Unexpected earl, p.1

Unexpected Earl, page 1

 part  #1 of  Hearts and Ever Afters Series

 

Unexpected Earl
 



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Unexpected Earl


  Unexpected Earl

  Hearts and Ever Afters

  Text Copyright © 2017 by Joyce Alec

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  First printing, 2018

  Publisher

  Love Light Faith, LLC

  400 NW 7th Avenue, Unit 825

  Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311

  www.LoveLightFaith.com

  Table of Contents

  Unexpected Earl

  Bonus Romance Collections

  Regency Dukes

  Regency Earls

  Unexpected Earl

  Hearts and Ever Afters

  By Joyce Alec

  Unexpected Earl

  Chapter One

  “Ah, there you are!”

  Miss Catherine Hewson turned at once to see her mother bearing down on her with a particularly handsome gentleman by her side. Not in the least surprised at being interrupted in such a way, she sighed inwardly and pasted a bright smile on her face.

  “My dear Catherine!” Lady Hewson exclaimed. “I have only just now been introduced to this particular gentleman, who, I believe, is new to town.”

  “I am,” the gentleman replied, his fair hair falling over his brow as he inclined his head. “Your mother is being particularly kind to me.”

  “I can see that,” Catherine murmured, catching the twinkle in the gentleman’s eye.

  As her mother continued to rattle on, Catherine allowed herself to carefully study the gentleman in question. He was tall, with broad shoulders and impeccably dressed. The cut of his clothing told her that he must be wealthy, if not titled, and she found, much to her surprise, that she thought him quite handsome. His light blue eyes were warm, and a small smile creased the corner of his mouth as he continued to pay rapt attention to Catherine’s mother, Lady Hewson. She considered that kindness to say a great deal about him, for her mother could talk for all of England!

  “Mama,” Catherine broke in, gently. “You have not yet introduced us.”

  Her mother’s eyes flared as a hint of red brushed her cheeks. “Oh, I quite forgot!” she cried, looking quite apologetic. “My dear, this is Lord Kerr. Lord Kerr, this is my daughter, Miss Catherine Hewson. Her father, my husband, is Viscount Hewson.”

  “I have not had the pleasure of being introduced to him,” Lord Kerr replied, sweeping into a deep bow as Catherine curtsied. “As I said, however, I am quite new to town.”

  “And are you enjoying London so far?” Catherine asked, aware of her mother slowly stepping away from them both.

  “Yes, indeed I am,” he answered with a small laugh. “Although it is very different from the country.”

  “Oh?” Catherine smiled, lifting one eyebrow. “Where do you hail from?”

  Their conversation flowed easily for some minutes. Catherine discovered that the gentleman was, in fact, a baron, and therefore held some property near the coast. Why he had come to London, she had not quite managed to make out, although he mentioned something about good company, which made her smile. The music struck up behind them, making conversation a little more difficult, but Catherine continued their discussion regardless. She had to admit that she considerably liked this man.

  “Excuse me, excuse me!”

  A short, slightly rotund gentleman appeared by Catherine’s side, catching her hand. Catherine jerked in surprise, only to realize that Lord Dunstable held her hand, ready to lead her onto the dance floor.

  “It is our turn on the floor, I believe,” he said, ignoring Lord Kerr altogether. “Come now, do not dawdle!”

  Catherine wrenched her hand from his, her cheeks burning at his inappropriate behavior. “Yes, of course, Lord Dunstable,” she managed to bite out, a spiral of disappointment running through her at the thought of having to leave Lord Kerr. Turning back to him, she dipped a quick curtsy. “I must apologize, Lord Kerr, but I have a partner for this dance.”

  He nodded, though there was a certain tightness around his jaw. “I am sorry to end our conversation. What a shame I was not introduced to you sooner, when your dance card was empty.”

  Lord Dunstable made some kind of encouraging noise, but Catherine was not to be moved.

  “I believe if you look, my lord, you will see I have a few dances free at the moment,” she said softly.

  It was a bold move, to say the least, for young ladies certainly did not seek dances with particular gentlemen, but it seemed that Lord Kerr did not seem taken aback by her words. Instead, he smiled broadly and reached for her dance card, hurriedly signing his name in not one, but two of her four spaces. Catherine managed a quick smile and a ‘thank you’ before being whisked away by Lord Dunstable, who was not in the least pleased that she had dawdled.

  Catherine did not care for Lord Dunstable in the slightest, but he was always quite insistent on dancing with her. He had attempted to call on her, but Catherine and her mother had made sure that he was quickly rebuffed. The man was a buffoon, and worse than that, he was a degenerate gambler.

  Given that Catherine had something of a fortune that would come to her on her wedding day, she was careful not to be interested in anyone who only wanted her for her money. That would not be a good start to any marriage, she was quite sure. Besides, Lord Dunstable was not particularly attractive, and what good would it do to marry a man you could barely stand the sight of?

  However, her obvious disregard had done nothing to push Lord Dunstable away. Although he did not call on her as often as he once used to, he would still seek her hand at every ball or soiree they attended, and Catherine had never found a way to avoid him. She groaned inwardly as they began to dance, hating the feel of his hand against hers. How grateful she was for gloves.

