Stolen Kisses from the Viscount – Alanna Lucas

WE’RE RUİNED!” PATİENCE cried into her trembling hands. “We are not ruined,” Patrick, Lord Leybourne, said as he gathered his sister into his arms. He detested that his family had been reduced to this. “I will think of something.” “You must marry with haste, before our situation is made known.” Aunt Agnes worried the edge of the crinkled newspaper. “After Lord Howard’s situation appeared in the Gazette, no young woman of fortune would have him.” She tsked several times before continuing. “And he is such a pleasant fellow, what a shame.” She raised her dull brown eyes to Patrick’s. “You at least still have your looks.” “Despite your horrid reputation with the ladies, debutantes can not seem to resist you,” his youngest sister, Parnell, chimed in. “Really, Parnell, how do you know of such things? Certainly not from me.” Aunt Agnes’s face was red with embarrassment. “If your mother was still alive, she would die from shock.

Patrick, do you hear what your sister is about?” Patrick tried to hide the chuckle that was threatening to embarrass his aunt further. Agnes was the dearest woman in the world, if somewhat old-fashioned in her beliefs. She believed some things should not ever be mentioned. Parnell wandered to where their aunt was sitting, and sat down beside her. She took Aunt Agnes’s hand. “I am almost seventeen, Aunt Aggie.” “Age has nothing to do with it. You simply should not have knowledge of such things.” Patience raised her head off Patrick’s shoulder and sniffled back the tears. “We should be discussing how to survive this, rather than discussing Patrick’s rakish ways.

” Patrick released Patience from his embrace and retorted, “I’ll have you know I’ve never done anything that would bring any lasting disgrace to this family.” Unlike their dead sire who’d had a penchant for betting at cockfights and other unsavory activities that unfortunately he’d been able to hide from them. “I. Am. Discreet.” He emphasized each word to make his point. Patience drew her brows together and eyed him with a dubious look, almost as if she was unsure he was telling the truth. He shook his head. Now was not the time to argue. Patrick knew he must marry to save his family from further ruin.

Despite the steps he’d already taken to secure his family’s future, the nagging in the back of his mind warned him that he was treading on unsteady ground. He couldn’t even bring himself to tell his family about the bet with Pickering. They would be furious with him, regardless it was a sure bet and would ease their situation, biding them more time. He never thought he would be reduced to this humiliation. He had always gambled within his limitations and knew when to walk away. But he was willing to take this one last chance for his sisters and aunt. Patience cupped her chin with one hand and tapped a single finger against her cheek as she delineated her plan. “I believe our first course of action is to make a list of debutantes with a large dowry.” “Why only the debutantes?” Parnell shifted in her seat, turning to address her sister. “If our situation is that dire, shouldn’t Patrick try and woo every available female with a fortune?” “Only the debutantes are not entirely aware of Patrick’s past,” Patience said with a wink.

“I thought it might come to this.” Aunt Agnes reached for a sheet of paper that was on the side table and presented it to Patrick. “I gleaned quite a bit of information from Lady Blanch and constructed a list of eligible ladies with significant dowries.” “How much is significant?” Patience questioned. “Fifteen thousand.” “That is quite a sum,” Parnell gasped. “Are we really as bad off as all that?” “Patrick sold off what he could and tried to save the rest. There is no money for either of you. We have barely enough to keep up appearances for the season.” His aunt and sisters conversed as if he were not present.

Patrick wished he wasn’t present for this. He would rather be exploring exotic pleasures in the crimson boudoir of the voluptuous actress, Yvette, than suffering this torture. Their words continued to chatter around him, reminding him their situation was indeed dire and needed his full attention. Despite his efforts, all they were left with was this townhouse in London and an estate in need of repair in the country. Their staff in total consisted of three—a butler, a cook, and a maid. It was disgraceful. Patience and Parnell were the daughters, and now sisters, of a viscount and he was scrounging for money like some common street urchin all because his father had been a drunk and a gambler. Patrick would think of a way out of this predicament, his sisters would have their season, and everything would be fine. He rubbed the back of his neck with force. “There must be a better—.

” “If I could marry, dear boy, I would. But at eight and sixty I really do not have much to offer the opposite sex.” His aunt’s cheeks instantly reddened as the last word left her mouth in a mere whisper. He knew his options were few—either accept ruin and disappoint his family, or give up his rakish ways and settle down with a woman he did not love. Resigning himself to the unfortunate task, he took the paper from his aunt and began to skim the list. “Lady Beatrice will not do. Her father watches her like a hawk.” Parnell stood behind him and looked down at the list in his hand. “What about Miss Oldfield? She is quite amiable.” There was one problem with Miss Oldfield though.

