The magic of Potter Lake strikes again when Evonne Girard— cosmetologist and obsessed podcast fan meets Taj Wright— Registered Nurse and musician following a nasty fall in the parking lot at the Curl & Dye. There are jokes, there is flirting, lingering stares abound… but neither thinks they’ll see the other again any time soon.
When Evonne takes a step toward adulting and moves out of her parent’s home, she discovers that the cute house she’s renting belongs to the handsome, sexy nurse with the eyes she can’t forget. But she’s not in Potter Lake to meet a man. She’s on a mission to prove to her parents that she isn’t the failure that showed up on their doorstep ten years ago.
Taj is delighted to rent his guest house to the pretty, snappy former patient he can’t stop thinking about. Potter Lake was a place to run when his dream died, a haven to start over and give back what was given to him. When the opportunity to live that dream again rolls around, Taj isn’t sure that he wants it to come true.
Evonne and Taj are forced to live in close quarters during a severe storm and quickly become more than landlord and tenant. When the same storm drives them from Potter Lake to a beachside retreat, worlds collide.
One shared secret could change the trajectory of something beautiful. On a rainy night in Georgia, two hearts meet. They’re never the same again.
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Ebony followed closely behind me in the rental truck
while I drove the rest of my belongings in my car. I pulled
into the driveway and she parked behind me, then hopped
right out with her mouth wide open. I could understand her
reaction— the house was a beautiful stone stucco with huge
windows facing the street.
“This is what we’re doing now, Vonnie? This is how we
livin’? Started in the basement, now we here?”
“The owner said he left the key in the mailbox. Let’s grab
them and I’ll give you a tour.”
“Oh, he’s a he, is he?” Ebony followed. “He’s probably
rich, too with this big ass house. Living here all by his lonesome.
Have you met him?”
“Not yet. He’s a doctor or something so I’ll probably
never see him.”
I reached into the mailbox and felt hard metal. I pulled
out a set of keys and shook them in Ebony’s face. She
frowned and swatted them away.
“A doctor? If you don’t
snatch him up, I will.”
“The lease said the house was owned by some holding
company, so I don’t know his name.”
“I hope he’s nice. You know, not one of those thinks he’s
“Me too, considering he lives so close. As long as he stays
on his side of the property, we’ll be good.”
“Unless he’s cute, then he can be on all of the property, if
you know what I’m saying.”
I took the path along the outside of the house, toward
the front door. It was standard white metal, but it felt like
the entrance to freedom to me. I inserted the key in the
deadbolt and then the knob lock and swung the door open.
A scent hit my nose, something light and clean. After
walking around for a few minutes, I found the source: air
freshener plug-ins, the Clean Linen scent. A small bouquet
of bright yellow and white daisies sat on the kitchen counter
along with a brief note: Welcome Home. We’ll meet
I loved the friendly gesture. My landlord and I were
going to get along fine.
I set the note down and turned a full revolution, taking it
all in. Ebony walked through the place, swooning at everything
from the picture windows to the view of the backyard.
“Ooh, Vonnie! You can do your videos here!” She dipped
into an alcove space off of the kitchen. It was almost a room,
the perfect amount of space.
“Yeah, I thought that would be a good spot. I’m going
to get something to dress up the back wall. I’ll do those
open bookcases for products and display stands for my
wigs. I can mount the ring light on this wall,” I tapped the
wall nearest me. “And I’ll set up a shelf for the camera to
sit. I can edit the videos anywhere, so I’ll probably do
A rich tenor that I hoped wasn’t attached to someone
standing inside my place called into the house. I glanced at
Ebony, eyes wide. She bounded out of the alcove.
“Eb! Wait—” I wanted to grab her, in case it was a serial
killer who haunted small towns and kidnapped cute black
“Hey. We’re back here.” Brilliant, Eb. Tell him exactly
where to find us, chop us up and bury us in the backyard. “Who’s
Footsteps sounded on the tile just inside the door. “Hi.
