Read an Excerpt
The Earl's Return
A Marriage Mart Mayhem Novel
By Callie Hutton, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Callie Hutton
All rights reserved.
London, April, 1819
Darius, Earl of Redgrave, slumped in the corner of his well-sprung carriage, the fingertips of his left hand tapping a cadence on his thigh. The vehicle rumbled over slick cobblestones, the familiar clopping of the horses soothing him as he glanced out at the moonlit night and questioned for the hundredth time why the devil he was doing this. He fought the urge to tap on the ceiling of the carriage and instruct his driver to return home.
I need an heir.
It was simple, and yet complicated at the same time.
With the requisite year of mourning for his wife behind him, and the dreadful three-year marriage before that, it was time to put all of that ugliness behind him and do what was necessary to secure his title.
I need an heir.
Knowing his first appearance in Society was inevitable if he were to find a bride, he'd accepted the invitation to Lord and Lady Remington's ball. Since his return to London three weeks ago, he had visited two of his clubs, renewing acquaintances and catching up on ton gossip. Thankfully, his four-year-old scandal had been relegated to the no-longer-of-interest category.
And apparently, word had spread rather quickly that the notorious Lord Redgrave had returned. After only a week, the invitations had begun pouring in from determined, marriage-minded mamas.
The few comments he'd picked up at White's indicated that merely a few weeks after he and Lady Priscilla had made their way to Gretna Green four years ago, the Duke of Manchester's sister, Lady Abigail, had quickly and quietly married Mr. Joseph Fox, a rector in Addysby End. His stomach churned with guilt, just as it always did when he thought of his former fiancée. And what he'd done to her, and her reputation, by abandoning her for another woman two weeks before their planned wedding.
Due to the guilt he'd suffered because of his actions, he'd insisted he and Priscilla remain at his country estate, Redgrave Manor, for the duration of their ill-fated marriage. Despite his previous love of Town, now he viewed his return to London as a necessary evil, certainly not with the same enthusiasm he'd enjoyed for the Seasons and all that it had entailed before his shocking elopement.
His ruminations ended as the carriage came to a halt. He climbed down and gazed up at the well-lit townhouse. Passengers alighted from carriages, and hundreds of candles — from the ballroom windows and torches outside the house — cast a warm glow over the ladies and their sparkling gowns and turbans. And the jewels, he thought wryly. Always the jewels.
Had he really changed so much? His clubs had left him feeling empty, the thought of hobnobbing with the Quality unappealing, and the chance of running into Manchester or one of the duke's many sisters made him uneasy. But he had no choice.
I need an heir.
He joined the queue as it meandered up the path, to the stairs, and into the house. The woman in front of him, an older woman, hanging on the arm of a man half her age, turned and gasped when she regarded him. She quickly leaned toward the man and whispered.
And so it begins.
He handed his cape and hat to the butler, along with his invitation. As he reached the top of the stairs, the butler announced his name.
Heads turned. Eyebrows rose. Women huddled together and murmured behind their painted fans. Redgrave made his way down the stairs and headed to the group of men keeping the houseplants company while they swilled champagne.
"Redgrave." Lord Bittner nodded in his direction. "I see you finally decided to stop hiding in the country."
Redgrave snatched a glass from the tray a footman held out and took a gulp. "Indeed. I wish I could say I missed all this" — he waved at the crowd with his glass — "but I must admit the peace and tranquility of the country appealed."
"Ho. Listen to this," Lord Dumont roared. "The man-about-town has turned into a country mouse."
"Hardly. I just prefer breathable air and room to move around."
"One of them might be here tonight," Lord Spencer leaned in and spoke quietly, a whiff of something stronger than champagne on his breath.
Redgrave stiffened. "Who?"
"Manchester's last sister. Lady Mary. The only unmarried one. The girl usually attends these things."
His eyebrows rose. "The others are all married?"
Dumont placed his empty glass on a small table alongside them. "Two of them — the twins — married Highlanders. Lady Marion's husband came back from the dead, and, well, I guess you heard about Lady Abigail."
Redgrave tried his best to avoid any type of reaction, but it was impossible. His face flushed. "Yes, I am aware of her marriage, and am quite happy for her. I can easily see her as a rector's wife, performing good deeds."
"Something she never would have done had she married you, eh?" Spencer slapped him on the back. Yes, he had changed considerably. Spencer was correct. When he had been betrothed to Lady Abigail, he had looked forward to a typical ton marriage. The balls, theater, dinner parties and such in London, before retiring to the country for hunts and holiday events.
Having been stuck in the country with a woman he had grown to despise had changed him — hopefully for the better. Although Lady Priscilla had been forced upon him, he had planned to make the best of it. Unfortunately, with Priscilla, there had been no best.
