Authors: Amanda Quick
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
Julian Richard Sinclair, Earl of Ravenwood, listened in stunned disbelief as his
formal offer of marriage was rejected. On the heels of disbelief came a cold,
controlled anger. Who did the lady think she was, he wondered. Unfortunately, he
could not ask her. The lady had chosen to absent herself. Julian's generous
offer was being rejected on her behalf by her obviously uncomfortable
"Devil take it, Ravenwood, I don't like this any better than you do. Thing is,
the girl's not a young chit straight out of the schoolroom," Lord Dorring
explained morosely. "Used to be an amiable little thing. Always eager to please.
But she's three and twenty now and during the past few years she seems to have
developed a considerable will of her own. Dashed annoying at times, but there it
is. Can't just order her about these days."
"I am aware of her age," Julian said dryly. I was led to believe that because of
it she would be a sensible, tractable sort of female."
"Oh, she is," Lord Dorring sputtered. Most definitely she is. Don't mean to
imply otherwise. She's no addle-brained young twit given to hysterics or
anything of that sort." His florid, bewhiskered face was flushed with evident
dismay. "Normally she's very good-natured. Very amenable. A perfect model of,
uh, feminine modesty and grace."
"Feminine modesty and grace, Julian repeated slowly.
Lord Dorring brightened. "Precisely, m'lord. Feminine modesty and grace. Been a
great prop to her grandmother since the death of our youngest son and his wife a
few years back. Sophy's parents were lost at sea the year she turned seventeen,
you know. She and her sister came to live with us. I'm sure you recall." Lord
Dorring cleared his throat with a cough. "Or perhaps it escaped your notice. You
were somewhat occupied with, uh, other matters at the time."
Other matters being a polite euphemism for finding himself helplessly ensnared
in the coils of a beautiful witch named Elizabeth, Julian reflected. "If your
granddaughter is such a paragon of all the sensible virtues, Dorring, what seems
to be the problem with convincing her to accept my offer?"
"My fault entirely, her grandmother assures me." Lord Dorring's bushy brows drew
together in an unhappy frown. "I fear I've allowed her to read a great deal. And
all the wrong sort of thing, I'm told. But one doesn't tell Sophy what to read,
you know. Can't imagine how any man could accomplish that. More claret,
"Thank you. I believe I could use another glass." Julian eyed his red-faced host
and forced himself to speak calmly. "I confess I do not quite understand,
Dorring. What have Sophy's reading habits got to do with anything?"
"Fear I haven't always kept a close watch on what she was reading," Lord Dorring
muttered, gulping his claret. "Young women pick up notions, you know, if you
don't keep a watch on what they read. But after the death of her sister three
years ago, I didn't want to press Sophy too hard. Her grandmother and I are
quite fond of her. She really is a reasonable girl. Can't think what's gotten
into her head to refuse you. I'm sure she would change her mind if she just had
a little more time."
"Time?" Ravenwood's brows rose with ill-concealed sarcasm.
"You must admit you've rushed things a trifle. Even my wife says that. We tend
to go about this sort of thing more slowly out here in the country. Not used to
town ways, you know. And women, even sensible women, have these damn romantic
notions about how a man ought to go on." Lord Dorring eyed his guest with a
hopeful air. "Perhaps if you could allow her a few more days to consider your
"I would like to talk to Miss Dorring, myself," Julian said.
"Thought I explained. Not in at the moment. Gone out riding. Visits Old Bess on
"I am aware of that. She was informed that I would be calling at three, I
Lord Dorring coughed again to clear his throat. "I, er, believe I mentioned it.
Undoubtedly slipped her mind. You know how young women are." He glanced at the
clock. "Should be back by
"Unfortunately, I cannot wait." Julian set down his glass and got to his feet.
"You may inform your granddaughter that I am not a patient man. I had hoped to
get this marriage business settled today."
"I believe she thinks it is settled, my lord," Lord Dorring said sadly.
"You may inform her that I do not consider the matter finished. I will call
again tomorrow at the same time. I would greatly appreciate it, Dorring, if you
would endeavor to remind her of the appointment. I intend to speak to her
personally before this is all over."
"Certainly, by all means, Ravenwood, but I should warn you it ain't always easy
to predict Sophy's comings and goings. As I said, she can be a bit willful at
"Then I expect you to exert a bit of willpower of your own. She's your
granddaughter. If she needs the reins tightened, then, by all means, tighten
"Good God," Dorring muttered with great feeling. "Wish it were that easy."
Julian strode toward the door of the small, faded library and stepped out into
the narrow, dark hall. The butler, dressed in a manner that blended perfectly
with the air of shabby gentility that characterized the rest of the aging manor
house, handed him his tall, flat-crowned beaver hat and gloves.
Julian nodded brusquely and brushed past the elderly retainer. The heels of his
gleaming Hessians rang hollowly on the stone floor. He was already regretting
the time it had taken to dress formally for the unproductive visit.
He'd even had one of the carriages brought around for the occasion. He might as
well have ridden over to
formal touch to the call. If he'd been on horseback he could have stopped off at
one of the tenants' cottages on the way home and seen to some business. That
way, at least, the entire afternoon would not have been wasted.
"The Abbey," he ordered as the carriage door was opened for him. The coachman,
wearing the green-and-gold Ravenwood livery, touched his hat in acknowledgment
of the command.
