The Book of Love #1-3 – Meara Platt

LADY OLİVİA GOSLİNG was minding her own business, browsing along the musty shelves of Gresham’s Antiquarian Books, when one of those books suddenly fell off the top shelf and landed on her head. “Ouch!” She peered around the corner, certain that someone had carelessly knocked over the tome bound in faded red leather. But she was alone amid the narrow stacks bulging with old texts and piles of dust. “The Book of Love,” she muttered, reading the title after picking it up and dusting it off. She placed it back on the shelf and sighed, for love is what she sorely needed to rescue her from her desperate situation. The book promptly fell back atop her head. “Oh, for pity’s sake. Do that again and I shall toss you into the ash bin.” She rubbed her head where a small lump was beginning to form. “Love, indeed.” The way her life had been going lately, she would never find happiness. She was doomed to have an unsuccessful debut Season. Doomed to be a wallflower. Doomed to be a spinster. Or worse, cast off in marriage by her guardian to one of his unsavory friends.

“You are most certainly getting tossed into the ash bin.” “Talking to books now, are we? Good afternoon, Goose.” Olivia glanced up, startled. No one ever called her that except… oh, him. She did not need Alexander Beastling, the proud and mighty Duke of Hartford, adding to her dismal day. He’d thought himself quite witty when giving her that silly name all those years ago. Goose. Because her family name was Gosling. And that’s what he’d called her when she was a girl, Little Goose. His Little Goose.

She tipped her chin up and meant to frown at him, but he looked so big and wonderful, just as she remembered him before he’d gone off to fight Napoleon. And now he’d come back a war hero. Well, he’d always been her hero ever since rescuing her from drowning when she was six years old. That was the day they’d first met. That was the day he’d christened her Little Goose. That was what he’d called her every summer afterward. How’s my Little Goose? he would always ask, and await her answer as though he truly cared. He’d saved her life, so she found herself smiling at him. “What are you doing here, Beast?” “Picking up a book on ancient Roman military tactics. The Punic Wars.

” He glanced at the one clutched in her hands and grinned. “The Book of Love?” “Stop smirking. I did not choose it.” She cleared her throat when it suddenly turned dry. Beast was big, a lion of a man with sandy blond hair that he wore a little too long and eyes that were an extraordinary mix of amber and green. But he now sported a black eyepatch over one eye from an injury he must have received during the war. He’d always been intimidating and appeared even more so now. “It chose me.” was minding her own business, browsing along the musty shelves of Gresham’s Antiquarian Books, when one of those books suddenly fell off the top shelf and landed on her head. She peered around the corner, certain that someone had carelessly knocked over the tome bound in faded red leather.

But she was alone amid the narrow stacks bulging with old texts and piles of ,” she muttered, reading the title after picking it up and dusting it off. She placed it back on the shelf and sighed, for love is what she sorely needed to rescue her from her The book promptly fell back atop her head. “Oh, for pity’s sake. Do that again and I shall toss you She rubbed her head where a small lump was beginning to form. “Love, indeed.” The way her life had been going lately, she would never find happiness. She was doomed to have an unsuccessful debut Season. Doomed to be a wallflower. Doomed to be a spinster. Or worse, cast off in marriage by her guardian to one of his unsavory friends.

“You are most certainly getting tossed into the ash . She did not need Alexander Beastling, the proud and mighty Duke of Hartford, adding to her dismal day. He’d thought Because her family name was Gosling. And that’s what he’d called her when she was a girl, Little Goose. His Little She tipped her chin up and meant to frown at him, but he looked so big and wonderful, just as she Well, he’d always been her hero ever since rescuing her from drowning when she was six years old. That was the day they’d first met. That was the day he’d christened her Little Goose. That was he would always ask, and “Picking up a book on ancient Roman military tactics. The Punic Wars.” He glanced at the one “Stop smirking.

I did not choose it.” She cleared her throat when it suddenly turned dry. Beast was big, a lion of a man with sandy blond hair that he wore a little too long and eyes that were an extraordinary mix of amber and green. But he now sported a black eyepatch over one eye from an injury he must have received during the war. He’d always been intimidating and appeared even more “Love finds Little Goose?” He leaned his shoulder against one of the towering shelves and chuckled. “You do realize you will never find love in a book.” “How do you know? I’m going to buy it,” she said, although she had not considered doing so until Beast mocked the notion. Nor could she afford the luxury of acquiring it. Nor did it matter the author was anonymous and its contents were probably a hoax. “I’m determined, and there is nothing you can say to talk me out of it.

