Let Sleeping Rogues Lie
From The School for Heiresses
Let Sleeping Rogues Lie
When Madeline Prescott took a teaching position at Mrs. Harris’s School for Young Ladies, it was to help restore her father’s reputation. Instead, she’s in danger of ruining her own. The devilishly handsome Anthony Dalton, Viscount Norcourt, has agreed to provide “rake lessons” to Mrs. Harris’s pupils so they can learn how to avoid unscrupulous gentlemen, and Mrs. Harris has tapped Madeline to oversee his classes.
Madeline has always believed attraction to be a scientific matter, easily classified and controlled—until she finds herself swept into the passionate desire that fiercely burns between her and Anthony. Nothing could be more illogical than risking everything for a dalliance with a rake… but nothing could be more tempting either.
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book hit the following bestseller lists:
- #2 on the New York Times (two weeks on the print list, two on the extended)
- Three weeks on USA Today
- Two weeks on Publishers Weekly
- #1 on Borders/Waldenbooks Romance List
- #3 on Borders Mass Market
- #7 on Barnes and Noble Mass Market
- Nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award for the Best Regency-Set Historical Romance of 2008
“Sparkling dialog, electric sexual chemistry and an engrossing story are bonuses in the fourth installment in the author’s ‘School for Heiresses’ series.” —Library Journal
“Sizzling sexual chemistry and an intriguing, science-tinged plot make Jeffries’ latest School for Heiresses title especially intriguing.” —John Charles, Booklist
Anthony Dalton, the Viscount Norcourt, smiled as Miss Madeline Prescott hurried him out of the school’s office, then walked briskly down the hall ahead of him in full expectation that he would follow.
And follow he did, though at a more leisurely pace to allow him a good look at her small but shapely bottom, made for cupping and fondling and squeezing. No doubt that would rouse a blush in her fair cheeks—
Stop that, you randy arse! he told himself. You can’t seduce Miss Prescott, not if you want Tessa to attend here.
Besides, naturalist or no, she was still a schoolteacher, which made her the marrying sort, not the take-a-tumble-with-a-rake sort. And she was probably as virginal as a nun, too, which ruled her out entirely.
He did have scruples—he’d never ruined a woman before and didn’t mean to start now. It was the surest way to end up trapped into wedding some virtuous female, which only led to disaster. Let other men hunt that elusive creature—the happy marriage. Although occasionally he allowed himself the sweet luxury of imagining himself in one, he knew men like him didn’t dare to marry.
But that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy looking at the unattainable, he told himself as his practiced gaze drank in the pretty curve of Miss Prescott’s back, the small but obstinate shoulders, and the bouncing yellow curls.
As if she’d read his wicked mind, the young lady turned on him a good distance from the office. “See here, Lord Norcourt, if this is to work, you must be guided by my advice. When I tell you to wait for me, I have a reason.”
“To gossip about me with Mrs. Harris? I hardly think that helped my cause.”
“You’re certainly not helping it by saying outrageous things to her. With every rash remark, you make it more difficult to persuade her to keep you.”
“Keep me!” He eyed her askance. “You seem to have mistaken me for a lapdog, sweetheart.”
“I am not your sweetheart, drat it!” She cast a furtive glance in the direction of Mrs. Harris’s office. “And that’s precisely the sort of rash remark I’m talking about. My employer is generally amiable, but men of your kind annoy her.”
“My ‘kind,’” he echoed.
“Rakehells. You know what I mean.”
“Forgive me, I’m still trying to imagine Mrs. Harris being ‘amiable.’”
With a sigh, Miss Prescott continued down the hall. “You must understand,” she explained as he kept pace with her, “in her youth, she eloped with a dashing rogue who turned out to be quite the fortune-hunter as well. Is it any wonder she dislikes that sort of man?”
“And how do you feel about rogues and rakehells, Miss Prescott?” he asked, watching to see her reaction.
“Having only met my first one today, I can hardly voice an opinion.”
“That doesn’t stop most people.”
“Most people have seen a rakehell in his natural habitat. I have not.”
“Natural habitat?” He laughed. “You are a lover of science.” Stepping in front of her, he blocked her path. “But I know you have an opinion. Everyone does. You won’t wound my feelings if you voice it.” Then he’d know where he stood with her.
A sigh escaped her lips. “Very well then.”
Ah, now we get to the truth. And the lecture.
