A Bluestocking for the Tender Earl (Preview)


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Chapter One

Berkshire, England, Summer, 1811.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… no, that doesn’t sound right. What about… in the beginning they weren’t friends… oh, no, that’s not right, either. She should say something… I was by the river when it happened. But why would she be by the river? She doesn’t have to be by the river. Actually, I don’t know where she is… oh, why is the first line always the hardest?” Charlotte Davidson asked herself, putting down her quill and sighing as she looked at the blank page in front of her.

She was sitting in her father’s library, surrounded by thousands of books, and yet inspiration was lacking. It had been lacking all morning. The desk was piled high with discarded pieces of paper. They were all attempts at starting the novel she desperately was trying to write. It was her dream to launch a book she had written out into the world, like a ship into the ocean. Her mind was brimming with ideas, but translating those ideas onto the page was proving difficult – impossible, even.

“I’ll never be able to do it,” Charlotte thought to herself, looking around her at the shelves of books, and wondering why so many other authors managed to do what she found impossible.

The idea was there. She could see her heroine, Isabella Stuart, in her mind’s eye, as clear as though she was standing in front of her. She was tall and slim, with long blonde hair and bright green eyes, just like Charlotte herself. But Isabella’s life was very different from her own. She lived in the Highlands of Scotland, where towering mountains and crystal-clear lochs provided the setting for an adventure. An epic tale where Isabella Stuart would fall in love with the laird of Dunloch Castle. It might be an impossible dream; a lowly shepherdess marrying a laird. Charlotte had all the characters for her book mapped out. She knew what they looked like, how they sounded, and their story. She had thought out every detail on her walks across the meadow to the church across the brook, and while sitting in the garden under the shade of an ancient oak tree. Some of it she had even dreamed, finding herself a character in the story, as Isabella herself.

Then why am I finding it so difficult to make her speak on the page? I can see her, I can hear her, but writing the first words… Charlotte thought to herself, despairing at the thought of ever writing the novel she had so long dreamed of.

Charlotte knew what her parents thought of her attempts at writing a novel – her mother in particular.

“Why don’t you concentrate on writing your own story, Charlotte? You fill your head with dreams of other people’s stories and neglect your own? What have you done in your own life?” her mother had asked, when Charlotte had tried to tell her something of Isabella’s story.

Charlotte’s father had a similar view on the matter, and both her parents had made it clear it was high time Charlotte considered marriage for herself, over that of imagined heroines who always got their happily ever after. But Charlotte was not interested in her own story. It was dull, just like her life. That was why she lived in a dream world of her own creation. It was not that she was ungrateful for her life – she had a great deal to be grateful for, not least loving parents, and a comfortable home in which to live. She knew her good fortune, but despite being far luckier than most, Charlotte still wanted more. Her mind was filled with the adventures of her heroines, and now she wanted to share those adventures by writing them down in the novel she intended to write – the novel she was finding it impossible to begin.

I just don’t know where to start. She has to be doing something, but I don’t know what. I know what I want her to do, but I don’t know how to get her to the point of doing it, Charlotte thought to herself. She took a deep breath and furrowing her brow. She took up her quill again. The nib hovered over the page, and Charlotte pictured Isabella appearing above a heather clad hill with the mountains and lochs of the Scottish Highlands stretching out before her in a tapestry of greens and sparkling blues.

“I wandered, lonely as a cloud… oh, no, that’s Mr. Wordsworth. Think… why can’t I think? I know… the loch was unusually blue that day. Oh, nonsense. What does that even mean? Unusually blue? No… I want to tell you a secret…” Charlotte wrote, imagining the novel as a confession, the confession of a woman who has fallen in love with a man who was forbidden to her.

She smiled at the thought of it – of Isabella sharing her most intimate thoughts with the reader. The story might already have occurred, and Isabella, now happily married, would tell it while sitting on a ridge of heather, looking out over the mountains and lochs of that most romantic of landscapes. Her quill worked quickly, scratching across the page as Charlotte’s picture of Isabella found form and voice. It excited her to think she was creating something – telling a story others would gain pleasure from.

