A classic novel by Barbara Pierce, now writing as Alexandra Hawkins - released as an e-book for the first time!
Sometimes a scandalously bad man can be oh, so good . . .
Meet Wynne Bedegrayne—destined for spinsterhood. Her beauty and charm mean nothing when her intelligence frightens off every suitor, and even her charitable work with the Benevolent Sisterhood leads her into scrapes no sensible man would condone. Then Wynne finds herself the object of Keanan Milroy's dedicated courtship. The celebrated pugilist may be lowborn, but his character is above reproach…and the passion he awakens within her is irresistible. But when Wynne learns that Keanan's seduction may be motivated by something less pure than desire, she resolves to teach him a lesson. If nobility is a matter of behavior rather than blood, then she'll risk everything to teach Keanan that he is a gentleman at heart. And that nothing is more honorable than love…
Look for Twilight with the Infamous Earl—available in December 2013—from St. Martin's Paperbacks.
Alexandra Hawkins's Lords of Vice novels are:
"Sizzling, smart, and sophisticated."—Gaelen Foley, New York Times bestselling author
"Charming, fun, and sexy." —RT Book Reviews
"Wickedly sensual."—Lorraine Heath, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Alexandra Hawkins is an unrepentant Anglophile who discovered romance novels as a teenager and knew that one day she would be writing her own. With her Lords of Vice series, she has combined her love of English history, mythology, and romance to create sensual character-driven stories that, she hopes, will touch readers' hearts. Alexandra lives in Georgia with her husband and three children.
Alexandra Hawkins is the author of the Lords of Vice Novels—All Night with a Rogue, Till Dawn with the Devil, and After Dark with a Scoundrel. An unrepentant Anglophile, she discovered romance novels as a teenager, and knew that one day she would be writing her own stories. She has combined her love of English history, mythology, and romance to create sensual character-driven stories that she hopes will touch readers’ hearts. She lives in Georgia with her husband and three children.
Read an Excerpt
A man who did not pay sharp attention to them was kicking the dust of his own grave. Keanan Milroy lifted his face to the sun. He inhaled deeply, noting the direction of the wind as it teased the left side of his face. His gaze sought out and locked on to the fighting ring in the distance.
Climate and fighting science flashed behind eyes of cool, intelligent indigo, calculating the best position to attack. The crowd of eager spectators parted for him as he confidently strode to the hastily constructed stage. Today he would be fighting on wood. Double ropes. Stakes. No one had taken the time to plane a rounded edge to them. The last tidbit of information shuffled through his mind and slid into place. The sky was clear, so rain would not make the boards slick. He eyed the rough edges of the four stakes. It would not make the fight any less deadly.
Keanan barely felt the hearty slaps on his back. He doubted any of these men who had come to watch him fight truly wished him luck. They were here to cheer two men into pounding each other bloody. No one cared who the victor was, as long as they had wagered on him. Keanan intended to be that man.
Nodding to his second, he ripped off his hat and tossed it high. A cheer went up when it landed in the center of the ring. This action notified his opponent and the spectators that he had arrived. It was also a token of defiance. Keanan preferred the latter, rather than believing he was clinging to years of tradition. After spending most of his eight and twenty years being defiant, he considered himself an expert.
Sam "Dutch" Olsson raised the rope and forced his bulky frame through the opening. He jumped off the four-foot stage and ambled his way toward Keanan. Dutch had been a decent fighter until he had shattered his right wrist in a fight three years earlier.
"You're looking fit," Dutch said, giving him an approving nod, "and mean enough to piss on the king himself."
"Is Weaver here?" Keanan asked, referring to the man he intended to knock out. If half the gate money were not enough of an incentive, then the stake of 300 pounds sterling would go a long way toward easing a bruised face and scraped knuckles.
"Nah, but he'll show. The stake is too comely to resist."
"More appealing than a freshly bathed petticoat," Keanan agreed. He nodded in the direction of the barouche. Once inside, he would strip down to the waist and wait until he was called. "You know where to find me."
