Unexpected earl, p.3

Unexpected Earl, page 3

 part  #1 of  Hearts and Ever Afters Series

 

Unexpected Earl
 



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  Catherine could not help but laugh. “Come now, Alice! It is not as though we are engaged already, nor are we likely to be any time soon. You need not look so severe. I shall continue to get to know him, and in time, I am quite sure my heart will make up its own mind about him.”

  “Good,” Alice said, finally breaking into a smile. “He seems to be quite wonderful, and I am sure all will work out exactly as it is meant to.”

  Catherine nodded her head. She hoped her friend was right.

  Chapter Four

  Catherine tried not to blush as Lord Kerr pressed a small bouquet of roses into her hands.

  “You are too kind,” she murmured, pressing her nose into the fragrant blooms for a moment. “Thank you for calling on me.”

  He smiled, bowed, and took a seat, clearing his throat whilst Lady Hewson began to chatter amicably with him. Catherine chose to sit quietly for a few minutes, simply watching the two of them talk.

  This was now the third time Lord Kerr had called on her, and each time, he had stayed an appropriate length of time, engaged her in interesting conversation, and then taken his leave. They had never been allowed a moment together, given that Catherine’s mother was something of a chatterbox. She had glowed on seeing her daughter so frequently visited by Lord Kerr, but had seemed completely unaware that, mayhap, they might like to talk together uninterrupted.

  “Forgive me, Lady Hewson,” Lord Kerr interjected. “But I do hope you might permit me to take your daughter out for a short stroll this afternoon?”

  Catherine’s eyes widened as Lord Kerr interrupted her mother mid flow—not that she could blame him, given that it was difficult to get a word in edgeways.

  “A stroll?” her mother repeated, sounding quite breathless. “Well, now, I am not quite sure. The weather is a little chilly, and I—”

  “I shall dress warmly, Mama,” Catherine said quickly, rising to her feet as butterflies immediately began to flutter in her belly. She turned to Lord Kerr with a warm smile, watching him stand up from his seat.

  “I shall meet you at the front door, shall I?” she asked, making her way towards the door. “I just need to make sure I am appropriately wrapped up.”

  Lord Kerr bowed, and even though Lady Hewson began to speak, Catherine excused herself and left the room at once.

  Within a few minutes, Catherine and Lord Kerr were walking along the streets of London, not quite sure in which direction they were headed, but enjoying themselves nonetheless. Catherine’s maid trailed discreetly behind them, and Lord Kerr seemed to be a great deal more at ease now that they were away from her mother’s company.

  “Shall we perhaps get an ice at Gunter’s?” he asked, smiling at her. “I know it is a trifle cold, and your mama did seem concerned over the chill in the air, even though it is a summers day, but—”

  “I think that is a wonderful idea,” Catherine declared, laughing. “I would very much enjoy an ice, I think. And if it is too cold to stand outside, then mayhap we could sit down indoors?”

  Lord Kerr smiled in delight, his eyes lighting. “Wonderful,” he replied, offering her his arm. “I confess that it has been difficult for me to find time to converse with you as much as I would like.”

  Catherine took his arm immediately, delighted at his manners. “You are quite right, Lord Kerr. You are too polite to say so, but my mother does delight in talking so. She is more enamored with you than I, if that were possible.”

  He looked down at her, pausing in his steps for a moment. Catherine, glancing up at him, realized what she had just said and felt her cheeks burn with heat.

  “What I mean to say,” she murmured, suddenly not sure where to look, “is… I am very pleased with your company. You have been very attentive.”

  “That is because I am quite enamored with you,” came Lord Kerr’s quiet reply. He stopped walking so that he could turn to her. “If I may be so bold, Miss Hewson, I have found your company more important to me than any other. I have thought of nothing other than spending time with you.”

  Catherine’s heart squeezed with delight, her entire body humming with happiness. “I confess that I feel the same way, Lord Kerr. You are a most kind man, and I have very much enjoyed spending time with you. Although I will say that I wish Mama would allow us to talk at length without interrupting so very much.”

