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50 Ways to Ruin a Rake (Rakes and Rogues Book 1) Kindle Edition
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Make a plan, be sure of it, and do not deviate.
There are certain things a woman knows. She knows what the weather will be based on how easily her hair settles into the pins. She knows when the cook has quarreled with the butler by the taste of the morning eggs. And she knows when a man will completely upset her day.
And right now, that man was walking up her front drive as easy as if he expected to be welcomed.
Melinda Smithson bolted out of her bedroom where she'd been fighting with her curls-again-and rushed downstairs. "I'm just going for a quick walk!" she said much too brightly to their butler as she made it to the front door. Rowe hadn't even the time to reach for her gloves when she snatched her gardening bonnet off the table and headed outside. She had to get to the odious man before he rounded the rock and came into view from her father's laboratory. If her papa saw him, she would be done for. So she ran as fast as her legs could carry her.
She rounded the bend at the same moment he arrived at the rock. One step more, and she was doomed.
"Oh no, Mr. Anaedsley. Not today. You cannot come here today." She said the words breathlessly, but she punctuated with a severe tug on her bonnet. So hard, in fact, that three pins dug painfully into her scalp.
Mr. Anaedsley had been whistling, but now he drew up short. "You've punched your thumb through your bonnet." He spoke with a charming smile that made her grind her teeth in frustration. Everything about the man was charming, from his reddish-brown hair to the freckles that dotted his cheeks to the rich green of his eyes. An annoyance dressed as a prince of the realm, for all that he had no courtesy title. He was the son and heir of the Duke of Timby, and she hated him with a passion that bordered on insanity.
Unfortunately, he was right. She'd punched her thumb clean through the straw brim of her bonnet.
"Yes, I have," she said as she stepped directly in front of him. He would not pass around the rock. He simply wouldn't. "And that is one more crime I lay at your feet."
"A crime?" he replied. "To poke a hole in that ugly thing? Really, Miss Smithson, I call it more a mercy. The sun should not shine on something that hideous."
It was hideous, which was why it was her gardening bonnet. "The sun is not supposed to shine on my face either, so it is this ugly thing or stay inside."
"Come now, Miss Smithson," he said as he held out his arm to escort her. "I am well aware that you have dozens of fetching bonnets-"
"But this was the one at hand." She ignored his arm and stared intimidatingly at him. Or at least she tried to. But he was a good six inches taller than her. Average for a man, but for her he was quite the perfect height. Not too tall as to dwarf her, but large enough to be handsome in his coat of bottle-green superfine. It brought out his eyes, which were made all the more stunning by the sunlight that shone full on his face.
"Shall we amble up your beautiful drive and fetch you a pretty bonnet?"
"No, Mr. Anaedsley, we shall not. Because you shall not come to the house today. Any other day, you will be very welcome. But not today."
His brows drew together in worry. "Is your father ill? Is there something amiss? Tell me, Miss Smithson. What can I do to help?"
It was the right thing to say. Of course it was because he always knew the right thing to say. Her father's health was precarious these days, a cough plaguing him despite all attempts to physic him. She might have ignored his words as simple politeness, but she saw genuine worry in his eyes. She couldn't help but soften toward him.
"Papa is the same as before. It's worst at night-"
"The gypsy tincture didn't help then." He took her arm and gently eased her hand into the crook of his elbow. Her fingers were placed there before she even realized it. "I'll ask a doctor friend I know as soon as I return to London. He may-"
She dug in her feet, tugging backward on his arm. He raised a perfect eyebrow in query, but she flashed him a warm smile. "An excellent idea. You should go there right now. In fact, pray fetch the doctor here."
His eyebrows rose in alarm. "I shall write down the man's direction and a message. You can send a footman-"
"No, sir. You must go yourself. Right now. It is most urgent."
He flashed her his dimple. Damn him for having such a very attractive dimple. "Now why do I get the feeling that you're trying to rush me away?"
"Because the first thing I said to you was go away!"
He cocked his head, and his expression grew even more delightful. She would swear she saw a twinkle in his eyes. "Miss Smithson, I thought you were a scientist. The first thing you said to me was, ‘Oh no, Mr. Anaedsley, not today.'"
"Well, there you have it. Go away. We are not receiving callers."
And then, just to make a liar of her, her uncle's carriage trotted up the path. Four horses-matched chestnuts-stepping smartly as they pulled her uncle's polished, gilded monstrosity. And inside waving cheerily was her cousin Ronnie. Half cousin, actually, and she waved halfheartedly at the wan fop.
