As I promised pre-Thanksgiving...it's time for a giveaway! The week before Turkey Day, I received a very small number of Advance Readers' Copies of A ROGUE BY ANY OTHER NAME. I've now completed the required petting cycle--during which I roam about the house with the ARCs and tell my husband to "LOOK! I WROTE THIS WHOLE BOOK! ALL OF IT!"
And now, the books are ready to be sent off to their respective homes...my mom, my sister, my critique partners, my friend Meghan (to whom the book is dedicated), and...yes! To one of you!
I'll choose one random commenter from this post on Friday to receive my one remaining ARC. Now...ROGUE is a marriage of convenience story--my first. And I will tell you, marriage of convenience is not an easy thing to write! I have a whole newfound respect (on top of my old, existing respect) for Eloisa James and Mary Balogh and others who do marriage of convenience so effortlessly. Those ladies know what's up!
To enter to win, share your favorite marriage romance in comments!
And as a special treat...how about an excerpt? In fact...how about Chapter One?
Welcome to the Fallen Angel.
He did not move when he heard the door to the private room open and close quietly.
He stood in the darkness, silhouetted by the painted window overlooking the main room of London’s most exclusive gaming hell. From the club floor, the window appeared as nothing but a stunning work of art—a massive piece of stained glass depicting the fall of Lucifer. In brilliant hues, the enormous angel—four times the size of the average man—tumbled toward the pit floor, cast into London’s dark corners by Heaven’s Army.
The Fallen Angel.
A reminder, not simply of the name of the club, but of the risk that those who entered took as they set their marks to the plush baize, as they lifted the ivory dice, as they watched the roulette wheel turn in a blur of color and temptation.
And when the Angel won, as it always did, the glass reminded those who lost of how far they had fallen.
Bourne’s gaze flickered to a piquet table at the far end of the pit. “Croix wants his line increased.”
The pit boss did not move from his place just inside the door to the owners’ suite. “Yes.”
“He owes more than he will ever be able to repay.”
Bourne turned his head, meeting the shadowed gaze of his most trusted employee. “What is he willing to place against an extended line?”
“Two hundred acres in Wales.”
Bourne watched the lord in question, who was sweating and twitching nervously as he waited for judgment to be passed.
“Extend the line. When he loses, see him out. His membership is revoked.”
His decisions were rarely questioned, and never by the staff of the Angel. The pit boss headed for the door as quietly as he had entered. Before he could leave, Bourne said, “Justin.”
“The land first.”
The soft click of door meeting jamb was the only indication that the pit boss had been there at all.
Moments later, he came into view on the floor below, Bourne watched the signal travel from boss to dealer. He watched as the hand was dealt, as the earl lost. Again.
And once more.
There were those who did not understand.
Those who had not gambled—who had not felt the thrill of winning—who had not negotiated with themselves for one more round, one more hand, one more shot—just until he hit one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand . . .
Those who had not known the luscious, euphoric, unparalleled feeling of knowing that a table was hot, that a night was theirs, that with a single card, everything could change.
They would never understand what kept the Earl of Croix in his chair, betting over and over and over again, fast as lightning, until he’d lost everything. Again. As though nothing he had wagered had ever been his to begin with.
Justin approached Croix and spoke discretely into the ruined man’s ear. The peer shot to his unsteady feet, outrage furrowing his brow as anger and embarrassment propelled him toward the pit boss.
Bourne could not hear what was said. He did not need to. He’d heard it hundreds of times before—watched as a long list of men had lost first their money and then their temper with the Angel. With him.
He watched Justin step forward, hands raised in the universal sign of caution. Watched as the pit boss’s lips moved, attempting—and failing—to settle and calm. Watched as other players took note of the commotion and as Temple, Bourne’s massive partner, headed into the fray, eager for a fight.
Bourne moved then, reaching toward the wall and pulling a switch, activating a complex combination of pulleys and levers, triggering a small bell beneath the piquet table, and drawing the attention of the dealer.
Notifying him that Temple would not have his fight that evening.
Bourne would have it instead.
The dealer stayed Temple’s impossible strength with a word and a nod toward the wall where Bourne and Lucifer watched, each willing to face whatever came next.
