Educated by the Earl (Second Sons of London Book 1)
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A dutiful army officer who shuns intimacy. A selfless beauty ready to start living for herself. A chance meeting in the street that leads to love . . .
When Major Spencer Haddock’s father dies, he returns to England as the Earl of Middlefield. He seeks a typical ton marriage, where his wife will provide him with an heir and possibly other children and then they go their separate ways. He intends to find his countess quickly and not waste time at boring social affairs.
Lady Tessa Foster delays her come-out for several years in order to care for her ill parents. Now out of mourning, Tessa is eager to be introduced in Polite Society so she can find a husband and start a family of her own.
When Spence attempts to save Tessa from a thief brandishing a knife, she turns and attacks Spence. He quickly learns that instead of the pliant woman he thought he wanted as his countess, he desires Tessa—a woman of beauty and valor who stands up for herself and those she cherishes.
Can Spence change Tessa’s poor opinion of him and win the heart of the woman he has come to love?
Find the answer in bestselling author Alexa Aston’s Educated by the Earl, the first book in Second Sons of London..
Each book in Second Sons of London is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1: Educated by the Earl
Book #2: Debating with the Duke
Book #3: Empowered by the Earl
Book #4: Made for the Marquess
Book #5: Dubious about the Duke
Book #6: Valued by the Viscount
Book #7: Meant for the Marquess
Release date: February 25, 2022
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing
Print pages: 281
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Educated by the Earl (Second Sons of London Book 1)
The Shepton School, Kent—1793
Spencer Haddock was terrified.
He glanced down as the carriage rumbled along the road toward The Shepton School. It was to be his new home for the coming term now that he was old enough to discard his tutor and go off to school as Wilford did each year. Of course, Wilford, being ten years Spencer’s senior, had left The Shepton School several years ago and was now starting his last year at Eton. After that, he would be off to Cambridge, where all Haddock men went for seasoning and to complete their education.
Where Wilford was a terrible student, Spencer excelled at his studies. His tutor had called Spencer his finest student in all his years of private instruction. He couldn’t help it—he loved learning. History. Mathematics. Languages. Everything about learning appealed to him. Wilford had laughed at him, calling him too eager. It was the only time his brother had spoken to him this summer.
His father hadn’t spoken to him at all.
Spencer had hoped that the earl would actually go with him this first time to The Shepton School. After all, it was in Kent, where their family’s country estate stood. It only took a little under two hours to reach it, according to the coachman who drove Spencer today. Instead, his father disappointed him today as he did every day in living memory, for all Spencer’s seven years. He hadn’t come up to the nursery while Spencer ate his last breakfast at Stoneridge. Nor had he bothered to step outside as the carriage pulled up.
He was used to it. As a second son, he was most often ignored. The Earl of Middlefield had his heir apparent in Wilford and wasn’t interested in anyone else. Spencer wondered if his mother had paid him any attention. She had died in childbirth when he was two, along with the babe she delivered. He couldn’t remember what she looked like. Only that she smelled faintly of lavender. If she would have lived, perhaps things might have been different.
It didn’t matter. He was off to school. Excited to be gone from Stoneridge and the narrow world he inhabited there. Oh, his tutor had taken him out on the estate for studying nature and riding lessons but Spencer longed to see more of the world. The farthest he’d been from home before today was to Middleditch, the nearest village which was four miles from Stoneridge. That was why he was elated to actually be going somewhere.
Still, his excitement was mixed with a healthy dose of terror. He would know no one when he arrived. He didn’t know how to make friends since he’d never been around boys his own age. His tutor had called Spencer an old soul. He wasn’t certain if that was a compliment or not.
The carriage slowed a bit and he glanced out the window, seeing they turned and headed up toward an enormous building.
This was it. His new school. He swallowed, his mouth dry, as the vehicle turned into a circular drive. Moments later, a footman opened the door.
“We’re here, Lord Spencer.”
Climbing from the carriage, he glanced around and saw half a dozen other carriages nearby. Boys spilled from them, along with the adults who had escorted them. Trunks were being taken down. Greetings were shouted back and forth.
He was frightened out of his mind.
“Good morning, young man,” a voice said. “I am Mr. Whittaker, headmaster of The Shepton School.”
Spencer swallowed, standing straighter, and offered his hand as he said, “Good morning, Mr. Whittaker. I am Lord Spencer Haddock. I am a new pupil.”
“You will be known as Mr. Haddock,” the headmaster informed him. “Some boys here already claim a title. Some are scholarship students. We at The Shepton School try to look at all our students as equals.”
“I like that,” he said and then added, “I like to learn.”
The older man chuckled. “Then you have come to the right place, Mr. Haddock.” He consulted a page in his hand, telling Spencer his room assignment and directing the footman to take the trunk inside.
