In this sizzling third book in New York Times bestselling author Liz Carlyle's compelling historical trilogy, a cynical rake joins a sinister game of cards with dangerously seductive stakes.
If he wins this hand...
Shunning the glittering elite of high society Kieran, Baron Rothewell, prefers the dangerous pursuits of London's demimonde. Hardened by a tormented past, he cares little for anyone or anything. So how can he resist the wager proposed by the dissolute Comte de Valigny? A hand of cards for the possession of the comte's exquisite daughter.
Will he win her heart?
Abandoned by her highborn father -- until he decides to use her -- Mademoiselle Camille Marchand puts no trust in an aristocrat's honor, especially that of the notorious baron. She too is gambling -- for her life -- and Rothwell is just one more card to be used. But whatever dark desires run through his veins call to her own, and the heart plays its own game -- winner take all!
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July 21, 2008
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Excerpt from Never Romance a Rake by Liz Carlyle
In which Rothewell meets the Grim Reaper
October was a vile month, Baron Rothewell thought as he peered through the spatter trickling down his carriage window. John Keats had been either a poetic liar or a romantic fool. In dreary Marylebone, autumn was no season of soft mist and mellow fruitfulness. It was the season of gloom and decay. Skeletal branches clattered in the squares, and leaves which should have been skirling colorfully about instead plastered the streets and hitched up against the wrought-iron fences in sodden brown heaps. London -- what little of it had ever lived -- was in the midst of dying.
As his carriage wheels swished relentlessly through the water and worse, Rothewell drew on the stub of a cheroot and stared almost unseeingly at the pavement beyond. At this time of day, it was empty save for the occasional clerk or servant hastening past with a black umbrella clutched grimly in hand. The baron saw no one whom he knew. But then, he knew almost no one.
At the corner of Cavendish Square and Harley Street, he hammered upon the roof of his traveling coach with the brass knob of his walking stick, and ordered his driver to halt. The brace of footmen posted to the rear of the carriage hastened round to drop the steps. Rothewell was notoriously impatient.
He descended, the folds of his dark cloak furling elegantly about him as he spun round to look up at his coachman. "Return to Berkeley Square." In the drizzle, his command sounded rather like the low rumble of thunder. "I shall walk home when my business here is done."
No one bothered to counsel him against walking in the damp. Nor did they dare ask what brought him all the way from the Docklands to the less familiar lanes of Marylebone. Rothewell was a private man, and not an especially well-tempered one.
He ground his cheroot hard beneath his bootheel, and waved the carriage away. Respectfully, his coachman touched his whip to his hat brim and rolled on.
The baron stood on the pavement in silent observation until his equipage turned the last corner of the square and disappeared down the shadowy depths of Holles Street. He wondered if this was a fool's errand. Perhaps this time his temper had simply got the best of him, he considered, setting a determined pace up Harley Street. Perhaps that was all it was. His temper. And another sleepless night.
He had come home from the Satyr's Club in the rose gray hours just before dawn. Then, after a bath and a stomach-churning glance at breakfast, he had headed straight to the Docklands, to the counting house of the company which his family owned, in order to satisfy himself that all went well in his sister's absence. But a trip to Neville Shipping always left Rothewell edgy and irritable -- because, he openly acknowledged, he wanted nothing to do with the damned thing. He would be bloody glad when Xanthia returned from gallivanting about with her new husband, so that this burden might be thrown off his shoulders and back onto hers where it belonged.
But a surly mood could not remotely account for his troubles now, and in the hard black pit of his heart, he knew it. Slowing his pace, Rothewell began to search for the occasional brass plaque upon the doors of the fine homes which lined Harley Street. There were a few. Hislop. Steinberg. Devaine. Manning. Hoffenberger. The names told him little about the men behind the doors -- nothing of their character, their diligence -- or what mattered even more, their brutal honesty.
He soon reached the corner of Devonshire Street and realized his journey was at an end. He glanced back over his shoulder at the street he'd just traversed. Damn it, he was going about this as if he were looking for a greengrocer. But in this case, one could hardly examine the wares through the window. Moreover, he wasn't about to ask anyone's advice -- or endure the probing questions which would follow.