"It appears, Miss Smithson, that we have been spotted. I'm afraid politeness requires that I make my bow."
"No, we haven't!" She'd used the distraction to pull them back from the rock. They were, in fact, completely shielded from all windows of the Smithson residence including the laboratory. "Ronnie doesn't count. And he certainly doesn't care if you greet him or not. The most powerful snub only seems to inspire him to greater heights of poetry."
"A poet is he?"
"Yes," she groaned. "A good one too." Which made it all the worse.
"Ah. Your suitor, I assume?"
"Suitor" was too simple a word for her relationship with Ronnie, which involved a lot of private family history. "He's my cousin. Well, half cousin, as my father and uncle had different mothers. But he has convinced himself that we are fated to be wed."
"And as a practical woman of science, you do not believe in fate."
She didn't believe in a lot of things, but at the top of the list was Ronnie's fantasy. He thought fate had cast them as prince and princess in a make-believe future. She thought her cousin's obsession with her silly at best, but more likely a dark and dangerous thing. "I do not wish to wed the man," she said baldly.
"Well, the solution is obvious then, isn't it? I shall join you today as an afternoon caller, and Ronnie will not be able to press his suit upon you."
"That would be lovely," she said sourly, "if you actually did as you say. But we both know what will really happen."
"We do?" he countered, all innocence.
She tossed him her most irritated, ugly, and angry look, but it did absolutely nothing to diminish his smile. "Oh leave off, Mr. Anaedsley, I haven't the time for it today."
"But-" he began. She roughly jerked her hand from his arm and stepped away to glare at him.
"Five minutes after greeting everyone, my father will be excited to learn about your latest experiment."
"Actually, it is your father's experiment. I only execute the task he requests-"
"Two minutes after that," she continued as if he hadn't spoken, "the two of you will wander off to his laboratory. Uncle will follow, and I shall be left alone. With Ronnie." She spoke her cousin's name as she might refer to one of her father's experiments gone horribly wrong.
"Perhaps your uncle will remain-"
"Uncle desires the union above all things."
Clearly, she'd flummoxed him. He didn't even bother denying his plan to disappear with her father. And yet the more she glared at him, the more his expression shifted to one of charming apology. That was always the way with him. She'd even taken to calling him Lord Charming in her thoughts, and as she was not a woman prone to fairy tales, the name was not a positive one.
"I see your problem, Miss Smithson," he finally said. "Unfortunately, when I said we had been spotted, I wasn't referring to your half cousin."
She blinked. "What?"
His eyes lit up with genuine warmth as he gestured behind her. Then, before she could spin around, he opened his arms in true delight.
"Mr. Smithson, how absolutely wonderful to see you out and about. Why your daughter was just telling me that she feared for your existence. Was begging me to bring in a London physician-"
"What?" her father said as he strolled down the drive toward them. "Mellie, I've told you I'm right as rain."
"Papa? Where did you come from?"
"Down at Mr. Wilks's barn. Been looking at the sheep to see if the lice powder worked."
Damn it all! She should have known he'd be inspecting the neighbor's sheep. They were the subjects of his current experiment, after all. And naturally he'd be there instead of in his lab where he'd promised to look at what she'd done. "But you have been ill," she said, rather than snap at him for ignoring her latest chemical experiment. "You complain of the rain. It makes your joints ache."
"Well, that's what old men do, my dear." Then her papa turned to Lord Charming and embraced him as if the man were a lost son. It had always been this way between them, starting from when her father had been Mr. Anaedsley's tutor more than a decade ago. The two adored each other, and it was so pure a love that she couldn't even be jealous of it.
Well, she shouldn't be jealous, but she was. Especially as she knew that her plans for the day were doomed. The two would go off with her uncle and leave her with Ronnie. And worse, the main purpose of the day-the sole reason she had asked for her uncle and cousin to visit this afternoon-was completely destroyed.
And it was all Mr. Anaedsley's fault.
* * *
Trevor Harrison Anaedsley, grandson to the Duke of Timby, was not a fool, though he often chose to appear one in public. In truth, he had an engineering mind-set that led him to see how people fit together, one with another, such that society marched at a steady, appropriate, even mechanical pace.
And today, Miss Melinda Smithson did not fit. Her cogs were out of order-likely a female thing-and would rapidly be put to rights with the correct application of lubricant. Except, of course, he had already tried compliments and charm-his usual method of easing the social machinery-and she was even more out of sorts, glaring at him even as he embraced her father.
