We are so excited to share with you an exclusive excerpt from Kate Bateman’s upcoming novel This Earl of Mine, out October 29th!
Heat flashed across Georgie’s skin, both at the imper- tinent question and the way the rogue’s cheeky gaze moved over her. Laugh lines crinkled the corners of his brown eyes. She was used to such speculative ogling from her years in the ton, but not once had her body re- acted as it did to this blackguard’s leisurely perusal. Her breath quickened.
Pieter growled again and took a step forward, but the man grinned and held up both hands in an expression of innocence.
“Can’t blame a chap for trying.” He chuckled. “Jus’ tryin’ to scratch an itch.”
“There will be no wedding night,” Georgie said firmly. “I want your name, Mr. Wylde, not your—”
“Cock?” he suggested cheerfully.
“—company,” she finished, proud of her cool tone. His teeth flashed white as he smiled. “Why not?
You’ll never see me again. No one will know. Exceptin’ these fine gentlemen, of course, and I’m sure they’d give us a few moments of privacy—”
“I am not having . . . marital relations . . . in a dirty prison with a stranger I just met!” she ground out.
His eyes twinkled. “Aww. Have pity. Give a poor wretch one last, ’appy memory of England. I might not even make it to Australia. I could be wrecked, or taken by sickness—”
Georgie narrowed her eyes. “I know precisely how per- ilous the oceans are, Mr. Wylde. My father died at sea.”
The teasing laughter disappeared from his eyes. “Forgive me. I am sorry for your loss.”
She waved away his sympathy. “In any case, my answer is still no.”
“Will the marriage be legal if it ain’t consummated?” Georgie bit back a curse. She had no idea if consummation was actually required, but this man wasn’t going to be around to cast doubts on the validity of their union. And she certainly wasn’t going to mention it to anyone. “I’ll take the chance, Mr. Wylde,” she said briskly. “Now
shall we begin?”
He bent at the waist in a parody of a gentleman’s bow, which somehow managed to look entirely natural. “Why not, Miss Caversteed?” There was an ironic edge to his voice. “I have nothing else planned for this evening, save counting the lice in my cell.”
On shaking legs, Georgie approached the makeshift altar and felt a gust of warm air as the prisoner came to stand beside her. The hairs on her arm rose, as if she’d brushed against a cobweb. She glanced down at her feet; there was an indentation in the flagstones, a concave dip where the stone had been worn smooth. Thousands of others had stood here over the years, pledging their own vows of fidelity.
Cotton opened the Bible to begin the ceremony, and Knollys and Pieter stood to one side to act as the wit- nesses. Georgie quelled a moment of panic. This was not something to be taken lightly. What was she doing, mar- rying a stranger? Making a mockery of this solemn insti- tution? Swearing to love, honor, and obey this one man until death? She would probably be struck by lightning for uttering such falsehoods in a sacred place.
The darkness, the flicker of candles, the oppressive cave-like walls, made her feel as though they were par- ticipating in a far more ancient ritual. Something primal and profound that included fire and blood and the bond- ing of hands. Of souls.
She shook her head to banish the thought.
The preacher began.
She did not class herself as a romantic—she left that to her younger sister Juliet—but this was not how a wedding should be. No flowers, no choir or hymns or beaming, be- nevolent vicar. No family and friends. Instead, there was this cold, echoing, slightly musty-smelling chapel. Cheap tallow candles instead of the more expensive beeswax they used at home.
Warmth permeated her side as the prisoner shifted closer to her, almost as if he were offering silent support. His hip and shoulder pressed against hers and lent her strength.
Her voice didn’t shake when she spoke her vows. This was a matter of self-preservation, of protecting Mama and Juliet. She would not falter. The man at her side was not Josiah.
The prisoner repeated his vows, his voice low and confident, his accent less pronounced. Perhaps he was making an effort to speak properly for the occasion.
Pieter had purchased two plain gold rings, which he
laid flat on the open Bible in the ordinary’s hands. Cot- ton launched into a blustering speech about the sanctity of this and submitting to that; Georgie barely listened. But her heart jolted as the prisoner took her left hand and slid a ring on her fourth finger. The metal was cool, but quickly warmed to her skin.
His own hands were large and capable; she felt the heat of his palm, the strength in his long fingers, as they reversed positions and she threaded the ring onto his left hand. It stuck on his knuckle, but she wriggled and twisted, and it finally slid on. Instead of letting her hand drop, his fingers threaded through hers, steady and oddly comforting.
And then it was over. Cotton added their names to the marriage license Pieter had obtained from a bribable clerk at Doctors’ Commons. The prisoner released her hand to sign the register, the gold ring on his finger glint- ing in the candlelight. Georgie bent her thumb inwards and touched her own band. It felt strange, foreign. She would remove it as soon as she was in the carriage.
The prisoner straightened and caught her eye. “In the absence of anything more rousing, may I be permitted to kiss the bride?”
Her pulse leapt, but she saw no reason to be churlish. She had what she’d come for, after all. She adopted an expression of bored resignation. “Oh, very well.”
He leaned forward. Georgie sipped in a breath and held it, determined not to inhale his undoubtedly re- pulsive odor. She pursed her lips and closed her eyes. Martyr-like, she waited.
