A Baron’s Pretended Courtship (Preview)


London, England, 1806

“Blind man’s buff? Ha! Lydia always loses when we play that.”

“I do not.” Lydia spun around on the spot as they reached the lake. 

Just fifteen years old, standing beside her twin brother and his closest friend, she didn’t yet come up to their shoulders. They were growing much taller than her already. The two of them laughed together, shaking their heads as her brother Evan held up the blindfold. 

“I’ll win this time,” she said determinedly, folding her arms as she stared down her brother’s friend, Stephen.

With dark brown hair that tangled at his temples, rich brown eyes the color of chestnuts, and an easy smile that lifted his already handsome features, Stephen was becoming an increasingly frustrating presence for Lydia. They may have played together ever since they were just three years old, when he and Evan had been thrust together by their mothers and ended up firm friends, but gone were the days when Lydia saw him only as her brother’s friend.

Stephen had wormed his way into her heart and after the last few years of being fond of him, she could not deny to herself anymore what she felt.

I like him. Far more than I should.

“Very well, let’s play then,” Stephen said with finality and rubbed his hands together. “Where’s Alexander?” He looked around for his younger brother, and Evan pointed toward him across the lawn.

The younger Alexander was trailing far behind them, with Lydia and Evan’s younger sister, Jasmine. The two had fallen into one of their usual arguments, with Jasmine throwing handfuls of grass at him and Alexander laughing victoriously as he taunted her.

“I think they’re a little busy,” Evan said with a chuckle. “Come, let’s play. They’ll catch up soon. Who will be blinded first then?” 

He whipped the blindfold through the air, and Lydia tried her best not to jump at the sound. She often felt she encroached on their games and didn’t want to give them another excuse to tease her now.

“Lydia.” Stephen didn’t hesitate as he nodded at Lydia. 

“Oi.” She folded her arms. “Why not you?”

“Because you are the one who just insisted you do not always lose. Prove it, little Lydia.” It was the name he so often used for her, and she pressed her lips firmly together to hide the fact that she rather liked the name. It suggested that he too might be fond of her. 

He took the blindfold from Evan’s hands and moved toward Lydia, but she backed up warily, her eyes darting to the lake behind them. They’d come to a stop on the grass lawn in front of her parents’ house, and the lake was dangerously close. She chewed her lip as she backed up, wanting to complain about their choice of position, but she feared being teased again.

“You going to make me tackle you, Lydia?” Stephen asked mischievously as Evan roared with laughter.

“No!” she retorted, trying to brush away thoughts of Stephen coming so close. She halted and pushed back her auburn hair, allowing him to tie the blindfold across her face. She breathed slowly when she felt his fingers tangling in her hair as he tied the knot. Her stomach quivered with excitement to know he was so near.

“There. We’re ready,” Stephen said and clapped his hands together, moving away.

“All set, Lydia,” Evan’s voice followed close behind her as he took her shoulders.

She squinted into the darkness of the blindfold, desperate to find a way to see, but Stephen had tied it too well. Evan turned her with her shoulders, spinning her slowly then increasingly madly.

“Evan! Be careful,” Lydia pleaded.

“Oh yes, that’s a winner’s mantra, isn’t it?” Stephen teased nearby. She shot a glare his way, but of course, he couldn’t see it because of the blindfold.

“Right, be ready!” Evan declared and released Lydia’s shoulders. She staggered on her feet, the dizziness taking over until she thought for a minute she would fall flat on her face, to much cacophonous laughter from her brother and friend. She thrust her legs further apart, hardly ladylike in her long gown, though it worked to steady herself on the riverbank.

“Shh,” one of the boys whispered to the other. She heard him far to her left, then someone moved to her right, his footsteps softening the grass beneath his feet. 

She darted fast toward the footsteps and tried to grab someone, but they evaded her too quickly. She felt just the slip of a shirt sleeve before it was gone again. 

“Shh!” Stephen urged Evan, who was now giggling like a very little girl indeed. 

Lydia froze, listening intently to their positions.

The giggling was a little distance away. Clearly, Evan was doing his best to avoid getting anywhere near her, but Stephen’s urgent shushing was much closer, only slightly to her left.

Slowly, she feigned turning to her right, reaching out into the open air. As Evan giggled more, and even Stephen snorted in his laughter, she took her chance. She whipped around and lashed out, trying to grab hold of Stephen, but he must have jerked himself out of the way for she grabbed nothing but open air.

Her foot caught on something and her body veered forward. She yelped in surprise, tumbling down.

“The lake!” Evan yelled.

A pair of hands reached up and caught her, but it was all in a tumble. Lydia fell with Stephen down onto the riverbank as he narrowly pulled her back from the lake. They landed heavily in the dirt. 

