Cecilia and the Rake [The Rowland Sisters Trilogy Book 3]
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by Catherine Dove
Description: Unpleasant experience has given Miss Cecilia Rowland a strong aversion to rakes, even one so fascinating and gentlemanlike as Lord Ravenshill. She does her best to ignore his existence, but Fate keeps bringing them together. Even deep in the country, visiting the home of her mother's betrothed husband, Cecilia finds herself in the company of Lord Ravenshill. Not only is he a neighbor of Mr. Clarke's, but Cecilia's stepsister-to-be, Kitty, develops a tendre toward Mr. Guy Dorne, Ravenshill's best friend. The Viscount Ravenshill is not the sort of man to regret his past, even when he finds himself unaccountably fascinated by the lovely Miss Rowland. He looks on his friend Guy's growing attachment to Kitty Clarke with amusement and resolutely ignores the promptings of his own traitorous heart. The grim past which made him a ruthless rake also makes him a completely unsuitable match for an innocent girl like Cecilia Rowland. But when Cecilia and Kitty go to London for the Season, the same Fate that threw Cecilia toward Ravenshill takes an unexpected twist that endangers the loves of both girls.
eBook Publisher: Writers Exchange E-Publishing, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: July 2012
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [270 KB]
Reading time: 172-241 min.
In the gold bedchamber at Lakeford Hall, a fire had been lit to ward off the December chill. The cheerful glow of its blaze competed with the pale, weak morning sun to light the room, turning the coverlet on the four-poster bed a brilliant yellow and polishing the furniture with molten highlights. Two young ladies shared the room, one seated near the fire, the other at the dressing table putting the finishing touches on her toilette. Their maids having been dismissed, they could talk freely, but neither was of a loquacious turn, so there was little speech until the lady next to the fire said pensively, "I cannot help but regret that it is not you who is getting married today, Cecilia. I so hoped that yours would be the next wedding I would attend, after my own."
Anyone not conversant with the mode of fashion of the day might have confused the identities of the two ladies, had they not seen who spoke. The lady by the fire, Mrs. Winborne, had a flowerlike countenance and innocent dark eyes under long lashes, but although she was pretty enough, she was cast quite in the shade by her companion, Miss Cecilia Rowland. Miss Rowland was not only a diamond of the first water, but she had a gravely gentle air which made her seem many years older than her friend, even if Mrs. Winborne was the elder by more than a year. Therefore, a person could be forgiven for assuming that the lady who was already married was the Beauty.
But it was the smaller, darker, less beautiful young lady who wore the dashing gown of green French twill more appropriate for a young matron, with its low-cut bodice, tiny bows, twisted pearl buttons, demi-train, deep embroidered flounces, and quantity of blond lace, as well as the tasteful set of emeralds and diamonds that sparkled on her neck, ears, and fingers. The fair beauty wore a sarcenet gown of palest blue over a slip of white satin, decorated with a single modest flounce and a bit of lace gathered on the bodice, and no jewelry except a pearl necklet with matching earrings -- a modish example of a young and unmarried lady of the ton. For despite being assiduously wooed by a number of suitors of varying degrees of rank and style, and despite having such sobriquets as The Incomparable, The Nonpareil, The New Aphrodite, and even Titania applied to her, not to mention the way her family's home in London was bombarded daily by gifts of flowers, books, poems, and other such offerings on the altar of her charm, Miss Rowland remained an unbetrothed maiden after two Seasons.
Miss Rowland took her best friend's comment in the spirit in which it was meant, not as a stricture, but as regret, but she was in a humor to tease her friend. "I am so sorry to disappoint you, my dear Emily."
Emily Winborne protested. "Oh, no! Not that! I know you will not marry without love. I just wish you could be as lucky as I. We shared heartbreak, and I want to share joy, especially since, without you, I would not have my Freddy."
"Nonsense. It is true that I introduced the two of you, but that was my only contribution. Freddy did all the rest himself."
However, there was much truth in what Mrs. Winborne said. Miss Emily Atwell, as she had been back then, was a shy girl, and she was further handicapped by older sisters who were generally despised by the ton. When the brutal treatment dealt to her by that well-known rake, Neil Dandridge -- the same man who had tried to ruin Cecilia's reputation -- had crushed her spirits so utterly, she went from being largely unnoticed to being invisible. In befriending the hurt, lost, pitiable girl, Cecilia had found solace from her own heartbreak, and although the pain of disillusionment still haunted her, she was happy that it had brought her this friend. For, encouraged and appreciated by an acknowledged belle of the ton, Emily had bloomed, showing herself to be a sweet girl, not at all like her sisters, and if not a beauty, at least a taking young woman. Even those who saw her in a new light after she came under Cecilia's wing, however, were surprised when she caught one of the ton's most eligible bachelors, the amiable and outrageously handsome Frederick Winborne. Mr. Winborne was a friend of Cecilia's family, and it was Cecilia who had introduced them and then watched, with a secret smile, as Freddy spiraled into love with the engaging Emily. Given the many successes of Cecilia's first Season, most people would have been shocked to know that this match was what she considered her greatest London triumph.
