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Rein Montgomery, the Duke of Wroxly, live as a commoner? His late uncle’s will is painfully clear: Rein must survive without his wealth or title in the meanest of London’s streets for one month, or else lose his entire fortune. Luckily, his ability to charm the ladies has never failed him anywhere, anytime. And he has his newest conquest in sight: a beguiling market girl named Anna Rose Brooks.
Anna’s heart is kind and her intelligence keen, but she’s not sure what to make of this dashing stranger lost in the rough district of St. Giles. Is he gentleman or rake? She offers him shelter for one night, but he wants thirty. She tries to keep her distance, but he tempts her to share his bed. She gives in to scandal by becoming his mistress, but he wants her soul. Anna is no fool; she knows the men who come to St. Giles do not often stay. And now she is faced with her biggest fear: that when he leaves, he will take her heart.
Word Count: 88,000 words.
Table of Contents
Also by Pamela Britton
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For Codi Juanita Rose Baer
Because you're so patient when Mommy's busy.
Because that day I found you in my chair,
industriously typing away, made me laugh.
Because I love it when you tell people,
"Mommy colors books for a living."
And though I know it will be years before you're
able to read this, I want you to know that each time
I lock myself away in my office, I miss you,
pumpkin. May you always be my little friend.
My heartfelt thanks go to:
Barnes and Noble in Redding, California, for being so nice to me whenever I'm there to write. Shaan, you manage a fabulous store. Carol and Pam, your smiles always make me smile. Thank you!
Thanks also go to Piney, Janelle and Linda of the Elegant Bean for all the coffee, muffins, more coffee and more muffins and… coffee.
For helping me with research, I must thank Maldwin Drummond, Honorable Historian, Royal Yacht Squadron, for verifying my research and shedding light on British yachts.
Lastly, thanks go to my many writer friends here in Redding: Kathy Coatney, Patti Berg, Libby Hall (aka: Laurie Paige), Diana Robertson, Cindy McCormick Martinusen, Terry McLaughlin, Jean Darby for the gift of her book, Dearly Beloved, I Still Love You, and Lois Bauer. Your support is what keeps me going. Bless you all.
It all began over a dog. Silly as it may seem, the day Charles Reinleigh Drummond Montgomery, sixth earl of Sherborne, flattened the duke of Wroxly's terrier was a dark day indeed.
Never mind that the dog had often been likened to a canine cannibal. And that it had bitten no less than ten and five children. And that in recent months a bounty had been placed upon its head: ten shillings (the result of a collection Wroxly Park's staff had gathered) to whoever disposed of the carnivorous pooch. None of that mattered, for the dog was loved by the duke, so much so that Rein, who had no preference either way, felt very bad indeed when the thump turned out to be… well, not just a thump.
"What have you done?" the duke asked as Rein laid the precious Pookey before him.
Rein, who was to think later that he'd never seen a man turn so instantly pale, said, "He ran in front of my phaeton, Uncle." Actually, Rein was reasonably certain the dog's proximity to his carriage had been no coincidence, but he kept such theories to himself.
"You ran him over?"
"Actually, it was more of a glancing blow. Very quick, I assure—"
"You ran over him," the duke raged, his eyes turning as red as that little speck one saw in the corner of a bovine's eye.
"I'm sorry, Uncle." And Rein truly was, for he was not without compassion. Truth be told, he had rather a fondness for animals, even those that enjoyed the taste of human flesh, like Pookey.
But the duke was pointing to the door now, his finger stabbing the air with so much force, his whole arm vibrated. "Get out."
"I refuse to tolerate your presence for a second more," he said with a veritable waterfall of saliva. "You charge from one scandal to another. Indeed, look at you now, a bruise around your eye—"
"It was an accident."
"Long have I considered you an accident."
"I say, that's rather harsh."
"You are a blight on our family tree. Placing an ad offering Windsor Castle for lease," the duke raged.
"You heard about that?" asked Rein, wiping at his cheek.
"Suspending a carriage from Windsor Bridge," his uncle went on, ignoring him.
An engineering marvel, not that Rein had done the mathematical calculations.