Hell, there hadn't even been a better.
Shoving those thoughts from his mind, he leaned one shoulder against the wall and gazed around the room, assessing the latest group of young ladies. And were they young! Or had he gotten so very old? One woman caught his eye. A lemon-yellow gown with a bodice low enough to tantalize, but not scandalize. She was dancing a quadrille, the liveliness of her steps and the bright smile on her face mesmerizing.
She appeared to be older than the other girls: most likely a few Seasons to her credit. The silky, light brown curls that were piled on top of her head were beginning to slip from her carefully styled coiffure. Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks flushed as she grinned at her partner when they joined hands, switched places, and continued on with the dance. Redgrave found himself smiling for the first time in many months.
Once more his eyes roamed over the crowd. After his four-year absence, he recognized most of the older guests, but all the young pups and debutantes were, for the most part, unknown to him. Although the young lady in the yellow gown did look a bit familiar. His attention drifted back to her. If he were to achieve what he had intended when he'd decided to reopen Redgrave House, he would best be about it and ask for introductions.
I need an heir.
The dance ended and the panting dancers made their way to the refreshment table, or headed toward the French windows to stroll on the patio and in the gardens below. The young lady with the yellow gown shook her head at her partner, gave a quick curtsy, then crossed the ballroom to join three other young ladies. One of the chits in the group was Miss Edgeworth, the younger sister of James Edgeworth, whom he'd been quite friendly with at Eton.
With determination in his step, Redgrave spanned the ballroom, halted a few times by both the curious and those who offered their condolences on his wife's passing the previous year. He graciously accepted their commiserations and continued on his way.
As he approached Miss Edgeworth and her little group, the girl's eyes grew wide and she began to furiously fan her face. The young lady was distinctly uncomfortable, but since he'd seen all sorts of reaction to his presence, he shrugged it off.
"Good evening, Miss Edgeworth, you are looking quite lovely." He bowed to her curtsy, noticing her decided nervousness.
He glanced at the beauty in the yellow gown, but spoke to Miss Edgeworth. "May I have the pleasure of being made known to your friends?"
The three girls in her company all studied him with curiosity. He knew none of them, but they were very young, fresh out of the schoolroom, he would guess. Except Miss Yellow Gown. On closer inspection, she must be into her twenties. Her half smile as she regarded him brought a sparkle to her eyes.
"Ah, yes, my lord. Of course." Worrying her lower lip, Miss Edgeworth turned to the girls on her left. "This is Lady Catherine and Miss Elizabeth Stanton." She stopped and then turned to Miss Yellow Gown. "And this is Lady Mary."
Bells went off in his head and he drew in a quick breath as the girl smiled at him. Then Miss Edgeworth continued. "Ladies, may I make known to you ... the Earl of Redgrave."
Lady Mary stopped mid-curtsy and gasped. Her gloved fingers flew to her mouth, and she stepped back. "Lord Redgrave?"
"Yes, my lady."
She drew herself up and glared at him with a look that would freeze a summer lake. Her mouth moved as if she wanted to say something, but then she merely turned her back and walked away, giving him the cut direct.
* * *
Mary moved as quickly as possible away from that horrible man. How dare he show his face here? Why had he even been invited? The man was a cad, a scoundrel, a ... a ... Well, there simply were not enough awful words to describe the despicable creature.
He had run out on Abigail two weeks before their wedding, leaving her poor sister in disgrace and the rest of them under a cloud of scandal. Now, he'd returned and acted as though everything was just fine and dandy?
Lady Susan, Mary's best friend, had told her last year that Lady Redgrave had died in childbirth, along with the babe. Despite what had been done to her sister, she had felt sorry for any young woman who didn't get to live a full life
As she made her way through the crowd, she chastised herself for her initial reaction to Lord Redgrave. As he'd approached them, she'd seen a handsome, well-dressed gentleman. His deep blue eyes had settled on her the minute he joined their group. She'd felt a slight jolt when he'd smiled in her direction.
Now she realized it was probably a warning to stay far, far away from the man.
A walk in the garden was probably in order. Her mother, the Dowager Duchess of Manchester, was playing cards, but there was no need to disturb her. She was certainly old enough to step outside without a chaperone. At three and twenty, and in her sixth Season, she had more freedom than the young misses just arriving for their first year.
She sighed as she exited the ballroom and stepped onto the patio. Indeed, she was very close to being considered "on the shelf." A slight fluttering of anxiety returned, as it always did when she thought of marriage and all that it entailed. Like most women of her station, she had spent her childhood preparing for marriage, a home of her own to manage, and children to raise. But, unless she got over the fears she had been left with after her poor decision two years ago, that future would never be hers.
