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You'll only read it here.

My original opening from A Shocking Delight.
Which is a rewrite of a scene from The Dragon's Bride,
the preceding book.

May 1816
    Devon, England
    
    Crag Wyvern, the fortress-like seat of the Mad Earls of Wyvern, loomed over the east Devon coast, presenting only arrow slits to the world. Inside, at a dark-oak table made in medieval style, men argued over possession.
    Con Somerford, Viscount Amleigh, stocky and dark haired, faced David Kerslake, broad-shouldered and brown, across a table. Con was currently Earl of Wyvern and David was his estate manager. Watching from the side sat Susan Kerslake, David's sister and Con's beloved.
    "You want me to attempt to claim the earldom?" David asked.
    "Yes."
    "Why?"
    "Because, I don't want it."
    "You look sober."
    "I am," Con said, "and damned serious to boot. Even if the earldom was the wealthiest in England and Crag Wyvern a place of beauty and refinement, I would not want it. I'm foolishly attached to the place of my birth, and my father's title is good enough for me. When the Mad Earl died I accepted my duty, but now I see an escape route. With your help, I intend to take it."
    "And without my help?" David challenged.
    After a moment Con said, "I won't force it on you."
    "Then it won't happen. I want to be Earl of Wyvern even less than you. Even if the earldom was wealthy, you said? It's close to bankrupt. And Crag Wyvern? It's a monstrosity."
    "True." But Con's eyes remained steady.
    David looked at Susan. "You want to foist this on me?"
    She grimaced an apology, but she, too, was rock steady. She was very like him in looks, even to the square chin, and her steadiness was very steady indeed.
    "For Con's sake, but for my own, too. Everyone around here has always been kind to us, bastard children of a scandal, but I'd like to make a fresh start."
    She placed a hand over one of Con's and Con turned his hand to take hers. Their love covered ten fractured years and was the stronger for it in the end.
    "It would make a new scandal," David said, "all the juicier for being fresh. It'll stick to all of us wherever we are."
    "It legitimizes us," Susan pointed out. "Those documents declare us legitimate."
    She was referring to the two documents lying on the table.
    One was a letter from Isabelle Kerslake, their wanton mother, informing them that in her youth she'd made a clandestine marriage with the sixth Earl of Wyvern, and that therefore David could claim the title. At first, neither of them had believed it. If there had been a marriage Lady Belle, as she liked to be known, had soon fled it and ended up in the arms of Melchisadeck Clyst, tavern-keeper and smuggler.
    She'd reigned shamelessly at his side for over twenty years, consigning her inconvenient children to the care of her brother and sister in law at Kerslake Manor and showing no interest in them thereafter.
    Her one constant had always been her devotion to Mel Clyst. Last year, when he'd caught smuggling and sentenced to transportation, she'd stolen all the money she could get her hands on and set off after him to Australia.
    "Legitimate?" David scoffed. "A secret marriage only revealed after the earl was dead?"
    "She gives details of when, where, and how," Susan said. "Those can be checked. Then there's her sworn and witnessed statement that you and I are the earl's children."
    "A sworn and witnessed lie. You were born a year after she took up with Mel, and I two years after that."
    "If she's to be believed...." Con said.
    "Which she is not."
    "...the earl forced her back to his bed as price for Mel's safety."
    "Mel would have cut the earl's throat, and that only if she didn't do it first. And the Mad Earl, so desperate for a son and heir, ignored my existence thereafter?"
    "That is a crack in the story," Susan admitted. "The truth is that he knew you weren't his son, but who would delve that far? His very genuine madness can cover much. We could suggest that even the Mad Earl might hesitate to cross Captain Drake."
    Captain Drake, smuggling master of this stretch of Devon coast, commander of the Dragonís Horde, an army of men, women, and even children. Mel had been Captain Drake for thirty years, and now, an unwelcome inheritance he hadn't been able to avoid, it was David's role.
    "Some story could be woven," Con insisted. "The nobility has known stranger successions. The principal point here, David, is that no one will contest your claim."
    "Except me!" David exploded, rising to pace the room. "It would be illegal and immoral. I don't have a drop of Somerford blood in me. For which I am devoutly grateful."
    "As must everyone be, given the wicked insanity of the man."
    David shook his head. "Look, I'll run the place for you so you need rarely visit."
    "I'm a devil for duty. We could fight over it, loser takes all."
    "I'm a devil for duty, too. Why else am I Captain Drake?"
    Con nodded. "To keep safe the people hereabouts, who are all dependent one way or another on smuggling. You could protect them even better if you were also the Earl of Wyvern."
    "I'd need to be a regular Janus, and like Janus I'd not know which way to look! Captain Drake is supposed to be a shadowy figure, not the most prominent one around. The local people know how to keep secrets, but it needs only one loose tongue..."
    "It needs only one loose tongue now, David," Susan said.
    He turned to her. "Et tu...?"
    "You're already suspect. You escaped one trap by an inch. Now the war's over and the navy has surplus gunboats to patrol the Channel the free trade grows riskier day by day."
    "Which is why I'm seeking to bring it to an end."
    "In the mean time, those who seek to trap David Kerslake, the earl's estate steward, will be more cautious about trapping an earl. And they will need a great deal more proof."
