Lady Barbara Finchly gave a contented sigh as she soaked in the last few rays of the setting sun. Already she could sense her views of sunsets were numbered. She did her best to readjust her position on the cushions and quilts laid out for her beneath the beech tree. As she relaxed her back against its cool grey trunk, Lady Finchly did her best to memorize this particular sunset in its shades of pinks and purples.
A large splash followed by a sharp squeal pulled her attention away from the natural beauty before her. For a second, her brow furrowed in concern. She thought perhaps someone had fallen into the still cold waters of the brook in front of her.
Lady Finchly’s eyes rested on the two girls seated just next to the bank of the brook. They were sitting on their own quilt, one brushing off her skirts while the other spoke to the young boy on the bank not far off from them.
It was hard to make out the words over the sound of water trickling over rocks, but Lady Finchly could already guess the conversation. The boy took two small steps away from the girls along the bank and proceeded to throw another stone into the water in a haphazard attempt to skip the rock.
Again, a loud splash resounded in the little opening by the brook as the rock immediately sunk to the bottom followed by another dissatisfied squeal by the girls.
Lady Finchly was beginning to believe that Andrew was doing it on purpose. She expected he was hoping to coerce the two young ladies off the quilt and off to some play adventure.
Despite their eight-year age difference, Caroline Clarke had often appeased her young brother’s attention-seeking endeavors.
Lady Finchly understood the difficulties of age difference well. Her own brother, the late Baron Stephenson, had been five years her senior. Lord Stephenson had been much less willing to appease her attempts to rope him into childhood games in their younger years.
Of course, Caroline and Andrew’s upbringing had been vastly different than her own. Caroline had been orphaned at the age of fifteen, poor Andrew only seven, after their parent’s carriage accident. The Clarke children had clung to each other more than most siblings.
Though Lady Finchly had not been happy for the reasoning, she had been more than willing to take in both her niece and nephew upon their parents’ deaths. Having no children of her own, and her own husband passing the year before the carriage accident, she had welcomed the company the children brought.
Though tragic circumstances had brought the two to her door, she had once thought that at the very least, she could now give the Clarke children a bit of happiness. Over the last year, it was clear that they still were not yet done with the sorrows fate often threw at one’s life.
What had started as a simple ache in her side, had slowly spread through her body so that every joint seemed to hurt with even the slightest movement. She rarely raised herself from bed but had insisted on joining the children outside by the brook today.
It was one of the few remaining days of summer and Lady Finchly sensed it would be her last changing of the seasons. Already she was weak, unable to eat much. Though her body seemed to be wasting away, her mind was just as sharp and keenly aware that she was about to subject the Clarke children to yet another orphaning.
Luckily, Caroline was twenty now and quite the beauty to boot. With her fiery auburn hair that always seemed to curl perfectly, her petite frame and angelic face, Lady Finchly had no doubt she would someday make a good match.
Had they known of Lady Finchly’s illness, perhaps they would have pursued such a match sooner. As it was, Caroline had enjoyed her time in town the last two Seasons never seeking serious attention from any lord. Lady Finchly now feared that had been a fatal mistake.
Though Lady Finchly had supported the two children as best she could on her own modest allowance provided by her late husband’s nephew, the current Baron Finchly, there would be even less left for them upon her death. The baronship that Andrew was to inherit from his father was only enough to maintain the small country home with a little excess. Caroline would be forced to live on her mother’s dowry of one hundred pounds a year. Not nearly enough to support her.
If Caroline didn’t find a suitor soon, she would be forced to take up employment, something Lady Finchly never wished for her niece. However, in her sickened condition, they had not been able to attend the Season in London that year, and the chances of Caroline finding a match before her rapidly approaching end, seemed near impossible.
Despite this abysmal future, Caroline didn’t seem at all dismayed. In fact, Lady Finchly didn’t think she had ever known someone so selfless. Caroline doted on her brother— well when he wasn’t splashing her with rocks tossed into the chilly water— and had already determined that the sum of her modest income would be used to enroll Andrew in school when the time came that Lady Finchly could no longer care for them. Caroline would use her own education to seek employment as a governess and—much to Lady Finchly’s dismay—would most likely never marry or fall in love.
