Anything But Innocent, Desperate and Daring Series, Book 4
by Dayna Quince
What to get for the girl who has everything? An unattainable rake.
Bored, beautiful and determined to ruin herself, Lady Lucy Flynn is used to getting everything she wants. But for the first time, the one thing she wants above all else is the love of a man: Lord Dean Warren, Earl of Winchester. Unfortunately, the scurrilous earl refuses to see her as anything more than a pampered, privileged, innocent girl. But Lucy is not one to give up so easily.
A jaded rake, Dean enjoys travel and taking his pleasure where he may, determined never to return to Society’s constricting realm. Though tempting, a lady like Lucy does not belong amidst his sordid circle of paramours. A harsh lesson in love from his earlier years convinces Dean he must push Lucy away and prove to her that he’s the wrong man for her in every way.
But the closer he gets—and the harder he tries to push—the deeper he falls under her spell.
Read an excerpt from Anything But Innocent.
“Lucille, you are hereby banished from London and the season until I deem you mature enough to behave in a manner befitting of your breeding.”
“Father, please. When has breeding ever improved one’s behavior?”
“If your great grandmamma were alive, she’d be disgusted.” Lucy’s mother whimpered.
Lucy wished to roll her eyes but refrained. Not the overused great-grandmamma guilt again.
“What on earth gave you the notion of pushing Lord Whippet into the fountain? In front of the whole of society, for that matter?”
“Would you rather I’d done it in private?” Lucy asked dryly.
She glanced up when silence answered her remark. Her father turned red about the gills. He squinted at her in that insufferable way that meant he found her behavior impossible. She sighed with remorse.
“Go to your room until summoned. Marigold will pack your belongings, and we will depart for York as hastily as possible.”
“That will seem suspicious,” Lady Heath interjected.
“She pushed the damn man into the fountain, Augusta. It already is suspicious. Is there anything else we need to know?”
Lucy scoffed. The whole situation was absurd. “No.”
Her father shook his head and turned his back.
Lucy stared at his reddening neck in angry silence for only a moment before turning on her heel and quitting the room. Her father was furious. She could see that. But banishment? Why was she to blame for one man’s foolish behavior?
She stomped petulantly as she climbed the stairs. There had to be more to this exile than a simple shove into a fountain—well, there was. The man had been down on his knees, for Christ sake. Everyone had been staring and laughing while he clung to her skirts and professed his undying love. What was she to do? Surely not agree?
All the blame would fall on her shoulders and not the buffoon who sought to trap her into marriage with a public proposal. And she would have to leave her closest friend, Thea, behind. She couldn’t ask her to abandon the rest of the season, too.
When Lucy reached her room, Marigold was already there with her trunks.
“I suppose you’ve heard everything?”
Marigold nodded. “All the staff knows, but we agree with you. That man was inappropriate to demand marriage in that manner.”
“I wish my father would see it that way. All he sees is the potential scandal. Pushing a man into a fountain may have been scandalous, but scandal is fodder for the papers, and then it fades. Had I agreed, I’d have to live with that fool for the rest of my life. But does my father care? No. All he cares about is the repercussions to his good name.”
Marigold nodded. “Believe me, I understand. It was not long ago that I was in a very similar situation, but my consequences were much more severe.”
Lucy paused in her agitated pacing and looked at her lady’s maid. She had only been with her for six months, but they had grown close in that time. And Marigold was not the traditional lady’s maid. She was exotic. Her skin was a warm brown, and she sometimes had an accent when she talked quickly. But Lucy had never asked where Marigold hailed from. “I’m sorry you went through such a thing.”
The maid shrugged. “I am glad to be far away from my homeland and from my father. Women are treated much differently there.”
“You must think me a selfish child.”
“No.” Marigold turned and met Lucy’s gaze. “You are lucky, but that doesn’t lessen the pain of knowing your life is not your own.”
Lucy dropped her gaze. There were shadows in the other woman’s eyes that Lucy only now noticed. Wherever Marigold had come from, whomever she had escaped, it was far worse than she could have imagined. Lucy lived in a rosy bubble of privilege. She knew that, but she’d never tried to see past it.
“I should appreciate a stay in the country, then. The season has nothing to offer anyhow.”
“You did not like this suitor?”
“No. We danced one time. It is my understanding that he needs a rich wife. A fortune hunter, our society calls the likes of him.”
Marigold shook her head in distaste. “And he thought humiliation would woo you?”
“He thought to trick me. ‘Tis all it was. Humiliate me into agreeing. Why can’t my father see that? I should have bloodied his nose, as well as pushed him into the fountain.”
“What will your brother do?”
“I can count on Jonathan to have a word with him to make sure he won’t bother me further. I wish my father would care as much.”
“Perhaps you will find a husband in the country?” Marigold offered as she closed one trunk and began the next.
