup and be seated in the chair by the fire. And now we may talk of history. I was
so
grateful to you last time we met to tell me all about King Henry the Eighth. I had not known anything about him at all. My education, you know, is woefully inadequate. And five wives too! How busy he must have been.”

The duke’s lips twitched again as he sat down. Yes, he was
definitely
being taken to task. “Six wives,” he corrected softly.

“Oh
was
it six?” she asked, an expression of great surprise upon her face. “Well, I am
so
ignorant of these things. Such is the lot of the weaker sex.”

His grace smiled faintly but made no remark.

“And
then
there are the occasions when you offer me
just
the right amount of criticism as to my manners and how to go about in life. It is reassuring to know that you are there to correct me and put me straight on these things for I was
very
badly brought up, you know. My education was quite neglected, as I am sure must be obvious to such a clever man as you. It is a wonder that you choose to be in my company when I am such an embarrassment to you.”

BOOK: A Gentleman and a Scoundrel (The Regency Gentlemen Series)
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