“If you don’t mind, Aunt Barbara, I think Eliza and I will join you here,” a voice said, catching Lady Finchly’s attention.
She looked up to find Caroline and her best friend spreading out their own quilt next to hers. Both young ladies had small water droplets sprinkling the skirts of their cotton dresses, and one curl in particular, framing Miss Eliza Davis’s face was now nothing more than a greyish-brown limp noodle.
Lady Finchly smiled up at her niece and nodded her agreement as she slipped the small piece of parchment, she had been writing on under the folds of the warm blanket that covered her.
“Is Andrew still struggling to skip rocks?” Lady Finchly asked.
“Yes, and no matter how many times I tell him, he always does it right next to us,” Caroline answered.
“I’m sure he is just trying to get your attention.”
“All he is getting is an earful of reprimands,” Eliza responded with a giggle as she settled herself on the quilt.
Eliza picked up the embroidery she had brought along with her, and with a contented sigh, continued her work in a much dryer environment. However, Caroline didn’t turn to her own embroidery that she had brought with her for their afternoon. Instead, she eyed the pen and inkpot her aunt was returning to their place in her writing desk.
“Who were you writing to, Aunt Barbara,” Caroline asked.
She was never one to stifle her curiosity.
“No one really, just jotting down some thoughts I suppose,” Lady Finchly responded with a weak smile.
Caroline looked her aunt up and down. Every day she seemed to wither a bit more before her eyes. Already her cheeks were sunken in with dark circles resting beneath her brown eyes. Caroline knew her aunt didn’t sleep well because of the pain she had to endure.
“Is it getting too cold for you? We can return now if you like?”
“Oh no, I’m quite comfortable. Let Andrew attempt his rock skipping for a bit longer.”
“I know he wouldn’t mind at all if you need to return home,” Caroline urged on.
“I know he wouldn’t,” Lady Finchly agreed with a weak smile.
Caroline seemed to study her aunt for a moment while she determined if it was indeed still prudent for her aunt to stay out of doors while the temperature seemed to slowly drop with the retreating sun. She must have decided it was only a mild risk as she reluctantly nodded her agreement and returned to her embroidery.
“Eliza was just telling me she got another letter from her Lieutenant Newton.”
“He’s not my lieutenant,” Eliza corrected, though the rose colouring her cheeks suggested otherwise.
“Oh, don’t be so modest. He writes to you almost every week. He may not be spouting poetry, but I am quite sure no man would pay so much attention to a miss he had little interest in,” Caroline retorted.
Lady Finchly was familiar with the association that had begun last Season while Eliza Davis was in town. She had only just returned from her time in London this week and had come immediately to call on Caroline to tell her all the things she had missed.
The past three days Eliza and Caroline had been inseparable as Eliza caught her best friend up on all the Season’s gossip. The result had been a little brother put off with the lack of attention he was receiving and a lot of girlish giggles ringing through the small cottage. It was a natural progression of growing up. Though Lady Finchly felt a bit sorry for Andrew, she also hoped that Eliza’s presence would also spur Caroline to look more towards securing a good match for herself.
“You know, I think they are quite in love,” Caroline teased. “I would not doubt if next time you come to visit us, it is to say that you will soon be wed.”
“Not likely,” Eliza said with a hit of sadness in her tone. “You know how my father feels about the militia. He would never consent to me marrying a soldier.”
“He would deny you even if you loved him and he you?”
“If my parents are any indication of the principle, I don’t believe love and marriage go hand and hand,” Eliza responded.
“I suppose you’re right that it is not always the case. But if you were to find love. Your father is not a cruel man, surely he wouldn’t deny you happiness simply because he is opposed to fighting.”
“Unless I fall in love with a vicar, I am sure romantic emotions will have no say in my future,” Eliza said in a mournful tone.
Caroline reached over and gave her friend a reassuring squeeze with her hand. It was an unfortunate state that women were in when they could only marry the man in their father’s high regard, and not in their own.
“I have only recently come to the knowledge that love and marriage do not go hand in hand, and I must say that it was an aspect of growing up I wish I never learned,” Caroline matched her friend’s sorrowful tone.
“Just like you told me the other day, Aunt Barbara, with your own lost lord. I don’t know that anyone actually marries the man they love. Then what is the point to marriage at all? It’s nothing more than a death sentence if you ask me,” Caroline announced.
