Authors: Rose Gordon
DESIRES OF A BARON
Copyright © 2014 C. Rose Gordon
Cover image copyright Aileen Fish
All rights reserved.
Parchment & Plume, LLC
This book is a work of fiction. All names, events and locales are a product of this author’s imagination. If any name, event and/or locale did exist, it is purely by coincidence it appears in this book.
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If Giles Goddard, Lord Norcourt, were anyone else he might think he’d had a miserable life. Sent away from Dolsey, his parents’ country estate, at eight years old to be raised by nuns at a convent in Ireland when the baroness had announced she was breeding once again.
At the time, Giles was too young to understand why he needed to leave. Twenty years later, Giles knew why: he’d been unwanted.
Though the firstborn and heir to the barony, Giles had little else to recommend himself to his parents, most notably his father. Born with his life’s cord wrapped around his neck and his skin a pale blue that would match the creek that ran behind his father’s estate, he was slow to cry or scream to announce his presence and later he was slow to walk, slow to talk, and undeniably slow to comprehend. Giles’ aging father couldn’t abide Giles’ presence any more than he could fathom the idea that a simpleton would one day take over his title.
So when Lady Norcourt announced she’d missed her monthly flux three times, the old baron made arrangements that he hoped would be sufficient to allow his second son to become his heir.
During Lady Norcourt’s second gestation period, the baron forbade her to leave her room. The servants were ordered to bring all of her meals and entertainment to her before she had a chance to ask. She was not to be allowed on her feet more than an hour each day and was to be carried from her bed to her chaise if she wished to change locations. And most importantly, she was to have absolutely
association with the child that was robbed of his mind by the devil!
Her body was a vessel. One meant to deliver a smart and healthy heir. She’d failed once, and the baron had seen to it she understood that she was not to fail him again.
However, on the slim possibility that Lady Norcourt proved to be incompetent in her ability to give him a suitable heir once more, the old man with more than seventy years of wisdom between his ears made arrangements to protect his barony if his simple son should inherit.
Unfortunately for the old baron, between his raging excitement to ensure nothing happened to his wife, his vessel, during her confinement and his joy that his simple son wouldn’t inherit, the old man’s heart gave out on him while out celebrating his new plan. His wife, though blackmailed into being unable to communicate with Giles, thwarted the old baron all the same and married another within a month of his passing. Thus, her second son, both healthy and smart, was not eligible to inherit the title through any schemes of the late baron. Which meant that despite his father’s hatred and obvious disdain for his firstborn son, Giles had inherited a barony. The very last thing he ever wanted.
Well, perhaps being a baron wasn’t the
thing he’d wanted. Having a title fell a short second to the situation he’d recently found himself in: face-to-face with his mother. At a house party. In Telford.
Seeing her wasn’t quite so bad.
Listening to her prattle on about nothing of any import, however, was enough to make him, a grown man of eight-and-twenty contemplate pulling out all of his hair. He was
close to doing just that. In fact, the only reason he didn’t was because it might hurt. No, it wouldn’t “might” hurt, it
hurt. Hair pulling hurt. No matter who pulled. And to pull it hard enough for the hair to come out, it’d hurt something fierce. He was certain of it.
Instead, he balled his hands into fists. That didn’t hurt. Much. His nails were a little sharper than they should be and dug into his palms, but the pain in his palms was less than it’d be if he ripped his hair out. It had to be.
“Giles, I’d love to hear more about the time you spent in Spain,” the dowager Lady Norcourt, now Mrs. Appleton, also known to be his mother, said from where she sat perched on a settee not five feet away from him.
Giles squeezed his fingers into a tighter fist, if such a thing were possible. He didn’t wish to talk about his time in Spain. He’d already told her everything she deserved to know: it was good.
He swallowed. “Yes?”
“Tell me about the bulls, Giles. Did you see them chase the men?” the woman who’d once been so dear to him asked. Her sweet smile only served to make his stomach clench as waves of memories of her running after him as a young lad in leading strings came to mind.
He thrust away the thought. Just like his father, she hadn’t wanted him. If she had, she’d have never sent him away. “They chased me,” he said softly around the lump of emotion—part hurt, part anger—that had formed in his throat and was on the verge of choking the life right out of him.
Lady Norcourt, as he’d taken to referring to her in his mind since the word “mother” not only didn’t fit her, but made his gut ache whenever he heard it, stared at him, her blue eyes wide and her mouth slightly agape.
She snapped her mouth closed and forced a smile. “I suppose I could see that. You always were a fast runner. Why I remember when you were a boy...”
Giles stared at her, but didn’t hear her words. Since arriving at this inane and tedious house party, the last word of which he used very loosely, he’d been driven nearly to tears of frustration by the countless young ladies paraded in front of him. They’d talked of silly things like hair ribbons and reticules. And that was it. The only statement any of them had said that had caught his attention was when one of the young ladies told another to “stuff it”. A slow smile pulled at Giles’ lips. Having grown up in an orphanage run by nuns, he’d never heard such a term before and only assumed it was a less-than-polite way to ask the young lady who was chattering like a bird to stop talking.
