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Nicholas

Nicholas

New York Times bestselling author, CHERYL HOLT, delivers another spellbinding novel with two of her most memorable characters in years. In a fast-paced, fun story of love, passion, and betrayal…

CAN A ROGUE AND REBEL

Captain Nicholas Price has dedicated his life to the army. He never dreamed he’d someday become Earl of Stafford, a title and position he neither sought nor expected. Although he has no interest in the estate, and is intent on being an absentee landlord, he’s determined to do his duty to the land and its people. He hires a land agent to manage the property, not realizing that — as the man implements draconian policies that negatively impact the local citizenry — Nicholas will be pushed into the path of meddling reformer, Emeline Wilson.

BECOME THE MAN OF HER DREAMS?

Emeline is an over-educated spinster who believes in justice and fairness and is determined to make the world a better place. She would have liked to wed and had a family of her own, but she had to stay at home and care for her widowed father and two young sisters. With her father’s death, she’s lost his house and income and is about to be evicted by the cruel land agent running Stafford Manor. As one of many who are suffering, she’s elected by her neighbors to serve as spokeswoman for the town as they demand just treatment from the new Lord Stafford.

Emeline is determined that Nicholas behave better, that he become a better man. As they clash, tempers flare and passion sizzles. But as love begins to blossom, so does danger from those resolved to keep them apart. Can love survive the most wicked enemy of all?

Cheryl Holt’s graceful writing style and realistically complex characters gives her latest historical romance NICHOLAS its exceptional emotional richness and depth that made it a treat to read. Holt’s powerful descriptive powers allow the reader to step into the story and become an active participant, surrendering to the richness and splendor of a truly outstanding love-story. If you love an august love story then NICHOLAS should be on your list. — Romance Crush Junkies

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“New York Times bestselling author Cheryl Holt has pulled out all the stops with her Samhain Publishing, Limited latest release NICHOLAS. Holt is pure perfection in giving readers exactly what they yearn for. NICHOLAS is an explosive emotional love story with its heart wrenching characters. Drawing readers like a moth to a flame while wrapping a Herculean of a story will keep Holt’s readers clamoring for more.”

“Readers will fall under NICHOLAS’s spell…”

“Holt never lets her readers down by creating a sumptuous historical world through her brilliant craftsmanship. Her spectacular uses of imagery are so intricate that the characters leap from the pages.”

“If you have yet to pick up a Cheryl Holt book I suggest you download or order from you favorite online book store a copy of NICHOLAS.”

“Cheryl Holt’s graceful writing style and realistically complex characters gives her latest historical romance NICHOLAS its exceptional emotional richness and depth that made it a treat to read. Holt’s powerful descriptive powers allow the reader to step into the story and become an active participant, surrendering to the richness and splendor of a truly outstanding love-story. If you love an august love story then NICHOLAS should be on your list.”
Read full review here: Romance Crush Junkies — Christine, Romance Crush Junkies

“A Cheryl Holt novel is something I always impatiently anticipate, and Nicholas reminds me exactly why. Fabulously enticing characters along with a storyline that will get the reader’s blood pumping equals a book that is a must read.”

“I love a reprobate who needs to be saved, and Nicholas fits type perfectly. Emeline is the perfect savior, and the trials and tribulations of the two characters will keep the reader’s nose stuck firmly in the book. Their interaction is wonderfully complicated, and the characters are fascinating. I love when I feel extreme emotions when I read a book, from loving a character to complete dislike; this book has something for everyone.”

“One thing that makes Ms. Holt a stand-out author to me is her ability to have secondary characters that are integral to the plot but don’t overshadow the main characters. She succeeds in giving the secondary characters a story of their own within the main story. Just more characters for me to love!”

“I have been an avid fan of Cheryl Holt for years. In April 2001, I bought my first book by Ms. Holt, My True Love, and I have been hooked ever since. I still have that book I bought on my bookshelf along with most of her other books. It is always a wonderful feeling, like comfort food, to read a favorite author,and her storytelling here is just as wonderful as in her first book. I find this to be uncommon. Ms. Holt is this type of author. I recommend any reader to search out her books and read them.” — Teagan Boyd, BookWenches.com<

“Cheryl Holt is magnificent…” — Reader to Reader Reviews

“A master writer…” — Fallen Angel Reviews

“VERDICT: An exciting plot complicated by Emeline and Nicholas’s roller-coaster relationship keeps the pages turning. A great weekend read.” — Emily Thompson, Library Journal

“NICHOLAS, by Cheryl Holt is in one word, ‘Captivating’! A perfect read for snuggling down with your favorite blanket and a nice glass of wine at the end of the day. But be warned that you will not be able to put it down until the last page is read.” — Teresa St. Mary, Novels Alive TV

“I read NICHOLAS and I loved it. I thought he and his brother were the sweetest heroes. I had a few weepy moments while reading! They had alpha moments, but they weren’t too hard. I thought [the female characters] Emeline and Jo were strong yet vulnerable just they would have been within that time frame. I’m glad you decided to write again, and I hope to see more from you in the future.” — Victoria

“I loved it… I couldn’t put it down… — Debbie

“You have the greatest knack for writing yummy heroes. Nicholas is so tough and so macho, so his fall at the end is doubly delicious.” — Sue

“I stayed up all night reading it, so I’m grumpy this morning, and it’s all your fault. I couldn’t put it down!” &mash; Mary

“No one writes historicals like you do. I think this is your best book in years.” — Tina

“Just finished NICHOLAS, and must say it is second my favorite book of yours after LOVE LESSONS.” — Ann

“NICHOLAS, a “three hanky” read with a five-star rating. OH…WOW… FANTASTIC!!!” *mdash; Margaret

“I just finished Nicholas. I put it down last night and couldn’t wait to finish. I woke up at 5 am, came downstairs and finished it by 7 and went back to bed! It was wonderful! Congratulations! Well done!” — Debbie

“I enjoyed it so much!” — Pam

CHAPTER ONE

London, May, 1814…

“Are you sure about this?”

“Very sure.”

Emeline Wilson forced a smile as she leaned across the wagon seat and patted Mr. Templeton’s hand.

He was an older gentleman, an acquaintance from her rural village of Stafford.  He’d offered to drive her to London as he brought a load of hides to the tanner.  Since she hadn’t had the money to travel any other way, she’d accepted.