  He chuckled. “Mayhap if I make my intentions clear to your father and then also to your mother, they might be more inclined to allow us time together without their company. I know it is a little cold, but would you fancy a ride or two around town? Hyde Park, perhaps?”

  “I am quite sure my father would be delighted to allow such a thing,” Catherine said, slightly out of breath. “And yes, it is cold for the time of year, but that will not put me off spending time in your company, I assure you.”

  Lord Kerr clasped her hands, his expression growing serious. “I will be honest with you from the start, Miss Hewson; I am looking for a bride. I have no intention of playing games with you, nor do I have any intention of courting a great many other ladies, for my mind is made up. If you have no great desire for matrimony, then I should bring our acquaintance to an end.”

  Catherine, thrilled at his words, lightly squeezed his hands. She could almost not believe what she was hearing. “Lord Kerr, thank you for being so forthright. I find it most refreshing. As most young ladies, I am thinking of my future and considering my situation. Matrimony is what I seek. You need not have any fear on that matter.” She smiled as his eyes warmed, his fingers tightening on hers.

  “I am very glad to hear it,” he murmured, letting go of her hands and turning to walk beside her once more. “You have made me very happy.”

  Not as happy as you have made me, Catherine thought to herself as they continued to walk towards Gunter’s. She felt as if she were walking on air, the most blessed lady who had ever walked these streets. How wonderful that Lord Kerr was so willing to share the truth of his intentions towards her so early in their acquaintance.

  She did not want to be toyed with, and, in speaking to her so, Lord Kerr had proven himself. Her estimation of his character and respect for the man himself grew immeasurably. Catherine was quite sure that her father and mother would be delighted with the prospect of having such a man for a son-in-law.

  ***

  Unfortunately, Catherine’s delight was to come to a swift end, for no sooner had they entered Gunter’s than she saw Lord Linton sitting at one of the tables. He was accompanied by a young lady, who was laughing softly at something he said. His eyes glittered as though he were a cat sitting by a bowl of cream. Her stomach turned over as she recalled how he had behaved towards her in the bookshop, her fingers tightening on Lord Kerr’s arm.

  “Shall we sit?” he asked, evidently unaware of her concern. “There is a slight bite to the wind this afternoon, I must admit.”

  She smiled tightly and gestured to a small table in the corner. She would have to walk past Lord Linton, but that could not be helped. Hopefully, he would ignore her entirely, given that he was so taken with the lady at his table.

  “Very well,” Lord Kerr replied, patting her hand. “Why do you not sit while I bring us a couple of ices?”

  Catherine had no choice but to leave him and walk alone towards the table. She kept her chin lifted and avoided eye contact with everyone, trying her best not to react at all as she walked past Lord Linton. Thankfully, he did not say a single word, did not try to rise to greet her or even call her name.

  Heaving a sigh of relief, Catherine quietly sat down at her table.

  Her eyes returned to Lord Kerr, who was about to order their delicious ices. Catherine sighed joyfully to herself, refusing to let the presence of Lord Linton disturb her happiness. The afternoon had gone wonderfully well thus far, and she was quite sure that Lord Kerr was going to be the most wonderful husband. Catherine had no doubt she would accept him, even though Alice’s warning about being too hasty nudged itself to the forefront of her mind.

/>   “I am not being too hasty,” she muttered to herself, carefully smoothing her skirts. “He is a good man, kind and considerate. Why should I not consider him?”

  She lifted her eyes to him once more, her heart almost skipping a beat when he smiled at her, bringing their ices over.

  “I thank you,” she murmured, aware that she was blushing furiously. “These look delicious.”

  “You are very welcome,” Lord Kerr said warmly. “Your friend asked to join us, but I am afraid I refused him. I do hope you do not mind.”

  “My friend?” Catherine repeated, frowning. “Who are you talking about?”

  “A Lord Linton?” he said, turning slightly so that Catherine could see him. “He came over to introduce himself as I was fetching the ices. I do hope you do not think me rude for refusing his company.”

