The Rake's Daughter

The Rake's Daughter

by Anne Gracie
The Rake's Daughter

The Rake's Daughter

by Anne Gracie

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Overview

An earl is forced to play matchmaker for the daughters of a rake in a smart and witty new Regency romance from the national bestselling author of The Scoundrel’s Daughter.

Recently returned to England, Leo, the new Earl of Salcott, discovers he's been thrust into the role of guardian to an heiress, the daughter of a notorious rake. Even worse, his wealthy ward has brought her half-sister, the beautiful but penniless Isobel, with her. Leo must find Clarissa a suitable husband, but her illegitimate half sister, Izzy, is quite another matter. Her lowly birth makes her quite unacceptable in London’s aristocratic circles.

However, the girls are devoted to each other and despite the risk of scandal if Izzy’s parentage is discovered, they refuse to be separated. To Leo’s frustration, nothing will convince them otherwise. Even worse, sparks fly every time Leo and Izzy interact.

Called away to his country estate, Leo instructs the young ladies to stay quietly at home. But when he returns, he's infuriated to discover that Izzy and Clarissa have launched themselves into society — with tremendous success! There's no going back. Now Leo must enter society to protect Clarissa from fortune hunters, and try not to be driven mad by the sharp-witted, rebellious, and intoxicating Izzy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593200575
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/26/2022
Series: The Brides of Bellaire Gardens , #2
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 2,919
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Anne Gracie is the award-winning author of the Marriage of Convenience, Chance Sisters, and Brides of Bellaire Gardens romance series. She started her first novel while backpacking solo around the world, writing by hand in notebooks. Since then, her books have been translated into more than sixteen languages, and include Japanese manga editions. As well as writing, Anne promotes adult literacy, flings balls for her dog, enjoys her tangled garden, and keeps bees.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

 

London, 1818

 

I'm sorry, my lord, it may well be a mistake, but it's definitely legal."

 

"It's definitely a mistake, and I don't want any part of it," Leo, Lord Salcott, said firmly.

 

The lawyer, Melkin, tightened his lips. "I'm afraid you have no choice, my lord. Sir Bartleby Studley's will quite clearly stipulates that his daughter Clarissa is to be taken under the guardianship of Josiah Leonard Thorne, sixth Earl of Salcott—which is you."

 

"I understand that," Leo said impatiently. "But he meant my father, not me. My father was also named Josiah Leonard Thorne. It's a family tradition—the firstborn son of each generation is given the same name, but Papa was known as Josiah while I am called Leo. Presumably if I choose to follow the tradition, my first son will be called Joe by his school friends, and his son will be Leo."

 

"Indeed, my lord. Nevertheless, you are the sixth Earl of Salcott," Melkin said gently. "And thus the will stands."

 

"It's perfectly clear to me that he intended my father to be the girl's guardian. He simply made a mistake, that's all. He was probably drunk at the time and forgot that Papa was the fifth earl, not the sixth."

 

"Possibly so, but your father predeceased him by several months, and it cannot be denied that all the legalities have been met." The elderly lawyer tapped the document with a bony, ink-stained finger. "Miss Clarissa Studley is, for better or worse, your responsibility until she is married. You could, of course, contest the will in the courts, but that would take time and money, and in the meantime you would still be responsible for the young ladies." He gave Leo a shrewd look, then added, "My advice is just to accept it."

 

Leo blinked. "'Ladies'? What do you mean 'ladies'? I thought there was only one daughter."

 

"Yes . . . and no." The lawyer cleared his throat. "Miss Clarissa Studley refuses to be parted from her, er, relative, and thus your duties will effectively extend to both girls."

 

"What the devil is an er-relative? Some kind of companion, I presume."

 

Melkin pursed his lips. "It's rather irregular, my lord, but the second girl is Sir Bartleby's natural daughter."

 

"You mean I'm also to be landed with one of his bastards? As well as his legitimate daughter? Damn the old lecher."

 

The lawyer winced slightly at Leo's plainspokenness and sifted through the documents before him. "I wondered whether it might have been some private agreement, my lord," he murmured. "Between your father and Sir Bartleby."

 

A private agreement? That'd be right. He sighed. His father had made all kinds of arrangements he'd never told Leo about. Untangling his spendthrift parent's tangled affairs had taken Leo years. He thought he'd finally broken clear of them. Apparently not.

 

Though acting as guardian for two young women was a new one to him. Lord, how his friends would laugh.

 

He'd never had much in common with his father, and he'd disliked most of his father's friends, especially Sir Bartleby Studley. How spoiled would these girls be?

 

"I suppose if Studley has provided for the girl—"

 

"No provision my lord. Not so much as a penny."

 

"What?" Leo was shocked. "Then what the devil was he playing at, to sire a child and make no provision for her support? He wasn't a poor man."