"Papa," she said with a false amount of cheer, "I know it's lovely that Mr. Anaedsley is here, but today isn't a good day. It's a family reunion of sorts, and he would be bored to distraction."
"What?" her father asked, blinking owlishly at his daughter.
"Family reunion. Mr. Anaedsley is de trop." Her words were heavy with extra meaning, and for a moment Trevor feared he was about to be tossed out. That would be a problem for him. A massive problem, in fact, as he could not return to London for two days at a minimum. Three would be better.
But he needn't have feared. Her father blinked dumbly at his daughter, then waved away her concerns with a snort of derision. "Don't be ridiculous. Honestly, Mellie, I don't know why you fuss so. I'll talk to your uncle while you younger folk entertain yourselves."
"A capital idea!" Trevor cried.
"A terrible idea," Miss Smithson snapped, her voice much more strident than usual. "Papa, I wish to be there when you speak with Uncle."
"Nonsense. I can tell him all about your frippery."
"It's not frippery!"
"Of course not, dear. I shouldn't have suggested such a thing." And then in the way of a very absentminded father, Mr. Smithson touched Trevor on the arm and guided him toward the house. "I'm so glad you're here, my boy. I want to tell you about my latest experiment. Do you recall my cream against ticks? I was just now inspecting the effects on the sheep, and I'm afraid the results are rather disappointing. I thought perhaps you could give my formula a once-over."
"It would be my great pleasure," Trevor answered honestly. He fell into step with the man while stifling the guilt he felt at Miss Smithson's glare.
Once, he would have found a polite way to delay her father, thereby restoring peace between the three of them, or at least to Miss Smithson. But his circumstances had become so desperate that a woman's temper barely caught his attention anymore.
How low he'd sunk to feel such a way. And how desperately he needed a solution beyond food and lodging for three more days.
But this was all he had right now, so he embraced it with good cheer, entering into a scientific discussion about sheep ticks and softening wool before it was even sheered. Ten minutes later, the discussion was so detailed that he barely noticed their arrival at his mentor's home. If it weren't for the interruption by something the size of a small bear, he might not have noticed at all. But a behemoth did push him aside, Mr. Smithson's notebook went flying, and then the massive man abruptly pushed Miss Smithson right back out the door. His voice brooked no disobedience as he cried, "Quick! Outside. Right now!"
"Ronnie!" Miss Smithson exclaimed, and she might have toppled if Trevor hadn't grabbed her elbow. As it was, he dug his fingers too deeply into her arm, and she would likely sport bruises. But at least she didn't tumble into the dirt. Or become completely flattened by the beast of a man whom he now gathered was her cousin and suitor, Ronnie.
Meanwhile, the behemoth in question was tilting her head up toward his face. Miss Smithson gasped, and for a moment Trevor thought the man intended to kiss her. Right there, on the doorstep in front of family and servants.
"I say, Ronnie," began Mr. Smithson.
"Silence!" the man commanded.
Trevor felt his fists bunch as he calculated the most vulnerable spots on the beast's body. He might not have interfered, but Miss Smithson had made her desires to not wed this man quite clear. If this Ronnie intended to make inappropriate advances-and on the front step, no less-then Trevor intended to set the man straight.
Then another voice interrupted the excitement-a man's voice, deep and slow, but no less clear. "Oh, for God's sake, just let him look. He's been prattling on about the color of her eyes for three days."
"My eyes?" Miss Smithson cried.
"Yes," said Ronnie, the word clipped and his expression intent.
And sure enough, as everyone watched, Ronnie took hold of Miss Smithson's head in his massive paws and turned her into and out of the sunlight.
Back somewhere in the hall, Mr. Smithson snorted as he bent to recover his fallen notebook. The newcomer-presumably Ronnie's father-echoed the sound before asking after some new shipment to the Smithson's wine cellar. Trevor, on the other hand, didn't relax until he saw the butler calmly turn aside to hand off hats and coats to a waiting footman. Family might well discount the danger, but servants always knew. If the Smithson's butler saw nothing untoward, then Trevor could relax his fist.
He did, easing his grip on her elbow as well. But he stayed right by her side while her bizarre cousin continued to twist her head one way and the other as he stared intently at her face.