Despite the fact she was ten years Patrick’s junior, her countenance and manners suggested someone beyond her years— beyond Aunt Agnes’s years even. If he ha d to marry, Patrick at least wanted some semblance of a content marriage. “You may take Miss Juliana Baker off the list. She’s recently engaged to Lord Neville, although I think she would have preferred a prince,” Parnell said with a snicker. Not wanting to be excluded, Patience joined in the discussion. “What about Miss Emson?” “Who, dearest?” Aunt Agnes questioned. Patrick was trying to put names and faces together when Patience clarified, “Miss Jane Emson. She is a few years older than me, but we became friends when we went to school together before Father…” Her words trailed off. No one ever spoke of what their father had done. Their combined thoughts alone probably had the bastard wrestling in his grave for peace.

She cleared her throat before continuing, “Her father is a baron of little means.” “Then why are you even suggesting her name?” Aunt Agnes questioned. With a know-it-all tone, Patience answered. “Lady Emson is the daughter of a merchant who did extremely well with his investments. Miss Emson’s mother is providing her with a dowry of twenty thousand pounds.” “What’s wrong with her?” Patrick huffed off out as his youngest sister enthusiastically cried, “She’s perfect!” “Nothing,” Patience tsked. “She is quite lovely and very polite.” Patrick could tell by the tone in his sister’s voice she was withholding something. An heiress in her second season must have some undesirable habit. He raised a questioning brow.

“Patience?” “Alright, she is a tad shy, but nothing a rake like you can’t fix with a moonlit stroll or perhaps a clandestine affair.” “Patience!” Aunt Agnes breathed out in shock. “First Parnell and now you. Wherever do you girls learn such things?” She pulled out her fan and opened it with haste. Waving it frantically in front of her reddened face, she uttered, “I just don’t know about you girls.” “Oh, Aunt Agnes, I am almost eighteen, and people do talk. Not to mention Patrick is hardly a saint.” Patience uttered the later under her breath. Thankfully their aunt did not hear the comment. Patrick rolled his eyes—heaven help him.

Fumbling with the fan in her hand, Aunt Agnes scolded, “Even still, you should not say such things out loud.” “Aunt Agnes…” Patrick was about to come to Patience’s defense but was silenced by the harsh glare his aunt cast his way. She was displeased with his influence over his younger sisters. “Now, no more talk of…of such things. We best get back to the problem at hand.” Aunt Agnes sat quietly for a couple of seconds before she began uttering her thoughts out loud. “I wonder who else might be suitable. There must be some young lady on this list that would do and…” Patrick listened to his aunt with half an ear, too lost in their woes to think straight. He had exhausted every possibility, but he wasn’t ready to accept defeat, or settle for anything less than an amiable match. “Patrick.

” Both his sisters enunciated his name at the same time with great precision. He raised his head meeting their identical gaze. Patience and Parnell were exactly one year apart in age to the day. They looked like twins—a perfect blend of both their parents —in every way except for their eye color. Patience’s eyes looked like the sea on a clear calm day, whereas Parnell’s were a deep rich brown with flecks of gold. Thoughts of his mother and father flashed through his mind. They’d had a love match. But everything changed when Mother died. Father had turned to the bottle and highstakes gambling, a volatile combination he’d not been capable of winning against. Patrick never indulged in drinking.

That was one limitation he was not willing to test. He was not going to ever become his father. The heavy weight of their father’s irresponsibility bore down on him like an anchor. If it weren’t for these three women, he would have drowned under the pressure and gossip. It was one thing to be a rake and quite another to have his family be the subject of the latest on dits. Only with the aid of Lady Capers, the premier gossip in town and one of Aunt Agnes’s dearest friends, had their situation gone unnoticed for so long. Patrick was worried about how he was going to pull off such monumental feats as saving his family from ruin, rebuilding his reputation, and providing a dowry for his sisters. Unfortunately, he knew if he were to have any chance at success, he would have to give up a thoroughly enjoyable lifestyle—albeit one that had been neglected since his father’s death. His name at present was only loosely associated with one actress. Despite all he would have to sacrifice, he would do anything for his aunt and sisters.

First things first, he needed to lure an heiress into marriage before the gossipmongers discovered their financial ruin. If their situation were to be revealed, his sisters would never be able to have their come-out. The gossips would tear them apart, right down to the last out-of-fashion secondhand thread. “Patrick, are you listening?” Patience scolded. Unlike her name implied, she would not wait for an answer. “Clearly you believe Miss Emson is not sufficient.” Agreeing to marry to save his family was beginning to sound rather cold and callous, and this was coming from someone who had left a trail of broken hearts without much regard. Patience crossed her arms as she huffed out a complaint. “Well, if she is not good enough, then I am at a loss.” He blinked several times, wondering what part of the discussion he had missed.

“Who?” he began to question when out of the corner of his eye he saw Aunt Agnes slowly raise her head, a wide grin encompassing her face. “I know who would be perfect,” she said with excitement. “Her dowry is quite large. She must be nearing twenty which is a good age to marry.” Aunt Agnes continued to ramble facts about the unnamed heiress who was to solve all their woes. “Poor thing lost both parents in a carriage accident several years back and has been living with her aunt and uncle—.” “Who is it?” Patience questioned before Patrick could even formulate the words through his rising impatience. “Miss Aveline Redgrave.” “I’M DYİNG.” Uncle Arnulf’s words cracked the fragile lining of Aveline’s heart.

