The Redemption of Lord Rawlings

  The Redemption of Lord Rawlings

  by Rachel Van Dyken

  Published by Astraea Press

  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.


  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!


  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 Duches
s 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.

  Smiling, she turned back toward her father. “Street urchin. Definitely a street urchin.”

  “Well then, I guess that settles it.” Reaching out to grab a snifter of brandy, her father nodded at the door, his way of discharging her. He had the information he needed, and she was now of no use to him. The coldness of her father’s heart had seemed to crack since her sister’s marriage, but it was in these moments, when he dismissed her as easily as he dismissed his servants, that feelings of bitterness would swell in her chest, screaming with outrage.

  “I trust you’ll be discreet?” She paused at the doorway awaiting his response.

  “I’ll make inquiries, but your reputation will stay intact, lovey, have no doubt about that. The last thing our family needs is another scandal to keep secret.”

  Abigail did not respond. Instead, she straightened her shoulders and walked briskly out of the study, leaving her father and his heavy cloud of bitterness behind.

  If matters progressed as she hoped, she would see Rawlings at the First Annual Tempest Ball tonight. It was one of the last great events before everyone went into hibernation for the winter. Only one month remained of the London Season. One month for Abigail to convince Lord Rawlings to marry her.

  Her infatuation had begun when she was but seven years of age. Always wild and carefree on their country estate, she had climbed a tree and fallen flat on her bottom. As tears poured down her face and she screamed for her papa, Rawlings happened by. He was on his way to visit his betrothed, Abigail’s sister Emma.

  Abigail had always been jealous of Emma. She was their parents’ favorite daughter. They doted on her endlessly. Abigail was ignored, for their first-born was to be the savior of them all. She was going to marry the great heir to the Rawlings’ fortune. An estimated four estates and two London homes as well as the title of countess would be in her grasp.

  So Abigail wasn’t at all shocked to see Rawlings stop by during the dreadful afternoon of her fall. He and Emma often met by the river and skipped rocks. As childhood friends, they were as comfortable around one another as brother and sister. Another thing Abigail envied, for she was never invited to join in on the fun.

  “You’re too young,” Emma would say, while Rawlings would smirk and pat her head like a small child. Finally, she’d stopped asking and began spying, wondering what her sister Emma had that she did not.

  “Are you all right?” Rawlings asked, jumping off his horse. “Is anything broken, Abby?”

  “No-o-o.” Abigail tried to be strong, but her voice shook as she answered his question.

  His crystal blue eyes full of concern gazed back at her. “Abby…” he’d scolded. “You have scratches across your hands. Whatever am I going to do with you? Were you climbing the tree again?”

  She could only nod, held captive as she was by his proximity.

  “Can you walk?”

  She wasn’t a good liar, so she nodded and managed to get to her feet, though she desperately wanted to feign a broken bone so he would carry her. Rawlings’ body loomed over hers. He was young and thin, but handsome and reckless at the same time. “I’ll help you onto Devil here and walk you back to the house. Is that agreeable?”

  Abigail licked her lips and looked down, breaking eye contact. He was so handsome. “All right,” she said in a tiny voice. Strong arms lifted her onto the horse. Rawlings turned and smiled. “Trust me on this, little Abby. One day men will fall all over themselves just to help you on your feet. Mark my words. You’ll be the catch of the Season, once you’re out of pigtails.”

  Self-consciously, she reached for her hair. It was in pigtail braids down her back. Foolishly, she thought he might think her pretty, but she was so young, why would he look at her as anything but a child?

  From that day forward she’d promised herself Rawlings would notice her, that one day he would be hers. But hope was soon lost when Emma was ruined and Rawlings began leading a life of debauchery and gambling. Like any young man in this day and age, he felt the world somehow owed him something, and he set off to prove to his parents and everyone else that he could do whatever he pleased and never mind the consequences. She had heard the rumors since her arrival in London and knew them to be somewhat true if her father had anything to say about the matter. It was apparent that he was still upset over the broken contract between Emma and Rawlings. She doubted that he still had the same ridiculous notions now that he was an adult.

  But a plan began forming when the papers started writing a
bout his financial distress. Granted, it was possible the rumor mill was nothing but that. Rumors. But she had it on good authority, hearing from her good friend Rosalind Hartwell, that Rawlings was in debt to his ears. Needing a savior, a debutante—an heiress.

  Lucky for Abigail, she boasted one of the largest dowries of all the debutantes this Season. Emma had refused any money from her parents. Not that she needed any, considering she married one of the richest men of the ton. Tempest had enough money to feed and clothe several families over and still have money for himself.

  The problem, Abigail thought as she reached the door to her room, was how to get Rawlings to see her as a woman instead of a girl in pigtails.

  She smirked to herself and pushed the door open. He shouldn’t have any trouble with that after today. She made sure of it. As kisses went, it wasn’t the most delightful thing she had ever experienced. It felt awkward and rushed, but she hadn’t any experience in the matter, so she steeled herself and tried as hard as she could to pretend to know what she was doing.

  Rawlings hadn’t responded, but he seemed a bit too shocked to say anything. And, saints alive, what was he doing out in the rain anyway? He’d catch his death that way. But her very best friend Rosalind had stopped for a visit to relay the message that he was sitting on that very bench staring at the sky. Noting it was easy to see his state of distress as she had passed by with her father in their curricle. And Rosalind was under strict instructions to help Abigail in any way possible. For she knew, as most true friends did, that it was of the utmost importance that Abigail secure a love match above all costs. So without thinking of the consequences, she ran out as fast as she could to try and catch him.

  More than likely he thought her some silly chit out to ruin herself, when she was actually his savior. He just didn’t realize it yet.

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