Never Wager Against Love (Kellington Book Three)

BOOK: Never Wager Against Love (Kellington Book Three)
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ALSO
BY MAUREEN DRISCOLL

NEVER
MISS A CHANCE (KELLINGTON, BOOK TWO)

NEVER
A MISTRESS, NO LONGER A MAID (KELLINGTON, BOOK ONE)

DATING
GEORGE CLOONEY

NEVER
WAGER AGAINST LOVE

By

Maureen
Driscoll

Copyright
© 2012, by Maureen Driscoll

Cover
design by Jennifer Omner, ALLpublications.com

Author
photo by JBC Images, JBCimages.com

 

All
rights reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any
means without the prior written consent of the Author, excepting brief quotes
used in reviews.

This
is a work of fiction.  Any similarities to persons living or dead, business
establishments, events or locales are strictly coincidental.

To
Jennifer Omner

Who
shares Arthur’s courage.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thank you so much for the encouragement, laughs and friendship
I have with my readers through Facebook, with special thanks to the following
for helping me name this book:  Carrie Weiner, Marley Botta, Nadine Bowman,
Karla J. Coker, Angie Adams Collinsworth, Janette M. Dionne, Tracey Galbraith,
Kelly Hilger, Mary Jane Grose Hoffman, Diane Zaker Johnson, Sheila Pickett
Karch, Gailya Austin Keller,  Cyndee Martin, Terry Parrish, Candy Royer, Susan
Noel Sands, Julie Smetzer, Vilma Spurling, Carol A. Strickland, Anabel Vazquez
and (last but especially not least) Jeanne Williams-Nunya.

Thank you so much to Joyce Lamb, Amal Chaaban and Barb
Drozdowich for your insight.  And big thanks to the following:  Janice Minsberg,
Linda Thurmond DeCristofaro, Terree Nelson Lyman and Anitra Evans for your
encouragement; to the real Joseph Stapleton for your gambling tutorial; to
Jennifer Omner at allpublications.com for another great cover; to Tara Gans and
Vanessa Rennard for letting me borrow your names (I hope I took good care of
them) and to everyone who has spread the word about these books. 

And a huge thank you to Melanie Friedman who has not just
made me a much better writer, but keeps my To Be Read pile stacked to the
ceiling.  You are awesome.

I love doing this.  Thank you to everyone who makes that
possible.  Which is mostly – and most importantly – you, Mom.

PROLOGUE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hertfordshire, Near Lynwood Manor, 1810

The only thing worse than losing a bet, was losing a bet to
your younger brother.  Fifteen-year-old Arthur Kellington pondered the
indignities of the situation as he trudged home from his errand in the village. 
Though the incident had occurred three days earlier, the embarrassment lingered
on.  To be turned down for a kiss was bad enough.  But to have his brother
witness the debacle from a nearby tree had been outside of enough.  That Hal
had laughed so hard he’d fallen from his branch was some consolation, but not
enough to make up for the humiliating experience of having the comeliest
serving girl at the Boar’s Bristle tell Arthur she thought he was a good lad
and would make a fine man some day, but she was saving her kisses for the
smithy’s son.

A lad!  She’d spoken to him as if he were a mere boy,
instead of a man.  He could’ve told her he was already taller than his
classmates at Eton.  He even thought he’d be taller than his eldest brother Liam
one day.  More importantly, he didn’t feel like a lad.  And when it came to
women, he certainly didn’t have the disinterest of a younger boy.  He’d admired
the serving girl for months.  She was two years his senior and had a smile for
everyone, accompanied by curves that would interest even someone as old as
Lynwood’s steward, who had just passed his fortieth birthday.  Of course, in
thinking back upon the matter, Arthur realized it was possible he might have
misinterpreted her general friendliness for a specific interest in him that
didn’t exist.  Whatever had possessed him to take Hal’s bet?

