Tonight’s post is very long, but I couldn’t decide which part of The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife to post. I’m almost at 10,000 words into the book and am really enjoying the characters and secondary characters. I believe I can get Lord Roderick and the new Lady Roderick in for an interview since both are very upset at the moment, and that tends to be when I have the best interviews.
Now, in writing the first three chapters of this book, a group of other characters have emerged, and I already know they’ll want their own stories. Currently, I have three books in mind after this one is complete. I want to list out the characters before going to the excerpt to help set the stage for it.
Lord Roderick – our most unfortunate hero in this book who has to marry and get an heir after his brother died and left him the title; his greatest fear is ending up trapped into a marriage where the woman wants him for his title.
Claire Lowell – second daughter to Mister Lowell. Though her father is ambitious and hopes to marry his daughters off to titled men, Claire wants a love match (something Lord Roderick doesn’t know, of course, because it’s better for the plot if he doesn’t ;))
Lord Clement – the hero’s best friend. He is the hero in book 2 of the Earl Series, The Earl’s Hasty Marriage.
Lord Edon – a reported rake who is merely pretending to be that way. He’ll be the hero in book 3 of the Earl Series, and though I won’t go into too much detail here, he’s really not a rake; he’s just pretending to be one and I’m not saying why until book 3.
Catherine – the daughter of a viscount who Lord Roderick thinks he’ll marry after dancing with her early in this scene. I expect her to be the heroine in book 3 of the Earl Series (so she’ll be marrying Lord Edon, and once you read the excerpt you’ll see why this horrifies her father).
Lord Rumsey – widower who wants to find a suitable match for his only child. I want to give him a good wife in the Viscount Series.
Now that I’ve set the stage, here’s the excerpt. (Please note I’m just trying to get the story down right now. If you know what they called a “patio” or some other word I misused in the story, please let me know. I am familiar with historical US western lingo, but the Regency stuff is a learning curve at the moment.)
A half hour later found Lord Roderick no closer to finding the woman who’d walk down the aisle to wed him. It wasn’t that the women weren’t attractive, but it was nearly impossible to find a suitable match. He should have known that the Season was the perfect grounds for fathers who were eager to see their daughters marry up.
What made matters worse was that Clement had been called away to rescue his ward from another round of drinking with his buddies. Had the youth not had a penchant for making poor gambling decisions while drunk, the matter wouldn’t be an issue, but as it was, Clement left in haste, leaving Roderick without someone to vent his frustrations to.
He scanned the room and saw a man he hadn’t spoken to yet. Perhaps this man would steer him in the right direction. Skirting around the area where the couples danced, he reached the man who spoke to Mister Morris.
He waited for the two men to notice him and offered a slight bow. “Gentlemen.”
Oscar’s grin widened as he and his friend bowed in return. “Lord Roderick, I didn’t think you took an interest in the Season.”
“My brother’s untimely demise changed that for me,” he replied.
“I heard the unfortunate news about your brother,” the man standing by Oscar said. “He was a good man.”
If only he left an heir, Roderick thought for the thousandth time since he learned of his death. To the man, he offered a smile. “Thank you. I assure you, he’s greatly missed. I am Nathaniel Buford, the Earl of Roderick.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, my Lord. I’m Enoch Watkin, the Viscount of Rumsey.”
Roderick smiled with relief in knowing he was talking to a man who appeared to be of the age where he might have daughters looking to get married—daughters who weren’t likely to consider him only for his title. But to be sure, he asked, “What brings you here tonight?”
“This is my daughter’s first Season.”
“Really? And where is she?”
The viscount pointed in the direction of a young woman dancing the waltz with her partner. Roderick tried to determine whether she was interested in the man she was currently dancing with or not. She was smiling and seemed to be talking amiably to him.
Furrowing his eyebrows, Roderick asked, “Isn’t that Lord Edon she’s dancing with?”
Rumsey frowned. “Hopefully not for long. The man’s most notable accomplishment is gambling and women. I fear he’s taken an interest in her dowry.”
Oscar chuckled. “But she is a gentle soul. In fact, if I wasn’t already interested in someone, I’d be happy to dance with her.”