The trip had been bumpy and lengthy and fraught with uncertainties.  She was worried over whether she should proceed with her plan, and still hadn’t convinced herself that she was doing the right thing.

Nervously, Mr. Templeton pointed to the ostentatious mansion that towered over them.  It belonged to Nicholas Price, the new Lord Stafford, a mysterious personage who’d been earl for a year and who no one at the Stafford estate had ever seen or met.

“The house is awfully grand, isn’t it?” he said.

“Not as grand as Stafford Manor.”

“How will you gain entrance?”

“I’ll simply knock on the door.”

“Do you think his staff will admit you?”

“Why wouldn’t they?” she firmly replied.

Two days earlier, when they’d left home, she’d been brimming with indignation, aggrieved on her neighbors’ behalves, and prepared to slay any dragon as she sought a paltry crumb of justice for them.

But now, with their having arrived, her confidence was flagging.

Why had she assumed she could make a difference?  Why was she always so eager to carry the burdens of others?  Perhaps she should have stayed in the country and kept her mouth shut.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t her nature to be silent or submissive.  She was forever arguing when she shouldn’t, fighting unwinnable battles, and cheering on the less fortunate.  Usually to no avail.  There were few rewards to be gleaned by heroics, but she couldn’t stop herself.

Life was so unfair, catastrophe so random and typically heaped on those least able to withstand the onslaught.  If she didn’t comment on inequity, who would?

Her dear, departed father—the village school teacher and best man she’d ever known—had educated her beyond her needs.  She saw problems and the obvious solutions too clearly, and she couldn’t comprehend why the easiest remedies were the hardest to attain.  Especially from someone as rich and powerful as Lord Stafford.

His tenants were suffering egregiously.  Crops had failed and conditions were desperate, yet he couldn’t care less.  He’d never bothered to visit Stafford.  Instead, he’d installed Mr. Mason as his land agent.  Mason was a bully and fiend who had been given free rein and unfettered control.

His sole objective was to put the estate on a sound financial footing, by any means necessary.  He implemented his draconian measures without regard to the human cost.  Families had been thrown out on the road.  Acreage had been confiscated.

No one was safe from his harsh edicts, not even Emeline.  Despite her father’s three decades of loyal service, she—and her two sisters, ten-year-old twins, Nan and Nell—were about to be evicted.

Mr. Mason had already forced them to relinquish their comfortable house, located next to the manor, in which Emeline had been raised.  They’d been relegated to a dilapidated cottage in the woods, and they had to start paying rent or leave, her dilemma being that she had no way of paying the rent and nowhere to live if she didn’t.

“Should I wait for you?” Mr. Templeton asked, yanking her out of her furious reverie.

“There’s no need,” Emeline said.  “Go make your deliveries, then pick me up at four o’clock as we planned.”

“It doesn’t seem as if anyone is at home.”

Emeline studied the mansion.  The curtains were drawn.  No stable boy had rushed out to greet them.  No butler had appeared.

“Someone will be here,” she asserted.  “I have an appointment, remember?”

It was a small lie, but she told it anyway.  She’d written to the earl three times, requesting an audience, but hadn’t received a reply.  Finally, in exasperation, she’d written a fourth time to inform him that she was coming to London—whether he liked it or not.

She couldn’t abide snobbery or conceit, and considering Lord Stafford’s antecedents, why would he exhibit any?

Twelve months ago, he’d simply been a captain in the army.  When the old earl had died without any children, it had been a huge shock to learn that title would pass to Nicholas Price.  In an instant, he’d gone from being a common soldier to a peer of the realm.  What reason had he to act superior?

“You asked for an appointment,” Mr. Templeton counseled, “but that doesn’t mean the earl will keep it.  His kind doesn’t have to be courteous.”

“Maybe he should recall that he’s not all that far above us.”

“Oh, Missy, be careful with your disparaging talk.  If you’re not here at four o’clock, I’ll likely be searching for you at the local jail.”

“Don’t be silly.  He wouldn’t have me…jailed merely for speaking out.”

“He’s dined at the palace with the king.  That sort of experience tends to alter a fellow.  He might do anything to you.”

“He won’t.  He’s an officer in the army.  He wouldn’t harm an innocent woman.”

“You just never know,” he ominously warned.

“I’ll be fine,” she insisted as a shiver of dread slithered down her spine.

Afraid that her courage might fail her, she leapt to the ground before she could change her mind.

“Good luck,” he said.

“I don’t need any luck,” she boldly retorted.  “I have right on my side, and right will always prevail over injustice.”

She marched off, and he clicked the reins, his horses plodding away.  As he departed, she felt terribly alone, as if she’d lost her last friend.

She gave in to a moment of weakness, to a moment of doubt, then she straightened with resolve.

“You can do this, you can do this,” she muttered over and over.

There had been a neighborhood meeting, and in a unanimous vote, she’d been elected to present their grievances to Lord Stafford, to seek some relief from Mr. Mason’s oppressive decrees.  She would not return to Stafford without garnering concessions from the earl.

She climbed the steps and was about to knock, when suddenly, the door was jerked open.

“It’s about bloody time you arrived,” a man barked.  He grabbed her and yanked her inside.

“What?” Emeline stammered, taken off guard by the peculiar welcome.

“You were supposed to be here two hours ago.”

“I was?”

“He’s probably not sober enough to entertain you now.  If he’s foxed to the level of incoherence, don’t expect to be paid.”

“Paid for what?” she asked, but he didn’t answer.  He stormed off, her wrist clasped tightly in his hand, and she stumbled along behind him.

After being out in the bright sunshine, the vestibule was very dark, and she blinked and blinked, trying to adjust her vision.  Before she could get her bearings, she was across the floor and being dragged up the stairs.  To slow their progress, she dug in her heels, but the brute who’d accosted her was very large and very irked.  She was only five foot five, and she weighed a hundred-twenty pounds.  She’d have had more success, attempting to stop a charging bull.

They reached a fancy hallway and started down it.  There was a bit more light, and she caught glimpses of a red coat, a dangling lapel, gold buttons.  He was wearing a soldier’s uniform, so he had to be one of Lord Stafford’s cohorts.

