<When the Marquess was Mine>

When the Marquess Was Mine
ISBN 978-0-06-291359-3

In the game of love…

Georgiana Lucas despises the arrogant and cruel Marquess of Westmorland even before learning that he’s won the deed to her friend Kitty’s home in a card game. Still, Georgiana assures Kitty the marquess wouldn’t possibly come all the way to Derbyshire to throw them out—until he shows up, bloody and unconscious. Fearing that Kitty would rather see him die, Georgiana blurts out that he’s her fiancé. She’ll nurse the hateful man back to health and make him vow to leave and never return. The man who wakes up, though, is nothing like the heartless rogue Georgiana thought she knew…

You have to risk it all

He wakes up with no memory of being assaulted—or of who he is. The bewitching beauty tending him so devotedly calls him Rob and claims she’s his fiancée even as she avoids his touch. Though he can’t remember how he won her hand, he’s now determined to win her heart. But as his memory returns and the truth is revealed, Rob must decide if the game is up—or if he’ll take a chance on a love that defies all odds.

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Inside the Story

Around the World

Bonus Scene

Between The End and the Epilogue…

<When the Marquess was Mine>As owner of the most exclusive gaming club in London, Nicholas Dashwood had had to throw people out many times, but rarely had he enjoyed it quite as much as he did tonight.

The fellow wasn’t going easily, though.

“Obscenity,” raged the Earl of Wakefield. He was so angry he was pacing, and Nick had to maneuver behind him to keep him moving toward the door. “That’s what it is, allowing females inside this den of vice!”

“And yet the ladies beg admission quite as eagerly as you yourself did,” replied Nick evenly. “Forbes, Lord Wakefield’s carriage.” His manager nodded and ducked out the door.

Wakefield glared at Nick, his short dark hair standing up around his collar. “That girl is unmarried—an unmarried lady, whose reputation has now been irreparably soiled by your actions!”

Nick recognized a threat when he heard one. Wakefield wouldn’t be the first to threaten a lawsuit. “The young lady arrived with numerous chaperones, and one of my footmen kept watch over her all evening, to ensure she was not importuned.” He did not add that the lady seemed well on her way to becoming a marchioness, a future duchess, and that the courts would reserve the right of her defense to her husband.

“She should never have been allowed in here,” snarled Wakefield.

“It is too late to quarrel over that now.” Nick looked up, his face impassive. They had reached the entry hall. “Frank, where is Lord Wakefield’s coat?” His wide-eyed footman, who had probably been having a bit of a rest as the club grew quiet and empty, leapt off his stool and ran toward the cloakroom.

“Too late—!” Wakefield rounded on Nick and stepped right up to him until their faces were inches apart. Nick had a few inches on the earl, but the older man was in a towering rage. “It is not too late,” he growled. His pale blue gaze raked up and down Nick with contempt. “Who do you think you are? Just some common dirty cardsharp, squeezing the blood out of your betters,” he answered before Nick could. “Crass, crude, idiotic viper!”

“If you wish to file a complaint about my club,” Nick told him, “perhaps you’d better speak to the Mayor of London. He usually attends on Wednesdays. Or perhaps the Lord Chancellor? He is also a member and can often be found at the whist tables.”

The rage and hatred emanating from the earl was almost palpable. “You think that will protect you? That you’ve corrupted them as well?”

“You didn’t seem to mind the corrupting influence of the Vega Club when you arrived, nor when you sat down at a table to play.” Frank hurried up. “Here is your coat, sir.”

Wakefield snatched his things but didn’t go. “I want my sister. I won’t leave without her.”

“Lady Georgiana said she would not go with you.”

“She does not decide! I am her guardian, and I decide what she does and where she goes.”

Nick lowered his voice. “She is not your property. And I’ve already told you, if you harm or harass a female guest in my club, I’ll deliver you to Newgate myself.”

Wakefield shuddered like a cornered fox. “Send her out at once or I shall summon a constable.”

<When the Marquess was Mine>“By all means. I invite you to go find a constable directly. You’ll never set foot in my club again, of course.”

For a moment it looked as though Wakefield would attack him. Nick waited, hands at his sides but still tensed in anticipation, and wondered if the man would do it.

