Brook Street: Fortune Hunter

BOOK: Brook Street: Fortune Hunter
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Brook Street: Fortune Hunter

By Ava March

London, 1822

Impoverished Julian Parker returns to London with one goal: marry an heiress. He’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means denying his desire for men. After all, with a fortune comes happiness and social acceptance—which have eluded Julian his entire life.

The only things a vast fortune has brought Oscar Woodhaven are greedy relatives and loneliness. At twenty-one years of age, he has everything a man could possibly want—except someone to love him. When he meets devastatingly handsome Julian Parker, he believes his luck has turned.

Between Oscar’s lavish gifts and their searing-hot nights, Julian is caught between what he thinks he needs and what his heart truly desires. But when a betrayal threatens to tear them apart, Julian discovers he’ll do whatever it takes to convince Oscar the greatest fortune of all is love.

44,000 words

Dear Reader,

April is a bit of a mixed-bag month, isn’t it? In some countries, like here in the United States, it’s tax season, which for many is either a very stressful time or a time of “Hurray! Tax-return money arrives!” We also get Easter weekend, which comes with days off for some. April is also the month where we finally (hopefully) really start seeing the change of seasons from winter to spring, let out a long breath and kick our children outdoors for longer periods of time (surely it’s not just me who does that?).

So I guess it’s only appropriate that our releases this month are also a mixed bag. Carina Press is able to bring you an assortment of titles to help bust you out of any lingering winter blues. The month starts off with a smokin’-hot bang via Abby Wood’s erotic contemporary cowboy romance
Consent to Love.
Joining her in the first week of April are Sandy James with her contemporary romance
Rules of the Game,
and Regency romance
The Perfect Impostor
by Wendy Soliman.

Also in the contemporary romance genre in April we have
His Secret Temptation
by Cat Schield,
Serious Play
by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon, and
North of Heartbreak
by Julie Rowe. Historical romance author M.K. Chester joins the April lineup with
Surrender to the Roman,
and Juliana Ross heats up the Victorian era with erotic historical romance
Improper Relations.
Returning with three more books in her White series is author Susan Edwards.

Talented Natalie J. Damschroder returns with another crowd-pleasing romantic suspense,
Acceptable Risks.
And if you love that book, make sure you check out her previous romantic suspense,
Fight or Flight,
from our 2011 release schedule!

For those of you who prefer your romance a bit more…otherworldly, Kaylea Cross’s
Darkest Caress
is a paranormal romance of magical races, darkly handsome men and fiercely independent women. Ella Drake takes us to her vision of our post-apocalyptic world in
Desert Blade,
and new Carina Press author Kay Keppler’s
Zero Gravity Outcasts
takes readers on a science-fiction adventure with a hint of romance.

Fans of male/male romance should be on the lookout for
Brook Street: Fortune Hunter
, the next in author Ava March’s regency historical trilogy.

Last, but certainly not least, we’re very pleased to present debut author Christopher Beats’s steampunk noir
Cruel Numbers
this month. Visit Christopher’s alternate historical world in which the North loses the War of Southern Secession, one girl’s talent for analytical machines has made her a valuable asset in the new world, and steam-powered gadgets may give war veteran Donovan Schist the edge he needs to save his life, and hers.

I think April’s schedule of releases is a good reason to wish for just one more snow day—so you can stay inside and read! I hope you enjoy these books as much as we have.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected]. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

www.twitter.com/carinapress

www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

To Michelle, the best big sister ever. Thanks for playing Barbies with me, even when you didn’t have to, and thanks for always being there for me.

Chapter One

April 1822
London, England

A drop of sweat dripped between his shoulder blades, tickling his skin. Julian Parker resisted the urge to roll his shoulders, and instead kept the charming smile in place. “Yes, my mother quite enjoys Philadelphia. I, however, missed England too much to stay away any longer. Philadelphia society, while pleasant, cannot hold a candle to the beauty that can be found in London.”

The compliment did its duty. The haughty elegance, that air of bored condescension of one just barely tolerating another’s presence, slipped away. A smile spread across Lady Whitley’s plain, round face. “London is fortunate to have you back, Mr. Parker.”

