The Danger in Daring a Lady
Scandalous Spinsters Book 6
A wager he can’t afford to lose
Devil-may-care rogue Lord Darius Alexander can’t resist a wager. When a game of cards is suggested at the remote inn where he’s stopped for the night, he antes up his family’s savings, certain his Town bronze will give him the advantage. He never expects to lose his fortune to the irritatingly confident, uncommonly beautiful hoyden daring to play with the men. …Nor does he expect to lose his heart.
A woman he doesn’t deserve to win
Caitlin Hart is known for her good sense. When a ridiculous reprobate tosses his savings onto the gaming table, she doesn’t hesitate to divest him of it. But Lord Dare won’t accept defeat like a gentleman. He suggests a compromise, and before long the handsome scoundrel is working back his losses on her small farm. But her neatly plowed fields might be too close for her heart’s content, for soon she finds herself wondering if she can dare him to stay forever when the last of his coin is tucked safely into his pocket.
Lord Darius Alexander slid his last shilling across the tavern’s rough-hewn table and sat back, making sure to exude an air of indifference.
One shilling was a modest amount, he told himself. Nothing too extravagant. It was a sum any gentleman might wager, even on cards as poor as his own.
The farmer beside him folded his cards. “Not even Mrs. Maisy’s sweet ale can tempt me to play deeper,” he boomed, plunking his tankard onto the table. Standing, he touched the brim of his cap, first acknowledging the baron seated at Dare’s right, then saluting the remarkably pretty woman who’d been silently mocking Dare all night from across the table. “Miss Hart, ’twas a pleasure losing to you, as always.”
Her green eyes sparkled in the light of the tavern’s many tallow lamps. “I assure you, Mr. Fosset, I’ll return in a few evenings so you can win it right back.”READ MORE
“Aye, if these coins could talk!” Mr. Fosset said with a laugh. “Not a person who hasn’t taken those winnings at one time or another.”
The portly baron harrumphed. “Some of us are serious players who would like to return to the game, Mr. Fosset.”
The farmer laughed loudly again and walked away, not the least intimidated by his betters.
Miss Hart shot the baron an annoyed look before tossing her last shilling onto the pile of coins, as if she, too, had no fear of her titled neighbor. The tables had a way of expunging rank.
Dare shifted in his seat, anxious now that the game was underway again. His pair of fives was hardly a winning hand. What cards did the baron hold? For that matter, what uninspiring hand had made Miss Hart scratch her finger lightly at a splinter poking up from the tabletop—a tell he’d spotted across the tavern, almost as soon as he’d walked into the inn’s dining room?
Her worst cards might still beat Dare’s best.
“Call,” Dare announced, showing his hand. Perspiration beaded on the back of his neck, but he dared not swipe at it.
Lord Bamber’s color rose as he revealed his own poor hand.
Dare’s heart pounded. A pair of twos. Worse cards, even, than his matching fives.
Dare’s gaze darted to Miss Hart. A look of bemusement crossed her face before her olive-colored eyes raised in disbelief, as though she couldn’t quite credit her loss.
His pulse doubled again. “Well, Miss Hart?”
At his slightly mocking tone, she flipped her cards, facing them upward on the table. A pair of fours.
Dare leapt to his feet as victory raced through him. He bent over the wooden table and scooped up the pile of coins he’d just won. In each game, there was a moment when one doubted oneself; he simply must push through it.
The velvet satchel that had seemed so empty a moment ago gobbled up the coins as he dropped them in one by one. He counted them as he collected them together: one pound, one shilling. A full twelve shillings more than he’d started with, and enough to make up for the five he’d lost the previous night, in the last posting house.
Restraint wasn’t so difficult, now was it? His brothers, Tony and Roman, acted as if he were a step away from total ruination, when all he needed to do was refrain from entering deep play.
“I’ll be begging off, too,” he said, holding up the heavy satchel, communicating his truly heartfelt gratitude to the gamblers of Hartlebury. “Thank you for the game.”
