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The Dangerous Lord Darrington

By:Sarah Mallory

The Dangerous Lord Darrington
Sarah Mallory

       Chapter One



The news that Dangerous Lord Darrington was staying with Edwin Davies  at his Yorkshire hunting lodge had spread, but it posed something of a  dilemma for those fond mamas with unmarried daughters. Guy Wylder, the  Earl of Darrington, was a bachelor and it was generally agreed that it  was time he settled down and produced an heir. There had been a serious  scandal in his younger days, but most parents were prepared to overlook  that in view of his wealth and his title. However, the earl resisted all  attempts to lure him into matrimony; any young lady who forced herself  too openly upon his attention was likely to suffer, for the earl would  embark upon a furiously intense flirtation, setting tongues wagging and  leading the young lady in question to suppose that he had quite lost his  heart. Then, just when she was in daily expectation of receiving an  offer of marriage, the wicked earl's ardour would cool and he would have  difficulty remembering her name when they next met.

Such behaviour had caused more than one young lady to go into a decline  and, despite Lord Darrington's wealth and wickedly handsome appearance,  all sensible parents now went out of their way to warn their daughters  against encouraging the earl's attentions. Unfortunately, in Guy's  opinion, there were not enough sensible parents.

On this occasion, however, precautions proved unnecessary. Mr Davies's  shooting party at Highridge comprised only gentlemen; apart from an  occasional sighting at the White Hart, the sporting company kept very  much to Mr Davies's extensive acres or rode over the largely uninhabited  hills and moors that stretched eastwards to the coast.

'I shall be given the cut direct when I go into the town,' was Mr  Davies's laughing complaint. 'To have had a peer of the realm staying  with me and not paraded him at one assembly. My neighbours will be ready  to pluck any number of crows with me!'

'Davey, you know I came here only because you promised me a couple of weeks' sport in the company of friends,' replied Guy.

'And that's what you have had, but I cannot see what harm there would have been in attending a dance or two in the town.'

One side of the earl's mobile mouth lifted a fraction.

'Ah, but that is sport of a different kind, Davey, and we would be the quarry.'

They had been roaming the hills for some time, climbing to ride along  the ridge that looked over the lush green farmland to the west and the  hills and moors of north Yorkshire to the east. Guy stopped for a  moment, taking in the view.

'That is always a danger, of course,' remarked Davey, bringing his  horse to a stand beside him, 'but surely the cautionary tales about your  cavalier behaviour towards the fairer sex give the ladies pause.'

Guy shook his head.

'Some, perhaps, but not all.' He added bitterly, 'I might be a  veritable Bluebeard and some parents would still be offering their  daughters to me. It seems my title and my fortune outweigh every other  consideration!'

'Your fortune and title certainly mean you are constantly mentioned in  the society papers. Those damned scoundrels who write the Intelligencer  are happy to print any amount of gossip about you.'

'That scandal-sheet!' Guy's lip curled. 'Ignore it, I do. What they  cannot find out they make up, and as long as it is only about my amorous  adventures it does not bother me at all. Besides, if the scandals are  bad enough, perhaps those ambitious mamas will finally give up the  chase.'

'I know the gossip doesn't bother you, but it does anger your friends.  Take the latest on dit about the Ansell chit, for example.'

'By heaven, I dance twice with a girl and immediately I am thought to be in love!'

'Well, her mother thought so, at all events. Told everyone you had invited them to Wylderbeck.'

'They invited themselves. Ansell started telling me how his daughter  was interested in architecture and that she had heard such wonderful  things of Wylderbeck. I told 'em they were welcome to take a look at the  old house.' Guy shot his friend a quick glance, his grey eyes glinting.  'I hope they enjoyed it. I had a letter from my steward last week  saying they had come hotfoot to Yorkshire, only to be told I was not at  home! My housekeeper showed 'em around the house and suggested they  could put up at the Darrington Arms.'

Davey laughed, but shook his head at him.

'A devilish trick to play, Guy.'

'One becomes weary of being constantly pursued. Scandal goes some way to reduce the problem.'

