Philip Hastings sat at his father’s bedside, watching as the flame of a single candle created an orange glow over the person slipping away from him in the four-poster bed. It had been expected that the earl would not make it through the night, but that had been four days ago, and he still clung to life.
Not that Philip was looking forward to his father’s exit from this world. He would much rather have him make a miraculous recovery. Despite the earl’s more serious nature, Philip loved him.
His father stirred, and Philip leaned forward to take his hand. His father coughed, frowning as he struggled for breath. “Victor—?” the earl called.
“No, Father. It’s Philip. Victor is still at university, remember?” His father blinked slowly but did not respond. “Victor is on his way home as we speak.” Philip squeezed his hand, but his father barely had the strength to keep his eyes open.
“I am glad you are here,” the earl croaked. “I must speak with you.”
“What is it, Father?” Philip asked. He leaned closer, trying to hear his father’s quiet voice.
His father pulled his hand away from Philip’s grip and pointed at the glass of water on the side table. Philip stood, helping him drink by cupping the back of his head. Water dribbled down his chin, and Philip wiped it away. His father lay back on the pillows, sighing in pain. “You must take a wife.”
Philip sat down, wondering why his father should be worried about his marital status at this time. He had hoped for something along the lines of the earl telling him he was proud of him or giving some last nugget of wisdom as he took over the estate. “A wife?” Philip repeated.
His father coughed again. Philip handed him a handkerchief, and when the earl finished the bout, the handkerchief came away with tiny drops of blood. Philip hung his head. It could not be long now.
“Yes. You must take a wife—and soon.” His father reached for his hand, and Philip gave it to him. He gripped it with surprising strength this time. “Do not take a wife just because you may be attracted to her. You know what I have tried to tell you all your life–not to follow your heart when choosing a bride. Love is a fickle mistress.”
He took another long, shaky breath. Philip was not sure how to respond. He had heard his father’s lectures on marriage since he was an adolescent. “Father—”
“I do not want to hear your arguments, Philip. It is paramount that you take a wife and produce an heir as soon as possible. You must make sure that the Ramsay name goes on.” His father stopped for a moment, taking a moment to catch his breath. “Must continue the legacy—”
Philip knew all too well what his father referred to. Marriage. And the futility of marrying for love.” Father, what happened between you and Mama?” Philip had heard several stories at his mother’s knee of how his parents had met. It had been at a ball, love at first sight, and they had thankfully both been from noble, wealthy families. It should have been a match made in heaven.
His father’s eyes filled with regret. “I did love her—once. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, Philip,” he choked. “But beauty is not enough to make a marriage last. Attraction is not enough. Money is not even enough to keep the flame of passion alive.”
“There has to be more to marriage than making alliances, Father.” Philip felt his heart clench. Despite what his father had drummed into him, he wanted more from his life than a stale, passionless marriage.
“It is better you learn such things now before you can be disappointed as I was.” The earl coughed once more but did not struggle for as long as he had before. “When we lost your brother, it nearly killed your mother, too. She was never the same after that.”
Philip had rarely heard his father talk about the brother who had been stillborn. He had only been five when it happened, but it seemed the problems had started between his parents. Or at least, they had been compounded.
“Promise me,” his father wheezed. Another bout of coughing overtook him, and this time he doubled over to the side and could not catch his breath for a long while. When his father could not stop coughing, Philip jumped up from his seat and called the doctor back inside.
Unfortunately, as the door closed, Philip saw his younger brother coming down the hall. Victor stopped, his mouth agape in shock as he stood frozen in the doorway. Philip glanced over his shoulder at his father, now being tended by the doctor. He rushed out into the hall and saw the look on Victor’s face. He stopped his little brother from going in. “Wait a moment. The doctor is with him,” Philip said.
Victor tried to look around his shoulder into the room. However, the door closed behind him as Victor arrived. “Is he …?”
Philip hung his head. “He yet lives.”
