Lord Henry Radcliffe, the scarred but sinfully sexy Earl of Langlevit, is a beast. The only way Henry can exorcise the demons of his war-ravaged past is through intense physicality. In and out of bed. An endeavor that has no shortage of willing participants.
Intent on scandalizing London, Princess Irina Volkonsky is a hellion and every gentleman’s deepest desire...except for one. Irina knows better than to provoke the wickedly forbidding earl, but she will stop at nothing short of ruination to win the heart of the the one man she cannot stop thinking about.
But when one scandalous kiss makes dangerous passions ignite, neither of them can fight their sizzling attraction. When a sinister plot emerges to threaten them both, they will have to fight one last battle, this time for the ultimate prize...love.
Each book in the Lords of Essex series is STANDALONE
*My Rogue, My Ruin
*My Darling, My Disaster
*My Hellion, My Heart
*My Scot, My Surrender
About the Author
Amalie Howard’s love of romance developed after she started pilfering her grandmother’s novels in high school when she should have been studying. She has no regrets. A #1 Amazon bestseller and a national IPPY silver medalist, she is the award-winning author of several young adult novels critically acclaimed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, and Booklist, including Waterfell, The Almost Girl, and Alpha Goddess, a Kid’s IndieNext title. She currently resides in Colorado with her husband and three children. Visit her at www.amaliehoward.com.
Angie Morgan lives in New Hampshire with her husband, their three daughters, a menagerie of pets, and an extensive collection of paperback romance novels. She’s the author of several young adult books, including The Dispossessed series written under the name Page Morgan. Critically acclaimed by Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, VOYA, and The Bulletin, Angie’s novels have been an IndieNext selection, a Seventeen Magazine Summer Book Club Read, and a #1 Amazon bestseller. Visit her at www.AngieMorganBooks.com
Read an Excerpt
Paris, France June 1820
Princess Irina Volkonsky ignored the scandalized glances and hushed whispers of French society's crème de la crème as she downed the last of Lord Deroche's whiskey. Savoring the bite of the liquor on her lips, she returned his glass and nodded to the ballroom floor where partners were lining up for the next dance.
"Again?" Deroche asked with a low laugh. "Three dances? You'll ruin my spotless reputation, and I will be forced to offer my hand like the rest of these enamored whelps."
Irina eyed him from over her fan and flashed him a sultry smile. "Let's call a spade a spade, Deroche — you are well and truly ensnared by my charms."
"Quite," he said. The way his lips shaped the word made her eyes settle there for a moment. Those lips had been on her knuckles — and then on her mouth — moments before in an alcove on the balcony where they had retired for some air. Despite his play at sarcasm, Irina knew he wanted far more than a few kisses. She, however, did not.
"And you should know by now that I don't care for such silly rules." She stifled a derisive snort as they took their places for the set. "If two dances suggest special attention, and three imply I'm off the marriage mart, then heaven help us should we dance a fourth. I'd likely be impregnated."
"You don't mince words, do you?" His dark eyes met hers, widening slightly at her provocative and entirely deliberate response.
"Why should I? Gentlemen aren't encumbered by such restraint." Irina fluttered her eyelashes and peered up at him, the demure look at odds with her direct speech. She hadn't shocked him, Irina knew. Her unconventional opinions seemed to amuse Deroche. "And honestly, it's just so tiring the way people soften the blow when one straightforward word will do. In this case, an immaculate conception."
An answering smile curved her companion's lips. "Then I shall endeavor to solicit such a dance. Though I must warn you, my methods are hardly immaculate."
Despite the heated flush that rose to her cheeks, Irina couldn't stop the laughter that bubbled in her throat. Unlike most of his peers, Deroche was good fun, but even with his diverting company, it seemed as though this season was shaping up to be exactly like the last: boring, lackluster, and a complete disaster. Irina was simply making the most of what was left of it.
