When I revised WHEN THE SCOUNDREL SINS, I ended up revising about 75% of the manuscript. Spoilers! Belle was orignally engaged to Bletchley from the start, Quinn and Robert were never tasked with finding her a husband, and it was Quinn who kidnapped her to Scotland at the end. (And the whole thing about her father...not in the original at all.) And in the original, Quinn doesn't write to Sebastian about buying the estate--he rides to Lincolnshire and asks him in person. I hated to cut that scene because it was so wonderful to have Seb and Miranda there, but in the end, it didn't fit the new timeline. So, here it is. Enjoy!
Blackwood Hall, Lincolnshire
Three Hard-Ridden Days Later
Belle told him to leave, so that’s exactly what Quinn did.
Although—he grimaced as he threw open the doors to the dark study at Blackwood Hall—the last place he thought he’d end up was all the way back in Lincolnshire.
“Greaves, fetch my brother, will you?” He snatched up a candle from the side table and lit the wick on the small oil lamp that the butler held in his hands, the balding man still staring at him as incredulously as he had when he opened the grand front door and found Quinton standing there in the darkness, filthy from three days of hard riding and most likely smelling to high-heaven.
“His Grace is asleep for the evening, Lord Quinton.”
“Most likely.” It was four in the morning, and Sebastian had never been the type to stay up all night, even in London. “Fetch him anyway.”
The butler hesitated, and Quinn knew the man did not relish the idea of waking the duke.
“Tell him I have urgent business that cannot wait until morning.” When even that did not persuade the man, Quinn fished into his coat pocket and held out a sovereign. “Very urgent business.”
Greaves accepted the coin and retreated toward the door. “Yes, sir.”
Quinn slumped into the leather chair before the massive mahogany desk and heaved out an exhausted breath.
He’d left Castle Glenarvon three days ago and ridden straight through to Lincolnshire, stopping only to change horses and gobble down a meal or two, catching a few hours of sleep when he simply couldn’t go on another mile. At one point, he’d even fallen asleep in the saddle. But he’d had no time to waste, not to make it to Blackwood Hall and back in time to stop the wedding.
And that was exactly what he planned to do.
He refused to let Annabelle marry Bletchley and allow the bastard to steal Glenarvon away from her, trapping her into a loveless marriage in which her husband ignored her and treated her no better than one of his hunting hounds. Worse, to break her heart by banishing her from the borderlands. Or break her body with his fists.
His eyes closed, and his chin fell forward to rest on his chest. He knew he could have been in Belle’s bed tonight and all the nights until her wedding. She’d pleaded with him to give her one last week of intimacy and happiness, and he could have easily done just that. Now, though, he’d sacrificed those nights for a plan which might not even work. But he could never have lived with himself if he hadn’t tried.
A gentle nudge at his leg. “Quinn.”
He shifted in his sleep.
He startled awake at the sharp kick to his foot, sitting up and blinking wildly as his sleep-fogged brain tried to remember where he was and how he’d gotten there. And why his oldest brother Sebastian leaned over him in the dim glow of the candle, wearing his garnet-colored dressing robe and glaring at him.
He rubbed at the back of his neck. “I must have fallen asleep.”
“Obviously.” Sebastian straightened and irritably folded his arms. “What in the hell are you doing here?”
Quinn grinned at him. “You act like you’re not happy to see me.”
“I’m not.” He crooked a scolding brow. “It’s four in the morning, and you’ve roused me from a deep sleep and the warm arms of my wife.”
“You two share a bedroom?” Quinn shook out his long legs, trying to bring circulation back into them after so long in the saddle. “No proper gentleman actually sleeps with his wife, for heaven’s sake.”
Quinn grinned. “Guess you’ll never be a real duke, after all.”
“So be it.” He leaned back against the desk, a self-pleased smile brightening his face. “Miranda is expecting.”
“Already?” A mixture of stunned surprise and happiness for his brother and sister-in-law sped through him. “Good God, man. It’s only been two months.”
Sebastian shrugged. “I’m virile.”