The earl had inherited the earldom, but he hadn’t resigned his commission in the army, and Emeline hadn’t heard that he intended to.

Evidently, his position in the military was so glamorous that he’d rather continue at it than worry about his responsibilities to the people at Stafford.

The notion made Emeline’s blood boil.  Her life, her sisters’ lives, the lives everyone she knew, were hanging by a thread, but Lord Stafford was totally unconcerned.

“Excuse me.”  She fought the man’s strong grip, but couldn’t pry herself loose.

“Excuse me!” she said more sternly, tugging hard and lurching free.

The man halted abruptly, and he appeared the type who might commit violence.  She took a hesitant step back.

“What is it?” he snarled.

“I’m…I’m…here to see Lord Stafford.”

“Well, of course you are.  Why else would you be here?”  He frowned, scrutinizing her tattered hat, her worn traveling cloak.  “We’ve waited all this time, and this is how you’ve dressed yourself?  You could be a fussy governess.”

“What’s wrong with being a governess?  I’m not hoping to impress with my attire.”

“You’re not?  For pity’s sake, don’t you know anything about men and what they like?”

At his insults, her temper sizzled.  She couldn’t help it if she was poor, if she was a week away from being tossed out on the road by Mr. Mason.  Through no fault of her own, she was in dire financial straits, and she wouldn’t grovel or apologize for her reduced condition.
“Of all the rude, uncivil, offensive—“

He blew out an aggravated breath.  “What kind of girls is Mrs. Bainbridge hiring these days?  She’s aware of his preferences; he won’t like you.”

“Why not?” she sneered.

“Because you’re a frump—“

“A frump!” she huffed.

“—and you’re too skinny.  And you’re blond.  He hates blonds.  Mrs. Bainbridge has been apprised that he does.  Why she would send you is beyond me.”

“Who is Mrs. Bainbridge?” she inquired, but he snagged her wrist again and took off.

Quickly, and despite her best efforts to pull away, they were at the double doors at the end of the corridor.

“Can you at least try to look pretty?” he implored.  “Pinch your cheeks.  Let your hair down.”

“I don’t wish to look…pretty,” she claimed, oddly incensed that he didn’t think she was.  “I wish to be listened to and…and…heeded.”

“Oh, Lord, spare me.  Just what I need:  a philosopher!”

He spun the knob and pushed her over the threshold.  As she passed, he made a hasty grab at the combs keeping her neat chignon balanced on the back of her neck.  Her tresses tumbled down in a golden wave.

“Are you insane?” she seethed, twirling to confront him.

“I’d better not hear any complaint from him,” he snapped in reply.  “Now get on with it and get out of here.”

He slammed the door in her face and turned the key in the lock, trapping her.

What sort of asylum had she entered?

She jangled the knob, then pounded on the wood, hissing, “Release me!  At once!”

But she received no answer.

Bending down, she peeked through the keyhole, and she could see him retreating.  She threw up her hands in exasperation, then whipped around to survey the space where she’d been imprisoned.

Immediate escape was necessary, and she had to either maneuver the lock or find another exit.  Since she had no mechanical inclinations, locating an exit was her only option.

She was sequestered in the sitting room of a grand suite, complete with several inner rooms.  Hopefully, there would be servant’s stairs at the rear, and she could flee down them.

She tiptoed over to the bedchamber, and it was empty.  Breathing a sigh of relief, she hurried into it, but she shielded her eyes so she wouldn’t glimpse the enormous bed in the middle.  It was large and ornate, designed for a king.  The blankets were on the floor, the pillows strewn about, so the maids hadn’t been in yet, or perhaps there were no maids.

What self-respecting female would work in such a madhouse?

Cautiously, she approached the next door that led into a washing room.  There was a bathing tub full of water.  Bars of soap and a scrub brush were stacked on a stool.

She was about to sneak in, but before she could, she was horrified to note that there was a man inside.  Was it Lord Stafford?

He was a few feet away, his back to her, which she could clearly see because he wasn’t dressed.  With just a towel wrapped around his waist, he was naked as the day he’d been born, and much too eagerly, she took stock of his attributes:  broad shoulders, lean hips, long, long legs.

His skin was bronzed from the sun, his hair dark as a raven’s and in need of a trim, his arms muscled from strenuous endeavor.  He had a perfectly-formed anatomy, the type of flawless shape a sculptor might copy when chipping away at a block of marble.

She studied him, transfixed and confused by the sight.

Her neighbors at Stafford had gossiped about him so frequently and in such derogatory terms that she’d developed an image of him that corresponded with their disparaging remarks.  Though she knew he was thirty years old, in her mind, she’d painted him as aged, fat, and ugly, but the reality didn’t match the fantasy.

He was strong and youthful, vigorous and fit.  His blatant personality oozed outward, his arrogant confidence wafting over her.

She hovered behind him, too terrified to move.  Her heart thudded against her ribs, urging her to do something, but what?  She couldn’t return the way she’d come and she couldn’t proceed.

He reached for a decanter of liquor, pulled the cork, and swallowed down the amber liquid—swigging directly out of the bottle.  The ease with which he gulped it proved that he was well acquainted with intoxication.  He was drinking and he was naked, and she was tempting fate.

Any bad thing could happen to her, and unless she found an escape, it probably would.

Why, oh, why had she sent Mr. Templeton away?  Why had she visited on her own?  Would it have killed her to bring a companion?

He set the liquor on a nearby dresser, then—stunning her—he bent over the bathing tub, palms braced on the rim, and dunked his head under the water.  For several seconds, he was submerged, then he stood.

Like a wet dog, he shook himself, droplets cascading everywhere.  Rivulets glistened on his shoulders, streaming down to disappear under the towel.

His hair was drenched, and he pushed it off his forehead then, without warning, he spun and grinned at her.  It was an evil, wicked grin, informing her that she hadn’t been furtive in the slightest.  He knew she’d been lurking just outside; he knew she’d been spying.

She was mortified and wanted to run, but she was held in place by the mesmerizing indigo of his eyes.

He was incredibly handsome.  He had a face that brooked no argument, that would have women swooning and men happy to follow wherever he led.

For an eternity, they stared and stared, and they might have tarried forever, but he shattered the interlude by speaking.  His voice was a rich, soothing baritone, that made her knees weak, that made her keen to do whatever he asked.