“Lord Wakefield! Wait a moment, sir!” Frederick Forester ran up, disheveled and out of breath. “Sir, I do apologize for this evening—it was not at all what I intended—”

“Close your mouth, Forester,” said Wakefield coldly. “Damned idiot.”

Forester flushed scarlet. “I admit this has not been my finest hour. But my lord, if you’ll only give me a chance to explain—”

“There’s no point. We are done.” Finally the earl turned to go, jamming his hat on his head.

“Of—of course, my lord.” Forester wilted. “I shall call on you tomorrow, to continue our discussion…”

The earl spun around. “No! We are done, sir, and I expect my funds repaid by the end of the month.”

Forbes popped back into the doorway, but Nick stayed him with a slight shake of his head.

Forester regained some of his spine. He jerked upright. “My lord, you know I cannot do that.”

“You’d better!” hissed Wakefield. “I’ll see you ruined.”

“We have a contract,” said Forester. “Those funds aren’t due for six months.”

It must have been too much for the earl; he flew at Forester, catching the younger man off guard. The pair of them toppled to the floor, a writhing mass of flying fists and kicking legs. Forbes started forward in alarm, but Nick held up a hand to stop him. Normally he didn’t allow fighting inside the Vega Club, but this once he was willing to make an exception. No matter who got beaten.

He let Forbes haul the earl off Forester when they knocked over one of the palms. Wakefield yanked loose from the manager’s grip so hard he fell into the wall. It looked as though Forester had landed a few punches. His Lordship would have a black eye, and as he stormed out the door without a backward glance, he limped heavily.

Frederick Forester had not had a good night. His face was blotchy from drink, blood welled at the corner of his lip, and his jacket was torn from Wakefield’s charge. The fight seemed to have gone out of him. Slump-shouldered, he took his coat and hat from Frank, who hadn’t needed to be told this time.

“Mr. Forester.” The man looked up at Nick’s words. “How many shares did Lady Georgiana win?”

“One hundred fifty,” he said thinly. Nick waited, one brow raised. “Two hundred fifty,” Forester muttered. “My shares of my father’s business.”

“I thought as much,” said Nick briskly. “You recall the rules of this club.”

Forester swallowed hard. “I will convey the shares to Lady Georgiana in the morning.”

“Today, Mr. Forester. It is already morning.”

<When the Marquess was Mine>The young man looked out the door, at the pearl-gray sky. “Of… of course.”

“Very good.” Nick came to stand beside him. Forester had been a member of his club for over a year, and Nick had had him, like all members, investigated before admitting him. His agent had reported there were rumors of unsavory practices at the family shipping company, but nothing proved. Forester’s father, who had run the company before the son, had furiously protested any wrongdoing and vigorously defended his name—not unlike most rich men, in Nick’s experience.

But Forester was no worse than any other member of the Vega Club. Gamblers weren’t known for their morality, and Nick took a jaded view of his patrons.

Until Lady Georgiana made her impassioned plea, anyway. After that he’d done a bit more looking into Forester and Philips Trading Company.

“Has the Charlotte Sophia departed Liverpool yet?” he asked idly.

“No, not until—” Forester whipped around to gape at him. “What?”

“Bound for the Gold Coast, isn’t she? Perhaps she ought not to sail.” Nick gave him a faint smile. “Lady Georgiana, as your primary shareholder, must have a say in her cargo. I daresay she won’t approve of running slaves to Jamaica along with the guns and powder.”

Forester was sickly pale. “How—how dare you, sir… Why would you suggest that?”

“Mr. Forester,” said Nick, even more quietly than before. “I know a great deal about everyone. Bear it in mind.”

“Yes, sir,” whispered Forester before scuttling out the door.

Nick bent down to drag the heavy potted palm upright. One of the maids hurried up with a broom as he got it standing again, and he held the pan as she swept up the spilled soil.

“Both gone,” reported Forbes, coming back in several minutes later. “Forester was sniffling like a great crying booby as he got in the hackney.”

