Teach a Rogue New Tricks is book 2 in the Cavendish Family Series, available May 2022.
The rogue of the title, Cassius, Viscount Albee, has appeared in two of my previous books--Sinning in Secret and Keep No Secrets. And the heroine, Ada Cavendish has appeared in three previous books--A Secret Desire, Sinning in Secret, and Leave a Widow Wanting More
Take a peek!
Likely, there should be more than a second floor and a glass window to separate a joyful, innocent family from a villain, but it would have to do today. Below, the Cavendish family frolicked in the Earl of Beckingham’s gardens. And Cass, from his second-story perch, could not look away. But he wouldn’t get any closer. He shrunk a bit away from the window, hoping to blend into the navy-colored drapery of the library. If they even glimpsed him, he’d contaminate the children, shock the matrons, enrage the pater familias, and send the maidens swooning with fright.
That’s what happened when villains were about.
And Cassius Albee, the heart-shadowed viscount, was just that—a villain. He’d been exiled, for goodness’ sake, and by his brother, too. Damning, that.
But not surprising. He had tried to kidnap his brother’s fiancé.
But he was reforming. Or trying to. And torturing himself by looking upon a rosy scene he could not join—exiled, you know—was part of his damned penance.
Damn. He should not have thought “damned.” Reforming was deuced difficult work. Yes, better, more gentlemanly language, that. Not perfect, but better was all he could expect from himself. He picked up the book he always kept near—Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography—and flipped through its well-worn pages.
True, Franklin didn’t write about foul language in his chapter on moral improvement, but it could fall under the category of silence. Cass wandered away from the window, picked up the book from a nearby table, and read. “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.” He peeked out the window once more. At least he was safe from trifling conversation up here. That would not be so down below. He flipped through the pages, checking the twelve areas for improvement once more.
There were Temperance and Moderation. He’d stopped drinking. Hadn’t had a single drop of anything in months.
Then came Silence. Without company—he peeked out the window, ignoring the pang of longing—he could keep that.
Next, Order, Resolve, and Industry. He’d spent his time since returning to England putting his estate and lands in order and repairing his relationship with his father. The time for making things up with his brother would come soon, but not yet.
Frugality, of course. He’d stopped seeing his mistress, and without a second residence to keep in London and baubles to shower his former mistress with, he’d certainly been more frugal than ever before.
Sincerity and Justice were difficult ones. Easy to do in solitude, more difficult to practice when in company.
Cleanliness he’d never had an issue with.
Chastity … well, frugality meant he was as chaste as he’d ever been.
Humility. If one said one was excelling at being humble, did that automatically negate the statement? And was what he felt humility or self-loathing? Too bad Franklin was no longer around. Cass had so many questions.
His gaze still drawn through the clear glass of the window, he flopped into a chair with a groan loud enough to wake the dead and make them roll their eyes at his self-pitying state.
“This is going to be deuced difficult.” Deuced instead of damn, and the first time, too. There. Progress.
Difficult or not, it was necessary. It’s why he’d accepted Nathan and Lola’s offer to stay with them in London. Resisting temptation and being good was easy enough when isolated in the country. He needed stronger temptations, the kind London had to offer. It was the only way he’d prove himself worthy—to his father, to his brother, and maybe even one day to himself.
“What is difficult?”
Cass swung toward the voice, though looking away from the window felt like a bad shave with a blunt razor. It scraped and irritated. The Countess of Beckingham, Lola, stood in the doorway. A woman with sound intellect. And misplaced trust. They’d met when her husband had helped Cass improve his estate, and she’d taken him up as a project ever since. She liked him for some illogical reason.
“My plan of improvement.” He waved Franklin's book in the air and slumped deeper into the chair.
Lola marched across the room and snagged it. She thumbed through the pages as he turned his attention back to the window.
“Come outside and join us,” she offered quietly, eyes on the book.
“No.” He snorted.