Victor backed away, raking a hand through his hair. “I tried to get here as quickly as I could—”
“We thought he was going to go a few days ago, so I am glad you made it. It is difficult with messages taking so long to get from one town to the next.” Philip placed a hand on Victor’s shoulder. “It was not your fault.”
Victor rubbed his hand against his stubbled jaw. Of course, he was little more than a boy, his whiskers growing in patches over his chin. “Can I see him?” Victor asked.
Philip nodded. “It should be alright now.” Philip listened momentarily and heard that the coughing had eased from the other side of the door.
Victor nodded, gulping as he headed for the door. Poor lad. He was not even twenty years old yet and was about to be an orphan. His younger brother had taken the death of their mother very hard. They both had. She had passed away the year prior, and their father had become sick shortly after. Despite their father’s protestations against love, Philip could see that his father was still in love with their mother. Hard times had driven them apart in later life, but a spark of the old feelings was still there. Philip could see it in the way his father had talked about her.
He clenched his fist as the earl’s bedroom door swung open, and Victor went inside. Philip saw his father’s ashen face, looking closer to the grave after the long coughing fit. Philip hung his head and began to pace in the hall. He would give his brother a moment alone with his father before he went back inside. It would seem his father had already told him everything he wanted from him, anyway.
Marry. It was the command Philip’s father had pounded into him since he had turned eighteen and freshly graduated from Oxford. He had not taken the charge seriously, though. He had always thought he would have plenty of time to worry about finding a wife. His father had always seemed invincible. So instead of looking for a bride, he had thrown himself into learning all he could about running the estate.
Now, he was glad he had, for he would have felt ill-prepared for the responsibility about to land on his shoulders. Fear coiled in his stomach like a snake preparing to strike. He had to get it under control if he was going to face the next few days and weeks. His father needed him, and soon he would be the next Earl of Berkeley. Philip sat down in one of the chairs in the hall, burying his face in his hands. He let out a long breath, dreading what was to come. He did not have long to wait, for he heard Victor’s soft sobs from the other side of the door. Lifting his head, he looked at the door and rose slowly.
The door opened, and the doctor came out looking dejected. Philip met his gaze, and the doctor shook his head slightly. When he spoke, it sent chills down Philip’s spine. “My Lord,” he said softly. “My condolences.”
Philip ignored him, rushing into the room to see for himself. Victor sat in the chair beside his father’s bed, leaning his head against the mattress and holding the earl’s hand. Philip approached the bed, somewhat relieved to see his father’s eyes were closed. But his chest did not labour up and down with the struggle to breathe. His father was at peace.
He placed a hand on Victor’s shoulder, and his brother looked up. He stood and hugged him, as he had not done since they were boys. The gesture somewhat shocked Philip, and he was glad they were alone for the time being. “I got to say goodbye,” Victor whispered, looking back at the bed. “He said we are to look out for each other now.” His brother sniffed loudly, trying to wipe the unmanly tears streaming down his cheeks.
Philip nodded, wrapping his arm around his brother’s shoulders. “That we will.”
Marianne Hastings leaned forward to see the opera house looming in the distance better. The place was a sight, with the glow of candles shining from the many windows. Anticipation fluttered in her chest. She loved the opera but had not been afforded many opportunities to attend, especially as of late.
She glanced at her father, who needed the aid of the coachman to climb down from the carriage. He coughed slightly but thanked the man and then turned to help Marianne and her Aunt Isobel down. He smiled at Marianne reassuringly.
“Papa, are you sure this is a good idea? I do not like the sound of that cough,” Marianne asked. She laced her hand through the crook of his arm, and they started up the steps. “There will be plenty of opportunities to see Madame Toulin.”
“Nonsense. We are here now, my dear. Come, let us enjoy ourselves. And do not fret over me anymore,” her father told her. He patted her hand, and they walked up the steps together towards the theatre.
Marianne’s Aunt Isobel fell into step beside her, looking up at the towering theatre. “I have been looking forward to this night for some time, Marianne! Is it not very often I have had the pleasure of attending the opera.”
