A #free short story… I’ll be telling it here, and it can also now be purchased from Amazon.
@Copyright Jane Lark; Publishing rights owned by Harper Impulse; Harper Collins UK
Capturing the Earl’s Love
A Historical Romance story
Meredith skipped into the circle with the other women while the men clapped, as her eyes were, unwillingly, pulled towards Lord Morton. She had a constant desire to look at him.
He stood with his usual manner of cool indifference to the world, tall and stiff. He was speaking with Lord Edward, and no longer looking at her. His gaze had quite clearly expressed disgust when he had looked at her.
Hugh grasped her arm, capturing her attention again, and redirected her as she made an error in the dance steps and nearly moved completely awry. She blushed as he met her gaze and smiled down at her. Hugh did not insult her by ignoring her.
The music slowed and she skipped the last steps. She was breathless, hot and panting when she stopped. Hugh stepped forward and gripped her arm. Meredith looked back across her shoulder, intending to look at Lord Morton again, but before she could, she saw her father.
He lifted his hand, implying he wished to speak with her.
“Would you care to walk outside?” Hugh whispered, leaning towards Meredith’s ear.
She mentally sighed. No, Hugh did not cut her as Lord Morton did; Hugh insulted her by expecting things from her she should not give. He would not ask the same of Rowena. Rowena, he would wish to marry. Rowena, he respected. No one in this room respected Meredith.
Had he not made that offer, she might have tried to avoid her father. But she was in no mood to let Hugh steal a kiss. No matter how pointless her hopes were regarding the Earl of Morton, she was feeling rejected, and now that he was no longer chaperoning Rowena, Meredith would never see him. This happy interlude in her life was at an end. One day soon she was going to have to marry someone, and it would be someone she did not want.
“My father is beckoning me, Mr Holland. Would you take me to him?”
Hugh looked to confirm what she’d said, and when his gaze came back to her, it had an edge of irritation. “Oh, very well then. Perhaps later I could have the supper dance?”
“I… I am not sure…” She did not wish to dine with Hugh. She was inclined to torture herself a little more. If she dined with Rowena, then perhaps Lord Morton would sit with them.
“Meredith!” Her father’s voice boomed above all others. It always did.
She cringed a little as people about them stared.
Hugh swiftly bowed and disappeared.
Her father gripped her elbow tightly and turned her towards the edge of the room. Once they’d passed through the crowd he found them an empty sofa in an alcove, and bid her sit. She did, her fingers gripping the seat cushion beside her thighs as she looked up at him.
He swept back his coattails and sat next to her.
He’d never sat with her at a ball before.
“Perrigrew has a proposal for you,” he opened without preamble.
“For me?” Perrigrew was her father’s business partner. His wife had passed away six weeks ago. Since then he had spent a lot of time at her father’s house.
“Yes, it is the perfect idea. I like it quite well, myself. It would develop a true partnership between us.”
She was not following what he said, though she watched his lips. She looked up at his eyes. “I’m sorry, Papa. What proposal?”
“Oh child, do not act as though you cannot know. He has eaten with us several times in the last couple of weeks.”
She did not understand, and merely looked at her father. Her fingers were still clutching the cushion. She released it, instead clasping her hands in her lap, and straightened her back, trying to remember to look elegant, as she’d been taught.
“He intends to offer for you tonight, child. He wishes to speak with you alone. He is coming here to speak with you. He should arrive soon. I came ahead to have chance to talk to you myself. I have given my consent. So you may say yes, immediately. But Perrigrew is an old-fashioned sort. He wishes to say the words to you himself, and then we thought—”
She stood, looking down at him. “What words, Papa? Thought what?”
Meredith’s father stood too and took her hand. “That the wedding could take place in a week or so, with a special licence. There is no point in hanging about with such agreements. The marriage contract has been signed.”
Meredith opened her mouth but no words came out. No. Mr Perrigrew was older than her father! She had seen Mr Perrigrew looking at her, often, but… She had never imagined this. How could she have imagined this?
Emotion welled in Meredith’s chest, as tears and screams tied a knot in her throat. She had never imagined such an end to her life.
She would rather throw herself off a cliff than accept Mr Perrigrew. She would rather be Hugh Holland’s lover than Mr Perrigrew’s wife. Her thoughts raced – spinning and twirling and tangling up. Oh God. How could she…
Turning away, without apology, she fled the room, her heart pounding in the rhythm of a drumbeat, in her chest and her ears. Nausea and fragility besieged her as she ran out on to the terrace. She could faint… Oh God, no, please. I cannot marry a man I care nothing for. She did not stop. She carried on, one hand gripping her skirt, and her reticule, which dangled from her wrist, bounced against her hip as she raced off along the moonlit garden path, her still empty dance card tucked within it.
When she reached a summerhouse, she stopped, catching her breath and recovering her wits as she looked back in the direction of the house. The path was dark, screened off from the terrace by trees, blocking any light from the ballroom.
She sat down on a bench in the whitewashed, wooden sanctuary, covered her face with her hands, and cried, a wave of utter despair sweeping over her.
If Mr Perrigrew was who her father wished for her, she had to accept him. Her life was to be given to Mr Perrigrew. He would not take her to balls, or parties, or anywhere… She would not even be able to maintain her friendship with Rowena; she knew she would not. Mr Perrigrew rarely socialised with the ton. He called them pretentious fools and accused her father of trying to climb the social ladder.
The last charge had been thrown against her father for bringing her out into the ton. Mr Perrigrew had said her father would be seen as a parasite, and not a businessman, for doing so.
Her father thought Mr Perrigrew a friend. Meredith did not think him a friend. He seemed divisive to her, and this proved her right.
Why had her father bothered sending her to school for a year to prepare for her come-out, and give her hopes by telling her, frequently, how he wished her to win a title, if he then just gave her to Mr Perrigrew? He must have realised, now how stupid his hope had been.
Her skin tingled as tears trickled down her cheeks. Oh God. Her heart felt as though it was breaking.
Meredith stiffened, swiftly wiping away the tears from her cheeks, but she did not stand as she looked up at Lord Morton. She hadn’t heard him approach. But then she had been crying and her hands had been covering her face. She said nothing. What was there to say? He loathed her. He would not be interested in her fate.
She was angry with him suddenly – angry, bitter and resentful. How was it possible to love someone so much, when he hated you?
A Lord’s Desperate Love is the story of two of the secondary characters from the 1st book in
the Marlow Intrigues Series
‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’
NOTE – THIS – AND ALL MY BOOKS – ARE CURRENTLY REDUCED IN THE UK!
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Go to the index
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.
Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark
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