"Creating fake stones and tossing them upon your professor as he walked into Eton's schoolyard, thereby giving him a fit of apoplexy—"
"I never meant to actually harm the man—"
"And then getting not only yourself, but my Willy thrown out of Eton, and that after being expelled from Oxford because of that incident with the barmaid—"
"Yes, but that was years ago—"
"And then to come here and do"—his uncle's eyes caught on the dog, his expression turning to one of grief—"this to my precious Pookey."
Which made Rein feel as vile as the wet bottom of a bag filled with rotted apples. "Uncle, I truly am sor—"
"No," the duke shot back. "No. I will not listen to another word of your excuses. For eighteen years I have tolerated your presence, but no more. From here on you shall never set foot at Wroxly Park again."
"Out," the duke roared like a Shakespearean actor. "Out, I say,"
Damned spot, Rein silently added. But he didn't chastise the old man for stealing the great playwright's lines. No. Instead he bowed and exited the scene.
And there it might have ended, but for one thing: Ten years later Rein became the duke's heir.
About the same time Rein was banished forevermore from Wroxly Park, eleven-year-old Anna Brooks was trying very hard to understand where she fit into the world. Born to a captain in the King's Navy and a gently bred but impoverished seamstress, she was not exactly poor, not exactly orphaned (her mother and father were alive, but often sailed together), but rather the girl in the village whom everyone knew would become a governess, or a missionary, or something that involved Anna supporting herself in some humdrum way.
This was a source of constant irritation for Anna, who'd been taught by her mother that a woman's life could be far from humdrum. Why, she could even captain a ship (which her mother did upon occasion, when her father's superiors weren't looking). So when she overheard Lavinia Herbert say to Elliot Spencer, a boy whom Anna had developed a tendre for, that Anna would do well to enter a convent so that she could begin her life's work early, Anna was outraged. Work in a convent, indeed. She was destined for a far greater purpose in life than tending the gardens at Our Lady of the Fountain's Convent. Unlike Lavinia, Anna had a brain.
And so she came up with a plan, and a rather good one at that, she thought. Working day and night, she began to construct her greatest creation, something that would prove her brilliance: a ship (though it was more the size of a rowboat), for Anna was something of an inventor. But this ship would be lighter, faster and more maneuverable than other ships.
Alas, it didn't turn out quite that way.
Oh, she built the ship. It just looked rather, well, odd. First, it was shaped rather queer: like a fish caught in the throes of a death arch. And the mainmast tipped to port. And her sail… well, Anna was quite convinced window coverings were not meant for sails, even if they did look unique, what with the pattern of roses imprinted upon them.
Still, on the day of the race, as Anna optimistically stood by her "ship," she was proud. The thing did, indeed, float, even if it was in the way that flotsam often clotted together on a stagnant lake.
The people of Porthollow, bless their hearts, were not cruel enough to laugh when they saw her creation reclining on the sand. Indeed, they called out good luck to each other and smooth sailing as the racers stood by in preparation for launch on that sunny and clear day. Elliot, that youthful object of her secret fantasies, however, suffered no such compassion, Elliot being a boy, and everyone knew how unfeeling a male child could be.
"You'll sink within ten seconds," he predicted from his position next to her.
"I will not," Anna said, fussing with her cloak nervously.
But Anna had taken her boat out last evening and so she knew she was relatively safe. Thus, she decided not to argue the point. Instead she flicked her cloak off her shoulders in the manner of a great naval captain, gave Elliot an arch look and shoved off.
Things didn't work out quite the way she'd planned.
One, the boat she'd spent so many hours crafting had gotten wet (as boats were supposed to do), the result being that the poor quality wood was now water-saturated, thus making it more heavy and the boat—much to Anna's dismay—no longer buoyant.
Two, the pegs she had pounded in to secure the timbers had swelled and worked loose during the night, the result being that the moment she shoved off, she heard a rather startling couple of pops followed by an ominous twang.
"Hell's bells," she used her father's favorite curse.
She glanced up at Elliot, who had launched his sleek little sloop next to her.
He smirked from his hunched position beneath the mainsail.
She closed her eyes.
He started counting.
She was up to her knees at five.
Eight saw her to her waist.
Nine put her up to her shoulders.
