Scandal in Spades – Wendy LaCapra

Giles Everhart Langley, third Marquess of Bromton, tenth Earl of Strathe, and twelfth Baron Langley, ignored his friends Lord Farring and Lord Rayne. Instead, he studied Lord Markham, the most recent addition to the rakish quartet better known in gaming hells by their card-suit sobriquets—Spades, Clubs, Diamonds, and Hearts. Markham’s omnipresent smirk vanished, and his already pale skin turned to paste—not the reaction Bromton expected. “Put the card down, Markham,” he said. Without a word, Markham dropped an ace of spades over his existing ten. “Vingt-et-un!” Rayne’s fist hit the table. “Devil take it. Hearts won.” “So it seems,” Markham replied. “So it seems?” Farring pushed his glasses up his nose and chuckled. Dragging his pipe from his mouth he urged, “Unfold Brom’s vowel, would you?” Markham met Bromton’s gaze. “Your calm is unnatural, Spades.” “Go on.” Smoke swirled as Farring gestured. “When does Spades ever betray his sentiments?” “Listen to Clubs—Brom is a paragon of control.

” Rayne eased back into his chair. “Just like his departed father.” A single diamond sparkled in Rayne’s cravat—a nod to his card-suit name. “I suggested secret bets.” Bromton shrugged. “To begrudge them now would be,” he paused, “dishonorable.” Markham rubbed the side of his finger against his lip. “It’s a damned odd way to play.” “Get on with it, pup,” Rayne said. “You’ve been lucky enough to play a master and win.

” “Yes,” Farring snorted. “Whatever Spades wagered is undoubtedly up-to-scratch.” Bromton’s inhale stung with smoke. Only everything he owned. Rather, everything belonging to the late marquess’s true heir. “Go ahead, Markham.” A dark edge cut through his voice. “My vowel is yours.” “If Markham won’t read it,” Rayne plucked the correct sheet from the cuts of parchment, “I will.” Bromton stood.

In a moment, his friends would know he no longer belonged. What only he knew was that he never had. “Gentlemen, I bid you good night. Markham, we will discuss details on the morrow.” He pivoted and then strode toward his study. His study, at least, for the remainder of the night. So, he’d planted the card. Was planting a card even cheating when one was playing to lose? Damn the question. Now was not the time for doubt. Not when he’d delivered justice.

Finally. His mother’s words rattled like cutlery in his ears. “Langley name and Bromton honor—you haven’t the right to forbid my marriage in their name. You’ve grown cold with power, but your power is a lie. My lie. You are not the Marquess’s son.” After she’d singed his soul with bastardy’s shame, she’d begged, “Bromton, you must understand. Had I failed to bear a child, the title would have ceased. I had to conceive by any means.” But he couldn’t understand, any more than he could forgive.

Long before he’d been fitted into the Bromton parliamentary robes, he’d been stitched into the privileges and encumbrances of the title—drilled to sacrifice for the name’s dignity and honor. Langley name and Bromton legacy were twin monuments shadowing every hour of his life, without which he was nothing. And his mother shattered those pillars of power and precedence, leaving him to haunt Bromton Castle under portrait after portrait of venerated ancestors he could no longer claim while hellhounds howled at his heels. From the start, options capable of restoring proper order had been few. No man could renounce a title. Since his mother had been married to the last marquess, in the eyes of the law, he was legitimate. However, when he’d discovered the deed to Bromton Castle was fee simple and not entailed, the answer became clear—the Bromton name may have been pilfered, but the Bromton properties could, and should, remain tied to the bloodline. So, he’d studied the family tree. No heirs existed through the male line, but three generations back, through the line of the first Marquess’s sister, a single branch had borne male fruit. Markham.

Tonight’s deception had been a dishonorable means to reach an honorable end—his greatest and final sacrifice. He drained his glass and then rolled the stem between his fingers, waiting for a sense of rightness. None came. If anything, the hellhounds’ howl had grown louder. He’d done his duty, executed everything as planned, yet nothing inside had changed. The wretched sense of wrong remained. The door swung on its hinges and clattered against the wall. “Markham,” he greeted. “Do you wish to begin examining the books straightaway?” The young earl’s gaze heated. “I should request you name your second.

” Bromton stilled a shiver. “Pardon?” “You heard me.” Markham closed the door. “You cheated. I have every right to call you out.” “Cheating to lose?” He scoffed. “No one would believe such nonsense.” “Nonsense.” Markham crossed the room. “Yes, such a thing would lack sense.

But you, Lord Bromton, are in full possession of your faculties. You are not acting like a man who wagered everything and lost.” “I have my honor,” he clipped. Honor was, in fact, all he had. “Please,” Markham said with a scowl. “I saw the truth in your eyes. You knew I would draw the ace of spades.” He snorted. “Not very subtle, using that particular card. But what I truly cannot understand is why you’d wager everything.

