Of Valor & Vice

A Revelry’s Tempest Novel, now available…

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

 

Near destitute with her young nieces to provide for, what is a recently widowed lady of the ton to do? Opening a gaming house ought to do…

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

Her life was charmed, until it was not.
Near destitute after the sudden death of her wastrel husband, Lady Pipworth must find a way to support herself and her young nieces until her brother returns home to assume his role as head of the family. Thanks to her three brothers that raised her, Adalia’s one outstanding skill in life is gambling, and with a dower house now at her disposal, plans to fill the coffers—scandal begetting or not—begin to take shape.

A mysterious duke with one goal in mind.
The Duke of Dellon is interested in nothing more than fulfilling the needs of running his ducal estate. As for a wife and an heir—he will get to it, eventually—as long as it fits neatly into his orderly life. But when a long-ago vow rears, landing upon his shoulders, he obligingly sets out to do what is required of him—stop Lady Pipworth from the foolery of operating a gaming house. And, if he should need to, marry the woman.

 A vow invoked from the grave leads to a secret that could destroy everything.
Her gaming house a success, the last thing Adalia wants is an arrogant duke poking into her affairs. But when a sudden death threatens the very thing she holds dearest, can she possibly trust the one man that can save her and her nieces?

Sneak Peek…

{ Chapter 1 }

London, England

March, 1813

The marriage, on all accounts, had been a disaster.

The web of black lace on her veil tickled the tip of her nose, and Lady Pipworth stared at the black box being lowered into the ground, determined not to sneeze. The ropes under the coffin creaked under the strain, several of the frayed cords snapping. Her right cheek lifted in a half cringe.

Her husband always had been generous in the belly.

She had come to the burial against the advisement of her late husband’s cousin. Sitting in the confines of the drawing room, sobbing—as was usual and proper in this situation—was for a wife that would actually miss her husband.

Adalia would not.

Nor did she wish it to appear so. She would see her husband into the ground. Pay him that respect. And then attempt to wash the last two years from her mind.

Dirt thumped onto the black wood. One thud. Two. Three. Four. Until the dirt fell quietly into the hole, piling in covert silence upon itself.

The dirt began heaping above the gravesite and the small crowd around her started to shift, dispersing. Six more shovels dumped, and the black mound was complete. Adalia was the last to turn from the gravesite.

Due respect, whether he deserved it or not.

She walked slowly down the serpentine path of the graveyard, lifting her gloved fingertip to scratch her nose. As long as she kept the crowd in front of her, she could avoid the distant relatives of her late husband that had appeared at his death. They would have questions for her, and she had no answers.

She could already tell by the pursed lips, the looks of curiosity during the funeral, that they had discovered how thoroughly her husband had driven the Pipworth estate into the ground—never a creditor he could not charm, or a bauble for his mistress he could not resist. His second cousin, the new Marquess of Pipworth, had inherited a mess along with the title. But that was the extent of Adalia’s knowledge on the matter.

She looked up to the trees dotting the hillside between the rows of neat granite headstones, slowing her gait as she avoided the pointed, backward glances of the relatives. They were rabid for a target to unleash their anger upon, and she preferred to escape the day without being torn apart.

The sudden steps next to her made her jump. A quick glance up at the tall man appearing at her right told her he was not a relative of her late husband. Or at least not one she had been introduced to.

“Forgive my presumption of speaking to you before introductions, Lady Pipworth, but this appears to be the one moment in time at which I will have easy, private access to you.”

Adalia continued walking, her steps speeding up slightly as she looked up at his face, not quite believing the gall of the stranger. Fearing her cocked, scathing eyebrows were hidden too well behind her black veil to make an impression, she laced her words with as much haughtiness as she could muster. “Sir, you go beyond all measure with your uncouth presumptiveness.”

“I am aware, Lady Pipworth. I would prefer this to not be my only access to you. But it is.”

She stiffened. “Who, sir, do you think you are to approach me at this time?”

“Careful, Lady Pipworth.” His look stayed forward, casual, as though they were old friends out for a stroll and a chat on a crisp spring day. “Your late husband’s family is ardently studying you at the moment. Best to pretend we are acquaintances so they do not question our association.”

Adalia glanced forward, scanning the group milling about the line of carriages. Unabashed glares were still focused her way. “My husband’s family is the least of my concerns, sir. Now I ask you again, who are you?”

He nodded, clearing his throat. His height gave length to his stride, which he was clearly not accustomed to reining in. Especially to the snail’s pace she had committed to. “Forgive me, Lady Pipworth. I should have started with my name and purpose. Your brother, Theodore, was my good friend. I am the Duke of—”

“You know Theodore?” Her feet stopped, her look whipping to him. “Have you heard word from him?”

