Bestselling author Valerie Bowman sets the stage in Regency England for her Playful Brides series, where couples' misadventures on the way to the altar are witty, romantic romps based on some of the world's most beloved plays. The eighth installment, The Right Kind of Rogue, is inspired by William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Can two star-crossed lovers come togetheruntil death do they part?
Viscount Hart Highgate has decided to put his rakish ways behind him and finally get married. He may adore a good brandy or a high-speed carriage race, but he takes his duties as heir to the earldom seriously. Now all he has to do is find the right kind of woman to be his brideideally, one who’s also well-connected and well-funded. . .
Meg Timmons has loved Hart, the brother of her best friend, ever since she was an awkward, blushing schoolgirl. If only she had a large dowryor anything to her name at all. Instead, she’s from a family that’s been locked in a bitter feud with Hart’s for years. And now she’s approaching her third London season, Meg’s chances with him are slim to none. Unless a surprise encounter on a deep, dark night could be enough to spark a rebellious romance. . .for all time?
Valerie Bowman’s Playful Brides novels are:
“Wholly satisfying.”USA Today
“Smart and sensual…readers will be captivated.”RT Book Reviews “Smoldering.” Booklist
About the Author
Valerie Bowman grew up in Illinois with six sisters (she’s number seven) and a huge supply of historical romance novels. After a cold and snowy stint earning a degree in English with a minor in history at Smith College, she moved to Florida the first chance she got. Valerie now lives in Jacksonville with her family including her mini-schnauzer, Huckleberry. When she’s not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV and PBS. She is the author of the Secret Brides series, starting with Secrets of a Wedding Night, Secrets of a Runaway Bride, and Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage.
Read an Excerpt
London, May 1818
"I'm afraid I have some unhappy news for you, Meg."
Meg Timmons's head snapped up to face her friend Sarah, Lady Berkeley. "Unhappy? How unhappy?" Meg's hand stilled on the swath of embroidered yellow taffeta she'd been inspecting. They were strolling through a shop on Bond Street. Unlike Sarah, Meg couldn't afford any of the lovely trappings. Sarah's husband was a wealthy viscount. Meg's father was a destitute baron. The two ladies had come from vastly different monetary, if not social, situations, but they never allowed that to hinder their friendship. No. The only thing that served to make their friendship difficult to maintain was the fact that Sarah's father, the Earl of Highfield, and Meg's father, Baron Tifton, were sworn enemies. The two men had detested each other for years, which was why their daughters were forced to meet at shops and other public locales. Upon occasion, Meg was allowed to come to Sarah's father's town house, but rarely and always with the censure of Sarah's highly disapproving parents.
Sarah winced and bit her lip, never a good sign.
"What?" Meg asked, her hand trembling against the fabric. "You're not permanently moving to Northumbria, are you?" Her closest friend, her only friend, had married last year. Viscount Berkeley's estate was far to the north. To date the couple had spent equal time in London and Northumbria, but Meg had worried all winter that Sarah wouldn't return to help her navigate the dreadfully dull waters of her third London Season. If Sarah left town, Meg would have no one.
Sarah left off examining some luxurious green silk. She turned to her friend, her face solemn. "It's Hart."
Meg's stomach dropped. Her fingers dug into the taffeta.
Sarah's older brother, Hart, the heir to the earldom, a viscount in his own right, was clever, handsome, witty, and extremely eligible. He was also entirely off limits to Meg but she had loved him for years.
Her heart in her throat, Meg scanned Sarah's face, her fingers digging deeper into the innocent taffeta. "What's the matter with Hart? He hasn't been injured in another racing accident, has he?"
Hart was always drinking and carousing and doing things like challenging his friends to races on the moors outside London. Last autumn, during a particularly dangerous chase when he was particularly foxed, he'd flipped his phaeton and broken his leg.
"No." Sarah shook her head. "It's worse than that. Much worse."
Meg's stomach dropped straight into her slippers. She forced herself to release her death grip on the taffeta. She took a deep breath. "He's getting married, isn't he?" She swallowed hard and braced a gloved hand on the wall next to her.
