Caroline is about to embark on her third Season and her parents fear she’ll be permanently on the shelf if she fails to make a match this time. Unfortunately for them, that is precisely what Caroline wants! Curious and adventuresome, Caroline longs for a life of travel, excitement, and perhaps even a touch of danger . . .
If only she can remain unmarried until she turns twenty-one, Caroline will inherit her grandmother’s bequest and gain her freedom. It’s not a staggering amount, but it’s enough to fund her dreams without a husband’s permission. She has her future all planned out—until Lawrence Sinclair appears on the scene . . .
Intense, intriguing, and handsome, the man reminds Caroline of a caged lion. In fact, the more she knows of him, the more questions she has. And when she learns how dangerous he really is, he may just become her new fascination—the one she can’t resist . . .
“Mia Marlowe is the mistress of saucy historical romances.”
“Mia Marlowe is a rising star!”
—New York Times Bestseller Connie Mason
“Mia Marlowe proves she has the ‘touch’ for strong heroines, wickedly sexy heroes!”
—Jennifer Ashley, USA Today bestselling author of Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage
“Her three-dimensional characters truly steal reader's hearts and keep the pages flying.”
“A delightful Regency romance, full of passion, humor, and love.”
—USA Today Bestselling Author Ella Quinn
Read an Excerpt
Is there a more alluring sight in all the world than the sun rising over an unknown sea?
— from the diary of Lady Caroline Lovell, only daughter of the Earl of Chatham, who has never in her life set foot on a watercraft larger than a rowboat.
London, The Ides of March 1818
"And then, because Lord Ware arrived late," Horatia Englewood said, pausing for effect, "Lady Jersey ordered him to remove from the premises forthwith." When this bit of information was met with a shocked gasp from Frederica Tilbury, Horatia added, "Politely, of course."
The breath of minor scandal was almost enough to pull Caroline away from the parlor window and back into her friends' gossipy patter. But there were so many carriages moving past her family's town house in St. James Square, she couldn't look away. It was too delicious to imagine where they might be going.
Granted, most of the travelers were bound for parlors just like hers, where dainties would be offered, both in the form of petit fours and in juicy tidbits about the ton. It was the time of day reserved for calls, after all, and Polite Society lived to see and be seen.
But surely some of the carriages rolling by were headed for the docks. And perhaps a fortunate few of the passengers would board ships.
Bound for far off Zanzibar or Madagascar or ... some other exotic place that ends in — ar. The colors are brighter there, I'll be bound, and even birdsong must sound deliciously mysterious. Best of all, when I went to the beach, I'd feel warm sand beneath my feet instead of horrid pebbles like those at Brighton.
Caroline sighed, wiggling her toes inside her slippers, daydreaming about how that foreign sand must feel. She squeezed her eyes shut and, for a heartbeat or two, she actually thought she felt a soft breeze drift past her.
When she opened her eyes, the gossamer curtains were swaying a bit. One of the parlor windows had not been locked down tight when the maids dusted last.
Caroline sighed again, wishing it was a trade wind that caressed her cheek. Her imagination was always more interesting than what was actually happening around her.
However, her friend Frederica, who, it must be admitted, did not suffer from an abundance of imagination, was riveted by Horatia's story about Lord Ware. The girl giggled loudly over the tale, mostly out of nervousness.
It was a bad habit from which Caroline was trying to wean her. Freddie was pretty enough, and her dowry several notches above adequate, but more than a few young bucks might scamper away from her giggle.
"Surely Lady Jersey never did such a thing," Frederica said, her words tumbling over each other instead of flowing gently in a calm, ladylike stream. It was yet another thing Caroline was trying to improve about her friend. The rapid delivery betrayed a lack of confidence, Caroline insisted. When she took time to think about it, Frederica was making some progress, but when excited, dear Freddie reverted to her jackrabbit manner of speaking. Now she rattled on. "Not even a Lady Patroness would dare turn Lord Ware away from Almack's. Indeed, she wouldn't. Surely."