“I doubt it,” Lucy said, pouting. “There is nothing to do in the country but ride horses, take walks, and read.”
“That sounds lovely.”
“I know. But Thea won’t be with me. She must attend parties with her aunts, and they treat her poorly.”
“Can she visit?”
“Father will say no. He will wish to punish me. It will be Thea who will suffer. I will appeal to my mother. She knows of Thea’s situation.”
“Then all is not lost.”
“The rest of the season will be lost. Dancing, intriguing gentlemen whom I have yet to meet. What if I miss the one man who may be somewhat interesting?”
Marigold laughed. “If he is meant to be yours, he will wait for you. I think I have a way to make our stay in the country more enjoyable, but you have to promise me that you will tell no one what we do.”
Lucy perked up at the sound of mischief. “I promise.”
“It’s a style of dancing from my country. It is not done by women of noble birth—not openly, but we all learn a bit.”
Lucy didn’t react to the revelation that her lady’s maid was of noble birth in her country. It was part of a mysterious past that Marigold hid.
“I could lose my place here if we’re caught.”
“I know I don’t always behave so, but I can be discreet.”
Marigold smiled. “To the country, we will go.”
“And great fun will be had.” Lucy grinned in anticipation.
Lucy leaned over the balustrade as Thea poured her a cup of tea. She sighed blissfully, enjoying the cool morning air and warm rays of sunlight. She wasn’t missing the city after all. Her mother had allowed Thea to keep her company, and Marigold had kept her promise. Lucy didn’t have a care about the delights of London. The country was proving to be just as alluring.
She scanned the expanse of lawn, the stables off in the distance, and past there to the rolling hills. She could see it all from the south terrace, a charming picture of country living. Her brother was due back at any moment to fulfill his promise to take them riding.
The only drawback to her exile was the constant chaperone of her brother, Jonathan, which her parents had insisted upon. As if he had a moral compass more sound than hers. Lucy flicked a fallen leaf in annoyance.
She saw him striding up the lawn now, waving like a madman. Lucy turned her back to him. She loved that she could still poke his temper by ignoring him.
“I see Jonathan has returned,” Thea said from her seat. “Who is his friend?”
Lucy turned back toward the lawn. Who was that man? She squinted, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun. She couldn’t make out any identifying features at their present distance.
She shrugged. “I don’t recognize him.”
Thea went back to the paper she was reading and sipped her tea.
Lucy continued to watch the gentlemen. She lost sight of them below the steps that led to the lower lawn. Soon, they would reemerge at the top of the steps. Two bobbing heads eventually appeared—first her brother, and then a man with dusty blond hair. He’d removed his hat, allowing the sun to shine upon his face.
Lucy sucked in a breath.
She’d never seen him before. She would never forget a face like his. It was beautiful. Masculine but also coyly adorable. He smiled with one side of his mouth, a charming, crooked grin, speaking words she was too far away to hear.
She didn’t know why, but she was very aware of her breathing all of a sudden, and her heartbeat accelerated with every step he took toward her. A wave of heat swallowed her.
He glanced away from her brother and toward her.
Their gazes caught.
He walked with a loose saunter, a stride of ease and arrogance. He was taller than her brother by half a head.
An awareness took hold of her as they drew ever closer, and he still held her complete attention. Lucy had an odd sensation of losing her balance, even though she stood perfectly still. Then she panicked, turning and darting toward her empty chair next to Thea. She crashed into her seat, as graceful as a bull, and slid right off the polished wood. She landed on her rear beside Thea’s legs.
“Goodness!” Thea cried. “What has come over you?”
Lucy sat in stunned silence as the scuff of footsteps brought her brother and his friend up onto the terrace.
“I slipped off my chair,” Lucy grumbled as she pulled herself up and reclaimed her seat.
“You wouldn’t have if you—” Thea stopped.
Lucy sent a blessing to the heavens for her friend’s good sense.
“Miss Manton, my dear sister.”
Jonathan had that strained tone of voice that meant he was trying very hard not to laugh.
Lucy’s head snapped in his direction, and she did her very best not to snarl, but instead, employed a practiced smile.
“You’ve met Lord Winchester before, yes?”
Lucy frowned and turned to Thea. “I don’t believe we have.”
“We met while riding on the Heath. I had a beard at the time,” he answered.
It couldn’t be the same man, could it?
“I beg your pardon. I did not recognize you, my lord.”
He unnerved her. That happened very rarely. Men were easy creatures to understand, but this one…he was different. She should be heeding the warning her body was giving her, but instead, she remained intrigued.
“What brings you all the way to York, my lord?”
“I’m taking a respite from my travels, Lady Lucy.” He cocked his head to the side and squinted at her as if she amused him.
“And his mistress,” Jonathan quipped as he took his seat next to his sister. “If you would please, Thea.”
