Colin, Earl of Shefford visits a building he won, having determined its address to be an excellent location for a new club. Discovering not only a fully functioning orphanage but a beautiful headmistress, who refuses his offer of an alternative establishment, he suffers a pique of temper. Irritated by her immunity to his charms, he foolishly succumbs to his intense attraction and brashly offers her a choice. Either she must accept him in a marriage of convenience or provide proof that the orphanage has value to him.
Impoverished and needing to restore her fortunes, Miss Honoria Mason despises the members of the ton for their extravagance and blames them for her family’s loss of home and fortune. Nora’s life takes a turn when the handsome Lord Shefford becomes the orphanage’s landlord. Either she proves the orphanage’s worth to him in two weeks or becomes his convenient bride in order that he may produce an heir. She refuses to lose the orphanage she has worked so hard to preserve and so accepts his offer to marry.
Sparks fly as proximity forces them together, the better to know each other. Yet, how may romance overcome such hazardous beginnings when resentment has stacked the dice against them?
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
As part of the Wicked Earls Club, this was a third opportunity to continue that fabulous series. I had already built a group of characters (and especially, the Earl of Bergen — who has been part of all three books!) So, I wanted to continue it and give Shefford his story, having introduced him in the Earl of Bergen book last year.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters must come from some part of me because I just start writing and seriously, they emerge — every single one of them. As they come to be, I create a characterization for them and try to convey that within the pages.
“That, I believe, is the game!” Colin Nelson, the Earl of Shefford, breathed a sigh of relief. How had Bergen talked him into one more game with Lord Wilford Whitton? He already suspected the man cheated when he could, and failing that, he was a terrible loser. Tonight, the man could not cover his losses without giving up some part of his estate, having already lost both his horse and a building. A building, indeed, which now belonged to Colin, even though he was uncertain of what it looked like or its actual worth. Nevertheless, I plan to put it to good use, he mused. Hell and confound it! The paper feels damp. He glanced at the vowel before tucking it into his waistcoat pocket—making sure Whitton’s perspiration had not smeared the ink before wiping his hands on his pantaloons.
“My lord, might we exchange a few words about this for a moment? Perhaps there is another way to pay you. The building has been in my family for a long while.” Lord Whitton grabbed his chewed, cold cigar, which had been resting next to his empty glass, and stood up from the table. The short, red-faced lord had been huffing since he had shown his losing cards. “I have an idea and I think you might be interested in my proposal.”
“I cannot imagine what else you could have. You have already wagered your horse and lost it; and now, this family building. I do not make a habit of leaving women and children homeless by winning a man’s house from him.” He watched Whitton wipe the sweat from his head. By now, that handkerchief had to be soaked, he thought, trying to decide how to handle the man who was growing more and more fidgety. Instinct told him it was time to leave. “I have no notion whether this building is worth the hundred pounds you owe me, but I know the area and will take a chance.” Colin pushed back from the table and stood up. “The game is over. I suggest you go home.” He looked around the room. Circles of cigar smoke hovered over several heads before making its way to the general haze of smoke at the ceiling. Activity ceased at the closest tables, as the players’ heads turned to watch. Even the popping and crackling from the enormous fireplace across the room seemed louder and closer. He found himself buoyed by the temporary audience.
“If you will, please hear me out.” Perspiration coated the man’s forehead. “I should not have wagered the building.”
“Yet you did,” Colin responded coolly. “The gaming table has not been kind to you this night. Perhaps you should have stopped playing after you lost your horse to Lord Bergen.” People like Whitton would benefit from house limits on wagers, yet they rarely put one in place.
“I thought I could win back my losses. “Twas but a small debt,” the man whined. “My horse is a thoroughbred. It should have carried me further on the wager.”
Colin noted the tone of indignation steeling Whitton’s voice. “Yet you lost that to a different person,” Colin said with a note of astonishment even he could hear.
“He is your friend. How do I know the two of you have played fair?” The man sneered, the accusation clear.
From the corner of his eye, Colin observed his friend, Thomas, the Earl of Bergen, quietly signal the stalwart individual standing beside the door with a nod of his head. The last thing they needed was to dive into a mill in this hell. Colin was already regretting the decision to try out this new hell. They should have gone to the club. He did not care for public displays.
“I will give you one chance to redeem your building. If you can satisfy your entire debt by tomorrow evening—in cash—I will return the deed to the building. If not, consider the building payment in full.”
A tall, burly man with dark hair and a trimmed beard appeared at the table. “My lord, the night has ended for you. We ask that you leave now,” the bouncer said, his eyes on Whitton. For added emphasis, he pushed up each of his sleeves, revealing large, muscular arms. A tattoo of an ace of spades with a dagger across it showed on the underside of one arm.
“They have cheated me,” Whitton accused, pointing a finger at Bergen and Shefford. “These are the gentlemen you should throw out—and I demand the return of the deed he stole from me,” he rasped, taking a step back.
“Did you just call me a cheat?” Colin stepped forward, his voice low.
The bouncer grabbed Lord Whitton by the back of his coat. “My lord, there are windows throughout the house. If there was any cheating occurring, we would see it. I will escort you to the door. Your participation for the evening—here, at least—is over.” With that, the guard forcibly removed the squirming, protesting man.
“You have not heard the last of me,” Whitton yelled over his shoulder, before being dragged to the door.
“Well, that did not end too well,” observed Colin, quietly. “I hope he finds his way home.”
“Without his horse,” sneered Bergen.
“Do you think he will try to take his horse? He lost it to you,” Colin added wryly.