“I was born in the shepherd’s hut at the foot of the mountain, on a winter’s night when the snow lay thick. My father was out tending the sheep, and it was my aunt who held my mother’s hand as the baby arrived…” Charlotte wrote.

But all of a sudden, doubt crept in – Charlotte could hear her mother’s voice telling her she was being ridiculous, obscene, even.

“Writing about a woman giving birth – how awful,” she would say, forgetting the story of the virgin and child she so rapturously listened to in church on Christmas Day. The stories of the Bible, with all their grizzly details, were perfectly acceptable, but for a woman of Charlotte’s rank and class to even dream of writing something so… outrageous, was tantamount to scandal.

“Marriage, Charlotte. That’s what’s missing in your life. You need a husband – or you at least need to show some interest in acquiring one,” Charlotte’s mother had said.

Her mother came from aspirational stock. Her own father had been a wealthy merchant, and there was a vague connection to royalty through a distant cousin twice removed – a story that always managed to be told whenever the family entertained someone new. Charlotte’s father was a self-made man, who had begun with nothing but a good education – having been educated at Eton due to a family connection. Now, he, too, was a wealthy merchant, and was one of the leading importers of tea from China and the Orient. Charlotte had grown up surrounded by wealth, though she knew the family was somewhat looked down on by those of inherited, rather than self-made, fortune. The lack of title meant they had to work harder for those things they had achieved, and Charlotte knew she was something of a disappointment to her parents, more interested in her education than securing a match    

“I wish I could be Isabella,” Charlotte thought to herself, sighing, as she looked down at what she had written.

Reading it back to herself, the thought of Isabella telling her one story seemed foolish – it meant there was the guarantee of a happily ever after, rather than the prospect of discovering whether Isabella succeeded in finding happiness or not. The page was discarded, joining the others in a pile on the desk, as Charlotte sat back and sighed.

“I’ll never be able to do it. I’ll never be able to write a novel,” she said out loud, just as a gentle tap came at the library door.

It opened slowly, and the face of Charlotte’s maid, Sara, appeared. She was wearing an anxious expression, and now she breathed a sigh of relief as she closed the door behind her.

“Oh, thank goodness I’ve found you, Miss Davidson. Your mother’s looking for you. I thought you’d want to know. She’s upstairs now, calling for you. I was just bringing some linens down the back stairs and I heard her voice. If you’re quick, you could slip out into the garden before she starts looking down here,” Sara said, and Charlotte smiled.

The two were the same age – twenty-three – and Sara had been Charlotte’s maid since they were both sixteen. They were more like friends than mistress and servant, and this would not be the first time Sara had warned Charlotte her mother was searching for her.

“Oh, what does she want now? I thought I was safe in here for the rest of the day,” Charlotte said, shaking her head as she hurried to clear away her writing things.

“Did you manage to start on your book, Miss Davidson?” Sara asked, and Charlotte shook her head.

“I made a dozen starts – all of them were terrible,” Charlotte replied, looking dejectedly at the piles of paper.

She knew why her mother was looking for her – she had been out that morning, paying a visit to her friend, Lady Wilton, the Dowager Duchess of Pendelbury. Lady Wilton always made suggestions as to who might be a suitable match for Charlotte, and whenever Charlotte’s mother returned from visiting the ageing aristocrat, she would declare she had arranged the perfect introduction. It had happened three times already this season, and all the matches had been ghastly. There had been Rupert Lloyd, a clergyman of Lady Wilton’s acquaintance, and a man who spoke only about himself and his achievements – a trait Charlotte found distasteful. Next had come Dominic Cadwell, Captain Dominic Cadwell, a military man who, though handsome, had proved more interested in a fleeting affair than longevity. Even Charlotte’s mother had agreed he was unsuitable. Finally, Lady Wilton had introduced Marcus Fothergill, the son of a baron. He had been charming, and the two of them had gotten along well until the point when a disagreement over politics had sparked a heated argument, one Charlotte had easily won, much to Marcus’s annoyance.

“Women shouldn’t have opinions on such things,” he had told her, and that was the end of that.

