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Scandal, outrage, ruin, rapture ... Who knows where one kiss can lead?
This Rake of Mine
Miss Emery's Establishment for the Education of Genteel Young Ladies Bath, England 1810
"I don't see why he has to be allowed in," Lady Philippa Knolles complained to her cousin, Miss Felicity Langley, as they crept down the backstairs of their school.
"Pippin, when the Duke of Parkerton sends his brother to perform an errand of such a delicate nature," Felicity explained, "one cannot simply bar the door to the man. Even if he is a disreputable ...a horrible ... "
"Rake," supplied Felicity's twin sister, Thalia, who brought up the rear of this illicit party. Tally, as she was known, was not one for delicacy of words, and besides, she was rather excited at the prospect of getting a look at such a man.
To Tally the word rake conjured all sorts of dreamy possibilities, like pirate or highwayman or smuggler. And the very notion that Miss Emery had banished the entire school to their rooms for the afternoon until their "visitor" had departed was just too much to bear.
A rake at Miss Emery's? Why, it was like history in the making, a moment not to be missed.
"Really," Tally had declared, "how does Miss Emery expect us to recognize this sort of man if we have never seen an example of one?"
Felicity had readily agreed. Pippin had been a bit more hesitant than her daring cousins, but in the end, she'd relented and joined the party, if only because she too held a secret curiosity about the infamous rake,Lord John Tremont.
"Who was it that Lord John ruined?" Pippin asked.
"Miss Miranda Mabberly," Felicity supplied without hesitation. "He kissed her rather inappropriately at the opera."
Felicity's knowledge of the ton never ceased to amaze Pippin, especially given that up until two years ago, the Langley sisters had never even set foot in England, having spent their entire lives traveling the world with their father, Lord Langley, a distinguished member of the Foreign Office.
"Oh, dear," Pippin said. "If that is so, why didn't he just marry Miss Mabberly?"
Tally finished the story, for at the moment Felicity was timing their descent to ensure that they didn't run into the headmistress or one of their other teachers, especially their decorum teacher, Miss Porter.
"Miss Mabberly was betrothed to the Earl of Oxley at the time," Tally whispered. "Oxley cried off when he learned what happened."
"And Miss Mabberly?" Pippin asked."What of her?"
Tally shrugged. "I don't particularly know. Probably the usual in those circumstances. A fatal decline, banishment from good society, not that it really matters, she was ruined after all."
"How dreadful!" Pippin whispered.
Not to let the story pass without her own stamp upon it, Felicity added, "I daresay Miss Mabberly ended up in some Eastern harem or married off to some Colonial merchant." To Felicity, either fate was of equal degradation, considering her own matrimonial aspirations were nothing less than to marry a duke, thus having earned herself the nickname of "Duchess" at a very early age.
Taking another look down the stairwell, and seeing that the coast was clear, she waved her accomplices to follow her.
Down the steps they crept and then dashed across the hall and into a nearby closet. Having feigned a megrim earlier, Felicity had been excused from Miss Porter's class and had used the time to remove the buckets, mops and brooms that usually filled the tiny space.
After they wedged themselves in, Tally looked about their quarters and sighed. "I suppose this is the best we can do," she said, setting down the fourth member of their party, Brutus, her ever-present companion. Though the small black dog had been a gift to Felicity and Thalia during their father's tenure in Austria, Brutus had taken to Tally from the first moment she'd gathered him up into her arms.
And Tally never minded (well, maybe a little) that her dog appeared to most like a little clown, with his big round eyes and funny tufted mane of hair. She took great pleasure in pointing out that Brutus possessed the heart of a lion, fearless and loyal, despite his demure stature.
Brutus immediately went to work inspecting their hiding place, sniffing at the pungent smells in the closet and finally giving his opinion by shaking his monkeylike head in protest. "Ruff!"
"Tally," Felicity whispered sharply. "Do make him be still! He'll ruin everything with his sniffing and yapping. I still say we should have left him with Nanny Gerta. It's a wonder Miss Emery allows him."
Tally gathered Brutus up and hugged him close, shooting her sister a dark glare, which the Duchess ignored with the imperial grace that only a future wife of a duke could possess.
Dogs at Miss Emery's were as much against the rules as rakes, however Lord Langley's infamous charm had gone a long way in convincing the usually impervious lady to allow Tally to keep her dear dog at school.
After all, Brutus could trace his bloodlines to Marie Antoinette's own beloved affenpinscher. Such lofty connections had a way of bending even Miss Emery's rigid rules.
"Are you sure Miss Emery is going to make Lord John use the back stairs?" Tally asked. She wasn't overly fond of dark enclosed spaces and had a growinglook of panic about her.
"Yes," Felicity said with her usual certainty. "She can't let him go up the main stairs -- why, everyone would be peeping out their doors at him." She opened the closet door a bare crack to afford Tally some light. "Besides, with Bella's room in the back of the house, it is the most expedient route for him to take."
And expediency was the order of the day.
Lady Arabella Tremont, the Duke of Parkerton's daughter and Lord John's niece, was being sent home in disgrace. She was the first student in the history of Miss Emery's to have caused such a scandal, having been caught kissing one of . . .
Excerpted from This Rake of Mine by Elizabeth Boyle All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.