Series: The Little Season (Book 3)
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: HQN Books (July 26, 2016)
London’s Little Season has never been so scandalous
It’s the kind of vow often made on the battlefield. Darby Travers, Viscount Nailbourne, never imagines he’ll have to honor it. Yet here she is on his doorstep—his late comrade’s young daughter, and Darby’s new ward. Worse, she comes with the most overprotective, mistrustful, bothersome chaperone—the child’s aunt, Sadie Grace Boxer. Darby is quite sure that behind her lovely facade, the woman is guarding a secret.
Sadie Grace faced many trials working in her brother’s surgery, but none prepared her for the world she’s thrust into with his passing. Navigating the ton
, with its endless ball gowns and parade of parties, is difficult enough, but hiding the truth about her niece while the sophisticated Viscount watches her every move proves nearly impossible—particularly when his searing gaze tempts her to bare all. But when her family’s past catches up with her, she’ll have to trust in Darby…no matter the cost to her heart. “The story is filled with delightful characters and witty repartee”–Publishers Weeklyon A Scandalous Proposal RT Book Reviews (Jan print edition): “Michaels, known for her comedic Regency-set romances, outdoes herself… For lighthearted fun, you can’t do better than this.”–RT Book Reviews on An Improper Arrangement
A Reckless Promise by Kasey Michaels
London, the Little Season, 1815
“What do you think of Spain, Norton? I’ve heard intriguing things about the Alhambra, once termed a pleasure palace. But no, you have no interest in pleasure, do you?”
“I take vast pleasure in my duties, my lord,” the valet supplied in his usual monotone. “Even more so when His Lordship refrains from speaking whilst I am shaving him.”
Darby Travers, Viscount Nailbourne, longed to inquire as to whether his man’s words could be construed as a threat, but quickly discarded the notion. Until the straight edge moved from his neck, he prudently refused to so much as swallow.
“And we’re done, my lord,” Norton said in some satisfaction, stepping back even as he handed his employer a warm, moist towel. “Until this evening, that is. I would ask you to consider again the advantages of a well-trimmed beard.”
Darby wiped at his face, then tossed the towel in Norton’s direction as he got to his feet and walked over to the high dresser topped with an oval mirror. “Not if you’d continue to force your barbering skills on me, no. It wounds me to say this, Norton, but your mustache appears chewed on, and I’m convinced you employ that wirelike appendage on your chin to brush dried mud from my riding boots. The fact that both are shoe-black dark and your hair red as a flame makes me wonder what you do to amuse yourself when I leave you alone.”
Norton, a man of at least forty summers, smoothed a hand over his hair, parted neatly in the middle and tied back into a tail at least six inches in length, and then tugged at his goatee. “Red facial hair is unattractive, my lord.”
Darby would have asked his new valet why he didn’t expand his use of the dye pot to include the hair on his head, but then the man might tell him. Norton was his third valet in as many months, and the only one who didn’t perpetually suppress a flinch when he saw his employer without his eyepatch. For that small mercy alone, the viscount didn’t really care if Norton sought his jollies by wearing his pantaloons on his head.
He picked up his brushes and ran them through his own coal-dark hair. “I believe I’ll refrain from comment on that, Norton. But back to Spain. I’m devastated to inform you that we can’t go, much as I’d like to escape my fate. For one, I’m promised to a birthday celebration at the end of the month. Either that or a funeral. Nobody’s quite certain yet. My jacket, if you please.”
“Yes, my lord. Will we be returning to London today?”
“Don’t care for my cottage, Norton?” he asked, shrugging into his handsomely cut tan hacking jacket, for he was anticipating a ride yet this morning. “I know it’s quaint, but I believe it provides most of the necessities of life.”
Nailbourne Farm, or the “cottage,” as Darby termed it, was a large estate just outside Wimbledon, and only
an hour’s drive from London. Along with an extensive breeding stable and three hundred acres of Capability Brown’s better efforts at landscaping, the estate boasted a unique, sprawling stone-and-timber mansion. There were sixteen bedchambers, a dining hall that comfortably sat fifty and a dozen other rooms, all beneath a whimsical thatched roof that kept four thatchers gainfully employed year-round. It even boasted a royal bedchamber, which had actually been slept in by no less than two English monarchs.
It was the smallest of the half dozen Nailbourne holdings.
“Well, Norton? Do you agree?”
“It’s…serviceable, my lord.”
“How greatly you relieve my mind. I wouldn’t want to have to order it torn down and rebuilt to your specifications.”
Sarcasm was totally lost on Norton, Darby knew, winging over his head like a bird in flight, but at least the viscount was amusing himself. He was in some need of a smile at the moment.
“Your pardon, sir, but I feel I must remind you that I accepted this temporary position on the understanding that we would be in London for the Little Season.”
Darby made one last small adjustment to the black eyepatch he’d tied to his head, and turned to give a slight bow to his valet. “And alas, I’ve failed you. I’m so ashamed, and must hasten to make amends. Since I’ll be traveling to London this evening for an engagement, you have my permission to ride along with me. I’ll have you dropped at your favorite tavern, as I’m certain you have one, and come back to take you up before I return here, to the wilds. I most sincerely hope that meets with your approval?”
