Of Sin & Sanctuary

A Revelry’s Tempest Novel, now available…

Historical romance with strong women, undeniable men, and hold your breath adventure.

 

A lady with a heart haunted by past mistakes. A scarred rake determined to avoid all responsibility. One night of gaming to change both of their fortunes.…

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THE SHORT SNIPPET ABOUT Of Valor & Vice, A Revelry’s Tempest Novel:

A lady with a heart haunted by past mistakes. A scarred rake determined to avoid all responsibility. One night of gaming, to change both of their fortunes.

No good deed goes unpunished.
Riddled with debt after her husband’s death, Lady Vandestile spent years rebuilding her life—a life free of any entanglements with men that would only betray her. But pity has its place. And after fronting funds to the wayward brother of her dearest friend, Lady Vandestile wakes in the morning to find Lord Alton has lost an enormous sum—enough to threaten the very existence of her exclusive gaming house. Enough to threaten her future. A future she once thought never to have. Demanding payment, or at least a guarantee to use against a loan, Violet is forced to corner the rake—or risk losing the only security she has in life.

Demons of the past that refuse to yield.
He lost her money. And he did it callously, without a care. Violet had plenty, after all. And Theo had none. Never mind that he once would have moved heaven and earth for her. But that was before. Before the war marred him for life. Before he turned into a monster.

One disastrous night of gaming could change both their fortunes.
As a third son, Violet had always been far out of Theo’s reach. Inheriting the earldom and its destitute estate had done nothing to change that fact. But as their lives unexpectedly entwine, danger rears, and Theo and Violet must gather the strength to not only move on from the past, but to surrender to the demands of their hearts.

Sneak Peek…

{ Chapter 1 }

London, England

March 1816

Violet flipped the page on her calendar, her fingernail pressing into the wood grain of the desk, sawing back and forth as she stared at the dates, willing them to change, even though she knew she couldn’t alter the rotation of the earth around the sun.

Less than a month away.

The Gala of Three was approaching far too quickly for the amount of work that still needed to be done. But there was no altering course now—the three-year anniversary of the opening of the Revelry’s Tempest gaming house was coming whether she wished it or not.

It would be the most fruitful event of the year. That, Violet was sure of. In the two and a half years that she had run the gaming hall on Brook Street, she knew the numbers better than she knew her own hands. She could now predict, merely by the attendee list, how much coin an evening of gaming would bring to the Revelry’s Tempest’s coffers.

And the third anniversary celebration had attendees of the highest order set to come. It would be a success. It had to be.

Even if one of her dearest friends, Adalia, wasn’t here to help. Adalia had started the Revelry’s Tempest three years earlier, just months before marrying the Duke of Dellon, and was the mastermind behind the inventive games the Revelry’s Tempest was known for. Adalia was an expert at producing the most bizarre and fantastical moments of entertainment for the crowds. And while Adalia still owned the house, she had given Violet the Revelry’s Tempest  to run as her own years ago.

As much as Violet wished her here, she was no force against nature. Adalia and her husband were currently sequestered away at Dellon Castle, awaiting the birth of their second child.

A knock on the door thudded into her office and Violet looked up from her desk. “Enter.”

The door cracked open and Logan, the Revelry’s Tempest’s head of guards, poked his far-too-handsome head in. A rush of warmth from the ballroom and the cacophony of gleeful winners and grumbling losers floated into the office. “Lady Vandestile, there is a slight commotion upstairs in one of the private card rooms that requires your presence.”

“Cass is not available?”

“Lady Desmond would not be the proper authority in this situation, my lady.”

Her eyebrow cocked. Logan rarely had a situation that needed her interference. And if there was an altercation, no one was better at diffusing a fracas than Cassandra, so Logan usually brought most concerns to Violet’s dear friend.

“What is it?” Violet stood, walking around the desk to follow him into the thick of the crush that had gathered to gamble that night.

Logan waited until they threaded their way through the crowd to lean down to her as they walked to the stairs in the hall just outside the ballroom. His voice was low—the utmost in discretion. “There is a man that insists that we approve an additional marker to his name.”

Violet looked up at Logan, noting his slight limp was more pronounced than usual. She was on the wrong side for him to lean down toward her. “And it would be unwise to do so?”

Logan shrugged as they started up the stairs.

“How much has he already lost?”

“Seven thousand pounds.”

Violet coughed, her gut dropping. “Seven thousand pounds? Who would we allow that much credit to—and who would dare to think we would extend that credit even further?”