Mary took in a deep breath of the cool evening air. Couples took leisurely walks, mumbled conversations drifting in the air. She took the few steps from the patio area to the garden. Fortunately, the moon cast enough light that she could see her way clear. Partway down the path through the rose garden she stopped and settled on a stone bench under a crab apple tree. She tried to ignore the giggles and hushed words from couples walking along.
Will I forever be alone? Cast into the role of doting aunt, treasured daughter, dearest sister? The thought saddened her. She loved her mother and adored all her nieces and nephews, but she wanted her own life. A life to share with her true love. Deep in thought, she never saw the man approach until he sat alongside her on the bench.
"My lord." She nodded at Lord Bentworth. Uncomfortable with his nearness, she moved slightly to her right, her body stiffening. Bentworth was not a man of whom she was particularly fond. A substantial imbiber of spirits, a Libertine, and a heavy gambler, she avoided him whenever possible. Now she was stuck with his presence. Fool her, to wander the garden alone.
"'Tis a shame for a lovely young lady such as yourself to be all alone in a moonlit garden." His breath reeked of strong liquor, causing her to lean even farther away. She took in deep breaths, trying to calm her thumping heart.
"Actually, I was about to return to the ballroom, if you will excuse me." She made to get up, but he placed his hand on hers.
"Don't be in such a hurry, my lady. Let us enjoy a bit of air and conversation. There is certainly no need to rush." He gave her a crooked smile that she imagined he thought was a seductive look, but it merely turned her stomach.
"I think not, my lord. Please unhand me. I feel a bit of a headache coming on." She slid her hand out from under his and stood. "I wish you good evening."
He reached out and grabbed her wrist, holding firm. "All I ask is for a little bit of your time. Or do you think a duke's sister is too far above me?"
"I believe I heard the lady say she wished to return to the ballroom. Let her go." The deep voice had both of them turning toward the man emerging from the shadows. Bentworth released his grip, and Mary pulled her wrist free and rubbed it.
"Redgrave," Bentworth said as he stood. "You scared the devil out of me, man. What are you doing creeping around the garden?"
"I don't think of myself as creeping, but merely taking a stroll." He turned toward Mary. "My lady. May I escort you back to the ballroom?"
"Now see here, Redgrave. Lady Mary and I were having a pleasant conversation until you pushed your way in."
Redgrave's lips tightened. "Pleasant? I think not. It appeared to me the lady believed your conversation had come to an end." He extended his elbow. "Lady Mary?"
All she wanted to do at this point was leave both men, find her mother, and depart. She truly was feeling the beginnings of a headache. The thought of Redgrave being her savior didn't sit well. "That is not necessary, my lord. I can find my way back."
She moved to go around him, but he took her by the elbow. "Nevertheless, I will see you to the patio." Redgrave nodded at Bentworth. "Good night."
Mary pulled her elbow free and started toward the house. Redgrave fell in alongside her as she turned to him. "Please leave me alone, my lord. I neither need nor want your escort."
"I understand, and I have no intention of annoying you with my company for any length of time. But given what I've just witnessed, I do not feel comfortable leaving you to your own resources until you are in the ballroom."
"I have no problem taking care of myself. I didn't require your interference." She hurried her footsteps, but Redgrave's long legs kept up with her.
They reached the steps leading to the patio and, in her haste, she stumbled, forcing him to grab her elbow once again. "Lady Mary, I must apologize for my 'interference', as you put it, but good manners required I not leave you in that position."
"Indeed? And where were those good manners four years ago? Or perhaps in your rule book, abandoning your betrothed a few weeks before the wedding to run off with another woman is acceptable? Perhaps we learned from a different set of rules."
He released her elbow and left his hand dangling at his side.
Instead of hurrying off, which is what she certainly should have done, she smoothed her hair back and raised her chin. "Lord Redgrave, I would appreciate you not speaking to me ever again. Your actions devastated my sister, cast a shadow of scandal over my other sisters and myself, and gave my dear mother many sleepless nights.
"I am sure you care nothing for the havoc your actions wrought, and frankly, I do not see why you have returned to London as if you have the right to do so." She stepped back, her hands fisted at her sides. "Now I will bid you good night. And good-bye." Spinning on her heel, she pulled open the door, almost flinging poor Lady Ambrose to the floor as she rushed past her.
Her heart pounding, causing her head to do the same, she wended her way through the dancers until she reached the card room. She attempted to calm herself as she studied the players for a moment until she spotted her mother.
Excerpted from The Earl's Return by Callie Hutton, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2016 Callie Hutton. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.