The Rake's Redemption

By: Sherrill Bodine

Prologue





CARSTAIR’S FOLLY, BERKSHIRE 1818



Dominic was bored. He turned away from contemplating the landscape by Constable over the fireplace and propped one shoulder against the mantel to survey the ruin of Carstair’s dining room. Freddie might be his closest friend, his only true friend come to think of it, but still he should not have allowed himself to be convinced about this repairing lease with Carstair. Their idea of rusticating in the country hardly matched his own. When he tired of London, he wanted to be at Culter Towers. But even after ten years he couldn’t go home without calling up bitter memories. So he had come into Berkshire to Carstair’s Folly and found that Freddie had arranged a surprise—Yvette, his current favorite and two other ladybirds were waiting for them. It was not to be fishing and cards, but only the same routine as London.

Now he was the only member of the party still standing. Freddie, spread-eagled in a wing chair, had a wine glass resting upside down on his waistcoat, and their host Carstair, had slipped quietly under the table after they had broached the fourth bottle.

Where were the ladybirds? Focusing none too well, Dominic’s eyes came to rest on two disheveled women, their unbound hair tangled over their faces, curled up at each end of the couch. But where was that minx, Yvette?

Shaking his head, he blinked several times and found with surprise that his gait was slightly unsteady when he walked to the table, lifted the cloth, and peered beneath it. Yes, there she was asleep, one arm flung over Carstair’s chest. He remembered now. She had joined Carstair there on the floor after complaining of Dominic’s neglect.

Shrugging, he let the cloth fall and reached for the half-empty bottle of port. She was right. He had not paid her the slightest heed. He poured port into a glass and tipped most of the contents down his throat. He shouldn’t have come here. He should have gone home to Culter Towers to his grandparents. He missed them. But more than his yearly visit was still beyond him.

Tossing the remainder of the port down, he moved to the windows. It was dawn. Fog blanketed the lawn as it had that other dawn long ago, when he had strained to see through the mists. Suddenly he was there again—Culter Towers—with Jules.

They had stood with heads bent, separated by twin mounds of freshly turned earth, oblivious to the long queue of black-clad figures wending its way down a slight rise toward the massive towers of the stone manor house.

So suddenly and unexpectedly he was the Marquis of Aubrey. He’d been dressed in regimentals, with only two black arm bands to signify his mourning. Unsure of how to control the rage within, he’d stood clenching and unclenching his hands behind his back. “Father,” he’d mouthed silently before lifting his face, eyes stinging with tears to glare across the two new graves unmarked by headstones.

Jules had leaned heavily on a walking stick. He was wearing superbly fitted black mourning clothes, but white bandages swathed his forehead and extended down the left side of his face, hiding any emotion that might be there.

“You’re responsible for this.” He had spat out the words, hate filling the space between them.

Jules stepped back a pace, staggering under the accusation, and turned to go.

“Brother!” His voice filled with menace had stopped Jules’ attempted retreat. “Don’t forget your promise. What has happened here … is buried here.”

A sneer had lifted one side of Jules’s mouth throwing the rest of his face into a grotesque mask. “Oui, mon frère.”

Rage burned in his heart. And hatred for the brother he had once loved. “I leave for the Peninsula tomorrow, and I want you off my lands as soon as you can travel. I never want to see you again!”

“Ah … but, you will see me again, I haven’t forgotten this … Brother.” One long white finger had lifted to fleetingly touch the bandage over the place his left eye should have been…

Dominic shivered, the rage and hatred still burning even after ten years. He’d been so young then—too young and too naive to have to face the secrets he’d had thrust at him the night his parents had died. So he’d fled to war to forget them. He wasn’t naive anymore. Yet, he’d learned that one particular secret could never be forgotten.

The sun’s light burst into the clearing before him. Another night gone. A fortnight of this—too much wine and no real pleasure—and even the familiar boredom of London would be welcome.

Glancing back over his shoulder at the room, sour with the scent of stale wine and cluttered with empty bottles and the remains of plates of food, he suddenly came to a decision.

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