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For the Love of a Pirate
By Edith Layton
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Edith Layton
All right reserved.
"They say I have everything, but they're wrong," the gentleman said. "There's one thing I lack. Your hand, in marriage. Will you marry me, Miss Winchester?"
The lady nodded. "I will, Lord Wylde."
"You have made me the happiest of men," he said.
They were in the lady's salon, alone for the first time since they'd met, because they'd been allowed this private moment together.
He bent to her and placed a light kiss on her lips. Then he straightened and smiled. "Well, then. Shall we place the notice in the papers?"
"I believe my papa has already prepared one," she said. "In fact, I believe he has already sent it to the papers. It should appear this very day. I hope you don't mind."
"Why should I?" he asked. "I asked him for your hand, and he agreed. I assumed that you would as well."
She smiled. She was a passably attractive young woman, too angular for beauty, but thin enough for fashion, and sufficiently pale and blond for current tastes. "Father told me about your offer, of course, and after he had you investigated, he broached the matter to me."
"Investigated?" Constantine asked, raising one eyebrow.
She shrugged. "There is talk about everyone in the ton, and he's a thorough man. When he was satisfied, he told me of your proposal. When I said I'd accept, he and Mama said they wouldtake care of the business of being wed. October, you said?"
"So I did. But perhaps you think that's too soon? It is April now, after all."
"My thoughts exactly," she said. "Marrying in such haste might give rise to gossip. Shall we say January, instead?"
"If it pleases you. I think we will be quite happy together," he added, raising her hand to his lips. "Shall I see you at the Blaynes' ball tomorrow night? I should have asked you as my guest, but had you not accepted my offer it would have been, you'll grant, uncomfortable."
"Did you really think I would not accept?" she asked.
They both laughed.
There was little chance she, or any woman, would have refused him, and he knew it. Constantine Wylde, Lord Wylde, was an attractive man, long limbed and fit. He had dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, and winged eyebrows that gave his handsome face a slightly wicked cast. But that was an illusion; he was a gentleman in name and behavior. He also had a title, and a considerable fortune. His reputation, if not spotless, was at least less spotty than many other young gentlemen of similar breeding. He was intelligent, and knew how to be charming. If he'd any fault, his friends agreed, it was that he was too moderate, sobersided. But even they agreed that was because of his excellent upbringing by his uncle, a vicar and justice of the peace, and his very correct wife.
Still, he did everything a young gentleman about London was supposed to do: he fenced; he rode handsome Thoroughbred horses and, as a member of the four-in-hand club, drove a fine light high curricle. He belonged to the right clubs and knew the right people, and had political ambitions with the right party.
He also knew the best wrong things to do, and did them well. He occasionally gambled, but never too high. If he kept any light ladies, he kept their names as secret as his doings with them. In short, he was a prize, a catch he knew his new fiancée could be proud of landing.
Catching had been no part of his proposal though. He'd studied the available crop of unwed ladies, and after much thought decided upon Miss Charlotte Winchester, daughter of a baron, wealthy in her own right, educated and nicely behaved.
"Until tomorrow night, then," she said comfortably.
He bowed, left her, and went to celebrate.
The sun was sinking low in the west, so he went to his favorite club, and gave the news to some of his friends.
"Well done," one of them said.
"Going to be shackled soon, are you? How many of us does that leave single?" another asked.
They talked about that a while, and then repaired to a nearby inn to toast him in louder fashion. They soon found the place too dull, and took their newly engaged friend to a gambling den. That palled, and they dragged him to a bawdy house, where all they did was sing bawdy songs.
"We'd do more," one of his friends told a disappointed young woman who was sitting on his knee. "But that wouldn't be polite. That is, knowing the guest of honor wouldn't takes some of the fun from it. Connie . . . Con here is very laced straight, y'see." He frowned. "Straitlaced, I mean."
"Lord Wyatt?" she asked with a laugh. "No, he's just a very sober fellow, and so say all."
Constantine raised an eyebrow, and then his glass to her. When the clock struck ten, he left with a few friends who took him to another festivity, because the nightlife of London was just starting, and he'd a sudden longing to be less sober.
He celebrated the next night, and on the next, he began to believe that the celebrations were becoming a bit forced. He had many friends, and even more acquaintances, so it was hard to refuse anyone willing to propose a toast to his future. Being polite, he drank with them; being politic, he decided to stay away from his friends for a few days until the novelty of his engagement wore off. Still, he had obligations.
It was almost dawn on the third night after his announcement when Constantine began to weave his way home again. He was a little unsteady on his feet. But no one accosted him. The villains in the shadows knew that sometimes a young blade like him, dressed to the nines and looking like easy prey, was just looking for . . .
Excerpted from For the Love of a Pirate by Edith Layton Copyright © 2006 by Edith Layton. Excerpted by permission.
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