INTENTIONS OF THE EARL

INTENTIONS OF THE EARL
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Published Date:31-07-2017
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INTENTIONS OF THE EARL ROSE GORDONChapter 1 London, England May 1812 Smack “Ouch” “You deserved it, you lecher,” Brooke Banks exclaimed, scrambling to get off the secluded bench where she had been kissing Benjamin Collins, Duke of Gateway. “What was that for?” Gateway demanded, rubbing his cheek. “You have to ask?” Brooke crossed her arms. “I came out here to see the gardens, not have you maul me in the shrubbery.” Why did he, like all men, assume her agreement to go into the gardens translated into permission for him to touch her person—specifically her chest? “I wasn’t mauling you,” he spat. His face looked like it had been carved from marble with his mouth clamped so tightly that white lines had formed around the ridges and his eyes had transformed from warm, blue candle flames into hard, cold chips of ice. “You’re correct; you didn’t maul me. Yet. I felt your hand drifting from my shoulder. Don’t think for one second that I didn’t know its intended destination.” Gateway snorted. “And are you trying to tell me you didn’t want me to touch you?” “You know I didn’t,” Brooke snapped. She clutched her skirt with both hands, twisting the fabric to refrain from striking him again. “So you say, but your actions suggest differently,” he responded slyly.“What are you talking about?” How could her actions have possibly been so misconstrued they would suggest she wanted him to grope her? Still sitting on the bench, Gateway leaned his shoulders back up against a tree and folded his arms. “Well, Miss Banks,” he drawled. “I recall us sharing an unusually close dance, immediately followed by you calling me ‘Benny’. This not only shows familiarity by calling me by my Christian name, but goes one step further, because someone could think you have a special nickname for me.” He shrugged and cocked his head, leering at her. “That’s what gave me the impression you enjoyed my company and would further enjoy it in the gardens, where it’s dark.” “It was a waltz,” she cried. “You’re supposed to dance close. I’m sorry if you took that as encouragement to make further advances, but they were not welcome.” She chose to leave off the bit about calling him “Benny”. There was no way she could defend herself on that score. “You didn’t protest my kisses,” he said smoothly. Brooke flushed. He was right, she hadn’t protested his kisses. Not to say she enjoyed them, because she hadn’t. But she hadn’t stopped him, either, which he probably took as encouragement. “Once again, I’m sorry you mistook that as encouragement for your amorous urges.” “I didn’t mistake anything. You, miss, are nothing but a tease.” “And you, sir, are no gentleman,” she exclaimed, heedless to his sneer. “I never claimed to be.” His eyes flashed fire. “Well, do try to be one just now and escort me back inside,” Brooke said with feigned sweetness. Gateway pushed up off the bench and offered her his arm. When they were safely inside the ballroom, she flashed the duke a winning smile and said cordially, “Thank you, sir. The gardens were beautiful.” Instead of responding or even acknowledging she’d spoken, the duke dropped her arm as if he’d been burned and mumbled something about a careless American chit teasing the wrong man as he huffed off toward the other side of the ballroom.Brooke gave his comment, or what she’d heard of it anyway, about two seconds worth of thought before shrugging it off and greeting her frowning sister. “What is that frown about, Liberty?” she asked innocently. “You know what the frown is about. If you don’t, then you’re hopeless,” was her sister’s low reply. Liberty might be four years younger than Brooke, but she had a way of acting as though she were the older sister. That was especially true when it came to things like social proprieties. She freely gave lectures, thinly veiled as “discussions,” when she felt circumstances dictated such. Knowing this was one of those occasions, and there was no chance of escaping Liberty’s lecture, Brooke decided to get it over with. At least if they had the “discussion” here, in the ballroom, surrounded by a couple hundred people, there was a chance it would be brief. The other option would include being railed against for hours on end once they got home. Turning to Liberty, she flashed another innocent smile. “Whatever do you mean?” Liberty was no fool; no one could live with Brooke for nineteen years without knowing her tactics. True, Liberty wouldn’t make a scene. But she had never been one to forget or to change her purpose just because a crowd was present. Looking at Brooke with all the confidence of a queen, Liberty declared, “You break every rule there is, and you don’t give a fig about it.” This wasn’t a new concept, and despite their many conversations, nothing had changed. Brooke felt like pointing that fact out, but it would just make