Historical Romance: Regency Romance: A Prize to Be Won (Sweet Regency Historical Romance Short Stories), страница 1
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A Prize to Be WON
Defiant Lords Series
Regency Romance: A Prize to Be WON
Lady Rebecca Thompson could not believe her ears. She’d just been told by one of her reliable sources that her brother, Lord Peter Thompson, the Earl of Leicester, had lost a major part of their estate in a wager. She was furious beyond words. Peter had gone a bit too far this time. How could he wager their estate like that! It was not like he was the sole owner of the property; her father had expressly mentioned in his will that she was entitled to half the estate. He probably knew that his son was too much like him and that he could not trust him with the entire estate.
Rebecca already bore the brunt of being the daughter of a man who with the reputation of being a womanizer and a gambler. She knew all too well that the daughter of such a man was considered a social pariah. None of the ladies of the ton wanted their sons to shower their attention on her, let alone marry her. All her dreams of marrying well into polite society came crashing down last season. She did not intend to attend this year’s season due to all those bitter memories.
As if this black spot on their reputation was not enough, Peter was now hell bent on sullying their family name further through his foolish actions. It was well known that beautiful women were his weakness, but of late, he’d started gambling too. He was totally like their father in his actions and words but, unfortunately, he hadn’t inherited the old man’s good luck. While their father had amassed an enviable fortune in gambling, Peter was the exact opposite. He’d lost a good amount of that fortune in wagers and now he’d apparently even lost the estate.
Rebecca had to confront him over this issue. How could he wager something that did not entirely belong to him? She knew that Peter would be completely drunk by the time he returned, but she wanted to talk to him anyway. No one could stop her from unleashing her fury on her fatheaded brother.
Alex, the butler, interrupted her thoughts to let her know that Lord Peter was waiting for her in the study. Rebecca felt a twinge of self-righteousness. So, he want to talk about his foolishness, after all. When she entered the study and looked at her brother’s face, she realized that he was sober. For the first time in her life, she felt real dread. The look on Peter’s face told her that something very ominous had happened.
“Rebecca, please come in and have a seat.”
“What am I hearing Peter?” she asked, trying to sound as stern as possible. “Have you lost the estate in a wager?”
“So, you’ve already heard about it?” He looked a little flustered but relieved all the same. “I was thinking of an appropriate way to disclose this information to you.”
“Have you lost your mind? How could you? Don’t you know that half of the estate belongs to me? I already have to bear the consequences of father’s actions and now you leave me no option but to die a spinster! Do you feel no responsibility towards me?”
“I know I have been a complete moron and I am really sorry for it. But you must understand that I cannot change what has happened, we’ve lost the estate Rebecca. We’ve lost it!” Tears rolled down his cheeks. Rebecca could see guilt mixed with extreme helplessness in his eyes. She had never seen her brother so broken and frail before, not even when their mother died.
“But….but how is that possible? Doesn’t half of it belong to me? And lawfully, you can wager only what is yours, right? So that means that half of it is still safe. No one can take that away from us; I didn’t give you the permission to wager my part too,” Rebecca tried to reason. Although she was not much aware of the legalities of the system, she knew that Peter could not wager her part of the estate without her permission.
“I am the owner of the entire estate Rebecca,” Peter said in a small voice. Rebecca looked at him, stunned.
“What are you saying? Don’t you remember father’s will? He mentioned that…..”
“You…..you remember a few months back I asked you to sign some papers?” Rebecca nodded silently. Oh Jesus! Please don’t let her worst fears come true! She didn’t like where the conversation was heading.
“I told you that I needed some funds to start a new venture and asked for your signature to sell off some joint property. Well, in those papers, I had hidden a paper wherein it was mentioned that you relinquished your right to the estate in my favor.”
Once again, Rebecca found it hard to believe her ears. Her own brother had done this to her, deceived her in the worst possible way!
“I am so sorry Rebecca. At that time, I didn’t realize what I was doing. I just wanted to show one of my friends that I was the owner of the entire estate….”
