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«Seduction», Amanda Quick

ONE

Julian Richard Sinclair, Earl of Ravenwood, listened in stunned disbelief as his formal offer of marriage was rejected. On the heels of disbelief came a cold, controlled anger. Who did the lady think she was, he wondered. Unfortunately, he could not ask her. The lady had chosen to absent herself. Julian's generous offer was being rejected on her behalf by her obviously uncomfortable grandfather.

"Devil take it, Ravenwood, I don't like this any better than you do. Thing is, the girl's not a young chit straight out of the schoolroom," Lord Dorring explained morosely. "Used to be an amiable little thing. Always eager to please. But she's three and twenty now and during the past few years she seems to have developed a considerable will of her own. Dashed annoying at times, but there it is. Can't just order her about these days."

"I am aware of her age," Julian said dryly. I was led to believe that because of it she would be a sensible, tractable sort of female."

"Oh, she is," Lord Dorring sputtered. Most definitely she is. Don't mean to imply otherwise. She's no addle-brained young twit given to hysterics or anything of that sort." His florid, bewhiskered face was flushed with evident dismay. "Normally she's very good-natured. Very amenable. A perfect model of, uh, feminine modesty and grace."

"Feminine modesty and grace, Julian repeated slowly.

Lord Dorring brightened. "Precisely, m'lord. Feminine modesty and grace. Been a great prop to her grandmother since the death of our youngest son and his wife a few years back. Sophy's parents were lost at sea the year she turned seventeen, you know. She and her sister came to live with us. I'm sure you recall." Lord Dorring cleared his throat with a cough. "Or perhaps it escaped your notice. You were somewhat occupied with, uh, other matters at the time."

Other mattersbeing a polite euphemism for finding himself helplessly ensnared in the coils of a beautiful witch named Elizabeth, Julian reflected. "If your granddaughter is such a paragon of all the sensible virtues, Dorring, what seems to be the problem with convincing her to accept my offer?"

"My fault entirely, her grandmother assures me." Lord Dorring's bushy brows drew together in an unhappy frown. "I fear I've allowed her to read a great deal. And all the wrong sort of thing, I'm told. But one doesn't tell Sophy what to read, you know. Can't imagine how any man could accomplish that. More claret, Ravenwood?"

"Thank you. I believe I could use another glass." Julian eyed his red-faced host and forced himself to speak calmly. "I confess I do not quite understand, Dorring. What have Sophy's reading habits got to do with anything?"

"Fear I haven't always kept a close watch on what she was reading," Lord Dorring muttered, gulping his claret. "Young women pick up notions, you know, if you don't keep a watch on what they read. But after the death of her sister three years ago, I didn't want to press Sophy too hard. Her grandmother and I are quite fond of her. She really is a reasonable girl. Can't think what's gotten into her head to refuse you. I'm sure she would change her mind if she just had a little more time."

"Time?" Ravenwood's brows rose with ill-concealed sarcasm.

"You must admit you've rushed things a trifle. Even my wife says that. We tend to go about this sort of thing more slowly out here in the country. Not used to town ways, you know. And women, even sensible women, have these damn romantic notions about how a man ought to go on." Lord Dorring eyed his guest with a hopeful air. "Perhaps if you could allow her a few more days to consider your offer?"

"I would like to talk to Miss Dorring, myself," Julian said.

"Thought I explained. Not in at the moment. Gone out riding. Visits Old Bess on Wednesdays."

"I am aware of that. She was informed that I would be calling at three, I assume."

Lord Dorring coughed again to clear his throat. "I, er, believe I mentioned it. Undoubtedly slipped her mind. You know how young women are." He glanced at the clock. "Should be back by half past four."


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