She glanced over his shoulder as they paired for a rousing quadrille, feeling the burn of dozens of eyes upon them. It wasn't that she didn't want to wrangle an offer from Lord Deroche; she simply did not want to have to turn him down. Her guardians in Paris, Lord and Lady Marceau, close friends to her sister's in-laws, the Earl and Countess of Dinsmore, had turned down no less than seven offers on her behalf since the start of the season.
Notwithstanding her title and her fortune, she'd been declared an Original, an Incomparable, and all manner of ludicrous names meant to awe and excite. Rich and eligible bachelors fawned at her feet, but none of them came remotely close to taking her fancy. Take Lord Deroche, for example. He was a fine specimen of the perfect catch — wealthy, titled, and devilishly handsome. But something was missing.
Something was always missing.
Deep down, Irina knew she was being unreasonable. She would eventually have to marry someone. Her coming out in St. Petersburg the year before had resulted in a dozen rejected proposals, and by the end of this season in Paris, she knew that some of the monikers she'd received during her first would return to torment her. Ice princess, stone heart, and her favorite, cold fish. She jutted her chin as the music began. No matter. She would weather this season as well.
By the end of the set her heart was racing and her earlier thoughts had vanished. She thanked Lord Deroche for the dance and, rejecting his wicked invitation for a fourth, retired to the ladies' salon. While she'd enjoyed the innuendo and his attentions, Irina did not want to play games with someone as dissolute as Deroche. She'd likely end up with her skirts over her head and her already spare reputation in tatters. And as much as she claimed not to care for the precious thoughts of the beau monde, Irina still had her sister's position to consider, if not her own. Lana was now a respected viscountess in English society, and from the tone of her last letter, she was not pleased with reports of Irina's latest vagaries.
A trio of pastel-wrapped debutantes twittered as she walked past them toward a pair of empty armchairs. Irina paid them no mind as she sat. Her recent behavior was scandalous she knew, and despite her social standing, associating with her would be viewed as foolish. As a result, she was surprised when she was joined by a red-cheeked lady drowning in layers of aquamarine tulle.
The woman fanned herself vigorously and smoothed tendrils of fiery red hair that had escaped the jeweled combs at her temples. "I loathe the quadrille," she announced with dramatic flair as she signaled for a glass of champagne from a nearby footman. "It does absolutely nothing for my complexion."
Irina recognized her as Lady Lyon, an English countess close to her own age who had only recently married. No English rose, Lady Lyon was known more for her bawdy humor than her beauty, and though their paths had crossed before, they had never exchanged more than a few words.
Irina smiled and nodded her head in greeting. "Lady Lyon."
"Please," she said with an exaggerated eye roll before draining the contents of her flute. "No more titles. Countess this, lady that. Call me Gwen. And I shall call you Irina."
Irina suppressed another smile. It was clear that the countess was shockingly into her cups, which would explain why she had voluntarily sat in the first place. And the use of given names after what could hardly be called an introduction was unheard of. Such a breach of stuffy etiquette suited Irina immensely. "Lady Lyon ... Gwen ... are you well?"
The countess's pale blue eyes swung to hers. "Why wouldn't I be?" She waved her glass and added, "Oh, you mean this? Not to worry, my mother was Irish."
As if that explained everything.
At that moment, Irina realized she had found an unlikely kindred spirit.
"So?" Gwen asked, leaning forward in a conspiratorial fashion. "Deroche, eh? I hear he's made of gold — everywhere it counts. Good catch."
Irina laughed to herself at her suggestive wink. Three dances had indeed been enough to insinuate an interest in marriage. "I hate to disappoint, but no. Lord Deroche is a passing entertainment, nothing more."
Gwen stared at her circumspectly, something like interest dawning in her eyes. "Are you ever in London?"
"I haven't been as of late, but my sister does live there, as well as in Essex."
"Ah yes, Lady Northridge. Lovely woman." She grinned. "I used to fancy your brother-in-law. Thankfully, North did not return my affections, otherwise he would have been ruined for any other woman."
