Let Sleeping Rogues Lie

By: Sabrina Jeffries

Prologue

Chertsey, Surrey

October 1803

Your father is ready to see you, Master Dalton." With a nod, the maid at Norcourt Hall stood aside to let Anthony pass into the viscount's study.

She was a pretty maid, with large bosoms that fascinated the eleven-year-old Anthony. And when she smiled at him, the naughty thoughts those bosoms sent running through his head made him blush scarlet.

Mumbling a thank-you, he hurried inside. Aunt Eunice was right. He was the wickedest boy in England. No matter how often he told himself that he shouldn't notice the maids' bosoms or wish to touch them, he still did. Lately, the urge to see women naked was a sickness inside him. Father must never guess. Never.

When his father removed his spectacles to fix him with a stern gaze, Anthony blushed again, half-afraid Father had already read his wicked mind.

"I understand that you have something to discuss with me," Father said.

Anthony swallowed. Father's blue eyes and thick black eyebrows might mirror Anthony's own, but when those eyes were set in a scowl and those brows topped stone-sharp features, the effect was terrifying.

Thrusting out his chest, Anthony tried to appear un-cowed. "Father, I wish to go to Eton."
His father's stern look softened a fraction as he folded his spectacles. "And you will, my boy, you will. You will go at twelve as your brother did."
Another year. He couldn't bear another year living with Uncle Randolph and Aunt Eunice Bickham in Telford. He would prefer any caning at Eton to that.
"I wish to go when Wallace returns for the Michaelmas term." At Father's silence, Anthony went on hastily, "He says half his classmates began at eight."
"They probably knew their Latin well enough to gain admission so young."
"I do, too." He prayed he did, anyway. He detested Latin. It wasn't like maths, which he could do in his sleep. Latin made no sense.
His father lifted an eyebrow. "Your uncle says you can't even read Cicero."
"Because Cicero is thicker than Wallace's head," he said under his breath.
When Father's gaze iced over, Anthony wanted to die. Why couldn't he ever govern his tongue? "Beg pardon, Father, I didn't mean that Wallace? "
"Is a fool? Indeed you did. But I suppose some impudence from the younger brother to the elder is to be expected." Father tapped his spectacles on the shiny mahogany of his desk. "Unfortunately, proficiency in Latin is required, and your uncle says you haven't attained that since you came home last Easter."
How could he? It was hard to learn Latin while also memorizing the precepts contained in The Youth's Guide and Instructor to Virtue and Religion for Aunt Eunice. "If you would only test me, you'll see that I know Latin well enough."
"I do not need to test you. Your uncle's word is sufficient."
A sweat broke out on Anthony's forehead. He would never escape the Bickhams, never! After Mother's death, Father had sent him to live with them as a "temporary" measure, yet Anthony had been there three years already.
He'd learned not to cry for his mother after the third time Aunt Eunice had smacked his face for it, but he couldn't seem to learn to stifle his bad thoughts and hold his tongue.
"If I can't go to Eton, might I come home? With you overseeing my studies, I know I'll be reading even the hardest Latin in a short time."
The sharp gaze his father leveled on him made him uneasy, but he kept his countenance. Father despised any sign of weakness.
"Is there a reason you do not wish to live with your uncle anymore?"
Had Aunt Eunice told Father of the countless mortifying punishments she'd had to administer because of Anthony's bad character? He would die if she had. But she'd promised not to if he swore to be better. So he'd sworn and begged and done whatever she asked, knowing he would never escape the Bickham household if Father learned the full extent of his wicked nature.
Anthony had initially been banished to his aunt's because, as Father had said, "A boy coddled by his mother needs a strict environment." Why should Father change his mind just because Anthony was too wicked to benefit from it?
He managed a shrug. "Uncle Randolph's house isn't like here, that's all. I wish to be home with you."
His father flashed him a thin smile. "Sometimes you remind me so much of " The smile vanished. "I'm sorry, lad. I do not think it wise for you to live at Norcourt Hall just now. You're better off with your aunt and uncle."
Despair clutched at him. So he had another year of kneeling on the marble floor during long afternoons while Aunt Eunice read to him from Wesley's Sermons. Another year of ice baths while she attempted to freeze his naughty urges into oblivion. Another year trapped for hours alone in the dark?
No!
"Father, I promise to be good. You'll hardly know I'm here. I'll study hard and do as I'm told. I'll never say a word unless I'm bidden."
Father laughed mirthlessly. "I fear you are incapable of that, Anthony. Besides, it has naught to do with goodness. I'm off to a friend's estate in the north to observe his new irrigation system, which I hope to implement here. I cannot take you with me, and I've no time to engage a tutor. Nor shall I leave you to the indifferent attentions of the servants. No, you must return to Telford until you can enter Eton at twelve, and that's an end to it."
His father settled his spectacles atop his nose and returned to reading his newspaper, his signal that the discussion was over.
In that moment, Anthony hated his father horribly, which only further proved his bad character.
Yet he'd offered to be good, and it hadn't mattered. Father didn't care how hard Anthony tried. Father didn't care what Anthony did, so long as it was well away from Norcourt Hall. And the thought of returning to Telford to his aunt's
The sharp pang to Anthony's chest made tears start in his eyes. He suppressed them ruthlessly. He mustn't cry! He wasn't a little boy anymore. He was nearly grown now, or would be very soon. He ought to be able to go to Eton if he wanted. He ought to be able to do as he pleased without everyone railing at him.
And he did try to please his aunt and Father. What good did it do? He still burst out with the wrong words all the time, and the bad boy in his breeches still got randy whenever he saw a pretty girl, so he still got punished.
Fine. If he must suffer either way, he might as well give them something to punish him for.
So when he left his father's study to find the attractive maidservant still outside, he didn't hide his admiring glance at her ample bosoms.
She laughed. "Master Dalton, you're incorrigible!"
Incorrigible. He liked the sound of that. Because he was? or would be from now on. That would show them. "Yes," he said with a thrust of his chin, "and don't you forget it."
Then he strutted off, burying his conscience so deeply it would never trouble him again.

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