Monday, October 17, 2022

The Heart of A Lyon by Anna St. Claire


The Heart of a Lyon
by Anna St. Claire

Book Blurb:

Enter the world of the most notorious gambling den in London, where matches are made... unusually. Welcome to the world of THE LYON'S DEN: The Black Widow of Whitehall Connected World, where the underground of Regency London thrives... and loves. 
She needs a miracle to save her, but he refuses to consider marriage, until a pretend betrothal changes how he sees her. 
Riddled with guilt and haunted by nightmares over the tragic death of his father, Henry Stanton, the Earl of Egerton, returns home a broken man and seeks solace in the excesses of the Lyon’s Den. He’s sworn to never marry, but a chance meeting with the woman who captured his heart over a decade ago forces him to rethink his decision. Unwillingness to change his mind may prevent him from discovering what his heart and soul needs most. 
Lady Olivia Dawson wants a love match, but her family’s financial ruin upends her perfect life and worse, the vile man who holds her family’s fortune demands her hand. When she meets the childhood friend she’s never forgotten, she realizes he’s everything she’s wants. 
A mother desperate to save her daughter’s future appeals to the Black Widow of Whitehall who spins a web of hearts, high stakes bets, and intrigue—but the widow’s plan places Olivia’s life in the path of a killer. 
Henry and Olivia’s futures will hang in the balance, unless they can find a way to trust one another with their lives and hearts. 


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Calais, France 

August 1815 


Dark clouds blew across the sky, accompanied by a loud clap of thunder, and the wind whipped itself into a frenzy. Lightning struck the water, lighting up skies that only ten minutes before had shown no signs of a storm. Wind tossed the massive approaching naval vessels. Lightning struck too close to Lord Henry Stanton, the Earl of Egerton, for his comfort, momentarily illuminating the sky. It allowed him to recognize the mast of the merchant ship his father had chartered to help with the British troop removal effort.  

The Sea Lion will be here shortly; soon, this war will be behind me—for good this time.  

Hairs pricked on the back of his neck as he studied nature’s fury around him, gazing at the white-crested waves slapping about in conflicting directions, well lit by lightning bolts growing closer together. The dark clouds now dominated the sky completely. Cold, heavy rain pelted everything in its reach, almost as an afterthought to the rest of the fury before him.  

His adopted brother, Roger Stanton, stood by his side, and the brothers simultaneously grabbed the reins of their horses and moved closer to the dry area beneath an outgrowth of stone from the white cliff behind them. They watched ships leave the dock, only to turn and try to make it back to the shore. The mast he had spotted moments ago rose and fell on the enormous waves, almost begrudgingly progressing in the shore’s direction instead of turning and running for the sea, where it might outrun the storm.  

It was close enough that one could make out its various flags, which suited Henry. It would not be long before it arrived. The scene in front of him kept repeating. Ships arrived, while others struggled to depart. Loading the thousands of soldiers and their families that had followed the drum threatened to take all day. This weather could complicate the exiting operation that would see them home. 

It was the largest ship in his father’s merchant fleet, and seeing it bounce on the waves added little comfort. 

“Wellington wants to get as many as possible safely aboard the ships before the storm gets too bad,” Roger said, coming up next to him and dismounting. 

Henry glanced at his brother. They had adopted Roger as a five-year-old from the streets of East London, after the duke caught him filching money from his pockets. When His Grace had been unable to find anyone claiming to be the boy’s parent, despite exhaustive searching, he adopted him as his younger son. Henry’s mother took to the child immediately, treating him as one of her own children.  

After one of the earliest balls they had attended, Roger mentioned having heard whispers he was the bastard son of the duke. Hurt, he had mentioned it only to Henry, who had always been both brother and best friend. They had considered the source and recognized it as malicious speculation. The Duke of Kendall and his duchess had always held a deep affection and regard for one another. There had never even been hints of a mistress. The man who had attempted to spread the rumor was a scorned suitor of their mother’s.  

A clap of thunder returned him back to the scene in front of him. The boat had moved closer, but high waves stirred by the wind substantially slowed its progress in reaching the shore. The horses grew nervous, but under Roger’s gentle coaxing, they stood still and helped shelter the two men while they waited. 

