What do people enjoy about the countryside? ‘Tis merely miles upon miles of trees, dirt, and animals. Sinking deeper into his seat, Nicholas closed his eyes as he tipped his head back. He was tired of seeing the same scenery over and over again, yet they still had a good way to go before reaching Putton. Boring, old Putton. Even the name is terrible! Why didn’t Father just─ His head snapped forward as the carriage briefly launched into the air before settling back into its rambling pace with a hard jolt. Cursing under his breath, Nicholas cupped the back of his neck, squeezing gently.
“Remind me again why Father chose this part of the countryside to buy land and lease it out?”
His mother looked up from her embroidery, her hand poised in the air. The Countess didn’t appear bothered by the carriage’s sudden movement. Not a hair was out of place; not even her shawl artfully draped across her shoulders had budged. Nicholas couldn’t understand how his mother managed to keep a neat stitch when they were tossed about every five minutes. I’ll be fortunate to have all my teeth when this journey is through!
“Putton is a lovely little rural town, Nicky. Do you not recall how you used to love accompanying your father as a young boy? You enjoyed the countryside then.”
Nicholas had indeed relished his adventures with his father; the farther the town, the better for his young mind. His interest waned as he grew up and saw all there was to life beyond the countryside and his childish activities. London drew his attention like a poet to his muse, offering much excitement, allure, and intrigue, and far better suited his taste for a thriving social life.
“I was a boy then, but I’m a man now with different preferences. Thank goodness I ceased to leave London some years ago.”
After the old Earl realised that Nicholas preferred to remain in London for the autumn and winter seasons, his father no longer made the trip to their country estate an obligatory one. Sarah, Nicholas’ younger sister, often complained bitterly that she still had to go, but she could hardly expect their father to allow a young girl to stay in London while her parents were closeted in the countryside for six months or more. Letitia, his older sister, was married and was not bound by the family traditions, but she and her husband did make the yearly journey to the countryside from early autumn, as did many other families who attended the London Season. I may have to accompany Mother and Sarah this year as Father is no longer with us.
The Earl passed away at the end of winter last year, shrouding the family in mourning until very recently. A lump formed in Nicholas’ throat as it suddenly occurred to him that the old man would no longer be around for many milestones such as his wedding and Sarah’s first Season. I should have found a wife sooner. Nicholas was the heir, and it was his duty to marry and produce another heir to continue the Addington line. However, he had kept it at bay because the thought of marriage had turned him green at the gills. Now, at twenty-eight, it was more salient than ever that a bride be found. Nicholas had a lot of proving to do, not just for himself but for those whose eyes were on him. I have large shoes to fit into.
“For what it is worth, I am glad that you are personally speaking to our tenants and employees,” his mother said. “They all respected your father, and I know they will respect you as well.”
Nicholas wasn’t so sure about that. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to earn their respect, but he knew many of his father’s employees, close friends, and all those who had looked up to the old Earl expected Nicholas to fail. Thus far, his young adult life had consisted of what many would deem frivolous activities, but Nicholas had not minded their judgement. He had always assumed he would have enough time before he would be expected to take the reins from his father. Life is not a respecter of persons; it takes and gives where it wills. It had given Nicholas far beyond what many will ever hope to have, but it had come at a steep price.
“Not even Downey seems to believe I will do this role justice.”
His father’s steward may not have said those words precisely, but Nicholas had read between the lines. Downey had offered to make the trip to Putton with him, which was merely the steward’s way of saying that Nicholas wouldn’t make a success of it alone. Nicholas had become more determined than ever before to show the man that he was his father’s son. I may have had a bit too much fun in the past, but I never shirked my responsibilities. If his father asked Nicholas to do something, he would do it. Parliament dinners, meetings, consulting the banks- Nicholas had done them all and more. He hadn’t liked doing them, but Nicholas’ respect and love for his father had ensured he obeyed the old man. I did everything short of taking over.
“Did Downey tell you that?” his mother asked. “That doesn’t sound like him.”
“No, he didn’t, but I read between the lines. It’s any wonder that he agreed to stay behind. At one point, I thought he would insist against my wishes.”
The steward’s face had expressed his doubt at his new master travelling to Putton and seeing the tenants and employees without an experienced guide. Downey used to accompany the old Earl everywhere and naturally knew how matters were handled. Nicholas was quick to admit that the steward knew more than him, but a person could learn. I could have requested his guidance, but my pride had taken enough hits. Now, I need to show him and everyone else that I am worthy of being the new Earl. The title belonged to Nicholas because it was his birthright, but he understood this did not mean all the respect and affection given to his father would transfer to him.
