I Kissed an Earl
But her days of running free end when her brother, Lord Fergus O'Shea, returns from England, intent on marrying his sisters off to keep them from being the scourge of the county. And when Marie lands herself in a scandalous amount of trouble, she ends up as the first sister doomed to whatever marriage of convenience her brother can arrange.
Bad boy Christian Darrow is having too much fun to be tied down...
And as the younger son of an earl, he isn't expected to amount to much. Which is why playing pranks and getting into trouble with Marie the moment they meet is his idea of a good time. Sparks fly between him and Marie and the scandal is totally worth the risk...
...until one prank goes too far.
Can Marie save Christian from the consequences of what was supposed to be a bit of fun? Or will a twist of fate prove that life is more serious than either Marie or Christian ever expected?
A friends to lovers romance that will make you laugh and cry.
PLEASE BE ADVISED: Steam level – very spicy!
THAT WICKED O'SHEA FAMILY series is a spin-off of THE MAY FLOWERS series. It consists of:
I KISSED AN EARL (AND I LIKED IT)
IF YOU WANNABE MY MARQUESS
ALL ABOUT THAT DUKE
EARLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN
Release date: February 12, 2021
Publisher: Merry Farmer
Print pages: 162
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I Kissed an Earl
Dunegard Castle, near Ballymena, Ireland – July, 1888
It was widely known throughout County Antrim, and Ireland in general, that the O’Shea family were wicked, scandalous, and unruly in every way imaginable. Particularly the ladies of the family. Young ladies with the surname O’Shea had been causing trouble and upsetting apple carts for generations. That went double for the untamed sisters of Lord Fergus O’Shea, Earl of Ballymena. All four of them. They were headstrong, opinionated, and a bit too enamored of the freedom their brother allowed them when he was away in England.
The sisters had taken up residence in a seaside cottage, where they had the audacity to live independently, in spite of being the daughters of an earl and ladies in their own right. They insisted on cooking their own meals, washing their own laundry, and keeping their own house. It was unspeakably scandalous. When asked, the eldest sister, Lady Shannon O’Shea, would argue that every woman, regardless of her rank, needed to master domestic skills, otherwise they would be completely at the mercy of others. And the O’Shea sisters had no intention of being at the mercy of anyone. Because one never knew which way the wind would blow when it came to the fortunes of the aristocracy, particularly the Ascendancy. So the sisters took their lives and their upkeep into their own hands, flouting convention, scandalizing their neighbors, and generally shocking both high and low with their wildly unusual views of the world and a woman’s place in that.
But all that was about to change.
“It has come to my attention that I have been remiss in keeping my eye on you,” Fergus said with a frown, addressing his sisters from his wheelchair in the family parlor of Dunegard Castle one summer morning. “And since I only have one eye left, it’s even more important to use it wisely.”
Marie O’Shea felt a wave of intense anger, in spite of her brother’s jovial mood. She would have murdered the English dogs who attacked and nearly killed her brother several years ago, if the main perpetrator hadn’t already been killed. Fergus was still as handsome and wily as the Devil, but he would forever be confined to a wheelchair now, in spite of the efforts of his friend and personal physician, Dr. Linus Townsend, to teach him to walk with crutches, and he’d lost an eye in the attack as well. Although he did look rather roguish wearing an eyepatch. His wife, Lady Henrietta, certainly thought so. She stood by Fergus’s side now, grinning far too much for a woman whose husband was taking his sisters to task.
“Therefore,” Fergus went on, “on the advice of the esteemed Lady Coyle here—” he gestured to the stoic, grey-haired lady standing on the other side of his wheelchair—a woman who saw it as her business to oversee the lives of every eligible young lady in the county, “—I have decided to evict you from your seaside home.”
“What are you saying?” Shannon said, her expression turning stormy.
“You can’t be serious,” Chloe, the youngest sister, followed, crossing her arms.
“I knew something horrible would happen,” Colleen, one of the middle sisters, along with Marie, said with a sigh.
“I should have put my foot down years ago,” Fergus went on. His mouth twitched into a wry grin. “That’s a bit of a challenge for me these days as well.”
“Fergus, how can you joke at a time like this?” Marie said, stepping forward and planting her hands on her hips. “You’ve never had a problem with the four of us living at the cottage before this. We’ve always just gotten along, minding our own business, not hurting anyone.”
Lady Coyle snorted. “Not hurting anyone?” she repeated incredulously. “What about the emotional distress you have all caused the residents and shopkeepers of Ballymena?”
Marie blinked and stared at the woman. “We haven’t done anything to any residents or shopkeepers.”
“We do a lively trade with them,” Shannon seconded her. “And more than a few of the pubs in town have appreciated our beer.”
“And we will never reveal our secret recipe to a soul,” Chloe said with a sparkle in her eyes.
