Interview with Heath, Earl of Ravensdale
Wagers Gone Awry
Conundrums of the Misses Culpepper, Book 1
Susana: Tell us about yourself, please.
Heath gives a brief bow. “Thank you for your kind invitation to visit with you at Susana’s Parlour. That’s a lovely blue gown you’re wearing. It reminds me of Brooke’s eyes.”
He settles into an armchair.
“Always a bit awkward, talking about oneself, especially when one has been born into a life of privilege but cannot boast ancestors one is proud of. I don’t suppose you’d be happy with I loathe kidney pie and flowers make me sneeze?”
“Hmph, I thought not.” He crosses his legs and drums his fingers on the chair’s arm.
“I’m the eighth Earl of Ravensdale and have had to leave the comforts of London to travel to a remote dairy farm I won in a wager. Well, at least I thought I won the blasted thing, but it seems I only won a portion of the place.”
He leans forward a bit.
“Have you any idea how smelly a dairy is? And the flies…hoards of the pesky things.” He flicks his hand toward the window. “And this farm is run by a troupe of sassy women. Beautiful women, I might add.”
Susana: So, what do you want to do about it?
“Ah, that’s an age-old question. What do I want? To sell that farm, but if I do, I’ll render the Culpepper misses, not to mention their staff and pets, homeless. Makes me rather a cur, doesn’t it?”
His gaze drops to his lap.
“No, what I really want is Brooke Culpepper, but she cannot abide me, and I doubt an offer of marriage would tempt her. Besides, the Ravensdales up to now, haven’t exactly exemplified fidelity or marital bliss, so I plan on enjoying a few more years of freedom before buckling under the responsibilities of the earldom and acquiring a wife and producing an heir.”
Susana: Ah, so you have a bit of a conundrum yourself, don’t you?
“In a nutshell, yes. As I mentioned before, I need to sell that parcel of green hell so that I can return to London’s civilization.
Heath shakes his head then winces. “And, after Brooke’s over-zealous servant took it upon himself to crack me on my head, I’m under doctor’s orders not to travel until I’ve recovered fully.”
He winks. “He doesn’t know I’m here today. Trust me, having Brooke under the same roof is causing me much more discomfort than my aching head is.”
Susana: You’ve been born into a position of power and privilege. Still, are there any areas of self-doubt or areas you are skilled at?
“Do you know a man or woman alive that doesn’t have some degree of self-doubt?”
Heath gazes into space for a long moment. A small smile quirks his mouth before he shrugs.
“I can barely read, and it’s a secret I’ve kept close to my chest since my youth. I trust you’ll not bandy it about indiscreetly. I also have a terrible sweet tooth. The Culpeppers make the most delicious shortbread biscuits.”
He grins then and taps his temple with his forefinger.
“As for skills, I have quite a memory for numbers, and can recall every card dealt in a game.”
Susana: You’ve shared your self-doubts, but what it is you fear most?
“I fear I’ve lost Brooke because of the wager between us.”
He glances up, his expression troubled.
“She lost, you know, and she should have won. Would have won if outside forces hadn’t interfered.”
He uncrosses his legs and sighs.
“I’m also afraid I’m stuck with this farm, and I detest country life.”
Heath makes a small gesture with his hand. “It’s a childhood thing, the story much too long and boring to tell.”
Susana: Does your story have a happy ending?
Heath grins. “Oh, it has a happy ending, though my author manipulated me mightily. Authors seem to enjoy doing that, pushing us characters around and torturing us a bit.”
His grin slips.
“I did end up keeping the confounded dairy farm, and obtained guardianship of the younger Culpeppers. I’m going to have my hands full with that lot. Speaking of which, I need to discover what mischief they’ve gotten themselves into in my absence.”
Heath stands and bows. “I thank you for having me as your guest. I’d be honored to return anytime.”
