They are the infamous lords, unrepentant rogues whose bad behavior makes for good gossip among the ton. But these sexy scoundrels have stories no one knows. And it takes a special touch to reveal the true hearts behind their devilish disguises . . .
Known as a brazen philanderer, Hayden Milton, Earl of Westfield, is almost done in by a vengeful mistress who aims a gun at a rather essential part of his anatomy—but ends up wounding his thigh instead. Recuperating in his London townhouse, Hayden is confronted by his new medical attendant. Sophia Camden intrigues him, for behind her starched uniform is an enticing beauty better suited for bedding than dispensing salves and changing bandages.
Unshaken by his arrogance, not to mention impropriety, Sophia offers Hayden a dare: allow her ten days to prove her competency. If she resigns in exasperation like her two predecessors, she will be beholden to this wicked seducer. As a battle of wills begins, Sophia finds herself distracted by the earl’s muscular physique . . . and discovers that the man within longs only for a second chance to love.
About the Author
Renee loves romantic stories, excessive amounts of chocolate, and gardening. She lives in the Northeast with her wonderful husband. You can find out more about Renee and the stories she’s working on at www.Reneeannmiller.com and connect with her at Twitter @reneeannmiller.
Read an Excerpt
London, November 1875
A bottle of Highland whisky was supposed to make a man forget his regrets. Hayden Milton, the Earl of Westfield, blew out a heavy breath. As usual, he'd managed little more than to undermine his equilibrium. Carefully he set one foot before the other as he lumbered through the fog and darkness shrouding Brook Street.
He peered at the heavens above. "Can you forgive me, Laura?"
Too late to ask his wife for forgiveness. Five years too late. The dead could not offer absolution.
Shaking away his maudlin thoughts, he made his way to the front door of his town house. His hand hovered over the handle as he eyed a drooping potted holly on the top step.
Where the blazes did that come from? He stepped back and looked up at the hazy structure. One, two, three, four ...
This was not his residence — unless someone had removed the fifth floor during his absence. Was that possible? The inane question brought about the realization he must be more inebriated than he thought. He stared at the nearly identical town house next door. One, two, three, four, five. He glanced at the step. There was no holly, sickly looking or otherwise.
He took another step back.
Blast it! Lady Bedford's residence. The old battle-ax would expire from a seizure if he crawled into her bed naked. A vision of himself snuggling between the sheets with the wart-faced matron flashed before his eyes. He shuddered.
In front of his own town house, he set a steadying hand on the wrought iron fence. Thank God Celia would be asleep. He didn't wish the child to witness him listing like a ship on the high seas.
Footfalls shattered the silence of the small hours.
He turned as a diminutive woman burst through the gloom. She stopped directly in front of him, her face tipped downward. One pale hand clutched the hood of her black cape, anchoring it to her head. The woman lifted her face and a pair of slanted green eyes peered at him.
At one time, her catlike eyes had intrigued him, but their affair had been brief. She teetered somewhere between senseless folly and complete madness. Too volatile — even for him.
She raised her arm and moonlight glinted off the dueling pistol clasped in her hand.
Ah, so my day of reckoning is upon me? "Adele, my dear, has it come to this? Murder?"
A feral smile curled her lips. "Oh, Hayden, I don't intend to kill you."
Though she spoke slowly, her words were slurred. Apparently, he was not the only one who'd numbed his mental capacities with liquor, or in Adele's case, a tincture containing opiates, a habit she favored.
Grinning, she lowered the gun. Its barrel, previously pointed at his chest, now aimed at his manhood. She let out a low, bitter cackle. "No, dearest, I merely wish to maim you."
Only a woman would think of gelding him; a man would aim right for his black heart.
Adele arched a brow.
Did she expect a reaction? Had she thought he'd fall to his knees and plead for his life? Not likely. At least not on the anniversary of his wife's death. His own demise seemed a fitting turn of events.
"You bastard, say something," she hissed.
