Published by Scarsdale Publishing on May 7th 2017
He lost at cards, but won at love…
Buccaneer Frasier Gordon is lucky at cards, and keeps a woman in every port. The stakes in a card game turn high, when his old friend Sir Stirling James wagers the hand of a dukes’ daughter against the fastest frigate in Scotland.
Who knew the turn of one card would change his fortune forever?
Other books in the Marriage Maker seriesBook One Worth of a Lady--No one guessed that an innocent would bring the Devil of Delny to his knees…Book Three A Lady by Chance--He bargained for a lady, but the hoyden stole his heart…Book Four How to Catch an Heiress--It takes cunning to catch an heiress…and a handsome face doesn’t hurt
Lady Chastity broke from her thoughts when the door to Gledstone Hall’s solarium opened. She twisted on the bench and squinted against the morning sunlight that streamed through the glass. Her younger sister Jessica closed the door, then walked down the aisle of flowers toward her. If their father had his way, Jessica would be married within the month. Jessica had just turned eighteen. Her season last year had consisted of four balls, all of which she’d spent giggling with other debutantes who were too young and ill equipped to be thrown into the marriage mart. Jessica reached her and, instead of sitting on the bench beside her as Chastity expected, she knelt on the stone-flagged floor and laid her head on Chastity’s lap.
“I miss her terribly.”
Chastity smoothed a lock of Jessica’s auburn hair. “It’s been only five days since Lucy married—three since we’ve seen her. Papa said we may visit her in two weeks. She needs a little time to settle herself as mistress of Riverdale before we descend upon her.”
“Oh, pooh,” Jessica said. “She will have all kinds of servants to order about. How hard can that be? She had enough lessons.”
Chastity laughed softly. “Perhaps a bit more difficult than you think, kitten.”
The door opened again and Chastity stiffened when her father entered, accompanied by Sir Stirling James.
“The jackals are here to feed,” Jessica whispered.
Chastity bit back a laugh at her sister’s insight. Jessica was a fey being in a woman’s body, unconcerned with the ways of the world. It seemed she’d aged years in the last week since Sir Stirling James had come into their lives with the promise to marry off her younger sisters, then wed Chastity. Jessica rose and sat beside her as the men neared the bench.
They stopped in front of them. “Good morning,” the duke said.
“Lady Jessica.” Sir Stirling took her offered hand and dutifully bent over her fingers. He released her and his gaze slid to Chastity. “My dear,” he murmured when she didn’t offer her hand.
“You have arranged the marriage of one of my sisters, sir. That doesn’t give you the right to assume familiarity with me,” she said.
He canted his head. “Forgive me.”
“Do no’ be so surly.” Their father gave her a stern look. “You cannot deny that Lucy is happily wed.”
“I never denied it,” Chastity replied. She wouldn’t let her father bait her.
His mouth thinned. “Would you begrudge her happiness simply to avoid your own marriage?”
She flushed. “Of course not.”
“I wouldn’t grow too comfortable, Sir Stirling,” Jessica said. “Lucy was the easiest to marry. We three will not be so easy.”
He smiled. “I do recall you telling me you planned on being very unpleasant.”
To Chastity’s surprise, Jessica’s cheeks pinked. She looked at her father. “Papa, will you truly make me marry?”
His eyes softened. “Do you no’ want your own family?”
She grasped his hand. “You are my family.”
He pulled her up and into his arms. “I will not be around forever, child. You need a man to protect you.”
She shook her head. “Chastity does that. Don’t make me marry a stranger as Lucy did.”
He grasped her shoulders and held her at arms’ length. “Is Lucy happy?”
She pouted. “I am not Lucy.”
The duke laughed. “Nae, you are not.”
Jessica threw her arms around him. “Please, don’t make me marry.”
Chastity’s heart squeezed. “I relent,” she said.
Everyone looked at her.
“I relent.” She glanced aside. When she could turn back, her determination had firmed. “If you let Jessica and Olivia be, I will marry.”
Jessica’s brow furrowed. “You can’t sacrifice yourself.”
“Neither can you.” She stood and faced Sir Stirling. “You may plan the wedding as soon as you like.”
“I believe we said June first.” He held her gaze. “Does that suit you?”
She nodded. “As you wish.”
Jessica shook her head. “I won’t let you do it.”
Chastity forced a smile. “I will not ruin your life in an effort to save mine.”
“I don’t think marriage to me will be that onerous,” Sir Stirling said. He actually sounded wounded.
