Improper (The Phoenix Club #1) by Darcy Burke

He turned and left her rooms, then practically sprinted down to the street where he hailed a hack. Three in the afternoon! He really hoped his ward had not yet arrived. It was a long journey from Shropshire, and the winter weather could have delayed her. Yes, he’d hope that was the case. Hadn’t that been one of the arguments Barbara had used the night before to persuade him to go home with her? She’d cooed that his ward was likely stuck somewhere due to a washed-out road.

Not that it had taken much to sway him. He’d fallen eagerly and completely into debauchery without a shred of regret. That his behavior would have frustrated his father—and did while he was alive—only made it more attractive. After Tobias had failed to wed two years ago, his father had harassed him incessantly about taking a wife. Hence, his dying decree that Tobias marry or suffer—by losing the one possession that meant something incredibly dear to him.

And so his father would win as if this had been a game the past two years. It hadn’t been, not to Tobias. He thought he’d fallen in love, only to have the lady in question turn on him and make him doubt everything he’d felt. Was it any wonder he was not inclined to court anyone else?

It was, however, time he did.

The hack stopped halfway down Brook Street, and Tobias leapt from the vehicle. He dashed through the gate and up the steps to his house, rushing inside as Carrin opened the door.

He stopped abruptly, facing the butler. “Is she here?”

“Miss Wingate?” Carrin shook his head. “Not yet, my lord.”

The stress rushed out of Tobias’s frame, making him feel as if he might slide down to the marble floor. “Thank God. I’m going to take a quick bath.” He removed his hat and strode through the archway into the staircase hall.

“I believe she’s just arrived, my lord,” Carrin called just as Tobias put his foot on the stair.

Closing his eyes, he gripped the railing. “Bollocks.”

“Oh my goodness, that’s Hyde Park!” Fiona Wingate pressed her nose to the window of the coach, her pulse racing.

“How do you know?” Mrs. Tucket said without opening her eyes from beside Fiona.

“Because I do.” Fiona had studied maps of London for as long as she could remember. Indeed, she’d studied every map she could get her hands on. “It’s so big and wonderful.” She splayed her gloved palm against the glass as if she could somehow reach through and touch the trees, their spindly limbs still bare.

Mrs. Tucket leaned against her, and a quick look showed she’d opened one eye long enough to peer past Fiona at the park. “Harumph. You can’t see anything of import.”

No, she couldn’t see Rotten Row or the Serpentine or any of the ton’s ladies and gentlemen who would be out and about during the fashionable hour. She doubted they’d be out today anyway. It was quite early in the Season, with Parliament just starting their session a few days earlier. And it was too cold to promenade.

At that moment, raindrops splattered the window. Certainly too rainy.

Fiona didn’t care. She’d take London in the rain, the snow, even in a hurricane, if such a thing were possible. The point was, she didn’t care about the weather or that the park was not yet in full bloom. She was in London. Most importantly, she was no longer in Bitterley, where she’d spent the entirety of her almost twenty-two years.

Mrs. Tucket exhaled loudly as she worked to push herself into an upright sitting position. She’d slumped rather far down in her seat since their last stop some miles back. “I suppose I must rouse myself from the travel stupor.”

Fiona kept her face to the window until they reached the corner of the park. Even then, she craned her neck to look back at it, marveling at the archway leading inside. She would get to promenade there or mayhap even ride. Perhaps her guardian would drive her in his phaeton. Assuming he had one. Surely all earls had phaetons.

The coach continued along a bustling street—Oxford Street, if she recalled the map correctly. And she was certain she did. Shortly they would turn right down Davies Street into Mayfair, the heart of London’s most fashionable neighborhood.

They passed stone and brick-faced houses, some with elaborate doorways and others with wide windows. Some were narrow while others were twice as wide. When they turned left onto Brook Street, the houses became quite elegant, with fancy wrought iron fencing and pillared entrances.

At last, the coach drew to a halt in front of the most glorious house yet. An iron gate with a large O worked into the design at the top guarded the walkway leading to the front door where a pair of pillars stood on either side. The door of the coach opened, and a footman dressed in dark green livery rushed through the gate to help her descend.