 

"I cannot speculate, my lord. It is most irregular." He pursed his lips and added apologetically, "The cousin who inherited Studley Park Manor allowed the girls to see out their mourning year in their childhood home, but he is about to get married and has served them notice to vacate the house."

 

"And?" Leo prompted. He disliked the look in the man's eye.

 

"And thus Miss Clarissa Studley and her, er, relative will be coming to London. To you."

 

"To me?"

 

The lawyer shrugged. "They have nowhere else to go."

 

Leo swore under his breath. It was one thing to oversee financial arrangements for a pair of young women, quite another to have them landing—in person!—on his doorstep.

 

He had a good mind to walk out and catch the next boat back to the continent. But he was nothing if not a realist. He'd dealt with every other problem his father had left him with, and he could deal with this.

 

He perused the documents in front of him. "Very well then, surely we can find the funds to pension the er-relative off. Studley should have done that in the first place." Leaving the girl without means of support was an utter disgrace.

 

Melkin nodded. "That would seem the best solution, my lord, only where would the money come from?"

 

"How is she currently supported?"

 

"By Miss Clarissa Studley, my lord. She intends to share her own fortune with her-"

 

Leo frowned. "Can she do that?"

 

"No. Miss Studley's inheritance doesn't come to her until she is married, after which it will be in the control of her husband, so there's no danger there. In the meantime, the trust that her maternal grandfather set up pays for whatever she needs, including an allowance for pin money. It's a very generous allowance, and she shares it equally with her half sister. And since Sir Bartleby left nothing to either girl . . ." He spread his fingers in a helpless gesture.

 

Leo's own fingers curled into fists. "So in effect Miss Studley is supporting her father's natural daughter as her father did not?"

 

He could barely believe it. A disgrace for a young girl—both young girls—to be put in such a position. The sooner Leo made arrangements for the half sister, and freed Miss Studley of the burden of her support, the better.

 

Melkin produced a sealed letter. "Sir Bartleby left this private letter for you in which, I presume, he explains."

 

Leo broke open the seal and read the letter. It was dated shortly before Studley's death.

 

Salcott, apologies for leaving my bastard brat to your offices, but I have been unable to pry her loose from my daughter. The witch has her claws in deep. Isobel has shown every sign of being as immoral and manipulative as her whore of a mother. Perhaps in London she will finally fulfill her aim of becoming a courtesan. Even as a young girl, she was attempting to work her wiles on my guests.

 

I trust you will find more success than I in freeing my daughter from her unholy influence.

 

Yours etc.

 

Studley

 

Leo read the letter again. It left a nasty taste in his mouth. For a man to talk so about his own daughter, illegitimate or not. Still, she must have done something to provoke such vitriol. And a deathbed request was not something to take lightly.

 

But Studley's cheek was unbelievable! He should have dealt with his own dirty blasted washing, not palmed it off on another man, let alone a man whom—assuming he'd intended the task for Leo's father—he hadn't seen in a decade or more. Leo's father had been bedridden for the last ten years of his life.

 

But now things began to make more sense. If the bastard daughter had immoral tendencies and was planning to set up as a courtesan—and if the man knew she was battening on her sister—Leo could understand why Studley might be reluctant to settle money on her. Though it was still wrong.

 

He crumpled the letter in his fist. Immoral and manipulative, was she? As it happened, he was well acquainted with the designing kind of female, and dammit, it would definitely take money to get rid of her.

 

And Studley had left Leo with no option but to pay her out of his own pocket.

 

He hoped the man was roasting in hell.

 

He sat back, eyeing the documents broodingly. "So, two girls, one legitimate and with a fortune, one without name or means. Regardless of any moral failings she may have, the illegitimate girl nevertheless has a right to some support. Studley raised her in his own home along with his legitimate daughter, so it's poor form to simply toss her out in the cold with nothing. No wonder she depends on her half sister for support."

 

Melkin nodded. "Quite so, my lord."

 

"Now, what the devil am I supposed to do with Miss Studley?" It was a rhetorical question, spoken half under his breath, but the lawyer thought he was asking for advice.

 

He beamed at Leo. "Introduce her to society, my lord. Get her married and off your hands."

 

Leo stared at the man, appalled. "Introduce her to society? You mean take her to balls, routs, the opera? Almack's?" He couldn't think of anything worse. He'd fled to the continent to escape all that society fuss and bother.

 

"Exactly, my lord. You will, of course, need a suitable female not only to chaperone her, but to sponsor her in society."

 

Curse it. He didn't know any suitable females. Nor any unsuitable ones—not in England, at any rate. "You're not suggesting I get the er-relative to be the chaperone, are you?"

 

Melkin looked shocked. "Oh, no, no, no, my lord! Quite unthinkable. That girl cannot, of course, have anything to do with polite society."

