CAN A HASTILY ARRANGED MATCH
Harrison Thornwick is the Heirs' Club's newest member. His carefree days as a reckless rogue carousing around London are suddenly behind him after the tragic death of his brother leaves him in charge of the family estate. What's more, the Prince himself has offered to secure his marital prospects. Now Harrison has no choice but to grin and bear his noble fate-and the woman who's been chosen for him.
BECOME A LOVE FOR ALL TIME?Miss Angelina Rule is a spectacular beauty, a dream match for any man. But she is fiercely independent-and full of passion-and is all set to rebel against her royal order of marriage...until she meets the devilishly charming Harrison. With him by her side, Angelina devises a scheme that will teach her meddlesome relatives a lesson, once and for all. But little did she and Harrison expect to fall into a tempestuous attraction-and a powerful desire that neither of them can deny...
About the Author
Amelia has been happily married to her high school sweetheart for over thirty-five years and she lives on the beautiful gulf coast of Northwest Florida.
She is a two-time winner of the prestigious Booksellers Best Award, and she has also won the Aspen Gold, and Golden Quill awards. Writing as Gloria Dale Skinner, she won the coveted Romantic Times Award for Love and Laughter and the Maggie Award. Amelia's books have been published in Europe, Indonesia, Turkey, Russia, and Japan. Several of her books have been featured in Doubleday and Rhapsody Book Clubs.
The Duke In My Bed is Amelia's first book in the widely acclaimed "The Heirs' Club of Scoundrels" trilogy.
Read an Excerpt
The Earl Claims a Bride
By Amelia Grey
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Amelia Grey
All rights reserved.
He which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart. Henry V 4.3.35–36
The last thing Harrison Thornwick wanted to do was shoot the man, but he didn't have a choice.
Harrison's head was pounding and his eyes were blurry, but his spine was straight as an arrow as he stood back-to-back with — with ...
He grunted a tired laugh.
Well, hell, Harrison couldn't remember the tosspot's name. They'd been playing cards all night at one of the gambling hells on the east side of Bond Street and both he and Mr. No Name were deep in their cups. It was a wonder Harrison was still upright and thinking at all.
No Name had accused Harrison of cheating after he'd won all the man's money and prized stallion, too. And then the bloke had the nerve to call him out. Harrison tried to quiet him, but pointing out his shortcomings as a card player had enraged the dandy all the more. The only thing that had mollified him was Harrison picking up the glove the man had thrown to the floor of the club.
If he wanted to get shot, Harrison would have to oblige him.
"Dueling is against the law," Harrison's second reminded him in a subdued voice as he extended the pistol to him.
"Either that gentleman has a death wish or he doesn't know you are one of the best shots in London, even when you are none too steady on your feet as you are now. Do you really want to do this?"
"No. I don't like dueling, and I hope this is my last. I never like shooting a man."
"Then perhaps you should just conveniently miss this time and not wound him."
Harrison took the pistol without bothering to look at it. "He called me a card cheat."
"He's drunk and so are you."
"I'm not the one itching to feel a lead ball in my shoulder this morning. He is. You know I gave him ample opportunity to repair the injury. I cannot accept the affront without redress. This point will be settled here and will be settled now. My honor demands it."
"Very well," the second said and stepped away.
Harrison had shed his hat, cloak, and gloves in preparation for the duel. As was the custom, he'd allowed his second to inspect the pistols, make all the arrangements, and resolve the details with No Name's second.
A dozen or so bloodthirsty witnesses formed a silent bulwark at the edge of the field of honor. They held their impatience well. Harrison knew the small crowd was ready to get on with the matter and be off to their slumber.
So was Harrison.
"On the count of ten, gentlemen," someone called, "turn, lower your weapons, and fire."
Harrison placed his forefinger on the cold metal of the trigger and lifted the barrel of the pistol level with his chin.
The ground crunched as Harrison took a wide step and a calming, shallow breath. He didn't know whose property they were on, but it had been a short carriage drive outside London. The area was all it needed to be: wooded and isolated.
"Two ... three ..."
The last vestige of night had faded. Scattered whorls of fog had evaporated, and the early-morning sky was shaping up to be a bright shade of blue even though the winter air was damned crisp. Sunlight glistening on the crest of the horizon was visible through the spindly limbs of the barren trees.
"Four ... five ..."
Harrison couldn't help but think it was going to be a good day — after he got this nasty business out of the way.
Harrison halted and looked around. A tall, robust gentleman clutched his hat to his head and ran out of a thicket of trees with his coattails flapping behind him. He skidded on traces of silvery dew covering the hard ground before stopping between Harrison and his opponent, gasping to catch his breath.
"I've been looking for you, Mr. Thornwick," the man finally got out.
"And you found me at a most inopportune moment," Harrison said dryly.
"But thankfully before it was too late."
Harrison eyed the interloper suspiciously, but it was Mr. No Name who said, "Who the deuce are you?"
