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To Love A Scoundrel (London Season Matchmaker 5) Lucy Adams 2022/7/22 11:45:22

The smile faded from Grayson’s face as the butler came into the room. He had, for once, not been checking his vowels and the copies of the documents sent to him, but rather had merely been thinking about the happiness that had been his ever since Dinah had stepped into his arms. Even now, that moment seemed almost unbelievable. In one astonishing moment, she had revealed the truth to him, showing him that she did not see him as he saw himself. That she wanted to be close with him as he wanted to be close to her.

The time he had spent pushing his affections away, begging for them to leave him – all that had been wasted. If he had, perhaps, been honest with her from the start, then how different might his life be at the present? Shaking his head to himself, Grayson told himself not to think about what might have been but rather, instead to focus on the present. The wonderful, joyous present that meant that Dinah could be his and only his. There would be no convent. There might, now, be a future for them both together and that was truly wonderful.

Grayson frowned, accepting the card from the butler and looking at it carefully. It was none other than Lord Irving, who had arrived without invitation nor request. How unusual.

“I do not think I have a good deal of time for any visitors at present,” he told the butler, who nodded at once. “I can only spare him a few minutes.” Most likely, Lord Irving wanted to try and attempt to change Dinah’s mind as regarded their suit, but the gentleman was, unfortunately, about to discover that Grayson was not at all willing to aid him in his desire – especially not when he and Dinah had only just discovered such a wonderous intimacy that he still could not quite accept! Not that he was about to inform Lord Irving of such a thing!

Sighing to himself, Grayson waited until the butler had departed before opening one of his study table drawers and ensuring that all the vowels were carefully set inside. He had studied each and every one, making certain that the debt had not yet been fulfilled, but had come to the sorrowful conclusion that he still owed each payment still. The gentleman who now held claim to each and every debt was still unknown to Grayson, although he had not, as yet, made any sort of contact as regarded the payment that was due. This surprised Grayson somewhat, for it had been at least a fortnight since he had last had the opportunity to attempt to pay the fellow – although that had gone rather badly indeed. He had thought that, in the interim, he would have received another note or at least another demand for payment. After all, he had not yet paid the money back and the debt was still outstanding. He rubbed his forehead and closed the drawer tightly. None of it made much sense.

“Lord Irving, my lord.”

Grayson, distracted from his thoughts by the arrival of Lord Irving, rose quickly and greeted the gentleman, who gave Grayson a languorous bow that took much too long. A little impatient for the fellow to depart, this only irked Grayson more, who then arched one eyebrow as though silently demanding to know what Lord Irving wanted.

“Lord Whitehaven,” Lord Irving began, his eyes glinting with a hint of steel as he approached the study table. “Thank you for seeing me when I did not request a meeting. It is a matter of great urgency, I assure you.”

“If you come to seek my permission to court Dinah, then I fear that I shall only disappoint you,” Grayson replied, steadily. “She has made her mind up, and I am not inclined to change it.”

Lord Irving sighed heavily, and shook his head. “I had expected as much,” he replied, with a hint of warning in his tone. “Nonetheless, I must inform you, Lord Whitehaven, that she is required.”

Grayson’s eyes narrowed, bristling at Lord Irving’s tone. “Required?” he repeated angrily. “I think you forget yourself, Lord Irving. Miss Shepherd has made up her own mind, and I am not about to change it. You have no right to expect or demand anything from her.”

Lord Irving, however, did not seem to listen. Instead, he folded himself into a nearby chair, crossed his legs at the ankle and stretched himself out as though he were quite at his leisure. Grayson watched him with a sharp gaze, all too aware of the anger that was burning in his heart.

“As I have said, she is required,” Lord Irving continued firmly. “She is pretty enough and pious enough to be an excellent little wife, and I have set my sights firmly upon her.” He shrugged, as though this were a mere expectation rather than a brazen demand. “Besides which, she is the only one whose guardian seems willing to give her to me.”

Disturbed by this comment, Grayson narrowed his eyes all the more, rising to his feet and approaching Lord Irving. “I should have you thrown out on your ear for demanding such a thing,” he hissed, thumping the top of the empty chair that faced Lord Irving. “Remove yourself from my house at once.”