“From what little I know, rakes seem a fascinating species, well deserving of study.” Sidling neatly past him, she continued down the hall.
He closed his slack jaw long enough to hurry after her. A “fascinating species”? “Deserving of study”? Was she serious?
Seconds later, they emerged into the foyer where he’d earlier been admitted. Sounds of girlish chatter cascaded down the impressive central staircase. The Elizabethan-era building had apparently been a private residence before being adapted for use as a school, and the high ceilings only amplified the noise.
Miss Prescott halted outside a door painted white. “Why don’t I show you the dining room before the girls come down for afternoon tea?” She spoke as if she hadn’t just made the most bizarre pronouncement he’d ever heard. “Then I can bring you up to see the classrooms while the girls aren’t engaged in lessons.”
“All right.” He followed her into a spacious room with a mahogany dining table that easily seated twenty. “Tell me, Miss Prescott. Why in God’s name would you think we rakehells deserve study?”
With a shrug, she strolled along the table, straightening chairs. “Because of your reckless way of life, I suppose. I want to understand how you can stomach it.”
“I want to understand why you think it reckless,” he countered, not sure if she was trying to insult him.
“Don’t you fight duels?”
Ah, that was the sort of thing she meant. “Absolutely not. You have to get up at dawn for those, you know.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t you race your phaeton?”
His smug smile faltered. “I don’t own a phaeton.” But he did race his curricle from time to time. No point in mentioning that.
“And I suppose you don’t drink strong spirits either.”
“Well, yes, but—”
“It isn’t good for the constitution, you know. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make generally healthy men suffer from headaches the morning after or cast up their accounts in the street. Surely you see that such reactions tax the body unduly.”
He held out his arms. “Do I look as if I’m teetering on the edge of death?”
Miss Prescott skimmed him with blatant nonchalance. “Not now, but I daresay you look quite different on the mornings after your carousing.”
“I can handle my liquor perfectly well,” he remarked, unaccountably peeved by her logical observation. “I certainly wouldn’t call my ‘carousing’ reckless.”
“Fine.” She strode off toward a door across the room. “Do you gamble?”
“Of course.” This had to be the oddest conversation he’d ever had with a woman.
“Surely you consider that reckless. Given the odds of winning versus losing, any good mathematician can tell you it’s rare for someone to increase their annual income by gambling. Yet rakes insist upon risking the loss of their property.”
“It isn’t a risk if you know the mathematical odds and play accordingly. The odds of winning at loo are about 5 to 1. Of course that depends on whether you’re playing three or five card loo, but when you factor in what trump the Eldest Hand plays to start, it can vary from 5 to 1 to 10 to 4. According to my calculations.”
Her look of shock rapidly changed to one of admiration, and that warmed him as no woman’s ever had. He’d always excelled at mathematics—that’s why he’d been able to supplement his small allowance so effectively with investments—but women weren’t usually impressed by a man’s skill with maths.
To have her look at him through new eyes full of interest roused his rakehell instincts. How easy it would be to step close and kiss that enticing, lushly proportioned mouth…
Now that would be reckless. “The point is, Miss Prescott, I’m well aware of the odds, so I never risk more than I can afford.”
Setting her hand on the door handle, she frowned. “But why risk anything at all? You don’t have to gamble to enjoy playing cards.”
He laughed. “My fellow club members wouldn’t share your opinion, I assure you.”
A thundering noise overhead made her start. “The girls are coming. Quick, through here. We don’t want to be inundated by questions and curious glances.”
With a nod, he followed her into a ballroom. He paid no mind to the oak floors that stretched an impressive distance beneath a crystal chandelier or the rows of simple white chairs that flanked walls covered with elegant green fabric. He was much more interested in why Miss Prescott, with her apparent disapproval of reckless rakehells, had proposed that he give lessons to her charges.
“We have dancing lessons three times a week in here,” she said in the tone of the impersonal guide. “Every Saturday night we hold an assembly for the girls, and once a month we invite local young men to attend so our students can practice their skills with gentlemen.”
“Do you dance, Miss Prescott?” he probed, hoping to learn more about her.
“When I can.” Circling the room, she headed out through the open French doors onto a gallery that afforded a fine view of well-laid-out gardens teeming with roses and lilacs. When she halted beside the marble balustrade, the sheen of gold cast by the afternoon sun over her glorious curls made him itch to touch them.
