And the Miss Ran Away With the Rake - By Elizabeth Boyle
Sensible gentleman of means seeks a sensible lady of good breeding for correspondence, and in due consideration, matrimony.
An advertisement placed in the Morning Chronicle
Earlier in the Season of 1810
“No! No! No!” Lord Henry Seldon exclaimed as their butler brought a second basket of letters into the morning room. “Not more of those demmed letters! Burn them, Benley! Take them out of my sight!”
His twin sister, Lady Juniper, the former Lady Henrietta Seldon, looked up from her tea and did her best to stifle a laugh as poor Benley stood there, wavering in the doorway, grasping a large wicker basket overflowing with correspondence. “Set them beside the others and ignore his lordship, Benley. He is in an ill humor this morning.”
Ill humor? Try furious, Henry would have told her. Instead, he vented his anger toward the true object of his ire. “I am going to kill you for this, Preston.”
Preston, being Henry and Henrietta’s nephew, who was also the Duke of Preston and the head of their family, ducked behind his newspaper at the other end of the table, feigning innocence in all this.
If only he was innocent in deed.
Hardly. Currently, he was the bane of Henry’s existence. Not only had Preston’s rakish actions—having ruined no less than five young ladies in the past few weeks—put the duke on the “not received list” but now that taint had spread to Henry and Hen, for suddenly they’d joined the ranks of “barely received.”
Guilty by association, as it were.
“You cannot kill Preston,” Hen said, wading in. She wiped her lips with her napkin and set it down beside her breakfast plate. “You are his heir. It would be bad form.”
“Yes, bad form indeed, Uncle,” Preston said over the top of his paper. Preston only called Henry “Uncle” when he wanted to vex him further—there being a difference of only six months in age between the three of them—Preston’s grandfather having added the twins to the nursery at an indecently advanced age.
And making Henry the uncle to one of London’s most notorious rakes.
So if Preston wanted to play proper nephew, then Henry would oblige him by glaring back, taking the bait against his better judgment. “Bad form was what you and that idiot friend of yours, Roxley, displayed when you placed that ridiculous advertisement in the Morning Chronicle.”
That one small advertisement, a drunken joke, had now garnered an avalanche of responses.
Henry was being buried alive in letters from ladies seeking husbands.
“You should be thanking me,” Preston pointed out. “Now you can have your pick of brides without ever having to set foot in Almack’s.”
“Thanking you? I don’t want to get married,” Henry declared. “That is your business. Why don’t you marry one of these tabbies?”
Preston glanced up, an odd look in his eye. “Perhaps I’ve already found my own tabby.”
“Oh, there’s a lark,” Henry sputtered. “Are you telling us that you intend to marry that vicar’s daughter you’ve been dallying after?”
Before Preston could answer, Hen chimed in, “You should be thankful, Henry, that Preston didn’t place that unfortunate jape in the Times.” Her lips curled into a smile before she took one more sip from her tea and settled back in her seat. “Personally, I found Preston’s ad rather dull myself.”
“Dull?” Preston complained, snapping his paper shut and eyeing his aunt. “I am never dull.”
“Then tedious,” she corrected. “I can’t imagine anyone replying to such nonsense, let alone want to marry a man who describes himself as ‘sensible.’ ” She glanced up at Benley, who was placing the basket of correspondence next to the one that had arrived earlier. “Just how many lonely hearts are there in London?”
“This will make over two hundred, my lady,” Benley said, warily eyeing the collection that carried with it a competing air of rose water and violets. “My lord,” he said, turning to Lord Henry, “Lady Taft’s footman would like to know how you are going to settle the bill for the outstanding postage. Her ladyship is quite put out at having to pay for a goodly number of these—apparently the newspaper has now reached the outlying counties.”
Hen’s eyes widened. “The letters are arriving at your house?”
“Yes, they are,” Henry told her.
“I wasn’t so foxed that I’d use this address,” Preston supplied. “Can you imagine the clamor and interruptions?” He shuddered and returned to his paper.
“Which is exactly why Lady Taft is not amused,” Henry said. “I promised her when she took my house for the Season that it was the quietest of addresses.”
The house in question, on the