The meddler cast his large, slightly bulging eyes toward the man and lifted his chin disdainfully. "Sir, I am Mr. Alfred Hopscotch."
"I don't know you," No Name snarled. "So who do you think you are to stop this duel?"
"I am the Prince's emissary," Mr. Hopscotch said testily. "I'm here on his official business."
"Yes, and I am the King's brother." No Name cut his eyes around to Harrison and grunted a slurring laugh. "Did you hire this man to come here and save your bloody life, Thornwick?"
Harrison squinted against a sudden bright ray of sunlight that broke through the tree limbs. His answer was to turn his back on the man and resume the dueling stance.
"Keep counting," Harrison called.
"Step aside, sir," No Name said. "Or stand your ground and get the bullet that's meant for him!"
"Seven ... eight ..."
"No, I beg of you, Mr. Thornwick, wait."
Harrison hoped like hell the Prince's man had the good sense to move out of the way.
Harrison pivoted on his back foot, lowered his body as he swung, aimed, and fired his pistol at No Name's shoulder. The man folded with a yelp, his shot wild and plugging a nearby tree.
Smoke from Harrison's gun barrel swirled and then quickly evaporated in the frosty air. Several of the onlookers rushed to the fallen man's side while other gentlemen were already pulling money out of their pockets to settle their wagers.
Harrison walked over for a look, too. Blood had stained the man's white shirt and quilted waistcoat, and was seeping through his fingers held tightly against the shoulder wound.
No Name looked up at him with a furious glare in his wild eyes. "Did you come to gloat?"
Harrison stared at him and said, "Don't ever call me a card cheat again." He walked over to the carriage that had brought him to the dueling site. Several of the young blades and onlookers followed him, some offering mumblings of congratulations and deserved claps on the back while others quietly counted their winnings.
"Well done," Harrison's second said, handing Harrison his coat. "The shot missed his bone. He'll have a hell of a pain in his shoulder for a few weeks, but nothing that won't heal properly with time."
"It took great restraint," Harrison admitted, returning the pistol to the second.
"I'm sure. No one likes being called a cheater and a coward in the same breath."
The stranger who had interrupted the duel elbowed his way through the muttering crowd gathered around Harrison and in a loud, impatient tone said, "I must speak to you now, my lord. I have important information for you."
Harrison frowned at the man as he shoved his arms into the sleeves of his coat. "I am not a lord, sir."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you. You are. The Prince charged me with finding you and giving you the unfortunate news that your brother, the Earl of Thornwick, and his heir have died. You, my lord, are the new Earl of Thornwick."
Gasps from the tight circle of men rent the air, and shock rippled through Harrison. His mind immediately recoiled from the words he'd heard. It took several seconds before he managed to say, "What?"
"I'm sorry, my lord."
The pounding in Harrison's head increased. A loud roar swooshed through his ears as denial rose up within him. Cold, dry air caught in his lungs, pressing like an anvil on his chest.
The ramifications of the man's words sank deeply into his soul, wounding him, and he whispered, "My brother and his three-year-old son? Dead? Are you sure?"
Mr. Hopscotch ran a nervous hand down the front of his waistcoat. "Yes, my lord. There's no doubt. A fever quickly ravaged a nearby village and spread throughout Thornwick."
"That one an earl? Can't be!" Harrison heard a man whisper.
"He'll never take care of the place," another gentleman said. "He doesn't know how. It'll be in ruins in less than a year."
"For sure," came the reply. "He doesn't know anything but drinking, gambling, and dueling."
"He certainly does all three of those bloody well," someone else whispered.
"Damnation" blew softly past Harrison's lips on a throb of hellish emotion he couldn't hold inside.
"I know," Hopscotch said. "It's tragic. Since you are the new earl, the Prince wants to make certain that you don't go to Thornwick and expose yourself to the fever, too."
"My brother's wife and daughters?" Harrison asked as alarm nipped him. "How are they?"
The man blinked rapidly. "Gone, too, I'm sorry to report. Most of the servants as well."
A low groan of anguish rose from Harrison's throat but he managed to swallow before it sounded. Beautiful, sweet Maddie with her raven hair and soft brown eyes dead. And her twin infant girls gone, too?
Harrison turned away from the man and threw his fist into the side of the carriage before clamping a hold on the door handle to shore himself up should his knees fail him and buckle. The pain that shot through his hand whipcord-fast couldn't dull the shattering grief that echoed through him. Over the years he'd lost his parents and two older brothers, but their deaths had been years apart and somehow easier to bear than hearing of the loss of the rest of his family.
"The Prince says it is imperative you to come to London immediately so he can speak to you about a most important matter. My carriage is right over there. I'll take you."
Mr. Hopscotch had continued talking as if he had no clue about the torment thundering through Harrison. "Being an earl is of little consequence to me right now," he ground out.
Hopscotch nervously clutched his hands together in front of him. "But it must matter, my lord. The Prince can't risk losing you, too."
