Unexpected Earl, page 7part #1 of Hearts and Ever Afters Series
“There should be no more callers now,” Lady Hewson said. No sooner had she finished speaking, though, than another scratch came to the door. “It is almost six o’clock!”
“I am sure we can refuse them, Mama,” Catherine told her after calling the butler to enter. “We will simply say we are no longer at home.”
The butler entered the room, and much to Catherine’s surprise, he did not hand her mother a calling card but rather held out a small tray with a note for Catherine. She took it at once with a murmur of thanks, wondering who it might be that had written to her.
“Is it from Lord Kerr?” her mother asked.
Catherine looked up at her mother’s question, holding the letter in her hand still. “I hope so, Mama,” she responded. “Might you excuse me so I can read this alone?”
Her mother’s expression softened. “But of course, my dear. I believe our morning calls to be at an end, regardless, so I shall take my leave of you and rest for a time before dinner.” She rose, dropped a light kiss on Catherine’s cheek, and left the room.
Catherine stared down at the letter in her hands, her heart turning over as she broke the wax seal. For whatever reason, there was no mark pressed into the wax, leaving no indication as to who could have written the letter. She had to hope it was Lord Kerr, for Catherine still had not heard from him, which had left her with a growing anxiety over his lack of correspondence.
“It has to be from him,” she murmured to herself as a flurry of excitement flooded her veins. She smoothed out the letter and, getting to her feet, walked to the window in order to see it a little better.
““My dear Kitty,’” she read aloud, her heart sinking into her toes as she realized the letter was from Lord Linton, and not from Lord Kerr. ““I am writing to inform you that I have received a reply from Lord Kerr. Might I call upon you at your earliest convenience to discuss the matter? Yours, Linton.’”
Catherine’s heart thumped wildly in her chest as she read and re-read the letter, not sure what it meant. Had Linton received a reply that he disliked? Had Lord Kerr proved his worth, as she had expected him to? She could not tell.
Glancing at the clock, Catherine realized that it was much too late to go calling on him now, even though she was almost desperate to hear what had passed between both them. She would write back at once and tell him to come tomorrow at his earliest convenience. Frustration rattled through her as she set off in search of parchment.
The following morning, Catherine was awake before dawn, pacing up and down her room in a state of nervous anticipation. Lord Linton had not replied to her letter, but she fully expected him to appear soon after breakfast. It was not as though he would wait for the proper time in which to call, given that he was not exactly a stickler for propriety. Besides, she had expressly instructed him to call as soon as he could, assuring him she would be quite ready to greet him.
However, given that the sun had only just begun to rise, Catherine did not think that he would appear any time soon.
Sitting down by the fire, she rubbed her arms to ward off the morning chill, stifling a yawn as she did so. The truth was, she had spent the night tossing and turning, worrying about Lord Kerr’s response. Although she tried to convince herself he was honorable, she could not be completely sure about his intentions.
He had not written to her as he had promised. She had been unable to correspond with him because she had no idea where to send the letter, and she had been anxiously waiting with each passing day for his letter to arrive. But to know now that he had written to Lord Linton and not to her struck fear into her heart. Even if he was unwilling to continue their association after all that had gone on, she did not want to believe he had accepted Lord Linton’s offer.
Her stomach churned with unease and anxiety as she got to her feet to ring the bell, ready for her breakfast tray. She was not particularly hungry, but it was probably best to eat something, no matter how small. It might stop her from feeling so ill.
Chewing on her bottom lip, Catherine tried to settle her mind and her heart. She had to believe in Lord Kerr. Mayhap he had written to her, but his letter was delayed somehow. Perhaps, after receiving Lord Linton’s note, he had wanted to respond to him first, furious that Linton could even suggest such a thing! Or, maybe, he had been so caught up in the business of his estate that he had simply forgotten he was to write to her.
“Yes, I am sure that is it,” Catherine said to herself, quelling her growing anxiety. “All will be well, I am quite sure.”
Some hours later, Catherine was still feeling as nervous as ever, even though she had given herself a stern talking to. There was still no sign of Lord Linton, and she began to wonder if he was likely to appear at all. Maybe he was going to leave her waiting, prolonging the torture for no other reason than to frustrate her.
Perhaps she should go and do something else in order to prevent her from thinking only about what Linton had to say. It might help her anxiety if she played the pianoforte or attempted to read a book. Getting to her feet, Catherine brushed down her skirts, only for the door to open as the butler walked in.
“Lord Linton, Miss Hewson,” he said, directing a questioning look at her.
“Yes, yes,” Catherine said hurriedly. “Send him in at once.”
“Of course.” The butler bowed, and after asking if she wanted a tea tray, swiftly left the room, leaving Lord Linton to enter.
Catherine could hardly speak, such were her trembling nerves. She looked up at him as he stepped inside the room, trying her best to keep her gaze direct.
“Kitty.” Linton smiled, sitting down opposite her. “You look well.”
“I do not have time for trivialities,” Catherine bit out, already frustrated with him. “You know quite well that I have been anxiously waiting to hear from you.”