“Is it the Cavendish clan you’re scared of? Baron Eadon? My brother-in-law is, at heart, a kitty cat, though he looks like a lion. He will not bite.” She stopped her thumbing and tilted her head, frowning at a page. “Not much anyway. Join us. I’ll introduce you by a false name.”
Cass spied the tall older man with shaggy, golden white hair and large arms likely kept strong for the sole purpose of smashing in the faces of any man who looked his daughters’ way. All he knew of Baron Eadon was that he’d traveled the world, wrote books, got plenty famous. Oh, and he had two eligible daughters. Pretty, too, at least from this distance and through a window. Baron Eadon would bite all right. Hard.
“No,” Cass said, “Done with your perusal?"
Lola sighed and tossed the book at him. It pelted him in the center of his chest and dropped to his lap.
“I've read it before,” she said. “It's mostly on the mark, I would think. But …”
“Franklin is an idiot about women.”
Cass frowned. “There's no mention of women. At least not in the chapter on moral improvement.”
“I'm afraid my mind, wrecked by endless nights of debauchery, cannot follow you so quickly. How can a man who says nothing about women be an idiot about them?”
“Now, are you paying attention.” She heaved a sigh and squared her shoulders. “Everyone, but Franklin apparently, knows the best way to reform a rake is to have him fall in love. I've told you this before.”
“I thought you in jest.”
She grunted. “Hardly. Improving programs, lists, and the like—they are good for creating wholesome habits, with which to replace the debaucherous habits.”
“Debaucherous? Not a word.”
“Do refrain from being contrary, dear Cassius.”
“I'll do my best.”
Lola pinned Cass with steely eyes. “As I was saying, improving plans create good habits and good habits are, well, good. But love … love transforms a person. It gives you confidence you did not have before, in yourself and in your place in the world. And that will sustain those good habits better than a list ever could.”
“So, I fall in love with any woman and that's that? I'm no longer a villain?”
“I suspect it has to be the right woman, Cassius.”
“Can’t I just tup her?”
Lola sighed, heavy and long. “I’ve told you about saying things just for scandal’s sake.”
“Very. And you should only speak truth.”
“You sound like Benjamin Franklin.”
Cass glanced toward the window once more. But no matter how often he looked, he could not join the family playing in the garden. They were a family who loved one another, full of laughter, teasing, confidence, freedom.
He’d thrown his own family away, abused them with every action and word since he’d come of age. And why? Because he’d been jealous of his brother, a brother who loved him, a brother who’d likely never forgive him.
If only he could make it right.
Cass felt like he’d swallowed a knotted cravat. A mass of immovable, tangled emotion, hopelessness, sat heavy in his throat. No matter how many swallows he tried, it would not be moved.
He breathed past it and let it remain, tracing a pattern into the arm of the chair with a lazily moving finger. “And who is the right woman? And how am I to find her? And how am I to know once I do find her?”
“That, I'm afraid, only you can know.”
He shook his head. Impossible. He'd killed any finer sensibilities, the ones that would sense such a thing, too long ago. Love like Lola spoke of was out of his reach. But … “Why look for a woman to love? Why not a woman to teach?” It would be much easier to find a woman who knew the rules, who was virtuous already and could help him live by Franklin's ideals. “Yes! I need to find a woman who knows all the things I do not know and who can keep me focused on my moral studies. Women are, after all, morally superior to men.”
“Stuff and nonsense! What you describe sounds like a governess, not a wife.”
A governess, or something like. Yes, that was exactly what he needed.
Lola swept toward the door. “Are you going to join us on the lawn? You should be safe from my brother-in-law if you stay away from his daughters.”
Cass slid his gaze toward the window, still tracing an unknowable pattern on the chair’s arm. They were laughing out there. He could hear the echoes of it, even up here. They called to him. He used to laugh like that with his family. A long time ago. “No. They are too good for the likes of me.” At least for now, at least until he'd accomplished his improving plan. Then, maybe, he could earn back his place within his family.
