Read an Excerpt
The Golden Lord
By Miranda Jarrett
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
Copyright © 2003
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Harrow Public School, Middlesex
The five boys sat cross-legged in a tight circle on the attic floor, the lantern in their center shaded so that just
enough light filtered through to show the cards clutched in their hands and the hoarded heaps of coins before each of
them. It was late, very late, and long past the six o'clock lock-up for the night, but no one would dare consider
leaving this game.
Brant, as usual, had made sure of that. Through the sheer power of his personality, he'd made being asked to these
clandestine games the most desirable invitation in the entire school, and the staggeringly high stakes that could
gobble up a term's allowance in a single hand of cards only served to increase Brant's own mystique.
But why shouldn't it? Brant Claremont was the sixth Duke of Strachen, Marquess of Elwes, admired as much for his wit as
for his daring on the cricket field. As an orphan, he had only a distant, disinterested guardian to answer to, and his
two younger brothers had been sent so far away that there wasn't even a hint of fraternal competition. To the other
boys in his form, Brant's life seemed as close to perfection as any mortal British male could wish for.
Only Brant himself knew otherwise. Still months shy of his sixteenth birthday, he already understood all too well the
terrifying obligations that his wastrel father's death two years before had thrust upon him, along with the dukedom and
a string of mortgaged, decaying properties.
Not that any of that mattered here in the chill of this drafty attic. Now Brant smiled as he leaned forward, the
lantern turning his fair hair as gold as the guineas heaped before his crossed legs. He was winning, winning deep, and
he did not want his luck to turn just yet.
"Your play, Galsworthy," he said, his voice deceptively languid. "Draw or show. Any time before Michaelmas will do."
The others sniggered nervously while the Honorable Edmund Galsworthy scowled down at his hand. "I say, Claremont,
that's cutting it a little rough," he grumbled. "Not all of us are so deuced quick with ciphering as you are."
"That's why we call him the Golden Lord, Galsworthy," said another boy, obviously with a better hand of his own. "He
can turn pasteboard cards direct into guineas if you let him. Your guineas."
"'Tis luck, no more," murmured Brant with a modest shrug, careful to mask his own excitement. It was luck, but it was
also skill, coupled with the rare gift he had for recalling cards. He could sympathize with Galsworthy's
dilemma - sympathize more, really, than anyone here would guess - but not now, and not with so much at stake. Nearly
every shilling Brant won was sent off against his father's debts, while Galsworthy's mother was some sort of tin-mine
heiress. The poor oaf could afford to lose almost in equal proportion to how desperately Brant himself needed to win.
"But you do know the rules of this game, Galsworthy," he said. "Laggards must forfeit, else the
rest of us fall asleep."
"I'm considering, not lagging," snapped Galsworthy, his fingers leaving moist dimples in the edges of his cards as he
studied the red and black figures one last time. Slowly he puffed out his cheeks and spread his hand on the floor for
the others to see.
"There now, Claremont," he announced. "That was worth the wait, wasn't it?"
"Indeed," drawled Brant. He kept his expression unchanged as he fanned his own cards out on the floor in front of him.
"I'd say I've won again, Galsworthy, and I - What the devil is that?"
Abruptly the door flew open, scattering cards and panicking boys as two large men thundered into the attic. Brant
scrambled to his feet, stuffing guineas into his pockets as Conway, his boardinghouse monitor, caught him roughly by
the collar of his coat while Parker, his tutor, gathered up the cards and loose coins as evidence.
"I'll give you all the devil you can handle, Claremont," growled Conway, yanking Brant's feet
clear from the floor. "Least I will after Dr. Keel's through with you."
"Dr. Keel will have little interest in this," protested Brant as Parker now seized his arm.
"This - this was harmless amusement, a mere game among gentlemen!"
"That's not what Dr. Keel believes," warned Conway ominously. "Now walk, you cheating little weasel. Walk!"
Brant twisted, struggling vainly to free himself from the grasp of the two stronger, older men. He heard the tear of
fabric, the sound of the sleeve of his superfine coat ripping away at the shoulder, and as he turned to look, one of
the men cuffed his ear, hard enough to make him see bright flashes before his eyes.
"You - you have impinged my honor as a gentleman and - and as a lord, Conway!" he gasped, desperate not to show his
growing fear as the monitor shoved him stumbling toward the dark attic staircase. Of course he'd felt Conway's wrath
many times before - at Harrow even dukes were flogged regularly in the Fourth Form rooms - but never before had the
monitor singled him out away from the others like this. "You cannot - cannot treat me like this!"
"I can treat you a deal worse if I please, Claremont," said Conway. Like most of the monitors, he was a hulk of a man,
able to worry even a tall boy like Brant like a terrier with a rat. "And I would, too, if Dr. Keel didn't want you in
his rooms directly. Now walk."
This time Brant did as he was told, forcing himself not to panic, to order his thoughts as they half dragged him down
the stairs and across the empty courtyard. Dr. Keel was a sensible man; surely he could be made to see this for the
foolishness it was. Card-playing after lock-up was hardly the most grievous sin that took place at the school, scarcely
worth this sort of melodrama.
But what if this wasn't about the card game at all? What if Dr. Keel or one of the tutors had finally discovered
his blackest, most shameful secret? Was this the reason that Conway and Parker had stopped trying to hide their
contempt for him? And what if this were only the first, stumbling step to his complete disgrace and ruin, and a cell in
the madhouse where he'd always suspected he belonged?
The headmaster must have been waiting for them, for he answered the door to his study at once. To Brant's surprise, he
was still dressed as precisely as if it were first dawn, instead of near midnight, but then there were whispers that
Dr. Keel never slept at all, nor needed to.
"Claremont," he said grimly, studying Brant from beneath the stiff curls of his wig. "Enter, pray."
For once Brant did as he was told and, with a final shove from Conway, he slowly went to stand in the center of the
bare floor before the headmaster's desk. His heart pounding, he raised his chin and squared his shoulders in the torn
coat, prepared to meet whatever disaster came next. He'd only been in these rooms once before, on the day he'd first
arrived at the school, but from Dr. Keel's glower, he knew better than to expect the same welcoming hospitality this
"Claremont," the headmaster repeated more ominously. "Given all the blessings that your birth has showered upon your
head, I'd looked for more from you."
Excerpted from The Golden Lord
by Miranda Jarrett
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd..
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.