Harrison jerked open the door of his carriage before looking back to the man and saying, "I'm going to bury my brother and his family."CHAPTER 2
Wake not a sleeping wolf. Henry IV 1.2.153–54
Harrison put his two fingers to his lips and whistled. When the driver of the wagon looked up at him, he called, "Over there," and pointed to a lean-to built to store the lumber that would be used in rebuilding Thornwick.
Late-morning sun warmed the back of Harrison's neck as he stood on the back lawn, his gaze scanning the gently rolling hills in the distance. As far as he could see, and then some, it was Thornwick land. His land. Still, at times he didn't want to believe everyone was gone. That he was now the earl. There were a few times when he was a youngster that he'd wished Thornwick would be his one day, but those were foolish, childish wishes that weren't supposed to come true. He never wanted to lose his family.
The trees, shrubs, and scrub grass were showing their first signs of green. Harrison looked behind him at the burnt-out shell of what was once the massive three-story manor house where he'd grown up. It was situated on a spacious, grassy knoll. The more than twenty rooms that were in the main section of the house had been gutted; a dozen others in the guest wing had fared little better. The expanse of flawlessly manicured gardens and lawn outlined by a tall yew hedge and perfectly trimmed topiary trees hadn't been touched by the destructive fire, and neither had the carriage house and two paddocks that accommodated his more than two dozen horses.
Not only had the fever taken his family, but the Thornwick he'd loved, the house that had been in his family for over one hundred years, had been destroyed while he was off carousing. But there was so much more lost than just the house. The urns, the china, the furniture could all be replaced. Even the hundreds of books in the library could be replaced. It was the portraits of all the previous Thornwicks that had hung in the gallery, and the priceless volumes of recorded family history, that were gone forever. All of it had been lost and on his watch.
His brother had written and asked him to come home, but he ignored the request as he had so often in the past. While he had been drinking, gambling, and dueling his family had perished and the manor had burned. Over the past weeks, Harrison had often remembered the hastily spoken words he'd overheard that morning he'd learned that he was the new earl. They all doubted his ability to properly manage Thornwick and keep it prosperous. And with good reason. He'd never given anyone reason to believe he could do anything other than continue his debauchery. But that was before the title became his.
Thornwick was where he'd learned how to ride, shoot, and wield a sword. During long, cold winter nights he became proficient at cards, billiards, and chess. On this land he'd chased his older brothers, climbed its trees, fished its streams, and hunted its game. But it was never supposed to be his.
The fourth son of an earl wasn't meant to outlive his brothers and their sons to inherit the title. Certainly not by the age of thirty. A different kind of ache suddenly pierced his chest. And to lose Maddie, too. His first love. His only love. His thoughts drifted back to the Season she'd made her debut. He'd tried his best to capture the heart of the dark-haired beauty and win her favor. But it soon became clear she had eyes only for his older brother, and in time Harrison had accepted that. Though it hadn't been easy.
Damnation, none of it had.
Not the grief of losing them all and losing Maddie twice. Not the struggles of these past weeks of discovering what was expected of an earl, learning to see that an estate was managed, and functioning well enough that once the house had been rebuilt there would be a Thornwick for the foreseeable future. Fourth sons were educated but never groomed to take on all the responsibilities that came with bearing the title of earl. It was assumed they would never need it.
Harrison had never had any responsibility to anyone or anything. There was never a reason. The oldest son was always revered, but the youngest was either treated like an infant and indulged or completely ignored. Harrison made certain he was neither by challenging, testing, and besting his older brothers from a very early age. He'd missed them when one by one they'd been sent away to school, but he soon found replacements for them in his friends Bray Drakestone and Adam Greyhawke when it was his turn to be shipped off to Eton.
When Harrison had left Oxford, his father had bestowed a more-than-generous allowance on him, and from his cards, bets, and all manner of wagers he added a considerable amount to that each year. All his father had expected was that he live the comfortable and respectable life of a gentleman and not sully the Thornwick name.
Harrison hadn't been able to manage that small request. His father should have known better than to ask that of him with scoundrels like the Duke of Drakestone and Adam Greyhawke as his friends. The three of them had scandalized London's social elite more times than Harrison could count. Harrison was a rebel at heart, and neither his father nor anyone else had ever been able to make him follow the rules or do what he was told.
He'd always done whatever pleased him because he had no reason not to. But now he did. He had Thornwick, or what was left of it. And he would rebuild it. Bigger and better than it was before. He owed it to his father and to his brothers to make it the grand place it once was.
He didn't know a damned thing about buying books, furniture, and all the other items that filled a house, but he'd learn. And despite the assertions of the gentlemen at the duel that day, Harrison would take care of Thornwick.
The first load of supplies to reconstruct the house had arrived earlier in the day, bringing with them a small measure of peace to Harrison. There had been a steady stream of wagons carrying lumber, ladders, hammers, nails, and all manner of materials to start the rebuilding of the manor first thing tomorrow morning.
Excerpted from The Earl Claims a Bride by Amelia Grey. Copyright © 2015 Amelia Grey. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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