They reached the top of the stairs and Violet switched to walk by Logan’s right side.

Logan pointed to the third door along the hall. “That is why your assistance is needed. He…he is making claims that you will approve it.”

Her eyebrows lifted at Logan just as he opened the door to the card room for her.

She stepped into the room, quickly taking in the scene. Two men standing, hands wildly swinging as they shouted at each other. Four women—two of them her most loyal patrons—sitting around the gaming table, chatting, obviously titillated by the ensuing scandal. The dealer leaned back in his chair, a staunchly bored look on his face.

Whatever had just happened in this room was not going to reflect well on the name of her gaming house.

Violet took a step forward just as a third man moving from the sideboard with a full tumbler of amber liquid wobbled in front of her path.

She froze for a long moment. An excruciatingly long moment. So long, it gave the staggering man a chance to stumble forward and throw his left arm around her shoulders.

The stench of brandy—both cheap and expensive—enveloped her.

“There she is. The flower. My little petal.” The crux of his elbow tightened around the back of her bare neck as he pointed at Logan with a finger flipped above his tumbler. “She will tell you. Tell you all how wrong you are. She’ll approve the marker.” He looked at her. “Won’t you, Violet?”

Bloody hell.

Theodore Williston, the fourteenth Earl of Alton.

Adalia’s wayward turned wastrel brother.

Back from the dead and working on an early grave, if all she had heard of him during the past two and a half years was true.

Violet jumped to the left, shoving off his arm resting on her shoulders.

His support suddenly removed, he stumbled to gain his balance, his drink sloshing onto the floor as his gaze swung to her.

Now that he stood swaying in front of her, Violet could truly take in Theodore’s face.

His blue eyes bloodshot, Adalia’s brother looked like he hadn’t slept in five days. His nose sat crooked—far from the straight line it once was—with a bump halfway down before the slope shifted slightly to the side. A long scar, rippled, like the skin had torn rather than been cut, ran from his left eyebrow down across his cheekbone until it disappeared at the base of his ear.

She searched his face, searched for a remnant of the past in him that she recognized. He had disappeared one day and then had sequestered himself away for so long that she had to hunt in her mind for a solid memory of the past.

His hair. His sandy blond hair was the same. Disheveled, as it always had been. But the same. Cut or mangled, hair grew back. Skin and bone did not.

Adalia had told Violet of her brother’s injuries two and a half years ago. But this—his face so marred—she had not imagined.

Logan cleared his throat behind her. “Lady Vandestile, Lord Alton was insistent that you would approve a marker that is far above our limits.”

Violet jumped, Logan’s sudden voice in the quiet room emphasizing the fact she was standing there like a ninny, staring at Theodore.

Theo. The man she had known since she was thirteen and had made friends with Adalia. The man she had once had fanciful dreams of marrying.

When she had last seen his face five years before, it had been perfect.

No more.

And now she was gaping at him, trying to reconcile what he had become.

“Is your inspection of my current state satisfied, Vee? I am hideous, I know it. You now know it. So let us move onward.” Theo pointed to Logan over her shoulder. “Tell him, Vee. Tell your man to allow the marker I need.” Theo swayed slightly in a slow circle that threatened his balance.

Brazenly presumptuous, as always. That had not changed.

She glanced about the room, noting all the wide eyes eager for her next move—for her to dole out humiliation. She bit her tongue.

For how she had just gawked at him, she owed him that much—to be spared any more indignity. She conjured her most patient smile. “Lord Alton, can we discuss this in private?”

“Anything you say can be heard by all my new friends here, Vee.” Theo’s left hand swung out, motioning to the men and women at the table.

Violet glanced to the octagonal card table. By the setup on the table and the pot in the middle, the group had been playing a rather high-stakes game of Loo. A game that was not over.

She looked to Theo. “Please, Lord Alton. Just for a moment in private, please.”

He stepped toward her, his left arm flopping along her shoulders again. “Truly, Vee. No secrets here.”

His weight shifted, using her for a crutch against his inebriation. A fresh waft of brandy hit her, the smell smothering her. Violet spread her feet wide, bracing herself against the extra weight on her shoulders. Her look landed on Lord Jiften across the room—one of the most dreadful gossips of the ton.

She glanced up at the side of Theodore’s face.

The bugger.

