A Hellion in Her Bed
Mired in scandal after his parents’ mysterious deaths, notorious gambler Lord Jarret Sharpe agrees to tamely run the family’s brewery for a year if his Machiavellian grandmother rescinds her ultimatum that he marry. But the gambler in him can’t resist when beguiling Annabel Lake proposes a wager. If she wins their card game, he must help save her family’s foundering brewery. But if he wins, she must spend a night in his bed. The outcome sets off a chain of events that threatens to destroy all his plans… and unveils the secret Annabel has held for so long. When Jarret discovers the darker reason behind her wager, he forces her into another one—and this time he intends to win not just her body, but her heart.
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book hit the following bestseller lists:
- #8 on the New York Times (and stayed on another week)
- #24 on USA Today (and stayed on for three more weeks)
- #7 on Publishers Weekly
- #3 on Borders Mass Market
- #1 on Borders Romance List
- #10 on Barnes and Noble Mass Market
- Amazon’s Best Books of 2010 Romance Top 10 (Editor’s Picks)
- Golden Quill Contest 2011 Finalist
“Rich with family interaction, deliciously redolent of yeast and hops, and overflowing with scintillating wit and heart-stopping sensuality, this addition to Jeffries’s latest addictive series satisfies while cleverly doling out tidbits that will keep readers eager for the next installment.” —Library Journal
“Starred Review: A perfectly matched pair of protagonists who engage in a spirited battle of wits and wiles, and a lively plot blending equal measures of steamy passion and sharp wit come together brilliantly in the second addition to Jeffries’ tempting new Hellions of Halstead Hall series.” —Booklist
“Loosely connected to Ms. Jeffries’s entertaining Heiress books, the Hellions of Hallstead Hall is shaping up to be another must-read series. The characters are engaging (even the stubbornly disinterested Lord Jarret is sympathetic); the interaction among them is both fun and moving, and the plot holds enough suspense to keep the pages turning.” —Romance Reviews Today
Annabel Lake had been following the men for twenty minutes at least. They were both dark-haired, so she’d hoped that the other fellow might be Lord Jarret’s brother, joining him to visit their grandmother. But when they turned into a tavern, that hope was dashed.
For a moment, she just stood there, incensed. So much for Lord Jarret’s promise to speak to his grandmother on Lake Ale’s behalf. She should have known that a rogue like him wouldn’t do as he said.
Unless they were just stopping in for a drink first? That was possible. The tavern did bear a sign that read, We sell Plumtree Brewery’s best. A company tavern would be a logical choice for the grandsons of the owner to frequent for a drink or two, would it not?
Now she had to decide—wait out here until they came back out? Or go in.
Waiting wasn’t a good plan. Night was falling, and London was notorious for its footpads. But she couldn’t give up her chance at learning Mrs. Plumtree’s whereabouts.
Fortunately, it was early enough that the people entering the tavern tended to be workmen and couples seeking a quick tavern supper. She’d be less noticeable now than at any other time. So she walked in and took a table near Lord Jarret’s. She kept her head down and ordered a meal, figuring that would allow her more time to linger.
But before the food came, two more gentlemen joined Lord Jarret’s party. Clearly this wasn’t a casual drink between brothers. When they called for a pitcher and broke out the cards, she knew precisely what it was. A night on the town.
God rot Lord Jarret. He clearly had no intention whatsoever of speaking to his grandmother about her proposal. Now what?
An hour, a kidney pie, and a half-pint tankard of ale later, she still hadn’t decided what to do. But she’d managed to glean a few bits of information.
The dark-haired man wasn’t Lord Jarret’s brother, but an old friend named Masters, who was apparently the younger brother of a viscount. Lord Jarret’s actual brother was the man with the golden-brown hair, Lord Gabriel, who enjoyed tormenting the other two by frequent allusions to their advanced age.
The fourth man, someone they called Pinter, was a black-haired, raspy-voiced fellow with a quiet, almost somber manner. Though he didn’t share their joviality, he occasionally made a dry remark that appeared to startle them. She couldn’t tell if he was their friend or just along for the ride. He didn’t seem to have any sort of rank. He was also the only one who didn’t flirt outrageously with the tavern maids.
As best she could tell, Lord Jarret and his brother had been winning fairly steadily. The other two men were grumbling about it.