this drag on longer. “I know. I’m sorry.” “No, you’re not,” Liberty snapped, slapping her fan on her palm for emphasis. “You’re never sorry. You say you are, but you’re not.” Her lips thinned. “You must have broken at least ten rules with the Duke of Gateway alone.” She let out a deep breath. “And that’s just what I saw while you were in here. Who knows how many others you broke while out in the gardens?” Brooke was ready for this conversation to be over, so she did what she knew she’d regret, but did it knowing it would be the only way to end this here and now. Taking a deep breath and schooling her features to look completely interested, she asked, “What did I do wrong, dear sister, and how should I have done it differently?” Liberty frowned at her sarcasm; then for the first time in the past half-hour, she smiled brightly. “First, you keep calling His Grace ‘sir’. You should be calling him ‘Your Grace’.” Not allowing a break for Brooke to protest, she continued, “Second—” she ticked off Brooke’s second offense on her second finger. “You danced far too close. I know it was a waltz, but even in the waltz there is to be some space between partners. You might as well have declared to the whole room that you would like to have him ravish you.” Brooke thought about what Liberty had just said, and how similar it sounded to the statement that the duke had made in the shrubs. Either she really had led him on, or these two were too inept to tell the difference between friendly flirting and blatant teasing. In Brooke’s mind, the second option made more sense. “Seventh, you should never ask a man to claim a dance on your dance card.” Liberty’s enumeration brought Brooke back to reality for a moment. They were already on number seven, which was good. It meant she had missed four of these crucial life-improving points, and if she were lucky, this speech was almost over. How many things had Liberty said she’d done wrong? Eight? Ten? Brooke tried hard to remember before giving up and mentally shrugging. It was of no account really. It would be over soon enough. Then she could just apologize with false sincerity, as usual, and go about the evening. Once again, Liberty’s voice broke into Brooke’s thoughts. “Also, you should laugh a little more delicately. Just a little titter or giggle while in public, not a full-blown cackle. For goodness’ sake, you embarrass yourself and your family, while driving the gentlemen away when you laugh that way.” That was the last straw. Was Liberty really going to lecture her about her laugh right here in the middle of Lady Lampson’s ball? No matter how much Brooke wanted to appease her sister by listening to this drivel—from a sister who was four years her junior, mind you—she was done. Interrupting Liberty’s tirade, she went on one of her own.Placing her hands on her hips and adopting not even close to the gentlest tone she had, she burst out, “You know, Liberty, if I embarrass you so much then why are you allowing yourself to be seen with me now? Why is it you want to be accepted so badly, anyway? This isn’t our home. We’re from New York. We’ll be going back after this visit.” She stopped for a second to enjoy the look of shock that had taken hold of Liberty’s face. “As much as Mama would like to think we’re going to marry into wealthy, titled families, we’re not. The sooner you accept that, the better your life will be.” Unable to keep her irritation for Liberty and her rules under control any longer, her voice rose a bit louder and turned hard as steel. “We’re only here for a little fun, and it seems to me that you’re not having any. And because you’re not having any, you’re begrudging me mine,” she exclaimed, punctuating the last word with a stomp of her foot. Brooke looked smugly at her sister, reveling in the fruits of her labor. The look of hurt on Liberty’s face was proof she’d made her point. The stares from several ladies close by served as proof that she’d been too loud and had once again drawn unwanted attention to herself. No more than ten seconds later, Mama walked up. The look on Mama’s face made it clear it would be a long, uncomfortable ride home. Her voice, however, came out sugary sweet, tinged with a thick, southern United States accent when she exclaimed, “Oh girls, stop being so silly with your little act. I know you like to pretend to argue, but this is not the time.” It was a weak attempt to stop the spread of rumors that might result due to someone overhearing what really was being said. But it was an attempt all the same, and with how marriage-minded Mama had become, it was the only thing she could do. Taking their cues from their mother’s face, both girls murmured their apologies. Once most of the crowd had gone back to dancing, talking or drinking punch, Mama looked to both of them with that stern look that only she could pull off and announced, “We’re going home. Liberty, go find Papa and tell him to have the carriage sent. We’ll meet you out front. Come, Brooke. We’re going