Lady Finchly looked at her niece in surprise. She had never heard Caroline express such strong negative opinions on the subject of matrimony.
“Your parents loved each other very much, Caroline. And though I did lose one love, I can say with all honesty that I had great admiration for Lord Finchly.”
“But admiration is not love,” Caroline urged.
“It is very near the same, and one might even suggest that it can grow into love. Do not give up hope just yet. There are a great many benefits to a good match made with nothing more than admiration.”
“It is too late, dear aunt. I am entirely ruined. I want the very best kind of love like in those novels or like you’ve told me about, or I will have none at all.”
“What great love is this?” Eliza asked with peaked interest.
“Oh,” Caroline set down her embroidery and clapped her hands together in anticipation. “You must tell her the story, Aunt Barbara.”
“I’m not sure if I should if it has already ruined you against sensibility,” Lady Finchly responded with a weak chuckle.
“Oh, please, I would love to hear a good romance story,” Eliza egged on.
“Alright. Well, I suppose it is much like most other lost love’s stories. He was the son of a wealthy family and everything you would expect of a gentleman. He was handsome, charming, romantic, and had a wonderful sense of humour.”
Caroline and Eliza giggled in anticipation of the story to come.
“I met him while visiting with my mother’s sister. He had a fine home, Hilton House, and my uncle was the vicar to the local parish. He had a small cottage on the edge of the manor property. We fell in love almost instantly.
“We carved our initials in a beech tree one afternoon, not very much unlike this one when he declared his love to me. It was an afternoon I will always remember.” Lady Finchly said with a far- off look in her eyes.
“But it was never to be,” she sighed regrettably. “My dowry was much too small to entice his family into agreeing to the arrangement, and well I’ll just say, there were other obstacles in the way. My time visiting my aunt and uncle came to an end, and I had no choice but to leave.”
“How perfectly romantic and awful all at the same time,” Eliza responded.
“Whatever happened to him, Aunt Barbra?” Caroline asked.
“Oh, he married eventually and went on with his life, as did I. It is not so much that I had a bad life that makes me mourn this lost love, only that I left without saying goodbye. I wish I could have had the chance to explain to him why I left, why I didn’t write to him, and why I married another later that year. I always feared he heard of my marriage from another and thought that I had been insincere with him.”
“But didn’t Grandfather arrange your union with Lord Finchly?”
“Yes,” Lady Finchly said with a heavy sigh. “He did it while I was away. I returned to learn I was engaged and already with the bands read twice. It was only a few short weeks till we were married. But I was never able to explain this to my love.” She sighed at the memory.
“Lord Finchly was a good, kind man. I was lucky that despite not having a say in the choice, he was still an honorable gentleman. I suppose it is just the what if that haunts me now.”
Both girls sighed unconsciously. It sounded like a romance right out of a novel. Caroline desperately wished for her aunt to get her happily ever after. Perhaps the fact that she knew Lady Finchly never would that made it all the more romantic.
“Unfortunately, we will be returning home earlier than expected,” Viscount Matthew Poulett announced to his friend across their usual table at White’s.
It had been a long night at the gambling hall, leaving both of them not very motivated to converse now. Instead, Matthew and his long-time best friend Seth Drew sat in silence. Drew was perusing the paper while Matthew sifted through the pile of letters, he had brought with him from his rented London residence.
A letter in his father’s handwriting had caught his attention. Pushing aside all the rest of the invitations and news he opened and read through it quickly.
“Is it bad news?” Drew asked, setting aside the paper.
“No, I don’t think so,” Matthew said slowly.
“You don’t think so? I didn’t think the Earl was an ambiguous man.”
“Well, he states he is requesting my help on a matter but doesn’t say much beyond that. I wonder if he is hoping a vague request will entice me back all the quicker.”
“Perhaps, he wasn’t too keen on your leaving the estate in the first place this year. Do you think this will conclude our time for the rest of the Season though? One matter certainly won’t take the next three or four months I would guess.”
“Perhaps you are right. I will keep the London house for now and hope that it is just a temporary matter. My fear is, however, once I am returned, he will find reasons aplenty to keep me for the remainder of the year.”
