Bewitched by a Mysterious Earl (Preview)

Chapter One

“You will remember to be on your best behaviour this week, will you not?” 

Alice Skeffington and her mother had been travelling silently for most of the way from London, but the moment that the question was asked, Alice turned from where she had been watching the world go by the window. She smiled mischievously and firmly nodded her head. 

“Of course, I shall, Mama,” she insisted, pinching the palm of her arm hand in her lap to stop herself from smiling too openly. She was not sure whether she smiled purely out of mischief or whether perhaps a little of it was embarrassment. As the London Season ended, she was aware of what a disappointment she was to her parents. She knew well why her mother asked her such a question. 

She had caused enough trouble for the Season already and Alice guessed that her mother believed a week away at her best friend’s new countryside estate would do them both some good and help to put some distance between them and Alice’s father who had been growing exceedingly impatient. It was Alice’s third Season without finding a husband, and for the first two, her father and for the most part her mother, had appeared quite easy-going, never trying to force her hand toward anything with regards to marriage. Yet it was clear that they’d had higher hopes for this Season. Alice was sure she could see extra worry lines around her mother’s eyes—eyes that were hazel just as her own were. 

“You ought not to worry, Mama,” Alice insisted, leaning forward to place her hand upon her mother’s where it sat in her lap, alone thanks to the second hand she was using for her fan. The day was incredibly warm, and Alice wondered whether it was merely the heat causing her mother to fret or perhaps something more. “Nancy will take good care of us.” 

Viscountess Kendall will have more than just us to worry about,” her mother asserted, flitting her fan even faster than before. She spoke the title as if to remind Alice of what she was missing. Having been recently married to Viscount Owen Kendell, her best friend not only found herself married, but also well cared for and as Nancy would say herself, well-loved. It was an idea that Alice both loved and loathed though she would never tell her mother either way. She preferred to remain neutral, at least on the outside, for fear that her mother might cling on to whatever she might say with a desperate hope that this year would be the year she saw her daughter married. “Do not anticipate that she will have much time for you, my dear.” 

“I know, Mama,” Alice said, forcing a smile though the truth was she knew that no matter what, Nancy would always find the time for her. She always did. They had been friends for so long that she could barely remember ever not being friends. 

That is not about to change now that she is a Viscountess, Alice reassured herself, certain that marriage could not possibly have changed their friendship so much. She had seen the couple several times since their wedding and so far, nothing seemed changed, only the smile on Nancy’s face was brighter and if Alice were being truthful, that did leave her a little envious. Though whenever it did, she always reminded herself that she was in no hurry to marry. 

Better to wait than fall into marriage with the wrong man, she reminded herself, knowing that all was well with her friend and her marriage now, but only time would tell whether it remained so. 

“Perhaps some of the young gentlemen we met this last Season shall be in attendance,” her mother suggested when she seemed to see that Alice had nothing to say. “Do you know anything of the guestlist?” 

At the mention of young gentlemen, Alice instinctively moved her gaze back to the window. The last thing she wanted to talk about was the gentlemen who had been flitting about her all Season, and she wanted to see even less the hopeful gleam in her mother’s hazel eyes. 

“I think that we are nearly there,” she stated in an attempt to change the subject when she saw and felt the carriage beginning to turn from the main dirt track onto a small, narrower lane that likely led to her friend’s new estate. She wondered not for the first time what the country manor would be like. Her friend had described it several times in her letters though Nancy had always been one for embellishing things, especially when she was excited, and Alice was sure her friend would be mightily excited to welcome her and all her other guests into her home for the first time. Playing the hostess had always been one of Nancy’s favourite things, planning and scheming and making sure that everyone had the best time. Alice often felt exhausted merely watching her flit about. 

“Alice, are we not going to talk about this?” her mother asked when she made no attempt to answer her. Gritting her teeth, Alice leaned closer to the window and breathed in the warm yet fresh air, allowing the breeze to waft over her face. “Alice?” 

When she was certain that her mother would not give up, she finally sucked in a deep breath and turned back to look at her. Often, she felt as though she was looking in a mirror when she looked at her mother for, they both shared the same golden blonde hair, hazel eyes, and milky complexion yet today was not one of those days. Her mother was scowling deeply, the expression causing her age lines to show poorly, and her eyes had darkened with distaste. “I do not take kindly to being ignored, young lady.” 