“I see you are alone today,” the headmaster noted. “Your brother is Wilford and your father is the Earl of Middlefield. Is that correct?”
Mr. Whittaker harrumphed. “It is good to have you here, Mr. Haddock. I hope you will prove to be a more engaged student than your brother.”
“Oh, Wilford hates books and learning. We are opposites,” he assured the headmaster.
“Go along, then. Follow your footman upstairs to your dormitory room,” Mr. Whittaker urged.
Spencer hurried inside and found the servant heading up the stairs with his trunk. Other men, whom he decided were tutors at the school, were giving directions. Boys were calling out to one another. The air crackled with excitement.
They went down a long corridor and found Number Twelve, the dormitory room he had been assigned to, and went inside. Two older boys were already there, their trunks open as they unpacked.
“I am Georgie Putnam, your prefect,” said the taller one. “I am in charge of this room and the boys within it.”
He offered his hand and Spencer took it. “I am Spencer Haddock.”
“You are over there,” Georgie said and pointed to a cot on the opposite side of the room. “The last one. Have your servant leave the trunk. You are to unpack on your own. Boys at The Shepton School learn to do for themselves.”
He nodded to his footman, who took the trunk and set it in front of the cot and gave him an encouraging smile.
“I hope you enjoy your new school, Lord Spencer. We’ll be back to get you at the end of the term.”
He began unpacking as other boys entered. The prefect met them and pointed them toward their assigned cots.
Two boys entered together. Spencer had seen them climb from the same carriage, talking animatedly. Obviously, they knew each other. Whether they were friends or brothers, he couldn’t say. Then he saw the two men accompanying them. The pair said a few words and shook hands with who Spencer assumed were their fathers. The adults left and the two boys came toward him, having been assigned the places nearest him by the prefect.
“Hullo,” said the one who sat on the cot directly next to Spencer’s. “I’m Owen Hasbury. This is Everett Wayland.”
“I’m Spencer Haddock,” he said neutrally, trying his best not to sound too eager.
The one called Everett smiled at him. “Good to meet you, Spencer Haddock.” Then he looked to Owen, who had medium brown hair and dark brown eyes. “How did I do?”
Owen laughed, his brown eyes full of mischief. “Very well, Ev.” Looking at Spencer, he added, “Ev and I are neighbors. Our fathers are friends. Our older brothers are best friends. We are friends, too. Ev is a little shy. I try to make him talk more.”
“I can be a bit shy,” Spencer shared.
Owen grinned. “Then we will have to liven you up a bit.”
“I don’t want to get into any trouble,” he said quickly.
“There’s fun—and then there’s trouble,” Owen said. “I know about both. I stay in trouble at home but I know when and how to behave. Ev’s like you. Wants to always be good.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said defensively.
“I agree,” Everett said. “Is this your first year here?”
“It is.” Spencer glanced around. “My brother went here. He’s ten years older than I am so he is at Eton now.”
“So are our brothers,” Everett told him. “They are six years ahead of us and don’t pay a bit of attention to either of us.” He nodded at Owen. “We’re second sons. The spares to the heirs.”
“I am a second son, too,” he shared and then confessed, “my father and brother pretty much ignore me, too.”
“Same here,” Owen said, as he lifted clothes from his trunk and set them out on his cot. “I don’t care. I wouldn’t want to be an earl. Too much to do.”
“I never want to be a duke,” Everett said, shuddering. “Mervyn can have the title.”
“It means we get to be in the army,” Owen said, his eyes lighting up.
“The army?” Spencer asked, puzzled.
“Don’t you know?” Owen asked. “First sons are the heirs and get the title and money. Second sons go into the army. Or a few might enter the navy, I suppose. No Hasburys ever have. I will be happy to put on a red coat and serve the king when I am old enough to do so.”
“Are you going into army, too?” Spencer asked Everett.
The boy shrugged. “It’s like Owen says. First sons do their duty to their family by claiming the title. Second sons do their duty to their country and serve the king.”
“I didn’t know,” he said, trying to adjust to the idea of being in the army. “I love to learn. I always thought I would be a tutor or perhaps a university don.”
“No, it’s the army for you,” Owen declared. “That’s how it’s done.”
“What if there is a third son?” he asked, curious.
“Third sons go into the church,” Everett said solemnly. “I wish I would have been a third son. I’m not sure I want to fight and shoot guns.”
“Well, I can’t wait to shoot England’s enemies,” Owen said. “My father says with King Louis being guillotined in France this year, it will make for a mess. England has been at war with France off and on for centuries. Maybe by the time we are grown, we’ll have another war!”
