A Truly Perfect Gentleman
Book 6 in the True Gentlemen series
Grey Dorning, Earl of Casriel, must marry well and soon. He has five unmarried brothers whom he should assist to get a start in life, any number of tenant cottages threatening to fall apart, and he’s running out of time to set the earldom to rights. He needs an agreeable heiress looking for a title, a lady who will be content to marry a man more renowned for his manners than his fortune.
Beatitude, Countess of Canmore, wants a friendly, harmless liaison with a charming man who won’t fetter her freedom. She’s not wealthy, but she has earned her independence, and intends to keep it. Casriel knows what he needs, Addy knows she wants, so why can’t they stop thinking about each other?
Enjoy An Excerpt
Grey Dorning, Earl of Casriel, is in London to court a wealthy bride, though he can’t deny an attraction to Beatitude, Countess of Canmore. Her ladyship is a widow of only the most modest means, which Grey’s foolish heart can’t seem to recall…
The countess exuded serenity, while Grey felt torn between foolishness and determination. He’d slept badly, then his horse had thrown a shoe in the park at first light. What should have been a good gallop had become a hike through Mayfair’s streets towing a gelding who had perfected the art of the theatrical limp.
Grey had attempted to deal with his correspondence, because he was two weeks behind with the steward’s reports from Dorning Hall, but Sycamore had wandered by, intent on discussing his new business venture. The morning had been a waste, and luncheon at the club had seemed like a small consolation.
Ha. Grey had been unable to enjoy his steak in a dining room that still reeked from last night’s smoking in the cardroom across the corridor. He’d made the mistake of glancing at the betting book on his way out the door, and his day had gone from trying to impossible.
Her ladyship took a seat, making a portrait of feminine contentment in a wing chair near the window. She clearly wasn’t afraid of sunlight, though that thought brought a question. What did she fear? What could ruffle her composure? What preoccupied her when she laid her head on her pillow and waited for sleep to come?
Not you, old chap.
“My club keeps a book,” Grey said, rather than attempt any small talk. “The ledger records wagers of all kinds.” He wanted to pace, but this little parlor would afford him about two strides in any direction. The appointments were comfortable and pretty, also delicate enough to be easily smashed by a heedless earl.
The mantel held a series of porcelain figures in gilded pastels—a laughing shepherd boy, a girl in a straw hat with a goose curled adoringly against her skirts, another girl who was barefoot and leading a small cow. Sheep figured among the collection, as did a white donkey with a blue butterfly on its nose.
Whimsical, bucolic choices for a Mayfair countess, and the sight of them helped settle Grey’s temper. This might have been a series of scenes from the home farm in Dorset, where Grey could return when his task in London was completed.
“Are you the subject of a wager?” Lady Canmore asked.
“I am the subject of a host of wagers, all of them recent and inappropriate.”
Her ladyship looked as if she were studying a hand of cards, deciding what to toss and what to keep. “I was married to a man who took enthusiastically to life’s joys. I am familiar with the mechanics of conception. I know that across the street and three doors down, a very pretty woman of years comparable to my own maintains a common nuisance. From my morning room, I can see who patronizes her establishment. I know who spends the entire night there, and who is in and out—so to speak—in less than half an hour.”
Grey left off admiring the figures. “You are saying I needn’t be delicate.”
“My husband liked to drink to excess. He dabbled in nitrous and opium and occasionally shared a pipe with me. He teased me into trying his cigars and laughed uproariously when I nearly coughed myself to perdition on the first puff. He read me naughty poetry and had a wicked imagination, which he did not keep to himself in the presence of his wife.”
This recitation had Grey taking the other wing chair. He could not tell if her ladyship missed this man, judged him for his vices, neither, or both.
“So, my lord, tell me of these wagers.”
Grey didn’t want to, but as he’d picked at an overly cooked steak and an undercooked potato at his own cluttered desk, he’d concluded that he must.
“Some of the wagers are merely unkind, betting that I will propose to an Arbuckle before King George’s birthday. Others are less innocent.”
“Welcome to the entertainments of the idle, wealthy male, my lord. For my part, I usually find the sums involved more obscene than the wagers themselves.”
Excellent point. “The wager gaining the most attention says I’ll make you my mistress before I leave Town, brideless, one assumes, though some are betting that I’ll propose to Miss Sarah Quinlan, and others have put their faith in Lady Antonia Mainwaring’s charms.”
Those bets made Grey uneasy. The one regarding Lady Canmore infuriated him.
“You cannot make me your mistress, my lord. That is an office I must choose for myself.” She offered this observation with a baffling touch of humor, not quite smiling, but communicating mirth with her tone of voice.
“You will forgive me, my lady, if I don’t refine on that point to the idiots at my club. A lady’s good name should be protected at all costs. I’m tempted to resign from the damned organization before sundown. The Arbuckles are in precarious standing, from what I understand, being unpopular and without any offers in their third Season.
“I cannot speak for Miss Quinlan’s situation,” Grey went on, “though I suspect she is an heiress of some renown. Lady Antonia cannot help that she is tall, any more than I can help that I am tall, and yet, her height was referred to unflatteringly in the ledger book.”
Lady Antidote. Did young women make up sly names for the gentlemen? Grey hoped they did, because such puerile tricks deserved retaliation.
“You are an earl. Height is manly and unwomanly at the same time.”
Her calm baffled him. “Why have I spent my youth and adulthood pounding, lecturing, and threatening my brothers into a semblance of gentlemanly conduct, only to come to London and find this, this… vulgarity from men who are supposed to manage the affairs of the realm?”
