The Lady and the Earl (Seabrook Family Saga)

THE LADY AND THE EARL

A Seabrook Family Saga Book II

BY

CHRISTINE DONOVAN

 

http://www.christinedonovanorg.weebly.com

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Lady Amelia Seabrook spends her days at her brother’s country estate,
far removed from London Society. Ever since the tragic death of her betrothed,
Captain Rycroft, she can’t bear the London Social Scene. Most days she can be
found sitting on the banks of a small stream daydreaming about happier times
with her captain. One day a stranger appears and spoils everything, or does he?

Living in
self-imposed exile the past twelve years, William Spencer, the Earl of Bridgeton
loves the solitude of the countryside. Some days it bothers him to read the
daily papers from London and still see his name being mentioned. After twelve
years one would think the gossip mongers would have someone else to gossip
about. Someone else to blame for the murders he did not commit.

Copyright @ 2013 by Christine Donovan

ISBN 978-0-615-82742-1

THE LADY AND THE EARL

 

Cover Design by Calista Taylor

 

All rights reserved.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may
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book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person.
If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased
for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you
for respecting the hard work of this author. To obtain permission to except
portions of the text, please contact the author at
[email protected]

 

This book is a
historical work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are
products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events, locals, or persons living or dead are entirely coincidental.

This book is dedicated to my mother, Alberta May Murray.
Thank you for your love, support and words of encouragement. I love you!

I want to thank my husband, Michael and my four sons,
Shawn, Matt, Danny and Joey for all your support over the years. My sister,
Karen Gomer, for always being there for me. You are the best sister in the
world! Thank you, Patricia, Karen and Jan for all your help. Also, thank you to
Joanne Smart, for being the first to read
The Lady and the Earl
, and
encouraging me to get it done already.

CHAPTER ONE

ENGLAND 1818

 

“Please, do not be afraid.”

Was he serious? How could she not be afraid?

Lady Amelia Seabrook struggled with her skirts as she waded through the
shin-deep water to retrieve her boots and stockings from a nearby rock. Her
muslin skirts were soaked to above her knees and clinging most embarrassingly
to her legs; her stockings and shoes were drenched as she had splashed them in
her hurry to exit the water. The mile walk back to her home, one she normally
enjoyed, would be uncomfortable because of the dampness of her clothing. Most
important of all was that she make haste to remove herself from this intruder.

How dare this stranger ruin the time she spent daydreaming about Captain
Rycroft, her beloved? How dare he interrupt? It was only during these lonely,
quiet times that Amelia allowed herself to think of
him
. To dream and
wish he still lived. But today, when she needed this time to remember and to
reflect, this stranger had destroyed the moment.

Amelia turned, her chin held high. She would not cower before anyone.
“Who are you, sir?”

“Lord Bridgeton. My land abuts this creek.”

By the narrowing of Lord Bridgeton’s eyes, Amelia knew she failed to
hide her shock at his intrusion here. She’d long known the earl lived as a
recluse because of a scandal involving his older brother and his brother’s
pregnant wife. Amelia had learned this from servants’ gossip.

Looking at him now, he did not look dangerous. Frightening perhaps, the
way he sat on his fine stallion and towered over her, but not dangerous. Amelia
admitted he was even handsome
, with
his dark, wavy hair, streaked with silver here and there. The earl wore it
unfashionably long, however, and it grazed his shoulders. He had strong
features and high cheekbones. What drew Amelia’s interest, despite her angst,
were Lord Bridgeton’s eyes––a pale blue so light they were almost gray. Very
striking against his dark hair and sun-bronzed skin.
The color did not
mesmerize her, rather it was the pain she recognized radiating from them. A
pain she understood all too well.

Remembering her loss, she wiped a tear from her cheek, knowing her eyes
would reveal her sadness and despair. She must look a sight after crying for so
long. Her brothers had warned her to stay away from this earl and his property.
Had they believed the gossip? Did they know more than she’d learned from
servants’ gossip?

“Are you going to continue to stare at me so rudely, or are you going
to tell me who you are and what you’re doing here?” the earl demanded, slapping
his riding crop against his thigh impatiently.