“He is only concerned about you, Nicky,” his mother argued. “Downey has been with your father for over thirty years- that’s longer than you have been alive. He has seen this family through its ups and downs and merely wishes to keep your father’s legacy alive.”
“I am Father’s legacy, Mother. I bear the title, thus ’tis I who must uphold our family name. An heir and servant- no matter how honoured- are miles apart in importance. ‘Tis not Downey who will be criticised if things go wrong.”
The Countess stretched her hand towards him to pat his knee. “Cheer up, dear. Nothing will go wrong. Only have faith that this trip will be successful. You’ll return to London knowing that your Father is proud of you.”
Nicholas knew his mother was trying to make him feel better, but the mention of his father being proud of him sat like a rock in his belly. He’ll be proud if I can assure our tenants that I will treat them as fairly as he did. But if they doubt my ability to manage our estates, then ’tis Father’s disappointment I will have on my head. His father may not physically be with them, but Nicholas felt the man’s influencing weight as heavily as the coat he wore. I do not know if I will live up to your memory, Papa. He paused, realising he had said ‘Papa’ instead of ‘Father’. Nicholas had used ‘Papa’ until he felt he was too old to do so and exchanged it for the more formal ‘Father’. Perhaps I find this entire matter daunting and feel like a boy again. His father would probably tell him to chin up and get to it.
“Let’s not jinx things by declaring how the trip will end. I’d rather go in not knowing and prepared for the worst.”
The Countess chuckled. “You sound just like your father. He wasn’t a pessimistic man, but he was never quick to call anything a success until it was an absolute outcome. He was mindful like that. I believe you will do just fine, dear. Why don’t you have a little nap? If I’m correct, we still have another hour before we reach Putton.”
Nicholas inwardly groaned. Another hour? He couldn’t recall the trip being this long, but he had to consider that he had been fourteen when he last accompanied his father on his yearly trips. Excitement and age makes all the difference.
“A nap sounds good, but I do not want to look like I slept all the way to Putton. People will think I’m weak, and that is not the first impression I wish to portray. It’s a bad message.”
“What message would that be?”
Did he have to spell it out for her? “That I’m sleeping on the job or that I cannot handle the pressure of running of Father’s estates.”
“Do you truly believe they will think all that just because you took a nap?” said his mother with choked back laughter. “Surely not! Even your father took naps, Nicky. It’s hardly something that someone should pass judgement on.”
“But he had already proven himself, hadn’t he?” Nicholas countered. “No one minded his slumber because they trusted him. I have yet to gain their trust.”
The Countess sighed, setting aside her embroidery. “I admit that it’s important to show everyone that you are fit to fill your father’s shoes, but you have much to learn, and mistakes are unavoidable. Do you think that your father knew precisely what to do all the time? It took multiple failures before true success came, and it will be the same with you. You are your father’s son, Nicky. Do not ever doubt that.” His mother settled the embroidery back on her lap, giving him a stern but playful look. “Now, go to sleep, and I’ll wake you up fifteen minutes before we reach the town’s perimeter. That should be enough time to straighten your clothing and wipe the sleep from your eyes.”
Nicholas was tired, and sleep sounded like just the right antidote to give him the energy he felt he needed to meet with his father’s tenants and employees. My tenants and employees. I need to remember that. He was the Earl of Ainsworth; thus, everything now belonged to him and was his responsibility.
His responsibility. Nicholas’ stomach churned, his nausea rising to the surface. No, no, I’m fine. There is nothing to fear. He took out his handkerchief, dabbing at his brow and drenched upper lip. The devil take it! Even his palms were sweating. Grabbing his knees, Nicholas took several deep breaths.
“Dear? Is something the matter?” his mother inquired. “You look rather pale.”
“I’m fine, Mother,” he said between clenched teeth.
“And I’m a young girl on her way to be sacrificed to appease the fey.”
What was his mother talking about? If that was sarcasm, then he would thank her to keep it to herself.
“Would you open the window?” he asked. “The air seems stale.”
“Of course, dear. Perhaps we should stop the carriage and let you have a rest. This jostling about cannot be doing you any good. Is it your stomach?”
“No, stopping” Nicholas insisted. “The window will suffice. I must have eaten something to upset my stomach.”