I’m here for Evonne.”
I followed her around the corner. “Way to tell a stranger
exactly where we are, Ebony. You know that’s how that girl
got murdered on last week’s episode of The Butler Did It.”
My eyes sought out anything I could use for a weapon, if
I needed it. But then I realized that I wouldn’t. Need a
weapon, that was.
Because I knew the man standing in my kitchen. I could
never forget his soulful eyes, gorgeous dark skin, full lips…
and the blue scrubs that seemed cut to fit him specifically,
the way they stretched across his chest and cradled his arms
in such a nice way.
“Nurse Dude,” I finally said, when I could find my voice.
He was such a pleasant sight, considering that he was probably
not a serial killer.
“Nurse Dude? Miss Girard?” Ebony repeated, swiveling
her head from me to him and back. “You know him?”
“I-I-I…how... what...” I stuttered, then shook my head to
arrange my thoughts and cajole my mouth into forming a
complete sentence. “This is my new place. Do you live
“Yes, I’d say I live close.” He laughed, showing all of his
teeth. “I own the place. I left you the flowers and the note…
I snapped my fingers and pointed. “TW! Taj Wright,
“The one and the same,” he said, with a modest nod. “I
intended to be here when you pulled up. I don’t normally
work day shift, but I switched so I could be here. We had a
last minute walk-in and—”
He waved a hand, then tugged at the hem of his scrubs.
“So, welcome. Let me know if you have any questions. And
you’ll want to pull the moving truck into the driveway. It
sticks out into the street and the neighbors...”
He hummed, wagging his head side to side while rolling
his eyes. “I’m not leaving again tonight, so use my space.”
“Ebony?” I hinted, since she had the key to the truck, but
she stood there, her hands propped on her hips and her
chest pushed up and out. “Ebony! Go move the truck!”
“Oh, right!” She pulled the key from her pocket and
teetered out on her stilettos. “Be right back!”
I moved into the kitchen and leaned against the counter
in front of the dishwasher. The scent of the air freshener hit
me again and I realized that he had been inside my home. It
didn’t feel like a violation, considering the house belonged
to him. It was weird though, knowing that he had set things
up for me, bought flowers, wrote a note.
“So...” He mimicked, moving around the outside of the
kitchen, leaning a set of meaty forearms onto the counter,
muscular without hulking out like an NFL fullback.
Whew. I was going to be living mere feet from him? Look
“So...” I repeated, wishing I had a bottle of water because
my survey of him had me parched. “You didn't think you
should let me know that you, in fact, are TWM, LLC, the
holding company referenced on the lease? And that you
own this house and would be renting to me? And that it was
the same you that treated me at the clinic?”
He shrugged strong shoulders and smirked. “I put the
house under my LLC for tax and privacy purposes. And
there’s no law that says a nurse can’t rent a house to a former
patient. Speaking of—”
He straightened, stretching out his arm. “Let me
examine that cut. You didn’t come back to the clinic and let
me check it out.”
“Oh…” I clutched my still-tender hand to my chest. “No
need. It’s fine.”
“Then let me see it.”
“It’s okay. You did a fine job.”
“Then let me see it. Did it not heal okay?”
“Is this what it’s going to be like? You coming down here
to randomly check me for a fever?”
He laughed, dropping his hand. “Not at all. I take that
very seriously. I only came in tonight because the door was
open and someone was here to tell me to come in.”
“In the future, don’t do anything Ebony tells you to do.
She has ulterior motives. She plans to kidnap you and make
you her sex slave or Sugar Daddy.”
“Wait until you find out I’m only halfway kidding.”
He laughed again, so hard this time that the corners of
his eyes crinkled up. “So… well, I’ll let you unpack and get
settled. I came down to tell you about the truck. Would be a
terrible way to meet the neighborhood busy bodies.” He
moved toward the door, talking as he walked. “Let me know
if you have any questions. My cell phone number is on the
lease, so call any time.”
