The Wooing of a Wayward Rogue
Scandalous Spinsters Book 7
There comes a time in every spinster's life when she accepts there is no white knight riding to her rescue. When Miss Georgiana Conley's infamous, wealthy aunt offers to make her an heiress in exchange for her company, Georgiana is relieved she will no longer burden her impoverished family. But though her scandalous aunt has retired to the country, she's not quite as lonely as she's led Georgiana to believe.
She has a beau.
Stephan Laurent, Lord de Winter, is handsome, charming, and suspiciously devoted to a woman twice his age. He must have designs on Georgiana's inheritance. Though she immediately vows to chase the silver-tongued fortune hunter away, she soon questions whether she is protecting her aunt, her inheritance...or her heart.
The man whose muddied boots and sodden greatcoat tracked debris across the newly cleaned floor was accustomed to servants. Miss Georgiana Conley, no more genteel than the tavern girl scouring the table beside hers, frowned. She knew a spoiled aristocrat when she saw one, even if she’d never seen one up close.
The damp floor squeaked as he shifted out of his greatcoat and hung it on a peg. Even from twenty paces, the quality of his coat was apparent. No patches mended the wool. Wide lapels had been pressed into submission by an indefatigable valet. The rest of his attire was just as fine. His bright neckcloth billowed in an impressive fall despite the weather’s attempt to collapse it. Such an extravagance of linen belied the simplicity of his drab-colored superfine coat, brown satin waistcoat, and buff breeches.READ MORE
She supposed it was all meant to resemble country garb. Yet each piece was too well-made to be confused for common goods, just as the man himself.
Feigning interest in the ladies’ periodical spread open beside her tea service, Georgiana watched him cross the room.
A talented tailor, aided by that aforementioned valet, had contrived to make the most of his long, lean form, likely the product of horse riding and pugilism. According to her Ladies’ Companion Magazine, those were the activities young aristocrats participated in when they felt inclined to stretch their limbs.
And what fine limbs he had. Despite the tavern’s dim lighting, made even darker by the storm raging outside, Georgiana could clearly see the shape of his powerful thighs and the solid curve of his—
“That’s Lord de Winter,” the tavern girl whispered, her hand methodically scrubbing the spot where the stain had surely been resolved some minutes ago.
Georgiana snapped her gaze from the handsome stranger’s derriere. Had she been staring at his backside?
She raised her teacup to her lips, determined to ignore Lord de Winter, but the contents had already grown cold. She took a sip, anyway. Goodness, had she really stared at him? Her face was hotter than her tea.
“I won’t say a word about it,” the tavern girl reassured her with a wink, still whispering. “We’ve all done it. He comes once a week, like clockwork, on account of the ale.” She pointed to an empty table in the nearest corner. “The ladies’ sewing circle meets on Wednesday afternoons just so they can ogle him. They’d be here now, but for the storm.”
Georgiana’s mortified flush threatened to heat the entire tavern. Ogling men was what her fluff-brained younger sisters did. Georgiana, a confirmed spinster of five and thirty, did not.
“That will be all,” she said, as firmly as a headmistress taking a student to task. Though she shouldn’t have been staring at him, it was poor manners for the girl to call her out. “Please bring more hot water for my tea.”
“Yes, mum.” She didn’t appear the least bit chastened as she ran off.
She couldn’t be much older than Georgiana’s youngest sister. Fourteen was old enough to know better than to gossip with strangers. But it wasn’t Georgiana’s place anymore to worry about such things, was it? From now on, the only unmarried female she must manage was herself.
She forced her attention back to her magazine. The yellowing issue was three years outdated. The whole of England, it seemed, had read every volume of Ladies’ Companion Magazine except her. She had plenty of catching up to do, and all the time in the world now to do it.
The lurid tale of an unfortunate debutante and her irresistible rake quickly recaptured Georgiana’s attention. For years, she’d confiscated her sisters’ contraband magazines whenever she’d come upon them under a couch cushion or tucked between the loose bricks in their fireplace. The gossip rag’s subject matter was highly inappropriate for unmarried ladies. Georgiana had locked them all in a trunk, never to be seen again.
As she fell back into the story, she almost forgot about Lord de Winter. His animated conversation with the tavernkeeper was too distant to eavesdrop upon, not that she would have done so, and she most certainly wasn’t going to be caught ogling his backside again. Still, she hadn’t realized how much she’d put him from her mind until a warm, male voice caused her to jump out of her skin.
“Would you like more light?” Lord de Winter set a lantern on the table as she looked up in astonishment.
He nudged it closer to her open magazine. She slammed her hand over the salacious text, covering as much as possible with her blunt-nailed fingers.
His eyes laughed at her. At least he didn’t mock her magazine outright. “Reading in the dark gives me a devil of a megrim.”