“Good.” Nick dusted off his hands and moved to the open doorway. The street was deserted. Soon the lamplighters would come to extinguish the lights. “He’ll be destitute within a week. I daresay once word gets around about his behavior tonight, none of his investors will wish to leave him in charge of their funds.”

Forbes snorted. “Couldn’t say I blame them—nor pity him.”

“Nor should you. His ships have been stopped four times this year with manacles and goods obviously meant to be traded for human cargo, and four times they were allowed to continue on their way.”

“He can’t be the only slaver thumbing his nose at the Royal Navy.”

“No, but he’s the one I can stop tonight,” replied Nick.

“And tomorrow?”

"Qui non est hodie, cras minus aptus erit,” said Nick. “He who is not willing to act today, will be unready to act tomorrow.”

“No one actually speaks Latin, you know,” grumbled Forbes. “King’s English is good enough for the rest of us.”

Nick grinned, resting one shoulder against the open door. The sky above the rooftops was glowing pink now, a glorious new day dawning in front of him. He inhaled deeply. It had rained overnight, and London smelled clean and fresh for the moment.

<When the Marquess was Mine>It wouldn’t last, which was why it should be savored in the moment.

His manager joined him in the doorway. “Quite a hand the young lady drew in that last game,” remarked Forbes. “Never seen one that good.”

“Never?” scoffed Nick. “How long have you been employed here? It’s merely a matter of time before any particular combination of cards is dealt.”

Forbes grinned. “I ain’t been here long enough to think I’d ever see a hand that plum.”

“The cards were all in the deck. How they were distributed in any given deal…” Nick shrugged. “Chance.”

“Damned lucky chance,” said Forbes.

Nick scratched his chin. “I expect she’ll be back, wanting a membership after she’s married.”

“What?” Forbes shook his head. “Nay. Ain’t got the stomach for it, that one. Not like the duchess, nor Lady Rotherwood.”

Nick huffed with silent laughter. Lady Rotherwood had kept her place at the faro table even when someone knocked over a lamp and ignited the draperies behind her. When the fire was out her first question was about her markers. “She liked the thrill of the win. That’s what they all want.”

“Perhaps,” allowed Forbes. “She looked scared out of her bloody wits when she saw her cards in that last hand.”

“Scared!” Nick made a face. “Astonished, perhaps.”

“Sweating with fright,” retorted Forbes. “I seen it before, you know—a hand that good makes anyone fear they’ll bungle it and lose anyway. A novice player?” He made a face. “They’re never sure how to make the most of what they’ve got, even when they’re holding an unbeatable hand.”

“Unbeatable!” repeated Nick in disdain. “No hand is unbeatable.”

“Damn near,” avowed Forbes. “The only one better than what Lady Georgiana held tonight would’ve been all trumps.”

“Now that would indeed look suspicious.”

Forbes snorted with laughter. “Wakefield thought it already was.”

Nick dwelt on the memory of Lord Wakefield’s fury with pleasure. “Wakefield was angry because he lost, and lost to a woman—his sister, no less.”

“Every man at that table lost to a woman. Oddly, no one else seemed upset at all. I thought some of ‘em would call for a round of brandy to toast her winning all their money, which is rare. Normally blokes who lose that much aren’t in a celebratory mood.” Forbes peered intently at him, but Nick steadfastly ignored it. Finally his manager shrugged. “All’s well that ends well, I s’pose.”

<When the Marquess was Mine>A burst of noise from behind him made both of them look around. The victorious party was making their way out at last. In the center were Lady Georgiana Lucas, her face flushed and glowing, and the Marquess of Westmorland, radiating exultation and triumph. Westmorland’s friends swaggered around them, almost like an honor guard, albeit one drinking straight from bottles and singing tavern songs.

“And there he is,” cried one of them, catching sight of Nick. “The best damn dealer in the house!”

“In London,” croaked another. “God, I love this club.” He put the wine bottle in his hand to his lips and tipped back his head as a few other gentlemen cheered in agreement.

Lady Georgiana came up to him, her hand still in Lord Westmorland’s though the marquess hung back. “Mr. Dashwood, thank you from the bottom of my heart for admitting me for a night.”

Nick bowed slightly. “I trust you had a pleasant visit to the Vega Club.”

