Read What an Earl Wants Online

Authors: Shirley Karr

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Crossdressing Woman

What an Earl Wants

Shirley Karr
 
What an Earl Wants
 

To Steve Wicker, high school teacher extraordinaire. Bet this wasn’t exactly what you had in mind when you invited me to take your journalism class, was it?

In memory of Jack, beloved writing companion, who stayed beside me from the very first page, flipping his tail across the keyboard, purring his appreciation of my prose.

Contents
 

Chapter 1

“It ain’t my job,” cried a feminine voice out in…

Chapter 2

“Excellent, Mr. Quincy, excellent.” Sinclair slid his booted feet from…

Chapter 3

Sinclair heard Quincy gasp. She stared back at him, frozen.

Chapter 4

Quincy followed the butler into Sinclair’s library the next morning,…

Chapter 5

Sinclair stepped out of Henry Angelo’s, still breathing hard from…

Chapter 6

“My lord,” Harper said from the bedchamber doorway, his voice…

Chapter 7

“Lie down, my lord, and I’ll rub more liniment on…

Chapter 8

“You’ll be happy to know, Quincy, that after only one…

Chapter 9

Dinner was as bad as Sinclair feared. The food was…

Chapter 10

Quincy and Melinda ran through the streets toward their flat.

Chapter 11

Quincy followed Sinclair out to his waiting carriage and climbed…

Chapter 12

“Another match made in the household,” Sinclair announced later that…

Chapter 13

“Sinclair, so good to see you,” Sir Leland called as…

Chapter 14

Quincy stared at the footman, dumbstruck.

Chapter 15

Heaven.

Chapter 16

Grandmère and Melinda had been busy in Quincy’s absence. Paintings…

Chapter 17

Quincy darted around to the kitchen door, past the startled…

Chapter 18

“Mr. Quincy, sir?” Jill had come to collect the luncheon…

Chapter 19

Sinclair select her for his wife? Impossible. Would never, could…

Chapter 20

“My dear Lord Sinclair,” Serena, Duchess of Warwick, gushed as…

Chapter 21

Once they were in the coach on the way to…

Chapter 22

Sinclair paced in his library, watching the clock’s hands drag…

Chapter 23

“You’re just in time, miss,” said Lady Fitzwater’s footman as…

Chapter 24

Sinclair stared into the hall mirror and made a final…

Chapter 25

Sinclair settled in at his desk with the list of…

Chapter 26

Separation would be the death of him. Since bringing Quincy…

Chapter 1
 

London
March 1816

 

“I
t ain’t my job,” cried a feminine voice out in the hall. “’T’ain’t mine, neither,” a male voice replied. More voices joined in the squabble, and the volume rose.

Benjamin, Earl of Sinclair, leaned forward in his leather chair and wondered what else would go wrong today. He stared at the young applicant seated across the desk from him, who stared calmly back, unfazed by the shouting match. Just as Sinclair was about to rise to quiet down the servants, the group moved on. Silence reigned at last.

“Why should I hire you, Mr. Quincy?” Sinclair sank back into the chair cushion.

Blast. Now he couldn’t see over the ledgers and papers piled on his desk. He sat forward again, studying the young man seated opposite. “I’ve already interviewed five other secretaries this morning, each with more experience than you. I doubt you even shave yet.”

Quincy adjusted one clean but frayed cuff, his gaze never leaving Sinclair’s. “Is shaving a requirement for the position?”

Sinclair blinked in surprise. He propped his boot heels on one corner of the desk, sending a pile of folios sliding to the floor. They disappeared amongst other piles already littering the carpet. He stared at Quincy from around a remaining, quivering stack. “I haven’t decided yet.”

Another commotion in the hall made them both glance at the door. Voices rose and fell, then faded away altogether, and Sinclair returned to the task at hand. He picked up a sheet of foolscap from a pile still balanced on his desk. “Since you’ve only had one previous employer, and you say Baron—” he glanced at the signature at the bottom of the sheet “—Bradwell recently died, I can’t even verify this reference. How do I know it’s not a fake?”

“You don’t.” Quincy pushed his spectacles farther up on the bridge of his nose, concealing the expression in his gray eyes. Or were they green?

Sinclair studied the lad. Though wearing a threadbare coat, the set of his shoulders spoke of confidence, and the set of his chin suggested a stubborn streak. Quincy might desperately need this job, but he wasn’t begging for it. Another, still louder commotion in the hall interrupted Sinclair’s perusal.

It was beyond Sinclair how being short by just one maid could cause such chaos. Why weren’t the upper servants handling this? Sinclair slid his heels off the desk, stalked to the door, and yanked it open. Half his household staff stood clustered in the hall, abruptly silent at his appearance. “Do you mind?”

The servants scattered amid a chorus of “Beg pardon, milord” and “Won’t ’appen again, milord.”

By Juno, he’d had more peace and quiet when they camped a mile from Boney’s forces. Sinclair returned to his chair with a sigh and propped his feet once more on the desk. “Give me one good reason why I should hire you, Quincy. Just one.”