Lord Irving stretched his long, thin frame in a cat-like manner, tilting his head and half smiling at Grayson. “Your mother did not look much into my character now, did she?” he commented, not moving an inch. “And nor did you.”

“That is because Miss Shepherd is not interested in you,” Grayson returned fiercely. “And as I have said, nothing will induce me to permit you to court her.”

Lord Irving sighed as though this comment pained him. “Had either of you done so, you would have learned rather quickly that I am not the sort of gentleman that any respectable young lady should approach. I am a cheat. I am a scoundrel, and I quite enjoy gaining the upper hand in the most nefarious of ways.” A dark chuckle escaped him, sending a shudder down Grayson’s spine. “And it is in this manner that I inte

nd to gain Miss Shepherd’s hand in marriage.”

Rage burst in Grayson’s soul. Almost toppling the chair in his anger, he reached for Lord Irving, only for the gentleman to put one hand up and tut in a most irritating manner.

“I would not lay a hand upon the man to whom you owe so much,” he said softly, looking directly up into Grayson’s face and sending a shudder through Grayson’s frame. “You see, I am entirely devious, Lord Whitehaven, and was quite certain that you would not permit me to chase after Miss Shepherd, especially when she was not inclined towards me. And when you are not inclined towards me also.” He laughed again as Grayson stepped back, feeling a sheet of ice come down from the skies, shattering over his head and rendering him entirely speechless with both fright and pain.

“Yes, Lord Whitehaven, I did see the delight on your face as you stood by Miss Shepherd as she had refused me,” he continued, as Grayson began to shake with restrained fury. “It seems that I am to shatter your happiness, for unless you give Miss Shepherd to me, I shall not only demand every single penny that you owe but interest thereafter. Interest for all the days you have kept me waiting. And,” he continued, waggling a finger in Grayson’s direction. “And do not think that I shall keep such a debt quiet. No, indeed not! I shall have the ton know of it, should you refuse me. I will give them every single detail.”

“No,” Grayson whispered, his throat constricting. “No, I shall not give you what you ask. I would rather pay with my life than give Miss Shepherd to you.”

Lord Irving tipped his head. “Then consider your debt doubled,” he answered, with a small shrug. “Tripled, in fact. And it is due this very evening.”

Grayson shook his head, his heart tightening in his chest. “You know very well that I cannot pay you what you ask, not when you have given me such little time.”

Lord Irving stretched out of his chair, pushing himself up in a leisurely fashion that suggested he did not care an iota for the difficulties he was placing on Grayson. “Then I suggest that you bring Miss Shepherd to Elder View this evening, Lord Whitehaven. For either you bring me the money or you bring me the girl. I shall only be satisfied if the debt is paid in full, and if it is not, then you shall find yourself entirely ruined in society’s eyes – and in the eyes of your own family. The debt shall remain, and whilst you may be able to pay it in time, your status in society will be gone forever. You will struggle to find a suitable match. You may never marry, in fact, and then what will become of the family line?” He shrugged and made to walk towards the door. “The name of ‘Whitehaven’ will be gone forever. You will be forgotten, your family annals come to naught. And it shall all be your fault.”

Grayson stared at the door for a long time, long after Lord Irving had left. He did not know what to do. He could not turn away and allow Dinah to marry Lord Irving, especially when it would be against her will. But neither did he have the money with which to pay Lord Irving! The debt in itself was a heavy amount, and whilst the money was now available to him, he could not simply go in and ask for more – for two times that amount! That would bring him close to ruin and put the estate in danger. Closing his eyes, Grayson let his head fall forward as he felt the old familiar sting of shame darken his eyes again. He had done this. He had been the one to put the estate in danger in the first place and had he not been so brazen, so foolish, and so utterly without sense, then mayhap none of this would have happened.

He did not see the door being pushed ajar, did not see the pair of blue eyes looking in at him. Nor did he see how her face was whiter than ever before, her hand at her mouth as her gaze remained fixed upon his bent form.

“I will not,” he muttered aloud, turning so that both hands were resting on the back of the chair, dropping his head and trying to find some sort of answer to what seemed to be an impossible situation. “I will not allow her to go with him.”