The Wager

The Wager

by Lily Maxton

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Overview

London, 1818. Anne Middleton never plays by the rules. She is willful when she should be obedient and unabashed when she should be decorous. Worse still, she can never resist a good wager... or a naughty book. And Confessions of a Courtesan is about as sensational and risque as a book can be.

Michael Grey - Earl of Thornhill - had once courted Anne's sweet sister. But while Anne is certainly no lady of decorum, her bold impulsiveness slips through his armor, and propriety is forgotten. Now he too is immersed in the book of forbidden delights, where each page is an invitation to sin and a guide to pleasures unknown...

Roused by heady desire, Michael tempts Anne in a way she cannot resist: a wager. Thus begins a game of chance, where coins have been replaced by a currency that is far more illicit. And the stakes of seduction are dangerous indeed...

The Sisters of Scandal series is best enjoyed in order.
Reading Order:
Book #1 The Affair
Book #2 The Wager
Book #3 The Love Match
Book #4 The Mistake
Book #5 The Improper Bride

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633750517
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 08/11/2014
Series: Sisters of Scandal
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 80
Sales rank: 58,595
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Lily Maxton grew up in the Midwest, reading, writing, and daydreaming amidst cornfields. After graduating with a degree in English, she decided to put her natural inclinations to good use and embark on a career as a writer.

When she's not working on a new story, she likes to tour old houses, add to her tea stash, and think of reasons to avoid housework.

Read an Excerpt

The Wager

A Sisters of Scandal Novella


By Lily Maxton, Nina Bruhns

Entangled Publishing, LLC

Copyright © 2014 Lily Maxton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63375-051-7


CHAPTER 1

London, 1818

Anne Middleton threw herself behind the billiards table just as the door to Lord Fairchild's library opened.

"Damnation!" she cursed under her breath, listening to muffled footsteps cross the red-and-gold Persian rug that rested in the center of the floor. The faint, haunting sounds of a Beethoven piece drifted down from the drawing room.

This was all Olivia's fault. Anne's younger sister had been telling her about a scandalous novel called Confessions of a Courtesan, which was all the talk of the fancy London soiree they were attending. She and her sister had entered a not-entirely-appropriate conversation about whether their portly host, who liked to extol proper, virtuous behavior in ladies, possessed a copy of the book.

Olivia had said he wouldn't. Anne had been adamant he would.

So, of course, they'd made a wager.

Not a large one — just a shilling. To Anne, wagering was far more about the satisfaction of winning than the money itself.

Unfortunately, one of them had to search through the man's study to find the damn thing. Which was why Anne was now crouched behind the billiards table in this masculine space of mahogany furniture and red- painted walls, interrupted from her task of perusing the bookshelves by an unforeseen visitor.

It was probably for naught. If Lord Fairchild was indeed a lecher, she didn't doubt he kept the book tucked under his pillow for nightly readings.

She heard the creak of the door opening again.

"My lord," said a breathy little voice. "I hoped I would find you here."

A hesitation. "Indeed, Miss Richards? And why is that?"

Anne frowned. The voice — she'd heard it before, but it wasn't Lord Fairchild's distinct nasal-tinged tones.

Oh good Lord! Had she been caught in the midst of someone's assignation?

"I ardently admire you," the feminine voice declared. "My feelings will not be repressed!" This was followed by an excited moan and what sounded like a scuffle.

"Miss Richards. I must insist you stop this." The man sounded breathless, but not in a swoony way like his companion — more as if he'd just exerted himself fighting her off and was at the last thread of patience. "If I've misled you, please forgive me."

"But ... b-but ..." she stammered. "You danced with me at last week's ball. Twice!"

"I've danced with more than one lady twice." A pause. "It's best if you go. I should hate for someone to find us here and think I was trying to lure you into a compromising position."

The lady gasped, as though the notion was entirely shocking. Anne thought it rang a bit false. "But, my lord, the feelings between us —"

"I insist," he said, an edge to his voice. "I don't like to be so forceful, but you leave me no choice — the only feelings between us are on your side." It seemed he was done being polite.

It seemed Miss Richards recognized it, too. "Very well," she said in clipped tones. "But mark my words, you'll realize your feelings for me and you will regret this! It's not over."

There was a haughty little sniff, followed by quick footsteps and the thud of the door. A landscape painting above the billiards table trembled.

Anne waited for the man to leave, but a heavy, masculine sigh filled the room. The sound contained a world of annoyance, and she imagined it was how Atlas, with the world balanced on his shoulders, would have sighed.

She tried, and failed, to stifle a laugh. She froze at the sudden silence, the stillness. And then those muffled steps, slow and evenly paced, drew closer and closer. Her heart leaped to her throat.

Gleaming black shoes came into her field of view, long, firm legs covered by well-made trousers, a silk waistcoat, a white cravat. Her upward perusal ended on a striking aristocratic face — high cheekbones, a prominent, aquiline nose, green eyes, and dark hair. At the moment, his firm jaw was clenched.

A jolt of recognition released her from her stupor: Michael Grey, the Earl of Thornhill. "It's you!"