Now, Charlotte dreaded the thought of yet another failed introduction, and though she knew she would have to face her mother eventually, she decided to hide, rather than do so immediately.

“The garden, Sara. I can hide under the weeping willow. She won’t come outside to look. It’s here she’ll look next. I need to hurry. I can use the back stairs, can’t I? Come along, help with my things. I’ll write outside instead,” Charlotte said, and the two of them laughed as they scooped up the ink and quill, the discarded pieces of paper, and Charlotte’s precious notebook, in which she wrote everything that came to mind about her plots and characters.

Opening the door cautiously, Charlotte found the corridor deserted, and now she stepped out of the library, turning to Sara and beckoning her to follow.

“Is it safe, Miss Davidson?” Sara asked, and Charlotte nodded.

“I think so. I can’t hear anything. Come along,” Charlotte whispered, and they made their way along the corridor in the direction of the backstairs.

The house was large and rambling, spread over three floors, but Charlotte knew every hiding place, and she listened for any sound of footsteps up ahead, ready to dart into one of the empty bedrooms they passed as they made their way towards the backstairs. The library was on the second floor, facing south, to benefit from the morning sun. It was Charlotte’s favorite place in the house, but it was also the next most likely place her mother would look for her, and now she paused to listen again for footsteps. It was the landing where they were most likely to be caught. It had a gallery that looked over the hallway below, where a wide staircase led down to the marbled floor, across which lay the door to the drawing room. Should her mother appear from upstairs, or from the drawing room at the wrong moment, they would be caught.

“I don’t hear anything,” Sara whispered, and Charlotte nodded to her and smiled.

“If she asks, tell her you haven’t seen me all day – say you think I’ve gone out. I’ll get into trouble either way, so it hardly matters. At least this way I can have some peace and quiet. I just need to start writing, that’s all – it’s the first line, and…” Charlotte began, but the sound of the drawing-room door opening caused her heart to skip a beat, and snatching the ink well from Sara, she hurried across the landing and through the door to the backstairs, breathing a sigh of relief when she knew she was safe.

It made Charlotte smile to think of her mother searching all over the house for her. But knowing the reason was less of a cause for amusement. In truth, Charlotte did not feel ready to marry, and her lack of confidence in talking to men meant she was always the last one on the wall at the many balls her mother insisted on taking her to. Charlotte preferred her own company, or that of those friends she had known since childhood. She loved to read and write, to play the pianoforte, and to paint. Horses were her favorite subject, and the house was filled with the equestrian portraits she had painted. But all of this was a disappointment to her mother, who made no secret of having desired a boy, rather than a girl. Illness following childbirth had prevented a second child, and Charlotte had grown up knowing herself to be a disappointment.

“I know they love me. I just wish they’d let me walk my own path,” Charlotte thought to herself, as she made her way down the backstairs to the door leading out into the garden.

But Charlotte knew she was not like the heroines she conjured in her mind – not like Isabella, who had the freedom to choose whatever she wanted. The course of Charlotte’s life was decided for her, and if her parents were to choose who she married, her husband would continue to decide things for her. That was the order of things, and there could be no escaping it. As she closed the door behind her, the gardens presented a sense of freedom, albeit limited to the shrubbery at the far end and the red brick wall surrounding the formal beds. There was a weeping willow in the far corner, by the gate that led into the vegetable garden, and beneath the drooping branches, Charlotte knew she could hide herself away. This was her intention, and glancing up at the drawing-room windows to check her mother was not looking out, Charlotte hurried across the grass, making her escape.

But he had no choice but to carry on – the meeting was arranged, and looking at his pocket watch, he realized he was already late.

“What’s he going to think of me now?” he asked himself, as with trepidation, he approached the house, his shirt reminding him of the unexpected encounter he had had with Thomas Davidson’s daughter.

Chapter Two

“There’s no easy way to say it, my Lord. The money’s gone. There’s nothing left – only the assets. But that would mean selling Downside, and I’m sure…” the lawyer, Mr. Haxby, said, but Jacob Kirk, the Earl of Swadlincote, interrupted him.