“You can’t blame him, though. He is not the sort of man that likes to sit at home all alone, and in his current state, he has no choice but to stay at Hilton House.”
Matthew nodded his head in agreement as their breakfast plates were put before them. He understood why his father might wish him to stay at home for the Season.
With the passing of the Countess less than a year ago, it would not have been right for his father to return to society quite so soon. More than this, he knew his father mourned the loss of his wife. Despite the Earl being quite the extrovert and always wishing for company, he also was wading through uncharted territory. As much as he liked the company, he also wondered if it was right to attend social gatherings or smile or laugh when the one you cared about for so many years was no longer of this world.
Matthew would not have said that his parents were in love as described by those ridiculous books the ladies of the ton seemed to swoon over. In fact, he did not think such a thing was real. It was just the creation of a writer’s mind to help sell extra copies.
His parents were good friends, however. They had been married for twenty-seven years, which was far more than most could say. Though he never caught his parents in passionate embraces or other nonsensical situations, they had shared secrets, taken trips together, and had spent a great many nights laughing at the same jokes.
Losing someone, so key in one’s life had taken an adjustment for both Matthew and his father. The Countess had been riding in the country with her husband when a sudden downpour had soaked them through. She had taken ill in the following days and was out of this world within two weeks.
Matthew had done his best to go on with his life like everything was normal. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his mother or mourn her passing, instead it was quite the opposite. He refused to let himself feel those emotions for fear he could never get out of them again.
For the Earl, he had taken the loss very hard. Matthew wondered if his father had felt a small sense of guilt in her passing since it was his idea for the ride in the first place. Of course, Matthew knew such notions were nonsense, but logic never seemed to sway one’s emotions to feel opposite to their own wishes.
“It is a pity to be leaving so soon, though,” Matthew said, hoping to shake the melancholy thoughts from his head. “I feel like the Season was finally coming into its glory. Races were to be held weekly in Hyde Park starting next week. We were sure to see some fine spectacles if we could have stayed. And then there is always Miss Payne, of course,” Matthew jeered his friend.
“I don’t know why you choose to keep bringing her up. I’ve told you already there is nothing between Miss Payne and myself.”
“Yes, I know that is what you say, Drew, but what you say and how you acted at the ball two nights back tell very different stories.”
Seth Drew scoffed at his friend and resumed reading the paper as he sipped his morning tea. Matthew could tell from his friend’s good-natured smile he hadn’t quite hit the point of upsetting him. It was almost a little game that Matthew played with himself. It was nearly impossible to get Seth Drew angry or even slightly perturbed. Matthew was constantly baiting his friend, hoping for at least some slight irritation.
“If you would like, you could stay here. You are very welcome to keep residency in the townhouse on Garden Street. I’m sure Miss Payne would be most upset if you were to leave so prematurely.”
“I am only here at your behest. I am happy to return home when it is needed.”
“If it is a matter of funding…” Matthew persisted.
He knew that Seth, being the son of a country rector, didn’t create the most income. Seth had just finished his certification with the clergy and planned to take the ageing vicar’s place at the village church when the time came for his retirement. Matthew guessed that his friend was looking forward to the position of his own, if only to have a bit more freedom away from his family. Until the vicar decided to step down, however, Drew was a bit of a man without a place.
Matthew had hired his friend to be his assistant until the time came, he could take up his place as vicar. It was a nicer way of providing lodging and accommodations for a friend who didn’t need to be a burden on his family, but who also didn’t like to take handouts. Though all the employment entailed was doing the same entertainment they would have done otherwise, and lodgings and accommodations where that enjoyment might take them, Drew had as of yet, refused to take the salary Matthew had suggested be a part of the arrangement.
“It is not a matter of funding,” Drew said calmly but firmly. “And even if it was, I wouldn’t accept any from you.”
Matthew leaned back in his chair, taking a bit of toast with a self-satisfied grin. This was about as close as the good-natured Seth Drew ever got to a cross mood. He had won his little game.
Matthew though he enjoyed Drew’s company over all else, also envied the man a bit. Drew was always calm, collected, and thoughtful. Matthew had a tendency to speak in the heat of emotion. He chased blood pumping activities like gambling, racing, and boxing. Luckily, he was reasonably good at all three pursuits.