Owen looked far too gleeful for Spencer’s tastes. He wasn’t sure about making friends with this boy. Everett, who seemed far different from his friend, would make for a better companion. But with the two of them already being close friends for what must have been their entire lives, he doubted he could be friends with one and not the other.
“Listen up,” Georgie said. “All those in our dormitory room have arrived. The Shepton School always mixes up students of different ages in each room so that boys get to know others beyond their form. The older boys are to look after the younger ones. I am in charge of everyone in this room—and everything that happens here,” he said priggishly.
Spencer glanced over and saw Owen roll his eyes. Everett stared at his feet.
“We are to move downstairs for assembly,” the prefect continued. “I expect you to be on your best behavior else I will have to call you out.”
“Bloody awful,” Owen murmured, loud enough for only Spencer and Everett to hear.
As they moved from the room and down the stairs, Owen slung his arm around Spencer’s shoulders.
“We three should stick together,” Owen told him. “Our brothers went here and both told us the older boys bully the younger ones. A lot.”
“How?” Spencer asked.
“They do all kinds of mean things,” Everett said. “Put stuff in your food and in your bedsheets. Call you horrible names. Even hit you.”
“Hit you?” he echoed, appalled at the thought.
Owen looked serious for once. “You and I are tall. We need to let them know we won’t allow them to bully us. Or Everett.”
Spencer nodded. “All right.”
Owen stopped and allowed the other boys to get ahead of them. Then he thrust out his hand. “We will be like brothers, the three of us. We will stay close and take care of one another.”
He slipped his hand into his pocket and produced a pocketknife. Unfolding it, Owen opened his palm. He dragged the knife across it, a thin line of blood welling up. Passing the knife to Everett, he did the same, though he looked a bit squeamish as he did so.
Finally, Everett handed it to Spencer, who took it and held it above his palm. He paused a moment, glancing up at Owen and then Everett. Realizing he was being tested—and at the same time given a choice—he chose these two boys. Sliding the tip of the blade across his palm, the blood bubbled up.
Owen claimed the pocketknife again and rubbed his palm against Everett’s and then Spencer’s, while Spencer and Everett did the same.
“Our blood has now mingled,” Owen said solemnly. “We are now blood brothers. We will look after one another and stand strong together.”
As each of them removed a handkerchief from their pockets and slipped it around the slice in their palms, Spencer believed he would always know—and come to love—these friends.
Oakley, Essex—February 1812
Tessa Foster finished the chapter she read aloud and closed the book. She glanced up and saw her father’s eyes now closed. She sighed. Another day at Oakley.
Where nothing ever changed.
Four years ago, she had been on the eve of her come-out. By now, she would have thought herself married, with at least one child and hopefully another on the way. Instead, her beloved mother had grown terribly ill. Tessa had put off her come-out to nurse Mama. A year later, her beloved mother passed, never getting any better. Tessa regretted her mother would never see her daughter march down the aisle, much less be able to become a loving grandmother.
Then Papa collapsed in the cemetery after the burial. And Tessa’s world shrank even further.
Dr. Smith called it apoplexy, something she wasn’t familiar with. He told Tessa her father could die within hours—or linger for years. They had gotten the earl home and put him to bed. In the days ahead, they had discovered Papa could no longer speak. That the right side of his body no longer functioned. He had a wild look in his eyes and one side of his face drooped. She had stayed at his bedside day and night for weeks until Dr. Smith told her Papa was out of the woods. That he would live.
But this wasn’t living. It was barely existing.
Tessa spent a good portion of every day with her father. She helped his valet bathe him. She read to him. Talked with him. She had a small desk moved into his bedchambers and from there she handled her correspondence and wrote out menus. Almost every waking hour of the last three years was devoted to his care. Guilt filled her because she feared the situation could remain stagnant for years to come. Her youth was slipping away. She used to regularly visit her two cousins, Adalyn and Louisa, who were her best friends, but no visits had occurred in the last four years. She simply couldn’t leave Papa to go see them in London or at their country estates.
Instead, she spent long hours in this bedchamber, worrying about her father’s health and her own future.
Her uncle, who would inherit the title from his brother and become the next Earl of Paxton, had arrived two months after Papa fell ill. He now ran the estate, making the decisions the earl should make. He also went to town and stayed in the Paxton townhouse while there, attending the Season and living life as the earl in all but claiming the title itself. A lifelong bachelor who was in his late forties, he had wed at the end of last Season and brought home a child bride, Lady Beth, who was barely eighteen.
Tessa couldn’t stand Lady Beth. She felt the girl was pure evil and referred to her in her head as Lady Macbeth, after Shakespeare’s most famous female character. Lady Macbeth was possibly the most wicked person in literature—and Lady Beth came close to epitomizing evil incarnate. When she had arrived at Oakley last September, Lady Beth had made it known that once the current earl was gone, Tessa would also be leaving the house because it would then become the house of the next earl and countess.
