Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sneak Peek & Giveaway - - Anna Bradley's A Wicked Way to Win an Earl

Photo by Brian McLernon

It's my pleasure to share with you the first chapter from Anna Bradley's upcoming debut novel, A Wicked Way to Win an Earl. Bradley is a terrific new voice in historical romance. I hope all of you will enjoy her writing as much I did! 

Anna Bradley has been an avid reader, writer and book fondler since childhood, when she pilfered her first romance novel and stole away to her bedroom to devour it. Her insatiable love of the written word eventually resulted in her master’s degree in English Literature.
Before she became a writer, Anna worked with a rare books library featuring works by British women writers from the 1600s through the Regency period. There she indulged in her love of stories, fondled rare, leather-bound volumes to her heart’s content and dreamed of becoming a writer. That library is now part of the Center for the Study of Early English Women Writers in Alton, New Hampshire.
Anna writes steamy historical romance (think garters, fops and riding crops) and squeezes in a career as a writing and literature professor on the side. She lives with her husband and two children in Portland, OR, where people are delightfully weird and love to read.




A WICKED WAY TO WIN AN EARL
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: November 3, 2015


Chapter One
Kent, 1814

The spring mud seeped through the thin soles of her leather walking boots and began to creep into her stockings. This was no ordinary mud. Before long it would be tickling her garters.
“Blast it,” Delia muttered halfheartedly. She’d known it was a mistake to come here. A mudslide would certainly prove her right, wouldn’t it? There was a sort of grim satisfaction in being right, though at the moment she’d settle for being dry. And clean. And home, instead of stranded on a deserted road in Kent, with the sky turning dark over her head, at grave risk of being buried in a freak mudslide.
At the very least she should have listened to her sister Lily and stayed with the carriage, but no, she’d insisted on finding help, and now here she was in an awful predicament—
Delia stopped suddenly, one foot in a puddle. Was that . . . yes! She crossed her fingers and sent a quick prayer up to heaven the noise she’d just heard was not a bear or some other wild animal.
Were there bears in Kent?
Delia strained to hear, and waited. No, it wasn’t a bear. That is, unless the bears in this part of England were prone to high-pitched giggling. She pulled at her foot with some force to dislodge it from the puddle. The sound was coming from farther up the road, around the other side of a bend.
She staggered forward as quickly as her sopping skirts would allow. It was odd to hear giggling on a lonely road at dusk, but she was in no position to be choosy. All she wished for in the world was one single person who could help her find a conveyance. One human being. Was that too much to ask? Anyone would do. Anyone at all.
She trudged around the bend, dragging her hems.
Oh, dear. One did need to be careful what one wished for.
She squinted into the dusk, trying to make sense of the two shapes leaning against a tree. It was a woman, and she was . . . the squint turned into wide-eyed shock. Delia froze, as if the mud at her feet had become quicksand and she was sunk up to her neck in it.
It was a woman, indeed, and she wasn’t alone. She was engaged. With a man. A very large man. He was at least a head taller than his companion. If the woman hadn’t been giggling, Delia would have missed her entirely, hidden as she was by a pair of impossibly wide shoulders. The man had discarded his coat, which hung carelessly over a wet tree branch. Without it, his white shirt was just visible in the dusk, and under it what appeared to Delia to be miles of muscled arm and long, sinewy back.
Well, he wouldn’t need his coat, would he? Not for what he was doing. It would only get in the way.
For instance, it might prove difficult for him to trap the woman against the tree. His arms were stretched on either side of her and his palms rested on the trunk beside her head. Delia swallowed. If he wasn’t right on top of her like that, his lips might not be able to reach her throat and neck so easily. And his hands . . .
Delia held her breath as one of the man’s hands dropped away from the tree and slipped inside the gaping neckline of the woman’s dress to caress her breast.
A hot flush began deep in the pit of Delia’s belly. She looked behind her, then back at the scene in front of her, her eyes darting wildly. Was it too late to turn back the way she’d come? She’d decided in favor of the mudslide and the bears, after all. But her feet refused to move. She was rooted to the spot, unable to tear her eyes away from this man with his muscular back and his bold, seeking hand.
“Alec! Stop that!” The woman let out a little squeal and slapped playfully at the man’s hand.
Oh, thank God. Delia breathed a silent sigh of relief. This reckless young woman was coming to her senses at last. Any moment now she’d push the man away.
