A Deceptive Wager (Marriage by Design #3) - Ruth Ann Nordin

September 1814

Aaron Henry, Earl of Northton, felt a smile tug at his lips. He’d done it. He’d won the wager. Sure, the question of whether it was right to bet another gentleman on his ability to get into a lady’s bed wasn’t exactly the most noble of wagers, but if Lord Halloway hadn’t been such a braggart, Aaron wouldn’t have gone along with it. Lord Halloway thought he was God’s gift to ladies, but Aaron knew full well the gentleman would never convince Lady Richfield to sleep with him.

Lady Richfield hated gentlemen as much as Aaron hated ladies. She hadn’t even liked her first husband. Aaron was well aware that she considered the untimely demise of her husband to be the best thing that had ever happened to her. Lord Halloway would never get into her bed. Aaron had even warned Lord Halloway that he would lose the wager, but Lord Halloway kept insisting he’d win.

And so, the bet had been made, and a month after one failed attempt after another, Lord Halloway had finally admitted defeat. That morning, he had sent Aaron a missive telling him to come by to collect the money due to him.

Aaron sat in the gentleman’s library as he waited for Lord Halloway to show up. The brandy the butler had poured for him went untouched. He should have told the butler he didn’t want anything to drink, but at the time, it seemed rude to turn down the offer. Now, as he swirled the liquid in the glass, he thought it might have been better if he was rude than to waste such fine liquor.

Footsteps drew his attention to the doorway. Aaron got to his feet just in time for Lord Halloway to enter the room.

“I warned you Lady Richfield wasn’t going to take you to her bed,” Aaron said.

Lord Halloway rolled his eyes as he shut the door. “You’ve said that already. How many times do you think I need to hear it?”

Unable to resist smirking, Aaron said, “Perhaps if you didn’t make it a habit of trying to be like Lord Edon, I wouldn’t feel the need to remind you that you’ll never have the same prowess around ladies that he does.”

Lord Halloway scowled as he reached the desk and opened the drawer. “Lady Richfield is as cold as an iceberg in the Atlantic. No one can conquer her.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve seen Lord Edon sneaking into her townhouse when he thought no one was looking.”

“You’re lying.”

“I assure you I’m not.”

“Well, I don’t believe it.” Lord Halloway took a ledger out of his drawer and dropped it on the desk with a resounding thud.

Aaron raised an eyebrow. “You’re not a gracious loser, my lord.”

Without a response, Lord Halloway opened the ledger and turned a few pages until he found the one he wanted.

Aaron stepped closer to the desk and set his glass on it. “The amount we agreed to was—”

“I know the amount. I’m not an imbecile,” Lord Halloway snapped.

“All right.” Aaron clasped his hands behind his back. “I think I can see why people aren’t fond of you like they are of Lord Edon. Lord Edon might be a braggart, but at least he’s likable.”

“You don’t have as many friends as he does, so I wouldn’t be so quick to point out my inadequacies.”

“Unlike you, I don’t brag about how wonderful I am with ladies,” Aaron muttered under his breath.

“The agreed amount is twenty thousand pounds.” Lord Halloway turned his attention back to the ledger. “That’s the amount of my sister’s dowry. You’ll receive the amount when you marry her.”

Aaron stiffened. “You can’t put her in this wager. We didn’t say anything about marriage.”

The corner of Lord Halloway’s lip curled up. “Do you want the money or not?”

“Of course, I do. It’s the amount we both agreed to.”

“Then you should be satisfied you’ll be getting it.”

“But there was nothing said about marriage.”

“Do you have something against marriage, Lord Northton?”

Aaron hesitated to answer. He didn’t know if Lord Halloway knew about his aversion to marriage or not. It wasn’t like Aaron kept it a secret, but Lord Halloway didn’t belong to White’s, so the chances he had heard Aaron discussing his views on marriage were slim.

“You can’t arrange for me to marry your sister out of spite,” Aaron said. “We agreed to wager money. I will settle for nothing else.”

Lord Halloway chuckled. “I don’t have twenty thousand pounds. I was planning to get that from you after I seduced Lady Richfield. As