Marianne smiled at her aunt’s enthusiasm. In all reality, she was more like an older sister to her. Almost thirty years separated Marianne’s father and her Aunt Isobel. When her grandmother had died before Marianne was even born, her grandfather had married again, and Isobel had been born to him and his young wife.
Isobel had never married, and at five and thirty, she was a confirmed spinster. After Marianne’s mother had died in childbirth, Isobel had come to live with them to help her father. Guilt washed over her as she thought of her kind and giving aunt. She had only been fourteen when she had come to live with them and devoted her whole existence to seeing to Marianne’s care. Was it her fault that her dear aunt had never found a husband?
Aunt Isobel smiled at her and turned her attention back to the building. Already she could hear the orchestra tuning their instruments in preparation for the first act to begin.
“Hurry, Papa. We shall miss the start,” Marianne urged. They entered through the centre double doors and found the large foyer primarily vacant, as everyone had already made their way to their seats.
Her father said nothing as they walked up the red-carpeted steps to the second floor where their box was located. Marianne frowned as her father’s steps slowed, and he began to cough. She stopped beside him, placing a gloved hand on his back. “Are you well, Papa?” she asked.
He covered his mouth and coughed a few times into his handkerchief. However, he waved her forward, trying to smile as the fit passed. “Go ahead. I shall be there shortly,” he said.
Marianne shook her head. “Nonsense. We will not leave you.”
Isobel came back, and they helped him up the stairs. “You girls do not need to help me,” he scolded. “I am fine.”
“We will all go in together, or not at all,” Marianne said. Her father rolled his eyes but made no further argument. Soon, they made their way down a dimly lit narrow hall, and an attendant moved the curtain so they could pass through into their box. The hall lights had already gone down in the theatre as they were seated, but the curtain had yet to go up.
“Papa—?” Marianne was about to ask him how he was again, but he waved her off before she could get the words out.
“I am well, Marianne. Now that we are seated, I shall be fine,” her father said. “Now hush and watch the show.”
Isobel sat down on the other side of Marianne, and their attention soon fixed on the stage as the first singer came out.
Marianne was glad the auditorium had already dimmed. Her father had made no qualms about his desire that she find a match this Season and had thought the outing would be a good chance for her to meet some eligible young gentlemen. She had come out three years prior, but with her father’s many ailments, Marianne had not put much effort into finding a match. At one and twenty, she was in danger of following in her aunt’s footsteps and becoming an old maid.
Not that she would have minded. Her aunt seemed happy enough. She did as she pleased and occupied her days with running her father’s household. Isobel was training her to run a house of her own someday, but perhaps she would take over in her aunt’s stead when she became too old to do so herself. How lovely it would be to spend their ageing years together when her father passed—heaven forbid. At least, she had thought so.
However, her father continued to worry about her, saying that she would have very little when he passed away, as his holdings would go to a distant cousin when he was gone. She would be left with a modest dowry in the event of her marriage but would have access to none of it unless she found a husband.
Marianne’s disturbing thoughts were interrupted as the curtain rose, and a single vocalist stepped out on stage. The opera was in Italian, and she was glad that her aunt had pushed her to learn all the necessary languages—including French, Italian, Latin, and even a bit of Spanish.
The male vocalist was excellent, but Madame Toulin captured her attention. Her voice was so smooth, so sweet as it floated over the audience. At other times, it came forth with such power and crescendo that it made the hair on Marianne’s arms stand on end. It was a talented opera singer indeed that could make someone feel with such a depth of emotion what the composer had intended.
About halfway through the first act, she heard her father give a wheezing cough. She eyed him with concern, but he again waved her off. However, as the performance went on, his coughing became increasingly frequent. “Papa, shall I call for a glass of water?” she whispered when he had been coughing for an exceptionally long time. She glanced at Isobel, who was also growing concerned. Marianne looked out over the darkened auditorium and saw that several people in the adjacent boxes had turned away from the performance and were staring at them, whispering to each other at the interruption.
When her father did not answer, she grew even more worried. “Papa?” she asked.
