Sequel to Petticoats and Pantaloons
Outwardly, twenty-one-year-old Julian Buchanan is the epitome of wealth, breeding and good looks. He’s a pink of the ton in Regency London, and his position in society is assured. But beneath his impeccable surface, Julian is riddled with doubt.
Matters come to a head in the autumn of 1812 when his autocratic father, Sir Roger Buchanan, orders Julian to court an heiress and propose marriage. Finally, Julian must acknowledge that he has no interest in women. At the same time, he becomes involved with Rafe Ingles, a radical intellectual whose beliefs concur with Julian’s inward convictions.
With pressure building and so much at stake, can Julian find the courage to break the habit of a lifetime and choose love and freedom over duty?
“So why are you admitting this now?” Rafe’s voice held no accusation, simply the wholehearted focus that defined him.
“My father,” Julian’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat and carried on doggedly. “Or rather his intentions. He recently urged me to court a young lady, a notable heiress, with the intention of betrothal. I was told to propose to her this morning during a tête-à-tête arranged by her aunt.”
“From your tone, I gather you have no romantic aspirations towards the lady?”
“None. Nor does she have any for me.” The high polish on Julian’s boots continued to captivate him. “I have grown to like and admire her, but this was never a matter of mutual attachment, only a business agreement between our relatives.”
“So neither of you is willing to be married?”
“We are not. We barely know each other and have been flung together most flagrantly during six short weeks. It’s garnered a great deal of avid speculation in society.”
A man like Rafe, willingly forgoing the privileges of rank to dwell amongst the poor and dispossessed was above courting good opinion. Julian felt a rush of shame that he cared for the judgement of others.
“Did the young lady accept your proposal?”
“She did not.” Julian smiled bitterly. “She has been a great deal more circumspect than I in this affair. The lady has alerted her brother in advance and as we speak, he is whisking her away from the perils of fortune hunters.”
“I hope you don’t include yourself in that category.” Rafe’s voice held a hint of steel.
“I might as well be. I should have stood up to my father or tried to circumvent his stratagems at least.”
“If the young lady is under her brother’s escort, surely your mutual dilemma is resolved?”
“I wish.” Julian’s smile was a sour twist of the lips. “Once my father learns of her departure, he will simply select another for me to woo at his will.”
“I can appreciate your unwillingness to be imposed upon, although I understand it is the way of the polite world. But if you have no other options, perhaps you and the next young lady will find each other amenable. You might find mutual affection despite unpromising beginnings.”
“I have no wish to wed merely from a sense of duty if at all. Not now. And possibly not ever.”
That shocking statement didn’t seem to disconcert Rafe. He merely nodded and said, “I see.”
Julian regarded Rafe like an oracle, as though he held the answer to his prayers, solving his predicament in one fell stroke.
“Would it be possible to relate your position to your father?” The tentativeness of Rafe’s question showed he anticipated Julian’s response.
With a grim smile, Julian said, “He wouldn’t listen or care. He expects strict obedience to his edicts. If I disagreed with him forcefully, he’d kill me.”
Julian tempered that statement at Rafe’s horrified expression. “Or cut me off without a penny at the very least. There is no room for sentiment in my father’s domain, simply calculation. My role is to obey his wishes to the letter.”
The sympathy in Rafe’s eyes turned them to the colour of dark honey. He shook his head sadly. “You must forgive me. I cannot comprehend such parental disdain.”
“Not at all. You must see me as the worst kind of spoiled brat, screaming and kicking in my silk-lined crib because I am thwarted. Unlike the people you assist, I am not starving or dispossessed.”
“But you are suffering all the same.”
Rafe leant forward and touched Julian’s wrist with his strong fingers. It was a gesture of understanding and solidarity, but to Julian’s shame and confusion, the caress made him throb with need.
He must have unwittingly communicated his inner turmoil. Rafe’s eyes widened in a glitter of silver and bronze. Oh, God, Julian thought miserably, as if things can’t get any worse. But there was no expected denunciation, no outburst to add to his humiliation. Silently, Rafe withdrew the contact.
Julian jerked with surprise to find those fingers grasping his chin, tilting his face upwards to meet Rafe’s gaze.
“You must think me remarkably obtuse. Until now, I had not recognised my deeper intentions,” Rafe said, a smile playing around his mobile lips. Then he stretched forward to kiss Julian.