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The Untamed Earl

By:Valerie Bowman

PROLOGUE

Surrey, the country estate of the Duke of Huntley, July 1813

Being fifteen years of age and a bit plump and unconventional when one’s elder sister was eighteen years of age and willowy and ethereal—if waspish—was decidedly unpleasant. Being sent to bed early and told in no uncertain terms to stop lurking at the top of the staircase leading down to the ballroom was also unpleasant. But if Alexandra Hobbs strained her ears, she could just make out the soft chords of a waltz floating up from below. It was a curse to be so young when one’s elder sister was already having her come-out ball. Alexandra spun slowly, holding out the skirt of her dressing gown, pretending to curtsy to a handsome gentleman who had just asked her to dance.

The door to her room flew open and cracked against the wall. Alexandra whirled toward the sound. Not this again. Her thirteen-year-old brother came trotting in. His shirt was mussed, as was his dark hair, and he had a large streak of dirt across his jaw.

“Thomas.” Alexandra dropped her skirts and plunked her hands on her hips. “I thought I asked you to knock.”

“It’s just me, Al. Why would I want to do that?” He sauntered past her toward the window. Alexandra knew precisely what her brother was about. Her bedchamber just so happened to have much better access to the roofline and a shorter jump to the terrace below than his did. Thomas faced the window, wrenched open the sash, and leaned out. He braced his hands on the wooden sill and stuck out his head and shoulders.

“You there, Will?” he called in a half whisper, half shout.

A soft whistle was the only response. Will, the stable boy, was meeting Thomas below. This was their nightly ritual while Thomas was home from Eton.

“I’m off.” Thomas stretched one leg out the window.

“Be careful.” Alexandra turned her face away for a moment. “You know I cannot bear to see you climb onto the roof that way. I live in fear that you’ll break your neck.”

Thomas looked back at her through the window and grinned. “Where’s your sense of adventure, Al?”

Alexandra sighed. “You’ve always had more sense of adventure in your smallest toe than I do in my entire body.”

“Being adventurous is an acquired skill. Give it a try sometime. You might find you like it. At any rate, I cannot stay in my bedchamber all evening and listen to that awful racket,” Thomas added, then nodded toward the door.

“Racket? You mean the music?” Alexandra spun around again, a dreamy smile on her face. “I think it’s beautiful.”

Thomas scrunched up his nose. “I’ll never understand girls as long as I live.”

Alexandra perched her hands on her hips again. “I don’t see why not. We’re quite simple to understand. We appreciate music, and laughter, and beautiful clothing, and flowers, and—”

“You do, Al,” Thomas interrupted. “Lavinia enjoys cutting people to shreds with her tongue and throwing fits when she doesn’t get her way. That’s why I like you so well. You’d never tell Mother and Father that I use your window to sneak out. Lavinia would set the guard on me.”

Alexandra bit her lip. It was true; their elder sister was decidedly … difficult. “Be back before midnight, won’t you? I dread it when Miss Hartley comes around, asking questions.”

Thomas rolled his eyes at the mention of the governess. “Just pretend you’re asleep.”

Alexandra wrapped her dressing gown tighter around her waist. “I’m rubbish at pretending.”

“I know,” Thomas replied with a laugh.

Alexandra sighed and spun around again. “I want to sneak downstairs and watch all the lovely ladies in their gowns and handsome gentlemen in their formal evening attire. Instead I’m stuck up here, dancing alone.”

Again, Thomas nodded toward the door. “Sneak down there, Al. You can do it.”

Alexandra put her hands back to her hips for the third time, a common pose when speaking to her brother. “You are a horrible influence, Thomas Marcus Devon Peabody Hobbs.”

His grin widened. “I know.”

Another faint whistle indicated that Will was getting impatient below. Thomas inserted two fingers on either side of his mouth and let out a soft whistle of his own.

“What are you two planning to do?” Alexandra asked, though half of her didn’t want to know the answer. No doubt it was some boyish bit of trouble that would cause her anxiety should she be privy to the details.

“We’re going to the stables to play cards,” her brother said. “Will’s uncle used to work in a gaming hell in London. He taught him all the tricks.”

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