Authors: Christy Carlyle
Never Tempt a Rogue
A Rogues’ Rulebook Novella
Never Tempt a Rogue
Copyright: Christy Carlyle
Published: February 2016
Gilded Heart Publishing
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“He has the longest legs.” Amelia Huntingdon twirled a strand of glossy chestnut hair around her finger and sighed dramatically. “It’s quite something to see him walk. His thighs flex so—”
“Curb your tongue, Amy. A lady does not notice a man’s flexibility, nor anything else about his thighs.” Felicity Beckett placed a finger between two pages of the etiquette manual she’d been attempting to read as the Huntingdon family carriage rattled along from London toward the Surrey countryside. After struggling for an hour to finish the first chapter, she couldn’t bear to lose her place and muddle through again.
The book’s contents were as appetizing as a stale biscuit, but she intended to take her role as chaperone seriously. Perhaps if she kept her eyes trained on the words long enough, the rules would make an impression, stamping right over her own persistent memory of Amy’s exceedingly tall viscount.
“Lord Lindsay is a man like all the rest,” she continued.
With undeniably appealing thighs. Muscular and…
“No, I take that back. He’s much worse than all the rest. Put thoughts of the viscount out of your mind.” Felicity spoke to her younger cousin with extra vehemence on this essential point. Whatever else happened during the country house party they were planning to attend, the girl had to cease her infatuation with the man. As Amelia’s chaperone, Felicity needed to see that she did.
Lord Lindsay was the worst sort of scoundrel. Infamous for his excesses, in fact. He and two of his pleasure-seeking friends had even written a book about their exploits called
The Rogues’ Rulebook
, a sort of primer for young men looking to indulge their every licentious desire.
Not that Felicity had read it. She was forcing herself to read
Etiquette for Ladies
, and one day she’d finish the book, absorbing all its wisdom and propriety so that she could impart them to Amy. Assuming she could manage to stay awake through the next chapter.
Felicity had never been formally introduced to Viscount Lindsay, but she’d once studied him from across a ballroom, back when he’d simply been the scandalous Alexander Evering. That had been enough to sear his image—flexing thighs and all—on her mind, and to confirm every whisper she’d heard about the rogue. With overlong hair of burnished gold, sooty lashes over gray eyes, and lips that quirked in mockery often enough to rivet her gaze to their plush fullness, he was the essence of temptation. No man could possess his brand of incandescent beauty and be a good man. Worst of all, he seemed wholly aware of his effect on women. He wielded his appeal like a skilled swordsman swings his blade, piercing ladies’ hearts in his wake. Rumor had it that he charmed, seduced, and discarded lovers without a shred of shame.
Well-bred innocents like Amy seemed especially susceptible.
“You can’t expect me to avoid him for a fortnight. That would be rude.” Across from her, Amelia fluttered her lashes innocently. “Does your dusty old book say anything about being polite at a house party?”
Felicity squinted one eye and studied her pretty cousin. Perhaps the girl had inherited a bit of Uncle Huntingdon’s cleverness after all. Most days, Felicity would swear Amy’s head was full of candy floss, but then she found herself stumbling into a coyly framed question.
“We shall offer Lord Lindsay a polite greeting and converse with him as often as we must, but Lady Forsythe assured me there will be several charming, and titled, young gentlemen in attendance.”
Please let her find one of those charming, titled, and eminently suitable men more appealing than the viscount
. “For these two weeks, let your focus be on new acquaintances, my dear.”
As the oldest of five sisters, Amy’s fortuitous marriage could alter the future for the rest of her siblings. Their late mother’s friendship with Lady Forsythe had earned the girl an invitation to the house party. Felicity’s role was to help her make the most of the opportunity.
As a firmly on-the-shelf spinster with no family other than the uncle and cousins who’d opened their home to her, Felicity understood the power of opportunities. She was living with the consequences of squandering her own. She’d trusted too easily, and given her heart to a man incapable of taking care with it. Amy could do better. With her looks and sweet demeanor, the eldest Miss Huntingdon would marry well. And that would need to be satisfaction enough. No one need tell Felicity that her own chance at a happily settled future had passed her by long ago.