“Woah. I’d say good catch, Stephen, but you ended up in a pickle yourself in an attempt to be the hero,” Evan said with broad laughter.

Panting, Lydia reached up and tore off the blindfold. Her legs were tangled together with Stephen’s as he pushed himself up and off her on the riverbank. 

“Ow.” She winced when he accidentally pressed his weight onto her leg.

“Oops, sorry,” he murmured, freezing once again.

They were close, very close indeed, and Stephen stared at her, neither blinking nor pulling away.

Could it be…?

Lydia’s heartbeat was thundering against her ribcage. Was it possible that Stephen felt the same excitement she felt in this moment? That it wasn’t some childish fancy, but a true connection?

“Ha! It looks like they’re about to kiss.” Jasmine’s voice reached them. She had finally broken off from her brawl with Alexander and caught up with them, her light brown hair wild about her head and her light hazel eyes glistening with glee. 

Stephen still didn’t pull away. He feels something, too.

Lydia turned to look back at him again. She even leaned forward. It was just an inch, nothing more, but it was something.

Stephen’s eyes widened, and he jumped to his feet so fast that he pressed his weight down onto her leg again.


“Sorry,” he mumbled and turned away, blushing beetroot red as Jasmine continued to laugh. “Alexander? Come on, it’s your turn,” he called to his brother, went to capture the younger boy’s hand, and wrapped the blindfold around his head.

Lydia was left alone on the ground, heat filling her cheeks at the rejection. Jasmine was still laughing, but now she was coming up and pointing in Lydia’s face.

“He doesn’t like you,” Jasmine said through her fits of giggles. “You thought he did, didn’t you?”

Lydia thrust her sister’s hand away from her face just as another reached down to her. It was Evan, his usual soft face there as it always was for her, with a comforting look. She took his hand and let him help her to her feet. He had light brown hair, much like their sister, but rich blue eyes in contrast. It was those eyes that looked at her with such softness now. 

“You do know Stephen doesn’t look at you like that, don’t you?” he whispered, so no other could hear him.

Stephen was now evading Alexander’s capture across the riverbank as Jasmine ran after them to join in the game.

“That was not what was happening,” Lydia insisted. Evan nodded, though she could see in those expressive eyes that he didn’t believe her. “I… I’ve hurt my ankle. When I fell.” She scrambled to find an excuse. “I’m going to go back inside.”

“As you like.” Evan nodded and released her hand. He hurried over to the others to continue their game and Lydia took the opportunity to walk toward the house. 

She didn’t dare glance back until she was standing in the open doorway of her father’s house. From this distance, the game might as well have been played by ants, for she could barely see them at all. Yet the greater height showed which one was Stephen.

I’m a fool.


Her face burned almost painfully in her embarrassment as she turned her head and walked into the house.

“Any affection I had for Stephen ends today,” she said to herself as she let the door close behind her.

Chapter One

London, England, 1816

“Well, Lydia? Is it not a fine instrument?”

Lydia broke off from her piano playing and looked around the music shop. Far behind her in the shop, her uncle Bartholomew had appeared. In his usual attire, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a cravat pin shaped into a violin placed neatly at his neck. His dark auburn hair, not a dissimilar color to her own, was swept back as neatly as the rest of his attire. He smiled with warmth as he looked at her.

“What do you think?” he asked again, nodding at the piano she had been playing.

“It is a beautiful pianoforte indeed.” She ran a hand across the top of the instrument, admiring the walnut wood that had been polished to perfection. “I suppose this shop will not be its home for long.”

“You’re right in that thought. I’ve had three people interested in it already this morning. On that note, though,” Bartholomew held up his hands in excitement, then darted back through the doorway into the rear of the shop, still talking, “I have something else you will like.”

Lydia stood from the piano, finding it hard to turn her back on the instrument. It was the thing that gave her the greatest joy in the world, playing music, especially in this shop. When she was with Uncle Bartholomew, the rest of the world was a distant place, somewhere easy to forget and pretend did not exist.

He returned a second later with a light brown leather case tucked under his arm. He laid it down beside the till, unlocked the lid, and revealed inside a violin. He took the violin out of its case and turned to pass it to her. 

“It’s a Stradivarius,” he said with such excitement that his voice shook.

“Stradivarius?” she repeated, her hand trembling with its own thrill as she hurried toward him. She took the violin, weighing it in her hands. She of course knew such violins were prized beyond any other, but she had never had the good fortune to hold her own.

In her parents’ music room back home, practically all the instruments belonged to her, for no other in the house seemed to have an interest in music. The piano she played most days, the violin every other day, and she had to at least practice the harp once a week. Even the older harpsichord in the corner of the room was often played by her, much to the annoyance of Evan who could not stand its sharper sound. 