” “Nothing?” Beast slipped the book out of her hands. “Then let me have the honor.” “What are you doing?” She reached for the book, but he raised it above his head so she had no chance of grabbing it. He was an oaf, even for a duke. She supposed she ought to have addressed him as Your Grace, but he’d always been Beast to her and he did not seem to take offense. “Stop hopping up and down,” he said with a chuckle when she jumped to try to take it from his raised hand. “I’m buying it for you.” “You are not. I’ll pay for it myself.” But her face suffused with color as she reached into her reticule and came up with a mere two ha’pennies.

“I seem to have forgotten–” “Goose,” he said quietly, his voice deep and rumbling, and no longer filled with amusement, “let me take care of this. I owe you at least this for teasing you. I insist.” “But–” “I believe a duke outranks a little goose.” She sighed again. “If you must.” “I must.” He tossed her a most appealing smile, which was quite something, for Beast rarely smiled. It softened his features when he did, but she dared not tell him so. He took her arm to escort her to the front of the shop where a gray-haired, slightly disheveled Mr.

Gresham was busily sorting through his newest arrivals. Beast paid and waited for the bookseller to wrap her purchase and then his. “How are you getting home? And why are you in the streets of London on your own?” he asked, suddenly realizing she had no chaperone or footmen to accompany her. “Um, I’m meeting Poppy and Penelope at Blakney’s bake shop. I’ll ride home in Penelope’s carriage.” “I just left Penelope and Nathaniel at the Sherbourne townhouse. Poppy was visiting them.” He was no longer smirking but frowning at her. “What’s going on, Goose? You’ve never lied to me before.” Her face suffused with heat.

“Nothing.” “You are a terrible liar. I’m taking you home. And don’t even think to protest. I’m not leaving you to make your own way back to Mayfair.” Olivia was too overset to toss back a retort. As Beast had remarked, she’d never lied to him before, and the fact that she had done so now rattled her perhaps more than it had him. Her situation was dire, but that was no excuse for her behavior. “Thank you, Beast.” She was tired and it was a long walk home.

In truth, she wanted to rest her head against his massive shoulder and cry. She wanted to forget about the Season and finding a husband. But a husband of her own choosing was what she desperately needed. Perhaps The Book of Love would help her find one. After all, there had to be a reason it fell on her head. Twice. “Love finds Little Goose?” He leaned his shoulder against one of the towering shelves and “How do you know? I’m going to buy it,” she said, although she had not considered doing so until Beast mocked the notion. Nor could she afford the luxury of acquiring it. Nor did it matter the author was anonymous and its contents were probably a hoax. “I’m determined, and there is nothing you can “What are you doing?” She reached for the book, but he raised it above his head so she had no chance of grabbing it.

He was an oaf, even for a duke. She supposed she ought to have addressed him “Stop hopping up and down,” he said with a chuckle when she jumped to try to take it from his “You are not. I’ll pay for it myself.” But her face suffused with color as she reached into her “Goose,” he said quietly, his voice deep and rumbling, and no longer filled with amusement, “let “I must.” He tossed her a most appealing smile, which was quite something, for Beast rarely smiled. It softened his features when he did, but she dared not tell him so. He took her arm to escort her to the front of the shop where a gray-haired, slightly disheveled Mr. Gresham was busily sorting through his newest arrivals. Beast paid and waited for the bookseller to wrap her purchase and then his. “How are you getting home? And why are you in the streets of London on your own?” he asked, “Um, I’m meeting Poppy and Penelope at Blakney’s bake shop.

I’ll ride home in Penelope’s “I just left Penelope and Nathaniel at the Sherbourne townhouse. Poppy was visiting them.” He was no longer smirking but frowning at her. “What’s going on, Goose? You’ve never lied to me “You are a terrible liar. I’m taking you home. And don’t even think to protest. I’m not leaving you Olivia was too overset to toss back a retort. As Beast had remarked, she’d never lied to him before, and the fact that she had done so now rattled her perhaps more than it had him. Her situation “Thank you, Beast.” She was tired and it was a long walk home.

