Home > A Wager With an Earl

A Wager With an Earl
Author: Tammy Andresen





Hangovers were an inevitable consequence of rakedom.

By slow degrees, Ethan Somersworth woke, reality making his stomach pitch. Or perhaps the rolling of his insides was actually the rocking of the carriage. His mouth felt as though it had been stuffed with cotton and his head throbbed something fierce.

He brought a heavy hand to his aching temple, attempting to scrub away the cobwebs that clouded his thoughts. Cracking open his eyelids, he was pleased to note the carriage he rode in was his own, not someone else’s, and that he was alone.

On more than one occasion, he’d woken to find himself in a strange place and in the company of an unfamiliar woman. Which he’d likely enjoyed in the moment—he usually couldn’t remember—but then had to go through the tedious and painful exercise of extricating himself from the lady’s company while still suffering the aftereffects of alcohol.

Attempting to sit up, he felt his stomach give a violent pitch, so he lay back down on the bench seat. The mystery of where he traveled would have to wait until the roiling of his stomach calmed.

Would they reach an inn soon? Food might help, but even as he considered the notion of eating, sourness filled his belly and he groaned.

He was a man prone to overindulgence. That was the benefit of having been an earl from the tender age of four. People rarely said no to him, and expected even less. Drinking, gaming, women: they were at his disposal.

The only person who ever questioned him was his uncle, earl by proxy during Ethan’s childhood, his uncle had done a fantastic job of counteracting the world’s permissive nature. Nothing that Ethan had ever done had been good enough for him.

One might argue that all his uncle’s disapproval from a young age had caused Ethan’s bad behavior, but he didn’t like to give his uncle credit for anything. Not even that.

He let out an audible groan as a memory finally penetrated the fog of his mind. His uncle, sitting in Ethan’s study last night when Ethan had arrived home from the gaming hell he owned, Hell’s Corner, stiff and straight, eyeing his nephew with staunch disapproval while occupying Ethan’s favorite chair. With a hard jaw and a perpetual frown, he’d sipped Ethan’s whiskey and managed to look down his nose at his nephew as he lounged and Ethan stood in the doorway. “If it isn’t my errant nephew, finally home from another night of debauchery.”

“If it isn’t my disapproving uncle,” he’d quipped back, used to the games, “here to lay judgment upon me once again.”

“If I disapprove, it’s because you encourage it with you wastrel life. If your father could see you.”

They were already starting with that, were they? Ethan’s entire life, he’d heard if your father only knew what a disappointment his only son had become. It made Ethan want to hit things. And then drink away his pain.

But as he couldn’t indulge in the first, he’d crossed to the bachelor’s chest and started on the second, pouring himself a double.

“What do you want, Uncle?”

“For you to attend the Whitmores’ ball with me in two days’ time.”

Ethan had blinked in surprise, turning so quickly, he sloshed his whiskey. “A ball. Why?”

“There is a certain lady I’d like for you to meet.”

Ethan’s lip had curled in distaste. It wasn’t that he didn’t like women. He liked them a great deal. Tall, short, rounded, or thin… He had a particular affection for petite brunettes, but he didn’t like to discriminate. It was rude.

But the lady his uncle had chosen would not suit Ethan, of that he was certain. She’d likely be perfect and proper and not attractive to him at all. “Another girl?”

“You know your time is running out. Your thirtieth birthday is in six short months.”

Ethan swallowed down his drink in one large gulp. That damned clause his father had put in the guardianship had been hanging over his head like Damocles’s sword his entire adult life. “I could be engaged by the end of the week if I wished.”

“Then why don’t you?” his uncle had fired back, his face hardening in anger. “No one would like to cease having these infernal discussions more than myself.”

“Then stop having them. You don’t have to do anything. You choose to enforce the guardianship, not me.”

“And watch my brother’s only son destroy our family’s legacy?” His uncle had risen then. “You’re coming to the ball.”

“I can’t,” he said, pouring himself another large drink, not wishing to tell his uncle several key points of information. One, the money that his uncle was threatening to take over was nearly all spent, and two, Ethan had used a good portion of what was left of the fortune to purchase a gaming hell. What little he still had would be used to buy several more.

Those clubs would replenish the money he’d spent, but since he’d earned that money himself, his uncle couldn’t take it. Then he’d be free to remain unwed and carefree for the rest of his life. “I’ve promised my very dear friend that I would check on his brother and his brother’s new wife in Upton Falls.”

“The trip can wait—”

“It cannot. There’s an emergency that needs attending.”

His uncle had grunted, and his shoulders lost some of their rigidness. “You mean you’re actually going to take care of someone other than yourself?”

Ethan bristled. Was that supposed to be some backhanded compliment? Not that it mattered. His uncle could not take away the title or the entitled properties that went with it. Those were Ethan’s—not that either did him much good without a fortune to maintain them. But he’d known since he was eighteen that if he didn’t wed by the time he reached thirty years of age, his uncle would take back control of the money, which was when Ethan had concocted his plan: spend the money and then make his own.

And he was nearly done, he just needed to hold his uncle off for a bit longer and then he’d be free forever.

But his near success, and the fact that he’d staved off the ball and his uncle’s matchmaking scheme hadn’t stopped Ethan from getting fall-down drunk last night. And anger still burned from his gut up his throat. Or was that the day-old liquor?

The carriage rumbled to a stop, and he swiped a hand across his mouth, wondering at the interruption.

“You’ll have to pull over,” a voice called. “We can’t both pass.”

His driver snorted as he replied. “The Earl of Somersworth yields for no man.”

He groaned. The driver was a new hire and surely meant well, but Ethan did not draw such lines with anyone but his uncle…

“You’re passing through the land of Viscount Northville, and you dare to suggest that his carriage make way?”

Ethan wrenched himself into a sitting position. While it might be poetic that he die on the road to Upton Falls now, when he was so close to victory, he’d prefer to actually see his own success. So he pushed open the door. “Stand down, Reilly, and let the carriage pass. We’re all friends here.”

But it was too late, a man, a few years older than himself, stepped out from the vehicle, walking toward him. He was handsome but with a hardness that made Ethan pause in for a moment, Ethan swayed, knowing full well he was in no condition for an altercation. Especially not with a fellow like that. “My apologies,” Ethan called, waving a tired hand. “My driver meant no offense and neither do I. We’ll make way for you and your carriage.”

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