“Never tempt a rogue, Amy.” The words burst out before she could stop herself. Emotion came too, a piercing sharpness in the back of her throat as if her past mistakes would choke her. She pushed all of it down, the emotion and the memories. Just as she’d been doing for four years. “It won’t lead you anyplace you wish to go. Trust me on that point.”
Her cousin turned serious and quiet a moment before tilting her mouth in a tremulous smile. “Is that a direct quote from your etiquette guide, cousin?”
“More or less.” Felicity looked down at the book in her lap and sighed. At some point she’d lifted her finger and lost her page. “Of course, I’ve only read a chapter so far, but what’s the use of etiquette if not to keep us from making awful choices?”
“Did you make an awful choice?” Amy studied her with a surprisingly incisive gaze. “Is there something in your past that you regret, Fel?”
Biting down, catching the edge of her lip between her teeth, Felicity looked out over the rolling Surrey countryside. Swaths of green changed hue as sunlight slanted through feathery clouds. Not even the bucolic landscape could distract her from the memory of her regret.
Thomas Reeves was his name. Now Lord Kenniston. Her once upon a time beau. Her only love. The most appealing young man in the Berkshire village where she’d grown up. He’d possessed an easy smile, playful blue eyes, thick auburn hair, and a heart as shallow as a pie pan.
With Amy, there was always some smitten young man or another buzzing about her, gathering in her father’s parlor during calling hours, hovering at the edge of a ballroom, hoping for a spot on her dance card. But with Felicity, there had only ever been Thomas Reeves. No other young man had ever given her—a bookish, ungainly girl with pale hair and even paler eyes—a second glance. But he had. He’d glanced aplenty, smiled often, and made her giggle like a fool each time he said something clever. Which he always did. She’d even giggled the first time he kissed her. But only the first time. After that, she’d learned to kiss him back, to make him as breathless as he made her. He taught her everything she knew about love, and making love, and then he’d taken it all away. An unexpected inheritance made him a baron. The moment he’d gained a title, she, a village doctor’s daughter, fell far below his notice.
“Let’s leave regret aside for now, my dear.” Felicity considered confiding all of it, as a cautionary tale, if nothing else, but she suspected Amy would find discretion as unappealing as decorum. Despite her best intentions, the girl did love gossip, and Felicity could imagine nothing worse than finding that everyone they were about to meet would know the details of her youthful folly at the end of the Forsythe’s two week house party.
For some pointless reason, the notion of Lord Lindsay finding out irked her most of all. She could easily imagine the arrogant smirk he’d wear on that full, perfectly sculpted mouth of his when he discovered that a plain old maid had indulged the same carnal urges he touted in his loathsome book. How could she insist on the man’s honorable behavior toward Amy when she couldn’t claim any moral high ground for herself?
“Do you think we’ll play lawn croquet? “Amy asked, as if no serious subject had arisen between them. Variety was her conversational way. The girl switched topics as often as she changed her hair ribbons.
Felicity almost admired her cousin’s ability to remain oblivious to the feelings of others. Such a talent kept a perpetual grin tickling at the edges of her mouth, and men took Amy’s jovial nature to heart, imagining that her affable, grinning face was for them alone.
Men are such selfish, ridiculous creatures.
“Or tennis on the table? I hear the countess is a great fan of the game.” Amy carried on musing about other parlor games Lady Forsythe might devise, which color of gown the ladies would favor at the first dance, and how many gentlemen she could fit on her dance card.
Felicity chewed her bottom lip again. The etiquette book would no doubt have something to say about her nervous habit, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. Who was she to serve as a model of deportment and proper behavior to anyone? Shepherding Amy was the one thing Uncle Huntingdon had asked of her. What if she failed him? She clutched at her belly, attempting to rub away a sudden onslaught of queasiness.
“Don’t look so worried, Fel.” Amy reached across the carriage, slipping her hand into Felicity’s. “I may seem like the silliest sort of goose, but I know what Papa expects. I know what my sisters hope for. And I do know that encouraging Lord Lindsay won’t get me any nearer to pleasing any of them.”
