Authors: Sandra Sookoo
Marriage Minded Lord
A Darrington family novel
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
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MARRIAGE MINDED LORD
2013 by Sandra Sookoo
Published by New Independence Books and Sandra Sookoo
Visit me at sandrasookoo.com
Brunette in teal gown with man in waistcoat
© Kim Killion |Hot Damn Stock
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First Digital Edition, 2013
When an outrageous meeting leads to inappropriate desire, will family honor and duty destroy a chance for true love?
Felix Alan Darrington, Earl of Swandon has been summoned to London by his mother. Though he has obligations to Parliament, his meddling parent has reminded him it’s time to do his duty, marry and provide her with grandchildren. But Felix refuses to wed under dictate. He’ll choose the woman and the time, and if he’s lucky he’ll marry for love.
Clarice Delacroix is a lady’s companion. Though she’s an illegitimate daughter of a duke, her mother was a French opera singer which puts Clarice firmly between worlds. Possessed of a quick temper and a penchant for making pastries, she longs for adventure, romance and acceptance, but she refuses to be anyone’s mistress. Her mother’s life is not for her.
As Felix schemes to spend more time with Clarice and find out why the Frenchwoman intrigues him, the titled lady who wishes to be his countess conspires to keep them apart. Felix quickly finds that balancing relationships between family and love is not as easy as first thought, or as black and white. Someone in his circle isn’t telling the truth, and the repercussions could prove deadly to Clarice’s future.
The background conversation faded as did everything else Olivia said while Felix stared at the newcomer. Her rust-colored gown set off slightly olive-hued skin. A few curly tendrils of black hair had escaped the knot at the back of her head and clung to her neck, but her big brown eyes framed with sooty lashes captivated him.
“Which one of you requested to see Cook?” Her French-accented English was as flawless as if she’d spoken the language all her life. Plush lips formed the words. With great effort, he wrenched his gaze from her mouth to focus on her. She held a crystal trifle dish in both hands. Every layer of the dessert was clearly visible, all purple jam, pale pastry cream and pound cake.
His mouth watered. His pulse pounded. Sweat trickled down his back and dampened his shirt.
What an enchanting creature.
“I did.” Felix rose. He resisted the urge to straighten his clothing in her presence. “I’m Felix Darrington, well, I used to be until I assumed Earl of Swandon title.”
She curtsied. “Very good, Lord Swandon.”
Olivia rapped her knuckles on the tabletop. “Clarice, I must tell you—once again—that talking about your betters to the kitchen staff will not be tolerated.”
The Frenchwoman nodded. She cast her gaze downward. “I understand, my lady. I do apologize for making my comments so loud that you overheard.”
Felix stifled a snicker at the last second. The chit was clever. He liked her even more.
Color blazed in Olivia’s cheeks. Her eyes glittered. “Be that as it may, I intend to hold back two days of pay from your salary this month for your insolent attitude. Perhaps that will teach you more than my words do.”
“Yes, my lady.” Though Miss Delacroix kept her gaze to the floor, Felix swore he felt the heat of anger come off her even though the length of the table separated them.
Olivia nodded. “Very good. Now, let’s have a look at the trifle. And pray, tell me why Cook refused to join us.”
Miss Delacroix moved around the table until she stood at its head, pausing between him and Olivia, her gaze fixed on Felix. Mischief and slight annoyance warred for dominance in that bright gaze. “Cook is too shy so she requested I come in her stead.” A faint smile curved her lush rosy lips. “However, she’s pleased you enjoyed her meal, and I think you’ll enjoy the dessert as well.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” How would those lips feel against his? Would her voice sound as sultry whispering endearments in the dark? He banished his wayward thoughts.
“For the love of God, put down the trifle, Clarice.” Irritation clung to Olivia’s voice. “We’re all anxious to finish, and I’m certain you have other tasks to perform that don’t include bothering my guests.”
“I do, thank you, Lady Drummond.” With a barely discernible wink, Miss Delacroix turned a slow, deliberate half-circle as fluid and seamless as her voice, then she upended the trifle dish directly into Olivia’s lap.
November 2nd, 1814—near Lydd in Kent
Felix Alan Darrington, Earl of Swandon, slammed a leather-bound ledger shut as an insistent knock sounded on his study door.
Blasted interruptions. It’s almost as if Providence itself doesn’t wish me to finish the accounts.
“Come!” Not that he minded. Spending precious hours on a chore as boring as endless columns of figures didn’t warm the cockles of his heart.
The butler, Graves, entered the room. “I beg your pardon for the intrusion, my lord. A missive has come for you from London. From your mother.” He offered the letter to Felix on a silver salver. “The messenger indicated it was most urgent.”
me.” He rose and snatched the vellum envelope from the tray. “With Mother, urgent doesn’t mean life threatening. It mostly means she’s stubbed her toe and I should come immediately to help her through her time of need.”
Graves, of course, controlled himself admirably. Nary a muscle twitched in his face.
Felix sighed. Just once he’d love to shock some of the starch from the butler, but just like all the servants in his family’s employ, Graves knew his place. Which was for the best since Felix preferred order over unruly outbursts and plain speaking, but there were times he itched to change the status quo.
“Let’s see what catastrophe she’s
conjured now.” With a flourish, he broke the dowager’s wax seal and then withdrew the letter from the envelope. Once he unfolded the stiff stationery, he cleared his throat and read aloud, strictly for the benefit of Graves. Perhaps this would be the
that would make the butler forget himself.