“Obviously,” he muttered. Then he thought of Belle and prayed virility didn’t run in the family. This whole estate and wedding business was complicated enough, but to throw a baby into the mix…Good God, indeed. “Congratulations,” he offered sincerely. “Is it yours?”
Sebastian grinned and shoved himself away from the desk to cross to the liquor cabinet. He brought out two glasses and a crystal decanter of cognac.
“Why are you here, Quinton?” He splashed the golden liquid into the glasses. “Not that I’m not happy to see you when I thought you’d be halfway across the Atlantic by now, but…” He handed one of the glasses to Quinn, all amusement gone from his hard face. “What do you want?”
Damn Seb for knowing him so well. He lifted the glass to his lips and swallowed both the cognac and his pride. “I need your help.”
Concern flashed across his brother’s face. “With what?”
“I need you to purchase an estate.”
“Oh,” he commented casually, his concern turning to amusement, much to Quinn’s chagrin. Seb had fallen prey to his brothers’ antics too many times in the past to take him seriously now, when Quinn had never been more sincere about anything in his life. “Purchase an estate...is that all?”
“I’m serious.” He rose to his feet. “I need your help to save Annabelle Greene and Castle Glenarvon.”
Seb nearly laughed. “By buying an estate?”
“Kinnybroch. It borders Glenarvon.”
“I don’t need another northern property.”
“Not for you. For Annabelle.”
“So you want me to spend several thousand pounds to buy an estate and then give the property away?”
“Fifteen thousand,” Quinn clarified. “And not give it way. Not exactly.”
Sebastian did laugh then.
“Damnation, Seb!” Quick anger pulsed through him. His brother had been his last hope, and now he’d wasted six days which he could have spent with Annabelle.
“Quinton, you burst into my home and rouse me in the middle of the night to make an outlandish request—”
“That alone should prove how important this is.” He fixed his brother with a hard look. “Have I ever asked you for help with anything before?”
Sebastian returned his stare, contemplating his words. Then, swayed by that argument, he slowly sat in his large chair behind the desk and motioned for his brother to return to his seat. “Start at the beginning, and tell me the problem.”
Quinn sat, and with his elbows resting on his knees, the glass of cognac wrapped securely in his hands, he told Sebastian everything…Well, almost everything. He didn’t need to know about Belle’s desperate proposal, the pond, the ruins, or the heather, although from the way Sebastian regarded him as he described Bletchley and the reason the man wanted to marry Belle, Quinn wondered if his brother suspected what he wasn’t telling him.
If he did, at least he had the decency not to say anything. He mentioned nothing at all, in fact, but kept his silence as he listened thoughtfully, moving only to raise his glass to his lips to take an occasional sip of cognac.
When Quinn finished and sat back, Sebastian placed his empty glass aside. “So you rode all the way here from Glenarvon to ask for my help.”
He nodded. “And as soon as we’re done here, I’m riding straight back. I can get there just in time to stop the wedding.”
“Is that really what you want to do?” He leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands beneath his chin as he studied Quinn across the desk. “Stop Miss Greene from getting married?”
“Of course.” Hadn’t he been listening?
“So you stop this wedding and keep her from marrying Bletchley, and then you go on to America, is that it?”
He nodded. “As planned.”
“And what about the next man who proposes to her after you’re gone?”
Quinn’s heart thudded. The next man? “What do you mean?”
“If Annabelle Greene is as attractive as you claim—”
“She’s beautiful,” he asserted.
Sebastian ignored that, but that arrogant, knowing look Quinn knew so well flashed across his face. “And if she becomes an estate owner, then men across England will be beating down her door to propose.”
“They won’t,” he bit out, jealousy flaring through him.
“They will. And she’s bound to accept one of them.” He shrugged. “What will you do then, Quinn? You can’t chase away all potential husbands unless you marry her yourself. Is that what this is about?”
“I’m not marrying her,” he ground out, despite the knot tightening painfully in his gut. “I’m going to America.” And not even Annabelle, no matter how happy he felt when he was with her, no matter how perfectly matched they were, would deter him from the future waiting for him there.