“I would prefer it if you would,” Rumsey told him. “Ideally, my daughter would have a marriage based on more than convenience. A love match might not be common but is ideal.”
“You were lucky that way,” Oscar commented.
Rumsey smiled at whatever memories crossed his mind. “Yes, I was.” He glanced at Roderick and asked, “Are you looking to get married?”
Taking that as his cue, Roderick nodded. “I’m hoping to find a woman whose primary motive isn’t marrying up, if you know what I mean.”
“You’re hoping for a love match?”
He shrugged, unsure if that was the right way to term it. “I’d like someone who can value me for me and not the appeal of my money and title.”
Rumsey’s eyes lit up with appreciation.
“If you’ll excuse me, my Lords,” Oscar began, “I think I’ll dance.”
After they exchanged slight bows, Rumsey shook his head. “Poor man. You can’t blame him for trying, but he’ll never win her.”
“Win who?” Roderick asked, his curiosity piqued.
“I don’t know her first name, but her last name is Lowell. Oscar proposed to her last year, but she declined at the time. Between you and me, the reason she declined had to do with his social standing.”
“He has no title, you mean?”
“Exactly, though he does have a rather impressive sum of money. Unfortunately, that sum won’t buy him a title.”
“Yes. Poor fool, indeed.” Rumsey shrugged. “I tried to explain to him that her father will never agree to the marriage, and she won’t run off to Gretna Green so he has no hope of being with her.”
“Who is her father?” Roderick asked, needing to know which father to avoid in case Rumsey’s daughter didn’t take a liking to him. He’d already decided he’d pursue Rumsey’s daughter because he liked her father, but he wouldn’t force her to marry him.
Rumsey’s gaze traveled across the room before he pointed to a round fellow with a jovial laugh who was drinking some wine and talking to a couple of men. “That’s him. Mister Lowell. He saved up a pretty sum for his daughters to attract a suitable husband, but if he thinks money will make his daughters happy, he’s sorely mistaken.”
“I can’t argue with that.”
Rumsey turned back to him. “I see the music has stopped. Might I introduce you to my daughter?”
“I would be delighted.” As he followed the man to his daughter who bid farewell to Lord Edon, Roderick hoped this would be it. He’d love nothing more than to be done with the blasted search for a wife.
When they reached her, Rumsey motioned to him. “Catherine, this is Lord of Roderick.”
Roderick bowed and she curtsied, and though she wasn’t exactly the prettiest woman he’d ever seen, she greeted him in a manner that indicated she’d been brought up to be a good lady of her future estate. That meant, she would ensure her duty in getting him an heir and run the home smoothly. Given that her father was a viscount spoke even more in favor, so he dismissed her homely appearance. Despite what Clement thought, this decision was too important for him to be concerned about a woman’s looks.
“I was wondering if I might have this dance?” Roderick asked as the music began.
“It would be my pleasure, my Lord,” she replied in a pleasant tone she most likely employed in all situations.
“I’ll leave you two to the waltz,” Rumsey said before he left them.
Roderick offered his hand to her, and they began the dance. She was light on her feet and familiar with the dance. “Do you know all the dances?” he wondered, figuring with her grace on the floor, she had to.
“Yes, my Lord,” she replied.
He couldn’t be sure, but he thought she was looking at him the same way she’d been looking at Lord Edon. Not sure how to take that, he cleared his throat and smiled. “Your father tells me this is your first Season.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“I suppose this must be overwhelming then.”
“No, my Lord.”
He waited for her to continue, but she kept looking at him with the same polite smile on her face as she’d had with Lord Edon, and it was beginning to make him uneasy. When she didn’t explain further, he ventured, “Have you been around to see the sights?”
“Yes, my Lord.”
Again, he waited, but she didn’t volunteer any information nor did she ask him anything. “So what is your favorite sight in London?”
She bit her lower lip as if she was thinking of an appropriate answer before she finally said, “I like them all, my Lord.”
He sighed. It was apparent Catherine wasn’t one for words, but maybe that was a good thing. He could marry her, enjoy a quiet life, and have an heir. Most likely, he’d continue in his political circles while she… While she… He turned his gaze back to her. “What do you enjoy doing?”