“I know exactly who that “friend” of yours is!” Rebecca shrieked. “I can’t believe you did that to me! And to impress one of your whores!” Rebecca knew it was improper of her to say such a thing, but she was too furious to care about any proprieties. Peter had genuine regret in his eyes, but Rebecca refuses to melt this time. It was all her fault. If she’d been strict enough with him from the beginning, he wouldn’t have strayed so much.
But what could she do? Peter had been so heartbroken when their mother passed away. Although he was just a year younger than her, Rebecca had always been fiercely protective of her younger brother. Both of them had survived a turbulent childhood. Their father had always been too busy with his dalliances to pay any attention to his own children. His unfaithfulness was all too public and Rebecca and Peter had constantly watched their mother cry and pine for her husband’s love.
While she did love her children, especially Peter, most of the time she’d been consumed by her own sorrows. Rebecca and Peter spent their entire childhood craving their parents’ love and attention. Their circumstances made them dependent on each other and they shared a very close bond. Rebecca, being the elder sibling, always took care of her brother’s needs and demands and Peter, in turn, respected her immensely.
But everything changed once their mother passed away. Peter had fallen into questionable company by then and began spending more time than was required at all the wrong places. Rebecca did try to talk some sense into him but she didn’t push him enough to give up his newly-acquired habits. He’d been so depressed that Rebecca thought his “indulgences” would perhaps lessen some of his pain. But she’d been wrong. She should’ve seen that he’d started following in their father’s footsteps. She didn’t realize it, but the erstwhile Earl of Leicester did. He knew that his son was too much like him for his own good. That was the reason why he divided his estate between both of them before dying. That was perhaps the only praiseworthy thing he ever did for his children. But
“Who won our estate?” she asked Peter through clenched teeth.
“Uhh…” Peter’s face paled. “He is a very dangerous man and is notorious for his rakish character. I can’t even think about going back on my word with him. He’d challenge me to a duel and I have no doubts as to who would be the winner.”
“I didn’t ask you to list his characteristics. I want his name!’ Rebecca gave up any attempt to hold back her fury.
“He is the Duke of Southampton. Lord Henry Northwall.”
“Lord Henry Northwall,” she repeated. Yes, she’d heard that name before, but she couldn’t remember why. Last year during her first--and probably last--season, she was at Lady Rothurst’s ball when she’d heard a group of ladies talking about Lord Northwall.
“Oh! Do you know Lord Northwall is in London? It is rumored that he’ll be attending Lady Shelton’s ball next week,” one of them said. “I am dying to see him in person. I’ve heard that he is an absolute delight to look at!”
“But mamma has already warned me to stay clear of him. After all, he has a reputation of ruining innocent girls,” another said.
“Really? How scandalous!” Each story seemed to have the opposite of its intended effect on the third young lady; her eyes shone with glee. “I’ve also heard that he loves to gamble and frequents the Covent Garden way too often.” Rebecca overheard the third lady saying.
Good Lord! Of all the people in this world, Peter had to lose the estate to Lord Henry Northwall! Rebecca closed her eyes as a wave of hopelessness set in. She had to find a way out of this mess. Her chances of finding a respectable husband were already very slim. If she lost her fortune to some rake, she would definitely end up as a lonely spinster! She couldn’t let that happen to her.
“What have you done, Peter?” Rebecca whispered, feeling utterly defeated.
“I apologize once again Rebecca. I know I am perhaps the most despicable brother ever. You have every right to hate me. All these years, you’ve stood by me like a rock. When mother died, you did everything in your power to console me…And what did I give you in return? I robbed you of what was rightfully yours! Please forgive me Rebecca, please forgive me if you can.” Tears streamed from Peter’s eyes. Rebecca had never seen him cry like this, not even when their mother died.
“Even if I forgive you Peter, what good would it do? It can’t bring our estate back, can it?” she asked. “When do you think Lord Northwall will come to claim the estate?”
“I am guessing in the next week or so.”
“Hmmm…Let me see if I can come up with something until then. But I want a promise from you, Peter,” she looked directly into Peter’s eyes. “You have to promise me that you will never gamble again.”
“You have my word, Rebecca. I promise I will never indulge in gambling again.” Peter looked so earnest that Rebecca had no choice but to believe him. Her brother might be a lot of things, but he wasn’t a liar.