“Certainly.” Thea poured him a cup of tea.
Lucy smiled behind her teacup as Lord Winchester swallowed uncomfortably and took his seat.
“I didn’t think that bit of news appropriate for the present company, Rigsby,” he grumbled to Jonathan.
“It’s only Lucy and Thea. I’ve already corrupted Lucy, and she’s corrupted Thea. There’s no use pretending otherwise.”
“Exactly. I’m escaping a mister, and you’re escaping a mistress. They are almost the same thing,” Lucy said and shrugged.
“I highly doubt it. What reason could you have to escape a man when you have the protection of your brother and father to shield you?”
Lucy stiffened at his condescending tone. “What reason do you have for needing to escape a woman, feeble as we are?” She raised a brow in challenge.
“My apologies if I implied—”
She waved away his apology. “Do continue. You won’t find delicate ears here.”
Lord Winchester gave her brother a look. “Be that as it may…”
“Lucy is banished for tossing Lord Whippet into a pond,” Jonathan blurted.
“I did not toss—” Lucy cocked her head to the side. “No, I do believe I could toss him if I wished to, but I did not. And it was a fountain, not a pond.”
Jonathan chuckled. Thea shook her head and sipped her tea without comment.
Lord Winchester blinked at her. She felt like a strange bug under his magnifying glass.
“I think it best to refrain from topics of mistresses for the moment.”
“Congratulations, Jonathan. You’ve befriended a prude,” Lucy smirked.
Jonathan snorted. “Prude? Couldn’t be farther from the—”
There was a thump from under the table and Jonathan grimaced. “Very well. Lucy and Thea are on holiday for the season, and so are you, Winchester. May we have some tea and discuss other things now?”
“Will you be staying long?” Lucy tried to sound as bored and unaffected as he did.
“I haven’t decided.”
Good, Lucy thought. She sipped her tea and gathered her thoughts. She didn’t like feeling out of her element, when normally handling men was her element. But with him, five minutes in his presence had made her feel young and stupid. She’d already tripped all over herself. Now she needed to find her feet again and converse with him like a normal person with intelligent faculties. How else was she to impress upon him her better qualities?
Did she wish to impress him? Oh, yes. He was the exact sort of man town life lacked. Strong, with edges made hard by the world outside London ballrooms. He wasn’t some dandy or a rake who preyed on weak-minded widows and spinster daughters.
He was a man.
“Where have you traveled?” Thea asked.
God bless Thea. She could ask all the questions Lucy wanted to know, and she wouldn’t be affected like Lucy was.
“I’ve spent a great deal of time in Asia. India, more specifically, and Egypt.”
“How exciting. Have you seen the sphinxes?” Thea asked.
“That I have. A marvel of human ingenuity.”
Thea continued to pepper him with questions, and Lucy simply observed. She needed to revise his current impression of her, but she didn’t know how. When the volley of conversation stopped, she decided to proceed with her best tactic for drawing a man’s attention: ignoring him.
“Jonathan, do you still plan to take us riding?”
“Yes,” he answered, eyeing her warily. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, it was clear you came from the stables. I was only wondering. We are able to go by ourselves.”
Lucy could feel Lord Winchester’s gaze on her.
“No, Father made me swear I would watch over you,” he continued. “I will take you riding.”
Lucy glanced at Thea. “Are you ready?”
Thea nodded. Lucy stood and smoothed the skirts of her ruby-red riding habit that hugged her waist in a way that made her feel womanly. She ran her hands down the sides of her torso, hoping to draw his attention to her figure. Then she moved to turn away and paused.
“Oh—Lord Winchester, you are welcome to join us if you wish.” She smiled benignly.
“Thank you, Lady Lucy, but my horse needs a day of rest, as do I.”
“Good day to you then, Lord Winchester,” she replied and turned to her brother.
“I’ll meet you at the stable, Lucy. Winchester, I’ll show you inside and Mrs. Gabe will set you up in a room.”
“Good day, Lord Winchester,” Thea echoed.
“Good day, Miss Manton, Lady Lucy.”
“Please, call me Lucy. I loathe formalities this far from London.”
He nodded noncommittally, and she had no other option but to turn away with Thea or look like an even bigger fool.
They descended the steps, both silent until well out of earshot.
“What on earth went on back there?” Thea asked as soon as it was safe.
“I’m not sure, but I think I’ve fallen in love,” Lucy said.
Thea glanced at her. “You don’t look very pleased about that.”
“It’s a very uncomfortable feeling. I’ve met my match, and he just thinks I’m a spoiled brat.”
“He can’t think that from what little time you’ve spent together.”
Lucy pulled her friend to a halt. “He is a man who’s seen the world, Thea. He can see right through me.”
“Then he isn’t looking properly.”