Sarah leaned over and wrapped her arm around Meg's shoulders. "There, there, dear. We both knew this day would come. I'm sorry, Meggie."
Meg swallowed again. Her hand remained planted on the wall for support. The room spun around her, colors blurring. Nausea gripped her. It was true. She'd known this day would come. Hart obviously needed to take a wife and sire an heir to secure the earldom. Meg was penniless. Her father had gambled her dowry away. She owned two outdated ball gowns, one set of ever more shabby-looking slippers, a satin reticule that sported an unfortunate tea stain, and a pair of graying kid gloves that were near to disintegrating. She was only allowed in Society events due to her father's dulled title and her friendship with the popular Lady Sarah. Every year at ton events, Meg sat on the sidelines, a perpetual wallflower, withering by the moment. At nearly one and twenty, she was a veritable spinster. But that didn't matter. Even if she weren't a wallflower, even if she owned gorgeous gowns and possessed a hefty dowry, Hart's father and her own would never allow a match between them. And even if that weren't a problem, there was the tiniest issue that Hart had never once indicated in any way that he might be interested in her. In fact, if anything, aside from one notable exception, he'd steadfastly ignored her over the years.
Yes. Meg had always known the day would come when Hart would have to take a wife. She simply hadn't expected it to be so ... soon.
"Who is she?" Meg closed her eyes to stiffen herself against the pain that hearing the name of Hart's future countess would inevitably cause. She pulled her hand from the wall and pretended to calmly fold her gloved fingers together in front of her. "It's Imogen Hamilton, isn't it? No! It's Lady Mary Asterton." Both ladies were considered diamonds of the first water this Season.
"No." Sarah shook her head again, still squeezing Meg's shoulders. "It's no one ... yet. He's merely declared his intent to choose a wife this Season."
Meg exhaled. She could breathe a bit easier. She and Sarah both knew this was still a large step for Hart. After what he'd been through with one Lady Annabelle Cardiff, Hart had been steadfastly against so much as considering a wife in the past, despite his father's constant nagging. This year, apparently, at the ripe old age of nine and twenty, Hart had changed his mind.
"He told Father he agrees. It's time," Sarah finished.
Meg nodded solemnly. "I see," she murmured.
"Oh, Meg, don't be sad," Sarah said. "Allow me to purchase some of this silk for you and have it made into a beautiful new ball gown." She pulled her arm away from Meg and held up a swath of the rich, soft material. "This green would be perfect with your golden hair. It will match your eyes. You'll look wonderful at the first ball of the Season. It's time you searched for a husband in earnest, too, you know."
Meg pressed a knuckle against the center of her forehead, where an awful headache was beginning to form. "No thank you, Sarah." Meg tucked a wayward curl beneath the brim of her bonnet. "We both know it'll take more than one beautiful ball gown for me to find a husband."
Sarah's eyes filled with tears, and she blinked solemnly at Meg. Indeed, they both knew all the reasons why Meg and Hart could not be together. It wasn't just because of their families and Meg's lack of a dowry. Sarah had told Meg often enough that Hart was not the sort for Meg. "He's a rogue, an unrepentant charmer," Sarah liked to say. "I've never known him to pay more than a passing interest in any woman. He'd break your heart for certain, Meggie, and I couldn't live with it if that happened. You're such a dear, so sweet and kind and unassuming. You'd give your last shilling and the gown off your back to someone in need. Hart is devil-may-care, only looking for a good time from moment to moment. He'd hurt you. I know it. I love you both dearly, of course, but my brother simply isn't the right man for you."
Meg reached out to pat her friend's hand where it still rested on the swath of emerald silk. "You're kind to worry about me, Sarah, and I quite agree, it's time I tried to find a husband of my own." She did her best to muster a smile.
Sarah's pretty face momentarily brightened. "Oh, Meg, I'm so happy to hear it." Sarah had been exhorting her for years to give up her hopeless infatuation with Hart and look for a man with less at stake, perhaps a wealthy mister with no interest in a dowry, someone who would love her and treat her like a princess. "What's made you change your mind?" Sarah continued.