Jessica stepped closer to Chastity and said, “Papa continually warns me that no man wants a hoyden. Sir Stirling will not find a man willing to marry me.”
Chastity was suddenly struck by the luster of the thick auburn locks that framed her sister’s face. Jessica would be happy if she never attended another ball, but at their last engagement, dressed in a ballgown, eyes had been drawn to her woman’s body. It was true, she was a handful, but Sir Stirling might not have as difficult a time making a match with a lesser nobleman or a comfortable second or third son as Jessica believed.
“And if he does?” Chastity asked.
Jessica’s eyes lit with devilry. “I can be quite unpleasant.”
Chastity laughed in spite of herself. “I won’t risk you getting trapped as—” She glanced at her father, who had lifted his brows. “I won’t risk you being trapped.”
Jessica shrugged. “I accept the challenge.”
Chastity blinked. “What?”
“If he can’t marry me off, then we are all off the hook.” She faced the men.
“Nae, Jessica,” Chastity began, but her sister said, “Papa, I am ready.”
“You are certain?” he asked.
“Aye,” she replied without hesitation. “I dare Sir Stirling to find me a match.”
Chastity stepped toward her father. “Enough. Sir Stirling, you wanted to marry me, so be it. We need not wait until June first to marry. I will marry you tomorrow.”
“Too late,” Jessica said. “I have accepted his challenge.”
“I thought it was I who had accepted Lady Chastity’s challenge.” He chuckled.
“You did,” Jessica said. “But you didn’t know that you were getting me in the bargain.” She looked at the duke, and Chastity was startled by the keenness in her sister’s eyes. “If he does not marry me off, Papa, then you will never again ask us to wed.”
“I don’t know about that,” he said without humor.
Jessica stubbornly shook her head. “I see now that Chastity did not negotiate a good deal. It isn’t fair that you expect us to wed strangers who might be terrible husbands, and yet you can still harangue us about marriage if that arrangement falls through.”
“Is that so?” Their father cast Sir Stirling a look that gave Chastity pause.
Jessica nodded. “Aye. If Sir Stirling is afraid he cannot find me a suitable husband, then he may go home now and leave us in peace. Otherwise, I think my terms are reasonable.”
Stirling met Jessica’s eyes. “I promised to secure three good husbands for Lady Chastity’s sisters,” he said. “I have no doubt of my ability to do so.”
Jessica grinned. “Then it’s settled. Who do you have for me?”
“I can’t say just yet,” he replied.
“Sir Stirling has made a match for Olivia,” the duke said.
“What?” Jessica looked from their father to Sir Stirling. “But I thought— You tricked me!”
Sir Stirling shrugged. “Nae, lass. You simply assumed you were the next to marry.”
She stomped her foot. “I should be next. That is only fair.”
He lifted a brow. “Fair for whom?”
“This is ridiculous,” Chastity said. “I said I will marry you.”
“I wouldn’t be a man of honor if I didn’t follow through with my commitment—and I do want you to respect me, my lady.”
“You are purposely being dull-witted.” She folded her arms over her breasts.
He looked at the duke, who shrugged. “If I reneged on my obligation, you would forever hold it against me, and you’d be correct to do so,” Sir Stirling said. “A man’s word, as a husband’s, should be sacrosanct.”
In the silence that followed, a peacock’s cry sounded from the garden.
Chastity was certain her head would burst. Any moment, she would scream as loudly as Gledstone’s peacock.
“He is purposely egging you on,” Jessica said.
“See, even Jessica knows you are baiting me.”
He gave a long sigh. “I will endeavor to please you, madam. Just bear with me the next thirty or forty years.”
“He is a rogue, Chastity,” Jessica exclaimed, but the laughter in her voice told Chastity that rogue had charmed her.
She had to gain control. “Enough of this madness. I will marry you, and that is all.”
“What of Olivia?” the duke said.
Chastity frowned. “What of her?”
“She wants to marry.”
“She can wed at her leisure,” Chastity said.
He held her gaze. “And if Sir Stirling has found the right man for her?” Chastity started to answer, but he added, “Remember how happy Lucy is.”
Chastity swung her gaze onto Sir Stirling. He smiled gently, and her traitorous heart did a somersault.
Heavy silence hung in the dimly lit gaming room as Stirling kept his gaze on the man across the table from him. Frasier Gordon was one of two men he knew who matched him at cards, and this could be one of the times Frasier beat him. Stirling grasped the edge of his down card and glanced at it. A nine. He released the card and leaned back in his chair. The two cards face-up in front of Frasier equaled fifteen. One six remained in the deck. Was that six the card that lay facedown next to Frasier’s cards? If so, his twenty-one would beat Stirling’s twenty.