  “Lord Linton introduced himself to you?” Catherine asked, fury building up in her chest. “I am terribly sorry, Lord Kerr. That was most uncommonly rude.”

  Lord Kerr lifted one shoulder. “I did not think so, not since he is so dear a friend of yours, but I confess I wanted to have you entirely to myself for a few minutes.” He smiled, and the anger instantly began to leave Catherine. “Was that so wrong of me?”

  “No, of course it was not,” Catherine murmured as a small smile began to overcome her lips. She frowned again, however, when she spoke her next words. “And Lord Linton is not a particular friend of mine. In fact, I would ask that you not go out of your way to become acquainted with him. I am doing everything in my power to avoid him at the moment.”

  Lord Kerr looked interested, his eyebrows lifting in surprise.

  “It is not of any great importance, I assure you,” Catherine insisted, wanting desperately to get off the subject of Lord Linton before she disclosed something she should not. “He and I used to be close friends, but I find that his recent behavior has pushed me quite far from him. I do not consider him a friend any longer.”

  “I see,” Lord Kerr murmured, glancing over at him. “Well, I must say I trust your judgement, my dear. We shall say no more about it and continue talking about some other matter, shall we?”

  Relieved, Catherine let out a slightly shaky laugh. “Yes, indeed. I would be glad to.”

  “And may I call on you again tomorrow?” Lord Kerr asked, briefly touching her hand with his. “Perhaps a walk in Hyde Park?”

  Catherine practically glowed with happiness, her anger at Lord Linton forgotten in a moment. “That would be wonderful,” she replied. “Thank you, Lord Kerr. I am already looking forward to it.”

  Chapter Five

  The following few weeks flew past in a blaze of sunshine, wonderful days, and private smiles shared between Catherine and Lord Kerr. He insisted that she call him Kerr, and given the intimacy growing between them, Catherine allowed him to simply call her Catherine, dropping the titles and propriety that came with new acquaintances.

  Alice had met the man on two separate occasions and duly given Catherine her assessment. Lord Kerr was very good—amiable, handsome, and kind, which Catherine could not help agreeing with. It was only when Alice asked her what his background was that Catherine became stumped. She did not know very much about that, which, of course, she blamed herself entirely for. Shame had crept over her as she had realized just how little she had asked Lord Kerr about his family or background. He was always so good at asking her such things and was rapt with attention whenever she answered.

  In regard to Lord Linton, Catherine was relieved to have seen very little of him lately. Lord Kerr had mentioned him on one more occasion, having met him at White’s, an exclusive gentlemen’s club, but he never came into their conversation again after that day. That was just as Catherine had wanted, and so she almost entirely forgot about him, entirely caught up in the whirlwind that came with Lord Kerr. Everything was going wonderfully well between them. Her parents approved, Alice thought well of him, and Catherine could not remember ever being so happy.

  ***

  “You are looking utterly breathtaking this evening, I must say!”

  Catherine blushed as she greeted Lord Kerr, curtsying carefully. “Really, Kerr, you are too kind.”

  “Not at all,” he replied at once, taking her dance card and jotting down his name. “It is quite right for me to express my feelings when it comes to you, my dear Catherine.”

  Butterflies burst into her stomach as he held out his arm for her, and together, they walked out onto the dance floor. Catherine held her head up proudly, knowing that there were already rumors about their ongoing attachment. She did not care for rumors at all, of course, even if there was some truth in them. Let the gossip mongers think what they liked. This was between herself and Lord Kerr, even if the rest of the ton were waiting with breathless anticipation for an engagement announcement to be made.

  “I have something to tell you,” Lord Kerr murmured as they danced.

  “Oh?” Catherine looked up to see an expression of frustration on his face, and, surprised by it, she frowned immediately. “Something is amiss, then?”

  Annoyed that they then had to wait for the next few dancers to take their steps before they could be reunited, Catherine continued to hold Lord Kerr’s gaze, aware of the expression on his face. It was not one of happiness nor excitement, but rather of vexation and disappointment.