Any moment now.
But then the man gave a low chuckle and murmured something in the woman’s ear. Delia watched, appalled, as the woman giggled again and snaked her arms around the man’s lean hips to pull him tighter against her. Once he was there, the woman sighed. And oh, it was such a sigh! Delia had never heard one like it before, and it made her ears burn with embarrassment.
And he was . . . oh no! One large hand slipped down to fumble at the fall of his breeches while the other caught a handful of the woman’s skirts and began to raise them up, up, and higher still . . .
Delia clapped her hand over her mouth but some noise must have escaped, some cry of distress or outrage, because suddenly the man’s back stiffened. The woman peered over his shoulder, saw Delia, and with a quick, practiced tug, she freed her skirts from the man’s grip, batted them down, jerked her neckline up, and disappeared around the side of the tree. Within seconds it was as if she’d never been there at all.
Delia blinked. Well, that was over quickly, wasn’t it? Now that it was, she had two choices. She could ask the man for help, or she could flee back to Lily and the safety of the carriage and pretend she’d never been here, either.
Then again . . . she’d never seen a real debauchery before. Since there was no longer any danger of this one coming to its final embarrassing conclusion, Delia found she was curious.
What would he do now?
She watched, rapt, but for a long time he didn’t do anything. He didn’t turn around. He didn’t speak. He just stood there, inhaling deeply, the muscles of his back rippling with each breath. In. Out. In. Out. He tipped his head back and for several minutes he concentrated on the tree branches swaying above him.
She was just about to conclude this was the dullest debauchery ever when he let out a frustrated groan, grabbed his coat from the branch, and turned to face her.
“Who the devil are you?”
Delia’s mouth dropped open and she stumbled backward a few steps, her curiosity evaporating. His tone was inexcusably rude, and he was even bigger and more intimidating from the front, but the real trouble here was that . . .
He was naked.
Well, not naked really, but more naked than any man she’d ever seen in the flesh, and he had a great deal of flesh. His loose white shirt was open at the neck, revealing a generous expanse of his muscular
 chest. Delia stared, her face flaming even as her eyes moved helplessly over the bounty of bare male flesh.
He pinned her down with penetrating dark eyes that sported lashes long enough to satisfy even the vainest of women, and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Miss?” he barked. “I asked you a question.”
Yes—he had, hadn’t he? Yes, of course—who the devil was she? “Delia Somerset?” She cringed when it emerged as a question.
A glint of lazy humor flashed in the black eyes. “Well, are you or aren’t you? You don’t seem to be sure.”
Delia didn’t trust that glint. Her married friends sometimes whispered about men like him. Men who became crazed with lust and were swept away by their animal passions. All manner of wicked behavior followed.
This one looked more savage than most.
“Let’s assume you are indeed Miss Somerset,” he drawled, when she still didn’t speak. “Now that I know who the devil you are, may I suggest you tell me what the devil you’re doing here?”
Why, of all the offensive, bullying . . . all at once Delia’s embarrassment faded under a wave of indignation. Even an intriguingly bare chest didn’t excuse profanity.
“And may I suggest, sir,” she snapped, “that you don your coat?”
One dark eyebrow shot up in acknowledgment of this show of temper. “Forgive me, Miss Somerset.” He put on his waistcoat and began buttoning it with an air of complete unconcern, as if he spent every day half-naked on a public road. He shrugged into his coat. “I didn’t mean to offend your delicate sensibilities.”
Delia stared at him. “It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it? My sensibilities were offended, sir, when you unfastened your breeches.”
She’d meant to give him a firm set-down, but instead of looking ashamed or embarrassed as a proper gentleman would in such disgraceful circumstances, this awful man actually laughed.
“I fastened them again before I turned around,” he pointed out, as if this were a perfectly reasonable argument.
Delia pressed her lips together. “I see that. Are you expecting applause? A standing ovation, perhaps?”
“No, just pointing out you should be grateful for it, as it was damned difficult to do under the circumstances.”
Delia sniffed. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
The man studied her face for a moment, noted her baffled expression, and all at once he seemed to grow bored with her. “Of course you don’t. Now that we’ve discussed my clothing in more detail than I do with my valet, you will answer my question.”
Delia huffed out a breath. “My sister and I have come from Surrey to attend a house party at the home of the Earl of Carlisle. We’re friends with the earl’s sisters.”