Julian tipped his head. “I consider myself fortunate to be back.”

She glanced to his cousin, Lord Benjamin Parker, standing at his shoulder, then back to Julian, her gaze quickly raking the length of his body, from the elaborate cravat that took him a good half hour to tie, the knot secured by a gold pin with a respectably sized stone, to his freshly polished shoes. “I am at home Monday afternoons, if you would care to call.”

Relief washed over him. Maybe it would not be so difficult after all. “Thank you for the invitation.”

His cousin shifted his weight. “If you’ll excuse us, Lady Whitley, the card room calls.”

“It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my lady,” Julian said, giving the woman a half bow.

He and Benjamin took their leave of her. Weaving around the other guests who had already arrived at the ball, they made their way toward the card room.

“She is a recent widow?” Julian asked, just loud enough to reach Benjamin’s ears.

“A widow with twenty thousand pounds. Are you hoping for more, or would that do?”

Julian pretended not to notice the undercurrent of sarcasm in Benjamin’s tone, though it did cause some concern. Of all his relations in England, Benjamin was the only one who had once cared to have him around, yet his cousin did not seem all that pleased with Julian’s plans. Perhaps he should not have confided in Benjamin, but a man who had a fortune of his own and a secure place in Society surely could not understand being without. That bitter taste of wanting, of being close enough to touch but relegated to only admire, of never living in one place long enough to call it home. “It could possibly do,” he replied.

Twenty thousand equated to about a thousand a year. Far more than he had ever had, but it still didn’t feel like nearly enough. And she was a widow, a plain one at that, who looked to be a couple of years older than his five-and-twenty. Though what did that matter? It wasn’t as if attraction would or could play any part in his decision. She had seemed somewhat interested in him, however, so it wouldn’t do to turn his back on the possibility altogether. For all he knew, she would be the only woman who wouldn’t snub her nose at him once she found out he was one of
those
Parkers.

There were Parkers, and then there were Parkers. He’d heard that phrase, spoken in an undertone yet deliberately loud enough to reach interested ears, more times than he cared to count growing up. The sidelong glances in his direction, followed by hushed murmurs, which invariably left him sitting alone at one end of a table in Eton’s dining hall. If Benjamin had gone to Eton, perhaps Julian’s meals wouldn’t have been so lonely. His other cousins hadn’t much cared for him, but Benjamin was too genuinely nice to shun a family member, even a second cousin from the Lord Albert Parker branch of the family. But Benjamin had been put under private tuition, and Julian had been left without a single person to stand at his side to quiet those hushed murmurs.

The memory of that old pain, the loneliness tinged with acute self-consciousness, began to creep upon him once again. With a forcible mental shove, he pushed it aside. He had Benjamin’s support now and that was all that mattered. As long as he stayed in his cousin’s good graces, as long as Benjamin kept agreeing to take him to balls and make the necessary introductions, he had a decent chance of the
ton
forgetting that he was one of those Parkers. Or at least not minding so much. If Lord Benjamin Parker, youngest brother of the Marquis of Haverson, thought him fit to associate with, then perhaps Julian wasn’t like his father and grandfather.

And since he needed Benjamin’s support, he didn’t protest when Benjamin led him into the card room after only introducing him to one lady. The evening was still young, the ball not yet in full swing. There would be plenty of opportunities later for more introductions. If playing a hand or two of cards placated that touch of sarcasm, then Julian would willingly accede to Benjamin’s wishes.

The ballroom hadn’t approached a crush yet, but the card room was rather full already. Most of the tables scattered about were occupied. Some men engaged in games while others merely partook of a drink. Regardless of their reason for being in the room, every man Julian’s gaze landed upon had that air of Quality, of superiority, about him. They belonged here, within oak-paneled walls with footmen clad in navy livery to see to their every need, and they were well aware of it.

He stayed close to Benjamin’s shoulder as his cousin strode into the card room as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Julian tugged on his shirt cuff, righting it beneath the sleeve of the black coat he had commissioned just yesterday from a tailor on St. James Street, and then he lifted his chin.

