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Authors: Kathryn Caskie

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult, #Regency

To Sin With A Stranger

BOOK: To Sin With A Stranger
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For Jenny Bent, Lucia Macro,
Sophia Nash, and Franzeca Drouin.
Without you, this book
would not have been possible.

Sinclair Family Tree

Prologue

The source of your problem is your blessing.

Unknown

March 1816
Castle Sinclair, Scotland

He’s gone completely mad
.

Sterling Sinclair shoved his rain-sodden ebony hair from his eyes, then charged across the great hall to collect his sister. He snatched up her hand and pulled her away from the portmanteau she had hurriedly packed and managed to drag down from her bedchamber. “Leave it, Ivy. We must go—now. You’ve no need anyway for gowns and baubles this night.”

She brushed a copper lock of hair from her face and turned her pleading green eyes up at him. “Please, you can’t ask me to leave my clothing here. I’ll have nothing—
nothing
!” Ivy bent, struggling to reach the handle of the leather bag, but it was just out of her reach.

“You can.” He tugged hard at her hand and started his stubborn sister toward the door. “Father will come to his senses by morn and send for us. He always does.” Movement caught Sterling’s notice then, and he turned to see his father standing at the top of the sweeping stone staircase. The old man’s pale blue eyes flashed angrily in the light of the lamp he held in his hand.

“Did you not hear me?” the duke shouted down at them. “I said you
all
are to leave at once!”

From where they stood near the open timber-hewn door, Sterling could barely hear his father’s words. Rain rode the roaring wind that tore through the doorway into the great hall, sending the old man’s unkempt silver hair streaming behind him like a war banner of old.

Ivy tugged against Sterling’s grip. “You came home too late to know, Sterling. It’s not the whisky this time. For the first night in years, I vow, he’s as dry as a peat brick.” Ivy broke free of him then and raced back across the slippery stone floor for her precious belongings. Fretfully she peered up at their father, who had started down the staircase. She looked over her shoulder at Sterling as she struggled to lift the heavy bag. “Help me! He won’t bring us back this time. I fear he truly means to cast us out for good—and we’d deserve it—you especially.”

The howling of the storm muted the curses the old duke showered on the two of them, like stinging pelts of hail.

Sterling trailed after Ivy. He reached his muscled arm over her shoulder and lifted the leather case by its belt. “It will not fit in the carriage, Ivy. There’s seven of us as it is.”

“It must, for I know we’ll not return.” When she stood and turned to follow him, Sterling saw that Ivy’s cheeks were wet, with rain or tears he did not know.

Their brother Grant stood under the timber transom, his hand right hand cupped at his brow against the slants of rain. “Come now. The others have already boarded. We have to leave now before the road is naught but a mire.” His gaze focused on the portmanteau as Sterling and Ivy neared. “Ah, bluidy hell. What is this—baggage? Don’t even think it, Ivy.” He strained his voice to be heard over the wind. “There’s no room inside as it is, and Siusan and Priscilla—they’ve got nothing.”

“Please,” she beseeched Sterling and then Grant. “I’ll share what I have.”

“No, you won’t, but we’ll take it anyway.” Sterling passed the case to Grant. “Strap it to the perch if you can. If not, set it on her lap if it means so much to her to take it.”

In the blur of the storm, he could not see the carriage, but the jingle of bits and the nervous whinnies of the horses reached through the darkness.

“Come now, Sterling!” came his brother Lachlan’s resonant voice from the direction of the carriage. Sterling started for it, but he couldn’t leave just yet. Not without saying his piece.

Cold rivulets of rain trickled under the collar of his coat and lawn shirt, where it traced his spine like an icy finger. It was as though his father prodded him out into the storm. Slowly he turned around and met his father’s steely gaze.

Finally, Killian, the youngest of the Sinclair brothers, called out to him. “There’s no reasoning with him, Sterling. Just give him some time. He’ll change his mind. He always does.”

Sterling did not heed his brother’s advice and follow him to the carriage. Instead he strode back into the hall until he stood only a few paces from his father. Rain dripped from Sterling’s kilt and puddled on the floor. “Let my brothers and sisters stay.” He held his voice firm. “I know you fault me, and perhaps rightly so, for what we have all become.” He remained silent for a moment then, waiting for his father to at least agree that his blame was well placed, but the duke said nothing. “Banish me alone. Let it be known I died and that Grant is now your heir if that will appease you—but let them stay.”

The old man’s eyes widened, and he did not blink for some moments. “I am not addled, Sterling. I am well aware that I am fully responsible for the spoiled, wicked, and irresponsible adults my children have become.”

Sterling was startled by his father’s unexpected admission, and had his wide stance not braced him, his footing would have faltered.

“I retreated to my whisky when your mother died, leaving the seven of you to your own devices…” The duke’s eyes seemed to soften then, for just a moment, before his back stiffened and his voice sharpened into a steel blade. “…to embrace your weaknesses, your sins.” He raised the candelabra higher then, as if to let Sterling see his eyes and understand the depth of his anger. “I will not have the name of Sinclair be made a mockery of by my children. I will not allow it.”