”I am Captain Nicholas Price, Lord Stafford.”

She blanched with dismay.

This wasn’t the appointment she’d envisioned, at all.  She’d pictured a stuffy library, uncomfortable chairs, stilted conversation, tea on a tray.  How would they engage in a rational debate about the crops at Stafford when she’d seen him without his trousers?

She gave him the fleetest curtsy in the world.  “Hello, Lord Stafford.  I am Emel—“

He cut her off.  “I don’t need to know your name.”

“Well!”

He grinned another wicked grin.  “Are you impressed by me?”

“Not particularly.”

“I hate your outfit.  It’s too dowdy.”

“I don’t care.”

“You’re not arousing me in the least.”

“Arousing you!”

“Take off your cloak.  Let me see what you’re hiding underneath.”

“Absolutely not!  What a rude request!”

“How will you entice me with such a dour attitude?”

“I’m not…dour.  My attitude is quite pleasant—when I’m in pleasant company.”

He laughed.  “Don’t you know the rules?  You’re supposed to fawn over me.  You’re supposed to feign excitement and tell me I’m the manliest man you’ve ever met.”

He was the manliest man she’d ever met, but she wouldn’t admit in a thousand years.

“I’ve never been much of a one for fawning.”

“Good.  I can’t say I enjoy it much myself.  Have you looked your fill?”  He gestured down his body, as if he’d been deliberately displaying it for her.  “Would you like to continue admiring me?  Or shall we get down to business?”

“Yes…ah…business would be fine.”  She waved at all that bare skin.  “Would you put on some clothes?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“I can’t imagine discussing any topic of significance when you’re undressed.”

“I’m not interested in discussion.  At the moment, I have more important things on my mind.  Such as how quickly we can get the dirty deed accomplished.”

“I can’t possibly proceed when you’re in this condition.”

He raised a curious brow.  “You are the strangest whore ever in the entire history of whores.”

“The strangest…what?”

He lunged for her, and she shrieked and raced into the bedchamber, but she tripped on a pillow.  As she hastened to right herself, he was on her.

He scooped her into his arms and sauntered to the bed, and though she kicked and complained, she couldn’t stop him.  He dropped her onto the mattress, and he fell on top of her, her wrists pinned over her head, his torso stretched out the length of hers.

While she’d planned to keep fighting, she was astonished by the intimate positioning.  She could feel him and smell him, and even though she was fully clothed, it didn’t seem as if she was.  She yearned to be closer to him in a very naughty fashion.

Her interactions with men had been few and fleeting.  She’d never been courted, had never had a beau, so she had no experiences by which to measure what was happening.  She should have been incensed—and she was—but she also should have been petrified, and she wasn’t.

Though he was obviously a rake, she sensed no overt menace.  Her virtue was certainly in peril, though what would have to transpire in order for her to lose it, she couldn’t say.  She was clueless as to the physical conduct between men and women.

Still, she perceived details about him that she had no reason to know.  He wouldn’t hurt her.  He wouldn’t do anything she didn’t wish him to do—the trick being to snag his arrogant attention long enough to make him listen.

“Let me go,” she demanded.
“No.”

“I mean it.  Let me go!”

“No.”

“If you don’t, you’ll be sorry.”

“I doubt it.  I’ve never been sorry my whole life.”

“I’m sure that’s true.”

He untied her cloak and pushed it off so he could glance down her body.

“That is the ugliest dress I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“I guess I don’t rise to your incredibly high standards,” she sarcastically retorted.

“Are you new at this?  You don’t have any flair.  Couldn’t you have borrowed a fancier gown from one of the other girls?”

“Honestly, you are a vulgar, annoying cur.”

“Yes, I am,” he agreed, seeming proud of the fact.

“And I am not a—“

Her tirade was cut off by his leaning down and kissing her.  The same instant, his roving hand shifted to her breast and rested there.  The illicit touch made her nipple harden into a taut nub.  It nudged against his palm, as if begging to be petted.

His lips were warm and soft, and she inhaled a shocked breath, and it only encouraged him.  He slipped his tongue into her mouth, and he stroked it in and out as he massaged her breast.

The outrageous contact was so unexpected—and so thrilling—that for a delicious second, she forgot to protest.  Then she remembered herself, her mission, her place, and she yelped and shoved with all her might.

She managed to slide out from under him and scurry across the mattress.  Clutching at her cloak, she scrambled to the floor.

“What the devil?” he muttered, his confusion plain.  “What kind of whore are you?”

“I am not a whore!” she fumed.

He narrowed his gaze and focused on her so intently that she understood how the soldiers under his command had to feel when they’d committed an infraction.  She wondered if she was about to be flogged.

“If you’re not a whore,” he asked, “what the hell are you?”

“I am Miss Emeline Wilson.”

He cocked his head; he scowled.  “Why do I know that name?”

“Perhaps because I’ve written you four times, requesting an audience.  We have an appointment today at two.”

“We do not.”

“We do.”

“About what?”

“About the condition of the tenants at your estate.  If you’d ever deigned to visit Stafford, you would have discovered that—“

In a fluid move, he leapt from the bed, the towel gripped at his waist.  Murder in his eye, he stormed over, grabbed her and dragged her to the door.

When they reached it, it was still locked, and he was so angry that he was flummoxed as to why it would be or how he was to open it.

He hammered on the wood, shouting, “Stephen!  Stephen!  Get your ass in here!”

She hissed and wrestled, trying to free herself, as he continued to bang and bellow.  Eventually, footsteps winged toward them.  A key was jammed and turned.  The door was flung wide.  The man who’d initially seized her—the one with features she now recognized as looking very similar to Lord Stafford’s—was standing there.

She recalled that he had a brother, Mr. Stephen Price, who was two years younger.  Stephen Price was also in the army.  They served together.

“What is it?” Mr. Price snapped.  “What did she do?  I warned her that she wouldn’t be paid if she caused any trouble.”

Lord Stafford hurled her at his brother, and Mr. Price caught her.

“She’s not a whore,” Lord Stafford explained.

“She’s not?” Mr. Price frowned.  “Who is she then?”

“She’s that fussy scold from Stafford.”

“Emeline Wilson?”

“Yes.  Why is she in my house?”

