Chills (Distinguished Rogues series #1)
Chills (Distinguished Rogues series #1)
Constance Grange has always clashed with the haughty Marquess of Ettington but nothing prepared her for the peril of choosing a husband that fails to meet his approval.
Chills is a lively tale of reckless spending, fraudulent correspondence, and the humorous twists and turns of falling for the right rogue…
- Enemies to Lovers
- Best Friends Brother
- Twin Trouble
Jack, Marquess of Ettington, is at his wits’ end dealing with his twin sister’s distress. Under her name, he’s summoned Constance Grange, his vexing former ward, to London to act as his sister’s companion for the season. Although Pixie’s debt-ridden state comes as a complete surprise, what disturbs him more is his sister’s plan to find her a wealthy husband to pay off her overwhelming debts. And—despite his availability, wealth and title—he’s shocked to be overlooked for the position of Pixie’s husband.
With a nickname like Pixie, Constance Grange should be used to disasters, but debt collectors pounding on the Marquess of Ettington’s door demanding payment is beyond mortifying. Given the precarious state of her finances and the previously unknown loss of her family estate, her choices are either incarceration in debtors’ prison or turning fortune hunter to secure a wealthy husband. Yet the man who comes to her rescue more times than she cares to think about is unavailable, betrothed, and her former guardian Jack—the cold-hearted marquess.
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
Constance Grange tucked a stray dark curl behind her ear and stared at the numbers on the page until they blurred into meaningless shapes. “This simply must be a terrible mistake?”
She liked the indistinct blobs far better than the appalling amount of debt accumulated since her father’s death. No matter which way she looked at the single sheet, her small family was in a precarious position.
“As far as I can tell, this is the bulk of your extravagances,” Mr. Medley assured her.
Constance gripped the page until it bent to fit the contours of her fingers. Medley, her family’s man of business, had followed her to the Marquess of Ettington’s London residence to demand payments she did not have. She had come to visit Virginia, not to deal with another parental mess. She wished he had waited to deliver his bad tidings on her return home. Could he not have waited a mere six days?
He placed a leather-strapped box onto Constance’s lap without her pardon, smiling in a way that hardly reassured. It sat awkwardly on her knees, but she opened the lid to examine the untidy stack of papers contained within.
To Mrs. Peabody of Sutton Place, one thousand pounds, Faro. The bill dated February 20.
She prayed the stiff paper would turn to dust once exposed to light. When it didn’t, she set the bill aside and read the next.
Mrs. Brampton of Currant Place, five hundred and five pounds, Whist. This one dated January 16.
Constance laid the promissory note atop the first and delved into the stack of papers. Aside from debts to her mama’s so-called friends, there were outstanding bills to almost every tradesman in Sunderland. The tally was a huge blow. Constance could not afford the luxury of visiting with Virginia now. At the rate her mama was going, they would need to sell their home to repay even half the debt.
When she reached the bottom of the box, Constance stared at the fine timber grain before methodically returning each sheet of parchment. She closed the lid tightly and pressed her hands flat over the smooth timber.
The embarrassment was overwhelming. She could not meet Virginia’s gaze. “You said there might be more?”
“It would be useful if your mother had kept a record. I've often requested prompt notice of her spending, but she has never obliged me in that regard.”
Since the beginning of this interview, there had been an undercurrent of hostility in Mr. Medley’s tone. She studied his pallid countenance now. The smirk twisting his lips confirmed he very much enjoyed his errand.
Her stomach churned. “I thank you for bringing this matter to my direct attention. You can be sure we will provide the funds as soon as possible.”
Constance attempted to return the box to his hands. As the family’s man of business he would normally see to any payments, but he shook his shiny head.
“There is only one more bill for your attention.” Mr. Medley pulled a folded sheet from his inner pocket and placed it on top of the lidded box. “That one I would appreciate payment on as a matter of some urgency.”
He pulled a second paper from his other pocket and placed it on top without a word.
“What is that last bill?”
“It is not a bill for payment, Miss Grange, it is my notice. In all my years in business, I never entertained the notion that I would have two such frivolous women in need of my services. You are both horrifically excessive in your tastes and should be heartily ashamed of yourselves for squandering a fortune such as you were granted. Debtors’ prison will teach you to curb your—”
“That will be enough.” A chilling voice cracked across the room, halting Mr. Medley’s tirade mid sentence.
Constance dropped her gaze to her lap. Of all the mortifying events that could occur today, this interruption ranked the highest. Why couldn’t the Marquess of Ettington still be busy elsewhere? Today wasn’t a good day for him to interrupt a private conversation when he had done his best to be unavailable for civilized discussion during the past week.
Constance didn’t dare look at her former guardian, so she opened the last of the papers before her. True to his word, Mr. Medley was breaking his connection with her family. His harsh wording brought tears to her eyes. Constance dropped the note as if it burned.
She drew in a shaky breath, tasting cinnamon on the air. When a long-fingered hand crossed her line of vision and picked up that derogatory note, panic threatened. But at least here was one man to whom her family was not indebted. They were free of the marquess’ interference in their lives.
There was a long pause as the marquess read the note, and then the harsh sound of parchment being torn into pieces.
“Get out, and do not show your face again,” Ettington demanded. “You will get your funds soon enough, but if I hear slander of the Granges’ reputations, I will personally see to it that no one will employ you again. Is that understood?”
Constance experienced a moment of divine pleasure when the fish-skinned bully looked ready to cast up his accounts at Ettington’s threat. The whole world knew to fear the cold-hearted marquess’ displeasure.
“Yes, my lord.” Medley fled.
The fair-haired marquess advanced and, once Medley was beyond the drawing room doors, turned to the hearth to consign the rudely penned note to the flames.