Recently, Lydia had asked for a new violin to add to their collection, but her father had refused at once.

“Find a husband before you find a new violin.”

These frustrating words still burned in the back of her mind.

Slowly, she took the violin from her uncle and placed it under her chin. Bartholomew stood back, his lithe figure tight with excitement as he steepled his hands together. He possessed her same passion for music. In truth, it was he who had introduced her to it.

When she was just a young child, looking to escape her younger sister’s annoying behavior, she had escaped to her parents’ music room to find Bartholomew sat there at the piano playing a simple tune on the keys. It was transportive, as if that music had taken her somewhere far from the house. Since then, only Uncle Bartholomew had understood why she loved music so much.

“Play,” he encouraged her again as she hesitated.

She lowered the bow to the violin and began to play. Far from choosing a slow and mournful song, she picked a lively one. She opted for the dramatic piece of Vivaldi’s “Storm. The captivating piece filled the shop, played on just the one instrument. 

Bartholomew stepped away with his eyes wide as she plucked the strings.

Absentmindedly, Lydia was aware of the door opening behind her in the shop, but she was too absorbed in the music to possibly turn around. She continued to play, thinking of only Bartholomew as her audience. 

Then, suddenly, someone coughed.

Lydia froze. 

In front of her, Uncle Bartholomew’s awed expression had now changed. He raised his hand and pinched the brow of his nose, as if he was preparing himself for the conversation he was about to have.

“One of these days, Lydia,” he said slowly, “your friends in the ton who insist on hearing your performances must start paying for your work.”

Lydia smiled a little. It was something they had often discussed, how she was demanded to play like some circus animal at balls, dinners, and assemblies, but the mere question of being paid like a professional musician was outrageous.

“Paid? Paid!?” a voice spluttered behind her. 

Her shoulders flinched. Rather than turning to greet the man who had spoken, Lydia stepped forward and returned the Stradivarius to the violin case.

“She is a lady of the ton, not some commoner who needs to work for a living.”

“Some of us choose to work, Zachariah, may I remind you?” Bartholomew said coolly and closed the lid of the violin case.

Lydia turned to see her father who had walked into the shop. These days, she saw more and more of Evan’s features in her father, the same slightly hooked nose and high bride. He was also tall and lean in build like Evan, though his hair was darker than her brother’s and his eyes more like Jasmine’s. 

He shook his head, thrusting the swagger stick he carried for fashion under his arm, as his face contorted in anger. Beside him stood Lydia’s mother, Keira. Not for the first time did Keira’s eyes stray across the musical instruments in the shop, but then they quickly returned to Lydia.

Bartholomew had told Lydia once that when Keira was young, she was a keen musician too, though Lydia found it hard to believe. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen Keira play. 

Her mother jerked her head around, bearing the same auburn hair that Lydia had, her plump features making her face very pretty too, with sweetly rounded cheeks. 

“We thought we’d find you here,” Zachariah said simply to Lydia. “You may have a habit of escaping any chaperone we give you—”

“I am not a child, Father.”

“Quite right. You are a young lady and should be going places with your maid or some chaperone in tow.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” she muttered, tight-lipped, still admiring the violin case before her. “For a lady is so incapable, that she needs another to watch over her to make sure she does not make a fool of herself.”

“You may laugh at the notion, but seeing as my daughter—the daughter of an earl, no less—is standing in a common music shop playing the violin like any other musician, I rather think you’re perfectly capable of making a fool of yourself.”

“Zachariah,” Keira broke in, her voice soft, though there was warning in it.

“Well, we common musicians,” Bartholomew said pointedly, “are quite content as we are, just as you are content to look down upon us.” 

Zachariah tilted his chin higher. Despite the look of pride, Lydia recognized it for what it was. Zachariah only ever did this when he feared he’d offended someone and was hoping to save face and protect his dignity a little. 

No more words passed between the men as Zachariah offered no apology, and Bartholomew was hardly going to continue a conversation that was so disparaging. He turned his back on Zachariah and picked up the violin case, sliding it along the counter toward Lydia.

“Take it,” he urged.

“She needs no more instruments. We have a music room full of them,” Zachariah called, but Lydia ignored him.

She stared at her uncle with her lips parted. “I cannot do that,” she whispered in a rush. “These violins are expensive. I must at least pay you for it.”

“I will not let you use my money to pay for another instrument. We have so much sheet music as it is, it’s practically coming out of the windows of that room,” Zachariah said with a frustrated sigh. Keira placed a hand to his arm in an attempt to calm him. It seemed to summon just a momentary silence.

“Consider it a gift. A Christmas present,” Bartholomew said softly.

“It is February,” Lydia reminded him as she found her gloves out of her reticule and pulled them on.