She placed a hand on his back, but he stood up abruptly. “I am fine, Marianne—” he said through his struggle. He started to leave the box but doubled over with the effort, gripping the back of one of the chairs in the row above them. Marianne rose as well to follow him, but in the next instant, she was nearly toppled over backward with the force of her father falling into her arms.
Marianne let out a yelp and heard the orchestra come to a screeching halt at her scream. Her father was pinned over her legs, and she hit her head on the railing over the box.
Isobel hurried over to them. “Ernest! Brother!” she cried. She took his hand and started patting it to see if he would stir.
Marianne’s heart sank when he did not. Was he even breathing? “Help me get up,” Marianne whispered. By then, she could hear the mumbling of the other audience members, all of them turned to their box to see what was happening. Isobel helped Marianne get out from under her father’s torso, which was much heavier now that he lay unconscious. She looked at his chest and saw it was only barely moving up and down. His mouth hung open slightly.
Marianne scrambled to her feet and looked over the side of the box. “Somebody help us please! My father has collapsed!”
She heard several men asking others to move, and within a matter of moments, three gentlemen entered the box. Marianne barely saw them, kneeling back down to hold her father’s head in her lap. She brushed his cheek tenderly, tears already streaming down her face. “Papa, please wake up.”
“Allow me,” a gentleman said, and when Marianne looked up, her gaze locked with the pair of the most beautiful green eyes she had ever seen. His clean-shaven features were chiselled, and utterly masculine, with dark hair swept to one side in the latest fashion. However, there was a softness about his gaze that made her feel as if she could trust him. He broke eye contact with her, looking over her shoulder to where her father lay prone on the floor. “Lord Winrow?” he called.
Her father stirred, and Marianne let out a sound of relief. “I must get him home,” she said, her voice shaking. “I knew we should not have come out this evening, but he insisted—”
“Allow us to assist you to your carriage,” the gentleman offered. Without waiting for her answer, he helped her father sit up, and another of the young men came to aid him on the other side.
Her father wheezed, trying to make excuses for her and Isobel to stay and finish watching the performance. Isobel helped Marianne stand, and they retrieved their reticules before following the gentlemen out into the corridor.
Whispers and murmuring filtered through the curtained boxes as they made their way to the landing, sounding like a hive of busy bees. Marianne barely paid them any mind. All that was on her mind was to get her father home and call for the doctor.
They rushed through the marble foyer, their footsteps echoing in the cavernous space. “This way,” Marianne said, and the men followed her. She gripped her handkerchief, dabbing her eyes that seemed to weep of their own volition. She could not lose her father. Not yet.
The carriage was called, and they waited while it was brought around. Marianne’s father doubled over in another fit of coughing. The gentlemen on either side of him loosed their holds so he could freely bend over and try to catch his breath. However, it was several minutes before he could straighten and take a gasping breath.
Marianne heard the carriage wheels, and the lanterns of the coach soon came into view, stopping at the foot of the many steps leading up to the theatre. “There is the carriage,” Marianne said. “This way, gentlemen, if you please.”
Her voice sounded oddly calm as she directed those that had come to help them to their coach. One of the three gentlemen opened the door, and the other two and her father stepped out into the cool night air. Marianne and Isobel followed, a grim atmosphere settling around them. Had her father unwittingly brought on the illness that would rip him from their world? Marianne silently scolded herself. She should have put her foot down and never allowed her father to leave his bed.
He had only just recovered from a nasty bout of influenza that lasted nearly a month. He had insisted on getting out of bed a week later, spending most of his time in the garden. She knew he was stir-crazy and had a sneaking feeling that he was not fully recovered. He had been caught in the rain a few days prior when out for a stroll around their street. He was soaked when he came home but, as always, had waved off her concern.
Now, he might pay the price with his life. Tears again streamed down her cheeks as they reached the bottom step, and the men helped her father into the coach. She touched her handkerchief to her eyes, waiting until her father was settled to move forward.
