Authors: Suzanna Medeiros
Loving the Marquess—Book 1 in the
Landing a Lord series
She is on the verge of losing
To save her home and keep her two
younger siblings safe, Louisa Evans must turn to the head of the family that
He needs an heir…
The Marquess of Overlea is starting
to show signs of having inherited the same illness that killed his father and
older brother. To prevent the marquisate from falling into the hands of an
unscrupulous cousin, Overlea must secure an heir before that illness also claims
But he is determined not to be
the father of that heir…
Overlea’s plan is simple—marry the
practical, yet desperate, Miss Evans and hold Louisa to her promise to provide
him with an heir. But he waits until after they are married to tell his wife that
he intends to have another man father that heir. His careful plan becomes
complicated by an almost desperate need to claim Louisa for himself and an
outside threat that proves even more dangerous than his illness.
Loving the Marquess
a Lord ~ book 1
Neil, with all my love.
I want to say a great big thank you
to Aida Amaral, Maureen Frew and Maria Medeiros for all your input on this
book. A special thank you goes out to Maaike van der Leeden for encouraging me
when self-doubt threatened to take hold.
And thank you to my family for your
continued love and support.
A knock at the door in the middle of
the night never brought good news. Casting a longing glance at the welcoming
bed she’d been about to sink into, Louisa Evans tied the sash of her dressing
gown. Pushing aside the weariness that dragged at her, she hurried downstairs.
She expected to find one of her neighbors when she opened
the door and was surprised to find, instead, a stranger. A very tall man with
dark hair who sagged against the door frame, his eyes closed. She shivered as
the cool autumn air cut through her nightgown and dressing gown.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
When he didn’t reply, she wondered if he were foxed and had
somehow stumbled across their cottage. She placed a hand on his arm to gain his
attention and repeated her question.
His eyes opened and he pinned her with a gaze that was dark
“I require assistance…” he managed to say before closing his
He swayed slightly and started to slide down the doorframe.
Moving instinctively, Louisa had her shoulder under his arm in a moment,
steadying him as he collapsed. He was much larger than she, and for a second
she thought she would collapse with him.
She straightened and stared down, stunned, at where he sat
propped against the doorframe. Hesitating only a moment, she leaned over him to
smell his breath and detected a faint hint of alcohol. She brought a hand to
his forehead and was alarmed to find he had a fever.
Another blast of the night air, uncharacteristically cold
this early in September, had her shivering in earnest now. She would have to
move the stranger inside and close the door. She didn’t know what was wrong
with him, but with his fever he couldn’t afford to catch a chill. She wasn’t
strong enough, however, to carry him inside on her own.
Her decision made, she hurried upstairs and rapped on her
brother’s door. When he didn’t answer, she entered the room and shook him
“What’s the matter?” he mumbled, his eyes still closed.
“I need your help. There’s a man downstairs who is ill. He
collapsed on our doorstep.”
John jolted awake at the mention of the stranger. At
eighteen, he was seven years younger than her, but since their father had died,
he’d decided it was his duty to protect the family.
He dressed quickly and followed her downstairs to where the
man sat, still propped up, in their doorway.
“Who is he?”
Louisa shook her head. “I don’t know, but he’s ill and the
cold can’t be good for him. Help me bring him inside so I can close the door.”
They managed to rouse the man enough to help him to his
feet, supporting his weight between them. He was unsteady and their progress
was slow, but at her insistence they managed to bring him to her room, still
warm from her recently banked fire. He collapsed on her bed with a groan.
“I’ll see to his comfort,” she told John. “I saw a horse
outside that must belong to our guest. The animal will need to be cared for.”
John set his shoulders and she knew he was going to insist
that she look after the horse. She cut him off before he could protest the
impropriety of the situation.
“Do you actually believe this man is in any condition to do
Her brother hesitated, but it was clear the stranger had
lost consciousness. Grumbling something under his breath about bossy sisters,
he turned and left to see to the horse.
Louisa occupied herself with rebuilding a fire in the small
fireplace before turning to look at the man lying on her bed. Despite her
assurances to her brother, she was nervous. She’d nursed their father during
his long illness, but caring for this man was nowhere near the same.
She approached the bed and looked down at him, and her heart
fluttered as she realized just how handsome he was. His hair was a dark brown,
almost black, framing a face that had no doubt caused many other hearts to beat
faster, as well. Despite his fever, he was very pale, his skin drawn taught
over high cheekbones and a strong jaw that was already showing a hint of
She swallowed hard as her gaze traveled down the length of
him. He was asleep, but his presence filled the room. She shook her head to
clear it and turned away, telling herself that caring for this man would be no
different than caring for her father as she went to her washstand and poured
water from the pitcher into the washbasin. Concentrating on the familiar task,
she set the basin on her bedside table, dipped a washcloth into the water, and
wrung it out. Her hands were not quite steady as she washed his face, hoping
the cool water would bring him a measure of comfort. Her movements were brisk,
but slowed when he moaned. His eyes opened and she froze as his black,
inscrutable gaze caught and held hers.