He glared at her. "Very articulate, Miss Middleton. May I ask what you are doing on the floor?"

She jumped to her feet, nearly colliding with him in the process. He stepped back. "I'm not trying to entrap you, that's certain."

"Well, let us be grateful for small favors," he said, his voice tight.

Lord Thornhill had never liked her. She couldn't put her finger on the exact reason. He was her sister Elizabeth's cousin by her first marriage. And he'd been quite smitten with Elizabeth after her husband had died and he'd returned to London to claim the earldom. Everyone had thought they would marry.

But Elizabeth had been in love with someone else, and married the other man instead.

If the animosity had begun after her sister turned down Thornhill's proposal, Anne might have understood it more.

But Anne suspected Thornhill had disliked her even before then. There was something in the way he looked at her — as though he didn't approve of what he saw. Was it because she was the complete opposite of her sister? Passably pretty, while Elizabeth was lovely? An outspoken, opinionated woman who would most likely become a spinster, while Elizabeth had always been elegant and proper and exceedingly popular?

If so, it really wasn't fair to disapprove of someone simply because they didn't live up to the paragon of virtue he imagined in his mind.

She assumed her dislike for him was equal to his dislike for her.

Anne went to the bookshelves and began to search by the muted light of candles that filled gold wall sconces. "Do women always follow you into secluded libraries?" she asked without looking at him.

Odd — she could feel his presence behind her, though he was silent. It was probably the force of his disapproval making itself known.

"Only Miss Richards. She hasn't stopped seeking me out for the past week; I thought to escape her by coming in here, but she followed me."

"I do admire her tenacity."

"Yes, you would." Subtle emphasis on "you." "Is that how you'll find a husband, Miss Middleton? Throw yourself at him during a musical soiree?"

She glanced over her shoulder, lifting her eyebrow and tossing the most disdainful look she could muster at him. "How else, my lord?"

Either he couldn't think of a retort to that, or he'd been silenced by his shame. Good. Let him dwell on his atrocious behavior. Lord Thornhill would never have insulted Elizabeth like that, or, for that matter, any of the ladies present at tonight's gathering. To him, Anne was different because she spoke her mind and didn't waste her life trying to be perfect. To him, she wasn't quite a lady.

A title on the bookshelf suddenly caught her attention. "Fairchild, you are a lecher!" she crowed. She yanked the book from its companions. It was dark-green leather with an embossed title ... and it was heavy.

Lud. How many confessions could a courtesan have?

Curious, she flipped open the book, falling on a random page near the middle:

He curled my hair around his hand, tilting my head back so I was forced to stare up at the ceiling as he rode me. Dukes, I thought, they always need to demonstrate their control.

"Oh my," Anne muttered, a flush starting in her cheeks and sweeping down the rest of her body.

Ride her? Like a horse?

She'd seen stallions with broodmares at her father's stables ... though ladies weren't supposed to be interested in that sort of thing. The couplings had looked wild and angry and painful. She was finding it difficult to believe that humans could mate in the same way horses did. She remembered the male stallion had dug his teeth into the female's neck as he mounted her. Did men do that too?

Her fingers fluttered to the base of her throat and she swallowed.

"Horses?" Thornhill asked sharply.

Good Lord, she'd forgotten about him. And apparently she'd spoken aloud. She flushed warmer as he moved to her side and plucked the book from her hands.

Anne reached for it. "I beg your pardon!"

But he was too tall for her. He easily held the book away, pushing her back with one hand. He touched her shoulder; two of his fingers slid over the bare skin of her collarbone. Goose bumps spread along her arms, and she immediately ceased her movements, fearful of more contact.

He glanced at the page she'd been reading. Then back at her. His eyes traced her face, no doubt taking note of her heightened color.

"Young ladies shouldn't read a book like this." His voice was tight.

"I'm settling a wager. And you sound just as pompous as Lord Fairchild," she pointed out.

"The first time I encountered you, you swore at me. Now this? Is it so difficult for you to behave with decorum?"

She hadn't sworn at him. She'd sworn because she'd just lost a wager with her sisters — he'd simply happened to be standing there. And "encountered" made it sound as though he thought she was some kind of unnatural species — a dog with two heads, or something equally grotesque. He was being unfair again.

"Like Elizabeth?" she challenged.

"Yes, like Elizabeth."

"I would guess she's read this book. Her husband published it."

Something in his face clenched, drew in on itself. "She's married. She has more freedom than you do."

"Still, my lord, I can tell that you wish she hadn't read it." Anne utilized his moment of surprise to lean forward and lift the book from his outstretched hand. She strode to the door, not in a feminine amble, but with the long-gaited purpose that was more standard for a man to display.

"Are you stealing it?" Thornhill exclaimed. She'd never heard someone sound so disgruntled.

"Borrowing," she corrected, turning toward him. "And by the way, Elizabeth is very happy with Mr. Cameron. Happier than I've ever seen her. She made the right decision."

Spiteful satisfaction tightened her chest when she saw a muscle in his jaw leap as his teeth ground together. She slipped quietly from the study.