Despite the sudden dryness in her throat, she managed to find her voice. “You’re very forward, sir.”
He chuckled, making the table between them seem too narrow. “I can hardly stand about when I see a damsel in distress. Lord de Winter, at your service.” He made an effortless yet graceful bow. “Might I have the name of the lady I’ve saved?”
She pursed her lips, wary of anyone who’d go through so much trouble for an introduction. Especially to an unchaperoned female traveling alone. “I wasn’t in need of rescue, my lord. Thank you, just the same.”
“Is that a Ladies’ Companion?” he asked, leaning forward to peer at her magazine. And why wouldn’t he ignore her attempt to put him in his place? She was the aging sister of a blacksmith, while he was a nobleman in his prime.
She threw her serviette across the issue, but it was too late. She caught a tantalizing whiff of spice and leather as his head dipped toward her magazine.
His dark brows rose in surprise as he stood tall again. “March, eighteen thirteen? Where did you even procure such an ancient tome?”
“Your manners, sir!” She snapped up the magazine and rolled it into a tube, much like she’d done at home when she’d needed to scold her brother’s yapping little dog.
He laughed outright. “Do you intend to whack me with that? Go on. I’m trying to recall what sort of gossipmongering would have been done three years ago. I was something of a man about town, then. Perhaps I’m mentioned.”
She gripped the yellowed roll and eyed him suspiciously. She was acutely aware of her plainness; she’d had an age to come to terms with it. A titled lord who considered himself “a man about town” had no reason to take an interest in her, aside from simple boredom.
“I know the publisher of this magazine,” he remarked, undeterred by Georgiana’s irritated silence. “I doubt even she has editions as old as this. Would you like a more recent copy? I probably have an issue in my saddlebag.”
He read Ladies’ Companion Magazine? Why?
But of course. He wanted to know what was being said about him.
“I couldn’t return it. I’m only staying the night.” Georgiana didn’t mention that she had a valise packed almost entirely with old Ladies’ Companion Magazines in her room upstairs. He’d laugh at her. Best to send him on his way, before he became impossible to unseat.
“Oh? Where are you bound?” His voice was light with friendly interest.
Her hackles rose. This was how it started. She’d read enough accounts of stolen virtue to recognize the beginnings of a compromise.
“I’d rather not say.”
“Of course,” he agreed, without a trace of contrition. “That’s a private matter. It seems we’re the only two people lucky enough to have found shelter on what has become a miserable afternoon. I suppose you’d be even more scandalized if I begged a seat at your table and requested two draughts of what I can assure you is very fine ale.” He leaned forward again, his hands on the back of the chair across from her. “I promise it’s not your virtue I’m after, but your company.”
Her lips parted in shock. “Sir!”
“‘My lord’ is more appropriate.” His face crinkled with good humor. “Perhaps you haven’t met that many earls.”
She gripped the paper tube in her hand until it crumpled. She’d been told men could be persistent. She’d warned her sisters about it. Her own brother, a mere apprentice blacksmith at the time, had wooed the daughter of a local viscount until she’d agreed to elope with him. Men simply didn’t take no for an answer.
“Just say ‘no’ if you prefer your privacy,” Lord de Winter said, much to her surprise. “I’m entirely capable of dining at the counter. It’s what I usually do.”
It was as if he’d read her mind. She hesitated before answering.
“Perhaps next time, then,” he said, releasing the chair and giving a little bow. “I’ve been told I improve with exposure.”
Oh, but it was on the tip of her tongue to tell him to stay! Hours remained before she could prepare for bed. She hadn’t taken dinner yet. The wrinkled magazine in her hand suddenly seemed an overreaction. What did it matter if she made the acquaintance of an attractive gentleman, when she was on her way to ruin, anyway?
He turned and walked away. She watched his powerful thighs carry him across the room. It wasn’t improper to stare now, was it? They’d been in conversation.
Her heart thumped faster as he approached the counter and pulled out a stool. Mayhap she’d misjudged him, after all. She hadn’t expected him to give up so easily. What if he had merely wanted to make idle conversation to pass the time?
That must have been it. Why had she thought he viewed her as anything but respectable company? She was utterly shrewish-looking.
As she finished her now-refreshed tea, she couldn’t keep herself from drinking in Lord de Winter from across the room, a real-life rogue torn from the pages of her magazine. His broad shoulders and back were to her. Yet she still felt the devastating smile he’d bestowed upon her. He’d already turned it on the tavernkeeper’s wife, who wouldn’t stop blushing.
There was no valid reason why she couldn’t converse with him. As of last Saturday, she was no longer Miss Conley, dried-up spinster and sometimes-governess to four boisterous sisters. Her giggling younger sisters lived and breathed the hope of meeting a man just like Lord de Winter, despite being the poor relations of a village blacksmith.