She shrugged. “I suppose I enjoy things all ladies do, my Lord.”
“What kind of things would that be?”
“I’ve been taught to paint, play the piano, sing on occasion, dance, be a gracious hostess when the need calls for it…”
As she rambled off the list of things she could do, he wondered if any of it truly appealed to her. Her polite smile didn’t waver a bit, but he didn’t detect the slightest bit of enthusiasm in any of the things she’d been taught. He debated whether to ask her anything else, but he figured he already knew how life with her would be. She’d participate in whatever things women did with their time. Whether she truly enjoyed it or not was up to her. As long as she did her role in running the house, he figured that was all he could expect.
By the end of the waltz, he decided she would do just fine. Sure, she wasn’t much of a talker, but really, what man needed the headache of a yapping woman? It was much better to live a quiet and peaceful life on his estate. He didn’t need stimulating. He needed a woman who would make a good wife, and Catherine met all the requirements. Better yet, she had a father he thought could be a friend. Life would undoubtedly be easier if he could get along with her family. Yes, Catherine would be his wife.
The room grew unbearably hot and the walls seemed to be closing in on Claire as she curtsied her good-bye to yet another man her father had found for her to dance with. Before her father could find her in the crowd, she decided to slip outside for a breath of fresh air. She couldn’t dance with anyone else, not now anyway. Ever since she was little, she didn’t do well in large gatherings, and though she managed to cope easier as she grew older, right now the feeling of being closed in from all sides was too much for her to take.
For a moment, she leaned against the cool pillar, thankful for the reprieve. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. As soon as her head stopped spinning, she would be able to go back inside. She kept hoping Lord Clement would return, but so far, he hadn’t and she was beginning to give up hope he would. But perhaps he’d pay her family a call within the next few days. Then if things went well and he fancied her, she wouldn’t need to attend another ball, at least not to attract a husband. She had no idea how stressful it’d be to go from one man to another in that room and know each one was sizing her up and trying to decide if he’d pick her to give him an heir. Lord Clement had seemed different from them, though she couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. It was a feeling, she supposed.
“You shouldn’t be out here by yourself.”
Opening her eyes, she turned her attention to one of the few men she hadn’t already met tonight. He had coarse dark hair and light blue eyes, broad shoulders that fit his dark clothes rather well, and—her eyes went back up—a surprisingly serious expression on his face. “I can’t go back in there right now.”
“You can’t stay out here unless you have a chaperone. Someone’s likely to think you’re doing something inappropriate.”
Her cheeks warmed. “I’m not.”
“I can see that.”
“Then can’t someone else who happens to step outside?”
His eyebrows rose in surprise. “Not all men who come out here would warn you to go back inside or tell you to find a chaperone.”
“I don’t understand what you’re implying.”
“This is not the best place for an unaccompanied lady to be,” he said. “Some men wouldn’t mind enticing you to the gardens.”
She glanced at the gardens. “I see no reason to go there when it’s dark. I wouldn’t be able to see anything of interest.”
A slight grin crossed his lips before he grew solemn again. “Perhaps not, but I’m sure the man would.”
She rolled her eyes and rested her head on the pillar. The man spoke in riddles, and she had yet to clear her head. “I can’t go back inside just yet.”
He stepped toward her. “I’m not trying to be rude. I’m trying to protect you from scandal. You are aware of what a scandal is?”
She gasped and snapped her head back in his direction, the sudden action causing her surroundings to spin around her. She gripped the pillar for support. “I’m not an imbecile. Of course, I know what a scandal is, but all I’m doing is resting against a pillar, and the entrance to the ballroom isn’t that far from here. If a man tries to haul me off to gardens, I’ll dart for the doors.”
“You underestimate how quick a man can be.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you such a man? Should I be worried about you?”
He balked. “Good heavens, no. I already have a woman in mind to marry. Let me escort you back inside, and I’ll talk to your chaperone.”
He reached for her but she dodged him. “I’ll take myself back in when I’m ready.” Really! The nerve of him to think she couldn’t do such a simple thing herself. All she’d wanted was a few minutes of quiet and fresh air to regroup, and she ended up being harassed. She wavered a bit but held onto the pillar.