“Silly boy,” sighed Lola. “Do as you please, then. But you can't hide away forever.” She quirked him a small smile and disappeared into the hallway, but not before he heard the words “Lonely boy,” whispered as soft as breathing itself.
Lonely? Yes. Painfully so. But he'd earned it. He deserved it. And all he could do was try to do better. All he could do was reform. And he almost had everything he needed—Franklin's book, a plan, and soon, hopefully, a woman to teach him how to be good.
Ada sat under the swaying shadows of a willow tree and squinted at the babe across the small garden. It was cute… if you squinted. And when it wasn’t screaming. Otherwise, it—and all other babies of her acquaintance—resembled a decidedly odiferous and loud pile of wrinkled laundry. And yet the baby—not more than a month old—held the attention of everyone in the garden. Every adult orbited around it like the Earth around the sun.
Except for Ada. Her aunt and uncle, her stepmother and sister—they could have the child’s coos and gurgles. Ada wanted to know more about the man.
He stood in the second-floor window of her aunt and uncle’s townhouse, looking down, hands clutched behind his back. She couldn’t see details other than dark hair and a form that filled the window frame.
Who was he?
“Ada, come see baby Daniel.” Her younger sister waved her over to the center of the universe. “Do come. He’s a doll!”
Ada rose. The short distance between her perch under the tree and the baby might well afford a better view of the unnamed man. Alas, reaching her sister’s side, she realized her position under the tree proved better. Here, out in the open, the distance proved too short and the angle too bad. She’d have to crane head all the way back to watch the man, and anyone could see her, wonder what she looked at.
Nora pinched her arm.
“Ow!” Ada rubbed the stinging spot.
“Don’t scowl at the baby, sister!”
“I wasn’t scowling.”
Nora tapped Ada’s shoulder. “You were.”
“Not at the baby at any rate.”
“Fine. But do look.” Her voice held decided notes of adoration, nay, obsession.
Ada looked. She pulled her lower lip between her teeth to keep the exclamation of adoration at bay. She ignored the puddle her heart made at her feet. The baby locked eyes on her. It knew. It knew she was putty in its tiny, chubby, perfect hand. She should have kept her distance. The time for babies would come. Now, at this season of her life, she wanted adventure.
And to know the name of the man in the window.
Nora’s nose scrunched up. “Oh dear.”
The pungent aroma of a full nappy assaulted Ada’s nose. She stifled a laugh. The little bundle had lovely timing. Saving that smell for her, he was. The tight circle around the baby dissipated like a wind on a dry day—aunt, uncle, father, and stepmother, there one fresh breath and gone the next putrid one. Cowards, the lot of them.
Ada took the baby from Nora without thought. “I’ll take him to the nursery.” Her eyes flicked momentarily to the window. No matter she did not know where the nursery was located. She’d just pop her head into every room until she found it and save the most likely rooms for last.
And if she just happened to meet anyone—men standing in windows, for instance—while on her mission … how lovely to make new acquaintances.
“You should let someone else do it,” Nora said. “You don’t have to take care of everyone anymore. And why do you keep looking up at the house?”
Ada jumped, clutching the baby, who did not seem to care about the state of his backside, tighter. “Am I?”
“Mm hm. You’re going to hurt your neck craning it back like that every few seconds.”
Caught. Well. No use denying it now. “There’s a man up there. In the window.”
Nora looked up. “I don’t see him.”
Ada’s face whipped to the edifice. He’d gone. “He was there but a moment ago. I wonder who he is. You used to live with Aunt Lola, surely you know all her acquaintances. Which one would visit but refuse to join the rest of the company?”
Nora cut a frantic glance at their father. “Shh! I’d prefer him never to find out where I’ve spent most of my time in the last year, thank you very much.”
Their father had, until very recently, spent most of the year gadding about the world, researching people and places and avoiding his three daughters and two young wards, all of whom he’d left in England. A new wife had brought him home for good and forced him to face the children he’d left alone for so long.
