Unexpected earl, p.25

Unexpected Earl, page 25

 part  #1 of  Hearts and Ever Afters Series


Unexpected Earl

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  "I hear congratulations are soon to be in order," Ginny said, quite unaware of where that came from.

  "Pardon me?" James was perplexed.

  "Why, you and Lady Victoria de Vere are to be married."

  James stopped her and put his hand to her face to gently stroke it.

  "Lady Victoria means nothing to me. Her mother and mine are the best of friends, and naturally they want their children to marry. I have no intention of marrying someone I do not …love. Apologies for being so forward, Lady Virginia. I just wanted you to know that. Mr. Bowen, please escort her Ladyship indoors. I forgot I need to have a word with Jones."

  James was flustered as was Ginny. Was he declaring his love for her? She was so confused. But what had her mother said? “He will have to marry for duty rather than love.” What did she mean by that?

  But their unplanned assignation had not gone unnoticed. The Duke of Carvingham had heard about the day's events and their dance, and now he had seen them for himself. He liked Lady Virginia Croft. She was a fine young woman, but her stock was not high enough for a man that would one day be a duke. The duke didn't like what he had to do, but he didn't want James to make a fool of himself. If someone else had seen them together, well, poor Lady Virginia's name would be sullied, and he wasn't going to allow that to happen.

  He sent Lennox to bring James to him. He'd have to talk to James that night and put an end to his silliness.

  Chapter 6

  "You cannot go on like this, James. It is time to make a decision on your future. Remember, your wife must be a match for you. She will be the duchess here some day and therefore, needs to know what is expected of her. Lady Virginia Croft is a fine young woman; I give you that, but she is no match for you," the duke watched as his grand nephew's shoulders drooped.

  "I cannot marry for love. But you were in love, Duke. You know how important it is. I have tried to fight my feelings for Lady Virginia, but you should have seen her with Athena. Even Jones was impressed by how she carried herself. Her concern was for the mare at all times. She didn't use her authority to complain about how she found Athena to me…"

  "You have to get her out of your head, James. If not for your sake, then for hers. We cannot have gossip, and if I know these harpies, gossip will be rife. It isn't fair on her character, especially after what she has gone through."

  The duke's words made James curious. What had she endured? He couldn't bear to think of her in any distress. The duke told him about her fiancé’s riding accident. James’s initial reaction was to run to Lady Virginia and take her in his arms, but the duke was right. A lady's reputation was everything. He couldn't deny her a chance of happiness in the future.

  "I will consider what you have said. You are a wise man, and I value your advice. I do not like it, but you know that already. Lady Virginia has endured enough. I will keep my distance, but there is no way I am marrying Lady Victoria. I'd rather stay single than have to endure her."

  The duke didn't disagree with him.

  "Help me to my room, James. I have to say it was good to see the old place alive tonight."

  As James and the duke walked slowly, they could overhear an altercation between Lady Victoria and her lady's maid.

  "Why wasn't my hair done like Lady Virginia's? I brought you from Paris especially to know these new styles. You are completely useless!"

  And they heard a slap.

  The men didn't make a comment, but each of them knew that Lady Virginia had more class in her little finger than Lady Victoria. The festivities were almost over, and only the very energetic remained on the dance floor.

  "See you at breakfast, James. Sleep on what I have said. You are an intelligent young man, and you will do the right thing."

  Breakfast was a busy affair. James had tossed and turned, and while he didn't want to see anyone, let alone Lady Virginia, William convinced him to breakfast with him. The duke sat at the head of the table. Ginny and her mother sat at one side of the duke, while the Marchioness of Dorford and Lady Victoria sat opposite them. Jane and her mother, James, and William made up the rest of the party. Breakfast was a buffet, and as Ginny, Jane and Victoria stood at the serving plates, Victoria began her digs at Ginny. She had noticed how James had avoided looking at Ginny, while making a point of greeting everyone else. Ginny couldn't understand his coldness towards her, but it only served to remind that her initial opinion was correct. He was cold and aloof.

  "No fainting this morning, Lady Virginia? That was some performance last evening."

  Ginny blushed, and her hands wobbled.

  "Lady Victoria, are you sure you should be eating so much? It's rather an unladylike portion you have there," Jane jumped to her cousin's defense. Victoria was annoyed and returned to her seat with a scowl.

  With everyone seated, Victoria spoke up.

  "I was wondering, Lord Collingford, if we could go out riding today, all of us that is."

  "Yes, that can be arranged. Unfortunately, I will be unable to join the group. There is much to do," James said.

  To his surprise, his mother spoke up.

  "I think we know that it will not be long before we are having our own celebration."

  "Mama, I do not think this is the time or place…"

  James was cut off by Lady Victoria's mother.

  "Lord Collingford, you know too many young ladies will want your attention," she gazed at Ginny who wanted to just run away. "It is time for you to marry. Wouldn't you agree, Lady Virginia? You, of all people, must find it very inappropriate for a man to pretend he is free when in fact, he is promised to another. Young girls must get so confused, misinterpreting kindness for something, shall we say, more."