The Countess looked worried, but she nodded and opened the window, letting the crisp spring air fill the enclosure. Nicholas removed his outer coat despite the chill, clumsily pulling at his necktie. Why did it feel as though everything was trying to suffocate him? Perhaps I cannot be the man my father was after all.
“Are you improved?” his mother asked minutes later.
Was he? His nausea had abated, but Nicholas’ insides still felt like a knotted ball of twine.
“Much,” he lied.
“I’m relieved. It would be terrible to feel ill on your first official trip to Putton as the new Earl.”
His mother meant well by the comment, but it worsened his condition. Nicholas’ belly clenched, pushing up the bile he had fought so hard to keep down. I can no longer hold it in. Brow sweating, he used his stick to tap the carriage floor.
His mother appeared alarmed. “Dear?”
Nicholas said nothing, focusing his attention on not letting hours of compressed bile cover the carriage’s interior. The contraption slowed, but it wasn’t fast enough for Nicholas. He shot off his seat, throwing the door open before bolting out with a flying leap, and almost crippling to the ground when his ankle bent in on itself.
“Nicky!” he heard his mother shriek. “Oh, do stop this darned carriage!”
Nicholas launched himself over a jutting rock, ignoring the sharp pain to his chest as he emptied his belly out of sight. Finally spent, he turned onto his back and slid to the ground, his neck hanging nearly to his chest. He heard footsteps crunching on the grass and recognised it as his mother.
“Heavens, Nicky! I knew you were not well. Why did you insist on coming here when we could have done it later?”
Nicholas didn’t have the energy to answer. Not only did he feel weak, but ashamed as well. He was a grown man, but he was readily undone at the thought of failing.
The Countess knelt in front of him, putting a hand on his knee. Nicholas rolled his head up, his light brown curls obscuring his view. His mother gently pushed them away, handing a bottle to him.
“Rinse your mouth and drink,” she ordered.
She shuffled closer, helping him tip the bottle into his mouth. Nicholas tasted clean, fresh water and deduced it came from their family spring. He swirled it in his mouth, appreciating the coolness, before spitting it out to the side. Taking a long swig, he returned the bottle to his mother with a smile.
“Thank you. It’s just what I needed. We should get going.”
Nicholas moved to rise, but his mother pressed a hand on his chest, keeping him in place.
“Not yet. Sit for a little while, listen to the birds, and let the sun work its restorative powers on you. You’re still too pale, and I will not chance you growing worse.”
Nicholas thought to argue, but the fear and worry he witnessed in his mother’s eyes swayed his intention.
“I thought you said the sun was ageing on one’s skin,” he teased.
“Excessive sun is harmful, but I do enjoy its warm rays first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, I become as red as Uncle Fred’s face when he has had one too many. I envy women who can turn a light golden colour, although it isn’t at all fashionable.”
The Countess made herself comfortable beside Nicholas, clearly not minding that the contents of his belly lay several feet away from them. Such is a mother. He hoped his own wife would be as loving and attentive to their children. If I manage to find one amidst all these responsibilities. Nicholas was counting on the London Season to provide a wide variety of eligible women to choose from. Coming to Putton now was necessary if he was to return to London in time to observe and select the perfect bride.
Perhaps fifteen minutes or so passed in companionable silence before Nicholas decided he had had enough of nature. He doubted his belly would cause a raucous since it was well and truly empty. Also, the concern he had about arriving late to the first meeting with his managers was enough to make him man up and take on the challenges as they came.
“Time waits for no man, Mother,” he said, standing up and holding out his hand to her. “Mr Wickham must not be kept waiting.”
The Countess rose to her feet gracefully, arranging her dress and picking off nature’s little hang-ons.
“You sound much improved, dear, and you are perfectly correct. Mr Wickham is not one for tardiness. Even your father did his best to never be late. What is the time now?”
Nicholas pulled out his pocket watch, his eyes widening. “I have exactly forty-five minutes to make the meeting. How far is our estate from here?”
“Well,” his mother said, looking around as she observed their surroundings. “I vaguely recognise this part of the woods. I’m sure we have not far along to go, dear. We’ll tell Jamie to drive a little faster.”
Which meant they would be late. Could this day get any worse? Sighing, Nicholas helped his mother into the carriage and tapped once on the roof to get it going. They had not gone three miles when he heard pistol shots fired and galloping horses approaching their carriage.
“What the devil!” he swore, sticking his head out of the window.