“I do know him, but I have heard little word from him since he left for the Caribbean. Much as I imagine is the same for you.”

His tone, incredibly arrogant, made her bristle. “You know nothing of my correspondence with my brother.”

“That is true. But if, as I suspect, you have not heard from him in the past months, I am here to fulfill a vow made to him.”

Adalia exhaled a slight sigh, the sudden hope for Theo’s return that had flared in her chest extinguished before it could catch fire. She needed Theo back on English soil. Her two oldest brothers dead and buried, he was her last remaining brother, and she needed him. Desperately. “What was the vow?”

“To offer my assistance to you, should you need it. You have just lost your husband, so this appears as though it is the appropriate time to come forth and extend my help.”

For an excruciatingly long, dumfounded moment, she stared at him through the black threads of her veil, her mouth slightly askew.

A blackbird squawked, landing on the weathered point of an obelisk gravestone behind his head. It spurred her from her stunned state.

“This is the appropriate time, sir?” Her arm flew up, pointing to the gravesite at the top of the hill as her voice went slightly shrill. “Did you not notice I was just walking away from my husband’s grave—his very fresh grave? And you think to approach me here? You think this appropriate?”

His look flickered up the hill and back to her face. “I—well—”

“Well nothing, sir. I do not care who you are, or what my brother asked of you. This is my husband’s funeral. And why would my brother ever ask a vow such as that of you? I do not even know you, sir. I have never heard of you. So please take your assistance and move out of my sight.”

“Adalia, come, you must ride in my carriage.” The soft voice of Adalia’s friend, Lady Vandestile, wrapped her protectively—calm against her storm. Violet moved to her side, her hand on Adalia’s elbow, prompting her forward down the path.

It snapped Adalia out of the sprouts of a rant before it became an actual tirade, and she looked to her friend. “Yes, Violet. Let us take our leave.”

She gave one curt nod to the man that had accosted her and then turned, starting down the path with Violet.

Her hand still on Adalia’s elbow, Violet leaned in as they walked, her voice hushed. “I did not recognize that man. Who was that?”

Adalia shrugged. “He told me, I think, but I did not hear him.”

“Why not? Your veil is not that thick.” The edge of Violet’s lip curled in a mischievous smile. Of course Violet could not keep a solemn façade, even at a funeral—particularly when she knew how Adalia truly regarded her late husband.

“He mentioned Theodore, and then I heard not another word he said.”

“Theodore?” Violet pointed backward over her shoulder with her forefinger. “That man has heard from him?”

“No. That man was of no use. No use at all.” Her fingers clasped over Violet’s hand on her elbow. “I did not expect a vulture to descend so quickly upon me.”

Violet snorted a stifled chuckle. “Exactly—wait at least a day, please.” She squeezed Adalia’s elbow, steering her off the path and toward the Vandestile carriage. “You, my dear friend, have enough madness in your life dealing with Pipworth’s family. They are a sorry lot. I do not envy you the task at hand.”

Adalia’s eyes went to the family members slowly entering the carriages. “Once they are convinced I know nothing, have no pots of coins stashed away, I will be useless to them. Just another drain on the estate to contend with.”

“Lady Pipworth.”

The sudden voice in her ears spiked hackles onto the back of her neck, and Adalia turned to see a small, wiry man approaching her. He tugged his ill-fitting black tailcoat against his chest, attempting to right it as he approached her.

There would be no avoiding him this time.

“Lady Pipworth, please, a moment of your time.” Hired by her eldest brother long ago, the current solicitor of the Alton estate scurried in front of her and Violet, effectively blocking her path. She stopped.

“Can this not wait, Mr. Chesire? As you can see, I have other matters to attend to this day.”

The man didn’t budge. “I fear not, my lady. As you have refused to see me the last three times I have come for an audience with you, this is the moment I must seize.”

Adalia knew she should be more generous with the man. She knew he had kept the Alton estate afloat for as long as he could. Valiantly so, even. But she didn’t want to hear the news. She didn’t want to hear what she had been avoiding for the past month.

His lips tight, Mr. Chesire glanced pointedly at Violet.

Violet looked to Adalia, her pretty blue eyes questioning. Violet knew all about meddling solicitors. “You will be fine? I can stay.”

“You can excuse us, Violet.”

“Cass and I will wait for you in my carriage.” With a nod and a searing glance at Mr. Chesire, Violet stepped away.

Adalia looked to Mr. Chesire.

He wasted not a second. “I will come to the point, my lady, lest you escape me again. The coffers have been spent near to dry. There is not a thing left to leverage for more funds.”

