For the Love of an Untamed Soul (Preview)

Chapter One

Sedgewick Estate, Tewkesbury, September 1818

A steady rain pattered down as the Right Honourable Lord Thomas Sedgewick, the Earl of Malumthorpe (pronounced Mame-throp), paced between the newly planted and the recently revitalised fruit trees in the oldest remaining apple orchard on the estate.

“We will not get many apples from the trees that were only planted in the spring, Hastings,” he said to the farm manager at his side, pulling his collar up and his hat down against the downpour. “Perhaps a handful from each.”

“Oh arr, lad,” replied Harold Hastings, who did not seem to mind the rain at all. “Next year, those’ll be better, My Lord. And when they reach the grand old age of two, you’ll already know which uns to keep and which uns to reject.”

For it was at two years old that an apple tree would demonstrate its future worth, barring blight and other pests and abnormal weather conditions, of course.

“You made the right decision to hack back and keep the healthiest of the older trees and to dig up and destroy the ones that were most diseased,” continued the old farmhand, who was not very old at all, but he had always been there for as long as Lord Thomas could remember. “Clearing out the old trees has opened the orchard up to much more light,” he said, looking up towards the sky. “And you gave the remaining trees room to breathe.”

Lord Thomas looked at the old trees, pulling the neck of his coat tighter around his throat. Those trees that had been heavily pruned were now heaving with large numbers of healthy and good-sized fruits.

“They have done so well,” he breathed. “It was a risk, cutting them back so hard.”

“They will have gone into shock, My Lord,” agreed the farm manager. “Fruit trees always do well after a good pruning. It’s as though they feel the sudden need to produce a load of fruit to keep the line going.”

“The summer will have helped too,” said Lord Thomas, casting an accusing glare at the rain clouds above them.

“Oh arr,” agreed the farm manager. “On my life, I’d swear that the summer of 1818 was the longest, driest and warmest in living memory.”

“Last month was a tad chilly, though, Hastings,” added Lord Thomas.

“That won’t have harmed the fruit, lad.” Harold Hastings strolled up to the gnarled and knobbly trunk of one of the older trees and patted it with a chubby hand. “And your insistence on keeping them well watered will’ve helped the fruits to form and set as well.”

Lord Thomas looked about him and up at the rain falling again. “I need not have bothered,” he said.

The old farmhand threw his head back and roared with laughter. This ain’t the kinda rain we needed in the summer,” he said, in between catching his breath and wiping tears of laughter from his eyes with the back of his plump hand. “This kinda rain will run off the land without penetrating it too deeply. By the time the roots realise it’s raining, the rain will’ve stopped, and the trees won’t get the drinks of water they need.

“No, lad. What you did was the right thing. That’s a good irrigation system you’ve had put in, My Lord.”

Lord Thomas stood back and gazed at the marvellous old tree before him, quite possibly the oldest tree in the orchard and so considered the Grand Old Man, and he quite literally admired the fruits of his labours, nodding with pride while the farmer affectionately rubbed the bark of the tree. The new irrigation system had been another of a long string of risks he had taken since coming back to the fold earlier in the year. An expensive risk. He truly hoped that it would all pay off.

“I missed the wassailing this year,” admitted the earl quietly, glancing up at the Grand Old Man.

He bit down on his bottom lip. When he should have been here, at home, while his father was sick and dying, Lord Thomas had been living it up in London with his friends. Enjoying the bachelor lifestyle. Drinking, gambling, flirting, and dancing with all the young ladies who resided in London over the winter. His mother had begged him to come home, but his father had always rallied before. There had been no reason to believe that the old earl would not rally this time too. Alas, he had not, and by the end of February, Lord Thomas was the new earl, without even having had the chance to say goodbye to his father.

Well, he corrected himself. He’d had more than one chance to say farewell to the old earl. He had simply chosen to ignore them all, expected the problem to go away and his father to still be here when he returned before the new season started.

Harold Hastings pushed himself away from the old tree, giving it a last pat before moving along the row.

