Lord Morgandale is as notorious as he is dashing, and he's determined no woman will tie him down.
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My Dearest Grandson Lucas,
No one can put matters more succinctly than my dear friend Lord Chesterfield. Read what he says here and remember it well. "The wisest man sometimes acts weakly, and the weakest man sometimes acts wisely."
Your loving Grandmother,
Was she late or simply not coming?
Lucas Randolph Morgandale, the ninth Earl of Morgandale, sat in his book room with his booted feet propped on the Louis XIV writing desk. He sipped brandy from a glass that had been warmed by his hand and listened to the rain gently beat against the windowpane. The foul weather, the indulgent amount of drink he'd consumed, and the fact that the woman hadn't arrived had him feeling restless, much to his irritation.
But it was more than the weather and the absent courtesan that had him in an ill humor. Morgan had watched both his cousins, Blake and Race, fall in love and marry during the London Season, and he had no intentions of falling prey to the same trap, despite their clever machinations over the past few weeks. In order to avoid any such confining pitfalls, he'd decided to quit the city early and spend the entire summer at his Valleydale estate in Dorset.
The first couple of weeks, it had been easy for him to fill his days with endless paperwork, hunting, and working with his thoroughbred horses. Later in the summer he had taken the time to ride over the vast lands of all his holdings, visiting with each of his tenants and thanking them for their hard work and dedication. In the evenings, he had enjoyed gaming at the local tavern or attending one of the many house parties that were scheduled at various estates around the area.
Still there was a void, an inexplicable feeling that something was missing in his life. Since a young lad, he had always enjoyed his stays at Valleydale, and he couldn't put his finger on what made this time different.
Perhaps he had simply grown tired of the slower pace of country life. But every time he thought about going back to London, he remembered the knot of frustration over Blake's and Race's scheming in trying to show him how wonderful married life could be. He had told them on more than one occasion that he had no desire to be tied down by the bonds of matrimony.
Gambling, drinking, riding, and all the other things he'd done had not completely distracted him from the fact that his two best friends, cousins at that, had married. And while both of them had done the proper thing and invited him to dinner often, it hadn't taken him long to realize that was half the problem. Every time he turned around, one of them was having him to dinner at their home with their wives and very conveniently happened to invite a string of uninspiring young ladies as well.
He was tired of being entangled in their schemes. Morgan huffed under his breath and took another sip of the brandy, letting it settle on his tongue a few seconds before swallowing. They were mollycoddling him as if he couldn't find feminine companionship for himself
He had to get away. He had to get away from them. London Society was fueled by gossip, and all the scandalmongers were laying bets he'd be married by the end of summer. Morgan had scoffed at that ridiculous notion as utterly preposterous. But it hadn't kept White's from making it an official wager, much to his consternation.
Morgan would rather pay for his women so there would be no strings attached. But finding a suitable bedmate was obviously more easily planned than carried out so far from the City.
It wasn't that there weren't plenty of women around willing to share their beds or to give him a few minutes of pleasure, but Morgan had realized a few months ago, when he was at Valleydale with his cousins, that a quick romp with an upstairs wench at the local tavern no longer held any appeal for him. And unlike his cousins, Blake and Race, Morgan had never cared for the idea of setting up a paid mistress in Town to be at his beck and call. Mistresses demanded time and attention that he wasn't willing to give.
So in desperation, he supposed, he had come up with a grand plan to hire a woman never destined to be a wife to come and spend a couple of days with him at his estate; a beautiful, willing woman he could sink his flesh into with no strings attached, only relief.
With the help of his solicitor, Buford Saint, Morgan had gone to great lengths to arrange for an exclusive and quite expensive lady of the evening to travel out via a private coach to see him. Saint had assured him she was highly sought after, and even Prinny himself had been known to enjoy her services from time to time.
Morgan had a letter from Saint saying she would arrive this afternoon, but afternoon had turned to evening, and evening had become late night, and there still was no sign of Miss Francine Goodbody. When she hadn't made it by nine o'clock, and it was clear she wouldn't be taking supper with him, Morgan had sent his two house servants to bed. Since then, he had been in his book room drinking too much, as was evidenced by the pounding in his temples and the roar in his ears.
He hated the feeling of not being quite in control of himself. That and the cursed headaches the next day were the reasons he'd fallen out of favor with drunkenness years ago. But tonight, for some damned reason, he had uncharacteristically given in to frustration and ended up feeling justified for overindulging in the fine brandy his cousin Blake had given him before he left London.
While continuing to grumble over his unfortunate plight, Morgan heard a noise. A sharp sense of warning shimmied up his back for a second, and he regained control of himself instantly. Did he hear the sound of a carriage coming up the tree-lined drive that led to his house? Had the much-anticipated Miss Francine Goodbody finally arrived? As quietly as possible, he lowered his feet to the floor and placed the brandy glass on the edge of the desk. He rose, walked to the opposite side of the room, parted the sheers that covered the window, and looked out into the darkness.
A dense fog had settled over the landscape, and rain fell in a steady stream. No one should be out in this downpour, but he was certain that he saw the lights from a coach coming up the lonely road that led to the front of his house.
She had made it at last.
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