Three Times the Rake (The Northumberland Nine Series Book 3)
Three Times the Rake (The Northumberland Nine Series Book 3)
Georgette Marsden has a way with animals, but will her skills help her tame a rake?
As one of nine impoverished daughters, Georgie had to become the son her father never had. She can shoot, mend a fence, and wrestle a sheep to the ground. But when it comes to falling in love, she'll have to rely on one of her more conventional sisters to catch a husband before an unscrupulous cousin inherits their home.
Mr. Gavin Cage accepted an invitation to Selbourne Castle to get away from marriage-minded women in London. To his dismay, he's stuck in a castle with nine sisters, all lovely and in need of husbands. But before he can find an excuse to escape, his interest is piqued by one sister, the most unconventional woman he's ever met.
Georgie and Gavin form an unlikely friendship. But they can't ignore the attraction between them. For once Georgie feels like a woman and wants to explore the desire she finds in Gavin's arms, even though she may end up with a broken heart.
Gavin knows an affair with an innocent like Georgie is dangerous, but they can't resist the passion that claims them when they're alone. He must rely on his experience as a rake to protect them both from scandal. But is his judgment clouded by his deepening feelings for her?
Every risk has its reward as long as they don't get caught.
Read A Sample
Read A Sample
August 9, 1825. First day of the house party at Selbourne Castle, Northumberland.
"I cannot believe Father is still home,” Bernie whispered to Georgie from the side of the Queen’s drawing room.
Georgie nodded, trying to take in how grand the gentlemen were, jeweled pins winking from their cravats, fine coats, and silk waistcoats with intricate embroidery, their trousers so tight she could see…almost everything. She yanked her gaze away.
“We should be glad. He’s spent so many years away, presumably searching for husbands for us, and at last he found one.” And if he wasn’t here, Georgie wouldn’t be able to attend this house party. She had too many chores to do in her father’s place. He wasn’t the best farm hand, but at least the small flock of sheep wouldn’t starve.
“Mr. Hart isn’t going to marry any of us,” Bernie said quietly. “And even if he wanted to, he’s only a teacher. He couldn’t provide for all of us.”
Georgie chewed her lip anxiously. “Then I better hurry up and compromise one of these gentlemen. Who’s first on the auction block?” She laughed behind her hand as Bernie’s eyes widened. Georgie bit her tongue. As an honorary guest of this party, along with her eight sisters, she probably shouldn’t say such things. Especially when one of the nine men invited just might be the man to save them from a terrible future.
“Is it possible to compromise a man?” Bernie said.
Georgie cocked her head, about to reply, when a manly sigh of exasperation cut her off. Georgie hadn’t noticed their closest neighbor and friend, Chester, and another gentleman draw near, hearing their ghastly inappropriate comments. The expression on Bernie’s face indicated they were in trouble.
The man beside Chester was so beautiful Georgie forgot how to speak.
He was tall, with thick mahogany hair more lustrous than any man had a right to have, dark brown eyes, like her own, and an angular jaw that kept his face perfectly masculine.
“It was only an observation,” Bernie said, softening her voice as if calming a horse.
Chester shook his blond head, his blue eyes stern. “Miss Bernadette, Miss Georgette, you remember Mr. Cage?”
“How do you do, Mr. Cage?” Georgie said, her voice higher than normal because she had lost her breath. Soon her vision would be spotty. She’d seen him before, at the one ball she had attended a few months ago. But he hadn’t affected her like this.
“Very well, Miss Georgette. I’m looking forward to becoming better acquainted with all of you.”
Oh, his voice. It was like… She didn’t know. She couldn’t think at all. Something rich and sweet but not fruity sweet, savory sweet, like chocolate mousse. She licked her lips, her mouth suddenly as dry as paper.
“Violet has many festivities planned,” Bernie said, referring to the new Duchess of Selbourne. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Speaking. She needed to speak and act normal. “As am I, particularly the hunt,” Georgie added.
“You enjoy hunting?” Mr. Cage asked her.
Oh good, a topic she understood without too much thinking. She took a deep breath. “Oh, yes. I’m the best shot out of all of my sisters. I keep the meat stores full for the family.”