Sebastian shook his head. “I won’t buy the estate, Quinn. I have to keep the best interests of the family and the dukedom in mind, and purchasing a fully mortgaged northern estate in the borderlands is a poor financial decision for us.”
Anger flashed through him at his brother’s heartless decision, while fear and disappointment stabbed him in equal measure that he’d let Belle down. Her last hope was slipping away. “Belle’s a good manager. She has plans for the estate to make it even more profitable and—”
“Which is why I won’t purchase it outright, but I will loan you the difference,” Sebastian patiently finished. “Five thousand pounds as a loan so you can buy Kinnybroch with your own money and gift it to her, and you and she can come to whatever repayment terms you’d like based on the land’s profits.”
Quinn stared at him as the floor dropped out from beneath him. Five thousand pounds…but it would take another ten thousand to purchase it—every penny of the money he’d saved for America. “I won’t be able to buy both Kinnybroch and the land I have waiting for me in Charleston.”
“I know. So you’ll have to choose.”
He glared at his brother. “Another one of your life lessons, Seb?” Yet he couldn’t fathom what. And he hated that Belle’s happiness lay tangled up in it.
Sebastian rose to his feet and moved toward the door. “Five thousand, Quinton. Take it or leave it.”
“Then I’ll leave it.”
“So be it.” Sebastian walked out of the study.
Quinn stared daggers after him, cursing Robert for ever suggesting that he go to Sebastian for help.
Their oldest brother had certainly changed during the past few months since he fell in love and married Miranda, becoming far more relaxed and happier than he’d been in his entire adult life. The stodgy duke who’d seemed as old as Moses was gone, replaced by a generous man and a loving husband—and apparently now a doting father. But he still insisted on keeping his brothers in line, assuming the paternal role they’d lost when Father died two years ago. But damn him and his life lessons! And of all the times to teach him one, when Belle’s future hung in the balance.
Yet he wouldn’t give in. He’d show Sebastian that he was just as obstinate and stubborn as he was when it came to getting his way. He’d find another path out of this mess for Belle, another way to stop the wedding—
He ran through the dark house after him and took the stairs three at a time, catching up with him on the first floor landing. But Sebastian didn’t stop and walked on toward his bedchamber in the west wing, forcing Quinn to fall into step beside him.
“Ten thousand then,” Quinn negotiated. “I’ll pay the other five.” Which would leave him with five thousand pounds to buy his own land. Not as much as he wanted, but still enough if he were careful.
“The five thousand would have taken you ten years to pay off. I won’t saddle you with a twenty year burden for an estate whose prospects might come to nothing, especially when it’s in debt now.”
“Because Bletchley wasted away the profits. Belle will make it successful.”
Sebastian shook his head. “It’s still a twenty-year financial commitment.”
They arrived at the bedchamber, and Sebastian reached for the door handle.
“Please.” Quinn placed his hand firmly against the door, keeping it closed. “Not for me. For Belle. We wronged her all those years ago, Robert and I,” he admitted ruefully. “If that prank hadn’t been pulled, she probably wouldn’t be in this mess. This is our chance to make it right.”
Sebastian blew out a long-suffering sigh. “Fine.”
His heart skittered. “You’ll buy the estate?”
“I’ll loan you seven thousand,” he corrected. “That gives you enough to buy Kinnybroch yet have two thousand pounds left over for America, if you’re still set on going.”
His heart plunged, falling through the floor. “I can’t buy land and start the business I want with only two thousand.”
“Seven thousand, and not one pound more,” Sebastian repeated firmly. “You’ll be able to help Miss Greene, but your plans for the Carolinas will have to change. And I’ll sign the papers only with the understanding that all the estate profits come to me until the loan is paid in full. Miss Greene will be nothing more than a permanent land agent until the loan is clear.”
“I can’t agree to that.” The future he’d envisioned for himself would never be made real on only two thousand. He could barely buy a farm for that, let alone fund the far-reaching business he wanted. All his plans centered on having both in place by the end of next year. “The broker won’t sell me the land for so little.”
He arched a brow. “But Miss Greene won’t have to marry Bletchley.”
Damn him. “You’re pushing me into an impossible choice, and you know it.”
