Only an Earl Will Do
The reigning queen of London society, Lady Elizabeth Worthingham, has her future set out for her. Marry well, and marry without love. An easy promise to make and one she owed her family after her near ruinous past that threatened them all. And the rakish scoundrel Henry Andrews, Earl of Muir whose inability to act a gentleman when she needed one most would one day pay for his treachery.
Returning to England after three years abroad, Henry is determined to make the only woman who captured his heart his wife. But the icy reception he receives from Elizabeth is colder than his home in the Scottish highlands. As past hurts surface and deception runs as thick as blood, so too does a love that will overcome all obstacles, unless a nameless foe, determined with his own path, gets his way and their love never sees the light of day...
England 1805 – Surrey
Elizabeth stood motionless as her mother, the Duchess of Penworth, paced before the lit hearth, her golden silk gown billowing out behind her, the deep frown between her eyes daring anyone to follow her. “No. Let me rephrase that. The family is ruined. All my girls, their futures, have been kicked to the curb like some poor street urchins.”
Elizabeth, the eldest of all the girls, swiped a lone tear from her cheek and fought not to cast up her accounts. “But surely Henry has written of his return.” She turned to her father. “Papa, what did his missive say?” The severe frown lines between her father’s brows were deeper than she’d ever seen them before, and dread pooled in her belly. What had she done? What had Henry said?
“I shall not read it to you, Elizabeth, for I fear it’ll only upset you more, and being in the delicate condition you are we must keep you well. But never again will I allow the Earl of Muir to step one foot into my home. To think,” her father said, kicking at a log beside the fire, “that I supported him to seek out his uncle in America. I’m utterly ashamed of myself.”
“No,” Elizabeth said, catching her father’s gaze. “You have nothing to be ashamed of. I do. I’m the one who lay with a man who wasn’t my husband. I’m the one who now carries his child.” The tears she’d fought so hard to hold at bay started to run in earnest. “Henry and I were friends, well, I thought we were friends. I assumed he’d do the right thing by our family, by me. Why is it that he’ll not return?”
Her mother, quietly staring out the window, turned at her question. “Because his uncle has said no nephew of his would marry a strumpet who gave away the prize before the contracts were signed, and Henry apparently was in agreement with this statement.”
Her father sighed. “There is an old rivalry between Henry’s uncle and me. We were never friends, even though I noted Henry’s father high in my esteem, as close as a brother, in fact. Yet his sibling was temperamental, a jealous cur.”
“Why were you not friends with Henry’s uncle, Papa?” He did not reply. “Please tell me. I deserve to know.”
“Because he wished to marry your mama, and I won her hand instead. He was blind with rage, and it seems even after twenty years he wishes to seek revenge upon me by ruining you.”
Elizabeth flopped onto a settee, shocked by such news. “Did Henry know of this between you and his uncle? Did you ever tell him?”
“No. I thought it long forgotten.”
Elizabeth swallowed as the room started to swirl. “So, Henry has found his wealthy uncle and has been poisoned by his lies. The man has made me out to be a light-skirt of little character.” She took a calming breath. “Tell me, does the letter really declare this to be Henry’s opinion as well?”
The duke came and sat beside her. “It is of both their opinions, yes.” He took her hand and squeezed it. “You need to marry, Elizabeth, and quickly. There is no other choice.”
She stood, reeling away from her father at such an idea. To marry a stranger was worse than no marriage at all and falling from grace. “I cannot do that. I haven’t even had a season. I know no one.”
“A good friend of mine, Viscount Newland, recently passed. His son, Marcus, who is a little simple of mind after a fall from a horse as a child, is in need of a wife. But because of his ailment, no one will have him. They are desperate to keep the estate within the family and are looking to marry him off. It would be a good match for you both. I know it is not what you wanted, but it will save you and your sisters from ruin.”
Elizabeth stood looking down at her father, her mouth agape with shock and not a little amount of disgrace. “You want me to marry a simpleton?”
“His speech is a little delayed only, otherwise he’s a kind young man. I grant you he’s not as handsome as Henry, but…well, we must do what’s best in these situations.”
Her mother sighed. “Lord Riddledale has called and asked for your hand once more. You could always accept his suit.”