And that had forced Ada and Nora to make a few changes as well. They had replaced the isolation of the familial country seat for a London season, ceded control of their younger sister and cousins to their new stepmother and were learning to live with—and forgive—a father who’d abandoned them long ago. That last one only Ada seemed to struggle with. But Nora had her own difficulties, namely keeping her whereabouts of the last year secret.
Ada looked at the window, now free of the man, as she spoke. “Father likely would not care that you were in London when he thought you at Cavendish Manor. His lovely Nora can do no wrong.”
“I’ve not scowled and growled at him every trip home for the last several years as you have. He adores me because I’m adorable.” A beatific, charming smile curved Nora’s lips into a picture of agreeableness.
Nora patted her shoulder. “You’re adorable, too. When you’re not scowling. Like you are now. You should learn to smile before our debut. You must look your best.”
“It’s exciting, isn’t it?” At six and twenty, Ada was a bit long in the tooth for a debutante, but it couldn’t be helped. “I’m glad father has decided Aunt Lola is a reputable chaperone, but I suppose Sarah has something to do with that.” Their stepmother was impossible to dislike. Ada had never even tried.
Nora’s head bobbed up and down. “Likely. Sarah’s a wonder. Can get Papa to bend to her will with the crook of a finger. I hope to entrance a man like that one day.”
“I hope to”—Ada frowned, rolled her eyes heavenward, searching—“I hope to have a bit of fun, to enjoy my season.”
“And stop playing governess to your siblings.” Nora arched a brow and crossed her arms over her chest.
“I do love you all.” She just wanted to have less responsibility for the lot of them.
“And we love you. And you are due a bit of fun. I say you should take it, Lucas be damned.”
“Why in heavens name would you mention Lucas?”
“Your suitor is a stick in the mud, and if you ask me—”
“I’m not asking you.”
“It would be best if he stays in the country and lets you live life a bit. Maybe you’ll meet another man you like better. One less … sticky. And muddy.”
“Lucas is a fine man. Responsible. Proper.” And she had to marry him. No denying that.
Nora made a snoring noise.
Ada rolled her eyes. “You are being unkind. And this baby’s backside needs desperate attention, so if you’ll excuse me.” She swept passed Nora with only a tiny look toward the second-story window.
Her sister’s gaze followed her own. “Oh, look. I see him now. Is that your mystery fellow?” She tiled her head. “No. I don’t believe I’ve met him before. But he looks awfully familiar. Hm.”
Ada turned from the sight of the man in the window. She wanted to know who he was. No real reason why. Just that it was a mystery, and one she wanted to solve herself. She marched toward the house. “I’ll tell you who he is when I return.” Nora was right. Lucas was a bit sticky. And a bit muddy. And Ada wanted to have a bit of fun, a bit of intrigue, before her suitor appeared in their parlor, hat in hand and scowl on his lips.
She didn’t really wish to marry the man. But she had to. And he was safe. And London was big. And crowded and loud. And, if she were honest, a bit terrifying. It was lowering. She’d dreamed of nothing but coming here since she could remember, and now that she was here, she felt like running away. Figuring out who the man upstairs was would be a tiny step toward adventure, and that’s all she could currently manage.
“Good luck!” Nora called, “I hope he’s handsome. And a bachelor!”
Ada groaned. She didn’t care about all that. She cared about this—she marched, currently, into the unknown to solve a mystery. For the first—well, perhaps second—time in her life she was having an adventure of her own making instead of one crafted by a child or read about in books written by her father. She entered the house with head held high, stinky baby held carefully, and took the stairs with bold, confident steps. But as she reached the landing, she hesitated.
“Which door?” she asked Daniel.
The baby blinked at her, his head bobbing.
She closed her eyes and imagined the man in the outline of the window from her place in the garden. If she remembered correctly, he should be in the room behind the second door on the left. She crept toward it, her heart pounding.
