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Authors: Andrea Pickens

Code of Honor

BOOK: Code of Honor
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Code of Honor

 

by Andrea Pickens

 

A Passionate Wager

 

At twenty-three, botanical artist and bluestocking spinster Alexandra Chilton is certain that no man is worth the shackles of marriage.
Then she meets the dark and dangerous Earl of Branford, the most notorious rake in London, who is determined to win her favors by any means possible...

 

Bored and restless, Branford accepts the Earl of Hammerton's wager to seduce Miss Chilton, unaware that he's being used as a pawn in a nefarious game. To his surprise, the young lady brazenly challenges his intellect and awakens his jaded heart. Suddenly it's no longer a game, as passion flares and scandal threatens. Can he protect her from disgrace—or will Hammerton's evil plans destroy their blossoming love?

 

Andrea Pickens

 

Andrea Pickens created her first book at the age of five—a neatly penciled story lavishly illustrated with crayon drawings of horses and bound with staples, lovingly preserved by her mother. She has since moved on from Westerns to writing about Regency England, a time and place that has captured her imagination ever since she opened the covers of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."

 

Pickens has a BA and an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University and now works as the Creative Director of a lifestyle sporting magazine, a job which lets her combine her love of the printed word with her love of art. She is very fortunate in that her work allows her to travel to interesting destinations around the world—however, her favorite spot is London, where the funky antique markets and used book stores offer a wealth of inspiration for her stories.

 
Contents

 

 

A Passionate Wager

About the Author

 

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ONE
 

Even the slightest movement caused a grimace to pass over the well-chiseled features. One eyelid slowly pried itself open, then fell shut at the sight of a hazy but eminently recognizable bottle of brandy perched on the delicate gilt side table.

 

Good Lord, had he really polished off that one too?

 

With a groan he rearranged his long, muscled legs, only to find them entangled with a pair of much shorter, softer ones. A slender hand ran lightly over the dark curls of his chest, across the hard planes of his stomach, then roamed even lower.

 

"My lord," murmured a sultry voice. "It appears you are... awake. Quite awake." A pair of lips pressed against his shoulder, a tongue teased the tanned flesh.

 

Stifling another groan, he pushed her lush hips back into the satin sheets and rolled on top of her.

 

A half hour later, the Earl of Branford sat on the edge of the rumpled bed. The dull ache in his head only mirrored the one deep inside. After briefly massaging his temples, he finished pulling on his boots and then reached for his shirt.

 

"Must you go? The raven haired beauty let the sheet slip ever so slightly to bare one rose nipple.

 

The Earl didn't even cast a glance her way as he essayed to tie his cravat into some semblance of neatness. He stood up and, with a slight shake of his head, shrugged his broad shoulders into an impeccably cut coat of navy superfine. Reaching into one of the pockets, he removed a small box, exquisitely wrapped in embossed paper, and dropped into the swirl of satin.

 

The lady unwrapped it. Her jaw tightened slightly as she draped the filigree gold bracelet winking with diamonds and emeralds around her wrist.

 

"It is indeed beautiful." After a moment of silence she added," So this is goodbye?"

 

"It is time, Serena."

 

She gave a toss of her head, sending the dark ringlets cascading over her alabaster shoulders — even in anger, he thought cynically, she managed to look perfect.

 

"I suppose I should feel flattered that I've lasted longer than most of your mistresses,"

 

"No, you should not. In fact, it is nothing personal." He straightened the gold signet ring on his little finger. "My banker will make the necessary arrangements, though with your charms, I doubt you will be without protection for very long."

 

"You are a hard man, my lord."

 

"Come now my dear, do not play the injured party with me. You know very well you expected no less."

 

He turned and left the bedroom, quietly but firmly closing the door after him.

 

Outside, the raw chill slapped at his face. He turned up the collar of his greatcoat and settled the curly brimmed beaver hat on his long locks. At the corner his carriage was waiting. It was nearly four in the morning and though he was dead tired and feeling muzzy from the effects of the brandy and the boudoir, he couldn't face returning home. He rubbed a hand over his stubbly jaw, then rapped on the roof with the tip of his silver chaised walking stick.

 

"White's," he called out in his rich baritone. Then he settled back against the squabs and closed his weary eyes.

 

Despite the late hour, there was no dearth of activity at the exclusive club on St. James's Street. Gentlemen — many in far worse condition than the earl — were still at play in the gaming room while others nursed port or brandy in the comfort of the well-appointed rooms.

 

Branford handed his greatcoat to the porter and entered one of the main rooms. A hush fell over the small group of men gathered before the roaring fire. A number of wary eyes followed his progress as the earl made his way towards a vacant leather wing chair and ordered a bottle of claret to be brought posthaste. He settled his lanky frame into the soft leather and stretched his boots towards the warmth of the blaze. The wine appeared almost immediately. He poured a glass, but instead of raising it to his lips, he merely cradled it in his lap. His eyes fell half closed, an impenetrable look on his handsome features.