“Then it’s a late Christmas present.” Bartholomew laughed and pressed the case into her hands again. “Please, take it.”

Lydia took her uncle’s hand and squeezed it tightly. Her uncle was the kindest man she knew, and he always seemed to know just how to make her happy.

“Wonderful, another instrument to add to that collection,” Zachariah huffed as he turned and marched back out of the door. “Come, Lydia.”

Lydia squeezed her uncle’s hand one last time in gratitude. “Thank you,” she whispered.

Keira hurried forward and kissed her brother on the cheek, though not a word passed between them. They just nodded at one another, a look of possible understanding passing between them, though Lydia could not read it, then Keira took her arm, and she followed her mother out into the street.

“We have come to collect you as we have news. Wonderful news,” Keira said in her usual soft and dulcet tones. She smiled so sweetly, her manner so genuine, that Lydia found it hard to hold onto any frustration when it came to her mother.

They huddled together, arm in arm, as they crossed the frost-covered street of Covent Garden toward the carriage that awaited them nearby. Zachariah stood by the open door, gesturing inside and hurrying them along.

“Come on, come on,” he pleaded. “It’s freezing out here today. Are we to let the carriage wheels freeze in these ruts?”

“Patient as always, Father,” Lydia muttered distractedly, climbing into the carriage. Her mother followed and sat beside her, taking her gloved hand.

“It is about Jasmine. Oh, wonderful news, Lydia. Wonderful news indeed.”

“I’m sure it is,” Lydia said drily. After Jasmine had been courted for the last six months by a gentleman, she could be in little doubt about what this news could be. Jasmine, at nineteen years old, had not missed the opportunity to remind Lydia as the older sister, the spinster of the family, that she had managed to catch a man’s eye so young and during her first Season.

“Do you not like Lord Reid?” Zachariah asked as he climbed into the carriage. Now he was away from the music shop, he was more at ease, more himself. He even sat back on the coach bench and took off his top hat, running a hand across his thinning brown hair. “He is a good man. He has courted your sister well enough.”

“Well enough, hmm.” Lydia kept her thoughts to herself. To her mind, Lord Reid had a wandering eye, but there was nothing she could say to prove such a suspicion. She had only seen his gaze wandering when they attended balls and assemblies, something which Jasmine had always denied. 

“Anyway, you must come and celebrate with us. There is much we have to prepare now,” Keira said excitedly and giggled as if she were a young girl again. Not wishing to upset her mother, Lydia nodded, though she cast her eyes down to the violin case under her arm. 

At least something good has come from today.

She held onto the case tighter.


“Come, you must toast me and my marriage, Lydia,” Jasmine said, her light brown hair tightly curled into perfection around her head. She tipped her head back, making those ringlets dance. “Raise your champagne glass to me and my future happiness.”

“To your future happiness, gladly,” Lydia said, raising the glass to her sister. 

Jasmine turned away with a victorious smile, apparently missing the part where Lydia had left out toasting the marriage itself. Evan, however, did not miss it. He walked up behind her in their drawing room, a low chuckle escaping him. He was as tall as ever, and though Lydia was now of average height, she still only reached his shoulder.

“You are wary,” he whispered to her. “You think I could not see what you missed out in that toast?”

“Well, Jasmine has not noticed, has she?” Lydia murmured out of the side of her mouth. “She thinks too much of…”


Lydia kept the word to herself. It was something Jasmine had always busied herself with—the idea of competition. Quite the favorite of their parents, she had never missed a chance to please their parents when Lydia and Evan failed to do so.

Now, Jasmine was circling their mother and father, encouraging compliments about what a fine husband Lord Reid would make.

“Have I not done well, Father? Have I?”

“Very well, indeed. On your first Season as well.”

“Oh, yes. Of course, I know it was only natural in the end.” Jasmine caught her own eye in the nearest mirror over the fireplace and adjusted her ringlets in the candlelight, admiring her reflection.

“Where’s my music when I need it?” Jasmine hissed at her brother.

“Grin and bear it, dear sister,” Evan said with a chuckle. “Soon, we can both escape.”

If only we could escape sooner.

Yet to Lydia’s dismay, her father’s focus was not remaining on Jasmine. Instead, he was turning toward Lydia. He downed the last of the champagne in his glass and moved toward her.

“Lydia, my dear, there is something we must discuss.”

“Oh no,” Evan muttered, all traces of laughter vanishing. 

Lydia jerked her head toward him, but he offered no explanation. He simply dropped down into the nearest chair, rubbing a hand across his light brown hair—his habitual action when it came to stress or worry.

“What must we discuss?” Lydia asked. Her father took her hand and drew her to sit with him on the nearest Rococo settee.