Temple’s black gaze fell on the glass and he nodded once before leading Croix through the throngs of people below.
Bourne descended from the owners’ suite to meet them in a small antechamber set apart from the main floor of the club. Croix was cursing like a dockside sailor when Bourne opened the door and stepped inside. He rounded on Bourne, gaze narrowed with hatred.
“You bastard. You can’t do this to me. Can’t take what is mine.”
Bourne leaned back against the thick oak door, crossing his arms. “You dug your grave, Croix. Go home. Be thankful I don’t take more than my due.”
Croix lunged across the small room before he had a chance to reconsider, and Bourne moved with an agility that few ever expected, clasping one of the viscount’s arms and twisting them both until Croix’s face was pressed firmly against the door. Bourne shook the lean man once, twice before saying. “Think very carefully about your next action. I find I am not feeling so magnanimous as I was mere moments ago.”
“I want to see Chase.” The words were slurred against the oak.
“Instead, you’ll see us.”
“I’ve been a member of the Angel since the beginning. You owe me. He owes me.”
“On the contrary, it is you who owes us.”
“I’ve given enough money to this place . . .”
“How generous of you. Shall we call for the book and see how much you still owe?” Croix went still. “Ah. I see you are beginning to understand. The land is ours now. You send your solicitor round in the morning with the deed, or I come looking for you myself. Is that clear?” Bourne did not wait for an answer, instead stepping back and releasing the earl. “Get out.”
Croix turned to face them, panic in his gaze. “Keep the land, Bourne. But not the membership . . . don’t take the membership. I’m a half a tick away from marrying. Her dowry will cover all my losses and more. Don’t take the membership.”
Bourne hated the keening plea, the undercurrent of anxiety in the words. He knew that Croix couldn’t resist the urge to wager. The temptation to win.
If Bourne had an ounce of compassion in him, he’d feel sorry for the unsuspecting girl.
But compassion was not a trait Bourne claimed.
Croix turned wide eyes on Temple. “Temple. Please.”
One of Temple’s black brows rose as he crossed his massive arms across his wide chest. “With such a generous dowry, I’m sure one of the lower hells will welcome you.”
Of course they would. The lower hells—filled with murderers and cheats—would welcome this insect of a man and his terrible luck with open arms.
“Bollocks the lower hells,” Croix spat. “What will people think? What will it take? I’ll pay double . . . triple. She’s plenty of money.”
Bourne was nothing if not a businessman. “You marry the girl and pay your debts, with interest, and we shall reinstate your membership.”
“What do I do until then?” The sound of the earl’s whine was unpleasant.
“You might try temperance,” Temple offered, casually.
Relief made Croix stupid. “You’re one to talk. Everyone knows what you did.”
Temple stilled, his voice filled with menace. “And what was that?”
Terror removed the minimal intelligence from the earl’s instincts and he threw a punch at Temple, who caught the blow in one enormous fist and pulled the lean earl toward him with wicked intent.
“What was that?” he repeated.
The earl began to mewl like a babe. “N-nothing. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t kill me. I’ll leave. Now. I swear. Please . . . d-don’t hurt me.”
Temple sighed. “You’re a not worth my energy.” He released the earl.
“Get out,” Bourne said, “Before I decide that you are worth mine.”
The earl fled the room.
Bourne watched him go before adjusting the line of his waistcoat and straightening his topcoat. “I thought he might soil himself when you took hold of him.”
“He would not be the first.” Temple sat in a low chair and stretched his legs out in front of him, crossing one booted ankle over the other. “I wondered how long it would take you.”
Bourne brushed a hand across the half-inch linen cuff that peeked out from underneath his coat, making certain the swath of white fabric was even before returning his attention to Temple and pretending not to understand the question. “To do what?”
“To restore your clothing to perfection,” one side of Temple’s mouth curled in a mocking smile. “You’re like a woman.”
Bourne leveled the enormous man with a look. “A woman with an extraordinary right hook.”
The smile became a grin, the expression showcasing Temple’s nose, broken and healed in three places. “You aren’t honestly suggesting that you could beat me in battle, are you?”
