Authors: Jenni James
Lord Romney’s Exquisite Widow
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Cover design copyright © 2016 by Jenni James
This is a work of fiction, and the views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author. Likewise, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are represented fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, or actual events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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Table of Contents
This book is dedicated to Al Lansdowne, the inspiration for the Regency heroes I first fell in love with. And my own sweet, amazing Regency hero come to life with all his love and humor—I love you, Jason.
Lady Catherine Elizabeth Anne Romney, Dowager Countess of the late Earl of Huntingdon, turned from her rather bewildered position of staring out the second-best parlor’s full window at Moat House in Kent. She had been blindly gazing at the horridly gray torrent of England’s most dismal winter on record. There had not been even a hint of snow to recommend itself this early December day, and with the rain spitting out as it had been wont to do all fall, there looked to be no reprieve from such gloominess in the near future.
She sighed, walked over to the large dark-blue sofa, and picked up her embroidery, a picture of a happy kitten, a Christmas present for her step-grandson Joshua Romney, the future Earl of Huntingdon. This embroidery had no end in sight, like the continual rain before her. Truly, it felt as though she would never finish the thing.
It was no wonder Catherine was out of sorts. Tomorrow, it would be one year since her husband had passed on and her life had altered once again. She tossed the sewing upon the seat next to her and looked at her black dress. Though it was customary to begin lightening her clothing with purples and grays before now, Catherine had decided to see it through and wear black for the complete mourning period.
Lord Romney, bless his heart, had been deeply in love with his previous wife and their children long before he met Catherine in London three years prior. Indeed, as the older gentleman walked with his cane around the assembly hall with her hand in the crook of his elbow, he had only talked of the graces and marvels of his late wife. So much so that it was a complete and utter shock when he came the week next to offer for Catherine’s hand, as well as bringing a generous gift to her parents of some eight thousand pounds to put their affairs to rights. How he had known they were short on money, one could never guess. Her father had been a wise man and gracefully accepted the amount, and Catherine was sold, like cattle, in a very backwards and unlikely union of souls.
She was exceptionally young to have a title, as her mother reminded her daily before she and the old earl wed. And it was her exquisite beauty that captured the heart of the man who promised to keep her well-endowed with a small fortune and pin money of her own after he was deceased. He was lonely, and her dear face reminded him of his cherished wife in her younger days. Which is how Catherine found herself at merely nineteen, married to the well-respected Earl of Huntingdon, whose children, ranging from twenty to twenty-eight, were all older than she.
Now at nearly twenty-three, she was a widow of some consequence whose stepson, the new Earl of Huntingdon, Charles, and his wife, Sophia, were eager to make Moat House their home. Catherine had been planning for some time what to do, and thought it best to rent some rooms in Bath for a while before deciding where to purchase a nice house for herself and hide away.
Sophia walked into the room, smiling. “Are you eager for tomorrow? To finally cast off your blacks and be in color again?”
Catherine looked up as the dark-haired beauty approached, picked up Catherine’s embroidery hoop, and then sat down next to her. She was dressed in a lovely green gown with darker forest-colored stripes.
“I was only this moment marveling at the change in clothing on the morrow. I have had a few dresses made up, but it will be strange to put them on so soon. Perhaps I should start with darker gowns, like you have, and then work my way back into lighter colors.”
Sophia shook her head and laughed. “Only you would be so concerned about propriety. Come now, tell me all about your plans. Are you still set on Bath and then a place somewhere in the country?”
“Do I have another choice?” At three years older, Sophia had become much more a friend or sister than a stepdaughter could ever be.
“Of course there are other choices, Catherine!” She scooted closer in eagerness. “I am bursting with the idea Charles and I came up with last evening before nodding off, and I think you will love the notion as well.”
“It has something to do with me, I gather?” They were too kind to her.
Sophia grinned excitedly and grabbed each of Catherine’s hands. “We are both in agreement, and believe you should accompany us to London for the Season in January.”
Catherine nearly choked as she abruptly started to have a coughing fit.