Once again, Miss Hart seemed stunned. “You’re not leaving now, are you, Lord Darius?”
“Afraid I must,” he said with false regret, taking a step away from a table that suddenly seemed brighter without the mismatched coins polluting its center.
The baron set both meaty hands before him and leaned forward, his close-set eyes nearly black in the shadows of the tavern’s corner. “Play again, my lord.”
Dare clenched his satchel tighter. Sweat seemed to douse his back. He took another step away. “I’ve promised myself I won’t play so deep that present company is excluded.” He shook the bag for emphasis. “As it is, I have all your money.”
Miss Hart’s comely face shuttered, sending a chill up his spine. “He thinks we’re too provincial to play with him,” she said. “He thinks we have nothing left to wager.”
Lord Bamber harrumphed again. “You’ve only a pound or so in the bag, Lord Darius. Not the sort of sum you’re used to in London, yet hardly the last of my coin. Go on, put it back. We’ve plenty of time to turn the tide tonight.”
Dare gripped the satchel so tightly, he couldn’t have set it down even if he’d wanted to relinquish it. “If only I could stay up all night. As it is, I’ve a need to turn in early. Tomorrow, I ride for Cheltenham. I’m sure you understand.”
The baron pointed to the chair Dare had vacated. “A popinjay like you, tired already? No need for humbug, Lord Darius. I promise to make it worth your while.”
Dare’s hands began to shake, the pound of his rushing pulse the only sound he heard. Worth his while? His chest tightened. What did that mean?
Turning down a game of chance wasn’t his usual habit, even when his opponents didn’t try to lure him in with the promise of a good pot. But… no. He’d made a promise to his brothers. No more IOUs.
“No, thank you,” he said as firmly as he could manage, his jaw aching from being clenched so tightly.
The baron flashed a crisp pound note onto the table so smoothly, Dare didn’t see where it originated.
“An eye for an eye,” Lord Bamber said, flattening his hand against the tabletop again. “We’re not so down on our luck in Hartlebury that we can’t win back what we’ve lost.”
Dare stared at the pound note. The rectangular piece of parchment appeared blindingly white in the darkness.
A pound. An entire bloody pound.
And all he had to do was play one more game…
Miss Hart watched him calmly, but he wasn’t fooled. She thought him stupid for not taking up the baron’s offer. No one walked away from a pound, not when they’d been betting shillings.
But what would she wager? With her blonde hair twisted in a simple knot, and a faded frock hugging her remarkably fine bosom, he couldn’t imagine she had an entire pound to spare. Clearly, she was in reduced circumstances.
He indicated the empty space where her coins had once stood. “And you, Miss Hart? What might you use to tempt me?”
Her eyes flashed at his unintended innuendo.
Truly, he hadn’t meant any offense, but for the first time in a long time, he felt like smiling. She showed more spirit than most of the knaves he knew put together.
She cast a derisive look at the sack of coins he was trying to whisk from the room. “I’m good for it, Lord Darius. I assure you, I always pay my debt.”
The baron tsked and shook his head. “That might work here, where we know where you live. But how is that to help Lord Darius? If he wins, he can’t very well ride away with your promise of payment in his pocket. You must wager something he can take with him.”
Dare agreed wholeheartedly. He needed ready cash, not IOUs. He’d promised his brothers: no more vowels.
More to the point, he liked how annoyed Miss Hart looked after Lord Bamber’s pronouncement. Her eyes sparked and her sun-kissed skin took on a rose-colored flush.
“One of my fine sheep, then,” she said through clenched teeth.
The baron sneered before Dare had a chance to decline. “What will Lord Darius do with a sheep? Tie it to the back of his nag and take it on to Cheltenham? Be serious, Miss Hart.”
She scowled, her color rising higher. Falling lower, actually—Dare was unscrupulously aware that her bosom was beginning to flush.
“A saddle, then. He may have his choice from my tack room.”
The baron’s eyes gleamed long enough for Dare to catch the man’s near-salivating anticipation. Lord Bamber was baiting her. To what purpose? Not a saddle. The man wanted something else put into the pot.
