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The Scoundrel's Wager
Tricking the Scoundrels #4

A wager on a young lady’s virtue leads to…

She wanted to seek revenge against the gentlemen who ruined her father. He desired to earn her love. Can he strike a new wager to entice her into his arms forever?

Devon Holdenburg cannot remember a time when he hadn’t been in love with Kathleen Beckwith. At his every attempt to court her, she waylaid him with her fiery exchanges. As he kisses the words from her lips, Devon strokes the flames of their passion higher. Can Devon convince Kathleen of his love?

Ever since her family’s ruination, Lady Kathleen Beckwith had set out to expose Devon Holdenburg as a scoundrel to the Ton. However, her mother had different plans by throwing Kathleen in his path at every opportunity. With whispers of seduction and passionate kisses, will Kathleen be able to fight off Devon’s charms?

A few years past, Devon won a wager on Kathleen’s innocence. He only joined the game to protect Kathleen from an evil lord. Kathleen not aware of the true nature of the bet from that game, entices the two lords who destroyed her father into a new game with higher stakes. As their story unfolds, so do the lies and deceit surrounding them. When they place their final wager, will Devon and Kathleen confess their true love? Or will their past leave a cloud of doubt hanging over them forever?

The Scoundrel’s Wager is the fourth novel in Laura A. Barnes’s Tricking the Scoundrel series. If you enjoy the makings of a good wager, then you will love the stakes of Devon and Kathleen’s courtship.

Enjoy The Scoundrel’s Wager today for a fun historical romance to read.






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Chapter One

“Kathleen, please attend Lady Holdenburg in the parlor. I must gather my notes,” Lady Beckwith asked Kathleen, breezing past her daughter's bedroom.

“Yes, Mama.”

Kathleen brushed out her skirts after she rose from her chair. She slid the deck of cards into a desk drawer before she left and hurried to the parlor, excited to visit with the Duchess of Norbrooke. Her mother’s friend shared a love of the theater, and Kathleen wanted to discuss the newest play to hit London. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to have another woman’s opinion on which color of dress she should wear to the Camville Ball tomorrow evening. Kathleen found the duchess to be a likable character—unlike her son. How such an enlightened woman had an annoying son such as Devon Holdenburg was beyond her. There wasn’t a gentleman more frustrating.

“Your Grace, what a delight.” Kathleen entered the parlor. Her steps came to a halt once she encountered the lady’s son instead. Kathleen glanced around to discover she was alone with the earl.

“And is it a delight to welcome me too?” Holdenburg asked.

“My mother informed me that the duchess would be in the parlor.”

“She was. However, Dallis tempted her away with a view of the nursery.”

“I will join them.”

“And leave me all alone?”

“It would not be proper to be alone with you,” Kathleen replied, turning to leave.

“There is nobody present to take notice. In addition, our families are longtime friends. Nothing would be untoward.”

“You are forgetting one thing, my lord.”

“What might that be, my lady?”

“That I do not wish to be alone with you. I endure your company when I have to in the presence of others. Other than that, I find you barely tolerable.”

“What have I done to bring about this warm regard?” Lord Holdenburg asked with humor lighting his eyes.

“You have shown me nothing but indifference in the past. Why, now, the sudden change? Have you ruined the latest round of debutantes?”

“You are aware, my dear, that I do not ruin any debutante that does not wish to be ruined. I have heard no complaints thus far. Have you? If so, please tell, so I may alter my seductions.”

“Why, you insufferable brute.”

Holdenburg shouldn’t try to raise her ire. But he found Kathleen so entertaining when her temper rose. He'd meant to accompany his mother to the Beckwiths’ with the intention of courting Kathleen. He decided now was the time, since Lady Beckwith had Rory settled with Dallis, and Devon was no longer needed. He wanted Kathleen as his. Holdenburg observed the love shared between Rory and Dallis and wanted the same thing for himself. And the only lady for him was Kathleen. He had patiently waited for her to bloom into the lady she had become. When Kathleen started to slander Devon, it set him to prod her temper. Since Devon began this behavior, he might as well continue and start the courting another day. Unless he could turn the situation around somehow.

Kathleen fumed at Holdenburg. She tried to call him out on his ungentlemanly behavior and he turned it around into his pleasure. The nerve of the man to think she would give him pointers to ruin her friends. Even though every single one of them wished for a private moment in Holdenburg’s company. She'd watched many of them try, and a few succeeded. He would dance and steal away with them into dark gardens. Then after a short time had passed, the lady would sneak back into the ballroom, a blush gracing her cheeks and a satisfied smile. Shortly thereafter, Holdenburg always swaggered back in with his usual conceited expression. Each of their smiles confirmed of a secret rendezvous that appeased both parties. Kathleen would sit and listen to the tittering of the lady gushing over the seductive skills of Devon Holdenburg. Kathleen silently fumed when other ladies applauded his attributes. There could be no other reason than a lack of respect that explained why she found his actions scandalous. None at all. Now he sat here proud of himself. The insufferable boor.

“If you will excuse me, my lord. I wish to seek your mother’s opinion on which dress I should wear tomorrow evening.” Kathleen started for the door.

“Of course, Lady Kathleen, time spent in your company has been charming as always.” Holdenburg bowed. “If you want my opinion, I prefer you in blue, a dark sapphire.”