But suddenly I wasn’t ready for him to leave. “Hey, if you
want to check this,” I offered, waiving my injured hand in
the air. “For checking’s sake. It does still hurt.”
His brow furrowed. He came around the counter toward
me and immediately cupped my hand in his. He was warm
and his skin was soft. He’d been wearing gloves when he
“Any sharp pain? Like a stabbing feeling or throbbing?”
“More tender, not constant throbbing pain. But if I press
on it—” I did so, then flinched, sucking in air through my
“Well, then don’t do that.”
He peeled back the bandage and inspected the progress.
“Hmmm. It shouldn’t be this red, but it could be irritated by
using the hand a lot. Try to give it a rest tonight and leave
the bandage off. Let it breathe. Let’s see how it looks tomorrow.
It seems to have closed up fine.”
“You think I’ll have a scar?”
He peered closer, tipping his head one way and then the
other. “Hard to tell. Why?”
“They’re often on camera, so—”
“Camera?” His eyes rolled up, meeting mine. “Will you
be shooting any low budget films?”
I laughed, yanking my hand back from his grasp. Then
regretted doing so, not from the twinge of pain but because
he was so warm. “I have a web channel. Hair by E. I do
beauty and hair reviews and stuff. Aside from that, I need to
be able to use both of my hands at the salon.”
“You should be fine, Miss Girard. But let me know if you
need a referral to a plastic surgeon.” A beautiful brown,
lushly lashed eye winked at me.
“See, there you go. Giving me shit.”
He laughed. “You make it so easy.”
“If y'all are done flirting,” Ebony interrupted, a large box
labeled WIGS, 1 of 4 in her arms. She didn’t seem amused at
how close Taj stood to me or how friendly we seemed to be
toward each other. “We need to unload that truck so I can
return it tonight. I’m not letting my car sit at the rental place
“I’ll let you get to it. Holler if you need anything.” Taj
sauntered out of the kitchen and out of the front door,
pulling it closed behind him.
I made a half turn, trying to decide where to start. “That
box is wigs, so let’s start a stack along that wall.” I pointed
toward the hallway leading to the alcove. Ebony smirked,
slowly sauntered past me and set the box down, then
pushed it against the wall.
Then she turned to me, a hand propped on one hip.
“Don’t start, Eb. I’m going to grab some boxes. Did
Daddy put his dolly in the truck?”
“Nuh uh, Vonnie.” Stubborn, she folded her arms across
her chest and planted her stance, her head tipped to the
side. “You weren’t going to tell me about the super cute
chocolate nurse with the face and the arms and the chest
and the eyes and shit? And how he lives next door?”
“He was my nurse at the clinic the night I fell, Ebony. He
bandaged my cut, that’s all.”
“Had to be more than that. Y’all got nicknames for each
other. Miss Girard.”
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling, noting the beautiful, hand
cut wooden fan for the first time. The design details in the
house were impressive. “I flipped him shit. He flipped it
back. He happens to own this house, which I told you I
didn’t know when I rented it. Can we unload this truck
“Fine. But expect me to be out here visiting a lot. I might
need a lot of personal health care from your landlord.”
In a dark vision of the near future, Los Angeles has become a desolate wasteland after a multi-pronged biological, nuclear, and EMP attack that paralyzed Southern California on a day that the rest of the nation celebrated independence. For the unlucky "New Angelinos," there is only one way out: gain entry into the New United States through The Raffle.
When raffler Ramsey Arami wins The Raffle after ten years of trying, he believes he will finally reunite with his wife and daughter in the New United States. But only if he follows the rules of the New United States.
Climaxing in Area 51, Randy Smith delivers a fast-paced geopolitical thriller that is equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, science and technology in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.
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May 19, 2027
“You have three hours and fifty-nine minutes before the Raffle,” the blond haired, blue-eyed female guard said at the end of the narrow hallway we had been walking. She pressed her hand against a pad next to a door and it opened. A sign above the door said “Raffler #1”. As she stared into my eyes to see my reaction, she said, “Please enter your waiting room, Raffler #1.”