The countess smoothed a hand over her skirts. “You are concerned your brothers will learn of these wagers.”
Well, yes, though Grey hadn’t come to that realization until her ladyship had spoken. “Sycamore hears everything. He’s like a damned house cat, always where he isn’t supposed to be, always listening and plotting secret mischief. Lately, he’s taken up the habit of correspondence, which is enough to give me nightmares. Hawthorne regards Town as Sodom-on-Thames, and I suspect Ash, Oak, or Valerian will come on an inspection tour any week now. They expect better of me.”
Her ladyship rested her chin on her palm, gazing out the window. “We could have an affair.”
Grey responded before the import of the words fully registered. “No, we could not—I mean, such an undertaking would doubtless be delightful, but one doesn’t, or rather, I haven’t, or not very—what the hell kind of suggestion is that, Beatitude?”
Had she been teasing him?
And when had the adult male cock become an auditory organ? Her outrageous notion sent desire pooling where it wasn’t easily hidden. Grey considered crossing a knee over an ankle, but Lady Canmore had apparently enjoyed a very modern marriage.
He did not cross his legs, or fidget, or for one instant allow the possibility of an affair to consume his imagination. Instead, it sat like a cat in a shadowed corner of his mind, licking its paws and switching its tail in a knowing fashion.
“People do,” she went on, brows knit. “Have affairs, especially people who like each other. Ever since you escorted me home from Lady Bellefonte’s ball, I have held you in high regard.”
This conversation was unlike any Grey had had with anybody, including his horse, including those discussions undertaken with his married brother, Willow, while drinking from the bottom quarter of the decanter.
“I hold you in utmost esteem, my lady, which is why I will decline to have an affair with you.” Grey did not look at her décolletage, though he esteemed that abundance right along with the rest of her.
The situation was hilarious, also sad. He was an adult, he desired her madly, respected her tremendously, and she apparently did not find him objectionable. A courtship might have started under those circumstances, but for his lack of funds.
“No affair, then,” she said, as if choosing a velvet fabric over a muslin. “I suppose that leaves a warm friendship, if we’re to scotch the gossip.”
“What is a warm friendship?” A warm friendship probably involved such public tortures as being seen with the lady in casual conversation, sitting out a set with her, perhaps taking her driving during the carriage parade.
Grey hated the carriage parade with a passion that exceeded his loathing for foot rot and dull shearing blades.
“I don’t envision anything too onerous,” her ladyship replied. “I’ll partner you at whist, you’ll stand up with me for a supper waltz. At a musicale, we’ll sit next to each other and whisper discreetly behind our programs. We might ride out together for an early morning hack and indulge in a bit of flirting where others can admire your wit and my smile. Aunt Freddy will be delighted if she gets wind of these doings, but you mustn’t encourage her daft notions. The idea is that we behave with cordial good cheer toward one another, and in a few weeks, another wager will have caught the attention of the buffoons at your club.”
To waltz with her, to see her first thing in the day amid the foggy beauty of the bridle paths, to gaze at her across a card table, sending subtle signals regarding the hands in play…
“How do you advise me to act toward the other ladies?”
“Oh, much the same. They aren’t widows, though Miss Quinlan is something of an original, so the demands on you will be fewer. Aunt Freddy always says the best response to idle talk is no response at all, and she has weathered many a Season.”
Grey had probably flung that maxim at his brothers over the years, for which he deserved to be punched by each of them in succession. “I still want to resign from the damned idiot club.”
Lady Canmore patted his wrist. “You are doomed to be a good example to your peers. Sainthood is a thankless burden, but you might like having me for a friend.”
The cat in Grey’s mind purred at that thought. He mentally nudged the randy beast through the nearest window. “Will you enjoy having me for a friend?”
“I believe I shall, though ladies are known for their changeable opinions.”
“You are teasing me.” Nobody teased the Earl of Casriel. He wasn’t sure he minded it—from her. “How do we embark on our warm friendship?”
She rose, and Grey came to his feet as well. “Are you attending tonight’s card party?”
“Try not to sound so overcome with joy, my lord. I will partner you for the second half of the evening, and we will bicker over farthing points, as friends do.”
“I’m to bicker with you? A gentleman does not argue with a lady.”
She patted his cravat. “I’m afraid you must.”
“I refuse to sink to such an ungentlemanly—” He was bickering with her, and she was grinning at him, looking delighted with herself while she petted him. “Very well, a little friendly bickering.”
She linked arms with him and escorted him to the front door. “If you’d ever like to reconsider, let me know.”
She passed him his hat, her expression solemn. “About the affair, of course. I haven’t much experience with such adventures, but one doesn’t forget the basics. I’m sure I could muddle along fairly well once we got past the first few trysts.”
Minx. What a lucky man her husband had been. “If I ever reconsider, you will be the first to know.” And because she’d been entirely too serene, confident, and charming for the duration of this awkward interview, Grey bent close and pressed a kiss to her cheek. “You must promise to do likewise—let me know if something more than a warm friendship would be to your taste.”
She touched her fingers to the spot he’d kissed. “That is estimable flirting for a man who professes little interest in frivolous undertakings. I account myself impressed.”
But not tempted, which should have been a relief. He bowed over her hand. “Until this evening, when we will plunder our opponents’ coffers and flirt the evening away.”
“Plundering sounds delightful. Until this evening, my lord.”
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End of Excerpt
A Truly Perfect Gentleman is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
September 25, 2018
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