"Oh, yes, indeed she did. Surely." Horatia straightened her spine to ramrod uprightness. Then she looked down her nose in a surprisingly good imitation of Lady Jersey at her imperious best. "She said, 'If we turned away the Duke of Wellington for neglecting to honor the rules of dress, do not think for one moment we will not refuse to admit you, Lord Ware, when you have the temerity to arrive late to supper.'"
"Not that supper at Almack's inspires punctuality," Caroline murmured. To call the meager refreshments served promptly at eleven supper was charitable in the extreme. The weak punch and thinly sliced bread were famous for their awfulness.
"Still," Frederica said with a shiver, "imagine having the courage to snub Lord Ware?"
"Oh, Freddie, you little goose. Lady Jersey doesn't need courage. She has the rules on her side." Horatia raised her teacup and sipped delicately, pinky properly out.
She was right. Lady Jersey had the power of revoking Lord Ware's voucher to Almack's permanently. It was acceptable not to have that coveted ticket because one had not applied for a voucher. It was quite another thing to have been awarded one and then have it stripped away for behavior judged to be common. No matter how wealthy, how influential, or how important the Earl of Ware might be in the House of Lords, Lady Jersey wielded an even heavier club in Polite Society.
Frederica shivered again.
Like a wren fluffing its feathers. There's another thing I need to correct before the Season starts in earnest.
Carriage traffic had dwindled, so Caroline left the window and rejoined her friends. She settled into the Sheridan chair opposite the settee and helped herself to a biscuit. "Horatia, tell me. Did you see this astonishing exchange between Lady Jersey and Lord Ware with your own eyes?"
Her friend's lips pursed into a disgruntled moue. "Well, no, but — "
"Then, may I ask how you happened upon this extraordinary bit of intelligence?"
"You see, my cousin Violet's bosom friend, Amelia, heard it from — "
"So neither your cousin nor her bosom friend witnessed Lord Ware's humiliation?"
"You didn't let me finish," Horatia complained. "Amelia got it straight from her Aunt Harriet, whom she swears is the soul of discretion. And Amelia's aunt heard about the incident from Miss Penelope Braithwaite, who was there."
"Penelope Braithwaite," Caroline cast about through the myriad of introductions she'd suffered through during the last two Seasons, trying to remember the young lady.
"I believe she sings," Freddie prompted. "Didn't we attend one of her recitals?"
Suffered through one almost escaped Caroline's lips, but she held it back. Her dear mother always warned that speaking ill of others was a prayer to the devil. Caroline wasn't sure she believed it, but it didn't do to take chances.
"Oh, yes, now I remember," Caroline said. "You and I have heard her perform, Freddie."
"As have I, but only once," Horatia said with a snicker. "She abused the Mozart 'Alleluia' with such gusto, one hearing was more than enough." Horatia shook her head. "And she fancies herself a lyric soprano."
"Why, yes, I believe she does," Freddie said agreeably.
Dear Freddie. If Horatia said Miss Braithwaite fancied herself a trained chimpanzee in a Parisian frock, you'd nod and agree.
Caroline recommitted herself to shepherding her suggestible friend through the coming Season. She had no doubt fair-haired Frederica would turn heads. She was as pale and dimpled as the prevailing standards of beauty required. But fashionably pretty girls possessed of large dowries and small imaginations might fall prey to all manner of deception.
It was no trouble for her to guard Frederica's interests. After all, this would be Caroline's third Season. She was plainly on the shelf and not likely to be plucked down from it. Not since she'd turned down half a dozen proposals and avoided a few more by tactfully discouraging her admirers.
Which upset her parents no end, but suited her just fine. The sooner they realized she was unmarriageable, the sooner she'd be on her way to being her own mistress. Once she reached the magical age of twenty-one, she'd have access to the minor fortune bequeathed to her by her grandmother. Alas! She lacked another year before she attained that great age.
Then Zanzibar, here I come! But for now, back to the question of Lord Ware and Lady Jersey ...
"Do you really believe Lady Jersey would deliver a set down to Lord Ware with Penelope Braithwaite, however praiseworthy, respectable, and ... musically inclined she may be, as the only witness to the event?" Caroline asked.