By now, the sun had completely been obliterated from view by the dark clouds, and a knot formed in his stomach. “That seems counterintuitive if the duke thinks we can safely board the boats. The storm is not backing down,” Henry said above another clap of thunder. “It’s not safe to board. Those boats are safer staying out on the channel and not risking being hit.”  

He had not survived alongside thousands of soldiers at Waterloo, to win the war on land, only to see defeat from a storm on the shores of France. Henry was exhausted. The war had been brutal; he felt lucky to survive Waterloo with only a bullet in the arm. Luckily, the sawbones had received orders from Wellington himself to save the limb, or Henry’s right arm would have joined the pile of severed appendages outside the hospital tent. The doctor thought a ball had splintered his forearm, but when he cleared the blood and filth from the wound, the bone was mostly intact. It might never be as strong as it once was, but at least Henry had one. Two weeks later, and his arm was all but healed. But on orders from the doctor, Henry kept it in a sling.  

All he wanted was to return home to his family and hug them. Winning the war had exacted a high cost—several friends who had enlisted with him and survived much of Napoleon’s war only to lose their lives at Waterloo. He had witnessed the deaths of several men he had known, and the images would never leave him. His regiment, the Tenth Hussars, had taken a major hit in the throes of the worst battle he could have ever imagined.  

Now they stood in Calais, waiting on the ships to take them back to their home shore.  

Hearing horse hooves, he turned slightly and could make out the red-faced Lieutenant Colonel White approaching. 

“There you are, Egerton.” The lieutenant colonel pulled his mount close and dismounted, taking advantage of the shelter Henry and Roger had found. “Wellington said you and your brother should depart on The Sea Lion. Your father plans to greet you on deck. It was supposed to be a surprise, but Wellington feared one or both of you would give up your space to another soldier and wait longer.” He looked at Roger to make his point. “He promised your father you would both be on it.”  

“Shouldn’t we wait until this weather eases up, lieutenant colonel?” Henry asked, unable to ignore the fissure of worry racing down his spine. “There are women and children returning on these boats with their husbands. What if—” 

“Nonsense,” the lieutenant said, interrupting. “This brief storm will blow over quickly. More importantly, we just received word of some rebels in the area who don’t believe the war has ended. Wellington dispatched men to root them out of the hills up there.” He nodded curtly toward the white cliffs behind them. “We want to depart before we have to engage in any more battles.” 

A powerful gust of wind blew, and the men watched the clouds above them move. Within moments, the sun peeped through.  

“These orders come from Wellington. But as you can see, the storm is moving out of the way. England is behind the storm. Perhaps that will ease your mind. Load up the families, but make sure you and your brother also board. Wellington was adamant,” the lieutenant colonel said, giving a quick salute before mounting and riding away. 

Both men gave a perfunctory salute in his wake and coaxed their mounts toward people lining up at the docks for the boats. They fell in at the end of the line and waited on their father’s ship. 

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Henry muttered. “We should go to the front of the line and help people board. It would move more quickly with more assistance.” 

“I agree,” Roger murmured. 

Henry noticed his brother had been watching something at the front of the line.  

“It’s a woman with two children. I don’t see her husband nearby. I wonder if she lost him in the battle?” he said without looking at Henry. 

“I see the woman you mean. I suppose it’s possible. Why don’t we help her? There are two frightened children huddled and clinging to her skirts. We can tie our horses at the horse post over there,” Henry said, pointing to a small structure to the right of the deck where two other horses waited.  

They tied up their horses and handed their gear to their batmen. “The storm has doubled the tension of departure,” Henry added cautiously. “I don’t want this storm to add fear and chaos to the boarding.” 

“You make a good point,” Roger replied.  

Before they made it to the front of the line, they saw two other soldiers offer to help.  

“I think the widow may have enough help,” asserted Henry, tapping Roger on the shoulder. Henry nodded with a wink.  

“I guess you are right,” Roger said, sounding a little defeated.  

Henry punched him lightly on the arm. “Who knows, maybe someone else will need saving. We should get back in line, but I’ll keep a sharp eye peeled.” 

“Thank you,” his brother said with a chuckle. The two men laughed as they collected their mounts.  

“Father’s ship is docking. Someone will come and take the horses for us, but I am afraid they might get loaded on the wrong ship if we don’t keep them close. And Cestrian has been with me since the beginning of the war.” 

