To Wed a Wild Lord
From The Hellions of Halstead Hall
To Wed a Wild Lord
Like everything daredevil Gabriel Sharpe does, pursuing Virginia Waverly is a high-stakes game. Ever since her brother Roger died racing Lord Gabriel, Virginia has yearned to take her revenge on the reckless lord by beating him at his own sport. But when she challenges Lord Gabriel to a race, the hellion who has always embraced his dark reputation as the “Angel of Death” counters with a marriage proposal!
Gabe knows Virginia’s family is in dire financial straits—why shouldn’t she marry him and solve both their problems? She claims to be appalled by his proposal, but her response to his kisses says otherwise. So when the two of them begin to unravel the truth behind Roger’s death, Gabe takes the greatest gamble of all, offering the cunning and courageous beauty something more precious than any inheritance: true love.
Virginia Waverly followed the detailed directions that the kind footman had given her to the stables. Halstead Hall was unbelievable. Who lived in such a mansion?
No wonder Lord Gabriel was so sure of himself. He’d been handed everything on a silver platter from the time he was born, so he assumed he had a right to it all.
Well, she would take him down a peg. Or at least she hoped to.
It was a pity that Poppy was being so stubborn about the carriage race. She couldn’t understand why. Didn’t he want to see Lord Gabriel publicly humiliated?
Well, she had a plan. If she could get a look at the horses Lord Gabriel used to pull his phaeton, she’d have some ammunition for her arguments with Poppy. She would detail their strengths and weaknesses, then point out exactly how she could beat them with her own horses. She had a whole stud farm to draw from, after all. She doubted that Lord Gabriel had that.
It wouldn’t hurt to survey his rig, either. There might be some way she could improve her curricle. If she could just convince Poppy that she couldn’t lose this race, he might relent.
She neared a large building that obviously housed several horses, a short distance from a smaller building that also seemed to be a stable. Oh, dear, which one held his horses and phaeton? And how was she to gain the grooms’ help in looking at them without showing her hand?
Suddenly a groom emerged from the larger building carrying a bucket. She ducked into a doorway to watch as he called for a younger groom. As soon as the younger one came flying, the older handed him the bucket and said, “This is the special mash Lord Gabriel wanted for his new horse. Make sure that high-strung beast eats all of it. It’ll ease her digestion.”
The young groom hurried across to the smaller building and ducked inside with the bucket, then came out shortly afterward.
Virginia let out a breath. Lord Gabriel’s new horse must be for his phaeton. Since the small stable wasn’t nearly as busy as the large one, perhaps she could get in to see it without being spotted.
She edged toward the entrance, looking about for any grooms who might emerge from the larger one. When she heard voices coming her way, she darted into the small stable.
Then she stopped short. Because standing in the narrow aisle was Lord Gabriel himself.
He held the bucket of mash in his hands and was feeding it to the horse whose nose she could just see sticking out of a stall. His lordship wore no coat or cravat, just a waistcoat and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up to exposing his fine, muscular forearms.
She caught her breath. In shirt sleeves, riding breeches, and top boots, he was a rather astonishing figure of a man, lean and fit and handsome. Too handsome for any woman’s sanity.
“There now, my little filly,” he crooned to the horse. “This should make you feel better.”
His soothing voice did something fluttery to her insides. It was hard not to be charmed by a man who could treat an animal so tenderly. It made her wonder how he would be with a woman.
She cursed inwardly. She didn’t wonder any such thing. She did not!
“And stop fighting the grooms, will you?” Lord Gabriel told the filly. “You must save it for the St. Leger Stakes. You’re going to knock them back on their heels, my pretty girl. You’re going to run like the wind and leave all those silly colts far behind.”
She swallowed hard. He planned to enter a Thoroughbred in the St. Leger Stakes? Sweet Lord, so did Poppy. And if Lord Gabriel caught her here…
With her heart in her throat, she began to back away. Then a horse near her whinnied, and Lord Gabriel’s head swung round. He took her in with a narrowing gaze, set the bucket down, and came toward her.
She turned tail to run, but he was beside her in two steps and grabbing her by the arms. “Whoa, there,” he growled as he turned her to face him. “What the blazes are you doing here?”
“I… um… well… my grandfather wanted to pay a visit to you, but he is talking to your grandmother, and…” She thought quickly. “And… And I heard that you had a spectacular maze, so I went looking for it. Then I got lost and ended up here.”