One of the gentlemen approached her when her father was settled and as her aunt climbed into the carriage. “Are you alright, Miss? I can accompany you home if you like?” he offered.
She again noticed his mesmerising green eyes and was momentarily taken aback. “No, thank you. You have done more than enough. I thank you—” she started. But as she spoke, a gust of wind ripped the handkerchief out of her hand. She let out a squeal of dismay, for the cloth had belonged to her mother, embroidered with her initials.
The gentleman acted quickly, jumping up to retrieve it out of mid-air. He walked back over to Marianne and handed it to her. Their fingers brushed as he put it into her palm, his hand warm. His fingers enveloped hers for a moment, and their gazes locked.
Her heart hammered in her chest as he led her down the remaining steps and handed her into the carriage. Once she was settled in her seat beside her father, the man closed the coach’s door for her and nodded. “I hope Lord Winrow recovers soon, Miss. Good evening.”
Marianne watched the young man join his compatriots as they returned to the opera house. Her father coughed again, and she turned away to see him. “Do not worry, Papa. We will be home soon,” she whispered. She shot Isobel a worried glance. His breathing was worse than she had ever heard it.
Isobel reached to her side of the carriage and gripped her hand. “It is going to be alright,” she soothed.
Marianne nodded, but as she looked at her father’s face, scrunched into a pained grimace, she was unsure she could believe it this time.
Marianne and Isobel watched from the corner of the room as the doctor examined her father. She and Isobel clung together, praying and waiting for the report. Isobel rubbed her back, trying to comfort her. “It will be alright,” she said again for what felt like the hundredth time. Marianne still had trouble believing it.
“I have never seen him like that before, Isobel. He could not breathe.”
“Our father always did say he had weak lungs as a boy. He overcame the malady as he got older and got out to exercise. Perhaps the troubles are coming back with all the bouts of sickness he has been experiencing of late,” Isobel whispered. “We shall have to keep a close eye on him and ensure he does not over-exert himself.”
The doctor looked grim as he leaned down and listened to her father’s heart, placing his ear on his chest. Her father’s breaths were still wheezy, and he seemed to be uncomfortable with the added weight of the doctor’s head on his chest. Soon, the doctor straightened, said a few words to her father, and joined the ladies in the corner.
“I am afraid it is not good. Your father is very ill, Lady Marianne. I suggest he stay in bed and try to move as little as possible. If you want to help prop him up so he can breathe easier, he may be able to sleep better. Otherwise, I prescribe complete bedrest.”
Marianne wrung her hands. “Is there nothing that can help him breathe better now, Doctor?” She was so worried that he would fall prey to the coughing attacks again and be unable to catch his breath.
“You can have him sit over a bowl of steaming water and breathe in the vapours. You may also add some dried lavender flowers to the boiling water. It will help him sleep. Other than that, give him plenty of good broth to eat and keep him abed.”
The doctor pressed her hand. “He is a stubborn man, your father,” he said, lowering his voice. “Rest assured, if the good Lord sees fit to have him recover, he will do so.”
Isobel saw the doctor out, and Marianne approached the bed. Her father had fallen into a fitful sleep, his breath whistling through his throat. Her heart sank, seeing him in such a compromised state. She sat in the chair beside his bed and lowered her chin, praying silently that the Lord would heal him.
Her aunt came in a moment later, placing a hand on her shoulder. “He will pull through this,” she offered again.
“I had no idea he was so ill, Isobel. Why did he not say anything?” Marianne asked. Her father’s silence on the matter made her more than angry. But she blamed herself for not putting her foot down and refusing to allow him to take them to the opera. He had pushed her so much the last few weeks, almost demanding that she find a husband this Season.
Realisation struck her. Perhaps that was why he had been so intent on her finding a good match. He did not want to leave her and Isobel to fend for themselves in the event of his death. It was likely that he had kept quiet about his illness not to upset or distract her from what he knew she must do to secure her future.
“I do not know, Marianne. We must keep the faith, though. All is not lost. Not yet,” she said. Marianne gasped, shaking her head and looking away. Isobel gripped her shoulders and turned her into a sisterly embrace. Even with her aunt’s short stature, she was a steady means of comfort.