Instead he simply reassured himself that quacks and sawbones did not generally set up offices in Marylebone. And though the baron had been in London but a few months, he already knew that Harley Street was gradually becoming the domain of Hippocrates' elite.
At that thought, he turned and went up the wide marble steps of the last brass plaque he'd passed. If one was as good as another, it might as well be -- at this point, Rothewell bent to squint at the lettering through the drizzle -- ah, yes. James G. Redding, M.D. He would do.
A round-faced, gray-garbed housemaid answered as soon as the knocker dropped. Her eyes swept up -- far up -- his length as she assessed his status. Almost at once, she threw the door wide, and curtsied deep. She hastened to take his sodden hat and coat.
Rothewell handed her his card. "I should like to see Dr. Redding," he said, as if he made such requests every day of the week.
Apparently, the girl could read. She glanced at the card and bobbed again, her eyes lowered. "Was the doctor expecting you, my lord?"
"He was not," he barked. "But it is a matter of some urgency."
"Y-You would not prefer him to call at your home?" she ventured.
Rothewell pinned the girl with his darkest glower. "Under no circumstance," he snapped. "Is that understood?"
"Yes, my lord." Paling, the girl drew a deep breath.
Good Lord, why had he growled at her? It was entirely expected that doctors would call upon their patients, not the other way round. But his damnable pride would never permit that.
The girl had resumed speaking. "I am afraid, my lord, that the doctor has not returned from his afternoon calls," she gently explained. "He might be some time yet."
This Rothewell had not expected. He was a man accustomed to getting his own way -- and quickly. His frustration must have shown.
"If you should wish to wait, my lord, I could bring some tea?" the girl offered.
On impulse, Rothewell snatched his hat from the rack where she'd left it. He had no business here. "Thank you, no," he said tightly. "I must go."
"Might I give the doctor a message?" Her expression was reluctant as she handed him his coat. "Perhaps you could return tomorrow?"
Rothewell felt an almost overwhelming wish to leave this place, to flee his own foolish fears and notions. "No, thank you," he said, opening the door for himself. "Not tomorrow. Another day, perhaps."
He was leaving in such haste, he did not see the tall, thin man who was coming up the stairs, and very nearly mowed him down.
"Good afternoon," said the man, lifting his hat as he stepped neatly to one side. "I am Dr. Redding. May I be of some help?"
"A matter of some urgency, hmm?" said Dr. Redding ten minutes later. "I wonder, my lord, you've let it go this long if you thought it so urgent."
The physician was a dark, lean man with a hook in his nose and a hollow look in his eyes. The Grim Reaper with his hood thrown back.
"If it had come and then gone away again, sir, it would not now be urgent, would it?" Rothewell protested. "And I thought it would. Go away again, I mean. These sorts of things always do, you know."
"Hmmm," said the doctor, who was pulling down the lower lids of Rothewell's eyes. "To what sorts of things do you refer, my lord?"
Rothewell grunted. "Dyspepsia," he finally muttered. "Malaise. You know what I mean."
The doctor's gaze grew oddly flat. "Well, you are a little more than dyspeptic, my lord," he said, looking again at Rothewell's left eye. "And your color is worrisome."
Again, Rothewell grunted. "I've but recently come from the West Indies," he grumbled. "Had too much sun, I daresay. Nothing more than that."
The doctor drew back and crossed his arms over his chest. "Nothing more than that?" he echoed, looking impatient. "I think not, sir. I am speaking of your eyes, not your skin. There appears to be just a hint of jaundice. These are serious symptoms, and you know it. Otherwise, a man of your ilk would never have come here."
"Of my ilk -- ?"
The doctor ignored him, and instead swept his fingers beneath Rothewell's jawline, then down either side of his throat. "Tell me, my lord, have you suffered any malaria?"
Rothewell laughed. "That was one curse of the tropics which I escaped."
"You are a heavy drinker?"
Rothewell smiled grimly. "Some would say so."
"And you use tobacco," said the doctor. "I can smell it."
"That is a problem?"
"Overindulgences of any sort are a problem."