“Ye’ll not miss it next year,” he said. “The wassailing.”

Lord Thomas pulled himself together. “No, you are quite right.”

They walked on some more, and the earl waved an arm at the burgeoning branches over their heads. “It must have been a good wassailing.”

“It was no different to any of the others, My Lord,” said the farmhand. “But the gods must have been listening to us this year; that is a fact.”

Lord Thomas laughed quietly. Or perhaps it was just a good year for tree fruit, he thought. He did not believe in the gods. If there were any gods, his father would not have died without his son and heir at his side, and Lord Thomas would still be living it up in London. He only believed in hard work and good apple-farm-management. Then again, if there were a glut of tree fruit this autumn, prices would be knocked down, and Lord Thomas could not really afford that to happen either.

As they passed another of the younger trees, Lord Thomas paused to weigh some of the fruits in his hand. “These apples will not be as sweet as those from the older apple trees,” he said to his farm manager. “Nor as plenty.”

“I will give them to Cook,” said Harold Hastings, “with your blessing, of course, My Lord.” He waited while Lord Thomas nodded his agreement. “She will make a fine jelly from them. But no, they will not be fit for market this year.”

“Perhaps Cook will make enough apple jelly to sell at the market this year,” mused the younger man.

But the older man shook his head, dismissing the idea. “She won’t have enough. She will barely make enough to keep the family in apple jelly over the coming winter, let alone send any to market. Unless we have more windfalls.”

Lord Thomas looked down at the ground. The only windfalls so far were due to insects and not any wind at all. He stooped down and picked up one of the grub-infested fruits. It had been gnawed right through. There would not be even enough good apple left to add to any jellies. “What the insects cannot reach, the birds might nibble at also,” he said, throwing the brown, infested fruit back onto the floor.

“Then let us hope for no wind before we have harvested all the good apples,” said Harold Hastings.

The two men emerged from the apple orchard just as the clouds parted. The rain stopped, if only for a short while, and a chink of sunshine glinted off the new building at the back of the house.

Lord Thomas paused, partly to catch his breath, for the walk from the orchard to the house was slightly uphill, but also to admire the white-framed orangery as it glistened in the wet sunlight. It looked clean and fresh, as any newbuild should. The glass was sparkling, the large pots within all neat and tidy. The lawn around the new orangery had recovered well. Too well. And now the grass needed a good scything.

“We will not have many oranges this year.” Lord Thomas sighed, shaking his head so that droplets of rainwater could fall from the rim of his hat.

“You youngsters,” growled the farmhand. “You want everything yesterday. Fruit needs time to grow. The trees need to build strong roots to support many fruits. There will be oranges in the winter, but they will be very small. Mrs Quinn will no doubt find a way to decorate the house with them this year, and Cook may be able to make marmalade next year. But you shouldn’t expect any market-worthy oranges until, again, the trees in there have turned two years old at least. And there won’t be enough marmalade to go to market either.”

“I know,” admitted the young earl. “But I have so many years of mismanagement to make up for and catch up on. Without Edmond’s help, I would not have been able to afford to build the new orangery or, indeed, the new greenhouses.”

Harold Hastings started to walk towards the house again as the clouds covered the sun, and it started to pitter-patter with rain once more. He had unbuttoned his coat, for the walk had made him warm, and his coat-tails flapped out behind him, causing the now falling rain to leave marks on his indoor clothes.

“Give them a chance,” he said to the younger man. “Give them time. They will all pay for themselves soon enough. Don’t rush their lifespans. Young Mr Gerrard – Edmond – will wait for the return on his investment, even if he was not your oldest friend. And he will thank you for your patience when he starts to see the dividends on his cash.”

Lord Thomas stared long and hard at his farm manager’s back as the older man made his way back to the house. His father, the former earl, had chosen well when he had appointed the man in the first place. Lord Thomas could think of no one he could trust more with handling the apple farm or the estate. Apart from his friend, of course. “Thank goodness for Harold Hastings and Edmond Gerrard,” he said quietly, starting after the farm manager.