“Please, I would rather cut off my own hand than marry his lordship.” Just the thought was enough to make her skin crawl.
“Well then, you will marry Lord Newland. I’m sorry, but it must and will be done,” her mother said, her tone hard.
Elizabeth walked to the window that looked toward the lake where she’d given herself to Henry. His sweet whispered words of love, of wanting her to wait for him, that as soon as he procured enough funds to support his Scottish estate they would marry, flittered through her mind. What a liar he’d turned out to be. All he wanted was her innocence and nothing else.
Anger thrummed through her and she grit her teeth. How dare Henry trick her in such a way? Made her fall in love with him, promised to be faithful and marry her when he returned. He never wished to marry her. Had he wanted to right now he would be on his way back to England.
She turned, staring at her parents who looked resigned to a fate none of them imagined possible or ever wanted. “I will marry Viscount Newland. Write them and organize the nuptials to take place within the month or sooner if possible. The child I carry needs a father and the viscount needs a wife.”
“Then it is done.” Her father stood, walking over to her and taking her hand. “Did Henry promise you anything, Elizabeth? The letter is so out of character for him, I’ve wondered since receiving it that it isn’t really of his opinion but his uncle’s only.”
“He wanted me to wait for him, to give him time to save his family’s estate. He did not wish to marry a woman for her money; he wanted to be a self-made man, I suppose.”
“Lies, Elizabeth. All lies,” her mother stated, her voice cold. “Henry has used you, I fear, and I highly doubt he’ll ever come back to England or Scotland, for that matter.”
Elizabeth swallowed the lump in her throat, not wanting to believe the man she’d given her heart to would treat her in such a way. She’d thought Henry was different, was a gentleman who loved her. At the look of pity her father bestowed on her, she pushed him aside and ran from the room.
She needed air, fresh, cooling, calming air. Opening the front door, the chilling icy wind hit her face, and clarity assailed. She’d go for a ride. Her mount Argo always made her feel better.
It took the stable hand only minutes to saddle her mount, and she was soon trotting away from the house, the only sound that of the snow crunching beneath her horse’s hooves. The chill pierced through her gown, and she regretted not changing into a suitable habit, but riding astride in whatever they had on at the time was a normal practice for the children of the Duke of Penworth. Too much freedom as a child, all of them allowed to do whatever they pleased, and now that freedom had led her straight into the worst type of trouble.
She pushed her horse into a slow canter, her mind a kaleidoscope of turmoil. Henry, once her father’s ward, a person she’d thought to call a friend, had betrayed her when she needed him most. Guilt and shame swamped her just as snow started to fall, and covered everything in a crystal white hue.
She would never forgive Henry for this. Yes, they’d made a mistake, a terrible lack of decorum on her behalf that she’d never had time to think through. But should the worst happen, a child, she had consoled herself that Henry would do right by her, return home and marry her.
How could she have been so wrong?
She clutched her stomach, still no signs that a little child grew inside, and as much as she was ruined, could possibly ruin her family, she didn’t regret her condition, and nor would she birth this child out of wedlock. Lord Newland would marry her since his situation was not looked upon favorably by the ton; it was a match that would suit them both.
Guilt pricked her soul that she would pass off Henry’s child as Lord Newland’s, but what choice did she have? Henry would not marry her, declare the child his. Elizabeth had little choice. There was nothing else to be done about it.
A deer shot out of the bracken, and Argo shied, jumping sharply to the side. Elizabeth screamed as her seat slipped. The action unbalanced her and she fell, hitting the ground hard.
Luckily, the soft snow buffered her fall, and she sat up, feeling the same as she had when upon her horse. She rubbed her stomach, tears pooling in her eyes with the thought that had she fallen harder, all her problems would be over. What a terrible person she was to think such a thing, and how she hated Henry that his refusal of her had brought such horrendous thoughts to mind.
Argo nuzzled her side as she stood; reaching for the stirrup, she hoisted herself back onto her mount. Wiping the tears from her eyes, Elizabeth promised no more would be shed over a boy, for that was surely what Henry still was, an immature youth who gave no thought to others.
She would marry Viscount Newland, try and make him happy as much as possible when two strangers came together in such a union, and be damned anyone who mentioned the name Henry Andrews, Lord Muir to her again.
