Taming a Rake into a Lord: Taming the Heart Series, страница 1
TAMING A RAKE INTO A LORD
TAMING THE HEART SERIES
Taming a Savage Gentleman
About the Author
Also by Tammy Andresen
Christopher Masters sat at the table with his closest friend and former ally, Alexander Cross, His Grace, the sixth Duke of Wellington. They were joined by His Grace’s cousin by marriage, Barrett Maddox, the Duke of Manchester.
Bloody bullocks, a man would think they were giving these titles away. But thanks to his two companions he had gotten into a very elite gentlemen’s club where the scotch was finer than he had ever had and the pockets of his fellow gamblers were deep. He’d won more money today than he had made all of last month as an officer in the fifth regimental army.
He had formally retired, having served ten years in loyal service to the crown. Not a moment too soon. Winter was setting in and nothing could be more dreadful than a winter assignment.
Alex threw a few more coins onto the table. “Have you given your prospects any more thought?” He glanced at Chris, who clenched his teeth in response. Alex had offered him a job, but it seemed to him like charity. He didn’t know a damn thing about farming land, how could he help Alex turn a profit out of his soil.
Besides, after the month he’d had, he just wanted to sit back and relax. Two terribly strange accidents had befallen him that had nearly cost him his life. His training had taught him to move on when danger was near.
“Don’t listen to him,” Barrett growled. “You’re not meant to be a farmer. Military experience like yours belongs with me.”
“With you? I don’t know the first thing about sailing or ships.” Chris looked at the other man, trying to discern his point. Barrett ran one of the largest shipping companies in America and now England.
“I don’t want you to be a bloody sailor. What I need is someone to guard my shipments once they arrive at the docks. More precisely, I need a man who can lead other men to do the job. An officer like yourself would be perfect for the role.” Barrett threw money into the kitty.
Chris assessed him. He had done his fair share of time as a spy. And while Barrett had a face made of stone, one of his eyebrows ticked ever so slightly when he was bluffing, which he was doing now. Either he was lying about his hand or the fact that Chris was a good fit for the job. His instincts told him it was the hand of cards. “I’ll think on the prospect of the job, thank you for offering. Frankly, after being nearly killed on a ship last week…”
“Bloody strange that was,” Alex nodded. “Almost as odd as you being run down by that horse. Did they find the rider?”
“No, unfortunately not.” Chris grimaced, unsure of what it meant. But if he had guessed correctly, he was sure to win this hand. “I call. Cards down, gentlemen.”
As each player laid out his hand, Chris knew he had won. Alex came closest with three tens but aces had him beat. Collecting up his winnings, Chris decided he may just be able to make a living off of poker. While it wasn’t the most admirable job, it had its perks. In any event, his winnings gave him time to make a decision.
He’d give Barrett’s offer serious consideration despite his reservation to commit to anything. It was well suited to his skills, he imagined it paid well. A far cry less interesting than being a soldier but then, risking his life had lost a great deal of its shine.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a gentleman enter the club. He was a portly fellow, though well dressed. Chris smiled to himself, thinking he should be invited to this particular game. He looked like a good mark, well-funded and soft. Two other players, well into their cups, looked as though they would quit soon. Neither Alex nor Barrett ever stayed out very long. They were both sickeningly married to women they adored. Though he couldn’t fault them. Both Piper and Rose were exceptional specimens as far as females were concerned. Beautiful and loyal, they both loved their husbands with utter abandon.
But it made their husbands poor companions at baser activities, neither ever wanted to be away from home for very long. Chris himself could never imagine being so connected to another person. After what he had seen and done, he didn’t know if he would ever connect to anything at all.
The portly man spoke with one of the porters and then made his way over to their table. Chris felt a ripple of satisfaction. It looked as though this game might continue after all. “Mr. Masters?” The fellow’s eyebrows rose as he glanced at Chris.
“Yes?” This was a twist to the plot, he had to admit, that he had not expected and he was rarely caught unawares. How did the man know his name?
“Carl Manly, pleased to make your acquaintance. I’ve come to speak with you, sir, about a private matter.”
“A private matter?” Chris’ own tone held a note a hard skepticism that would likely fill most men with unease. Even sitting, Chris was a large man. Well past six feet and rather heavily muscled. While his good looks made him popular with women, his frame made men just a touch uneasy.
“Yes, sir, if you would follow me where we might speak in private.” The man’s voice rose a bit. Just enough for Chris to know his intimidation was working.
The two other men rose from the table leaving Chris there with just Alex and Barret. It was decent of them to give him some privacy but Mr. Manly had abruptly ended his game and his potential earnings which would have sustained him till he could decide his next course of action. “We’ll speak here.”
