Kings of Cardenas #4
By Elise Marion
Publication date: October 13th
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Once the courtesan of a prince, and then the wife of a king, Davina Keane now finds herself divorced, banished for treason, and sentenced to a life of loveless marriage to the man who aided her in her crimes. Now a penniless widow, she has sunk as low as could be and faces a life of poverty; prostitution being her only other option besides living on the street. Desperate to save herself, Davina makes one final attempt at forging a new life … by marriage to Rafe Rothwell.
A widower and father of three, Rafe has been looking for a wife ever since his first one perished. It’s too bad no one will have him, as he and his children (known notoriously as the Racous Rothwells) have a reputation for being difficult to manage. He’s long given up his search when Davina Keane appears at his door, seemingly prepared to take on the role. Though his needs are practical at first, Rafe finds himself faced with the truth: he wants more from her than just a manager of his home and hearth.
As an arrangement of convenience becomes something more, Davina is faced with the possibility of losing her husband over the truth of a past she kept secret when entering the marriage. Will love be enough to erase the mistakes of her past, or will they threaten to upend her newfound happiness?
The tables were filled with men eating, drinking, smoking, and gambling. The thick curtain of cigar smoke caused her eyes to water, and Davina stifled a cough behind her hand as she made her way toward the bar. She had not spent a lot of time in gentlemen’s clubs, but she did know that the barkeep was the best source of information. A good barkeep knew his regular patrons and the man Davina was seeking was supposedly the best to be found in Rindland, which was why his establishment was always filled to the rafters.
After snaking between tables filled with men, and the occasional bosom-baring wench, Davina sauntered up to the bar. She shot the barkeep a pouty glance, immediately commanding his attention. She also attracted the stares of several men seated at the bar—after all, no respectable woman showed her face in a place like this. However, she was. The barkeep sidled toward her, leaning on the scratched but polished wood.
“Good evening, Miss,” he said, his eyes dipping over the column of her throat, slope of her shoulders and swell of her breasts before sliding back up again. “What can a humble man like myself do for a gorgeous damsel like you?”
Davina shot him her most dazzling smile. “I am looking for a man and I was told you could point me in the right direction.”
The barkeep chuckled, his yellowed teeth flashing from beneath his mustached upper lip. “Well, now, seems to me a woman with your looks could gain the attention of any man in this room. Unless there’s something specific you were looking for.”
“Yes,” Davina said, fishing the scrap of paper from her reticule. “I am looking for a Mister Raphael Rothwell.”
The man’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. Then he grinned knowingly like a cat with a saucer of cream. “Looking for ole Rafe, eh? Now I see the way of it. I hear he’s doing a bit of looking himself. Maybe you’re both looking for the same thing?”
Davina tamped down the impatience swiftly welling inside and tried to keep her smile kind and her voice cordial. Yet the edge of annoyance still crept into her voice. “If you could just kindly direct me to him, I will be about my business, sir.”
He nodded and gestured across the room. “There he is, Miss, in the same chair at the same table he frequents every time he comes here. Many women have tried getting him out of that chair and into a more respectable position but all have failed. I wouldn’t test your luck, Miss. Whatever your circumstances, they can’t be so bad as to force you into the company of the likes o’ him. You’d do well to stay away from Raphael Rothwell, Miss, and I’m only saying so because you seem like a nice young woman. For that matter, one such as you shouldn’t be here without protection. It’s hardly proper.”
Davina smiled again and turned her back on him dismissively. The likes of Raphael Rothwell? Was that warning meant to scare her off? If so, the man should have saved his breath. It took more than a mere man to intimidate Davina Russell. In fact, if Raphael Rothwell knew what was good for him, he would steer clear of the likes of her. She’d never met a man she could not manipulate or control.
Honestly, they made it so easy.
Head held high, she strode through the crowded room toward the table the barkeep had indicated at the center of the room. A group of men sat hunched over their cards, crude ceramic ashtrays at their sides and a haze of smoke over their heads. There were five of them situated around the table, but only four pairs of eyes greeted her when she approached the table. If Davina had to venture a guess, the one man whose eyes remained on his cards had to be Raphael Rothwell.
Still, she needed to be certain.
“Miss,” one of the card players said, inclining his head politely as the others ogled her silently. “Might we be of service to you?”
One of them snickered and Davina fought the urge to roll her eyes. She could have sworn she heard the words ‘here we go again’ mumbled under someone’s breath but could not be entirely certain. “Perhaps you can, gentlemen. I am looking for a man by the name of Mister Raphael Rothwell.”
Four pairs of eyes swiveled toward the man slouched at the table with his eyes on his cards. Even sitting down Davina could tell that he was a great, hulking beast of a man with long legs and a barrel-wide chest. The hands clutching the cards were large and long-fingered; the face that suddenly turned toward her was puckered with surliness. Long, pitch-black hair fell to those wide shoulders in a curtain of mussed waves, setting off olive-toned skin darkened to a buttery brown by the sun. It was hard to decipher the exact set of his features beneath the rough thatch of a black beard scrubbing his jaws. A pair of full lips peeked out from the disarray, their shape surprisingly appealing with a bowed upper lip and full lower pout. A pair of crystalline blue eyes peered at her from beneath raven dark brows.
“Well, you’ve found him,” he said in a deep, gravelly voice. His tone was filled with danger and darkness.
Davina suppressed a shiver and lifted her chin a notch. “Sir, if you do not mind, I wish to speak with you privately about a very delicate matter. I was told that you could be of help to me.”
Another snicker from one of his friends was cut short by his icy glare. The offending card player sunk down in his chair and lowered his eyes. Raphael swiveled that frigid glare on her and frowned.
“Whatever business you have with me can be discussed right here.”
Davina’s mouth tightened in aggravation. “Sir, if you please, it really would be best—“
“Madame, I have very little time to spare and even less patience. Now, please state your business in as few words as possible so that I can return to my game.”
He had already turned his head back down over his cards, effectively dismissing her before she was able to speak. Heat rose in her neck and face as she walked around the table, putting herself back into his line of vision. Hands on her hips, she commanded his attention, shooting him a glacial stare as cold as his own as he glared at her over his hand.
“Very well then,” she said. “I have come to discuss the matter of filling a vacant position in your household, Mister Rothwell.”
His eyebrows shot up as his eyes swept over her from head to toe. “Is that right?”
Davina nodded and plunged on. “Yes, that’s right. I hear you are looking for a wife.”
I first picked up a pen with with dreams of writing at the age of 12. I’ve been writing ever since and have found a love of romantic stories both sweet and sensual.
I am a woman with two jobs. My first job consists of taking care of home and family, which includes a busy Army husband, two rambunctious kids, and two very active dogs. When I’m not doing that I’m stretching the imagination with stories of people from all walks of life (and worlds) falling in love.
I love coffee, chocolate, music (listening and singing), shoes, jewelry, and food! I am always in the kitchen whipping up something new or watching the pros do it on TV.