No reaction. Delia stopped and waited, but not even a flicker of recognition crossed his face. For pity’s sake. He must know who Lord Carlisle was?
“The coach we were traveling in broke an axle about a mile down the road.” She pointed in the direction from which she’d just come. “My sister and the coachman—”
“You should have stayed with the coach. What possessed you to go scampering around the countryside like a curious little rabbit?”
Annoyed by his condescending tone, Delia decided to overlook the fact she’d been thinking the same thing only minutes ago. “Believe me, sir, I’ve come to regret that decision most bitterly. But I thought it best in this case because—”
“Why didn’t you just send the coachman to the inn for a carriage?” he interrupted again, looking at her as though she were simple.
“I couldn’t, because when the axle broke—”
“The Prickly Thistle is in the opposite direction,” he said, as if she hadn’t spoken. “Didn’t you ask for directions?”
“Would you kindly stop interrupting me?” Delia nearly shouted the words.
There was a pause, then, “Why should I? You interrupted me.”
For a moment she wasn’t sure what he meant, but then she felt her cheeks go hot and she knew they’d turned scarlet. “I’m sorry to have interrupted your”—she gestured with her hands—“your fornication, but that’s no reason to—”
“Fornication?” He found this very funny indeed. “Did you just call it fornication?”
“Well, yes. What of it?”
“Oh, nothing. It’s just very, ah, biblical of you.”
Delia crossed her arms stubbornly over her chest. There was no way she was going to ask. He was mad indeed if he believed she would. If she asked, he might just tell her, and she didn’t want to know the answer.
“Well, what do you call it?”
Drat.
He smirked. “Something far more descriptive, but I’d rather not repeat it now. Tell me. Precisely how much of my fornication did you witness?”
“Far more than one generally expects to see on a public road,” Delia snapped. “In short, a shocking amount.”
“I see. That would explain why you stood there for so long, gaping. The shock.”
Delia glowered at him. “I didn’t have much choice, did I? I heard a noise and so I followed it, and there you were, right in plain sight.” Pressing against each other, sighing, kissing, caressing . . .
“You heard a noise. What kind of noise was it?” he asked, as if he were humoring her.
“At first I thought it was a wild animal,” she said, then added in an undertone, “and I wasn’t entirely wrong.”
His eyes narrowed. “I beg your pardon, Miss Somerset?”
Delia bit her lip to keep from laughing. “I said, can’t we move this along? My sister is waiting for me to return with a conveyance. She’s been ill, and I would rather not leave her in the cold any longer than necessary.”
He waved his hand imperiously, as if he were the lord of the manor and she a lowly servant. “Very well. Go on.”
She took a deep breath and recited the facts quickly, before he could interrupt again. “The axle broke, the coachman suffered an injury, they’re stranded on the road, and night is coming on. I need to find the inn, procure a conveyance, and fetch them both at once.”
“The coachman is injured?” Now she had his full attention. “How badly injured?”
“Badly enough. He fell from the box when the axle broke and twisted his ankle. It’s either sprained or broken. That’s why he couldn’t come for help. He did describe where I could find the Prickly Thistle Inn, but I must have missed a turn, for I didn’t see it.”
“The turn is difficult to spot from the road.” He thought for a moment and came to some kind of decision. “Come.” He turned and started back down the road, splashing casually through the mud puddles, clearly expecting her to follow without question, as if she were a dog or a sheep or some other kind of dense livestock.
Delia hesitated. She was in no more danger alone with him here than she’d be a mile down the road, and she didn’t have much choice, but the idea of putting herself under this man’s sole protection seemed, well, unwise.
When she didn’t immediately follow, he jerked around. He must have read her thoughts on her face because his arrogant gaze moved deliberately from the top of her bedraggled bonnet down over her muddy traveling dress, and came to rest at last on her ruined boots. “Believe me, Miss Somerset, you are perfectly safe with me.”
Delia gasped in outrage. He was insulting her? She didn’t need him to remind her she looked a perfect fright. “Such a gallant thing to say.” She had to struggle to keep her temper. “But perhaps you’re not accustomed to the company of ladies who are fully dressed.”
He shrugged, then turned again and started back down the road, leaving her no choice but to stagger behind him. “Let’s just say I prefer the company of ladies who are fully undressed.”