“Life is nothing but choices, Quinton. You can’t have everything you want.” Seb pushed his hand away from the door. “Decide what’s most important to you, and be thankful to get it.”
Then he opened the door and stepped into the dark bedchamber, shutting Quinn out.
Sebastian crossed silently to the bed and slipped off his robe. He was careful not to make any noise which might wake Miranda, who still lay sleeping with the coverlet drawn up to her chin. He slowly pulled back the covers and crawled into bed, grateful to be back in the warmth of his bed and next to the soft nakedness of his wife.
“Sebastian?” She stirred, waking and rolling over in his arms as he gathered her close. “Is something wrong?”
“It’s nothing,” he assured her, placing a delicate kiss on her sleep-sweetened lips. “Just Quinton.”
With a soft sigh, she nodded, as if that explained everything. She ran her hand up his arm to his shoulder, then to his nape to sift her fingers through his hair. “Is he all right?”
“No. He’s in love.” He brushed his hands over her body, stroking her curves and stoking the arousal inside her until she arched her body against his. He smiled at her eagerness, even now in the middle of the night. Thank God for his wife. The pestering troublemaker had quite simply saved his life. He murmured huskily as his hand slipped between her thighs, “But he doesn’t know it.”
“Mmm…” She rolled onto her back and wrapped her arms around his neck to pull him down to her. “How do you know?”
“Because I’m in love myself.” He dipped his head to place a tender kiss on her throat. “And I can recognize the signs.”
“Yes,” she sighed, arching herself against him in invitation for him to make love to her. “Oh yes…you certainly can.”
He laughed happily and pulled her close.
The next morning, well-sated yet surprisingly rested, Sebastian rose early and dressed, lingering in his bedchamber only long enough to place a soft kiss on Miranda’s bare shoulder. She lay sound asleep, exhausted. He’d kept her awake until dawn, making love to her. Twice.
This is love, he thought as he traced a fingertip across her soft cheek. This is happiness.
All of it was made only more perfect by the tiny baby growing inside her. And hopefully a girl as beautiful as her mother.
His chest tightened. He didn’t think it was possible to love another person as much as he loved Miranda, and it saddened him to think that Quinton was too blind to see the same happiness just waiting there for him to take it.
But then, he thought as he gave her a parting glance as he slipped silently from the room, content to let her sleep for several more hours, he’d almost lost his chance himself. Yet he’d ultimately found the courage to go after what he wanted, and now it was Quinn’s turn to do the same. Life was all about making choices. He only hoped his brother made the right one.
“Greaves.” The butler bowed to him as he descended to the ground floor. “Is my brother still here?” He expected Quinn to be curled up in one of the guestrooms, sleeping off the fatigue of the long ride, or up to his elbows in bacon and sweet rolls at the breakfast buffet. And if he was, well, then Sebastian knew that whatever had sparked between him and Annabelle Greene wasn’t meant to be.
“No, Your Grace. Lord Quinton left shortly after you returned to your bedchamber last night.”
Hmm. Maybe there was hope for Quinn yet. But he’d left without agreeing to any of the loan options he’d been offered.
“I’ll be in my study.” He headed down the hall. “Let me know when my wife wakes. I want to join her for breakfast in her room.” And perhaps carry on the lovemaking until noon.
The morning sunlight streamed through the tall windows of Blackwood Hall, the country estate he and Miranda had decided to make into their home. Soon, the stately old rooms would be filled with children, all laughing and singing and playing, and the house would be pulsing with life and promise, disorder, and chaos. Exactly as he wanted his home to be.
He walked into the study and crossed to his desk, ready to dive into the pile of paperwork waiting for him. Although he had an army of accountants, agents, and solicitors at his ready, he preferred to go over the accounts and ledgers himself, playing an active role in managing the title and family fortune, as his father had. He smiled. As he hoped his own son would do after him.
He stopped. A scribbled note lay in the middle of the desk.
Fine, it read in Quinn’s barely legible handwriting. I’ll take the damned seven thousand.
Sebastian laughed. Oh, Quinton was definitely in love! And his little bother had no idea of the ride he was in for.