“Because you were looking for our maze,” he said skeptically.
“I love mazes.”
“So it has nothing to do with trying to observe your competition.” His eyes bored into her.
“No, indeed! I had no idea you have a Thoroughbred that you intend to— I mean…”
“You heard me talking to Flying Jane,” he accused. “Why, you sneaky little vixen.”
Oh, dear, now she was really in trouble. The racing world was rife with subterfuge. Since odds were laid based on knowledge of a horse, touts often sneaked into stables or spied on secret trials to gain their information. So any Thoroughbred owner grew suspicious if a competitor came near his horses, especially before a big race like the St. Leger Stakes.
“It was purely accidental, I swear!”
“And now you’ll run off to tell your grandfather about his competitor.”
“No!” At his arched eyebrow, she added, “I won’t tell a soul. I would never do that.”
“Really.” His grip slid from her shoulders down to her arms. “You got lost and decided to enter the stables—alone—knowing that several male grooms would be lurking about.”
“I live on a stud farm. I go into stables alone all the time.”
“But your own grooms know better than to lay a hand on the owner’s granddaughter. These grooms don’t know you.”
His hold on her unsettled her. He was keeping her far too close, and it made her nervous. Especially with him dressed so casually. His black shirt was open at the throat, exposing a little dusting of chest hair.
“They would have treated me better than you, I dare say,” she retorted with a tilt of her chin. “Please let go of me.”
“So you can spy on me some more?” he drawled.
“I was not spying.”
“Then you had some other reason for coming in here,” he said, his voice deepening. “Perhaps some reason more… personal.”
“Personal?” she squeaked.
His gaze played over her, growing more heated. “Perhaps you were looking for me.”
Oh, but he was a cocky one. “Certainly not. Why would I look for you here, of all places?”
“Because the footmen undoubtedly told you that I often spend my mornings here.” His voice was husky now, and his hands moved up and down on her arms, warming them, making her heart race unaccountably.
“I didn’t ask the footmen… I mean, I asked them about the sta— the maze, but I…” She was babbling like some smitten schoolgirl, for pity’s sake. “I didn’t know you were here,” she finished lamely. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“Judging from your blush, I’m not being ridiculous at all,” he murmured.
Her hand went to her cheek. Was she blushing? Good gracious, she was. “I am not one of those tarts who swoons at your every word, you know.”
“It’s not the words they swoon at.” He encircled her waist and pulled her even closer. “And though you’re not the least bit a tart, that doesn’t mean you’re not curious about me.”
Her breath refused to obey her commands, quickening feverishly. She should be slapping him, shoving him away. Why wasn’t she? “That’s absurd. How could I possibly be curious about a… a scoundrel with your reputation?”
“Because you want to know how I got that reputation. If it’s deserved. If I really do make women ‘swoon’ in my bed.”
Her jaw dropped. He should not be saying things like that to her. And she should definitely not be letting them make her pulse race and her hands grow clammy. What was wrong with her?
“I tell you what,” he rasped, bending his head toward her. “Why don’t I satisfy a bit of your curiosity?”
He covered her mouth with his.
She froze at the intimate assault. How appalling. How unacceptable.
How intoxicating. His lips moved over hers with the surety of a man who’d kissed many women. An instant thrill swept down her spine that did the most delicious things to her insides.
She could feel her mouth soften beneath his, feel her breath stutter against his lips, feel her blood race rampantly through her veins. This was wrong, so wrong. And it felt completely and utterly right.
“Ah, vixen,” he whispered against her lips. “What a kissable mouth you have.”
Did she? No man had ever kissed her before.
“Lord Gabriel, I really don’t think—”
“Gabe,” he murmured. “My friends call me Gabe.”
“I’m not your friend.”
“You’re right. You’re something more… intimate. So call me Gabriel. Hardly anyone does. Or better yet, call me ‘darling.’ No one ever calls me that, sweetheart.” Before she could balk at that effrontery, he took her lips again.
But this time his lips were firmer, hotter. He pulled her flush against him and opened his mouth over hers, coaxing it open so he could plunge his tongue inside it.
Lord have mercy on her soul. What was that? She’d never imagined…
It was glorious. He coaxed her tongue to twine with his, then he played with it. Oh, how he played. His mouth consumed hers, and his tongue drove inside her with slow, silky strokes that made her want things, need things she didn’t understand.
Before she knew it, he’d pressed her against the wall between two stalls, his lips seducing hers. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. Things like this just didn’t happen to her. She’d often wished that they did.