In truth, she wanted to rest her head against his massive shoulder and cry. She wanted to forget about the Season and finding a * BEAST LİFTED GOOSE into his carriage and then climbed in after her, settling on the padded leather seat opposite hers. His friend, Nathaniel Sherbourne, the Earl of Welles, had mentioned things were amiss in the Gosling household. He had only to look into her troubled gaze to know that Nathaniel’s assessment had been correct. The ginger-haired moppet with sparkling, dark blue eyes who used to race across the meadow between the Gosling country house and Sherbourne Manor had been a happy child. Olivia, as everyone else referred to her since it was her given name, was still a beautiful girl with lush curls. But there was no longer a sparkle in her eyes. They were the color of sapphires and ought to have been gleaming like precious gemstones. Instead, they were dull and sad. He leaned forward as his carriage slowly made its way through the busy London streets.

“How is your family?” It seemed a harmless enough question, one that he hoped would give him some helpful answers. She clasped her hands together and nibbled her lip. “Don’t you know? Of course not. You only returned to England a few days ago, after years of fighting on the Continent. My parents are gone.” Damn. Why hadn’t anyone told him? Perhaps he’d been too busy receiving congratulations on his heroic return from battle to spare any of his friends a quiet moment, even his best friend, Nathaniel. Beast’s ducal title alone was enough to have every eligible young woman and her matchmaking relations make a beeline for him the moment he stepped foot off the ship that had brought him back to England from France. He was alone with Goose now and meant to find out the truth regarding her situation. He covered her hands with one of his.

“I’m sorry. I hadn’t heard. Is there anything I can do for you?” She cast him a wistful smile. “No, but thank you for asking.” She turned away to gaze out the carriage window, purposely hoping to put an end to his questions. He was just getting started. “Who has guardianship over you?” She sighed. “Goose, you know I’ll get the answers from Nathaniel and Penelope. But I’d rather have them from you.” She turned to face him, her gorgeous eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“What does it matter? There’s nothing you can do about it.” “I’m a duke. One who happens to be almost as popular as Wellington at the moment. I can do anything I want. Including chew up your guardian and spit his guts out in the gutter.” Dimples appeared in her cheeks as she smiled. Mother in heaven. The girl was pretty. “It won’t be necessary.” He shifted his large frame against the black leather squabs, leaning back to better study her.

By the look of her, his help was entirely necessary. “Nathaniel has invited me to Sherbourne Manor for the week. Thad will be joining us. You remember Thaddius MacLauren, don’t you?” She nodded. “Yes, Laird of Caithness.” “I hear Penelope has invited you and Poppy as well. It will be like old times. I assume you are going.” This time, she shook her head in dismay. “No.

You see…” into his carriage and then climbed in after her, settling on the padded leather seat opposite hers. His friend, Nathaniel Sherbourne, the Earl of Welles, had mentioned things were amiss in the Gosling household. He had only to look into her troubled gaze to know that Nathaniel’s The ginger-haired moppet with sparkling, dark blue eyes who used to race across the meadow between the Gosling country house and Sherbourne Manor had been a happy child. Olivia, as everyone else referred to her since it was her given name, was still a beautiful girl with lush curls. But there was no longer a sparkle in her eyes. They were the color of sapphires and ought to have He leaned forward as his carriage slowly made its way through the busy London streets. “How is your family?” It seemed a harmless enough question, one that he hoped would give him some helpful She clasped her hands together and nibbled her lip. “Don’t you know? Of course not. You only Why hadn’t anyone told him? Perhaps he’d been too busy receiving congratulations on his heroic return from battle to spare any of his friends a quiet moment, even his best friend, Nathaniel. Beast’s ducal title alone was enough to have every eligible young woman and her matchmaking relations make a beeline for him the moment he stepped foot off the ship that had brought him back to He was alone with Goose now and meant to find out the truth regarding her situation.