to find Madison.” As they walked away, Brooke tried to explain that it wasn’t her fault, but Mama would have none of it. Adopting an icy tone, Mama said, “Wait until we get into the carriage; or even better, wait until we get home. You’ve done quite enough tonight already, young lady. I don’t want any more undue attention brought on us right now. Do you understand?” Brooke knew that tone. It did not bode well for a pleasant ride home, and probably not a good morning tomorrow either. “All right,” she said simply. That was all the talking necessary. The carriage ride from the Lampsons’ ball was quiet. Too quiet, to be exact. Nobody said anything. But then again, there was nothing to say. Instead, they all just exchanged looks. Brooke and Liberty shot daggers at each other, while they both received horrified looks from both Mama and Papa. Madison was the only one not interested in the turn of events and stared out the windows the best she could through the little opening in the curtains. At home, the unnatural silence continued, and Brooke was none-too-gently escorted into the drawing room and told one word: wait. Wait she did. Not knowing how long she would be waiting or what would happen next, she sat on the pink settee and tried to devise a plan to get herself out of trouble. She only had to wait ten minutes before Papa and Mama rushed into the room to join her. “Brooklyn, do you have anything to say for yourself?” Papa asked sternly, taking a seat in a wingback chair near her. His eyes blazed into hers, and his voice had taken on the most serious tone she had heard in many years. Papa used her given name. Now was not the time to trifle with him. “This is not entirely my fault. Liberty was just as involved in the public display as I was. Why is she not here?” she asked with a hopeful smile. “Stop worrying about your sister,” he snapped. “Now answer my question.” Brooke swallowed. Her usually even-tempered father was unhappy and placing full blame on her. Suddenly a thought popped into her head, just the one that could help her escape this situation, if not entirely, then at least she wouldn’t shoulder it alone. Brooke flashed him a bright smile. “Papa, I should be worried about my sister. See, she was just as involved as I was, and God punished both Adam and Eve for their mistakes, did he not?” John Banks, Brooke’s father, was a Protestant minister in New York. When in doubt, she had always been able to wiggle out of her problems by using his profession to her advantage. She hoped this time would not prove to be an exception. A small smile took over Papa’s lips. “Oh, daughter, you are so correct. Both Adam and Eve were involved in their fall, and they both were punished. I’m so glad you remember that. Hmm, let’s just do a bit of role-playing, shall we?” He paused and tapped one lone finger along his cheek. “In the story of Adam and Eve, who do you think you would play? Adam, the one who was brought the temptation and partook of it? Or would you be Eve? You know, the one who went off alone, did something wrong, then came to her husband and presented him with an opportunity to do wrong as well?” Papa’s lips twitched at her frown. Brooke didn’t let his words break her spirit for long, however. “Yes, it’s true I could be likened to Eve. I did break some silly rules and create a scene; therefore, I was more at fault.” Then, because she thought she had this well in hand, she blithely said, “However, God did not punish Eve more than Adam. They were both punished the same.” “That’s true. You make a very good point,” he conceded, then paused, letting her bask in the soon- ending moment of success. “However, my dear, you overlook one small detail. I’m not God.” “But—but—” she sputtered. Cutting her off with a hand gesture, her father continued, “Brooke, I love you. I really do. However, you cannot deny you were at fault tonight.” Not letting her talk like she was itching to do, he put on his sternest face. “I know Liberty should have kept her comments until a more private time, such as at home, but I understand you encouraged her, and she obliged. That’s when you lost your temper.” Brooke usually took defeat in stride. So tamping down her temper and pride, she ventured, “What shall I do about it now?” The scene had already been made. Everyone had witnessed her raising her voice and stamping her foot like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum. “There’s nothing to be done except wait out the gossip. Maybe there won’t be any.” That was a hopeful statement; everyone in the room knew that. “You may go to bed now, Brooke. I shall see you tomorrow.” Papa’s use of her familiar name reassured her he was no longer angry with her and that all would be well tomorrow. “Goodnight, Papa. I am truly sorry about the way it all happened tonight, and I’ll try not to embarrass you again.” She desperately hoped that was true. Brooke turned to where her mother was sitting quietly in the corner of the drawing room. Mama’s eyes looked