She sighed, knowing her father’s death would not only devastate her but quite possibly leave her homeless. She couldn’t count on her uncle to stand up to his young wife because he was as greedy as she was. Tessa had never been comfortable in his presence, much less felt close to him. Even though he approached fifty, he seemed to have no mind of his own where his young wife was concerned. He would boot Tessa from Oakley without a second thought, merely to please Lady Macbeth.
If that happened, she hoped one of her two cousins’ families would take her in. Oddly enough, neither Adalyn nor Louisa had wed. Adalyn was Tessa’s age, while Louisa was a year younger. Both had made their come-outs and yet no weddings had occurred. The three women still wrote one another and from the letters, Adalyn revealed she was enjoying being in Polite Society too much to settle down with a boring lord. Louisa, whose mother had died when she was young, served as her father’s hostess. Louisa’s father worked in the War Office and held many dinners and affairs at his home that were business related. Louisa said her father needed her too much to manage his household and social affairs to allow her to wed. Louisa did write that when the war came to an end, she would seek a husband and allow her father to handle his own affairs.
Hopefully, one of her two uncles would allow Tessa to come and live with his family if the worst occurred. No, when the worst occurred. Tessa was certain Lady Macbeth would shove her out the door before her father’s body cooled.
She picked up the book again, ready to continue Voltaire’s interesting tale of Candide. She had no idea if her father really understood anything said to him or what she read but it helped her to pass the time. Tessa glanced at her father and saw his eyes were now open, that wild look in them that was so unsettling to her.
Standing, she closed the book and rested it on the table and leaned over.
“How are you, Papa?” she asked, smoothing his hair. “I was reading to you when you fell asleep.”
He began making a guttural noise, which startled her. In the three years she had nursed him, no sound had ever emerged from him.
“What is it, Papa?” she asked eagerly. “Can you speak?”
Oh, if only things could go back to the way they were. Her father taking her riding on the property as they visited their tenants. Mama waiting for their return with a hearty tea in the drawing room. Plans for the dresses Tessa would wear and the events she would attend during her come-out being discussed.
The earl muttered something and then said, “Ov . . . oo.”
Tessa thought a moment and brightened. “Love you? Is that what you are saying, Papa?”
“Ov . . . oo,” he repeated.
She grasped his hands. “Oh, that is lovely, Papa. It is so good to hear you speak. Dr. Smith will be so impressed. And I love you, too.”
Tessa bent and brushed her lips against his brow. When she rose and smiled at him, her heart stopped.
The frantic look remained in his eyes—but it was frozen.
“Papa,” she cried, her heart lurching. “No, no, no.”
She touched her fingers to where his pulse should be beating, as Dr. Smith had taught her. Nothing. She held a finger just under his nostrils. Again, nothing.
With great reluctance, she brushed the palm of her hand across his eyes, lowering the lids, forever hiding the disturbing look in them. Tessa perched on the bed, her hands taking his. Raising them to her lips, she kissed the knuckles tenderly.
“I love you, Papa. I always will.”
Lowering them, she sat beside him for a few minutes, savoring the last moments she would have with him. Then acknowledging what must come next, she rose and went to her desk, writing two brief notes to the vicar and the doctor, informing them of Lord Paxton’s death. Those were followed by two letters addressed to the Earl of Uxbridge, Adalyn’s father, and Sir Edgar Goulding, Louisa’s father. Both men were her mother’s brothers. She informed them of her father’s death and asked them to come to the funeral in three days’ time.
Tessa sealed the notes and letters and left the bedchamber, not glancing at her father. She knew the body that lay in the bed was no longer the man she had known and loved. His soul had risen and gone to Heaven. She wouldn’t torture herself further.
In her father’s sitting room, next to the bedchamber, she rang for both the butler and valet. Both men arrived at the same time and she told the servants of the earl’s passing.
“I trust the two of you to prepare Papa,” she said. “I have written my uncles, as well as the vicar and Dr. Smith, and will send footmen to deliver those now.” She paused, taking a cleansing breath. “I will also go and tell the new Lord Paxton what has occurred.”
“I’m ever so sorry, my lady,” the valet said. “The earl was such a good man and a good father to you.”
“I can go with you while you speak to the earl and countess,” their butler ventured. “You might need . . . support.”
Tessa knew what he meant. “Thank you, but no. I’d rather you stay and make Papa presentable. He always loved gray. Perhaps that light gray waistcoat and the darker tailcoat would do.”