She should have been offended and cast him away like an irritating
insect. But there was something compelling in his tone and his words that,
though meant to intimidate her, did not. Instead, his voice, so demanding,
deep, and smooth, wrapped around her like a blanket warmed by the fire.

“I’m Lady Amelia Seabrook, Thomas Seabrook, the Duke of Wentworth’s
sister. I live here and have been for several weeks now.”

“If that is true, what, pray tell, is a lovely, young, privileged
member of the
ton
doing crying in the country during the height of the
Season?”

“That, Lord Bridgeton, is none of your concern.” Amelia looked down and
again fought the burning of tears in her throat and in her eyes. She would not
cry in front of this stranger. After all the crying she had done the past year
and a half, she promised herself she would never cry another public tear as
long as she lived. She had come to accept the fact that she would never dance
at another ball or attend Almack’s or any such silly soirees that other young
ladies attended during the London Season. And she did not care. Their loss did
not make her cry. Losing Captain Rycroft did.

Lord Bridgeton’s eyes widened before he bowed his head ever so
slightly. “Please accept my sincere apologizes for my rudeness. You obviously
have a good reason to be here instead of London.” He held up his hand. “And, of
course, that reason is none of my business. Once again, I apologize.”

“Indeed, no, it is none of your business. Oh!” Amelia backed up several
steps as Bridgeton dismounted from his horse. Her heart pounded as her eyes
darted about for an escape.

“Please, I told you not to be afraid,” he repeated. “You just surprised
me with your presence here. I come here almost daily, and I’ve not seen you
here before.”

Once again the warmth from his voice cocooned Amelia in a kind of
radiance. Why did the voice of this stranger have such an effect on her? “I’m
truly not afraid. You just startled me.”

“Is the rest of your family in residence as well?”

Did he think she resided here alone, with only the servants as
protection––making her easy prey? Again she considered evading his question and
running but caught herself.
Stop it. There’s nothing to be afraid of from
the earl. Gossip is only gossip, and not reliable. She, more than anyone else,
should know this. He has not hurt anyone. And, certainly, he is not here to
hurt her.
When her inner voice stopped, she answered the earl. “My brother,
Lord Sebastian, is here as well.”

“I’ve not had the privilege of making his acquaintance. Mayhap someday
I will.”

Did Amelia’s ears deceive her, or did she hear loneliness in his voice?
She understood pain––the kind she had already glimpsed in his eyes. She knew
loneliness as well. These two were her constant companions.

If what she saw reflected in his eyes were true, then she and her
neighbor had much in common. “Perhaps someday soon you will meet him.” She
looked down at her hands, still gripping her soggy boots and stockings. Others
would be shocked to see her standing there in her bare feet, talking to Lord
Bridgeton. She was not. Too much had happened to her in the past year and a
half for her to worry about something as silly as being caught barefoot in
public.

She curtsied. “Good day to you, Lord Bridgeton.” Even before she heard
his reply she hurried along the bank of the stream toward home, looking for the
safety of the walls of Stony Cross Manor.

“Do not look back. Do not look back,” Amelia mumbled to herself. The
words didn’t convince her because, despite them, she glanced over her shoulder
and saw him in the distance standing at the water’s edge. That he stood there
watching her was unsettling. She would not acknowledge that her sudden
breathlessness had anything to do with him.

Running. She
had practically been running. That was the reason she could not catch her
breath. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Lord Bridgeton and
his wounded eyes pierced straight to her soul.

CHAPTER TWO

 

The Earl of Bridgeton,
William
Spencer
, had been living in seclusion in Dover at Spencer Estate for nearly
twelve years. Family scandal and death had driven him out of London. His
brother, Geoffrey, the earl before him, had died at the hands of highwaymen.
Some said William had planned Geoffrey’s demise to acquire the title—that he
had been driven by greed as the second son who wanted it all. Then, six months
after his brother’s death, Geoffrey’s pregnant wife, Katherine,
 Ka
drowned
in the small stream near their home. Rumor had it William killed her to keep an
heir from being born, an heir who could have taken the title away from him.

