Thunder & Roses

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Thunder & Roses

The Fallen Angels Series #1

A Welsh Methodist minister's daughter changes her life when she appeals for help to Nicholas Davies, a half-Gypsy earl...

They called him the Demon Earl. They said he could do anything. Son of a rogue and a Gypsy, Nicholas Davies was a notorious rake until a shattering betrayal left him alone and embittered in the Welsh countryside.

Desperation drives quiet schoolteacher Clare Morgan to ask the Demon Earl to help save her village. Unwilling to involve himself in the problems of others, Nicholas sets an impossible price on his aid--only if Clare agrees to live with him for three months, letting the world think the worst, will he intervene.

Furiously Clare accepts his outrageous challenge, and the two are swept into an intoxicating Regency world of danger and desire. As allies, Clare and Nicholas fight to save her community. As adversaries, they explore the hazardous terrain of power and sensuality. And as lovers, they surrender to a passion that threatens the very foundations of their lives.

An extraordinary romance from an extraordinary author.

~Romantic Times

Books in The Fallen Angels Series

Thunder & RosesDancing on the WindPetals in the StormAngel RogueShattered RainbowsRiver of FireOne Perfect Rose

This excerpt is from the first chapter, when Clare decides it’s time to convince the elusive earl to do his duty by her village.

Clare had never been inside Aberdare before.  It was as grand as she had expected, but gloomy, with most of the furniture still concealed under holland covers.  Four years of emptiness had made the place forlorn as well.  The butler, Williams, was equally gloomy.  He hadn’t wanted to take Clare to the earl without first announcing her, but he had grown up in the village, so she was able to persuade him.  He escorted her down a long corridor, then opened the door to the library.  “Miss Clare Morgan to see you, my lord.  She said her business is urgent.”

Taking a firm grip on her courage, Clare walked past Williams into the library, not wanting to give the earl time to refuse her.  If she failed today, she wouldn’t get another chance.

The earl stood by a window, staring out across the valley.  His coat had been tossed over a chair, and his shirt-sleeved informality gave him a rakish air.  Odd that he had been known as Old Nick; even now, he was scarcely thirty.

As the door closed behind Williams, the earl turned, his forbidding gaze going right to Clare.  Though not unusually tall, he radiated power.  She remembered that even at the age when most lads were gawky, he had moved with absolute physical mastery.

On the surface, he seemed much the same.  If anything, he was even more handsome than he had been four years ago.  She would not have thought that possible.  But he had indeed changed; she saw it in his eyes.  Once they had brimmed with teasing laughter that invited others to laugh with him.  Now they were as impenetrable as polished Welsh flint.  The duels and flagrant affairs and public scandals had left their mark.

As she hesitated, wondering if she should speak first, he asked, “Are you related to Reverend Thomas Morgan?”

“His daughter.  I’m the schoolmistress in Penreith.”

His bored gaze flicked over her.  “That’s right, sometimes he had a grubby brat in tow.”

Stung, she retorted, “I wasn’t half as grubby as you were.”

“Probably not,” he agreed, a faint smile in his eyes.  “I was a disgrace.  During lessons, your father often referred to you as a model of saintly decorum.  I hated you sight unseen.”

It shouldn’t have hurt, but it did.  Hoping to irritate him, Clare said sweetly, “And to me, he said you were the cleverest boy he had ever taught, and that you had a good heart in spite of your wildness.”

“Your father’s judgment leaves much to be desired,” the earl said, his momentary levity vanishing.  “As the preacher‘s daughter, I assume you are seeking funds for some boring, worthy cause.  Apply to my steward in the future rather than bothering me.  Good day, Miss Morgan.”

He was starting to turn away when she said quickly, “What I wish to discuss is not a matter for your steward.”

His mobile lips twisted.  “But you want something, don’t you?  Everyone does.”

He strolled to a decanter-covered cabinet and refilled a glass that he had been carrying.  “Whatever it is, you won’t get it from me.  Noblesse oblige was my grandfather’s province.  Kindly leave while the atmosphere is still civil.”

She realized uneasily that he was well on his way to being drunk.  Well, she had dealt with drunks before.  “Lord Aberdare, people in Penreith are suffering, and you are the only man in a position to make a difference.  It will cost you very little in time or money…”

“I don’t care how little is involved,” he said forcefully.  “I don’t want anything to do with the village, or the people who live in it!  Is that clear?  Now get the hell out.”

Clare felt her stubbornness rising.  “I am not asking for your help, my lord, I am demanding it,” she snapped.  “Shall I explain now, or should I wait until you’re sober?”

