Gambler Jed Stone journeys to California to track down Simon Morgan, the man responsible for his best friend’s death. Arrested for robbery and murder upon arrival, Jed is shocked to see his face on a wanted poster. He escapes before his hanging, unaware that the man guilty of those crimes is the twin brother he never knew existed. In a case of mistaken identity, Jed acquires the most famous whorehouse in San Francisco in a rigged card game his twin is meant to win.
Lily Frontiere takes over running Lucky Lil’s from her dying mother, the house madam who shielded her by sending her away to boarding school. Lily’s intelligence and astonishing resemblance to her mother help in her charade, but she’s entered a world she knows little about. She clashes with the handsome stranger who turns up with the deed to Lucky Lil’s in hand, yet she is attracted to the charming risk taker.
Jed asks Madam Lil to stay on as he learns the business and is fooled by Lily’s performance until he stumbles upon the real Madam Lil and learns the truth behind Lily’s deception. His admiration for Lily blossoms into love.
But Simon Morgan seeks both Lily’s hand and ownership of Lucky Lil’s—and he will go to any means to possess both. Will Jed foil his nemesis while bringing his outlaw brother to justice and win Lily’s love?
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The whispers sounded like screams echoing in her head. All Cara Lee’s senses had magnified over the last twenty hours while she labored to bring forth the baby. She weakly gripped the cheap coverlet in her fists, willing the pain to go far away.
“The blood loss is great, sir. If you had only called me earlier, I might have—”
“Just leave. Give me a few minutes . . . with my wife.”
Gordon’s voice. Full of anguish. Oh, he was good.
The midwife walked reluctantly to the door. “Five minutes only, sir.”
“Yes, yes.” He eased the woman out the door and leaned against it, his long frame graceful as he removed a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his brow.
What had she seen in him? Cara Lee wished she could reverse time, return to being the naïve schoolgirl she’d been before she listened to his flattery and lies. He was so handsome on the stage. She’d almost taken leave of her senses when he actually spoke to her after the performance.
Suddenly another pain gripped her belly. She gave out a low, guttural howl.
“My God, Cara Lee. You sound like a wolf in the wild.”
Gordon pulled up the lone rickety chair, fixing the crease in his trousers before turning his attention to her.
“The midwife says you’re dying. Something about losing too much blood. Don’t worry about the baby. I’ll take him to Max.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “What if it’s a girl?” She wouldn’t have been bold enough to cross him before. Funny, how dying changed everything.
Her husband shrugged. “I suppose a girl will do. Either way, I’ll get my money.”
So it was true. He’d married her for reasons other than love. And by marrying a penniless actor, her Boston Brahmin parents disowned their foolish, only child. She had nowhere to turn in these last minutes.
Gordon took out his money clip. He placed a few bills on the bed, soaked in her sweat and water and blood.
“That’s enough to satisfy the midwife. Sorry I don’t have enough for your funeral, love.”
Cara Lee bit back the scream and held it in her throat. The contraction ended. She refused to give him another reason to belittle her.
To her surprise, Gordon pecked her on the cheek. He reeked of cheap perfume and another woman.
“Try to hurry, dear. I’ve got an appointment and still need to take the baby to a wet nurse for a few weeks before I present it to Max. I’ll share how you passed in childbirth.” He chuckled. “You know, Reverend Monty could do your funeral.”
Cara Lee remembered the jovial man who married them. He had smiled broadly at her throughout the brief ceremony.
“That would be nice,” she murmured, as she floated away. The odd feeling of euphoria was short-lived as she gasped, torn apart once again. She was past tears now. She only wished she were past the never-ending pain.
“No, come to think of it, he’s in Chicago. Doing King Lear if I’m not mistaken.”
She tried to focus on what her husband said, but he didn’t make any sense.
Gordon beamed down at her. “You didn’t really think we were married, pet? I thought you realized long ago Monty was a fellow thespian.”
The banging on the door interrupted him. “Please, sir. Let me back in.”
Her lover, her great deceiver, opened the door and ushered the stout woman in. “Shall I wait in the hall?”
The midwife came to the bed and lifted the covers. “My God, the baby’s coming. Push, missus. Push for your life!”
Cara Lee gritted her teeth and bore down. Relief washed over her.
“There, little one.”
Cara Lee heard a slap and a hearty cry. She saw her baby. Love burst from her.
“It’s a boy, missus. Hale and hearty.”
Rustlings and soft noises were all Cara Lee heard as she faded in and out. Then in her exhaustion, she sat up.
“He’s mine,” she spit out, glaring at Gordon Fisher. “You can’t take him.”
“I can, dear girl. This child is the meal ticket to my trust fund. Max wouldn’t loosen his grip and leave all his money to a worthless actor. But a father?”
He took the baby, now clean and wrapped in his mother’s ivory shawl. “Thank you for all you did, my dear.”
Gordon retreated from the room. She let out an anguished cry.
“Well, I never . . .” The midwife shook her head. “Let’s see if I can make you comfortable, dearie.”
Cara Lee moaned as the woman fussed over her. She was having trouble breathing again. A great weight pressed upon her.
“The worst is over now, missus. Let me just deal with the afterbirth. Maybe I can staunch the bleeding.”
As the midwife lifted the sheet again, she gasped. “Oh, my lord.”
Cara Lee broke out in a cold sweat. The pain was back again, even worse. Her body, her spirit, her faith in her husband. All had been broken. How much more could she bear?
The midwife clucked loudly. “Another one’s coming, child. You’ll have to be strong.”
The burning urge to push returned, stronger than the first time. She bit her lip and willed the baby to exit the birth canal. The burden eased from her, and the midwife cut the cord as before.
“Another boy. Spittin’ image of the other tyke.”
