Readers have long waited for the return of New York Times bestseller Lisa Kleypas to historical romance, and boy was it worth the wait. Cold-Hearted Rake is one of Lisa’s most breathtaking novels to date, a seductive romp set in rural Devon with scoundrels and rakes aplenty.
To celebrate Regency Week, we’ve got a sneak preview from Chapter One of Cold-Hearted Rake, which is available in print and ebook from 27th October.
“The devil knows why my life should be ruined,” Devon Ravenel said grimly, “all because a cousin I never
liked fell from a horse.”
“Theo didn’t fall, precisely,” his younger brother, Weston, replied. “He was thrown.”
“Obviously the horse found him as insufferable as I did.” Devon paced around the receiving room in restless, abbreviated strides. “If Theo hadn’t already broken his damned neck, I’d like to go and break it for him.” West sent him a glance of exasperated amusement.
“How can you complain when you’ve just inherited an earldom that confers an estate in Hampshire, lands in Norfolk, a house in London—”
“All entailed. Forgive my lack of enthusiasm for land and properties that I’ll never own and can’t sell.”
“You may be able to break the entailment, depending on how it was settled. If so, you could sell everything and be done with it.”
“God willing.” Devon glanced at a bloom of mold in the corner with disgust. “No one could reasonably expect me to live here. The place is a shambles.”
This was the first time either of them had ever set foot in Eversby Priory, the ancestral family domain built over the remains of a monastic residence and church. Although Devon had become ennobled shortly after his cousin’s death three months ago, he had waited as long as possible before facing the mountain of problems he now confronted. So far he had seen only this room and the entrance hall, the two areas that were supposed to impress visitors the most. The rugs were worn, the furniture threadbare, the plaster wall moldings dingy and cracked. None of this boded well for the condition of the rest of the house.
“It needs refurbishing,” West admitted.
“It needs to be razed to the ground.”
“It’s not so bad—” West broke off with a yelp as his foot began to sink into a depression in the rug. He hopped away and stared at the bowl-shaped indentation.
“What the deuce . . . ?”
Devon bent and lifted the corner of the rug to reveal a rotting hole in the flooring beneath. Shaking his head, he dropped the rug back into place and went to a window fitted with diamond-shaped panes. The lead came that joined the window glass was corroded, the hinges and fittings rusted.
“Why hasn’t that been repaired?” West asked.
“For want of money, obviously.”
“But how could that be? The estate comes with twenty thousand acres. All those tenants, the annual yields—”
“Estate farming is no longer profitable.”
Devon sent him a dark glance before returning his attention to the view. “Anywhere.”
The Hampshire scenery was green and bucolic, neatly divided by bottle-green hedgerows in bloom. However, somewhere beyond the cheerful huddles of thatched-roof cottages and the fertile tracts of chalk down and ancient woodland, thousands of miles of steel track were being laid out for an onslaught of locomotive engines and railcars.
All across England, new factories and mill towns had begun to appear faster than hazel catkins in the spring. It had been Devon’s bad luck to inherit a title just as a tide of industry was sweeping away aristocratic traditions and entitled modes of living.
“How do you know?” his brother asked.
“Everyone knows, West. Grain prices have collapsed. When did you last read an issue of the Times? Have you paid no attention to the discussions at the club or the taverns?”
“Not when the subject was farming,” came West’s dour reply. He sat heavily, rubbing his temples. “I don’t like this. I thought we had agreed never to be serious about anything.”
“I’m trying. But death and poverty have a way of making everything seem rather less amusing.” Leaning his forehead against the windowpane, Devon said morosely, “I’ve always enjoyed a comfortable life without having to perform a single day of honest labor. Now I have responsibilities.”
He said the word as if it were a profanity.
“I’ll help you think of ways to avoid them.” Rummaging in his coat, West pulled a silver flask from an inside pocket. He uncapped it and took a long swallow. Devon’s brows lifted.
“Isn’t it a bit early for that? You’ll be stewed by noon.”
“Yes, but it won’t happen unless I start now.” West tilted the flask again. The habits of self-indulgence,
Devon reflected with concern, were catching up with his younger brother. West was a tall and handsome man of four-and-twenty, with a wily intelligence that he preferred to use as seldom as possible. In the past year, an excess of strong drink had lent a ruddy cast to West’s cheeks, and softened his neck and
waistline. Although Devon had made a point of never interfering in his brother’s affairs, he wondered if he should mention something about his swilling. No, West would only resent the unwanted advice.
After replacing the flask in his coat, West steepled his hands and regarded Devon over the tips of his fingers.
“You need to acquire capital, and sire an heir. A rich wife would solve both problems.”
Devon blanched. “You know I’ll never marry.” He understood his limitations: He wasn’t meant to be a husband or father. The idea of repeating the travesty of his childhood, with himself in the role of the cruel and indifferent parent, made his skin crawl. “When I die,” he continued, “you’re next in line.”
“Do you actually believe I’ll outlive you?” West asked.
“With all my vices?”
“I have just as many.”
“Yes, but I’m far more enthusiastic about mine.” Devon couldn’t hold back a wry laugh. No one could have foreseen that the two of them, from a far-flung branch of the Ravenels, would be the last in
a lineage that could be traced back to the Norman Conquest. Unfortunately, Ravenels had always been too hot-blooded and impulsive. They yielded to every temptation, indulged in every sin, and scorned every virtue, with the result that they tended to die faster than they could reproduce. Now there were only two left.
Although Devon and West were wellborn, they had never been part of the peerage, a world so rarefied that the highest levels were impermeable even for minor gentry. Devon knew little of the complex rules and rituals that distinguished aristocrats from the common masses. What he did know was that the Eversby estate was no windfall, but a trap. It could no longer generate enough income to sustain itself. It would devour the modest annual income from his trust, crush him, and then it would finish off his
“Let the Ravenels come to an end,” Devon said. “We’re a bad lot and always have been. Who will care if the earldom goes extinct?”
“The servants and tenants might object to losing their incomes and homes,” West said dryly.
“They can all go hang. I’ll tell you how what’s to be done: First I’ll send Theo’s widow and sisters packing; they’re of no use to me.”
“Devon—” he heard his brother say uneasily.
“Then I’ll find a way to break the entailment, split the estate apart, and sell it piecemeal. If that’s not possible, I’ll strip the house of everything valuable, tear it down, and sell the stone—”
“Devon.” West gestured to the doorway, where a small, slim woman veiled in black stood at the threshold. Theo’s widow. She was the daughter of Lord Carbery, an Irish peer who owned a stud farm in Glengarrif. She had been married to Theo only three days before he had died. Such tragedy coming on the heels of a customarily joyful event must have been a cruel shock. As one of the last few members of a dwindling family, Devon supposed he should have sent her a letter of sympathy when Theo’s accident
had occurred. But somehow the thought had never translated into action, only stayed in his mind like a bit of lint caught on a coat lapel. Perhaps Devon might have forced himself to send condolences if he hadn’t despised his cousin so much. Life had favored Theo in many ways, gifting him with wealth, privilege, and handsomeness. But instead of being grateful for his good fortune, Theo had always been smug and superior. A bully. Since Devon had never been able to overlook an insult or provocation, he had ended up brawling with Theo whenever they were together. It would have been a lie to say he was sorry that he would never see his cousin again. As for Theo’s widow, she had no need of sympathy. She was young and childless, and she had a jointure, which would make it easy for her to marry again. Although she was reputed to be a beauty, it was impossible to judge; a heavy black veil obscured her in a mist of gloom. One thing was certain: After what she had just overheard, she must think Devon despicable.
He didn’t give a damn.
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