The Redemption of Lord Rawlings

 

 

The Redemption of Lord Rawlings

by Rachel Van Dyken

Published by Astraea Press

www.astraeapress.com

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.

 

THE REDEMPTION OF LORD RAWLINGS

Copyright © 2012 RACHEL VAN DYKEN

ISBN 978-1-62135-020-0

Cover Art Designed by Paragraphic Designs

Edited by Kim Bowman

 

 

 

To my family for all their continued love and support!

 

 

Prologue

 

A certain gentleman was spied sitting in the rain staring at nothing save his boots and the thunderous London sky. Curious. It is this author’s belief that Lord Rawlings has officially resigned his fate to Bedlam.


Mrs. Peabody’s Society Papers

 

London, England

 

Rain poured in sheets. All of London seemed to have gone indoors while the storm passed—all except Phillip Crawford, the Eighth Earl of Rawlings. His good sense told him it was childish and foolish to stomp around in the rain, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. After all, it might just be the last walk he would take as a free man.

Debtor’s prison was his only future. Either that or somehow find a bride who was willing to take on his extravagant debt by marrying him, therefore giving release from the contract imposed by his arrogant father. At this point, prison seemed the more likely choice.

Phillip had never been a bad investor, had he any money to invest in the first place. His gambling was out of sheer desperation. He needed money, and he needed it fast.

At an epic low, he decided nothing would make him feel better about his lot in life than sitting in the rain and staring at his boots. And two hours later that was exactly what he ended up doing.

Alone in Hyde Park, he watched as the raindrops fell slowly and rhythmically onto his Hessian boots.
Drip, drip, drip,
in rapid succession until he thought he was going mad, he watched.

Closing his eyes, he tried to etch the memory of the rain into his mind–the smell and the feel of it on his face as it splashed and rolled across his cheeks, down his lips.

The outdoors. He would miss it. He would miss a great many things, but debts must be paid. Aside from that, what did he have to live for?


Rawlings? Lord Rawlings?” A sweet voice called to him like a siren to Odysseus. “Is that you, my lord?”

He opened one eye and then the other. Standing before him was a nymph from the sea. It had to be—nobody in his acquaintance possessed such deeply green eyes or shimmering white hair.

Had he died? Had God struck him with lightning without his knowledge?


Yes.” He cleared his throat and waited.

The look on the girl’s face would have given a monk an apoplexy. So full of joy, warmth, and hope. He was half-tempted to turn around just to be certain she was talking to him. Or was it someone else entirely? But she had said his name—his
name
. How in blazes did she know him?

But before any of those questions could form, she was in front of him and leaning down. “Forgive me.” The last words she said before her lips brushed across his.

As far as kisses went, it was innocent— speaking volumes that the girl wasn’t some brazen hoyden out to ruin her own reputation— but before he could fully enjoy the feel of her soft lips against his, she pulled back.

Phillip opened his mouth to say something, anything. Being stunned into silence was not a usual occurrence; neither was being kissed by some innocent girl in the middle of a storm.

Suffice it to say, he had nothing intelligent to respond with other than, “Oh.”


Just oh?” The girl smiled.

Phillip’s jaw dropped in a mixture of shock and exasperation. What the devil did she want him to say? What was the correct response? Years at Oxford hadn’t taught him, or any gentlemen of leisure, what to do when accosted by a woman. Being a rake, now that was something he knew quite a lot about.

And not just any type of rake, not the stylish sort that women often swooned over in ballrooms. No, he was a rake beyond redemption. The type of man that even mothers desperate for a title would give the cut direct to. It wasn’t at all fashionable to align oneself with Rawlings, nor was it wise. Rumors of his past sins painted him as bitter and ruthless. He was both of those things and much worse. Using widows had been for sport. Dallying a friend’s mother had been for laughs. And drinking whiskey out of a nude statue in Paris had been out and out fun. At the time.

The girl continued to smile, her entire face alight with excitement. It was in that moment he noticed her dress. She wore a pale blue riding habit lined with fur, and it was not lost on him that she was obviously gentry.


Good day, my lord,” she said and then lightly walked away as if she hadn’t a care in the world.

Phillip rubbed his chin in contemplation. That was beyond odd and absurd, and well, it hadn’t necessarily been at the top of his list that day, but it felt good to receive a kiss— no matter how innocent— one last time before he faced his ultimate ruin.


Oh, and, Lord Rawlings?”

His head snapped up. “I do believe we’ll be seeing more of one another quite soon. Good day, sir.”

With that she disappeared down the hill.

