A Little Bit Scandalous Excerpt
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Taken from the prologue…
Chanceworth Hall, Dorset countryside, 1869
Monroe Grisham, Sixth Duke of Chanceworth, paced the front parlor of his country estate. If he didn’t get back to London soon he would go mad from sheer boredom.
The soft butter-yellow of the room was annoyingly cheerful, and all the furniture felt small and dainty, making him keenly aware of his size. He wasn’t quite as tall as his brother, but Roe’s shoulders were broad enough to make him look as if he sat upon children’s furniture. So he found the largest piece to sit on, the settee. He’d sit in a different room, but damned if his mother hadn’t decorated them all roughly the same.
Being around his ward, Caroline Jellico, was also a problem as it did nothing but remind him of everything that went wrong with her brother, Christopher. It was impossible not to notice she had grown into a beautiful woman, and Roe found it distracting. Of course, he didn’t actually think of her that way. Not when she was his ward. Not when he was the one responsible for her brother’s death. Not when she was so young. But sometimes he wondered if he didn’t have to work a little too hard to remind himself just how young she was.
Tomorrow they would all leave for London so Caroline could be introduced to Society. Once she found an appropriate suitor and Roe married her off, things in his life would be much simpler, albeit lonelier. His late night poker games would no longer be with her, but rather his usual companions in London. She had to become the lady she was meant to be.
As if his thoughts of her had summoned her, Caroline tapped on the door and then stepped inside the room. She wore one of the many new gowns he’d purchased, with the help of his mother, for her introduction to Society, as he didn’t know a flounce from a ruffle. Tonight’s was a light green confection that made her look every bit as wide-eyed and fresh as her eighteen years.
Eighteen wasn’t so terribly young. It was more than old enough for a girl’s debut. More than old enough for a girl to be courted, wooed, and wed. He’d flirted with many a girl Caroline’s age. He had flirted with those other girls not so much because he desired them or because he was searching for a wife, but because it was what Society expected of him. And every now and then, he liked to do precisely that merely to keep them entertained.
So why did eighteen seem so much younger on her than it did on other young women? Perhaps because those other young women were from London. They were more cynical at eighteen than he could ever imagine Caroline being.
“Caroline, did you need something? Have you finished packing?” he asked.
She took a shuddering breath. “Yes. I have finished packing.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “I was thinking, that is, I wondered if perhaps I wouldn’t have to have a proper Season.”
Roe frowned and shook his head. “Do you not want to marry?”
“No, I do, very much actually,” she said, pink staining her cheeks.
He tried not to notice the rest of her features, but damned if the blush didn’t seem to highlight them. The soft bow of her lips, the small tilt of her nose, the luscious curve of her neck. What the devil was wrong with him? He cleared his throat. “You can’t very well expect to meet a proper husband if you do not allow me to introduce you into Society.”
She bit down on her lip and looked at him, her brown eyes seeming large and full of wonder. She was a pretty thing, beautiful in a way he never found women her age, though he’d noticed Caroline’s handsomeness often, too often to be considered a good guardian. “What if I have already found the perfect candidate?”
Roe leaned back. The chit was surprising, he’d give her that. How had he not known Caroline had a beau? Why hadn’t his mother mentioned she’d attracted the attention of one of the local swains? Perhaps the lad wasn’t up to snuff. “Well, who is this young man? Has he intentions to marry you?”
She shook her head slightly. “He does not know of my affections, but I believe I would make him an excellent wife.”
He felt an unsuspecting jab of jealousy and wanted to find the man and pound some sense into him. “Of course you would,” Roe said. That’s what a guardian should say, he supposed. She would make some man a good wife. She was smart, smarter than most women, he’d wager. And she was attractive, congenial, the sort of thing most men looked for in a wife. “I could speak to him on your behalf, if you’d like.” Christopher would want Caroline married to a good man, not simply a good match, but a man who would treat her the way she deserved to be treated.
She chuckled awkwardly, then crossed the room to him. “That might be difficult as it is you.” She sat next to him and gathered his hands in hers.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You, Monroe. I wish to marry you.” She brought his hand to her lips and pressed a sweet kiss to his flesh. “I would make you a good duchess. I know that my lineage isn’t as perfect as some, but I more than make up for that with my mind.” When he didn’t immediately respond, she continued. “I realize you probably do not have tender feelings for me, but you could in time. Or I shall love enough for the both of us.”
She loved him.
He swore. Damned if he wasn’t tempted. Convention said he should marry and produce an heir for his title. He’d not been inclined to do that anytime soon. Caroline was beautiful and seductive in the most innocent of ways, but he wasn’t thinking marriage, he was thinking of bedding her. Not the sort of thing he should be considering when he looked at her, his best friend’s sister. “Caroline, I cannot marry you. I am…we simply would not make a good match.”
She opened her mouth, then bit down on her lip. Silence. And then finally, “I see.” She exhaled slowly.
How had he never noticed that she fancied him? She’d never indicated as much during the time they’d spent together. He wanted to say more, to tell her that were he anyone else, she’d make an excellent wife. But he knew he was incapable of the kind of love a woman like Caroline needed, the kind of love she deserved. He wanted to tell her that she’d certainly find a man who’d adore her. She was a charming, intelligent, and beautiful woman. But he said nothing because he knew that nothing he could offer would matter. “I shall see you on the morrow.”
Her eyes brimmed with tears, but she set her jaw and nodded stiffly. “Yes, I’ll be ready.” She turned and left the room.
They went to London the following day, he, Caroline, and his mother. Caroline was introduced into Society and stayed for all of two weeks before declaring she was done and wished to return to the countryside. He didn’t fight her on the decision and allowed her to go because it was easier than continuing to watch other men flirt with her all around London.
What kind of man was he that he refused to marry Caroline himself, but didn’t want her marrying anyone else, either?
Copyright © 2013. Robyn DeHart. All Rights Reserved.