In Love with a Wicked Man
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Avon Books
Date of Publication: 10/29/2013
New York Times bestselling author Liz Carlyle has created a breathtaking new romance about a man without scruples and the lady who brings him to his knees.
What does it matter if Kate, Lady d’Allenay, has absolutely no marriage prospects?
She has a castle to tend, an estate to run, and a sister to watch over, which means she is never, ever reckless. Until an accident brings a handsome, virile stranger to Bellecombe Castle, and Kate finds herself tempted to surrender to her houseguest’s wicked kisses.
Disowned by his aristocratic family, Lord Edward Quartermaine has turned his gifted mind to ruthless survival. Feared and vilified as proprietor of London’s most notorious gaming salon, he now struggles to regain his memory, certain of only one thing: he wants all Kate is offering—and more.
But when Edward’s memory returns, he and Kate realize how much they have wagered on a scandalous passion that could be her ruin, but perhaps his salvation.
Suddenly his front office door burst open in a great clamor, with his doorman Pinkie Ringgold shouting down a red-faced Lord Reggie as he shoved him into the room.
Reggie spat back, insulting Pinkie’s parentage. Pinkie reciprocated by twisting Reggie’s arm halfway up his back. The resulting howl could have raised the dead.
“Quiet!” commanded Quartermaine.
Silence fell like a shroud.
“Release him,” Quartermaine ordered, “now.”
“But the blighter tried ter slip past me!” The portly doorman swelled with indignation. “Reckon ’ee finks I’m dumb as I look.”
“Which would be his mistake,” said Quartermaine in a voice quiet as the grave. “This, however, was yours. Ah, Peters. There you are. Pinkie, you’re within an inch of incurring my wrath. Kindly get out.”
Pinkie snarled again at Reggie as he passed by Peters, then thumped the door behind him as he exited.
“I want that upstart dismissed, Peters,” snapped Reggie.
“Thank you,” said Peters smoothly, “for your opinion.”
Without asking either to sit, Quartermaine circled around his desk to hitch one hip on its corner. Absent his coat and cravat, his shirtsleeves still rolled to the elbow, it was a pose of utter relaxation. A pose a man might assume late at night in the comfort of his own home—which this was.
“Good evening, Lord Reginald,” he said evenly. “Peters tells me you’ve come to settle your debts with the house.”
Reggie’s uneasy gaze flicked toward Peters. Then, with a sound of disdain, he gave his lapels a neatening tug. “I can’t think what sort of establishment you mean to run here, Quartermaine,” he muttered, “what with those Whitechapel thugs shadowing the doors.”
With a faint smile, Quartermaine made an expansive gesture. “My apologies, Lord Reginald,” he said, “but it may shock you to know there are occasionally gentlemen who do not mean to settle their house accounts. Ah, but my terminology is amiss, is it not? Such a fellow would not actually be a gentleman, would he?”
Reggie shrugged as if his coat were still uncomfortable. “Indeed not.”
“But there, enough about our paltry establishment,” said Quartermaine silkily. “Let’s talk about you. Specifically, you propose some sort of bargain?”
Resignation was dawning in Reggie’s eyes, but he was far too clever to admit it. Instead, he reached inside his coat and extracted a fold of letter paper.
No, not letter paper, Quartermaine realized when Reggie handed it to him. It was a legal document. After reaching across the desk for his gold-rimmed spectacles Quartermaine separated and scanned the papers, quietly refolded them, then lifted his gaze to Reggie’s.
“And what, pray, am I to do with this?” he said, drawing the sheaf through his fingers.
“Why, not a thing,” said Reggie lightly. “As I told your man Peters here, I produce it merely to prove I’m solvent. Or perhaps, even, to borrow against it?”
“But I’m not a bank,” said Quartermaine, “and this, Lord Reginald, is a deed—along with an unsigned conveyance of said deed.”
Reggie’s gaze shifted uneasily. “Well, I’d meant to sell it,” he admitted. “I never use the old place; it’s just a little Somerset country house—a sort of shooting box, really, near the moors. But the deal fell through. Still, Quartermaine, the place is mine. I can sell it if I must.”
“Lord Reginald,” said Quartermaine quietly, “you owe me several thousand pounds. So I very much feel you do have to sell it.”
Reggie looked at him as if he were stupid. “As I just said, the arrangement fell through.”
“But your notes of hand were due—well, last month, two of them, if memory serves.” Quartermaine snapped out the paper and pointed. “Tell me, Lord Reginald, is this the amount your buyer offered?”
“Well, yes,” he said uneasily. “My solicitor drew it up.”
“And was it a fair price?”
Reggie was caught between a rock and an ungentlemanly admission. He chose the rock. “Quite fair,” he said, lifting his nose, “otherwise, I should never have agreed to it. As I said, Quartermaine, I’ve no use for the moldering old place.”
