Lady Edith Longdon is an heiress, in danger of being classed a spinster, and disillusioned with the fops, dandies, and fortune hunters surrounding her in society. Deciding it’s time to take her future into her own hands, she devises a foolproof way of finding someone she can love. She's convinced nothing could go wrong…
Lord Ralph Pensby, overwhelmed by a sense of obligation, and with no one he can turn to, is adrift from those around him…
Two people drawn together, both on a journey which will affect them in ways they could never have foreseen. Secret correspondence, mistrust and confusion, not to mention cads of the highest order, make this novel a fast-paced, heart-warming story, with appealing characters and a strong sense of time and place.
Perfect for lovers of all things Regency!
Release date: February 22, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 254
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Lady Edith's Lonely Heart: A Regency Romance
Ralph Swanson, Earl of Pensby, Viscount Lymm, walked through the open door of the large Palladian building into the dark, chilly evening. The door was closed behind him by one of the ever-attentive footmen who were always on duty to pander to the patrons, whilst also keeping the peace in the barely civilised gaming hell Ralph had just left.
He dug his hands deep into his pockets and hunched his shoulders as he walked into the night. His expensive tailor would have repined at the rough treatment of a frock coat made of the finest material and sculptured to hug to perfection a well-defined body, but its wearer had no compunction about abusing his clothing in such a way.
He wasn’t even concerned that he could be considered foolish, a fully paid up member of the ton, walking alone through the streets of London in the dead of night, oblivious to what was going on around him. Everything about him screamed wealth, a clear sign to those looking for an easy target to rob, but such issues were not considered by Ralph as he trod steadily through the darkness. He was beyond caring about such trifling matters.
Anyone watching his progress, taking note of his dejected gait and the way his body was almost folded in against itself would probably consider him a poor subject to rob in any case; his clothing might look fine but he had every characteristic of having lost a great deal within the walls of the establishment he’d made his exit from.
Before he turned the corner, the door of the gaming hell he’d just vacated was opened once more and a second gentleman hurried down the steps, turning in the direction of Ralph’s hunched figure.
Ralph didn’t falter upon hearing the footsteps behind him, just carried on towards his own accommodation, putting one step before the other, his eyes not really focusing on what he was seeing.
The second man, on catching up to Ralph, smiled at him as he fell into step alongside. “Thought you were going to make Eddie cry in there,” he said amiably.
“He shouldn’t gamble what he can’t afford,” came the shrugged reply.
“Half the gambling houses would close overnight if everyone adhered to that train of thought.”
“I’ll send his vouchers around to him tomorrow, hopefully he’ll learn from his lesson.”
The second gentleman looked at his friend in surprise. “You wouldn’t expect him to do the same if your roles were reversed.”
“Then why the deuce would you do such a deed for him? He knows your reputation at the gaming tables. Everyone does. Even I’d heard of it in France!”
A slight sneer flittered across the passively bored features. “Now you are coming it too brown, Longdon. Or trying to.”
Miles Stanley, Earl of Longdon, smiled at his friend. “How the devil did you think I knew where to find you when I returned to England? I’d been out of the social whirl for so long, barely anyone remembers me. I needed to seek out old friends before I could be accepted back into the fold.”
“Hardly. You and your fellow men are the returning heroes. Putting your time to good use, fighting for king and country, whilst I honed my skill on the gaming tables. You must despise men like me,” Ralph said with a flicker of a glance in his friend’s direction.
“Not at all,” Miles said easily, walking alongside the hunched form, his own gait, the tall and straight stance of a military man. “I’m glad most people didn’t have to see some of the sights I witnessed. You were the first born and had responsibilities at home, I wasn’t. There are few first-born heirs on the battlefield. They are too precious to lose.”
Ralph looked at his friend. “Your family has had a cursed rough time of it.”
Miles supressed the sigh. “Yes, I never for a moment expected to inherit the title. Mama and my sister bore the brunt of what happened. I was abroad, firstly in America and then France and I admit reluctant to return when I heard Pa had died. He would have understood why I wished to stay with my unit. But then to have three members of the family die in total, one after the other, was cursed rum luck. I didn’t expect my two brothers to follow Father to the grave so quickly. Edith suffered the most though. Mama isn’t made of firm stuff for even the best of times. I feel she was difficult to deal with, but Edith never mentioned it in all of her letters. She’s the real trooper of our family, not I.”
“And you are now repaying her by escorting her all about town.”
“Yes. Although I would enjoy it more if my long-time friend accompanied me sometimes,” Miles said with a pointed look.
Ralph laughed. “Not me. Gaming hells aren’t necessarily satisfying, but at least they aren’t as tedious as the routs and balls that fill up the season.”
“I hope one of those events will provide a decent husband for Edith. She’s past her prime though. Poor girl spent three years in mourning and then was further delayed by Mama’s refusal to visit London without my accompanying them. She’ll be lucky to find a suitable suitor. You know how everyone clamours after the newest debutantes, the older girls are too often disregarded.”
Ralph cast a sideways look of amusement at his friend. “She’s an heiress and cannot be more than two and twenty, surely? I doubt she would appreciate your bleak outlook about her future.”