Why shouldn’t she be the one to have the adventure?
The longer she thought about it, the easier it became to reconcile. If she invited Lord de Winter back to her table, no one would be the wiser. And if someone did learn of her private conversation with the earl, what did it matter? Tomorrow, she planned to throw in her lot with her maternal aunt, a retired stage actress. Actresses were barely a step above harlots. Living with Aunt Millie would drive the final nail into her coffin. Why guard a reputation she no longer needed?
She tried not to let the memory of his sparkling eyes sway her decision. If only she’d seen the like of him before, he might have been easier to resist.
More than enough time passed wherein he could have changed his mind and come back on his own. Very well, then. As with everything else, this was clearly up to her.
She rose and went to the counter. He looked up in surprise as she materialized beside him.
“I’m bound for York, actually,” Georgiana announced.
He set aside his empty tankard. “Oh?”
“I’ve never been,” she said. Not an express invitation for him to join her, but enough to provide an opening, should he wish to take it. “My destination is a half day’s drive, I’m told, though the mud will slow the horses.”
He smiled broadly and leaned aside, one hand planted on the waxed countertop. “My estate is in York! I’ve been spending more time there recently, though I’m currently returning from London.”
Feeling as though she wasn’t herself at all, Georgiana offered him a brief glance. So this was what it felt like to have a man’s attention. No wonder she’d had such trouble holding her sisters back from their determined pursuit of the local militiamen, newly stationed in Gloucester. She could almost swoon.
Lord de Winter rose. He indicated to her table. “May I?”
She nodded once, still unable to overcome the years of decorum drilled into her head. He offered his arm, the first man besides her brother to do so.
Those ten steps felt like Moses crossing the desert. Was this truly happening? To her?
Once she’d seated herself on the bench, Lord de Winter pulled out the chair across from hers and folded himself into it. Without even having to be asked, the tavernkeeper appeared with two tankards of ale and a crusty loaf of bread.
Lord de Winter lifted his tankard toward Georgiana in salute. His eyes gleamed. “To throwing caution to the wind.”
Well, she wasn’t ready to jest about it yet. Nevertheless, she tipped her tankard the barest amount in his direction, then sipped from it.
The ale was good. She’d been drinking her brother’s ale in the evenings for years, though only Gavin knew it. There were some benefits to being the eldest sibling.
“Do you like it?” Lord de Winter grinned as if he’d shared a brilliant secret with her.
“It’s drinkable,” she demurred. In truth, it was the best she’d ever had. She took another sip. “The tavernkeeper’s wife should be commended.”
“His wife—!” Lord de Winter appeared insulted.
“It’s his wife who makes the ale, I’m sure.” Georgiana had been her brother’s brewer as well as his taster, as many chatelaines were. But she supposed this privileged London dandy knew little about how ale was produced.
“For most ales, I suppose,” Lord de Winter allowed. “But this is brewed in an alehouse. The largest outside of London.”
“This isn’t private stock?” She eyed her tankard, surprised it was so well-balanced. Most ales couldn’t survive being transported farther than a few miles before they began to degrade.
They passed the next hour discussing hops, yeast, and temperature. If ale wasn’t the most interesting subject, it was at least a safe one. He knew more about brewing than she’d credited.
The time passed too quickly. She’d never sat and simply talked to a man. It was enlightening to find she could converse with one about nothing important, with no expectation of anything. She was unlikely to see him again, even if they were both bound for York.
Even if he were not impossibly far above her station, no respectable person would receive her once she became her infamous aunt’s companion.
The weather cleared before dinner. Georgiana tried not to feel disappointment as she watched the tavern door close behind him. Two decades of perfect comportment had set her up for a lifetime of loneliness. Fiercely guarding her reputation—until now—had gained her nothing. Was it any wonder she’d decided to spend an afternoon in Lord de Winter’s company?
But she must not make the mistake of thinking him more than a single day’s novelty. He’d certainly never think of her again.COLLAPSE
A faced paced story of a most unlikely couple to fall in love. Well worth waiting for the publication of this book.
The Wooing of a Wayward Rogue is the second novella in The Innocents trilogy, a set of lighter, shorter stories that interweaves three quick romances through the events of the longer and deeper Scandalous Spinsters books. Wayward Rogue follows prudent Miss Georgiana Conley, sister of blacksmith Mr. Gavin Conley (first introduced in The Trouble with being Wicked) and Miss Elinor Conley (flighty heroine of The Enchanting of an Earl) as Georgiana falls in love with the unlikeliest of men, Stephan Laurent, Lord de Winter (a droll, repeating sub-character first introduced in The Trouble with being Wicked).