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About Wicked Wager
A dissolute rake, a virtuous lady, a ruthless society beauty, and a missing plantation owner with secrets – just another day in Georgian England…
Wealthy Jamaican plantation owner, Harry Carstairs has disappeared – and everyone wants to know where he is…
Celeste Rosington knows her place in society, and while she may not be overjoyed at her upcoming wedding to her detached cousin, Raphael, she nonetheless hopes the marriage will be successful. When Raphael asks her for her help to save Harry, she agrees. But her decision costs her more than she knows…
Celeste’s clandestine visit to Harry’s home is witnessed, and her connection to Harry misconstrued. Harry’s secrets put Celeste into more danger than even Raphael understands, and throws her into the path of the ruthless, cunning, beautiful Lady Busselton and the dissolute, dangerous Lord Peregrine.
Raphael is invested in keeping Harry alive. Lady Busselton is invested in keeping him quiet. Lord Peregrine is invested in anything that staves off boredom. And Celeste is becoming increasingly invested in Lord Peregrine.
After all, what resistance does an innocent young woman have against something so deliciously wicked?
Setting the Scene: Lord Peregrine contemplates his ‘wicked wager’ …
Peregrine rubbed thoughtfully at his left knee with the sea sponge, careful not to slosh water over the side of the bathtub. Two candle sconces above the mantelpiece cast long shadows across the chamber, which was silent but for the crackle of the fire and the ebb and flow of the bathtub’s contents as Peregrine reached up to place his scoring markers on the cribbage board.
‘Ha! Trump that!’ he muttered softly, as his giant, broad-shouldered Negro manservant, Nelson, bent to study his own cards.
Nelson frowned. ‘I accept your challenge, master.’ The corner of his mouth quirked at the oblique reference to the ambiguous relationship between the two men.
Nelson could not in fact be free under the current legislation, yet it was on account of this slave’s heroic actions that Peregrine was still alive today.
Cursing as he conceded a loss at Nelson’s next play, Perry relaxed back into the soapy water, stiffening when Nelson, remarked, glancing up from his cards, ‘I gather there’s trouble a-brewing with Miss Paige, m’lord.’ Nelson’s English was as impeccable as his master’s.
Perry considered the question. In no other servant would he have countenanced such impertinence, but Nelson was not the usual servant.
Until the dramatic incident five years before, when footpads had set upon Perry one night, Nelson had been a silent, obedient footman acquired some years previously to form a matching pair.
However, since Nelson had hurled himself into the fray and succeeded in disarming to the blackguards, and doing a great deal of damage besides, before assisting a seriously wounded Perry back to his home, an unusual bond between the men had been forged. Nelson had been promoted to valet and there had been a great many mutually enjoyable conversations since then between master and servant over the cribbage board in the bathtub.
‘Trouble, yes. And more than just a-brewing,’ Perry admitted, glad of the opportunity to unburden himself. With the game concluded, Nelson held up a strip of linen to wrap about his master and Perry elaborated. ‘It’s not just my sister. There’s another young lady.’
‘There is usually another young lady.’ Nelson nodded sagely, the candlelight highlighting his noble features. Nelson had been groomed for the chieftainship before he’d been snatched from his coastal village by slavers.
Clad in his banyan and seated in his dressing room, Peregrine picked up a nail file from his grooming box and toyed with its smooth mother-of-pearl handle. He wondered if Miss Rosington’s pale skin would feel as smooth beneath his hands. The mere thought of his immoral wager made his breath quicken with desire but his conscience gave him pause. The woman had the face of an angel, but what of her morals? Xenia would have it seem they were as corrupted as his own.
‘I’ve just returned from visiting my sister who has got it into her head that a certain young lady is the source of all her troubles.’
Charlotte’s hysteria had been disconcerting when Peregrine had ventured to suggest she might have been mistaken in identifying Miss Rosington as Harry Carstairs’ accomplice. ‘Ask her if she knows anything of this, then!’ she’d screamed, hurling a gold locket at his head. ‘I tore it from Harry’s neck as he ran past me.’ Peregrine was aware now of the locket’s oval contours against the lining of his pocket as he watched Nelson consider the matter. To be sure, the cryptic, half-torn message the locket contained was perplexing, but it was not enough to convict Miss Rosington of the charges Xenia had laid at her door.