As they rounded one of the tables, a man called, “Join us, Parker.”

“No thank you, Anderson,” Benjamin said, stopping at the table which held two men, both dark-haired and handsome and obviously wealthy, judging by the expert cuts of their coats. “I’m not of a mind to write any vowels tonight, though I will introduce you to my cousin, Mr. Julian Parker. He’s fresh from Philadelphia and come to share in the delights of the Season. This is Mr. Robert Anderson and Mr. Linus Radcliffe.” He tipped his head first to the more rugged of the two, then to the other. “Good friends of mine, and ruthless at whist.”

“Not kind of you, Parker, scaring him off us like that.” Radcliffe took a long sip from a glass that looked to contain whisky and glanced to Julian. “We aren’t all that bad.”

“Yes, they are,” Benjamin corrected. “And especially when it comes to cards.”

Anderson lifted one broad shoulder, clearly content with Benjamin’s description. “If you’re looking for an easier game, Woodhaven’s at a table by the fireplace. He was playing with Harper, along with Mercer and Stoddart, though those two just returned to the ball. Stoddart heard Lady Tarras arrived.”

“I saw her talking with Eleanor by the refreshment table,” Benjamin said, referring to his oldest sister. “She had her husband in tow.”

Radcliffe arched an elegant brow. “And that would matter to Stoddart?”

Benjamin shook his head, a rueful smile on his lips. “Valid point. We’ll go find Woodhaven and keep him from writing too many vowels to Harper. Best of luck finding another pair for whist.”

Benjamin stepped from the table. Julian opened his mouth to bid the men good evening, but Radcliffe and Anderson had already dismissed him, turning their attention back to each other as if Julian hadn’t been standing by Benjamin’s side.

A few long strides had him at Benjamin’s shoulder once again. “Is Woodhaven a friend of yours?”

“Yes, and I’d appreciate it if you kept your bets low.”

“Why? Is he in dun territory?”

“No. Quite the opposite. But he’s not very good at cards, yet he insists on playing. Just please keep your bets low.”

“An easy enough request.” And Julian was thankful for it. He had only slipped a handful of coins into his pocket before departing for Benjamin’s town house earlier that evening. He could always write a few vowels, but if given the option, he’d rather not resort to that yet. Best not to serve as a visible reminder of his father before he’d had a chance to earn his own reputation.

Benjamin nodded to a few men as they made their way to the back of the room. Just a silent nod of the head. Nothing more. Julian couldn’t help but wonder if he was the reason Benjamin did not stop to speak with any of those men. Rolling one shoulder, he used his shirt to swipe at the bead of sweat still tickling his back.

“Relax.”

Benjamin’s whisper caught him off guard. Julian glanced to his cousin.

“No reason to be nervous,” Benjamin said in that same low tone as he tipped his head to another gentleman. “It’s just a ball.”

Ah hell.
“Is it…obvious?” And here he had thought he was covering the nerves so well.

Benjamin shook his head.

Thank God for small favors. It might just be a ball to his cousin, but it was certainly far more to Julian. Tonight was his first ball, his official introduction to Society, an event he’d been looking forward to for…years. If it went poorly, tonight would all but kill any hopes for success.

“There you are, Harper.” Benjamin stopped at a table a few paces from the gray marble fireplace. “Thought you should know I heard your father’s looking for you.”

The blond man let out a huff of annoyance, but he didn’t question Benjamin. After pocketing the coins at his elbow, he got to his feet and left the table.

“Evening, Parker,” said the man remaining at the table. He was short of stature and slightly built with auburn hair and a sprinkling of freckles across his nose, and looked to be barely above twenty years of age. If he was put off at losing his gambling companion, he didn’t show it. An open, friendly smile curved his lips, his brown eyes alight with welcome.

“Evening, Woodhaven. This is my cousin, Mr. Julian Parker. Just arrived from Philadelphia. Julian, Mr. Oscar Woodhaven.”