“I won’t sell Downside. It’s the family side. The Swadlincotes have inhabited Downside since the reformation. It was our gift for loyalty to the crown,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief at the thought of what had happened.

The lawyer sighed.

“Then my Lord, you must think of something and fast. The money’s gone. Your investments haven’t paid the proper returns. And you’re… overspending hasn’t helped, either,” he said.

Jacob shook his head. He knew he had been foolish – reckless, even with his inheritance. He had grown up with no concept of earning money – only spending it. Whatever he had wanted, he had had, and there had never been any question of going without. He was the Earl of Swadlincote, and the Swadlincotes had always been a family with money. But the lawyer’s news was sobering, and Jacob knew he had to take responsibility or risk losing everything.

“We can sell some of the paintings – or the Chinese vase,” Jacob said, glancing across the drawing room to where a large and ornately decorated vase stood on a pedestal.

It had been a gift from the Chinese Emperor to his grandfather during a trade negotiation, and Jacob had always been told it was worth a fortune. The paintings, too, had their worth – as did all manner of artifacts around the house. His forebears had been great collectors, and Downside was filled with all manner of interesting objects with the potential to sell.

“My Lord, that would only be a temporary measure. Your expenses are too great. You need an income – something to sustain the estate and yourself,” Mr. Haxby replied.

“Work?” Jacob replied.

It seemed an astonishing thought. His father had always been so disparaging of those men who had “made their fortune.”

“A man doesn’t make a fortune, he inherits it,” his father had once said, and Jacob had grown up knowing the difference between old money and new.

But the social scene was increasingly filled with those men – and their wives – who had benefited from the ever-expanding opportunities of empire. Money was being made through hard work and shrewd investments, and those with inherited wealth were fast being outnumbered by those who had started with nothing and now had everything.

“You still have some money left, my Lord. My advice would be to invest it shrewdly with the help of someone who… knows what they’re doing,” Mr. Haxby replied, raising his eyebrows as Jacob shook his head.

The very thought of it was humiliating – to go with a begging bowl, him, an earl…

“And would one of these men who knows better than me agree?” Jacob asked.

The lawyer shrugged.

“These men are interested in profit, my Lord. That’s what matters to them. If you present an attractive proposition, there’s no reason why one of them shouldn’t be glad to advise you, or even enter business with you,” Mr. Haxby replied.

Jacob did not like the idea of begging. But it seemed he had no choice but to do so. Downside was at risk, and the thought of being the earl who had lost the family’s wealth was humiliating. And there was Olivia to think of, too. Jacob was in love with Olivia Wright, the daughter of the Earl of Burton-Upon-Trent. They had been childhood friends, and Jacob intended to ask for her hand in marriage. But if the money was gone, what sort of life could Olivia expect when they were married…if they were married?

“Then I suppose I have no choice,” Jacob replied, shaking his head sadly.

He felt humiliated, even as he knew his misfortune was entirely of his own doing. His parents had given him no sense of responsibility when it came to money. His father had lived off his inheritance, and his mother had had whatever she desired. They had died together in a carriage accident three years previously, and Jacob’s grief had expressed itself in lavish spending as a means to forget the unexpected responsibility he had found placed on him. Now, the money was gone, and he had no choice but to seek the solution Mr. Haxby suggested.

“I can suggest some possibilities, my Lord. There’s a man in the district – Thomas Davidson. He’s a merchant – a trader in tea from the Orient, I believe. He’d be the best person to approach,” the lawyer said.

Jacob had heard of Thomas Davidson, though he knew very little about him, preferring to mix with men of aristocratic rank and their families.

“I see… and what else do you know about him?” Jacob asked.

“He’s married to a woman with a vague connection to royalty, and has a daughter, Charlotte. They live at Bexton – ten miles or so from here. I could arrange for you to call on him, if you wish,” Mr. Haxby said, raising his eyebrows.

Jacob’s pride was dented – but what choice did he have? If he was to have any chance of saving the house and estate, and of marrying Olivia, the money had to be raised.