  Once the dance was over, she hurried from the floor with Lord Kerr by her side, glancing up at him anxiously.

  “Here,” he muttered, leading her towards a small alcove a little away from the rest of the crowd. “At least we might speak a little more privately.”

  “You do look very put out,” Catherine nervously murmured as they stood together. “Whatever is it?”

  Lord Kerr let out a long, frustrated breath, shaking his head sadly. “I must return to the country.”

  Catherine’s heart sank like a stone. Of all the various possibilities she had imagined as the cause of his disappointed gaze, she had never considered this one. “When?” she asked, her eyes widening.

  “Tomorrow,” he answered, sighing heavily. “I did not think I would be required, but urgent business has come up.” He took her hand, careful not to let anyone see him do so. “I would take you with me if I could,” he continued fervently, “but alas, I think your parents would have something to say if I did so.”

  “And how long will you be away?” Catherine asked, hoping it would not be too long a parting.

  He shook his head. “I cannot say. It may be a few days; it may be a month.”

  “A month!” Catherine exclaimed, turning her head away in embarrassment as she saw others begin to look at her. “No, you cannot be serious.”

  Lord Kerr gently squeezed her hand. “I shall be as quick as I can, my dearest. I swear to you I do not wish to go, but I must.” His grim expression faded as he tried to smile. “I have to be responsible, at times.”

  Catherine’s heart ached at the thought of his leaving. “I suppose you must,” she replied dejectedly. “I shall miss you dreadfully.”

  “You will be the one thing that brings me back the moment my business is completed,” he promised, smiling sweetly at her. “I would not be torn from you unless it was absolutely necessary. Can you forgive me, my dear?”

  She managed a wobbly smile, her heart tearing asunder at the thought of his absence. “There is nothing to forgive. I shall endure, if I must, waiting for you to return to me.”

  To her very great surprise, Lord Kerr suddenly turned and, catching her hand, hurried her along the ballroom until they came to a door. He did not even look back as he pushed it open, pulling Catherine along with him. Finding themselves in a long hallway, Lord Kerr tried one door and then the next until he found one unlocked. Pushing it open and looking within, he stepped inside, slammed the door shut, and caught Catherine in his arms.

  His mouth descended on hers with a hunger that took her breath away. Her heart exploded in her chest. Lord Kerr kissed her with such a great longing and passion that
Catherine thought she might melt right there in his embrace. Her body burned with heat, her arms tangling around his neck as he angled his head to deepen his kiss. Everything came alive at once, the very air seeming to sparkle around them.

  At length, he tore his mouth from hers and rested his forehead against her own, breathing heavily.

  “I hope that will assure you of my deep and abiding affection for you whilst I am gone,” Lord Kerr whispered, making her skin prickle with anticipation. “There is no one but you, Catherine. I swear it.”

  His lips pressed to hers once more, this time with a greater gentleness than before. Catherine sighed against him, pressing her hands against the firm planes of his chest. There was no doubt she would remember him after this!

  “I had best return to the ballroom,” he said after a few moments. “Shall you precede me or come after?”

  Catherine let out a somewhat breathless laugh. “Come after you, I think. I need a little longer to compose myself.”

  He chuckled and pressed one tender kiss to her cheek. “Do not be too long, my dear. I do not wish to miss our second dance.”

  “Of course not,” Catherine replied, smiling to herself as he walked from the room and left her alone.

  After Catherine had managed to compose herself somewhat, she stepped from the room, firmly pulling the door closed behind her.

  “Well, well!”

  Catherine jumped in surprise, turning to see none other than Lord Linton standing idly against the wall, his arms folded and one eyebrow lifted. Her cheeks flamed, but she gazed back at him as calmly as she could.

  “Linton,” she said, “this is none of your business.”

  He did not smile. “I saw Lord Kerr leaving some moments ago and I simply had to see who he had left within. I did not imagine for one moment that it would be you.”

 
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