Manly glanced at the other two men, then cleared his throat and lifted a monocle to one eye. “Very well. It is my pleasure to inform you that after careful research, you are the next in line to inherit not only your great great uncle, Lord Rothenberg’s, lands and homes, both in Scotland and England, but his title of earl as well. Now if you would kindly follow me, I have all the details and paperwork for you to sign back at my office. Time is of the essence.”
Well, bloody hell. They actually were giving those titles away.
* * *
* * *
CHRIS SAT in Alex’s parlor while Rose poured him another drink. It was his third, or possibly fourth. He couldn’t seem to remember.
“My lord?” Alex asked teasingly.
“Please stop.” Chris rubbed his hands over his eyes, admiring the generous curve of Rose’s backside. Alex’s glance went from teasing to hard in a second. Chris closed his eyes. It was the alcohol. He would never normally look at Rose, though she was beautiful, and he was a rake by all measures. But even he had standards of decorum and his best friend’s wife was well below them.
Besides, Rose only had eyes for her husband. She came to stand next to Alex, her finger’s idly soothing a scar he bore from the days when they were both spies. A rare twinge of jealousy rose in Chris’ chest to see the touch. So soothing.
“So tell us what happened with Manly.” Alex asked swirling his still full glass. Chris would feel better if someone were drunk with him.
“I knew it was too good to be true.” He scrubbed his face again trying to collect his thoughts. “There is a ward.”
Rose gasped. “You? A guardian?”
“What? That is absurd.” Alex sat forward in his chair.
“Manly assures me it’s all completely legal. Though if you could look into it, I’d be grateful. Her father wanted to make sure she was properly settled. He gave the next earl a year to see it done. But it took Manly six months to find me which means I’ve only six more months to make it right.”
“And if you don’t?” Alex grimaced.
“The title goes to the next in line.” Chris picked up his drink again taking a generous swig.
“Any idea if she is,” Alex paused and Chris put down his drink wondering where he might be going with this. Alex cleared his throat. “… attractive?”
“Alex!” Rose gasped.
“Well, darling. It’s sad to say but a truth none the less. She’ll be easier to marry if she is pretty.”
“Manly doesn’t know. He’s only communicated with her through letter though he assures me she is very charming.” Somehow that fact made him feel worse. In his experience women with lovely personalities were rarely beauties.
It seemed an impossible situation and he may as well just stay in London as the title would likely be lost anyway. Perhaps begin work for Barrett.
“You have to go, Chris,” Rose said as her fingers continued their ministrations on Alex’s scar.
“Why?” he asked, sharp, angry. He took a breath trying to sooth his tone. Rose didn’t deserve his ire.
“Because she needs you and you are the type of man who helps women in distress.” Her other arm snaked around’s Alex’s neck.
“She has a point,” Alex added, smirking.
Chris gave Alex an unabashed glower. While he wouldn’t knowingly hurt Rose’s feelings he had no such concerns about his friend. Chris had helped Alex retrieve Rose when she had been kidnapped but he had done it out of loyalty to his friend and fellow spy. He did not go around saving damsels in distress. In fact, he generally made a point of involving himself with the fairer sex for one reason only.
“Rose, you’ve a mistaken impression of my finer qualities,” he grumbled, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.
“I don’t. You didn’t leave me and you won’t leave her. You’ll do the honorable thing by her. Find her a husband. Imagine whose hands she might fall in if you don’t. My father was desperate for me to marry Alex so that very thing didn’t happen to me. Imagine if I hadn’t…”
Chris let a low growl rumble through his chest. It was a technique Barrett used often and it seemed to keep nearly everyone at bay.
“Besides, can you really pass up an opportunity to become a member of the peerage? At just such a moment when you’ve retired. It’s almost as though it’s fated.” Chris could hear the grin in Alex’s voice. He was talking like a bloody woman simply to tease him.
He grimaced again as he thought of his meeting with the solicitor. Bloody bullocks, he had to go.
Lady Elizabeth Rite stood in the empty foyer of Roselington Manor looking at the banners draped along the walls. Each lord who had sat in these halls had commissioned a banner of sorts that represented his life. Her father’s had only been half finished. It had been her mission these past few months to complete it.
Finally finished, it was now being hung on the wall. This was the moment she had been working towards tirelessly for the past six months since his death, and it was of the utmost importance it be done. What she did with herself after this project was complete, she’d rather not think of. For the moment, having this tapestry perfectly hung consumed her.
The workman put it in place. “Oh, it’s beautiful, Lizzie.” Her eleven-year-old cousin, May, bounced on her heels.
Liz frowned as they began removing the ladders.
Waving to one of the workers, she never took her eyes off the tapestry. “Leave it, please.”
“Are you sure, my lady?”
“Yes, yes.” She hadn’t taken her eyes off the tapestry to see the concern on his face. She was consumed with the perfection of this single piece and right now, one corner was curling slightly. Nearly indiscernible, it had a tiny wrinkle causing it to pucker.