Quartermaine refolded the papers, and thought of the strand of pearls in his desk, and of his own failings. Perhaps he ought not laugh at poor Reggie. Perhaps he was no better.
But he was laughing—and Reggie knew it. Still, it would take a bigger set of bollocks than Reggie possessed to play the haughty blueblood in the face of a man to whom one owed such a frightful amount of money.
Quartermaine laid his spectacles aside. “So let me understand, Lord Reginald,” he continued. “You were doing the honorable thing: attempting to sell your small, superfluous, and unentailed estate so that you could settle your debts to me and pocket the balance. Do I have that right?”
It wasn’t anything close to right, and all three of them knew it. Reggie’s intent had been to sell the house in a fevered pitch for perhaps two-thirds its value in order to obtain quick cash in hand, and then stake himself at the tables with the naive but eternal hope of every bad gambler: that all would come aright in the end, and he would pay Quartermaine with his winnings in due course.
In due course meaning when he damned well pleased.
Quartermaine, however, was better pleased to be paid now.
He thwacked the side of his knee with the fold of paper. “I think you had a solid plan, Lord Reginald,” he said pensively. “It’s hardly your fault your buyer reneged.”
“Indeed not,” said Reggie haughtily. “We had a gentlemen’s agreement.”
“As do you and I,” said Quartermaine, “though admittedly I cannot quite account myself a gentleman, can I, Lord Reginald?”
Reggie must have felt a stab of magnanimity. “Well, you’re better bred than some fellows I know,” he acknowledged, “and it’s hardly your fault that your mother was a—well, never mind that.” He gave a stiff, awkward bow at the neck.
“May I get on about my evening, Quartermaine?”
“But first, back to the real estate,” said Quartermaine.
“What is the place called? What is its condition?”
The wariness in Reggie’s eyes deepened. “Heatherfields,” he said, “and I told you, it’s just a little manor on the edge of Exmoor. The condition, so far as I know, is passable. Some old family retainers tend it.”
“Three. All let, I think, along with the home acreage.” Reggie smiled thinly. “I don’t account myself much of a farmer.”
“I see.” Quartermaine smiled faintly. “Well, I’ll tell you what I shall do, Lord Reginald. I shall take the moldering old place off your hands for the price your buyer offered—less, of course, what you owe me. And I’ll do it now. In cash. Peters, unlock the cashbox and call down . . . what’s that solicitor’s name? Bradley?”
“Bradson, sir,” said Peters, already fumbling for the key that hung from his watch chain. He shot a smile at their guest. “He’s just upstairs, Lord Reginald, at the basset table. He owes us a favor or two. I’m sure he’ll see to the deed of conveyance.”
“We’ll need three witnesses,” said Quartermaine. “Bring Pinkie back, and fetch a footman who can read and write.” Here, he turned to settle his watchful gaze on Reggie. “Doesn’t that sound expedient, my lord? Soon you may go on about your evening—and with a tidy bit of cash in hand, unless either my memory or my arithmetic fails me.”
Half an hour later, with Reggie looking pale and beaten, the deal was inked. Quartermaine offered Armagnac all around. Bradson took him up on it.
Reggie took his money and left.
“Well, that’s that,” said Peters cheerfully, shutting the great chest’s doors when they were finished. “I thought it all went rather smoothly.”
“Well done, old chap.” Quartermaine chuckled, tossing the deed into his desk with Annie’s pearls. “I cannot believe Reggie was fool enough to flash that paper at you.”
“Desperate men, desperate means,” said Peters. “He thought it might get him through the door.”
“And so it did.” Quartermaine shoved the drawer shut, and the laughter fell away. “Peters,” he went on, “I need to go away for a time. A few weeks, perhaps.”
Peters turned quizzically, but Quartermaine did not answer the unasked question. Peters had grown accustomed, over the years, to his disappearing with little explanation.
“Will you be all right here on your own awhile?” he said instead.
“Oh, indeed, sir,” he said. “Off to gloat over your shooting box, perhaps?”
“Something like that,” said Quartermaine, staring at the closed drawer.
Peters hesitated a heartbeat. “What do you mean to do with the house, sir,” he said, “if you don’t mind my asking? I’ve never known you to hunt or shoot.”
At last Quartermaine lifted his gaze from the drawer. “It is a gift,” he said quietly, “for Annie.”
A lifelong Anglophile, Liz Carlyle started reading Gothic novels under the bed covers by flashlight. She is the author of sixteen historical romances, including several New York Times bestsellers. Liz travels incessantly, ever in search of the perfect setting for her next book. Along with her genuine romance-hero husband and four very fine felines, she makes her home in North Carolina.
- Website: http://www.lizcarlyle.com/
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