“She walked in—bold as brass.”

“Well, get her the hell out!  It’s bad enough that I have to put up with her nonsense through the mail.  I shouldn’t have to tolerate it in my own home.  Is this my castle or isn’t it?”

“May I say something?” Emeline interrupted.

“No, you may not,” Lord Stafford barked.

He gave a curt nod to his brother.  Mr. Price spun on his heel and marched down the hall, Emeline’s arm tight in his fist.

She struggled with him, but she was too small and too easily manhandled to have any effect.

“But…but…” Emeline mumbled, “I haven’t said what I came to say.”

“Believe me,” Mr. Price replied, “you’ve said plenty.”

He stomped down the stairs, as Emeline staggered after him.  In a thrice, they were across the vestibule, and she was tossed out onto the stoop.

With a firm slam, the door was shut and locked behind her.

Reviews

“New York Times bestselling author Cheryl Holt has pulled out all the stops with her Samhain Publishing, Limited latest release NICHOLAS. Holt is pure perfection in giving readers exactly what they yearn for. NICHOLAS is an explosive emotional love story with its heart wrenching characters. Drawing readers like a moth to a flame while wrapping a Herculean of a story will keep Holt’s readers clamoring for more.”

“Readers will fall under NICHOLAS’s spell…”

“Holt never lets her readers down by creating a sumptuous historical world through her brilliant craftsmanship. Her spectacular uses of imagery are so intricate that the characters leap from the pages.”

“If you have yet to pick up a Cheryl Holt book I suggest you download or order from you favorite online book store a copy of NICHOLAS.”

“Cheryl Holt’s graceful writing style and realistically complex characters gives her latest historical romance NICHOLAS its exceptional emotional richness and depth that made it a treat to read. Holt’s powerful descriptive powers allow the reader to step into the story and become an active participant, surrendering to the richness and splendor of a truly outstanding love-story. If you love an august love story then NICHOLAS should be on your list.”
Read full review here: Romance Crush Junkies — Christine, Romance Crush Junkies

“A Cheryl Holt novel is something I always impatiently anticipate, and Nicholas reminds me exactly why. Fabulously enticing characters along with a storyline that will get the reader’s blood pumping equals a book that is a must read.”

“I love a reprobate who needs to be saved, and Nicholas fits type perfectly. Emeline is the perfect savior, and the trials and tribulations of the two characters will keep the reader’s nose stuck firmly in the book. Their interaction is wonderfully complicated, and the characters are fascinating. I love when I feel extreme emotions when I read a book, from loving a character to complete dislike; this book has something for everyone.”

“One thing that makes Ms. Holt a stand-out author to me is her ability to have secondary characters that are integral to the plot but don’t overshadow the main characters. She succeeds in giving the secondary characters a story of their own within the main story. Just more characters for me to love!”

“I have been an avid fan of Cheryl Holt for years. In April 2001, I bought my first book by Ms. Holt, My True Love, and I have been hooked ever since. I still have that book I bought on my bookshelf along with most of her other books. It is always a wonderful feeling, like comfort food, to read a favorite author,and her storytelling here is just as wonderful as in her first book. I find this to be uncommon. Ms. Holt is this type of author. I recommend any reader to search out her books and read them.” — Teagan Boyd, BookWenches.com<

“Cheryl Holt is magnificent…” — Reader to Reader Reviews

“A master writer…” — Fallen Angel Reviews

“VERDICT: An exciting plot complicated by Emeline and Nicholas’s roller-coaster relationship keeps the pages turning. A great weekend read.” — Emily Thompson, Library Journal

“NICHOLAS, by Cheryl Holt is in one word, ‘Captivating’! A perfect read for snuggling down with your favorite blanket and a nice glass of wine at the end of the day. But be warned that you will not be able to put it down until the last page is read.” — Teresa St. Mary, Novels Alive TV

Fan Reviews

“I read NICHOLAS and I loved it. I thought he and his brother were the sweetest heroes. I had a few weepy moments while reading! They had alpha moments, but they weren’t too hard. I thought [the female characters] Emeline and Jo were strong yet vulnerable just they would have been within that time frame. I’m glad you decided to write again, and I hope to see more from you in the future.” — Victoria

“I loved it… I couldn’t put it down… — Debbie

“You have the greatest knack for writing yummy heroes. Nicholas is so tough and so macho, so his fall at the end is doubly delicious.” — Sue

“I stayed up all night reading it, so I’m grumpy this morning, and it’s all your fault. I couldn’t put it down!” &mash; Mary

“No one writes historicals like you do. I think this is your best book in years.” — Tina

“Just finished NICHOLAS, and must say it is second my favorite book of yours after LOVE LESSONS.” — Ann

“NICHOLAS, a “three hanky” read with a five-star rating. OH…WOW… FANTASTIC!!!” *mdash; Margaret

“I just finished Nicholas. I put it down last night and couldn’t wait to finish. I woke up at 5 am, came downstairs and finished it by 7 and went back to bed! It was wonderful! Congratulations! Well done!” — Debbie

“I enjoyed it so much!” — Pam

Sneak Preview

CHAPTER ONE

London, May, 1814…

“Are you sure about this?”

“Very sure.”

Emeline Wilson forced a smile as she leaned across the wagon seat and patted Mr. Templeton’s hand.

He was an older gentleman, an acquaintance from her rural village of Stafford.  He’d offered to drive her to London as he brought a load of hides to the tanner.  Since she hadn’t had the money to travel any other way, she’d accepted.

The trip had been bumpy and lengthy and fraught with uncertainties.  She was worried over whether she should proceed with her plan, and still hadn’t convinced herself that she was doing the right thing.

Nervously, Mr. Templeton pointed to the ostentatious mansion that towered over them.  It belonged to Nicholas Price, the new Lord Stafford, a mysterious personage who’d been earl for a year and who no one at the Stafford estate had ever seen or met.

“The house is awfully grand, isn’t it?” he said.

“Not as grand as Stafford Manor.”

“How will you gain entrance?”

“I’ll simply knock on the door.”

“Do you think his staff will admit you?”

“Why wouldn’t they?” she firmly replied.

Two days earlier, when they’d left home, she’d been brimming with indignation, aggrieved on her neighbors’ behalves, and prepared to slay any dragon as she sought a paltry crumb of justice for them.