“A sheep or a saddle?” the baron crowed, confirming Dare’s suspicion. “Is he setting up a barn? No, Miss Hart, you must offer something he wants. Something we all want.”
What the devil did that mean?
“Perhaps my lord can speak for himself,” she said through clenched teeth. “What is it you want, Lord Darius?”
Oh, she was a spirited one.
He found himself enchanted. Trouble was, he couldn’t help her. Even if she’d been willing to wager herself, nothing could tempt him besides cold hard coin. Not even a taste of her lovely body, which he admitted was magnificent.
“I’m afraid I’m only interested in ready money,” Dare said, hoping it would be enough to dissuade her from offering up yet another pointless token. He was still unsure what Lord Bamber had been angling at, but it didn’t matter if it was her delectable form. Dare didn’t buy favors from women when the reverse was much more rewarding, and he certainly didn’t gamble perfectly good coin on a night in bed.
The best she could do for him was to withdraw from the game. His odds of winning increased greatly if he were the only one playing against the baron.
“Money,” she spat, her opinion of it clear. “This is our only entertainment in Hartlebury, and I won’t have it ruined because some coxcomb took it in his head to stop for the night.”
“There now, Miss Hart,” the baron chided, “if only you’d sold your little farm to me as I’d asked, you’d be flush enough to take this nob down a peg. Since you’re too stubborn for your own good, allow me to buy ten acres in the north corner, where your mineral spring is located. I’ll give you a pound for them, and you may continue your play.”
Her jaw tightened as her teeth ground together. “And I’ve told you, Lord Bamber, the land won’t be separated. Certainly, I won’t allow you to take control of the spring that feeds my crops. Nor will I sell so much as an ounce of dirt to a rotten weasel like yourself.”
Dare’s momentary surprise at her angry rebuttal turned to utter delight. She didn’t just sneer at her titled neighbor; she’d all but told him to go to the Devil.
But he knew now what the baron had so blatantly been provoking—not the sale of her luscious body, as Dare had thought, but a business transaction. He didn’t have time for neighborly antagonizing or property disputes. There was an entire pound at stake. He needed to win this hand so he could find his bed and make an early start in the morning. He must arrive for his appointment with his brother’s solicitor on time.
“It seems you shan’t play, after all, Miss Hart,” he said, tossing his coin bag atop the pound note, then retaking his seat. “Kick on, Bamber.”
Miss Hart reached for the discarded cards and began shuffling them before either man could claim them. “I’m playing.”
“But Miss Hart—”
The woman shot Lord Bamber a deadly look. “My last coins are in that bag. I’m not going to sit idle while some feckless peacock sets off with them. My best saddle is worth at least a guinea. If he does not want it, then he should be sure to lose.”
What logic! Dare grinned despite himself as he collected his cards facedown, mutely accepting her terms—he was likely to win again, anyhow.
Suspiciously, Lord Bamber didn’t dispute the wager, either.
She fanned her cards in front of her. Whether her cards or the heated exchange caused her scowl, he didn’t know.
Dare raised his own cards and almost dropped them. Egad! She’d dealt him a near-perfect hand.
He caught himself before he gave his excitement away. These cards were worth far more than one measly pound.
He felt his mouth tighten at the corners. Gradually, he softened his expression. Allowing his every emotion to flit across his face was a family trait he wished he hadn’t inherited.
But truly, he could have won a hundred guineas on the same excellent hand in London.
“A saddle, you say?” he asked Miss Hart indifferently, though his heart raced with anticipation. He turned his cards facedown again. “If I were to raise my wager, would you be able to accommodate me with, say, the whole beast?”
She, too, laid her cards facedown. “Are you proposing we increase the value of the pot, my lord?”
Lord Bamber’s thumb pressed into the center of his cards, denting them. “What are you saying, Lord Darius?”
The back of Dare’s neck began to perspire again. He almost, almost took another look at his cards, just to reassure himself the hand was as good as he thought.