Her father had lost a considerable amount weight since the apoplexy attack and she knew the clothes she mentioned would swallow him. She would leave it up to these two trusted servants to see that Lord Paxton looked the best he could.
Leaving the room, she made her way downstairs and found a footman. She instructed him regarding the notes and letters and he told her he would take care of it at once. Then she steeled herself and went up a flight of stairs to the drawing room, where she knew her uncle and his wife would be. Entering, she saw them sitting before the fire and crossed the room to them.
“Ah, Tessa,” her uncle said. “You look tired, my dear.”
“She always looks tired,” Lady Macbeth said. “You really should take better care of yourself. Get out some. See people.”
“Papa has passed,” she said brusquely.
Her uncle rose and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I am sorry to hear that. He was a good brother to me.”
She wanted to ask if he was such a good brother, why hadn’t her uncle gone to see him more? He had arrived at Oakley and entered the sickroom that first day—and never again. Her uncle went about the business of the estate and in London and never bothered sitting by his brother’s side, trying to comfort him.
“He was the best of men. A wonderful husband and father and the best Earl of Paxton,” she declared.
“Well, he isn’t the earl any longer, is he?” Lady Macbeth said, rising. “A new Earl and Countess of Paxton are now in charge.”
“You will plan Papa’s funeral?” she asked quickly, panicked by that thought.
“No, my dear,” her uncle assured her. “You know what he would have wanted.”
“I will plan the reception after the funeral,” Lady Macbeth proclaimed. “There will be all manner of people in attendance. I will get with Cook now and make certain it will be a memorable event!”
Lady Macbeth exited the drawing room and her uncle shook his head. “She is young,” he told Tessa, as if that should excuse her outrageous behavior.
“She is old enough to know to offer me her sympathies,” Tessa said bitterly. “Certainly old enough not to rub it in my face that there is a new earl and countess.”
He shrugged. “She is eager to put her stamp on this household. It has been hard for her, being in limbo with these . . . circumstances.”
Tessa wanted to argue that Lady Macbeth already ran the household the way she saw fit because Tessa had spent all her waking hours with her father. That nothing would ever excuse the girl’s rudeness. She was too tired to argue, however.
“The vicar will be arriving soon. I sent word to him and Dr. Smith. I will work with him on the service. I will let you notify Papa’s solicitor and any others you might wish to attend the funeral.”
Wearily, Tessa left the drawing room, knowing the days ahead would be long ones.
Tessa wearily said goodbye to the last of the guests who had returned to Oakley after the funeral. Instead of being comforted by those in attendance, she had been the one to do the comforting. Her father had been much beloved by his tenants and the people who lived in the surrounding area. At least Papa was finally at peace.
She was grateful that her two uncles had brought her cousins with them. Usually, women did not attend funerals but Tessa had insisted upon seeing her father laid to rest. It was good to have Louisa and Adalyn with her when that occurred. She wondered how long her relatives would stay—or rather, how long Lady Macbeth would allow them to remain.
Their butler came toward her. “My lady, you are requested to join the others in the library for the reading of the will.”
“Thank you,” she said as her cousins joined her.
“We are going with you,” Louisa said. “You shouldn’t be alone.”
“Especially with that monster, Lady Macbeth,” Adalyn added. “Oh, I do like your nickname for her.”
“I don’t know if you will be allowed,” she told her friends. “My uncle is the earl now.”
Adalyn snorted. “Just let him try and toss us from the room.” She linked her arm through Tessa’s. “Come on.”
Louisa did the same and they went to the library. Entering, she saw Mr. Ellsworth, Papa’s solicitor, along with the new Lord and Lady Paxton. Relief swept through her as she saw both Uncle Uxbridge and Uncle Edgar also present.
“They aren’t needed,” the countess said, her nose crinkling in disdain at Louisa and Adalyn.
“They are my family,” Tessa said. “I want them here for their support.”
Lady Macbeth frowned and looked to her husband. He only shook his head, as if knowing this wasn’t a battle he wished to fight.
Instead, Lord Paxton said, “Be seated.”
Everyone took a place, with Tessa and her cousins sitting together on a large settee. She wasn’t expecting any surprises and received none. As thought, her father had made small bequests to longtime servants, including his valet and their butler.
Then Mr. Ellsworth said, “Lady Tessa’s dowry has remained intact and will now be under her control since she is of legal age.” He smiled at her. “I do hope when the time comes for you to wed that you will seek my services—or that of another solicitor’s—in regard to drawing up the settlements.”
“Tessa has us to help her with this,” Uncle Edgar said. “We will make certain she is taken care of where the marriage contracts are concerned.”
Gratitude filled her, knowing that she had her mother’s brothers looking out for her best interests.
