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Guarding the Spoils (Wild Randalls series #3)

Guarding the Spoils (Wild Randalls series #3)

Elizabeth Turner once loved Oliver Randall but was blind to his desire to travel without the encumbrance of a wife weighing him down. When she learned the truth, Beth settled for the security of a loveless marriage. Now a widow with a son to support, desperation has driven her into service at Romsey Abbey and directly into the path of the man she’d loved and lost.

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Main Tropes

  • Widowed Housekeeper
  • Nerd Hero
  • Second Chance


Elizabeth Turner once loved Oliver Randall, but was blind to his desire to travel without the encumbrance of a wife weighing him down. When she learned the truth, Beth settled for the security of a loveless marriage. Now a widow with a son to support, desperation has driven her into service at Romsey Abbey and directly into the path of the man she’d loved and lost.

Oliver has no intention of letting his dream of travel slip away again, even for a pretty face from his past. Since his return to the abbey, he’s planned a grand tour to the continent even while examining the astonishing emotional changes a decade apart from his brothers has wrought. The last thing Oliver wanted was stronger ties to the people living at Romsey. But then fate offers him both an affair and an unexpected friendship. Is it curiosity alone that stirs him, or the beginning of an unexpected adventure?

Intro to Chapter One

When Oliver Randall had been very young, he’d believed heaven could only be found in the thirty-feet-square library of Romsey Abbey. At seventeen and wrenched from his studies, he’d been assured he’d never see that library again and the long, lonely years after proved that heaven would be denied him. At eight and twenty, and thanks to his younger brother Tobias’s daring rescue two weeks prior, he’d thought he would be granted his reward. Yet once he’d stood within Romsey library’s hushed confines, filled with books of every sort and description, he’d acknowledged that this place was merely a steppingstone on the path to adventure.

“Have you taken leave of your senses?”

Oliver set the polished wood stepladder against the uppermost shelf edge and scaled the heights of literature, prose, and radical thought in search of entertainment. “They are all still there as far as I can tell, Leopold.”

“Damn it, Oliver. Come down at once before you break your neck,” his elder brother demanded.

Oliver ran his fingers over the spines of the books closest. So many bright minds had been granted the freedom to live and experience the world as they saw fit while he had been condemned to the never-ending repetition of days and years with only the wonders of nature’s transitions outside his window to provide any sort of adventure. “Given the circumstances I’ve endured at the duke’s hands these past years, I do not find your reference to my sanity particularly amusing. I’ll come down when I’m ready and not a moment before.”

Oliver had only recently returned to the family fold, to the Romsey Estate and the sweet freedom of personal liberty. Leopold did not understand that Oliver looked for adventure at every opportunity now, even if it was merely helping himself to a second corner of toast and strawberry jam at breakfast or exploring a new point of view. He was plotting his biggest escapade yet—a grand tour of the known world. A world far away from this library.

He plucked three volumes from the shelves at random—Greek, Italian, and French—and descended to the main floor. Just enough light reading to last him until morning. Unlike others in his family, he enjoyed reading at all hours of the day and night. He devoured books as quickly as his younger brother demolished a well-roasted leg of lamb at dinner. The years without such precious volumes were a gaping pit of boredom he needed to fill.

“Everyone is waiting on you to go into dinner. Whatever you are doing can wait at least two hours.”

Oliver set two of the books beside the maps of the continent he’d appropriated for his preparations and settled in his favorite chair. “I’ll eat later. A tray in my room, perhaps.”

As he was about to open his first selection, Leopold snatched the book from his hands. “You will not return to the patterns of your youth. I will not indulge your obsessions as Mama did. We dine together each night and if I have to drag you there and strap you into a chair to accomplish that feat, I certainly will.”

Oliver assessed his brother’s mood. Not much had changed in Leopold’s demeanor since they were young lads on the cusp of manhood. Bossy. Opinionated. Stubborn. Leopold would make a fuss and bluster until Oliver capitulated. He’d never enjoy one fresh new word these books offered in peace at this rate. He resigned himself to the inevitable. He would have to adjust his daily schedule to include this unnecessary interruption of his study until he departed England. Hopefully, word would come soon concerning a ship bound for his destination and save him from excessive sentimentality. “Very well. No need for threats of violence.”