He regarded her with amazement.  “If anyone here is drunk, it would appear to be you.  If you think your sex will protect you from physical force, you’re wrong.  Will you go quietly, or am I going to have to carry you out?”  He moved toward her with purposeful strides, his white, open-throated shirt emphasizing the intimidating breadth of his shoulders.

Resisting the impulse to back away, Clare reached into the pocket of her cloak and pulled out the small book that was her only hope.  Opening the volume to the handwritten inscription, she held it up for him to see.  “Do you remember this?”

The message was a simple one:  Reverend Morgan—I hope that some day I will be able to repay all you have done for me.  Affectionately, Nicholas Davies.

The schoolboy scrawl stopped the earl as if he had been struck.  His wintry gaze shifted from the book to Clare’s face.  “You play to win, don’t you?  However, you’re holding the wrong hand.  Any obligation I might feel would be toward your father.  If he wants favors, he should ask for them in person.”

“He can’t,” she said baldly.  “He died two years ago.”

After an awkward silence, the earl said, “I’m sorry, Miss Morgan.  Your father was probably the only truly good man I’ve ever known.”

“Your grandfather was also a good man.  He did a great deal for the people of Penreith.  The poor fund, the chapel…”

Before Clare could list other examples of the late earl’s charity, Nicholas interrupted her.  “Spare me.  I know that my grandfather dearly loved setting a moral example for the lower orders, but that holds no appeal for me.”

“At least he took his responsibilities seriously,” she retorted.  “You haven’t done a thing for the estate or the village since you inherited.”

“A record I have every intention of maintaining.”  He finished his drink and set the glass down with a clink.  “Neither your father’s good example nor the old earl’s moralizing succeeded in transforming me into a gentleman.  I don’t give a damn about anyone or anything, and I prefer it that way.”

She stared at him, shocked.  “How can you say such a thing?  No one is that callous.”

“Ah, Miss Morgan, your innocence is touching.”  He leaned against the edge of the table and folded his arms across his broad chest, looking as diabolical as his nickname.  “You had better leave before I shatter any more of your illusions.”

“Don’t you care that your neighbors are suffering?

“In a word, no.  The Bible says that the poor will always be with us, and if Jesus couldn’t change that, I certainly can’t.”  He gave her a mocking smile.  “With the possible exception of your father, I’ve never met a man of conspicuous charity who didn’t have base motives.  Most who make a show of generosity do it because they crave the gratitude of their inferiors and the satisfactions of self-righteousness.  At least I, in my honest selfishness, am not a hypocrite.”

“A hypocrite can do good even if his motives are unworthy, which makes him more valuable than someone with your brand of honesty,” she said dryly.  “But as you wish.  Since you don’t believe in charity, what do you care about?  If money is what warms your heart, there is profit to be made in Penreith.”

He shook his head.  “Sorry, I don’t care much about money, either.  I already have more than I could spend in ten lifetimes.”

“How nice for you,” she muttered under her breath.  She wished that she could turn and walk out, but to do so would be to admit defeat, and she had never been good at that.  Thinking that there had to be some way to reach him, she asked, “What would it take to change your mind?”

“My help is not available for any price you would be willing or able to pay.”

“Try me.”

Attention caught, he scanned her from head to foot with insulting frankness.  “Is that an offer?”

He had meant to shock her, and he succeeded; she turned a hot humiliated red.  But she did not avert her eyes.  “If I said yes, would that persuade you to help Penreith?”

He regarded her with astonishment.  “My God, you would actually let me ruin you if that would advance your schemes?”

“If I was sure it would work, yes,” she said recklessly.  “My virtue and a few minutes of suffering would be a small price to pay when set against starving families and the lives that will be lost when the Penreith mine explodes.”

A flicker of interest showed in his eyes, and for a moment he seemed on the verge of asking her to elaborate.  Then his expression blanked again.  “Though it’s an interesting offer, bedding a female who would carry on like Joan of Arc going to the stake doesn’t appeal to me.”

She arched her brows.  “I thought that rakes enjoyed seducing the innocent.”

“Personally, I’ve always found innocence boring.  Give me a woman of experience any time.”

Ignoring his comment, she said thoughtfully, “I can see that a plain woman would not tempt you, but surely beauty would overcome your boredom.  There are several very lovely girls in the village.  Shall I see if one of them would be willing to sacrifice her virtue in a good cause?”