Cara Lee smiled weakly at the newborn. The room began to grow dark. She reached out to her child. “I love you, sweet boy.”
The baby gurgled happily.
“You mustn’t call him back. Don’t ever let . . .” Her voice trailed off.
A wet cloth glided across her forehead. What I wouldn’t give for a sip of cool water.
Minutes later the midwife pulled the stained bed sheet over the woman’s head. She stared blankly at the wide-eyed baby in her arms.
“Lord Almighty. I never even knew your mama’s name.”
As a child, Lauren Linwood gathered her neighborhood friends together and made up stories for them to act out, her first venture into creating memorable characters. Following her passion for history and love of learning, she became a teacher who began writing on the side to maintain her sanity in a sea of teenage hormones.
Lauren’s novels focus on two of her favorite eras, medieval times and the American Old West. History is the backdrop that places her characters in extraordinary circumstances, where their intense desire and yearning for one another grows into the deep, tender, treasured gift of love.
Lauren, a native Texan, lives in a Dallas suburb with her family. An avid reader, moviegoer, and sports fan, she manages stress by alternating yoga with five mile walks. She is thinking about starting a support group for Pinterest and House Hunters addicts.
Also by Lauren Linwood
Madeleine flees an abusive French husband with murder on his mind and reinvents herself as the only woman troubadour in England. She finds love with a brooding lord who thinks she’s a thief, but how long until her secrets are revealed?
Moments before she hangs for a murder she didn’t commit, schoolmarm Serena Sullivan is rescued by English playwright Daman Rutledge on the Kansas prairie. The couple goes on the run from Sheriff Bud Parker, finding love—and the truth—on a journey that changes their lives.
Interview with Holly Hewson
HH: Lauren, thank you so much for talking with us at TRS. Your featured book is A Game of Chance. Where did you get the idea for this sensational romance?
LL: The tiny seed that began A Game of Chance came from the phrase “separated at birth.” Usually, it references pictures of celebrities who favor each other. I decided to take those words literally and physically separate a pair of twins. My hero has no idea his brother exists because his mother died giving birth to him, and his father took off with his brother minutes before Jed was born—not realizing another baby would soon arrive. Twenty-five years later, their lives collide in San Francisco.
HH: What can you tell us about Lily and why will readers identify with her?
LL: Although Lily is well-educated and charming, she is a misfit in society due to her mother’s occupation, which hurts her self-confidence. She also is struggling with money problems and watching her mother slowly die before her eyes. I think many readers could relate to the financial problems and health issues Lily’s dealing with, while others might be searching for their place in the world as she is. Rest assured—Lily does find her place. When she realizes how much Jed believes in her, she begins to believe in herself.
HH: What do you like best about Jed and why will readers love him?
LL: Jed is a very positive person. Although he’s an orphan and Civil War veteran and hasn’t lived an easy life, he’s never become bitter about his circumstances. Readers will love his loyalty, resourcefulness, and that inner core of innate decency that runs through him. If you were in trouble or needed help, you’d want Jed in your corner.
HH: What makes this story different from your other works?
LL: A Game of Chance has both my hero and heroine dealing with mistaken identity. I’ve never had my lead characters experiencing the same problem (although in very different ways). Jed is arrested for his brother’s crimes because they look alike. Lily is impersonating her mother in order to keep financially afloat.
HH: What do you think about its reception so far?
LL: I’ve been pleased from the moment my editor Debby Gilbert told me it was her favorite of the three books she’s bought from me. I’ve received terrific feedback from readers and through reviews. Even my eighty-year-old aunt zipped through it in two days and proclaimed it my best to date—and wanted to know when my next book was coming out!
HH: What else do you have in store for lucky readers?
LL: My next western historical romance will be out in May. Right now it’s called A Change of Plans, but I’m going to rename it since several romances already have claimed that title. My heroine Maggie Rutherford writes dime novels under a man’s pen name, as many women authors did in the late 19th century. She interviews cowboy Ben Morgan for her next book, never dreaming that he’s actually a gambler with a gunslinger hot on his trail and she’d fall in love with him. Ben will have to make a choice—run from his growing attraction to Maggie and an outlaw’s promise of death—or make a stand for his life—and love.
HH: What can you tell us about day-to-day life for you as an author?
LL: I’ve always relished variety, and that’s what my writing life is all about. On any given day, I might be juggling all kinds of balls—researching and plotting for my current work-in-progress; working on edits for my upcoming book; doing PR for my current release; pulling out a completed manuscript and tweaking it after reading it with fresh eyes; writing a snippet for my blog or guest posting on a fellow author’s site. Sometimes I’m doing all of those things in a single day—and more. Just because I’m writing, I still do the everyday things of life: laundry, hitting Target and Costco, shopping for groceries, reading, walking, or going to a movie. I just have characters talking to me in my head while I’m sorting coupons and waiting to check out.
HH: What are you reading now?
LL: I finished two very different books this week. The first, The Truth about Lord Stoneville, was by Sabrina Jeffries, who’s one of my favorite historical romance authors. It’s part of a series about a group of siblings known as The Hellions of Halstead Hall, and somehow I’d missed this very first one. I love reading a great series because you get to know the characters so well and enjoy seeing them pop up in subsequent novels. The other I completed was the latest Stone Barrington book by Stuart Woods entitled Standup Guy. Any book featuring Stone is a fun read, with all kinds of twists and turns.
HH: What appearances do you have coming up in 2014?
LL: I’m attending the second annual Adventures in Fiction on February 15 in Addison, Texas, at the Hotel Inter-Continental. It’s a huge signing party sponsored by Fresh Fiction, and I’ll be there with my critique partner Aven Ellis, author of Connectivity.
HH: Where can readers find you online?
LL: I love to hear from readers via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also follow me at these social media sites:
Author website: http://www.laurenlinwood.com