The thought of losing someone she loved so dearly scared her. He was like a father to her and now she was going to lose him. Forcing down the hard lump in her throat, she fought to maintain her composure without much success. Her voice cracked as she forced the words past her lips. “What do you mean? You’re still young. You can’t die.” He patted the seat beside him. Aveline trudged toward the sofa, dreading Uncle Arnulf’s next words. “I am not facing my final demise tomorrow, but Dr. Watson has informed me that I should have my affairs in order.

My heart has been troubling me a great deal as of late, and—.” “Wh…what are Aunt Winnie and I to do without you?” Her aunt sat perfectly still, her pale features devoid of all emotion. The pain in Aveline’s heart was pressing against her chest like a sack of bricks. She felt as if her whole world was crashing down around her… again. Uncle Arnulf inhaled deeply, and then let out a shaky uneven breath. “When the time comes, Winifred will go live with our son in the north.” Before he even spoke the words, Aveline knew what he was going to say next. She had narrowly avoided that disaster four years ago. “And you will go live with Lord Redgrave.” “But I don’t want to live with Father’s brother.

” Aveline couldn’t even force herself to use that uncle’s name. Her father had been a saint compared to his brother’s nefarious activities. “He is evil.” “Lord Redgrave is not as bad as all that, dearest.” Aunt Winnie was the sweetest woman alive and Aveline adored her, but her greatest flaw was that she never saw the worst in people. When Aveline’s parents had died, it was only by the grace of God she’d not had to reside with her father’s brother. He had been much too concerned with his new title and vast wealth to care about Aveline. Thankfully, Uncle Arnulf had encountered no difficulty in arranging Aveline’s temporary guardianship. These past four years with her beloved aunt and uncle had been the happiest of her life. “I still don’t understand why—.

” “Don’t make this any more difficult than it needs to, Aveline. I tried to reason with Lord Redgrave, but he has issued his ultimatum, and you must accept.” Uncle Arnulf’s exhausted tone halted further protest. Aveline sat and waited for her death sentence to be issued. “You have two choices. You can either go live with your uncle or marry.” Aveline did not have to think for very long. Although she was not keen on marriage, it was the lesser of the two evils, and she would not cause her uncle further concern. “I will make my list this afternoon.” “List, dearest?” Aveline knew her aunt would be appalled by her method of going about finding a husband, but she was not going to fall into the same trap her mother had been snared in.

She was not going to charge in heart first and swoon at the sight of the first attractive gentleman who promised the world, and then turned his back the moment he had what he wanted. Her father had not even had the decency to wait until the ink had dried on the marriage certificate before he’d begun cheating on her mother. Focus on the present, she reminded herself. It wouldn’t do Aveline any good to dwell on the past. “A list of suitable gentlemen, Aunt Winnie.” “I think that’s a wise decision.” Aveline was caught off guard by her aunt’s acquiescence. “You do?” Regret and sadness weighed heavy with Aunt Winnie’s words. “I do not want you to make the same mistake my dearest sister made. She should never have agreed to your father’s proposal.

” She exhaled on a long sigh. “But him being the dashing and extremely handsome gentleman that he was, she could not resist.” One thing Aveline was most certain of was that she would not have any trouble avoiding rakes and scoundrels. She had promised herself she would never marry or fall victim to a man like her father. Since her parent’s death, they rarely spoke of what happened. Even after four years, the shock of her mother killing her father and his mistress, then taking her own life was still too much to bear. Despite the rumors, the ton still believed that her parents had died in a carriage accident. Aveline was almost too afraid to ask. “How long do I have before…” A raw grief overwhelmed her and choked her words. “Lord Redgrave has generously agreed to give you three months.

” Aveline knew from the tone in her uncle’s voice that he did not believe the timeframe to be at all generous. Lord Redgrave and generosity were not synonymous. Panic like she’d never felt before ricocheted against her chest. Forcing the words past the hard lump in her throat she uttered, “I believe I will go and rest.” Without waiting for acknowledgement from her aunt or uncle, she hastily left the room. Once in the hall, she inhaled deeply and exhaled attempting to calm her nerves. She would survive this, just like she’d survived all the arguing and fighting, just like she’d survived her parents’ death. Walking through the halls she imprinted in her mind all the things she loved about this house. The tall ceilings and wide windows seemed to invite sunlight in even on the cloudiest of days, Delft vases in various sizes that were always overflowing with flowers— especially her favorite, red roses—and a white marble statue of a lion cub were among the treasured items. She would miss this house.

Since living with her aunt and uncle, Aveline had felt like she was part of a loving family. A coarse shiver ran through her settling into her chest. Tears she had fought to control streamed down her face, washing away the happiness she had found since living here. Running toward her room, she ignored the servants who knew better than to say anything but were curious nonetheless. She stormed into her room, closing the door with more force than intended, leaned against it and slid to the cool floor. Bringing her knees to her chin she cried into her sea-green dress, the tears speckling the fabric like rain on a spring day.

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