“And thank goodness for Lord Thomas Sedgewick,” called the farmhand over his shoulder, causing Lord Thomas to blush. He had not thought that the man could have heard him.

They entered the house through the back door and headed straight towards the estate manager’s office, which Harold Hastings had used as his own for years. They discarded their wet outer clothes in the kitchen on the way through, where a kitchen maid took them into the drying room.

“Could we have a tray of tea?” asked Lord Thomas of the kitchen maid as they passed through. He peered at her through the open doorway. “Winnie,” he added when he saw which maid it was.

She finished hanging the wet items on a clothes horse and bobbed into a curtsy. “Yes, My Lord,” she called.

Inside the manager’s office, Lord Thomas pored over the ledgers. “We could really do with that other orchard back,” he said, pointing at the historic entry in the book.

“The East Orchard was sold to a local tradesman many decades ago,” said Harold Hastings, somewhat unnecessarily, as the earl could see precisely when the orchard had changed hands.

“I cannot understand my grandfather letting it go so easily,” said Lord Thomas, scratching his head. “It was by far the most productive of all the orchards.”

“Arr,” agreed the farmhand. “That’s likely why he sold it. It would’ve fetched a pretty penny back then.”

“I should very much like to buy it back, Hastings,” said the earl.

“There’s nothing I’d like more than to see the East Orchard reunited with the rest of the estate, My Lord,” said the farm manager. “But you need to start to make some money first. Unless Mr Gerrard is made of money.”

“Not only made of money,” agreed Lord Thomas. “He needs to be in agreement too. However, I have already asked enough of him. I would prefer to reunite the East Orchard with the estate from its own proceeds, if possible. This apple farm needs to start making its own money again, instead of leaching it from the rest of the business.”

“And the new orangery and greenhouses will contribute,” said Harold Hastings, as Winnie the maid arrived with their tea. “Give it a year or two, lad, and the estate will start to support itself again.”

Chapter Two

The following Monday

A week later, following a few days of rain and a few days of sunshine, Lord Thomas was delighted when the butler showed his good friend Mr Edmond Gerrard into the parlour.

“Ned!” exclaimed the earl. “This is a surprise.”

“Will there be anything else, My Lord?” asked the butler.

Lord Thomas turned to his guest. “Do you want something to drink?”

Mr Gerrard took a gold pocket watch from his waistcoat and flipped open the cover. “It is a little early for a whisky,” he noted. “However,” he said, snapping the watch shut and returning it to his pocket. “I would very much enjoy a cup of coffee.”

“Please ask Winnie to bring us a tray of coffee, Robinson,” said Lord Thomas.

The butler nodded, clicked his heels, and backed out of the room. When he was sure that the man had gone, Lord Thomas returned his attention to Mr Gerrard. “It is good to see you, old man,” he said.

“Likewise, Tommy,” agreed Mr Gerrard.

They shook hands and took a seat each.

“To what do I owe the honour of this visit?” asked Lord Thomas.

“I had some time to spare, and I thought I would come and have a look at my investment,” replied Mr Gerrard.

“I will take you out there to have a look just as soon as we have finished drinking our coffee, Ned.”

“How is everything doing?”

Lord Thomas nodded as he replied. “We had a good summer, so the weather was kind. All the fruit trees seem to be doing very well.”

Winnie, the kitchen maid, buzzed in and fussed about over their cups of coffee before buzzing out just as quickly.

“She is a sprightly young thing,” said Mr Gerrard as he watched the door close behind her. “I do not remember seeing that one before.”

“Winnie is one of our kitchen maids,” said Lord Thomas.

Mr Gerrard raised an eyebrow. “You have the kitchen maids bringing the refreshments into the house?”

“It is all hands on deck at the moment, with the harvesting, Ned. Young Winnie has been with us for a long time, but she is a little too short to be much use in the orchard. So while the other staff roll their sleeves up and help, she has stepped into their shoes and has to do more work than usual.”