” Markham shook his head. “For shame, Bromton. What of your dependent tenants? You are the one who told me stewardship was the primary concern of a proper peer.” Bromton narrowed his eyes, swallowing bile and the urge to thrash the ungrateful whelp. Goddamn, he was well aware of his tenants—as well as the servants who ran his estates. He was attempting to ensure they remained with a true blood Langley, the family they’d been yoked to for centuries. He was attempting to ensure he alone would live the lie. “Your charge,” he said, “is absurd and insulting.” “Absurd and insulting,” Markham leaned in, “but true.” “Come, Markham.

” He fisted his hand against his desk. “Acknowledge your win. We all agreed to high stakes, no bank notes allowed.” “The entire Bromton estate—castle, lands, and holdings—goes well beyond high stakes! I consider Rayne’s wager high stakes—a pair of matched grays. Or Farring’s—a new phaeton. Or mine—” He inhaled. “A bloody box at the theater.” A theater box? High stakes? Little did Markham know. Blood, honor, integrity—no higher stakes existed. Markham stalked to the fireplace and threw in the vowel.

“That is what I think of your wager.” Orange flames wrapped around Bromton’s script, and fissures snaked through his infamous composure. Unprecedented. Unsettling. No. He would not allow the fruits of his labor to disappear like ash. He’d spent months grooming Markham. An unprovable accusation was not enough to convince him to change course. He planted his feet farther apart, folded his hands behind his back, and sought the iron core cast into his soul by the late marquess. “You cannot decline to win when you agreed to play.

” He eyed Markham with a withering gaze. “What if I had done the same—or Rayne, or Farring?” Markham matched his posture—quick study, the pup. “I did not agree to play with a cheat,” Markham said. “Take the deeds, would you?” “If you force this point, I’ll tell Rayne and Farring what you’ve done.” Bromton flattened his lips. Farring was his oldest friend. He was buoyancy to Bromton’s seriousness and loyal beyond measure. Rayne he’d counseled and guided since Rayne’s father’s death. Their friendship had strained, of late, but to entirely lose his good will? Unthinkable. “I’ll not admit to cheating,” he said.

“I’ll not accept your responsibilities,” Markham rejoined. “We’ll address your concern with another round, then,” Bromton bluffed. “A cup and die, this time. The higher of two throws wins?” Grim resolve settled behind Markham’s gaze. “No.” Find the wound, stem the bleeding—the stricture came to mind as if the late marquess had whispered in his ear. Bromton inhaled, eyeing Markham. Fury was unusual for the good-humored earl. Behind Markham’s anger Bromton sensed…need. “You will not accept my land, but there is something you wish of me,” he said.

“Is there not?” Markham’s gaze dropped to the intricately pattered carpet. “Payment I would accept comes to mind.” Bromton cocked a brow. “Well?” “When your mother wed again, the Bromton estate lost its chatelaine.” “Correct.” No other reply was fit for a civilized man’s ears. There was no longer a Marchioness of Bromton, dowager or otherwise. He had withdrawn prohibition against his mother’s second marriage after she’d told him he was a bastard. He had, in fact, withdrawn from his mother entirely, not that she’d taken his withdrawal to heart. She’d married her lowborn artist and had a prince serve as witness.

Not only a prince, but the propriety-flouting, profligate crown prince—a Whig. Internally, he shuddered. None of her betrayals ceased to sting. “How,” he asked, “is my lack of a marchioness your concern?” “I do not want your land, but I want you.” Markham’s cheeks darkened. “That is to say, I want you to make my sister the next Marchioness of Bromton.” In his mind, he tumbled through the branches of the Langley family tree just as surely as he’d been shoved. Vaguely, he recalled finding Markham’s name scrawled between two women. He had not given their names a second glance. “You decline all I possess,” his lips curled into a brutal smile, “yet you wish to win me.

” “Well, yes.” Dawning assurance suffused Markham’s voice. “If I won by chance, you owe me. If I won because you cheated, you still owe me. Keep your lands. Take my sister.” Bromton laughed bitterly. “Forgive me, but I find betrothing myself to a woman sight unseen just a touch unreasonable.” “Forgive me, but wagering one’s estate fails to scream reason.” Markham gritted his teeth.

“I am not asking you to sign agreements tonight. I am demanding you court my sister with honest intent.” So, the young earl had an iron core of his own. “I assume you know,” Bromton spoke carefully, “that there was an…expectation between myself and Rayne’s sister.” “Was.” Markham wet his lips. “You have not escorted Lady Clarissa to a single entertainment this season, and White’s betting books favor a match with the Duke of St. Alden to the rumored alliance with you.” He really did need that drink. He turned toward the cabinet and flung open the doors.

If, indeed, Clarissa had secured St. Alden, he was genuinely relieved. Perhaps Rayne would finally forgive him for failing to offer for his sister. His alliance with Clarissa had been arranged when the former marquess invested in the now profitable mines on Rayne’s estate. Clarissa—and her dowry— were to serve as return on the Marquess’s investment. But betrothal agreements had never been signed and sealed, as Clarissa had still been in the schoolroom. For that, at least, he was grateful— he’d been able to free Clarissa from their arrangement. After all, he could not offer her a name he had no right to possess. The crystal decanter clinked against the rim as he filled his glass. …Nor could he offer the name to anyone else.