She stared at him through her dark veil, the lace sending a web of black strokes across his weathered face. The familiar feeling of her chest curling inward upon itself, growing thick, slowed her breath. After her husband’s death, she’d had a reprieve from the constant fatigue caused by her heavy heart, but now it was back. She had only been granted two days of respite. “You are positive? There must be something we have not looked at.”

“There is not, my lady. We have already let most of the staff go at Glenhaven House. Only three servants remain here in the London townhouse. And we do not have the funds to continue the tutor for the twins.”

“No, we will not disrupt my nieces’ education, Mr. Chesire. That is unacceptable. Whatever it takes, their education is the most important thing—that tutor is brilliant and it was very hard to convince him to take on the twins. That is the first place any income must go to.”

“But, my lady, they are only girls and the creditors have been most insistent—”

Adalia took a quick step forward, lifting onto her toes to gain enough height to bear down upon him. “Do not ever—ever—speak those words again, Mr. Chesire.”

“My words, my lady?”

“They are not ‘just girls,’ Mr. Chesire. They are my nieces. They are my brother’s legacy, and they are intelligent and witty and proud little girls, and they will remain so. They come above everything. Do you hear me? Do not ever dare to dismiss them again—not in front of me, and most certainly not without my knowledge.”

He wavered for a breath and then shuffled a step backward, his head bowed. “Of course, my lady. I apologize.” He hazarded a glance up at her. “But the money—”

“I will get you the funds, Mr. Chesire. The girls will continue with their tutor and you will keep up all appearances until Theodore returns to assume the title.” She glanced to her left to see the Pipworth carriages moving away from the cemetery. Her look went back to Mr. Chesire, pinning him. “And you will keep this private between the two of us, Mr. Chesire. If I hear so much as a whisper of slander on the Alton name, I will come down upon you with a vengeance unknown to man.”

His face visibly paled. “Of course, my lady.” He backed away from her, because of the threat, or because he suddenly believed he was dealing with a madwoman, she wasn’t sure. “I await word from you on the funds, my lady.”

She waved her black-gloved hand in his direction, dismissing him. He turned and hustled past Violet’s carriage, hurrying down the street. She stared at his back until he disappeared around the far corner, attempting to calm the boil in her body that tried to steal all her breath.

What mad world had she stumbled into where random men thought approaching her at her husband’s funeral was appropriate?

She shook her head and stepped into Violet’s carriage.

Madness of addled men she could deal with. She’d done so for the past two years.