“Yes, my lord!” Norton exclaimed, bowing deeply at the waist, perhaps the first display of emotion the man had allowed in his master’s presence. “The Crown and Cock, my lord, just off Piccadilly. And may I say, my lord, you look exceptionally fine today. You flatter that new jacket all hollow.”
“Oh, shut up,” Darby said amicably as he brushed past the valet on his way to the stairs, only smiling once he was out of sight. “For a moment there, I thought he’d ask to kiss my ring,” he mumbled to himself.
His mood may have been temporarily lifted, but the knowledge that Norton was right served to bring it crashing back down once more. He’d been at the cottage for nearly a week, cooling his heels as he awaited the arrival of the consequences of his forgotten promise to John Hamilton. Granted, he’d escaped to London, twice, for evening parties, but the days here were nearly interminable when he wished only to be with his friends before everyone adjourned to their country estates until the spring Season.
Darby supposed he should have put a qualifier or two into his promise to the good doctor before agreeing to take guardianship of the man’s daughter should anything fatal befall the man. He’d thought that meant if John had perished at the camp before it could be liberated. He hadn’t counted on any responsibility outliving the promise by more than eighteen months, which was when the good doctor had cocked up his toes.
Yet here he was, about to become guardian to his very own ward. His female
ward. If there could be any one person less suited for the position, Darby believed a person would have to search far and wide to find him. His friends had all laughingly agreed, and looked forward with some glee to watching him deal with this unexpected complication to his smooth-running life.
Marley Hamilton. Age unknown. Would he be able to send her off to some young ladies’ academy and forget about her for at least a few years, or would he be laying down the blunt for a Season for the girl? Was she dewy and young, or already past her last prayers?
John had been a country doctor. Of good family, one could only hope, but would his daughter be up to snuff for a Season, or would she come to the cottage still with hay in her hair and mud on her half boots, and speak in some broad country accent?
Would he be forced to rebuild her, as it were, from the ground up, in order to be rid of her?
Would she feel it necessary to address him as Uncle Nailbourne?
“Coop’s right,” he told himself as he reached the bottom of the stairs. “I do get myself into the damnedest situations. If only John’s solicitor would arrive, and get the waiting over with before I drive myself mad.”
“Milord?” the footman asked, holding forth his employer’s hat, gloves and small riding crop. “You be talkin’ ta yerself again, the way you said you wuz yesterday?”
“Exactly, Tompkins,” he responded, accepting the articles. “And as was the case yesterday, and probably will be for some time yet, you may feel free to ignore me.”
“Yes, milord. Mr. Rivers brought the new stallion ’round. He’s a big ’un, milord. You do mind ta be careful.”
“Since it would upset you, I’ll do my best not to break my neck,” Darby promised the young lad, and then stopped in the action of pulling on his gloves when there were three loud raps on the door knocker.
His entire body instantly went on alert.
“Ah, perhaps the time has come. Strange we didn’t hear a coach pulling up. Attend to that, Tompkins, if you please.”
The boy, freckle-faced and towheaded, and more accustomed to his usual chores in the kitchens, looked at his master in some distress. “But, milord, Mr. Camford says he’s ta greet all His Lordship’s guests to be sure where ta put ’em, and yer’r ta be summoned ta the drawin’ room only after he—”
“Tompkins, I can’t be certain of this, of course, but last I looked, I do believe I still outrank my butler. Open. The. Door.”
Tompkins blushed to the roots of his hair. “Straightaway, milord.”
“Clearly I have to develop more of a commanding air with the staff,” Darby told himself, replacing hat, gloves and riding crop on the large round table and stepping back two paces, ready to surprise his guest with his unexpected presence. Or perhaps he’d be mistaken for Camford, come to vet the uninvited guest so he’d know where “ta put ’em.”
A mental picture of the portly butler dressed in riding clothes brought a small smile to Darby’s lips as Tompkins opened the door and then stood directly in front of the opening, blocking any view of the visitor. Apparently Camford hadn’t had time to complete the lad’s lessons in footman-ship.
“Let whoever it is pass, please,” he told the boy, unnecessarily it would seem, as Tompkins was rather handily pushed out of the way as a tall, heavily cloaked and hooded figure breached the human barrier and stepped through the portal, dripping water onto the tile floor.
When had it begun to rain? Did Norton so sincerely loathe the country that he didn’t even peek out the window to be certain his employer would be correctly dressed? Darby waved a figurative goodbye to any notion of working the new stallion.
He took a closer look at the figure. The words drowned rat
scuttled into his brain.
“If you hadn’t yet noticed, young man, the doorway lacks a portico. How long do you usually have His Lordship’s guests stand unprotected in a deluge?”
A woman? It was definitely a woman’s voice. Tall, for a woman, able to wear a man’s cloak and not have it be six sizes too large. Only four, he estimated, taking in the many-caped cloak once again. Bossy, for a woman, especially one who had arrived uninvited, unaccompanied and apparently on foot.
“Tompkins, offer to take the lady’s cloak before she drowns in it, both literally and figuratively.”
About Kasey Michaels
USA TODAY bestselling author Kasey Michaels is the author of more than one hundred books. She has earned four starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, and has won an RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award and several other commendations for her contemporary and historical novels. Kasey resides with her family in Pennsylvania.
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