To Challenge the Earl of Cravenswood (Wicked Wagers 3)

 

 

 

Published By:

Bronwen Evans

 

Copyright © 2012 Bronwen Evans

 

Discover other works by Bronwen Evans

At

http://www.bronwenevans.com

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

 

To Challenge the Earl of Cravenswood is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 
ISBN ePub: 978-0-473-22777-7

ISBN Mobi/Kindle: 978-0-473-22776-0

 

To Challenge the Earl of Cravenswood

 (Book 3 in the Wicked Wagers trilogy)

 

To live happily ever after...

 

Henry St. Giles, the Earl of Cravenswood, longs to find his soul mate. Now that his two best friends, both reformed rakes, are happily married, the need becomes an obsession. When they challenge him to find a wife by the end of the season or marry his neighbor, the innocently alluring Lady Amy Shipton, he can’t believe his luck. He wins, either way.  But a darkened garden, a case of mistaken identity, a drunken kiss, and a dropped emerald earring, leads Henry on a Cinderella hunt. He knows the woman he held in his arms could be the one he's searched for all his life. He just has to find her.

 

Lady Amy Shipton is determined to marry for love instead of sharing her husband like her mother did. So why did she let her handsome neighbor and romantic fantasy, the Sinful Saint as he's called for his bedroom prowess, seduce her in his garden? And what can she do when in the middle of their passionate encounter; he whispers another woman's name. Now Henry is hunting the owner of the earring Amy left behind, and she's determined to retrieve it before her identity is revealed. She's not about to give her father the ammunition he desperately wants to force her down the aisle.

 

I hope you enjoy reading the Wicked Wagers trilogy as much as I loved writing them. Watch out for my third book in the Invitation to Romance series, INVITATION TO PASSION, coming spring 2013...

 

For more of my stories try the Invitation to Romance series,
INVITATION TO RUIN
, book one, WON the 2012 RomCon Readers Crown, Best Historical.

 

To Dare the Duke of Dangerfield
, book one in the Wicked Wagers trilogy, was a FINALIST in the Kindle Book Review 2012 Indie Romance Book of the Year. 

 

Night Owl Book Reviews Top Pick 5 Stars
– To Dare the Duke of Dangerfield. What a fun and enjoyable read! Caitlin and Harlow are fantastic. They play off each other and provide not only humor but sensuality to an intriguing plot. Harlan's friends also add to the story. Although it does take a bit more serious turn in the last part of the book, this was an entertaining read throughout. Great dialogue and sizzling chemistry round out this delightful story.

 

Happy Reading

Bronwen Evans 

http://www.bronwenevans.com

https://www.facebook.com/bronwenevansauthor

https://twitter.com/bronwenevans_NZ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

London, May 1822

Henry sucked on his cheroot and blew a perfect smoke ring. About the only thing that
was
perfect this night.

“I no longer have to hide while at these events, and that’s fine with me. One of the many advantages to married life.” Marcus Danvers, the Marquis of Wolverstone, sipped his French brandy, snuck a look at his cards, and chuckled before turning to Henry. “Had enough of hiding yet?”

“I’m not hiding.” 

Henry
was
hiding, but not for the reason Marcus suspected.

He’d come to Lady Skye’s ball praying no young buck, who had no intention of marrying, would be seen dead at the most sought-after marriage hunt held this season. 

He was hiding from his twenty-year-old cousin Charles. 

He refuted Marcus. “There is no need for me to hide. The young ladies who are determinedly husband hunting, their evil consorts, and their mamas leave me alone.” 

“Not true. You’re an eligible bachelor...” Marcus turned to look directly at him, shaking his head while anger scored his mouth. “Christ, you’re not going to fall on your sword, are you? I thought Harlow talked you out of that ridiculous and unnecessary sacrifice. Richard’s dead and won’t care one way or the other.” 

Harlow, the Duke of Dangerfield, was their good friend who was currently at home enjoying his new family. Caitlin, his beautiful wife, had gifted him with a son, Cameron, six months ago.

Henry felt his face heat at Marcus’s disdain, laden with scorn in the way he spoke Henry’s brother’s name. “Some of us understand about honor and family commitments.”

“There is little honor in marrying a woman you do not love. Believe me. I almost made that mistake last year.”

Henry wisely kept his mouth shut. Marcus almost became engaged to Lady Amy, the Duke of Shipton’s daughter, when he thought his true love Sabine had betrayed him. The topic still turned Marcus into a scowling ball of fury. Marcus couldn’t seem to forgive himself for the way he’d previously treated Sabine, who was now his beautiful wife, and the woman he loved to distraction.

Marcus threw his cards on the table, motioning that he was out, and added, “What would marrying Hilda Lulworth accomplish, other than making the rest of your life miserable?”

When his elder brother Richard died, most believed that the new Earl of Cravenswood would honor his dead brother’s choice of wife and marry her instead, because it had been an arrangement that suited both families.

It didn’t seem to matter that the poor girl was not at all enamoured of Henry. Nor that he would gladly choose to sail to the other side of the world and fall off of it, rather than marry Hilda Lulworth. 

Hilda. The name said it all. 

The lady had no personality. Staid as dish water, and her face closely resembled that of her dog: a tired and wrinkly basset hound. That was not her fault, of course, but considering she was only five and twenty, that did not bode well for what she’d look like in the years to come. Nor about how they would spend the long, dreary days of married life together.

“Who in your family is putting pressure on you to marry the woman? You have no immediate family, your parents are dead, and your two sisters are already safely married. Who benefits from this arrangement?”

“Hilda.” He said the words with gusto. He had to keep thinking of the girl. Richard, had never thought of anyone but himself, hence why he was dead. Why a wealthy first son would try swimming the Thames for a drunken dare was beyond him. Richard had responsibilities. One of those was Hilda. Now they were his. It was the only decent thing to do.

