The Ruin of a Rogue (Wild Quartet) Online - Miranda Neville

Chapter 1

The Countess of Ashfield to her sister

London, November 1800

This dull season has been rendered more than usually piquant by the presence of Anne Brotherton, granddaughter and heiress to the last Earl of Camber, at evening parties. Since Miss Brotherton lost the Duke of Castleton to her cousin Caro Townsend, unwedded men with any claim to eligibility have descended on town by the hundred. Little wonder since the Camber estates are enough to make a fortune hunter of the richest aspirant. I believe the hunting shires are empty of single gentlemen, while officers of the better regiments have all applied for furlough at once. Heaven help us if we should be invaded by the French. I believe she would be just the match for dear Algernon . . .

Eyes straight ahead, Anne Brotherton wove through the packed saloon, dodged a moustached guardsman, avoided the eye of a red-faced sportsman, and resolutely ignored the efforts of Lord Algernon Tiverton to offer her refreshment.

“Miss Brotherton! May I . . .”

No, thank you, she answered silently as she made her escape into a blessedly empty passage. No, you may not ply me with ratafia and bore me with tales of your ancestors.

Second door on the right, the footman had told her. It was cool in Mr. Weston’s private sanctum. Neither a fire nor the press of bodies moderated the chill of a November evening. She made a quick survey: two doors, one leading to a completely dark room or closet. She should be safe from that direction. She turned the key in the other with a satisfying click and released her breath.

Oh the bliss of escaping her suitors! Half an hour, she guessed, until Lady Ashfield, her chaperone for the evening, sent someone to find her. Half an hour away from the inane compliments of insincere fools. Half an hour to feast her eyes and calm her spirit with the ineffable creations of the ancient past. Mr. Weston’s celebrated collection of antiquities was the only reason she’d chosen to attend his wife’s rout.

She peered through the glass cabinet door at the statue of a woman, her child at her feet. Though both were devoid of a scrap of clothing, they appeared quite comfortable. Greece was, presumably, warmer than her native Buckinghamshire. She longed to touch the marble skin. Without thought she removed her glove, then guiltily dropped her hands to her sides.

She almost missed the sound of the side door opening. Confound it! Was she never to be allowed any peace? She fixed her attention on the next object in the case.

Footsteps trod softly over the polished parquetry floor and she sensed a figure, taller than she, standing at her shoulder. Reflected in the glass she identified the intruder as a man by his dark coat and the white linen around the throat. She continued to stare, now at a small male figure who’d lost his head, one arm, and all of his private parts.

“Interesting piece.” His voice, of a pleasant low timbre, proclaimed him a young man.

Another man attracted by her rolling acres, magnificent mansions, and thousands upon thousands of pounds in the funds. Annoyance blended with a twinge of embarrassment at being caught staring at a naked man, even one nine inches tall and lacking vital evidence of his sex. She kept her eyes on the antiquity and her elbow ready to repel any effort to hold her hand or steal a kiss. She had no intention of being compromised into marriage to someone unsuitable.

For one thing, she’d never hear the end of it from her guardian. At the moment she only had to put up with his letters. When he returned to England he’d harangue her with all the force of his dominating personality. The poor Irish! She felt sorry for them with Morrissey as their governor.

“A Greek original, I believe.” The agreeable voice interrupted her thoughts and actually said something interesting. “From Attica, most likely Apollo.”

She jerked her head around. “What makes you think that?”

“The laurel tree, sacred to the god and the games given in his honor.”

This remarkably intelligent speaker merited her attention. She liked what she saw: a tall, well-proportioned figure, good-looking, distinctly elegant, with an open countenance. He seemed different from the other men she’d met in London, something about the impeccable neatness and fit of his clothing, perhaps.

“Have you spent much time in Greece?”

“I’ve been to Athens,” he replied, “and to some of the isles.”

“And Rome?”

“Indeed. I’ve had the good fortune to spend a good deal