“Catherine, do not be like this, dear. You are too young to hide yourself away, and you have never known love before. No, we cannot see you shut up and hidden from the world before you have had a chance to live.” Sophia paused. “Say, are you well? Indeed, you are looking rather pale.” She turned to the footman. “Fetch the dowager a glass of water, please. And hurry.”
“I am fine,” Catherine protested. “I was a little taken aback.”
“Good. I am glad of it. However, we are perfectly serious in asking you to come with us to London.”
“I thought you were meaning to stay in Kent while Charles went for Parliament this year.”
“Yes, that was our intention. However, our plans have changed. We wish to open up the house in London to be together, and are ever so eager to see you come with us.”
“Sophia, firstly, to alter your plans for me is too much. I know you would rather be here in the country. And secondly, after one marriage, I have no desire to wed again.”
“Yes, we know this, but dear, I cannot stress enough—though I loved my dear father-in-law, you were not in a real marriage. It was for suitability only, and I cannot bear to imagine you continuing on thus. You are young. You should rally and come out and enjoy yourself for once.”
Catherine imagined what life would be like had she not wed so early. She had not even had a full Season before she had been swept off the marriage mart. Her heart began to beat rather quickly as she recalled two exceptional dances, as well as some visits and rides, with Lord Hamson before her father accepted Lord Romney’s proposals. It was folly indeed to remember the dashing light-haired lord. No doubt he had wed some other fortunate girl years ago. Her hands trembled as she pondered what had become of the first man she had set her cap on.
Yet to bring up his name to Sophia now would be crass and heartless, and Catherine was neither of those things. “I do not know if I have the courage to face them all again.” It was best to keep the past in the past.
“Courage?” She smirked. “You have plenty of courage. What you lack is determination.”
“No. I am very determined to head to Bath.”
“Catherine, please, I beg of you. Come. It is time. You have allowed yourself to be buried away in this house for far too long. Dearest, enough. You have lost your vivacity, and it pains me greatly to see you reduced so. I will not take no for an answer.” She looked imploringly at Catherine, and then tapped her lips with one slender finger. “Perhaps you could attempt to enjoy yourself for a fortnight or two. If after one month, you do not wish to remain, we will gladly take you on to Bath. Would that do?”
Catherine grinned and shook her head. “You are incorrigible.”
“No, I have finally grown enough to admit the truth.” She leaned into the soft back of the sofa. “I was so very skeptical when Charles’ papa remarried. I could not imagine that you would become as dear to me as you are now. My thoughts, before meeting you, often turned to moneygrubbing, I am sad to admit. And then you came. And you were kind and gracious, and loved me in spite of my arrogance, and slowly but surely won over everyone around you, including the staff! I still cannot get Cook to make me those cherry tarts she is always presenting you with. And now, here we are, the best of friends. You, wiser and a greater mother than my own, and yet you carry this overbearing sadness.”
Catherine let out a sigh of resignation. It did no good to dispute with Sophia. Eventually, she would wear her down, and Catherine would find herself traveling west for the Season despite anything she would have said otherwise. “You flatter me. I do not feel worthy of such attention as this. Truly, it is ridiculous.” Could it be possible? Could she be given another chance at finding love? “However, if you wish it of me, you know I cannot deny you—I will come to London for one month. And if life is dismal, I shall be much happier at Bath, where it is a bit quieter, in a community full of things to do that are more to pace with that of a dowager widow.”
Lord George Verl Hamson, fifth son of the Earl of Kettering, had a distinct spring in his step as he appeared at the Percevals’ annual ball in Grosvenor Square. This selfsame night, he had plans to whisk the vivacious Miss Hemming out on the floor for two sets and then take her aside somewhere privately and speak to her, perchance to broach the subject of marriage to the sweet angel to see how well she responded. It had been three weeks of courting the happy miss, and George had decided this would most unquestionably be a nice alternative to his perpetual boredom to have a wife about his life with him, supposing she seemed agreeable to the idea, of course.