The beautifully matched team of grays leapt forward under the light flick of the
whip an instant after the door was slammed shut. It was understood that the Earl
of Ravenwood was not in a mood to dawdle along country roads this afternoon.
Julian leaned back against the cushions, thrust his booted feet out in front of
him, folded his arms across his chest, and concentrated on controlling his
impatience. It was not an easy task.
It had never occurred to him that his offer of marriage would be rejected. Miss
Sophy Dorring did not stand a chance in hell of getting a better offer, and
everyone involved knew it. Certainly her grandparents were vividly aware of that
Lord Dorring and his wife had nearly fainted when Julian had asked for their
granddaughter's hand in marriage a few days ago. As far as they were concerned,
Sophy quite past the age when it might have been possible to make such a
suitable match. Julian's offer was a bolt from a truly benign providence.
Julian's mouth twisted sardonically as he considered the scene that had
undoubtedly ensued when Sophy had informed her grandparents she was not
interested in the marriage. Lord Dorring had obviously not known how to take
charge of the situation and his lady had probably suffered a fit of the vapors.
The granddaughter with the lamentable reading habits had easily emerged the
The real question was why the silly chit had wanted to win the battle in the
first place. By rights she should have leapt at Julian's offer along with
everyone else. He was, after all, intending to install her at Ravenwood Abbey as
the Countess of Ravenwood. A twenty-three-year-old country-bred miss with only
passable looks and an extremely small inheritance could hardly aspire higher.
Julian wondered briefly just what books Sophy had been reading and then
dismissed the notion that her choice of reading material was the problem.
The problem was far more likely to be her grandfather's overly indulgent
attitude toward his orphaned grandchild. Women were quick to take advantage of a
Her age might also be a factor. Julian had considered her years an asset in the
beginning. He'd already had one young, ungovernable wife and one was quite
enough. He'd had sufficient scenes, tantrums, and hysterics from Elizabeth to
last him a lifetime. He had assumed an older female would be more levelheaded
and less demanding; more grateful, in fact.
It was not as if the girl had a great deal of choice out in the country, Julian
reminded himself. She would not have all that much choice in town, for that
matter. She definitely was not the type to attract the attention of the jaded
males of the ton. Such men considered themselves connoisseurs of female flesh in
much the same way they considered themselves experts on horseflesh, and they
were not likely to look twice at Sophy.
She was not fashionably extreme in her coloring, being neither strikingly
dark-haired nor angelically blond. He tawny brown curls were a pleasingly rich
shade but they appeared to have a will of their own. Tendrils were always
escaping from beneath her bonnets or straggling free from a painstakingly
She was no Grecian goddess, the look currently fashionable in London, but Julian
admitted to himself that he had no quarrel with her slightly tilted nose, gently
rounded chin, and warm smile. It would be no great task to get into bed with her
frequently enough to ensure himself of an heir.
He was also willing to allow that Sophy had a fine pair of eyes. They were an
interesting and unusual shade of turquoise flecked with gold. It was curious and
rather satisfying to note that their owner had not the least idea of how to use
them to flirt.
Instead of peeking up at a man through her lashes, Sophy had the disconcerting
habit of looking straight at him. There was an open, forthright quality about
her gaze that had convinced Julian that Sophy would have a great deal of
difficulty pursuing the elegant art of lying. That fact suited him, too. Picking
out the handful of truths buried amid Elizabeth's lies had nearly driven him
Sophy was slender. The popular high-waisted gowns suited her figure but they
tended to emphasize the rather small curves of her breasts. There was, however,
a healthy, vibrant quality about her that Julian appreciated. He did not want a
weakling. Frail women did not do well in childbirth.
Julian reviewed his mental image of the woman he intended to marry and realized
that, while he had assessed her physical assets accurately, he had not,
apparently, taken certain aspects of her personality into consideration. He had
never guessed, for example, that beneath that sweet, demure facade, she had a
streak of willful pride.
It must have been Sophy's pride that was getting in the way of a proper sense of
gratitude. And her willfulness appeared more entrenched than expected. Her
grandparents were obviously distraught and quite helpless against their
granddaughter's unanticipated resistance. If the situation was to be salvaged,
Julian decided, he would have to do it himself.
He made his decision as the carriage rocked to a halt in front of the two
stately arms of the crab-pincer staircase that marked the imposing entrance to
Ravenwood Abbey. He climbed out of the equipage, stalked up the stone steps, and
began giving low-voiced orders as soon as the door was opened for him.
"Send a message to the stables, Jessup. I want the black saddled and ready in
"Very good, my lord."
The butler turned to relay the message to a footman as Julian strode across the
black-and-white marble-tiled hall and up the massive red-carpeted staircase.
Julian paid little attention to his grand surroundings. Although he had been
raised there, he had cared little for Ravenwood Abbey since the early days of
his marriage to Elizabeth. Once he had felt the same possessive pride toward the
house as he did toward the fertile lands that surrounded it but now he only
experienced a vague distaste toward his ancestral home. Every time he walked
into a room he wondered if this was yet another chamber in which he had been
His land was quite a different matter. No woman could taint the good, rich
fields of Ravenwood or his other estates. A man could count on the land. If he
took care of it, he would be amply rewarded. To preserve the lands for future
Earls of Ravenwood, Julian was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice: he would
He hoped the act of installing another wife there would scrub some of the
lingering traces of Elizabeth out of the Abbey and most especially out of the
oppressively lush, exotically sensuous bedchamber she had once made her own.