“Very well, Mr. Haxby, make the arrangements. I won’t sell the Chinese vase just yet,” Jacob replied, and the lawyer nodded.

“Very good, my Lord. I’m sure Mr. Davidson will be very pleased to make your acquaintance,” he replied, and Jacob sighed, wondering what he was letting himself in for.


“A higher collar, my Lord?” Harold Hayes, Jacob’s valet, asked, holding a tall, starched collar in his hand.

“No… the half size. I don’t want to feel like I’m choking. But I’ll wear the gold cufflinks,” Jacob said.

“Forgive me, my Lord, but aren’t you trying to show… the need for money?” Harold asked.

He had been Jacob’s valet since he was a young man, and at thirty years old, he was old enough to offer advice to the younger earl, who now nodded and smiled.

“Ah, yes… you’re right. He’s meant to feel sorry for me, isn’t he? The penniless aristocrat,” Jacob replied, and the valet nodded.

“Perhaps the tweed jacket, my Lord – and the brass cufflinks,” he said.

Jacob agreed. Harold was a confidant – the sort of valet one could trust to act discreetly in all things. Jacob had told him of his financial difficulties – though not to their full extent – and that today he was to call on a man named Thomas Davidson, a merchant and businessman who resided in the district and who he hoped to enter in a business arrangement with. It was all very unsatisfactory – the thought of begging to a self-made man. Jacob was an earl, and his family was an ancient and noble one. Thomas Davidson was no one, and yet he was the only one who might be able to help. 

“Do I look the part of a poor beggar?” Jacob asked, as he stood in front of the mirror in his bedroom a few moments later.

Harold smiled.

“Your Lordship looks… gentlemanly, as ever,” he said, and Jacob smiled.

“A tactful response, Harold. Well… it’s time I faced the lion’s den, I suppose. Goodness knows what he’ll think of me,” Jacob said, shaking his head.

It was his lawyer, Mr. Haxby, who had set up the meeting with Thomas Davidson. They were to meet that afternoon at the merchant’s home, but as for the details of their encounter, Jacob was in the dark. He had a little money left to invest, and intended to propose a joint venture with the businessman, not wanting to reveal the full extent of his misfortune, but intent on making money, too. He wanted Thomas Davidson to think he was doing him a favor, even as it would certainly be the other way around…

“I’m sure he’ll think you are a gentleman worthy of his time, my Lord,” Harold said, and Jacob smiled.

“Well… we’ll see. Thank you, Harold,” Jacob said, and the valet gave a curt nod and left the room.

Jacob sighed, glancing at himself again in the mirror and wondering what he was doing. It felt humiliating to be begging for money in this way, even as he knew he had no choice but to do so. The house, his reputation, his very well-being was at stake, as were the prospects of his marriage to Olivia. He had said nothing to her of his troubles, and had written to ask she and her mother to dine with him that evening, hoping to make some progress in his attempts at securing a more formal agreement between them. But Olivia had appeared reluctant at the thought of such an arrangement, and despite their long friendship, Jacob was beginning to wonder if she would ever feel as he did.

“One thing at a time,” he told himself, glancing at himself once again in the mirror, before leaving his bedroom and making his way down to the hallway, where the housekeeper, Mrs. McDonald, was waiting for him.

Mrs. McDonald had been with the family for as long as Jacob could remember. An older woman, with silver-     streaked black hair and bright blue eyes. She had a stern face, but behind the facade was kind and gentle demeanour, and since the death of Jacob’s parents she had been as much a mother to him as a housekeeper – occasionally becoming exasperated at his antics, but always there to give a listening ear. Jacob was only twenty-three years old, and burdened with such responsibility at a young age, he was glad of Mrs. McDonald’s steadying hand to guide him. 

“Are you ready, my Lord?” she asked, holding out his coat, and Jacob nodded.

“As ready as I’ll ever be. It feels… embarrassing, though,” he said, and the housekeeper smiled.

“Sometimes we have no choice but to ask for help, my Lord. There’s no shame in it,” she replied, and Jacob nodded.

“You’re right, Mrs. McDonald. Better this than the alternative,” he said, and the housekeeper nodded.

