What an Earl Wants Online - Kasey Michaels

Dear Reader,

For this series of four books, I’ve stepped back in time to the year just before the Regency officially began in February of 1811.

Hellfire clubs have always interested me, as has the politics surrounding the years of the Napoleonic Wars. The thing is, however, when I read histories I immediately begin weaving plots and peopling those plots with characters who make the whole business of history more alive to me.

You could say that’s the reason for all historical romances, I suppose. A love of the era you’re reading about, and an interest in the well-being and happily-ever-afters of the characters the author has plunked down in the middle of all of it.

I hope you enjoy What An Earl Wants, and then move on to read the stories of the earl’s three siblings, the headstrong Lady Katherine, the frankly adorable Valentine, and the (he believes) love-resistant Maximillian.

Happy reading…and please visit me online if you have a chance!

Kasey Michaels

With affection, to Debi Allen,

lovely lady extraordinaire!

PROLOGUE

Kent, England

1789

THE GROUND SEEMED SUITABLE enough for the purpose. Nearly a tunnel of well-scythed lawn on the Saltwood estate, the carefully planted double row of trees serving as a rather romantical canopy overhead. Or it would have, were it summer, which it was not. In fact, it was the dead of winter and, in the false light before dawn, cold as a witch’s teat.

But, then again, no colder than the heart of the man now surveying the scene, no matter how appearances would prompt the casual onlooker to dismiss him as a mindless dandy.

“I say, Burke, shouldn’t there be a mist curling about our legs? Yes, I’m convinced of it. All the best early morning duels feature wispy tendrils of curling mist. I would have thought it mandatory. You’ll hold my cape, of course?”

The seventeenth Earl of Saltwood, one Barry Redgrave by name, lifted his arms and negligently shrugged out of his sable-lined cape, then laughed as his horrified valet sprang forward in a panic to rescue the magnificent thing before it could hit the ground.

“Ah, well executed, Burke. My compliments.” Relieved of the concealing cape, the earl was revealed to be not only a well set-up gentleman but also an exceedingly handsome man, or would be, were it not for a certain indescribable hardness about his dark blue eyes. His humor never quite seemed to reach them.

“You’ve drunk half the night away, my lord. You really must reconsider your timing,” Burke pleaded, now struggling with both the cape and the heavy rosewood box containing the Saltwood dueling pistols.

“I must, Burke?” The earl removed his tricornered hat with the lilac plume, placed it on Burke’s head at a jaunty angle, and then discreetly adjusted his snow-white periwig. “Why? Because of the lack of a mist? God’s teeth, man, it’s actually in the rules?”

“I don’t believe so, my lord, no. I meant only that you might be a mite...foxed, my lord,” the valet said, sighing.

“More than a mite, Burke,” the earl acknowledged, suddenly seeming amazingly sober. “I do my best shooting when three parts drunk. But if it calms you, I promise if I see three of him I’ll prudently aim for the one in the middle. However, if the unthinkable were to occur, you know what to do.”

“Yes, my lord,” Burke said, visibly trembling. “Everything goes to the Keeper, who also knows what to do.”

“Make me pretty, Burke, and well attended by handmaidens, or I shall come back to haunt you,” his lordship warned, and then laughed at his valet’s horrified expression. “I’m not about to die, you old woman. I’ll never die. Satan protects his own. Now, how does our importune Frenchman look to you? Quavering in his boots I should hope, as my reputation must surely precede me.”

Burke hazarded a look toward the plain black coach and the surgeon just now conversing with the very tall man and his second. “I don’t think so, no, sir. Rather, I should say, he appears determined. I should be remiss if I failed to mention that the duty of a second is to dissuade you from dueling, sir, and to broker a peace with the opponent’s second, one that will be acceptable to both sides.”

“A waste of breath best employed to cool your porridge once we’re finished here, Burke. There can be no acceptable solution other than that already decided upon. The man has been poking my lady wife.”

“Many have, sir,” Burke said, sighing once more. “Begging your pardon, my lord, and no offense meant.”

“None taken, my good man,”