"Historical romance devotees will enjoy Michels's adoring use of some of the classic tropes of the genrethe spare heir, the wrong brother as hero, the heroine in men's clothingbut what makes the book so enjoyable is the way Michels makes the familiar fresh."SARAH MACLEAN, The Washington Post
The Spare Heirs Society Cordially Invites You to Meet Ethan Moore: The Scoundrel
Lady Roselyn Grey's debut has finally arrived, and of course, she has every flounce and flutter planned. She'll wear the perfect gowns and marry the perfect gentleman...that is, if the formerly disinherited brother of the man she intends to marry doesn't ruin everything first.
Ethan Moore is a prize-fighting second son and proud founding member of the Spare Heirs Societyand that's all he ever should have been. But, in an instant, his brother's noble title is his, the eyes of the ton are upon him, and the lady he's loved for years would rather meet him in the boxing ring than the ballroom.
He's faced worse. With the help of his Spare Heirs brotherhood, Ethan's certain he can get to the bottom of his brother's unexpected demise and win the impossible lady who has haunted his dreams for as long as he can remember...
Praise for Elizabeth Michels:
"Michels's latest is the complete package: a captivating romance with gripping suspense wrapped up in a novel to be savored."Publishers Weekly STARRED for The Infamous Heir
"Rich with wit and charm."Publishers Weekly on How to Lose a Lord in 10 Days or Less
"Michels' fresh and funny debut will delight readers with its endearing characters and infectious mix of sweet yet sexy romance and realistic yet wry wit."Booklist Online STARRED on Must Love Dukes
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The Infamous Heir
By Elizabeth Michels
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Elizabeth Michels
All rights reserved.
Whitby, England, 1817
Another punch skimmed past Ethan's ear. The rush of air and cheers of the other men closed in on him as the blow sailed by. He put his weight behind his next swing, his knuckles colliding with his opponent's jaw. He watched as the man toppled to the floor with an echoing thud, and he waited.
Ethan stretched his swollen fingers out one by one, flexing through the pain before curling them back into place. Havering, the unfortunate gentleman he was determined to best today, could still get up. If that happened, Ethan would be ready.
He shifted his weight from foot to foot, impatience bubbling through him. A cool trickle of sweat rolled down his temple, falling to his bare shoulder. The man still made no move to rise. Taking a step forward, Ethan leaned over to see if Havering's eyes were open and if he was breathing — a caution Ethan had acquired of late.
"Get up, Havering! Come on, chap! Get up, damn you!" the man's second bellowed above the din.
Meanwhile, cheers were already sounding before the count could be made. Ethan threw a quick glance to the side, not daring to remove his gaze from his opponent for more than a second. The open space around him closed tighter. Murmurs rumbled through the crowd as everyone waited for the end of the match to be called.
"I knew the bastard would go down in the first round. Drunken arse," Lord Cladhart said, sidling up to stare down at the man with him.
Ethan's mouth tugged into a lopsided grin. He was glad to have a friendly face with him today after so long on his own. Besides, Cladhart, his father's longtime business partner and friend, was dead-on with his assessment. "You're only relieved you didn't have to fulfill your duty as second and step in to bloody your own knuckles."
"My knuckles have been bloodied plenty, I'll have you know."
"In the last twenty years?" Ethan nudged Cladhart. "Not likely, old man."
"You might be surprised. I may not be able to pummel every gentleman here without resting as you're apt to do, but I could still put you on the floor, Ethan Moore," Cladhart grumbled. An uneasy moment of silence passed before he began to laugh.
Ethan released the breath he'd been holding and chuckled, relieved he hadn't offended his only ally. When one arrived unannounced at the door of one's father's business partner with nowhere else to turn, it generally wasn't advisable to annoy the man. Ethan required a place to sleep tonight, after all. "You had me readying for another blow to the eye there, Cladhart."
"I should blacken both eyes for calling me old. I've aged the same eight years you have since you left." He nodded toward Havering still lying on the floor. "I'd wager I'd stand a better chance than he did."