Go ahead, do it, the words echoed in his mind, teasing the tip of his tongue. Was he as mad as Adele or had the liquor pickled his brain?
He glanced at Celia's bedchamber window. For the child's sake, he needed to keep his wits about him. He'd stood over his wife's grave and promised to do his best for the child. He wouldn't fail Laura. Not again.
His gaze returned to the antiquated pistol. The ornate gun probably weighed close to five pounds. Adele's hand already trembled from the effort to hold it still. He'd a better chance of surviving if she kept the barrel pointed low — away from his chest and abdomen.
"Sweeting, why don't you give me the gun and accompany me inside? We'll sit and chat about what I've done that has you so distressed." He inched closer.
She stepped back. Her wide-eyed expression looked deranged. She waved the gun. "Stay back, Hayden. I swear I'll shoot."
He raised his hands, palms out, as a movement beyond her shoulder caught his attention. A short figure walked toward them. The person appeared distorted, a body too narrow in comparison to its upper girth. The figure stepped under the illuminating light of a lamppost.
Damnation. Young Jimmy McGivney.
The newsboy carried a bundle of the morning paper hefted on his narrow shoulders. At any moment, Adele would hear Jimmy's footsteps scraping the pavement behind her. He couldn't risk the unstable woman turning on the lad and shooting.
He leapt forward to grapple the gun away from her.
Flint struck steel. The flash of powder igniting dispersed the darkness. A deafening sound reverberated through his entire being and the scent of sulfur filled his nose. As if someone kicked his legs out from beneath him, he fell forward and slammed against the pavement. His breath exploded from his lungs.
The cold, damp ground permeated his upper body, contrasting with the heat burning through his lower half, burrowing into the core of his marrow. The warmth waned. Seeped out of him until it pooled on the pavement below him, leaving an astringent, knifelike pain in its wake.
His eyes drifted closed, and Laura's lovely face flashed before his mind's eye. Forgive me, my love.
Adele's retreating footsteps clicking against the pavement drew his mind back to the present. He forced his heavy lids open. A bright, almost blinding light besieged him just before a strange warmth and darkness settled over him, sucking him into a state of peaceful, mindless oblivion.
Sophia Camden swung open the door and dashed into the Earl of Westfield's opulent bedchamber. The dark room didn't smell like a typical sickroom. It was absent the stale odors of sweat, liniment, and excrement. No, the air smelled of soap, fresh linen, and beeswax — of wealth and servants and immunity to the ravages besieging the poor.
As she made her way across the room, she held up a small paraffin lamp, illuminating his lordship thrashing about in a massive four-poster bed. He tossed and turned as if he wrestled with the devil himself, and the profanity he spewed would have scorched even Lucifer's ears.
Fever? A knot settled in her stomach. She should have checked on the gentleman when she arrived late last night — ignored the housekeeper's warning not to disturb him until morning. With a sense of dread racing up her spine, she placed the lamp and her black medical bag upon a low chest of drawers and rushed to the bed. In the near darkness, shadows marred Westfield's features, but she discerned his eyes were closed.
"Shhh ... relax, Lord Westfield." As if she'd uttered some magical incantation, his rambling ceased, and his flailing body stilled. She pressed her palm against the moist skin of his brow. Warm, but not feverish. A tense breath eased out from between her lips.
Thank goodness. Just a nightmare. Understandable after being shot. The newspapers had reported a cloaked woman fled the scene. Westfield claimed to have not known his assailant.
She leaned forward and straightened his tangled blankets. A masculine scent drifted upward. It reminded her of pomanders, the clove-studded oranges she'd placed about her grandfather's studio to mask the pungent odor of turpentine and paint. The spicy, familiar scent was soothing.
Soothing? What little she'd learned about his lordship since arriving here remained far from that. The housekeeper had offered little information. However, after Mrs. Beecham led her upstairs to a bedchamber across the corridor from Westfield's suite of rooms, she'd sent in a young maid with fresh sheets. Alice had been much more disposed to gossiping, softly chirping away like a young skylark who'd suddenly realized God had blessed it with the melodious gift of song.
