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The Rake's Redemption

By:Sherrill Bodine

The Rake's Redemption
Sherrill Bodine

       Prologue





CARSTAIR'S FOLLY, BERKSHIRE 1818



Dominic was bored. He turned away from contemplating the landscape by  Constable over the fireplace and propped one shoulder against the mantel  to survey the ruin of Carstair's dining room. Freddie might be his  closest friend, his only true friend come to think of it, but still he  should not have allowed himself to be convinced about this repairing  lease with Carstair. Their idea of rusticating in the country hardly  matched his own. When he tired of London, he wanted to be at Culter  Towers. But even after ten years he couldn't go home without calling up  bitter memories. So he had come into Berkshire to Carstair's Folly and  found that Freddie had arranged a surprise-Yvette, his current favorite  and two other ladybirds were waiting for them. It was not to be fishing  and cards, but only the same routine as London.

Now he was the only member of the party still standing. Freddie,  spread-eagled in a wing chair, had a wine glass resting upside down on  his waistcoat, and their host Carstair, had slipped quietly under the  table after they had broached the fourth bottle.

Where were the ladybirds? Focusing none too well, Dominic's eyes came to  rest on two disheveled women, their unbound hair tangled over their  faces, curled up at each end of the couch. But where was that minx,  Yvette?

Shaking his head, he blinked several times and found with surprise that  his gait was slightly unsteady when he walked to the table, lifted the  cloth, and peered beneath it. Yes, there she was asleep, one arm flung  over Carstair's chest. He remembered now. She had joined Carstair there  on the floor after complaining of Dominic's neglect.

Shrugging, he let the cloth fall and reached for the half-empty bottle  of port. She was right. He had not paid her the slightest heed. He  poured port into a glass and tipped most of the contents down his  throat. He shouldn't have come here. He should have gone home to Culter  Towers to his grandparents. He missed them. But more than his yearly  visit was still beyond him.

Tossing the remainder of the port down, he moved to the windows. It was  dawn. Fog blanketed the lawn as it had that other dawn long ago, when he  had strained to see through the mists. Suddenly he was there  again-Culter Towers-with Jules.

They had stood with heads bent, separated by twin mounds of freshly  turned earth, oblivious to the long queue of black-clad figures wending  its way down a slight rise toward the massive towers of the stone manor  house.

So suddenly and unexpectedly he was the Marquis of Aubrey. He'd been  dressed in regimentals, with only two black arm bands to signify his  mourning. Unsure of how to control the rage within, he'd stood clenching  and unclenching his hands behind his back. "Father," he'd mouthed  silently before lifting his face, eyes stinging with tears to glare  across the two new graves unmarked by headstones.

Jules had leaned heavily on a walking stick. He was wearing superbly  fitted black mourning clothes, but white bandages swathed his forehead  and extended down the left side of his face, hiding any emotion that  might be there.

"You're responsible for this." He had spat out the words, hate filling the space between them.

Jules stepped back a pace, staggering under the accusation, and turned to go.

"Brother!" His voice filled with menace had stopped Jules' attempted  retreat. "Don't forget your promise. What has happened here  …  is buried  here."

A sneer had lifted one side of Jules's mouth throwing the rest of his face into a grotesque mask. "Oui, mon frère."

Rage burned in his heart. And hatred for the brother he had once loved.  "I leave for the Peninsula tomorrow, and I want you off my lands as soon  as you can travel. I never want to see you again!"

"Ah  …  but, you will see me again, I haven't forgotten this  …  Brother."  One long white finger had lifted to fleetingly touch the bandage over  the place his left eye should have been …

Dominic shivered, the rage and hatred still burning even after ten  years. He'd been so young then-too young and too naive to have to face  the secrets he'd had thrust at him the night his parents had died. So  he'd fled to war to forget them. He wasn't naive anymore. Yet, he'd  learned that one particular secret could never be forgotten.