His expression grew sympathetic. “I am aware of that, yes.”
“And yet you sit here and expect me to be able to have a calm conversation with you?” she asked, growing angrier with each passing second. “Just get it over with, if you please. I cannot bear the anticipation any longer!”
He gave her a rueful smile. “I was aware that you would have a great many callers, and I am sorry for that, but at least now we can put this whole thing to an end.”
Clearing his throat, Linton pulled out a few letters from his pocket and set the first one aside. “Here is the first letter that I wrote to Lord Kerr. It is a copy, of course, but an exact one.” He lifted one eyebrow. “Would you like me to read it to you?”
Catherine nodded, her fingers twisting in her lap as she waited. She could hardly breathe, her anxiety rising with each breath she took.
Lord Kerr cleared his throat. “It reads as follows: ‘Kerr, I am writing to explain my reasons for the article in the newspaper recently, announcing my engagement to Miss Catherine Hewson. I will not apologize for doing so, and you should not expect such a thing from me. If I am to be truthful, I would do the same thing again if I had to, for Kitty is my dear friend, and I would be lying if I did not admit that I cared for her a great deal.’”
He glanced up at Catherine, who found she could say nothing, her throat constricting and her heart hammering. She did not believe that Lord Linton truly cared for her, even though his expression was most sincere. She had seen him use that expression in order to get what he wanted in the past.
Lord Linton looked at her for another moment before continuing, his voice a little softer than before.
“‘I believe that I would make Kitty very happy, although she is not likely to forgive me any time soon for my actions of late. In addition, I know of your current financial circumstances and the difficulties you have endured, although I will not lecture you on the misappropriation of funds through gambling and the like. However, I would ask that you relinquish your association with Miss Hewson and allow me to take your place. In recompense, I will pay the largest of your debts without question, hel
There was a short pause, and Catherine struggled not to cry, feeling hot tears press against her lids. She did not want to let him know just how upset she was on hearing herself traded in such a way.
“‘Do let me know of your decision as soon as you are able,’” Lord Linton finished, his eyes lifting to meet hers. “And that is all I wrote.”
“And you received a reply,” Catherine stated, hating that her voice was so thin and weak. “When did it appear?”
“I received it only yesterday, and I wrote to you at once,” he answered, looking at her with something akin to sympathy, as though he was expecting her to be grievously upset. “Are you sure you want to hear his response? I know Lord Kerr himself will be writing to you very soon, regardless of this.” He held up the other note.
“Yes,” Catherine replied firmly. “Yes, I want to hear the reply.”
“You still have faith in him?”
She lifted her chin. “Of course I do,” she said, far too aware that her voice was wobbling. “You are doing this to tease me, my lord, to try and make it appear as though I have something to worry about when I know that I do not.” Catherine could not help but admit to herself that the fear she felt in her heart was growing steadily.
Lord Linton cleared his throat gruffly, shaking out the second letter. “This is in his hand, and you may check it afterwards if you wish.” He glanced at her, his expression grave. “In fact, you may do whatever you wish after you hear this, to prove to yourself the correspondence is genuine.”
“Just read it, please,” Catherine begged, her voice now an anguished whisper. “Do not torment me so.”
Lord Linton eyed her for a moment longer before turning his attention back to the paper. “‘Lord Linton,’” he began, “‘I do not know where you have heard such news about my financial affairs, nor am I in any way pleased about what you put in the newspaper about my dear Catherine.’”
Catherine’s breath came out in a whoosh of relief, her body practically bursting to life again. “I knew it,” she said, her delight overflowing. “I knew he would not betray me so!”
Lord Linton held up one hand, a silent gesture to ask her to wait. Catherine sank back into her chair, her happiness slowly evaporating as he continued.
“‘However,’” Linton went on, “‘I will not pretend that paying off my largest debt would not be precisely what I need to pull me from the mire I find myself sinking into. I have enclosed the details. Once you have paid the sum, I will write to Miss Hewson myself, informing her of my change of heart. You need not change the notice in the paper, it seems, and I can no longer threaten to call you out. However, if this information becomes known throughout society, I will have no hesitation in throwing the blame for it on you. I do not want to be a laughing stock. Yours…’” Lord Linton looked up at her. “Well, you know the rest.”
Catherine sat frozen in her chair, her blood slowly turning to ice in her veins. Could it really be true? Had Lord Kerr truly chosen wealth and payment of debts over her? Had he never really cared for her in the first instance, had never once held the deep affection he had tried his best to make so apparent?
“Kitty,” Linton said softly, coming over to sit by her. He took her cold hand and wrapped another arm around her shoulder, trying his best to look into her eyes. “Are you all right?”
“No,” Catherine whispered, sobs beginning to shake her form as she spoke through the tears falling down her cheeks. “No, I am not all right. I do not think anything will be right ever again.”
The very same afternoon, Catherine received a letter from Lord Kerr. The maid brought it to her, but Catherine could find no happiness in its appearance. She knew what it held. Instead, she sent for yet another tea tray and sat quietly in the drawing room, simply looking down at the letter in her hand.