  The dance continued slowly, and Catherine danced each step perfectly. Time seemed to drag on. Lord Dunstable’s asked her many questions, but Catherine kept her answers brief. Without being rude, she made it apparent that she had no interest in him. He had to simply accept that she was not about to change her mind when it came to her opinion of him.

  Thankfully, the music came to an end, and Catherine made her way from the dance floor back to where Lord Kerr had been. Much to her disappointment, however, she could not see him standing there any longer. Glancing down at the dance card that was tied to her wrist, she smiled to herself when she saw his name there. It would not be too long before they met again.

  ***

  “You are an exceptional dancer, Miss Hewson.”

  Catherine smiled up at Lord Kerr, her cheeks warm. “I thank you, Lord Kerr. I would say the same about you, but my compliment would sound too trite, I think.”

  He laughed, making Catherine’s smile broaden. “You are very quick-witted, Miss Hewson.”

  Catherine had to wait until it was her turn to partner with him once more before replying. “Indeed, my mother would say it is one of my greatest faults,” she replied with a heavy sigh. “Although it appears you do not think so.”

  Lord Kerr regarded her for a moment, a thoughtful expression on his face. “No,” he said softly, his gaze flickering over her. “No, I would not say it is a fault.”

  Something in his expression made heat curl its way up Catherine’s spine, sending a wave of spiraling warmth into her very core. Lord Kerr smiled softly, and Catherine felt herself lost within it. There were no other dancers on the floor, no other hands that she had
to touch. There was just Lord Kerr.

  Their gazes remained strong and undeterred, as though fixed on one another as the dance came to an end. Catherine was drawn to his side once more as he accompanied her from the floor. She could not find anything to say, her tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth and her cheeks burning. Good gracious, she was quite overcome!

  “I believe our next dance is a waltz,” Lord Kerr murmured as they came to stand together on one side of the ballroom.

  “It is,” Catherine managed to say, aware that she sounded rather breathless.

  “You are a little tired, I think,” Lord Kerr replied, looking all about him. “I shall return in a moment with something to drink.”

  Catherine thanked him, glad that she would be able to stand alone for an instant. There were three dances before her waltz with Lord Kerr, and while she was meant to have partners for these dances, she hoped that, if she hid in the shadows, she might be able to rest for a few moments. It was late in the evening, and mayhap one or two of her intended partners had already found themselves lost in the card room. She did not mind in the least, however, for she only had thoughts of Lord Kerr.

  “He is a wonderful man.”

  Catherine shrieked, clapping her hand over her mouth as a tall figure emerged from the gloom just behind her, his features half hidden by the candlelight.

  “Now, now,” he tutted, shaking his head. “Is that any way to greet an old friend?”

  Catherine could hardly get her breath—such was her fright. Thankfully, the sound of her shriek had not caught anyone’s attention, given the mixture of loud conversation and music, but still, she was quite overcome.

  “Goodness, Kitty, it seems I frightened you.” The gentleman grinned, coming a little closer and putting one hand on her arm. He leaned down a little, looking into her face. “Are you sure you are all right?”

  Managing to draw in a shaky breath, Catherine nodded. Only one person called her Kitty, and that was Lord Linton.

  “Yes, I am fine, thank you,” she said. “Whatever are you doing here?”

  “And I thought you would be happy to see me,” Lord Linton responded, sounding hurt. “After all, I have not seen you in many years.”

  “I have been in town, as have you,” Catherine replied firmly. “It is just that you have been quite caught up with your various…” She did not know how to say it, and so she lapsed into silence.

  Lord Linton chuckled. “My various vices, shall we say?”

  “Precisely,” Catherine agreed, lifting one eyebrow. “We may have been childhood friends, Lord Linton, but that does not mean our friendship allows me to ignore your rather unpleasant behavior.”

  “Oh, tosh,” he snorted, waving his hand nonchalantly. “You listen to the gossipmongers too much, Kitty. I have not done half the things they accuse me of!”

  Catherine’s eyebrow was still raised. “So, it is not true that you were chased out of town only last Season?” she asked quietly.

  Lord Linton tugged at his collar with one long finger, his dark brown eyes shifting from place to place. “I was not chased. I left of my own free will.”

  “Only because you were not welcome anywhere,” Catherine finished with a shake of her head. “I am surprised that you were even invited here.”

  “Oh, but I have become a well-mannered gentleman now, Kitty,” Lord Linton replied, a slight gleam in his eye. “Wealthy and titled; what more could a lady want?”

  Catherine managed to prevent herself from snorting in disbelief, far too aware of Lord Linton’s penchant for liquor, gambling, and women. “I am afraid I cannot believe that,” she said quietly. “You may have managed to worm your way back into society, but I will not be fooled by your supposed change.”

  Lord Linton chuckled and lifted one shoulder. “You always see right through me. In short, money can calm all kinds of storms, my dear.”

