Loving the Earl: A Loveswept Historical Romance

BOOK: Loving the Earl: A Loveswept Historical Romance
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Loving the Earl
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

A Loveswept eBook Original

Copyright © 2013 by Sharon Cullen

Excerpt from
The Notorious Lady Anne
by Sharon Cullen copyright © 2013 by Sharon Cullen

Excerpt from
Mistletoe & Magic
by Katie Rose copyright © 2013 by Colleen Bosler

Excerpt from
What Not to Bare
by Megan Frampton copyright © 2013 by Megan Frampton

All Rights Reserved.

Published in the United States of America by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

LOVESWEPT is a registered trademark and the L
OVESWEPT
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-345-54006-5

Cover illustration: Aleta Rafton

www.ReadLoveSwept.com

v3.1

To Megan, Nic, Abby, and John, for their endless patience with me and “this writing thing.” I have learned to type and listen to you at the same time. Now, that’s skill!

Acknowledgments

Writing is a lonely task. Until it comes time for edits and then it’s a village raising a child. A huge thank-you to my agent, Jessica Alvarez of BookEnds, who read the first several drafts and gave me great advice. To Sue Grimshaw, the best editor
ever
, and the entire editing staff of Loveswept. You all saw the diamond in the rough and helped me carefully cut it out.

Chapter One

“Come now, Alice, we must hurry if we’re to make the ship before it sails without us.” Lady Claire Hartford, Viscountess Chesterman, grabbed her newly minted maid by the sleeve and pulled her through the crush of people milling about Dover’s port.

Alice dug her heels in and pulled back. Her wide-eyed gaze took in a drunkard staggering out of a nearby tavern, then moved to the majestic ship docked across the crowded street.

Claire adjusted her hold on Alice and tugged harder.

“Oh, good, there you are.” Claire breathed a sigh of relief when the boy she’d hired to bring her bag from the carriage appeared at her side, his face red from exertion, his small hands wrapped tightly around the handles of her bag. ’Twas only a small bag she’d brought with her, having sent her larger luggage ahead to the ship, but it contained important papers such as letters of introduction to her brother’s acquaintances in France and Italy, and letters from her brother to his banks so she had access to money.

Tapping a gloved finger to her closed lips, Claire’s gaze swept over the busy dock, looking for someone of authority to hand over her baggage.

As a sailor hurried past, she let go of Alice long enough to snag his coattail. “Pardon me, but can you tell me with whom I may secure my luggage?”

The sailor looked at her, his gaze moving from the navy cap covering her hair to her blue traveling gown to her fine boots then back up again. “I can take it for you, m’lady.”

“Lovely.” She pulled a crown from her reticule and handed it to him.

He looked from the coin to her, his brows furrowed.

“This is for your trouble,” she said. “We will be in cabin number four if you could have it waiting for us when we get there.”

He bobbed his head and with a hurried, “Certainly, m’lady,” grabbed the bag and disappeared into the crowd.

Claire straightened her shoulders and brushed her hands together. “Well, that went very well. Don’t you think, Alice?” If Richard could see her now. No, her late husband wouldn’t at all be pleased to see her now. In fact, he was probably rolling in his grave. Good. She hoped he was
rolling. This stretching of her wings, finding her freedom, was even more exhilarating than she’d believed possible.

Alice took a step back. “M’lady. I don’t think … That is … Your brothers …”

Claire grabbed Alice’s sleeve and yanked her out of the way of a wagon pulled by two tired-looking horses. Poor Alice. She was a new kitchen maid to Claire’s brother’s home and a last-minute substitute for Claire’s adventure. Claire had thought the girl would be much more appreciative of the chance to see a part of the world she never would have had the chance to see otherwise.

“Never mind my brothers.” Claire breathed deep of the crisp, briny air, and wrinkled her nose at the sharp, pungent odor of the tanning shop a few streets over. “Sebastian and Nicholas will be fine without us,” she said, referring to the brothers of which Alice spoke. Of course Sebastian and Nicholas had no idea that she and Alice were in Dover. Sebastian thought she was leaving on tomorrow’s ship with her old nanny, Betsy. Claire had outmaneuvered him by secretly making plans of her own, leaving Dover earlier, on a ship that didn’t belong to her other brother, Nicholas. Did Sebastian truly think she would be content with Betsy? The woman was a dragon and would surely have stifled Claire’s adventure. Probably the reason Sebastian insisted Betsy accompany her.

With a bright smile Claire turned to her maid to find the poor girl cowering. “Shall we?”

Alice whimpered. Claire ignored her and headed for the tall ship.