A reformed rake, Irina knew her brother-in-law had had an active past. He'd conceived a child with one of his mistresses and a few years later, had fallen in love with Irina's sister, who had taken the child in as her own. Though she missed Lana and had seen her in St. Petersburg months before, Irina hadn't set foot in England since she'd left four years ago. Her throat tightened painfully. There was a reason for it. One she refused to entertain at the moment. She drew a calming breath.
Gwen stood, her cheeks still violently flushed. "Well, I suppose I should go find my husband. No telling what trouble he has gotten himself into by now." She peered down at Irina. "I like you. You should visit me in London next spring. Lord Lyon gives the most marvelous midseason ball."
"I have no plans to —"
Gwen cut her off with an airy wave. "No plans? Wonderful, then I must insist."
The young countess swirled away in a whirlwind of blue-green skirts. It wasn't often that Irina met another female who left her feeling bewildered. She was usually the culprit of such mayhem.
Smoothing her hair and her dress, Irina exited the retiring room. Lost in thought about Gwen's invitation and what returning to London would mean, she almost crashed into a gentleman's back.
"Oh, please excuse me," she said, the blunder one more potential thing for people to chide her for.
"It is I who should apologize to a lady of such mesmerizing beauty," the gentleman said, turning to fawn over her gloved hand. "You are an Incomparable. The Ultimate. The Prize. The Toast of Paris and Thief of All Hearts."
"Max, you wretch!" Irina shook her head and swatted at her childhood friend as he pressed melodramatic kisses to her knuckles. Distant cousins, they had been close as children and had reconnected at the start of the season in Paris. In a few short weeks, they had become inseparable.
"I should have pushed you down just now. Where have you been all night?" she asked. "I've been looking for you."
He arched a slim, golden eyebrow. "Didn't seem like you were looking for me. Deroche, I hear?"
Irina groaned. "What is wrong with people? We danced, that is all."
"Four times I was told."
"Three, and my best friend deserted me, so what choice did I have?" Irina eyed her longtime friend, noting his tousled blond hair and bee-stung lips. Her eyes narrowed, and she lowered her voice. "And where exactly have you been, Lord Remisov?"
"Remi," he said, handing her a glass of champagne and escorting her to a quiet corner of the massive ballroom. "And none of your business."
It wasn't any of her business. She knew the type of lovers Max favored, and none of them were ever appropriate. Women, men, young, old, beau monde, demimonde, it didn't matter. It was some kind of defiance, she knew, against the rules of his stringent father. Max was sowing his wild oats, so to speak, and had been for a while, leaving a trail of broken hearts across the Continent, from St. Petersburg to Paris.
"Max, you really should think about settling down. You have more than enough variety to choose from."
"As do you, my sweet, and yet I don't see you settling."
She shook her head. "That's different."
"How so?" He sipped his champagne. "I've heard you turned down seven suitors."
"I am a princess," she grumbled. "With standards."
"Size doesn't matter," Max said sagely.
Irina swallowed her shocked giggle. "Someone will hear you," she said, blushing fiercely. "And that's not what I meant."
"Surely there is a gentleman here who has taken your fancy. There has to be someone you can fall in love with."
Irina's mood sobered. "Alas, falling in love is not as easy as the romance books make it out to be. Most of the men here want only one thing — a beautiful face or an enticing body to warm their beds. They care naught for a woman's mind." She took a sip of the champagne and grimaced. She didn't know how Max enjoyed its frothy taste; she'd much prefer a good whiskey like the one she'd pilfered from Lord Deroche earlier. "A woman's place is to be seen and not heard. Poppycock, if you ask me."
"Which would be torture for you, I expect."
"What would?" she asked, distracted by the sight of Deroche escorting a gorgeous blonde to the terrace. It supported her earlier assessment that men were only out for one thing. It didn't surprise her that Deroche would seek it elsewhere. Still, it stung. Slightly.
"Not being able to speak."
She grinned at Max's insult. "You know me too well." She linked her arm in his. "Why can't I fall in love with someone like you? Handsome, when not rolling in stable barns. Clever and witty. And someone whose company I genuinely enjoy." With a sigh, she added, "Perhaps I will have better luck in London."