Quincy gestured toward the door. “I could get your business affairs in order, so you would be free to get your household affairs in order.”

Sinclair shook his head. “Any of the men I interviewed this morning could do that. Why should I hire
you
?”

Quincy pushed his spectacles up again. “I can forge your signature.”

Sinclair’s feet slammed to the floor, all annoyance gone. “The devil you say.”

The young man continued as though discussing the weather. “As my employer, you could supervise my activities. Make certain they were in your best interest.”

Sinclair raised one eyebrow. “I could have you thrown in Newgate.”

“You could, but that would be a waste, wouldn’t it, my lord?” Quincy pointed at the mountain of mail teetering between them on the desk. “If I were in prison, I wouldn’t be able to save you from all that dull paperwork. You should be out tending your properties or attending balls and such, not here signing every little thing.”

“Little things such as bank drafts?”

He watched as Quincy glanced around the room, at the thick Turkish carpet and two floor-to-ceiling bookcases overflowing with leather-bound books. Quincy stood, and stepped over the debris as he walked past the red-striped armchair that clashed wonderfully with the burgundy leather wing chair, to the mahogany side table supporting a silver tea service. “Judging by this room, I would wager bank drafts are never ‘little’ where you are concerned, my lord.” He wiped one gloved finger through the dust on the table. “Though perhaps you should find a replacement for the downstairs maid before you go off to your properties.”

Sinclair allowed one side of his mouth to curve up. Intrigued by the cheeky lad, he rummaged through one of the piles on his desk. “Here’s an invitation I don’t wish to accept. Let’s see how you handle it.”

“Certainly, my lord.” Quincy took the invitation, read it, then unearthed the inkwell and a pen while Sinclair searched the desk drawers for a clean sheet of paper. A few moments later, Quincy handed over a neatly penned missive. It bore Sinclair’s signature at the bottom.

Sinclair frowned as he studied the note. “Very diplomatic refusal. As it happens, I do have another engagement that evening. But the body of the note is written in a different hand than the signature.”

“Of course. My writing, your signature. Your own mother could not tell it’s not by your hand.”

“Damned if you aren’t right.” Sinclair glanced from the mountain of newspapers and ledgers to the young man, then to the clock striking the hour, and grimaced. Late again. He shuffled a few folios together, casting another look at the lad. Quincy held Sinclair’s gaze, unblinking.

Sinclair never had been able to resist a puzzle, and the impertinent pup intrigued him. Five years as a cavalry officer had trained him to make decisions quickly and follow his instincts, and those instincts shouted at him to keep the young man around. All was not as it seemed. “I think you bear watching, Mr. Quincy. Let’s see what you can do with this mess by the time I get back.”

Moments later, Sinclair called for his hat, gloves and walking stick, and exited the house, leaving Quincy to tackle the mounds of correspondence and books that littered his office. He was already late for a meeting with his solicitor. Much as he wished to stay and supervise the lad, Sinclair settled for posting one of the downstairs footmen outside the library. Let the lad sink or swim. Even on such short acquaintance, Sinclair would wager a year’s income that Quincy was a strong swimmer.

Hoping he could still rely on his staff to keep things under control—though this morning had been more chaotic than usual—Sinclair pushed aside thoughts of his new secretary as he trudged down the street. Keeping his strides even and steady despite leaning on his walking stick required his full concentration. For him, the ebony cane was no fashionable affectation, and he had grown heartily sick of needing it.

After months of struggle, he had left his crutches behind and worked up to three long walks per week, and two short walks that ended with fencing lessons at Henry Angelo’s. It galled him that he could not yet box, as he used to study with Gentleman Jackson. The last time Sinclair had stripped to fight, the blows he’d received from being slow on his feet had been inconsequential—until his mother saw the bruises. For her sake, he would wait before trying again.

But he could wield a foil. Each session with Angelo, Sinclair forced himself to do one more lunge than the time before, no matter how much his leg muscles screamed in protest.

Today, however, he would play truant from his self-directed regimen, so he could get back to checking on Mr. Quincy’s progress. Sinclair walked straight home from the meeting with his solicitor, intent on going directly to the library. Plans changed, however, when he was waylaid by the butler with a request to meet his mother in her salon. At least Grimshaw, the footman, was at his post and assured him Quincy was still inside the library. By the time Sinclair calmed Mama and helped her deal with various household crises, four hours had passed since he’d left Quincy alone. Blast.

With some trepidation, Sinclair opened the door to his library, expecting to see his new secretary seated behind his desk, up to his elbows in paperwork. It had been three weeks since his last secretary had married the downstairs maid and sailed for America, and Sinclair had more important things to do than paperwork, such as relearning to walk.

But the secretary was not in sight.

The top of Sinclair’s massive desk was visible, however, for the first time in weeks. Papers were arranged in neat piles and ledgers put away. Even the dirty tea service was gone, replaced by, of all things, a vase filled with fresh daffodils. He finally spotted Quincy perched on the bookcase ladder, stacking books.

