My Wicked Earl

My Wicked Earl

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by Linda Needham

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Forced to live with her enemy! Hollie Finch is horrified when the forbidding Earl of Everingham Lord Charles Stirling, places her under house arrest in his manor. Well, he may suspect her of sedition, but to her it's just freedom of the press -- and she's determined to carry on her work right under his arrogant nose! Yet that turns out to be unexpectedly difficult,

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Forced to live with her enemy! Hollie Finch is horrified when the forbidding Earl of Everingham Lord Charles Stirling, places her under house arrest in his manor. Well, he may suspect her of sedition, but to her it's just freedom of the press -- and she's determined to carry on her work right under his arrogant nose! Yet that turns out to be unexpectedly difficult, with his all-too-disturbing presence disrupting her days...and memories of his passion-dark eyes troubling her nights.An Impossible Love

Lord Charles Stirling merely planned to keep a close eye on the lovely rabble-rouser -- and he's appalled when her intoxicating scent and lithe curves make him burn to have her in his bed. Even worse, her generous heart and her joyous laughter start him thinking about keeping her with him forever. But the powerful earl has a secret that could destroy him, so he dares not let Hollie into his life. Can the pride and deception separating them ever be the miracle of love?

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Chapter One

Everingham Hall
Hertfordshire, England
Late September, 1819

"Your prisoner's arrived, my lord. Summerwell's just pulled him round back of the courtyard."

Charles Stirling, 7th Earl of Everingham, paused as he entered his front door. His heart actually paused as well, and now it thrummed in his ears.

Success! So near, it was difficult to credit; even more difficult to believe that it meant so much to him.

"You're absolutely certain, Mumberton: Summerwell's got that bastard Captain Spindleshanks in the wagon with him?"

His starch-collared butler nodded, though there was a cautious cast to his old gray eyes. "That's what he said, my lord."

"Good, Mumberton." Extraordinarily good.

Charles wanted nothing more than to bellow in triumph, to drink a fiery toast to the bloody end of Captain Spindleshanks's seditious nonsense and his reign of terror, but he merely handed off his hat and gloves to Mumberton, then strode past him into the dim foyer. "Fetch Bavidge for me. I want to see him."

"Yes, my lord."

"Oh, and what of...uh, the other?" He had no words yet for the new resident at Everingham Hall, stumbled over the very idea. "The..."

"Your son, sir?"

My son. Where's the bloody proof of that, I wonder?

"The boy" was the best he could manage. He shrugged off the unfamiliar and irritating twinge of guilt and heaped his scarf and his cloak across the man's outstretched arms.

"He's abed, my lord. Finally." Mumberton's graying frown drooped, as though the process had required a team of roustabouts and a load of grappling equipment. "Though, sir, if I might be allowed to say so, I'm not suited in the least to the position of nanny."

Nor am I suited to fatherhood. And certainly not when it came to the capricious antics of a six-year-old. After three days, the title of father still pinched like an unjust accusation; it would always fit badly, if he allowed it to fit at all.

"I'll take care of the matter, Mumberton." One way or the other.

Charles shoved the problem from his mind entirely, tried to ignore the bedeviling image of the wide-eyed, thin-limbed boy who'd been left on his doorstep by that damned attorney.

"Tell Bavidge to meet me in my office in three minutes. And send Summerwell to me with the prisoner. Immediately."

"I'll do my best, my lord." Mumberton started away with his teetering load.

"Your best, Mumberton?" Charles caught the man's arm and turned him, plagued suddenly by a dark suspicion that all was not as well as it seemed. "Is Captain Spindleshanks in my courtyard, or is he not?"

"In your courtyard, yes. That's where your prisoner is, sir."

A sideways answer, if ever there was one. "He's still securely shackled and about to be delivered to me?"

"All appeared to be in order, my lord, last I looked." Mumberton's eye twitched as he backed up a dubious step, and then another.

God only knew what the hell had happened during the arrest. Spindleshanks was a large man, according to the local legends, agile as a cat, shoulders of an ox — mythical to the tip of hispointed tail. Blood might have been spilled; Charles could only guess whose and how much.

He'd know soon enough, and that felt damned good. "Then fetch Bavidge now. We've got work to do."

"Right away, sir." Mumberton scudded off down the hallway toward the cloakroom.

Charles freed a gloating smile once the man was gone. Captain Bloody Spindleshanks, at long bloody last. What a great pleasure it would be to finally meet the cowardly bastard face to face.

He'd memorized every word of every seditious broadside and placard that Spindleshanks had strewn about the countryside in the last two months.

The Old Corruption returns. Lord Everingham,
the Government's Foul-hearted Commissioner of
Lies and Mercenary Morals, along with his Nest
of Vipers, can't be trusted to investigate the
Bloody Massacre at Peterloo.

And on and on went Spindleshanks's familiar harangue. As clever as it was incendiary, but entirely and maliciously untrue.

Charles's charter from the Home Office was to inquire into the facts in evidence, to study the depositions and magisterial reports, and then to submit an impartial finding about the tragedy. Another three weeks, and he would be done with the matter, and peace would once again reign in his life.

He'd be damned if he'd allow the bastard to call his honor or his integrity into question. But far worse, the people could too easily be shaken to the point of rebellion with madmen like Spindleshanks; riding through the night, spreading sedition, believing they could indiscriminately incite unrest and then outrun the law.

Charles was incorruptible, was his own man in all things. Captain Spindleshanks, would pay dearly, and for a very long time.

Charles shrugged out of his coat, relieved to be home after that endless dinner with Liverpool and Sidmouth in London and the two-hour journey back. He strode into the orderly quiet of his office, where he had just enough time to rouse the oil lamp at his desk and light the chandelier above the circular table before Bavidge made his coat-tail-streaming, bleary-eyed entrance.

"Yes, yes, my lord. What can I do for you?" Bavidge hastily righted his cravat, drew his long fingers through his sandy-gray hair, and then stood at attention as though still in the army and prepared to do battle.

Charles retrieved the arrest warrant from his desk drawer and dropped it onto the tabletop, savoring the moment before he said, "We've caught him, Bavidge."

Bavidge blinked at him. "Who is that, my lord?"

Great God. "Spindleshanks, Bavidge. Get me the reports on the case. Every scrap of evidence."

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