She laid her hands on his chest, meaning to push him back, but instead, her fingers curled themselves into his waistcoat like little traitors.
Within moments, the whole world narrowed to this man with his mouth on hers and his hands roaming up and down her ribs and her waist, his thumbs brushing the undersides of her breasts as they swept—
A sudden sharp pain in her arm made her cry out against his mouth and shove him away. “What the dickens?”
“Jacky Boy!” he growled at the pony that had just nipped her. “None of that!”
She turned her head to look at the pony whose lips were drawn back to show his teeth. If ever a beast could be said to glare, this one was doing so.
Gabriel examined her arm with great concern. Then, seeing that the bite hadn’t even cut through the cloth, he turned to the pony. “You know better, lad,” he scolded. “You can’t go around biting ladies.”
The pony’s response was to nudge Gabriel with his head, shoving in between them, as if to separate the two.
Stifling a laugh, Virginia moved out of range. Gabriel might call it “lad,” but the aging pony was clearly well beyond its prime. The poor thing had only a few more years left in him. And a decided attachment to his owner.
Thank heaven. She’d been on the verge of doing goodness knows what.
“I’m sorry about that,” Gabriel said. “Jacky Boy was the first mount I ever owned, so he tends to be possessive. He’s jealous of anyone I show attention to. He’s already annoyed by Flying Jane’s arrival in the stable, so he took it out on you.”
“He has no reason to be jealous of me,” she said.
Gabriel’s eyes darkened as he came toward her. “He most certainly does.” His gaze swept down her body with such heat that her breathing quickened again. “But he’ll have to get used to it.”
The intimation that they had some sort of future together alarmed her as nothing else had. She backed away, horrified that she’d gone so far with him.
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head. “I am not taking up with my brother’s murderer.”
His face turned to stone, but his eyes blazed with a hard heat that singed her. “Don’t you ever tire of that argument, Virginia?” he bit out, as if it took every ounce of his will not to throttle her. “I didn’t murder your brother. Murder implies intent. What happened was a tragic accident—”
“That you brought on by taking advantage of him while he was drunk,” she countered. “Roger was too drunk to know what he did.”
“When we raced, he was perfectly sober.”
“That’s not what Poppy says.”
“Your grandfather wasn’t there. He needs someone to blame, so he blames me. But that doesn’t mean he has a reason for it.”
“He… he has no reason to lie about it, either.”
“People deceive themselves sometimes.” He headed toward her again. “It’s better than facing the truth, that your brother—”
“What the devil is going on here?” came her grandfather’s voice from the entrance.
Gabriel halted. “Good morning, General,” he said, though he kept his eyes locked with hers. “Your granddaughter and I were just discussing a race.”
As her grandfather drew himself up, she added hastily, “I came to the stables to see if I could get a glimpse of Gabriel’s… I-I mean, Lord Gabriel’s rig and horses, Poppy, and I found his lordship instead.”
Might as well admit the truth. At least then, Gabriel wouldn’t persist in thinking she had come looking for him. Or worse, had come spying on his Thoroughbred to help Poppy gain an advantage for the St. Leger Stakes.
“You have no business wandering a man’s stables alone,” Poppy snapped.
She faced her grandfather with a smile. “His lordship was just telling me the same thing. Indeed, he was about to escort me back inside.”
With a skeptical expression, her grandfather glanced from her to Gabriel, then back. She prayed that he couldn’t tell she was lying. That he couldn’t tell she’d just been kissed senseless.
At that moment, Mrs. Plumtree hobbled into the stable, then halted. Her gaze seemed to take in more than Poppy’s, for she fixed it on Virginia’s probably reddened mouth for so long that Virginia had to drop her eyes.
“Well, isn’t this cozy,” she said. “The secret meetings have already begun.”
Poppy stiffened and shot Mrs. Plumtree a baleful glance. Then he glowered at Gabriel. “All right. This is how it’s going to be. You two will have your race on Friday. Mrs. Plumtree and I will be there to make sure it’s done fairly and safely. Afterward—”
“We will all come back to Halstead Hall for dinner,” Mrs. Plumtree put in. “What do you say, General? Would that not be a pleasant way to end the day?”
“Aye,” he growled. “And a pleasant way to end our families’ association, too.”
Virginia sucked in a breath. She didn’t dare reveal that after this race, she would either be racing Gabriel at Turnham Green or he would be courting her. If Poppy heard that, he would lock her up in her room and throw away the key.