I nodded and surveyed the room. It was small, about one-hundred-fifty square feet with a single cot covered with white linen sheets and a pillow. Folded blue coveralls lay at the end of the cot. Perched halfway between the cot and the ceiling was what appeared to be a white, plastic-covered square speaker. Next to the speaker was a black-paneled clock with red-colored digits displaying the current time: 8:01.
A small white desk stood against the left-side wall with a white swivel chair. The desk and chair reminded me of a smaller version of a desk my wife and I had in our home office almost eleven years ago. Positioned in the center of the desk were a new notepad and two sharpened pencils, also things I hadn’t seen in almost eleven years.
Noticing that I was staring at the desk and the pad of paper, the guard said, “We encourage Rafflers having progressed this far to write.”
“Write what?” I asked cautiously.
“Anything they desire. A prayer, their thoughts, or a letter to individuals they knew before July 2016 that may live now in the New United States.”
“And why do you encourage writing?”
“Because writing is a skill New Angelinos have not used regularly in many years.”
She watched my reaction before continuing. “If your Raffle ticket gets picked tonight, you will be Re-Patriated to the New United States. Our Re-Partition Laws require Re-Patriated New Angelinos to have a job within two weeks of re-entry. And not all jobs available to Re-Patriots are the manual labor jobs that New Angelinos have been doing for the past ten years.”
“And who will read what I write?”
“That is entirely up to you. At 11:59 tonight, you will hear over the speaker above the number of the Raffle winner. If you are the winner and choose not to submit a letter for delivery, you may take your writings with you and nobody will ever read them or ask them of you. Your writings are yours to keep as a last physical memento of your time in New Angeles.”
“Am I supposed to believe no one will read the writings if I am picked tonight?”
“The ability to trust and show you are trustworthy are important skills to possess. By allowing you to participate in the Raffle we trust you no longer show the effects of M-V-16 Virus. Those showing effects of the Virus fail to advance as far as you have today.”
She paused and made direct eye contact with me, presumably to make sure I understood before continuing.
“And being able to trust in the New United States is also important for Re-Patriation eligibility. So, if you are told your writings will not be read if you choose not to submit them, then you should trust us.”
I realized believing, or at least pretending I believed, that my writings would not be read was another stage of the Raffle. Having never been so close to having my number drawn, I agreed to buy what she was selling, but I was still confused.
“Why would I choose to submit what I write to you?”
“On the other side of this wall you will find two slots, one marked destruction and the other marked distribution.”
She looked back in my eyes and said, “The destruction slot leads to an incinerator beneath us, and you may deposit your writings into the destruction slot at any time and they will not be read.” She paused again, presumably for effect.
“If you deposit a letter with sufficient delivery details to someone you believe lives in the New United States and the letter is submitted by 11:49 tonight, then we will deliver it per your instructions. Of course, that means we will thoroughly read your letter to ensure the best possible chance of delivery.”
I nodded and said, “Thank you for the explanation.”
While stepping forward I made a slight asking bow to her with a head nod towards my room, “May I enter?”
She squinted her eyes, making a mental note of my moves. I realized I passed another test by asking permission before entering the room.
“One more matter you should know that occurs at exactly 11:49 tonight. You must decide whether you will increase your chances tenfold by pledging your next ten Raffle entries. We call it ‘Pledging Your Ten’”.
“‘Pledging Your Ten’?” I said with surprise. “The Proclamation never mentioned ‘Pledging Your Ten’.” I reached into my yellow jumpsuit to retrieve my obligatory copy of The Proclamation.
“We completed the Settlement over ten years ago, Raffler #1. You are ignorant of many adjustments the New United States has made to the Raffle. If you are willing to maximize your chances tonight, we will document the pledging of your next ten Raffle tickets. If you fail to win tonight, you will not be allowed to participate in the Raffle for the next ten years.”