He covered She turned away to gaze out the carriage window, purposely hoping to put an end to his questions. “Goose, you know I’ll get the answers from Nathaniel and Penelope. But I’d rather have them She turned to face him, her gorgeous eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What does it matter? There’s “I’m a duke. One who happens to be almost as popular as Wellington at the moment. I can do He shifted his large frame against the black leather squabs, leaning back to better study her. By the look of her, his help was entirely necessary. “Nathaniel has invited me to Sherbourne Manor for the “I hear Penelope has invited you and Poppy as well. It will be like old times. I assume you are “Goose, has your guardian forbidden you to go?” He tried to speak softly to hide his mounting outrage, not quite sure why he suddenly felt so protective of the girl.

Or rather, why he still felt so protective of her after all these years. The memory of her tumbling into the Sherbourne pond and striking her head on a protruding log amid the grassy shallows remained vivid. He’d pulled her out and revived her, then tended to her bloodied forehead. He’d never saved a life before. Of course, he’d saved many since then because of the blasted war. But he’d never forgotten his Little Goose and was not about to do so now. She did not appear eager for his help, yet she was so obviously in need of it. The pulse at the base of her slender throat began to beat madly. “He wants me in London. We haven’t opened up our country house, and I am not about to ask him to bother just for me.

” “That is utter nonsense. You’ll stay with Penelope and Nathaniel at Sherbourne Manor. Nathaniel is the Earl of Welles, and you’ve been a long-time friend to his sister. Your guardian can have no objection. No need to open up Gosling Hall. Thad and I will be staying with Nathaniel as well.” She rolled her eyes. “All the more reason why I should not go. We’re not little girls anymore. What will everyone think? Penelope, Poppy, and me under the same roof as the three of you? We’ll be ruined.

Worse, you will be forced to marry us to save our reputations. Will you toss our names into a hat and each take a turn drawing one out? Although Nathaniel can’t very well marry his own sister. You’ll have to work around that.” “It is quite a dilemma. Indeed, how will we ever solve the problem?” He raised an eyebrow to emphasize his sarcasm. “My aunt and Nathaniel’s aunt will be joining us. I expect there will be assorted guests coming and going throughout the week as well. We three gentlemen shall not be left alone with you ladies. See? Our happy state of bachelorhood is in no peril. Nor is your virtuous reputation.

” He leaned forward again. “Who is your guardian?” She pursed her lips to mark her displeasure, but it did nothing to detract from the lovely fullness of her lips that drooped slightly at the corners in a sensual pout. Sensual? When had his Little Goose ever been that? She waddled when she ran. She had freckles on her nose. Yet, he had to admit that she was no longer a skinny, gangly little thing. No, indeed. His Goose was rather nicely shaped. “Francis Gosling,” she blurted, thankfully distracting him from the errant path of his thoughts. “He’s a distant cousin of my father’s. Viscount Gosling now that my father has passed away.

He inherited everything, including Gosling Hall.” Beast frowned. “Did your father make no provision for you?” She shrugged. “Neither he nor my mother expected to die so young.” “No one ever does. But one prepares for it anyway.” He shifted against the constraints of his carriage. “I don’t like it. This doesn’t sound right to me.” She clasped her hands tightly together, an almost impossible task since she’d already had her fingers entwined in a death grip.

“It may not be right, but this is the way it is. My father was never known for his business acumen. Apparently, the Gosling holdings were in disarray when his cousin took over. He took great pains to let me know just how badly they were left. He views me as an added burden. There. Now you know all there is to know about me. These last two years have not been pleasant.” “Goose, has your guardian forbidden you to go?” He tried to speak softly to hide his mounting outrage, not quite sure why he suddenly felt so protective of the girl. Or rather, why he still felt so protective of her after all these years.

The memory of her tumbling into the Sherbourne pond and He’d pulled her out and revived her, then tended to her bloodied forehead. He’d never saved a life before. Of course, he’d saved many since then because of the blasted war. But he’d never The pulse at the base of her slender throat began to beat madly. “He wants me in London. We “That is utter nonsense. You’ll stay with Penelope and Nathaniel at Sherbourne Manor. Nathaniel is the Earl of Welles, and you’ve been a long-time friend to his sister. Your guardian can have no She rolled her eyes. “All the more reason why I should not go.

