The Saint Who Stole My Heart: A Regency Rogues Novel

BOOK: The Saint Who Stole My Heart: A Regency Rogues Novel
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The Saint Who Stole My Heart
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

A Ballantine Books eBook Edition

 

Copyright © 2012 by Stefanie Sloane
Excerpt from
The Scoundrel Takes a Bride
by Stefanie Sloane copyright © 2012 by Stefanie Sloane

 

All rights reserved.

 

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

 

B
ALLANTINE
and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

 

This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
The Scoundrel Takes a Bride
by Stefanie Sloane. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.

 

eISBN: 978-0-345-53444-6

 

Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi
Cover art: Alan Ayers

 

www.ballantinebooks.com

 

v3.1

 
Contents
 
 
 
 
Summer, 1798
A
FTON
M
ANOR
C
OUNTRY ESTATE OF THE
E
ARL OF
A
FTON
S
USSEX
 

“Let it be known, Dashiell Matthews, that pulling my braids one more time will result in your untimely death.” Ten-year-old Sophia Southwell tossed her head and the deep brown braids in question slipped over her shoulders as she turned back toward her familial estate.

Dash wiped at his brow and did his best to hide his laughter. As did his friends, brothers Langdon and Nicholas Bourne. The problem was, the angrier Sophia became, the funnier all three boys found her, which only made them laugh harder. And louder, unfortunately.

And the worst part of all was that Nicholas’s laugh sounded very much like a bark of sorts. The four had not been able to agree upon whether it more closely resembled a sickly goose, a dog with a bone lodged in his throat, or an angry billy goat. But whatever the poor unfortunate animal, the bark was made even more entertaining when he tried to suppress it.

Which he never could do, in light of his extremely acute sense of the ridiculous.

This was one of those times.

Nicholas reached out to give the braids another good tug.

Dash slapped his hand away, and then punched him on the arm. “It’s the heat, Sophia. You know it only brings out the mischief in us boys.”

“By my own hands—bare hands, if you must know,” Sophia threatened, not bothering to turn and look at them.

“Come now, Sophia, don’t be cross,” Langdon said gently. He bent down and yanked a handful of wildflowers from the ground, offering them to Sophia like a real gentleman. “We didn’t mean anything by it.”

She turned and looked at them, eyeing the flowers as though she fully expected a snake to slither forth and disappear up the sleeve of her dress. “Is this an apology, then?” she asked with a suspicious frown, taking the flowers in her hands and tentatively sniffing.

The boys formed a half circle around her. They hesitated, each pushing the other and muttering things like “Go on, then,” and “It was your idea, after all.” Finally, Dash stepped forward. He licked his hands and slicked back his hair, then cleared his throat.

“I vow, Sophia Southwell, that these hands,” Dash said dramatically, holding the offending fingers up and wiggling all ten, “will never,
ever
, touch your tresses again.”

Sophia shaded her eyes against the sunlight and crowned him with her bouquet, bits of green leaves and white petals showering his shoulders. “First of all, you shan’t get near any part of me with those spit-stained hands of yours or I shall kill you. Secondly, it’s not just my braids, you ninny,” she huffed, sweeping the three with an exasperated look. “It’s your treatment of me this summer—as if I’m somehow different …”

“But you are, aren’t you?” Dash asked, grinning. “Look now, you’re wearing a dress, while we three,” he paused, punching first Nicholas in the arm, then Langdon,
“are attired in breeches. And shirts. Nary a dress among us.”

Sophia brained all three with the flowers this time. “I’ve always worn dresses, you idiot—I am, after all, a girl.”

“Precisely,” Dash agreed, brushing daisy petals from his hair. “A girl, with … Well, that is to say … What I mean …” He felt his cheeks grow hot. “Come on, Sophia. Don’t make me say it.”

“With girl parts and such,” Nicholas offered helpfully as he arched his eyebrows. “You’ve ten-year-old girl parts.”

Suddenly, Dash and Langdon couldn’t take their eyes off of a greenish-blue emperor dragonfly that’d presumably followed them up from the lake.

To watch the boys expire from embarrassment.

“Well, it’s true, isn’t it?” Nicholas added, scrubbing at his sweaty neck.

Langdon sighed and shoved his brother up the path. “We don’t want to talk about your girl parts, Sophia—well, that is, we would. If it wasn’t rude. But it is, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is,” Sophia agreed simply, apparently quite calm about such intimate references.