worried and her hands were folded primly in her lap. “Goodnight, Mama. I shall see you in the morning.” “Goodnight, darling. I don’t think there will be a need to get up too early,” Mama responded with a weary smile. Puzzled, Brooke just had to know what she meant. “Why?” “Because I doubt there will be any gentlemen callers after the lovely theatrics that were displayed tonight,” Mama said dryly. Papa let out a loud bark of laughter. Brooke held her giggle until she got into the hall, then she let out a great peal of echoing laughter. For as much as Mama hated being embarrassed, she was typically a good sport and saw humor where there was none. “Do you truly believe nothing will come of this?” Carolina Banks asked her husband after Brooke was gone. “Tomorrow, nobody of any consequence will care about this. Trust me. It’s not as if she were caught in a scandalous situation or anything. Sure, someone might remember it forever—” he shrugged one shoulder— “but it’s not the kind of thing that will render either of them unmarriageable or cause them to be cut during social events.” He stopped talking and gazed at his wife. His face had taken on a contemplative air. “I think the problem could be more that she is dismissing the rules in general, not so much the scene. Liberty, on the other hand, is determined to learn and execute all the rules without flaw, which could be her downfall.” “Oh, John, I worry so about all three of them. I want them all to marry, but I want them to marry happily. For love, like we did,” Carolina said quietly. “I know, but they have their own destinies to make,” John said with a yawn. Carolina got up and started walking across the room to take her leave. Just before she got to the door, she stopped and, in a small voice, asked the real question of the evening. “What did you learn about Madison tonight?” Closing his eyes, John took a deep breath. “Nothing. I watched her all evening. She refused to dance with every man who asked. She looked as if she were lost in a daydream the entire time.” He shook his head as if it would dispel the unpleasant thought from inside. “I just don’t know if it’s a good dream or not.” Carolina nodded. As she walked down the hall toward her room, she briefly paused outside Madison’s door. But instead of going in, she just sighed and went on to her bed. Chapter 2 Andrew Black, Earl of Townson, checked his watch. It was quarter after two, which meant he could safely leave without it being seen as he was snubbing the hosts. Making his way to the door, a deep, familiar voice sounded behind him. “Hold there, Townson. I have a new proposition for you.” Andrew knew that voice. It belonged to the man who’d been the reason Andrew had come to this ball in the first place. Turning around slowly, Andrew faced the cold, hard-as-steel eyes of Benjamin Collins, Duke of Gateway. The two were neither friends nor enemies; they were just acquaintances. This was exactly the way Andrew preferred it. Though Andrew could easily be considered a libertine by the ton, the duke had somehow earned the nickname of the Dangerous Duke. He wasn’t one anyone wanted to oppose. Revenge was his specialty. Nobody knew that better than Andrew. Only twice had Andrew found himself on the wrong side of Gateway. But since Eton, Andrew had seen firsthand what happened to both men and women who managed to get on Gateway’s bad side. Andrew had been relentlessly teased from the first day at Eton. After two weeks of close observation, Benjamin Collins decided to do the unthinkable: he befriended the outcast. Even though the teasing ceased, the cost was much greater. In exchange for protection and friendship, Andrew was forced to do Gateway’s bidding. From schoolwork, to lying for him when he snuck out at night, to being the “enforcer” of revenge, Andrew did it. He did it well, and with little resentment, because if he refused, his life would be even worse than it had been before. Squaring his shoulders, Andrew looked him in the eye. “What do you mean?” “It would appear that I need a favor,” Gateway drawled. “Now that we’re no longer boys, I cannot offer you my protection from the other schoolboys, but I can give you back your deed.” Taking the deed that had changed hands from the earl to the duke earlier in the evening out of his pocket; Gateway gave it a little wave. “Just do me this favor, and I’ll give the deed back without any debt attached to it.” Andrew’s hands fisted in fury at Gateway’s remark about needing his protection from the other schoolboys at Eton. He swallowed a retort and forced himself to think about what this would mean. He had not done a favor for Gateway in more than ten years. After he refused to do one, they had a falling- out that led to someone else doing Gateway’s dirty work against Andrew, followed by Gateway taking his own revenge. After that, Andrew had stayed clear of the duke—until recently, when once again he’d fallen victim to the Great Gateway and was forced to surrender the deed to the last