“Am I required to pledge my ten Raffle tickets?”
“No, you are not required to Pledge Your Ten, though, in making your decision, you should consider what the seven other Rafflers will do tonight.”
I nodded and looked away into the room. “Can I pledge less than ten?”
“No, Raffler #1. You may choose to Pledge Your Ten or take your chances with your single Raffle ticket tonight.”
I nodded. “Thank you, ma’am. Anything else I should be aware of before I enter?” I asked respectfully.
“You may enter, Raffler #1. Please remove your jumpsuit once the door is closed behind you. We have fresh coveralls for you on the cot.”
As I stepped into the room, I looked at the clock, which said 8:04 pm. I then heard the door whoosh closed behind me and lock itself. I realized I spent precious minutes learning about my choices before the Raffle tonight. My mind ruminated about the length of my questions: Was that another part of the test? Did I take too long? Was I too short?
The rumination lasted a precious minute: once the clock hit 8:05, my mind began to race. I stared at the clock, then closed my eyes, and breathed slowly until I was in complete control of my nerves. I continued to breathe until I had full control of my thoughts and mind through my brief standing meditation and opened my eyes to see it was now 8:07: Three hours and fifty-two minutes until the Raffle. I nodded to myself while staring back and forth at the desk and the cot, and asked myself, “Sleep or write? What will I do?”
Using the buttons on the side I stripped off and folded my mandatory yellow jumpsuit and placed it under the cot. I also removed my obligatory copy of the Proclamation and my Raffle ticket. I put on the coveralls and placed the Proclamation and the ticket in the front left pocket.
Trying to relax, I sat on the cot and placed my head in my hands. My racing mind felt like it was thumping, but I realized the thumping was just my heart. I was so close to leaving New Angeles, but I didn't want to get my hopes up. Only eight Rafflers remained. And how many of us would “Pledge Your Ten”? Maybe the others will think if they advanced this far this year then they will again next year and choose not to pledge their next ten Raffles. But, logic told me everyone would pledge their next ten Raffle tickets to increase their chances of being picked tonight. And if everyone else was maximizing their chances, then I should as well.
After breathing in deeply and exhaling, I looked at the clock. It was now 8:10. I thought about my wife and daughter. I had not seen or communicated with them in almost eleven years. The last time I saw them was when I dropped them off at LAX on July 3, 2016 for their trip to visit my wife’s parents near Boston. Although I wasn’t sure they were still alive, in my heart I believed they were and my belief kept me alive these years. It fueled my instinct to survive and continue every time I wanted to quit. I hoped every day to see them again. And now if the security guard told the truth, I had the chance to at least write them a letter. Other than documenting New United States fuel shipments to the Asian Quadrant I had written little in the past 11 years so my writing skills were poor. Still, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity: I decided to write a letter to my wife and daughter.
Secrets of Lady Lucy
It’s never easy keeping secrets…
Only her desire to crush the Crown’s enemies could induce Lady Lucille Stanford to endure another Season. For years she has worked secretly for the Home Office, and she has come to London with one purpose: foil the attempted kidnapping of a highly valuable target, identity unknown. Inconveniently, Lord Harrington—Lucy’s brother and guardian—has other plans. He won’t be satisfied until she is at long last married.
He never forgets a face …
After years on the Continent, Blake Gower, Earl of Devonton, returns to England in need of a wife. He should not be surprised when his best friend Harrington’s sister recaptures his attention. But there’s more to the woman Lady Lucy has become than the delightful girl Blake remembers. When she takes an unexpected jaunt to the country during the height of the Season, Blake is determined to know why—and to discover all Lady Lucy’s secrets.
Unwilling to give up her patriotic mission for marriage, Lucy is conflicted when she meets the enigmatic Lord Devonton. She never expected to feel this way about a man again.
When the ransom demand comes due—will it be for Lady Lucy’s heart?