Part of the reason could lie in the general restlessness
that came from being the middle sibling in a family of five.  It was never easy
to carve out a role for yourself with so many brothers.  It was harder still
when your eldest brother was a duke.  It wasn’t that he envied Liam the title. 
Far from it.  Liam had taken on their late father’s ducal responsibilities a
year earlier at the age of nineteen and his life would never completely be his
own ever again.   And since their mother had died alongside their father in the
carriage accident, Liam had also taken on the task of raising his brothers and
sister.  While their maternal aunt Prue and her companion Mariah helped wherever
they could, Liam still faced much of the burden alone.

As much as Arthur loved his brother, he missed his parents
dearly.  Sometimes he thought he’d never feel whole again.

In the meantime, he’d just have to be more judicious in his
wagers.  He chafed at the serving girl’s dismissal and counted the days until
he’d be back at school.  In a few years – that would no doubt drag interminably
– he could leave on his Grand Tour.  He only hoped the continent would be at
peace by then, but the prospects for that didn’t look good.  Perhaps he’d go to
America or the Amazon or even the Orient. 

It seemed his brothers and sister already had their futures
planned.  Liam, Duke of Lynwood, had an infinite number of responsibilities
that went along with the title.  Of course, there were also quite a few perks. 
The serving girl probably wouldn’t have turned him down for a kiss.   

Ned was seventeen and had stated his desire to go off to war. 
He was eagerly awaiting the day when Liam would let him buy a commission.  Arthur
would miss Ned terribly when he left.  He wouldn’t permit himself to think of
what could happen to him on the war-torn continent.  The family couldn’t cope
with any more tragedy.

Thirteen-year-old Hal’s thoughts for the future didn’t
extend much beyond what practical joke he could play next.  But the brother who
kept everyone laughing seemed to have had the hardest time coping with their
parents’ deaths.  For weeks after the accident, he’d been unable to leave his
rooms and even a year later was unable to talk about it.

Lizzie, the baby of the family at nine years of age, wanted
to change the world.  She was forever telling Liam to let the servants work
fewer hours.  Their butler Heskiss nearly had apoplexy when the girl suggested
he take two weeks of holiday at Christmas.  The poor bewildered man had gone to
Liam asking what he’d done wrong to warrant exile from the family.

Arthur wanted to travel, to go off on his quest.  In a
family named for four kings and one queen of England, he felt a connection to
the legendary ruler who’d commanded the Knights of the Round Table, even if it
was mostly made up.   But how was Arthur going to achieve great things when he
couldn’t even get a kiss from a serving girl?

It didn’t help his mood that he was now on his way back from
the village with the treacle tarts he owed Hal for losing the bet.  It had been
three days and Hal had been merciless in his teasing.  It mattered little that
Cook could prepare tarts in the kitchen.  It was part of the bet that Arthur
walk to the village every day for a week to get them, then personally serve
them to Hal, who was currently back at the manor nursing a badly bruised arm
caused by the fall from the tree.  Arthur planned on nudging the arm none too
gently when he served today’s tarts.

It was then that he heard it.  At first he thought it was a
bird, perhaps the shriek of a falcon.  It came from the woods on the other side
of the meadow he was walking past.  Then the cry came again and it sounded less
like a falcon and more like a person.  Arthur began walking toward the sound,
then broke into a run when he heard it a third time.  As the cry came again,
Arthur paused long enough to pick up a large stick then ran as fast as he
could.

The noise brought him to a clearing in the woods.  At least half
a dozen lads from the village were circling around a small woman who looked to
be in her late ‘30s.  She had black hair which was unbound and hung in curls to
her waist.  She appeared to be a Gypsy from her dress.   One of the sleeves on
her white blouse was torn and the hem of her red skirt was hanging down, as if
someone had ripped it.  She was trapped by the band of lads, all of whom were much
larger than she and who were cheering each other on as they lunged at her.  She
darted back and forth to avoid them, keeping a wary eye on her captors.  She
slapped and kicked at them when they got too close.  Arthur could tell she was
terrified, as much as she tried to hide it.