Curious to see what they were playing, she rose and passed as close to the table as she dared on the pretext of looking for the necessary. They were playing whist. She lingered near Lord Jarret long enough to see that he was quite good. Which was probably why he and his brother were winning.
The man named Masters called for another pitcher of ale. “What happened to your losing streak, Jarret?” he muttered as he picked up his cards.
A smug smile touched the lord’s lips. “You and Pinter don’t present much of a contest.”
“I beg your pardon,” Pinter said, “but I’ve had the devil’s worst hands. Even skill can’t trump bad luck.”
“That’s as good an excuse as any,” Lord Jarret taunted him. “What’s your excuse, Masters? Shall we up the stakes, give you a chance to win your money back? I need a good challenge.”
“Oh, yes, let’s up the stakes, Big Brother,” Lord Gabriel said cheerily. “Seeing as how you’ve regained your touch and all.”
Too bad she couldn’t join them. She knew exactly what stakes she’d ask for. She’d been playing cards with her family all her life, starting with her parents and Hugh, then adding Geordie and Sissy after she’d left home and Geordie had grown old enough to grasp the rules. Although they hadn’t played much recently because of Hugh’s …
Tears stung her eyes. Curse Hugh for his weakness. She missed her sweet big brother. He hadn’t been himself in some time. Though she suspected she knew why he’d begun drinking so heavily, it didn’t make it any better.
Pinter tossed down his cards. “If you up the stakes, I’m out. The magistrate’s office doesn’t pay me enough to gamble like you lords.”
“Do you think we barristers have money to burn?” Masters grumbled. “I assure you, we do not.”
“But you have a rich brother to cover your losses,” Pinter pointed out.
“Stop being a stick-in-the-mud,” Masters said. “I told Jarret you were a good sport. Are you going to make a liar out of me? If you quit, I’ll have to quit, too, and I’ll have no chance to win my money back.”
“Not my problem,” Pinter remarked as he drained his tankard and set it down, with every appearance of being done.
Before she could reconsider, she stepped forward and lowered the hood of Sissy’ cloak. “I’m happy to take his place.”
Did she imagine it, or had the entire room gone completely still?
Lord Jarret’s eyes narrowed on her. “Miss Lake. Fancy seeing you here.”
She hid her trembling hands in the pockets of her cloak. “I’d be willing to up the stakes as well, if Lord Jarret would be willing to play for something that really matters.”
Lord Gabriel glanced from her to his brother, then broke into a grin. “Do enlighten us, madam. What is it you’d like to play for?”
With a scrape of his chair, Lord Jarret stood. “If you’ll excuse us for a moment, gentlemen …” Grabbing her by the arm, he hustled her out into the hall.
As she jerked free of him, he said, “What in the hell do you think you’re up to now, Miss Lake?”
She met his furious gaze steadily. “The same thing as earlier. I want Plumtree Brewery’s help. I’m willing to play cards to get it.”
“A woman like you does not belong in a tavern.”
“You know nothing about a woman like me,” she hissed. “All you know is this life … gambling and drinking and wenching.” He was just like her brother, a selfish, pleasure-seeking rogue. They all were. “You couldn’t even stay away from it long enough to speak to your grandmother on Lake Ale’s behalf!”
“You were following me?” he said, his voice incredulous. “Have you lost your mind? This part of London is a dangerous place for—”
“Oh, spare me your concern. It’s as insincere as your promises.”
His expression grew stony as he crossed his arms over his chest. “For your information, I plan to speak to Gran in the morning.”
“You told me to return in the morning, remember? I dare say after a night of drinking with your friends, you would have quite forgotten your promise. If you haven’t already.”
A muscle ticked in his jaw. “So you decided to gain my compliance by gambling with me?”
“Why not? I play cards very well. Your friend Pinter seems determined to leave, and you did say you wanted a challenge.”
“I suppose you want to play for something having to do with your scheme regarding Lake Ale.”
“Yes. I want your agreement that Plumtree Brewery will help us. That’s all.”
He glared at her. “All? You have no idea what you’re asking.”
“I’m asking you to help me save my brother’s brewery. Of course, you would probably rather see a competitor fail.”
“Don’t be absurd. I don’t care about some half-pint brewery in Burton. Plumtree is four times the size of Lake Ale.”
“Which means you have no reason to refuse us your help.”
