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Rules for Reforming a Rake

By´╝ÜMeara Platt

CHAPTER 1


To attract a rake, one must make an elegant first impression.


London, England

Late February 1815



“GABRIEL, DON’T WALK down that street!”

Gabriel Dayne turned in time to see his friend, Ian Markham, Duke of Edgeware, jump down from an emerald green phaeton and dodge several passing carriages as he raced toward him, waving his arms and calling for him to stop. Quickly scanning his surroundings, Gabriel reached for the pistol hidden in the breast pocket of his waistcoat and prepared to defend himself.

But from whom?

He saw nothing untoward on Chipping Way, one of Mayfair’s prettiest streets. Indeed, the sun shone brightly, birds chirped merrily, and buds hinted of early spring blooms along the fashionable walk. Ladies and gentlemen strolled leisurely toward the park on this unusually warm day, and another elegant carriage led by a pair of matched grays with fanciful gold feathers on their heads clattered past.

Not a footpad or assassin could be seen.

“Put that weapon away,” Ian said, reaching his side and pausing a moment to catch his breath. “I didn’t mean to frighten you, just stop you from making one of the biggest mistakes of your life.”

Gabriel frowned. “A simple ‘good afternoon’ would have caught my attention. How are you, Your Grace?”

“Me? I’m right as rain. But things have changed around here. I thought you should know.” He withdrew a handkerchief from his breast pocket, removed his top hat, and proceeded to wipe his brow.

Gabriel gazed more closely at Ian’s handkerchief... decidedly feminine... embroidered with pink hearts. He arched an eyebrow. “So it seems. You never mentioned that you’d acquired a wife.”

Ian followed Gabriel’s gaze. “The devil! Things haven’t changed that much! I’m not married and hope never to be. No, this dainty piece of lace belongs to my new mistress. A shapely bit of fluff with cherry lips and hair to match.”

“I see.”

“Ah, but I don’t think you do. I stopped by your townhouse shortly after your return from France to congratulate the wounded war hero, but you were in very bad shape—”

“Don’t call me that,” Gabriel warned, keeping his voice low, though they were quite alone for the moment. “As far as my family and London society are concerned, I’m the wastrel they believe I’ve become, shot by a jealous husband while hunting grouse in Scotland.”

Ian gave another shake of his head. “I don’t see the need to continue this pretense. The war’s over. Why won’t you and Prinny,” he said, referring to the Prince Regent, “allow the truth to come out?”

“No,” Gabriel said quietly. “It will come out in time, when Napoleon is no longer a threat.”

“But he’s in exile and under constant guard. What harm can he do now?”

“None, I hope. However, matters are still unsettled on the Continent. I may have to return.” Though he was loath to do so. Having spent the last three years slipping from one hellish battlefield to another, and been close to death more times than he cared to remember, Gabriel was now eager to take advantage of this momentary lull to live life to the fullest.

Ian and he had saved each other from numerous scrapes with the enemy during the war and had become more than friends. One could say they were as close as brothers, though Ian did not care much for family. Indeed, Ian was an unrepentant rakehell with an excellent eye for the ladies, and just the person to guide him back into the carefree bachelor life. “Now tell me, does your delightful mistress have a friend?”

Ian laughed. “Veronique has several charming friends to suit your... er, needs. Come by White’s tonight for a drink. We’ll discuss your return to England and the joys of bachelorhood further.”

“Look forward to it,” Gabriel said with a nod. “Now, what is this nonsense about my making one of the biggest mistakes of my life?”

Ian tried to appear serious, but the corners of his mouth curled upward to form a grin. “The danger is real,” he said, a glint of amusement in his eyes. “You must not take another step toward your grandmother’s house.”

Gabriel humored him by glancing around once more. For the life of him, there was nothing out of place on this street.

Ian took a deep breath. “Right, then. Your grandmother resides at Number 5 Chipping Way, and General Allworthy resides at Number 1 Chipping Way. He’s no problem, of course, being the quiet, retiring sort. So is your grandmother the retiring sort, though I understand she was quite something in her younger day.”

“Get to the point. I’m already late.”

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