 

The frisson of tension eased. The buzz of conversation slowly began again as it became evident there was to be no immediate victim of the earl's sardonic tongue. Though some of those gathered there at that hour made up a rather reckless set, much given to heavy drinking, deep play and short tempers, none cared to cross swords — verbal or otherwise — with a man of Branford's reputation.

 

"It's outside of enough," muttered one of the gentlemen by the fire, a middle aged viscount with darting, ferretlike eyes set in an otherwise unremarkable face. "Is it true, Hammerton, that the chit behaved in such a manner? What is her aunt thinking of?"

 

"Her aunt is too busy with her nose buried in her late husband's writing to see beyond her spectacles. It's not like the girl has any prospects anyway. Why, she's as good as on the shelf — she must be at least three and twenty."

 

"What's she done?"

 

A stout gentleman, whose receding ginger hair would have given him the look of a monk were it not for the obvious effects of dissolution etched on his face, leered suggestively. "She went to view the statues that damned fellow Elgin brought back from Greece. Alone."

 

The man who had asked the question furrowed his brow. "Thought chits were allowed to look at art."

 

The ginger-haired man's leer stretched wider. "They are of horses and men. Buck naked men."

 

A shocked gasp came from two of the group, but another of them, a baronet with the high shirtpoints and fussy waistcoat of a budding dandy, rocked his hips suggestively. "Likes horses does she? Perhaps she'd like a good mount."

 

There were guffaws all around. another bottle of brandy was ordered. Emboldened by the response, the baronet took another long draught from his glass and continued. " You know these country gels. Her groom has probably been having at her. Wouldn't mind joining the sport myself, even though she's no diamond of the first water. Has spirit, though. Heard her arguing — arguing, for God's sake — with a man at the Haverly's rout. I like a filly with spirit between my legs."

 

"Aye, Vinley. It's well known you'd unbutton your breeches for anything that wears a skirt..."

 

"Enough," A baron lately come down from his estate in Yorkshire, a newer member of their set, which included some of the less reputable members of the Ton, scratched at his whiskers and looked slightly discomfited. He appeared to glance around the room as if to ascertain who was paying them any attention. "We are discussing, er, ladies, not some lightskirts from Southwark."

 

"Ah, but that is what makes it... interesting." The words came from an elegantly dressed man of medium height who was lounging against the mantelpiece. Toying with one of the many fobs that dangled from his embroidered waistcoat, he cast a surreptitious look at the figure of the earl, who seemed to be dozing, oblivious to the conversation.

 

"Would you think someone with a reputation of cutting a swath through the ladies — say, for example, Branford there — could get a forward girl like Miss Chilton to give him a tumble?" He picked for a moment at the edge of his immaculate cuff while some of the others traded nervous glances.

 

A young viscount drained his glass, swaying slightly in the process. "Aye, Hammerton. I'd put my blunt on Branford to have his way with her. Why, if all the rumors are correct," he added in a near whisper, "he's sampled the charms of half the wives of the

 

Ton..."

 

"Including yours, Fielding, for all the action you give her," jeered a voice.

 

"And welcome to the bitch he'd be," muttered the baronet as a flush rose over his face.

 

"I say it can't be done. The aunt's not that much of a loose screw, even if the chit is."

 

"A bet! A bet!" chorused two other voices, their tongues loosened by the copious amounts of alcohol consumed.

 

A ghost of a smile crept over Hammerton's lips. "What say you, Branford?" he called in a louder voice. "Care to partake in a little wager?" His tone conveyed a subtle tone of insolence.

 

The earl's eyes slowly opened, the flickering light catching a spark of sapphire. "What?"

 

"A wager," repeated Hammerton. "Care to bet on whether you can mount a certain lady?"

 

"Which lady?"

 

"One no better than she should be. Name is Chilton. Arrived from the country last week."

 

The earl stared at Hammerton from beneath hooded eyes.

 

"Now myself and Chumley are willing to wager it can't be done — in say, a fortnight. Anyone else with us?" A murmur of assent came from a few others. "So, Wilton and Chichester will join us. Say we each put up 125 pounds. Do you care to match our 500 pounds? With your vast fortune, it seems... fair." He emphasized the words "vast fortune" just enough to make his intent of doing so unmistakable.

 

A hint of emotion seemed to flash in Branford's eyes, but his face remained impassive. "It seems you do not tire of losing your money to me," he said evenly. "Over the last month we have been matched at cupping the wafers at Manton's, racing curricles to Bath and running our horses at Ascot..." He let his sentence trail off deliberately. Hammerton's jaw tightened. "However," continued Branford, "if it amuses you to keep it up, why not?"

BOOK: Code of Honor
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