America 1805 – New York Harbor
Henry raised his face to the wind and rain as the packet ship sailed up the Hudson River. The damp winter air matched the cold he felt inside, numbing the pain that hadn’t left his core since farewelling the shores of England. And now he was here. America. The smoky city just waking to a new day looked close enough to reach out and touch, and yet his true love, Elizabeth, was farther away than she’d ever been before.
He rubbed his chest and huddled into his greatcoat. The five weeks across the ocean had dragged, endless days with his mind occupied with only one thought: his Elizabeth lass.
He shut his eyes, bringing the vision of her to his mind, her honest, laughing gaze, the beautiful smile that had always managed to make his breath catch. He frowned, missing her as much as the highland night sky would miss the stars.
“So, Henry, lad, what’s your plan on these great lands?”
Henry took in the captain on the British Government packet; his graying whiskers across his jaw and crinkled skin about his eyes told of a man who’d lived at sea his entire life, and enjoyed every moment of it. He grinned. “Make me fortune. Mend a broken family tie if I can.”
The captain lit a cheroot and puffed, the smoke soon lost in the misty air. “Ah, grand plans then. Any ideas on how you’ll be making your fortune? I could use some tips myself.”
“My uncle lives here. Owns a shipping company apparently, although I’ve yet to meet the man or see for myself if this is true. I’m hoping since he’s done so well for himself he can steer me along the road to me own fortune.”
The captain nodded, staring toward the bow. “It seems you have it all covered.”
Henry started when the captain yelled orders for half-mast. He hoped the old man was right with his statement. The less time he stayed here the better it would be. He pushed away the thought that Elizabeth was due to come out in the forthcoming months, to be paraded around the ton like a delicious morsel of sweet meats. To be the center of attention, a duke’s daughter ripe for the picking. He ground his teeth.
“I wish you good luck, Henry.”
“Thank ye.” The captain moved away, and he turned back to look at the city so unlike London or his highland home. Foreign and wrong on so many levels. The muddy waters were the only similarity to London, he mused, smiling a little.
Henry walked to the bow, leaning over the wooden rail. He sighed, trying to expel the sullen mood that had swamped him the closer they came to America. What he was doing here was a good thing, an honorable thing, something that if he didn’t do, Elizabeth would be lost to him forever.
He couldn’t have hated his grandfather more at that moment for having lost their fortune at the turn of a card all those years ago. It was a miracle his father had been able to keep Avonmore afloat and himself out of debtor’s prison.
The crewmen preparing the packet ship for docking sounded around him, and he started toward the small room he’d been afforded for the duration of the trip. It was better than nothing; even if he’d not been able to stand up fully within the space, at least it was private and comfortable.
Determination to succeed, to ensure his and Elizabeth’s future was secure, to return home as soon as he may, sparked within him. He would not fail; for once, the Earl of Muir would not gamble the estate’s future away, but fight for its survival, earn it respectably just as his ancestors had.
And he would return home, marry his English lass, and spoil her for the remainder of their days. In Scotland.
After the tragic death of his wife, Jasper, the 8th Duke of Bainbridge buried himself away in the dark cold walls of his home, Castle Blackwood. When he’s coaxed out of his self-imposed exile to attend the amusements of the Frost Fair, his life is irrevocably changed by his fateful meeting with Lady Katherine Adamson.
With her tight brown ringlets and silly white-ruffled gowns, Lady Katherine Adamson has found her dance card empty for two Seasons. After her father’s passing, Katherine learned the unreliability of men, and is determined to depend on no one, except herself. Until she meets Jasper…
In a desperate bid to avoid a match arranged by her family, Katherine makes the Duke of Bainbridge a shocking proposition—one that he accepts.
Only, as Katherine begins to love Jasper, she finds the arrangement agreed upon is not enough. And Jasper is left to decide if protecting his heart is more important than fighting for Katherine’s love.
Full often wished he that the winds might rage…
The arrogant Duke of Trent intends to marry a well-bred Englishwoman. The last woman he would ever consider marrying is the adventuresome Merry Pelford— an American heiress who has infamously jilted two fiancés.