“In addition to the dowry,” Mr. Ellsworth continued, “Lady Tessa will receive an additional amount of one thousand pounds. These funds are to be used for creating the wardrobe for her come-out Season and any incidentals along the way.”
“One thousand pounds?” said Lady Macbeth, not bothering to hide her astonishment. “Isn’t that an excessive amount?” she said to no one in particular and then looking to her husband, she added, “wouldn’t that be monies from the estate? Was it even his to give?”
“Let me assure you, Lady Paxton, that the sum belongs to Lady Tessa,” the solicitor said. “It comes from monies brought into the marriage by Lady Tessa’s mother and always designated for this. Surely, you wouldn’t begrudge Lady Tessa a new wardrobe, especially seeing how long she has delayed her come-out in order to care for her parents?”
“It merely seems extravagant,” Lady Macbeth said, slightly mollified that the sum wasn’t part of her husband’s estate.
Mr. Ellsworth began gathering up his papers and said, “I believe that is all. Should you have any questions, you may contact me at my London office. I need to leave now to return there for another business matter.”
Tessa rose and smiled warmly at the man. “Thank you for all you have done, Mr. Ellsworth. Papa always enjoyed working with you.”
“Lord Paxton was a gem among men, my lady. I am very sorry for your loss.”
The solicitor left and Lady Macbeth said, “Do sit down. There are more things to discuss.”
Tessa dreaded what was next because she knew what it would involve. Knowing how much Lady Macbeth despised her and wanted her gone, Tessa hoped she would be allowed to go to the dower house and do her year of mourning there.
Taking a seat, she steeled herself for whatever would come.
“It is difficult for my wife having my niece as a member of the household,” the new Lord Paxton began.
“Why so?” Uncle Umbridge asked, his tone critical of the statement.
“I will tell you,” Lady Macbeth said assertively. “She is unneeded and unwanted. She usurps me at every turn. Just look at how she rushed to Ellsworth and had to be the one to tell him goodbye. That should have been my role, being a gracious hostess to a departing guest.”
Adalyn snorted and Tessa flashed her cousin a warning.
“I cannot change a rug or move a vase without the servants telling me I should be consulting Lady Tessa,” Lady Macbeth complained. “They don’t look upon me as their mistress.”
“You weren’t until Paxton’s death,” Uncle Edgar pointed out. “It says a lot that the servants remained loyal to Tessa and her father. Now, however, you are the new countess. They will—”
“They will behave in the same manner,” Lady Macbeth interrupted. “The lot of them. They will always second-guess me and want her opinion. That is why she needs to be gone.”
“I would happy to move to the dower house,” Tessa offered.
“That isn’t far enough,” the countess said, her voice rising. “I want you gone. Spend that thousand pounds you wheedled from your father. You can rent something somewhere. Just make certain that is far from here.” She placed her hand on her belly. “I will need peace and quiet—and totally loyalty from the servants—especially since I am now with child.”
Tessa hadn’t known about the baby but it didn’t change matters. She only felt sorrow that the child would have such a viper as its mother. She saw her uncles exchange a glance and Uncle Uxbridge said, “That won’t be necessary. Tessa can come live with us.” He looked to her. “You might prefer to remain in the country when we head to town for the Season. I will leave it up to you.”
Knowing from letters exchanged with Adalyn and Louisa, her friends would attend a whirlwind of events from April through August. If Tessa came to London, her cousins might neglect the invitations they received in order to stay home with her.
“Your suggestion that I remain in the country pleases me, Uncle,” she said. “I would prefer to do my mourning in private.”
“Then we will leave Oakley tomorrow morning,” Uncle Uxbridge said. “You will come with us, Tessa.”
“And know at any time you are always welcomed to stay with us,” Uncle Edgar volunteered. “Though we stay year-round in London, due to my position at the War Office.”
“I understand and I am grateful for your offer,” she said, her eyes misting.
“Well, it is good that matter has been settled so amicably,” Lord Paxton proclaimed. He rose and the others followed suit. “I shall see everyone in the drawing room at seven. We will have drinks and then go into dinner.”
As the group moved toward the doors, Lady Macbeth said, “I would like a private word with Lady Tessa.”
Louisa looked at Tessa. “Is that what you want? I will stay if you ask.”
“Thank you. I can handle her. Go on.”
The others left. Tessa remained standing in the same place, making Lady Macbeth come to her. She saw that displeased the young woman but she didn’t care.
“You are never to come to Oakley again,” Lady Macbeth began. “You will neither be invited nor welcomed if you turn up. Paxton and I wish to have nothing to do with you. Do not call on us in town, either. We will not be at home to you. If you see us at a ball or some other event, you may greet us politely but do not expect any prolonged conversation on our part.”