She was spiraling downward, drowning in twin pools of
darkness. The heat in the room seemed to increase as a flush spread through her
body. The seconds ticked by, seeming to stretch into minutes.
Without another sound, the stranger’s eyes closed again. She
dragged in a shaky breath and shook off the paralysis that had stolen over her.
She could not, however, shake off her sense of unease.
Her hands were still shaking when she dropped the damp cloth
into the basin. Pushing aside her trepidation, she moved to the bottom of the
bed to remove his boots. She hesitated only a moment before placing one hand on
the heel of the black leather molded to his right leg and the other on his
knee. A jolt of awareness surged through her at the contact and she jerked
back. Her gaze flew to the stranger’s face, and she breathed a sigh of relief
when she saw he was still asleep. She would have died of mortification if he’d
seen her foolish reaction to touching him.
She tugged off his boots before turning her attention to
removing his coat, but she knew her bravery did not extend that far. Her
bedcovers were already turned down and it took only a couple of tugs to free
them completely from under his legs. Concentrating on the blankets and not on
his form, she covered him before exhaling the breath she’d been holding. Most
of him was now hidden from sight, but she found it impossible to ignore the
keen sense of awareness brought on by the knowledge that a very attractive man
now slept in her bed.
Trying to ignore the less than chaste thoughts that rose,
unbidden, to her mind, Louisa retrieved a blanket for herself from the trunk at
the foot of her bed and settled into a chair to wait. When John returned from
seeing to their unexpected guest’s horse, he tried to insist on taking her
place, but if the stranger’s condition took a turn for the worse, John wouldn’t
know what to do. He helped her to remove the man’s coat and loosen his cravat
before returning to his own room, but only after extracting her promise to
fetch him when the man woke.
It was a long night. The stranger’s slumber was
restless—interrupted, at first, by frequent bouts of thrashing and murmured
words that were indecipherable. Eventually, he settled into a deep sleep and
she was able to close her eyes and get some rest. She had just drifted off when
a low moan woke her. She struggled up from her cramped position in the armchair
by the bedside, and her blanket slid to the floor.
“Papa? Do you need anything?” she asked, disoriented after
being pulled from the middle of a strange dream.
But the man lying in the bed,
bed, wasn’t her
father. She was confused for a moment and then the memories rushed back. After
a year of failing health, her father had finally succumbed to death six months
before. She leaned back in the chair and examined the stranger more closely in
the faint morning light. She hadn’t dreamt him after all.
The fire had long since gone out and she shivered in the
cool morning air. She picked up the blanket from where it had fallen, wrapped
it around her shoulders, and took the few steps to the bed. Leaning forward,
she laid a hand on the man’s forehead and breathed a sigh of relief when she
found his temperature was normal.
She looked over at the window where the first rays of
morning light were already creeping over the horizon and sighed softly. So much
for a good night’s rest, she thought as she began to work the kinks from her
* * *
Nicholas Manning’s head was killing him, but he was used to
that. He raised a hand to rub at his temples, hoping to massage away the pain.
Unable to stop himself, his thoughts went back to that time a few years ago,
before his parents’ deaths. They’d been content, their love still evident even
after more than thirty years of marriage. But then his father started
complaining of headaches and his health began to deteriorate rapidly. Nicholas
had spent most of his time in London, away from Overlea Manor, but he’d
witnessed his father’s strange moods and increasing surliness on several
occasions. Had witnessed how his father had pushed away all who’d loved him
before the accident that had taken both of his parents’ lives.
He remembered, too, how his older brother had developed the
same mysterious ailment last year. An ailment that had led to his death.
His father had been sixty when he’d first started
complaining about headaches. His brother’s attacks had started much earlier, at
the age of thirty-two, and his illness had progressed more quickly. Nicholas
was only twenty-eight, but he could no longer ignore the fact he was now
showing signs of suffering from that same disease.
Pushing back his grim thoughts, he opened his eyes and
squinted against the bright light streaming through the window. He began to sit
up but froze when he took in the unfamiliar surroundings.
Vague images filtered back to him, most of them featuring a
blond-haired, gray-eyed woman hovering over him. He frowned, trying to remember
what had happened the night before, but his memory eluded him.