He raised his brows. “Ah.”
That wasn’t a good “ah.” Her self-esteem faltered. It was only the first day, and she was already making a muck of it. She didn’t know how to be…whatever it was she was supposed to be here. Feminine, demure… She was herself and every second that passed made her feel worse and worse.
Then Bernie took her hand, giving her a supportive squeeze. “My sister is very talented and most of them are practical skills, not useless skills like water color or flower arrangement,” Bernie said.
His expression changed. “I see. How remarkable.”
Chester cleared his throat. “Yes, all the sisters are quite remarkable.”
Mr. Cage nodded in agreement. “If you’ll excuse me, I must see that my valet has settled in accordingly.”
He left them and Bernie’s shoulders slumped. Georgie watched him walk away, his broad shoulders swaying, his stride something she’d never seen before, lithe like a predator but nonchalant because he felt no threat. No challenge, nothing to hold his interest. Not even an oddity like her.
“That didn’t go well,” Georgie said, her spirits sinking. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No,” Chester said. “It’s them, not you. They are not used to women as unique as all of you are.”
That didn’t sound like a compliment to Georgie, but she smiled anyway, trying to muster her courage. There were other gentlemen here, though she doubted any of them could compare to Mr. Cage. And if they did, heaven help her. She was out of her element.
Bernie folded her arms. “That’s a nice way of putting it.”
He presented an arm to each of them. “Come, I’ll introduce you to Lord Luckfeld and Densmore. They’re taking the surprise better than most.”
“So, I was right. They didn’t know,” Bernie mumbled.
“Didn’t know what?” Georgie asked.
“It appeared Roderick invited them here to hunt and get away from town life for a respite,” Chester answered.
“He lied to his own friends?” Georgie asked.
“They’ll forgive him. He is the brother to the duke, after all,” Bernie quipped.
“Yes, they will,” Chester said, “and I think they’ll enjoy your company once they settle in.”
But she wasn’t going to say it aloud. Bernie was already as tense as a bowstring. None of them had ever done anything like this before. They were poor gentry, barely getting by on the income of their meager land. These were London gentlemen.
Rakes, Violet had called them.
What was Georgie supposed to do to impress them?
Chester introduced her and Bernie to two more gentlemen, Lord Luckfeld and Lord Densmore. Neither of them affected her the way Mr. Cage had. It appeared not all rakes were considered equal or perhaps Mr. Cage was simply…different from them. He had a raw magnetism, a primal energy that called to her own animal nature.
She tried to force the thoughts of him from her head. She scanned the room, but he hadn’t returned. Was he packing his trunks this very moment to escape a bevy of women?
The other gentlemen weren’t nearly as skittish as Mr. Cage. Was he truly fearful for his bachelorhood, or was there some other prejudice he had? Her mind ran in circles when he still did not return. She was eager to have another chance to speak with him, or maybe just look at him, if only to appease her rabid curiosity.
He was the most magnificent specimen of a man she’d ever seen. She wanted to stare at him the way people gawked at fine art. Study, admire, and speculate about what the deeper meaning was.
Instead she buried her disappointment and did her best not to draw too much attention to herself. But by the time they’d gathered for dinner in the drawing room, he still hadn’t return. Had she really been that awful? Her hopes plummeted. Her sisters seemed comfortable here, talking, laughing, lovely and charming, blending well with these fancy gentlemen, but Georgie felt like a toad amongst butterflies. Sure, she occupied the same meadow, and she belonged there just as much as anyone else.
But she was different, and her differences—at least to her mind—were glaring. So glaring she’d scared a man away. The most interesting man at this party, she’d found after being introduced to the others. He was not nobility. He’d come from the merchant class, building his business and wealth to an impressive degree. She wanted to know more; she wanted to know everything about him.
Lord Roderick Andrews offered his arm to escort her into dinner. “How are you this evening, Georgie?”
She gave him a sideways glance and shrugged one shoulder. “I’ve heard none of these gentlemen knew why they were coming here.” He appeared healthier than she remembered. His face less gaunt, his green eyes clearer, and his light brown-blondish hair freshly trimmed.
Roderick snorted and lowered his voice. “Do you think I should have told them they were coming here to court eight sisters?”