of his unentailed estates. The estate was in Essex and had accumulated more debt than Andrew could ever pay. Stupidly, he’d agreed to take a loan from Gateway against the estate in order to improve it. The improvements hadn’t worked and he’d run out of time on the loan. Tonight was the night he had to surrender the deed to Gateway, which was the only reason he’d come to the ball. Unlike a normal man who would take care of his business in his study or at a solicitor’s office, Gateway had demanded the exchange take place somewhere public. Andrew assumed this was just another way for the duke to gloat. Silently weighing his options, he let out a pent-up breath and asked anxiously, “Do I get details about this favor before I agree to do it?” Gateway’s smile dimmed and a shadow crossed his eyes. That was not a good sign. After tucking the deed back into his pocket, Gateway looked around the room. “This is something we should speak about in private. This isn’t the place. I suspect you were about to leave, were you not?” When Andrew merely nodded, Gateway said, “Would you care to meet me in half an hour in my study?” Gateway must have sensed there was some hesitancy when Andrew didn’t answer and added, “Just to talk about details. You’re not committed. Just remember, this could get you back your estate completely free of debt.” Not missing the emphasis on his last three words, Andrew simply said, “A half-hour, then.” Then before he could do something stupid, like agree to Gateway’s bargain, he walked out of the ballroom. “Are you mad?” Andrew asked sharply, gaping at Gateway with open astonishment. “No, I’m not mad,” Gateway snapped. “I don’t know what your problem is. You seem to have no qualms with the activity in general. What could possibly be holding you back?” “I don’t dally with innocents. That is my problem,” Andrew said fiercely. In light of what he’d just been asked to do, that was a rather large problem, indeed. Gateway strode over to the fireplace, grabbed the poker, and stoked the fire, creating a massive flame. When he was satisfied with his larger-than-necessary fire, he replaced the screen then turned to face Andrew. “Come now, Townson, I’m not asking you to marry her. Quite the opposite. I just want you to compromise her. Everyone knows you’re not the marrying type, and she’s an American chit. She hasn’t a leg to stand on to force you into marriage. It all works out perfectly.” Andrew’s face grew hotter, and he wasn’t sure if it was because of the newly stoked fire or the fact that he was so outraged by what he’d just been asked to do. Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, he asked the question he wasn’t certain he even wanted answered. “Why do you want this girl ruined?” Gateway didn’t answer. His eyes wandered aimlessly around his study. They landed on everything in the room. Everything except Andrew, that is. Andrew assumed Gateway was doing this in hopes he’d lose interest in the reasons. Such details Gateway would be loath to share seeing as how he’d never been forthcoming with them before. Finally, Gateway gave a nonchalant shrug. “I just want them gone. If one of their daughters gets ruined without a marriage proposal, then they’ll leave. They’ll go home to America and be out of England.” His words were spoken casually, almost as if he thought this was nothing more than an ordinary drawing room conversation. Andrew knew immediately this wasn’t the whole truth, but he accepted it just the same. He’d never get the whole story from Gateway, no matter what he asked. But he still couldn’t help but wonder how the Banks family’s presence could affect Gateway in one way or another. Dismissing his thoughts, he stood and announced, “I’m not interested.” “Not interested?” Gateway scoffed. “How, pray tell, can you not be interested? You’re mad to reject such an offer. There's no commitment to the chit. You’ll never have to see her again. And don’t forget that I’ll pay you handsomely. Not only do you get your estate in Essex back, but it will be completely without debt. You get your fun and you get paid for it. Sounds like an ideal situation to me.” “Believe me; I want nothing more than to have my estate back. But there is a fine line between pulling a prank on someone and completely ruining not just one person, but an entire family. I won’t do it. Find someone else.” Andrew walked toward the door of Gateway’s study. He wanted to put as much distance between himself and Gateway as possible. This idea of ruining an innocent girl and her family as a way to get his estate back was the most depraved thing he’d ever heard. It seemed extreme even for Gateway. Andrew had assumed the man still had some scruples. Apparently he was wrong, and this undoubtedly proved it. “Coward,” Gateway called to Andrew just as he reached the door. Gateway’s voice was low, almost inaudible. Andrew’s brain told his feet to move forward and walk through the door. He was almost out of there and free. But no, those feet of his just