"A schoolgirl would stand a better chance than he did." Ethan wiped his brow with the back of his hand.
It was true that Havering hadn't been much of a challenge. In a perfect world, Ethan's opponents would put up a bit of a fight before falling to their knees, but that didn't happen often. There had been that time in France, but in hindsight he'd been a bit too foxed to stop the drubbing he'd received that day. He touched his now slightly crooked nose, the ever-present reminder of that fight. Spain, on the other hand — no, he would not think about Spain. This was his new life. He was here now, back in England, close enough to his childhood home to recognize the sights and smells in the streets, yet far enough away to maintain his distance.
He'd grown used to fighting for his food and his rent over the last eight years. Most saw the sport as entertainment, but for him it had been a means of survival. Eight years ago, he'd thought it might be a skill that could finally put his life back to rights. He'd been wrong about that last bit. But at least fighting had allowed him to eat and have a warm bed at night. After being booted from his home by his father, he couldn't be particular about such things. He curled his fingers back into fists as he watched the man on the floor.
Cheers were sounding all around them as the count continued. "Seven and twenty! Eight and twenty! Nine and twenty! Thirty!"
"Mr. Moore wins!" a man near the back of the room bellowed. The answering chaos of money changing hands, gloating, and disappointed grumbles filled the small boxing establishment off Whitby's High Street.
Ethan smiled thinly as he moved closer to his opponent, gazing down into the defeated man's bloody, swollen face. The man had been bested to be sure, but he would live to fight another day. Cladhart followed him to the center of the floor, clapping a hand on his shoulder.
"Ethan, now that he is thoroughly beaten, we should gather our winnings and leave. I'm aware it's a sore subject, but I told your father I would meet with him this evening to review the week's reports. If I had known you were coming to town, I would have made other arrangements ... Though you could accompany me. There's no reason to wait any longer. You've been away long enough as it is."
"Have I?" A moment passed between the two men, both knowing what Ethan was asking. He'd had good reason to leave home at nineteen. That reason began and ended with his father.
Cladhart remained silent on the subject, his sharp gaze never leaving Ethan. As ever, his calm face revealed nothing.
"Or you could accompany me. Instead of reviewing dull paperwork, we could use our winnings to buy a round of drinks and our way into a high-stakes card game." Ethan moved to the far side of the room where his belongings were piled in the corner.
"The last time you said those words, you ended the evening half naked at the Swan's Leg while I tried to fend off that barmaid."
"How was I to know Green wasn't bluffing? My play has improved, I'll have you know."
"Nevertheless ..." Cladhart ran a hand over his chin in thought as he followed Ethan. "You can't turn up on my doorstep unannounced and expect me to change my calendar."
Ethan slipped his shirt back on, the fabric sticking to his hot skin. He pointedly ignored the man's last comment. "The mining reports won't go anywhere before tomorrow. You might even be able to convince me to approach my father and beg his forgiveness by the end of the night. It isn't likely, but you could try."
"Indeed." Cladhart's face lit briefly with a grin. "Perhaps we can increase our take for the day." One eyebrow raised in the same manner Ethan recalled from when he was a child.
He could remember practicing the expression in the mirror as a boy. There was plenty else crooked about his face these days, but he had finally mastered the raised brow. It was a pleasant change to be back home. His old life on the Continent faded away and his future stretched out in front of him. Escaping danger could be enjoyable after all. He could have a life here without eyeing every shadow, and waiting. Ethan had been right to come back to bury the past and start anew. He wasn't with family, but this was damn close. Cladhart was twelve years younger than Ethan's father and had always been more of an older brother to Ethan than his father's business associate.
Ethan shrugged back into his coat, shaking it into place. Glancing down at the fabric in his hand, he sighed at the prospect of knotting it into anything resembling a cravat. Nevertheless, he tossed it around his neck and began tying it in a crooked knot. "As long as we end the day with money in our pockets, all will be fine. I could use a little excitement to break the monotony."
"Pugilism isn't enough to hold your interest anymore?"