"London?" he asked with a surprised look. "I thought you hated the place."
"I do. It's gloomy and stodgy, but my sister's last letter made me feel guilty for being away for so long. I feel I should spend some time there."
Her heart doubled its pace at the decision she'd just made. She would go to London. A decision made is a decision kept. It was something her father had said numerous times when she and Lana had been young and still happily growing up in St. Petersburg. Many years had passed since her mother and father had died, but there was always a little prick of pain whenever she thought of them. Seeing Lana would help soothe it away.
She had just given birth to little Kate at the start of Irina's first season and had been unable to act as chaperone, and earlier this season Irina had decided upon Paris considering Lana was again increasing. Sadly, a letter had arrived at the Marceau's home two weeks before with horrible news: Lana had lost the babe. She'd been only less than two months into the pregnancy, but Lana and Gray were devastated. They already had three children in addition to Gray's daughter, Sofia, and from Lana's letters they were the center of their world. Irina had always known her sister would be a naturally wonderful mother, and had, admittedly, greatly missed feeling the glow of her care and attention. Now that Irina was older, she longed to do the same for her older sister. Going to London for the following season would be good for them both.
Swallowing hard, Irina wondered if she'd see him.
From her correspondence with Lana, Irina knew the Earl of Langlevit had not yet married. Once she was in London, their paths would undoubtedly cross. He was an earl, after all. He'd be at balls and soirees and dinners, and as his handsome, unforgettable face forged its way into her brain once again, Irina imagined how she would react. She would be cool and aloof, a princess to the core. He would take her hand and brush his lips across her fingers. The image was so visceral, so real, that the mere thought of it made her breath hitch painfully in her lungs.
"Or perhaps not," she said, draining the vile champagne and rethinking just how dedicated she was to her father's old saying about decisions made and kept. "Perhaps a second season in Paris may be best."
"No," Max said. "London sounds fetching. I haven't been there in years, either. It will be a new start for both of us. And just think ... after the two seasons you've had, the gentlemen there will be vying for your hand. You'll have your pick of the litter." He waved a dramatic arm, warming to the subject. "The competition will be so fierce that men will bet fortunes on whom you will choose."
"Now you're being silly."
"I am not," he replied with an affronted look.
She laughed. "Well then, if that's the case, I can assure you that entire fortunes will be wagered and lost."
Irina had not accepted any offers for the past two years for a reason, and it was as unshakable a reason as it was a secret. As she'd expected, not one potential suitor had come close to the image of the man who held her heart in his keeping ... who had held it there for the better part of four years despite her own good sense. No other man could compare to the Earl of Langlevit.
Not that he knew, of course.
She and the earl had crossed paths once during her first season in St. Petersburg. The Gorchev's soiree had been a crush, and yet he had still managed to be the only person in attendance she seemed to be able to see. Irina had not expected Henry to be there; she hadn't even known he was in the city. And just as quickly as a swell of pleasure and hope had filled her chest and spiked her pulse, it had been extinguished. Langlevit had bowed, made the necessary pleasantries, and had hardly looked her in the eye before moving on across the ballroom.
He'd kept his distance for the remainder of the evening. Seeing her again after so many years had meant nothing to him. Clearly, the Earl of Langlevit still thought of her as a child, as his mother's ward. He would never see her as otherwise — not as a woman, and not as marriageable material. It had chafed her pride to no end when he'd left the soiree with not one, but two unattached ladies of her acquaintance. The rumors about him being a profligate had run wild, but they had done little to temper the fire of her affection for him. In fact, the knowledge had made it burn brighter.
She'd imagined and reimagined scenes of when they would next meet. She'd seduce him thoroughly and lead him on a merry chase, whereupon he'd fall madly in love with her. But their paths hadn't crossed since. Her fevered imaginings had become nothing but a dearth of hopeless wishes.
Excerpted from "My Hellion, My Heart"
Copyright © 2017 Amalie Howard & Angie Frazier.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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