Leopold shook his head. “I never really understood how much trouble you must have been for Mama to manage when Father was away. Families eat together.”

“If you insist.” Oliver stood and drew on his tailcoat. “But I should point out that our definitions of family differ considerably. You’re not even married to the duchess. Nor is Tobias married to Lady Venables. Hardly a family affair.”

A quick grin crossed Leopold’s usually serious face. “All in good time. The wedding date is set. Hurry up now.”

Oliver couldn’t quite decide why his brother’s happiness bothered him so much. Lust and love were two concepts he had never been comfortable with. It was so very easy to confuse the former for the latter and he’d given up trying to tell them apart. Emotions muddled logical thought and made men act irrationally. His brothers claimed to love their future wives, but how did one prove it wasn’t merely obsessive lust? Perhaps the source of his frustration was that Oliver had planned to leave England with his brothers and both of them were determined to remain behind. He hadn’t allowed for their stubbornness. He hadn’t even considered they’d be on the brink of marrying. But two more smitten fools couldn’t be found in the county. It was impossible to reconcile the brothers he remembered with the men he spoke to now.

As they crossed the entrance hall, Eamon Murphy, his old friend and the new butler of Romsey Abbey, appeared before them, holding a little silver tray with a note on top. He grinned at Leopold. “Congratulations, Mr. Randall. I thought he’d give you so much more trouble tonight.”

“Threats worked well in this instance,” Leopold murmured as he took the note and read it.

“Good to see you up and around again, sir,” Eamon said to Oliver.

Oliver’s brow rose beyond his power to control it. “Sir?”

“Well, I’m the butler of Romsey now. Must observe the proprieties.”

Oliver had known Eamon since they’d been young lads and considered him as much a part of his family as his brothers. Watching Eamon bow and scrape as if they were unequal sat ill with him. “Then you should leave off flirting with the upstairs maid and let her get on with her duties in a timely fashion instead of waylaying her on the stairs,” he teased.

Eamon’s face turned a fiery shade of red, but he did not fire back with the expected cocky retort. The lack of response disappointed Oliver immensely. He was fast losing his patience for this nonsense.

Leopold cleared his throat. “The duchess has no objections to her male servants flirting with the female ones provided there will be a marriage ceremony at the end.”

At Eamon’s panicked expression, Oliver raised a brow. “Someone must remind me what a proper courtship entails these days. I am sure I have a different understanding of how a man may behave around an unmarried woman.”

“If you’ll excuse me, sirs,” Eamon said quickly. “I should be getting back to my duties.”

He fled back the way he’d come without looking back.

Leopold gave Oliver a look that suggested he’d misbehaved. “That was cruel. Eamon will do the right thing in the end.”

What was cruel was losing a friendship so completely that Eamon no longer replied to a ribbing as he once would have done. “I found it mildly enjoyable, actually. Consider it his punishment for insisting I stay abed so long.”

“Those were my orders,” Leopold said quietly. “You were very weak when you returned. You must rest in order to recover your full strength.”

Oliver frowned. “You do like to throw your weight around, but if memory serves, Eamon never used to follow your orders so precisely in the past. He was my friend, not your lapdog.”

Leopold shrugged. “Things are different now.”

Things were too different for Oliver’s taste. He glanced at the note. “News.”

Leopold scowled and crumpled the paper. “Nothing yet.”

For a small moment, Oliver had hoped for news of their sister, Rosemary, and her likely location. Her disappearance was an irritating puzzle he couldn’t solve.

Reluctantly, he followed Leopold into the drawing room where the ladies and his younger brother, Tobias, waited. He bowed to the duchess but kept his distance. The habits of old were hard to break. In his mind, the Duchess of Romsey was a person to avoid. Her younger sister, however, was fast becoming one of his favorite people. One did not snub a woman such as Lady Venables. Blythe might be a stickler for the proprieties, but she was his younger brother’s future wife and she had befriended him when his identity hadn’t yet been revealed, which had forever elevated her status to that of an angel. He bowed. “My lady.”

“Sir, I am sorry we dragged you from your studies.” She spoke with a wry twist to her lips and he concluded she was not sorry to see him outside the library at all.

He smiled at the lie.


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Wild Randalls Series

Every great family has a few secrets best left unspoken. The wild Randalls of Hampshire excel at them.