Huzzah! It’s release day at last. The sixth and final Hunt Club romance is out from today. Australian readers should have Once a Husband by now. The rest of the world in the next twelve hours or so. Happy reading!
Once a Husband
Hunt Club, book six
Husband. Father. Son. Earl. Rupert Manning has thoroughly lost his way. Already resigned to a loveless marriage, he never expected that to be taken away from him too when his wife is murdered. Implicated her death unless he can clear his name, he’s determined to uncover her murderer and the secrets of her life—so that he too might be free to live the life he should have fought for.
Five years ago Angelo Marinari limped away from his life gravely wounded and hid from everyone he’d ever known and loved. Now earning his way as a fighter and entertainer, Angelo is resigned to his life until fate lands the love of his life at his feet—bloody and beaten and breathtakingly defiant. Saving Lord Bracknell complicates everything but is he strong enough to abandon the earl twice when he and his son are in grave danger?
Read an Excerpt:
They say death is peaceful.
Dying certainly is not.
The man perched on the window ledge of Wiggan’s Boarding House shrugged and stared at his dripping hand. Of all the fruits on display at the market, oranges might just be his favorite to steal and to eat as another murky day of life began. He bit into the firm flesh of one and let the juice linger on his lips before dabbing at them with a linen napkin.
“Please,” the voice wailed from below in the filthy yard.
“Seven Dials is no place for mercy or kindness,” he whispered.
The man missed the berries of home with a sudden and unexpected pang of homesickness. Sun-warmed and ripe straight from the kitchen garden of his family’s villa. He’d once gorged on fruit with his innocent younger brothers and sisters. In those carefree days, being first to the table was all he had cared about, and it was that misty memory he clung to now when the world was so bleak and cold. The air was cleaner in that faraway memory, too, than the soot and filth that filled the metropolis of London of his present. He supposed he could have returned to the place of his birth years ago, but even if he was able to make the voyage, what was the point? He’d nothing to return to.
Nothing here either, for that matter, so he made no effort to change his situation. Everyone he’d known and loved there was dust.
The gentleman dug in his pocket and found the fruit-studded bun he’s stolen on his way back from taking in the sights and sounds of another London night, and inhaled reverently.
The simple things in life were the best—to breathe, to eat, and make as much mischief as he possibly could.
He bit into the bun—and then spat out a small pebble that grated on his teeth. He stared at it in disappointment. He’d had such high hopes when he’d taken it.
He really missed cooks who could cook.
Friends who were real friends.
Lovers who were…willing to be with him in any guise.
The gentleman scrubbed his hand through his hair, still surprised that he ran short of length after only a brief caress of his head after so many years. It was also an infrequent shock that he barely recognized himself when he saw his own reflection, which meant any past cooks, friends or lovers may not know him if he was standing right in front of them.
“Someone help me!”
He tore off another chuck then ate the soft center first, scraping away the edible portion with his teeth, taking every pleasure from what he put into his body.
He had learned long ago that what little joy could be found in life was taken anywhere and at any time. He glanced about his tiny attic chamber—at his narrow bed, locker of clothes beneath, and a single precious volume of poetry stolen from a bookseller yesterday.
He was content for now.
He was at peace.
He wiped his hands carefully then brushed crumbs off his breeches, resigned that his shabby appearance was utterly necessary. He’d never be welcomed at his favorite shops as he appeared now. He sniffed, and then wrinkled his nose with distaste. He definitely needed a bath soon, too, but in his line of work, cleanliness most often led to suspicion.
“Where ya going, ya pitiful bastard?” a man jeered beneath him, and then a scream tore out of the victim’s throat.
He glanced out his window, peering down on a scene he’d viewed many times before. “Amateurs,” he complained.
He uncurled the wire-and-bead garrote from beneath the stocking on his left ankle and stretched the length before him. The perfect length to silence any victim. A pity the practice of using them had fallen into disrepute in recent years. Too many liked to play with their prey, making them suffer unduly. Killing with a garrote was elegant, fast and blessedly silent in comparison to the callous violence offered below.
He was grateful for the shadows, but his experience filled in the gaps. There’d be enough claret spilled about down there by now to cover his bed. “So unnecessarily untidy,” he muttered with disgust.
There were other sounds that would make a more delicate man shudder.
“Never gamble with your life,” he advised when the man below came into view, attempting to crawl away one-armed from the larger man following behind and taunting him. “And always know a way out. If there is no escape possible, make them pay dearly for their insolence.”
He sighed. He’d never lost a fight since turning sixteen, which was why he’d done so well as an assassin.
But he was dead to everyone he knew, or was supposed to be. An unmissed and unlamented casualty of war.
He scowled at the turn of his thoughts. “Must be the mild weather making me grim.”
The past was an unpleasant memory. Being shot by a man he’d foolishly trusted had given him ample reason to feel put out. Shot, left for dead, nearly damaged beyond fixing, and cast aside like an overflowing night soil pot.
It was enough to make any man irritable, let alone one who could break a neck without breaking a sweat.
His former friend’s shot to the shoulder may have been wide of his target, but it was to the point. His services were no longer required and his usefulness had come to an immediate end five years ago on the dark southern coast. His friend had been given orders to kill, and he’d obeyed, appearing pained to do it.
To this day, he continued to live in the shadows, avoiding the streets he used to sneak through with his many unsavory accomplices.
In the yard below, the man was still crawling on his belly, moving toward the blind alley, dragging his legs behind him as if they no longer worked. They were probably broken, and by the way he called out, weaker now and pained, his chest had damage too.
He knew the signs of imminent death as well as anyone in his profession.
The sounds would stop soon, and there would be another body floating in the Thames. Whether the fellow could swim or not made no difference to his chances of avoiding that fate.
He was as good as dead the moment he’d set foot here.
The sounds from below cut off abruptly, and he sighed with relief that it was finally over.
Another fool dead by his own foolishness, but there would always be another.
His meal finished, Angelo Marinari, former assassin, former abbess of the Hunt Club and admirer of fine gowns only women could wear, closed the window on the scene below. It wasn’t his business to save the foolish from danger. Not anymore. He was alone, and that was the way he wanted it.
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