Delia supposed he meant to shock her, but she was beyond shock at this point, and hardly turned a hair at this scandalous comment. She followed behind him, scrambling to keep pace with his long-legged stride. “I see. Well, that explains why you felt compelled to undress your friend on a public road. How terrible it must be, to be so at the mercy of your animal passions.”
She was glaring at the back of his head when she noticed he’d begun shoving a hand through his thick dark hair. The crisp waves curled and caught a bit against his long fingers. Did that mean he was nettled, then? Oh, she hoped so. She’d be immensely gratified to have annoyed him.
She had just begun to enjoy that idea when he whipped around to face her. She was so surprised she crashed right into him. Strong hands reached out to steady her, but when she was upright again, he didn’t release her. Instead he pulled her just a bit closer—not so close his body touched hers, but more than close enough to completely unnerve her.
“I was carried away by my animal passions,” he murmured in a low, seductive voice. His velvety dark eyes caught and held hers. “I’m an impatient man, you see, Miss Somerset. Especially when it comes to”—he dropped his voice to a whisper—“fornication.
For one moment Delia was mesmerized, staring at him as if he were a snake charmer and she were rising from her basket after languishing there for decades. But then she noticed a hint of a smirk on his lips and jerked free from his grasp.
Goodness gracious. Her face heated yet again. “Perhaps it would be better if we didn’t speak.”
Another careless shrug. “If you choose.”
Awful, teasing man.
They walked along the road for a while, the only sound now the soft, wet thud of boots against mud. After a half mile or so he turned off the road and pulled back some overgrown bushes. “The inn is on the other side.” He gestured for her to walk in front of him.
As soon as Delia passed through the thick brush, she could see the path, and there at the end was the Prickly Thistle Inn. She’d walked right by it earlier without noticing, as it was impossible to see the squat stone building from the road. She glanced resentfully at her silent companion. She had cause to regret her inattention now, didn’t she?
Delia breathed an immediate sigh of relief when they entered the inn. It was almost dark outside and growing colder, but there was a massive stone fireplace at one end of the main room that threw out considerable light and heat. A grizzled little man was running a damp cloth over the scarred wooden surface of the bar. “A pint fer ye, me lord?” he called, when he caught sight of Delia and her companion hovering in the doorway.
“Not this time, thank you, George,” Delia’s companion replied, but he wasn’t looking at the gray-haired man. He was looking at her, a smug grin lifting the corners of his wide mouth.
Delia stared back at him, aghast. Oh, no, no, no! But even as her brain worked frantically to deny it, she began to remember certain little details. His lack of reaction when she mentioned the earl’s name. His concern over the injured coachman, a coachman who had been sent by the Earl of Carlisle to convey them to Kent. The fine quality and fit of his clothes—that is, when they were fastened.
And who else but an arrogant earl would dare . . .
Delia wanted to stamp her foot with ire. It couldn’t be! Her mind struggled to think of anything that would prove her dreadful suspicion wrong.
Yes! The woman. The one he’d been groping. The giggler. She’d called this man Alec. That wasn’t right, because Charlotte and Ellie’s brother was named . . .
Delia closed her eyes in despair. Charlotte and Ellie’s brother was named Alexander. Alexander Sutherland.
Alec.
The fornicator. The debaucher. The lifter of women’s skirts and the unbuttoner of breeches.
He was Lord Carlisle.

~~~~~~~~~~

What debut authors have you discovered this year?

The banter between Alec and Delia is so much fun. Do you enjoy a heroine who gives as good as she gets? 

One person who leaves a comment on today's post will receive a Kindle copy of A Wicked Way to Win an Earl. (available Nov. 3)


Stop by Wednesday, November 4th when Anna Bradley will join me for a Q&A!

England, 1811. Delia Somerset despises the privileged ton, but her young sister, Lily, is desperate to escape their family’s scandalous past and join high society. Unwilling to upset her sister, Delia reluctantly agrees to attend a party at the Sutherland estate—and avoid the gossip at all costs.

Alec Sutherland is known as a hot-headed scoundrel, but nothing gets a rise out of him as much as the news that his brother desires Delia’s hand in marriage. She is, after all, the daughter of the London belle who soiled their family name. He’s determined to ruin her reputation as well, in the most delicious way possible. It’s only a matter of time before he can woo her with his irresistible advances.

