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Libertyof 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.
Lord X, The Evening Gazette, December 5, 1820
Some 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 meta 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 skirtshoping 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...Dangerous Lord, The. Copyright © by Sabrina Jeffries. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.