But now, with their having arrived, her confidence was flagging.

Why had she assumed she could make a difference?  Why was she always so eager to carry the burdens of others?  Perhaps she should have stayed in the country and kept her mouth shut.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t her nature to be silent or submissive.  She was forever arguing when she shouldn’t, fighting unwinnable battles, and cheering on the less fortunate.  Usually to no avail.  There were few rewards to be gleaned by heroics, but she couldn’t stop herself.

Life was so unfair, catastrophe so random and typically heaped on those least able to withstand the onslaught.  If she didn’t comment on inequity, who would?

Her dear, departed father—the village school teacher and best man she’d ever known—had educated her beyond her needs.  She saw problems and the obvious solutions too clearly, and she couldn’t comprehend why the easiest remedies were the hardest to attain.  Especially from someone as rich and powerful as Lord Stafford.

His tenants were suffering egregiously.  Crops had failed and conditions were desperate, yet he couldn’t care less.  He’d never bothered to visit Stafford.  Instead, he’d installed Mr. Mason as his land agent.  Mason was a bully and fiend who had been given free rein and unfettered control.

His sole objective was to put the estate on a sound financial footing, by any means necessary.  He implemented his draconian measures without regard to the human cost.  Families had been thrown out on the road.  Acreage had been confiscated.

No one was safe from his harsh edicts, not even Emeline.  Despite her father’s three decades of loyal service, she—and her two sisters, ten-year-old twins, Nan and Nell—were about to be evicted.

Mr. Mason had already forced them to relinquish their comfortable house, located next to the manor, in which Emeline had been raised.  They’d been relegated to a dilapidated cottage in the woods, and they had to start paying rent or leave, her dilemma being that she had no way of paying the rent and nowhere to live if she didn’t.

“Should I wait for you?” Mr. Templeton asked, yanking her out of her furious reverie.

“There’s no need,” Emeline said.  “Go make your deliveries, then pick me up at four o’clock as we planned.”

“It doesn’t seem as if anyone is at home.”

Emeline studied the mansion.  The curtains were drawn.  No stable boy had rushed out to greet them.  No butler had appeared.

“Someone will be here,” she asserted.  “I have an appointment, remember?”

It was a small lie, but she told it anyway.  She’d written to the earl three times, requesting an audience, but hadn’t received a reply.  Finally, in exasperation, she’d written a fourth time to inform him that she was coming to London—whether he liked it or not.

She couldn’t abide snobbery or conceit, and considering Lord Stafford’s antecedents, why would he exhibit any?

Twelve months ago, he’d simply been a captain in the army.  When the old earl had died without any children, it had been a huge shock to learn that title would pass to Nicholas Price.  In an instant, he’d gone from being a common soldier to a peer of the realm.  What reason had he to act superior?

“You asked for an appointment,” Mr. Templeton counseled, “but that doesn’t mean the earl will keep it.  His kind doesn’t have to be courteous.”

“Maybe he should recall that he’s not all that far above us.”

“Oh, Missy, be careful with your disparaging talk.  If you’re not here at four o’clock, I’ll likely be searching for you at the local jail.”

“Don’t be silly.  He wouldn’t have me…jailed merely for speaking out.”

“He’s dined at the palace with the king.  That sort of experience tends to alter a fellow.  He might do anything to you.”

“He won’t.  He’s an officer in the army.  He wouldn’t harm an innocent woman.”

“You just never know,” he ominously warned.

“I’ll be fine,” she insisted as a shiver of dread slithered down her spine.

Afraid that her courage might fail her, she leapt to the ground before she could change her mind.

“Good luck,” he said.

“I don’t need any luck,” she boldly retorted.  “I have right on my side, and right will always prevail over injustice.”

She marched off, and he clicked the reins, his horses plodding away.  As he departed, she felt terribly alone, as if she’d lost her last friend.

She gave in to a moment of weakness, to a moment of doubt, then she straightened with resolve.

“You can do this, you can do this,” she muttered over and over.

There had been a neighborhood meeting, and in a unanimous vote, she’d been elected to present their grievances to Lord Stafford, to seek some relief from Mr. Mason’s oppressive decrees.  She would not return to Stafford without garnering concessions from the earl.

She climbed the steps and was about to knock, when suddenly, the door was jerked open.

“It’s about bloody time you arrived,” a man barked.  He grabbed her and yanked her inside.

“What?” Emeline stammered, taken off guard by the peculiar welcome.

“You were supposed to be here two hours ago.”

“I was?”

“He’s probably not sober enough to entertain you now.  If he’s foxed to the level of incoherence, don’t expect to be paid.”

“Paid for what?” she asked, but he didn’t answer.  He stormed off, her wrist clasped tightly in his hand, and she stumbled along behind him.

After being out in the bright sunshine, the vestibule was very dark, and she blinked and blinked, trying to adjust her vision.  Before she could get her bearings, she was across the floor and being dragged up the stairs.  To slow their progress, she dug in her heels, but the brute who’d accosted her was very large and very irked.  She was only five foot five, and she weighed a hundred-twenty pounds.  She’d have had more success, attempting to stop a charging bull.

They reached a fancy hallway and started down it.  There was a bit more light, and she caught glimpses of a red coat, a dangling lapel, gold buttons.  He was wearing a soldier’s uniform, so he had to be one of Lord Stafford’s cohorts.

The earl had inherited the earldom, but he hadn’t resigned his commission in the army, and Emeline hadn’t heard that he intended to.

Evidently, his position in the military was so glamorous that he’d rather continue at it than worry about his responsibilities to the people at Stafford.

The notion made Emeline’s blood boil.  Her life, her sisters’ lives, the lives everyone she knew, were hanging by a thread, but Lord Stafford was totally unconcerned.

“Excuse me.”  She fought the man’s strong grip, but couldn’t pry herself loose.

“Excuse me!” she said more sternly, tugging hard and lurching free.

The man halted abruptly, and he appeared the type who might commit violence.  She took a hesitant step back.

“What is it?” he snarled.

“I’m…I’m…here to see Lord Stafford.”

“Well, of course you are.  Why else would you be here?”  He frowned, scrutinizing her tattered hat, her worn traveling cloak.  “We’ve waited all this time, and this is how you’ve dressed yourself?  You could be a fussy governess.”