  Ginny couldn't take any more and excused herself from the table with Jane hot on her heels.

  "Goodness, what is the matter with her? She is very sensitive," Lady Dorford feigned concern.

  Ginny’s mother glowered at the woman who had upset her daughter and opened up her mouth to speak, but before a word could come out of her mouth, the duke placed his hand on the dowager countess's and spoke for her,

  "Your Ladyship, you should give greater care to the behavior of Lady Victoria rather than comment on others. I will ask you to keep your thoughts to yourself while you are a guest in my home," he shot a glance at James's mother. "Please remember that you live here at my pleasure, but I am old and quite capable of changing my mind. I will not have any guests upset under my roof unless I am the one causing the upset."

  The table was silent, and one by one the ladies left until just William and the dowager countess remained.

  "Now isn't that better?" the duke asked. "It's been a while since I could chastise someone other than Lennox, and he takes no notice."

  "Your Grace, thank you for standing up for Lady Virginia," the dowager countess said, then excused herself and left the room.

  "Your Grace, you really know how to deal with people. I hope to be like you some day. Lady Victoria was apparently saying nasty things about Ginny, I mean, Lady Virginia. Lady Jane was very upset by it."

  Jane was disappointed she had missed the duke's speech. Ginny's mother had arrived and told them what had transpired.

  "He likes you, Gin; he wouldn't have said anything otherwise. And I have a secret to tell you. William will forgive me. James has told him that he loves you. How do you feel about him?"

  "Last night, I would have said the same, but this morning, he just ignored me. It's so confusing, Jane. I never wanted to feel this way again," Ginny began to cry. "I didn't want to upset you before your wedding, but I'm not sure I can stay here any longer."

  "It will work itself out; I know it will. But you must stay. For me."

  Jane stroked Ginny's hair. Ginny’s mother entered the room.

  "Jane, would you excuse us for a little while? I want to talk to Virginia in private."

  Jane left them alone.

  "Mama, last night when you said you knew what I was going through, what did you mean by that?

  "Before I met your father, whom I loved very much, I had a romance. He was a fine young man but destined, like Lord Collingford, to become a duke. His parents made him break it off with me because my father wasn't a wealthy earl for that level of society. The duke knew of it. I just wanted to save you from getting your heart broken. I do not wish for you to stay locked away in your room, but do not let that dreadful woman and her daughter do that to us. Why don't you go for a horse ride? Didn't you feel good being in the stables again?"

  "You are right, Mama. I will change and go outside."

  Ginny needed to do right by her cousin, Jane. Jane needed her to stay focused, and that she would do. But before she left the house, Lennox approached her.

  "M'lady, His Grace has requested your presence," he said.

  With a heavy heart, the duke gave Ginny the same talk he had given James. She simply wasn't going to cut it as a future duchess. No matter how beautiful and gentle her nature, she didn't have the breeding. Ginny listened as he went on and on about duty and how we have to make decisions that weigh heavy on our hearts, but privilege comes with responsibility.

  Ginny agreed with the duke. One's responsibility would outweigh any silliness of the heart. As she walked away, trying not to cry, she returned to her room. She called for Dawson to pack her belongings. She would send them home with her mother. However, Ginny wanted to leave immediately.

  "Are you sure, m'lady? The wedding is tomorrow. Should I call on Lady Jane or her Ladyship?"

  "No, Dawson, they will try to talk me into staying, and I cannot be here. I realize that Lord Collingford loves me, but this is his home, and I will not have him uncomfortable. Jane will understand. I cannot stay where I am considered not to have the breeding desired to marry at this level."

  "Very well." Dawson was loyal to Lady Virginia and didn't realize the strength of their bond until she heard the other lady's maid speak of their mistresses. Dawson, having a received an offer of employment from Lady Victoria that very morning, had decided she couldn't leave Lady Virginia.

  She made the arrangements in secret as she was asked. She said Lady Virginia just wanted an excursion, but she wrote a letter to Lady Jane.

  Dawson sat with the driver while Lady Virginia was helped into the carriage. Soon they were on their way back to Deyonne, where Ginny would try to forget about what happened.


  "Your Grace, may I have a word with you?" James stood at the doorway of the duke's study.

  "Of course, my boy, come in."

  "Lennox, could you ask my mother to join us?" James asked as he took a seat in front of the duke.

  "I'll wait for Mama before I begin."

  The duke was uneasy. James wasn't his usual self. The Countess of Collingford arrived, seemingly upset, complaining she was in the middle of tea with their guests.

  "Your Grace, Mama, I have a chosen a bride, and I wanted you to be the first to know."

  His mother beamed with anticipation of hearing the name Lady Victoria, but the duke said nothing.

  "I plan on asking Lady Virginia Croft to marry me. That is, if she'll have me." James turned to Lennox. "You have the smelling salts?"

  Lennox administered the smelling salts to the Lady Collingford as she gasped at her son's announcement. The duke stayed silent.