Meg merely smiled a half smile. She wasn't about to tell Sarah. It would only worry her friend. But she hadn't changed her mind at all. In fact, in the few minutes they'd been speaking, Meg had firmly determined. Yes. It was time to try. Time to try to make Hart fall in love with her. She had a chance. A small one, to be certain, but a valid one all the same, for Meg knew something that Sarah did not. Meg knew what had happened between herself and Hart on the night before Sarah's wedding.
"How in Hades's name can you drink at this hour of the morning, Highgate?"
Hart tossed back his brandy, swallowed, and laughed at his brother- in-law's words. The two sat across from each other at Brooks's gentlemen's club. It was decidedly before noon. The only reason Hart was up at this hour was because he'd promised to meet Lord Christian Berkeley. His brother-in-law rarely asked for favors and Hart suspected this meeting was his sister Sarah's doing, but he would humor the viscount just the same.
"Berkeley, old chap, you don't know the half of it." Hart clapped the viscount on the back. "Helps with the devil of a head left over from last night, don't ya know?" Berkeley lifted his teacup to his lips. "No. I don't. But I'll take your word for it."
That reply only made Hart laugh harder, which made his head hurt more. Hart liked his brother-in-law a great deal, but the man was decidedly humdrum when it came to amusements. Berkeley rarely drank, rarely smoked, and preferred to spend his time at his estate in the north of England or his hunting lodge in Scotland. Berkeley enjoyed quiet pursuits like reading or carving things out of wood much more than the amusements London had to offer. But Viscount Berkeley was a good man and one who clearly adored Hart's sister, and that was what mattered.
The viscount had gone so far as to dramatically interrupt Sarah's wedding to a pompous marquess and claim her for himself, thereby not only proving his commitment to Sarah but also saving Hart from having the self-involved Marquess of Branford as a brother-in-law. Overall it had been quite a fortunate turn of events for everyone. Everyone except Hart and Sarah's enraged, thwarted parents, that is.
Berkeley tugged at his cravat. "How are your — ahem — parents getting on?"
Hart cracked a smile. "Still angry, of course, even after all these months. You and Sarah made a good decision, staying up north for the winter. Gave Father and Mother time to calm down." His father's anger at having a scandal mar his family name and his daughter marry a mere viscount as opposed to a marquess who had the ear of the Prince Regent had barely abated over the winter, but no need to tell Berkeley as much.
Berkeley leaned back in his chair and crossed one silk-stockinged ankle over an immaculately creased knee, his hands lightly clutching the arms of his chair. He shook his head. "They're not calmed down, are they?"
"A bit." Hart stopped a footman and ordered another brandy. "Don't worry. They'll be civil when they see you. For Sarah's sake."
"Well, that's something. Are you seriously ordering another drink?"
"Are you seriously surprised?" Hart scratched his rough cheek. He'd been running late and hadn't bothered to ask his usually drunken valet to shave him this morning. For Christ's sake, that man drank more than he did. Not exactly someone he wanted near his throat with a straight razor. "Besides I have quite a good reason to drink today."
"Really?" Berkeley tugged at his cuff. Ever since Sarah had taught him how to dress properly, the viscount was much more attentive to his clothing. He was downright dapper these days. "Why is that?" "I'm getting married." Hart emitted a groan to accompany those incomprehensible words.
Berkeley's brows shot up. He set down his cup and placed a hand behind his ear. "Pardon? I must have heard you incorrectly. I thought you said married."
The footman returned with the drink and Hart snatched it from the man's gloved hand and downed nearly half of it in a single gulp. "I did," he muttered through clenched teeth, wincing.
"You? Married?" Berkeley's brow remained steadfastly furrowed, and he blinked as if the word were foreign.
"Me. Married." Hart gave a firm nod before taking another fortifying gulp of brandy.
"Ahem, who is the, uh, fortunate lady?" Berkeley lifted his cup back to his lips and took a long gulp, as if needing the hot drink to banish his astonishment.
