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This dazzling new historical collection delivers a trio of heroes who are bold, dashing, and unforgettable in every way…
“Beauty and the Brute” by Virginia Henley
It’s been three years since Lady Sarah Caversham set eyes on arrogant Charles Lennox—the husband her father chose for her to settle a gambling debt. Now Charles has returned, unaware that the innocent ingénue he wed is determined to turn their marriage of convenience into a blissfully passionate affair…
“How to Seduce a Wife” by Kate Pearce
Louisa March’s new husband, Nicholas, is a perfect gentleman in bed—much to her disappointment. She longs for the kind of fevered passion found in her beloved romance novels. But when she dares him to seduce her properly, she discovers that Nicholas is more than ready to meet her challenge, over and over again…
“Not Quite a Courtesan” by Maggie Robinson
Sensible bluestocking Prudence Thorn has been too busy keeping her cousin Sophy out of trouble to experience any adventures of her own. But when Sophy begs Prudence’s help in saving her marriage, Pru encounters handsome, worldly Darius Shaw. And under Darius’s skilled tutelage, Pru learns just how delightful a little scandal can be…
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Caversham Park Manor, Reading, England December 1, 1719
My feet are freezing! Lady Sarah stepped down from the carriage and hurried into Caversham Park Manor. A servant helped to remove her cloak and boots and handed her a pair of velvet slippers. “Thank you so much. Is Mother in her sitting room?”
“Yes, dear, she’s waiting for you.”
Sarah walked quickly, hoping the fire was blazing bright in her mother’s parlor. She curtsied as she had been taught to do. “I hope you are well, Mother. I was so surprised when you sent the carriage to school for me. Are my Christmas holidays starting early?”
“They are indeed, Sarah.” Margaret, Countess of Cadogan, held a rustling paper in her hand. She gave her slim, pale daughter a critical glance. “I’ve had a letter from your father in The Hague. Don’t stand so close to the fire,” she said impatiently. “Do sit down; I have something important to tell you.”
Sarah curled her toes inside her slippers.
“Your father wants us to join him in The Hague.”
“When?” asked thirteen-year-old Sarah, her eyes as big as saucers. She had never been farther than her school in Reading.
“We are to take ship immediately. It is wonderful news. I will be able to spend Christmas with my family in the Netherlands.”
“So it is Father’s Christmas present to us,” Sarah said in wonder.
Her mother did not tell Sarah about the other Christmas present he had in store for her. It would be far better for her daughter to learn of it when she arrived at the Court of Holland. That way, Sarah would have no option but to accept it gracefully.
Thirty miles away in Oxford, eighteen-year-old Charles Lennox, Earl of March, slapped his female companion on her bare buttocks. “Wake up, Fanny. It’s time you got the hell out of here. I’m due to attend class in less than an hour. It’ll take me that long to wash the stink of strumpet off my nether regions.”
The buxom lass sat up in bed and swung her legs to the floor. “There’s no need to hit me, m’lord. Is it a class that teaches manners?”
“Cheeky wench! Watch your mouth if you want to enjoy my favors again. I know a dozen females eager to share my bed.”
Fanny picked up her petticoat from the rug and quickly moved out of his arm’s reach.
“That’s because you have royal blood in your veins. They want to see if you’re as good in bed as your ancestor, King Charles Stuart,” she taunted.
“I’m longer, both in size and endurance,” Charles drawled.
“Ha! Nothing like blowing your own horn.”
“I’m not likely to do that when I have wenches like you to do it for me.”
Suddenly the door to his room opened, and his tutor, Henry Grey, hurried inside. He addressed the plump female struggling into her smock without looking at her.
“Better wrap up warmly—it’s freezing out there.”
“Henry, old son, what brings you at such an early hour?”
Grey waited until the girl left before he brandished an envelope. “A letter from your father. It’s marked urgent.”
“Then open the damn thing and read it to me.”