But no. He couldn’t raise his fellow players’ suspicion any more than he already had by asking to increase the pot.
Never mind he had nothing to increase the pot with, but the one very thing he mustn’t—at all costs—wager.
His sweat turned cold on his neck. Right, right. He should leave the value at a pound. He could afford to lose that much, no more.
“I’m afraid I don’t have a horse to offer you, my lord,” Miss Hart replied, her expression carefully blank. “My stables were emptied long ago, along with the plate and the silver. But I do have a barn, and a house, and a good bit of land with a few sheep—all of it worthless without the coin in your satchel. Perhaps we may come to an agreement.”
The baron’s fist crashed onto the tabletop so hard, the tallow candles flickered on the wall beside them. “I forbid you from wagering your entire farm! I’ll buy it outright. Name your price.”
She glared in his direction. “I’ll never be that desperate.”
His beady eyes narrowed to slits. Then he bowed mockingly at her from his seated position. “As you wish. I’ll gladly take it from you, either way. Your cards cannot be so promising as to stop me.”
Dare didn’t cut into their argument. Part of him was too in awe of her bravado. The other half pitied her naïvety. She shouldn’t wager her farm. Even if she did have a brilliant hand, he knew better than most how easy it was to bet everything…
And lose it.
“Fifty pounds,” she said to the baron.
Dare nodded. Selling the farm was a much smarter decision than wagering it.
Lord Bamber’s smirk indicated her farm was worth far more. “Sold.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “Fifty pounds into the pot, to see my farm. You, too, Lord Darius.”
“Me?” he asked stupidly, feeling she’d dragged him into the quarrel when he would have rather stayed out of it.
She scoffed. “A toff like you is surely good for fifty quid.”
Oh, but he wasn’t.
Not even close.
“I’m afraid not,” he said, looking longingly at his cards, then at the heavy sack of coins he’d just lost due to his own braggadocio. A wager as large as she proposed forced him to fold, for if he accepted the bet and lost, it would bankrupt him in an instant, and send him right back where he’d started.
Determination seized him. He’d come too far to go back to his old ways. “I’ll have to turn in for the night, after all.”
“But you can’t!” she exclaimed. “You must play.”
He didn’t look at her, but at the pattern printed onto his top card. Yes, he must play. He must always play. That was the trouble.
“No,” he said, pulling away from the table. He didn’t have the money. He didn’t have it. All he had was a paper in his pocket worth far more—
“One hundred,” Lord Bamber said, stopping Dare from standing. “Miss Hart’s farm is worth at least that. With one hundred pounds and a nice piece of land at stake, won’t you find it in your heart to stay through the game?”
Dare stared agog at the two provincials begging him to sit down and play. One hundred pounds. One hundred. And a house.
He had the best cards of his life.
He even had—he actually had—one hundred pounds right here in his pocket.
“No,” he started to say, but faltered before he finished.
He reminded himself that the bank draft his brothers had given to him to take to their solicitor in Cheltenham was worth far more than the one hundred pounds inked across its face. All of his brothers’ fledgling trust was misplaced in that piece of paper, making it invaluable.
If he lost it—in a wager, in a fire, in a carriage accident—he’d never earn his family’s respect.
Dare wanted his family’s respect.
He did have five truly excellent cards.
Lord Bamber withdrew a scrap of paper from his coat pocket. Using the nub of a pencil, he drafted an IOU for one hundred pounds.
Then he passed the paper and pencil to Miss Hart, who wrote Southfield Farm, and signed her name.
She set the foolscap in the middle, so the candlelight fell directly across its text. What he saw was the promise of a future, separate from the managing ways of his brothers.
“Five cards,” she said, indicating his abandoned hand. “Surely, you’re not afraid?”
Terrified was a better way to describe it. But his cards were almost perfect. He couldn’t lose. Not this time.
He sank a bit deeper into his chair, rooting into the seat. The longer he sat here feeling indecisive, the surer he was that leaving would be a mistake. For if he walked away, he lost almost nothing, but if he stayed, he lost only his brothers’ respect. He’d never had that, anyway.
