Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

  Praise for Lisa Kleypas:

  ‘Kleypas launches the Friday Harbour trilogy with a delightful portrait of a picturesque town where people know everything about everyone and look out for each other… She enchantingly weaves together additional connections with relatives and friends, leaving many dangling threads that will lead the reader straight to book two’ Publishers Weekly

  ‘Flawlessly written… Kleypas brings together richly nuanced characters, an emotionally riveting plot, and a subtle touch of the paranormal to create an unforgettable romance that is pure reading magic’ Booklist

  ‘Magical’ RT Book Reviews

  Lisa Kleypas is the author of a number of historical and contemporary romance novels that have been published in fourteen languages. In 1985, she was named Miss Massachusetts and competed in the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. After graduating from Wellesley College with a political science degree, she published her first novel at age twenty-one. Her books have appeared on the New York Times bestseller lists. Lisa is married and has two children.

  Visit Lisa Kleypas online:

  Also by Lisa Kleypas

  Crystal Cove

  Dream Lake

  Rainshadow Road

  Christmas Eve at Friday Harbour

  Seduce Me at Sunrise

  Mine Till Midnight

  The Wallflower Series

  A Wallflower Christmas

  Scandal in Spring

  Devil in Winter

  It Happened One Autumn

  Secrets of a Summer Night

  The Travis Family Series

  Sugar Daddy

  Blue-Eyed Devil

  Smooth Talking Stranger

  Brown-Eyed Girl


  Published by Piatkus


  All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2015 by Lisa Kleypas

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

  The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.


  Little, Brown Book Group

  Carmelite House

  50 Victoria Embankment

  London, EC4Y 0DZ

  Cold-Hearted Rake

  Table of Contents

  Praise for Lisa Kleypas:

  About the Author

  Also by Lisa Kleypas



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33




  To my wonderful and gifted editor, Carrie Feron –

  thank you for making my dreams come true!

  Love always,


  Chapter 1

  Hampshire, England

  August 1875


  he 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.”

  “In Hampshire?”

  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 brother.

  “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.

  As Devon and West bowed, the widow responded with a perfunctory curtsy. “Welcome, my lord. And Mr. Ravenel. I will provide a list of the household inventory as soon as possible, so that you may loot and pillage in an organized fashion.” Her voice was refined, the cut-glass syllables frosted with dislike.

  Devon watched alertly as she came farther into the room. Her figure was too slender for his taste, wandlike in the heft of mourning clothes. But there was something riveting about her controlled movement, a subtle volatility contained within stillness.

  “My condolences for your loss,” he said.

  “My congratulations for your gain.”

  Devon frowned. “I assure you, I never wanted your husband’s title.”

  “It’s true,” West said. “He complained about it all the way from London.”

  Devon sent his brother a damning glance.

  “The butler, Sims, will be available to show you the house and grounds at your leisure,” the widow said. “Since I am, as you remarked, of no use to you, I will retire to my room and begin to pack.”

  “Lady Trenear,” Devon said curtly, “we seem to have started off on bad footing. I apologize if I’ve given offense.”

  “No need to apologize, my lord. Such remarks are no less than what I expected of you.” She continued before Devon could reply. “May I ask how long you intend to stay at Eversby Priory?”

  “Two nights, I expect. At dinner, perhaps you and I could discuss —”

  “I’m afraid my sisters-in-law and I will not be able to dine with you. We are overset by grief, and shall take our meals separately.”

  “Countess —”

  Ignoring him, she left the room without another word. Without even a curtsy.

  Stunned and outraged, Devon stared at the empty doorway with narrowed eyes. Women never treated him with such contempt. He felt his temper threatening to break loose. How the hell could she hold him at fault for the situation when he’d had no choice in any of it?

  “What did I do to deserve that?” he demanded.

  West’s mouth twitched. “Aside from saying you were going to cast her out and destroy her home?”

  “I apologized!”

  “Never apologize to women. It only confirms that you were wrong, and incenses them further.”

  Devon would be damned if he’d tolerate the insolence of a woman who should have been offering to help him, instead of heaping blame on his head. Widow or not, she was about to learn a much-needed lesson.

  “I’m going to talk to her,” he said grimly.

  Lifting his feet onto the upholstered settee, West stretched out and arranged a pillow beneath his head. “Wake me when it’s over.”

  Devon left the receiving room and followed the widow with long, ground-eating strides. He caught a glimpse of her at the end of the hallway, her dress and veil rippling as she sped away like a pirate ship at full sail.

  “Wait,” he called after her. “I didn’t mean what I said earlier.”

bsp; “You did mean it.” She stopped and whirled to face Devon in an abrupt motion. “You intend to destroy the estate, and your family legacy, all for your own selfish purposes.”

  He stopped in front of her, his hands gripped into fists. “Look here,” he said coldly, “the most I’ve ever had to manage is a terrace apartment, a cookmaid, a valet, and one horse. And now I’m expected to look after a foundering estate with more than two hundred tenant farms. I would think that merits some consideration. Even sympathy.”

  “Poor you. How trying it must be, how inconvenient, for you to have to think about someone other than yourself.”

  With that parting jab, she tried to leave. However, she had stopped near an arched niche in the wall, intended for the display of statuary or art objects on pedestals.

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