Utter nonsense.

Then why had William exiled himself in the country? He did not have an
easy answer for that. Perhaps he continued to punish himself because he was
still among the living when the two people he loved most in the world were not.
Perhaps the gossip embarrassed him. The answer really did not matter, for
William had vowed he would never enter London Society again. He’d adjusted to
this country life he led. His happiness now came from being alone with his
loyal servants and his estate accounts.

What else was there in this lifetime for him? If the truth of their
lives and those long-ago deaths came out, it would cause scandal and point
fingers in directions he didn’t want. He preferred to look the villain.

William’s perfectly boring existence suited him. Or so he thought,
until the day he saw the lovely young woman standing in the stream that
separated his property from his neighbor, the Duke of Wentworth’s. The duke was
eight years William’s junior, so they hardly knew one another. He did recall,
however, that the duke had two younger sisters and a brother.

Intrigued by the young woman’s presence and her sadness, William
visited the stream at the same time daily for the next sennight, hoping to see
her again. Something about this lovely stranger intrigued him. There were days
William tried to stay away, he could not.

Each day she came there alone. And for seven days he did not disturb
her; rather he watched with growing interest and compassion.

He watched each day as she stood on the banks of the stream and cried,
her head tilted up to the sky, arms up in the air, as if reaching for something
or someone.

Each day the hard shield surrounding his heart had melted a bit more.

But this day, he had sat on his horse and watched from behind some
trees. He should have walked as he’d done previously. To his shock, the young
lady altered her routine. She removed her boots and stockings, hiked her skirts
up above her knees, and waded into the cool water. The vision of her there drew
from him a need to protect her as a swarm of memories surfaced, of dangers
past. The memories were almost too much for his senses. Then he caught a
glimpse of her bare legs, boldly uncovered, and William reacted like a green
lad barely out of the schoolroom. His mouth dried up and his pulse thrummed at
the sight. It had been years since he’d seen a beautiful woman or any woman who
was not one in his employ as a servant. It had also been just as long since
he’d bedded any woman. His principles would not allow him to take a household
servant to his bed. But this girl––and William had to call her a girl, as she
looked no older than ten-and-eight––woke up long-dormant emotions and passions
inside him. Emotions he would just as soon have stayed buried.

Today he’d noticed her deep sable hair, piled carelessly on top of her
head. If he plucked out one pin, he imagined her tresses would fall wildly down
to her narrow waist. Her waist hugged by an aquamarine day dress with a
deliciously scooped neckline. A neckline low enough so that when she bent over
to pick up her boots, she exposed the tops of her lovely breasts. William
licked his dry lips and fought not to reveal himself by groaning out loud. Her
skin appeared flawless and creamy, her nose small and pert, her lips full and
pink. Her eyes were a soft chocolate brown—so alive he wanted to escape in them
and never return.

When the woman paused, looked around anxiously, and dropped her skirts
into the stream, he realized he
had
groaned out loud. Her panicked eyes
found and settled on his, and she began to struggle to reach dry ground. So
he’d said the first thing that came to his mind.

“Please, do not be afraid.”

As William watched her hurried footsteps take her further and further
away from him now, he realized what a fool he’d been. Why hadn’t he been quiet?
He’d known that once he gave himself away, he could no longer hide behind the
trees and watch her silently.

On some level, in the beginning, it had angered him to have his special
spot invaded by someone. Not that this spot brought back good memories––quite
the opposite––but still it was
his
spot. Now, he relished sharing his
spot with this stranger.

Perhaps he would call upon her and her brother––or perhaps not. He did
not want to test his theory that even here, in the country, he might not be
welcomed by the members of polite Society close by. From past experience,
William knew people believed nonsense and rumors. When he’d uttered his name to
Lady Amelia, he’d seen the recognition in her eyes––and the pain of that
unsettled him.
Did she know and believe the gossip?

After she
disappeared, he’d shrugged and grabbed his horse’s reins to walk back home. It
did not matter what she believed. He would likely never find out. He would
probably never see her again.

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