Mired in scandal after his parents’ mysterious deaths, notorious gambler Lord Jarret Sharpe agrees to tamely run the family 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.
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By the time SABRINA JEFFRIES was eighteen, she’d eaten chicken heads and jellyfish, been chased by a baby elephant, seen countless cobras and pythons, had the entire series of rabies shots, and visited rain forests and rubber plantations. But that wasn’t enough excitement for her; to escape her mundane life as a missionary’s daughter, she read romance novels. Now she writes romance novels, and her bestselling, award-winning tales of strong women and sexy, dangerous men have been translated all over the world. Although she now lives a quiet life in North Carolina with her husband and son, her colorful past has given her plenty of inspiration for more novels.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
In the nineteen years since that fateful night, Jarret had grown a foot taller and had learned how to fight, and he was still gambling. Now, for a living.
Today, however, the cards were meant to be only a distraction. Sitting at a table in the study in Gran’s town house, he laid out another seven rows.
“How can you play cards at a time like this?” his sister Celia asked from the settee.
“I’m not playing cards,” he said calmly. “I’m playing solitaire.”
“You know Jarret,” his brother Gabe put in. “Never comfortable without a deck in his hand.”
“You mean, never comfortable unless he’s winning,” his other sister, Minerva, remarked.
“Then he must be pretty uncomfortable right now,” Gabe said. “Lately, all he does is lose.”
Jarret stiffened. That was true. And considering that he supported his lavish lifestyle with his winnings, it was a problem.
So of course Gabe was plaguing him about it. At twenty-six, Gabe was six years Jarret’s junior and annoying as hell. Like Minerva, he had gold-streaked brown hair and green eyes the exact shade of their mother’s. But that was the only trait Gabe shared with their straitlaced mother.
“You can’t consistently win at solitaire unless you cheat,” Minerva said.
“I never cheat at cards.” It was true, if one ignored his uncanny ability to keep track of every card in a deck. Some people didn’t.
“Didn’t you just say that solitaire isn’t ‘cards’?” Gabe quipped.
Bloody arse. And to add insult to injury, Gabe was cracking his knuckles and getting on Jarret’s nerves.
“For God’s sake, stop that noise,” Jarret snapped.
“This, you mean?” Gabe said and deliberately cracked his knuckles again.
“If you don’t watch it, little brother, I’ll crack my knuckles against your jaw,” Jarret warned.
“Stop fighting!” Celia’s hazel eyes filled with tears as she glanced at the connecting door to Gran’s bedchamber. “How can you fight when Gran might be dying?”
“Gran isn’t dying,” said the eminently practical Minerva. Four years younger than Jarret, she lacked Celia’s flair for the dramatic ... except in the Gothic fiction she penned.
Besides, like Jarret, Minerva knew their grandmother better than their baby sister did. Hester Plumtree was indestructible. This “illness” was undoubtedly another ploy to make them toe her line.
Gran had already given them an ultimatum—they had to marry within the year or the whole lot of them would be disinherited. Jarret would have thrown the threat back in her face, but he couldn’t sentence his siblings to a life with no money.
Oliver had tried to fight her edict, then had surprised them by getting himself leg-shackled to an American woman. But that hadn’t satisfied Gran. She still wanted her pound of flesh from the rest of them. And now there were fewer than ten months left.
That was what had put Jarret off his game lately—Gran’s attempt to force him into marrying the first female who didn’t balk at the Sharpe family reputation for scandal and licentiousness. It made him desperate to win a large score, so he could support his siblings on his winnings and they could all tell her to go to hell.
But desperation was disaster at the gaming tables. His success depended on keeping a cool head and not caring about the outcome. Only then could he play to the cards he was dealt. Desperation made a man take risks based on emotion instead of skill. And that happened to him too much, lately.
What on earth did Gran think she would accomplish by forcing them to marry? She’d merely spawn more miserable marriages to match that of their parents.
But Oliver isn’t miserable.
Oliver had been lucky. He’d found the one woman who would put up with his nonsense and notoriety. The chance of that happening twice in their family was small. And four more times? Abysmally small. Lady Fortune was as fickle in life as in cards.
With a curse, Jarret rose to pace. Unlike the study at Halstead Hall, Gran’s was airy and light, with furnishings of the latest fashion and a large scale model of Plumtree Brewery prominently displayed atop a rosewood table.