Bourne was assessing the condition of his cravat in a nearby mirror. “I’m suggesting precisely that.”
“May I invite you into the ring?”
“No one is getting into the ring. Certainly not with Temple.” Bourne and Temple turned toward the words, spoken from a hidden door at the far end of the room where Chase, the third partner in The Fallen Angel, watched them.
Temple laughed at the words and turned to face Bourne. “You see? Chase knows enough to admit that you’re no match for me.”
Chase poured a glass of scotch from a decanter on a nearby sideboard. “It has nothing to do with Bourne, Temple. You’re built like a stone fortress. No one is a match for you.” The words turned wry. “No one but me, that is.”
Temple leaned back in his chair. “Any time you’d like to meet me in the ring, Chase, I shall clear my schedule.”
Chase turned to Bourne. “You’ve paupered Croix.”
He stalked the perimeter of the room. “Like sweets from a babe.”
“Five years in business, and I remain surprised by these men and their weakness.”
“Not weakness. Illness. The desire to win is a fever.”
Chase’s brows rose at the metaphor. “Temple is right. You are a woman.”
Temple barked in laughter and stood, all six and a half feet of him. “I have to get back to the floor.”
Chase watched Temple cross the room, headed for the door. “Haven’t had your brawl tonight?”
He shook his head. “Bourne snatched it out from under me.”
“There’s still time.”
“A man can hope.” Temple left the room, the door closing firmly behind him, and Chase moved to pour another glass of scotch, walking it to where Bourne stood, staring intently into the fireplace. He accepted the offering, taking a large swallow of the golden liquor, enjoying the feel of it burning down his throat.
“I have news for you.” Bourne turned his head, waiting. “News of Langford.”
The words washed over him. For nine years, he’d been waiting for this precise moment, for whatever it was that would come spilling from Chase’s mouth next. For nine years he’d been waiting for news of this man who had stripped him of his past, his birthright.
Langford had taken it all that night, all the lands, the funds, everything but an empty manor house and a handful of acres of land at the center of a larger estate—Falconwell. As he’d watched it all slip away, Bourne hadn’t understood the older man’s motives—hadn’t known the pleasure of turning an estate into a living, thriving thing. Hadn’t understood how much it would smart to turn it over to a mere boy.
Now, a decade later, he did not care.
He wanted his revenge.
The revenge he’d been waiting for.
It had taken nine years, but Bourne had rebuilt his fortune—doubled it. The money from the partnership in the Angel along with several lucrative investments had given him the opportunity to build an estate that rivaled the most extravagant in England.
But he’d never been able to reclaim what he’d lost. Langford had kept it all in a tight grip, unwilling to sell it, no matter how much he was offered, no matter how powerful the man who offered. And very powerful men had offered.
“It is complicated.”
Bourne turned back to the fire. “It always is.” But he hadn’t worked every day to build his fortune for land in Wales and Scotland and Devonshire and London.
He’d done it for Falconwell.
One thousand acres of lush green land that had once been the pride of the Marquessate of Bourne. The land that his father and grandfather and great grandfather had amassed around the manor house that had been passed down from marquess to marquess.
“What?” He saw the answer in Chase’s eyes before the words came, and he swore once, long and wicked. “What has he done with it?”
“If he’s made it impossible, I’ll kill him.”
As I should have done years ago.
“Bourne . . .”
“No.” He slashed one hand through the air. “I’ve waited for this for nine years. He took everything from me. Everything. You have no idea.”
Chase’s gaze found his. “I have every idea.”
Bourne stopped at that, at the understanding in the words. At the truth in them. It had been Chase who had pulled him from his lowest moment. Chase who had taken him in, cleaned him up, given him work. Chase who had rescued him.
Or, who had at least tried to rescue him.
“Bourne,” Chase began, the words laced with caution. “He didn’t keep it.”
A cold dread settled deep within. “What do you mean, he didn’t keep it?”
“Langford no longer owns the land in Surrey.”
He shook his head, as though he could force understanding. “Who owns it?”
“The Marquess of Needham and Dolby.”
A decades old memory flashed at the name—a portly man, rifle in hand, marching across a muddy field in Surrey, trailed by a gaggle of girls sized small to smallest, the leader of whom had the most serious blue gaze Bourne had ever met.
