Home > To Catch an Heiress (Agents of the Crown #1)

To Catch an Heiress (Agents of the Crown #1)
Author: Julia Quinn

Chapter 1

con.tu.ber.nal (noun). One who occupies the same tent; a tent-fellow, comrade.

The thought of Percy Prewitt as my contubernal causes me to break out in hives.

—From the personal dictionary of Caroline Trent

Hampshire, England
July 3, 1814

Caroline Trent hadn't meant to shoot Percival Prewitt, but she had, and now he was dead.

Or at least she thought he was dead. There was certainly enough blood. It was dripping from the walls, it was splattered on the floor, and the bedclothes were stained quite beyond redemption. Caroline didn't know very much about medicine, but she was fairly certain a body couldn't lose that much blood and still live.

She was in big trouble now.

“Damn,” she muttered. Although she was a gentlewoman, she hadn't always been raised in particularly gentle circumstances, and her language occasionally left a bit to be desired.

“You stupid man,” she said to the body on the floor. “Why did you have to lunge at me like that? Why couldn't you have left well enough alone? I told your father I wasn't going to marry you. I told him I wouldn't marry you if you were the last idiot in Britain.”

She nearly stamped her foot in frustration. Why was it her words never came out quite the way she intended them to? “What I meant to say was that you are an idiot,” she said to Percy, who, not surprisingly, didn't respond, “and that I wouldn't marry you if you were the last man in Britain, and—Oh, blast. What am I doing talking to you, anyway? You're quite dead.”

Caroline groaned. What the devil was she supposed to do now? Percy's father was due to return in just two short hours, and it didn't require an Oxford degree to deduce that Oliver Prewitt would not be pleased to find his son dead on the floor.

“Bother your father,” she ground out. “This is all his fault, anyway. If he hadn't been so obsessed with catching you an heiress …”

Oliver Prewitt was Caroline's guardian, or at least he would be for the next six weeks, until she reached her twenty-first birthday. She had been counting down the days until August 14, 1814, ever since August 14, 1813, when she had turned twenty. Just forty-two days to go. Forty-two days and she would finally have control of her life and her fortune. She didn't even want to think about how much of her inheritance the Prewitts had already run through.

She tossed her gun onto the bed, planted her hands on her hips, and stared down at Percy.

And then … his eyes opened.

“Aaaaaaack!” Caroline let out a loud scream, jumped a foot, and grabbed her gun.

“You b—” Percy started.

“Don't say it,” she warned. “I still have a gun.”

“You wouldn't use it,” he gasped, coughing and clutching at his bloody shoulder.

“I beg your pardon, but the evidence seems to indicate otherwise.”

Percy's thin lips clamped into a straight line. He swore viciously, and then lifted his furious gaze to Caroline. “I told my father I didn't want to marry you,” he hissed. “God! Can you imagine? Having to live with you for the rest of my life? I should go bloody insane. If you didn't kill me first, that is.”

“If you didn't want to marry me you shouldn't have tried to force yourself upon me.”

He shrugged, then howled when the movement sparked pain in his shoulder. He looked quite furious as he said, “You've quite a bit of money, but do you know, I don't think you're worth it.”

“Kindly tell that to your father,” Caroline snapped.

“He said he'd disinherit me if I didn't marry you.”

“And you couldn't stand up to him for once in your pathetic life?”

Percy growled at being called pathetic, but in his weakened condition he couldn't do much about the insult. “I could go to America,” he muttered. “Surely savages have to be a better option than you.”

Caroline ignored him. She and Percy had been at odds since she had come to live with the Prewitts a year and a half earlier. Percy was quite under his father's thumb, and the only time he showed any spirit was when Oliver quit the house. Unfortunately, his spirit was usually mean and small and, in Caroline's opinion, rather dull.

“I suppose I'm going to have to save you now,” she grumbled. “You're certainly not worth the gallows.”

“You're too kind.”

Caroline shook a pillow out of its case, wadded up the cloth—the highest quality linen, she noted, probably purchased with her money—and pressed it against Percy's wound. “We have to stop the bleeding,” she said.

“It appears to have slowed down,” Percy admitted.

“Did the bullet go straight through?”

“I don't know. Hurts like the devil, but I don't know if it's supposed to hurt more if it goes through or gets stuck in the muscle.”

“I imagine they're both quite painful,” Caroline said, lifting the wadded pillowcase and examining the wound. She turned him gently and looked at his back. “I think it went through. You've a hole in the back of your shoulder as well.”

“Trust you to injure me twice.”

“You lured me into your room under the pretense of needing a cup of tea for a head cold,” she snapped, “and then you tried to rape me! What did you expect?”

“Why the hell did you bring a gun?”

“I always carry a gun,” she replied. “I have since … well, never you mind.”

“I wouldn't have gone through with it,” he muttered.

“How was I to know that?”

“Well, you know I've never liked you.”

Caroline pressed her makeshift bandage against Percy's bloody shoulder with perhaps a touch more force than was necessary. “What I know,” she spat out, “is that you and your father have always quite liked my inheritance.”

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