But after one provocative encounter with the captivating Merry, Trent desires her more than any woman he has ever met. He is determined to have her as his wife, no matter what it takes. And Trent is a man who always gets what he wants.
The problem is, Merry is already betrothed, and the former runaway bride has vowed to make it all the way to the altar. As honor clashes with irresistible passion, Trent realizes the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined. In his battle to save Merry and win her heart, one thing becomes clear:
All is fair in love and war.
Eloisa James knocked this one out of the park.
I couldn’t put it down. I was engrossed the whole time.
Maggie McCallum was only sixteen and Owen Duff eighteen the autumn their families spent in Edinburgh. Her mother had said she was too young for courtship, but Maggie secretly scoffed at that. Men looked at her now, and she was finally allowing herself to give a flirtatious look back.
And then at a dancing assembly, she saw Owen, Viscount Duncraggan, heir to the earldom of Aberfoyle. She’d met him only once before, at a dinner with their parents. She’d been twelve, he fourteen, and he’d ignored her. Now a friend giggled and pointed him out.
“He’s from the Duff clan,” the girl said. “Even I ken that the McCallums and the Duffs have always despised each other.”
Maggie nodded without really listening. She was staring at Owen with wide, curious eyes. He did not wear a belted plaid as so many of her family did, but an expensive tailored coat and waistcoat over knee breeches, and the polished sword at his hip sparkled in the candlelight when he strode across the dance floor to bow to a blushing girl. He had a thin face and bony shoulders that hinted at the broad strength of the man he would become. His sandy hair was gathered in a haphazard queue on his neck, loose strands brushing his cheeks as if he were too busy to be bothered fastening it more securely.
“Isn’t your brother to marry his sister? Ye’ll be practically family.”
Family or not, Maggie knew better than to be the McCallum who approached a Duff in public, right in front of her mother. She thought of her brother’s misery at marrying a woman he didn’t know or love, the way he’d done foolish, reckless things in anger when he’d first discovered his fate at thirteen. Maggie had pitied him, and felt guilty that she was secretly glad it wasn’t she forced to marry a Duff.
Her next meeting with Owen wasn’t auspicious—she merely passed him on the stairs outside her flat on High Street, as dusk settled in dark waves on Edinburgh. The tall building with a dozen floors housed all manner of people, from the chimney sweep in the cellar to the dancing master in the garret. The best floors were reserved for noblemen, and though her father didn’t have a title, he was the chief of the Clan McCallum. Her mother had leased the flat to be near the earl’s family, since her son was marrying into them, but she did not want her daughter involved beyond what civility expected.
Upon seeing Maggie, Owen came to a stop on the stairs and grinned that grin that lived in her dreams for many years to come. His warm brown eyes made her think of the chocolate English ladies favored for their morning drink, and as they took her in, skimming her form, she felt as suitably overheated as that cup she’d only once clutched in her hands on a cold winter morning in the Highlands.
She wanted to scold him for his bold gaze but then she saw the round tube he carried.
“Is that a telescope?” she demanded.
Those eyes now brightened with more than warmth. “Aye, I’m heading out to gaze upon the stars. Have ye looked through one before?”
She shook her head. She’d done nothing more intellectual than read passages from the Bible—she hadn’t been allowed more, had no access to other books. Knowing there was a whole world of knowledge out there made her ache with regret and frustration.
He held out a hand. “I’m Owen. Do ye want to come?”
She hesitated, realizing he didn’t recognize her. In that long moment she thought of her grandparents already preparing for bed, the fact that she’d just seen her mother into a sedan chair to meet with friends, and that her brother lived in his own flat near the university. She was alone.
Owen stood a couple stairs below her, and that put them at just about the same height. She stared into his eyes again, and the admiration and curiosity made her unfurl like a blossom in springtime.
But she had to be honest. Taking a deep breath, she said, “I’m Maggie McCallum. ’Tis my brother who’s to marry your sister.”
He looked at her for a long moment, and the first feelings of regret and resignation washed through her.
But Owen didn’t rush away, only extended his hand closer to her. “Nice to meet ye, Maggie. Do ye still want to come with a dreaded Duff?”