His childhood neighbors, the third family in the holy trinity of the Surrey peerage.
“Needham has my land? How did he get it?”
“Ironically, in a game of cards.”
Bourne could not find the humor in the fact. Indeed, the idea that Falconwell had been casually wagered and lost in a card came—again—set him on edge.
“Get him here. Needham’s game is ecarte. Falconwell will be mine.”
Chase leaned back, surprised. “You would wager for it?”
Bourne’s reply was instant. “I will do whatever is required for it.”
“Whatever is required?”
Bourne was instantly suspicious. “What do you know that I do not?”
Chase’s brows shot up. “Why would you think that?”
“You always know more than I know. You enjoy it.”
“I merely pay closer attention.”
Bourne’s teeth clenched. “Be that as it may . . .”
The founder of The Fallen Angel feigned interest in a spot on one sleeve. “The land that was once a part of Falconwell—”
Chase ignored the interruption. “You cannot simply retrieve it.”
Chase hesitated. “It has been attached to . . . something else.”
Cold hatred coursed through Bourne. He’d waited a decade for this—for the moment when he would finally reconnect Falconwell Manor with its lands. “Attached to what?”
“To whom, more like.”
“I am in no mood for your riddles.”
“Needham has announced that the former lands of Falconwell are to be included in the dowry of his eldest daughter.”
Shock rocked Bourne back on his heels. “Penelope?”
“You know the lady?”
“It’s been years since I saw her last—nearly twenty of them.”
Sixteen. She had been there on the day he’d left Surrey for the last time, after his parents’ burial, fifteen years old and shipped back to a new world with no family. She’d watched him climb into his carriage, and her serious blue gaze had not wavered in tracking his coach down the long drive away from Falconwell.
She hadn’t looked away until he had turned onto the main road.
He knew because he’d watched her, too.
She’d been his friend.
When he had still believed in friends.
She’d also been the eldest daughter of a double marquess with more money than one man could spend in a lifetime. There was no reason for her to have remained a spinster for this long. She should be married with a brood of young aristocrats to care for.
“Why does Penelope need Falconwell for a dowry?” He paused. “Why isn’t she married already?”
Chase sighed. “It would serve me well if any one of you would take an interest in Society at large, rather than our meager membership.”
“Our meager membership is more than five hundred men. Every one of them with a file thick as my thumb, filled with information, thanks to your partners.”
“Nevertheless, I have better things to do with my evenings than educating you on the world into which you were born.”
Bourne’s gaze narrowed. He’d never known Chase to spend evenings in any way other than entirely alone. “What things?”
Chase ignored the question and took another pull of Scotch. “Lady Penelope made the match of the season years ago.”
“The engagement was overshadowed by her fiancé’s love match.”
It was an old tale, one he’d heard countless times, and still Bourne felt an unfamiliar emotion at the idea that the girl he remembered might have been hurt by her broken engagement. “Love match,” he scoffed, “A prettier or wealthier prospect more like. And that was it?”
“I am told she has been pursued by several suitors in the years since. And yet, she remains unmarried.” Chase appeared to be losing interest in the tale, continuing on a bored sigh. “Though I imagine not for long with Falconwell to sweeten the honey pot. The temptation of Falconwell will have suitors swarming.”
“They’ll want a chance to lord it over me.”
“Probably. You are not high on the list of favorite peers.”
“I’m nowhere on the list of favorite peers. Nevertheless. I shall have the land.”
“Are you prepared to do what it takes to get it? Whatever it takes?” Chase looked amused.
Bourne did not miss his partner’s meaning.
A vision flashed of a young, kind Penelope, the opposite of what he was. Of what he’d become.
He pushed it aside. For nine years, he’d been waiting for this moment.
For the chance to restore that which had been built for him.
That which had been left to him.
That which he had lost.
It was the closest he would ever get to redemption.
And nothing would stand in his way.
“Anything.” Bourne stood and carefully straightened his coat. “If a wife comes with it, so be it.”
The door slammed shut after him.
Chase toasted the sound and spoke to the empty room. “Felicitations.”