"On your knees, with your hands clasped?" Dutch laughed when he heard Keanan swear. "Add me to your prayers," his friend shouted from behind.
"I'll chap my knees when they allow a braying ass like yourself through the holy gates."
Dutch snorted and waved him off.
Keanan glanced back, but his friend had already blended into the crowd. Knowing Dutch, he was probably off to increase his wager now that he had left his fighter restless and irritated.
He shook his head and headed for the barouche. Prayers. It was just like Dutch to say something so asinine to simply rile him. He was well aware that what faith Keanan had, had been snuffed out years ago, and its passing had not been gentle. When the smell of blue ruin and filth had made it falter, fear, beatings, and starvation had withered it into dust. The only thing he believed in was himself. His abilities were limited to his cunning and the power restrained beneath his flesh, muscle, and bone. Everything beyond that was just fanciful twaddle.
Keanan hesitated at the door of the barouche. Turning, he scanned the growing crowd. Since prizefighting was illegal, there was always the risk of an unwelcome magistrate set on ruining their efforts. Keeping his gaze on the crowd, he reached up and tugged at the knotted silk fogle at his neck.
Every fighter wore colors. He slipped the black-and-red fogle from his neck and idly wrapped, then unwrapped it from around his left hand. A few hours from now, his victory would allow him to claim Weaver's colors.
No one had ever claimed Keanan's colors. He fought and kept everything he owned. The reminder of the times when he had been more vulnerable primed his driven nature. It all came down to finely honed instincts, and his instincts were warning him. This afternoon, he was about to face more than a jug-bitten bruiser.
"You Bedegraynes attract misfortune," Amara Claeg muttered, retying the ribbons of her bonnet for the third time. "And I must seriously ponder my own sanity, having agreed to accompany you on this outing."
Wynne Bedegrayne merely smiled. Her acquaintance with Miss Claeg over the past two years had enlightened her to the workings of her companion's mind. Amara viewed herself as a coward. Wynne supposed having a mother like the overprotective, strong-willed Lady Claeg would make anyone fade into the shadows to avoid notice.
Two years ago, Amara had proved she was stronger than she believed when she had assisted Wynne's younger sister, Devona, in a wild scheme to rescue Amara's older brother, Doran, from Newgate. Naturally, the nervous young woman preferred viewing the entire ordeal as another example of a Bedegrayne bullying a helpless Claeg.
Wynne saw it differently. No coward would have paraded herself in front of the ton dressed in a ridiculous costume, pretending to be Devona. Nor would she have stood up to Wynne's older brother, Brock, and Devona's then-betrothed, the menacing Lord Tipton, when they threatened to ruin her unless she revealed Devona's whereabouts.
Wynne gave the parasol resting lightly on her shoulder a twirl. No, Amara was not a coward. Sadly, even her special outings with Wynne over the years had not dissuaded her from the notion. Still, Amara never refused her invitations. Her continued association with what her mother considered those horrid Bedegraynes never faltered, and what had once simply been the act of fulfilling a promise she had made to her older brother, had grown into friendship.
"I vow, I despise your arrogance."
Her companion's waspish tone snapped Wynne back to her present predicament. She took no offense at the comment. In fact, it heartened her. "Why, Miss Claeg, I pride myself on my arrogance," she said cheerfully, causing Amara's jaw audibly to click shut. Unable to conceal her good humor, she leaned closer, bent on further devilment. "It is said, and I am certain your dear mama would agree, that the Bedegraynes must have received an extra dosing when the angels were passing out all our fine qualities, such excellent bloodlines and even teeth." To prove her point, she displayed her fine white smile.
Amara made a helpless noise that sounded suspiciously like suppressed laughter. "Mama would have agreed to no such thing, Miss Bedegrayne." She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. "If unearthly creatures have had a hand in creating a Bedegrayne, it is obviously the devil and his succubus," she quoted in a shrill voice that eerily reminded Wynne of Lady Claeg.
Looking away, Wynne stared beyond the crowd to the canal in the distance. "Small wonder you are so surly. If I had to listen to that woman spew poison every day, I would scarcely find the will to climb down from my bed."