"I haven't the first idea." Hart shook his head. He was giving serious thought to the notion of ordering a third brandy. Would that be bad form? Probably.
"Now you're simply confusing me," Berkeley said with an unmistakable smile on his face. With his free hand, he pulled the morning's copy of the Times from the tabletop next to him and scanned the headlines.
Hart took another sip of brandy and savored it this time. "I haven't made any decisions as to the chit yet. I've merely announced to Father that this is the year I intend to find a bride. The idea of marriage has always made my stomach turn. After all, if my parents' imperfect union is anything by which to gauge the institution, it's a bloody nightmare."
"Why the change of heart?" Berkeley asked.
Hart scrubbed a hand through his hair. The truth was, he wasn't less sickened by the prospect of marriage these days, but he couldn't avoid the institution forever. At some point he'd have to put the parson's noose firmly around his own throat and pull. Wives were fickle, and marriages meant little other than the exchange of money and property. His own father had announced that fact on more than one occasion. His parents treated each other like unhappy strangers, and his father had made it clear that they were anything but in love. That, Hart supposed, was his fate. To live a life as his parents had in the pursuit of procreating and producing the next future Earl of Highfield. So be it, but was it any wonder he'd been putting it off?
"Seeing Sarah marry had more of an effect on me than I expected," Hart admitted, frowning at his not-quite-empty glass. "And if you ever tell anyone I saidthat, I'll call you out." He looked at Berkeley and grinned again.
"You have my word," Berkeley replied with a nod. "But may I ask how it affected you?"
Hart pushed himself back in the large leather chair and crossed his booted feet at the ankles. "I started thinking about it all, you know? Life, marriage, children, family. I expect you and Sarah will be having a child soon, and by God I'd like my children to grow up knowing their kin. My cousin Nicole was quite close to Sarah and me when we were children. Nicole's marriage isn't one to emulate, either. She hasn't even seen her husband in years. Last I heard, she's living somewhere in France, childless. By God, perhaps I should rethink this." Hart pulled at his cravat. The bloody thing was nearly choking him what with all of this talk of marriage.
Berkeley leaned back in his seat, mirroring Hart. "Perhaps you should focus on the positive aspects of marriage. I assure you, there are many."
"Believe me, I'm trying," Hart continued, reminding himself for the hundredth time of the reasons why he'd finally come to this decision. God knew it hadn't been an easy one. "Whether I like it or not, it's time for me to choose a bride. Sarah is my younger sister. While she wasn't married, it all seemed like fun and games, but now, well, seems everyone is tying the proverbial knot these days what with Owen Monroe and Rafe Cavendish marrying. Even Rafe's twin, Cade, has fallen to the parson's noose."
Just this morning when Hart had woken with a splitting head for the dozenth time in as many days, he'd thought yet again how he needed to stop being so reckless. He wasn't able to bounce back from a night of debauchery nearly as quickly as he used to when he was at university. Seeing Sarah marry had made him consider his duties, his responsibilities, and his ... age. For the love of God, he was nearly thirty. That thought alone was enough to make him want another brandy. It was his duty to sire the next Earl of Highfield, and duty meant something to him. What else mattered if he didn't respect his duty? Hadn't that been hammered into his head since birth by his father, along with all the dire warnings not to choose the wrong wife?
"It's true that several marriages have taken place lately in our set of friends," Berkeley replied, still leisurely perusing the paper while sipping tea. "But I thought you were immune to all of that, Highgate."
"I have been." Hart sighed again. "But I've finally decided it's time to get to it."
Berkeley raised his teacup in salute. "Here's to the future Lady Highfield. May she be healthy, beautiful, and wise."
"Thank you," Hart replied. He tugged at his python-like cravat again.
Berkeley regarded Hart down the length of his nose. "Any ladies catch your fancy?"
Hart shook his head. He braced an elbow on the table beside them and set his chin on his fist. "No. That's the problem. I'm uncertain where to begin."
Berkeley let the paper drop to his lap. "What sort of lady are you looking for?"
Excerpted from "The Right Kind of Roque"
Copyright © 2017 June Third Enterprises, LLC..
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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