“I conjured that he might and removed the horse to the stable across the street, with ours, when I took a break from the tables earlier. I am glad I insisted on a signed bill of sale.”
“Ah. Yes, that was probably wise,” Colin quipped.
“Faro does not appear to be his game, Shefford,” Bergen said, taking the last sip of his brandy. “Mm, I think this must be French brandy. How unusual to find it at a gaming hell.” He sniffed the rim of the glass and smiled, as if confirming his point.
“I feel the need for more salubrious surroundings. What say you we head to the club?”
“That is funny! I am right behind you, my friend.” Bergen sniggered. He picked up his coat and followed Colin.
As the two men approached the stable, a young man jumped up from where he was sitting, beneath a tree near the gate.
“M’lords,” he started, brushing off his breeches. “Can I bring yer horses to ye?”
“This is the young man who has been taking care of my winnings tonight,” Bergen said, chuckling.
“Me name’s Danny. I’m glad to see ye, m’lord,” the young man rejoined. “A shorter gentleman came fer that horse, just like ye said. I ’ad placed her in the back, in case I was with another when ’e came. He was really mad when I told him ye had taken her.”
“That was good thinking. Here is a little something extra for watching our horses and being so thoughtful, Danny,” Colin said, withdrawing the money from his waistcoat.
“Get away! A crown. You gents are the dog’s whiskers!”
“We had a run of luck at the tables tonight and our good fortune has become your gain,” Bergen added, grinning.
“Thank you,” the lad said with gusto. “I’ll be back in a jiffy with the horses.” He pocketed the coin and hurried into the stables.
“It is interesting how Whitton’s demeanor changed so rapidly,” Bergen remarked thoughtfully. “You should beware. A loser’s remorse can do strange things to a body. Perhaps I should apologize for talking you into one more game.”
“There is no need. I won.” Colin grinned. “Although I will admit I do not understand the building’s worth. It could have the walls eaten through and be overrun with rats, for all I know. I plan to take a look in a day or so—if he does not find the readies for his debt.”
“That was a very generous offer. You were more than fair.”
“Here come our horses.” Colin never felt comfortable with compliments, no matter how sincere. “I merely gave him an opportunity. The old codger seemed abnormally worried about the loss of the building.”
“What are you thinking to do with a building you have yet to see, Colin?” Bergen asked, his tone one of amusement.
“Ah! Here are the horses,” he said again in an attempt to deflect his friend’s attention. He had an idea for the building but preferred to speak to his brother first. “It would seem our return will be slower… I suspect you will have to pull along the second horse.” He eyed the mare with disfavor. “It was very well of you to move her…” Colin let his voice fade as he noticed the boy’s face. Something was wrong. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. He turned around, just in time to block Lord Whitton’s knife as the man thrust it towards his back. Colin’s right arm received the punishing blow instead, but ignoring the pain, he pummeled Whitton with both fists, knocking him off balance. Shouting to Danny to run for help, Bergen joined him, and the two men wrestled Whitton to the ground.
“You should have that looked at,” Bergen observed some minutes later as they watched a pair of constables lead Lord Whitton away in handcuffs to the lock-up. “I have never seen that man so out of control. Attacking a peer—whatever next?” He grimaced. “I cannot imagine what drove him to do such a thing.”
“I will speak with the magistrate on that situation tomorrow. I have a disquieting feeling about that gentleman, and I need to make sure that they punish him for the assault,” Colin muttered. “Can you help me on to my horse?”
“I will. However, I insist you come to my house. I will send for the doctor. The cut is deep and needs to be attended.”
“Very well. However, I wish you will not make too much of it,” Colin returned, grimacing in the other direction. Distraction could help. His arm felt on fire. “I would like to speak with Baxter about Whitton and make sure that he does not escape justice.”
“Hopefully, the magistrate will send him to gaol, and they keep him there for a goodly while,” Bergen added.
“He can rot there,” Colin returned. “The man is dangerous and should not be among decent folk.”
“He is obviously in quite deep. Unless someone owes him, he is not likely to have enough blunt to grease the gaoler’s fist,” agreed Bergen. “Whitton may be a scoundrel; however, he is also an earl. I will send word to Baxter and Morray once I have you safely home. The sooner he is under lock and key, the better.”
Anna St. Claire is a big believer that nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself. She sprinkles her stories with laughter, romance, mystery and lots of possibilities, adhering to the belief that goodness and love will win the day.
Anna is both an avid reader author of American and British historical romance. She and her husband live in Charlotte, North Carolina with their two dogs and often, their two beautiful granddaughters, who live nearby. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, and Mimi—all life roles that Anna St. Claire relishes and feels blessed to still enjoy. And she loves her pets – dogs and cats alike, and often inserts them into her books as secondary characters.
Anna relocated from New York to the Carolinas as a child. Her mother, a retired English and History teacher, always encouraged Anna’s interest in writing, after discovering short stories she would write in her spare time.
As a child, she loved mysteries and checked out every Encyclopedia Brown story that came into the school library. Before too long, her fascination with history and reading led her to her first historical romance—Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, now a treasured, but weathered book from being read multiple times. The day she discovered Kathleen Woodiwiss,’ books, Shanna and Ashes In The Wind, Anna became hooked. She read every historical romance that came her way and dreams of writing her own historical romances took seed.
Today, her focus is primarily the Regency and Civil War eras, although Anna enjoys almost any period in American and British history.
Links to Purchase Print Books
Link to Buy Earl of Shefford Print Edition at Amazon
Have you read this book? Tell us in the comments how you liked it!