In one swift movement, he stepped close and caught her face between his hands.  There was brandy on his breath and his hands seemed unnaturally warm, almost scalding where they touched.  She flinched, then forced herself to stand utterly still as he scrutinized her face with eyes that seemed capable of seeing the dark secrets of her soul.  When she was certain that she could bear his perusal no longer, he said slowly, “You are nowhere near as plain as you pretend to be.”

His hands dropped, leaving her shaken.

To her relief, he moved away and retrieved his glass, then poured more brandy.  “Miss Morgan, I don’t need money, I can find all of the women I want without your inept help, and I have no desire to destroy my hard-earned reputation by becoming associated with good works.  Now will you leave peacefully, or must I use force?”

She was tempted to turn and flee.  Instead she said doggedly, “You still haven’t named a price for your aid.  There must be something.  Tell me, and perhaps I can meet it.”

With a sigh, he dropped onto the sofa and studied her from a safe distance.  Clare Morgan was small and rather slight of build, but she forcefully occupied the space where she stood.  A formidable young woman.  Her abilities had probably been honed while organizing her otherworldly father.

Though no one would call her a beauty, she was not unattractive in spite of her best efforts at severity.  Her simple garments emphasized the neatness of her figure, and skinning her dark hair back had the paradoxical effect of making her intensely blue eyes seem enormous.  Her fair skin had the alluring smoothness of sun-warmed silk; his fingers still tingled from feeling the pulse of blood in her temples.

No, not a beauty, but memorable, and not only for her stubbornness.  Though she was a damned nuisance, he had to admire her courage in coming here.  God knew what stories circulated about him in the valley, but the locals probably saw him as a major menace to body and soul.  Yet here she was, with her passionate caring and her bold demands.  However, her timing was dismal, for she was trying to involve him with a place and people that he had already decided he must forsake.

A pity he hadn’t started on the brandy earlier.  If he had, he might have been safely unconscious by the time his unwelcome visitor arrived.  Even if he forcibly ejected her, she would likely continue her campaign to enlist his aid, since she seemed convinced that he was Penreith’s only hope.  He began speculating about what she wanted of him, then stopped when he caught himself doing it.  The last thing he wanted was involvement.  Far better to bend his brandy-hazed brain to the question of how to convince her that her mission was hopeless.

What the devil could be done with a woman who was willing to endure a fate worse than death in pursuit of her goals?  What could he ask that would be so shocking that she would flatly refuse to consider doing it?

The answer came to him with the simplicity of perfection.  Like her father, she would be a Methodist, part of a close community of sober, virtuous believers.  Her status, her whole identity, would depend on how her fellows saw her.

Triumphantly he settled back and prepared to rid himself of Clare Morgan.  “I’ve a price, but it’s one you won’t pay.”

Warily she said, “What is it?”

“Don’t worry—your grudgingly offered virtue is safe.  Taking it would be tedious for me, and you’d probably enjoy becoming a martyr to me my wicked lusts.  What I want instead”—he paused for a deep swallow of brandy—“is your reputation.”

Clare had never been inside Aberdare before.  It was as grand as she had expected, but gloomy, with most of the furniture still concealed under holland covers.  Four years of emptiness had made the place forlorn as well.  The butler, Williams, was equally gloomy.  He hadn’t wanted to take Clare to the earl without first announcing her, but he had grown up in the village, so she was able to persuade him.  He escorted her down a long corridor, then opened the door to the library.  “Miss Clare Morgan to see you, my lord.  She said her business is urgent.”

Taking a firm grip on her courage, Clare walked past Williams into the library, not wanting to give the earl time to refuse her.  If she failed today, she wouldn’t get another chance.

The earl stood by a window, staring out across the valley.  His coat had been tossed over a chair, and his shirt-sleeved informality gave him a rakish air.  Odd that he had been known as Old Nick; even now, he was scarcely thirty.

As the door closed behind Williams, the earl turned, his forbidding gaze going right to Clare.  Though not unusually tall, he radiated power.  She remembered that even at the age when most lads were gawky, he had moved with absolute physical mastery.

On the surface, he seemed much the same.  If anything, he was even more handsome than he had been four years ago.  She would not have thought that possible.  But he had indeed changed; she saw it in his eyes.  Once they had brimmed with teasing laughter that invited others to laugh with him.  Now they were as impenetrable as polished Welsh flint.  The duels and flagrant affairs and public scandals had left their mark.

As she hesitated, wondering if she should speak first, he asked, “Are you related to Reverend Thomas Morgan?”

“His daughter.  I’m the schoolmistress in Penreith.”

His bored gaze flicked over her.  “That’s right, sometimes he had a grubby brat in tow.”