“Well done, lad!” Sinclair said.

Quincy jumped down to the floor. “My lord!” he said, reaching for his spectacles on a shelf. “I didn’t expect you yet.” He put the spectacles on and began unrolling his shirt sleeves.

Sinclair sat down and looked at his polished desk, marred only by four neat stacks of papers. “What is the order to these?”

Quincy shrugged into his coat and hurried over, still buttoning it up. “These are invitations you should accept, these I’ve declined for you, these are correspondence from your stewards—I believe they require your personal attention—and these are bills that you—”

“Enough! By Juno, I can’t believe you did all this in the short time I was gone. Have you a genie in your pocket?”

“If I did, my lord, I would not be seeking this position.” He adjusted his spectacles. “Is everything satisfactory?”

“Fine, fine.” Sinclair propped his boot heels on the desk corner. Nothing fell to the floor. That clinched it. He had to hire Quincy, despite the lad’s shortage of experience or references. Perhaps providence had sent Sinclair just the person he needed to put his chaotic life in order. Or at least his library—the entire room had been set to rights. Even the slippers and balled-up stockings were gone from under his armchair by the fire.

He watched Quincy straighten his cuffs, and noted that his coat, though clean, had been mended at the elbow. Perhaps providence had also set Sinclair in Quincy’s path, as the lad was obviously in need of a well-paying position.

There was a brief knock, then Mrs. Hammond peeked into the room. “Will you be needing anything else, Mr. Qui—Oh, my lord, I didn’t know you had returned.”

Sinclair glanced at his housekeeper. “No, Mrs. Hammond, Mr. Quincy won’t be needing anything else. You might check with him tomorrow, though.”

“Yes, my lord, thank you.” Mrs. Hammond winked at Quincy before she bobbed a curtsy and closed the door again.

“I trust tomorrow morning at nine is agreeable?” Sinclair said, rising to shake his new secretary’s hand.

“Yes. However, I shall need Sundays off, and every other Saturday. I also need an advance on my wages. Half the first quarter’s salary should do.”

Sinclair raised both eyebrows. “Whatever for?”

“To pay my landlady. She’s quite adamant about receiving rent payments and I’m afraid I’ve fallen behind.”

“You can have a room on the third floor. I’ll send a footman to help collect your things.”

“Thank you, but no.” Quincy pushed up his spectacles.

“Why not? It would be convenient and save you money.”

“Convenient for you, yes, but not for me. May I have the advance now? Ten shillings would suffice.”

“Cheeky bugger,” Sinclair muttered, opening the middle drawer of his desk to search for the cashbox. He stopped. “Did you tidy all of the drawers this way?”

“Yes. ’Twas impossible to put things away otherwise.”

Sinclair lifted the unlocked cashbox lid and stared at the money inside.

“Yes, I could have,” Quincy said, as though reading Sinclair’s thoughts. Quincy let out a small sigh. “The list of applicants from the employment agency is in the top left drawer. I suggest you re-interview some of them. Good day, my lord.” He jammed his hat on his head and reached for the door.

“Where are you going?”

Quincy slowly turned to face him. “Do you wish me to turn out my pockets?”

“No,” Sinclair said, rubbing his chin. “I don’t believe that will be necessary.” Quincy’s reaction had told Sinclair all he needed to know of the lad’s character.

“Good. I wouldn’t do it if you asked.”

Sinclair bit back a smile. “I thought as much. But I still don’t know why you’re leaving.”

The secretary’s chest rose and fell with a deep breath. “I realize it takes time to build respect and trust, but I will not work for someone who
dis
trusts me from the beginning. Good day, my lord.”

“Wait!” Sinclair limped across the room and blocked the door. Quincy trembled slightly when Sinclair clapped him on one slender shoulder. “I have decided I like your impertinence. I want you to stay.”

“No.” Quincy flashed a grin. “At least, not this afternoon. I will return in the morning, however.”

“Good lad. Take the ten shillings and pay your landlady, then go see my tailor. These clothes are dreadful.”

“Your tailor, my lord?” Quincy’s cheeks flushed to the roots of his pomaded brown hair. “If you don’t mind, I already have a, um, tailor, though it’s been a while since I visited…him.”

“Whatever pleases you. Just replace your coat and trousers. They’re ready for the rag merchants.” Sinclair stepped back and surveyed Quincy from his battered hat to the paper-thin soles of his shoes, until it appeared the rest of his blood had rushed to his face. “Good lord, man, your last employer must have been a first rate pinchpenny. When’s the last time you had new shoes? Or a good meal? You’re thinner than a half-pay corporal. Never mind.” He continued before the embarrassed youth could speak. “Visit your tailor if you prefer, but see that you stop off at my cobbler on your way here tomorrow.” He scribbled an address on the back of a calling card before handing it over.

“Th-thank you, my lord.” Quincy bowed stiffly and hurried out of the room.

“Harper!” Sinclair shouted when he heard the front door close.

The butler entered the library. “Yes, my lord?”

“Congratulate me. I’ve filled half the vacancies in the staff.”

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