  Catherine rolled her eyes, finding him quite distasteful. Lord Linton was an earl with a great deal of wealth, and whilst it was his to do with as he pleased, she could not help but feel disappointed at how he had turned out.

  They had been friends growing up, and she had been quite enchanted by him for a year or so during her early teenage years, though that had all but evaporated. He was not a gentleman she particularly wished to be acquainted with any longer, such was his behavior. In fact, Catherine found herself wishing to distance herself from him as much as she could, worried that her reputation would be smeared by the mere association.

  “I had best go in search of Mama. Do excuse me,” she murmured, not even giving him a smile as she turned her back on him and began to walk away.

  Chapter Two

  “Catherine!”

  Catherine turned around at once, a delighted smile on her face as she saw her dear friend Alice approaching.

  “Alice, darling!” she exclaimed, clasping her friend’s hands. “How wonderful it is to see you!”

  Alice smiled and embraced Catherine before straightening her bonnet. It was a windy day, but that had clearly not deterred Alice from visiting a few shops, just as it had not deterred Catherine, either.

  “I am very pleased to see you, Catherine.” Alice smiled, looping one arm through Catherine’s. “It feels as though it had been an age since we last spent time together!”

  “That is because you are a happily married lady now, Alice,” Catherine chuckled, patting her friend’s hand. “Tell me, how is married life?”

  Alice’s cheeks glowed, her eyes sparkling. “It is quite wonderful, I must confess—although the path that took us to the church was something of a difficult one.”

  Catherine nodded, the smile fading from her lips as she remembered what Alice had endured before she could finally get married to the love of her life.

  “And yet, it has been worth it,” Alice finished with a bright smile. “I strongly encourage you to find a husband of your own, Catherine.” She chuckled while Catherine laughed. “I can see you think me quite ridiculous, but I am serious. It must be someone that you love, though—to marry a man without love cannot be a happy state, I do not think.”

  Catherine nodded her head, her mind slowly turning back towards Lord Kerr. He had danced with her twice, but had not shown any further interest in her. That had disappointed her somewhat, for she had thought him both handsome and interesting. Her stomach had fluttered when she had been in his arms, and much to her surprise, Catherine had felt heat mount in her cheeks when he had smiled at her.

  “You have someone in mind?”

  Now blushing furiously, Catherine shook her head. “No, not at all.”

  “Are you sure?” Alice asked softly. “There is no shame in having a penchant for someone, Catherine.”

  “Oh, tis nothing!” Catherine exclaimed at once, shaking her head so violently that her auburn curls threatened to come tumbling down around her ears. Then she paused for a moment. “There is a Lord Kerr who Mama introduced me to last evening, but there was no particular interest from him there.”

  Alice arched an eyebrow. “But you for him?”

  Catherine frowned, unable to find the words she needed to express herself clearly. “I suppose I thought him handsome and kind, a good conversationalist with a quick wit,” she said. “But is that truly the beginnings of affection?”

  “Did you find him good company, then?”

  “Yes.”

  “And did your eyes try and find him in the crowd, even though you were not aware you were doing it?” Alice wondered. “Did you enjoy every moment of being in his arms as you danced? Did your heart skip a beat?”

  Catherine stilled for a second, blinking at her friend. “How did you know that?”

  Alice laughed aloud, her eyes dancing with mischief. “Because that is exactly what happened to me, even though I repeatedly told myself that I did not care for him.”

  Despite wanting to believe her friend’s words, Catherine’s shoulders slumped. “But there is no hope, Alice. He did not show any sign of being keen
to see me again. In truth, he danced with me twice and then bid me a good evening.”

  “That is no reason to lose hope!” Alice exclaimed as they began to walk once more. “When you see him again, try to engage him in conversation. Since he has done it before, I am quite sure he will ask you to dance again. Some men take time to ensure that their affections are truly engaged before they will show any kind of attention to a lady.”

  Catherine nodded, seeing the wisdom in Alice’s words. “You are right, of course. It is just that I have not often felt this way towards a particular gentleman before, so it is taking me a little time to become used to what I feel.”

  To her surprise, Alice chuckled and shook her head. “I do recall how you declared yourself deeply in love with that friend of yours, only to realize that he was quite the rogue. I believe you then declared that you should never go near him again and that you had been quite mistaken in your affections.”

  Catherine cringed, a quiet groan escaping from her mouth.

  “Do not remind me of my foolishness, Alice,” she pleaded. “Particularly after I just met the very gentleman you are talking about.”

  She saw the surprise on Alice’s face, sighing heavily as they stepped inside the bookshop. Of course, the shop itself was quiet and still, which meant that Alice had to wait until they drew near the back of the shop before continuing their conversation. In all honesty, Catherine would rather forget about her accidental meeting with Lord Linton.

  “You mean to tell me Lord Linton is back in society?” she asked in a hushed whisper.

  “So it seems,” Catherine murmured, running her fingers over the spines of some dusty books. “He came to speak to me last evening, although I confess that I left his company as soon as I could.”

  “Little wonder,” Alice said, a trifle more loudly than she had intended. “The man is a rake and a scoundrel. I am surprised the ton are so eager to have him back.”

 
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