She bit her lip to keep from giggling like a foolish girl. She was sixteen, a woman now. He obviously didn’t remember her from four years before. Maybe that was for the best. Putting her hand in his, she let him lead her out into the twilight.
During the next few weeks, Owen was the excitement in days that were once dreary and repetitive. Sneaking away to ride down to the shore at the Firth of Forth, boating, exploring the grounds of Edinburgh Castle, or even meandering through shops seemed like wild adventures when she was at Owen’s side.
Rather than deter her, the very forbiddance of a friendship between them caused her to be far too reckless. He was so very different from the men she knew. He discussed physics and chemistry and astronomy as if she was as smart as he. She saw his wonder in the world, but when she asked if he would be a scientist, his expression turned hard as he said his father had forbidden it. He was the heir to an earldom, and would be educated as such. If he didn’t study the classics, his father would refuse him attendance at university next year.
Maggie sympathized, and distracted him from his sad and angry thoughts, but she could not stop dwelling on her own confusion. Every moment she spent in his company, Owen seemed more and more familiar to her, as if they’d met much earlier in their childhood, though he swore they had not. Sometimes it was as if a ghost of a dream teased her from just beyond the shadows, and she shivered.
Her dreams were nothing to make light of. More than once, she’d dreamed something that eventually came true. The family of a little boy in her clan had thought him drowned and were about to give up the search, when a dream led her to the bedraggled boy huddled beneath a cliff. Another dream foretold the suicide of a young woman whom Maggie’s father had abused. Maggie hadn’t understood what she was seeing until it had actually come true, which was often the case. And then it had been too late to help the girl. Maggie’s mother had taken her away from Larig Castle and back to Edinburgh, to keep her safe from her father.
But Owen? Could he have been part of a dream she couldn’t remember? The puzzle of it flooded her mind when she was separated from him, but the hours they were together were full of happy laughter, insightful discussion, and endless moments where she stared into his face when he wasn’t looking and imagined herself married to him. Maybe her mind was simply trying to tell her that he was her destiny, that they were meant to be together. She wanted him to kiss her, but he was ever the gentleman—or maybe he assumed that the centuries-old feud between their clans meant they could never share a more intimate relationship. It seemed to be a forbidden topic between them.
But he touched her, and each time she could have surely melted with delight. He would take her hand running across a field, guide her by grasping her elbow, put his hand gently on her waist when they stood watching the sun set amid beautiful orange and pink clouds adorning it like trailing scarves.
Two weeks into their friendship, they were carrying a luncheon basket along the river, Water of Leith, on a particularly sunny autumn day, when Owen suggested they look for mussels and Scottish pearls. This was no mere meandering in ankle-deep water, and soon they were both dripping wet, pearl-less, shivering as they crawled back up the grassy bank, laughing.
Owen lay down in the sun, and feeling reckless, she did the same, eyeing him boldly since his own eyes were closed. His queue had come undone, and long strands of his hair, dark brown with water, covered his cheeks. Without thinking, she came up on her elbow and used a trembling finger to move the locks away from his face.
His eyes snapped open, and she expected him to laugh up at her, but he seemed to concentrate intently on her face just above his. Everything external seemed to go silent as they shared a hot, meaningful gaze. She was focused on the rough sound of her breathing, the moisture beaded on his skin, the way she could feel his heart pounding in his chest when she rested her trembling hand there.
And then he cupped her head and brought her down for a kiss. His lips were cool from the water, yet softer than she imagined a man’s would be. Such boldness made her dizzy—or was it simply nearness to Owen? Her hand still on his chest, she lifted her head and stared down at him uncertainly, but he only brought their mouths together again. He parted his lips, and the shock of his tongue sliding between hers made her start with surprise and wonder. Her cool, wet skin seemed to heat, the warmth spreading out from her mouth and down her chest. Her trembling was no longer from the cold, but she didn’t know why her limbs seemed so restless. She wanted to be touched—needed it with a desperation new to her. But she was afraid to do more than brace herself against his chest as he explored her mouth and taught her to explore his.
The world shifted as he rolled her onto her back. It was his turn to rise above her, his intense face framed by blue sky and towering autumn-hued trees. She had no time to think as he kissed her again and began to touch her. His hand on her body was a hot, welcome presence, and with each touch she felt more and more as if she couldn’t lie still. His caresses journeyed across her wet clothes from her hip and upward. And when at last he touched her breast, pushed upward by her stays, she moaned against his lips and shuddered with each delicate strum across her nipple, as if he made her an instrument of desire.