She was the bravest person he had ever seen.

“What’s going on?” he demanded as he reached the clearing
and glared at the lads surrounding her.   They were sons of the local gentry.  He
knew all of them, having spent his summers at Lynwood Manor.  Most were older
than he by a few years.  Many were also bullies like Miles, the vicar’s son,
who just the previous week had tortured a stray dog.    The dog was now
recovering in the Lynwood stables, after being saved by Lizzie.  Miles was
still sporting the blacked eye Ned had given him.

“Go to the devil Kellington,” sneered Miles.  “No one wants
you here.”

“Right,” said Morris, the squire’s son, who’d yet to have an
original thought.  “No one wants you here.”  At that, the other lads joined in,
telling Arthur to bugger off and other colorful directives.

Miles continued.  “We’re up for a bit of slap and tickle
with this Gypsy whore.”  He tried to make a grab for the woman, but she stepped
out of the way and slapped at his hands to the great amusement of the other
boys.  Which made Miles turn his anger on Arthur.  “I don’t see Ned here to
fight your battles.  Or your little sister.”  That made the lads laugh even
more, which emboldened Miles.  “You’d better take yourself off before we have a
mind to come after you.” 

Arthur eyed the other lads, most of whom outweighed him by
two or three stone.  “Let the woman go,” he said, wishing he had one of his
brothers to back him up.  He didn’t relish the beating that was sure to come.  “Or
answer to me.”

“Let the woman go!” parroted the squire’s son, laughing at
the absurdity of the request.

Miles took a menacing step closer to Arthur.  “Who do you
think you are to give orders to us?  Just because your brother’s a duke, don’t
mean we have to listen to you.  And it’s not like you can run home to daddy.”

That made the other lads laugh even harder.  But Arthur
didn’t hear them.  He was aware only of the rage that flooded him.   Not just
because of Miles’s taunts.  But because of the anger, fear and frustration he’d
felt ever since the accident.

Without thinking, Arthur swung the stick around and hit the side
of Miles’s jaw with a satisfying crack.  He then threw the stick to the Gypsy
woman, who used it to fight off the two boys closest to her.

The other three attacked Arthur, cheered on by Miles, who
was holding his jaw from a safe distance away.  Arthur gave a good accounting
of himself, but soon fell to his knees from the kicks and blows.  He hurt like
the dickens, but there was more at stake than simply his own hide.  He had to
get up because he knew the woman would be getting the worst of it.  He had to
protect her.

He took another blow to the head, but retaliated with a fist
to Morris’s groin.  Not the most gentlemanly of moves, but fully warranted
under the circumstances.  Apparently, it was quite a blow, because not only did
the miscreant limp off, but the other lads ran away as well with Miles leading
the way.  As Arthur shook his head to clear his vision, he looked for the
woman, afraid of what he’d see.  She was there, still holding the stick,
seemingly unharmed.  She was looking above him, toward the woods at his back.  Arthur
turned and saw the real reason the boys had run away. 

The woods were filled with Gypsy men,
Romany
, holding
any number of knives and weapons.  One of the men, a little older than Arthur,
approached the woman, obviously concerned for her well-being.  They exchanged a
few words in a foreign language, then the young man approached Arthur.  He
helped him to his feet then said in accented English.  “You fight well for a
gadje
.”

Arthur nodded, unsure if that was a compliment.  “Is the
lady….”  He turned to the
Rom
woman.  “Are you all right, ma’am?”

She studied him for a moment, before smiling briefly.  “Come
back to the camp.  We will tend to your wounds.”

“My wounds?”  It took a moment for Arthur to realize his
hair was matted with blood.   Then the second most embarrassing moment of the
week occurred as his world faded to black.

BOOK: Never Wager Against Love (Kellington Book Three)
5.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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