Eyes locked with Frasier’s, Stirling traced a finger along the rim of his sherry glass. “You can’t match my bet.”
“What do you want?” Frasier’s casual question belied the weight of the five thousand pounds sitting on the table between them. The man knew how to bluff as well as he did.
Stirling looked at the dealer. “Get everyone out—and you go with them.”
Surprise flickered in Frasier’s eyes, but when the dealer looked at him, he shrugged agreement.
The dealer stood. “Gentlemen, let’s give the players a bit of privacy.”
“Come now,” Daniel Hastings cried. “This isn’t sporting of you.”
Grumbling rose amongst the other men, but the dealer herded them from the room. When the door clicked shut behind them, Stirling said, “I have a proposition for you.”
Frasier’s bemused smile made the slashing scar down his left cheek more prominent. “I can’t meet your bet. You’ve won.”
“What if I give you a second chance to win?”
Light from the hearth fire sent shadows dancing across the tabletop. “You never give anything away without asking something in return,” Frasier said with a laugh. “Last year in India, you graciously promised Devansh you would find his daughter a husband—if he purchased the sugar in the cargo hold of your ship. You’re up to something. What is it?”
Frasier stared, but said nothing.
“The Lady Belle,” Stirling murmured.
Shock registered on Frasier’s face. “You must be talking about an actress I’ve never heard of, for I know you don’t mean your ship.”
Stirling shook his head. “I do, in fact, mean my frigate.”
“What could induce you to wager her?”
“Marriage?” Frasier blurted. “Do you have another tea merchant with a spinster daughter?”
Stirling placed his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “No tea merchant. If your hand beats mine, the Lady Belle is yours.”
This time, Frasier’s expression remained impassive. The man was good.
“If I lose?” he asked.
“If you lose, you can still win.”
Frasier gave a small shake of his head. “I know you too well to think you’ve lost your mind. But anything that seems too good to be true, is— Which means I should accept my losses and walk away. Still, I must ask; what are you selling?”
“The second daughter of a duke.” A moment of silence passed, and Stirling added, “She needs a husband.”
Frasier blinked. “I was wrong. You have gone insane.”
Stirling nodded at the money on the table. “Five thousand pounds, Frasier. It’s yours, win or lose.”
“By losing, you mean marriage.”
Stirling leaned back in his chair. “She’s a beautiful woman.”
“If she’s so beautiful, why must you buy her a husband?”
“Not just any husband,” Stirling said. “A good husband.”
Frasier laughed. “By God, how the bloody hell do I qualify?”
“You’re a good man.”
His friend shook his head. “I have a considerable list of women who disagree.”
Stirling held his gaze. “Five thousand pounds. This money will allow you to give up privateering and start your own shipping company. You might live longer that way. After all, you’re not as young as you used to be.”
Frasier scowled. “I think I still have a few good years left in me.”
“You’re likely to have more years as a shipping baron than a privateer. Five thousand pounds could give you that life. Turn your card over and the money is yours.”
Frasier’s eyes dropped to Stirling’s cards. As a privateer, Frasier had the opportunity to filch booty from the ships he raided as a sanctioned pirate for the Crown. Frasier, however, was one of those rare men who loved his country and wouldn’t touch a gold doubloon that wasn’t his. The Saint, he was called. He was a rare breed. A rare breed who couldn’t resist a high risk.
Frasier stared at the card. One heartbeat, two…three. His eyes flicked to the money, then he flipped over his card. Four of clubs. Nineteen. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. Eyes locked with Frasier’s, Stirling turned his facedown card upright. Nine of hearts. Twenty.
Frasier stared at the card so long that Stirling knew he was trying to convince himself the situation was real.
“You’ve won, my friend,” Stirling said.
Frasier’s gaze lifted to his face. “You don’t really think I’ll marry her?”
“You didn’t have to turn over your card.”
“Keep the money,” he said, and Stirling knew he was calculating how far a fast ship would take him before Stirling caught up with him.
“Lady Belle is the fastest ship in Scotland—England, as well, if we’re honest,” Stirling said.
Frasier shrugged. “I’ve always wanted to visit the Colonies. I hear they have wide open territories where a man can get lost for a lifetime.”
“You’re an honorable man,” Stirling said.
“I’m a pirate.”
“Privateer,” Stirling corrected.
“Not according to the French.”
Stirling leaned forward. “I’m not finished telling you about my proposition.”
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