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His Second Chance

by Stephanie Lake

His Second Chance - Stephanie Lake
Part of the Second Chance series:
Editions:ePub - Second Edition: $ 2.99 USD
ISBN: 9781504504485
Pages: 115

The Seventh Viscount of Torring, Randall Blair is more than disgusted with unfaithful lovers. When his last lover announces his engagement to the current reigning belle, Randall decides to suppress his true nature and follow suit. He is determined, once and for all, to forget the dark sailor who slipped in and out of his life five years before.

Lady Prudence Wedgewood has, for a member of the fair sex, unquestioned beauty, and shows a surprising wit, which will entertain Randall, even if her well-proportioned body does not arouse his desires. The marriage should at least be, bearable.

Lieutenant David Wedgewood has always been beyond discreet with his unnatural attraction to men. An attraction, which years ago, nearly set Randall’s bed aflame for a blissful, torrid week.

The Blair and Wedgewood wedding plans unfold flawlessly, until Lady Prudence’s brother returns: Randall’s long lost sailor.

David returned for only one reason: to save his beloved sister from a marriage destined to bring nothing but pain. Marriage to a sod! He will kill Randall if that’s what it takes to stop the wedding. And he is willing to seduce Randall, to prove that this marriage can only end in disaster and heartbreak.

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Excerpt:

Prologue

 

London, February 1784

With one eye closed—for some reason his eyes refused to focus on one object at the same time—Randall Blair, Seventh Viscount of Torring, poured himself his fourth—or was it his fifth?—brandy.

It really didn’t matter. Since most of the amber liquid found its way into the cut-crystal tumbler, he was surely not foxed enough. Glass in hand, he sank into the overstuffed wingback chair he’d occupied for over an hour, staring at glowing cinders in the fireplace, waiting for his reckoning.

From the echoes of agitated voices in the foyer, he surmised the current drink would go unfinished. He took a fortifying swallow, the liquid almost sweet by this point in his inebriation, placed the glass on the floor beside his chair, then faced the force of nature storming into his once peaceful, oak-paneled study.

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The redheaded termagant standing in the doorway, a white-knuckled grip on the latch, had plagued him since they shared a crib. But, by God, he would not answer to her this time.

“Of all the most stupid things you have ever done, Randall. I cannot believe…” She sputtered, looked at the floor, then stepped close. Her thin, tall frame, garbed in a severe, dark-gray wool dress, towered over him. Afternoon light spilling into the room accentuated her blazing hair as if each strand shared her fury.

He closed his left eye again, but the improved focus did nothing but enhance her white-tipped, scrunched-up nose and blotchy red cheeks. Not attractive on any woman, especially not a redhead. She looked like a sun-bleached cherry.

If he were not so numb, actually, if he could feel his feet, he would stand and put her in her place as any self-respecting Englishman would do. He stayed seated because the lack of feeling was preferable to the previous overwhelming constriction around his heart. So he anchored himself with a hundredweight worth of stubbornness and embraced the alcohol-induced stupor.

“I heard the most ridiculous thing from Mother.” She was trying for conciliatory. She was never very convincing at conciliatory.

God, a sweltering, vermin-infested hut somewhere in tropical Africa would be pleasant now compared to the next few hours of her ire. Well, except for the fevers, of course.

He stared into piercing sky-blue eyes. “It took you longer to get here than I expected, dear cousin.”

“I was attending a lecture on the theory of permutation when you informed the family of your intentions. They had the benefit of several hours in which to plan and stir up excitement before I was found and apprised of the situation.”

He nodded but would say nothing more.

“So, it is true?” She bunched her fists, set them on her slim hips. A new record for her: conciliatory lasted less than a minute.

He nodded again.

“Randall, why are you making this monstrously bad decision, and…and, well, why?” She spat the words, each one puncturing his numbness. Damn the woman.

His gaze drifted to the glowing coals. “I plan to marry, do my duty, beget an heir. After all, I’m three and thirty, Liz. Running out of time.”

“So, did Arsenwere dump you? Is that what precipitated your bloody ridiculous thought process?”

Lord Arsenwere.

The all too familiar, sinking sensation filled his abdomen. Damn, he thought he’d drowned all feeling.

“Enough, Elizabeth!” He waved a dismissive hand. “I do not need your sharp tongue just now.”

“Oh, dear, dear Randall.” She swooped down onto the Turkish carpet and hugged his knees. “He did, didn’t he?”

He kept his focus on the waning fire and ground his teeth, trying to keep his gut from expelling all that expensive, smuggled brandy.

“He was not good enough for you. I have told you so many times.”

Swallowing down the moisture clogging his throat, he contradicted her. “If that were indeed the case, he would not be engaged to the current reigning belle, would he? Didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me.”

“But, dear, there is someone else; you always have some special friend or another. No reason to make such a stupid, monumental mistake.”

“Thank you for making me feel horrible, Liz.”

She flinched.

She rested her head on his thigh, and her colorful locks cascaded over his pale-green breeches. “Randall, dear, why are you doing this? You have always planned to let George or one of his sons inherit. You’ve already taught your little brother how to handle the estate, and it all stays with him or your nephews. You said it was a good arrangement; why change your mind now?”

