Dominic Renbourne's head was pounding like a regimental drum. He came awake slowly, knowing he shouldn't have drunk so much at the boxing match the night before. A good evening, but he'd pay for it all day.
Belatedly he realized there was pounding on the door as well as in his head. Where the hell was Clement? Damn, his valet was still in the country visiting his ailing mother. Bloody nuisance.
Since the knocking showed no sign of abatement, Dominic swung his legs to the floor and took stock. The sun's rays said early afternoon, not morning. He still wore crumpled breeches and shirt, but had managed to get his coat and boots off before collapsing on the bed.
Yawning, he ambled from his bedroom into the sitting room. He hoped Clement's mother recovered soon; Dominic's rooms were a shambles. If matters got much worse, he'd have to find a charwoman to clean the place.
He swung open the door and saw--himself.
Or rather, a cold-eyed, immaculately tailored version of himself. The shock of seeing his twin brother in the passageway was like a splash of ice water.
Before Dominic could think of a suitably acid greeting, his brother pushed past him into the sitting room. "You need a shave and a haircut." Kyle kicked aside a rumpled coat with one shining black boot. "And a bonfire to purge this place."
"I don't recall asking your opinion." Dominic's normally easy temper flared with the special kind of irritation that only his brother and father could inspire. How long had it been since he'd seen Kyle? At least two years, and then only in passing, with cool nods exchanged. They didn't move in the same circles. Both of them preferred it that way. "Why are you here? Has Wrexham died?"
"The earl enjoys his usual health. Robust, in an invalidish sort of way." His brother began to prowl the room, unease showing in every line of his body.
Dominic closed the door, then leaned against it and folded his arms across his chest, beginning to enjoy his twin's obvious discomfort. Kyle had always concealed a tense, restless nature under a rigidly controlled exterior, but today the control was slipping badly. He looked ready to jump out of his skin. "If our dear father is still among the living, why are you stooping to visit my poor chambers?"
Kyle frowned. In another few years his sour disposition would carve hard lines around his mouth, yet for now his features were still eerily like the image Dominic saw in the mirror every morning. Kyle's face was a fraction fuller, his eyes perhaps a shade less blue, but the pair of them were still alike as peas in a pod. Both a little above middle height, leanly built but with broad shoulders, dark hair with a slight wave. As a boy, Dominic had reveled in that resemblance. Now he resented it. It seemed wrong that they should appear so similar when they were utterly different.
"Perhaps I am visiting from brotherly affection."
"Do you think I'm a fool, Lord Maxwell?"
"Yes," his brother said bluntly, his contemptuous gaze scanning the cluttered room. "Surely you can do better than this with your life."
Dominic's mouth hardened. His manner of living was not a subject he would discuss with his brother. "I presume you are here because you want something, though I can't imagine what a useless younger son could possibly offer to the lord and heir of Wrexham." And if Kyle did want something, he was going about it the wrong way.
Apparently realizing that, his brother said in a more moderate tone, "You're right, I need help, and only you can supply it."
His eyes showing how much he hated asking for aid, Kyle said flatly, "I want you to pretend to be me for several weeks."
After a moment of shock, Dominic laughed. "Don't be absurd. I could fool strangers easily enough, but not anyone who knows you well. Besides, what is the point? Deception is a child's game." Dominic had always been better at impersonating his brother than the other way around, but they hadn't changed places since they'd started school. Or rather, schools. Sometimes Dominic wondered how different his life would have been if they'd both gone to Eton.
"There are ... special circumstances. You would be among strangers, not anyone who knows me." Kyle hesitated, then added, "I'll make it worth your while."
Dominic had been heading toward the small butler's pantry, but at that he swung around, eyes glittering. "Out. Now." Though he had been bullied and betrayed by his brother, he would never be bought.
Kyle pulled a folded sheaf of papers from an inside pocket and tossed them at Dominic. "Your reward if you carry this off successfully."
Dominic caught the sheaf and opened it, then stopped in his tracks, stunned by what he held. "This is the deed to Bradshaw Manor!"
"I'm quite aware of what it is." Kyle plucked the deed from his brother's hand and tucked it back inside his coat.
As a younger son, Dominic received a modest allowance, barely enough to live as a gentleman, while Kyle would eventually receive the entire Wrexham fortune. Quite a reward for emerging from their mother's body a mere ten minutes earlier. And not only would Kyle someday be one of Britain's great lords, on their twenty-first birthday he had received Bradshaw Manor outright. It was a fine estate in Cambridgeshire, well cultivated and including a handsome house. Dominic would sell his soul for Bradshaw Manor--and Kyle knew it. "You bastard."
"I could hardly be illegitimate without you being the same, dear brother." Kyle smiled as he saw the power shifting into his hands. "And you malign our mother, of hallowed memory."
Excerpted from The Wild Child by Mary Jo Putney. Copyright © 2000 by Mary Jo Putney. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.