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Authors: Bethany Sefchick

The Earl Who Loved Me

BOOK: The Earl Who Loved Me
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The Earl Who Loved Me

A Tales From
Seldon Park Short Story

 

By Bethany M.
Sefchick

This book is a work of fiction.
 
Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real.
 
Any resemblance to actual events, locales,
organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright
ã
2014
    

Bethany M. Sefchick

 

All rights reserved

Chapter One

January 1820

 

Amelia Banbrook peered into the
dimly lit corridor, thankful that for once, Lord Weatherby's servants were being
frugal with the candles.
 
Or perhaps
they were more interested in setting the mood for the house party.
 
Either way, it did not matter.
 
She simply did not want anyone to see her as
she attempted to skulk off to her room for the rest of the evening, especially
as the parlor games were still well underway.

As the daughter of the Earl of
Hollinworth and an invited guest, she was expected to fully participate in the
silly, childish games that marked the penultimate evening of the Twelfth Night
celebration at Weatherby Hall.
 
Except
that she could not tolerate parlor games and had thought Lord Weatherby - or
David as she privately referred to him - could not, either.

Then again, as the host of their
party, he could not precisely say no to the repeated requests from his
assembled guests for evenings filled with fun and frivolity, either.

Though he
could
have said no
to the rather overt attentions of Lady Lydia Parham, daughter of the Viscount
Colebrooke, who clung to David like a leach to skin.
 
That, she was certain, he could have said no to at least in some
fashion.

No, that was mean, Amelia chided
herself as she scurried into the hall, praying that no one had noticed her
departure from the ballroom.
 
It was not
David's fault that the chit was empty-headed and simpering.
 
If anything, it was her parents' fault for
too often indulging their overly spoilt offspring in her every whim and
desire.
  
Not that Lady Colebrooke would
ever view her daughter in such a disparaging way, of course.
 
After all, Lady Lydia had been raised from
the cradle to be a peer's wife, a countess or perhaps even a duchess.
 
At the moment, however, given the way she
was attached to David's side as a burr might be to a saddle, she seemed
perfectly content to aspire to the title of countess.

That aspiration made Amelia's head
throb and her heart ache.

Not that she truly had any reason
to feel thus, of course.

After all, it wasn't as if Amelia
herself had any claim over David.
 
Not
specifically anyway.
 
She also most
certainly should not be thinking of the Earl of Weatherby by his Christian
name, despite the fact that he had known her since she was a babe and he not
much out of leading strings.
 
That was
far too familiar a thing for their current positions in life.

No, Amelia did not have that
right.
 
No one did.
 
But she wanted to.
 
Very much so.
 
More than
she had wanted anything in a very long time.

For at some undetermined point over
the previous season, Lady Amelia Banbrook had done the one thing a shy,
unremarkable bluestocking of a spinster with an occasional sharp tongue should
never even contemplate.
 
She had
stupidly - foolishly even - gone and fallen in love with one of the most
handsome, eligible and sought-after men of the
ton
.
 
None other than her childhood friend and
country neighbor, Lord David Rutledge, the Earl of Weatherby.

Even though he most decidedly did
not love her in return.

Not that his lack of romantic
affection for her should come as a surprise to Amelia.
 
After all, she was already five and twenty,
well past the prime marriageable age of a debutante, and she had never made
much of an impression on the marriage mart, let alone Society in general.
 
Much like her person, her seasons had all
been remarkably unremarkable.

Neither hideous nor beautiful,
Amelia was somewhere in the middle of the debutantes with nothing much to
commend her except her family's fortune, her rather overly large dowry, and her
childhood connection to the Earl of Weatherby, which, to her surprise, opened
far more doors to her than she would have anticipated.

Well, her connection to Weatherby
helped, certainly.
 
However, she was
also wise enough to know that her father's country estate, Fallstaff Grange,
bordered not just one but two estates owned by rather infamous men of the
ton
,
which also helped to increase the rather enormous amount of invitations she
received.
 
Anyone that might bring with
them a bit of gossip about two of Society's most notorious bachelors was always
welcome in the drawing rooms and ballrooms of London.
 

Before her debut, Amelia had given
very little thought to the location of Fallstaff Grange, simply accepting that
everyone had neighbors.
 
Hers were
simply slightly more notorious.
 
David's
estate lay to the west of her family's, while Overlook Hill, the ancestral home
of the infamous - and, were she being honest, somewhat terrifying to most -
Adam St. Vincent, the Duke of Enwright, lay to the east.

Amelia had never thought Adam all
that terrifying, actually.
 
Cold and
remote certainly, and thrust into the dukedom well before his time, but never
cruel or horrid, as some chits of the
ton
had whispered behind his back
over the years.
 
If anything, to Amelia,
he had seemed rather sad and alone.
 
In
recent years, especially after his marriage to Lady Lucy Cavendish, he had
become even less terrifying, but no less fearsome when crossed.
 
He and his wife even called upon the
Banbrooks with some frequency when he was in residence at Overlook to share
some fine brandy or port.

However, for as dashing and
handsome as Enwright had been in their youth, it was the young Earl of
Weatherby who had won Amelia's loyalty and love.
 
Merely because he was kind to her more often than a boy several
years older than she should have been, she supposed.
 
David
should
have dismissed her as a youthful pest, but
instead, he had grudgingly invited her along on his adventures with his cousin,
Hugh Sykes, the future Earl of Hewdon, when they were in residence at the hall.

When David's parents had died in a
carriage accident when he was merely four, he was not at all capable of
managing the title that had been thrust upon him far too soon.
 
In truth, he was more interested in mud pies
than seeing to flooding fields that left tenants unable to farm and the estate
teetering on the edge of destitution.
 