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“Lucy!” Lady Lucille Stanford’s best friend whispered harshly at the open door.
Lucy pressed herself deeper into the desk cavity. Blast, she had nearly been found out. She hurriedly folded and tucked the unread parchment in her hand under her garter.
“Lucy, are you in here?” Muffled steps on the plush carpet came closer.
“Lady Lucille Stanford, come out from under the desk, now!”
Lady Grace Oldridge’s tone did nothing to alleviate Lucy’s frustration at having been discovered. She smoothed out her gown and slowly rolled to her full height, all five feet two inches. “Grace, please don’t be mad. I just needed a little time to myself.”
Despite having successfully kept her unusual activities and investigations a secret during her first Season, Lucy was finding it increasingly difficult in her second now that her twin brother Matthew, Marquess Harrington, was intent on finding her a husband.
At two and twenty, Lucy was practically on the shelf—and far too old for this to be merely her second Season. If she had her way, she would have had none. After losing James, for years she had successfully avoided all of it—the Season, a husband. But Matthew was no longer amenable to her resistance to marriage. The only advantage of being in Town among the ton was her ability to access resources that facilitated what she now considered her true avocation.
Engulfed in a reassuring hug from Grace, Lucy was struck with guilt—which swiftly evaporated as she caught sight of Grace’s fierce expression. “You scared us all to death when we couldn’t find you in your usual hiding spots. I thought someone had… Well, never mind. We need to go back to the ballroom. I’m certain your brother is about to have an apoplexy.”
"I've always trusted you with the ball in your hands. But can I do the same with my heart?"
As a professional basketball player, Selena "Sharpshooter" Samuels seemingly has everything going in her favor. Playing for her hometown, playoff-bound team, the Nashville Nymphs. Playing under a knowledgeable coach who she adores. Playing for a franchise that's well respected and family-owned. But the potential dynasty she's trying to build comes under threat when a new assistant coach is hired; an assistant coach who she may or may not have had a huge crush on growing up.
DeAndre "Dre" Leonard hasn't had it easy. After being banned from the league as a player for violating the drug policy, his world came crashing down. But now he's back and ready to rebuild his reputation, starting with a coaching opportunity with the sister team of his beloved Trojans that includes one of the best women's players in the game; and arguably the finest woman he's ever seen.
Selena and Dre both want the same thing; to have a successful season. But as they spend more time together chasing a championship, that shared goal slowly begins to change from a title... to each other.
Set in "The Athens of the South" Nashville, Tennessee, The "Nymphs & Trojans" series is a sports romance collaboration by Nicole Falls and Alexandra Warren that follows two fictional professional basketball franchises - the Nashville Nymphs Women's Team and the Tennessee Trojans Men's Team.
Book 1 - Shots Not Taken
Book 2 - One Last Shot
*Note: These are standalone books that can be read in any order.
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Between her job at the firm and her husband's suspicious infidelities, Rashawn decided to listen to the advice of her close friends and set up online account. Inside the private world of Ultimate Pleasure adult club, you can chat and then meet up at a secret location.
Peppermint Candi, as Rashawn soon calls herself decided it's time for them to meet in person, but in this twisted story, Dark Chocolate isn't whom she expected.
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As I began to walk down the hallway toward the conference room, someone grabbed me from behind by my arm, force me into a dim-lighted room and locked the door. I wanted to scream, but couldn't and didn't.
I couldn't see his face because he quickly turned me around and had me bento over with my hands on the desk.
"Relax, I'm here to satisfied you." He whispered into my ear.
"Dark Chocolate!" I was shock. "How did you know where I work?"
At first his touch startled me, but the more he rubbed me the more I began to enjoy the feel of his warm, strong muscular hand on my skin.
One scandal. Two broken hearts. A decade apart.
Lady Elise knows all too well the risks of falling in love. Her heart was broken by a rake. Instead of hunting for a husband, she helps other ladies escape the nefarious plans of unscrupulous gentlemen.