Marianne allowed her aunt to lead her out of the room, but she glanced over her shoulder at her father’s sleeping form. Marianne tried to cover the guttural sob trying to escape her lips. She did not know what she would do if her father died.
Philip straightened, stretching his back after the long hours working at his desk. It had been two years since his father had passed. While he had initially been nervous about taking over such a large estate from his father, he had grown accustomed to how things were done. And despite his promise at his father’s death, he was only now getting around to finding a wife.
A knock sounded on the door, and he looked up momentarily. “Enter!” he called. His butler, Forester, opened the door and came in with a small silver tray.
“A letter for you, My Lord,” Forester said. He came over to the desk and held the tray out for him. Philip took the letter off the tray, recognising the handwriting. It was from Lord Winrow. “Thank you, Forester. That will be all.”
Forester exited the room, and Philip opened the letter, scanning the contents. He was relieved that the baron had penned the letter in his own hand–a good sign.
Dear Lord Berkeley,
I am writing to thank you for your assistance yesterday evening. I do not know what I would have done without your help. I am on the mend but have been relegated to complete bed rest for the foreseeable future. As you have such an extensive library, I wonder if you might accommodate an old man? I have read all the books I own, and if I am to retain my sanity during what will likely be a long recovery, I wonder if you would allow me to borrow some books? You would be doing me a great favour if you are willing. I could send someone from my household to retrieve some books. If you have these tomes, I would be very grateful.
A list of titles followed in the postscript, and Philip folded the letter. He wrote a quick note to reply to the baron’s letter, saying he would have the requested books ready the following day. A pang of regret overcame him, remembering how Lord Winrow had been unable to breathe the night before. Memories of the coughing fits his father had endured before his death flew to the front of his mind. He folded his note and stood, raking his hands through his hair. The young woman with him had looked how he felt the night he lost his father–desperate, alone, afraid. And all the while, she had been beautiful. Wonder about the young lady had plagued his mind since the evening prior. He had supposed she was a friend of the baron’s sister, Miss Hastings. Whoever she was, he knew he must get her out of his mind.
As if on cue, his butler knocked again and announced that Miss Rendell and her mother had arrived for tea. He rose from his chair and tried to smile. “Show them to the parlour. I shall be there momentarily,” Philip instructed.
Miss Louisa Rendell was everything his father could have wanted for a wife destined to wed his son. As the daughter of a wealthy viscount, she was among those ladies in high standing with the ton and was due a large dowry. Arrangements for the match had been started while his father was still living. Philip had only just begun pursuing the match again. And Miss Rendell seemed all too eager.
Philip exited the room and headed down the hall towards the parlour. He paused before the parlour doorway upon hearing the ladies talking within. The mother and daughter always seemed to be gossiping about something. He took a deep breath, straightened his jacket, and entered the room.
“Ladies, how good of you to call,” he said, greeting them with a smile.
Lady Rendell nodded and raised her hand. He took it and kissed her fingers lightly. “It is a pleasure, Lord Berkeley. Can you believe what happened last night?” she asked before he even had a chance to sit down.
Philip was unsure what events she was speaking of but smiled politely. He sat beside Louisa, who gave him a sweet smile. “I am not sure what you speak of, Lady Rendell.”
“Do not tell me you forgot how Lord Winrow collapsed at the opera last night,” Louisa asked. Her obnoxious laugh grated on his nerves. It always had. High-pitched and likened to a cackle from a hen who had just laid an egg, her laugh was the most annoying thing Philip had ever heard. It was unfortunate for a beautiful young woman to be paired with such an atrocious laugh.
“Oh, yes. Last night,” Philip said, clearing his throat. “I received a letter from the baron a few moments ago. He seems to be alright, for now.”
“Poor man,” Lady Rendell exclaimed. “It is a pity he never remarried.”
