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A DEAD MAN'S DEBT
Regency romance

Synopsis
After publicly humiliating a suitor, Celeste Armitage is sent from the ton in disgrace. Exiled to the country she discovers a sketch book of nude studies and is shaken to discover the artist is her hostess’s eldest son, Ranulf Charing, Lord Cadnum. This darkly cynical lord is exactly the sort of dissipated rogue she most despises – and yet her blood heats at the thought of him!

Ranulf Charing, Lord Cadnum is being blackmailed over his late brother’s debts. Whilst visiting his mother, he discovers her new companion, Miss Celeste Armitage, to be a woman of unusual perception and starts to fall in love. But then the jealous fury of the blackmailer is unleashed and Cadnum must cast Celeste aside in order to protect her. However, in underestimating her resolve to clear his name – Cadnum places his true love in mortal danger…

EXCERPT in which Ranulf Attends His Mother.

Lady Cadnum’s private sitting room was large and airy. Two tall bay windows swathed of mint silk, Sheraton sofas upholstered in peppermint and cream, and gilt framed mirrors reflected beeswax candles, whilst vases of hyacinths scented the room with their heady perfume. With mud clinging to his breeches, smelling of rain and sweat, Ranulf was as out of place as a horse in a bedchamber.
“Mother?”
He approached a figure swathed in bombazine, stretched languorously on a chaise on the far side of the room. Even in the depths of mourning, Lady Sophia Cadnum still remembered to arrange the folds of her gown to best show a pair of dainty black silk slippers.
            “Thank you for coming, my dear.” There was no denying Lady Sophia possessed presence; even without the advantage of youth her legendary cheek bones still merited attention as she held out her hand. With a few long strides Ranulf crossed the room and pressed her cool fingers to his lips. Much to his relief his mother showed no sign of crying. Sharp words he could endure, tears were more difficult…
            “Mother, you sent for me.” The muscles of his jaw hardened, dark eyes unreadable as it occurred to him that his mother’s health was not in danger as he had been led to believe. “I came with all haste. You are unwell?”
            Conscious of his suppressed anger Lady Cadnum dabbed a handkerchief to her pale cheek and sniffed. “Oh Ranulf, something awful has happened…and with your father abroad…I feel so helpless…” A tear glistened in her eye.
            Shifting his weight from one foot the other, Ranulf’s stomach churned. He gazed stubbornly into the distance, suddenly fascinated by the detailing on the architrave and paralysed by her weakness. He couldn’t think. Obviously she expected him to comfort her, but his mind remained stubbornly blank. Lady Sophia dabbed her eyes and regarded him expectantly. In vain he trawled his memory for platitudes, but the appropriate response eluded him. A knot of indignation grew bitter in his stomach. He was here. Was that not reassurance enough?
            Silence ached between them. Disappointment flashed across his mother’s face; an expression he was well used to, nay, come to expect. Ranulf grimaced. Edmund would have known what to say. Her beloved Edmund, he thought bitterly. His little brother always was mother’s favourite. If he hadn’t got himself killed then she wouldn’t be grieving now and he would still be in London relaxing at his club.
“Ranulf?” If there had been a moment of mutual understanding then it had passed. Lady Sophia took a weary breath. “Honestly Ranulf…” Recovering something of her formidable spirit, Lady Sophia wrinkled her aquiline nose. “Honestly Ranulf you smell like a stable yard…and those boots! That rug is an oriental antique…Lady Jacinta would kill for it…now just look at the mud…. Did you not think to change?”
Ranulf frowned, inverted crescents framing his wide lips.
“I received your note at my Club. It implied my presence was required as a matter of urgency. Fearing the worst I half killed Fable to get here. Changing my boots seemed…unimportant.”
If he was truthful, the message had been a convenient excuse to leave London. Things that once satisfied him left him empty and adrift, restless to his core. Even Lydia, sweet Lydia with her comforting curves and soft lips had become suffocating. Poor besotted ninny, perhaps he had been unnecessarily blunt but there was a limit to how many adoring looks a man could stomach before it grew wearisome. His Mother’s summons had been just the ticket for a swift exit.
Lady Sophia regarded Ranulf strangely. “And I am indeed most grateful you came.”
Ranulf stared out across the lawns. “Mother, I came because I feared for your health. So what else, pray tell, demands such an urgent summons?”