After a scandal costs Lord Thornston Elise’s hand and heart, he has lived on the fringes of the beau monde. But when his best friend, the Duke of Fairmont, requests his assistance, Thornston is torn. Helping Fairmont means facing the woman who holds his heart and soul.
Succumbing to temptation, Thornston re-enters Society to find Elise still unwed. But as he seeks to reignite her desire for him and earn back her trust, he becomes entwined in one of her investigations. When events take a dangerous turn, he might lose the woman he loves before he can win her back.
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I need another drink.
Harold Greenfield, the Earl of Thornston, tried to curtail his frustration. He had been enjoying a whiskey at his club when the Duke of Fairmont dared to disturb his peace.
Peering down his ducal nose, Fairmont declared, “It is time you returned to the fold.” Fairmont settled into the closest wingback chair and stretched out his long legs.
The fiery liquid that was about to go down Harold’s gullet spewed from his mouth. “Why would I do that?”
“I need your assistance.”
Squeezing the bridge of his nose, Harold considered the duke’s request. In the twenty years they had known each other, this was the first time Fairmont had come to him for help. It was an odd reversal of roles. This past decade, Fairmont had remained his only contact with polite society. Harold remained silent and consumed another drink or three. The man couldn’t be serious. Could he?
Fairmont rose to leave, and Harold uttered a sigh. The man was his best friend, after all. Following the duke out of the club, he stepped up into the lavish ducal coach.
Seated on the rear-facing bench, Harold glared at Fairmont. “There is no good reason for me to place myself at the mercy of marriage-minded mamas and the empty-headed young chits.”
“All you have to do is accompany me to a few engagements and assist me in choosing the next Duchess of Fairmont.” A smirk appeared on Fairmont’s features. “What do you know of Miss Glenda Heart?”
“Why do you subject me to this torture?” Harold stretched out a leg and kicked the duke in the ankle. “Why don’t you have one of your sisters help you?”
“Are you serious? Lily is lying in, and Elise is… well, she is Elise.”
Harold asked, “Wait, Lily got married? How was it you allowed her to marry before Elise?”
How long had he been away from the ton?
Initially, Harold had enjoyed his freedom on the outskirts of the beau monde. But recently he had grown bored. Perhaps it was time he too considered the idea of marriage. A shiver ran down his spine. No, he still had a while yet; he had only just turned thirty.
Fairmont looked out the carriage window. “Lily endured three Seasons before she threatened a scandal if I didn’t give my permission for Lord Crossworth to marry her. They were married two years past; you were invited.”
“But what about Elise? How is it she is not yet married?”
“She swears she is content.” Fairmont slapped his gloves against his thigh. “I’ve tripled her dowry, but no one worthy has offered for her.”
Unbelievable. Elise was a beauty. Maybe a little quiet, but she had inherited her mother’s kind and patient demeanor. How could it be that no one had offered for her?
“Elise must be… what… six and twenty now?” Harold, for one, didn’t believe it. “What do you mean, no one worthy?”
Fairmont turned to face him directly. Harold could feel the man’s eyes bore into him in the dimly lit carriage. “Oh, she has attracted every scoundrel, rake, and fortune hunter, but they all offered for her dowry. None of them knew one thing about Elise.”
Harold shook his head; he shouldn’t have had that last whiskey before venturing out with Fairmont. “What are you blithering on about? What would you have a blighter know before you deem him worthy of your sister?”
Fairmont cocked an eyebrow. “Lord Crossworth was able to answer all the questions on my test without any issue when he asked for Lily’s hand.”
“Test! What test?”
Fairmont shrugged. “It’s a list of questions I ask every suitor.”
Only Fairmont would come up with such an idiotic scheme. Harold had to ask, although he was certain he already knew the answer. “Do you have a test for the position of duchess?”
Blithely, Fairmont replied, “Of course.”
Harold blinked to clear his vision, who was the man sitting across from him and where were they headed? “What wretched event are you dragging me to this eve?”