“You don’t look good,” he said, concern finding its way into his voice. “Let me help you inside and I’ll find your chaperone.”
His insistence that she couldn’t take care of herself was irritating her to no end. Just who did he think he was to boss her around? When he reached for her again, she stepped away from him and went to the other side of the pillar.
“I don’t believe this,” he muttered and took another step toward her. “You look like you’re going to faint. I’m not leaving you out here unsupervised.”
She managed to dodge him once more, but in doing so, the world tilted around her and she lost her hold on the pillar. She let out a scream of surprise as she lost her footing on the edge of the patio and fell onto the grass. For a moment, she didn’t understand what just happened, but then the man was kneeling next to her and trying to pull her up.
“I can get up without your help,” she insisted, swatting at his hands.
“What is the matter with you?” he asked, partly frustrated and partly baffled.
“Nothing. I just don’t want strange men touching me.”
Ignoring the indignant tone in his voice, she rolled away from him and tried to stand up, but the bottom of her dress got tangled around her legs so she fell to her back. Large hands took hold of her shoulders. Startled, she tried to push him away when someone called out for them to stop their indecent behavior at once.
They stilled and turned their attention to the patio where a group of onlookers either shook their heads in disapproval or snickered. It took Claire a moment to realize how bad the situation looked. Her dress was up to her knees and the man’s hands were on her arms. Neither one of them moved for a whole five seconds, and then something snapped and she managed to shove him away. At what was less than a graceful movement, she managed to get to her feet and brushed the lower half of her dress down so she was decent.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” the man told the crowd. “I was trying to escort her back inside when she tripped and fell onto the grass.”
A woman snorted and fanned her face. “A likely story.”
“It’s true,” Claire spoke up despite the heat rising up in her cheeks. Truly, she couldn’t recall a time when she’d been more humiliated than she was at this moment. “I was dizzy.”
“Dizzy from lust, no doubt,” a man mumbled, causing a few giggles from the crowd.
The woman gave him a sharp look. “I won’t tolerate that kind of talk here, Lord Edon.”
“My apologies, Lady Cadwalader,” Lord Edon replied, sounding appropriately contrite.
The woman turned her attention back to Claire and the man. “I trust your little tryst will lead to a wedding.”
Claire’s eyes grew wide. A wedding? She glanced at the man who stood next to her. It gave her slight comfort to know he was as stunned as she was. Clearing her throat, she ventured, “It was an accident. We weren’t…” She struggled to find the right words, but the right words evaded her, and the sight of her parents and sister stepping onto the patio didn’t help.
Lady Cadwalader shook her head. “Don’t let the earl get away with it, Miss.”
Get away with it? But there was nothing to get away with!
The earl sighed, his shoulders slouched. “I will make it right.”
The crowd murmured their approval, though Lord Edon looked disappointed the matter was resolved so quickly.
Lady Cadwalader motioned to everyone to go back inside. “I didn’t plan this evening’s ball to spend all of my time outside. Lord Roderick, I assume you’ll bring Miss Claire in for a dance.”
Lord Roderick gave a curt nod and offered Claire his hand. She couldn’t believe this was happening. She’d heard of scandals, not in detail but enough to know that what they’d been doing hardly qualified. But the crowd refused to accept her insistence that the man standing next to her had been innocent of any wrongdoing. Granted, he’d annoyed her by not allowing her the time to recoup before she went back inside, but he was not in any means taking liberties with her.
All of her hopes that Lord Clement might find her to his liking evaporated into thin air in one single moment. She mentally cursed herself for taking that last dance with Lord Edon instead of asking her mother to go outside with her so the horrible closed in sensation and dizziness would stop.
Reluctant, she accepted his hand and walked with him to the patio. Her father intercepted them and smiled. “Lord Roderick, I’d be amiss if I didn’t introduce myself.”
“There’s no need, Mister Lowell. I know who you are,” he said as her mother and sister joined them.
Lilly shot Claire a congratulatory wink, and Claire looked away from her. One could hardly call this a congratulatory moment. She’d just been handed over in marriage to a man she knew absolutely nothing about.