Lady Coyle huffed as though the sisters had insulted her dignity and shook her head.
Fergus couldn’t seem to stop grinning, but fought to school his expression all the same. “Surprisingly, several of the residents of Ballymena are unhappy with ladies of the local aristocracy making and selling beer. They aren’t too pleased with the lot of you wading in the sea with your skirts tied up around your waists either.”
“Or with the four of you dragging that telescope out in the middle of the night where men on their way home from the pub can see you,” Henrietta added with a grin.
“What do those lecherous pigs care if we have an interest in astrology?” Chloe asked.
“Astronomy, dear,” Shannon corrected her.
“Oh. Yes,” Chloe said, looking sheepish, as though she had meant what she said. She was a Gemini, after all.
“If you ask me, there are quite a few people around here who should be minding their own business,” Marie said, arching one eyebrow at Fergus. They’d done perfectly well with him away in England. As much as she loved her brother, part of her wished he were back there now.
“I don’t mind if you all have minds of your own and use them,” Fergus said with a shrug, “but as it turns out, others do.” He shot a sideways glance to Lady Coyle. “Furthermore, it has been brought to my attention that the lot of you are perilously close to being on the shelf. Shannon, you’re just shy of thirty.”
Shannon opened her mouth to protest, but before she could say anything, Lady Coyle hissed, “It’s unconscionable that none of the four of you are married, and at your ages. As I have explained to your brother, there are more than enough men of suitable title and fortune eager to marry the sisters of an earl, no matter how lively they are. The time has come for all of you to wed.”
The sisters gaped and snorted in offense, shaking their heads and huffing.
“I don’t object to marriage,” Marie said, narrowing her eyes at her brother. “I’d rather like the excuse to have a man in my bed.”
Lady Coyle groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose. Marie’s sisters laughed.
“Come to think of it, you’re right there,” Colleen said.
“I wouldn’t mind a strapping, virile man at all,” Shannon agreed.
“As long as he’s a Leo,” Chloe added. “Or Aquarius. I suppose Aries would do.”
“Good. It’s settled, then,” Fergus said, a little too forcefully, as though the sisters had just walked blissfully into a trap. “Pack up your things and bring them back to the castle immediately. I’ll have all your old bedrooms prepared for you.”
“Now hold on just a moment,” Colleen led the protests.
“This isn’t fair,” Marie huffed.
“We’re perfectly fine at the cottage,” Shannon said.
Fergus held up his hands against the onslaught of protest. “Enough of that, now, ladies,” he said, silencing them all. By his side, Henrietta had to hide her mouth in her hand to stifle her laughter. Marie bristled at the gesture, but Fergus went on before she could say anything. “I’m determined to marry you four hellions off,” he said. “And to do that, even though it might kill me, I’m going to have to host gatherings and invite suitable men from respectable families to do things like dine with us.”
“Ugh.” Chloe grimaced. “I despise the word ‘respectable’.”
“Yes, I can imagine you do,” Lady Coyle said in a flat voice.
Fergus sent her a weary look, then focused on his sisters once more. “You’ll all move back to the castle. We’ll entertain and do all the things an earl and his family should do.” Marie and the others groaned in protest. “But,” Fergus went on, holding up a hand, “because I know how much of a trial this is for you, I have a peace offering.”
“What sort of a peace offering?” Shannon asked, one brow raised.
“Michael,” Fergus called toward the hallway, summoning his head footman.
Michael appeared in the doorway a moment later, as if he’d been waiting around the corner, listening for his cue in a stage production. He wasn’t alone when he entered the room, though, and he wasn’t empty-handed. Marie gasped and pressed a hand to her stomach as Michael and the other footman, Sean, entered the room, each of them wheeling two bicycles with them.
“Dear God above, those aren’t what I think they are,” Colleen said, leaping toward the footmen.
“Bicycles,” Chloe squealed, following her. Her expression lit to absolute joy. She immediately snatched one of the newfangled contraptions from Michael and gazed at it, enraptured. “Oh! These are the new safety bicycles Mr. Starley invented. I’ve been reading about them everywhere. They’re becoming all the rage in smart circles.”
“Oh, good heavens,” Lady Coyle groaned as though she might faint. “Lord O’Shea, what have you done?”
Marie didn’t wait around for the answer. She and Shannon rushed toward Sean, taking the last two bicycles from him. Marie’s heart raced as she pored over the amazing invention. She’d played with bicycles where one wheel was enormous and the other was small, but both wheels of the machines Fergus had purchased were the same size. They were part of the new design that involved a chain to turn the wheels. The bicycle in her hands was clearly meant for a woman to use, as the chain had a metal covering to prevent skirts from catching in the mechanism.