Lord Linton had left her soon after his revelation, aware that he had caused her a great deal of anguish. Catherine had wanted to be left alone, and had refused his request to stay longer and comfort her. She found that she was growing cold and weary from his presence.
However, being alone had not exactly brought her any relief. Instead, it had only intensified, making her heart ache with such a terrible pain that she thought her very soul might break in two. She had wept countless tears, her shoulders shaking as she gave into the grief she felt, growing angry at times over how abysmally Lord Kerr had treated her.
Then she would become upset with herself for her foolishness, her belief in Lord Kerr and the words of affection he had spoken to her. Catherine railed at herself for thinking that he had meant every word he had said, for not even being cautious when it came to giving him her heart. Slowly, her tears had abated, and she had sat quietly, wrapped in a shroud of heartache and sorrow.
Now, as she finally opened the note, his words seemed dull and devoid of emotion. He told her, in no uncertain terms, that there was no longer any connection between them. His reasons made no sense whatsoever, for he stated that since returning to his estate, he had realized that the number of responsibilities he had entirely overwhelmed his desire for affection and love and a life in matrimony. Therefore, he had chosen not to seek out a wife at this present time. In a way, Catherine was relieved that Lord Linton had come to her first, to soften the blow that was Lord Kerr’s letter.
“It is as if I never knew him,” she murmured to herself, getting up only to throw the letter onto the fire.
The door opened, and her maid set the tea tray in front of her before the maid went away. There Catherine sat, the hours drifting away as she became lost in her sadness and pain. The maid came to light the lamps and to set a dinner tray by her, and still she sat, refusing all company—including her mother’s. Her hope of matrimony to a loving and kind man was gone entirely, and in its place now was a simple acceptance that she was to marry Lord Linton.
If only she had never made such an agreement. She might now be free of him, be free of all gentlemen. There would be no requirement for her to marry. She could live her life as an old maid, relying on friends and family for company and friendship until she died, entirely alone. That seemed a good option at the present, but the sensible part of Catherine’s mind told her that she would not live happily that way for long.
She wanted a home of her own. She wanted children. But she could not risk seeking out the affections of another gentleman without being sure of his intentions. The pain was too great.
Mayhap marrying Lord Linton was a good thing. She could marry without love, knowing exactly who he was, and he knew her just as well. After all, they had been friends for a long time, even though she had pulled herself away from him of late. She would be in the position to bargain with him, to demand that he change some of his habits so as not to bring shame and embarrassment to the family.
Catherine could not help but think just how much Lord Linton had proven his kindness to her, despite the odd way he had gone about it. He had wanted to show her that Lord Kerr was not the man she had thought, and he had indeed managed to do so, but in such a way as to secure her hand for himself.
That had been clever of him, though Catherine knew that when he told her he cared about her, that sentiment had been genuine. It had been written all over his face, although she had chosen to ignore it. His eyes were sympathetic and kind.
What lengths he had gone to in order to save her from an imprudent marriage. And now, since he had been proven correct, he was to give a great deal of money to Lord Kerr to pay off one of his debts. As far as she was concerned, Lord Linton did not have to honor his word, given how much of a rogue Lord Kerr had turned out to be, but she had no doubt that Lord Linton would do just as he had said.
At least she knew he could be honest when he tried.
Jerking from her seat, Catherine turned to see her mother framed in the doorway, looking respl
“I thank you,” Lady Hewson replied, coming into the room and looking at Catherine with some concern. “You were meant to be joining us this evening, dear.”
Catherine frowned, unable to recall what it was she was meant to be attending.
“The ball?” her mother continued after a short pause. “Lord and Lady Haye’s ball?”
“Oh, yes,” Catherine murmured, looking away from her mother. “Forgive me, Mama, I have something of a headache. I shall probably retire early.”
Her mother worriedly looked down at her. “My maid tells me you have been sitting here almost all day,” she said softly. “Are you sure it is only a headache?”
“Quite sure,” Catherine answered in a rush. “Have a good evening, Mama, and do give my apologies to Lady Haye.”
Her mother touched her hand briefly, an unspoken concern written across her features. Inwardly, Catherine willed her to go, hoping that she would be left in peace once more. She did not want to speak to her mother about what had happened, finding the wound too fresh, too painful to discuss.
“Very well,” Lady Hewson murmured after a few quiet minutes had passed. “I want you to know you can always come to me, Catherine. Do not carry burdens alone—it is not good for you.”
A lump lodged itself in Catherine’s throat as she looked up at her mother, trying her best to give her a bright smile. Her mother patted her hand gently before leaving the room. Catherine let out a sigh of relief.
She welcomed the quiet and the darkness. Her pain and hurt wrapped around her heart, burying her in it. Catherine went willingly, letting it shroud her very soul. Her entire future had been shattered in a moment, her hopes gone entirely. How was she to emerge from this?
Catherine remained where she was, not moving or having any desire to do anything else but sit quietly, staring into the fire that burned and crackled in the grate. The door opened, and—thinking it was the maid—Catherine neither moved nor spoke.
JOYCE ALEC SERIES:
Other author's books:
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