A secret life and a secret wife come head to head when a second son inherits a title.

While The Seduction of the Duke is book #1 in the Reluctant Lords series, The Claiming of the Earl is where the idea for the series came from. This story has been brewing in my head for years and it will be so satisfying to get it out onto the page. But, alas, Andrew has to wait his turn…

This is a little teaser from Claiming that I did for a blog hop back in 2014. In this scene, Andrew, Earl of Penfield, is just coming home from a disastrous meeting. Recently ascended to the title, he is being blackmailed by someone who knows too much about his past. Everything seems to be falling apart around him and only thoughts of his wife seem to make things better.

*****

Andrew entered Holden House and paused. The marble flooring and expansive ceiling of the foyer kept the house cool at this time of year, which was a welcome respite from the summer heat. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and held it, once again going over the events of the morning. Things were unraveling before him and he did not know how to stem the tide. Slowly, he let out his breath and, with a nod of thanks, handed his hat and walking stick to a footman and headed directly for his study.

He made his way to the sideboard, depositing his coat onto a chair before removing his cufflinks and rolling up the sleeves of his shirt. Pouring a finger of whiskey he moved to the windows overlooking the rear garden. With one hand, he untied his neckcloth and tugged the collar of his shirt until it loosened enough to allow him to breathe easier. He raised his arm against the window, relishing the smooth feel of the glass against his skin. He sighed deeply as he leaned his forehead against his arm, inhaling the woody aroma of the whiskey as he did so; its familiar spiciness doing nothing to relax him.

The silence of the study was a welcome relief after the noise of the London morning. The docks had been teeming with the shouts of sailors and the clatter of wheels on cobblestones. The heat had been oppressive, but a summer storm was brewing and the corresponding humidity brought forth a miasma of smells: rot, refuse, and the stench of unwashed bodies unloading various cargoes. After the hustle and bustle of the docks, the peace and solitude of his study was a relief.

Andrew felt, more than heard, the first drops of rain against the windowpane. Opening his eyes, he looked out to the rear garden. He was reminded of the gardens at Penfield Hall and he realized it had been too long since he had returned.

Years too long.  

He was ready to quit London and depart for the quiet of the country.  The clouds, darkened from the coming storm, fit his mood and the lead gray of the overcast sky brought out the colors of the flowers. The white daisies and Lilly of the Valley soothed his eyes while the bright red and orange of the poppies did little to cheer him, despite his wife’s assurances that they would. If it wasn’t for this infernal business, he would be there right now, enjoying Penfield’s lush gardens, his wife on his arm.

His wife.

Just the thought of Cassandra soothed him like nothing else could and the tension ebbed from his shoulders. He closed his eyes again, smiling as he recalled the image of her from last night’s dinner party. She had smiled at him for the first time since her arrival in town. It was amazing how that one little gesture, just the slight curving of her mouth, could change her so completely. She had always been lovely, but with that smile playing at her lips she glowed with an inner radiance that lit her entire being from the inside out. What he wouldn’t give to see her smile at him again and again.

The door to his study opened quietly and he sighed, knowing the peace and solitude he sought was at an end.

The soft rustle of skirts announced Cassandra better than Ellis ever could and Andrew felt a smile spread across his face. He turned and there she was as if he conjured her up from memory. Her gown was a striped green and ivory frock and he could imagine it bringing out the color of her mismatched eyes. Her dark chestnut hair had grown out, and the curls teased along the column of ner neck.

“Hello, my dear.  How was your morning?” He stepped forward, hands outstretched to her, eager for the feel of her in his arms, but stopped when she shut the door with an ominous click. Andrew stopped halfway across the room and felt the smile fade from his face.

She was not smiling now.

She stood just inside the doorway, hands folded primly in front of her and he wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss if not for the high flush on her cheeks. Panic flooded him and he knew. Somehow she found him out and the blood drained from his face.