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Just Wicked Enough
Michael Tremayne, the fourth Marquess of Falconridge, had always maintained, both publicly and privately, that Jane Austen had the wrong of it. The accepted universal truth to which she so blithely referred would have been more accurate had she written, "a single American heiress in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a titled husband."
Studying his reflection in the cheval glass, Michael was none too pleased with what greeted him, but only because he tended to delve below the surface. With determination, he forced himself to study nothing more than the visible trimmings. With those he could find no fault.
He'd purchased his formal clothing—silver waistcoat, white starched shirt, silver cravat, black silk trousers, and black patent-leather shoes—expressly for this important occasion. His thick black hair had been tamed, brushed back from his face, but it was only a matter of time before the rebellious wavy curls regained their freedom and became a nuisance. He knew he should probably go with the shorter style men were wearing these days, but he didn't fancy conformity. The unruly locks served notice he was his own man—even if that notice was about to be discarded in favor of greater gain.
Earlier, he'd carefully applied a straight-edged razor to his sturdy jaw, taking extra care in order to avoid any chance of a nick. It wouldn't do for any evidence to point toward unsteady hands or a hint that he was the least bit uneasy with his role in the forthcoming proceedings. Nor did he want it apparent he could no longer afford the luxury of avalet.
He'd purchased special cologne—a musky blend of lilac, lime, and citrus—and applied it liberally, almost suffocatingly so. He preferred the earthy smells associated with a man after galloping across the rolling hills, but for his plans this afternoon to succeed required all manner of civilization. He wanted to leave no doubt he was the product of sound breeding and extensive education in all matters of importance.
He slipped his black, double-breasted tailcoat—again, newly purchased—onto his wide shoulders and settled it into place, not bothering to button it as the present style was to leave it undone. It had been some time since he'd been properly attired in the latest fashion, and it had taken considerable cajoling on his part to get his preferred tailor to agree to extend him credit yet one more time when he already owed the man a substantial sum. But Michael had promised a tempting additional payment for the man's generosity and understanding.
He studied himself more critically, quite pleased with the package. Make it fancy enough to mesmerize, so no one was tempted to peel back the wrapper and peer inside. Yes, even the most unflattering of souls could be hidden in plain view, and a man who eluded confidence was a man assured of success. What better way to demonstrate confidence than with perfectly fitted clothing and exceptional grooming. He'd gone to great pains to prepare for this moment, to ensure he acquired what he so desperately needed: an American heiress in possession of a good fortune.
With any luck Michael would be debt-free before the end of the month.
No, not luck. Cunning, cleverness, and the willingness to do whatever was necessary . . . no matter how difficult, no matter how tightly his gut clenched with the implications of what the future would hold.
A sharp rap sounded on the door.
"The last of the gentlemen has arrived, my lord," his butler announced. Michael had managed to retain his butler, his housekeeper, his cook, and one footman. His outside staff consisted of the gardener, coachman, and groom. They were all necessary to keep up appearances, but the number was a far cry from the twenty-four servants who had once seen to the needs of this household and its family.
"Very good, Bexhall. Inform Farnsworth I'll be down shortly." Farnsworth, his portly solicitor, would oversee the proceedings.
"Yes, my lord."
As the footsteps faded, Michael bowed his head and released a deep breath, gathering the fortitude he would need in order to face what he had put into motion. He'd have much preferred taking the way of a coward and staying in his bedchamber until the proceedings were concluded, but he thought it important to be present when the gentlemen heard the terms of the exclusive auction to which they'd been invited.
It was Michael's resounding conviction regarding what American heiresses wanted that had caused him to face the reality of his present circumstance and dispense with the flirtations and falsehoods required to snare one. He'd accepted the truth of the matter and stopped dancing around it: he was selling, they were buying. Money talked. It was ridiculous to pretend otherwise.
Besides, courtship required a great deal of effort and was fraught with the possibility of failure. Even if he met success with his wooing, he would eventually have to meet with the heiress's father, obtain his permission to marry his daughter, and then spend days, possibly weeks, hammering out the tedious details of the settlement, its final outcome questionable from the outset. He had no assurances when he began his courtship endeavor—again, a long and tedious undertaking—that his efforts would be well worth his while. Quite simply put, he found the entire practice of winning a lady over to be a great deal of bother, with no guaranteed satisfactory outcome. It was a gamble. Any venture involving the fairer sex was always a gamble.
Case in point: his trusted friend, the Duke of Hawkhurst, had expended a great deal of effort into winning the affections of the wealthy American heiress Jenny Rose only to find himself married to her chaperone, after creating a scandal that had nearly ruined them both. And the Earl of Ravensley had been reduced to betraying his long-time friend and his sister in order to protect his interests in Jenny Rose—his betrayal adding fuel to the scandal. Michael had no idea where the man was now. Just Wicked Enough
. Copyright © by Lorraine Heath. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.