“She must be trustworthy if you allow her to cater to your visitors.”

“She is. We will no doubt bump her up to house maid when everything settles down again for the winter.”

The two men were silent as they each tasted their coffee.

“I see that you too are dressed for the outdoors, Tommy,” said Mr Gerrard at last.

Lord Thomas glanced down at his attire and gave a snort of laughter. “I’ll say,” he agreed. “As I said, it is all hands on deck.” He pointed at his friend’s outfit as he spoke. “I trust that those are not your own best togs,” he said. “For if you come outside with me, I dare say that you will be roped in too.”

Now it was Mr Gerrard’s turn to look down at what he was wearing. “These old things?” he said with a laugh. Even Lord Thomas could see the irony, for his friend’s outfit was cut in the latest style and of a most expensive fabric. “I must say, I do not mind joining in and helping out at all. The exercise and fresh air will do me good.”

Lord Thomas placed his empty cup back onto its saucer and placed that, in turn, on the tray on the table. Then he sat back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other at the knee. “We will have to find something a little more waterproof for you.” He glanced at the rain-streaked glass in the window. “This rain will soak right through to your bones otherwise. But if you are willing to muck in, as it were, your help will be very much appreciated.”

Mr Gerrard drained his own cup but chose to nurse it on his knee for now. “I take it you have had a good crop, Tommy?”

“A bumper crop. One of the best in living memory, apparently.” He pushed a hand through his thick, curly auburn mop of hair, making it all stand up on end on top. “We have been so busy, Ned. I fail to understand how the estate could have lost so much money over the years.”

“Every year will not be as bountiful as this year, old chap,” said Mr Gerrard. “All aspects of farming suffer blight, pests, poor weather. Not only fruit farming.” He leaned forward and added his cup and saucer to the tray, then he too sat back in his chair and mimicked his friend’s posture, but as a mirror image, with the opposite leg crossed over the opposite knee.

We look like a pair of bookends, thought Lord Thomas, smiling.

“You are amused, Tommy?”

“I simply noticed how we still share the same mannerisms and body language, even at our age.”

Mr Gerrard laughed. “We have been friends for a long time, and we have been partners in many ventures too.” Nevertheless, he shifted his position so that he was not now a mirror image of his friend. “Is that better?” He grinned.

“It is of no odds to me, my friend,” replied Lord Thomas. “It simply amused me to see it still.”

The two men had often been mistaken for brothers over the years and had used that to their advantage many times with one pretending to be the other or to get them out of a tight spot. Thomas Sedgewick was shorter and plumper, with thicker, darker, curlier hair, while Edmond Gerrard was slightly taller, leaner, with pale auburn hair that was messy rather than curly. Mr Gerrard was two years older than Lord Thomas too. But they both had the same cheeky faces, even if Mr Gerrard’s had more stubble than the earl’s.

“Tell me, Tommy,” said Mr Gerrard now. “What are your plans for the future? Do you intend to hide away here for the rest of your days, working your fingers to the bone growing apples and oranges?”

“To be honest, Ned, I have not had much chance to think beyond the next week or two. We have the apples to harvest and send to market. Whatever is left will go into storage. The trees will need to be inspected and replaced where necessary. And then there is all the maintenance to do, the pruning, the weeding, the irrigation.” He noticed that his friend’s eyes had glazed over. “I see that I have lost you,” he said.

Mr Gerrard laughed out loud. “No, you have not lost me. It is all most interesting, and I was simply daydreaming. But I must admit I did not mean the apple farm. I wondered what your future plans were for your personal life.”

Lord Thomas had the good grace to look abashed. “I apologise, my friend. It must be very tedious for you to listen to me drone on.”

“Not at all. As I say, it is most interesting. But I do hope that it will not take over your entire life.”

“It has to, Ned. At least for the time being. My predecessors in this family seem to have not had a head for business between them. If only the men in the family had taken an interest in the business, then the estate would still be whole, and we would not have required rescuing by your good self. If it is the last thing I do, I would like to see the East Orchard reunited with the rest of the farm. But to do that, the farm needs to earn its keep, and yes, it does take up a lot of my attention.”