Horatia and Freddie gave each other searching looks, as if wondering why they had not asked themselves this very logical question.
"No, if Lady Jersey decides someone is in need of a reprimand, she never misses an opportunity to do so in as public a manner as possible," Caroline said. "I think we may safely disregard this information."
Horatia's shoulders slumped. "But it's the most scandalous thing I've heard all week."
"What a thing to say." Frederica rolled her soft blue eyes. "As if we wish to hear about scandal."
Caroline struggled to keep her face composed in a neutral expression. She loved both Freddie and Horatia, but they lived for scandal, relishing each morsel of gossip as much as the daintiest piece of cake. Caroline, on the other hand, only considered the hearing of such tales a means of gathering useful information.
Such as ...
"Lord Ware's daughters were all suitably married years ago. To my knowledge, he has no niece for whom he's trying to arrange a match. Why would he be seeking admittance to Almack's at all?" she asked.
"Perhaps he likes playing cards," Freddie suggested.
Caroline shook her head. "No, men only play cards at Almack's when their women have dragged them there. They save the real games of chance for White's or Boodles."
She had no actual proof of this, never having been in either of those hallowed masculine enclaves, but it made sense.
The male of the species saves all the good things for itself. Those mysterious, exclusive clubs into which they disappear are but one example. A gentleman may vote, or serve in Parliament, or study at university as he pleases. And men most particularly reserve for themselves the freedom to travel — unescorted and unquestioned.
"Oh! I believe I know why Lord Ware was attempting to enter Almack's." Horatia scooted forward on the settee to lean toward Caroline. Then she suddenly clamped her lips shut, leaned back, and crossed her arms. "But I'm not saying another word until you promise not to worry me over where I heard it."
Frederica looked hopefully at Caroline. "Please, Caro."
Caroline sighed. "Very well."
But she reserved judgment on the veracity of what Horatia was about to say.
Her hazel eyes sparkling, Horatia lowered her voice. "The word about Town is that Lord Ware is looking for a wife for himself."
"He's too old for that, surely. Hasn't he been a widower for simply ages? Why, he must be well over fifty," Frederica said, with the callousness of the young. A pair of lines scrunched across her forehead as she tried to puzzle out Lord Ware's age. "Perhaps nearer to sixty. Didn't his youngest daughter Martha just present him with twin grandsons?"
Horatia tapped the side of her nose, and then pointed at Frederica to indicate that she'd hit upon the crux of the problem. "If memory serves ..."
It always does in Horatia's case. She hoards more nuggets about the ton than a squirrel amasses nuts for winter.
"... Lord Ware's only son died in childhood and his wife passed a few years after that, trying in vain to give him another," Horatia recalled. "Grandsons His Lordship may have in abundance, but no son."
"Ah! Then he needs an heir," Caroline said.
"He already has one," Horatia countered. "His nephew, Mr. Lawrence Sinclair."
Caroline might cast doubt on most of Horatia's gossip, but she never tangled with her on who was who among the ton. Sometimes Caroline wondered if her friend had accidentally swallowed a copy of Debrett's.
She turned the name Lawrence Sinclair over in her mind but couldn't find a face to put with it. He obviously hadn't been in London for the past two Seasons or she'd have met him at some ball or recital or lecture or other. "If Lord Ware has an heir presumptive, why bother filling the nursery at his age?"
Horatia lifted her chin and cast them a superior look. "It is well known that Lord Ware despises his nephew."
"Why?" Frederica asked.
Horatia's chin dropped a bit. "The reason is less well known." Which meant she didn't know. "But suffice it to say that his nephew's shortcomings are appalling enough that Lord Ware will do anything to make sure he doesn't inherit. Including taking a wife at his advanced age."
"One can only imagine how horrid the nephew must be," Frederica observed with yet another shiver.
But Caroline's thoughts had traveled a different road and she couldn't find it in her to fret about Freddie's bad habits at the moment. "So only the young and presumably fertile need apply to become the next Lady Ware."