He stroked her head, a comforting gesture he’d made since the first time she fell and peppered her palm with pebbles.

“I want stability. I want someone who will love me. Someone who will always be there for me.” He gagged on those bitter words but made himself continue. Keeping things from his favorite cousin had always been impossible. “I want a family again. For the love of God. It took eight days…eight days, Liz, to find out about Father and…”

He ran a hand over his rough day-old beard. His parents had died and left him, Arsenwere was getting married and didn’t bother to tell him, and David had left with no word. Damn, the alcohol was making him maudlin.

“I want someone who will share my bed at night, every night, and doesn’t have to run off so we don’t get caught and then tried as sodomites. Someone I don’t have to hide from our family. Someone who will never leave me, who will never break my heart.”

Slowly she raised her head, eyes glistening, voice thick with emotion. “Even if the love is based on a lie? Even if you cannot summon your body to arousal while sharing her bed? Even if your heart is never broken because it will never be hers to begin with?”

He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the chair. Leave it to his dearest friend to demolish the bubble he had built around himself since making the decision. “I can do this. It will work.” Heaven and bloody hell. Why couldn’t he have been born normal? Why had fate bestowed these unnatural urges on him?

The comforting weight of her hug disappeared moments before warm, soft, pliable lips caressed his, two small hands cradled his face, and the scent of mint and ginger engulfed his senses. It took his brandy-impaired brain several seconds to realize he was kissing his cousin. Then several seconds more to react.

He shoved her away. “What in the devil?” He bolted out of the chair and rushed behind it to put a barrier between himself and his completely insane cousin. She was sprawled on the floor on her bottom, trying to untangle limbs from skirts. He rubbed his lips with the back of his coat sleeve. Then he rubbed them again on the other superfine sleeve for good measure.

“What the hell did you do that for?”

An impish grin lit up her face. “Did you like it?”

“God. God, no. Of course I didn’t like it.”

“Of course,” she mimicked. “Because you are incapable of loving women.”

“This is not fair, Liz. You know I love you.”

“You love me as a friend, as a cousin, not as a woman.” Her eyes pleaded with him to understand. “Let me clarify. You are incapable of desiring women.”

Why had fate given him these aberrant proclivities? And why the hell had he ever confided in Liz? He closed his eyes again but popped them open when his head began to spin, and he kept his focus on the unpredictable guest struggling to stand.

“That is why you cannot wed. Imagine such nice kisses, every morning and night.”

“Does your husband know of your propensity to taste other men’s lips?”

“Oh, do not even try to bring Vincent into this. You know I only kissed you to make a point.”

“Well, don’t attempt any more points, will you? I might just lose my luncheon if you do.”

She laughed, the sound a little shrill, but at least her normal ebullience was starting to show for the first time since she had stormed his meager defenses of one butler and two timid footmen. “Not to worry.” She rubbed her backside. “I learned my lesson and showed you where your logic was flawed. So now that you have returned to your senses and realize marrying would make you and your poor wife miserable, we should go about finding you a nice young man who is deserving of your attention. Unlike Arsenwere. Never did like that cockscomb.”

He smiled at her disrespect for a lord but dreaded saying what had to be addressed. “I have not come to my senses, Liz. I fully intend to go through with this.”

She gasped, and with a, “We shall see,” turned and stomped from the room. All the light and comfort flowed away with her. Door latch in hand, she looked over her shoulder. “I will not let you do this, Randall. So do not even think of going further with your dim-witted plan. I will not let you ruin your life.”

“It is not your life to dictate, Elizabeth.”

She narrowed those all too knowing ice-blues. “I will stop you.”

That should have been laughable—he a viscount, she a mere Mrs., but it wasn’t laughable at all.

She turned and slammed the door. The thud echoed in the room like thunder.

Bloody damn hell. Why had he been plagued with a cousin who could always find a way to manipulate him?

“Not this time, dear Liz. This time the situation is out of your control.”

The taste of mint and ginger lingered on his tongue. He retrieved his glass from the floor, spilling only a few splashes, and washed the taste from his mouth with brandy. Staggering forward, he spit the liquid into the fireplace. The flames surged around the vile stuff imbued with something worse than kissing one’s cousin.

He had kissed Elizabeth, or rather, she had kissed him. Surely he would not have such a visceral reaction with his wife.

Would he?

* * * *

Portsmouth, July 1784

First Lieutenant David Wedgewood schooled his features and waited for Captain Knowles’ decision, clutching the crumpled paper until his fingers ached. He could not loosen his grip. Otherwise, the captain might notice and request to read the missive. The letter that proved him a liar.

David tried to breathe without gasping, tried to calm his pounding heart, tried to focus on the swaying floor of the captain’s cabin as waves pushed the HBMS Porcupine rhythmically with soft thuds against its anchor chain.

Sweat soaked his newly laundered shirt. The summer wind whistled into the cramped quarters through the open windows and doubled the chill already running up his spine. Why had he not thought to burn this letter from Mother when the words inside could provoke the captain’s wrath? A simple happy letter about family matters and praise for his sister’s new suitor.