So his uncle, James Sykes had stepped in, temporarily relocating his own
family to Weatherby Hall a few months out of every year until David was old
enough to go off to school and leave the estate in the capable hands of a
carefully chosen steward.

It was during those early years
that Amelia and her parents had visited the Hall frequently, and she had found
in David a playmate who was more willing to allow her to accompany him than the
children of her parents' own servants.

The seeds of Amelia's love for
David had been sown so very long ago but had remained dormant for years,
undisturbed like so much fallow ground, neither producing anything nor changing
in any way.
 
Until this previous season
when she had danced with the dashing earl at the wedding of her distant cousin,
Lady Amy Cheltenham to Doctor - and now Lord - Gibson Blackwell.

The dance had been a waltz.
 
She and David had waltzed together for
years, including many times at Almack's, without incident.
 
It was simply the done thing.
 
He was her long time friend and she?
 
Well, she was someone he took pity on,
someone whose shy nature and occasional bad habit of saying precisely what she
thought did not exactly endear her to the young bucks who lusted after the
prettiest and oftentimes less moral debutantes.
 
Not even her dowry could overcome that flaw in her personality
and she well knew it.

Even now, Amelia could not say what
changed that night.
 
All she knew was
that when the music had begun and David had taken her hand in his, there had
been a monumental shift inside of her, as if she was looking at her old friend
through new eyes.
 
Almost as if she was
seeing him for the first time.

He was handsome.
 
She had known that, of course, as she was
not blind.
 
She also knew that he had
been chased all over the drawing rooms of London by marriage-minded mamas and
their title-grasping daughters.
 
He was,
after all, one of the most eligible bachelors in all of England with a fortune
that would make many a duke hang their heads in shame.
 
He also had a lazy smile and a quick wit
that could charm even the birds right out of the trees.

Still until that night, Amelia had
never realized how his thick, brown hair fell in lovely waves around his head
or how his eyes were more green than brown, a shade that was most peculiar and
most becoming at the same time, like a lush and sunlit summer forest.
 
She had also never realized how small her
hand felt in his much larger one, or how his muscles bunched delightfully as he
moved, the power of his body harnessed.
 
Leashed.
 
Controlled.
 
Waiting.

Then, she had looked into this eyes
and realized all of that and more.
 
She
had, in an instant, fallen in love with a man she had known for most of her
life.
 
More fool her.

With the passage of time, Amelia
realized that there was probably a part of her that had loved David all
along.
 
After all, one did not instantly
fall in love.
 
Well, the practical side
of her didn't believe so.
 
It was absurd
to even consider the notion.
 
The more
romantic side of her, the one she carefully kept hidden from everyone,
including her mother, however?
 
That
part of her
did
believe in love at first sight.
 
Which was not precisely what had happened
with David but close enough.

That night was the first time she
had truly seen him as he was - a virile, desirable man.
 
Wanton that she was, she wanted to see what
lay beneath his clothes and she wondered what it would feel like if he would
kiss her, or, good Heavens above, make love to her.
 
Then again, as she had never even been kissed, she suspected that
if David Rutledge stood stark naked before her, she would have no earthly idea
what to do with him.

But she did still love him.
 
And she did still want him.
 
Very much so.

And that was precisely why she was
creeping away from the various parlors and the grand ballroom where the
frivolous games were underway.
 
It
wasn't so much that she despised the games, though she did to a very large
degree.
 
Rather, it was because she was
jealous.
 
Jealous of the way Lady Lydia
glanced coyly at David, fluttering her eyes at him and, in general behaving
like a nitwit.
 
But a nitwit who had
David's attention nonetheless.
 

Amelia was jealous of the other
woman's easy way with men, the way she flirted and cajoled, ever so gently and
properly mind you, to exact precisely what she wanted from them.
 
All men.
 
Any man.
 
Most especially
David.
 
And it made Amelia sick inside
with each caress Lady Lydia managed to impart on David's arm.
 
Gloves or no gloves, she was certain he felt
the contact, and, as he was a man, probably enjoyed it immensely.

That was why Amelia was sneaking
out, a copy of Shakespeare's
Twelfth Night
tucked securely under her
arm, a volume borrowed from the earl's sizeable library where she had been
given free reign to indulge herself for the duration of the house party.
 

Books were preferable to parlor
games in Amelia's opinion.
 
Not to
mention that she did not want to see another woman making a fool of herself
over the man she loved, nor did she want to see that same man encouraging those
intentions.

"Ah, there you are."
 
The cold voice cut through Amelia like a
knife and she straightened, knowing there was no way to avoid detection
now.
 
"Heading to bed so
early?"

Turning, Amelia kept her expression
bland, not wanting to give Lady Lydia anything to use against her in the future.
 
Which she most certainly would.
 
Of that, Amelia had no doubt.
 
"I have a megrim, as I am certain you
have heard.
 
I wish to be able to see
clearly tomorrow for the grand ball, so I thought I might retire
early."
 

It was no secret that Amelia
suffered quite a bit from megrims, particularly those brought on by
overpowering smells, and the parlor game Lady Lydia had devised used the
particularly cloying scent of lilac water which Amelia could not tolerate in
the least.
 
It made her vision cloud and
her head pound until she could not think, among other maladies.

"Or perhaps you simply do not
wish to see the man you love with another?
 
A man who wants nothing to do with you, aging spinster that you
are.
 
A man who sees you as a dried-up
old maid.
 
You, a woman who has fooled
herself into believing a man like him could love a wallflower such as
yourself."
 
There was nothing short
of pure venom in Lydia's voice, not that Amelia had expected otherwise.

BOOK: The Earl Who Loved Me
7.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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