“You certainly are full of yourself, Lady Macbeth,” Tessa said. “Actually, your terms please me. I also prefer to have nothing to do with the both of you.”
The girl’s eyes narrowed. “What did you call me?”
“Oh, you mean Lady Macbeth? That is a famous character from a Shakespeare play. You remind me of her.”
She bit back a smile, knowing the new countess had never read anything by Shakespeare and would have no clue what an insult the moniker truly was.
Lady Macbeth pursed her lips. “No matter. I am Lady Paxton now and you are to address me as such the few times our paths do cross.”
“Of course, my lady,” she said and turned away, leaving the library.
Tessa knew when she left tomorrow she would never return to Oakley. That the door to the first chapter of her life would close—and a new one would open.
She was eager to see what her future would hold.
Spencer threw on clothes and slipped from his London townhouse before the sun had peeked over the horizon. Usually, he would saddle Pilgrim and head to Rotten Row for a bit of exercise. Unfortunately, the horse had pulled up lame yesterday just as they had returned to Mayfair. He thought it better to give his mount another day to recover before taking him out again.
Instead, he would take to the streets this morning. He rarely saw anyone this time of day, save for a few grooms exercising horses.
And the woman from the townhouse across the street.
He had seen her every day since his arrival in town two weeks ago. She would emerge from the townhouse directly across from his, wearing a dark cloak, and set out on foot. He supposed she enjoyed the early morning quiet as much as he did. Spencer figured her to be the wife or daughter of the Earl of Uxbridge, who owned the residence. The earl had sent an invitation to dinner when Spencer first arrived at his London address but he had declined, not bothering to give a reason. He wasn’t ready to be out and about in Polite Society just yet. That would come in three weeks with the start of the Season. Plenty of time for him to meet Uxbridge then.
No other tenants seemed to be on the square just yet. He supposed they would begin arriving as the Season drew near. For his part, Spencer liked that he was able to keep to himself for now as he set out at a brisk pace.
He had returned to England after he received word last September of his father’s death from dropsy. Middlefield had died in July but it took a few months for the solicitor’s letter to catch up to Spencer. Wellington’s troops had been on the march after their success at the Battle of Salamanca and it surprised him that the letter had found him as quickly as it did. With regret, he resigned his commission and returned home. The army was his family. His chosen family. He hadn’t even known he was destined for a military career until that first day at school when he’d met Owen and Everett, two second sons who’d informed Spencer of the career path they would all take in the future.
Those two had been constants in his life, along with two other men who were cousins, Percival Perry and Winston Cutler. The trio of friends had met the pair when they all arrived at Cambridge and the five had become fast friends. They had all joined His Majesty’s army after university and, fortunately, were assigned to three regiments that were all under Wellington’s command. It enabled them to continue living together, fighting alongside one another as they tried to end the menace of Bonaparte. Leaving the brothers of his heart had been done so reluctantly.
Spencer had become the heir apparent only a week into his military service when Wilford had died. It was never truly made clear to him what had happened, only that he was the new viscount and would succeed upon his father’s death and become the Earl of Middlefield. His father had requested that Spencer resign his commission immediately and come home, the better to learn more about his future role.
He had refused.
Duty and honor meant everything to him. He wouldn’t walk away from a country that needed him, especially one in the midst of war. Spencer dedicated himself to his fellow officers and the men serving under him, patiently training them, supporting them, and leading them into battle. He never once used his viscount title in the army, preferring to be known as Lieutenant Haddock, then Captain Haddock, and most recently Major Haddock. He saw no need to race home when his father was in perfect health and could manage the estate and the responsibilities of the earldom.
It was a choice he celebrated over his years in the army. Spencer proved to be a strong leader, driven and confident. He enjoyed the discipline and camaraderie of the army and the chance to remain with those he cared for. Wilford, being ten years Spencer’s senior, had never built any brotherly bonds with his younger brother. Their father had favored Wilford in everything and ignored Spencer his entire life—until the favorite son died and the younger one was needed. He told himself he would, in time, return to England and learn what he could from his father.
Until the letter came announcing the earl’s death.
Spencer felt no sorrow at his father’s passing. No remorse for having remained in the army. He did know that he must return to England and take up the mantle of the Earl of Middlefield. Bidding his fellow officers and friends farewell, he had returned to Stoneridge. The estate had excellent management. Pimmel, the Stoneridge steward, had been patient in teaching Spencer all he needed to know about the land and its people. Callender, the butler, and Mrs. Callender, the housekeeper, kept the household running effortlessly. It was thanks to their efforts that he was able to leave as soon as he had and make for London.
