Authors: Suzanna Medeiros
Tags: #romance, historical romance, regency romance
Beguiling the Earl — Book 2 in the
Landing a Lord
Catherine Evans knows the Earl of Kerrick is the one man for her. During her first season, she hopes he will come to feel the same way about her.
Kerrick has tried to see his best friend’s sister-in-law as a younger sister. But just when he realizes his feelings for her go much deeper than friendship, duty compels him to court another woman.
It is supposed to be a brief courtship in name only, but outside forces seem determined to see Kerrick married to that other woman and to keep him and Catherine apart.
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Beguiling the Earl
Landing a Lord ~ book 2
To Maria and Aida for being the best sisters I could have asked for.
Thank you to everyone who offered support and input during the writing of this book. In particular, Aida Amaral, Maddy Barone, Maria Medeiros, and Maaike van der Leeden.
I also want to thank my editor, Anne Victory, for being so good at what she does!
Catherine Evans shouldn’t have been bored. She was in London at a crowded ball and was dancing with a handsome man. Heaven knew she’d been anticipating her first season for months—ever since she’d learned the previous fall that her sister would soon be marrying the Marquess of Overlea. That event had completely changed their lives for the better. Until the day her sister had made the announcement, she’d never thought she would actually find herself in town, attending all manner of balls and other evening entertainments. She’d been looking forward to spring with increasing excitement ever since.
Now, less than one month into the season, she was already tired of the endless social demands. Balls at least once a week, musicales, routs, and visits to the theater. She’d imagined the whole experience would be more exciting. Knew it would have been if one man were present, a man who’d promised to be here to dance with her when she’d met him last fall.
She smiled politely at her partner, Viscount Thornton, as their gloved hands met briefly while they moved through the figures of the country dance. He was only a few years older than her, and she had to admit he was very handsome with his blond hair and blue eyes. She couldn’t help but measure him against the man she still looked for at every ball, and in comparison he seemed little more than an eager boy.
When the dance was over, he led her back to her sister. She accepted his compliments on her grace of movement with cool reserve and redirected the conversation back to the much safer subject of the weather. Thornton made no secret of his admiration for her, and she suspected he would become a nuisance if she encouraged him even slightly.
It was with some relief that she spotted Louisa and Nicholas a few feet away. He stood with his broad back to the dance floor, and it was only as she neared him that she remembered her brother-in-law had worn a coat of deep blue while this man wore black. A fluttering sensation started low in her belly.
When Louisa spotted her, she said something to her companion and he turned to greet her. The fluttering sensation blossomed into a full riot of butterflies, and she was powerless to stop the smile that spread across her face.
“Kerrick,” she exclaimed.
She managed a quick smile of dismissal in Thornton’s direction before hurrying across the last few feet that separated her from the man she’d been waiting to see again. She stopped just short, her breath far too uneven to have been caused by the light exercise of the dance. She almost reached for his hands but resisted the impulse. She’d learned enough during her time in London to know such a display of affection would cause raised eyebrows and not a small amount of gossip.
“Miss Evans. It is so nice to see you again.”
He smiled down at her, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners, and joy unfurled within her. He was just as handsome as she remembered.
“You devil, you promised to dance with me during my season. And here we are, a full three weeks in, and you haven’t attended even one of the balls.”
He affected an expression of exaggerated dismay. “You wound me to accuse me of such negligence. Unfortunately, I had pressing matters to attend to which kept me from town.”
She pretended to give his words careful consideration before replying. “I’ll forgive you. But just this once.”
His eyes shone with amusement. “Wretch.”
She could only beam in reply. He turned back to Louisa, and Catherine had to be careful not to let her disappointment show.
“Have you received word from your brother?”
After learning the previous fall that Louisa had accepted the marriage proposal of Nicholas Manning, the Marquess of Overlea, their brother John had been furious. Nicholas’s uncle had ruined their father and John couldn’t bring himself to believe Louisa would align herself with that family. Louisa had hoped their brother would come around to accepting the marriage in time, but instead John had run off, leaving behind a note that stated he’d enlisted the help of a family friend in purchasing a commission in the army.
“No,” Louisa said. “I’ve written to him but have heard nothing after his first reply.” Her voice faltered before she continued. “I am so worried about him. He was never one to be so reckless.”
Annoyance swept through Catherine when Kerrick took hold of her sister’s hand and gave it a quick, reassuring squeeze. “Most young men are rash, but fortunately we eventually outgrow it. I am sure John is well.”
Before Catherine could remind the pair that she was still present, they were interrupted by an older couple approaching their small group. The man was of average height and build, his thinning hair liberally sprinkled with gray. His wife, however, was a striking woman whose dark hair was only starting to show signs of gray around the temples. Kerrick introduced them as Lord and Lady Worthington.
“We wondered when you would return to town,” Lord Worthington said, turning his attention to Kerrick. “Rose has been quite put out by your negligence.”
Kerrick lifted a brow and replied with cool equanimity. “One wouldn’t surmise that from her behavior.”