Mr Gerrard swapped his legs over so that he was once again an almost perfect mirror image of Lord Thomas. “You are a gentleman, old chap,” he said. “And gentlemen do not generally practice business.”

Lord Thomas uncrossed his leg and sat forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees. “Times are changing, Ned,” he said. “If a gentleman cannot manage a successful estate, he may end up in the debtors’ prison with all of his lands confiscated.” He sat upright and spread out his hands. “I do not wish for that to happen on my watch. Smart people invest in their business affairs. Time and money.”

Mr Gerrard chewed on a fingernail while he mused. “Do you intend on returning to London for the winter season?” he asked.

“In December?” asked Lord Thomas, his eyebrows shooting up behind his messy fringe. “Will we still be having a winter season?”

“Some of us live in the city all year around, even with the improvements in travel and the roads. I, for one, prefer city living during the winter. The country can be so dull when there is nothing to do. So yes, there will be a winter season, although I am not certain there will be as many débutantes presented to Her Majesty as there are in the summer.”

Lord Thomas leaned forward again, resting his elbows on his knees and making a steeple with his hands. He rocked backwards and forwards. “I do not yet know. It depends —”

“I know!” His friend laughed. “It depends on the harvest.”

Mr Gerrard jumped up and began to pace the room. He seemed to be forming his next question carefully. “You must find yourself a wife,” he said quietly, and Lord Thomas groaned. “Come now, old chap. A wealthy wife would be a far quicker solution to your estate worries than waiting for the oranges to grow. And you would not even have to pay a wife back.”

Lord Thomas groaned again. “I know all about that,” he said, dropping his head into his hands. “My mother has made herself most busy while she looks into a solution. Indeed, she is forever lining up this heiress or that, with each one scoring extra points depending on if they come with a title, or how much of a dowry they have, or even – and this one is the most embarrassing – whether she has a body that is well suited to reproduction!”

Mr Gerrard stalled in his pacing and sniggered, as though he was a ten-year-old and not twenty-three at all.

“I know!” said Lord Thomas, peering at his friend between his fingers now with horror. “It is ten times worse when it is your own mother who is discussing it! Can you imagine? Brr!” he added with a shudder. As Mr Gerrard dropped back down onto the seat, Lord Thomas said, “Money is the last reason I would want to marry anyone.”

“Do not dismiss the idea completely out of hand, old chap,” said Mr Gerrard. “You never know; you might find you actually like a lady you meet who already has a fortune.”

“And yet, I would not wish the topic of money – or lack thereof – to cloud my judgement. Besides, marriage is a long way off for me. I am only twenty-one, and I am still becoming accustomed to being an earl and all that goes with it.”

Mr Gerrard leaned forward and took the lid off the coffee pot. “Another?” he asked.

“Is it still warm?” asked Lord Thomas, only half interested. Then he looked out the window. “The rain has stopped. Perhaps it might be better for us to go and have a look at your investment now, do a bit in the orchard, and ask for a fresh pot when we return?”

“That sounds like a good plan,” replied Mr Gerrard, pulling a suitably impressed expression and replacing the lid back on the coffee pot. He tugged at his trousers. “But first, perhaps I might change into those more suitable togs you mentioned?”

“I was referring to your togs,” he reminded his friend, laughing. “But we can certainly find you something more suitable.”

The two men stood up, and Mr Gerrard led the way from the room. “Tell me,” he said. “How is the dowager countess, your mother? I have not seen her for such a long time.”

“She is very well. Finding me a suitable bride is keeping her mind off the loss of my father.”

“Then that is good, Tommy.”

“It is indeed, Ned.”

Chapter Three


The following morning, Lord Thomas was greeted in the hallway by his exuberant sister, the Lady Courtney Sedgewick, dashing about the place in a blur of coral-coloured silk and a cloud of sweet-smelling scent.