‘Miss Paige has no husband.’ Nelson looked up from folding his master’s clothes and his mouth stretched wide in a slow grin. ‘If she blames another woman for the fact, I pity that woman. Perhaps you will have to protect her from Miss Paige’s ire, m’lord,’ he added suggestively. Charlotte was, after all, famous for her hot and cold moods.
Peregrine grunted. ‘I’m ashamed to say I’m involved in a scheme to discredit this other young woman, yet the truth is, even if she is guilty, I’ve lost the appetite.’
‘Lost the appetite?’ Nelson’s face contorted into an expression indicating great disgust. ‘So she is not a woman you’d care either to besmirch or champion?’
‘God, no!’ Peregrine shook his head emphatically. ‘She is angelic. There’s the rub. I should be flayed for entering into such devilry.’
‘You are an honourable man, m’lord. If you have doubts, I suggest you relinquish your involvement and leave this possibly innocent young woman be,’ Nelson said with another sage nod, pausing on the threshold, having brushed and put away Peregrine’s coat.
It was as if Nelson was dismissing him, Peregrine thought with a mixture of irritation and amusement as Nelson offered him a bow before stepping gracefully backwards.
‘I shall do nothing of the sort.’ He floundered for a plausible excuse, aware that his motives for furthering his acquaintance with Miss Rosington were cloudy at best. ‘Indeed, she may, as you suggest, need my protection,’ he added, feebly.
‘Then if this young lady is worthy of your protection, my lord, I wish you great joy of her.’
An ambiguous remark, Peregrine reflected as he climbed into his carriage a short while later, and took the short journey across London to Vauxhall Gardens where he was to meet Lady Busselton.
Joy of her? Well, he was fully anticipating more pleasure than pain at the end of all this, but he’d rather he was protected by the usual indifference that ensured he never lost his heart or his head. The truth was Miss Rosington, up close, had unleashed a veritable storm of emotions that denied rational explanation. A visage of such purity surely could not belong to a woman who’d betray her cousin and the man she was to marry. Hers was not the guise of a hardened strumpet capable of destroying his sister’s happiness.
Now he was in danger of becoming mawkish. He turned his head away from the gathering group of beggar children chasing his carriage, frowning deeply at the extraordinary conundrum beginning to consume him. A moral dilemma? That would be a first.
Yet if there was more to her behavior than met the eye, Miss Rosington did need to be revealed. And if Perry went through with Xenia’s wager and Miss Rosington did indeed throw herself at Perry, as Charlotte claimed she’d done to Harry Carstairs, then Miss Rosington deserved everything she got.
Suddenly filled with charity, Peregrine tossed a handful of coins out of the carriage window, the corners of his mouth lifting as he looked back to see the children throw themselves upon the spoils like starved animals, their shouts and wails fading as the carriage rounded a bend by the river.
Yes, if the spoils were worth it, he didn’t mind getting a little dirty along the way. For ten long years he’d wanted Xenia.
Yet as he drew in a breath laden with anticipation, it was not Xenia’s heaving bosom that speared him with excitement.
Ah, Xenia, he sighed, closing his eyes to savour the thought of what shared delights would soon be his for the taking, irritated that instead of Xenia’s creamy, sculpted perfection, it was Miss Rosington’s fresh-faced visage that nagged at him.
About the Author
Beverley Eikli wrote her first romance when she was seventeen but discovered that killing her heroine on the last page was death to her burgeoning romance writing career.
She became a journalist, occupied for many years with life’s newsworthy – but often, unhappy – events until romance finally trumped after she met a handsome Norwegian bush pilot around a camp fire in Botswana’s beautiful Okavango Delta where she was running a safari lodge for a couple of months.
Unhappily, Beverley was due to return home the following day to marry her Australian boyfriend.
Happily, though, that fell through and after a whirlwind eight-month courtship based on regular 18-page letters between Botswana and South Australia, Beverley returned to live with her handsome Norwegian bush pilot in a thatched cottage in the middle of a mopane forest beside a flood plain of lurking wild animals, marrying her handsome bush pilot in Norway shortly afterwards.
Twenty happy years—and 12 countries later—Beverley is now back in Australia living a more conventional life with her husband, two daughters and a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy the size of a pony in a pretty country town an hour north of Melbourne.
She writes traditional Regency romance as Beverley Eikli and sensual historical romance as Beverley Oakley.
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