And ten? Well, ten was garbled by the water in her ears.
Anna decided she would allow herself to drown.
Alas, Elliot would not let her.
He dove in, coming to her rescue like Titan protecting his ladylove. Anna's keen intellect suddenly reasoned that this was a much better way of gaining his attention, so she held her breath, feeling strong, manly arms swoop her up and pull her to the surface.
"Anna Brooks," he gasped as they surfaced, "you are the silliest fool I've ever seen."
Anna didn't care. Oh, she just didn't care. The feel of Elliot's arms around her. The touch of his body against hers. The scent of his salt-laden coat… it made her head swim. As Elliot carried her toward the shore, her "ship," his sloop and the concerned cries of the crowd forgotten, she decided she would remember the moment for as long as she lived.
And, indeed, a half hour later as she made her way home, wet, embarrassed, bemused and yet never defeated, Anna did relive the moment. Again and again and again. Elliot had rescued her. He had held her close and… well… while he hadn't kissed her, he might have if she'd played her part a bit better. Things couldn't have gone better.
Hmm. She frowned as she walked up the middle of the lane. Perhaps they could have gone better. She'd like to have been able to sail her boat. Too bad she hadn't taken into account the weight of the wood once wet, a lapse on her part. And those pegs. She should have compensated for the swelling. For half a heartbeat her mind spun with a mathematical calculation, one that compensated for the weight of the wood and the amount of swelling and the pressure such swelling would cause. Elliot was momentarily forgotten. After a short moment, a voice penetrated her musings.
"Oh, miss," Anna heard someone say.
Anna hated being interrupted when she was in the middle of a calculation. It was the same feeling she got when she was interrupted reading a book. Pop. Out of the story. She looked up, surprised to see Sarah, the maid of all work her parents employed, standing off to the right of the road.
"Been waiting for you, I have."
"Sarah, why are you not in town for the May Day celebrations?"
For a moment the pretty little maid couldn't speak, she was so overcome with emotion.
And Anna knew. She just knew in the way that people know when someone is coming up behind you. The way a person knows bad news is on the horizon by the way a body shivers with cold. The way one senses something ominous has happened, though not exactly how, or what, only that it has happened.
"It is my parents, is it not?"
The maid nodded, her eyes filling with fresh tears.
"I'm so sorry, miss. So sorry. Their ship went down two weeks ago."
Two weeks ago?
Anna closed her eyes, a pressure building behind them. She tried not to cry. Lord, wasn't that silly? She tried not to cry so Sarah would not feel bad. But she couldn't stop the tears. A grief filled her such as she'd never known before, and would likely never feel again. One so instant and so all-encompassing she could only find the strength to utter one word, "No," in a small voice.
Though Anna was only eleven, though she'd yet to experience life and all its pains and sorrows, she was bright enough and astute enough to realize the blow she'd just been dealt was one that would change her life forever. That nothing, absolutely nothing, would ever be the same again.
And, indeed, it never was.
Ten years after a heartbroken little girl went off to live in London, the poor duke of Wroxly was told that Rein Montgomery was now his heir.
"My heir?" the duke roared.
"Yes, Your Grace." The man swallowed, watching as the duke's face reddened past his gray hairline.
"Impossible," and his green eyes all but snapped the word at his solicitor.
"I'm afraid not."
"I will not allow it."
"You have no choice."
"We could kill him," the duke affirmed, his jowls quivering like a chicken's wattle as he bobbed his head. "Kill him as he killed my Willy." He nodded for emphasis, the ducal hair, which had never been very prevalent, shaken into streamers that stuck out in the manner of porcupine quills.
"Your Grace," the solicitor felt the need to point out, "your son died in a duel—"
"He would never have involved himself with that woman if his cousin Rein had not expressed interest in her himself."
"Yes, but the fact remains that your son involved himself with a married woman, one whose husband felt understandably cuckolded when your son—"
"My son would never have done something so dishonorable if not for Rein Montgomery," the duke said, his voice rising in volume until he doubled over in a fit of coughing, a cough that had gotten worse since his son's death. When he regained himself, he straightened, saying in a low voice, "I will not have that—" The duke swallowed. "I will not have that wastrel, that instigator, that killer inherit my lands, not while my poor Willy lies in the ground."