“Did my daughter tell you who I was?” her father asked him.
Claire felt the tension in Roderick’s hand and wondered what caused the sudden change in his mood. Given, he hadn’t been happy before, but now he seemed angry.
“Not exactly,” Roderick replied, neither smiling nor frowning. “Someone mentioned your name.”
Her father didn’t seem to notice Roderick’s foul mood, but then her father wasn’t one to pick up on subtle cues in people’s emotions. His smile widened. “At a convenient time, I’d like to discuss your marriage to my daughter.”
“Indeed,” he said, a bitter edge in his tone.
She tried to pull her hand out of his, but Roderick’s grip tightened.
He shot her a sharp look. “I suppose you’ll want an elaborate wedding.”
Her jaw dropped. An elaborate wedding? Up to five minutes ago, she wasn’t even engaged!
Before she could respond, a cunning smile crossed Roderick’s face. “As luck would have it, my brother left the estate in such a condition where I need to tend to matters as soon as possible. I’m afraid there will be no time for such a wedding. We’ll have to make do with a private affair.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “I don’t care. I don’t even want to marry you.”
“Claire, let’s not be rash,” her father argued.
“Yes, such a thing would be contradictory to your plans, would it not?” Roderick added.
“I have no idea what you mean by that,” she told him, not liking whatever it was he was implying.
“A private affair will be fine, my Lord,” her father said, shooting her a pleading look to be amiable.
She glanced at her mother and sister who couldn’t have been more overjoyed if they tried.
“When will you wish for the wedding to take place?” her father asked.
Roderick’s cold gaze returned to her. “I see no reason to wait. The whole purpose of this marriage is to avoid scandal, is it not?”
She gritted her teeth and jerked her hand from his, finally succeeding in freeing herself from him. She didn’t understand it. He’d gone from seeming resigned but cordial about the whole marriage to angry, as if she’d betrayed him somehow. She wondered if any of her family members noticed it, but they seemed oblivious to the bitter undertone in his voice.
Her stomach tensed up into a terrible knot. She was about to spend the rest of her life with a man whose moods were highly erratic. “Is there really no other choice but marriage?” she asked her father and mother, hoping there might be a way out she didn’t know about.
“Judging by the way you Lord Roderick were rolling around on the grass together, you must go through with it,” her sister said.
Claire gasped. “We weren’t rolling around on the grass together. I was dizzy and fell.”
Her sister shrugged and offered an innocent smile. “From what I saw, you two were intimately entwined.”
“That’s enough, Lilly,” her father admonished. “We don’t need to go into details. The important thing is we’ll get the matter resolved and there’s no harm done.”
“Yes, that seems to be of most importance,” Roderick added. “I suppose we should find a priest or a vicar.”
Her father laughed, probably relieved Roderick was still agreeable—at least on the surface—to this travesty. “Oh, there’s no need to search for one. I was talking to a vicar not more than fifteen minutes ago.”
Roderick glanced at her with a clenched jaw. “Not more than fifteen minutes ago? That’s rather convenient.”
Claire blinked and then studied her family. Did they really not see how opposed he was to this marriage?
Straightening his shoulders as if he was getting ready for battle, he turned to her father and, in what struck her as a forced politeness, said, “In that case, I see no reason to miss this opportunity to make everyone happy. Will you lead the way?”
Her father nodded and hurried to lead the group back inside, and Claire swore he was half-skipping in his enthusiasm to see her so well married. Without another look in her direction, Roderick followed her father inside with her mother trailing close behind him.
Her steps considerably slower than theirs, Claire followed and her sister kept up with her pace. In a whisper, Lilly whispered, “I never realized you were so brilliant.”
“Brilliant how?” Claire whispered back, clenching her hands together in nervous dread. Good heavens but she was about to be married to a man who detested her for no discernible reason!
Lilly giggled but kept her voice low so no one would overhear. “Brilliant how? The way you plotted to get a man with a title was genius. I wish I’d thought to go outside by myself so I could snag someone suitable.”
She groaned and resisted the urge to rub her forehead as they passed by a group of onlookers. Her humiliation couldn’t be more profound. She didn’t know whether her stupidity in going outside without a chaperone or not bolting to go inside as soon as Lord Roderick found her was worse.