 

Leo pondered the problem. The illegitimate girl would be no problem—he'd pay her off and make it clear she was not to batten on her half sister any longer. Whatever she did after that wouldn't bother him.

 

But the other one . . . he was damned if he'd squire her to ton parties and balls. He'd entered that circus once and had no intention of doing it again. No, Miss Studley's social life was a task for a woman.

 

"I suppose I'll have to hire someone." Yet another expense he'd have to cover.

 

The lawyer kept a prudent silence. He tidied the documents, tucked them into a folder and said diffidently, "I believe the girls will be arriving in London quite soon, my lord."

 

Leo, who had been lost in thought, glanced up sharply. "What? Already?"

 

"A year has passed since Sir Bartleby's demise, my lord. Had you not been absent from England for the last year, it would not be such a surprise to you. "

 

"I was traveling," Leo reminded him. The faint reproach in the lawyer's voice was irritating. Dammit, Leo had been entitled to his time away. During the last decade or so his schoolfellows had traveled, had adventures; some had joined the army, others ventured to exotic foreign countries. Leo had barely left the family estate.

 

His father's apoplexy twelve years before had forced him, then aged sixteen and trying to decide between a commission in the army or university, to abandon all his plans and take on the responsibility for his father and the family estate.

 

His father's debts had seemed crushing at first, but through hard work, and with good advice, Leo had gradually managed to turn things around. The estate was profitable now, and his investments had paid off.

 

And so, after his father's death eighteen months ago, he'd made arrangements for the business of the estate to be carried on while he took himself abroad for a little taste of freedom. His own version of The Grand Tour—post-Napoleonic Europe, Greece, Turkey, Egypt. He'd enjoyed every minute of it.

 

And then, to come home to this debacle!

 

Melkin consulted another letter. "According to this, Miss Clarissa Studley and her half sister intended to leave for London at the beginning of the week." He glanced at Leo. "Which means, if they left on time—though ladies, you know, often do not—they should arrive tomorrow or the next day."

 

"'Tomorrow or the next day'?"

 

"I'm afraid so, my lord. You'd better alert your housekeeper to prepare bedchambers for them."

 

"My housekeeper? I don't have a housekeeper. I don't have any staff in town at the moment, just my valet." On his return to London he'd called in to see his man of affairs and discovered that the Bellaire Gardens house, which had been rented out for the last ten years, was now vacant. The agent was of the opinion that whether Leo intended to take up residence there or lease it out again, the house was in dire need of refurbishment and, when Leo inspected it, he had to agree.

 

He was temporarily camped in the dusty, empty house until the renovations could begin. In the meantime his valet, Matteo, who was more majordomo than mere valet, was currently making it habitable-for himself and Leo, not a pair of pampered young ladies.

 

"Oh dear me, no," the lawyer said. "They cannot stay with you unchaperoned—not with your being a bachelor. It would be easier if you were married. I don't suppose . . ." He ended the sentence on a faintly hopeful note of query.

 

"No. I have no marital plans, not now or in the foreseeable future," Leo said firmly. He had no desire to tie himself down, and he certainly wasn't going to do it for the convenience of two unknown females.

 

"But as their guardian, you will, of course, make suitable arrangements."

 

Leo shrugged. "They can stay in a hotel."

 

Melkin looked shocked. "Oh, that will never do, my lord. A respectable young lady, unchaperoned except by her illegitimate half sister, alone and unprotected in a London hotel? Oh no, no, no!"

 

"Then I'll hire a maid to chaperone them."

 

The lawyer shook his head. "A maidservant would give Miss Studley neither the respectability nor the consequence required." His beetling gray brows twitched in thought. "Is there no female relative you could prevail on to assist you, my lord?"

 

"No, there's only—" Leo broke off as a thought occurred to him. "Now I come to think of it, I do have a female relative in London—my aunt Olive—and as it happens, she also lives in Bellaire Gardens, a short step across from my own house."

 

The lawyer's brows snapped together. "You don't mean Lady Scattergood, do you, because I hardly think—"

 

"Aunt Olive will be perfect. She will enjoy the girls' company, and the location couldn't be better. They can stay with her and still be close enough for me to supervise." He could scarcely keep the satisfaction out of his voice.

 

He'd had quite enough of responsibilities being heaped on him unwanted—since the age of sixteen—and he didn't want any more. He wanted to get back to his life-his own life. Not continue dancing to dead men's tunes.

 

"But, my lord—"

 

Leo rose. "Anything else, Melkin? No? Then thank you, I'll be off. I have arrangements to make."

 

He left the building, pleased with himself. It was all but settled. He'd make the er-relative a handsome allowance—hang the expense; let the girl depart with some dignity—and give the other girl to Aunt Olive. His aunt was hardly the social type, but he was sure she'd enjoy a bit of youthful company.

Yes, Studley’s will had thrown him at first, but now Leo had it all under control.

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