She heard him chuckle. His fingers settled on either side of her face and tilted her chin up. His thumb brushed the indent at the corner of her lips.
Her stomach flipped. She opened her eyes, caught a brief glimpse of his dark irises as his face descended to hers, and waited for something like Josiah’s greedy lechery: a wet, sloppy assault.
He did not kiss like Josiah.
His mouth brushed hers, his lips a shockingly soft counterpoint to the prickles on his jaw. Something hot and achy bloomed inside her, from her breastbone to the pit of her belly. It was a tease of a kiss; a light, question- ing touch that somehow managed to both madden and promise at the same time. His lips moved on hers as if testing his welcome, and Georgie found herself leaning up into him, enthralled. Wanting more. She softened her mouth just as his tongue traced the seam of her lips. Seeking entry. Tasting her. She jolted back in shock, suddenly recalling where she was. Who he was.
Heat flooded her face. Thoroughly mortified, she stared up into his laughing eyes.
“Hello, Mrs. Wylde,” he whispered, just for her.
She ignored her hammering pulse and the weak sensa- tion in her knees and tried to appear entirely unaffected by the kiss. Good God, that was her name now. Mrs. Wylde. She took a decisive step back. “Goodbye, Mr. Wylde,” she said firmly. Her lips still tingled. “And thank you,” she added. “You have done me a great service this night.”
The corners of his lips twitched, and he swept her another magnificent bow, as perfect as if they stood in the receiving line at Carlton House. “My pleasure, Mrs. Wylde.”
She did not fail to detect the sarcasm in his tone. They both knew he’d taken no “pleasure” from her.
“Any time you need another ‘service,’ do ask. I would be honored to assist.” Those wicked eyes flicked to her lips and back up again.
Georgie turned away, flustered, and gestured to Pieter. “Let’s go.” Suddenly, all she wanted was to be home. She needed to think, and her wits seemed to have gone beg- ging in the presence of this exasperating man.
Pieter collected the marriage license from Cotton and tossed a jingling purse to Knollys, who grinned and touched his forelock.
“Nice doin’ business, milady,” he sneered. He crossed to the prisoner and began to refasten the manacles around his wrists. Wylde submitted to the imprisonment without comment, and Georgie bit her lip to quell an instinctive protest. There was nothing more she could do for him now.
She took one last glance at the prisoner. What did one say to a handsome stranger you’d just married and would never see again? It was not a situation often covered in etiquette books. She couldn’t very well wish him a good life.
“I wish you a safe journey,” she said at last. And then, on a whim, added the words she’d always said when tak- ing leave of her father, “Fair winds and a calm sea.”
Those dark eyes met hers and held her captive for a long moment. “Thank you, my lady. If fortune is kind, perhaps we’ll meet again—under more auspicious cir- cumstances.”
It was all she could do to nod.
Once the outer door of the prison clanged behind her, Georgie took a deep, cleansing breath. Her hands shook as she raised the hood of her domino, but a mad sense of relief washed over her. She’d done it! For six long years, she’d endured awkward matchmaking and unconvincing proposals, the never-ending sting of gossip and specula- tion. Josiah’s thinly veiled threats and disapproval. She’d bowed to convention, done what others expected of her, from the moment she’d entered the ton. Now, for the first
time in her adult life, she was free to start doing exactly
as she pleased.
Ben Wylde, criminal rogue, had given her freedom.
From This Earl of Mine. Copyright © 2019 by Kate Bateman and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
About This Earl of Mine:
The first book in a new Regency romance series, an heiress and a rogue accidentally end up in a secret marriage of convenience.
In a desperate bid to keep her fortune out of her cousin’s hands, shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed marries a condemned criminal in Newgate prison. The scoundrel’s first kiss is shockingly heated, but Georgie never expects to see her husband again. Until she spots him across a crowded ballroom. Notorious rogue Benedict Wylde never expected a wife. He was in Newgate undercover, working for Bow Street. To keep their marriage of convenience a secret, Wylde courts Georgie in public, but the more time they spend together, the more their attraction sparks. Could an heiress with the world at her feet find happiness with a penniless rake? Kate Bateman’s This Earl of Mine is a delightful start to the Bow Street Bachelors series, with witty banter, dynamic characters, and swoon-worthy romance.
About the Author:
Kate Bateman, (also writing as K. C. Bateman), is the #1 bestselling author of Regency, Victorian, and Renaissance historical romances, including the Secrets & Spies series: To Steal a Heart, A Raven’s Heart and A Counterfeit Heart. All her books feature her favorite feisty, intelligent heroines (badasses in bodices!), wickedly inappropriate banter, and sexy, snarky heroes you want to both strangle and kiss.
Kate wrote her first historical romance in response to a $1 bet with her husband who rashly claimed she’d ‘never finish the thing.’ She gleefully proved him wrong. When not traveling to exotic locations ‘for research’, she leads a not-so-secret double life as a fine art appraiser and on-screen antiques expert for several TV shows in the UK, each of which has up to 2.5 million viewers. She splits her time between Illinois and her native England, and writes despite three inexhaustible children and that number-loving husband who still owes her that dollar.