“What’s wrong with being a governess?  I’m not hoping to impress with my attire.”

“You’re not?  For pity’s sake, don’t you know anything about men and what they like?”

At his insults, her temper sizzled.  She couldn’t help it if she was poor, if she was a week away from being tossed out on the road by Mr. Mason.  Through no fault of her own, she was in dire financial straits, and she wouldn’t grovel or apologize for her reduced condition.
“Of all the rude, uncivil, offensive—“

He blew out an aggravated breath.  “What kind of girls is Mrs. Bainbridge hiring these days?  She’s aware of his preferences; he won’t like you.”

“Why not?” she sneered.

“Because you’re a frump—“

“A frump!” she huffed.

“—and you’re too skinny.  And you’re blond.  He hates blonds.  Mrs. Bainbridge has been apprised that he does.  Why she would send you is beyond me.”

“Who is Mrs. Bainbridge?” she inquired, but he snagged her wrist again and took off.

Quickly, and despite her best efforts to pull away, they were at the double doors at the end of the corridor.

“Can you at least try to look pretty?” he implored.  “Pinch your cheeks.  Let your hair down.”

“I don’t wish to look…pretty,” she claimed, oddly incensed that he didn’t think she was.  “I wish to be listened to and…and…heeded.”

“Oh, Lord, spare me.  Just what I need:  a philosopher!”

He spun the knob and pushed her over the threshold.  As she passed, he made a hasty grab at the combs keeping her neat chignon balanced on the back of her neck.  Her tresses tumbled down in a golden wave.

“Are you insane?” she seethed, twirling to confront him.

“I’d better not hear any complaint from him,” he snapped in reply.  “Now get on with it and get out of here.”

He slammed the door in her face and turned the key in the lock, trapping her.

What sort of asylum had she entered?

She jangled the knob, then pounded on the wood, hissing, “Release me!  At once!”

But she received no answer.

Bending down, she peeked through the keyhole, and she could see him retreating.  She threw up her hands in exasperation, then whipped around to survey the space where she’d been imprisoned.

Immediate escape was necessary, and she had to either maneuver the lock or find another exit.  Since she had no mechanical inclinations, locating an exit was her only option.

She was sequestered in the sitting room of a grand suite, complete with several inner rooms.  Hopefully, there would be servant’s stairs at the rear, and she could flee down them.

She tiptoed over to the bedchamber, and it was empty.  Breathing a sigh of relief, she hurried into it, but she shielded her eyes so she wouldn’t glimpse the enormous bed in the middle.  It was large and ornate, designed for a king.  The blankets were on the floor, the pillows strewn about, so the maids hadn’t been in yet, or perhaps there were no maids.

What self-respecting female would work in such a madhouse?

Cautiously, she approached the next door that led into a washing room.  There was a bathing tub full of water.  Bars of soap and a scrub brush were stacked on a stool.

She was about to sneak in, but before she could, she was horrified to note that there was a man inside.  Was it Lord Stafford?

He was a few feet away, his back to her, which she could clearly see because he wasn’t dressed.  With just a towel wrapped around his waist, he was naked as the day he’d been born, and much too eagerly, she took stock of his attributes:  broad shoulders, lean hips, long, long legs.

His skin was bronzed from the sun, his hair dark as a raven’s and in need of a trim, his arms muscled from strenuous endeavor.  He had a perfectly-formed anatomy, the type of flawless shape a sculptor might copy when chipping away at a block of marble.

She studied him, transfixed and confused by the sight.

Her neighbors at Stafford had gossiped about him so frequently and in such derogatory terms that she’d developed an image of him that corresponded with their disparaging remarks.  Though she knew he was thirty years old, in her mind, she’d painted him as aged, fat, and ugly, but the reality didn’t match the fantasy.

He was strong and youthful, vigorous and fit.  His blatant personality oozed outward, his arrogant confidence wafting over her.

She hovered behind him, too terrified to move.  Her heart thudded against her ribs, urging her to do something, but what?  She couldn’t return the way she’d come and she couldn’t proceed.

He reached for a decanter of liquor, pulled the cork, and swallowed down the amber liquid—swigging directly out of the bottle.  The ease with which he gulped it proved that he was well acquainted with intoxication.  He was drinking and he was naked, and she was tempting fate.

Any bad thing could happen to her, and unless she found an escape, it probably would.

Why, oh, why had she sent Mr. Templeton away?  Why had she visited on her own?  Would it have killed her to bring a companion?

He set the liquor on a nearby dresser, then—stunning her—he bent over the bathing tub, palms braced on the rim, and dunked his head under the water.  For several seconds, he was submerged, then he stood.

Like a wet dog, he shook himself, droplets cascading everywhere.  Rivulets glistened on his shoulders, streaming down to disappear under the towel.

His hair was drenched, and he pushed it off his forehead then, without warning, he spun and grinned at her.  It was an evil, wicked grin, informing her that she hadn’t been furtive in the slightest.  He knew she’d been lurking just outside; he knew she’d been spying.

She was mortified and wanted to run, but she was held in place by the mesmerizing indigo of his eyes.

He was incredibly handsome.  He had a face that brooked no argument, that would have women swooning and men happy to follow wherever he led.

For an eternity, they stared and stared, and they might have tarried forever, but he shattered the interlude by speaking.  His voice was a rich, soothing baritone, that made her knees weak, that made her keen to do whatever he asked.

”I am Captain Nicholas Price, Lord Stafford.”

She blanched with dismay.

This wasn’t the appointment she’d envisioned, at all.  She’d pictured a stuffy library, uncomfortable chairs, stilted conversation, tea on a tray.  How would they engage in a rational debate about the crops at Stafford when she’d seen him without his trousers?

She gave him the fleetest curtsy in the world.  “Hello, Lord Stafford.  I am Emel—“

He cut her off.  “I don’t need to know your name.”

“Well!”

He grinned another wicked grin.  “Are you impressed by me?”

“Not particularly.”

“I hate your outfit.  It’s too dowdy.”

“I don’t care.”

“You’re not arousing me in the least.”

“Arousing you!”

“Take off your cloak.  Let me see what you’re hiding underneath.”