Grey pulled back the curtains and slit the wax seal with his thumbnail. He scanned the letter quickly and conveyed its message. “His Grace wants to see you in The Hague. He orders you to take ship immediately.” King George had recently appointed the Duke of Richmond ambassador to the Netherlands.
“At last!” Charles whooped. “My college days are over. How bloody fortuitous that my father and I agree that a well-rounded education should be based on the Grand Tour. I couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present!” He climbed out of bed. “Pack our bags, Henry. I shall go and bid a fond farewell to that insufferable swine, the dean. Then I shall demand a refund of next term’s tuition from the skinflint treasurer.”
The Hague, Holland
November 28, 1719, three days earlier
“Damnation, Cadogan, you’ve the devil’s own luck. You’ve won every hand we’ve played for the last sennight.” Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond, pushed his chair back from the games table and wiped his brow. “Stap me! I’m wiped out—you’ve had the lot!”
General William Cadogan glanced at his darkly handsome opponent. He was the illegitimate son of the late King Charles, who in his old age had impregnated his mistress, Louise de Kerouaille. “Would you like me to tally up, your grace?”
Richmond waved a negligent hand. “By all means, let me know the damage.”
The dashing Irish general didn’t take long. He had a damn good idea of what the duke had wagered and lost in their endless games of écarté. The duke was a heavy drinker, which was the main reason for his losses. The general set the seven score cards down on the table, one for each night they had played. “I tot it up to a little over ten thousand guineas.”
“What?” Richmond howled. “Are you jesting?” By the benign look on Cadogan’s face, Charles Lennox knew he was serious. He downed the glass of gin sitting before him. “I don’t have it. You’ll have to accept my marker.”
The men sitting at the table, who had been observing their deep play, began to murmur. Richmond flushed darkly. A gentleman always paid his gambling debts. His shrewd mind quickly inventoried his assets. Land was out of the question—the aristocracy accumulated property; it never relinquished it. Besides, the Earl of Cadogan already owned the hundred-acre Caversham estate on the outskirts of Reading.
Horses were the next things Richmond thought of. His family seat, Goodwood, at the foot of the South Downs, had a racing stable of Thoroughbreds. The thought of parting with his horses made him feel physically ill.
He looked across at General Cadogan. “You have a daughter, I believe.”
“I do, your grace. Her name is Sarah.”
“How would you like to make Sarah a countess? My son, the Earl of March, is without a wife.” Lennox believed no man could resist such a magnanimous offer.
But the Earl of Cadogan, who was Marlborough’s top general, and largely responsible for Britain’s victories in the Wars of Spanish Succession, was a shrewd negotiator. That was the reason he had been given the diplomatic du ties concerned with resettlements among Great Britain, France, Holland, and Spain.
“My daughter, Lady Sarah, has a dowry of ten thousand pounds. If I gave you my daughter and her marriage settlement, I would have to pay you ten thousand instead of you paying me ten thousand.” He raised his hands in appeal. “It doesn’t fly, your grace.”
“Charles is heir to my Dukedom of Richmond and all the estates that encompasses,” Lennox pointed out. “Lady Sarah could become a duchess.” Surely it’s not necessary to remind you that we have royal blood?
“A marriage between my daughter and your son, and heir, could be the solution.”
Cadogan paused for emphasis. “Without the marriage settlement, of course.”
“Curse you, general. You’re not negotiating with the enemy here!”
“Since we are civilized gentlemen, I propose a compromise, your grace.”
“Let’s split the difference,” Richmond suggested. “Your daughter’s hand in marriage along with a dowry of five thousand.”
The other men at the table leaned forward in anticipation of Cadogan’s answer.
“Done!” The general’s reply was heartfelt. He raised his hand to a servant. “Drinks all around. We must toast this historic union.”
The Duke of Richmond raised his glass. “Here’s to you and here’s to me, and if someday we disagree, fuck you, here’s to me!”
All the gentlemen roared with laughter and drained their glasses.
“I shall send for my daughter immediately.”
“And I shall summon my heir,” the duke declared.