At that moment, the solicitor felt almost sorry for the duke. Only the glimmer of madness he saw in His Grace's eyes caused that pity to turn to concern.
"Something must be done," the duke said.
And, indeed, something was done.
Two years after Wroxly heard Rein was now his heir, the poor duke died too. Tragic, Rein thought, as he studied his nails (and admitted he needed a new manicure). Probate had gone quickly. But as Rein sat listening to the reading of the will, he admitted he could barely contain himself as he waited for the solicitor to get to the good part, the part where his uncle left him everything.
" 'As to my heir, Charles Reinleigh Drummond Montgomery…' "
At last. Rein perked up.
" '… I leave nothing.' "
Rein blinked. Blinked again. Then said in a low voice, "I beg your pardon?"
" 'I can, of course,' " the solicitor read on, " 'do nothing about those lands that are entailed. However, the rest of my estate—those investments that produce the Wroxly wealth—those I leave in trust…' "
" '… until such a day as a new heir is born, or the title passes on. Those incomes will then revert to the rightful heir, unless…' "
And Rein knew he wouldn't like what came next. His hands clutched the arms of the red chair he sat in, his cheek twitching in a spasm.
" '… the current duke of Wroxly can prove his worth…' "
What the blazes did that mean?
" '… by living on his own for four weeks' time without aid from friends or family, and without telling a single soul of his plight, and by leaving to do so immediately so as not to alert those friends and family, and so that he is unable to stash certain funds to help him through the process.' "
Stash funds? What the blazes was the solicitor talking about?
" 'If, and only if,' " the solicitor read on, " 'the new duke of Wroxly succeeds in this endeavor, will he be allowed to inherit the properties mentioned above.' "
"What the blazes is this?" Rein could contain himself no more.
The solicitor looked up, lowering the paper he'd been reading from to a position right above his well-polished cherry desk, the reflection of his nearly bald head a mirror image on the desk's surface.
"This," the solicitor explained, the glass in his spectacles turning almost white with a glare, "is what the duke came up with to test you."
The solicitor nodded. "You, Your Grace, shall live on your own for one month's time without aid from friends or family or servants, and without using a penny of your own wealth, nor telling anyone who you are. You must live by your wits and your wits alone, and if you do not"—the little man tapped the edges of the will on his desk—"you won't get a farthing of the money generated by ducal investments. In short, Your Grace, if you fail in this challenge, you will be destroyed both financially and personally."
And all Rein did was stare, his hands clenching tighter and tighter until the fabric caught under his nails.
"Bastard," he hissed.
Once upon a time a fair maiden met a prince, though at the time, she had no notion he was a prince….
In March of 1819, at exactly eleven-thirty in the morning, during an overcast spring day that blew blustery and cold, Anna Rose Brooks rendered the duke of Wroxly senseless.
Of course, at the time, she had no idea he was a duke. Indeed, seconds before the accident, she'd been atop the roof of her tenement—the two- and three-story buildings in St. Giles so packed together they formed a sort of field—cursing at her kite because the daft thing was about to sink onto the busy street below.
"No," she told the triangular shape that hung in the air above her head, darting and ducking this way and that with a crackle of the canvas material. "You shall not do this," she added, tugging on the string.
Blast it, she'd spent hours crafting this particular design, but the bloody thing kept insisting on zigging and zagging against the gray backdrop like a ball between two buildings, lowering, and then lowering some more, and then not lowering—diving.
"Ballocks," she cursed, letting go of the string. She ran to the edge of the roof, her heart beating a disastrous thump as she watched her precious invention fall toward the carriage-jingling, pedestrian-clogged street below. A man had just stepped out of a carriage, his hat and walking stick firmly in hand. He must have caught a glimpse of her kite as he stepped out, for Anna saw him glance up.
What happened next Anna would swear wasn't possible. Indeed, she would later tell her best friend Molly that it appeared as if the hand of God himself pressed down on her kite. Suddenly it took on the speed of a battering ram, and even from her perch way up on high, she could see what was about to happen. So, too, could the man, at least judging by the way his eyes widened.
And then widened even more.
