Rake's Ransom by Barbara Metzger



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Madcap Tomboy... When the local magistrate jailed Jacelyn Trevaine's pet dog as a public nuisance, the country miss knew he meant to blackmail her into socializing with his nephew. High-spirited Jacelyn decided to free her dog by kidnapping the precious nephew, but unfortunately she abducted the wrong gentleman! Her captive was none other than handsome Lord Leigh Claibourne--returned war hero and rake extraordinaire. And four hours alone with the libertine Earl was tantamount to social ruin. Of course if she was already ruined, Jacelyn may as well give society something to be scandalized about...

Hardened Womanizer... Claibourne found country life tiresome and dull ... until he was kidnapped by an irrepressible chit whose candor was utterly disarming. Even rakes have their points of honor, however, and when the situation threatened to compromise Jacelyn, the cynical nobleman was forced to give the appearance of being betrothed to her. Claibourne never gave something for nothing. And in the case of the deliciously appealing Jacelyn, he'd hold her reputation hostage…for a rake's ransom.

Excerpt:

It’s strange how spiders have such a bad name, even among the insect groups. Go outside on an early spring morning when the dew is still on the grass, or a late summer afternoon when fog settles down, and there, by the trellis or under the eave, you’ll see one of the world’s priceless treasures, gleaming with diamonds. The spider is not remembered as the master craftsman, however, only as the villainous nighttime schemer. Perhaps the spider’s poisonous bite adds to such ill repute, coupled with the creature’s methods. Not for the spider honourable face-to-face combat; he spins art into artful, then lurks in shadows by his trap, waiting for unwary victims.

Now picture Josiah Fenton, hook-nosed, shrunken of frame, huddled in his spoke-wheeled Bath chair, spewing his hatred like venom into a dank, ill-lit, cluttered room. With apologies to arachnids, he resembled nothing so much as an evil spider, weaving treachery.

“Wars,” he muttered, tapping his long fingernails on the London Gazette in his lap. “Years of wars. Countless dead. Why couldn’t he be one of them? Hare-brained heroics ought to have done for him long ago. Blast his curst luck!”

The last exclamation did not manage to stir the dreary room’s other occupant, who was sprawled on the loveseat: Fenton’s son Percival, if son he was. Fenton was the only one to disparage Percy’s lineage because, at twenty-five, tall, skinny, and stoop-shouldered, with an enormous, boney, bobbing Adam’s apple presently unconcealed by the soiled neckcloth draped across his knobby shoulders, and that same hook nose, Percy was his father’s image—and despair. The only feature Percy didn’t share with Fenton was his hair; the younger man’s dank dishwater blond was proof enough for Fenton of Sydelle’s infidelity. Ignoring the memory of his wife’s shining gold curls, he swore she’d played him false. She had to have; Josiah Fenton could not have sired such an infernally stupid son! Percy was so stupid she must have mated with a tailor’s dummy. Percy was so stupid that he halfway, or hopefully, believed Fenton’s claims himself.

“Wake up, you comatose clunch-head, you inebriated imbecile,” Fenton raged. “Your lickspit life is being ruined. Get up and do something about it!”

Bloodshot eyes opened in their pouches. Stringy fingers groped among the debris on a nearby table for a glass, a bottle, anything liquid to irrigate the desert in his throat. “Aargh. It’s water.”

Fenton threw the folded newspaper at Percy’s head. “Read this, you wantwit, if you can. Lord knows if you stayed at any school long enough to learn how.”

Percy bent to pick up the paper. A monocle, a fob watch, two keys, and assorted seals fell out of his pockets, all dangling by gold chains and ribands, now hopelessly tangled across his puce waistcoat, which was embroidered with green and red cabbage roses. Percy managed to gather up the paper and read: “‘The Upper House voted today in favour of—’”

“Not that, you feebleminded fribble. The on dits column.”

“Oh. ‘During last night’s rout at Lady E.B.’s, a certain Miss G. W. was seen returning from the garden with a Spanish dignitary. Could it be—’”

“Lower.”

“‘It is rumoured that a certain hero of the past campaigns, known to love ’em and Leigh-ve ’em, will shortly be escorting to Town for the Season an unknown deb, announcement to follow.’ That was what has you in such a taking?”

“Are your attics to let, boy? Do you know what this means?”

“M’cousin Leigh’s getting leg-shackled after all this time, right? It is about Leigh, ain’t it, Da?”

“It means that damned Claibourne cub made it through the bloodbath, and now he’s looking to marry and fill his nursery.”

“Well, he is thirty-something, ain’t he? Time he saw about his posterior.”

“His posterity, you gap-toothed gudgeon! You’re his heir!”

“’Druther be yours, gov, more money, don’t you know.”

Fenton grasped his head in his hands and moaned. “Whatever I may have done in my life, I never deserved this.” He took a deep breath. “Listen, Percy. Shut your mouth if it will help. With my money and his title, you could be anything, go anywhere. Parliament, Carlton House, you name it. Any woman, any government post, whatever you want. Don’t you see? That’s what they promised me, those Claibournes. They promised me, and then they stole it away and put me here in this chair. But it’s yours, boy, yours. They owe you. Don’t let some unbreeched bastard rob you of it!”

“He won’t be a bastard, Da, if Leigh marries the girl.”

“Then see that he doesn’t, you addle-pated ass!” With a final roar, Fenton shouted “Jensen!” and a small-sized mountain lumbered into the room. Little-headed, beef-broad, and as mad as his master, Jensen picked up Fenton, wheelchair and all, and carried him from the room.

Alone, Percy gathered all his chains, fobs, and ribbon pendants back into their more or less appropriate places, and stumbled over his boots on his way to a bottle and a glass. He poured himself a generous portion while he tried to set the problem in perspective.

There was his cousin, Leigh Merrill, Earl of Claibourne. Handsome, heroic, handy with sword, pistols, fists. A devil with the ladies and accepted everywhere.

Then there was himself, Percival possibly-Fenton. Handy with nothing, accepted nowhere. But a fine dresser, if he had to say so. According to the governor, somehow it was Percy’s job to prevent Claibourne’s marriage. No one was that stupid. Percy had another drink.

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