We’re not little girls anymore. What will everyone think? Penelope, Poppy, and me under the same roof as the three of you? We’ll be ruined. Worse, you will be forced to marry us to save our reputations. Will you toss our names into a hat and each take a turn drawing one out? Although Nathaniel can’t very well marry his own “It is quite a dilemma. Indeed, how will we ever solve the problem?” He raised an eyebrow to emphasize his sarcasm. “My aunt and Nathaniel’s aunt will be joining us. I expect there will be assorted guests coming and going throughout the week as well. We three gentlemen shall not be left alone with you ladies. See? Our happy state of bachelorhood is in no peril. Nor is your virtuous She pursed her lips to mark her displeasure, but it did nothing to detract from the lovely fullness When had his Little Goose ever been that? She waddled when she ran.

She had freckles on her His Goose “Francis Gosling,” she blurted, thankfully distracting him from the errant path of his thoughts. “He’s a distant cousin of my father’s. Viscount Gosling now that my father has passed away. He “No one ever does. But one prepares for it anyway.” He shifted against the constraints of his She clasped her hands tightly together, an almost impossible task since she’d already had her fingers entwined in a death grip. “It may not be right, but this is the way it is. My father was never known for his business acumen. Apparently, the Gosling holdings were in disarray when his cousin took over. He took great pains to let me know just how badly they were left.

He views me as an added burden. There. Now you know all there is to know about me. These last two years have not “What about now that you are in your debut Season? Surely–” “Beast,” she said in a heart-wrenching whisper, “I have no dowry to tempt a man, and Viscount Gosling has made it clear he does not intend to spend so much as a shilling on me. What’s the point? Who will have me?” Her fingers unclenched and she absently curled one hand around a corner of the velvet window curtain to draw it back further. She gazed out the window and opened her mouth to say more to him. At least, he thought she was about to speak to him, but she must have changed her mind and decided to merely stare at the passing throng instead. After a long moment, she emitted a soft breath and turned back to face him. “He has plans for me. I’m not certain what they are.

” He growled softly. “I don’t like the sound of that.” “But you don’t have a say, do you?” He was about to toss out the duke card again, but saved his breath. Yes, he was a high-ranking duke. The Beastling title was a proud and distinguished one dating back to the Norman conquest. But his status mattered little. To meddle in her affairs meant marrying the girl himself or agreeing to sponsor her Season, which would only bring about scandal. Everyone would wonder at the reason for it and presume he’d taken her on as his mistress or planned to take her as that once she was married off to some hapless simpleton. “I suppose I don’t.” “You needn’t fret, Beast.

I’m not your responsibility.” She gazed down at the package in her hand and smiled wistfully. “I think there’s a reason this book dropped on my head. I’m going to read it this evening. The Book of Love. It must mean something.” He suddenly tensed. Good heavens! He was a dolt. He ought to have read at least a passage out of it before purchasing it for her. What if the book was all about the act of making love? The various positions.

The exotic accessories one might… bollocks! He’d never hear the end of it from Nathaniel and Thad. “Goose, let me have a look at it.” He reached for the package but she shrank back and clasped it to her bosom. “You are not taking it from me.” He ran a hand roughly through his hair. “I won’t… well, perhaps I will. You see, its contents might not be what you think. There might be drawings… unseemly ones. And language that an innocent such as yourself should not… hell, Goose. Give me the book.

” “No. Are you blushing?” She gave a sincerely hearty laugh. “I never thought I’d live to see the day. This is priceless. You ought to see the look on your face.” “Give me the book. I will not be accused of corrupting your morals. You are an innocent.” She tipped her chin up in defiance. “Perhaps, but I am not a child.

” “Indeed, you are not. Your body proves that.” Her eyes widened and she gasped. “You noticed?” She seemed delighted rather than appalled. He was horrified that he’d allowed the thought to slip out. “I may have only one functioning eye at the moment, but I see very well out of it. You are not sufficiently wise to the ways of the world to be trusted with that book.” She was smiling at him now, a big, dimpled smile. Obviously, she found his consternation quite amusing. But her humor lasted only a moment and she turned thoughtful once more.