wouldn’t cooperate. They were stuck, planted on Gateway’s plush, royal blue carpet. His hands were clenching and unclenching into fists at his sides as he tried to ignore Gateway’s taunt. Then he heard it. “Funny thing about you, Townson, I really wouldn’t have thought you a coward. You’ve done some brassy things in your life. But maybe all the other boys at Eton knew something I didn’t. Maybe they were right, and you are nothing more than a coward who would still go around clutching his mother’s skirts if she’d allow it.” All the memories came flooding back—every single one. All the teasing had started because his mother, not his father, had been the one to drop him off at school. That had been enough to garner a bit of harassing anyway. However, it had also given credit to the rumor someone had circulated that evening about an old claim that he was a bastard. From then on he was taunted about being a “bastard mama’s boy who clutched to his whore of a mother’s skirts” and became the outcast at school. Most likely he would have stayed the outcast if not for Gateway’s surprising intervention. Gateway walked past him and into the hallway, casually saying over his shoulder, “I do understand your position. How could I have thought you’d be able to manage such a task? I should have known you couldn’t do it before I approached you. Accept my apologies for wasting your time.” He shook his head. “Thank you for the estate. I’m planning a trip there soon. I have been thinking I might even deed it over to my mistress when I’m done with her.” He gave a shrug of nonchalance. “Usually, I just give them a cottage or rent them a townhouse for a year. But Sarah likes the country. She’ll be happier there.” “Wait,” Andrew called. He didn’t know if Gateway would really give an estate to a woman who sold her body for money, but it wouldn’t surprise him. Gateway was known to do things normal people considered inappropriate. And though impugning one’s manhood would generally be enough encouragement to get most men to do Gateway’s bidding, for Andrew, knowing his estate was going to be given to Gateway’s mistress was the part that made him reconsider. Gateway halted in the doorway and slowly turned around to look at Andrew. Cocking his head to one side, he asked, “Yes?” “What do you mean you should have known I couldn’t do it before you approached me?” Andrew bristled while he waited for the answer. Gateway shrugged again. “I hadn't realized you had such trouble in this area. No matter. I’ll just go find someone who doesn’t.” Gateway stopped for a token pause. With a sly smile, he lowered the gauntlet. “If you’ll excuse me, I know just the man I need to go see about doing this, since you have indicated for some reason you lack the ability.”“My ability to handle this is perfectly adequate,” Andrew snapped before he realized what he had said or what it would mean. In his defense of his pride, he'd just as good as agreed to ruin an innocent girl, all because of his quick tongue. Gateway could not have looked more pleased with himself. As usual, everything had fallen perfectly into place for his benefit. Gateway’s face changed again. This time he looked slightly skeptical and disbelieving at the same time. He continued to stare blankly at Andrew, not giving any indication to his thoughts. Andrew knew what Gateway was about: he was picking his next words carefully, so not to allow Andrew a means to extricate himself. Gateway slowly strolled back toward Andrew. “Townson, I’m glad you think so. I just hope you can prove yourself. How about if we sit down and work out the terms of this agreement?” He gestured toward his desk. Andrew, and just about everyone else in England, knew Gateway may not be the most well-liked person, but he had always been sharp as a straight pin and he prided himself on knowing just how to trap a person. Andrew had learned this first hand his first term at Eton. Even though they were only boys at the time, Gateway had already developed this unpleasant trait. “Fine,” Andrew ground out, then sent Gateway a scowl for good measure. “Let’s state the terms. But if I’m to do this, then I want to be fairly compensated. There will be no reneging.” Andrew resigned himself to the unscrupulous task as he walked across the room to Gateway’s desk. His quick tongue might have trapped him into this, but as long as he was trapped, he was going to take full advantage. This was obviously something important to Gateway, so he should be willing to make this well worth Andrew’s while. Which was a good thing, because once this was done, he probably wouldn’t be accepted into the drawing rooms of polite society for a long, long time. Taking seats together by Gateway’s large, mahogany desk, the two men discussed exactly what they each wanted from the arrangement. Both had lofty expectations, but with a few compromises they both were going to be satisfied in the end. With a written—and signed—copy of the terms, Andrew felt hopeful about his future. All