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The Bride Price by Anne Mallory - Historical Fiction
Winner take all . . .
Sebastien Deville, the debauched, dangerously handsome illegitimate son of the Duke of Grandien, has waited his whole life for revenge â and suddenly it is there for the taking. A competition sponsored by the ing has all the ton talking. The winner will receive an immense fortune, a newly created title, sponsorship, and a well-born bride â everything Sebastien needs to reclaim his mother's stolen lands and to wield the colossal power itching beneath his fingertips. His victory is all but assured . . . until he meets Caroline.
Caroline Martin knows all about Sebastien, the legendary heartbreaker who leaves women weeping in his wake, and she is determined not to see him win the competition in which he would claim her friend as his bride. Yet sabotage is so very hard to concentrate on when the target's searing glances promise incredible pleasure and his skillful hands vow unimaginable desire. She knows the danger he presents, the temptation he offers, yet she is willing to risk everything for all she holds dear.
But Sebastien Deville will do anything to win . . . and Caroline's heart may become the ultimate prize.
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The Times of London, June 1822—Scritches on parchment. Secret conversations in the shadows. Devilish deeds in dark chambers. Dear Reader, something of magnitude is happening under the cover of darkness in the highest strata of the land. Time will tell what it is . . .
The flip of a card decided the match.
A round of swearing coursed through the thick smoke and dull chatter in the gilt and leathered men's club.
"A round to you again, Deville." Eyes deep with suspicion held his. "That makes it, what, four thousand this night?"
Sebastien raked his winnings with a negligent hand. "Good of you to keep track, Compton."
"I keep track of far more than that," Compton said, his gaunt frame pitching forward in order to curl skeletal fingers around a brandy snifter.
"I can't believe your bloody luck. Unnatural," the man to his left spit, and tossed his moppish brown hair with an unsteady hand. He'd lost heavily. As usual.
"Before you curse the spirits, Benedict, perhaps you should examine your absence of skill." Sebastien kept his voice lazy, but stayed aware of the crowd in his periphery. Surrounded by the cream of London society—unfortunately the male half of it—he was an island of disrepute. On paper he was at a distinct social disadvantage in his present position, but that had never stopped him from tempting fate—or making it obey his will.
"Don't take that tone with me, Deville. I can have you removed from here in the flick of a finger."
You and your tainted blood.
"Of course, Benny. Your grace alone is my reason for existing."
Lord Benedict Alvarest's color darkened at the wording, and his dull brown eyes flashed with something approaching animation. Unfortunately, intelligence and imagination were infrequent visitors to Benedict. Such a disappointment in an enemy.
The fourth man in the game tapped a perfectly manicured, lily-white finger against the parquet table. "Enough. Are we rubbering up? I, for one, wish to win my money back."
"Little good it will do you, Everly. Deville obviously has a trick up his sleeve," Benedict said.
Sebastien flicked his cuffs and reached for his drink. "Or two even, the way you lose. Seem determined to lose everything."
His drawl produced a shiver of rage in the man, just as he'd hoped.
"At least I have something to lose, Deville."
The crowd hushed, leaning in on tipped feet. Sharks scenting for blood, vultures seeking carnage, speaking of him in harsh, delighted whispers, and then inviting him to gatherings in order to provoke more.
"How tired you've become, Lord Benedict." Benedict's color turned puce. "Such a disappointment." Sebastien leaned back languidly and tipped his glass, the smooth edge of the brandy sliding down his throat, temporarily warming his cold stomach—a constant pit of ice these days. "Being merely a third son, it seems so removed to use the title lord' when referencing you."
Too enraged to retaliate immediately, Benedict's hand shook around his clutched cards. Sebastien caught a sliver of movement behind the greedy crowd. An older, mirrored image of himself beckoned imperiously. The echo of Benedict's rage, though quieter and cooler in nature, slid through Sebastien's gut at the motion, but he turned back to Benedict and gave a sly smirk to the brother he'd never know outside of their taunts and envy. "Pardon me, gentlemen; it seems you will have to win your money back another day."
He gathered his winnings among protests and groans and threw a note on the table. Benedict's eyes were dark with loathing, as he saw both the man beckoning and the direction of Sebastien's gaze. Sebastien ignored him and walked...
The Bride PriceBy: Anne Mallory