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December 5, 1819
Keltyburn, The Trossachs
"Will there be anything else, sir?"
An artful arrangement of sleek, nubile, naked female limbs sprang to Richard Cynster′s mind. The innkeeper had finished clearing the remnants of his dinner--the feminine limbs would satisfy that appetite still unappeased. But ...
Richard shook his head. Not that he feared shocking his studiously correct gentleman′s gentleman, Worboys, standing poker-straight at his elbow. Having been in his employ for eight years, Worboys was past being shocked. He was, however, no magician, and Richard was of the firm opinion that it would take magical powers to find a satisfying armful in Keltybum.
They′d arrived in the hamlet as the last light left the leaden sky; night had fallen swiftly, a black shroud. The thick mist that had lowered over the mountains, hanging heavy across their path, obscuring the narrow, winding road leading up Keltyhead to their destination, had made passing the night in the dubious comfort of the Keltyburn Arms an attractive proposition.
Besides, he had a wish to have his first sight of his mother′s last home in daylight, and before he left Keltybum, there was one thing he wished to do.
Richard stirred. "I′ll be retiring shortly. Go to bed--I won′t need you further tonight." Worboys hesitated; Richard knew he was thinking of who would brush and hang his coat, who would take care of his boots. He sighed. "Go to bed, Worboys."
Worboys stiffened. "Very well, sir - but I do wish we′d pressed on to McEnery House. There, at least, I could have trusted the bootboys."
"Just be thankful we′re here," Richard advised, "and not run off the road or stuck in a drift halfway up that damned mountain."
Worboys sniffed eloquently. His clear intimation was that being stuck in a snowdrift in weather cold enough to freeze the proverbial appendages off brass monkeys was preferable to bad blacking. But he obediently took his rotund self off, rolling away into the shadowy depths of the inn.
His lips twitching into a slight smile, Richard stretched his long legs to the fire roaring in the grate. Whatever the state of the inn′s blacking, the landlord hadn′t stinted in making them comfortable. Richard had seen no other guests, but in such a quiet backwater, that was unsurprising.
The flames flared; Richard fixed his gaze on them--and wondered, not for die first time, whether this expedition to the Highlands, precipitated by boredom and a very specific fear, hadn′t been a trifle rash. But London′s entertainments had grown stale; the perfumed bodies so readily--too readily--offered him no longer held any allure. While desire and lust were still there, he′d become finicky, choosy, even more so than he′d already been. He wanted more from a woman than her body and a few moments of earthly bliss.
He frowned and resettled his shoulders--and redirected his thoughts. It was a letter that had brought him here, one from the executor of his long-dead mother′s husband, Seamus McEnery, who had recently departed this earth. The uninformative legal missive had summoned him to the reading of the will, to be held the day after tomorrow at McEnery House. If he wished to claim a bequest his mother had made to him, and which Seamus had apparently withheld for nearly thirty years, he had to attend in person.
From what little he′d learned of his late mother′s husband, that sounded like Seamus McEnery. The man had been a hothead, brash and vigorous, a hard, determined, wily despot. Which was almost certainly why he′d been born. His mother had not enjoyed being married to such a man; his father, Sebastian Cynster, 5th Duke of St. Ives, sent to McEnery House to douse Seamus′s political fire, had taken pity on her and given her what joy he could.
Which had resulted in Richard. The story was so old thirty years old, to be precise - he no longer felt anything over it, bar a distant regret. For the mother he′d never known. She′d died of fever bare months after his birth; Seamus had sent him post-haste to the Cynsters, the most merciful thing he could have done. They′d claimed him and reared him as one of their own, which, in all ways that mattered, he was. Cynsters bred true, especially the males. He was a Cynster through and through.
And that was the other reason he′d left London. The only important social event he was missing was his cousin Vane′s belated wedding breakfast, an occasion he′d viewed with misgiving. He wasn′t blind - he′d seen the gleam steadily glowing in the eyes of the older Cynster ladies. Like Helena, the Dowager, his much-loved step-mother, not to mention his fleet of aunts. If he′d attended Vane and Patience′s celebration, they′d have set their sights on him. He wasn′t yet bored enough, restless enough, to offer himself up, fodder for their matrimonial machinations. Not yet.
He knew himself well, perhaps too well. He wasn′t an impulsive man. He liked his life well ordered, predictable - he liked to be in control. He′d seen war in his time but he was a man of peace. Of passion. Of home and hearth.
The phrase raised images in his mind - of Vane and his new bride, of his own half-brother, Devil, and his duchess, Honoria, and their son. Richard shifted and settled, conscious, too conscious, of what his brother and cousin now had. What he himself wanted. Yearned for. He was, after all, a Cynster; he was starting to suspect such plaguey thoughts were ingrained, an inherited susceptibility. They got under a man′s skin and made him ... edgy. Dissatisfied.
A board creaked; Richard lifted his gaze, looking through the archway into the hall beyond. A woman emerged from the shadows. Wrapped in a drab cloak, she met his gaze directly, an older woman, her face heavily lined. She measured him swiftly; her gaze turned frosty. Richard suppressed a grin. Spine stiff, her pace unfaltering, the woman turned and climbed the stairs. Scandal's Bride
. Copyright © by Stephanie Laurens. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.