“I wonder if something similar might work for me,” Lilly whispered.
“Don’t be absurd!” Claire quietly hissed. “Do you think he’s happy to marry me?” She motioned to Roderick whose face remained impassive while her father and mother adamantly talked to the vicar a few feet from them.
Lilly shrugged and inspected her gloves. “What does that matter? You’ll be provided for for the rest of your life.”
She shouldn’t be surprised. Her sister’s goal was to marry someone like an earl. To her, this was the best thing that could happen to a woman.
“Stop being so glum,” Lilly playfully admonished. “Think of all the nice clothes and jewelry you can have. Think of all the servants who’ll do your bidding. Think of all the places you can go for entertainment.”
She shook her head. Lilly had no idea what she’d just got herself into. “He’s going to resent me.”
Her father gestured for them to join them.
Lilly slipped her arm around Claire’s and helped her move forward. “Give him an heir and all will be forgiven,” she whispered.
She rolled her eyes and ignored her sister’s last statement. It was going to take more than an heir to make him understand that she didn’t trick him into marriage. What that something was, she didn’t know, and truth be told, she didn’t even know how to find out.
Lord Roderick knew the exact moment his life came to an end. It was with the words “I do” and it was in front of a vicar and the manipulative family who were more than happy to see their conniving daughter married to an earl. It was disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. How could he have so easily fallen into their trap?
The wedding was brief and the group gathered in a drawing-room. As he exchanged the vows that sealed his doom, he couldn’t help but recall the peaceful life he had envisioned with Lord Rumsey’s daughter. So much for that. In one idiotic decision to try to help a naïve woman avoid scandal, he’d plopped himself right in the middle of it and was now paying the price. Something that most assuredly pleased Mister Lowell and his daughter to no end.
The wedding was done and over with in five minutes, and he waited as patiently as he could for the family to be done hugging each other. At one point, he overheard his deceitful new wife, Blair or something, whisper to her parents that she didn’t want to go home with him. He rolled his eyes. If nothing else, he had to admire her ability to play the victim. If he didn’t know her father’s penchant for wanting his daughters married to titled men, he would have believed she was innocent.
“You must go home with him,” her father softly told her from where they stood several feet from him. “He’s your husband now.”
She looked over at him, and though he knew he should probably do the decent thing and turn his attention elsewhere, he crossed his arms and stared straight at her, refusing to blink. Did she honestly think it’d please him to be duped?
She turned back to her father and vehemently shook her head and muttered something he couldn’t make out, nor did he really care to. If she experienced half the pain he did at being trapped into this horrible marriage, then all the better. If he was going to be miserable because of her lies, the least she could do was be miserable with him.
After what seemed like eternity, her father and mother managed to push her over to him. “You’ll have to forgive our daughter, my Lord,” her father began. “She’s terribly shy.”
“Oh?” He glanced at her. “She wasn’t terribly shy outside.”
She gasped at his implication, and while something in the back of his mind warned him it was wrong to say that, at the moment, he didn’t particularly care to listen to his conscience.
“Come on,” he told her, deciding he’d had enough of this stupid game. “We need to go home so we can get started on that heir.” He took her by the arm and stepped forward, but she dug her heels into the rug. With raised eyebrows, he gave her a knowing smirk and added, “Or rather, I should say we need to finish what we started, hmm?”
She slapped his hand, but he tightened his grip. “No! I demand an annulment.”
Before he had a chance to think on her words, for they would have provided him the exact way out of this travesty if he had, he let out an amused laugh. “That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. You just stood there and promised yourself to me to better or worse.” He pointed to the spot where they’d been standing by the vicar whose eyebrows rose. “I’m sorry, my Lady, but there’s no undoing what God has joined together.”
“Claire, don’t make a scene,” her mother warned in a gentle tone. “You’re a lady now. It’s time to act the part.”
“Exactly,” Roderick agreed. “Now come along. I’ve grown tired of this whole thing.”
When she continued to dig her heels into the rug as he attempted to escort her out the door, he picked her up into his arms and carried her out of the room.