Richard and Hilda had been betrothed in their teens. Hilda’s father was a baron who had saved Richard’s life as a youngster. Their father had pledged Richard’s hand in order to return the favor. Richard did not seem to mind the match. Like most first born son’s he realized he had to marry and produce an heir. Love didn’t come into the arrangement. That was what mistresses were for.

Now that Richard was dead, Hilda’s family would suffer financially without a good match. Considering her personality and looks, she’d be left on the shelf without him and that was hardly fair. If Richard weren’t already dead, Henry would throttle him.

“Indeed.” Marcus smiled wryly before taking a large gulp of brandy. “Saint Henry rides to the rescue again.”

“Don’t call me that.”

Marcus ignored him. “Well, Henry St. Giles, when is the announcement to be made?”

Henry swallowed the fiery liquid in his glass, warding off the chill of Marcus’s challenge. “When I’m bloody ready.”

“If I had to marry Hilda Lulworth, I wouldn’t be ready until I was in my grave,” Marcus muttered. “I’d let your horrid cousin inherit. Or better yet, pay him to marry her.”

“That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said all night.”

“Glad I could be of service. Now play your hand and let’s rejoin the ladies in the ballroom. I’ve learned it does not pay to leave a beautiful woman alone for too long.”

 Henry tried to concentrate on the cards, but Marcus’s comment about his cousin Charles stuck in his head. He’d been looking for a way to avoid marrying Hilda, an honorable way, and although Hilda would no longer be a countess, she would be married and her family saved from poverty. Was it honorable to foist Hilda onto another?

No formal engagement had yet been announced, although most believed he offer for her. He always did the right thing. He decided to concentrate on the cards for now. He was winning which was the only success of the night.

However, it wasn’t long before Henry’s night turned to bloody disaster. His cousin, Charles
St. Giles, the man who'd doggedly shadowed his every step for the past week, the man Henry was avoiding, found him.

Henry tried to ignore the young man but when he bent and whispered in his ear, the news propelled the words from his mouth before he could stop them.

"How much?" Henry bit the inside of his cheek to stop from letting a series of ungentlemanly curses from issuing forth.

"Two thousand pounds, cousin."

Henry rose from the card table. He couldn't concentrate on cards with his whinny second cousin badgering him for money. "This is the second time in three months, Charles. You gave me your word never again. I'm disinclined to acquiesce to your request."

However, Charles was not alone. He’d brought support in the form of his father, Henry’s uncle. He stepped forward to beg his son's cause.

"Think of the family”-

-“I am thinking of the family. Money cannot be conjured from thin air. It would seem Charles needs to learn that lesson, and quickly."

"You can't mean to deny him, Cravenswood."

Now he was Cravenswood, not plain Henry. Thomas had never given him the time of day until Richard died. The use of his title was supposed to make him understand his duty to the family. 

Henry wanted to rant at the world. He shouldn’t have been in this position. Richard should have been there to deal with Hilda and Charles. 

"If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I’ve promised a lady a dance. This can wait until tomorrow. The ball is not the time or the place to discuss such matters.”

“When is the right time? You don’t appear to be at home of late,” his uncle snapped.

Henry pondered Marcus’s earlier words regarding Hilda and his cousin. Perhaps there was a way out of both of these messes. But it would cost him a lot of money. Thank goodness Marcus’s latest investment had made him an extremely rich man.

He stood and signalled Marcus, who had moved to the entrance of the ballroom. He tipped the dealer and began to follow his friend. “Call on me at ten in the morning”-

-“Ten!”

“Yes, ten,” Henry stated firmly. “The earliness of the hour might stop you losing any more money this night.”

Before he lost his temper completely, he stalked off. As he reached Marcus’s side Marcus nodded his head in Charles direct. “He deserves Hilda for what he’s putting you through.”

“Quite. But does Hilda deserve Charles?” That’s what he had to decide, and soon. Was he simply forgoing her welfare for his own happiness?

“I’m going to dance with Sabine. Join me and rescue Amy. Chesterton looks as if he’s being a nuisance. Sabine’s just given me the signal.”

At the mention of Chesterton, Henry’s mouth firmed and anger filled his soul. Millicent. Millie, his ex-mistress, now belonged to Chesterton. If he could ruin Chesterton’s night, then the evening would not be a total disaster.

 

“I wish that horrid man would go away,” Countess Wolverstone whispered in Amy’s ear. 

“You wish! It’s not you he keeps fawning over.” 

Amy Shipton blamed her father. The duke was encouraging Lord Chesterton’s suit, yet she’d already informed her father that she’d rather become a bride of Christ than marry Chesterton.

“Well, he’s like an elephant bull staking his territory. Trumpeting and stamping when others get close. No eligible bachelor will approach you. I will not have my plans ruined. We have to get rid of him.”

“Just tell me how, besides shooting him, which I’m sorely tempted to do.”

Sabine chuckled and kept inching them further along the wall, away from the overbearing Viscount Chesterton. The music hid their footsteps. Luckily, Chesterton was deep in conversation with a man Amy didn’t recognize.

“Where is Marcus?” Sabine wondered, looking annoyed that her dashing husband had deserted her for so long.

Sabine didn’t realize how lucky she was. At least she
had
a husband to rescue her. Amy had an elder brother who couldn’t care less what happened to her, and her father . . . Amy shuddered. Her father would love to see her compromised, for then he could force her to marry. She wondered if Lord Chesterton, or as she secretly referred to him, Lord Creeperton, understood her father’s wishes. He’d been trying to lure her into the garden all evening. Where was
her
hero?

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