'I sometimes think you are happy for people to think you betrayed your country,' muttered Davey, frowning.                       
       
           



       

'If you think that, then you are a fool,' Guy retorted. 'I regret my  youthful folly more than I can say, but the damage is done. However, I  prefer that the news-sheets and the ton should talk about my scandalous  love life and leave the past alone. It may be forgotten now, but the  smear is there, and always will be.'

'But it could be erased-indeed, it was never more than a salacious  rumour, but your withdrawing from politics was taken by some as an  admission of guilt. Come back to London,' Davey urged him. 'There are  many in government who know your worth and would welcome your help,  especially now, with the unrest in France.'

'Mayhap I will, but I would be happier to do that if those matchmaking dragons would leave me alone.'

'There is a simple answer to that,' remarked Davey. 'Take a wife.'

'Never!' Guy shook his head, laughing. 'Now that … ' he grinned, kicking his horse into a canter ' … is a step too far!'



A speedy chase along the ridge followed but when they reached the  highest point Guy brought his horse to a stand and looked around him,  enjoying the freedom of the wide open space. He thought he could smell  the sea on the light breeze, even though they were nearly thirty miles  from the coast.

'Are you sorry now that you suggested we should stay on here?' he asked  as Davey came alongside him. 'Would you have preferred to go on to  Osmond's house with the others?'

'Not at all! Much as I like having a large party at Highridge, I prefer  this: we can do away with ceremony, rise when we wish, do what we want  and talk or not, as the mood takes us.'

Guy reached across to lay a hand briefly on Davey's shoulder.

'You have been a good friend to me, I appreciate that. Always there to  support me, even when the whole world thought the worst-'

'Nay, there were plenty of us who realised you were not to blame, even  though you preferred not to defend yourself. Too chivalrous by half,  Guy.'

'What would you have had me do?'

Davey scowled. 'Put the blame squarely where it belonged.'

Guy shook his head.

'The woman had fled the country: my protests would have looked very ungallant.'

'Gallantry be damned,' exclaimed Davey. 'You gave up a promising career  for that woman and robbed the country of a most able politician! Your  talents have been wasted, Darrington.'

'Not at all. I have spent my time putting my estates back into good  heart. My father almost bankrupted the family, you know, with his  profligate ways. And it was useful to be in the north while my  scapegrace brother Nick was away-I could keep an eye upon his estates.'

'But it must be five years since he settled down. Surely you might make a push now to return to politics.'

'To be subjected to ridicule and constantly reminded of my disgrace?'  Guy stared out across the hills. 'No, I thank you!' He gave himself a  mental shake. 'But this is dismal stuff for such a fine September day!  Let us press on. What else did you wish to show me?'

Realising confidences were at an end, Davey pointed to the north-west.

'Thought you might like to visit Mount Grace Priory. I know the family,  so there will be no difficulty seeing the ruins. I know you have an  interest in antiquities of that sort.' He grinned. 'Not quite in keeping  with the image of the Dangerous Lord Darrington, which is why I didn't  suggest it while the others were here.'

Guy laughed. 'Much I care about that! But you are right, they would not  have enjoyed such a visit.' He glanced up at the sun. 'But it is midday  already-is there time?'

'Of course. We can spend a couple of hours looking at the ruins, then  take the lower route back to Highridge, stopping at Boltby. The inn  there is famous for its dinners.'

'Very well, then, let us go to it!'

In perfect accord the two gentlemen set off at a canter, enjoying the  freedom of the hills before they were obliged once more to descend to  the lower ground.



The ruins of Mount Grace had occupied most of their afternoon and by  the time they set off again for Highridge the sun was far to the west.

'Looks like rain is coming,' observed Guy, eyeing the heavy grey clouds building on the horizon.

'We should crack along if we are to avoid a soaking,' agreed Davey.  'Come along then; mayhap we'll forgo dinner at Boltby and cut across  country. What do you say?'

'Why not? We have been jumping these walls for the past couple of weeks; my horse is accustomed to it now.' Davey laughed.

'It will be the muddier route, but that will make the roaring fire and rum punch all the more enjoyable when we get home!'                       

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