Apologetic, Amara gently touched her on the arm. "That sounded dreadful." A wet sheen darkened the blue depths of her eyes. "You were correct; I am sulky, and too callous for not recognizing the cruelty of her words. I do not deserve your friendship."
Wynne sighed. A fine pair they made. Snipping at each other like pampered lapdogs when they should be thinking of the young girl they had come to protect. "Amara, you can be rude, whiny, and quite more irritating than either of my sisters. However, I keep my promises, and more to the point, I have grown used to your blue sulks."
Amara's tormented expression softened. Her eyes narrowed as she pounced on the one word Wynne regretted having uttered. "Promise? What promise are you keeping?" "The one I made to myself," she effortlessly lied, not certain whose fury she was avoiding — Brock's or Amara's. "The same one drawing us here."
"Oh, Wynne. Tell me we are not here for the sake of the Benevolent Sisterhood."
"Naturally, we are not here for the sisterhood. We are here for the people who need us." She ignored her friend's unladylike groan.
The Benevolent Sisterhood was Wynne's creation. Once it had been a clever, empty ruse to help a childhood friend. Years of hard work had breathed purpose into it. Not only did the small charity provide food and clothing to the unfortunate lost souls of the city, she also tried to save the few she could.
With the exception of her younger sister, Devona, and Amara, none of polite society knew of her work; she preferred the role of an anonymous angel. She was the fourth child of Sir Thomas Bedegrayne, and the last unmarried daughter. She could quite imagine her father's opinion of her mingling with the lower classes and of the minor risks she took.
Amara tried nudging their casual stroll away from the disturbing crowd, which seemed to be made up of mostly men. "Wynne, this has to end." She raised a gloved hand to stave off an argument. "The ton hails you, the handsomest of the Bedegraynes. A most virtuous lady. The rarest jewel in the Bedegrayne crown."
Wynne was also considered heartless, the coveted maiden who offered a man nothing but a beautiful mask disguising her heart of ice. It mattered little that the men who whispered such remarks had been rejected by her father. She feared their assessment was accurate. "I know what they call me."
"Then consider this. What will Sir Thomas do when he learns of how you have been fooling him and the rest of the family for years?" The roar of his outrage would deafen Wynne for a sennight. "Compliment me on my resourcefulness?" she innocently offered.
"Your father will lock you in your room until he can marry you off to the next male who comes up to scratch. As for me, I care not to contemplate my fate when my family learns of my part."
Guilt bubbled, fighting its way to the surface. Amara's parents were miserable, self-absorbed creatures. Punishing Amara would be looked upon as family entertainment. "Perhaps we should enjoy our picnic along the canal another day?" Wynne asked.
Instead of appearing relieved by the suggestion, Amara was furious. Pink blotches bloomed on her cheeks while she struggled to speak. "Do you think I could leave you alone in this place?"
"My dear Amara, my face may give the impression there is little else to address. However, I can assure you, I am not alone. I arrived with two footmen and that young maid who replaced Pearl Brown. How I miss Pearl's competence," she said with a sigh, feeling a twinge of envy, for her sister had snatched her favorite servant off to the Tipton household.
"What use are servants who are not about?"
"What use are servants who do not follow orders?" Wynne flippantly countered, then relented when she saw how upset her friend really was. "Gar and Inch are close by, looking after my interests."
"And what of the fool girl you refuse to discharge. Silly Milly?"
"Hush, the last time she heard you call her that terrible name, she was quite inconsolable for hours."
"Completely worthless, if you want my opinion. Always claiming she has a weak heart. Where is she? Safely tucked away in your carriage, pretending she is a fine lady?"
Whereas Amara, the self-proclaimed coward, was standing beside her, prepared to protect her from the unrefined world. "I managed to coax her from the carriage. She is keeping an eye on our young charge."
Her friend said nothing. Their walk had taken them to the banks of the canal. Facing away from the crowd, the place looked peaceful. They were not the only ones who were enjoying the view. Several couples strolled past them, and a merrymaking group of six was preparing to picnic farther up the bank. The occasional masculine roar in the distance reminded them the tranquil patch of beauty was deceiving.
