The second book in the Hellions of Halstead Hall series, published in September 2010.
Furious at his grandmother's ultimatum to marry or lose his inheritance, Lord Jarret Sharpe wagers his luck - and his heart - at the card table against a most unlikely opponent. Mired in scandal after his parents' mysterious deaths, notorious gambler Lord Jarret Sharpe agrees to tamely run the family brewery for a year if his Machiavellian grandmother rescinds her ultimatum that he marry. But the gambler in him can't resist when beguiling Annabel Lake proposes a wager. If she wins their card game, he must help save her family's foundering brewery. But if he wins, she must spend a night in his bed. The outcome sets off a chain of events that threatens to destroy all his plans . . . and unveils the secret Annabel has held for so long. When Jarret discovers the darker reason behind her wager, he forces her into another one - and this time he intends to win not just her body, but her heart.
Their grandmother is ill, and she asks Jarret to take over the brewery for her. When he was 13 years old and sent of to Eton after their parents death, there was nothing he wanted more. He hated Eton, and wanted to stay at the brewery. But now he is used to not caring about anything or anyone, except his family. He likes his life of gambling and drinking and wenching with his friends. So he agrees to run the brewery for a year, if she agrees to him not marrying. Hester Plumtree has little choice, as there is no one else to take over for her. So she agrees, and Jarret will take over the business, with no interference from her.
But then he discovers the brewery is in trouble, after the Russian market fell through a little while ago. He will have to work very hard to turn its course around. A young woman manages to slip past his secretary, and boldly proposes a business deal: she brews a very good October Ale, and she needs his help to market it to the East Indian Company ship Captains. But Jarret knows Plumtree is in no position to help someone else so he refuses. Annabel Lake however doesn’t give up easily: his grandmother was her last hope to save her brother’s brewery Lake Ale, and her family. So she gets Jarret to agree to go to his grandmother to tell her the proposal. She decides to follow him to find out where mrs. Plumtree lives. But instead of to his grandmother’s house, he is going to a pub to gamble with his brother and friends. So after a few hours, when Jarret has been winning steadily, she challenges him to a wager. And when she wins, he has to help her and Lake Ale. To his own astonishment, he loses. He has no other choice but to go with the delectable miss Lake back to her home town to check things out. As her brother has been “ill” for some time now, she is running things, but her brother is still the owner, so he has no choice but to deal with the man.
Jarret loans his brothers travel carriage for the trip back with Annabel, her sister in law Cissy and her 12 year old nephew George. He cannot stop thinking about her, and what would have happened if he had won the wager. She would have spend the night in his bed, and he really wants for that to happen. She is feisty, and won’t back down from him.
When his grandmother learns of his adventures, she is secretly pleased. A female brewer is just the woman for Jarret, she doesn’t care about her low birth, a wife is what she wants for him, and great grandchildren for herself. So if she pretends to be opposed to this scheme, so much the better.
On the journey home, Jarret and Annabel are very much attracted to each other, and when Cissy falls ill, the trip costs even more days. At first Jarret worries that he will be away from the brewery for too long, but he likes Annabel, and little George. So when he finally gets the chance to seduce her, he doesn’t hesitate. But Annabel is not a virgin, she was engaged once before, when she was sixteen. Her fiancée seduced her before he went of to war, and left her behind, pregnant. Her brother and sister-in-law have taken George in as their own son, and raised him as such. The boy doesn’t know the truth, and Annabel has never wanted to marry since. How can a man accept the fact that she isn’t chaste, and has a son? She won’t leave him behind for anything. But Jarret is kindling all those passions she has been hiding for so long, and she wants to make love to him.
She knows nothing about him, except what the gossips are saying about him and his family of Hellions, but she can see he is a gentleman at heart. He treats them all well, and is patient with George. And when he kisses her, she just melts in his arms. But Jarret doesn’t want a wife, he wants no complications in his life, and most of all, he doesn’t want to care about anybody and risk his heart. Yes, he wants to bed her, he needs her, but that is all.
I loved this book. Annabel is a great character. That one little mistake she made when she was so young, has cost her dearly. Her fiancée died in the war, and left her pregnant. She has been a devoted aunt to her own son, and to the other children of her brother and his wife. And she has been running the brewery as much as she can. She is good at it too. She never wanted to marry, or fall in love again, but she can’t help to be attracted to Jarret. So she goes after a few nights of passion with him, but refuses his marriage proposal, when he won’t give her his heart. After all, he already has hers, and she won’t have it trampled upon.
Jarret sets Pinter out to find the answers to more questions about the day his parents died so tragically. There are more angles to that than I guessed from the first book, and I am very curious about the truth. We will learn more about that in the next book, about Minerva, and Jarret’s best friend.
A great romance, with characters you have to love from the start.