Always a Rogue, Forever Her Love

By: Christi Caldwell

Chapter 1



April 1819

London, England



“Hullo, Popp…”

“Shh!”

Jonathan Tidemore, the 5th Earl of Sinclair, slowed to a halt in the midst of the foyer. He tossed his cloak to the waiting butler and stared up the long, winding staircase to where his youngest sister sat with her legs dangling through the slats at the top.

“Trouble again, Poppet?” his whisper echoed off the marble floor and carried through the expansive space.

Poppy pointed another finger at her mouth. “I said, hush, Sin. Things are dire.” She slapped the back of her hand to her forehead in a flourishing manner.

Which could only mean…

He sighed. “You’ve driven off Mrs. Atleby, I gather?”

“Mrs. Battleby,” Poppy muttered under her breath. “She was horrid, Sin.”

“I’ve told you not to call me, Sin.”

Poppy wrinkled her nose. “Whyever not? It is vastly more interesting than Jonathan.”

He grinned and started up the stairs. “You have me there.”

Poppy drew her legs back when he reached the main level and sat with her legs crossed in front of her. He’d learned long ago to not bother himself with instructing his sisters Poppy, Prudence, or Penelope, in any matters of proper deportment.

Then, considered one of Society’s most insufferable rogues, there was very little he could contribute on topics pertaining to ladylike behaviors.

“What have you done now?”

His sister drew her knees to her chest and glared. “I’ve done nothing.” She smiled a mischievous smile that would either be the death of their mother or the next, poor governess surely needed for his three youngest sisters.

Jonathan leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. He arched an eyebrow.

“Very well.” She let out a beleaguered sigh. “Mrs. Battleby was instructing us on the topic of watercolors. Watercolors,” she cried, and shook her head.

He slapped a hand to his chest. “Egad, never say watercolors?”

At her young years, Poppy still had not yet learned the subtlety of sarcasm, for she nodded. “Our sentiments exactly, Sin! We merely insisted on an altogether different subject matter.” She hopped to her feet. “After all, painting fruit and flowers is ever so boring.”

He narrowed his eyes. “And I gather it is the alternative subject matter to have sent Mrs. Battle…er, Atleby packing?”

She opened her mouth to speak, but their mother’s cry from down the hall cut into her response. “Please, Mrs. Atleby, I implore you!”

His sister’s eyes went wide as the old, stern-faced woman with crimped grey hair appeared down the long hall. Their mother trotted along behind her like one of the Queen’s terriers.

Which spoke a good deal to their mother’s desperation. Mother never did anything as plebian as trot.

Poppy cursed and took off down the hall in the opposite direction. With their hoydenish ways and tendency for trouble, his sisters would someday prove the end of him, and by the desperate gleam in Mother’s eyes, she’d be the first casualty of their bad behavior.

Jonathan slipped inside his office before old Battleby and Mother came upon him. After all, if Mother couldn’t manage to convince the old governess to continue working with her three difficult charges, well, then Jonathan was certainly without hope of convincing her.

The best he could say about his sisters is they could spit, curse, and deliver a solid facer with the best of them. The worst he could say was they were outrageously ill-behaved, and highly improper.

Mother’s cry from down the foyer penetrated the panel of his office door. Jonathan winced and crossed over to his sideboard. He picked up the nearest crystal decanter and sloshed several fingerfuls of whiskey into a tumbler.

He picked the drink up and took a sip, welcoming the wicked burn it blazed down his throat, bracing him for the impending storm.

Jonathan’s gaze slid over to the ormolu clock atop the fireplace mantle across the room. By his growing familiarity with how this all went, Mother would enter in a matter of minutes, shattering his solitude, and unleash a monologue to rival the greatest Greek tragedies of the woes of raising four incorrigible daughters and a roguish son who’d not do right by the Sinclair line and wed a proper English miss.

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