He gritted his teeth. That damned brewery—she’d run it successfully for so long that she thought she could run their lives as well. She always had to be in control. One look at the papers stacked high on her desk made it clear that the brewery was becoming too much for her to handle at seventy-one. Yet the obstinate woman refused to hire a manager, no matter how Oliver pressed her.
“Jarret, did you write that letter to Oliver?” Minerva asked.
“Yes, while you were at the apothecary’s. The footman has taken it to the post.” Although Oliver and his new wife had already left for America to meet her relations, Jarret and Minerva wanted him to know of Gran’s illness in case it was serious.
“I hope he and Maria are enjoying themselves in Massachusetts,” Minerva said. “He seemed very upset that day in the library.”
“You’d be upset, too, if you thought you’d caused our parents’ deaths,” Gabe pointed out.
That had been Oliver’s other surprise—his revelation that he and Mother had quarreled the day of the tragedy, which had led to her going off in a rage in search of Father.
“Do you think Oliver was right?” Celia asked. “Was it his fault that Mama shot Papa?” Celia had been only four when it happened, so she had little recollection of it.
That wasn’t the case for Jarret. “No.”
“Why not?” Minerva asked.
How much should he say? He had a strong memory of ...
No, he shouldn’t make baseless accusations, no matter who they concerned. But he should tell them his other concern. “I well remember Father at the picnic, muttering, ‘Where the devil is she going?’ I looked across the field and saw Mother on a horse, headed in the direction of the hunting lodge. That memory has been gnawing at me.”
Gabe took up Jarret’s line of reasoning. “So if she’d left in search of Father, as Oliver seems certain that she did, she would have found him at the picnic. She wouldn’t have gone elsewhere looking for him.”
“Precisely,” Jarret said.
Minerva pursed her lips. “Which means that Gran’s version of events might be correct. Mother rode to the hunting lodge because she was upset and wanted to be away from everyone. Then she fell asleep, was startled by Father, shot him—”
“—and shot herself when she saw him dead?” Celia finished. “I don’t believe it. It makes no sense.”
Gabe cast her an indulgent glance. “Only because you don’t want to believe that any woman would be so reckless as to shoot a man without thinking.”
“I would certainly never do such a fool thing myself,” Celia retorted.
“But you have a passion for shooting and a healthy respect for guns,” Minerva pointed out. “Mother had neither.”
“Exactly,” Celia said. “So she picked up a gun without forethought and shot it for the first time that day? That’s ridiculous. For one thing, how did she load it?”
They all stared at her.
“None of you ever thought about that, did you?”
“She could have learned,” Gabe put in. “Gran knows how to shoot. Just because Mother never shot a gun around us doesn’t mean Gran didn’t teach her.”
Celia frowned. “On the other hand, if Mother set out to shoot Father deliberately as Oliver claims, someone could have helped her load the pistol—a groom, perhaps. Then she could have lain in wait for Father near the picnic and followed him to the hunting lodge. That makes more sense.”
“It’s interesting that you should mention the grooms,” Jarret said. “They would have had to saddle her horse—they might have known where she was going and when she left. She might even have said why she was riding out. If we could talk to them—”
“Most of them left service at Halstead Hall when Oliver closed the place down,” Minerva pointed out.
“That’s why I’m thinking of hiring Jackson Pinter to find them.”
“You may not like him,” Jarret told her, “but he’s one of the most respected Bow Street Runners in London.” Although Pinter was supposed to be helping them explore the backgrounds of potential mates, there was no reason the man couldn’t take on another mission.
The door to Gran’s bedchamber opened, and Dr. Wright entered the study.
“Well?” Jarret asked sharply. “What’s the verdict?”
“Can we see her?” Minerva added.
“Actually, she’s been asking for Lord Jarret,” Dr. Wright said.
Jarret tensed. With Oliver gone, he was the eldest. No telling what Gran had cooked up for him to do, now that she was “ill.”
“Is she all right?” Celia asked, alarm plain on her face.
“At the moment, she’s only suffering some chest pain. It may come to nothing.” Dr. Wright met Jarret’s gaze. “But she needs to keep quiet and rest until she feels better. And she refuses to do that until she can speak to you, my lord.” When the others rose, he added, “Alone.”
With a terse nod, Jarret followed him into Gran’s room.
“Don’t say anything to upset her,” Dr. Wright murmured, then left and closed the door.
At the sight of his grand...
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