Hi friends! I’m super excited to share an exclusive excerpt of Caroline Linden’s upcoming book with you! I saw some promo [on twitter] and was like “!!!!” and then also Caroline is super wonderful, so I emailed her and was like “HEY I WANT YOU TO DO A SOMETHING AT ALBTALBS” and since she is very kind and delightful, she agreed. <3 Yay for us!
My Once and Future Duke will be out February 27th, and here’s a teaser for you! 😀 (In the form of an exclusive excerpt, because you know we don’t do it any other way at ALBTALBS.)
What happens at the infamous Vega Club . . .
Sophie Campbell is determined to be mistress of her own fate. Surviving on her skill at cards, she never risks what she can’t afford to lose. Yet when the Duke of Ware proposes a scandalous wager that’s too extravagant to refuse, she can’t resist. If she wins, she’ll get five thousand pounds, enough to secure her independence forever.
Stays at the Vega Club . . .
Jack Lindeville, Duke of Ware, tells himself he’s at the Vega Club merely to save his reckless brother from losing everything, but he knows it’s a lie. He can’t keep his eyes off Sophie, and to get her he breaks his ironclad rule against gambling. If he wins, he wants her—for a week.
A week with Jack could ruin what’s left of Sophie’s reputation. It might even cost her her heart. But when it comes to love, all bets are off . . .
Jack reached for the dice. For the first time all evening, they felt light and easy in his hand. He let them rest there a moment, weighing them. He couldn’t lose now; if he threw out, it would be a draw and they would both walk away. But if he won…
“Six,” he said quietly, and flicked his wrist. The dice bounced around before settling into place.
A pair of threes.
Her chest heaved as she stared at them. It was practically the only good roll he’d made all night. The onlookers burst into a seething rumble of whispers and exclamations. Jack turned to his brother, who was staring white-faced at the table. “You’re done here. I won’t cover another debt from this or any other gaming club.”
“Right. Very well.” Philip seemed to have difficulty breathing. “I’ll agree to that. I deserve that. But don’t do this—not her—“
Jack looked at Mrs. Campbell. She still stood as if frozen at the table. Everyone had withdrawn a step, leaving her alone in the center of a small circle. She was staring at the dice, her eyelashes dark against her pale cheeks.
Reluctantly his conscience stirred. His quarrel wasn’t with her. He could speak to her privately, in Dashwood’s office, and explain why he’d made that wager. He was only trying to save his brother from ruin. Well—his gaze dipped to her bosom for a moment—not entirely, of course, but it was an unimpeachable motive and had the benefit of being true. He would release her from the wager on the condition she swear not to gamble with Philip again. That was his primary purpose—his only purpose, damn it, even though he had to work to keep his eyes off her—separating her and every other sharper from his brother.
Philip pushed past him and took Mrs. Campbell’s hand. “Don’t worry, my dear,” he said to her. “It was a coerced wager. You aren’t required to fulfill it.” He shot a venomous glare at Jack.
She started as if from a trance. “What?”
“Of course you aren’t!” Philip exclaimed. He lowered his voice, but Jack still heard. “He did it to punish me, because of our friendship. He cannot hold you to it—nor will I allow him to, Sophie.” Philip clasped her hand in both of his and brought it to his lips while Mrs. Campbell raised her eyes to Jack’s.
There was no fear or horror in them—she was furious. And she was letting Philip hold her hand for far too long.
His conscience fell mute. “On the contrary.” He tilted his head, and Dashwood, lingering nearby but pointedly looking away, sighed.
“Mrs. Campbell, you lost a wager freely agreed to. It must be paid.”
Her bosom rose and fell. Her eyes glittered. “Yes. Of course. I see that. If His Grace will call upon me tomorrow, I’m sure we can—“
“Mr. Dashwood,” Jack said, “collect Mrs. Campbell’s winnings and credit them to her account.” He took her arm and tugged her away from Philip. She hung back and he put an arm around her waist, deliberately holding her to him. It was meant for Philip, but again his heart seemed to stumble over itself at the warmth of her body against his. He started for the door, taking her with him.
“Stop,” she gasped. “Wait a moment…”
“You wagered and you lost. Everyone at Vega’s pays their debts, my dear.”
“Yes, but I cannot go with you now—”
“You can.” There was an outburst behind him—Philip arguing with Dashwood, who was refusing to intervene. Jack felt a dark satisfaction that perhaps now, at last, Philip would believe he meant what he said.
“Tomorrow,” Mrs. Campbell protested, but he squeezed her and she stopped speaking.
“What is different about tomorrow? You’re trying to think of a way out of it, or stalling for time until Philip can.” He looked down at her as a servant went flying for her cloak. “Don’t be afraid,” he added in cool amusement as he took in her pale, angry face. “I have no designs on you.” He lowered his head until his lips brushed the hair at her temple. She smelled of oranges. “Can you say the same of my brother?”
Her face flushed as scarlet as her gown. Jack caught a glimpse down the front of her bodice and felt an answering flush of heat in his own body. Forget Philip, he wanted to say. Let me seduce you instead. Which was the clearest sign yet that he’d lost his mind…