As firelight reflected off the large diamond cravat pin Ettington always wore, Constance struggled to control her envy. Lack of money was a problem Jack Overton, Marquess of Ettington, would never have. He could easily afford the expensively tailored coat and breeches that defined his lean form. And if memory served, he’d commissioned yet another carriage he couldn’t possibly need just this last week.
The absurdly handsome man, blessed with more wealth than Constance could comprehend, paused before the fire. He watched the paper burn with one booted foot perched on the hearth, and then he sauntered out the door. Was he born knowing exactly how to draw attention or had someone taught him?
As Constance drew in a full breath, she realized that the marquess’ twin sister Virginia, Lady Orkney, had said nothing during the exchange. Embarrassment flooded Constance’s cheeks with heat, and she turned to find Virginia white-faced and shaking. Concerned, she set aside her problems. Virginia’s nerves were never very sturdy on the best of days. The display of aggression from the men appeared to have frightened her considerably.
Constance crossed the room and grasped Virginia’s hands to rub some warmth back into them. The pale beauty’s breathing slowed, but then a great shudder jerked her hands from Constance’s grip.
“I’m sorry. I overreacted again, didn’t I, Pixie?”
Constance smiled at the use of her nickname. “I told you your nervousness doesn’t bother me.” But she bit her lip to keep her anxiety under control. “Do you know I pity your brother’s intended? He can truly be terrifying when he’s displeased. I almost felt sorry for Medley.”
“Medley doesn’t deserve your pity. My brother is nothing but hot air. Though I agree with you—Jack’s wife will have a hard time keeping him happy.”
“That she will.” Constance shuddered. “Would you like some tea?”
“I have already requested tea,” Ettington replied, strolling into the room as if nothing unpleasant had occurred a few minutes earlier.
Given the rate her heart was beating, Constance could not understand how the man could appear so placid. Perhaps beneath that elegantly expensive exterior he really was a hard soul who gave no thought to the distress of the lower classes, as her friend, Cullen Brampton, claimed. Cullen thought the marquess an insufferable prig.
Constance did her best to give the appearance of looking at Ettington, but avoided meeting his gaze. Although his familiar arrogance irritated, being at complete odds with her friend’s fragile state, she had no wish to resume their old feud in front of Virginia.
Virginia’s smile returned. “Thank you, Jack. We would like tea very much.”
When Ettington sat beside the box of unpaid bills, Constance squirmed. She had left the overall figure refolded on the cushion, but the final bill for her past man of business’ services was face-up for him to view.
Ettington glanced to the side, appeared to read the amount, and then turned a bland face their way. “So how was your morning?”
Virginia answered promptly and the marquess soon had her chatting about their conversations as if it were the height of entertainment. Constance gritted her teeth. Ettington had a knack for managing his sister’s mood, but if he ever treated Constance as such a brainless ninny, she would dump the contents of the teapot on him.
“The tea is taking too long, sister, could you hurry the servants along? I really am very parched.”
Like a marionette at a traveling play, Virginia hurried off to do his bidding. When his sister was out of sight and earshot, Ettington stared hard at Constance. She met his intense blue gaze nervously.
“I apologize for my sister’s response to your plight,” he told her in a low voice. “She doesn’t handle confrontations well.”
“Your sister cannot help but react as she does. She is trying.”
Ettington’s weary sigh rattled though the room. “You mean unlike me? Did I step on your toes again, Miss Grange? Should I have allowed that overpaid oaf to insult a woman under my own roof?”
Her heart thumped. “What do you mean overpaid?”
Ettington unfolded the paper and ran his finger over the scrawled figures. “His bill holds some inaccuracies that he should be taken to task over. I do hope he hasn’t cheated you of more than just this one amount. He has either done it in a very clever fashion, or it is an excellent example of incompetence.”
Constance leapt up and snatched the note from his fingers. “I will go over them all myself.”
“There are a great many papers in that box,” he remarked.
Did he think her first glance hadn’t terrified her enough?
She didn’t care for his interest, so she grabbed up the box and moved it away. “Then I may ask Virginia to assist me. I’m sure that between the two of us we can ferret out any further inaccuracies.”
Ettington’s deep, rumbling laugh chilled her, but she’d not let him cower her. She glared at him until he stopped.
He wiped his eyes. “Surely you’re not too young to remember the last time Virginia tried to fathom the exact distance between your home to ours. It took her a week and, judging by the headache I acquired as a result, I fear she will not volunteer to tally sums again.”
“Oh, what a terrible thing to say about your twin. I doubt you suffered.”
“My sister has many talents, but mathematics is not one of them. She outshines me in many other, far more important arenas. One of them includes having an acknowledged, warm heart.”
Constance fidgeted. Secretly she thought his nickname, the Cold-Hearted Marquess, well deserved. But hearing him joke about being cold-hearted, and challenging her to deny it, made her extremely uncomfortable. “One of them also includes having the tact to stay out of other people’s affairs.”
Ettington leaned close. “My, my, have your affairs become interesting?” He held her gaze. “What has changed?”
Constance bit her lip. She had not informed her friends of her recent attachment. Not that the decision should interest Ettington one way or the other. But she’d held her tongue to avoid upsetting Virginia when her health remained delicate.
Unfortunately, Constance had never been a proficient liar, and was usually unsuccessful with Ettington. The marquess would hound her until she confessed. It would be best to get the discussion over and done with. “I am engaged to be married.”
The marquess’ face whitened. “Good God. To whom?”
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Praise for Chills ...
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “Funny enchanting. The characters are wonderful!” ~ A Reader
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ A great read filled with love, jealousy, mischief and deceit ~ Tish, Customer
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Loved, loved, LOVED this book! Well-written, fast paced, characters well-evolved. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series ~ Christina
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “…funny, sexy, and keeps you turning the page to see what happens next.” ~ Reader Negar.