“Forgive me, Mama.” Alice sighed and forced herself to look contrite. “I was not ignoring you. I merely have nothing to say on the matter. Nancy has not given me any extensive insight into the guestlist.” 

It was not a lie. Nancy had not told her exactly who would be in attendance for the week, but she had told her enough that Alice knew her mother’s prayers would be answered—at least in part. A good portion of the guestlist were respectable bachelors. Nancy had assured Alice of the fact though it was of little consequence to her. 

Ever since Nancy had been married, she had been almost as awful as any mother, practically throwing the idea of marriage at Alice from left, right, and centre with every chance that she got. And in this Season, so had her mother, making the two of them together almost intolerable. The only thing more insufferable was her father’s barely veiled disappointment, the displeasure that he revealed just enough to make Alice feel guilty without appearing to be trying to force her into anything. She was unsure as to whether it was entirely his doing or whether her mother had been dripping words into his ear, but either way, separating her parents appeared to be the only way to lessen the effects. 

“It is a shame.” Her mother sighed with a shake of her head, pausing in her fanning to gaze at Alice as she added, “Had she given you more information we might have been able to prepare a little.”

“What have we to prepare for other than being polite, respectful and ensuring that we do not shame our family now?” Alice asked, barely managing to stop herself from rolling her eyes at her mother. It was quite clear what her mother had been hoping to prepare for. 

Alice did not wait for her mother to respond. Instead, she quickly turned her head toward the window once more because she was almost certain that she had heard a change in the sounds surrounding them. No longer were there only the sounds of the horses’ hooves, the wheels moving, and the odd bird chirping. There were now the sounds of commotion, of voices and hurried footsteps and as she looked out of the window, Alice came to realise that they had come upon the house much faster than she had anticipated. 

Thank you, she thought silently to whomever might be listening. Thanking them for cutting her time in the carriage short so that she might avoid whatever uncomfortable conversation her mother was attempting to get them into. Outside the carriage servants were flitting to and fro, obviously attempting to finish the final preparations for the arrival of the guests. 

“I think that perhaps we are earlier than anticipated,” Alice observed aloud, hoping once more to take her mother’s mind off thoughts of marriage. She was grateful to her parents for the first two Seasons in which they had allowed her time to settle into the Ton without the worry of finding a husband and yet now that their gentle reminders and comments were beginning to hold more weight, she found she was still unprepared. 

“I am sure that the Viscountess will not hold it against us,” her mother smiled, and Alice struggled not to cringe as she added, “It shall give us extra time to prepare for the festivities.” 

Alice knew that by festivities her mother really meant gentlemen. It was slowly becoming more and more apparent that her parents’ patience was coming to an end. They have always said that the third time is the charm and yet I do not feel very charmed, Alice thought, forcing herself to acknowledge her mother’s comment with a smile and a nod. 

The carriage drew to a halt then and moments later the door was being pulled open by a man dressed in exquisite dark green livery. It was instantly apparent that the Viscount took great care to ensure his entire household looked at their best. 

The man held up a pristine white gloved hand and said, “Allow me, Miss Skeffington.” 

For a moment, Alice was surprised that the servant would have any clue as to whom she was, but then she heard the squeal that erupted from the top steps of the porch and guessed that Nancy must have seen them coming from one of the manor windows. She had always ensured every guest received a personalised experience when attending one of her functions, something she had learned from her mother, and something that made Alice’s head spin. She was not at all sure how her friend kept her head on straight. 

“Oh, Alice, you are finally here!” Nancy exclaimed, practically running down the porch steps with her skirts held in her hands as the footman helped Alice from the carriage. Her mother remained inside as she always did whenever they visited Nancy, waiting for the squealing to die down before she produced herself after her daughter. 

Alice could not help but beam a smile at her friend even as she was wrapped in excited arms that squeezed her as though her friend had not seen her in months. Wrapping her arms around her in return, Alice offered a squeeze of her own and the two women began to giggle as they finally pulled apart. “It is so good to finally see you!” Nancy insisted, holding onto Alice’s gloved hands in both of her own. She stepped back and glanced Alice up and down as though getting the measure of her. “You are looking well.”

“Nancy, you saw me in London only two days ago,” Alice chuckled, squeezing her friend’s fingers as she too looked her friend up and down. The two were quite opposite in appearance. Where Alice was petite and slender with just the hint of a woman’s body and fair of hair, Nancy was tall and curvaceous with brunette locks and striking blue eyes that now buzzed with excitement. She wore a powder blue dress that matched her eyes perfectly and it caused her slightly darker skin to glow with radiance. “You are looking quite glowing yourself.” 