“Absolutely not!  What a rude request!”

“How will you entice me with such a dour attitude?”

“I’m not…dour.  My attitude is quite pleasant—when I’m in pleasant company.”

He laughed.  “Don’t you know the rules?  You’re supposed to fawn over me.  You’re supposed to feign excitement and tell me I’m the manliest man you’ve ever met.”

He was the manliest man she’d ever met, but she wouldn’t admit in a thousand years.

“I’ve never been much of a one for fawning.”

“Good.  I can’t say I enjoy it much myself.  Have you looked your fill?”  He gestured down his body, as if he’d been deliberately displaying it for her.  “Would you like to continue admiring me?  Or shall we get down to business?”

“Yes…ah…business would be fine.”  She waved at all that bare skin.  “Would you put on some clothes?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“I can’t imagine discussing any topic of significance when you’re undressed.”

“I’m not interested in discussion.  At the moment, I have more important things on my mind.  Such as how quickly we can get the dirty deed accomplished.”

“I can’t possibly proceed when you’re in this condition.”

He raised a curious brow.  “You are the strangest whore ever in the entire history of whores.”

“The strangest…what?”

He lunged for her, and she shrieked and raced into the bedchamber, but she tripped on a pillow.  As she hastened to right herself, he was on her.

He scooped her into his arms and sauntered to the bed, and though she kicked and complained, she couldn’t stop him.  He dropped her onto the mattress, and he fell on top of her, her wrists pinned over her head, his torso stretched out the length of hers.

While she’d planned to keep fighting, she was astonished by the intimate positioning.  She could feel him and smell him, and even though she was fully clothed, it didn’t seem as if she was.  She yearned to be closer to him in a very naughty fashion.

Her interactions with men had been few and fleeting.  She’d never been courted, had never had a beau, so she had no experiences by which to measure what was happening.  She should have been incensed—and she was—but she also should have been petrified, and she wasn’t.

Though he was obviously a rake, she sensed no overt menace.  Her virtue was certainly in peril, though what would have to transpire in order for her to lose it, she couldn’t say.  She was clueless as to the physical conduct between men and women.

Still, she perceived details about him that she had no reason to know.  He wouldn’t hurt her.  He wouldn’t do anything she didn’t wish him to do—the trick being to snag his arrogant attention long enough to make him listen.

“Let me go,” she demanded.
“No.”

“I mean it.  Let me go!”

“No.”

“If you don’t, you’ll be sorry.”

“I doubt it.  I’ve never been sorry my whole life.”

“I’m sure that’s true.”

He untied her cloak and pushed it off so he could glance down her body.

“That is the ugliest dress I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“I guess I don’t rise to your incredibly high standards,” she sarcastically retorted.

“Are you new at this?  You don’t have any flair.  Couldn’t you have borrowed a fancier gown from one of the other girls?”

“Honestly, you are a vulgar, annoying cur.”

“Yes, I am,” he agreed, seeming proud of the fact.

“And I am not a—“

Her tirade was cut off by his leaning down and kissing her.  The same instant, his roving hand shifted to her breast and rested there.  The illicit touch made her nipple harden into a taut nub.  It nudged against his palm, as if begging to be petted.

His lips were warm and soft, and she inhaled a shocked breath, and it only encouraged him.  He slipped his tongue into her mouth, and he stroked it in and out as he massaged her breast.

The outrageous contact was so unexpected—and so thrilling—that for a delicious second, she forgot to protest.  Then she remembered herself, her mission, her place, and she yelped and shoved with all her might.

She managed to slide out from under him and scurry across the mattress.  Clutching at her cloak, she scrambled to the floor.

“What the devil?” he muttered, his confusion plain.  “What kind of whore are you?”

“I am not a whore!” she fumed.

He narrowed his gaze and focused on her so intently that she understood how the soldiers under his command had to feel when they’d committed an infraction.  She wondered if she was about to be flogged.

“If you’re not a whore,” he asked, “what the hell are you?”

“I am Miss Emeline Wilson.”

He cocked his head; he scowled.  “Why do I know that name?”

“Perhaps because I’ve written you four times, requesting an audience.  We have an appointment today at two.”

“We do not.”

“We do.”

“About what?”

“About the condition of the tenants at your estate.  If you’d ever deigned to visit Stafford, you would have discovered that—“

In a fluid move, he leapt from the bed, the towel gripped at his waist.  Murder in his eye, he stormed over, grabbed her and dragged her to the door.

When they reached it, it was still locked, and he was so angry that he was flummoxed as to why it would be or how he was to open it.

He hammered on the wood, shouting, “Stephen!  Stephen!  Get your ass in here!”

She hissed and wrestled, trying to free herself, as he continued to bang and bellow.  Eventually, footsteps winged toward them.  A key was jammed and turned.  The door was flung wide.  The man who’d initially seized her—the one with features she now recognized as looking very similar to Lord Stafford’s—was standing there.

She recalled that he had a brother, Mr. Stephen Price, who was two years younger.  Stephen Price was also in the army.  They served together.

“What is it?” Mr. Price snapped.  “What did she do?  I warned her that she wouldn’t be paid if she caused any trouble.”

Lord Stafford hurled her at his brother, and Mr. Price caught her.

“She’s not a whore,” Lord Stafford explained.

“She’s not?” Mr. Price frowned.  “Who is she then?”

“She’s that fussy scold from Stafford.”

“Emeline Wilson?”

“Yes.  Why is she in my house?”

“She walked in—bold as brass.”

“Well, get her the hell out!  It’s bad enough that I have to put up with her nonsense through the mail.  I shouldn’t have to tolerate it in my own home.  Is this my castle or isn’t it?”

“May I say something?” Emeline interrupted.

“No, you may not,” Lord Stafford barked.

He gave a curt nod to his brother.  Mr. Price spun on his heel and marched down the hall, Emeline’s arm tight in his fist.

She struggled with him, but she was too small and too easily manhandled to have any effect.

“But…but…” Emeline mumbled, “I haven’t said what I came to say.”

“Believe me,” Mr. Price replied, “you’ve said plenty.”

He stomped down the stairs, as Emeline staggered after him.  In a thrice, they were across the vestibule, and she was tossed out onto the stoop.

With a firm slam, the door was shut and locked behind her.

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