“Beast, did it hurt very much when you lost your eye? Does it still hurt?” “It did at first. But it isn’t lost for certain. It may heal in time and I’ll have some of my vision “Beast,” she said in a heart-wrenching whisper, “I have no dowry to tempt a man, and Viscount Gosling has made it clear he does not intend to spend so much as a shilling on me. What’s the point? Who will have me?” Her fingers unclenched and she absently curled one hand around a corner of the velvet window curtain to draw it back further. She gazed out the window and opened her mouth to say more to him. At least, he thought she was about to speak to him, but she must have changed her mind After a long moment, she emitted a soft breath and turned back to face him. “He has plans for me. He was about to toss out the duke card again, but saved his breath. Yes, he was a high-ranking duke. The Beastling title was a proud and distinguished one dating back to the Norman conquest.

But his status mattered little. To meddle in her affairs meant marrying the girl himself or agreeing to sponsor her Season, which would only bring about scandal. Everyone would wonder at the reason for it and presume he’d taken her on as his mistress or planned to take her as that once she was married “You needn’t fret, Beast. I’m not your responsibility.” She gazed down at the package in her hand and smiled wistfully. “I think there’s a reason this book dropped on my head. I’m going to read it this He was a dolt. He ought to have read at least a passage out of it before purchasing it for her. What if the book was all about the act of making love? The various positions. The exotic accessories one might… bollocks! He’d never hear the end of it from Nathaniel He reached for the package but she shrank back and clasped it to her bosom.

“You are not taking He ran a hand roughly through his hair. “I won’t… well, perhaps I will. You see, its contents might not be what you think. There might be drawings… unseemly ones. And language that an “No. Are you blushing?” She gave a sincerely hearty laugh. “I never thought I’d live to see the She seemed delighted rather than appalled. He was horrified that he’d allowed the thought to slip out. “I may have only one functioning eye at the moment, but I see very well out of it. You are not She was smiling at him now, a big, dimpled smile.

Obviously, she found his consternation quite amusing. But her humor lasted only a moment and she turned thoughtful once more. “Beast, did it hurt “It did at first. But it isn’t lost for certain. It may heal in time and I’ll have some of my vision back. For the last question, no. It does not hurt me any longer.” “I’m glad.” Her lips quivered and her eyes turned watery as though she was struggling to hold back tears. For him? Well, despite her impertinence, she’d always had a tender heart.