“Why is that, Lady Rendell? From all he has told me, he loved his wife very much,” Philip replied. He glanced at Miss Rendell, who seemed to be eyeing him with some greed. “If a man loves his wife so much, I see no reason for him to marry again.”
“But what of his sister? It is not fair that she has been refused a happy life with a husband and children to care for her young niece?” Lady Rendell went on. “A stepmother could have stepped in and taken over her care very well.”
“I was always under the impression that Miss Hastings did not wish to marry. It is probably just as well. Can you imagine a more homely creature?” Miss Rendell asked.
Philip frowned. He did not care for the way Louisa put others down. “Beauty of the heart is more desirable than facial beauty. I have only heard of the woman, but everyone who speaks of her praises her kindness. I cannot think of a more lovely creature than a woman who thinks of others before themselves.”
Miss Rendell bit her lower lip and looked contrite. “You are right, of course,” she said. “You are good to remind us of what matters in life, Lord Berkeley.”
Philip was not taken in by her coy response. He could tell she was not grateful for the correction he had offered her. But she was not about to say so. Would she be so acquiescent if they were to marry? He doubted it.
However, there was nothing for it. His father had said it did not matter if one had a particularly good relationship with one’s spouse. All women changed after marriage, no matter how sweet or kind they appeared to be beforehand. Miss Rendell had shown him enough of her character to know that life with her would not be easy. But what more could he rightfully expect?
Despite his warnings, Miss Rendell and her mother continued to gossip, and he allowed his mind to wander. He was glad of the note he had received from the baron earlier, as it showed promising signs that he would be on the mend very soon. He was curious about the young woman accompanying Winrow and his sister. He had never seen her before. And while Winrow had spoken of his young daughter, he assumed she was still much too young to be out in society. Perhaps the young woman had been a companion for Miss Hastings? He was unsure, but her brilliant blue eyes, albeit frightened, had been mesmerising.
“How do you know Lord Winrow, Lord Berkeley? From what I have heard of him, he prefers to keep to himself instead of coming out in society,” Miss Rendell asked of a sudden.
Philip raised his brows in surprise, for the ladies seemed content primarily to talk around him than with him. He straightened. “I have known the baron for years. We have attended the same club, and while we see him only during the Season, he has become a good friend. We both enjoy reading immensely.”
“I see. Well, I do hope he recovers quickly. I do not think I have been to such an exciting opera in a very long time,” Miss Rendell said.
Philip cleared his throat, his curiosity overcoming his need to stay neutral in the conversation. “Who was the young woman with Lord Winrow?”
“Oh, that was Miss Hastings, of course!” Louisa’s mother said.
“No, I mean the other one. She seemed too old to be the baron’s daughter,” Philip replied.
“It must have been a friend of Miss Hastings. The younger Miss Hastings rarely comes out in society,” Miss Rendell replied. She changed the subject, refusing to speak more of the baron’s daughter. It was just as well. Philip let his mind wander once more. Even so, his curiosity over the young woman he had seen with Miss Hastings continued to roil through his mind.
“The Earl’s Bookish Bride” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Marianne Hastings is a devoted daughter, dutifully caring for her ailing father over the last several years. As she reluctantly prepares for the London Season to please her father, she highly doubts she could find a suitable match in the pretentious rituals of the ton. When her father collapses at the opera one night though, a handsome young stranger will offer his assistance and unintentionally capture her heart…
Will she be able to get past her prejudice and take the leap to real love?
Philip Ramsay, the Earl of Berkeley, has been warned against marrying for love. After making a promise to his father on his deathbed, he is determined to find a suitable match and thus starts courting a fitting lady. When he meets Marianne though, he finds himself surprisingly stricken with her wit, kindness and unique beauty…
Will he be able to overlook his father’s dying wish and trust his own heart?
As they start falling in love, and their paths begin to entwine more than either of them expected, Marianne and Philip must confront society and disheartening family expectations. With Philip’s scheming intended sabotaging them as well, will they be able to stay true to their love or will they be forced into loveless marriages of convenience?
“The Earl’s Bookish Bride” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.