“Whilst I am delighted my youngest daughter will be married, you must understand it will make people talk.”

“Marriage always makes people talk.”

“As does a lack of it.” His voice hardened a little. “Lydia, you are six years your sister’s senior.”

“I remember our birthdays, Father. I hardly need the reminder.”

“At twenty-five, you are known as quite the spinster now.” 

She lifted her glass to her lips and took a sip, needing a distraction from his words. She had hardly been bothered about marriage. She had never understood why it seemed to be the point of Jasmine’s existence, to find a perfect match. 

“She is hardly the only one,” Evan muttered. “There are plenty of unmarried women her age.”

“In the ton?” Zachariah asked coolly. 

Evan shrugged and gestured to himself. “I am not yet married.”

“And you are a man. The matter is very different.”

“Why is it?” Lydia cut in, though her father clearly deemed this a ridiculous question and brushed it away with an errant wave of his hand. 

“It is time you married,” he said sharply. Lydia glanced toward Jasmine and her mother across the room, for the two were having their champagne topped up by the butler, both lost too much in their own delight to take note of this conversation. “You have to wed.”

Lydia cast her mind back to every possible courtship or romantic moment there had been in her life. There have not been many such moments.

Her last attempt at a courtship, with a Mr. Robert Warren, had ended abruptly when he had accused her of caring for her music more than him. When she’d had no intention of denying this was the case, he had walked away. There had just been one other romantic moment of her life, and that was when she was a child, playing blind man’s buff by the lake edge with Stephen. She could still remember the excitement of falling to the ground with him, of mistakenly thinking he’d cared for her, too, when he had made it abundantly clear he felt nothing for her.

She brushed the thought away fast. Though she and Stephen were still friends, she had not permitted herself to think of that incident for years.

“Husbands cannot be produced out of thin air, Father,” Lydia said slowly. “I am happy for Jasmine to find a husband, but what do you expect me to do? Snap my fingers to produce one of my own?”

“No—that is my job, as your father.” Zachariah’s words left Lydia winded. She stared at him, in danger of dropping her champagne glass. “You shall be courting Viscount Carpenter. I have arranged for you to meet shortly.”

Lydia blinked. For a second, she thought she must be having some nightmare. Surely her father did not intend to marry her off to one of his old friends?

“Father.” Evan sat forward. He had managed to spill his own glass, the champagne dripping over the knee of his trousers. “You would marry Lydia to such a man? He has been married multiple times—”

“And has lost each wife in tragic circumstances. It is high time he had some luck in the wife he chose.”

“Father…” Lydia whispered in horror, leaning forward and matching her brother’s look of pure panic. “He is a known philanderer. Would you betroth me to him?”

“Rumors. Rumors only.” He dismissed them with a wave of his hand.


“This is not for discussion.” Zachariah stood, shaking his head somberly. There was no delight in his voice, but more a sad resolution. “You have had years to find your own match, and yet you have not done so. It is my responsibility to find one for you now. You shall court Viscount Carpenter, and you shall marry him.” 

He turned his back and crossed the room, heading toward Jasmine.

Lydia stared at her brother to find Evan was as speechless as she was. Neither of them said anything. As the silence extended between them, Jasmine’s laughter sounded more like a cackle from across the room.

Chapter Two

Stephen knocked on the door with purpose. As he waited for the butler to open the door, he turned and looked at his own reflection in the nearest window. With a desperate move of his hand, he tried to flatten his dark brown hair, which was always curling madly and out of control. It refused to lay flat, and he cursed it before straightening his suit.

Everything has to be perfect today. Everything…

As the door opened, he turned a smile on the butler.

“Ah, good day to you, Belton,” he addressed the man with a kind tone. The butler smiled warmly.

“It is a pleasure as always, Lord Rothwell. If you follow me, I shall show you to my mistress.”

“Thank you.” Stephen followed the butler into the house, continuing to straighten his tailcoat as he went. He took his gloves and top hat off, leaving them on the coat stand before trailing through the house.

Abigail’s home was a warm one indeed, decorated beautifully, though today Stephen took no notice of any of it. He had come with an express purpose in mind. Today would be the end of their courtship, and he hoped to begin their betrothal. In his pocket, he even carried his mother’s engagement ring that she had given him long ago to bestow on the right woman. He checked the ring box was still in his pocket, just as the butler turned to show him into the garden room.

“Ah.” Belton stumbled to a stop, the surprise in his sudden gasp plain. If Belton wished to block the view, to somehow protect his mistress, his short height defied him. Stephen was tall enough to see easily over the butler’s head, and what he saw stole his breath away.