But what if she’d really stuffed it? What would she stuff it with? What if Lady Norcourt stuffed it? He started. The dratted woman had been so interested in him these past few days it bordered on annoying. He most definitely would like to see her mouth be stuffed with
Cotton. Leaves. A ball of yarn. The list was limitless if it’d get her to stop talking to him for any amount of time.
Are you all right, dear?” Lady Norcourt asked, startling him from his drifting thoughts.
He was spared from having to tell her what he was thinking about, because he could not tell a lie, when the doorknob twisted, drawing both of their attention.
Relieved and glad for any distraction, Giles stared at the door waiting for the intruder to let himself—hopefully it’d be a “him”, he didn’t think he could tolerate much more useless chatting about ribbons and bows—into the room.
His relief didn’t hold, however, when the man revealed himself: Simon Appleton, his younger brother.
“Simon,” Lady Norcourt greeted. “Do come in and join us.”
Mr. Appleton came into the room and quietly closed the door behind him. “Mother.” He turned to look at Giles. “Lord Norcourt.”
“What brings you about?” Lady Norcourt asked.
Simon’s face took on an expression that Giles couldn’t determine. “I’ve come to speak to Lord Norcourt.” When a broad smile took his mother’s lips, Simon added, “Alone.”
Lady Norcourt’s smile faded and she shot a glance to Giles that he couldn’t interpret. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
Irritation bubbled inside of Giles. As much as everyone liked to pretend he was, he wasn’t a child and incapable of having thoughts for himself. They might not always come to him quickly or make sense to others, but he was capable of some things. He scowled at them. “I do.”
“You do what?” Lady Norcourt asked, her eyebrows drawn together.
We’ll talk alone.”
Lady Norcourt’s lips thinned. “I don’t think—”
“We’ll be fine, Mother. I don’t plan to eat him,” Simon said, opening the door to the library for his mother.
She cast one last glance toward Giles, then gathered her green skirts and made her exit. Giles was a hint jealous that it was her and not him who was escaping.
After she’d crossed the threshold, Simon closed the door. “Have you and my mother become bosom friends yet?”
She’s my mother, too,” Giles said quietly.
Indeed.” Simon walked to a high backed chair and gripped the wooden frame of the back until his knuckles turned white.
Giles stared at his half-brother. From where he sat, it was easy to tell that Simon was as tall as Giles, though not as broad. Their hair and eyes were exactly the same shades: chestnut brown and emerald green respectively. That’s where their similarities ended. They’d had breakfast together the other morning and Simon had seen fit to talk endlessly about every subject he knew anything about. Giles preferred to listen. He’d learned, not the easiest way, either, that he was less likely to make a fool of himself if he didn’t speak, or just said very little when necessary.
He swallowed. He hoped he wouldn’t make a fool out of himself in front of Simon right now.
Mindlessly, Giles tapped his foot. What was taking the man so long to speak? “Come to talk?”
“You do know why you were invited here, do you not?”
Yes.” He didn’t like it, but he understood very well why he’d been coerced into attending Lady Cosgrove’s house party.
Because Mother thinks to right her wrong by finding you a bride?”
Giles clenched his fists as tightly as he could and commanded his face to stay impassive. He couldn’t let on to the hurt soaring inside him at Simon’s cold, but truthful reminder that he’d been unwanted. “You’re a fortunate man, then.”
“Me?” Simon jabbed a finger at his chest. “She didn’t invite those young ladies here for me to peruse, they’re here for you.”
Not interested. Have your pick.”
My pick?” He shook his head. “I don’t need a swarm of ladies to choose from. I’ve already found my bride.”
Giles’ mind raced. Was Simon speaking of Isabelle Knight? He had to be, she was the only female Giles had seen him with at this party. “She’s taken,” he said evenly.
Simon frowned. “Yes, by me.”
No. She’s Sebastian’s wife,” Giles said quietly. His friend Sebastian, Lord Belgrave had told him that himself. He’d never signed the annulment papers. That meant they were still married, didn’t it?
, Lord Belgrave’s wife,” Simon corrected. His voice an odd mixture of annoyance and frustration, likely at Giles’ arguing.
Still is,” Giles said flatly.
No, they had their marriage annulled. That means they were married, but they’re not any longer.”
No, they’re still married,” Giles said adamantly. Sebastian had told him so. Sebastian was the only friend he’d ever had. He wouldn’t lie to Giles. He never had. If Sebastian said they were still married, Giles had no reason to believe otherwise.
Simon’s green eyes narrowed. “Did Lord Belgrave tell you this?”
Giles nodded slowly and watched silently as a myriad of emotions crossed the younger man’s face. Giles hadn’t any idea what most of them meant, nor did he care to ask.
A moment later, Simon’s face was dark red and his lips were in a thin, tight line that made the edges of his mouth turn white. He looked furious.
Giles just stared at the man as he breathed so hard his nostrils flared. He’d told the truth. He’d done nothing wrong, and yet, he felt as if he’d once again pushed away a potential friend. Not something foreign to Giles.
Then, without so much as a fare-thee-well, Simon spun on his heel and quit the room.