“Sounds like an excellent plan to me,” Gabriel drawled.
“Yes,” she agreed. Once the race was over, she and Gabriel could manage the rest of their bargain more discreetly.
“Very well.” Poppy held out his arm. “Come, my girl, we’re going home.”
She took his arm, not daring to look at Gabriel for fear of what she might see in his eyes. And what it might make her feel.
“Miss Waverly!” Gabriel called after her.
She stopped to look back. “Yes?”
His gaze locked with hers. “I meant what I said about Jacky Boy. He has every reason to be upset. Because he knows I won’t give up.”
She swallowed hard. She wasn’t quite as horrified as she should be by his reminder of his intentions. Plague take him.
“Persistence isn’t always enough, sir,” she said, then walked out with her grandfather.
Gabe’s odd dress and his nickname as “The Angel of Death” was actually inspired by a historical character named Thomas Onslow whose family was quite old and respected. Tommy loved to drive four-in-hand and was one of the founders of the Four-in-Hand Club. He also painted his phaeton black and drove it with four black horses, which had one of his friends saying he looked like an “undertaker.” How could I resist such great fodder for a character?
Women liked to drive four-in-hand, too. One of the most famous was Lady Letty Lade (try saying THAT three times really fast). She was one of those rare cases of a low-class woman marrying into the peerage. Her husband, a baronet, didn’t seem to care that she’d been the mistress of a highwayman before marrying him!
Thoroughbred racing was very popular in the Regency, even with ladies! Check out this wonderful article about it at Rakehell.
The Marsbury Cup and race at the Duke of Lyons estate were inspired by the Goodwood Cup, which exists even today. And you’ll be seeing more of the Duke of Lyons in future books!
The Horse Whisperer idea and the style of training did originate in the Regency with a man named Daniel Sullivan. I found all the horse training stuff fascinating, even if I only used a fraction of it in the book.
Letter from Hetty
I am at my wit’s end with my grandson, Gabriel. It is because of him I demanded that all my grandchildren marry within a year or be disinherited. His best friend died racing Gabe, yet nearly seven years later, the reckless lad broke his arm racing another fool on the same treacherous course! That is what set me off. And no wonder—people call Gabe the Angel of Death precisely because he courts it at every turn.
Now, his best friend’s sister, Virginia Waverly, has some notion about seeking vengeance by beating him in a race on that same course, and instead of ignoring the girl’s mad challenge, Gabe wishes to court her! I believe he may have lost his mind. Granted, she is a spirited, pretty little thing, but her grandfather, General Waverly, will never approve the marriage. The man is too stubborn and willful for words. Why, the cavalry general had the audacity to call me a “she-devil”! No man gets away with that, no matter how handsome and spry he may be for his age.
But I digress (General Waverly distracts me unduly). I cannot decide what I think about Gabe’s interest in the pert Miss Waverly. I do want him to marry, but he is still grappling with his guilt over what happened to her brother—how can I be sure that she won’t make that situation worse? My only consolation is that she seems as fascinated by my grandson as he is by her. Only today General Waverly and I stumbled upon them after what may very well have been an intimate encounter! Her lips were decidedly red, and Gabe looked as if someone had just jerked his horse out from under him. The man is clearly unused to dealing with respectable women.
Meanwhile, I am getting too old for this. If this courtship does not turn out well, I may just have to tie Gabe up in the barn until he sees sense. Wish me luck, dear friends!
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book hit the following bestseller lists:
- #10 on the New York Times (stayed on for two weeks)
- #38 on USA Today (stayed on for two weeks)
- #17 on Publishers Weekly
- #19 on Barnes and Noble Paperback Bestseller’s List
2011 Single Titles CataNetwork Reviewers’ Choice Award Winner
Starred Review: “Marvelous characterization, lovely conversation, and drama perfectly leavened with humor makes this a grand romantic adventure.” —Publishers Weekly
“The fourth installment in Jeffries’ exceptionally entertaining Hellions of Halstead Hall series delivers another beguiling blend of captivating characters, clever plotting, and sizzling sensuality.” —Booklist
“Jeffries beguiles readers with a beautifully rendered tale of vengeance and redemption. There is action, passion, suspense, and most of all, poignancy. The strong sense of family… shines through as another Hellion finds unexpected love and Jeffries delivers another unforgettable romance.” —Romantic Times