He wasn’t the sort to sit and attempt to figure out the minds of women, but this particular one seemed to have a hold on him he’d never before felt in all his years. As soon as the feeling appeared, it vanished, leaving him even emptier than before. Apparently even a kiss from a beautiful woman wasn’t enough to lift him out of his melancholy. He sighed and leaned back against the bench, continuing to contemplate how everything had gone so horribly wrong in his life.

It all started when his father, cruel man that he was, had decreed that upon his death, Phillip would receive nothing of the family fortune until he married. Unfortunately for Phillip, he was not the marrying sort. And even if he were, his blackened reputation didn’t help matters. Even if he could get past the revulsion of being leg shackled, he still doubted any of the mamas of the
ton
would willingly throw their daughters into his clutches. All matters considered, he was a blackguard and poor. At least that’s what they would think when word got out about his debts. The papers had been sniffing at his heels for months now. It was only a matter of time before it was made public.

The problem was he actually was quite rich. But the rub was because he couldn’t access his money, he was in the poor house, finally resorting to gambling to refill the family coffers. His stepmother refused to give him any of the money left to her. The instructions were for him to make a man of himself and marry without her help. She was a selfish sort. If Phillip were left dying on her doorstep, she would merely step over him and ask her footman to remove the garbage.

Suffice to say, while he faced debtors’ prison and ruination, she sat by idly, all the while cheering her good fortune that he would no longer be a black mark on the family name.

Initially it was his stubborn pride that had kept him from marrying. His black heart wanted to hurt his father for putting such restrictions on him, but when his money ran out, his pride soon followed. It wasn’t until the recent debacle with his half-brother John that he was forced to realize life was too short. John had not only kidnapped Emma Gates, now the Duchess of Tempest, but had attempted to rape her years before when Phillip himself was still betrothed to her.

And love? Love was quite possibly one of the most valued treasures in the world. But naturally, it was too late for him.

Because three months from this very day was his birthday.

The tower chimed in the distance—it seemed even London was aware that time was slipping by like sand in an hourglass.

The end of his life as he knew it.

 

Chapter One

 

Rake: A fashionable or wealthy man of dissolute or promiscuous habits, otherwise known as the very destitute Earl of Rawlings.


Mrs. Peabody’s Society Papers

 


Papa, I’m so ashamed. It happened so fast!” Abigail fought to keep her smile at bay as her father’s eyes widened in disbelief. “And then he called me…” She blinked back fake tears for effect, “a wanton hoyden.”


My daughter!” Lord Gates yelled. “A wanton hoyden? Of all the despicable things to say to my daughter! My only daughter!”

Abigail blushed at her father’s mistake. “You do have Emma, Father.”


Ah yes, forgot about her. My apologies.” He paced in front of the large marble fireplace in their London residence.

She had returned from Hyde Park a few minutes before her father came barging in on her tea time demanding to know what she was doing out walking alone. That was the moment Abigail had calculated and waited for. Blinking back tears, she began to tell him of her horrid attack. Naturally, it was somewhat difficult for her to recall details of an assault that had not taken place, but she had been memorizing her story for weeks. And had been planning this ever since her sister’s marriage to the Duke of Tempest.


Was he a gentleman? Do you at least remember that much, lovey?” Wrinkles lined her father’s face. At fifty-six, he was a balding man who stood at least a head shorter than most men of his acquaintance. He sat next to the fireplace, his chest heaving from the exertion of carrying around the weight he had gained over the years since Emma’s indiscretion.

But Abigail felt no guilt at her father’s anger or at her deception. Long ago she had learned the cost of loving something too much. It would and could be very easily ripped away from you within seconds, altering your world until all that remains are broken pieces. Her father was one of those men, a man who was fully capable of forcing her to do his bidding regardless of whom he hurt or what it cost her. Emma had faced the wrath of her father, and Abigail had no plans to be the next of his victims. Which is why, at a young age, she learned that the best way to manage men—especially men like her father—was to deceive.

So she explained, in vague detail the characteristics of her assailant. “His hair was dark.”


Dark,” her father repeated.


But not too dark, Father.”


Not too dark.” He nodded his head. “Continue.”


And his face—it was handsome.”


Handsome?” He squinted at her with disdain in his eyes. Obviously appalled as he scowled and waited for her explanation.


Oh, but so very wicked, Father. A wicked handsome face it was.”

Her father stared into the crackling fireplace. “And his clothing, m’dear? Was he attired like a gentleman of leisure, or a street urchin trying to make sport with you?”

Abigail glanced away from her father’s brooding stare, fighting against the urge to laugh. Lord Rawlings was nothing like a street urchin. The man would be outraged to hear of the comparison.

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