Amara was the first to break the silence. "Is it a child?"
"A girl. Barely twelve years old." Not bothering to conceal her disgust, her flashing green eyes hinted at the steel hidden within the lady. "Her mother contacted me through Devona's cook. The family is struggling. The husband is useless and a drunkard. Perhaps worse. He plans to auction the girl tonight."
Puzzled, she asked, "For what?" The dawning horror had her reaching for Wynne. "Should we not summon the magistrate? This man could be dangerous."
"What man would stand in the way of a father's rights? For all I know, the magistrate will be participating in the bidding."
Outrage soured her stomach. "She is just a poor, unimportant girl. Do you think anyone will care if there is just one more prostitute peddling herself in the shadows?"
There was a reckless fury glittering in Wynne's gaze, the kind that warned Amara there was nothing she could say to deter her friend from her actions. "Why this place?" she asked, already resigned about her role in this rescue.
"I have need of this canal." Wynne gazed out at the water, her mind playing out the plan.
Another cheer had Amara glancing back at the crowd. Something important — and probably illegal — had drawn this crowd. The imbalance of so many males around them frightened her. "What about them?"
The parasol twirled on Wynne's shoulder while she contemplated the source of Amara's concern. "Have you ever witnessed a prizefight?" She laughed at her friend's gasp. "Do not fret. Their appearance was unexpected, but the confusion can be used to our advantage. Trust me, these men are too concerned about their wagers to bother with the fair sex this afternoon."
Keanan ended round twenty-two by burying his fist in Weaver's soft belly. The man had crumpled and was still dry-heaving over the ropes in his corner.
"I warrant he'll piss blood for days," his second and knee-man, Tom Grandy, observed, but not without some sympathy. Like Dutch, Tom had spent some time in the ring, but had gotten out at the urging of his young bride. Unable to walk away completely, Tom volunteered to second any fighter who asked him. Crouching down, he offered his knee for Keanan to rest. The fighters had a half-minute break before they were to come up to the mark.
Dutch, acting as bottleman, wiped a sponge over Keanan's face and chest. "Are you fighting, lad, or asking Weaver to dance?" He ignored Tom's low chuckle. "Weaver has gotten soft. You could have floored him twenty minutes ago."
Keanan did not bother disagreeing. A round lasted as long as both men kept on their feet. Weaver rarely went beyond two minutes before he was knocked down. "Such a high stake requires more than a few minutes of amusement. Besides, Weaver used to be one of the best. A man's final fight deserves to be a worthy battle." He was speaking for himself as well as his opponent.
"Sentimentality, Milroy?" Dutch sneered, probably recalling his last fight and its lackluster finish.
Keanan matched his second's expression by baring his teeth. "Just earning my keep." No one had ever accused him of possessing feelings, let alone allowing them to rule his life.
"Time!" the referee shouted. "Fighters to the center and set-to."
"Finish him," Dutch ordered.
Keanan's emotionless gaze flickered over his opponent. Weaver was in poor shape. The former champion of Paddington was winded and listing to his left as he came up on the mark. Blood sprayed from his nose with each exhale, making the wooden ring a hazard.
The two took up their positions, setting-to like half-starved dogs prepared to tear each other apart for the amusement of the spectators. The umpire declared the round open. The blood was rushing too loudly in his ears for Keanan to hear him. He saw the man's lips move, and moved in to attack.
There was no fancy science to his actions, no dancing around his intentions. He stepped forward, prepared to accept what punishment the weakened Weaver could issue. His opponent swung wildly, the tired muscles in his arm causing him to lose control of the sweeping arc. Keanan dodged a cannonball-sized fist and purposely stepped on Weaver's foot. The man tripped, landing in an ignoble sprawl.
"Foul!" Weaver's seconds screamed over the roaring crowd.
Excerpted from "The Scandalously Bad Mr. Milroy"
Copyright © 2002 Alexandra Hawkins.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.75 stars Thoroughly enjoyed this unique tale.