The door already stood ajar. She pressed herself to the wall beside it and peeked her head around. The blue-painted walls were lined with books, and cozy instead of fashionable furniture decorated the room.
And the man still stood at the window, his back to her. He was tall, his dark hair slightly curled and longer than she’d seen other men in London wear it so far. His broad shoulders spoke of an active life, as did his trim waist and muscled … oh my. She should be spying on a strange man’s backside. If she’d caught Nora doing such a thing, she’d give her a right set down. But … but she’d come up here for a tiny adventure, and this was certainly that. An enjoyable one, too.
A male sigh rent the air. The delectable backside began to turn away from her. Pity. But maybe not such a loss because the front was just as beautiful as the back. His dark head swept back from his forehead. Smooth skin. Dark slashes of eyebrows over brilliant blue eyes, and full lips that twitched under a crinkled nose.
“What they hell are you doing up here?” he asked. His nose wrinkled further. “And why have you brought a stench with you?” His eyes flicked to the baby. “Oh. Hello, Daniel, you tiny skunk.” His ice-blue eyes were imperious. And annoyed. And a bit curious. And …
“Why are you scared?” she asked.
Those eyes widened, then a steel curtain slammed down over the emotions pooling in their depths. “Scared?”
“Oh, yes. I see it all the time.” Mostly in the wide eyes of her seven-year-old twin cousins. She waved her hand at his face. “The false bravado. Hiding fear of”—she tilted her head to one side—“being caught.”
He blushed. Then he straightened a cuff and arched a brow at her. “Are you afraid of being caught, Miss Cavendish?”
“Me? I’m not doing anything wrong.” Except speaking with a strange man. Who knew her name. Alone. Yet it didn’t feel wrong. It felt thrilling, exactly the adventure she’d desired.
He took a step toward her. “And I am doing something wrong?” His voice balanced on a sword’s edge. If it fell one way—curiosity. If it fell the other way—indignation.
Ada would not be cowed. “I hardly know. You may be up to something nefarious. Or you may be entirely innocent. But you are skulking. You cannot deny that.”
“And skulking is wrong?” A half smile pulled at his lips.
She repressed the urge to return it. “Not in and of itself. But in my experience, it is certainly indicative of wrong doing. It is a symptom, if you will.” She turned to Daniel and booped his nose. “Remember, little one, no skulking.”
“Your experience? Hm. Which is?”
She pulled herself up tall. “You are a stranger.”
That half smile again. “A skulking stranger.”
“I should not speak to you.” She could at least let him know she knew the way of the world and the good and scandalous behaviors therein. “And I certainly will not share intimate details of my life with you.” She did have her limits, it seemed. Good to know.
“Intimate?” The way he said the single word alarmed her, as if it were the most delectable cup of hot chocolate.
Her spine tingled. And it felt dangerous. It felt good. If she stepped closer to him, would another tingle run up and down her back, shoot outward to other places? Perhaps…
Perhaps this had been a bad idea. She did know what was proper and what was not, and those tingles… not proper at all. She turned to leave, to run. Adventures were well and good, but even better was knowing when to abandon them.
“Leaving so soon?” His lips hardened, his gaze swung back to the window. “For the best.”
“As you can smell, I must find the nursery.” But she hesitated. She recognized his grumbly tone—slightly sad, slightly recalcitrant. The twins used it often when apologizing to her for some misdemeanor or another. The man sounded a like a little boy, sorry for his mistakes, but slightly put out at having to admit to it.
She faced him once more. “Who are you?”
The half-smile that had played about his lips during their entire exchange died. “No one you should know or be conversing with.” He shooed her toward the door. “You were leaving, I believe. The sooner the better so I can breathe deeply again.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and stared at Daniel.
She studied his face, intrigued. He was all elegant lines and unforgiving planes, cold eyes and hard angles. A marble statue, but alive in a raw sort of a way. A marble statue with a scream trapped inside.