“Yes, of course. Anyway, it’s just that we’re all getting older,” he explained in his steady way, belying his thirteen years. “You’re ten now. Nick and Dash nearly twelve. And I’ll be fourteen soon enough. We’re growing up.”

Sophia fell into line next to Langdon as Dash and Nicholas moved ahead of them toward the manor, the dust rising from the worn walk as they plodded along.

Langdon’s response was true enough, Dash thought. They were growing up. The boys would head off to Eton while Sophia did whatever it was girls had to do to become proper ladies. Dash felt sorry for her—and glad
for himself, which only made it that much worse. He’d have Nicholas and Langdon with him at school. Sophia would have no one—well, no one her age, anyway. Of course there were her parents. Lord Afton was a bit of a mysterious character as far as the boys were concerned, and no more than a congenial if absent father to Sophia. But her mother, Lady Afton, was different.

Dash kicked at a rock and watched it ricochet off a tree root and bounce into the heavy brush. Lady Afton was an angel. No one could convince him otherwise. She was the only mother he’d ever known, his own having died in childbirth. And she was perfect. Lady Afton let him wallow in the mud and never cursed when he tracked dirt in from outside. She read him adventure tales and laughed at his jokes. And when he cried, Lady Afton held him tightly and told him everything would be all right. Dash was happiest when he was with her. And that was enough for him. More than enough. Lady Afton loved Dash—loved all four of the children. And they loved her fiercely in return.

Nicholas nudged Dash in the ribs and laughed. Dash ruffled his hair in retaliation. Even Langdon and Nicholas, whose mother was hale and hearty after giving birth twice, preferred Lady Afton to their own flesh and blood. Dash couldn’t blame them. Lady Stonecliffe seemed to like reading fancy French women’s magazines more than mothering her sons.

He looked at Nicholas from the corner of his eye and wondered; was it better to have no mother at all than to have one who didn’t seem to want you? He’d never dared to ask his friend. Nicholas was more likely to blacken his eye before he’d answer such a question. And anyway, Dash suspected that he already knew the answer.

Sophia’s easy laugh reached Dash’s ears and he turned to look back. Langdon was making a cake of himself as
he watched the girl giggle. There was no need to ask the boy about his mother. He didn’t seem to care either way. Oh, he adored Lady Afton, that was true enough. But his heart already belonged to Sophia.

Dash’s stomach turned. How any boy could feel
that
way about a girl was beyond him.

“What will we do without you?” Dash heard Langdon say to Sophia.

“Get into trouble, I suspect. Speaking of which,” she answered as they caught up with Nicholas and Dash, “I’ve a challenge for you three.”

The devilry in her voice lifted the uneasiness of the moment and the boys smiled.

“Our excursion to the lake took some time—too much time, if I’m not mistaken,” she said, looking at the sun’s place in the sky.

“Hardly a problem, Sophia,” Dash replied, kicking at a second rock in the path. “We’ll sneak in as we normally do—through the library window and up the servants’ stairs to the nursery.”

Sophia looked back down and placed her hands on her hips. “Yes, you three will take the usual route. But I will enter through the front door.”

Dash’s jaw dropped. “You’re putting us on. No one gets past Wilcox. Actually, no one’s ever tried. And for good reason. Just what do you think will happen if he catches you? And he will, mark my words.”

A butler with the keen sense of a hunting hound and the disposition to match, Wilcox never took his duties lightly, especially when it came to informing the adults of their children’s transgressions. All four suspected that the man rather enjoyed catching them at their worst, which made them hate him even more.

“No one
has
gotten past Wilcox. I intend to be the first to do so. Right now!” Sophia announced excitedly, then took off running toward the front of the house, her
long, thick braids flying over her shoulders as she disappeared around a corner.

The boys stared after her, and then looked at one another, hardly knowing what to do next.

“Well, come on, then,” Dash finally said, following after Sophia.

Langdon and Nicholas caught up quickly, each thumping him on the head as they passed.

“I don’t know about you two, but I’m not about to be beaten by a girl,” Nicholas yelled, running even faster.

“Me neither,” Dash shouted back, picking up speed as he raced toward the manor. “Right hot for a run, though.”

BOOK: The Saint Who Stole My Heart: A Regency Rogues Novel
11.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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