Catherine followed his gaze and spotted a young woman who had been announced earlier as Miss Rose Hardwick, daughter of Lord and Lady Worthington. The girl was about her own age and stood several feet away, surrounded by a group of young men who vied for her attention. Catherine wasn’t surprised given the girl’s almost radiant beauty. Rich chestnut curls framed a fair face that was uncommonly pretty. Her eyes sparkled, her lips pouted, and her cheeks bloomed with a rosy glow. With her pale hair and coloring, Catherine felt dull and lifeless by comparison.
Worthington shrugged. “She’s young. Did you expect her to just stand in a corner and pine away for you?”
Lady Worthington was quick to add, “She merely flirts with those boys. She knows with whom her future rests.”
Shock rolled through Catherine at the older woman’s words, and her gaze swung back to Kerrick. His expression hadn’t changed, but he didn’t deny Lady Worthington’s assertion.
“She seems to be enjoying herself quite well without my attention.”
“Nonsense,” Worthington said. “That’s because she doesn’t know you’re here. We only just spotted you ourselves. Though I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t have sent word to us before now.”
“I only just arrived last night,” he said.
Worthington nodded, but it was clear Kerrick’s reply hadn’t satisfied him. He turned back to Catherine and Louisa. “Lady Overlea, Miss Evans, if you will excuse us?”
Catherine merely nodded in reply. She looked again at Rose Hardwick, her thoughts full of the implication of the older man’s words. She refused to believe there was an understanding between Rose and Kerrick. The fates wouldn’t be so cruel.
Determined to learn the truth, she turned to question him, but Kerrick had already stepped away to speak to the older couple in private. Her dismay grew when they turned, as one, to approach Lord and Lady Worthington’s daughter. The group of men dispersed at her father’s presence, but a few hovered close by in case they were given another opportunity with her.
Her dismay turned to outright disbelief as she watched Kerrick bow over the young woman’s hand and lead her out onto the ballroom floor. The strains of a waltz were beginning to play. Unable to watch them together, she swung back to face her sister.
Louisa, however, continued to watch them. “Well,” she said when she finally spoke, “Nicholas never mentioned this. I had no idea there was anything between Kerrick and Rose Hardwick.”
Catherine couldn’t bear to stand there and discuss the possibility that Kerrick might have an understanding with another woman and so tried to distract her sister. “Where’s Nicholas? I’m surprised he isn’t adhered to your side.”
Louisa made a small sound of exasperation. “We’re not as bad as that.”
“Yes, you are,” Catherine said with a fond smile. “But I admit it’s refreshing to see amidst all the practical unions of the
“What do you know of practical unions?”
Catherine shook her head. “I don’t know, not really. It’s just that I used to think the upper classes were the lucky ones, but beneath their airs I sense something missing. A hollowness.”
Louisa didn’t hide her surprise. “You have grown very astute. You are no longer just my little sister but a woman now.”
Catherine shrugged. “I’m no different today than I was yesterday.”
“No,” Louisa said, a smile lifting the corner of her lips. “Of course not. And speaking of Nicholas, here he comes.”
It was some time before he was able to return to Overlea’s small party. After his obligatory dance with Rose Hardwick, her parents had made it their mission to monopolize his company. He knew they were sending a signal to all the other parents with daughters of a marriageable age that they had a prior claim on him. One based solely on Lady Worthington’s lifelong friendship with Kerrick’s mother, but which had no actual basis in reality. The entire situation left him more than a little uncomfortable.
Much as he wanted to, he couldn’t outright ignore the Worthingtons or he’d never hear the end of it from his mother, so he had to suffer their company far longer than he would have anyone else who’d made such a presumption. He resolved, however, to have a private conversation with Worthington—and soon—to set the man straight about his misplaced hopes for his daughter’s future.
Finally tiring of his less-than-effusive company, Lord Worthington left him for the card room and Lady Worthington turned her attention to one of her friends. Free from their suffocating attention, he scanned the room. Annoyance flared when he saw Catherine Evans speaking to Viscount Thornton.
He’d seen her dancing with him when he’d first arrived and had been surprised at the spark of displeasure he’d felt. Until that moment, he hadn’t allowed himself to think about the fact that it was Catherine he’d been looking forward to seeing tonight and not his best friend, Nicholas. Catherine he’d missed.
That wouldn’t do.
He’d sought out Nicholas and his new bride and had kept his back to the dancing couples lest he give away his interest in Catherine’s movements. When Nicholas had left to fetch a drink for his wife, Louisa casually mentioned that her sister was dancing with Viscount Thornton, and he’d had to work to keep a scowl from his face. He knew very little about Thornton, only that he seemed far too young. The thought had risen, unbidden, that Catherine needed someone older, not a young buck who was little more than an untried youth.
He hadn’t forgotten the waltz he’d promised her the previous fall. In fact, he’d been about to invite her to dance when Worthington had interrupted. He stopped to speak with the orchestra conductor before making his way back to her. It was fortunate for Thornton that he had already departed.
“I wasn’t sure we’d see you again tonight,” Nicholas said, amusement in his gaze. “What’s this I hear about there being an understanding between you and Rose Hardwick?”