Abigail was not alone. Though she was being chaperoned with an elderly maid in the corner of the garden room, fussing over the potted palm leaves that kept falling on her face, there was another with them. She sat close to a gentleman that was all too familiar to Stephen—Lord Oswyn Kenilworth. 

The two were hand in hand, leaning toward one another, seemingly on the verge of kissing. Instead, Lord Kenilworth raised Abigail’s hand to his lips and kissed the back. There could be no mistaking the relationship, none at all.

“You must allow me to declare the depths of my affection,” Lord Kenilworth whispered, and Abigail smiled, encouraging him on. 

Belton cleared his throat, and both Lord Kenilworth and Abigail snapped their heads toward the doorway.

Stephen stared at Abigail, feeling kicked in the gut. How could this be? How could she be entertaining another gentleman? How could she be encouraging his declaration of love?

He had noticed their closeness once at a ball, but when he had challenged Abigail on the subject, she had denied it and assured Stephen there was no other gentleman in her heart but him.

“Lord Rothwell,” she muttered and stood, her hand still in Lord Kenilworth’s.

Ah, I am Lord Rothwell once again—no longer Stephen to her.

Stephen backed up fast. He tried to tear his gaze from Abigail’s shining black hair and her elfin features, which has so attracted him. He looked instead at the look on Lord Kenilworth’s face. Was there victory in that smile? He certainly wasn’t releasing Abigail’s hand.

“Excuse me, Belton,” Stephen murmured to the butler and hastened through the corridor. Determined to leave at once, he snapped up his top hat and his gloves, yet he was not alone. Belton had not followed him out of that room, but Abigail had. 


“Ah, you use my name now,” he observed tartly, turning to face her. “What is going on, Abigail? You vowed to me that Lord Kenilworth meant nothing to you.” 

The ring box in his top pocket now felt strangely heavy, much weightier than before.


“It is over,” Abigail said in a flat tone. 

“What?” Stephen’s voice sounded too high. 

“Our courtship.” Her small blue eyes were as cold as ice now, no longer warm and inviting like pools of water. 

Silence fell between them. Stephen shifted his weight between his feet, determined he had heard her quite wrong. They had been courting for months, close to sharing a kiss on multiple occasions. She had often whispered words of love in his ear, even when they were being chaperoned. She’d held his hand just two weeks before and declared she would never love another.

“You love me,” he reminded her simply. “How often have you told me as much?”

“Things change,” she muttered. Her hands fidgeted together, and she looked down at the floor between them.

“Then deny it to me now. If you are in earnest.” He stepped toward her, urging her to look up a few inches into the center of his chest. “Look me in the eye and tell me you feel nothing for me now.”

She kept her focus in the center of his chest.

“I feel nothing for you now.”

“You did not look me in the eye.” A rush of hope leapt in his chest. If Abigail was done with him for good, she would have told him as much by looking him in the eye. She was confident enough to do so, self-assured in her own skin. “What aren’t you telling me, Abigail? Why deny your heart now?”

“The why hardly matters.” She backed up and turned on the spot, her eyes frantically darting toward him as if she was afraid to be too close to him in case she relented to temptation.

He knew that temptation. How often had they felt it in one another’s presence? It was why he had come to ask for her hand in marriage today.


“If you doubted the sincerity of my own heart, then thrust such thoughts away now.” He moved toward her, trying to catch her eye, though she now determinedly stared down at her fidgeting hands. “For I had come to ask you something—”

“Do not speak of it.” She held her hands up firmly in the air, palms turned toward him. He’d been about to utter the question, to declare his heart complete, to tell her that he wished to marry her, but the words now laid deadened in his throat. “I… I cannot bear to hear it. Please, just leave, Stephen. Know this. What we shared is over, our courtship, too—”

“And so fast you are to court Lord Kenilworth? No.” He shook his head back and forth. “If you are to be done with me so fast, I deserve to know why. Or was I simply a toy for you to play with for the last six months? Something for your own amusement?”

“Please, go.”

“I insist on having a straight answer, Abigail.”

“And you will not have one.” Her eyes flashed in anger once more. That icy feeling fell over him. He inhaled sharply, feeling the cold air from the winter wind had followed him into this house. “Please,” she added, her voice much quieter this time, “please go.”

Stephen had no choice. He backed up toward the door, pulling his leather gloves on.

Something was very wrong indeed. Abigail still felt something for him, or she would have looked him in the eye when she denied him. She would have given him a straight answer. Her enigmatic answers were all the confirmation he needed as he marched out the door.

“There is more to this,” he hissed under his breath as he shut the door loudly behind him. He jumped down the front steps of her house, making his steed that awaited him in the street whinny in surprise. “There is more.”

He pulled himself into the horse’s saddle and turned the animal around, so he was afforded one last look of the house. 

