Kasey Michaels.

What an Earl Wants






Praise for bestselling author
KASEY MICHAELS

Kasey Michaels aims for the heart and never misses.

New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts

The historical elementsimbue the novel with powerful realism that will keep readers coming back.

Publishers Weekly on A Midsummer Nights Sin

One of the finest Regency writers does it again

Wit, humour and cleverness combine to create an utterly delicious romance, just the kind readers relish.

RT Book Reviews on The Taming of the Rake

A poignant and highly satisfying readfilled with simmering sensuality, subtle touches of repartee, a hero out for revenge and a heroine ripe for adventure. Youll enjoy the ride.

RT Book Reviews on How to Tame a Lady

Michaels new Regency miniseries is a joyYou will laugh and even shed a tear over this touching romance.

RT Book Reviews on How to Tempt a Duke

Michaels can write everything from a lighthearted romp to a far more serious-themed romance. [She] has outdone herself.

RT Book Reviews on A Gentleman by Any Other Name(Top Pick)

a sensual romance filled with crackling dialogue reminiscent of The Philadelphia Story.

Publishers Weekly on Everythings Coming Up Rosie

Also available from Kasey Michaels

The Blackthorn Brothers The Taming of the Rake A Midsummer Nights Sin Much Ado About Rogues

The Daughtry Family How to Tempt a Duke How to Tame a Lady How to Beguile a Beauty How to Wed a Baron

Other must-reads Dial M for Mischief Mischief Becomes Her Mischief 24/7 A Gentleman by Any Other Name The Dangerous Debutante Beware of Virtuous Women A Most Unsuitable Groom A Reckless Beauty The Secrets of the Heart The Passion of an Angel Everythings Coming Up Rosie Shall We Dance? The Butler Did It The Top-Lofty Lord Thorpe The Ruthless Lord Rule The Beleaguered Lord Bourne The Enterprising Lord Edward

The Redgraves The Wedding Party Rules of Engagement

Coming soon What a Lady Needs

Dear Reader,

For this series of four books, Ive stepped back in time to the year just before the Regency officially began in February of 1811.

Hellfire clubs have always interested me, as has the politics surrounding the years of the Napoleonic Wars. The thing is, however, when I read histories I immediately begin weaving plots and peopling those plots with characters who make the whole business of history more alive to me.

You could say thats the reason for all historical romances, I suppose. A love of the era youre reading about, and an interest in the well-being and happily-ever-afters of the characters the author has plunked down in the middle of all of it.

I hope you enjoy What An Earl Wants, and then move on to read the stories of the earls three siblings, the headstrong Lady Katherine, the frankly adorable Valentine and the (he believes) love-resistant Maximillian.

Happy readingand please visit me online if you have a chance!

Kasey Michaels

What an Earl Wants

Kasey Michaels

www.millsandboon.co.uk

With affection, to Debi Allen,

lovely lady extraordinaire!

PROLOGUE

Kent, England

1789

THE GROUND SEEMED SUITABLE enough for the purpose.

Nearly a tunnel of well-scythed lawn on the Saltwood estate, the carefully planted double row of trees serving as a rather romantical canopy overhead. Or it would have, were it summer, which it was not. In fact, it was the dead of winter and, in the false light before dawn, cold as a witchs teat.

But, then again, no colder than the heart of the man now surveying the scene, no matter how appearances would prompt the casual onlooker to dismiss him as a mindless dandy.

I say, Burke, shouldnt there be a mist curling about our legs? Yes, Im convinced of it. All the best early morning duels feature wispy tendrils of curling mist. I would have thought it mandatory. Youll hold my cape, of course?

The seventeenth Earl of Saltwood, one Barry Redgrave by name, lifted his arms and negligently shrugged out of his sable-lined cape, then laughed as his horrified valet sprang forward in a panic to rescue the magnificent thing before it could hit the ground.

Ah, well executed, Burke. My compliments. Relieved of the concealing cape, the earl was revealed to be not only a well set-up gentleman but also an exceedingly handsome man, or would be, were it not for a certain indescribable hardness about his dark blue eyes. His humor never quite seemed to reach them.

Youve drunk half the night away, my lord. You really must reconsider your timing, Burke pleaded, now struggling with both the cape and the heavy rosewood box containing the Saltwood dueling pistols.

I must, Burke? The earl removed his tricornered hat with the lilac plume, placed it on Burkes head at a jaunty angle, and then discreetly adjusted his snow-white periwig. Why? Because of the lack of a mist? Gods teeth, man, its actually in the rules?