“That’s incredible, Henry.” 

A familiar face met them at the dock. 

“My God! There’s Brighton,” Henry said, pointing the man out. “Father brought his valet.” 

“Perhaps he is here for our benefit,” Roger suggested, looking at his brother. “The growth of beard on the two of us would give anyone pause. Father probably wants to give us a chance to get a good shave before we get home.” He pointed to the duke standing on deck, near the ship’s side railing.  

As the two men boarded the boat, the small, round man huffed as he made his way closer. “My lord, Mr. Stanton, I am so glad to see you, finally. We were afraid the ship would run out of room before you boarded. Your father is over there, waiting.”  

“I cannot believe he came. Father does not swim,” Henry muttered as he and his brother walked to the side of the ship, where their father stood smiling. 

“Father, it is good to see you!” Henry said, giving his father a tight hug. He had sorely missed his father and the man’s sage wisdom about things. That he had taken the time to travel here to collect his boys brought unexpected tears to Henry’s eyes, which he quickly blinked back.  

“Your Grace,” Roger said, hugging the older man.  

“I’ve missed both of you so much. Your brother misses you as well, but someone had to stay and watch over the estate,” the Duke of Kendall said, giving a laugh straight from his belly.  

Their father’s laughs were always contagious, even when his jokes missed the mark. Within seconds, the boys were laughing. Even Brighton was smiling.  

“Cook is excited you are both coming home. She made me promise to tell you she is preparing a meal with all your favorites … both of your favorites, to be clear. And your mother has, of course, ordered new clothing for you and is planning a welcome-home ball. She plans to include Wellington and several of the top brass.” 

As they stood there talking, Henry felt the boat shove away from the dock and make its way behind a naval ship, toward England. A small naval vessel would fall in behind, to escort the merchant ship carrying a duke. He briefly wondered if Wellington would return to England for even a brief visit, since he had been chosen to lead the occupation of France.  

The sun was dropping quickly, as clouds had once again moved in, covering the moon and obscuring the little light she offered. Winds whipped up again. As the boat moved into the deeper waters, Henry noticed the choppiness had increased to what looked like eight-foot waves, and glanced nervously at his father, who nodded, to let him know he was all right.  

When he glanced back to see the shore as it grew smaller, he caught a glint of something flash from the top of the cliffs. Before he could say anything, a loud boom sounded, followed by smoke rising above where he had seen the glint. He heard the loud report of cannon fire and saw a fireball streak through the dark sky until it exploded on the deck near them, causing chaos. Women and men alike screamed, and children cried as the entire side of the boat, including the railing his father had been leaning on, crumpled and fell into the dark abyss of water below them.  

“Father,” Henry roared, quickly stripping the weight of his uniform, removing the sling, and casting his weapons behind. Caring for naught but saving his father, Henry scanned the water with the little light he had left, and when he thought he had his father in his sights, he dove from the edge of the battered deck into the water. 

Author Bio:

USA Bestselling Author, Anna St. Claire, is a big believer that nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself. She sprinkles her stories with laughter, romance, mystery, and lots of possibilities, adhering to the belief that goodness and love will win the day.  

Anna is both an avid reader and author of American and British historical romance. She and her husband live in Charlotte, North Carolina with their two dogs and often, their two beautiful granddaughters, who live nearby. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, and Mimi—all life roles that Anna St. Claire relishes and feels blessed to still enjoy. And she loves her pets – dogs and cats alike, and often weaves them into her books as secondary characters. And she loves chocolate and popcorn, a definite nod to her need for sweet followed by salty…but not together—a tasty weakness! 

Anna relocated from New York to the Carolinas as a child. Her mother, a retired English and History teacher, encouraged Anna’s interest in writing after discovering short stories Anna would write in her spare time.  

As a child, she loved mysteries and checked out every Encyclopedia Brown story that came into the school library. Before too long, her fascination with history and reading led her to her first historical romance—Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, now a treasured, but weathered book from being read multiple times. The day she discovered Kathleen Woodiwiss,’ books, Shanna and Ashes In The Wind, Anna became hooked.  

Today, her focus is primarily the Regency and Civil War eras, although Anna enjoys any period in American and British history. 


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