She stepped closer to him, gently rubbing circles into Daniel’s back. “You do not answer my question. Instead, you turn hard and distant. You do not wish me to know who you are.”
“But at least I know what I want, or rather don’t want. You can’t make up your mind if you’re leaving or not, marching back and forth, spinning about this way then that. Coming or going, love? Which is it?”
Ada bristled. She reared back from him a bit. “You should not use endearments to address women you do not know. Especially when you refuse to give your own name. And you should not speak unless you have kind things to say. Mocking a lady, or anyone for that matter, is simply not … it’s not nice!”
“I’m not nice.” The words dropped like playing cards onto a table, calculated and soft.
“I see.” She turned to leave.
“I’m a villain, Miss Cavendish.”
She stopped. These words were fevered, desperate. Intriguing though he likely meant them to terrify her. Well, she was not easily terrified. She turned slowly, carefuly not to give any hint of emotion away.
His eyes glinted hard and cold. He pulled up to his full height and thrust his shoulders back, revealing a strong physique—big, powerful, dangerous. His full, sensuous lips quirked in a way that could speak of humor, haughtier, or malice, and his dark brows slashed like razors over his eyes, shadowing any insight into the intent of those lips.
Then he melted, shoulders twitching, face screwing up, jaw jutting toward her, and hands fidgeting at his sides. From predator to perplexed in a single breath. The self-proclaimed villain waved a hand at the odiferous baby on her shoulder. “He’s fallen asleep.”
Villain put aside for the moment, Ada tilted her head to peek at the child. “Oh no. How could you, Daniel,” she whispered. “You have, um, unmentionable substances in your nappy. Now is no time for slumber.”
Cass chuckled. “How could he, indeed. I have a serious question, Miss Cavendish.”
She raised a wary gaze to him. A baby-befuddled villain was still a villain. “Ye-es?”
“What do you do now? He needs a change. But he’s asleep. And in my limited experience, that bundle of joy screams when he wakes up. Nice and loud. But he’s nice and quiet at the moment. And I’m sure we would all like to keep it so. Yet he does currently, also, ahem, stink.” He reached out and ran a finger down the side of the sleeping child’s head. “Sorry old chap. Just the truth.”
“I see what you mean.” The children were not this young when she had taken the care of them upon herself. “I’m not quite sure. But his nurse will know. I’ll… I’ll just be…” She backed toward the door. She wasn’t running away. Really, she wasn’t. A sleeping child with a nasty nappy was an emergency that must be dealt with posthaste. “Right back.” She turned and ran. Not quite. More of a quick walk. But no one would blame her if she ran. He was a villain, after all.
“Hell,” she breathed when she reached the end of the hallway. Where was the nursery? She ran back down the hall and popped her head into the library containing the villain. “Could you perhaps point me in the direction of the nursery? Please?”
He’d pulled a chair in front of the door and sat, watching. Waiting? For her to return?
His lips quirked into that half smile again. “Up one more flight of stairs and at the end of the hall on the right. I’d show you myself, but we should not be seen together.”
“Ah. Yes. Of course. Thank you.” She followed his directions and found the nursery and the nurse.
The nurse frowned at Ada as if she’d dropped the baby in mud. “He’s in need of a good nap. Leave him with me. I’ll take care of this situation.” She said the word as if the situation had been of Ada’s devising.
But Ada kept her smile and left Daniel in much more competent hands than her own. She paused at the top of the stairs. She’d said she’d return to her villain. Her villain? Well, she had discovered him. But did she want to return to him as she’d said she would? He’d appeared to have set up to wait for her to do so.
She looked down the stairs. Bouncing down them all would take her outdoors to the sunshine and her family, to the comfort of the known and expected.
Stopping with one flight and seeking out her villain was like walking down a dark path—she had no idea what lay at the path’s end or what perils would meet her along the way. With a deep breath, she took the first step.