The Redemption of A Dissolute Earl by Julie Johnstone by Julie Johnstone - Read Online

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The Redemption of A Dissolute Earl - Julie Johnstone

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LICENSE AND COPYRIGHT NOTES

The Redemption of a Dissolute Earl

Copyright © 2013 Julie Johnstone

Cover Design by Heather Boyd

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without written permission.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

License Notes

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return the book and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.

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Table of Contents

License and Copyright Notes

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

About the Author

For my dear friend Ava Stone without whom I would have never imagined the possibilities. Thank you.

~ Julie

Andrew Whitton, Earl of Hardwick, had to escape.

But he was finding it bloody hard to escape himself.

He’d given it his best, mind you. He had the recurrent hangover to prove it. Yet no matter how much he drank, or how far away from his family he hid, his blasted memories stayed with him.

As if haunting memories weren’t enough to make a gent depressed, Drew had, over the course of his year in France, come to understand some choices he had made were irreversible. He bloody well wished someone would have told him that little fact before he’d made such colossally bad choices. Enlightenment, after the fact, was not nearly as great as the Frenchies tried to make him believe.

It had taken Drew awhile, but he had finally stumbled upon something he was a smashing success at. He was a master at ignoring the past, so the fact that he was now being asked to face it infuriated him.

He’d assumed he had imagined every ploy his family might try to bring him back into the fold, and he had felt secure in the knowledge that he had come up with a sound counterattack for each of the tricks they might resort to. When countless letters had arrived from his sisters, he had summarily thrown them into the fire. Who knew what sort of erstwhile entreaties lay inside them? He certainly didn’t, since he’d never opened a single one.

If he had, he held no doubt he would have felt badly when he read how his disappearance had hurt both his sisters and mother. A worse thought than feminine disappointment, though, was the idea of having to read news of his father, a man Drew hated almost as much as he hated himself. Almost. But not quite. The Marquess of Norland had been the catalyst that propelled Drew towards a bleak future—but if he was going to pretend for a moment to be a man, he had to admit his own cowardice had sealed his fate. A sorry fate, indeed.

He had everything he had thought he could not live without—money, a title, the promise of a greater title when Norland finally croaked—but Drew couldn’t care less. He wasn’t happy. He was less than happy. In fact, he was bloody well unhappy, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out how to change the picture he had painted with his own brush of stupidity.

To make matters worse, he was now being forced back home to Danby Castle in order to secure the inheritance he had given up everything for. An inheritance he was sure he no longer gave a flying leap about.

He glared at the shabby boat before him and then at Nicholas Beckford, Lord Edgeworth, his one-time favorite cousin now turned traitorous errand boy. Edgeworth couldn’t really expect him to risk his life by crossing the Channel back to England in that contraption, could he?

That crotchety old goat, Drew muttered. He couldn’t believe his grandfather had sent this sorry excuse for a boat to carry him back to England. Drew eyed the tiny vessel with peeling paint and cracked boards. As much money as the old man has, and he expects me to risk life and limb in this?

Edgeworth shot Drew a disapproving look. You shouldn’t speak of Grandfather that way.

Drew motioned to the boat. You do see that floating coffin, don’t you?

I see it, Edgeworth said. Might I remind you, I’ve already ridden in it once.

Entirely your problem, Drew snapped, wishing he had thought to put a flask of whiskey in his pocket. Char’s raven-haired image was flickering in his head—a sure warning he was entirely too sober. I’m not getting in that death trap.

The captain of the boat, a wiry old man with weathered, sun-beaten skin that reminded Drew of his favorite broken-in saddle, snorted. Simpering dandy, the man hissed under his breath then spit into the water.

I heard that, you miserable, craggy-faced lout, Drew returned.

That’s the spirit, the captain said with a chortle. I’ll be waiting aboard for the two of you. Five minutes. No more. The captain climbed aboard the ship and disappeared below.

Let’s go, Edgeworth said, putting one booted foot onto the edge of the rocking boat.

Drew’s stomach turned over with each dip and creak of the vessel. I don’t think I can, he said, unwilling to admit that the thought of riding in the boat made him feel ill.

Edgeworth took their grandfather’s summons from his pocket and waved it in the air. Need I remind you?

What do you think? Drew grumbled. I’m standing here freezing my bollocks off, aren’t I?

Just being here will not help you keep your inheritance, Hardwick. You’ve actually got to go home to Danby Castle as Grandfather demands, unless you want to be penniless.

Drew wasn’t sure he cared if he was penniless or not. That was the problem. He pulled his overcoat tighter about him to ward off the frigid December air as he listened to the water lapping against the boat. Each splash reminded him his time to make a decision was running out.

Did I mention that if you don’t return by December twenty-fourth, you will be impoverished? Edgeworth shoved the crumpled summons under Drew’s nose. As in cut off without a bucket to piss your whiskey-soaked urine into.

That last part got Drew’s attention and made him shudder. How was he to buy whiskey to forget who he was and what he had done if he didn’t have two coins to rub together?

Let’s go, he said, jumping aboard and going below to the dark, damp cabin. He strode towards one of the narrow cots bolted to the wall, laid down, and closed his eyes. He had a few hours before he would be back on English soil, then a two-day ride at best before he would be standing on the hallowed grounds of Danby Castle. After that, it might take five to ten minutes, depending on who he ran into, before he would be in his bedroom where he had taken Char’s innocence.

Char.

Charlotte.

He clenched his teeth on the desire to call out her name.

It was probably good she had disappeared from Danby Castle and into thin air. He might have done something stupid if she had stayed, and he’d been forced to see her degraded by his father. Drew had no doubt his father would have taken every opportunity to remind Charlotte and Drew she was nothing more than a servant’s poor daughter.

Fresh anger, as if his father’s order for Drew to break his impetuous offer of marriage to Char had happened minutes ago, rolled though him. He curled his fingers into the cot, gripping and releasing the sheet. The boat rolled, and he broke out into a profuse sweat.

Yes, it was a damn good thing she’d gone. He might have done something chivalrous. He might have actually become a decent man and not the rotter he was. But he would never know for sure, and Char, no doubt, had left Danby Castle and never thought of him again.

Charlotte Milne had ghosts in her head.

Two, to be precise.

One, the ghost of the foolish girl she had been, blessedly only made a flickering appearance every now and then. Each time Charlotte took the stage at the Sans Pareil Theatre to the thundering applause of the simpering lords and ladies of the ton, that ghost faded a bit more.

Banishment of the blithering fool she had been was also helped when, post performance, the ton came clamoring for Charlotte’s attention. She was not above the need to be admired and wanted. She had earned that small bit of vanity the day she had picked up the millions of jagged pieces of her broken heart that Drew had left on his bedroom floor.

Charlotte gritted her teeth and shook the thought of Drew away. His ghost was much harder to banish from her