Meanwhile, Miss Smithson rapidly got tired of being manhandled. "They're brown, Ronnie," she snapped as she tried to pull away. She had more hope of pushing aside a boulder.
"Of course they're brown," her cousin agreed. And yet he continued to study her as...well, as Mr. Smithson studied his insects. "To the baker, they're brown. To a lovesick stable boy, they're brown. But to me, sweet Mellie, they are decidedly more interesting than brown." He actually sneered the color.
Trevor felt his irritation run away with him. Was the man a Bedlamite? "But they are brown," he said.
The behemoth shot him a triumphant glare. "Exactly my point."
Miss Smithson made a very loud sigh. "Ronnie-"
"You see," her cousin continued, riding directly over her words. "Your eyes are a kind of mink color in darkness-"
"You can't see them in the dark," she said. Exactly what Trevor would have said.
"In shadow then. But in the sun..." He twisted her head such that the light fell directly on her face. Then he exhaled as one might breathe when in the Sistine Chapel-with awe and amazement. "I was thinking mahogany, but that's not it, not it at all. They're like cat's eyes."
Miss Smithson pursed her lips. "Yellow and slitted?"
"Not a real cat. The stone. Cat's eye stones. Brown, but with striations of gold, not in a slitted line, but more like in a circle. A radiating circle. No, that's not right." He dropped his hands with a huff. "It's most difficult."
Finally released from her cousin's grip, Miss Smithson took a deep breath and straightened upright. She wasn't that tall, but she did have a fierce expression in her eyes-her golden-brown eyes, he reluctantly noted-as she glared at her cousin.
"Ronnie, you didn't have to grab me like that. You could have just asked me to step into the sunlight."
"What?" her cousin said, his brow furrowed in thought. "Your eyes are most difficult, you know. I would just call them cat's eye brown, but that's a double metaphor, you know. The stone is a metaphor for the animal. And the stone would be a metaphor for your eyes. Bad poetry, that."
"Yes," Miss Smithson said, obviously not caring in the least. "Very bad."
"I'd use the chrysoberyl and say damn to the boys who'd have to look up the word, but it would be impossible to rhyme. And besides, the word looks so odd on the page. No one would know how to pronounce it, and the moment they're thinking of that, they've lost the beauty of the poetry." Then he looked back at her. "Though, of course, you know what chrysoberyl is, and the poem is for you-"
"I also know what color my eyes are," she said as she turned to the house. Then she paused to shoot her cousin an irritated glower. "May I go inside now?"
Her sarcasm was lost on the bear suddenly looking at her bonnet. "There's a hole in your bonnet. Did you not notice?"
Which is the exact moment that Miss Smithson's anger shifted right back to Trevor. Her gaze caught his, and he would swear those gold and mahogany eyes shot darts at him. "Yes, Ronnie, I knew."
"Oh. Is it a new female style? To punch holes-"
"No, Ronnie." Stomping past Trevor, she ripped off her broken bonnet and handed it to the butler. "Come inside, Ronnie. You've seen what..." And then she took a quick step forward, her gaze shooting down the hall. "No, Papa! You promised I could be there!"
It took a moment for Trevor to realize what had happened. Looking far down the hallway, he saw Miss Smithson's father and uncle as they headed for the laboratory.
"You children amuse yourselves for a bit, will you?" came her father's answer.
Meanwhile, Trevor naturally took steps to follow them. After all, the happiest days of his life had been spent in Mr. Smithson's laboratory. Not here, of course. The Smithsons hadn't come into their money until recently. But years ago, Mr. Smithson had been his tutor, and the laboratory had been on Trevor's estate. But here or there, the principle was the same: science, experimentation, and a place where a man could cut or boil or blow things up in perfect peace. And Mr. Smithson had said he was welcome at any time.
"Don't you dare," hissed the lady from beside him.
"If you abandon me to Ronnie, then I swear I shall find a way to pour itching powder onto all your clothes. I'll bleach your cravats white. And...and I'll-"
He held up his hand before she could think of more dastardly things to do with his attire. "I believe your father said we should amuse ourselves."
She folded her arms right beneath her bosom. It would have been quite attractive if she weren't glaring at him. "Do not leave-"
"And I, for one, believe I shall be best amused in the laboratory."
"Of all the selfish-"
"You as well, I think. Isn't that what you wanted, Miss Smithson? To go into the laboratory with your father and uncle? To explain something to them, I believe. About a frippery?"
"It's not a frippery!"