“I was informed both the lovely Lady Beatrice and Miss Glenda Heart are to be at the Riverington Ball.”
“Are you mad?” The Riverington Ball. The exact location of his downfall a decade ago.
“I’m of sound mind.” Fairmont employed his ducal stare. “And you are going to assist me in obtaining the answers I seek.”
The coach finally rolled to a stop. What questions could Fairmont have on his blasted lists? How had none of the gentlemen come up to snuff, allowing Lady Elise to remain unwed? Had the years been kind to her? For the first time in ages, Harold found himself in front of one of the ton’s dwellings. Would Lady Elise recognize him?
Making his entrance with Fairmont would be a bad idea. His friend might be in the market for a wife, but Harold was not ready to give up his freedom or his mistress. Confirming his misgivings, every head in the room turned their way as they were announced. The ton appeared to have remained unchanged. Lords and ladies scrutinized his appearance and quickly dismissed him. Damn them all to hell. Harold no longer cared for their opinion, nor did he seek out their acceptance.
“Will Elise be in attendance tonight?”
Fairmont narrowed his gaze. “Why?”
Harold tempered his reply. “I haven’t seen her in years. I’d like to become reacquainted.”
Gone was the relaxed Duke of Fairmont. The man had turned into his childhood friend, Benedict Brownstone, the older protective brother. “Stay away from her. She doesn’t need your sort hanging about her. It will only encourage the other rakes of our set to take notice of her.”
Fairmont’s warning cut. What exactly did he mean by his sort? “What? Am I not good enough for your sister?”
Harold might not have exactly lived the life of a saint, but neither had Fairmont. He was honest, never cheated at cards. He was not a pauper. His estates generated a sufficient—others might say lucrative—income, and while he might not have the wealth of a duke, he could easily support a wife. He wasn’t a dullard, despite only completing one year at Oxford. If he hadn’t been seduced by a professor’s wife and expelled, perhaps he might have graduated. In his defense, he hadn’t any idea who the woman was until it was too late.
When Fairmont failed to reply, Harold put it to him again. “Are you saying I’m not worthy of Elise’s hand?”
“Thornston, you are my best friend, and I know you better than anyone. Stay away from my sister. Find some other lady to pant after tonight.”
The warning sounded more like a challenge. Harold stood ruminating as couples whirled past him. He scanned the ballroom, looking for Elise. His curiosity demanded to find out why she had remained unwed.
Fairmont gave him a look that suggested he considered the matter concluded. He then shifted his attention to a dark-haired beauty who came into view across the room. “I’m off to claim my dance with Lady Beatrice. Try not to cause a scandal while I’m away.”
Scandal. Harold had learned his lesson a decade ago. Never follow a lady anywhere. They were all conniving harlots at the ready to trap a man into marriage. He wasn’t interested in following any of the ladies this evening. All he wanted to do was to locate Elise. Was she aware of her brother’s requirements? How would Harold fare should he attempt the answers?
Hidden behind the pillar, he searched the dance floor for familiar faces—one in particular. Surely, Elise would make an appearance. She had always enjoyed dancing. When he and Fairmont were learning the steps to the various sets, Elise often assisted by partnering with them. She never once complained when he had trod upon her delicate toes.
Bored at having spent most of the night avoiding the gazes of debutantes and their mamas, Harold made his way to the card room. He spotted Lord Kilman, one of the few he would consider a friend, engaged in a game with a lady. Interesting. Lord Kilman was a skilled card player who was known to lose rarely. His lordship’s features were relaxed, but Harold caught the telltale tic in his jaw, which indicated only one thing: Lord Kilman was about to be defeated.
Who was the woman? Her hair shone like silk, a string of pearls expertly woven through her dark brown curls.
* * *
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An entertaining and lively tale of love and ambition set around the end of the Roman occupation of Britain, AD 383 and the threats it brings to a dependent way of life. A strong backstory is the force of the new state religion, Christianity.
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