“I’m surprised that you don’t find dancing to be reckless,” he said, trying not to imagine her slender hips swaying, her pert breasts pushed high in an evening gown until they rose and fell fetchingly with her exertions. She was the marrying sort, remember?
“I suppose dancing can be reckless.” She tipped up her chin at him. “If it leads a man and woman to do other things.”
At last they got to the heart of the matter. Not that he was surprised. He had known she would eventually raise the subject of morality, especially in relations between men and women. The marrying sort always did.
“What ‘other things,’ Miss Prescott?” he drawled, the devil in him determined to force her into speaking the words aloud.
She eyed him as if he were a fool. “You know what I mean. Swiving.”
“Swiving?” He burst into laughter. “You have an interesting vocabulary for a schoolteacher.”
“The word comes from Shakespeare,” she said defensively. “It’s perfectly acceptable.”
“Perhaps for a tavern in Spitalfields, but gentlewomen don’t discuss swiving.”
“Oh, but they should! Then they’d learn the dangers of it. Indiscriminate swiving is the most reckless activity of a rake. It spreads disease, it provokes characters like that Harriette Wilson with her Memoirs to blackmail gentlemen with the threat of ruin, and it can result in the siring of illegitimate children—”
“Disease,” he broke in, incredulous. “Blackmail and illegitimate children. These are what concern you about the indiscriminate swiving of rakehells.”
“Of course.” She eyed him with clear surprise. “What else?”
She snorted. “Those are what make indiscriminate swiving so reckless in the first place. The woman bears the brunt of it, you know. Aside from losing her position and possibly her home, she risks finding herself with child and cast out by a society that dismisses her as ‘immoral’ to excuse its not protecting women from—”
“Men like me?”
The thinly veiled accusation unnerved him. It was true that women could plummet from respectable to disreputable in society’s eyes very easily, even when the man was to blame for it, but he’d never let that little inequity bother him. His lovers had either been soiled doves or widows—having fun with him was entirely their choice. Neither seemed to need much protecting.
Now that he had his young niece Tessa’s future to consider, however, he couldn’t look at the average woman’s prospects in quite the same way. And that disturbed him. Deeply.
Then it annoyed him. It wasn’t as if he were ruining respectable women right and left. And he was trying to do right by Tessa, damn it, even though it could mean years of enduring long nights alone in his bed, unable to chase away the darkness with drink or whoring.
The thought of what he was giving up—the sacrifice Miss Prescott didn’t even heed—goaded him into looming over her. “Some people, even women, find the pleasures of ‘swiving’ well worth the risks.”
Though she caught her breath, she didn’t edge away. “I can’t imagine why.” Her clean, sweetish scent engulfed him as she met his gaze. “You were sincere about behaving as a gentleman while here at the school, weren’t you?”
He started to point out that he’d only agreed to be a gentleman to her pupils. But nothing had changed—she was still the wrong sort of woman to seduce.
With what he considered admirable restraint, he drew back. “I don’t have much of a choice,” he bit out, still chafing over that truth.
“Everyone has a choice, sir.”
“Even those of us born wicked?”
“Don’t be silly,” she chided. “Wickedness is just a pattern of bad behavior, a habit cultivated over time. One merely has to break the habit.”
“Ah, but we both know that habits are hard to break.” Awareness dawned. “Is that what you’re worried about? That I can’t keep from exercising my bad habits around your charges?”
His bluntness brought a shadow to her wholesome features. She dropped her gaze. “What I have heard of you suggests you were telling the truth about your preference for experienced females.”
“And as a naturalist, you really want to trust in that.” He searched her face. “But part of you still worries that the temptation of so much young female beauty will be too much for my … er … habit of seducing women.”
When she met his gaze, her answer plainly showing in her expression, he stiffened. “Don’t worry, Miss Prescott,” he said wearily. “My seduction habits are limited to women. I’m no debaucher of children. You can trust me to behave with perfect propriety around your girls.”
“Good,” she said, relief shining in her face. “I need this position, you know, and if you were to attempt to seduce even one of my pupils—”
The words were out before he could stop them, and for the first time that afternoon, a flicker of uncertainty deepened her eyes. She masked it with a shaky laugh. “You may attempt to seduce me as much as you please. It would be pointless. I’m too aware of the risks. Besides, such things don’t tempt me.”
The bloody devil they didn’t. “Then you’d best watch your step around me, sweetheart,” he said softly. “Or I will prove you wrong.”