The madness of creating coin out of thin air—now that was to be an actual challenge.

~~~

Gripping the weathered chunk of galena in her right hand, her left palm mindlessly tapped the top edge of the rock—the very first ore pulled from the lead mine that had produced the wealth her family’s estate had enjoyed for eleven generations. Adalia stared at the portrait of her parents on the wall adjacent to the door as she sat upon the edge of the desk in Caldwell’s study.

Correction. Caldwell was dead. This was now Theodore’s study, if he would ever see his way back to England to take over the title and the estate. Take over all of the burdens that were swallowing her whole.

Her mother and father stared down at her. Faces she had no memory of, except for this painting. Pride was always the thing that tantalized her about the portrait. Pride in both of their faces. What they had been looking at when the artist had captured them—what would have created that unabashed pride? The question she asked every time she looked at the portrait. Had it been her three brothers? All of them had been alive when the portrait was done, according to Caldwell.

She could easily picture her brothers when they were young, dancing behind the artist, demanding attention. The three of them had always demanded attention. Theo would have been the rascal, dragging his brothers into misbehaving, claiming the whole time with laughter about how much joy they were spreading. Alfred, always thinking, would have been engineering a way for the mischievousness to abound. And Caldwell would have been directing the mayhem, if not antagonizing it into a higher level with a wicked smile.

Three blond heads bobbing madcap about. Once, as they had been their whole lives.

Her chest tightened.

Where the hell was Theodore?

Her husband was dead. Two of her brothers in the ground. The third missing.

No. Not missing. He just had not replied to her last letter two months ago, which had reiterated Caldwell’s death. Nor had Theo replied to the five letters before that reporting the very same thing.

She shook her head. Not missing.

But gone. And that meant she was the sole one to support the Alton estate with what little was left of her dowry—and her widow’s third from the Pipworth estate that barely bought enough bread for the three servants here at the Alton townhouse.

She had moved back to her family’s townhouse because of the twins—in truth, she had wanted to continue to live here to be near her nieces after Caldwell died nearly two years before. Five years old at the time of their father’s death, the twins had found themselves motherless, fatherless. But they still had Adalia.

Yet after she married Lord Pipworth, he had not allowed the girls to come with Adalia and live at the Pipworth townhouse. Nor would he allow Adalia to leave and move back into the Alton home.

So Adalia had wasted no time in packing her belongings and moving back into her family’s home the day her husband died, even though the Pipworth dower house was now hers to use. Her nieces needed her. And she needed them.

At least her husband’s death had allowed her to right one wrong.

Adalia let the rock slip from her fingers, thudding softly onto the desk. Damn the mine. They had spent far too much time and resources attempting to find a new vein to source, and now they had nothing.

She needed money. Needed it desperately. She needed to keep her family’s name, the legacy—her nieces’ chances for proper matches one day—intact until Theodore returned. She was the only one left to do it.

At the sound of the ore thumping onto the desk, Hazard, Caldwell’s wolfhound and fierce protector of the twins, sat up next to her and nudged her thigh with his nose. She scratched the wiry grey hairs behind his ears, calming his alarm.

Her gaze shifted to the glowing coals in the fireplace. The day had been warm, but now a definite chill had set into the air. Spring not yet quite free of the shackles of winter.

Even the coal for warmth would be hard to come by in a month’s time.

Damn that she had no skills to make money with.

Marriage was out. She had been an utter failure at that. No heir. A husband that barely regarded her presence. No. She would not subject herself to that again.

Adalia’s stare slipped to the sideboard next to the fireplace, her eyes riveted on the half-filled decanter of brandy. If she was to ever start imbibing the vile liquid, now would be the time. Her tongue curdling, she scraped it on the edge of her front teeth. The one time she had tried it with her brothers while in the throes of a particularly long night of playing whist had been enough.

Her look skittered along the sideboard to the ebony card box that held playing cards and counters. The brass inlaid cover was flipped open, displaying the two decks of worn playing cards and the brass gaming counters minted with the Alton crest. The twins must have been snooping into it, as it was usually closed, though everything appeared to be in place.

Walking to the sideboard, she stopped, flipping up the top card from the deck on the right. Queen of diamonds. The queen of diamonds always went on top. Always in charge. When she was younger, she always liked to imagine that the queen of diamonds represented her, because wasn’t that what her brothers had always done for her—put her on top?

Except the reality of being in charge in no way aligned with what she had fantasized. Being in charge was exhausting.

Her thumb slipped down along the corners of the cards. Soft, smooth, the edges of the cards were tattered from wear. She had long since memorized every bend and scratch on each card—an advantage she had never confessed to her brothers. Though she was pretty sure Alfred knew she had—just as she suspected he had memorized them all as well. And Alfred had always insisted on not replacing the decks, no matter how Caldwell and Theodore grumbled upon the worn cards.

Devil take it, they had probably all memorized the cards.

Exhaling the memories that had landed like a brick in her chest, she shook her head, even as she could not tear her eyes away from the symbol of the past. She needed to concentrate, plan—not wallow.

Money. She needed money.

She could learn to scrub floors. Take in sewing. But she also knew how very little that would add to the coffers. Not nearly enough to keep the Alton estate sound. To keep the creditors at bay. Or even to feed the girls.

No. She needed a healthy source of income. One that didn’t entail a husband. But how could she scheme it?

Her gaze locked on the worn brass counters in the card box. Truth told, she had no skills other than with the cards. She had always been able to turn her pin money into double in nights when the opportunity arose. That was what being raised by three brothers who loved to gamble got her.

The thought started small, a tiny, niggling idea that refused to shrink away, only growing bigger with each second that passed.

She was particularly canny with the cards.

She had a dower house at her disposal.

She did have a wide set of wealthy friends that loved to gamble.

What had her brothers always said? The house always wins.

Perhaps.

Her eyes captivated on the card box, her head tilted. Her brothers had raised her to possess one outstanding skill. To gamble.

And shouldn’t one always bet on their one outstanding skill?

She could open a gaming house. She wouldn’t be the first woman to do so.

But no.

She couldn’t. It would mean scandal.

But…but if it was successful, it would also keep her family’s estate solvent until Theodore returned home. And she would be as discreet as possible. It would save her family’s good name, and save the possibility for the twins to marry well—or well enough.

Those two things she had to preserve at all costs.

Scandal for her, she could accept that. As Lord Pipworth’s widow, it was primarily now his family’s name that she would taint. Their dower house. Any modicum of guilt she should feel on that matter had shriveled when her husband jumped into the Thames to save his drowning mistress.

Scandalize the Pipworth name. Save the Alton estate.

Yes. She could live with that.

~~~

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