Abigail stood in the nearest window. She hadn’t returned to sit beside her new lover but had come to watch him as he made his retreat. She raised her hand and waved, a softness returning to her manner, the same softness he had so often known before. 

It was even more proof before his eyes.

“She still loves me,” he muttered darkly as he flicked the reins and urged the horse to gallop away down the frosty cobbled road. “I know she does.”


“Mother, will you not listen to me?” Lydia pleaded as she stood from the table where they had shared their lunch.

Zachariah was out today on business and Evan had gone with him. Had they been at the table, Lydia might not have been so loud in her exclamations. Keira flinched at the foot of the table but still calmly buttered her bread.

“The matter is decided. Your father has made the arrangements—”

“Oh, my father. Yes, my father. Tell me, does he order all of our lives around? Does he control us all as if we are marionettes dancing on his puppet strings?”

“Lydia, please,” Keira said in a gasp. “Show some respect for your father. He is the master of this household.”

“He may be the master of this household, but he is not the master of me, my mind, or my body.” She stood tall, her hands on her hips.

Keira shifted uncomfortably in her chair, though beside her at the table was Jasmine, currently trying to stifle her giggles into her teacup.

“Why are you laughing?” Lydia asked sharply of her sister. “Does my misery amuse you?”

“Of course it doesn’t.” Keira shook her head, looking up sharply. “You are always so quick to judge your sister, Lydia.”

She huffed and turned away, frustrated that her mother always mollycoddled Jasmine. She saw a sweet cherubim angel where Lydia and Evan saw someone mischievous, eager to twist Keira around her little finger every chance she got. 

“I am simply thinking that you should have taken matters into your own hands, my dear sister,” Jasmine said with such false sweetness, Lydia was alarmed her mother fell for it. Keira looked dotingly at her younger daughter as Lydia stared at them open-mouthed across the dining room. “You have been out in the ton for six years now. If you had found a husband in that time, father would not have had to find one for you.”

“It is hardly like fishing, Jasmine.”

“That is exactly what it is like,” Jasmine said, putting down her teacup. “One has to be attractive enough, the right bait to catch a husband. The one they want. If you did not make yourself desirable enough, then…” She sighed, as if it was a great sadness to her. “Then I am sorry for you indeed.”

Lydia didn’t think her jaw could become any slacker as she stared at her sister in amazement.

“You are truly good in your love for your sister,” Keira said, patting Jasmine’s hand.

Lydia shook her head at her mother. Clearly, Keira fell for every false sweetness that escaped Jasmine’s lips. 

“Now, if you would excuse me, dears.” Keira stood, finishing the last bite of her toast. “I have some letters to write. We must prepare for the spring Season soon.”

This seemed a little early as snow was threatening to fall beyond the windows, but  Lydia gladly let her mother leave the room. As the door closed behind her, she raised her eyebrows at Jasmine, waiting for her to say something more. She knew her little sister well enough to know that Jasmine would not miss the opportunity to drive a knife of pain in a little further. She got some sort of pleasure out of seeing Lydia and Evan know they were not the favorite child.

“It is true, you know,” she said after a minute, picking up her teacup in an attempt to hide her victorious smile once again. “If you had just caught a husband, you wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“Caught a husband, eh?”

“If you had made a good match—”

“Pah! Now we are getting to what matters to you.” Lydia’s exclamation made Jasmine’s smile falter for the first time that morning. “You care about an advantageous match. Lord Reid has position, contacts, and wealth. That is all you think about, is it not? You do not think of love.”

Calmly, Jasmine took a sip of tea before lowering the cup again. She stood from the table. “Quite right. What has love got to do with marriage, anyway?”

“I feel as if I am talking to a simpleton all of a sudden. You do know that in the wedding vows, you are declaring to love your husband until death parts you, do you not?” Lydia asked.

“Yes.” Jasmine shrugged, as if it was no great matter. “Love is overrated. I do not believe love will keep me in riches, with good food, fine clothes, and a warm bed at night. No, but the eldest son of a marquess? Well, he can certainly give me all those things.”

Lydia shook her head and marched toward the door of the dining room.

“You seek money alone,” she muttered in her sister’s direction.

“And if you were wise, you would seek it too,” Jasmine called after her. “Lord Reid’s father is on his deathbed. Did you know that?” The question made Lydia stall in the doorway. “Soon enough, Lord Reid will be a marquess, and I shall be a marchioness.” She smiled broadly.

“And this is all you desire, is it? The death of one good man, to ensure your… comfort?” Lydia couldn’t stop the derision in her tone. She was shocked at the callousness of her own sister.

“Comfort is important,” Jasmine said simply. “Besides, once I am a marchioness, I’ll certainly be of a higher standing than you, won’t I? The spinster daughter of an earl who is everyone’s pitiful musician at parties.”

