THE REDHEADED RAKE
It was a dull day at White’s, the day he agreed to the wager: seduce bed
and walk away from the lovely Lady Leisterfield, all by Twelfth Night. This
holiday season, Christopher St. Ives, Viscount Eustace, planned to give
*himself* a gift.
THE INNOCENT WIDOW
She was too proper by half—or so was the accusation of her friends, which
was why her father had to find her a husband. But Lord Leisterfield was now
gone a year, and Grace was at last shedding the drab colors of mourning.
The house felt empty, more so during the coming Christmastide, and so
tonight her coming out would begin with a scandalous piece of theater. The
play would attract rogues, or so promised her friend the dowager countess.
It would indeed. The night would bring about the greatest danger—and the
greatest happiness—that Grace had ever known.
“Love sought is good, but giv’n unsought is better.”
—William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
London, January 5, 1819
It never would have happened if he hadn’t been so terribly bored that night at White’s. Staring into the crackling fire in the parlour on this frosty night and reflecting back on the last several months, Christopher St. Ives, Viscount Eustace, recalled the evening well; the deep leather chair he sat in, the lit cheroot dangling from one hand and a brandy in the other. He had only been half listening as Hugh Redgrave, the very married Marquess of Ormond, droned on about the virtues of the leg-shackled state. Happily married men could be so tiresome. Looking back on it now, it seemed years not months since they’d traded quips in the conversation that led to the wager:
“I say, Ormond, just where are you going with this praise for the wedded state? You know me too well to believe I’m convinced.”
“You might at least consider taking a wife, Eustace. There’s much to be said for the change it would bring about in your otherwise tawdry existence of late. After all, thirty-five is past the age where dissipation wears well, don’t you think?”
Tawdry existence? Dissipation? “Surely you cannot mean those words, Ormond. I’m just after a bit of fun.”
“You go after women like you go after the fox. It’s all in the chase for you.”
“And that is wrong? Just because you have your heir and a spare at thirty-two does not mean I wish to accumulate the same baggage.” At the frown that appeared on Ormond’s face, Christopher, Lord Eustace, hastened to add, “No offense meant toward the beautiful Lady Ormond, whom I admire above all women, but I am not ready for such a change, as my recent indulgences confirm. Besides, I like women and have my own way of handling them, which suits me quite well. I see no reason for change.”
“As far as I can see, your way of ‘handling’ them is not to have one at all.”
“Ho, now that ain’t so, and well you know it! Though, being a gentleman, I’ll not disclose the number ‘had’ even if I could recall. My method, I assure you, works perfectly for me.”
“You have a method?” Ormond asked, incredulous.
“Well, perhaps not a method as you would count it. I seduce ’em, bed ’em and—”
“Leave them. Yes, I know. But not always smiling, I’ve heard.”
Christopher looked up at the chandelier above and back to his friend as he let out a sigh. “Perhaps not, but none complain till the end is in sight. Then, well…I admit things have on occasion become a bit sticky. But they are all willing players in the game.”
“Your way of handling women cannot work with all. You must have failed with some.”
“Quite the contrary, my good man. I’ve succeeded with every lady I’ve gone after.” Christopher held back a grin. He did not lack confidence when it came to his success with women. And a worthy adversary made every game more exciting.
“I would wager there is one you cannot seduce.”
“Ho! Wager? Do I hear a challenge being laid down?” Snuffing out his cheroot, Christopher leaned forward. “Who might this unassailable paragon be?”
Ormond glanced about the sparsely populated club room filled with tables and chairs. Christopher’s eyes followed, noting the small group of men at a round table engaged in muted conversation some distance away. None appeared to be eavesdropping.
Leaning forward, Ormond whispered, “Grace, the Lady Leisterfield.”
Christopher leaned back in his chair and took a sip of brandy. In his mind’s eye he saw a slim blonde in a rather modest gray gown standing next to the elderly Lady Claremont. “Yes, I recall her from the last ball of the Season. The young widow lives like a nun, or so I’ve heard.”
Ormond grinned. “That, old man, is the challenge.”
“She’s in mourning, is she not?”
“Just coming out. And a worthy contender to test your…method.”
“I see.” But did he? Was there more to this than a wager? It was clear Ormond had something in mind, and the marquess could be exceedingly cryptic at times. Still, whatever was behind the challenge, and whatever the stakes, Christopher was drawn by the opportunity, even more by the encouragement, to entice the lovely Lady Leisterfield to his bed.
“I’ve been very impressed with the lady,” his friend continued, “and I would love to see you fail miserably trying to scale her castle walls. I would consider it sweet justice for the fairer sex.” Ormond winked.
Christopher was tempted to decline, still miffed at Ormond’s comment about his tawdry existence. Yet the memory of the beautiful Lady Leisterfield permeated his thoughts. “Perhaps I shall accept your delightful challenge.”
Ormond grinned, then his expression turned serious. “One thing. If you do this, Eustace, you must promise to preserve the lady’s reputation no matter the outcome. That must be part of the challenge, as I would not see a good woman ruined at the end of it.”
“Well, I know of no woman who has suffered overmuch from being associated with me, but I assure you I will be discreet.”
“All right—and so we are clear,” said Ormond. “You must seduce, bed and walk away from the baroness, else I will have won.”
Christopher nodded, wondering all the while if he’d missed something. Ormond always seemed to have an agenda not fully disclosed. With him, much was hidden beneath the surface.
The marquess suggested with a pointed look, “Ninety days should be sufficient; do you agree?”
“We are indeed agreed. And let me add, it will be my pleasure.”
It wasn’t just the thought of bedding the lovely widow that put a grin on Christopher’s face; he was thrilled with the prospect of a real challenge with a virtuous woman. It was a wholly different sport than he normally engaged in, but Lady Leisterfield was a worthy quarry. A challenge indeed. One for which he felt himself uniquely qualified.
“Shall we reduce the wager to the book?” Ormond inquired with a wry smile. “Say, one thousand pounds to make it interesting?”
“Done.” Casting his reservations aside, Christopher set down his empty glass, reached for Ormond’s extended hand and gave it a hearty shake.
And so, that night, Christopher entered the following into White’s book:
Ld Eustace has wagered Ld Ormond 1000 pounds
that by Twelfth Night he can seduce, bed and walk away from a certain lady
understood between them.
Regan was raised in California and had a career as a lawyer that included
stints in high levels of government, giving her a feel for the demands of
the “Crown” on its subjects. So, not surprisingly, her first novels are all
about a demanding Prince Regent who thinks of his subjects are his private
talent pool. She loves to weave history and real historic figures into her
romances and promises to sweep her readers away to another time and place
to experience adventure as well as love.
Her first novel in the Agents of the Crown trilogy, RACING WITH THE WIND,
was published by Boroughs Publishing Group in 2012, and her second, AGAINST
THE WIND was published in 2013. WIND RAVEN, the third in the trilogy, will
be released in 2014. She is a member of the Beau Monde and San Diego
chapters of Romance Writers of America and lives in San Diego.
Author website: http://www.reganwalkerauthor.com/
Regan’s Romance Reviews blog: http://reganromancereview.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @RegansReview (https://twitter.com/RegansReview)