“Ah, there, the letter is dated a month ago. It is hardly urgent.” He shot a smug grin at his butler then resumed silently reading.
My dearest Felix,
I trust you’ve been well. I wouldn’t know as I haven’t seen you in person for months and your letters have been
sporadic. How can you leave your long-suffering mother with little to no word of your whereabouts or anecdotes of your day, especially now you are home from that nasty business with France? I won’t bore you with details of how unpleasant bringing you into the world was, but just know I nearly expired during your birth. I would think you’d at least try to humor your poor, aged mother in her request.
I’ve been patient. I’ve let you live your own life and find what makes you happy, but I’m done waiting. I want gra
ndchildren. My dear friend Alexis is two years younger than me. She has eighteen grandchildren. Who will be there to mourn my passing if my own children are so ungrateful and selfish? Who can I flaunt around my social set since I have no one to carry on the family name?
Though I’m trying not to be harsh, I am ordering you and your siblings to London for the Season. You’ll all stay with me, of course, in the Mayfair house.
Incidentally, Charlotte is already here, such a darling girl. The city life agrees with her and she’s in the bloom of health. I don’t need to remind you the Mayfair house, as well as every other property—except the dower house—are yours. It’s your responsibility to choose a suitable mate and marry as your place in the Peerage demands. You have a duty to the family name as well as the title, Felix. Don’t vex me and your late father’s memory—God rest his soul—by ignoring the role you were born to. It’s high time for you to put such things as personal contentment aside in order to attend to your history.
Besides, you’ll need to be in town for the reconvening of Parliament. My plans and the government
coincide quite nicely. I’ll write to your siblings, but until then, I’ll expect your arrival imminently. Take heart, my dearest boy, once you’re happily married with an
wife, I shall stop pestering you and bedevil Charlotte.
With love and
Lady Roberta, Countess of Swandon
(until my reclusive son decides to
rejoin the world, do his duty and marry, at which time I will gladly and without regret take up the title Dowager)
“Good God. The woman has gone mad.” Felix scanned the letter a second time before carefully folding it, replacing it into the envelope and then slipping it into an inside pocket of his royal blue superfine coat.
“She has become fond of letter writing
of late, sir.” Graves’ response came with a straight face.
desperately wished to land the man a facer simply for variety but crushed the urge. His mother’s letter writing tendencies were one of the reasons he’d had to come home to England from fighting Napoleon last January. First she’d feared his brother had been missing in action then she’d proceeded to implore him to come home for she couldn’t live if both her sons perished at Napoleon’s hand.
Not that he or his brother had died
—and they certainly hadn’t met Napoleon personally—but Felix had been injured enough in Spain to be sent back to England while his unit had continued to fight without him, damn it all.
Graves cleared his throat, yanking Felix from his thoughts. “Letter writing occupies much of her time since your father passed.”
“Indeed. I forget it’s been two years since Father died. I suppose Mother takes a much different view on the subject than I do.” What must it be like to lose the spouse you’d spent decades of your life with? Felix gave in to the shudder that shook him.
“Of course, sir.”
He clasped his hands behind his back and stared at the man. “Well, she’s not far from the truth, is she? We’ve only just had the packing completed to travel to London for tomorrow’s departure. Blasted Parliament duties. If it weren’t for them, I could enjoy the holidays here in Kent instead of the city.” A dedicated Tory, he’d often contemplated giving his seat to his younger brother simply to be rid of the responsibility, except Oliver was of Whig affiliation, and that wouldn’t do at all. Family tradition must be adhered to as well as tradition to one’s born duty—no matter how much it rankled.
“You still can, my lord.”
Felix rolled his eyes. “I could, if I’d like to snub my peers and ignore the gravely boring speeches of Parliament’s opening and the old men’s tedious posturing. I have no idea how Father endured it for so many years.” He had the same thought every year, and every year he went and did his duty regardless of the ache in his backside the extremely hard, high-back chairs gave him. Sitting in the House of Lords was what his father had considered his most serious duty, so that’s what Felix did in order to honor his memory. “Having Mother in London this year complicates the issue.”
“Having your mother nearby always complicates the issue, sir.”
He gaped at his butler. Had the man just made a joke? But Graves’ expression remained placid. Felix rubbed a hand along his jaw. “I suppose this means my free time will be engaged with dinner parties, routs, and the obligatory hideous visits to Almacks, thanks to Mother’s wish to see me wed immediately.”
God, I’d rather die by flogg
He wasn’t in the mood for young, tittering debutantes. Ideally, the woman he chose for his countess needed experience and years behind her, yet the thought of marrying for duty sent a sour taste into his mouth.
Graves coughed discreetly into his hand.
“Will there be a return letter, my lord?”
“No. By the time she receives it, I’ll be there in person.”
Felix dropped into his chair. “That will be all, Graves.”
The butler tucked the silver salver under an arm before exiting the room with the door pulled closed behind him.
Once the man was gone,
Felix relaxed into his soft leather chair. He couldn’t believe his sister Charlotte had docilely given in to their mother’s demand and came to London. But then, Charlotte had always loved town life. She was every inch feminine and embraced being such. In fact, he wouldn’t put it past her to have a handful of suitors already clamoring for her attention—not that she’d take notice of any of them. He’d wager a half year’s income she had already tucked herself into a quiet corner of the Mayfair house with a racy—and quite inappropriate—French novel. Felix tapped a forefinger against his chin. He ought to lecture her about rotting her brain with such nonsense. Men in real life did not gad about having adventures with sexual antics thrown on top merely to impress a vastly inappropriate woman.