A proposal is expected soon. And, we are all ecstatic. She has finally agreed to settle down and do her duty.

A suitor. A wholly unsuitable suitor for his sister, not to mention a wholly unsuitable suitor for any woman. A damn sodomite. A tall, broad, blond, take-control-of-any-available-arse sodomite.

He damned his time at sea. It had taken over four months to receive this letter. By now, the disastrous marriage may already be a done thing. He would kill the man with bare hands.

The captain finally looked up from his charts and correspondence. Silver hair glinted and his red nose gleamed in the harsh morning light seeping through salt-stained windows.

“The Earl of Berk is not expected to live past the end of the month, you say?” Ashen eyes probed David’s features. “Has some sort of toe infection that will soon take his life?”

Good God, why hadn’t he taken the time to devise a convincing lie? The situation had seemed so urgent, he had simply reacted. “Yes, that is correct, sir.”

“You want extended leave? To attend to your dying father?”

“Yes, sir.” Beads of sweat on his upper lip coalesced and dripped down his chin.

Knowles scrutinized him from his shiny buckled shoes to short-cropped wig, even though he was dressed appropriately. Then those cold gray eyes pinned him like an insect under glass. “I have been looking for an excuse to put you landside. In fact, I haven’t known what to do with you since the incident.” The captain tossed his head up, indicating the yardarm.

David swallowed, struggling to keep his eyes dry and his breakfast down. Pleading with his knees not to shake and betray his fear.

“This land leave will give you time to reflect on your future with His Majesty’s Navy.” The words oozed with derision.

Again he swallowed and suppressed the urge to rub the fire of phantom rope burns from his neck but did not suppress the surge of hatred swelling his chest. “Yes, sir.”

“Aren’t you the perfect officer? Just like always, hmm? Well, perhaps not so perfect. I will not allow any indiscretions on my ship.” The captain stood and paced around the small room. “I am very disappointed, Lieutenant. Very disappointed.”

The captain turned and fixed him with a gaze that seemed to needle into the recesses of David’s most hidden secrets. “Were you coerced, forced into the situation?”

“I am here to request leave, sir. Without the proper authorities, this should not be an inquisition.”

“Damn you, Lieutenant, I have always liked you, admired your abilities; I want to help. You are a good officer. If you are innocent… I would hate for you to ruin your career because of some misdirected loyalties.”

“Please, sir. My father. I…I want to attend to him before he dies. My leave?”

Captain Knowles sighed as he sat. He signed a document but did not relinquish it. “So be it. You have land leave until I call you back to duty.”

The surge of relief made him dizzy.

The captain sealed the leave slip, then tossed it across his desk. “When and if I call you back to duty, I expect you to attend to the utmost propriety.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” He bent and retrieved the scrap of freedom with his free hand, not the one bleeding out the words: Lord Blair will propose to Prudence.

“You’re dismissed. You may leave as early as you can pack your sea trunk.”

“Yes, sir.” He turned and slowly, determinedly, walked to his quarters. Each step eased the tightness constricting his breathing. His sea chest was already packed, but he took the time to light a candle and burn his mother’s letter. Took the time to burn the name Blair to ashes.

Although he would rather ride all the way to London, the mail coach was the easiest way to arrive with his belongings. Plus, he did not have a horse.

David watched the lush olive, lime, and emerald countryside pass as a portly mother taught her two daughters geography.

Crammed into a crowded coach, headed for home, he took his first breath of free air in five years.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Mik on Goodreads wrote:

This was a light-hearted and funny romp of a book, and I loved it. Randall and David are in love, but they can't be together as it will ruin both of them. They are so hot together, and so caring with each other, I loved how much in love they were. There's some sweet romantic phrasing that made me melt, some funny moments that made me laugh out loud, and some fiery sex that made my toes curl!

The story progresses nicely and the pace is good, and the solution to their dilemma is a bit twisty, but it worked. If I have a criticism, it's that I love to see the main characters fall in love. In this case, they're already in love, and the story is them working out how to be together.

Eagerly waiting for Book 2 of this series!


Read an interview with David and Randall and their Epilogue at: https://sites.google.com/site/stephanielakeauthorcom/his-second-chance

About the Author

Stephanie Lake is the pen name for a husband/wife team who enjoy writing historical M/M (gay) romance with happy endings and steamy middles. We hope you read and enjoy the Second Chance series, His Midshipman, His Second Chance, and His Pirate. We’d love to hear from you, so check out our website for contact info at: https://sites.google.com/site/stephanielakeauthorcom/home

Stephanie and Lake joined forces with Jules Radcliffe, another author of queer historical fiction, to produce a monthly newsletter with news and updates on what we're doing, plus competitions, and giveaways. http://julesradcliffe.us10.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=076191e5c5ec5e9c6bfd29696&id=c42fdeb897

Read an interview with Stephanie and Lake by Super Hot Romance author, Shannon Nydia at: https://sites.google.com/site/stephanielakeauthorcom/home/about-us

Read an interview with David and Randall and, For a Fortnight, an epilogue to His Second Chance at: https://sites.google.com/site/stephanielakeauthorcom/his-second-chance


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