    It was a telling point, but he struggled on.
    "Speaking of traps -- I know nothing about being an earl."
    "Nor do I," Con said.
    "You were born to be a viscount."
    "Not true. I was the second son."
    David had forgotten that.
    "But you were born into a noble family. I was born into a gentry one, and that only by the kindness of my uncle and aunt. I could have been raised in a tavern." It wasn't much of an argument and he knew it. "I'm twenty-four years old and accustomed to a simple life. You want to thrust me into a senior role in the county, in the country even. Gads, I'd have to take a seat in Parliament, be presented at court. I can't do it."
    "And I can't force you." Even so, Con pushed one sheet of paper into the center of the table. "Isabelle Kerslake's sworn, signed, and witnessed testimony that she married the Earl of Wyvern in Guernsey, and that her children were all sired by him."
    He picked up the other two sheets, went to the fire and threw them on it to flare into flame. "That destroys the letter in which she unwisely lays out her plan and undermines the other."
    They all watched the papers burn to ash.
    Con turned back to David. "I wouldn't do this if I didn't think you were up to the challenge and the responsibilities, if I didn't believe you would be a good ruler for this part of England. I've observed your leadership of the Dragon's Horde."
    David flushed slightly at the praise. Con Somerford had joined the army at sixteen and fought ten years in the wars. His assessment was an accolade.
    But Con continued, "Duty impels me to remind you of what you said earlier -- the story behind your claim to the title will be a cause celebre. The scandal of it will cling like a damp and dirty sheet."
    "And would involve Uncle Nathaniel and Aunt Miriam. A poor reward for taking us in and raising us so kindly."
    "No one can reproach them for their decision," Susan said. "They won't like to be the focus of gossip, no, but they'll approve of having the earl resident in the area. Con can't live here all the time, whatever you decide."
    "It's your choice," Con said again. "I won't force it on you."
    "I'm too young," David tried again. "I have no experience."
    "Others as young and inexperienced have inherited titles. The world survived."
    "It would be wrong. Illegal."
    "That troubles a smuggler?"
    "I dislike being a smuggler. I'll put an end to it as soon as I can re-establish farming and trade hereabouts."
    "Which will be easier as earl," Con said steadily. "You'll have true power over your estates. You'll also be able to speak in Parliament on reducing the extortionate taxes, which is the only way smuggling will die. I'm sure there are other issues you'd like to influence."
    David turned to the window to look out, but true windows at Crag Wyvern looked inward to a central courtyard where a garden struggled against the confinement of the grim, encircling building. The keep that seemed to be closing in to confine him.
    "As you said," Con continued, "you will have to go to London to take your seat and be presented. I must in honor point out that you will instantly become a prize trophy in the marriage mart."
    David turned back. "Now I see why you're so keen to be rid of it. Idiot chits fainting into my arms or twisting their ankles in front of me in the street?"
    "As viscount I've suffered my share of such, but now Susan has rescued me." Con raised their joined hands and kissed her fingers. "Remember, this will be to Susan's advantage."
    "Will it?" David asked. "She'll be entangled in the dirty sheet."
    "I'll instantly be Lady Susan Kerslake, and thus above it all. No, Lady Susan Somerford."
    "I'll be damned if I discard the Kerslake," David said.
    "Kerslake-Somerford then."
    "Lady Susan Kerslake-Somerford, daughter of scandal."
    She shrugged. "Viscountess Amleigh as soon as possible, but it will make my life easier to be legitimate."
    "The daughter of the mad, bad, scandalous sixth Earl of Wyvern?"
    "Better in the world's eye than to be the bastard daughter of Mel Clyst, tavern keeper and smuggler."
    "A month ago you'd have damned the world's eye."
    "A month ago I had no choice. But I too won't force this on you. If I quake at becoming Lady Amleigh of Somerford Court, I understand how you must fear becoming an earl."
    Whether she meant it as a challenge or not, that how David felt it. He'd taken on the role of Captain Drake and had to prove himself to the Dragon's Horde. Why couldn't he take on the role of Earl of Wyvern and force the world to accept and respect him?
    More importantly it clearly would mean everything to Susan. He didn't believe she cared much about legitimacy, but she wanted Con free to return to the life he desired. Con truly was a devil for duty and if he remained earl he wouldn't be able to ignore the responsibilities.
    David wanted to give Susan what she wanted.
    Even though their uncle and aunt had raised them with love and kindness their scandalous origins had always set them apart. They'd always been two against the world, and for the longest time she, the older, been the protective one. It was his turn now.
    "Very well," he said to Con. "For Susan's sake and for the sake of my people here I'll do my best to prise the earldom from your clutching fingers."
    Perhaps wisely, neither smiled.
    "I hope you're right about the marriage mart," David continued. "Given the earldom's empty coffers, if I'm to achieve anything I'll need to trade a coronet for a fortune."
    Thus the chance of my ever holding hands with a beloved, sure of connection, two as one, is as slim as a smuggling run's success on the night of a full moon.
    
    
You can enjoy David's story in A Shocking Delight, which will be published on April 1st, 2014 in print and e-book. You can preorder your copy now.


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