“May, hold the ladder.” She grasped the sides as she started to climb the rungs, the ladder wobbling as she went. Quickly, it became apparent skirts were less than ideal for such activity but she was determined to make this perfect and so she continued.
“I don’t know about this, Lizzie. You don’t look like they did, going up that thing.” May’s voice wobbled a little too.
“It will be fine, sweetheart. Just hold the ladder.” Liz kept climbing but a chill swept over her skin. Perhaps May was right but she was almost there now and it couldn’t hurt to give the tapestry a tiny tug to see if it straightened.
Reaching her hand out, she was an inch from the corner she sought. If she could lean just a little, shift her weight, perhaps she could straighten the offending corner.
At least that was what she was thinking as her slippered foot stepped off the edge of the rung and then for the span of a second there was nothing. No tapestry, no ladder, only air. With absolute certainty she knew the floor was really going to hurt and somehow, she nearly welcomed it. Perhaps then she could focus on recovery since Lizzie no longer had the tapestry to claim her concentration.
It was nearly as hard as she expected but not nearly so painful. Not even aware her eyes had closed, they flew open. Why, she hadn’t hit the floor at all. Instead, she was being held captive by a hulking man with the handsomest features she had ever laid her eyes on.
Blond hair framed blue eyes, crinkled at the corner. Full lips tilted in a small smile, only enhancing the strong line of his jaw. His arm muscles rippled under her back and a fluttering began somewhere deep inside her. She blinked, trying to understand. Where had he come from? Why was he here? And why were her insides fluttering around like there were butterflies inhabiting the space. “Unhand me, sir.”
Giving her a rakish smile, he set her down on her feet. “You’re welcome.”
He grinned wider as a blush climbed up her cheeks. She wasn’t trying to be difficult. He was right, of course, he had saved her. But he had also walked uninvited into her home and manhandled her.
“Who are you and what are you doing at Roselington Manor?” Her hands shot to her hips as she assessed him. Confrontation was not her usual behavior but something about this man had her tied in knots. Lord, he was even larger than she thought, with broad muscular shoulders and narrow hips. She forced herself to look back at his eyes. A most perfect shade of light blue. The blush deepened.
He cleared his throat and the smile slipped from his face. “Is this where you grew up?” he asked, looking around the halls.
“I must insist, who are you, sir?” The blush began to drain from her cheeks, an inkling of his identity making her tremble. He couldn’t be….
His blue eyes pierced into her, no laughter, no smile. He gave a slight bow, “I am the new Earl of Rothenberg.”
Liz blinked twice. The same feeling overtook her as when she had been on the ladder. It was once again as though she was falling through air. The ground would hit her any second and, if she was lucky, she would not wake.
* * *
* * *
CHRIS CURSED under his breath as he watched her fall for the second time that day. He hadn’t wanted to alarm her, falling from a ladder like that must have her body overset.
Reaching out his hands, he caught her again easily and then picked her up, once again fitting her against him. She melded into him, seeming to fit in exactly the right places. He had caught it the first time but with her so close, he took another whiff of the scent of soap that surrounded her, honey and clove if he had to guess. As a spy, he had been trained to notice these subtleties. Intoxicating.
Beautiful too. Though not in the obvious way of w
Her pert little nose was utterly kissable and was framed by her high cheekbones and flashing brown eyes. And the curves. Hells bells, the curves looked perfect for keeping a man warm and entertained through the long cold winter.
“Sir?” a hesitant voice spoke from his right. “That is, Lord Rothenberg.”
He turned to see an adorable girl with the same chocolate brown hair and eyes, with a matching nose.
“Is Lizzie all right?”
“She’ll be fine. She’s just had a shock. Lizzie is it?” He looked down at her again. He liked the name, Lizzie. It had an informal warmth, like everything about her.
“Oh pardon me, I meant Lady Elizabeth.” A blush rose in her cheeks.
“And who are you?” He gave her a grin of encouragement.
“I’m her cousin, May. That is to say, Miss May Stanly.” The girl gave a curtsey.
“Well, Miss May, how about you show me to a parlor where I can set Lady Elizabeth down.”
“This way,” she waved and began to race from the entry down a hall.
“And how did you come to stay with your cousin?” he asked, hoping to find out that an aunt and uncle had swept in to rescue this situation. As lovely as Lizzie was, he would prefer to not have to deal with a ward at all.
“Oh, Lizzie takes care of me. Well first Lord Rothenberg did, the former Lord Rothenberg that is, but now Lizzie does. She has for a long time.”
“And your parents?” His gut clenched. Manly had made no mention of a second ward. There was only supposed to be one.
“Oh, I don’t remember them. They died when I was a baby. Carriage accident.” She continued her way down the hall without a stutter or pause and Chris marveled at the resilience of children. Who was May’s guardian?