Their shared world of passion was suddenly overwhelming, and she pushed against him before it was too late to stop. Owen lifted his head and stared down at her, his breathing as erratic as hers.
“We cannot do this,” she said with a trembling voice. Not that she regretted any of it, she realized, staring at his mouth and wishing to feel again the pleasure he’d given her.
Owen was looking at her mouth, too, and he practically growled, “I knew ye’d find out. Forgive me. I didn’t ken how to tell ye.”
“Find out what?” she demanded.
“Owen Duff, ye have to tell me now.”
“My father betrothed me some years ago to the daughter of a Lowland clan. Even now, they journey here for us to meet.”
The last warmth from their kiss deserted Maggie. Shivering, she sat up and scooted away from him, covering her chest as if it was bared to him.
“Why did ye never tell me this?” she demanded. She’d let herself get lost in the fairy tale of their friendship, and the romance she’d thought had been blossoming. Now she knew she was simply a fool.
Owen tucked his hair back into the queue, as if he needed something to do with his hands. He didn’t look at her, and his face was as red as hers felt, but she didn’t feel any sympathy for him.
His words came out slowly at first, before tumbling over each other as fast as the rippling water behind him. “At first, I thought we were simply friends, and to know ye were a McCallum made it daring. But the need to kiss ye has been dominating my thoughts more and more.”
He met her gaze at last, and she felt like she’d never forget the heat she saw there, the passion he was showing just for her. But he was betrothed, and a lump rose high up into her throat, shutting off any words. She scrambled to her feet and backed away from him before she would embarrass herself more by crying. “I—I have to go.”
After a detour through fitness instructing and computer programming, GAYLE CALLEN found the life she’d always dreamed of as a romance writer. This USA Today bestselling author has written more than twenty historical romances for Avon Books, and her novels have won the Holt Medallion, the Laurel Wreath Award, the Booksellers’ Best Award, and been translated into eleven different languages. The mother of three grown children, an avid crafter, singer, and outdoor enthusiast, Gayle lives in Central New York with her dog Uma and her husband, Jim the Romance Hero. She also writes contemporary romances as Emma Cane.
Wanted: Governess. Properly qualified in English, to instruct male pupil in rural location.
Sydney, 1902. Desperate for a job, Kate Courtney travels to the faraway New England Ranges to interview for a governess position. She is greeted by wealthy landowner, ruggedly handsome Tom Fortescue, and is shocked to find that her new charge isn’t a small boy—but the grown man.
It was Tom’s mother’s dying wish that he find a refined, elegant, English bride to marry. But a country man with country manners can never win a lady fair. Tom needs Kate to smooth away his rough edges, make him desirable to the English rose he wants to marry.
But the more time Kate and Tom spend together, the closer they become, and Tom has to decide between the dreams of his childhood, and the reality that is right in front of him
So if you like clean Historical Romance, this one is pretty good.
She harbors a secret yearning.
As a lover of animals and nature, Beatrix Hathaway has always been more comfortable outdoors than in the ballroom. Even though she participated in the London season in the past, the classic beauty and free-spirited Beatrix has never been swept away or seriously courted... and she has resigned herself to the fate of never finding love. Has the time come for the most unconventional of the Hathaway sisters to settle for an ordinary man—just to avoid spinsterhood?
He is a world-weary cynic.
Captain Christopher Phelan is a handsome, daring soldier who plans to marry Beatrix's friend, the vivacious flirt Prudence Mercer, when he returns from fighting abroad. But, as he explains in his letters to Pru, life on the battlefield has darkened his soul—and it's becoming clear that Christopher won't come back as the same man. When Beatrix learns of Pru's disappointment, she decides to help by concocting Pru's letters to Christopher for her. Soon the correspondence between Beatrix and Christopher develops into something fulfilling and deep... and when Christopher comes home, he's determined to claim the woman he loves. What began as Beatrix's innocent deception has resulted in the agony of unfulfilled love—and a passion that can't be denied.
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