As Delia devilishly plays along in Alec’s game, determined to prove the joke is on him, they inch ever closer to repeating history. And in this game of seductive glances, scandalous whispers, and old debts, the outcome might be much more than either of them anticipated…


33 comments:

  1. Great banter! This one is going on my TBR list. And I'm overdue this year to discover a new author, so this is perfect! Thanks for the post and giveaway

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    1. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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    2. Thank you, LSUReader! I hope you enjoy it!

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  2. Other than finding you, I haven't discovered any other debut authors this year. I've been reading lots of books I've had on my TBR shelves since forever. Oldies by such authors as Suzanne Enoch, Shana Galen, Gaelen Foley, C. S. Harris and Sabrina Jeffries, just to name a few of my favorite authors. I love the back and forth conversation and the wittier the better. I like a little comic relief in the books I read and some authors have a well-honed skill for that type of dialog. That said, I like what I read of your book. It's going on my list of books-to-buy as we speak. I'm always open for a new author with a fresh voice.

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    1. Some of my favorite authors on that list, Karen! I'm getting ready to start reading a holiday anthology by Sabrina Jeffries, Karen Hawkins, Candace Camp and Meredith Duran called What Happens Under the Mistletoe. Sure to be some humor involved with Hawkins and Jeffries involved!

      I hope you'll give Anna Bradley a try. Be sure to check back to see if you're my winner!

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    2. Some of my faves on that list, too, especially Sabrina Jeffries and Meredith Duran!

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  3. This sounds really lush and the cover model is yummy!! I love to find new Authors, and this one is going on my wish list.

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    2. He is yummy, isn't he Diane? The art department at Berkley made me very happy when they gave him to me!

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  4. Great preview, looking forward to reading the rest!

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  5. Off hand, I can't think of any other debut authors I have read this year. I think there were a couple, but I do not remember who they are at the moment. I read a lot of books. Thank you for the excerpt. It was fun. Yes I do enjoy this type of banter between characters and appreciate a female character who can hold her own with the men she must deal with.
    Good luck with your writing career. All those years fondling those old leather bound books must have imparted some of their history to you.

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    1. Thank you! I do think all that history helped. You can't spend time with books like that and not learn something, right?

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  6. I have not discovered a debut author this year. I know that it sounds awful but so far this year I have leant on the authors I am familiar with to sweep me away from my cares.

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    1. I do that, too - can't wait to read Lisa Kleypas's new book! I've been reading her for years.

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    2. I understand, Lil. Hope you give Anna Bradley's book a try. I think she could easily become one of those familiar, treasured authors on your list!

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  7. I have not discovered a debut author this year. I know that it sounds awful but so far this year I have leant on the authors I am familiar with to sweep me away from my cares.

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  8. I love witty banter!!! I read the Highwayman and can't for the life of me remember the author :( boo on me, but I'm tired! But it was awesome for a debut! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I'm going to look it up, Erin. If it has witty banter, then I'm in!

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  9. I love it when a heroine gives as good as she gets!! This one sounds great!!

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    1. Thank you, Martha! I love a strong heroine, too.

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  10. enjoying Collette Cameron as a newer author

    Denise

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    1. I like Collette too, Denise. She's going to be at RT this year!

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  11. I absolutely loved this. I'm so happy to have found Anna Bradley's book here. Thank you for posting. I can't wait to read it. I love feisty, take control heroines.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

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  12. I absolutely loved this. I'm so happy to have found Anna Bradley's book here. Thank you for posting. I can't wait to read it. I love feisty, take control heroines.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

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  13. Oh my goodness this excerpt! I can not wait until A Wicked Way to Win an Earl releases! I just adored Eva Leigh's Avon historical debut, Forever Your Earl. So, so good! Thank you for this wonderful post & giveaway!

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  14. Wendy LaCapra is a debut author I discovered this year and have enjoyed her series, The Furies. I love banter between the hero and heroine and humor in my reading.

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  15. Thanks for introducing me to Anna Bradley. I'm looking forward to checking out Delia and Alec's rocky love story.

    New authors for me this year:

    Stefanie London ONLY THE BRAVE TRY BALLET and Elizabeth Michels HOW TO LOSE A LORD IN 10 DAYS OR LESS

    Loved both of these feisty, independent, and intelligent heroines.

    Other authors with excellent banter: Theresa Romain, Jill Shalvis, Susan Mallery and Karen Hawkins

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  16. Congratulations on your debut book.

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