Sterling bit back the callous retort poised on his tongue and instead straightened his back to draw up to his full, commanding height. He would not allow his father to reduce him to the boy wanting his father’s attention so badly that he would do anything, say anything, no matter how horrid, to possess it. “And so you cast us out into the night.”

“I have thought deeply about this, but there is no other way. Tonight you will all leave Scotland for London, where no one knows of your wayward histories. There you will each earn the respect the Sinclair name deserves—or never come back to your home”—he smiled coldly—“never again to taste the
riches
of being a Sinclair.”

Sterling flinched at that comment.

“Ah, I thought that might snare your attention, my greedy son. I shan’t leave you penniless. I have had my man of affairs arrange for a modest house for all of you to share. I have also provided him with a small portion for the lot of you—enough to put food on the table, but little more, for four years. Each of you will have to earn your own way in life. If you wish to return, you must first earn my respect.”

Sterling shook his head slowly, and a hardened smile pulled at his lips. “You are our father. I can’t believe you would do this to your own children.”

“I was remiss in being your father for so many years. I should have disciplined you all when I first heard that your selfish behavior and antics had earned my children the title the Seven Deadly Sins. Obviously I did not teach you when you were young what honor and respect mean. So you will learn it now.”

My God. Sterling swallowed deeply. Their father truly did mean to rid himself of them this time.

The duke’s eyes flashed angrily. “Now,
go
! I cannot bear the sight of what you have become any longer.” He turned his back on Sterling and followed the glow of his lamp up the staircase.

Sterling stared at his father in disbelief, until the duke disappeared through an arched doorway. He turned then, his boots pounding the stone floor as he crossed the great hall and went through the open door into the driving rain.

Och, their father was mad all right
.

Chapter 1

Learn to live a life of honest poverty, if you must, and turn to more important matters than transporting gold to your grave.

Og Mandino

[_April 1816 _
The Sinclair residence
No. 1 Grosvenor Square, London

Sterling Sinclair, Marquess of Blackburn, peeled back the soiled lint dressing from his raw knuckles and dropped the bloodied bandage beside a chipped basin of steaming water.

“This is going to hurt, Sterling, but no so fierce as it will if you fight tonight.” Lady Siusan, the second eldest of the seven Sinclairs, slowly straightened his stiff fingers over the bowl, then dipped a cloth into the water and squeezed it over his hand. She glanced up once more, then took up her thinnest embroidery needle and threaded it through his skin.

Sterling sucked a staggered breath between his lips.

“Oh God. I’m so sorry.” She turned her gray eyes to his and gave a sympathetic cringe. Her fingers holding the needle trembled. “I’m being as gentle as I can.”

Sterling chuckled. “Don’t fret so. I’m just funnin’ with you, Su. What sort of fighter can’t handle a scrape or two? Give me your best stitch. Come on.” He grinned at his sister, but his levity did little to calm her.

He’d split her silk stitches and his knuckles wide almost every day that week sparring at the Gentleman Jackson’s saloon. But he was ready. He was sure of it. He could win this prize battle.

He had to.

Siusan raised his hand to her eyes, drawing his gaze to his wound. Watery blood oozed up through the seam of sewn skin. She shifted her eyes to his. “God Almighty, Sterling, I have to bandage this. I cannot leave it to weep.”

“Bare knuckles for this bout. Makes for higher wagers than gloved matches, you know.” Sterling sighed with frustration and pulled his hand from her grip. “The bleeding will cease soon enough, so stop your fretting. I have to do it.”

“No, you don’t. We’ll get by,” she pleaded. “Just look at your hand. Go on!” She shook her forefinger at his knuckles. “All red, blue, and yellow. Why, it looks more like a ball of hammered mutton than a hand.”

“I promised all of you that it’s my first and last money bout, Su.”

“But at what cost?” Siusan’s lower lip quivered, and she suddenly became wholly focused on wringing the water from the cloth over the basin.

Sterling reached across the small table and squeezed her shoulder with his left, less mutton-like, hand. “Pugilism is naught but sport to me and ever will be, but we
need
the money. I had no choice but to accept this match.”

“There is always a choice,” she replied, but her voice quavered.

Just then, a huge figure filled the doorway, blocking out the whisper of candlelight that had reached the garret from the passage beyond. Siusan glanced up and exhaled in relief. She scrubbed the back of her hand over her eyes. “Grant, you tell him. Our stubborn brother here will not listen to me!”

“Tell him what? That I’m the better-looking brother?” Lord Grant Sinclair flashed his perfectly straight teeth at them. “I think he knows that, don’t you, Sterling?” He ducked slightly, but the crown of his tousled mahogany locks brushed the top of the doorway as he stepped into Sterling’s sparely furnished garret.

Three similar, yet less spacious garrets also sat beneath the roof of the uppermost level of the grand house, each filled by one of the Sinclair brothers. But this suited them well enough, they had all agreed, for if not comfort they would at least have some semblance of privacy.

BOOK: To Sin With A Stranger
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