“Nicky!” his mother cried alarmed. “Don’t do that!”
“How else am I to see what’s happening?”
Men on horses passed dangerously close to them, their voices guttural as they yelled. Nicholas heard his horses give a frightened neigh as Jamie cried in fear, their carriage violently rocking from side-to-side. Nicholas gripped his mother’s arm, struggling to keep her in place as the carriage tossed them about. Shots were fired into the air again accompanied with chaotic howls intended to frighten the listener.
“Bandits!” Nicholas spat in disgust.
“Bandits?” his mother said weakly, her voice shaking. “There haven’t been any in all the years I travelled with your father to Putton.”
That may be, but Nicholas knew he was right. He only had a few moments to think before the bandits would inevitably force them out of the carriage and take all their possessions. The scoundrels continued to fire shots into the air, shouting at Jamie to get down. Feeling for his concealed pistol, Nicholas ordered his mother to remain in inside while he went out to hopefully talk the men out of harming his mother. He had his pistol on hand if things went askew.
Nicholas first stuck a tentative head out of the carriage door window, counting the men he could see.
“Seven,” he muttered under his breath. “We’re definitely outnumbered, but I cannot allow anything to happen to Mother.”
It was funny how he felt calm at this moment, and yet the mere thought of failing his father had emptied his stomach contents moments before. Perhaps he worked better under life or death situations.
Nicholas observed the bandits, knowing they probably wouldn’t listen to him. Perhaps if he could sneak outside and ambush them, he might turn the situation around.
“It’s the only thing I can think of right now.”
He slowly opened the door, pulling back when his mother yanked on his shirt.
“Where are you going?” she hissed with a slight tremor. “Are you insane?”
“I’m doing what I have to. Do you have your pistol on you?”
His mother patted her carpetbag. “Your father taught me to never keep it far away.”
“Good. Keep it in the folds of your dress. If anyone tries to come inside the carriage, shoot them.”
“What?” she cried aghast. “I couldn’t possibly! Where will you be? Are you planning to get yourself killed, Nicholas Addington? I will not have it, you hear? Just give them what they want.”
Nicholas couldn’t chance that. Although fifty-four, his mother was still a stunning woman. He would never forgive himself if someone took advantage of her.
“Stay here and keep quiet!” he commanded. “I’ll be back.”
Nicholas pushed the door open, keeping his eyes on the scene in front of him. Unfortunately, he should have watched his back as well. He heard his mother shriek before a blunt object thumped him on the back of his head. Nicholas faltered, losing his grip on the door before fell out, landing on the ground with a hard thud. Despite the pain, all he could think about was his mother. Groaning, he rolled onto his back and tried to get up, but found he couldn’t. His vision grew blurry, but Nicholas did see a large shape standing above him just before darkness swept him under.
“Mismatched with an Earl” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
As the young and intelligent Selena Dankworth returns home with her father, she witnesses a carriage robbery that will turn her life upside down. Even though her bravery saves Lord Ainsworth and his mother from the bandits, she gets overwhelmed by his ungrateful and pompous behavior. Yet, in the weeks to come Selena will be forced to cooperate with the unbearable Earl, in order to separate their parents, who fell in love after the accident. When their first effort fails, she sacrifices her freedom and agrees to a fake engagement with the Earl. However, when the plan succeeds, Selena will find herself in distress, as her pure feelings for him have started to grow… Will her concerns about her low status stand in her way from finding true love?
Nicholas Addington, the Earl of Ainsworth, a charming but proud man, has spent the last year trying to live up to his father’s memory. Yet, his world will be shaken after being attacked by bandits and rescued by a mysterious woman who looks like no one he has met before. Little did he know that soon he would act to be engaged to this wildflower in order to rescue his mother from a foolish plan. However, his initial disapproval of Selena’s character will turn against him when their scheme leads to a fascinating romance. When Nicholas gets to know Selena more, his disdainful attitude towards her will turn into undeniable affection… Once their little act is up, will he be able to let her go?
Selena and Nicholas’ lives intertwine under the most unexpected circumstances and even if they do not wish to admit their self-consuming feelings for each other, they fall deeper in love every day. However, when their mismatch seems to turn into a dreamy love story, a wicked lady, who hopelessly craves the Earl, will threaten their happy ending… After all, can this turbulent affair that started as a fraud, become something more? Will Selena and Nicholas manage to overcome their pride for the sake of unconditional love or will their lives take separate ways forever?
“Mismatched with an Earl” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.