What he stood to gain tonight was something he’d encountered only once before: a desirable cottage of his own, and one hundred pounds to improve it. Wouldn’t that just rub Tony the wrong way?
Imagine him, a landowner! He’d invite Roman and Tony and perfect Saint Constantine to tour the grounds, once everything was in place.
Tossing his brothers’ bank draft into the pot was almost too easy. As if from a distance, he watched it flutter onto the bare wooden plank. Tony and Roman could easily replace the money. Perhaps not this week, but next month or next year, they’d come into it again. By contrast, Dare might never have another chance to win an estate.
He’d already had one slip through his fingers.
The more he thought about the exchange between Lord Bamber and Miss Hart, the more he began to think it was an estate. She’d sold off horses, plural, and silver and plate. Southfield Farm must have been prosperous, once. With one hundred pounds to polish it up, it could be prosperous again.
Dare turned his cards, revealing his most impressive hand in years.
Lord Bamber swore.
Miss Hart’s lips parted in pure, unfiltered shock. Then she turned her own, revealing an ace, jack, king, and queen, all of the same suit.
White-hot pain lanced across his gut. Better cards.
Dare dropped his head into his hands, his throat closing up. She had better cards.
He was ruined.
Shame filled him, overpowering the loss of his brothers’ one hundred pounds. How could he have done such a stupid thing? How could he have thought this would all work out? His brothers were going to be so very, very disappointed in him.
Why had he been so vain, again?
The world did not revolve around him.
He shook his head as reality set, his gut a roiling ocean of disgust and self-loathing. He’d lost. He’d lost it all.
Oh, but his brothers were going to utterly despise him. More than they did now—they already thought him a cad and a wastrel. His twin, Constantine, didn’t even speak to him. What would they do when they learned Dare had lost the money they’d given him—again?
He’d be turned out.
Alarm caused him to straighten. Oh, no. He couldn’t be turned out. He had nowhere else to go. But Tony had long-threatened to do exactly that if he didn’t learn to control his urges. What would Tony do when he learned the money was gone, all gone?
Roman wouldn’t intervene against Tony. Bart was Tony’s twin—there would be no help from that quarter, either.
Con had given up on him a long time ago.
Stupid, stupid wager. He should never have made it. Why couldn’t he leave well enough alone? He should have known.
Dare lifted his head to regard the woman who’d tempted him to risk it all in the first place. Miss Hart’s lips were parted softly, as if she couldn’t quite believe she’d been so lucky.
Dare didn’t begrudge her win. It wasn’t luck that had guided her hand. After more than ten years of gaming, he knew no such thing existed.
One either did, or didn’t, win. As difficult as it was to accept, he could admit this game hadn’t been his to win.
It had been hers.
But if there was one flaw in his character, it was that he never, ever knew when to quit. It scared him. It ruined him.
His throat tightened again. One day, it would be the death of him.
But not just yet.COLLAPSE
M Parks on Amazon Verified Purchase wrote:
I loved the strong female character of Cate and he no nonsense approach to handling Lord Dare [...] I enjoyed 'The Danger in Daring a Lady' and how the way people lived during this time in England was woven into the story bringing their way of life alive again.
I LOVE THIS BOOK!! Cate and Dare are so real.... a beautiful story of recovery and forgiving yourself and others [...] This is such a great read...really a true journey, a hard won love story
The Danger in Daring a Lady completes a recurring subplot first introduced in The Problem with Seduction. In Seduction, Lord Constantine nearly kills himself trying to protect his degenerate brother, Lord Darius Alexander. Lord Dare's lack of apparent redeeming qualities continues in The Art of Ruining a Rake, when Lord Montborne, the eldest Alexander brother, attempts to mentor his brother and only ends up making things worse. Miss Caitlin Hart is an entirely new character in the Scandalous Spinsters series, and by far the most beloved. This tale of a broken man and his path to redemption and love is sure to pull at your heartstrings!