“Tommy!” she squealed, throwing herself into his arms as soon as she spied him and planting a kiss on his cheek.

“Hey,” he replied, hugging her and then holding her away from him at arm’s length so that he could examine her pretty little face. “What is with all of this excitement?” As usual, she wore her long, wild, auburn hair down but held back at the sides in a couple of everyday hair ornaments. He plucked a stray strand of long fringe and tucked it behind her ear. “Did I not only see you at breakfast already?” he said with a smile.

“Oh, but Tommy,” she breathed. “I have been speaking with Mother.” She stepped out of his embrace and fell in beside him, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm. Together, they made their way to the morning room.

“I can only assume that Mother has said something nice to make you so happy?” he said, escorting her to a seat.

“Oh, I cannot sit, Tommy!” she exclaimed. “I am far too excited.” She pulled away from him and danced around the circular table in the middle of the room.

“I can see that.” He laughed, seeing how her lovely brown eyes sparkled. “Do you mind if I sit? For I have a busy day ahead.”

“Noooo!” she cried, dashing to his side and dragging him from a half-seated position back onto his feet again.

“Very well,” he said, resigned. “What did our mother have to say?” He pushed his hands into his trouser pockets and rocked forwards and backwards on his heels.

“Oh! She says that we may throw a dinner party in my honour, and I am to be the hostess.”

Failing to see the significance, Lord Thomas blinked at his sister. “And? Do we not already throw dinner parties often?”

“Not like this one!” said Lady Courtney, the smile growing ever wider across her face. “I have invited all of my friends, but I do believe that Lord Philbert Lawrence has also agreed to come. Imagine! The dashing Lord Phil travelling all the way from London —”

“I do hope that you will not address him as such when he has arrived,” said her brother, forcing a look of mock horror onto his face. “I have heard of this Lawrence fellow, and I do believe that he takes his position, and his title, very seriously.”

“Of course I will not call him Lord Phil to his face, brother,” scolded Lady Courtney, good-humouredly. “But you have to agree that ‘Lord Lawrence’ is a bit of a mouthful when it is just you and I who are talking.”

Lord Thomas cocked his head. Hmm, his little sister had a point. He pushed out the tails of his coat and made to sit down again.

“Nooo!” she cried again. “No, no! You cannot sit down. You must come with me!”

“Where are we going?” he asked, puzzled.

“Well,” she began with her hands on her hips, looking suddenly very grown-up and all of her eighteen years. She wagged a finger at her brother. “If I can impress Lord Phil – Lord Lawrence. If I can convince him that I am a most splendid hostess, then it will surely lead to a proposal of marriage!”

“A proposal?” he asked. “Of marriage?” She nodded her head, and her eyes darted to the door and back. “This is the first that I have heard of it, sister.”

“Oh, but Mother has arranged it all. He was her suggestion.”

Hmm, thought Lord Thomas, feeling a little put out that he, as the earl now, had seemingly been bypassed on the very serious subject of his sister’s future. “She has not discussed it with me,” he said.

“That is because you are so busy with the orchard and the new orangery and the ledgers and everything,” she said, her eyes wide now and staring at him.

Of course, he had been. He gave himself a mental kick up the backside. He must not let the orchard consume him to the extent that he completely neglected his other responsibilities as head of the household.

“Anyway,” his sister was saying. “The dinner party is partly to impress Lord Philbert Lawrence, a man who I would very much like to court.”

“Very well,” said Lord Thomas. “When is this dinner party?”

“At the weekend!” she squealed.

The weekend? He hoped that he was not expected to attend and started to think of where he might say he would be to get out of it … Actually, no, he needed to attend. When better to take an interest in his sister’s future than right now, this very moment? Perhaps Ned would come along to keep him company …

“Then, in that case, I hope there is room for me at the dinner table,” he said, reluctantly.

“Oh yes. We cannot expect Lord Phil to be the only gentleman present. You will have to entertain him with port and cigars after the meal while we ladies withdraw to the drawing room. I have invited Mr Gerrard too.”

