A Little Bit Scandalous
CHANCEWORTH HALL, DORSET COUNTRYSIDE, 1869
Monroe Grisham, Sixth Duke of Chanceworth, paced the front parlor of his country estate. If he didn’t get back to London soon he would go mad from sheer boredom.
The soft butter-yellow of the room was annoyingly cheerful, and all the furniture felt small and dainty, making him keenly aware of his size. He wasn’t quite as tall as his brother, but Roe’s shoulders were broad enough to make him look as if he sat upon children’s furniture. So he found the largest piece to sit on, the settee. He’d sit in a different room, but damned if his mother hadn’t decorated them all roughly the same.
Being around his ward, Caroline Jellico, was also a problem as it did nothing but remind him of everything that went wrong with her brother, Christopher. It was impossible not to notice she had grown into a beautiful woman, and Roe found it distracting. Of course, he didn’t actually think of her that way. Not when she was his ward. Not when he was the one responsible for her brother’s death. Not when she was so young. But sometimes he wondered if he didn’t have to work a little too hard to remind himself just how young she was.
Tomorrow they would all leave for London so Caroline could be introduced to Society. Once she found an appropriate suitor and Roe married her off, things in his life would be much simpler, albeit lonelier. His late night poker games would no longer be with her, but rather his usual companions in London. She had to become the lady she was meant to be.
As if his thoughts of her had summoned her, Caroline tapped on the door and then stepped inside the room. She wore one of the many new gowns he’d purchased, with the help of his mother, for her introduction to Society, as he didn’t know a flounce from a ruffle. Tonight’s was a light green confection that made her look every bit as wide-eyed and fresh as her eighteen years.
Eighteen wasn’t so terribly young. It was more than old enough for a girl’s debut. More than old enough for a girl to be courted, wooed, and wed. He’d flirted with many a girl Caroline’s age. He had flirted with those other girls not so much because he desired them or because he was searching for a wife, but because it was what Society expected of him. And every now and then, he liked to do precisely that merely to keep them entertained.
So why did eighteen seem so much younger on her than it did on other young women? Perhaps because those other young women were from London. They were more cynical at eighteen than he could ever imagine Caroline being.
“Caroline, did you need something? Have you finished packing?” he asked.
She took a shuddering breath. “Yes. I have finished packing.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “I was thinking, that is, I wondered if perhaps I wouldn’t have to have a proper Season.”
Roe frowned and shook his head. “Do you not want to marry?”
“No, I do, very much actually,” she said, pink staining her cheeks.
He tried not to notice the rest of her features, but damned if the blush didn’t seem to highlight them. The soft bow of her lips, the small tilt of her nose, the luscious curve of her neck. What the devil was wrong with him? He cleared his throat. “You can’t very well expect to meet a proper husband if you do not allow me to introduce you into Society.”
She bit down on her lip and looked at him, her brown eyes seeming large and full of wonder. She was a pretty thing, beautiful in a way he never found women her age, though he’d noticed Caroline’s handsomeness often, too often to be considered a good guardian. “What if I have already found the perfect candidate?”
Roe leaned back. The chit was surprising, he’d give her that. How had he not known Caroline had a beau? Why hadn’t his mother mentioned she’d attracted the attention of one of the local swains? Perhaps the lad wasn’t up to snuff. “Well, who is this young man? Has he intentions to marry you?”
She shook her head slightly. “He does not know of my affections, but I believe I would make him an excellent wife.”
He felt an unsuspecting jab of jealousy and wanted to find the man and pound some sense into him. “Of course you would,” Roe said.