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she gasped, running her hand over the leather seat.
“It’s clearly a bribe,” Shannon said, though she couldn’t pull her eyes off her bicycle.
“You are correct, dear sister,” Fergus said. “I am giving each of you one of these machines in exchange for your cooperation in moving back into the castle and marrying men whom I deem suitable.”
“You’re not going to pick them out for us, are you?” Colleen said, snapping her head up and narrowing her eyes.
“Only if you make it necessary,” Fergus said. “Otherwise, I’m more than willing to take suggestions.”
Marie snorted at that, but her heart was still too full of her new plaything to pay much mind to her brother. She wondered how difficult bicycles were to ride. She’d seen illustrations, read instructions, and figured she’d do all right, but there was only one way to tell.
“I want to take it for a ride right this very moment,” she said, glancing to her sisters.
“So do I,” Chloe gasped with equal excitement.
“Go right ahead,” Fergus said. “Provided you ride those things down to the cottage to pack your belongings and have them sent back to the castle.”
The sisters stopped perusing their bicycles and snapped straight. Marie had been right to sense a trap earlier. That trap had closed around her as certainly as if she were a rodent who had just had its neck snapped.
“Do we have an agreement?” Fergus asked. “Those bicycles in exchange for your residence at the castle?”
The sisters exchanged looks. Marie knew immediately they’d all been had. The problem was, Fergus had chosen exactly the right bait for his trap.
“All right,” Marie answered first. “You win this time, dear brother. I agree to move back into the castle for the purpose of marrying me off. As long as whatever man you find who might be willing to marry me accepts Lucifer along with my hand.”
“Lucifer?” Henrietta asked, still having a difficult time not laughing.
Marie smiled at her bicycle. “That’s what I’m going to call it.”
Her sisters laughed. Lady Coyle looked as though she might faint.
“Let’s take them outside and see if we can ride them,” Shannon said, wheeling her bicycle toward the door.
“Yes, I’m determined to master this,” Colleen agreed and followed her.
They all turned their bicycles around and pushed them toward the hall. Before leaving, Marie called over her shoulder, “Thank you, Fergus. You’re going to regret this.”
“Don’t you mean I’m not going to regret this?” Fergus asked.
Marie laughed mischievously. “No, you will absolutely regret it.”
Judging by the sound Lady Coyle made as the sisters left, taking their bicycles out to the front drive, she believed Fergus had made un unforgivably grave mistake.
It was the perfect day to learn how to ride a bicycle. As soon as the four of them reached the front drive, they leapt into the task. The bicycles were clearly designed for ladies with skirts, though perhaps not as many petticoats as they all wore. Marie solved that problem by hitching up her skirt and removing the frilly petticoat she’d donned when the four of them were called to their audience with Fergus. She managed to make poor Sean blanch in the process. But immediately she discovered that it was far easier to mount and peddle a bicycle without a copious amount of fabric around her legs.
“It’s not as difficult as I thought it would be,” she called to her sisters as she propelled herself forward, making a large circuit of the front drive. “As long as you can keep your balance, the faster you go, the easier it is.”
“I’ve heard that about a few other things,” Shannon said with a wicked wink, peddling her bicycle shakily.
The others were getting the hang of things, but slowly. Chloe didn’t seem comfortable sitting on the seat. Shannon stopped what she was doing to examine the bicycle to see if there was a way to make the seat lower. Colleen looked as though she could balance, but she wasn’t moving fast enough, and her bicycle kept careening to the side. By contrast, the more Marie rode around in the circle of the drive, the more confident she felt.
“Well, I’m off,” she said with a spritely air as she made a final loop around the drive. “I’ll see you lot back at the cottage.”
If her sisters protested over the way she broke free and peddled away from the castle, Marie didn’t hear them. She shot down the long stretch of the drive that led to the front gate and the road, then picked up speed, flying on down the slight incline of the road.
It felt very much like flying as well, or what she imagined flying might be like. The wind whipped through her hair, pulling ginger strands out of the careless style she’d pushed it into earlier. She should have been wearing a hat, but she hadn’t bothered to fetch hers before rushing outside with her bicycle, and she was glad for it. There was something magical about speeding along the road, sunlight glowing down on her, the green of the landscape around her meeting the blue of the summer sky. She could smell grass, wildflowers, and the salt of the sea. Sunlight baked her, and the more she peddled, the warmer she became. Her heart thundered against her ribs with the effort of riding, but she loved every moment of it. If Fergus had given them the bicycles as a peace offering for taking away their freedom, he had the bad end of the bargain. Marie had never felt so free in her life.
The feeling lasted all the way until she reached the cliffs and sheltered coves of the sea. That was when she realized that, as beautiful as the world was and as joy-filled as her heart felt, stopping a bicycle was more of a challenge than starting one.