About Wagers Gone Awry
Brooke Culpepper resigned herself to spinsterhood when she turned down the only marriage proposal she’d likely ever receive to care for her family. After her father dies, a distant cousin inherits the estate and becomes their guardian but permits Brooke to act in his stead.
Heath, Earl of Ravensdale is none-too-pleased to discover five young women call the dairy farm he won and intends to sell, their home. Desperate, pauper poor, and with nowhere to go, Brooke proposes a wager. His stakes? The farm. Hers? Her virtue. The land holds no interest for Heath, but Brooke does and he accepts her challenge.
Brooke loses, and her devastation is compounded when the cousin arrives, intending to haul the Culpepper misses off to London. Heath astounds himself and proposes in order to apply for guardianship of the other girls. Does Brooke dare marry the handsome stranger who’d been bent on compromising her? Will Heath regret his impulsive gesture, or will unexpected love flourish?
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“Here are my terms, my lord, and they are not negotiable.” She shut her eyes for a second before snapping them open. She launched her battle plan. “Should I lose, I will accompany you to London as your mistress, but you will allow everyone else to remain here, including the servants. You will bestow generous marriage settlements on the four girls, and arrange for sponsors for their come outs as well as permit Esherton to retain the proceeds from the dairy and farm.”
Heath folded his arms. Came up with that too damn quick for his liking. “Is that all?”
“No.” She scowled and pushed her wayward hair behind her ear again. “Mabry will carry on as overseer, and you will permit me to hire a respectable woman of quality to act as a companion to my sister and cousins, both here and when they are in London. An annual allowance to further the estate’s recovery wouldn’t be amiss either.”
She paused, appearing deep in thought, her brows drawn together. “Oh, and I shall be permitted at least two extended visits to Esherton Green annually.”
Heath should have suspected Brooke wouldn’t acquiesce without a skirmish. He didn’t half mind her terms except keeping the blasted farm stipulation. But if he didn’t have to manage the place, he would concede the point.
“And if you win?” He braced himself for her demands.
Your ballocks fried to a crisp.
“If I win the wager, you sign over to me, free and clear, the lands you won from Sheridan.”
That’s all she wanted? No bulging purse, new wardrobe, household furnishings … or the hundred other things she and the others lacked?
She extended her hand. “Agreed?”
Heath clasped her roughened palm. It fit neatly within his grasp, as if it had been molded to nestle there. “Yes, the instant you win.”
He wouldn’t allow her the victory. They had yet to decide on what game to play, but it mattered not. He didn’t lose at the tables. He might not be able to read worth a damn, but he remembered every playing card dealt.
Across the expanse of deep green, three figures separated from the house and moved toward the barns. Leventhorpe and two of the other Culpepper misses. At this distance, which two he couldn’t discern. “What’s your pleasure?”
“Excuse me?” Her back to the house, Brooke squinted up at him from where she squatted beside the dog, now lying with is feet in the air, eyes closed, enjoying a tummy rub.
“My pleasure?” She almost choked on the words. “Awfully confident you’ll be the vanquisher, aren’t you? Pride goeth before a fall, my lord.”
He chuckled. Never short on pithy remarks, was she? “What game of cards do you prefer?”
Her chagrin transformed to cunningness. A shrewd smile bent her mouth. “I never agreed to a card game.”
About the Author
Bestselling, award-winning author, Collette Cameron, has a BS in Liberal Studies and a Master’s in Teaching. Author of the Castle Brides Series. Highland Heather Romancing a Scot Series, and Conundrums of the Misses Culpepper Series, Collette writes Regency and Scottish historicals and makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and five mini-dachshunds. Mother to three and a self-proclaimed Cadbury Chocolate chocoholic, Collette loves a good joke, inspirational quotes, flowers, trivia, and all things shabby chic and cobalt blue. You’ll always find dogs, birds, quirky—sometimes naughty—humor, and a dash of inspiration in her novels.
Her motto for life? You can’t have too much chocolate, too many hugs, or too many flowers or books. She’s thinking about adding shoes to that list.