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ï»¿ HELLIONS OF HALSTEAD HALL
They're the scandalous Sharpes, five hell-raising siblings tainted by a shocking family legacy. Now each faces a daunting ultimatum: marry by year's end -- or kiss their inheritance good-bye.
In the two decades since a tragic "accident" took the lives of his parents, Oliver Sharpe, the Marquess of Stoneville, has survived the scandal surrounding that fateful night by living as an unrepentant rakehell. And with his grandmother vowing to disinherit him if he doesn't settle down and wed, he plans to fulfill the bargain in true Sharpe style -- by bringing home a fake fiancée from a brothel! But his scheme is derailed when he rescues an American beauty in a dire predicament instead. Maria Butterfield came to London to track down her groom-to-be, who's gone missing, but her engagement won't stop Oliver from getting what he wants: her, in his bed. His rebellious masquerade may call his grandmother's bluff , but it's soon made all too real -- by a love that tempts him to be a hellion no more.
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Oliver stared out the window of the library at Halstead Hall. The dreary winter day further depressed his spirits as he fought to shove his painful memories back into the stout strongbox in which he kept them. It was so much harder here than in town, where he could lose himself in wenches and wine.
Not that he could lose himself for long. Though the scandal was nineteen years old, there were still whispers of it wherever he went.
Gran had told the guests that night that Mother had gone to the hunting lodge to be alone and had fallen asleep. Awakened by sounds of what she thought was an intruder, she'd panicked and shot him, only to discover that the man was her husband. Then, in her shock and grief, Mother had turned the pistol on herself.
It was a flimsy tale at best to cover up a murder and a suicide, and the whispers never quite subsided since the guests had been eager to speculate on the truth. Gran had ordered him and his siblings not to speak of it to anyone, even each other, from that day forward.
She'd said it was to stifle the gossip, but he'd often wondered if it was because she blamed him for what happened. Otherwise, why reverse her decree in recent months to question him about the quarrel between him and Mother that night? He hadn't answered, of course. The very thought of telling her turned his stomach.
Whirling away from the window, he paced beside the table where his siblings sat waiting for Gran. This was precisely why he avoided Halstead Hall -- it always put him in a maudlin mood.
Why in God's name had Gran asked to have her blasted meeting out here? He'd kept the place shut up for years. It stank of must and rot, and was chilly as the Arctic besides. The only room lacking dust covers was the study where his steward did the work of running the estate. They'd had to remove the covers in here just to have this meeting, which Gran could have held perfectly well at her house in town.
Normally, he would refuse her request that they troop out to his neglected estate. But ever since his brother Gabriel's accident three days ago, he and his siblings had been skating on thin ice with her. That was made more than clear by Gran's uncharacteristic silence about it. Something was afoot, and Oliver suspected it wouldn't be to their liking.
"How's your shoulder?" his sister Minerva asked Gabe.
"How do you think?" Gabe grumbled. He wore a sling over his rumpled black riding coat, and his ash-brown hair was mussed as usual. "Hurts like the devil."
"Don't snap at me. I'm not the one who nearly got myself killed."
At twenty-eight, Minerva was the middle sibling -- four years younger than Jarret, the second oldest; two years older than Gabe; and four years older than Celia, the baby. But as the eldest girl, she tended to mother the others.
She even looked like their mother -- all creamy skin and gold-streaked brown hair, with ivy-green eyes like Gabe's. There was virtually no resemblance between those two and Oliver, who'd inherited the coloring of their half-Italian father -- dark eyes, dark hair, dark skin. And a dark heart to match.
"You're lucky Lieutenant Chetwin pulled back in time," Celia pointed out to Gabe. She was a slightly paler version of Oliver, as if someone had added a dollop of cream to her coloring, and her eyes were hazel. "He's rumored to have more bravery than sense."
"Then he and Gabe make a good pair," Oliver growled.
"Lay off of him, will you?" Jarret told Oliver. Closest to being a blend of their parents, he had black hair but bluegreen eyes and no...
The Truth About Lord StonevilleBy: Sabrina Jeffries