  "I understand that becoming a duke has responsibilities, but how am I to do my duty if I cannot have the wife of my choosing? She will make me a better man and therefore, a better duke. I am deciding based on my heart. I doubt there'll be many times when I can let my heart rule my head. I did so in the past, but I cannot let one bad experience make me mistrust myself. I will marry her with or without your blessing."

  "Have you finished, James?" the duke asked.

  James nodded at the duke's question, some of his bravado evaporating.

  "Finally, I have an heir who is not afraid to stand up for himself. Would I prefer Lady Virginia to come from the ton? Of course. It means consolidating our assets for the future. But you have fought for the woman you love. Now go to her, and I'll talk to your mother."

  James ran to Ginny's room, but there was no answer. He knew William and Jane were taking a walk, so he ran to see if Ginny was with them.

  "I'll help you look for her, James. She has to be here somewhere."

  Soon the news came that Lady Virginia had left hours earlier and still wasn't back.

  "Can you saddle a horse for me? I'm coming with you," Jane said as she left to return to her room to change her clothes. As she opened the door, there was a letter on the carpeted floor. She read the letter and quickly left to alert James and William on what the letter said.

  "James, William, she's returning to her home. James, you must go after her."

  James jumped on his horse and raced to find his love. She had a few hours head start, but she was traveling by road whereas he could cut across the fields. His heart raced as he pushed his horse harder than he ever had before. He could feel his mouth dry, and his throat tightened at the thought of losing her. What if she said no to him? He pushed the thought back, and then he saw the carriage up ahead. It had the duke's crest on the door, and he pushed his horse to go faster.

  "Stop the carriage," Dawson shouted to the driver as she saw the man riding towards them.

  "M'lady, look out the window," Dawson was excited.

  Ginny's eyes were puffy from crying. When she looked out the window, she was in utter disbelief. James was coming for her. He jumped down off his horse and opened the door of his carriage as he jumped in beside Ginny.

  "Sorry, my breath,” he said, nearly gasping from the exertion of chasing after her. Will you marry me, Lady Virginia?"

  Ginny took his hands and between her sobs gave him his reply.

  "No, I cannot marry you. You will be a duke, and not just any duke, but the richest one in England. I cannot compete with that, nor do I wish to be the subject of gossip when I am not from the same ranks. I would be doing you an injustice to say yes."

  Her refusal made him sure she was the one he wanted to marry.

  "Dearest Ginny, that fact that you love me enough to say no, tells me that you are the one I have to marry. My heart has chosen you, and I will not leave until you agree."

  "The duke will never allow it. He told me so."

  "Ginny, darling, he was testing us. I told him in no uncertain terms that I was going to marry you, and he told me he was testing me. To see if I could understand the love of a good woman."

  "Is this true?" Ginny asked.

  James nodded.

  "The sly duke," she said as she smiled through her tears.

  "Return with me. You have to. We have duties to perform tomorrow, and then we will announce our engagement to the world. I love you, Lady Virginia Croft.

  Ginny's tears changed to tears of joy.

  "Yes, I will marry you."

  And to the young woman who had stolen his heart, James leaned in to kiss her lips. Ginny felt a tingle through her body as James jumped out to tie his horse to the carriage. They were going back to the Carvingham Estate that in a few months' time would be Lady Virginia Croft's new home.


  Conflicted Heart

  Edgefield Dukedom: Book Three

  Text Copyright © 2017 by Caroline Johnson

  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, 2017


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  Edgefield Dukedom: Book Three

  By: Caroline Johnson

  Conflicted Heart

  Chapter 1 – The Envy of Many

  Few women could compare to the beauty of Lady Jane Stone. She was blessed with hair the color of summer sunlight, warm and golden, and eyes that were as blue as the sky at midafternoon. Her complexion was soft and pale, and not a blemish marred her almost perfect features. Slender and tall, mysterious and poised, her mother often told her that she was the model of womanhood, something for all young ladies to strive for, even her own sisters.

  She was the envy of many, the equal to few, and what was perhaps the most devastating thing of the whole matter was that she was well aware of it. Of all of it.

  Now, she was not as conceited as some might think. At least, she herself did not think that. She was the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Edgefield, who were well-respected and important in society. While Jane’s siblings were humbled by it, and acted in such a way, Lady Jane took it as a source of pride. She would never admit that she was better than anyone else, but she did believe it, in a sense. It was not her fault that she was who she was, was it? She was the product of her parents’ lineage, and their parents before them.

  She was also now the oldest siblings to still live in the Edgefield estate, her two eldest brothers having been married and in their own homes. Her eldest brother, Lord Bridgewater, and his lovely wife lived in the large manor at the edge of her father’s land. Her next oldest brother was now a vicar, who gave up living a life of luxury to enter the church and marry a woman who was not of noble birth. Jane did see something romantic in it, but she could still not understand her brother’s desire to make the choices that he made. It was no matter though, since she was aware that his concerns lay elsewhere, and he never thought the workings of society of much importance.

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