Miles grinned, unrepentant. “As your paths have rarely crossed, I’m safe in voicing my concerns to you. Anyway, she’s actually three and twenty and believes in a love match, so you see how poor her situation actually is.”
Ralph shook his head at the brother’s apparent callous dismissal of his sister’s future but refrained from saying anything. He knew Miles to be a decent man who would do what was right by what remained of his family. Ralph could learn a lesson or two from his friend if he had the inclination to. He was trying to do the right thing in his own way but wasn’t convinced he was achieving his aim.
They halted at Miles’ house on Curzon Street. “Would you like to share a glass or two of port?” the slightly younger man asked.
“No. Thank you. I’ve the urge to leave London for a while and want to get a good start tomorrow,” Ralph responded.
“Oh? Leaving for sport?” Miles asked.
“No. I have business on my estate,” Ralph explained. It was a partial falsehood, but was a reasonable lie to prevent any further questioning by his friend.
“Oh. That’s a pity. I was hoping to persuade you to come to a dinner Mama is holding next week. It’ll be a dreary thing, so I need all the company I can muster,” Miles said.
“As tempting as your invitation sounds, I’m afraid I shall have to decline. I shan’t be returning to London immediately,” Ralph explained.
“I’ve yet to see you at any ball, rout, or concert. You seem to be hiding from society,” Miles pointed out.
“It’s better that way,” Ralph shrugged.
“I, at least, would enjoy your company if you did venture out more.”
“Thank you, but I don’t wish to provide fodder for the nosey beaks who also frequent the delights you mention,” Ralph said. It wasn’t exactly true, but it was a convenient excuse.
“It’s not as bad as that.”
“Is it not? They wouldn’t whisper behind their fans at the appearance of the renowned gambler? I’d prefer avoid most of the cliques and groups which exist, which I’m sure is a mutual feeling.”
Miles suppressed a sigh. “I thought you might be more persuadable after a night of heavy drinking.”
“I’m never too bosky to make a mistake like that,” Ralph said with a modicum of amusement.
“It was worth a try.”
“I might join you on one or two occasions when I return, but only one or two,” Ralph conceded taking pity on his friend.
“Excellent! I knew you wouldn’t let me down!”
The friends shook hands, wishing each other well, before Ralph turned to continue on his solitary journey, hunching his shoulders once more, his head lowered as he walked. His boots echoed on the empty pavements, which within a few hours would be filled with the hustle and bustle of a busy London season.
Feeling slight amusement at Miles’ attempt to include him in his family’s entertainments, his face darkened; what he had to face at home prevented him being at the forefront of society, even if he’d wanted that for himself. He wasn’t sure for how long the reality of his homelife could remain a closely guarded secret, but he was going to try and keep it that way. The ton didn’t look favourably on something which went against their sense of perfection and his history did exactly that. The people who attended the gaming hells he frequented didn’t give a fig who you were, or how you came to be there. As long as you could pay your way and spend a lot, you were given a welcome. Miles had been there only because he sought out Ralph from time to time, he certainly didn’t lead the dissipated lifestyle that many of the patrons did.
Stepping onto the stone step which brought him to his own house, he opened the door with his key. Having instructed his staff not to wait up for him, he entered the empty hallway. One candelabrum remained lit on a marble table in the entrance hall.
Casting aside his hat and gloves, he caught sight of his reflection in the large mirror positioned over the side table. Grimacing at his pale complexion and his hardened stare, he could see nothing of note in his sharp features, dark eyes and jet hair. He looked the very devil he often mimicked. His features meant he did not have to act very hard to maintain the image.
Pausing for a moment, he recognised the all too familiar expression in his eyes. Oh, he didn’t let anyone else see it, but it was there every time he looked back at himself through a looking glass. It was pure desolation and loneliness.
Quietly voicing the words which always filled his consciousness, he whispered, “I shall not abandon her to that hell. I shall not. I can be a lone wolf. I have to be. I know what has to be done, but why does it sometimes seem so damned hard?”
Not waiting for an answer from his reflection, he turned and, picking up the candelabrum, he started his solitary climb to his chamber.
Another long lonely night loomed ahead.
Lady Edith Stanley sat at the escritoire, dipping her ink pen into the glass bottle in the stand. She paused in the act of scraping the excess liquid off the nib and chewed the corner of her bottom lip, a habit she had when she was worried or unsure. She needed the right words but struggled to find them. It had seemed an easy task when first thinking of the scheme, but now, putting it into practice was a little more daunting.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the entrance into the room of her brother. She replaced her ink pen on its stand, unused, and slipped the still blank paper into the drawer before pulling closed the lid of the desk.
Moving from her seat to one near her sewing basket, she smiled at her brother. “I didn’t expect to see you until after nuncheon,” she said pleasantly.
“A pity mother doesn’t expect the same,” Miles responded ruefully. “She seems to think when she has risen early, we all should.”
“Perhaps you were unwise telling her that you were used to rising with the lark when saving us from the dastardly Napoleon,” Edith teased.