He was abusing the situation—the room. He knew she wouldn’t humiliate him in front of these people. But the unpaid credit he had managed to draw out of Cassandra the last time he visited the Revelry’s Tempest had put Violet’s bank into the negative for months. Violet had been at Dellon Castle, visiting Adalia, and Cassandra had assumed responsibility for the Revelry’s Tempest while Violet was away. Cassandra had felt horrible for the incident, having never even questioned Theodore’s ability to satisfy the markers when he had asked for the credit.

Violet would not make that mistake. “I would rather not discuss private matters in public, Lord Alton.”

“Public—private—everyone knows everything, Vee.” His voice took on a demanding tone. “You know that as well as I. So you can draw up that marker now.”

That was her limit. It was one thing to be asked. Quite another to be ordered. “I am afraid we cannot offer further markers to you, Lord Alton.”

His head jerked back, shocked for a moment before a strained grin came to his lips. Anger simmered under the smile. “Violet, surely you understand that my sister would approve any marker, since this is legally her house.”

Violet stepped forward to duck away from his arm and turned to face him directly. “I actually have no doubt your sister would approve of exactly what I am doing, Lord Alton.”

His top lip curled in a sneer. “My hideousness too much for you, Violet? You cannot trust a monster like me?”

The back of her neck flushed. She recognized exactly what he was doing—exploiting her guilt at her earlier boorishness. It was so very easy for her to now see through his manipulations—any man’s manipulations, for that matter. Little did Theo know plying upon her guilt wouldn’t work.

She opened her mouth to tell him exactly that just as her eyes met his.

His eyes.

The color she recognized from long ago, the cool blue of ice under a clear sky. Bloodshot, but the silver-flecked blue was there. Angry. Overbearing. But also struggling. Raging. Raging against everything in this world.

She recognized that, the fierce depth of the torment. It made her mouth clamp closed, hiding the slight gasp bubbling from her chest.

Without a word, she walked around Theo.

Logan still stood by the door and she paused next to him, going to her toes to whisper in his ear. “Allow him enough to make it through the next hands. But throw as much brandy as you can down his throat. The quicker he loses consciousness, the less money we will lose.”

Logan nodded.

Her chest growing heavy with dread, she left the room. Down the stairs to the ballroom, she avoided eye contact with everyone in the crowd as she weaved her way through the hazard and card tables to her office at the back of the main gaming room.

Her avoidance didn’t stop the portly Lord Hortman from grabbing her arm as she passed him. Her look whipping to him, she cocked her head upward so she could stare down her nose at him. She was a widowed viscountess and expected the respect the title demanded, but she also owned a gaming house—and that made far too many men audacious with their grabby paws.

“Lady Vandestile, I have been waiting for you to make an appearance this eve in the ballroom—you have been my good luck.” Lord Hortman motioned to the French roulette table in front of him. “What say you, red or black?”

She forced a sweet smile at him. “You bring your own luck with you, Lord Hortman.”

He laughed an overly hearty chuckle. “The luck I bring is poor tonight, my lady. I need some of yours. Come, you have much to spare.”

Violet doubted that, what with the scene upstairs with Theodore. She had an overwhelming suspicion her luck was quickly waning. The smile on her face spread wider, sweeter. “Whatever you see in my face, Lord Hortman—red or black, that is the one to bet on.”

He considered her a moment, eyes canny, and then he laughed. “Red it is, my lady.” He set his markers down onto the red velvet of the table.

Violet walked away from the table before the wheel stopped. A whoop followed her as she opened the door to her office. Red it was.

Closing the door behind her, both of her hands gripped the doorknob behind her back as the farce of the smile slipped from her face, her head dropping forward. The brass knob a lifeline, she leaned back against the door, gasping for breath after breath.

She could play the part she needed to in order to fill the coffers—play the sweetly flirtatious widow for every idiot looking to part ways with his coin. She could do that to ensure she had complete control of her funds, her life.

But each and every time she had to slap a smile on her face in front of a man, she had to simultaneously swallow back a gag in her throat and instant panic in her chest.

She couldn’t let that show. Especially not to another idiot man, just as her husband had been.

Her head lifted, her eyes landing on the calendar on her desk. Even from across the room, she could see the word “Gala” in thick ink, taunting her.

It would be a success. It would.

As long as the entertainment fell into place. The Spanish wine shipment arrived from Montes de Malaga. The new games of chance were developed. The right food was chosen to specifically fatten bellies and loosen purse strings.

As long as everything was perfect.

She needed it. Needed to make Adalia proud of her. Needed to finally secure her own future after years of paying off debts.

And the gala would do just that.

Secure her future.

~~~

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