“It is this country air!” Nancy insisted, letting go of one of Alice’s hands to gesture at the manor behind her. It appeared that for once Nancy had not been over-embellishing her descriptions. The manor was just as she described it, at least from the outside. The manor itself was huge, made of pale stone and comprised of a main building with at least what appeared to be two wings coming off at east and west. Every window was decorated with a flower bed, containing pale pink, yellow, and white flowers of all varieties and the topiaries that lined the entire building were cut to manicured perfection, as were the lawns that spread away on either side of the forecourt that was dominated by a huge fountain at its very centre. A fountain featured a Roman woman in a toga, one breast just peeking from beneath was pouring water from a jug down into the white stone pool at her feet. Water lilies danced upon the water and, for a moment, Alice allowed herself to imagine that she was once more a young girl playing at the edge of just such a pool, picturing the fairies that might use the lily pads to jump from one side to the next. The entire place held a magical beauty that took Alice’s breath away and she had not yet even stepped inside. 

“Are we too early?” her mother asked even as she stepped out of the carriage with the help of the footman. Suddenly remembering herself, Alice turned to offer extra help, not that her mother truly needed it though she was determined to prove to her that she was still indeed a good daughter. 

“No, no, of course not, Viscountess Skeffington,” Nancy announced, sounding overly formal and cheery all at the same time. It was something Alice was growing used to. After all, Nancy and Alice’s mother were equals now, both married to viscounts, whether there was more than twenty years between them or not. There seemed a newfound respect between the two of them, one of the few things about Nancy’s marriage that did in fact cause Alice to feel some jealousy. “Please, allow me to give you the personal tour before everyone else arrives and then you must both rest. I am sure you have both had a long and arduous journey.” 

“Thank you, Viscountess Kendall,” Lady Skeffington smiled at the younger woman and took the elbow that she offered to allow her to begin their guided tour. Alice fell in behind them, relieved that, at least for now, Nancy appeared distracted by her wish to show all that she had achieved, and her mother was all too willing to see it. She would not make any kind of protest or even try to get between the two of them, all too happy to have her mother’s attention distracted from her for a little while. A tour of such a big house was just what Alice needed for a brief respite from her mother’s disappointment. 

The tour of the house took more than an hour, beginning with the lower public rooms such as the airy parlour and the sun-filled drawing room, the musky smelling library and the quite off-limits study where Lord Kendall conducted his business, and ending with the upper gallery where many paintings of the manor’s previous residents hung. Every room and hall were artfully decorated in pastel colours and furnished in dark wood floors and furniture with much paler soft furnishings to bring everything together. The smell of flowers clotted in the air from the many vases dotted around the place and the wreathes that decorated the bannisters of the many staircases. 

By the time they had finished the tour, Alice felt as though she had walked several miles and she was more than a little pleased that Nancy had announced there were enough bedrooms for everyone to get their own. She could not think of anything worse than having to share a bedroom with her mother for the entire visit. 

I would have had no peace from her, she thought the moment that she closed the door to her guest bedroom where Nancy left her after insisting that their maids would be sent for to ensure they were properly cared for before refreshments. Her mother’s own room had been directly opposite, just across the hall and Alice wondered whether even that might be too close if her mother took it upon herself to cross the hall to finish their earlier conversation. 

Luckily for her, it appeared that her mother was exhausted also and by the time she heard the knocking on the door, she was certain that at least half an hour had passed. 

Surely, it would not have taken her mother so long to come if she were so inclined and so she called, “Come in,” as she pushed herself up from where she had kicked off her shoes to rest upon the bed. 

“Forgive me, I hope I did not wake you, Miss Skeffington,” Holly insisted even as she entered the room. Though the woman had been Alice’s maid for several years now, she was still undoubtedly formal, curtseying and waiting for Alice’s response before entering the room any further. 

“I was not asleep, Holly,” Alice assured the mousy-haired woman even as she swung her legs down from the bed. She added, “Am I to ready for refreshments?” 

“If you wish, my lady,” Holly nodded politely though Alice knew that her mother had likely sent the maid to ensure that she was on her way. She was never allowed to rest for too long. Being an unmarried woman of noble birth there was always some duty or task that she must perform even if it was merely to stand and look pretty in the company of guests, to uphold the look of a happy and united family. For the most part the Skeffingtons were exactly that, yet sometimes Alice could not help but wish she did not have to go through with it all. 