"It's lost a bit of its shine for me recently, as a matter of fact," Ethan said. He patted the finished cravat and looked up.
"Perhaps it's time to raise the stakes from fisticuffs to dueling at dawn."
"I wouldn't go that far. I don't want to kill anyone or be shot at, to be honest." He glanced at the man being revived with smelling salts and swallowed down the memory that had followed him across the waters to England.
"Still. There's nothing like the crack of a pistol piercing the morning air."
Ethan chuckled at the wistful tone of Cladhart's voice. "While you watch from the safety of the nearby street, perhaps."
A silence fell between them. After a moment, Ethan looked up from the buttons on his coat.
Cladhart's eyes were narrowed on a point across the room. "What's your brother doing here?"
"Trevor?" Ethan turned, following Cladhart's gaze until he spotted his brother just inside the door, dread already gathering in his stomach. "This hardly seems the type of establishment he would frequent. We're a full day's ride from the estate."
Time may have passed since the last time Ethan had laid eyes on his older brother, but he hadn't changed. He was still Trevor, perfect Trevor. As usual, he was so polished in his appearance that the rest of the room seemed soiled in comparison. "Out of place" was the first phrase that came to mind. What would drive his brother from whatever local society event was occurring this afternoon to this dank saloon that smelled of sweat and spilled blood? Trevor spotted Ethan looking in his direction and made his way toward them through the dissipating crowd.
"Good of you to come see the show, Brother," Ethan said. Every muscle in his body tensed for another fight.
"I see the news is true — you have returned. I wanted to see for myself." His dark red head dipped for a second as he took in Ethan's appearance. "News of such things travels quickly, you know. I take it you've decided to return to the family and beg Father's forgiveness. After you hit the local gentry in the face, I mean. We will have to host a celebration to commemorate such a joyous occasion." His voice was flat, not matching his happy words.
"I wasn't planning to return home."
Trevor glanced from Ethan to Cladhart and back again. "Father will discover you're back in the area and learn of your ... hobbies." The glimmer in his brother's dark brown eyes made it clear that a lecture on Ethan's behavior loomed in the future. It would always be the same between them, no matter their age or how long they'd been apart.
"Is that why you came here? To warn me about Father? He made his thoughts regarding me known long ago, Trevor."
"I'm seeing to a business matter this afternoon. I was simply curious ..."
"And here I thought you'd stumbled through the door mistaking this establishment for your tailor's. You can never have too many waistcoats the color of a peacock, I always say." Ethan delivered the barb knowing it would hit its mark.
His brother's eyes narrowed on Ethan's black attire before he tugged on the lapels of his grass-green coat. "Cladhart, I wasn't aware you would be spending the day in the pursuit of entertainment with my long-lost younger brother."
"And yet I am."
"I can see that." Trevor's lips pursed.
An oddly tense moment ticked past before Cladhart asked after some business with the jet mine, which was the exact moment Ethan ceased listening. The resemblance between his brother and his father was remarkable, especially when they talked about the account books. He shook his head to clear it of the thought.
Just then they were joined by the referee. "Mr. Moore, what a victory, eh?" He gave Ethan a toothy grin, then turned to Trevor. "Lord Ayton, jolly good show of strength, am I right? You must be quite proud of your brother here."
"Indeed," Trevor replied. However, his attention was held somewhere across the room. "Will you excuse me? I see someone I must speak with."
"Very well." The referee turned to Ethan, dropping a pile of coins into his hand with a smile. "Your winnings, Mr. Moore."
He'd won. He may be weary of boxing, but it was the one thing he was skilled at, his one claim to success. And he wasn't about to relinquish that small thrill of achievement, no matter what had happened in Spain. Not yet, and perhaps not ever. "Thank you. Money always eases the pain of the bruises," Ethan said, accepting his prize.
"That it does."
Ethan turned back to Cladhart as the referee moved away from them. His father's business partner was watching Trevor across the room again, a frown etching his face before he shot a sidelong glance at Ethan. "How much did we win?" Cladhart asked, his gaze drawn back to Ethan's brother like a magnet to the north.