“Oh, dear,” she muttered to herself as she stiffened, staring down at the bicycle under her and wondering if there were some sort of braking mechanism. She should have checked before peddling into high speed. The handlebar seemed to have something of a brake on it, but she was too afraid of crashing to squeeze it with any enthusiasm.
In the end, she did the only thing she could think to do. She steered off the road toward a stretch of sandy beach. At the very least, the sand would cushion her fall if she ended up flying over the handlebars in her efforts to stop.
The grass dividing the road from the cove went a long way to slow the bicycle, and by the time she rolled out onto the sand, she’d lost enough speed to risk squeezing what she thought was a handbrake. Sure enough, the bicycle stopped completely. Marie let out a yelp as she jerked forward, then crumpled to the side as she lost her balance. She and the bicycle fell in a tumble of metal and skirts.
“Are you all right?” a rich, tenor voice called from the direction of the water.
Marie yelped again, embarrassed to have been caught crashing, and glanced around furtively. She saw no one close by on the sandy beach or near the small cliff that sheltered half of the beach from the road. The road was clearly empty, which meant the voice could only be coming from the water itself.
Sure enough, as she scrambled into a crouch, ready to stand, she spotted a man, just over waist-deep in the sea. He must have been kneeling, as he wasn’t far out enough for the water to be that deep. His bare chest glistened in the sunlight, highlighting lean, toned muscles and whorls of dark hair that stuck damply to his skin. He had dark, curly hair on his head to match, dancing eyes, and a broad smile with surprisingly straight, white teeth. The sight of him thrilled Marie more than the bicycle.
She stood straight as quickly as she could, brushing sand from her skirt. “I am quite all right,” she said, her own smile growing. “Just taking Lucifer for a turn about the countryside.”
“I take it Lucifer is your bicycle,” he said, his grin more mischievous than ever.
“Not that it’s anything to you, but yes,” she said, crossing her arms and striking a bold pose as she ogled his bare chest. The man knelt there in the water, fine as you please, not seeming to care that she was taking in the full sight of him.
“Oh, I see.” His smile widened. “How interesting for a woman to name a bicycle after a fallen angel.”
“It takes one to know one,” Marie said, unable to tear her eyes away from him.
He laughed. The sound was luxurious and exciting. It did things to her insides. Things that were exacerbated by the way the waves washed in and out around the man’s waist, giving her hints of far more than she should be looking at now and then. The bounder wasn’t wearing drawers.
“And you’re certain you’re not injured in any way?” he asked, continuing to tease her with his eyes.
“Perfectly uninjured in every way,” she told him. “And yourself?”
“Oh, I’m grand,” he said, inching forward a bit and looking as though he might stand. “I was worried that you might have hit your head, you see.”
“My head?” Marie blinked, lowering her arms.
“Seeing as you seem unable to gather your wits about you or look away, like a well-bred young lady should.”
There was something tantalizing and challenging about his comment. Whether he was genuinely hinting for her to give him a moment of modesty so he could wade out of the water to fetch his clothes—which she now saw sitting in a pile farther down the beach—or daring her to keep looking, she couldn’t quite tell. So she chose to keep looking.
“My head is right as rain,” she said, then nodded to the parts of him below the water. “Is yours?” She said a quick prayer of thanks for all the rough language she’d learned through selling their beer to the local pubs.
“Perhaps you should judge for yourself,” he said.
And then he did the wildest and most shocking thing Marie had ever witnessed in her life. He stood up.
Water cascaded down his perfect form, sluicing over fine, strong hips and thighs, highlighting his narrow waist, and making him glisten like a mythical creature. But that was nothing to the sight of the dark hair around his groin and the bold, masculine shape of his balls and penis. The water must have been cold enough that he wasn’t in any sort of an aroused state, but Marie hardly cared. There it was, bold as you please, kissed by sunlight, an impressive cock. The man had the audacity to rest his hands on his hips and grin like a fool as she drank in the sight of him, either not caring that he was on full display for her or reveling in it. Indeed, when she finally managed to get her eyes to snap up to meet his face, the man looked downright proud of himself for standing there as God made him. And God had made him well.
“It would appear that we have a bit of a dilemma on our hands,” he said, his voice lowering to a sultry timbre.
Marie almost didn’t hear him. She was too busy staring. Her day had just turned far more interesting than she’d bargained for. “What dilemma is that?” she asked, pretending nothing was amiss, even though she could feel her face heating.
“We haven’t been properly introduced,” the man said, obviously well-mannered and polite. Except for the whole shameless nudity thing.
He started toward the beach, veering off as though he intended to fetch his clothes. Marie wasn’t having any of that, though. She abandoned Lucifer in an instant and darted across the sand, intent on reaching his clothing before he did.
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