“Clever girl.” Felicity squeezed her cousin’s hand and smiled. For the first time since they’d started on their journey, she felt a bit of her anxiety ease. Perhaps they would come through this fortnight successfully.
She may have thoroughly mucked up her own future, but she couldn’t bear to let Amy do the same.
The house party promised to be a disaster. Alexander Evering—he still thought of himself that way six months after inheriting a title— dreaded the fortnight visit to his aunt and uncle’s home.
Complete and utter folly.
As the Lindsay carriage wheels slammed into another rut along the country road, Alex pressed fingers to his throbbing temples and repeated the sentiment that had been on his tongue since leaving London. “Why the hell did I agree to this?”
He hated the country. Hated traveling long distances by carriage. Why did aristocrats insist on troubling horses and coachmen when there were perfectly capable trains at hand?
Mostly, he hated that Henry was dead. Never would he receive another of his older brother’s lectures, nor beat him at chess, nor engage in one of their entirely pointless arguments. And now the bloody Lindsay title, which Henry had always been suited for, was his.
If the weight of it had pressed down with such leaden hopelessness on Henry, then he could understand why his brother had taken his own life.
The explanation Mother had given in the black-edged letter informing him of his brother’s death did not sit right. It still rang in his head like a discordant note on an untuned piano. A woman, she’d claimed. Some earl’s daughter had broken Henry’s heart? Unthinkable. Alex had never known a more self-possessed man. Except, perhaps, their father. Both men had avoided emotion, outlawed frivolity, decried any kind of passion. Temperance had been his father’s guiding principle, and Henry had followed lockstep in his wake.
“What do you think, love? Did a woman truly uncover my brother’s heart and rend it in two?” He stroked his companion’s smooth side as he spoke, resting his hand in the perfectly shaped dip of her curves. The violin offered no reply. She never did. He strummed out a tune on her newly strung strings, and the warm, reverberating notes momentarily soothed the erratic beat in his head.
Slumping back against the seat, he clenched his teeth to keep them from clattering when the carriage dipped into another hole. An hour later it finally jolted to a stop, but the pounding in Alex’s head resumed the minute hoof beats ceased. Imagining what he’d face at the Forsythe estate had caused his head to ache, but actually facing his aunt and uncle was a far more daunting prospect. They’d be full of expectation, responsibility, duty—everything he’d been content to leave on Henry’s shoulders for twenty-eight years. Though his mother had urged him to enjoy the event, he suspected it had all been arranged so that her brother in law, his uncle, the eminent Earl of Forsythe, could teach him the rules of aristocratic behavior. They were lessons which he’d been excused from as a child. He may have been the spare heir, but his father had only ever truly believed Henry would hold his title.
As Alex settled dark spectacles on his nose to block out the damnably bright country sun, his uncle wrenched the carriage door open and ushered him out.
“Welcome, Alexander.” Lord Forsythe stepped aside and wrinkled his nose. “The interior of that carriage reeks like a distillery.”
Excessive consumption of alcohol fit well with his role as a libertine, but he’d always loathed drink. After hours of travel, he hadn’t the energy for offering his uncle anything but the truth.
“Father was fonder of spirits than he let on.” Alex stepped onto the gravel drive and glanced back at the plush conveyance. “I found a bottle of brandy he’d hidden in a side pocket. Spilled half of it before I managed a single sip. That’s what you smell, Uncle. I arrive clear-headed, I assure you.”
“Good, you’ll need your wits about you.” The older man gazed at him dubiously but finally stuck out a hand. “Your aunt has grand plans for this fortnight.”
Alex dipped his head, casting his uncle a gaze over his smoky glasses. “I do hope her plans don’t involve marrying me off to some dimwitted society miss by the end of the party.” He infused the words with as much jest as he could manage on minimal sleep, but when his uncle’s eyes widened, he knew his worst fears were true.
“She’d take umbrage at the very suggestion.” Lord Forsythe frowned and puffed out his chest, as if irritated on his wife’s behalf. “She’s chosen some of the finest young ladies in the surrounding counties to come and make your acquaintance. Though, considering your reputation, I wonder if you’re not familiar with many of them already.”