"Caro! Please." Freddie's cheeks flushed prettily. "A lady doesn't speak of such things."
"Why not? It's true, isn't it?"
New wives were expected to pop out babies at regular intervals, though it was rarely commented upon, and women who were increasing took pains to remove themselves from public view. The three girls had pooled their meager resources, trying to piece together how this popping out of infants was accomplished. As of yet, none of them were satisfied they had the complete story.
"Caro," Horatia said primly, "you've missed the main point."
"Pray, enlighten me."
"If any of us should happen upon Mr. Sinclair during the Season, we must remember one thing."
"That he must be horrid?" Frederica guessed.
"Well, yes, that. Perhaps there are two things," Horatia said. "Aside from his presumed horridness, what we must chiefly keep in mind is that he is neither fish nor fowl."
"Meaning?" Caroline cocked her head.
"Either Lawrence Sinclair stands to become the next Earl of Ware or he is a gentleman with no prospects at all," Horatia said. "I'd not chance it. No, indeed. Give me a thoroughly settled suitor with unambiguous expectations of his station in life. I for one am not willing to risk all, no matter how sparkling a countess's tiara may seem."
"Nor I," Frederica seconded, though she'd be equally likely to leap off the London Bridge if Horatia was also keen on it.
"At least risking all would be exciting," Caroline muttered. Such a mésalliance would have the added charm of upsetting her family no end.
Perhaps if she pretended to a sudden romantic interest in the surely horrid Mr. Sinclair, her father would relent and allow her to set out on the program of travel and adventure she'd compiled for herself. Caroline hoped to emulate the excellent example of Mrs. Hester Birdwhistle. She had read every account of that intrepid lady traveler's exploits a dozen times over.
As told by the unconventional Mrs. Birdwhistle, the wide world beckoned. "Only the courageous soul answers when adventure knocks" was her credo.
Caroline was about to ring for a fresh pot of tea because their current one had gone cold, when there came a pounding at the front door.
Would adventure knock that loudly?
It was more likely the caller was frustrated by the lack of an answer to his or her polite rap and had resorted to pounding. Their flighty footman, Dudley, must have abandoned his post again, leaving Mr. Price, the Lovells' decidedly long-in-the-tooth butler, to answer.
Even so, Caroline wouldn't mention Dudley's lapse to her father. Her lady's maid, Alice, had conceived a tendresse for the footman. Caroline had far too much fun hearing about the budding below-stairs romance to put Dudley's position in jeopardy.
Then came a shouted "Hallo!" followed by the heavy stomp of masculine boots coming down the hall toward the parlor.
Caroline's eldest brother appeared in the doorway, his sandy hair tousled by wind, his cheeks tanned. He seemed broader, his shoulders more massive than she remembered. He dominated the space with his mere presence. Still, though it had been nearly three years since she'd seen him, she'd have known him anywhere.
Caro had been suffering through fittings for the wardrobe for her first Season when he'd left, off to see the world on his Grand Tour. Once the war with that hateful Bonaparte had ended, civilized young Englishmen had flocked to the Continent to complete their education by traveling to new places. Her brother and his friend, Lord Rowley, had sampled the wines of Paris, viewed the majesty of the Alps, and experienced the splendors of Rome.
All places of which I can only dream.
But she couldn't find a single shred of envy in her at the moment. It was enough that her favorite brother was finally home. And while the world might call him Lord Bredon, because as Lord Chatham's heir, he was allowed to take one of their father's lesser titles, to Caroline, he would always be simply ...
"Teddy!" She flew across the room to enfold him in a hug. "Oh, dear, dear Edward, you've grown so tall. A couple of inches at least."
"That's what travel will do for a man," Edward said, his voice deeper than she remembered it. "When you stretch your legs, they're bound to grow a bit."
"Oh, I'm so longing to hear all about it. Come." She took his hands and started leading him into the room. "You must tell us simply everything."
"A wise man rarely tells a woman everything." A richer, more rumbling voice came from behind her brother.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Singular Mr. Sinclair"
Copyright © 2018 Diana Groe.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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