Stung, she retorted, “I wasn’t half as grubby as you were.”

“Probably not,” he agreed, a faint smile in his eyes.  “I was a disgrace.  During lessons, your father often referred to you as a model of saintly decorum.  I hated you sight unseen.”

It shouldn’t have hurt, but it did.  Hoping to irritate him, Clare said sweetly, “And to me, he said you were the cleverest boy he had ever taught, and that you had a good heart in spite of your wildness.”

“Your father’s judgment leaves much to be desired,” the earl said, his momentary levity vanishing.  “As the preacher‘s daughter, I assume you are seeking funds for some boring, worthy cause.  Apply to my steward in the future rather than bothering me.  Good day, Miss Morgan.”

He was starting to turn away when she said quickly, “What I wish to discuss is not a matter for your steward.”

His mobile lips twisted.  “But you want something, don’t you?  Everyone does.”

He strolled to a decanter-covered cabinet and refilled a glass that he had been carrying.  “Whatever it is, you won’t get it from me.  Noblesse oblige was my grandfather’s province.  Kindly leave while the atmosphere is still civil.”

She realized uneasily that he was well on his way to being drunk.  Well, she had dealt with drunks before.  “Lord Aberdare, people in Penreith are suffering, and you are the only man in a position to make a difference.  It will cost you very little in time or money…”

“I don’t care how little is involved,” he said forcefully.  “I don’t want anything to do with the village, or the people who live in it!  Is that clear?  Now get the hell out.”

Clare felt her stubbornness rising.  “I am not asking for your help, my lord, I am demanding it,” she snapped.  “Shall I explain now, or should I wait until you’re sober?”

He regarded her with amazement.  “If anyone here is drunk, it would appear to be you.  If you think your sex will protect you from physical force, you’re wrong.  Will you go quietly, or am I going to have to carry you out?”  He moved toward her with purposeful strides, his white, open-throated shirt emphasizing the intimidating breadth of his shoulders.

Resisting the impulse to back away, Clare reached into the pocket of her cloak and pulled out the small book that was her only hope.  Opening the volume to the handwritten inscription, she held it up for him to see.  “Do you remember this?”

The message was a simple one:  Reverend Morgan—I hope that some day I will be able to repay all you have done for me.  Affectionately, Nicholas Davies.

The schoolboy scrawl stopped the earl as if he had been struck.  His wintry gaze shifted from the book to Clare’s face.  “You play to win, don’t you?  However, you’re holding the wrong hand.  Any obligation I might feel would be toward your father.  If he wants favors, he should ask for them in person.”

“He can’t,” she said baldly.  “He died two years ago.”

After an awkward silence, the earl said, “I’m sorry, Miss Morgan.  Your father was probably the only truly good man I’ve ever known.”

“Your grandfather was also a good man.  He did a great deal for the people of Penreith.  The poor fund, the chapel…”

Before Clare could list other examples of the late earl’s charity, Nicholas interrupted her.  “Spare me.  I know that my grandfather dearly loved setting a moral example for the lower orders, but that holds no appeal for me.”

“At least he took his responsibilities seriously,” she retorted.  “You haven’t done a thing for the estate or the village since you inherited.”

“A record I have every intention of maintaining.”  He finished his drink and set the glass down with a clink.  “Neither your father’s good example nor the old earl’s moralizing succeeded in transforming me into a gentleman.  I don’t give a damn about anyone or anything, and I prefer it that way.”

She stared at him, shocked.  “How can you say such a thing?  No one is that callous.”

“Ah, Miss Morgan, your innocence is touching.”  He leaned against the edge of the table and folded his arms across his broad chest, looking as diabolical as his nickname.  “You had better leave before I shatter any more of your illusions.”

“Don’t you care that your neighbors are suffering?

“In a word, no.  The Bible says that the poor will always be with us, and if Jesus couldn’t change that, I certainly can’t.”  He gave her a mocking smile.  “With the possible exception of your father, I’ve never met a man of conspicuous charity who didn’t have base motives.  Most who make a show of generosity do it because they crave the gratitude of their inferiors and the satisfactions of self-righteousness.  At least I, in my honest selfishness, am not a hypocrite.”

“A hypocrite can do good even if his motives are unworthy, which makes him more valuable than someone with your brand of honesty,” she said dryly.  “But as you wish.  Since you don’t believe in charity, what do you care about?  If money is what warms your heart, there is profit to be made in Penreith.”

He shook his head.  “Sorry, I don’t care much about money, either.  I already have more than I could spend in ten lifetimes.”