The words cut deep. It seemed Jasmine had no respect for her at all, none that amounted to anything. In fact, this confession suggested that all Jasmine ever wanted was to be considered of a higher class than her.

Lydia left the room fast, letting the door swing shut behind her. She marched up and down in the entrance hall, knowing that she had to get out of this house, that she had to think about what she was going to do. Come what may, she wasn’t going to be sold off to Viscount Carpenter. Evan was right when he had mentioned Carpenter being married multiple times. Both wives had been lost at suspiciously young ages, a fact that made Lydia shudder in fear.

When the sound of a carriage pulled up on the driveway, she darted toward it, fear spiking in her stomach. Evan jumped down from the carriage as Zachariah slowly followed behind him. Afraid to have to have the argument all over again, Lydia picked up the skirt of her gown and ran through the house. She ended up in the servants’ quarters beside the kitchen, causing such a fright of surprise as she appeared that one maid upended a tray of pastries that had been freshly made.

“Oh, my apologies.” Lydia helped the maid pick up the pastries as her lady’s maid appeared beside her.

“My lady? How come you are down here?”

“Beatrice, I need your help.” Lydia stood straight again. “I need you to tell my parents that I am indisposed for a while. Tell them I have a headache or something and should not be disturbed. I am going to go for a walk to clear my head, and I do not want them or a chaperone running after me.”

“Very well.” Beatrice nodded, her blonde chignon bouncing with the movement.

“Thank you.” Lydia darted toward the door before Beatrice caught her hand.

“Wait a minute. It’s starting to snow outside. You must be dressed warmer than in just your gown.”

“Oh, yes, of course.” Lydia nodded, frustrated at herself. It seemed she was now becoming so afraid of the future that she was incapable of thinking straight. 

Within a few minutes, Beatrice had returned. She threaded Lydia into a spencer jacket and bonnet, handing her some suede gloves. Lydia thanked her for her kindness and crept out of the kitchen door, into the walled vegetable garden. She checked the windows multiple times as she crossed the frost-bitten ground, but no one was looking out of this side of the house.

Stepping out of the walled gate, she was able to take refuge in the woods of her father’s estate, and she ran. Her boots slipped more than once on the icy earth, but she hardly cared. All she knew was that she had to escape from here as fast as possible. The cold wind whipped her cheeks and took off her bonnet, which bounced on her back as the ribbon stayed tied around her neck. The skirt of her gown rippled in the wind, and more than once did she have to reach out to trees nearby to grip them to stop herself from falling over.

It was liberating to be out in this cold in the woods. So few people ever came here, for it was where her father’s estate met the Baron Rothwell’s estate. Only occasionally would she see a gardener or a groundskeeper on their walk, but fortunately this morning, it was so cold she was the only one among those trees.

She darted down a fresh path, running into the thickest part of the woodland between the estates. There was a lake hidden between the vast oak trees, icy and white. As Lydia tried to come to a stop at the lake edge, her boots slipped on the ice and she veered toward the water.

A pair of hands came up around her, and she froze, mere inches from the water.

“Remind you of anything, little Lydia?”

“A Baron’s Pretended Courtship” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Lady Lydia Spencer, a talented musician and determined spinster, dreams of a life dedicated to her music, free from the constraints of marriage. Yet, her parents, concerned about her unmarried status, force her into a courtship with the ominous Lord Carpenter. Terrified of a life with a man known for his brutality and a mysterious past, Lydia seeks a way out. She soon finds a solution in her childhood friend, Stephen, by playing a charade where they pretend to be courting.

True feelings blossoming in her heart will threaten to destroy everything though…

Stephen Rowley, Baron of Rothwell, finds himself devastated after a sudden break in his courtship with Lady Abigail. Seeking to make her jealous, he proposes a fake courtship with Lydia, his dear friend’s sister. As they embark on this charade, Stephen rediscovers the deep connection they shared in their youth. The more people praise their compatibility, the more he fears disappointing those around him.

And also breaking his own heart in the process…

Amidst the tension of their pretense, Lydia and Stephen must confront their own feelings and the obstacles threatening to condemn Lydia to a miserable future. Unbeknownst to them, Lord Carpenter’s pursuit of Lydia may have ulterior motives beyond what they initially believed… Will Stephen be able to save her from this dreadful fate or will their hearts remain entangled in a web of confusion and unspoken desires?

“A Baron’s Pretended Courtship” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

One thought on “A Baron’s Pretended Courtship (Preview)”

  1. Hello, my dear readers! I hope you have enjoyed this little prologue and you are eagerly waiting to read the rest of this delightful romance! I am anticipating your first impression here! Thank you so much! 🎶 ♥️

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