“I wasn’t aware I asked your opinion, my lord.”

“Nonetheless, I offered it.”

Before Kathleen replied, her mother returned to the parlor. She was carrying an envelope.

“Here you are, my lord. You will find I applied great detail on your requests. I hope you find them advantageous enough to meet your needs.”

Holdenburg slid the envelope inside the pocket of his suit coat. Lady Beckwith had agreed to help him with his plan of attack against her daughter. The very daughter who held no clue of Holdenburg's feelings for her. Whenever they were in the same company, Kathleen brought out the devil in him. Her hatred kept him fueled to antagonize her. The very opposite of true desire. But the circumstances of their relationship always caused this war of words.

“What requests?” Kathleen asked.

“Nothing, my dear. A private matter between the earl and myself. Where has your mother gotten to?” she asked Devon.

“Dallis is giving her a tour of the nursery.”

Kathleen said, “I wanted the duchess’s opinion on which color of dress to wear for tomorrow evening.”

Devon said, “I told her she would look lovely in a deep sapphire gown.”

“Lord Holdenburg, you know Kathleen must wear pastels.”

“A pity.”

“Which dresses do you wish her to choose from?” Lady Beckwith asked.

“Either the pale pink or the soft blue we bought last week,” replied Kathleen.

“Since Lord Holdenburg would like to see you in blue, why don’t you wear the blue tomorrow evening?” said Lady Beckwith.

“The pink it is,” Kathleen countered, leaving the parlor.

Kathleen refused to stay in the same room with his smug lordship one moment longer. Why her mother always tried to please Holdenburg confused her. It was if her mother knew something she didn’t. Blue. Humph. While the pink wasn’t her favorite choice, she would wear it. Anything to go against him.

Lady Beckwith watched Kathleen, in a snit, leave the parlor. She waited patiently for her daughter to acknowledge Lord Holdenburg as the catch he was, and Kathleen stubbornly refused. When she viewed the amused expression on his face, Lady Beckwith realized Holdenburg took great pleasure in Kathleen’s aggravation.

“I don’t even know if my suggestions will help you.”

“Any insight will be of great assistance,” he said.

“Will we see you tomorrow evening?”

“I wouldn’t miss seeing Lady Kathleen in her pink confection twirling across the ballroom floor.”

“And will you offer for a dance?”

“She will only refuse.”

“How do you know, unless you ask?”

“Perhaps tomorrow I will.”

Devon went in search for his mother, with Lady Beckwith following. If they didn’t leave soon, the ladies would be late for their charitable meeting. They found her in the foyer and in a lively discussion with Kathleen about a new play he had invited the Beckwiths’ to attend with his family next week. Thankfully, Kathleen's aggravation towards him did not extend towards his mother. While he would love to have her warm regards directed towards him, Devon quite enjoyed their sparing matches.

Lady Beckwith said, “Kathleen, we are running behind for our meeting. Do you wish to accompany us? Dallis is coming along.”

“No, Mama. I have some correspondence I must attend to.”

Devon said, “That is too bad. I had hoped to convince you to take a walk in the park while I wait for the lovely ladies to attend their meeting.”

“What an excellent idea, Devon,” said the duchess.

Holdenburg’s request placed Kathleen in a delicate spot. She couldn’t deny him while his mother approved of the outing. If she were to refuse, it would make her less favorable in the duchess’s eyes, and her mother would later lecture Kathleen on her manners. She felt her mother’s eyes on her, sending a silent message. Kathleen pasted a smile on her face before she replied.

“That sounds like a delightful idea, my lord.”

Holdenburg smiled smugly, knowing he'd succeeded. Well, he might have won this hand, but Kathleen would make their outing difficult. Their walk would not be a long one.

“Excellent, shall we ladies?” Holdenburg held out his hands to usher them to his carriage.

The two older ladies gathered on each side of Dallis, linking their arms together, discussing the meeting they were about to attend. Which left Kathleen to walk alongside Holdenburg. The earl took a liberty that shouldn’t be allowed by placing his hand on the small of her back, walking them toward the carriage. His touch sent warm shivers tickling throughout her body. The intimate act brought forth kinder thoughts towards him. She shouldn’t allow him, but couldn’t call him out in front of their mothers. She would wait until they were alone to address his inappropriate behavior. Kathleen must keep her temper around him or else Holdenburg would push past her wall of anger. She had an agenda for the remainder of the season and becoming soft around Lord Devon Holdenburg wasn’t part of her plan.

Devon knew he pushed the boundaries by touching Kathleen so intimately, but he couldn’t resist. The temptation of her closeness and the company of others urged him toward his improper act. Devon knew that once he delivered the other ladies at the Hartridges’ then he would have to face her wrath at his improprieties. He waited with anticipation. Kathleen would fill his ears with a fiery tirade. The first on her list would be cornering her into an outing after she couldn’t say nay without disappointing their mothers.

He felt Kathleen stiffen, but she didn’t pull away. To do so would draw attention toward them. His fingers stroked across where her back curved into her buttocks. How he wished he could caress lower. Much lower. Where there were no garments restricting him from the silkiness of her skin. Would the rest of her body blush as her cheeks did so now? Soon. He would learn the answers to his questions. Soon. Lady Kathleen Beckwith was unaware of the game he played. However, by the end of the season, she would be in his arms, moaning his name.

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