“Welcome to London.” Woodhaven’s friendly smile didn’t dim even a fraction. If anything, he appeared genuinely pleased to make Julian’s acquaintance. A bit of the nervousness eased from Julian’s spine. “Please, join me. Both of you. It’s not much fun to play cards with oneself.”

“We wouldn’t want to subject you to that fate.” Benjamin sat in the chair across from Woodhaven.

“Not fond of patience?” Julian asked Woodhaven, as he took up the empty chair at his cousin’s right, putting him between Woodhaven and Benjamin.

Woodhaven shook his head. “Played enough of that over the years.” And so had Julian. So much so he’d become a master of the game at fourteen years of age. “How about brag?”

“Two shilling ante?” Benjamin motioned to a passing footman. “Brandy,” he said to the footman. Then he looked to Julian who gave him a nod. “Make that two.”

“Actually, three. Almost done with this one.” Woodhaven shuffled the deck, the cards flicking securely together in his pale hands. Benjamin claimed he wasn’t very good at cards, but this man certainly knew his way around them. “And two shillings it is then. One and ten for the minimum and maximum?”

Ten shillings? Julian’s gut tightened as he tugged off his white evening gloves. At that maximum bet, each player’s stake in the pot could quickly grow to several pounds or more. He doubted he had more than fifteen shillings in his pocket. His first card game at a ball, and he could end up folding at the start of most every hand and earning himself a reputation as a horrid card player. Bloody brilliant.

Fortunately, Benjamin spoke up. “Let’s keep it tame and go with five.”

Woodhaven shrugged. “All right.” A trace of disappointment touched his eyes. The man either liked writing vowels or didn’t care one whit if he lost several pounds in one go.

How wonderful that must be, to not have to worry about money. To not have most every thought backed by that particular concern.

The stakes decided upon, they put their ante into the center of the table and then Woodhaven dealt them each three cards. Julian picked up his. A seven-eight-nine run. Not bad at all. He tossed another shilling into the pot. Benjamin followed his lead, staying in with one shilling.

“You certainly don’t sound like an American.” Woodhaven upped the bet to two shillings.

A glass materialized at Julian’s elbow. He took a long swallow, savoring the rich burn as the fine aged brandy flowed down his throat. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“If you’d like, then it is one. Though it wouldn’t matter if you did.” Well, Woodhaven might not care, but Julian doubted most of the
ton
would have a similar opinion on the matter. “Have you lived in Philadelphia all your life?”

“No, only for the last decade.” He met Woodhaven’s bet, the coins landing with a little
clink
on top of the others. If luck was with him, his time at the table could finance his next visit to the tailor. “My father moved the family from England when I was fifteen.”

Thankfully Woodhaven didn’t ask why, though Julian was certain someone would soon volunteer the information to him. Those who knew the specifics were always eager to pass it on. Gossip required company, after all.

“What brings you back?” Woodhaven asked.

“I missed London.”

Benjamin cleared his throat.

“Of course, I missed my dear cousin, too,” Julian added, throwing Woodhaven a smirk, as if he was letting him in on the joke. “It’s been ages since we’ve run about the countryside together.”

“Indeed it has.” The loud clink of five coins hitting the table belied the genial smile on his cousin’s lips.

When the betting reached him again, he took Benjamin’s warning for what it was and folded.

No doubt about it. Benjamin was not pleased with his plans.

Why exactly, Julian hadn’t the faintest notion. It wasn’t as if gentlemen didn’t often marry for money. His goal certainly was not unique. But since Benjamin did not approve…

He couldn’t help but recall how his cousin had been rather vague about his social calendar, with no mention of specific events other than this evening.

What if Benjamin had no intention of taking him to another function?

The worry settled squarely on his shoulders. He’d been counting on Benjamin’s support. Needed it. He had nothing to recommend him but his good looks and his connection to Benjamin. Without the latter… Hell, there couldn’t be a
without the latter.
If need be, he’d beg his cousin to take him to functions. Surely Benjamin wouldn’t refuse an outright plea.

BOOK: Brook Street: Fortune Hunter
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