“Good luck, my Lord,” she said, as she helped him into his outdoor coat, and as Jacob left the house, he knew it was not only his own fortunes he had to save, but those of his household, too.


The carriage pulled up at the entrance to the drive leading to the home of Thomas Davidson and his family, Thrushcross Grange. Jacob had told the driver to drop him there, for he had not wanted to arrive in a carriage and give the impression of wealth. Instead, he would walk the last distance and approach the house through the gardens – it was the brass cufflinks approach, and he hoped the merchant would see he was serious about making money. Thanking the carriage driver and instructing him to wait, Jacob made his way up the drive, turning off into the garden – he intended to feign getting lost to avoid any formal introductions to the rest of the family, not wishing to suffer the humiliation of being entertained by new money. This was business, and that was that.

“Let him take pity on me – the genteel poverty of the aristocracy,” Jacob thought to himself, as he made his way through a large vegetable garden, with its neat rows of cabbages, leeks, and potatoes.

Jacob could see the house over a tall redbrick wall, its chimneys rising up into the sky. The gardens were pleasant, and a gate at the far end of the vegetable garden led into what appeared to be an orchard. Jacob was early, and he lingered a few moments among the vegetables, consulting his pocket watch for the right time to approach.

“But what am I going to say to him? There has to be a reason for consulting him. He’ll think it odd, otherwise,” Jacob thought to himself.

The time had now come, and Jacob intended to appear on the terrace, apologizing for getting lost and asking to be taken immediately to the merchant’s study. Taking a deep breath, he made his way towards the gate leading into the orchard, imagining what he would say and how he would be received. He had never met Thomas Davidson, and the thought of humbling himself in this way was far from attractive. It felt humiliating, and yet it was a necessity, too.

“Just get on with it,” he told himself, and now, still with his mind filled with thoughts of humiliation, he hurried through the gate into the orchard.

But as he did so, he collided with a woman coming through it at the same time. She, too, appeared lost in thought, and as they bumped into one another, the ink pot she was holding – along with an armful of papers – flew into the air. There was much apology on her part, but as Jacob looked down at himself, he saw his shirt and coat were covered in black ink…

“You foolish girl,” he exclaimed, taking her for one of the maids, as now she stared at him in horror.

“Foolish? How dare you speak to me like that? I apologized, didn’t I? You’re the foolish one for hurrying through the gate like that,” she exclaimed, glaring at him, as Jacob felt somewhat taken aback by the force of her words.

She was pretty – yet forceful, too – tall and slim, with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. She was dressed simply, in a cotton dress with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders, and now she proceeded to pick up the papers and ink pot, as Jacob looked down at himself in dismay.

“There’s ink all over me,” he said, glaring at the woman, who shrugged.

“Well, I didn’t throw it over you purposefully, did I?” she said, and to this, Jacob had to agree.

But what was he to do now? His shirt was ruined, and he could hardly go and see Thomas Davidson in such a state as this.

“No, but… I’ve got a very important meeting with your master and now my shirt’s ruined,” he said.

She looked at him and shrugged.

“Is that so? Well, I’m very sorry for your inconvenience. But there’s nothing much I can do about it, is there?” she asked, just as another woman appeared behind her in the orchard.

“Miss Davidson, quickly. Your mother’s about to come outside. She’s calling for you,” she said, and before Jacob could say anything further – suddenly realizing the mistake he had made – the woman had hurried off across the vegetable garden with the other woman following behind her.

“The daughter – oh, how foolish I’ve been,” Jacob thought to himself, looking down at his shirt and despairing of ever making the right impression now.

But he had no choice but to carry on – the meeting was arranged, and looking at his pocket watch, he realized he was already late.

“What’s he going to think of me now?” he asked himself, as with trepidation, he approached the house, his shirt reminding him of the unexpected encounter he had had with Thomas Davidson’s daughter.


Grab my new series, "Noble Gentlemen of the Ton", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

One thought on “A Bluestocking for the Tender Earl (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 waiting for your comments here! Thank you so much! ♥️

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