“Very much so!” She blushed bright pink and lowered her voice. “Although it was absolutely terrifying at times.”

He smiled. “No one would have suspected you felt the slightest unease.”

She laughed, glancing back at her marquess. Any scandal over her presence here tonight would be short-lived; Nick would bet his last farthing that Lady Georgiana would be Lady Westmorland before the month was out. “Now I don’t. Thank you, sir.” To Nick’s astonishment, she put out her hand, and clasped his firmly. “I hope you never admit Lord Wakefield,” she added in a whisper. The carousing band around her made so much noise, no one but Nick could hear.

“I don’t think he’ll request it, my lady,” he replied just as quietly, “but if he did, I would refuse.”

“Good.” She smiled and released him, letting the marquess draw her back to his side.

Westmorland looked at Nick. “Someone will come about Lady Georgiana’s winnings.”

Nick, suspecting it would be the marquess’s own solicitor coming on behalf of the future marchioness, bowed. “Mr. Forester gave his word to convey the shares today.”

Westmorland’s face was fierce—and vindictive. “He most certainly shall. I’ll see to that.”

Frank was running to and fro, fetching everyone’s things. Just as he brought Lady Georgiana’s cloak, someone burst through the door, nearly bowling Frank over. “Am I too late?” demanded Lord Philip Lindeville, panting heavily and red in the face.

“Aye, the club’s closed!” shouted someone.

“And you lost all your money,” added another, to laughter.

“Much the same as always,” trilled yet another fellow, to louder laughter.

Lord Philip ignored them and pushed his way through to Lady Georgiana. “I’m desperately sorry—Ware sent me to fetch the midwife—”

The group quieted at that word. Westmorland put his hand on Lady Georgiana’s back in silent comfort as she seized Lord Philip’s hand. “Oh no—Sophie. Is she terribly ill?”

Still breathing like a horse who’d run the Ascot, Lord Philip shook his head. “She’s fine. Cast up her accounts all over Ware’s carriage, and is still as green as a fresh pear, but the midwife says everything is fine.”

“Oh, thank goodness.” Lady Georgiana’s tension eased.

Lord Philip managed to laugh. “She kept urging me to return and take up her seat, but I thought I’d better stay until I knew she was well.”

“Of course you should have!” she cried. “I’ve been worried about her all night! And after what she did for us!”

Philip nodded, looking around expectantly. “So? I sense triumph in the air. What happened?”

There was a hush. Lady Georgiana went pink. Lord Heathercote flung an arm around Lord Philip’s shoulders and turned him toward the door. “It’s a bit of a story…” They departed in a flurry of shouts and cheers and good-natured jeers, in the carriages Forbes had presciently summoned after Lord Wakefield’s departure.

Catching sight of Frank hovering uncertainly by the cloakroom, Nick jerked his head. “Go on. Well done.” The young man nodded gratefully and took off.

The Vega Club was empty now of patrons. Staff were beginning to open the windows to air out the saloon. Footmen were clearing trays of dirty glasses from the tables, and croupiers were tidying their tables and resetting for the evening ahead. The day staff would arrive soon to sweep the floors and water the plants and generally restore the club to elegance. Vega Club was closed for the next several hours, and it was time to go home.

<When the Marquess was Mine>Still, Nick lingered in the doorway. Forbes came out again, with his own coat and hat this time. “I never thought I’d see the like,” he said again as he shrugged on the coat. “Not in this club.”

Nick sighed, glancing ruefully at his manager. “Think I overdid it, do you?”

“Aye, just a bit,” Forbes said dryly. “The Pam, three trumps, and an ace! Didn’t trust her much, eh?”

Nick acknowledged it with a dip of his head. “It would have been a shame if she’d stumbled at that point.”

Forbes gave a snort of laughter and shook his finger before turning to head to his own home. At the bottom of the steps, he turned back. “Dash…. was it worth it?”

Forbes meant the reputation of the club, and the risk of rumors about fixed games. Whispers like that could ruin a club, even one as prestigious as the Vega Club. But Nick rested his head against the door and inhaled deeply of fresh, clean air. “Absolutely.”