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New Year's Day 1823
After the Cavendish-Mayhews' New Year's Eve ball, Adrian Andrew Hawsley, sixth Viscount Dere, swore off women, He had had enough-figuratively and literally.
Slowing his blacks for a turn, Adrian drew in the chill air, then exhaled; his breath misted instantly.
"There 'tis." From his perch behind him, his tiger, Bolt, a grizzled veteran, pointed to a sign.
Adrian nodded. Although it was past midday, the grip of the early morning freeze had yet to slacken; he kept his horses to a wary trot as he set the curricle down the road to the southwest.
Despite the weather, he was determined to press on. With every mile that passed he felt better, as if a vise locked about his lungs for so long he'd forgotten it was there were finally easing open, as if a weight he'd forgotten he was carrying on his shoulders were lifting away.
By the end of last night's ball, he'd been fed up--overwhelmingly bored and not a little disgusted. If a crown existed for the premier lover in the ton, he could probably legitimately claim it--indeed, it would very likely be offered to him on a purple silk pillow. Discretion, absolute and inviolate, might have been his watchword for years; despite that, the ton had learned enough to form its own opinion of his prowess, his expertise. Much of the gossip was true, which left him with little doubt as to the sources of the information. As a result, a competition had developed with ladies vying to see who next could command his highly regarded attentions. Over the past few years, he had never lacked for invitations to ladies' beds.
Bad enough. The Cavendish-Mayhews' ball had beenworse.
Ladies of amorous intent had surrounded him until he'd felt hunted. He did not appreciate the inversion of roles--far as he was concerned, he was the hunter, theyshould lie the prey These days that wasn't how it was. Two sorts of women lay in wait to ambush him-most were married ladies whose only interest was in trying out his paces so that they could say they, too, had I partaken of the latest acclaimed experience. Such mesdames jostled check by jowl with unmarried ladies plotting his matrimonial downfall, their calculating eyes fixed on his title and burgeoning wealth rather than on his more personal talents.
He didn't know which he disliked more. He'd felt like a fox cornered by slavering hounds.
Enough. Morethan enough. It was time to take charge of his life and steer it ... into deeper waters.
He uttered a short laugh. The superficiality of his life did indeed grate. He was thirty today--it was his birthday. What had he thus far accomplished in his life? Nothing. Where was his life headed? He didn't know, but he was determined to set his wheels on a different road.
At present his curricle's wheels were rolling down the road to Exeter. He'd left the Cavendish-Mayhews' mansion outside Glastonbury early that morning while all the bejeweled ladies were still snug in their beds. None had shared his, which fact had caused no little confusion and, even some annoyance. He was there, wasn't he? They expected him to perform, to live up to his, scandalous reputation, all for their amusement. The ton, as he well knew, could be a demanding world. They could demand all they liked-he was no longer interested in playing their games.
Around him the countryside lay silent, a dappled world of dark browns and white, the bare branches of trees and the patches of cold earth contrasting against the light covering of snow. There was more on the way but he knew whither he was headed, knew the road like the back of his hand.
He was going home.
He hadn't been back to Bellevere since burying his father nearly seven years before. His childhood home was like a ghost to him now, all the warm, happy memories overlaid by the acrimony and dissension of his father's last years. His wildness was not something his father had understood, nor been able to counter; his sire's vain attempts at forcing his only son to toe his line had met with resistance and led to estrangement. Now he could admit that he regretted that break as bitterly as he'd at one time resented his father's wish to tame him. To change him. His father had failed, but so, too, had he. Bellevere had represented that failure; he'd closed the house, turned his back on it, and left it--his principal estate and ancestral home-to decay.
It was time to go back. Time to rebuild. To pick up the shattered pieces of that earlier life and start again.
And see what he could make of it this time.
He'd accepted the Cavendish-Mayhews' invitation out of all those sent him for the simple reason that their house had been a perfect staging post for his drive down to Dartmoor. From the first, he'd intended heading west when he, -left; he hadn't, however, expected to leave today--the day after the ball, the first day of the year.
Then again, what better day to make a fresh start, with a whole new year stretching ahead of him? And it was his birthday as well--the first day of his fourth decade, he could only hope it would prove more fulfilling than the last. His mind full of memories, of prospects and plans, he drove on.
Exeter was an hour behind them, the long climb up to the moor at their backs, when Bolt leaned close to shout over the whipping wind, "Don't like the look of that up ahead."
His gaze fixed between his leader's ears, Adrian hadn't been watching. Now he lifted his gaze, and swore beneath his breath.Secrets of a Perfect Night. Copyright © by Stephanie Laurens. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.