Well, that was handy, he thought.

“Of course, he is a mere merchant and not a gentleman,” she added, and he felt his eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “But he is your friend and your business partner, and I have known him for all of my life.”

“I see,” he said. “And what is it that you require of me now that you have not allowed me to take a seat?”

“Ah, well, Lord Phil apparently has a very sweet tooth. The baker in the town is gaining a fine reputation for delicious puddings, and so I must order one of his – the baker’s – special desserts.”

Lord Thomas waited, dearly wishing to have a rest before tackling the orchard today.

“I would like it very much,” she said, clasping her hands together in front of her chest as though she was praying, “if you would escort me into the town.”

He took a deep breath and let his brain run through the options. “It is market day in the town, is it not?” he asked.

She nodded. “Today and Friday,” she confirmed.

That was good at least. He could take the opportunity to make some enquiries at the fruit stall … the same fruit stall that was owned by the man who also now owned the East Orchard and which was attached in some way to the baker’s shop itself. Lord Thomas already had a long day planned in the orchard, helping with the harvesting – despite the weather, the apples still had to be picked, and there were so many of them that there were several days left of apple picking. However, discussing the East Orchard was also part of his business plan, and what better time than the present to do that?

“Come on, then,” he agreed, marching towards the door. “Let us go and greet the carriage, for I am certain that the carriage has already been ordered?”

“Oh, thank you!” she squealed again, following him from the room. “Yes, yes it has.” And she skipped to the closet off the hallway to fetch her travel cloak and bonnet herself.

As the carriage pulled up outside the front door, Lord Thomas heaved a sigh of relief and stared out at the ever-falling rain. At least his sister had seen fit to ask for the closed carriage in this weather and not the phaeton.

“Will this rain never cease?” he muttered to the thick and heavy grey clouds that were still piling up overhead.

The butler, at the earl’s elbow, noisily cleared his throat. “After the long dry summer, My Lord, we certainly need it.” He popped open the big, black umbrella and escorted first Lady Courtney to the carriage and then Lord Thomas.

When the butler started to close the umbrella to give it to the earl and his sister, Lord Thomas stopped him and placed a hand on his arm. “You keep that one, Robinson,” he said. “There is another umbrella already inside the carriage.” He pointed at the umbrella propped up against the opposite door.

How the butler kept the obvious relief from his features always amazed Lord Thomas. “Thank you, My Lord,” said the man, closing the door to the carriage.

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Miss Samantha Morton is a rebellious soul who has always been determined to prove her worth to her father. However, when all of a sudden a distant cousin makes a legal claim on their business and family estate, Samantha finds herself forced to marry and produce a male heir. Fiercely clinging on to her independence, the young woman comes up with a plan to buy the property from her father herself. Everything will change though when an enchanting gentleman sets his foot in her orchard and charms his way into her life. Will Samantha manage to prevent her father from finding her an unwanted match? Could the handsome stranger be the missing piece of her happiness?

Lord Thomas Sedgewick, Earl of Malumthorpe, was not prepared to inherit the neighbouring Sedgewick estate at such a young age. Upon his return from London, he discovers that a mismanagement of the family estate has cost them some of the apple orchards where he used to play as a boy. Without delay, Thomas decides to regain what his family has lost. Little did he know that the orchard he wants back now belongs to the woman that will soon steal his heart. Will Thomas manage to compensate for his family’s past mistakes? When Thomas’ original intentions are exposed, what sacrifices will he be prepared to make in order to avoid losing Samantha once and for all?

Thomas and Samantha cannot deny their growing feelings for each other. However, Samantha is neither titled, nor rich, making it unacceptable for Thomas to marry a woman of her status. To make matters worse, a former beau of Lord Thomas, is brought back into the picture, determined to tear them apart forever. Could Samantha and Thomas turn their worlds into one despite the odds stacked against them? In the end, will true love prevail over duty and conventions, or will it not survive their threatening storm?

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