Emily, innocent as a babe, had no idea of this. She simply considered herself England's most lucky young woman. She smiled fondly at this mention of her husband, but since she loathed any kind of argument or disagreement, she did not contradict Cecilia's modest disclaimer. She said, "I am sure it is also due to you that Freddy and I were invited to this wedding."
"No, for that you must give credit to Mama."
"Your mama is all kindness," said Emily, whose own mother was sadly lacking in that virtue. "I am sure Lord Shipton and Miss Armitage must feel themselves very much in her debt, for being so kind as to make all the arrangements for the wedding. Such a splendid job she has done, too! I am amazed that she was able to do so much, with her frail constitution."
Cecilia chuckled. "Mama's constitution is flexible. Her health improves whenever a task is at hand which she actually wishes to perform, and nothing pleases her more than a wedding. Even if it is not mine," she added, still teasing. "But she will say that Ship and Franny owe her nothing, for she has been in high gig for months."
"It is a pity that Lord Shipton's aunt would have nothing to do with the wedding, but how lucky for him that your mama was willing to step in."
"Willing? More like eager and ecstatic. She has, of course, complained constantly about nearly everything, but she has not been so happy since Georgie was married. The only thing which truly dismayed her was when Shipton wanted Perry for his groomsman, for Perry was the proper person to have given the bride away, being her guardian. But then Mr. Clarke volunteered for the duty, to Mama's relief, and said he would be honored to lead his daughter's best friend down the aisle, and after that, not a shadow has darkened Mama's mind." She gave a final tug to the curl beside her left ear, and then, satisfied with what she saw in her glass, she rose. "Shall we go down? The guests must be gathering by now."
Arms linked, the two friends started down the stair, but they were separated when Mr. Winborne appeared on the landing, looking poetically handsome in his black cutaway coat, white waistcoat, immaculate knee breeches, and white stockings, his brown locks in a perfectly arranged disarray and his dark eyes with an expression of apprehension. His wife released Cecilia's arm with a squeak of joy and tripped down to meet him, hands outstretched. He gallantly kissed them, and she rallied him, "Whatever is the matter with you, love? You look as if you go to the gallows."
"Oh, well, you know how it is. Not a man's sort of affair. Not even the groom's. Be glad to get the whole thing over with and dance with you."
She glowed up at him. Gratified, he drew her hand through his arm and offered his other arm to Cecilia.
As they continued downstairs, Cecilia stole a glance at his perfect profile and wondered for about the hundredth time why she had never fallen in love with him. She liked him very much, and she had not seen him so often as to have grown too familiar with him to see him as a possible husband, so falling in love with him would have been the expected thing. Yet she had never regarded him in a romantic light. She was beginning to believe that the man did not exist whom she would see in that light.
She was a reserved young woman, not one to wear her heart on her sleeve, so only her beloved sister Georgie guessed at how much this thought troubled her. She made nothing of the fact that she was still unwed, but having gone through two weddings, Georgie's and then, shortly after, Emily's, she was beginning to have doubts about herself and wonder if the bride would ever be her. She did not repine, however, for she knew herself well enough to know that her standards would never be lowered for the mere desire to be a wife. She must love, respect, and esteem the man she would marry, or she would not marry. She hoped that, once the pain of her first, unfortunate romantic attachment had completely worn itself away, she would be less guarded and be lucky enough to find such a man. A steady, reliable, morally and ethically correct young man, handsome if possible, with a respectable fortune -- this was what she hoped to find.
Yet Freddy Winborne was all of those things, and she had never felt the faintest twinge of love for him. She felt sometimes that she did not understand herself, and there were days when she secretly believed she would end up an old maid.
A modest girl, she knew herself to be pretty only because so many people told her so, but she set no great worth on her beauty. She did not compare her looks to other accredited beauties -- such a comparison would indeed be vanity, in her belief -- but she could not help wishing for qualities which she knew she lacked. Her sister Georgie's self-confidence, for one, or Emily's sweetness of character, her Aunt Lily's wisdom, Miss Armitage's courage and resilience, or Kitty's intelligence, and Mrs. Tyndall's wit. She had none of these things, and believed herself of little more value to any prospective husband than a picture on his wall might be. So while she accepted that she must someday marry, and she secretly dreamed of true love, she had little hope for her own happiness. This lowness of spirits, however, she took great care to conceal at all times, and never more than on a day like this, when two of her friends were being ushered into wedded bliss. So when they reached the gallery, she smiled a pleased assent at Emily's suggestion that they go at once to find the bride and her attendant. Freddy protested in his good-natured way that they were abandoning him, but both ladies only laughed.
They opened the door to a scene of chaos, with Miss Armitage standing in the center of it as stiff as if she had been stuffed while Lady Rowland directed activity. Franny turned her head, and only her head, when the door opened, and said, "Hello! I cannot come greet you, for I am full of pins and fear to move at all. And where," she demanded, "is Kitty? I begin to think she has abandoned me!"