The Art of Ruining a Rake

BOOK: The Art of Ruining a Rake
10.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

He wants her…

Practiced rake Roman Alexander never meant to seduce his best friend's sister. He certainly never intends to do it again. The handsome scoundrel has never felt more compelled to be a better man. But the damage has been done, for his buttoned-up spinster refuses to marry a bounder like him—and maddeningly, she doesn't seem to
him. Nevertheless, he can't seem to forget her, or her passionate response to his kisses. How much danger could there be in one more try?

She wants revenge

Practical headmistress Lucy Lancester naively believes her charming rogue has moved on to his next conquest, leaving her free to cherish their one night together for the rest of her bluestocking days. Until the afternoon he arrives at her school intent on proving their one night together wasn't enough—and this time, the scandal can't be contained. Well, two can play at that. How hard can it be to ruin a rake?

Don’t miss the extended prologue found in the bonus short story,
A Game of Persuasion

A night she’ll never forget…

Miss Lucy Lancester has loved her brother’s best friend, Roman Alexander, for as long as she can remember. So devotedly, she’s vowed never to marry anyone else. But her beloved libertine is hardly aware of her existence, and not the least deserving of her affection. Deciding her cause is lost, she makes plans to open a girls’ school in Bath. There’s just one thing she needs to do before she confirms her spinsterhood forever: spend one blissful night in Roman’s arms. But her handsome rogue isn’t ready to have the tables turned. It will take more than a coquettish smile to turn his head. She must play a game…of persuasion.

The Naughty Girls

Book Four

For my brother Luke,

who inspired so many of Roman’s best qualities.

Don’t let that distract you, Mom.


January, 1806

Brixcombe-on-the-Bay, Devon

A DOOR SLAMMED above stairs. A piercing screech of frustration followed by a bloodcurdling wail penetrated the sleepless night. Lucy tugged her coverlet higher. While the blanket made her feel protected in the darkness, it did nothing to drown the ghastly sounds of her mother’s fit.

Her bedchamber door opened on silent hinges. A seam of candlelight fell across the plush carpet as her sister tiptoed into her room.

“Are you awake, dearest?” Delilah asked, sliding into bed beside Lucy. She pulled the coverlet over their heads, then settled her arm across Lucy’s waist. “You must be.”

Lucy turned to face her sister. As she snuggled closer, Delilah’s icy toes met Lucy’s warm ones at the bottom of the bed.

“You’re cold,” Lucy said accusingly, reaching for Delilah’s hands. She rubbed warmth into Delilah’s fingers, the way she’d done since they were children in the nursery. “You ought to have stayed in your own bed.”

Above them, glass shattered. “I
you!” Mother shouted. Another crash shook the empty halls. “I want you to

Lucy tightened her grip on her sister’s hands.
Please, please don’t say such things about him,
she silently begged her mother.
He’s our father.

The cacophony stopped without warning, as if Mother had heeded Lucy’s plea. Only the sounds of Lucy and Delilah’s rapid breathing cut the stillness.

Lucy’s tension began to release.

“They told me!” Mother shrieked suddenly, causing both sisters to startle. “I didn’t listen! I never listen! How

Delilah swallowed audibly. In a loud whisper, she asked Lucy, “Who do you think ‘they’ are?”

Lucy rubbed her sister’s hands again. She didn’t want to answer. Mother spoke to few people apart from the demons who lurked in her mind.

“Lucy?” Delilah prodded. In the darkness, she looked far older than her fifteen years.

Lucy reminded herself that Delilah, her foundation, was three years her junior, not the other way around. Her sister looked to her to give reason to their mother’s madness, and to provide stability in a home where none could be found.

“Yes?” Lucy answered, kissing her sister’s knuckles.

Delilah shifted closer, her cotton night rail ethereal in the tent of the coverlet. “I wish Ashlin were at home.” But Ashlin Lancester, heir to their father’s estate, was miles away at university.

“Better Father,” Lucy said, unable to keep her disgust hidden, even from Delilah. Though Mother railed as if he could hear her, Father was away in London, as he’d been for most of Lucy’s life.

“You shouldn’t say such things,” Delilah chided her. “Surely it
best for him to be gone, when Mother is in one of her—”

“I want him dead!”
Mother screeched, oblivious to the servants who must be cowering, or her own two children huddled just one floor below.

The enraged pounding of Mother’s fists against her bedchamber door thumped through the ceiling, reverberating through Lucy’s bedchamber and her heart.

“That scurrilous blackguard!” Mother shouted, her voice clear though her mind wasn’t. “How
he leave me here. How dare he go to

Lucy swallowed thickly. If only her dear papa hadn’t been so quick to abandon his unsteady wife. If only her older brother wasn’t at school, unaware of the rapid progression of their mother’s illness.

“What should we do?” Delilah asked as a loud
hit the floorboards above them. Wracking sobs followed, as though Mother had crumpled into an incoherent heap of sorrow against the carpet.

Lucy clutched her sister’s hand tighter. In truth, she had no notion of the course required to restore her mother’s sanity, a fact that frightened her beyond measure, for she despaired of one day meeting the same, terrifying fate.

A hot tear threatened to leak. Lucy squeezed her eyes shut, willing herself to calm. Surely there were doctors who could help. Someone, somewhere must know what to do.

If only Ashlin
here. She’d written to her brother at Cambridge, as he’d asked her to do after their mother’s last violent episode. Perhaps this time, a solution might be found. Nevertheless, it would take days for Lucy’s letter to reach her brother, and then he must travel home.

Meanwhile, their father cavorted in London with his mistresses—at the untried age of sixteen, she had become aware of her father’s reputation for dalliance. She craved tales from Town, most especially descriptions of the dashing young marquis whose family owned the neighboring estate, and pored over the gossip columns daily in the hopes of learning some tidbit about her handsome rogue.

But reading the news from Town presented a risk she’d come to dread. For as she impatiently skimmed the papers for talk of Roman Alexander, Lord Montborne, she was as like to turn up an accounting of her father’s sordid assignations as she was one of Roman’s flirtatious interludes. Reading such accounts made her ill.

Lucy sucked in a breath as another vibration indicated movement on the floor above. If only Mother didn’t know of his infidelities. She always discovered a way to have the scandal sheets delivered to her hand, despite their household’s best efforts to keep them away. A poor report from London meant days of despondency, followed by rage, followed by madness.

“You tiny-cocked dissolute!” The floorboard squeaked as Mother rose to her feet. A door banged open, and heavy footfalls sounded above. The house seemed to rattle as Mother charged down the hallway. “Skirt-chaser! Lecher! I’ll find you… you philandering

Lucy bit her lip. She hugged Delilah close.

BOOK: The Art of Ruining a Rake
10.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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