She frowned at him. “Nine. There are nine of us.”
He cleared his throat. “I know, but Willa is too young to marry. She doesn’t count just yet.”
I shouldn’t count either.
“So, you lied to them?”
He smirked. “I had to. Men are notorious for not doing the thing that they ought to be doing. All of these men need to get married for various reasons: an heir, duties, etcetera. But they won’t because it scares them. They have to be convinced in subtle ways.”
Georgie raised a brow. “You mean tricked.”
“I did not say that.”
“But you implied it.”
“I most definitely did not. I specifically said convinced.”
She laughed. “Which means trick.”
“No, it means use your wiles,” he replied. “All of you are stunning.”
Georgie scoffed. She had no wiles, but that was low on her list of problems. “We’re also poor. Wealthy men want wealthy wives.”
He sighed. “Yes, it is the aristocratic way, but I picked them because none of them need a wealthy wife. They could marry for love.”
“Oh, so not only am I to use my wiles, but I must make them love me? That’s nigh impossible to do in two weeks.” Or at all, but she didn’t say it aloud because then he’d pity her, and she wanted no one’s pity.
Roderick winked at her. “Not for you. I have faith in you.”
Georgie rolled her eyes. “That makes one of us.”
Roderick chuckled. “So, tell me, which one of these gentlemen might earn your favor if he is so lucky. And don’t say Lord Luckfeld. I already regret inviting him.”
Georgie sighed. “None. The only one who might be the least bit amusing to converse with is Mr. Cage, and he’s disappeared.”
Roderick looked around. “He’s returned and escorting my mother in as we speak. I met with him in the hall before entering the drawing room and he looked peeved.”
Georgie’s heart leapt to her throat as she peeked at him. “Yes, I told him he was the first on the auction block. I thought it was funny, but he did not.” Oh, how she’d made a fool of herself. He was even more impressive in evening blacks, almost austere, but the charm in his easy smile softened his effect. If only he’d smile at her like that.
“Hmm, yes, I can see how that might have frightened him off.”
“Then what am I supposed to do if he frightens so easily?”
They had entered the dining room, and Roderick held her chair out for her. “Try being his friend first.” He pushed in her seat and took the open chair beside her.
“Friend? That’s not what I’m here for,” she whispered. She had eight sisters. What good would a male friend do her who made her heart skip?
“Yes but approaching a man as a potential bride is too much pressure for both parties involved. Be a friend first, then see what develops after that.”
Georgie cocked her head to the side. She had no intention of believing she could ever marry a man as beguiling as Mr. Cage, but Roderick’s advice was quite good for someone else. “Actually, that is rather brilliant.”
“Shocked, are you?”
“Yes, I would have thought you’d tell me to climb into his bed.”
“Well, when all else fails, that would work. I’d make him marry you or murder him.”
She placed her hand over his. “That is the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
He grinned and winked at her.
Georgie exhaled and took a sip of her wine. She peeked at Mr. Cage again, but he was too far down the table to engage in conversation. But she could hear him, and his voice alone was enough to stir her nerve endings, her arms pebbling with goose bumps. She wanted to stare at him, didn’t she? Well, here was her chance. As the table filled with savory dishes and the chatter rose, Georgie let herself look her fill, subtly of course. She sipped her wine, his wit and charm drugging her senses more than her drink. More than once she had to pull her gaze away as his attention moved in her direction, but he never once looked at her. Toward the end of dinner, as the plates were removed and the dessert course set out, a warm rush over her skin brought her attention to him again and their eyes locked.
Her lungs froze, a fever swallowing her up. His gaze never wavered, and then with a blink, he glanced away, leaving her breathless and overheated.
What deviltry was this? With just the touch of his gaze, he’d claimed all of her. She shook herself free of it, but the sensation clung to her like a spell.
She’d never felt like this before. Was this desire? Lust?
She didn’t know and that was the most infuriating of all. Georgie was not one to resist a challenge. She wasn’t impulsive like Bernie or iron-willed like Anne. But her greatest asset was her resilience. When knocked down, she always got back up.
He may be out of her league in many ways, but Georgie learned quickly, and this rake could teach her some interesting things.
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