I dont believe so, my lord, no. I meant only that you might be a mitefoxed, my lord, the valet said, sighing.

More than a mite, Burke, the earl acknowledged, suddenly seeming amazingly sober. I do my best shooting when three parts drunk. But if it calms you, I promise if I see three of him Ill prudently aim for the one in the middle. However, if the unthinkable were to occur, you know what to do.

Yes, my lord, Burke said, visibly trembling. Everything goes to the Keeper, who also knows what to do.

Make me pretty, Burke, and well attended by handmaidens, or I shall come back to haunt you, his lordship warned, and then laughed at his valets horrified expression. Im not about to die, you old woman. Ill never die. Satan protects his own. Now, how does our importune Frenchman look to you? Quavering in his boots I should hope, as my reputation must surely precede me.

Burke hazarded a look toward the plain black coach and the surgeon just now conversing with the very tall man and his second. I dont think so, no, sir. Rather, I should say, he appears determined. I should be remiss if I failed to mention that the duty of a second is to dissuade you from dueling, sir, and to broker a peace with the opponents second, one that will be acceptable to both sides.

A waste of breath best employed to cool your porridge once were finished here, Burke. There can be no acceptable solution other than that already decided upon. The man has been poking my lady wife.

Many have, sir, Burke said, sighing once more. Begging your pardon, my lord, and no offense meant.

None taken, my good man, the earl said, flourishing a snowy linen handkerchief unearthed from his magnificent lace cuff before delicately pressing it to the right corner of his mouth, so as to not disturb the small star-shaped black patch he wore at the left. Maribel has seen more cocks than any three generations of hens. With my express encouragement, although I should point out she defied me with this one. In any event, her perfidy serves only as a convenient excuse.

Sir?

Ah, my apologies. I wasnt clear enough for you, Burke? It has become apparent to me for reasons I wont bore you with at the moment that my opponent must cease drawing breath in the next quarter hour at most. The earl replaced the handkerchief and shot his cuffs before smoothing down the lilac velvet of his frock coat, putting out his right foot to admire the dull sheen of his satin breeches in the waning moonlight. Too much, do you think, Burke? This rig-out, I mean. I didnt wish to appear shabby, although I might make a richer target in this cursed moonlight than previously considered. Well, no matter. Shall we be on with it?

If there is no other way?

The earls jawline went hard as he touched a hand to the small golden pin in the shape of a rose in full bloom stuck into the foaming lace of his cravat. There probably exist a veritable plethora of other ways, but I have chosen this one, magnanimously granting the dishonorable creature an honorable death. Civilized murder, if you will, with man-made rules. And, of course, a lesson quite literally brought home to my lady wife, hmm, when I bring his bloodied body to her bedchamber, to fling it at her feet? Please allow my fornicating opponent first choice of weapons.

Burke did as he was told, and much too short a time later he was huddled alongside the surgeon and the other second, watching the combatants stand backto-back, pistols raised to their shoulders, the duel about to commence. The earl appeared to be at his ease, a smile on his handsome face. The Frenchman, his chin held high, was pale-cheeked yet determined, as if knowing he was probably about to die.

Yes, Burke thought, civilized murder. All but an execution.

The earl himself began counting out the paces before they would stop, turn and shoot. eightnineten.

Burke closed his eyes, only opening them again when the sound of a single shot ripped the morning silence, jolting nesting birds into startled flight. The two men now faced each other across the expanse of winter dead grass, their right arms extended, their pistols aimed at each other. Rather like statues, frozen in place.

But then the earl turned about rather stiffly, as if hunting something, and Burke looked to the opposite line of trees and the cloaked figure standing there, head and shoulders wreathed in blue smoke.

Now theres something I hadnt expected the Earl of Saltwood said at last, just before he dropped to his knees and pitched forward onto the ground, dead.

CHAPTER ONE

London, England 1810

THE EIGHTEENTH EARL of Saltwood, one Gideon Redgrave by name, struck a pose just inside the entrance of the narrow house in Jermyn Street, looking for all the world a sketch from the Journal des Dames et des Modes come to life. Not by so much as a flicker of an eyelid did he give away the fact that hed no idea hed knocked on the door of number forty-seven only to be ushered into a gaming house. His man of business would answer for that omission when next he saw him; the earl didnt care for surprises.

He allowed a curtsying maid of indeterminate years to relieve him of his hat, gloves and cane, and then shrugged off his evening cloak, watching as the woman folded it lovingly over her arm. A gold coin appeared from his pocket, and he held it in front of her wideopen blue eyes. A copper coin would do for most, but Gideon Redgrave believed the gold coin to be an investment, one that would pay dividends when his belongings came back to him in the same pristine condition in which theyd been handed over, rather than having suffered the unfortunate accident of walking out the door in his absence.