He held up his hands, seeing that she had completely lost her temper. And no wonder, what with being manhandled by her cousin for her eye color. "Whatever it is, you will best be entertained in the laboratory, yes?" He held out his arm. "Shall we go?"
She hesitated, biting her lip before looking at him with disturbingly real tears in her eyes. "Please, sir. Please, I beg of you. Can you not just leave and come back tomorrow? You have overset everything!"
He huffed, disturbed that she seemed sincere in her distress. "What exactly have I overset?"
She pressed her lips together, clearly unwilling to tell. But in this, the mystery was solved by the no-longer-distracted Ronnie.
"Oh, she wants to show us her formula for a new women's cream. Big secret. Excellent market potential. Women by the scores will be buying it."
She spun around, her mouth ajar. "Ronnie!"
The bear simply shrugged. "Well, it's not as if the lordling is going to manufacture it himself."
A women's cream? Certainly not. But he didn't say that aloud, as he would likely learn more if he kept silent. And sure enough, the argument continued without him prompting it at all.
"That's not the point!" Miss Smithson exclaimed. "This is my formula. I should be the one who decides who gets to know about it. And most especially, how I will sell it."
Clearly, he was not to be included in her intimate circle.
The bear merely smiled as he leaned against the wall. "What she doesn't realize is that she doesn't need to prove her formula. Father likes the idea and thinks it a capital thing to take to market."
"He does?" she cried, clearly excited. "But that's...that's-"
"Capital!" Trevor completed when the appropriate word seemed to escape her. "It means you need not demonstrate your formula. Your uncle is ready to market it whether or not I find out about it." Which meant that she would go back to not throwing him out, and he could happily spend the next few days in the laboratory with her father.
"Not exactly," interrupted Ronnie. Irritating fellow.
"What?" Miss Smithson asked. "What do you mean?"
"Weeeell," answered her cousin, slowing down his words in the way of a natural-born storyteller. "We need the formula."
The lady shook her head. "Not until...until..." She glanced his way, clearly uncomfortable with speaking such personal details in front of him. Fortunately, Ronnie had no such qualms.
"She won't give over the formula unless the profits go to her."
"Well, that seems fair," Trevor said. After all, that was the point of creating a new product, wasn't it?
"Of course it's fair!" she said. "But Papa thinks a lady shouldn't have her own money. Shouldn't run a factory or be known to create formulas."
Trevor nodded. "Well, it is somewhat unusual. I wouldn't think you'd want to run the factory in any event. Nasty places, noisy and crammed full with unwashed people."
She rounded on him. "That's not the point!"
"But it is the point," interrupted Ronnie. "What you want is unnatural, Mellie."
Trevor heard her grind her teeth. It was quite audible. And then she spoke, each word spit out like tiny rocks.
"I won't give over the formula any other way."
"And neither of our fathers will put the money in your name."
She exhaled slowly. Loudly. "Ronnie-"
"But there is one way you can have what you want. One solution that will make everyone happy." He stepped closer, his eyes wide and his expression earnest. And he was such a large man that he by necessity shouldered Trevor aside even as he blocked the sun from the room.
"Ronnie," she began, clearly knowing what was about to happen. But Trevor didn't know. And he was suddenly very interested to find out.
"It's our destiny. Has been since the day I was born."
The man dropped down to one knee. He went hard, the thud of impact on the marble echoed in the foyer, but the bear didn't even wince. His eyes were all for his cousin as he captured her hands.
"Marry me, Mellie. I could tell you as many romantic things as you want. I can talk about your beauty and write poetry-"
"You have been writing-"
"But that hasn't worked. So let me speak as my father does. Marry me, and the business will naturally come to both of us. I'll let you have all the money you want. You can run it or hire someone else to do it. You can have as large a laboratory as you like. Your own place, and you won't have to keep cleaning up your father's messes."
Trevor could see that she wanted to stop him. He saw her lashes blink away tears, not of love, but of frustration and despair. And yet, she didn't say anything, and the damned poet kept talking.
"I love you, Mellie. I always have. And even if you don't feel the same way right now, even you must see how very perfect we are for one another. Please," he said as he pressed his mouth to her knuckles. "Please be my bride."
Which is when-for no reason whatsoever-Trevor punched the man, knocking him flat.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- ASIN : B00R37SQQS
- Publisher : Sourcebooks Casablanca (May 5, 2015)
- Publication date : May 5, 2015
- Language : English
- File size : 1182 KB
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- Print length : 386 pages
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