he had to do was bring scandal to Miss Banks, any of them, in a way that would shame their family enough for all of them to go back home to America. He sighed. Though they had not determined what type of scandal Andrew was to cause to befall Miss Banks, short of a miracle, only one kind of scandal would send them back to America: one of the daughters had to be ruined. It didn’t have to be in truth. The appearance would be enough, he reminded himself again to help tamp down his guilt. It sounded simple enough when saying it. It seemed easy when reading the words on paper. But the process would not be easy. To start with, he didn’t even know who these girls were. He’d never been introduced to them, so how could he get any of them to trust him enough to create a scandal? Andrew arrived home and went straight to his bed. He had a lot to think of. He should have just walked out of Gateway’s study, but that had seemed impossible at the time. And now he was trapped. At least he’d get something that he wanted—no, needed—out of the deal. As guilty as he felt about robbing a young girl of her future, he was going to secure his own. Thanks to his late father, Andrew was penniless and all of England knew it. His father had accumulated more debt than Andrew had ever imagined. He knew his father had been a spendthrift, but it wasn’t until he had come into the title that he realized just how frivolous his father had been. There wasn’t anything the man hadn’t bought on credit; and instead of paying it off, he just passed it to Andrew right along with the title. For the last eight years, Andrew had been paying it down by selling anything of any value to keep the creditors at bay. The estate in Essex was the last thing. He had tried to save it because not only was it possible that the estate could turn a much needed profit, but also because his mother had been living there. That was another point in his favor for going through with this scheme. He would be able to get the estate back and gift it to his mother, who was currently living at Rockhurst, the seat of his earldom. She deserved at least that for what both he and his father had put her through. He rolled over. Guilt flooded him. He felt guilty about what he was going to do to the Banks family and about what he’d done to his own mother in the past. Some would say to let the guilt about his mother go, but it wasn’t easy for Andrew to do. Not only had he intentionally hurt her with his words, he had essentially sentenced her to a life of solitude. Even if he hated the idea of what he was going to do, it would solve his two biggest problems. That gave him a bit of a relief, but not much. For now, he needed to think about his next step. Gateway had told him the Banks family was staying in Lord Watson’s townhouse while the baron and his family were staying in the country. Andrew knew Lord Watson—he was the father to one of his friends—but other than that, he had no real knowledge of the family. That would have to be enough, because he planned to start a courtship immediately.Chapter 3 The townhouse where Brooke’s family was staying looked standard for this section of town. It was three stories high, made of a smooth, light gray stone, and had a white front door. Windows were placed directly above the door on the second and third floors, each with a private balcony. Six large, smooth, stone steps and a black handrail led from the front door down to the edge of the street. When looking from down the street, with the exception of the numbers on the side, the house looked identical to the ones on either side. In other words, it wasn’t very original. Earlier in the morning Brooke breakfasted with her family then decided to go outside on her balcony and read the newest gothic novel she’d picked up in the local bookshop. She settled into a lounge chair and started flipping through her book. She remembered she was almost to the end and thumbed her way to the back. Aha, here she was, the hero was about to admit he was wrong and beg the heroine to take him back. This was normally her favorite part of novels, even if right after he said his speech, a large boulder came rolling off the side of a cliff and killed him, leaving the heroine to sulk in the sadness of never getting to be with her true love. Thirty minutes later, Brooke finished her book and shut it with an echoing thud. Not having anything else to do, she was about to go back inside to see what her sisters were doing when a carriage with an unfamiliar crest emblazoned on the side rolled up. She leaned forward, pressing her face between the bars of the balcony to get a better look at the massive stranger that was emerging from the carriage. He looked like a gentlemen and he even carried himself like one as he walked up the steps to her front door. He gave three swift bangs with their brass knocker. If she were in New York, she would have rushed to the door to open it herself and greet the

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