“How nice for you,” she muttered under her breath.  She wished that she could turn and walk out, but to do so would be to admit defeat, and she had never been good at that.  Thinking that there had to be some way to reach him, she asked, “What would it take to change your mind?”

“My help is not available for any price you would be willing or able to pay.”

“Try me.”

Attention caught, he scanned her from head to foot with insulting frankness.  “Is that an offer?”

He had meant to shock her, and he succeeded; she turned a hot humiliated red.  But she did not avert her eyes.  “If I said yes, would that persuade you to help Penreith?”

He regarded her with astonishment.  “My God, you would actually let me ruin you if that would advance your schemes?”

“If I was sure it would work, yes,” she said recklessly.  “My virtue and a few minutes of suffering would be a small price to pay when set against starving families and the lives that will be lost when the Penreith mine explodes.”

A flicker of interest showed in his eyes, and for a moment he seemed on the verge of asking her to elaborate.  Then his expression blanked again.  “Though it’s an interesting offer, bedding a female who would carry on like Joan of Arc going to the stake doesn’t appeal to me.”

She arched her brows.  “I thought that rakes enjoyed seducing the innocent.”

“Personally, I’ve always found innocence boring.  Give me a woman of experience any time.”

Ignoring his comment, she said thoughtfully, “I can see that a plain woman would not tempt you, but surely beauty would overcome your boredom.  There are several very lovely girls in the village.  Shall I see if one of them would be willing to sacrifice her virtue in a good cause?”

In one swift movement, he stepped close and caught her face between his hands.  There was brandy on his breath and his hands seemed unnaturally warm, almost scalding where they touched.  She flinched, then forced herself to stand utterly still as he scrutinized her face with eyes that seemed capable of seeing the dark secrets of her soul.  When she was certain that she could bear his perusal no longer, he said slowly, “You are nowhere near as plain as you pretend to be.”

His hands dropped, leaving her shaken.

To her relief, he moved away and retrieved his glass, then poured more brandy.  “Miss Morgan, I don’t need money, I can find all of the women I want without your inept help, and I have no desire to destroy my hard-earned reputation by becoming associated with good works.  Now will you leave peacefully, or must I use force?”

She was tempted to turn and flee.  Instead she said doggedly, “You still haven’t named a price for your aid.  There must be something.  Tell me, and perhaps I can meet it.”

With a sigh, he dropped onto the sofa and studied her from a safe distance.  Clare Morgan was small and rather slight of build, but she forcefully occupied the space where she stood.  A formidable young woman.  Her abilities had probably been honed while organizing her otherworldly father.

Though no one would call her a beauty, she was not unattractive in spite of her best efforts at severity.  Her simple garments emphasized the neatness of her figure, and skinning her dark hair back had the paradoxical effect of making her intensely blue eyes seem enormous.  Her fair skin had the alluring smoothness of sun-warmed silk; his fingers still tingled from feeling the pulse of blood in her temples.

No, not a beauty, but memorable, and not only for her stubbornness.  Though she was a damned nuisance, he had to admire her courage in coming here.  God knew what stories circulated about him in the valley, but the locals probably saw him as a major menace to body and soul.  Yet here she was, with her passionate caring and her bold demands. However, her timing was dismal, for she was trying to involve him with a place and people that he had already decided he must forsake.

A pity he hadn’t started on the brandy earlier.  If he had, he might have been safely unconscious by the time his unwelcome visitor arrived.  Even if he forcibly ejected her, she would likely continue her campaign to enlist his aid, since she seemed convinced that he was Penreith’s only hope.  He began speculating about what she wanted of him, then stopped when he caught himself doing it.  The last thing he wanted was involvement.  Far better to bend his brandy-hazed brain to the question of how to convince her that her mission was hopeless.

What the devil could be done with a woman who was willing to endure a fate worse than death in pursuit of her goals?  What could he ask that would be so shocking that she would flatly refuse to consider doing it?

The answer came to him with the simplicity of perfection.  Like her father, she would be a Methodist, part of a close community of sober, virtuous believers.  Her status, her whole identity, would depend on how her fellows saw her.

Triumphantly he settled back and prepared to rid himself of Clare Morgan.  “I’ve a price, but it’s one you won’t pay.”

Warily she said, “What is it?”

“Don’t worry—your grudgingly offered virtue is safe.  Taking it would be tedious for me, and you’d probably enjoy becoming a martyr to me mywicked lusts.  What I want instead”—he paused for a deep swallow of brandy—“is your reputation.”