The Wagered Heart: Signet Regency Romance (InterMix)

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Regency Christmas Wishes Anthology

SIGNET REGENCY ROMANCE

The Wagered Heart

Rhonda Woodward

I
NTER
M
IX
B
OOKS
, N
EW
Y
ORK

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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Penguin China, B7 Jaiming Center, 27 East Third Ring Road North, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100020, China

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have control over and does not have any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

THE WAGERED HEART

An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Signet Books edition / December 2003

InterMix eBook edition / October 2012

Copyright © 2003 by Rhonda Woodward.

Excerpt from
Moonlight and Mischief
copyright © 2004 by Rhonda Woodward.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-57289-4

INTERMIX

InterMix Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

ALWAYS LEARNING
PEARSON

To Mom and Dad
for everything

And to Susannah Carleton
for her wise words, late-night calls,
and warm friendship

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Epilogue

Special Excerpt from Moonlight and Mischief

About the Author

Prologue

1815

O
 n the corner of a very fashionable street in London stood five of the highest flying Corinthians the
ton
could boast. To a man, their attention was fixed on a simply dressed, yet exceedingly beautiful, young lady standing on the sidewalk across the street. They watched her with the same intensity she was giving a coach and four lumbering by.

“Damn, Kel, you cannot mean to fulfill the bet with that chit? It is only three of the clock! What if you see a prettier wench at four?” questioned a dashing buck in the steadiest of voices. The others knew this very precise enunciation meant that their friend was quite foxed.

“Dash it, Alton, put a shtopper in it! If Kelbourne shez sheesh the prettyisht gel he has sheen today, then let be. It is between Kel and Dame Fortune anyway,” stated the fair-haired Viscount Mattonly, who was not as adroit at hiding his condition as the previous speaker.

The other blades murmured in agreement and vigorously encouraged the tall gentleman standing in their midst to go to it and fulfill his vow.

His Grace, the Duke of Kelbourne, known to his intimates as Kel, ignored his bickering friends, and continued to study the young lady.

A cool sun shone down upon her as she gazed at her surroundings with large, curious gray eyes.

With a decisive movement, he doffed his beaver hat and strode across the street. Dodging stylish high-perch phaetons and closed carriages, he moved quickly lest his quarry disappear.

Miss Julia Allard was enjoying her first visit to London with the real but detached interest of a tourist. As she looked around, she thought again that her childhood home of Chippenham had not prepared her for the cosmopolitan splendor of London.

Presently, she was supposed to be helping her cousin Caroline and Aunt Hyacinth choose bonnet trimmings, but the view from the milliner’s shopwindow had proved too much of an enticement. Julia found the bustle exhilarating after living so quietly in the country. At first, the noise, the closeness of the buildings, even the gas lampposts had seemed almost foreign to her.

But now, standing on the sidewalk, she observed all the beautifully dressed people enjoying the fine spring day with pleasure evident on her features. The fascinating scene before her was so captivating, she took no notice of the attention she herself was receiving.

A shiny black coach with a groom riding postilion rolled by. Julia wished Caro had come out; her cousin could identify the owners of the conveyances with only a glance at the heraldic device painted on the doors.

Sighing with satisfaction, Julia reluctantly turned to reenter the shop. She stopped short as a very tall gentleman stepped directly into her path.

Pausing for a moment, she looked up in surprise, before taking a step to the side to pass him.

He stepped to the side also.

Beneath her bonnet, one finely arched brow rose over stormy gray eyes. Julia surveyed the man who was obviously blocking her progress on purpose.

Though he was dressed in perfectly tailored clothing of exquisite fabric, she noted that there was nothing of the fop about him. His deep blue coat fit his broad shoulders as if painted on, and his doeskin breeches and polished Hessian boots accented his powerfully muscled legs.

Her critical gaze traveled up again. He was not classically handsome, but his angled features combined to form a compelling and attractive face. His dark brown hair was styled a little shorter than what was currently fashionable among the beau monde. A straight, rather long nose and bluntly square chin gave him a rakish, formidable air.

A frisson of something that was not quite fear, not quite anger, raced up Julia’s spine as she lifted her chin to address the stranger.

“Kindly move, sir. As you can see, you are blocking my path.” Her tone was firm, despite her nervousness.

His only response was a slight smile. His assessing gaze continued to sweep her features.

For his part, Kel was greatly pleased to see, upon closer inspection, that her charms exceeded his expectations. It also pleased him that she was so tall—the top of her head came to his chin. A profusion of thick, pale golden ringlets framed a classically sculpted face beneath an attractive bonnet. Her complexion was flawless, smooth ivory tinted with a drop of honey.

He saw large gray eyes, slightly tilted up at the
corners and fringed with thick brown lashes. They were staring angrily back at him.

His gaze settled on her mouth—the goal of his vow. It was full, yet finely defined, competing with her eyes as her loveliest feature.

Once more, he swept her figure with experienced regard. She was slim, but with an understated voluptuousness that would cause men to stare.

Disturbed by this unwanted attention, Julia once more tried to pass him.

Again, he blocked her way.

Panic touched her and she looked around in desperation, noticing that passersby were beginning to stop and stare.

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