The sun's light burst into the clearing before him. Another night gone. A  fortnight of this-too much wine and no real pleasure-and even the  familiar boredom of London would be welcome.

Glancing back over his shoulder at the room, sour with the scent of  stale wine and cluttered with empty bottles and the remains of plates of  food, he suddenly came to a decision.                       
       
           



       

Carstair's man, Sylvester, arrived an instant after Dominic rang and  behind him, hovering in the hall, he could see both his own valet,  Pringle, and Freddie's Timmings.

"You might as well all come in. You are needed," he drawled. "Sylvester,  your master is under the dining table. Timmings, put Lord Liscombe to  bed and when he awakens this afternoon, inform him we leave for London  at first light."

Timmings gingerly removed the glass from Freddie's waistcoat and carefully examined it for stains before waking his master.

Sylvester summoned three footmen, two of whom crawled under the table to  assist Lord Carstair. Having achieved their goal of getting him in an  upright position, they handed him over to his long suffering butler. The  third went to Timmings' aid and half carried Freddie from the room.

Pringle stood, his face utterly expressionless, not wishing to disturb  his master, until finally he could contain his curiosity no longer. He  coughed apologetically and glanced around the room. "Do I understand we  are all leaving for town, my lord?"

Yawning, Dominic leaned back against the mantel, shutting his eyes. "A  bit boring here, Pringle. Have my curricle ready in the morning. You and  Timmings can go ahead with the baggage."

When Pringle coughed again, it grated a bit upon Dominic's nerves, but  he did not open his eyes. "The  …  ladies  …  will they not be returning to  London?"

He did open his lids then, staring at Pringle's impassive face.  "Carstair arranged their arrival. He can arrange for their departure. It  is of no concern to me."

Pushing himself away from the mantel, he stepped lazily over his former  mistress, tucked a five-pound note into her ample bosom, and strolled  from the room.





Chapter 1





WENTWORTH PARK, BERKSHIRE



The lady and gentleman seated in the high-ceilinged and airy library of  Wentworth Park on an unusually warm afternoon in April were engaged in  writing letters. Suddenly Juliana Grenville looked up and cleared her  throat to speak in a low, soft voice, "George … "

He appeared not to have noticed her, so she spoke louder, "Brother dear … " Then louder, "George!"

George Vane, fifth Baron Wentworth, continued to write, neither looking  up nor betraying by even the smallest sign that he had heard. Indeed,  his head of red-gold curls drooped even more intently over the estate  papers littering the desk.

Juliana waited a moment more, but when she spied the deep furrow  creasing her brother's youthful brow, she rose to her feet, smoothed the  folds of her second-best pink dimity morning dress, and crossed quickly  to place her palms firmly onto the rim of the wide dark walnut desk.  "George, Aunt Sophia and I are going to London. We plan to open  Wentworth House for the Season."

Still his hand continued moving across the papers, although he did  briefly glance up at her. "Wentworth House hasn't been open since father  died two years ago. Old Smithers would turn up his toes if he had to  get it ready." He shook his head, his gaze returning to his desk. "Go  shopping in Basingstoke instead, Ju. Always been fond of it."

Juliana straightened her shoulders and drew up to her full height, which  was, she lamented, regretfully short. "George, I have already written  Smithers that we arrive in three days. I go to London in search of a  husband."

She had caught his complete attention at last. His head jerked upward  and his light green eyes, much like her own, widened in shock. "Good  God, Juliana, what nonsense is this? Find a husband, indeed! Anytime  these past five years you could have married." His eyes narrowed,  causing fine lines to map his lean face and suddenly he looked much  older than his twenty-one years. "Have you formed an attachment unknown  to me?"

Juliana recognized the stubborn tilt of her brother's chin. It reminded  her forcibly of their late father, when he had wished to be difficult.  It was too soon for George to develop such habits, she thought, and too  soon for his young face to show the marks of worry and responsibility.  All the more reason why she must carry through with the plan Aunt Sophia  had so fortuitously devised.

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