She wasn’t ignorant about sailing although she did suffer a moment of trepidation when approaching the gangplank. She’d never been on a vessel other than Nicholas’s and
never
had she actually been on one that sailed to another port. But she pushed the apprehension away. Her choice of a shipping company other than Nicholas’s had been deliberate—for the express purpose of cutting the ropes that tethered her to her overprotective, overbearing family.

The crowd grew more dense, and suddenly Alice’s arm was torn from Claire’s grasp. Whirling around to locate her maid, Claire slammed into a hard surface. She raised her hand to catch herself and found her chin pressed against the buttons of a waistcoat.

“Oh.” She stumbled back just as a man’s hands settled over her shoulders, steadying her.

She looked up, up, up into the darkest brown eyes framed by the longest, blackest eyelashes she’d ever seen on a man. He released her shoulders but not before the heat of his hands penetrated her cloak.

He cursed and dropped to his knee. Shocked, Claire looked down upon dark brown hair, intermingled with bits of vibrant red. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed various papers scattered on the ground, some crushed beneath others’ boots. He scooped up as many as he could, but a brisk breeze lifted several sheets and spread them farther.

“Oh, dear.” She bent to pick up a stray paper but a passing foot came down on it at the same time, crushing her fingers. She bit her lip to keep from crying out and yanked her hand from beneath the boot.

Suddenly his large hand was on hers. “You’re hurt.”

She tried to pull free but he held tightly, pulling her glove off to examine her red knuckles. She hesitated, shocked that a stranger was touching her bare hand in such an intimate manner. Their faces were so close that their noses almost touched, and for the first time she noticed that his eyes were red rimmed and bloodshot, and his auburn hair mussed as if he’d not had time to comb it that morning.

She pulled her hand from his. “I’m fine. Truly. But you will lose your papers if we don’t get them now.”

She spotted a few some feet away, again trampled by the crowd. She hurried over and managed to retrieve them.

The gentleman—for that was exactly what he was; no one other than a gentleman could afford a waistcoat that fit so perfectly to such wide shoulders—was looking down with a look of disbelief at the crumpled, muddy and torn papers in his hand.

She handed him the ones she’d retrieved, brushing at the dirt as he grabbed them from her with a glacial look that had her cringing. “Were they important?”

“Yes,” he bit out between clenched teeth. “They
were.
” He muttered something under his breath.

She caught only a few words but they were enough to make her insides freeze as she reminded herself that this man—whom she no longer thought of as a
gentle
man—was a stranger, and she no longer had to listen to men berate her. She suffered years and years of that with her husband, and while her brothers didn’t treat her harshly, the censorship of her actions was always in their eyes. She wasn’t putting up with any more of that.

She lifted her chin and shot him what she hoped was a haughty glare and not a frightened grimace. “If they are so important, sir, then why weren’t they secured in something safer than
your hands?”

He opened his mouth, then closed it. She secretly smiled.
See, Claire, you still have it in you.

With a growl he turned on his heel and stomped off, leaving her alone in the mass of people. Well. That was entirely ungentlemanly. With sinking dread she stared at the spot where he’d been standing and cursed under her breath. Words she’d heard her brothers say, but which a
lady
would never utter. She didn’t care. The words were appropriate for this situation. That man, that
un
gentleman, was Sebastian’s long-time friend. And even though they had not seen each other in many years, there was always the possibility that he would recognize her.

Oh, this would not do. Not do at all.

Brushing the dirt from her skirts with only one gloved hand, she desperately looked around for her other glove. When she couldn’t find it, she motioned for Alice to follow her. “Come along, Alice. ’Tis time to board.”

Alice’s eyes rounded in terror. Claire motioned for her again, a bit more impatiently this time. If they didn’t hurry, they would miss the ship and she was determined not to miss this particular ship. “Come, Alice.”

Alice shook her head and took a step back. Claire’s heart thudded. “Alice,” she said in her most imperial voice. “Let us
go
.”

“I can’t …” Suddenly Alice turned on her heel and ran away, back toward the shops lining the street and away from the ship.

“Alice!” Claire took a step after her, then looked back at the ship where already the last of the passengers were boarding. She looked toward where Alice had disappeared but the crowd had swallowed her whole.

Oh, dear.

The bell of the
Abby Dora
began to ring. She needed to be on that ship and away from England
now.
With a heart heavy with apprehension and a little bit of fear, Claire joined the other passengers on the gangplank. Trepidation slowed her steps until she halted, forcing the passengers to move around her with grumbles and irritated looks. She turned to look back at Dover, searching for Alice one last time, her gaze sweeping across the landscape.

BOOK: Loving the Earl: A Loveswept Historical Romance
13.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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