Yours if my possessions are safely returned when I leave, he told her, and the maid bobbed her head enthusiastically before scurrying away.

He resumed his pose, meant to have all eyes come to him and their owners too busy being either envious or impressed to think up mischief while he surreptitiously acclimated himself to his surroundings. And the eighteenth Earl of Saltwoods appearance was, without fail, nothing short of enviably impressive.

The superb tailoring of his darkest blue cut-away tailcoat accentuated the snowy perfection of his silk brocade waistcoat, but not so much as it displayed the earls astonishingly fit physique, broad shoulders, flat stomach and narrow waist. Pantaloons of formfitting buff doeskin clung lovingly to long, muscular lower limbs, ending just at the calf, above silk stockings and low-heeled black patent evening shoes.

His only ornamentation, other than the thin black grosgrain ribbon hanging about his neck and attached to the quizzing glass tucked into a small pocket of his waistcoat, was the small golden rose depicted in full bloom and no more than a single inch in circumference, nestled in the folds of his intricately tied cravat. This latter bit of fancy was a recent affectation, one that had caused comment in some circles, but to date, no one had dared speak of it to his lordship.

Thick, longish hair the color of midnight tumbled over his smooth forehead in natural curls that sent other gentlemen to their valets and the crimping iron to duplicate. Hints of his Spanish mother could be seen in the strong, aquiline nose that saved him from too much beauty, the unexpected fullness of his mouth, the sensual smolder in his dark eyes. There was an earthiness about the man not completely disguised by the trappings of fine clothes, a sense of dangerous energy tightly leashed yet always simmering just below the sophisticated surface.

In a word, the eighteenth Earl of Saltwood was intimidating. In two, if applying to the female population, he was marvelously irresistible.

When he was noticed, and he was always noticed, several of the men who recognized him for what he was, if not who he was, prudently realized they had pressing business elsewhere and quit the room in some haste. Conversations broke off abruptly. Hands stilled in the act of shuffling cards or pulling in chips. The more daring among the players turned their chairs about for a better view of what was sure to be an interesting few minutes, at the least.

One of the hostesses, the term surely taken quite as loosely as the morals of any female in the hall, ran her moist tongue around her lips rather hungrily. She gave her smiling approval of the impossible-to-disguise manly muscle between the gentlemans thighs and took two steps forward, tugging down on the already low neckline of her cherry-red gown before she was grabbed at the elbow and hastily pulled back.

For Lords sake, Mildred, control yourself. Hes not here for that.

Gideon Redgrave extracted his chased-gold quizzing glass, raising it to one eye, and slowly surveyed the surprisingly well-lit and clean yet faintly down-at-the-heels room before allowing his gaze to halt and hold on the woman who had just spoken.

She advanced on him with some purpose, the light of confrontation in her sherry-brown eyes, her fairly remarkable chin tilted up as if she had somehow raised the battle flag and was announcing her intention to unleash a broadside. But then she stopped, smiled and dropped into a mocking curtsy.

Lord Saltwood, she intoned quietly, her voice slightly husky, as if she might be whispering risqu? endearments in the privacy of a candlelit boudoir, Ive been expecting you. Do you prefer a public airing of our differences, or would you care to retire to my apartments for our chat?

She wasmagnificent. Gideon could think of no other description. Taller than most women, slim almost to the point of thinness, yet subtly curved. Hair the color of flame against the severity of her high-necked black gown, skin the color of finest ivory. The eyes, mocking, the mouth, full and wideand knowing. No sane man could look at her without imagining his fingers tangling in that mass of warm curls tumbling around her shoulders, sinking himself deep between her thighs, plunging into the promised fire as she wrapped long legs up high around him.

Which, of course, would be total madness.

Gideons eyes widened fractionally, just enough to dislodge the glass, and he deftly caught it by its ribbon and replaced it in his pocket. Youve the advantage of me, madam. you are?

Exactly who you think I am, my lord, she returned, her wide smile frosting only slightly about the edges. And now that you and your glowering face have served to quite ruin what had promised to be a profitable evening, you will please follow me.

She turned sharply, the scent of sweet lavender tickling his nostrils as her fiery mane, seeming much too heavy for her slim neck, swung about as if in a belated attempt to catch up with her. Her modest gown, a stiff, unyielding taffeta so in contrast to the riot of tumbling curls, rustled as she walked.