Alice informed her she was Westfield's third attendant in less than three days — a fact Westfield's sister had omitted when she'd hired Sophia.
She pinched her lips into a straight line and smoothed the richly textured navy damask counterpane.
Westfield's large hand shot out and caught her wrist.
Her breath snagged in her throat.
His eyes blinked open. Westfield's viselike grip eased as his fingers skimmed the sensitive skin of her wrist. The gentle, almost lover-like touch scattered gooseflesh over her body and a spark of current fluttered in her belly.
"Who are you?" he asked.
The deep, raspy tone of his voice added to the odd sensations barraging her. She willed the unsettling feelings aside. "It's only five in the morning, Lord Westfield. Try to sleep."
He released her and shifted up on his elbows, allowing more light to shine on his face. Not enough to clearly see much more than the dark stubble that shadowed his square jaw, giving him a dangerous, almost piratical look.
"I asked you a question, madam."
"Miss Sophia Camden, my lord. I'm to tend to you during your convalescence ... to act as your nurse."
"Nurse? What happened to that fool-headed attendant who was here yesterday?"
"Attendant?" she prevaricated, not wishing to repeat the story Alice disclosed.
"Come, Miss Camden, surely you've heard something."
Oh, yes, I've heard plenty. Enough to know you're beyond wicked.
"Miss Camden?" His voice was softer now, more compelling. She had a feeling his tone could change like the wind or the seasons, depending on his mood. And that he could wheedle the truth from even the most obstinate person, if he so chose.
She sighed. Best to get this revelation over with. "It's rumored he resigned late yesterday evening after you placed him in a headlock while threatening to shove his face into your bedpan."
"He deserved it." There was no hesitation in his voice. No remorse.
"I'm sure he did, my lord." Unless Westfield was a ninny, he couldn't miss the disbelief and condemnation dripping from her tone.
He expelled a heavy breath. "I don't need to explain my actions to you, Miss Camden."
"Indeed, you do not."
"You are not needed here, madam." He waved a dismissive hand toward the door.
"Sir, you've had two attendants. One stayed barely a day before resigning, and the man we just discussed supposedly left with nary a word except some nonsensical rambling he uttered as he fled down the stairs. It was believed you might show less distress to a female nurse."
"And what dunce thought that?"
"That would be your sister, Lady Prescott."
"Edith. Confounded woman. I should have known."
"It would be best if you returned to sleep. I have a medicine that will help calm you."
"I don't need calming," he snapped.
"You were tossing and turning in your bed, and if you continue to do so, you might tear the stitches in your thigh." She strode to her medical bag and removed an amber bottle of tincture, along with an inventive little utensil called a Gibson spoon. It was designed with a clever lid so one could avoid spillage when one's patient was not in an agreeable mood. Apparently, it was needed here. After filling it, she returned to the bedside and inched the spoon to his mouth.
His head jerked back. "What in God's name is that?"
"The medicine I spoke of. I assure you Dr. Trimble prescribed it. Please open your mouth."
Settling against the headboard, he folded his arms over his chest.
Stubborn man. Without further thought, she pinched his nose closed.
He opened his mouth — most likely intent on giving her a piece of his mind — but before he uttered a word, she slipped the spoon between his lips, tipped it back, and withdrew it in one fluid movement.
Coughing, he drew the back of his large hand across his mouth and gaped at her.
His sister had said to use a firm hand. Perhaps that had been a bit extreme. But it was done and there was nothing she could do to take it back. She spun around, retrieved her lamp, and strode to the door. As if the devil prodded her further, she lifted the medicinal spoon in the air in a bold gesture of fond farewell. "Good night, my lord, I bid you pleasant dreams."
"Why you insolent little ... imp," he bellowed, his obvious shock flaring to rage.
She pulled the door closed.