* * *

The next morning, sprawled in bed between sleep and waking, Anne wasn't feeling so satisfied. She didn't think of herself as a malicious person — impulsive, yes; lacking in whatever device that weighed and judged words before she uttered them, on occasion. But she didn't say things that were deliberately mean-spirited.

And if Thornhill had loved Elizabeth, or if he still loved her, she'd been deliberately cruel.

She stretched out her hand toward the sunlight that slanted through the window, focusing on the patterns the panes cast on her arm instead of her bothersome guilt.

But eventually, the guilt was so loud and persistent it was all she could hear.

She threw off the bedclothes and, with a grumble, stalked to the dainty writing desk on the other side of the room. With angry, stilted motions she drew out parchment and dipped a quill into the inkwell. And then she took a deep, calming breath.

If she was angry, it rather defeated the purpose of the letter.

Lord Thornhill,

I would like to apologize for what I said last night. It wasn't a very kind thing to say to you.

She sighed, wanting to sign her name and have the damn thing sent, but as far as apology letters went, it was rather short.

Had Elizabeth accepted your proposal, I think she would have been happy with you, as well. You are an earl, after all. Mr. Cameron is only a bookseller/publisher.

I sincerely hope Miss Richards didn't corner you again.

Please accept my apology.

Miss Middleton

She read it over and shrugged. It would have to do — she couldn't think of anything else to say to him.

Anne folded the letter and used a stick of wax that smelled like lavender when it was heated to seal it. "Does that please you?" she muttered to her conscience. She pushed the letter to the corner of the desk. She would ask her maid to take it to Lord Thornhill's residence, and this whole unpleasant business would be done with.

CHAPTER 2

Anne was rather bemused when a letter came for her via a footman later that day, and upon retiring to her room to read it, she recognized the Earl of Thornhill's seal. She hadn't expected a response. In fact, she'd hoped he would silently accept her apology and she wouldn't receive a response.

She sat down at her writing desk and opened the letter.

Miss Middleton,

Was that supposed to make me feel better? Your apologies could use a little refinement. I don't believe that Elizabeth would have been happy with me if she had accepted my proposal. Nor do I think you believe it. Content, possibly, but it's not exactly the same.

Nor do I think you would have cared that much if Miss Richards cornered me again. She didn't, if you were wondering so you could have a good laugh over it. I managed to escape the library and Lord Fairchild's town house unmolested.

Curiosity compels me to ask — did you ever return the volume that you "borrowed" from our gracious host?

Lord Thornhill

Anne, gnawing on her lower lip, found herself reaching for another sheet of parchment before she'd even finished reading the letter.

My lord,

I shall remember not to send you any more apology letters in the future. I may be dreadful at writing them, but you're dreadful at receiving them. There is something to be said for the gracious acceptance of an apology.

Miss Richards must have been so disappointed! And she was so tenacious — creeping into the library, throwing herself at you with pent-up passion. It brought much amusement to my evening.

I have not returned the volume yet. I've decided to peruse it before letting it find its way back to our gracious host's library. Perhaps I will learn something that will be useful when I entrap my future husband at a musical soiree.

Yours,

Miss Middleton

This time, when she handed the note over to her maid, a part of her (a very small part!) was curious to see if he would write back to her. That small part of her wasn't disappointed when she received a letter the next day. Nor was it disappointed the day after, or the day after that. To Anne's eternal surprise, their correspondence didn't dwindle off after a few letters, but continued throughout the Middletons' remaining week in London.

Dear Miss Middleton,

Of course I endeavor to amuse you. I shall try to find myself in other ridiculous situations simply to accomplish the feat.

Now it's my turn to apologize. I was overly harsh when I made that comment. I cannot excuse my behavior, but I can endeavor to explain it. Part of my reaction was due to the fact that you came across me at a bad moment, and feeling like one is being laughed at when they're already frustrated does not tend to make them feel charitable.

The other part of my reaction was due to this — you don't act like any other young woman I'm acquainted with. You toe the line of decorum more often than not. You speak more bluntly than a lady should. You say things you shouldn't say. You read things you shouldn't read.

I suppose I don't know what to make of you.

Yours,

Lord Thornhill


* * *

Dear Lord Thornhill,

Ha! I see I'm not the only one who writes dreadful apologies. A little refinement, indeed!

I don't know how to answer your letter. You make me feel like a three-eyed fish or some such mutated creature. I've always been the way I am, as far as I can remember. I'm not attempting to be contrary; I simply don't see why a woman shouldn't speak her mind or have strong opinions or be allowed to do the things a man does.

I sound like a bluestocking ... if only I had a voracious appetite for reading like my sister Olivia, I would truly fit the definition.

I don't think my mother knows what to make of me, either, nor do the men she attempts to pair me off with. But it doesn't matter overmuch. I like the way I am. I don't wish to change myself to fit someone else's expectations.

And really, proper debutantes are boring, aren't they?

To keep in the spirit of impropriety and to satisfy my curiosity — have you read Confessions of a Courtesan?

Yours,

Miss Middleton


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Wager by Lily Maxton, Nina Bruhns. Copyright © 2014 Lily Maxton. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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