Here now, where do you think youre?

She raised her hand to the faintly rotund, gray-haired man who had stepped out from behind the faro table, his eyes on the earl as if measuring his chances of knocking him down. Though he clearly found them miniscule, he straightened his shoulders, no doubt prepared to give his best if asked. Simply carry on, Richard, if you please. Im fine.

Yes, you do that, Richard, Gideon drawled as he and the woman easily made their way through the throng of patrons who had all stepped back to afford them a pathway. He was painfully aware he somehow had been put in the ignoble position of potential despoiler of virgins, which was above everything ludicrous. Your employers virtue is safe with me.

A young man, looking fresh from the country and obviously a fellow with more hair than wit, dared to chuckle at this remark. Theres virtue here? Stap me, I wouldnt have come if it was virtue I was looking for.

Stubble it, Figgins, the man next to him warned, saving Gideon the trouble of having to turn back and waste a dark stare on the impudent puppy. Dont you know who that is? The fellas a Redgrave, for Gods sakes. He spits biggern you.

Gideon suppressed a smile. He hadnt heard that one before. But how convenient that his reputation preceded him; it made life so much easier.

He stepped forward as he realized the woman had stopped in front of a baize door, clearly waiting on him to open it for her. Liked to play at the lady, it would seem, straight down to the prim black gown and the erect nature of her posture. Pity for her that her hair and eyes and mouthand that voicehadnt been informed of this preferred pretense.

Oh, please, allow me, he drawled sarcastically, bowing her ahead of him as he depressed the latch, before following her up a long, steep flight of stairs surprisingly located just on the other side of the door. The stairs were between two walls and just well lit enough for him to be able to enjoy the sway of her bottom as she climbed ahead of him, holding up her stiff skirts, affording him a tantalizing glimpse of slim ankles, as well. Ah, and a hint of calf. Lovely.

The woman was contradiction after contradiction. Buttoned nearly to her chin, yet her slippers were silver-heeled black satin. He could imagine himself kissing them from her feet and then rolling down her hose, just so far, because he enjoyed the feel of silk-encased legs on his back .

He was forced to hold the banister as she stopped, extracting a key from a pocket in her gown and slipping it into the lock. Hed wondered about that, the easy access to the staircase, and how many times in the course of an evening this route might be traveled by patrons and the women.

As if to assure him, she stepped inside the apartments, motioning for him to close the door behind him as she said, No one is allowed here. We wont be disturbed. Would you care for wine, or would you rather simply be on with it?

Thats direct, in any case. Be on with what, madam? I had thought I was calling at a private residence, the object conversation. Seeing the nature of this house, the possibilities have become almost limitless. Not that Im not tempted.

She lit a taper and gracefully moved about the room, lighting candles. You flatter yourself, my lord, and insult me. Im not in such dire need of funds. We turn cards here, nothing else.

Gideon sat himself down on a nearby chair, deciding she could remain standing if she so wished, but he was going to make himself comfortable. Redgraves always made themselves comfortable; and the more comfortable they looked, the more on guard any sane person in their midst became. You might explain that toMildred, was it? he suggested amicably.

He did his best not to blink as she toed off the silver-heeled shoes and kicked them beneath a table as if happy to be rid of them. I cannot presume to control the world, my lord, only the small portion of it beneath this roof. Mildred and the others make their own arrangements as to what they do outside this establishment.

Thatscivilized. So, a gaming hell, but no brothel. A fine line between disreputable and despicable. Am I to perhaps applaud?

She looked at him, long and hard, and then reached up both hands and deftly twisted the heavy mass of curls into a knot atop her head before walking over to a small drinks table holding a single decanter of wine. I dont particularly care what you do, my lord, she said as she poured some of the light amber liquid into a single glass before turning to face him. As long as you relinquish guardianship of my brother to me.

Oh, yes, Miss Collier, the demand presented to me via your solicitor. I can readily see the eminent sense in that. Clearly a fit place for the boy.

The name is Linden, my lord. Mrs. Linden. Im a widow.

Gideon could not suppress his smile this time. Of course you are. How very proper. My apologies.

You can take your apologies, my lord, and stuff them in yourear, she said, and then turned her back to him as she lifted the glass to her lips. She didnt sip; she drank. He could see that her hand trembled slightly as she lowered the empty glass to the tabletop. The wine was for courage, clearly. He almost felt sorry for her.

Almost.

But then she turned back to him, her eyes shining in the light of the candles. Weve begun badly, havent we? Are you certain you dont care for a glass of wine?





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