Ethan followed Cladhart's gaze across the room to where Trevor was speaking to a man Ethan didn't recognize. Trevor lacked his usual cool superiority as he listened to the stranger. "Who is that man?" Ethan finally asked after a moment.
Cladhart didn't respond or look away from the exchange. A pack of papers bound in red ribbon was shoved into Trevor's hands with enough force to push him backward a step before the man fled the room without a backward glance.
"Will you excuse me, Ethan? I need to speak with that man as well." He was gone before Ethan could reply.
Trevor turned, watching as Cladhart charged out the door. The papers bound in the red ribbon trembled in Trevor's grasp. Stuffing the packet into the pocket of his coat, he looked back at Ethan. In that short glance, Ethan recognized an all-too-familiar feeling reflected in his brother's gaze. Fear.
Maybe it was time to consider going home after all.
* * *
"Oh, posh. Your curls are lovely, dear." The Dowager Duchess of Thornwood spoke over the squelching plod of the horse's hooves down the muddy road. "This damp North Yorkshire weather may entice them to be a little grander than they would be on a sunny afternoon, but you'll still be the most beautiful lady at the party." Her mother's warm smile almost made Roselyn believe her words. Almost.
"I appreciate the sentiment, Mama. But I can't be seen with hair so large it will scarcely fit within the doorway to Ormesby Place! What will Lord Ayton think? What if my hair is the reason my entire future falls apart?" she asked in wide-eyed horror, gripping the seat of the carriage as they rounded a bend.
"Dear, it's never as terrible as you believe it to be. Lord Ayton will admire your dark tresses as I do. He's already fond of you — enough to be considering marriage if rumors can be counted as fact. Fret not, my beautiful child. Your hair will not be your downfall. You know you have your father's wild curls." The dowager duchess's smile faded into thoughtfulness as her gray eyes traced the strands of Roselyn's hair curling around her face. She pulled her gaze from Roselyn, staring out the carriage window into the misty day. "He always looked so fierce on rainy days such as these." She took a steadying breath. "But that was long ago. Wasn't it, dear?" The dowager duchess donned a brave smile as she pinched color into her cheeks.
"Fierce is not the look I'm trying to achieve today, Mama," Roselyn complained. She didn't wish to have anything in common with the man who'd chosen his own mad dreams over his own family's welfare, least of all his awful hair. Years later and the thought of his betrayal still held a held a sharp sting. Fierce? Was that how she looked? She turned to look at the rain-streaked carriage window, trying to catch a glimpse of her reflection. Her reckless curls remained — as they always did — tightly contained in an elaborate style of twirling braids secured by what felt like thousands of pins atop her head. Her yellow hat covered the mass of it and matched her dress to perfection, yet she brushed her fingers across the brim anyway to ensure its placement.
"What gentleman would want to wed a lady who arrives at parties looking fierce? Must we arrive at Ormesby Place just now, in this downpour? Let's cry off. We could be fashionably late ... by a day. No one will notice with the focus of the festivities centered on the return of Lord Ayton's younger brother."
She found it odd that the younger Moore brother was to be welcomed back to the family at all. Years ago, he'd been tossed from the estate in the midst of scandalous talk about their mother's abandonment. It had seemed the time to stand together to face enemies, but clearly not for the Moores.
Roselyn had spent almost every afternoon in support of her friend Katie Moore. She'd assisted her in any way she could, even if that was simply offering her friend company on overly quiet days at home. However, only so much could be done when one's family was falling to pieces. She'd had to watch as the bright-eyed girl she knew so well pulled away from everyone in her home. Even now, she lived in a cottage on the estate and was more at home in the stables than any parlor. Katie claimed she preferred a life lived on the edge of the woods that separated their estates, but Roselyn could still see the hurt behind her eyes every time she spoke of her family.
Excerpted from The Infamous Heir by Elizabeth Michels. Copyright © 2016 Elizabeth Michels. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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