"You're dismissed, Miss Camden!" His raised voice carried easily through the wooden door. "Do you hear me, madam? You are fired. Discharged. Bloody well sacked!"
* * *
Hayden lowered the sheet off his face and narrowed his eyes against the bright deluge of light streaming through the bedchamber's windows. Who dared to draw the curtains open so early?
Celia? No, his sister had taken the child to her town house, insisting he needed to rest. Mathews? Tugging down his nightshirt, he opened his mouth to call to his valet. He snapped it shut. Standing before the hearth, with her back to him, stood a slender woman dressed in a dark navy gown topped with a white pinafore. She wore what appeared to be a starched doily with wings atop her head.
He frowned. What was Mrs. Beecham doing dressing the maids in such odd-looking hats? What had happened to those old thingamabobs they'd been wearing before ... mobhats or mobcaps? Whatever one chose to call them, they were as ugly as sin, but this starched atrocity lacked improvement.
A foggy memory of an insolent nurse tugged at him. The fine hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Surely, that had been a nightmare. His gaze swung to the chest of drawers and the amber bottle and medical bag set atop it.
Hell, not a dream! He cleared his throat.
The woman spun around.
The first thing that caught his attention was the porcelain bedpan clasped in her hands. The second thing was her eyes. They were dusted with long lashes that swept outward, elongating their almond shape, and so dark, that at this distance, he couldn't discern her pupils from her irises.
He examined the rest of her face with its straight nose and full, wide mouth. Her skin was far from fair, and her hair, pulled into a chignon, was as black as a moonless night. She looked Mediterranean. Lovely in a foreign, exotic way.
A sharp pain shot up his leg, reminding him of the last time he'd allowed himself to become involved with a woman with unusual eyes set in an attractive face. He ran his hand over his bandaged thigh and silently cursed that lunatic Adele.
He bestowed the woman with a scowl meant to terrify.
He narrowed his eyes.
She stepped closer.
Baffled, he scratched his head. Perhaps it wasn't the same woman. She didn't appear the least bit repentant, and he was doing everything to intimidate her — short of baring his teeth and snarling like a rabid dog.
"Good morning, Lord Westfield. I hope you slept well."
By God, the she-devil! He recognized her soft, cultured voice and the faint, enticing scent of lavender and lemon drifting off her skin.
"Didn't I sack you?"
Laying the bedpan upon the counterpane, she tipped her head sideways. Her dark, expressive eyes widened. "Did you?"
"You bloody well know I did."
"Are you ready for your breakfast, my lord?"
Didn't this woman realize he was the Earl of Westfield? A man one dealt with quite prudently, if one had to deal with him at all. A man revered by some, despised by others, and feared by many. He cocked a brow. The affectation usually sent his servants scattering like marbles across the prow of a heaving ship.
Her serene smile didn't waver. "Before you breakfast, I'd like to redress your wound."
"Are you hard of hearing?" he asked in an elevated voice.
"No, my lord."
This had to be someone's idea of a wicked joke. "Ah," he said, feeling enlightened. He peered beyond her to the open doorway. "Lord Simon Adler is hiding in the corridor and having a jolly good laugh over this, isn't he, the bounder?"
She followed his gaze to the door. "If he is, I'm not aware of it."
He raked his hands through his hair and slumped deeper into his pillows. He'd not prayed in years, but he contemplated asking for divine intervention or, better yet, a lightning bolt.
"Listen carefully to what I'm going to say, madam. You — are — sacked."
"You cannot dismiss me."
He inspected her attire. Though her hat was an oddity, her other garments didn't contradict her sanity. Her dress was not on backward, her buttons were correctly fastened, and she didn't wear her drawers atop her head. Nevertheless, she suffered some disorder of the mind if she thought he lacked the authority to discharge her.
"This is my house, madam. I assure you I can dismiss you. Now remove yourself from my premises."
Excerpted from "Never Dare A Wicked Earl"
Copyright © 2018 Renee Ann Miller.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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