Ridiculously tender at times. He thought back to the long-ago summer before he’d gone off to fight in the war. He, Nathaniel, and Thad had decided they needed a swim in the pond at Sherbourne Manor. The day had been particularly hot, so they’d strolled down to the crystal pool, a trio of arrogant university boys who thought nothing of taking off their boots and clothes, and jumping naked into the water. The girls had been ten years old at the time and were supposed to be napping or doing whatever genteel task young girls were supposed to do at that time of the day. But they must have slipped out of the house. Not surprising, for they were often up to mischief. Whatever the reason, the little nuisances came upon them cavorting in the water. Thankfully, the water hid much of their bodies from view. But another moment or two and they would have been caught bare-arsed on the shore. Their nakedness left them at a disadvantage. The girls took immediate advantage. Penelope and Poppy had thought it great fun to run off with Thad and Nathaniel’s clothes, leaving only their boots behind. Goose hadn’t the heart for such mischief and left his clothes exactly where he had dropped them. He’d waded out of the pond once the girls had run off only to find his trousers, shirt, vest, and cravat meticulously folded in a neat pile next to his boots. Her way of repaying him for saving her life, no doubt. He’d dressed and gone back to the main house to retrieve clothes for his friends. Poppy and Penelope had been sent to their rooms without supper, and Goose–being Goose–had gone upstairs with them in a show of support, even though it meant she would also forfeit her supper. Bollocks, the girl was maddening. His carriage suddenly jerked to a halt, reminding him they’d traveled through the Strand, skirted along the park, and had now arrived at the Gosling townhouse off Audley Street. Goose hopped out of the carriage the moment his footman opened the door and lowered the steps, no doubt hoping to make it into her house with that wretched book before he could stop her. He caught up to her in two strides. “Oh, Beast,” she said with an exasperated huff. “I promise not to read it if it’s lewd. There, are you satisfied? Do stop fussing or you’ll draw my guardian’s attention to this very book that you’re hoping no one will see. You’ll just have to trust me.” He growled softly in displeasure. “Stop frowning at me. Do you know you resemble a lion when you frown? And do stop growling at me, too. It only proves my point. You are a lion.” She had a way of talking to him that he’d never allow from anyone else. Lion, indeed! “Very well, keep the book. But you will join us at Sherbourne Manor for the week. You’ll ride out with Penelope and Poppy in Nathaniel’s carriage.” He picked her up to move her out of the way, for she’d strategically set herself between him and the front door. The Gosling butler opened it to let them in. Beast strode in. “Where is Lord Gosling?” “In his study, Your Grace. I shall let him know at once that–” “I’ll announce myself. I know the way.” He’d been familiar enough with this house in his younger “I’m glad.” Her lips quivered and her eyes turned watery as though she was struggling to hold Well, despite her impertinence, she’d always had a tender heart. Ridiculously tender at times. He thought back to the long-ago summer before he’d gone off to fight in the war. He, Nathaniel, and Thad had decided they needed a swim in the pond at Sherbourne Manor. The day had been particularly hot, so they’d strolled down to the crystal pool, a trio of arrogant university boys who thought nothing of The girls had been ten years old at the time and were supposed to be napping or doing whatever genteel task young girls were supposed to do at that time of the day. But they must have slipped out of the house. Not surprising, for they were often up to mischief. Whatever the reason, the little nuisances came upon them cavorting in the water. Thankfully, the water hid much of their bodies from view. But The girls took immediate advantage. Penelope and Poppy had thought it great fun to run off with Thad and Nathaniel’s clothes, leaving only their boots behind. Goose hadn’t the heart for such mischief and left his clothes exactly where he had dropped them. He’d waded out of the pond once the girls had run off only to find his trousers, shirt, vest, and cravat meticulously folded in a neat pile He’d dressed and gone back to the main house to retrieve clothes for his friends. Poppy and Penelope had been sent to their rooms without supper, and Goose–being Goose–had gone upstairs His carriage suddenly jerked to a halt, reminding him they’d traveled through the Strand, skirted along the park, and had now arrived at the Gosling townhouse off Audley Street. Goose hopped out of the carriage the moment his footman opened the door and lowered the steps, no doubt hoping to make “Oh, Beast,” she said with an exasperated huff. “I promise not to read it if it’s lewd. There, are you satisfied? Do stop fussing or you’ll draw my guardian’s attention to this very book that you’re “Stop frowning at me. Do you know you resemble a lion when you frown? And do stop growling “Very well, keep the book. But you will join us at Sherbourne Manor for the week. You’ll ride out with Penelope and Poppy in Nathaniel’s carriage.” He picked her up to move her out of the way, for she’d “I’ll announce myself. I know the way.” He’d been familiar enough with this house in his younger days. Little had changed. “Gosling, I’d like a word with you.” He strode into the study, ignoring the man’s open-mouthed look of surprise, and shut the door before Goose had a chance to follow him in. This was between him and her odious guardian. The man needed to know he was back in town and would be watching him. If he dared raise a hand to the girl, he’d strike him dead. “My aunt requests the company of your ward at Sherbourne Manor this week.” There was no need to explain who his aunt was, everyone knew Matilda, Duchess of Hartford, one of Society’s most powerful matrons. “The Earl of Welles will have his carriage brought around tomorrow morning at ten o’clock precisely to pick her up and bring her there.” “Really, Hartford! This is too much. You can’t just barge in here and expect me to give Olivia over to you.” But his eyes turned beady, as though considering what he could gain by doing just that. “She has appointments. Obligations. It will cost me dearly to get her out of them.” He arched an eyebrow. By God, was the man putting her up for auction to the highest bidder? “Cost you? How?” “In good will, of course. That’s all. I meant nothing more by it.” Beast knew he was lying, for Gosling was beginning to sweat and fidget. “Then I’m certain everyone will understand when you explain the change in plans.” “It isn’t possible!” He leaned across Gosling’s desk, his gaze fierce and unforgiving. “Reschedule them.” “But… but… Lord Marston…” “That old goat? What does he want with Olivia?” The possibility that Gosling would allow such a man anywhere near her curled his stomach. “You will lose a lot more if you ignore my aunt’s wishes.” Mercy! Now he had to explain this to Matilda. And bring her along to Sherbourne Manor. And explain to Nathaniel why his Aunt Lavinia also had to join them. He groaned inwardly. He was going to an awful lot of fuss over Goose. And Lord help him if that book did contain lewd drawings. He’d never hear the end of it.

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