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Finalist in Desert Rose RWA's Golden Quill contest
How to Marry a Rake
Back from Europe, heiress Mae Halford has mended her
heart after her friend Stephen Manning's rejection. Looking
radiant and full of confidence, she's ready to find herself a husband!
Only the first man she bumps into at a Newmarket
house party is Lord Stephen himself! When the two find themselves
covertly working together to find amissing prized racehorse, romance
But can Mae believe that Stephen has changed enough
that their adventure will lead to the altar?
ExcerptStephen speared her with his glower. "You should never have come in here alone with him."
She crossed her arms. "Why not?"
"Why not?" He spun away, pacing again. "Why not, she asks! What goes on in those European salons, I have to wonder?" He turned back to her. "You shouldn't have done it because it's not seemly!"
His attitude was a flame setting her anger to simmer. "You asked for my help. You don't get to dictate the manner in which I give it."
He rolled his eyes. "You're after a husband. I understand."
"Yes! We have a bargain in that regard," she snapped. "I hope you have not forgotten!"
"I have not." He'd descended into condescension now. "But you asked not just for my help, but for my opinion. You should have given me a chance to express it before you went traipsing off alone with a jug-bitten fortune hunter like Landry! The man is at his limits and he's growing desperate. Who knows what he's capable of? He could have kidnapped you. Or compromised you beyond saving."
She laughed. "This situation is too much for you. You've gone histrionic."
He gaped at her. "I am not histrionic!"
"And I am not a fool."
Mae knew she'd taken on her most mulish, unattractive expression, but there was no avoiding it. "You implied it--and the alternative is worse. If I'm not foolish, then you must think me a wanton! Is that what you meant to imply?"
His mouth dropped open. She didn't give him time to come up with a reply.
"I left word with my mother before I left the long parlor. She's aware of both my location and the viscount's condition. The servants have been in and out with coffee and a footman has been parading up and down the hall at regular intervals. I had only a few minutes alone with him, but I managed to discover what I needed to know before he passed out from all the drink you've poured down him."
She set her hands on her hips. He stood near now, close enough to catch the scent of his spicy cologne and freshly starched linen. Close enough to feel the warmth rising off his broad chest and notice that it was rising faster than it had been, just a second before.
"He was in more danger from me than I was from him." She kept her voice low, kept her expression cool and taunting.
In contrast, his face darkened. "That's the God's honest truth."
"Perhaps you should consider your own welfare, then." She exhaled. "Perhaps you'd better run."
He made a strangled sound of protest. He took a step closer instead, closing the small space between them. He looked like he wished to strangle her.
"Or perhaps you might begin to fulfill your part of the bargain." She gestured toward the unconscious viscount. "Twelve hours it's been since we made our pact, and between Josette and myself we've eliminated two suspects and one potential husband." She showed him no mercy. "It would appear you're falling behind, Stephen."
His only answer was a growl, laden with frustration. She froze as he took the last, infinitesimal step. If she moved but an inch she would find herself pressed against him.
He didn't speak.
She wouldn't back down.
Stalemate. It lasted moments. Or centuries. She waited. He held himself aloof. Immobile. His breath sounded like a bellows and his expression might have been carved from stone.
"Good Lord," he moaned. "Perhaps this is not going to work."
"Perhaps not," She sighed.
"Did you agree to this, Mae, just so that you could get even with me?" He sounded exhausted. "Were you only after a little revenge?"
Flabbergasted, she stared at him. "Revenge for what?"
"For the last time we were together."
It hurt, that he would bring the subject up again. But she tossed her head to hide the pain and gave a deprecating snort. "I begin to think that you prescribe more importance to that night than even I do."
He turned away, his head hanging low. "I was in a lot of pain that night, Mae."
"I know." And that had been the problem all along. She'd known things, seen things that he didn't want seen. She'd chased him, yes. Manipulated him into kissing her once. But the real problem had been that she had asked for more than he was willing to give. She wouldn't make the same mistake again.
"I'd only just returned from my first visit to Fincote, since my mother's death. I . . ." His voice trailed away.
Mae did not make the mistake of urging him to continue.
Finally he turned back to face her. "It wasn't you I was angry with."
"It's fine, Stephen. I'm fine. You did what you had to that night--you told the truth. You made me see that there was nothing more than friendship between us."
"I shouldn't have lashed out so harshly."
"It was better that you did."
"I never thought your father would pack you off to the Continent."
"He did the right thing, too. I was hurt, and young and headstrong. He'd been aware of my . . . pursuit . . . of you. I think a good deal of his sympathy was for you, actually. He saw me that night, after we argued. He knew I was upset and suspected that something had occurred between us. He knew enough of my tenacity to take me away before I did something foolish." She sighed. "It was the right thing. It gave me time to deal with my disappointment and plenty of other things on which to focus my energies."
He was going to say more. She could see that he wanted to. She waited, but he held silent, stood immobile. His breathing grew harsh and labored once more.
Her own breath caught the rhythm and followed along. Behind them the viscount slept on. Between them the air crackled with intensity, sizzled with spiraling heat. And inevitability.
She saw his intention in his eyes a moment before they closed, before he gave a groan of frustration, reached out and pulled her hard against him.
She froze at first, rigid with disbelief. Feebly, she reached up, put her hands on his chest to push him away.
Instead, she melted. Gone. All the rigidity of her bones and the strength in her muscles--gone to mush under the angry heat of his kiss.
This was nothing like their first kiss. Her first kiss. That had been all tentative exploration and giddy excitement. This was heat and anger and denial and want all wrapped up in the taste of his lips and the insistent stroke of his tongue.
This was no boy's kiss, nor green girl's response. Stephen loomed above and all about her. He felt bigger, darker and more demanding--and she thrilled to it. She opened wider to take him in, reveled in the abandon with which he ravished her mouth.
From behind them came a rasping snore.
It shattered the spell. They stilled. Stephen pulled back, staring at her with bewilderment and accusation in his eyes.
She raised her chin. "If I didn't like you so well, Stephen, I would slap you a cracking good blow for that."
"Perhaps now you will understand why you should not go off alone with strange men." He lacked the conviction with which he'd been arguing before.
She forced a laugh. "You may have been the first strange man to have kissed me, but you're not the only one. And I doubt you'll be the last."
His fists clenched at his sides. "Made a habit of it, have you?"
She raised a shoulder. "A girl does what she must. But I'd hoped that your help would mean less of this sort of . . . research."
He gaped at her.
"I don't mean to disparage your skills, of course. You are a lovely kisser. But I already knew that, didn't I? Now, we have a horse to find. And a husband. Let's get on with it, shall we?"
With a swish of her skirts, Mae turned and left the parlor.
How to Marry a Rake is a fun, flirty, fantastic read! There's a second chance romance, a hero who realizes his own flaws, a mystery involving a stolen horse and characters you can root for. If you love Regency romances, don't miss out on this one.--Keira, Love Romance Passion
A rollicking good story, HOW TO MARRY A RAKE is Deb Marlowe at her best. Two emotionally scared people must work through a lot of barriers to realize that just maybe they're meant for each other. The background of the Newmarket racing scene makes for a unique setting and there are plenty of secondary characters to add to this well-written story.--Jani Brooks, Romance Reviews Today
A charming tale set amongst Regency-era horseracing.--Valarie Pelissero, Rakehell
I've always enjoyed the fact that Marlowe doesn't make her female characters wilting flowers, easily cowed and defeated. Mae is a handful, one that keeps Stephen on his toes and me giggling when he tries to make things right.--Alexandra Cenni, Romance Readers at Heart