But unlike Drew, Matthew could often find himself prone to what the ladies of the ton would refer to as rakish behavior. He had little patience for silly girls who only dreamed of making up a house and spoke his mind openly on the matter. He preferred the gambling hall and the frank conversations of fellow gentlemen over dances and shallow flirtations with misses.
Despite not always enjoying the venues that politeness dictated he visit during the Season, he was very much like his father and always in need of some sort of social engagement. So, he endured the balls and the mothers pushing their daughters on him, if in exchange he also got to enjoy all the entertainments that the city offered.
“It will be a shame to miss the horse races though,” Matthew pressed on. “Perhaps I should ask you to stay since you are apparently at my behest and inform me when Haddock is finally put in his place.”
“You wouldn’t receive that information any time soon. Lord Haddock’s steed is probably one of the finest I’ve seen in years. He won his last race by a whole body’s length. I can’t imagine anyone will find a mount that would give him a run for his coin any time soon.”
“Yes, perhaps your right,” Matthew agreed as he eased back into pleasant conversation. “I know several gentlemen rushed home after that race desperate to find something comparable hidden away in their country stables. They were quite upset when they were so blatantly overshadowed.”
“Are you also included in that group of gentlemen? Do you feel overshadowed?” Drew asked.
Matthew knew he was referring to the two mares that had come with them to London. One he had ridden himself in two races so far, winning one and losing the other, and the other had been set to be a surprise contender later on in the Season.
Now that Haddock seemed to be housing an ace in his stable, there was little use to attempt to outdo him or even showcase his own prized horseflesh. Matthew might have been cynical and grouchy at times, but when it came to betting, he had a level head. There could only be one champion at a time. It was better to bet on Haddock winning and save his secret prize-winning mare for the right moment.
“Not at all. I made quite a sum off Haddock’s first race. I could tell the moment I saw that chestnut she was the winner. Of course, I never realized by just how much. I will admit it is a bit irritating that of all the lords in London that it’s he that has the best specimen for the sport. But it’s hard to complain much when I still win a purse in the end.”
Matthew had never gotten along well with Haddock. Of all the lords of society, he was probably the only one that Matthew would have felt a slight satisfaction in his demise. Unfortunately, the world rarely worked the way one hoped, and Matthew had already learned quite well how to turn a seemingly negative situation into a positive one.
“Destined for an Earl’s Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After losing her last living relatives, Caroline Clarke knew she had to become a governess to secure her brother’s future. However, before losing her beloved aunt, she promised to fulfil her last wish and deliver a letter to her old lost love. Yet, fate will have the charming Caroline facing her aunt’s past, leading her to an Earl’s doorstep. Luckily, the old man decides to take care of her, as a homage to her aunt, and proposes that she stays in his estate. Caroline is thrilled with the idea, except for the fact that she must endure his insufferable, arrogant son. However, little did she know that he would soon become the one to steal her heart… Knowing that her growing feelings for him could lead to the same heartbreaking end as her aunt’s, will Caroline risk it all in order to mark her own path in this old romance?
Matthew Poulett is a proud young man who has everything; wealth, titles and charm. Upset to leave London halfway through the season, he rushes to visit his countryside estate on his father’s command. On his way there, Matthew will be extremely irritated by a mysterious girl that happens to be traveling on the same couch. Having to suffer through her endless talking about love, he makes it clear that, for him, love and romance are nonsense and they are usually driven out of selfishness. However, he is entirely unaware of the fact that this fiery girl is going to turn his world upside down… Fate forces him towards her and he soon finds himself enchanted by her kindness and beauty. Will Matthew manage to overcome his prejudice and finally surrender to his genuine emotions?
Caroline and Lord Poulett are two opposite forces that keep crashing into one another, and yet, what bonds them seems to be stronger than what separates them. Their affection slowly turns into a reciprocal admiration, and their worlds intertwine. However, their undeniable affinity will cause the jealousy of a cunning woman, who will plan to separate them once and forever… Was it, after all, her aunt’s break up from the Earl a fate’s losing game or someone’s evil intention? Will the ashes of a lost affair be the spark that Caroline and Matthew need to defy their perilous destiny and find true love?
“Destined for an Earl’s Heart” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.