Markham’s suggestion was ridiculous. Beyond the pale. Absolutely out of the… Whoa. The iron in him cooled and hardened. Markham’s sister had the bloodline. He had the name. If he married Markham’s sister, wouldn’t a child of their union be both a legal and a rightful heir? “Your sister, you say?” Bromton set down the decanter. Markham nodded. “Lady Katherine.” “I do not recall being introduced.

” “She’s been out of Society. But surely you have heard of her.” Markham scowled. “ I must have spoken of her, at least.” “Not that I recall.” Then again, he’d been single-minded while grooming Markham. Steady-handed, he filled a second glass. “Why was she banished?” “Beau Brummell deemed her the most unmarriageable lady in the kingdom.” He handed Markham the drink. “Unmarriageable, you say?” “She is now,” Markham said with frustration, “all because a valet’s son with an inflated opinion of his wit made one, silly quip.

” “Brummell’s quips have ruined powerful men.” “Does Brummell’s opinion matter to you?” He paused to consider. “The problem is not insurmountable. I’d prefer my wife possess a sterling reputation, of course.” But if he married Lady Katherine, he could retain all—a more intoxicating solution than the blood-red liquid in his glass. “Your sister, is she…?” “Becoming?” Markham plucked a miniature from his waistcoat pocket. “See for yourself.” Bromton set down his drink and cradled her likeness in his palm. Lady Katherine’s hazel-green eyes matched Markham’s in color and intensity, but her auburn curls framed feminine cheeks rosy with youth and health. And her quintessentially aristocratic nose sat above cherry-ripe lips.

…cherry-ripe lips whose fullness called out with no less than invitation. He blinked. His celibacy had stretched too long. Clearly. Either that, or the all-consuming obligation to set things right had stunted control when most he needed strength. This plan, should he choose to execute it, would require absolute vigilance. “The likeness is remarkable,” Markham said. “She is…engaging.” He glanced up. “She could also be mad.

” Markham certainly seemed touched. “She is no Bedlamite.” Markham’s face set into grim angles. “She has borne uncalled-for shame with dignity.” Bromton’s hand closed protectively around the portrait. “What prompted Brummell’s quip?” “Two failed betrothals.” Scandal. He loathed even its scent. And yet, he was already mired to his neck, wasn’t he? “Elaborate,” he commanded. “Groom number one: Septimus Chandler, our village rector’s son.

” “A step down.” “Not truly,” Markham replied. “Our rector is the youngest son of an earl. And it was, at least on her part, a love match.” As if such a thing existed. “Yet this love match failed to reach the altar.” Markham swallowed. “He died.” “Ah.” The tragic twist almost left him ashamed.

Almost. “Groom two?” “Viscount Cartwright. On the eve of their wedding, Cartwright fought a duel to protect his mistress’s honor and then fled with said mistress to the Indies. My father demanded a pecuniary heart balm from Cartwright’s father, the Earl of Merriweather. The fund is in trust, with Katherine the beneficiary.” That, he recalled. Or at least he recalled that some familial event had caused Merriweather to miss an essential Tory vote. “An unfortunate association,” he commented, “but not of her doing.” Markham sipped his drink and then continued, “Speculation turned to Katherine following Brummell’s quip—lurid speculation.” Bromton’s hold on the portrait tightened until his pulse beat in his fingers.

“Since she removed from Society,” he asked, “has there been any scandal attached to her name—any at all?” “No.” Markham turned to the fire, his expression a mix of frustration and affection. “For five years, she’s assisted in the stewardship of our,” he swallowed, “that is to say, the family’s estate. She raised our youngest sister, resolves most estate concerns before they reach me, and even teaches weekly reading classes to the tenants’ children.” “Sounds like an ideal arrangement. Why involve me?” “When I marry, as you know I must—she will lose all authority.” Markham looked up. “If she stays, she will be miserable.” “So, you contrived to give her my estate to manage?” Markham stopped breathing, and then he nodded. “You are,” he pointed out sheepishly, “in want of a marchioness…and…and I truly believe the two of you would suit.

She’s a good sort once you get to know her.” Well. The pup wasn’t trying to rid himself of the problem of a dependent sister. He was trying to secure her a utile future. A utile future stewarding the Bromton estate. Bromton had devastated the hopes of Lady Clarissa and her brother, who’d believed Bromton would fulfill the late marquess’s wish and make Clarissa marchioness. He’d cheated in order to transfer the estates to Markham, and he’d prepared for life as an outcast. Could he, instead, bet the whole on a woman? And not just any woman but a woman whose character had been called into question? His signet ring flashed in the candlelight, an ominous reminder of infidelity’s cost. He snuffed out his unease. The prospect of retaining his position and power left him nearly panting with hope.

“I assume,” he smiled without mirth, “Lady Katherine will agree to your scheme.” “God, no!” Markham exclaimed. “She’d be horrified if she knew I’d won her a groom. The last time I interfered ended in disaster.” Wonderful. “So how, exactly, do you expect me to win her hand?”


PDF | Download

Thank you!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments © 2018 | Descargar Libros Gratis | Kitap İndir |
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x