Book One: Regency Flings
Wild takes place in 1829 England. The handsome heir to the Sutton earldom is found in Africa, where he was lost as a child, and returned to England to take his rightful place in society. It is his grandmother’s companion, the prim and proper Grace Hawthorne, who is assigned the task of teaching the savage grandson how to fit in.
The bedchamber was not a restful one. Rose-patterned paper covered the walls and there were numerous paintings of various sizes on every wall. The bed itself was a large four-poster from another era, with a recently added striped skirt and canopy to match. There were two patterned chairs, a small, round table with a white, lace-trimmed cloth over it, and the wash stand Grace had already used.
What might have been a cozy window seat in other circumstances was bracketed by a large bay window that overlooked a pretty garden. Grace forced herself to stop pacing and thinking about Mr. Cooper. She pushed open the bay windows to let in some fresh air, then started to pace again. Thinking of Preston Cooper was entirely non-productive, so Grace turned her thoughts elsewhere. She was concerned about Lady Sutton.
So much excitement was not good for her, nor would be the disappointment she suffered if they determined that the man in the bed was not her grandson.
How could a boy of eleven years have survived alone in the wilds? And if he had somehow done it, what would the experience have made him?
A savage, apparently. Grace had never seen anything vaguely resembling the altercation at the dock that morning. Such barbarism .
She wondered what the jungle man would have done if he’d had to overcome only Lyman and Brock for his freedom, and not an entire horde of stevedores. Where would he have gone? What had he intended to do?
More to the point, why hadn’t he wanted to come to Fairford Park and claim his inheritance?
Perhaps he wasn’t Anthony Maddox at all, but just an angry man, furious to have been brought to London against his will. But if he turned out to be the true heir, Grace wondered how the next-in-line cousin at Sutton Court would take the news. She speculated on whether Mr. Hamilton’s firm would find itself keen to relinquish its guardianship over the estate.
The young man remained insensible, and Grace made a mental comparison of his features to the paintings she’d seen of Colin Maddox, the late earl of Sutton. There was a distinct resemblance, just as the countess had said. They were both extremely comely men with dark hair, untouched by even the slightest curl. A slight cleft dented his square chin, and his eyebrows were thick and only vaguely arched.
But many men possessed good looks. It was one’s behavior that determined whether he was a true gentleman. Grace had not seen the slightest hint of good breeding in him.
Jamie returned with the requested bowl of chipped ice, then went back outside, leaving Grace alone again with the jungle man. She wrapped some of the ice into a towel, then approached him warily, Taking care to touch him as little as possible, she parted his hair slightly to reveal the nasty bump, and positioned the ice carefully against it.
He gave a slight wince, but remained unconscious, and Grace could not bring herself to withdraw her fingers right away. She realized she pitied him. From all accounts, he’d been dragged away from all that was familiar, and carried off, against his will.
Gently, she slid her fingers across his scalp, through the dense hair. It would have to be cut, though doing so would be a shame. She drew back and noticed that the lower half of his face was a lighter tone than the rest. It seemed likely that he’d only recently shaved, and Grace realized there would be no reason for him to groom himself in the jungle. She touched the back of her hand to his jaw. Through the rough hint of beard, the skin was smooth.
Appalled at her own lack of decorum, Grace left the ice resting against the bump on his head and retreated to the window seat. A warm summer breeze brushed past her cheek as she considered the life the young man must have had. Rough. Brutal. Primitive. It would take him some time to adjust to society again.
No doubt Mr. Lamb’s advice to Lady Sutton regarding circumspection was correct. In case the young man turned out to be the true earl of Sutton, it would be best if no one witnessed his coarse behavior when he came round. Word would spread about the “wild earl,” and Grace knew the gossip pages could be ruthless. Anthony Maddox would never be able to live down a scandalous reputation, even after he gained a gentleman’s refinement. The House of Lords might even reject his claim to the earldom, based solely upon what they’d heard or read about him.
The man’s return was clearly a matter best kept private, at least until Lady Sutton determined whether or not he was actually her grandson.
With the earldom being dormant since the death of Lady Sutton’s son, restoration of the title was going to be a complicated matter. Mr. Lamb would surely be involved in the legal maneuverings, and of course Mr. Hamilton’s firm would also have an interest in the result.
It meant that Mr. Cooper would likely need to spend more time at Fairford Park.
Grace rested her forehead on the window sill and changed the direction of her thoughts. It was comforting to know that Lady Sutton considered her “family,” but she knew it was only true to a point. She might not be a servant, exactly, but she was employed by Lady Sutton. Her livelihood . her survival . depended upon the countess’s satisfaction and good will.
Grace had the utmost respect for Sophia. Like Rose Traynor, Grace’s grandmother, Sophia was the third daughter of an earl. But unlike Rose, Sophia had inherited a sizable property of her own. And she’d made a very advantageous marriage, to a man with titles and estates.
By contrast, Rose had wed a gentleman in Chelsea and had borne only a daughter. There was no family fortune, although they’d been comfortable. And happy, just as Grace’s own parents had been.
But there, the parallels ended. Grace was penniless and had no prospects for marriage. She was a woman who had to make her way alone, and she could never forget it.
“Majiri.” The word was just a whisper that sent a chill down Grace’s back. She turned toward the bed, hoping she’d imagined the sound.
Then the young man shifted slightly. “Majiri,” he repeated.
Grace rose to her feet and took one step toward the bed. Surely he would not attack a woman, but she knew he could be unpredictable. As unpredictable as an animal in the wild.
She garnered her courage and moved a little bit closer. “Do you speak English? W-What do you want?”
He opened his eyes, training their pure green hue upon her. “Water,” he said clearly.
It was one thing to sit with an unconscious invalid. Now that he was awake, Grace was unsure what to expect. Yet she did not call for Jamie, but went to the wash stand and poured him a glass of water. Lady Sutton had put her trust in Grace’s experience in dealing with invalids, and in keeping her grandson’s nature confidential. She would not betray that trust.
“Can you sit up?” she asked, moving to the bedside.
As he pushed himself up onto his elbows, his bare shoulders bunched with dense muscle. He looked at her as though her question was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard.
Grace drew her lower lip through her teeth. She’d assisted her mother in this same situation numerous times, but she could not imagine slipping her arm under this man’s shoulders – at least, not while he was conscious – to support him as she put the rim of the glass to his lips.
The linen sheet dropped to his waist as he reached for the glass. Startled by the sight of his broad, bare chest with its dusting of dark hair, Grace took an abrupt step backward, splashing cold water onto him. He reacted quickly, throwing the sheet aside, and coming to his feet.
Grace stood as if paralyzed, though her pulse raced and her breath caught somewhere deep inside her chest as she wondered if he would attack. She kept her eyes straight ahead, focusing them on the hollow of his throat where his collar bones met the muscles of his neck. Away from the dark breechclout draped about his waist.
“I promise not to eat you, uzuri toi.”