Here, he had found his townhouse incredibly large, along with a staff headed up by Marsh, his butler, and Mrs. Marsh, his housekeeper. The only servant to have accompanied him from Kent was Rigsby, his valet. Rigsby had served as valet to Wilford until his death and then traveled to Stoneridge, where he became the earl’s new valet. Middlefield had recently pensioned off his own valet so the timing had been good. Since Spencer had no valet, Rigsby inherited that position. Though he didn’t see the need for a valet, he knew it was imperative to have one. Polite Society would judge him to be uncivilized and uncouth without one.
He turned another corner, continuing his walk. Perhaps he should walk the streets more in order to become familiar with London. Usually, he was in his carriage and didn’t pay much attention to his surroundings. That would soon change. He would be invited to balls and routs, card and garden parties, the opera and theatre. All because he was now a member of the ton.
In search of a wife.
It was only because Stoneridge was running so well that Spencer even deigned to come to town for the Season. He knew from talk that it was home to the Marriage Mart, where he would search for a bride. Thank goodness he had no illusions of finding something as ethereal as love. He wanted a basic ton marriage, one that would see a good-sized dowry arrive into his coffers so that he could make some improvements at Stoneridge. Love wasn’t a part of unions in the ton. Marriages were made to increase wealth and social position.
His father had never showed him any attention, much less love. The same had been true of Wilford. Perhaps, long ago, his mother might have loved him. Spencer had no true memories of her. She had died in childbirth, along with the babe she delivered, when he was barely two. He wondered if things might have been different if she had survived.
What he did know was that getting an heir was critical. He believed his father foolish to never have remarried. What if Spencer had been killed while at war? Who would have inherited the Middlefield title and lands then? No, he was going to find a bride and get her with child as quickly as possible. He wanted to get as many children from her as he could. Though he had felt like an only child himself, he had always longed for siblings close in age to play with. He would see that his family was large and close-knit, spending time with both sons and daughters. Where servants had taught him how to ride and hunt, Spencer would teach his own children those things. He felt a deep sense of responsibility and would make certain his offspring spent time with him. Why, he might even grow to love one or more of them.
But never a wife. The idea of intimacy with a woman didn’t appeal to him. He didn’t want to pretend to love his countess. It would be enough if he respected her and she produced the children he required. Once she had, they could go their separate ways as most couples of Polite Society did. Spencer would pursue his own interests and his countess could do the same. If she died in childbirth, he would merely replace her with another woman if he thought more children were necessary. Thus, his reason for being in town for the Season.
He carried high hopes that he would find a bride quickly. If he did so, he could put a halt to attending society affairs, which he thought would be incredibly boring. Spending his days and nights with the same group of people—all strangers to him—terrified him. The quicker he could select a wife and wed her, the better. It would give him more time to devote to matters in the House of Lords, which he found fascinating. In fact, if he could wed and bed a bride and see her with child, she could return to the country for her confinement while he dealt with political matters in London. Naturally, he would return to Stoneridge for the birth of his first child. He would not make the same mistakes his own father had made. He was a better man than the earl had ever been and would certainly be a better father.
Making a last turn, he headed for home. He was beginning to enjoy having a comfortable bed to sleep in and regular meals to warm his belly. Though he had never complained about the rough life in camp, the luxuries at Stoneridge and his London townhouse were growing on him.
As he strode quickly along the pavement, he saw up ahead a woman turn the corner and head in the same direction he did. Recognizing her by her cloak as his neighbor, Spencer decided to catch up to her and introduce himself. Walking along, he wondered if she was the countess or one of the daughters of the household. It would be convenient if she were a daughter and he came to know her even before the Season began. She might make for a good countess. Already, he knew she enjoyed daily exercise. She moved with purpose. If she were intelligent and could hold a decent conversation, his work would be done. He could offer for her before the Season even began and not have to go through all the motions of courting a woman, which had been explained to him in great detail by Rigsby. The valet had been a font of information, cluing Spencer in to many details he had limited knowledge about. He might enjoy picking up a book on history or economics but those did not contain the everyday essentials he needed to know to move successfully through Polite Society.
He had almost caught up to the woman when a figure stepped out, brandishing a knife. In the still of the morning, the thief’s voice carried as he said, “Gimme your coin, my lady. Now.”
Spencer started to run as the woman replied, “I have none with me but I live just ahead. Come eat something and we can talk.”
Was she mad—asking a robber to dine with her?
He reached the pair and knocked the knife from the young thief’s hand before soundly punching the bastard in the face. The boy crumpled to the ground.
Turning to the lady, expecting her gratitude, he was stunned when she slammed her palms into his chest, knocking him back. Spencer stumbled a moment and then regained his balance.
“What the bloody hell did you just do?” she demanded.
“Wh-what do you mean?” he sputtered. “I just saved you, Woman.”
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