“When fighting the French it is necessary to keep one’s wits about one. It isn’t quite the same as being in London for the season. We both know how long into the night everything continues here. I need the mornings to recover, especially after the more dreary entertainments,” Miles responded, flopping onto one of the more comfortable sofas in the room and stretching his legs out in front of him, lazily admiring the shine on his boots his valet achieved every day.
Edith smiled at her brother. “I shall order coffee for you.”
“Already done, m’dear,” Miles answered.
The brother and sister were very alike; neither could be described as beautiful, more likely to attract the compliment of handsome, or having pleasant features. Both had open expressions, and clear grey eyes. Their darker hair wasn’t quite black enough to be interesting, but dark enough not to attract the condemning description of mousey brown. Each had an easy-going nature, which was just as well because of the trials they had faced.
Miles had returned from fighting with Wellington with all the outward signs of his old, jolly self, but those who knew him well noticed the slight frown which almost constantly marred his features, and the fine lines he now wore around his eyes and mouth. He rarely spoke of his time abroad and Edith was wise enough not to ask. She didn’t want to remind him of a time in which he must have suffered; she was just glad to have him home. Many other families of their acquaintance had not been so fortunate.
“I hear I’m to escort you to the theatre tonight,” her brother said with a barely suppressed groan.
“Yes, Mama wishes to be seen at the new production.”
“You don’t wish to go?”
“I expect I’ll enjoy it,” Edith shrugged, picking up her tatting and looking down at the intricate work.
“A whole, eagerly anticipated production damned by faint praise!” Miles laughed.
Edith smiled, glancing up at her brother. “I admit I’ve not settled into London life as Mama would like me to. I think overall, I’d prefer to be in the countryside. That makes me sound so rustic, does it not?”
“There’s a hundredfold entertainments in comparison to what you’ve experienced these last few years. I thought you’d be pleased as punch, gadding about town.”
“So did I. But I think everything is slightly marred by Mama’s interrogation of me every time I speak to any gentleman I encounter. Even if I exchange a brief ‘hello’, I see her eyebrows raise in question and hope,” Edith admitted gloomily.
“She just wants to see you well-situated. We both do,” Miles soothed.
“I know, but don’t you think—” Edith started before seeming to change her mind.
“I’m Lady Edith Stanley, a nearly-on-the-shelf, heiress. The fops who have not stood a chance with the latest debutantes feel I will be grateful for their condescension and attentions if and when they are not otherwise engaged. They are sure of my accepting any one of their offers, should they make one. Some are quite open that they will only make the offers at the end of the season when they’ve tried every other spinster. It’s quite insulting.”
Miles laughed despite his sister’s angry expression. “The fools! Do they really make it so obvious that that is their game?”
“Oh yes, most certainly,” Edith responded through gritted teeth. “The smile might remain on my lips but I admit to stamping on a few toes during a dance, in the most innocent of ways, of course. Usually after having just re-joined a set in which my delightful partner, whoever it is at that particular time, has informed me that a woman at my time of life should be grateful for the attentions he is bestowing on me. And, to add to the benefit of his condescension in noticing me, that I can expect to become more popular with others of our acquaintance because of his regard.”
Miles let out a crack of laughter. “What a bunch of feeble coxcombs we are surrounded by! I didn’t realise it was as bad as that.”
Edith smiled, amused, despite her feelings of anger when the incidents were actually taking place. “I wouldn’t mind so much, if it wasn’t repeated by so many. I must have one of the worst dancing reputations in London for the way I crunch down on their precious toes. One or two of them have turned rather peaky at the encounter. It is vastly satisfying.”
“I expect it is,” Miles responded. “Oh, my poor girl. Give me a hint whenever you are offered such an insult and I shall sort the bounder out.”
“I will do no such thing!” Edith responded. “I’m not the heroine of some gothic novel, who needs rescuing by her older brother. I can put up with their stupidity for a half-hour dance. None of them will be receiving an acceptance should they be foolish enough to make me an offer. Especially when they’ve been refused by every other potential bride.”
“If anyone asks to pay their addresses to you, I know to ask about your dancing encounters before giving them my approval.”
Edith smiled, her eyes glittering with amusement. “Yes. It’s your way of finding out who to refuse on my behalf. At the moment though, I can’t see there being anyone who I would esteem enough to seriously consider as a husband.”
Miles stopped smiling. “That’s a shame, if that’s the case.”
“Why? You haven’t found a wife yet and you are eight and twenty,” Edith pointed out.
“In danger of sounding like one of the fools you are already encountering, it’s different for you, m’dear,” Miles responded apologetically.
Edith’s eyes flashed, all amusement gone. “A woman with an independent fortune doesn’t have to accept a proposal if she doesn’t wish to. And she certainly shouldn’t have a time limit on when she needs to be married by.”
“No, but I can’t see you becoming an eccentric about town, or being a hermit in the country, nor can I see you not wishing to have a handful of children of your own,” Miles said.
All anger dissipated, Edith smiled. “Yes, you know me well enough to be sure I’d like to have a large brood.”
“Well, that’s settled then, we’ll have to find a man who can come up to snuff!”
“Hmm,” Edith responded, casting a guilty glance at the seat she’d vacated on her brother’s entrance.
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