A grim smile crossed his lips. “What if I win? What do I get out of this little high stakes game?”
She slipped her mother’s ring off her finger, fighting not to show how much it meant to her. “This. It’s solid gold with rubies and diamonds. It’s worth at least 200 pounds. That should be enough to make it worth your while.”
He uttered a mirthless laugh. “A ring. You think that’s equivalent.”
“It’s a lucky ring,” she said, desperate to make him agree to the game. “Whatever brew I make while wearing it comes out splendid.”
“I’m sure that adds to the ring’s value tenfold,” he said sarcastically.
He was so annoying. “Fine, if you’re afraid to play whist with me …”
His eyes turned the same cobalt blue that she’d noticed earlier when he was tasting her ale. “So you think you can best me at whist, do you?”
“Absolutely,” she said, though she wasn’t at all sure. But she had to try.
He stepped closer, until he loomed over her like some giant in a circus. “The only way I’ll agree to your wager is if we make it more personal.”
She swallowed. “Personal?”
“The match will be between us—two-handed whist. The first one to win two out of three games wins the match and the wager.”
“I’m not finished. The stakes will be personal, too. If you win, Plumtree Brewery will join Lake Ale in getting into the India market.” A sinful smile curved up his lips. “But if I win, you warm my bed tonight.”
Jarret could tell he’d shocked her. Good. The woman needed some sense knocked into her. If his sisters had attempted something like this, he would have locked them up and thrown away the key.
Follow him through the streets of London alone at night? Sit in a tavern with no protection? Challenge him to cards? The woman was too reckless for her own good. Fetching and desirable, but reckless as the very devil.
Still, she couldn’t be insane enough to accept his wager. And when she turned him down, he would escort her back to wherever she was staying, and tell her companions to keep a better eye on her.
“Leave it to a rogue to make such a scandalous suggestion,” she grumbled.
“Sticks and stones, Miss Lake,” he said, fighting a smirk. “So you’re refusing?”
“No.” She tipped up her chin. “I accept your offer.”
“The hell you do!”
Her lips thinned into a stubborn line. “So you were lying again? You weren’t serious about the wager?”
“I wasn’t lying the first time!” he practically shouted.
“But you were just now?”
The prim tilt of her head set her curls bouncing. For some reason, that maddened him even further. He had to stop letting her get under his skin, damn it. “You, madam, need a keeper.”
“And I suppose you’re volunteering for the position,” she said archly. “But you don’t own a cage large enough to hold me, my lord.”
He thrust his face up to hers. “You’re willing to risk ruin, the loss of your reputation and virtue, no hope of ever marrying, on the off chance that you’ll beat me at cards and win my help with Lake Ale?”
An odd look came over her face. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
Sucking in a heavy breath, he glanced away from her. He understood desperation. He’d felt it quite a bit as a boy. And he’d spent many a long night playing cards with men who were down to their last sixpence, yet prayed that the next turn of the card would recoup their fortunes.
But he’d never seen it in any woman but his mother. It unsettled him.
“Besides,” she added, “I happen to think it’s not an ‘off chance.’ I’m quite a good whist player, if I do say so myself.”
He snorted. Right. Some provincial brewster was going to best him at cards. That would be the day.
Still, he shouldn’t risk it, not with Plumtree in its present state. He would never even have suggested the wager if he’d thought she would accept. He had no right to wager the brewery’s very future.
“Of course,” she went on, “if you’re afraid you’ll lose—”
“There’s no chance in hell you’ll beat me,” he retorted.
Why was he even worrying? He could win a game of two-handed whist blindfolded. Then he wouldn’t have to worry about Miss Lake plaguing him anymore. She’d trot back home to Burton a wiser woman.
A ruined woman.
He ignored the twinge of his conscience. If she wanted to throw everything away for this, let her. What did he care? It would serve her right, having to share some rogue’s bed because she made a foolish wager. Then perhaps she wouldn’t continue to do foolish things like accost men in their offices or follow them to taverns.
And God knows he would enjoy it.
“Very well,” he said. “We’ll play for the stakes agreed upon.”
To his surprise, relief crossed her pretty features. “Thank you.” A sudden mischief glinted in her eyes. “I promise not to beat you too badly. I wouldn’t wish to embarrass you before your friends.”
A laugh erupted from him despite everything. God, but she was a piece of work.