The kite whacked him on the forehead like a tree branch bent back by a mischievous child.
Anna covered her mouth. The man fell to the street, arms splayed like Jesus on the cross—without the cross. She stared, waiting for him to move. He didn't. A passerby paused for a second, looked down, then stepped over him as if a prone man were nothing unusual in St. Giles, which, she realized, it wasn't. The pedestrian walked on.
Others had begun to notice, too. Someone from across the street dodged traffic to kneel by the man's side. Another person ran forward. When the first man looked up and crossed himself, Anna darted back from the edge.
And then the magnitude of what had just happened hit her. She straightened in horror.
What if he's gone to kingdom come?
She lurched up, the cloak she wore getting tangled up in her feet, which made her step back, which then pulled her neckline taut, causing her to strangulate for a full three seconds before she sorted her feet, the garment and her wits out (though the last was questionable).
What if I've dicked him in the knob?
For a few breathless—no, panicked—moments she contemplated dashing off in the other direction. Hiding on the next roof over, perhaps, or maybe even pretending she hadn't noticed her kite—a kite that was really an experimental sail—was responsible for the man lying in the street. But what with the myriad of carriages thumping and clanging about as they passed, pickpockets and goodness knew what else on the loose, she couldn't just leave him there.
"Never seen anything like it," old Ben the coconut trader was saying when she reached the street below—out of breath, marginally less panicked, but cringing when she saw where her victim lay: atop a stream of rotted vegetables, gnawed bones and bilge water otherwise known as the gutter.
"Knocked him clean off his feet," he added. "Like a rider what got smacked in the head by a wood beam. Back went his head, up went his feet, splat, down he went."
"Is 'e dead?" asked one of the market maids, the wilted purple flower in her bedraggled black hat bobbing as she glanced down.
Aye, is he? Anna silently asked, approaching more slowly now.
"'E's had 'is bell rung," a chimney sweep answered as he knelt to check for a pulse, his ash-covered finger leaving a mark on the man's neck. "But he's not ready for a bone box yet," he announced with a look up, his eyes two slashes of white in a sooty face, tall black hat matching his bedraggled jacket. "Pity. Like to get me hands on those clothes o' his. Bang up to the mark. Must be a gent. Look at them shiny boots."
Anna almost collapsed in relief. He would live. She hoped.
Old Ben looked up just then, his wrinkled face frowning, and Anna knew he'd spotted her. Worse, she knew he knew who'd been flying the kite, well, sail. And why wouldn't he know? On the back of her invention, marked as plain as eyeballs, were the words, "If found, return to Anna Brooks, No. 7, St. Giles High Street." But even without that, everyone in the rookery knew of her fierce determination to win the contest sponsored by the Navy. And that she'd been flying her sails whenever she took a break from selling her wares at Covent Garden. They had all encouraged her. But now that she'd bashed someone in the knowledge box, they might not be so supportive.
"You've done it now, Anna, lass," Ben said, confirming her fears.
A glance down at the gentleman who lay there with his arms splayed out like that statue of Jesus at St. Paul's Cathedral made Anna realize she had, indeed, "done it."
"Look at the size of the knot on his knob," the chimney sweep said, coming to his feet, which—as sad as it may seem—didn't make him much taller than when he'd been squatting down. Anna followed his gaze, wincing at the red circle imprinted on the gentleman's head and that very oddly resembled a sundial. An inch and a half in diameter, blazing hot in color, it was exactly the same circumference as the wooden dowels she used as a frame for her sails. Hell's fires.
"Will he live?" she asked, coming to Ben's side.
All of them jumped back, Anna almost into the path of an approaching carriage before old Ben pulled her forward, the jarvis yelling at her as he rolled on by with a spray of mud and stinky water.
Green eyes opened, blinked, then closed again. "Tell me I am not lying atop what feels and smells like a rubbish heap," he said, his aristocratic face flinching, his nose twitching like a rabbit's. Or maybe it was the tiny flecks of mud that made him look like he had whiskers.
No one said a word.
"I take it from that stunned silence that I am, indeed, lying upon said rubbish heap."
"I was afraid of that."
- On Sale
- Jul 31, 2007
- Page Count
- 356 pages
- Forever Yours