Knowing it was required whether she liked it or not, Alice allowed Holly to help her undress, wash and change into something more appropriate than her travelling attire. Choosing a silken dress of milky brown with a discreet floral pattern and white lace around the hems, Alice allowed Holly to brush and do her hair and help her on with her shoes before they began to make their way down to the drawing room where the maid said that both her best friend and her mother would be waiting. 

Already Alice was almost certain she was about to be ganged up on. Her best friend and her mother had a nasty habit of doing that, even before Nancy had been married and they had found new common ground from which to judge Alice. Walking silently through the glorious house, Alice prepared herself mentally for what awaited her on the other side of the drawing room door and when she finally stepped inside, she found Nancy and her mother already talking quite animatedly. 

“Alice, there you are!” Her mother beamed at her the moment she entered, rising from her seat on a pastel pink and white striped couch that had been trimmed with gold, only to grab her daughter’s elbow and insist she sit beside Nancy in her place.

“We were beginning to worry that you had gotten lost,” Nancy added with a smile at Lady Skeffington even as she leaned forward to pick up a teacup and saucer from the table in front of her. She offered it to Alice before continuing, “Your mother and I have just been having the most intriguing conversation about this latest Season.” 

Already, Alice could feel her hackles rising, the hair on the back of her neck standing on end as she prepared herself for what was to come. It was clear from the way that Nancy and Alice’s mother glanced at each other out of the corner of their eye that they had already concocted one of their little schemes to try and entrap her into something, some conversation or perhaps even to try and make her admit to something or other. Previously, Nancy had often cornered Alice whenever they were alone, even if bid by her mother to do so. Yet since her marriage, Nancy had been much more forthcomings with her investigations. 

“I am quite sure that the two of you have all the information you need without dragging me into it,” Alice remarked, lifting the teacup from the saucer to give herself a moments respite from their clawing gazes by taking a sip of the sweet herbal mixture. 

She closed her eyes and forced a satisfied sound to try and change the subject before opening them again and commenting, “This is really quite something, Nancy. You must give me the recipe.” 

When she looked at her best friend, Nancy was scowling at her, an eyebrow raised in distaste. 

“Do not pretend that you do not know what we wish to talk about, Alice,” Nancy said, some of the friendliness gone from her tone. Alice’s mother cleared her throat as if in a warning for Nancy not to push things too far too fast before Alice could see her adjusting her skirts out of the corner of her eye. She sat looking haughty on the couch across the way, obviously pleased that Nancy was reacting just as she would wish her to at the news that Alice had desperately wished for her mother to keep to herself. 

“It is nothing,” Alice insisted, picking up her teaspoon to stir her drink, gazing down into the cup so that she would not have to look into the eyes of either of them. The room which was quite possibly one of the largest drawing rooms she had ever sat in suddenly felt all too small and her throat constricted as though the very air was being sucked from her surroundings. Still, she could not bring herself to look at them as she added, “It is no big deal. There is always next Season.” 

“You told me in your letters that you had a grand Season,” Nancy sounded almost hurt now and Alice could not help but look at her friend.

“I did,” Alice insisted, unable to bear the thought of removing her best friend from all the happiness she had found in her new marriage. 

I do not wish for you to worry about me, she thought silently, knowing that if she said the words out loud then her friend would indeed begin to worry. 

Nancy glanced at Lady Skeffington then and it was obvious to Alice that her mother had informed Nancy that the opposite was true. A knot tightened in Alice’s stomach and not for the first time she found herself wishing that she could be less than lady-like and yell at them both to simply mind their own business. 

“My Season if of little consequence,” Alice insisted, reaching for her friend’s hand. “There shall be others though you are married now and that is a once in a lifetime thing. You must tell me how it is going.” 

She squeezed Nancy’s hand and smiled warmly, hopeful that she might entice her friend into changing the subject. Nancy had always gushed about her sweet Lord Kendall and that had not changed since their vows had taken place. 

“Oh, I can assure you it is quite delightful,” Nancy responded, nodding, and smiling like an abashed little girl who was overjoyed with the new toy she had received. “The Viscount treats me as though I am a princess. He gives me everything I could truly desire and more, and as you can see, that is quite a lot.” Nancy gestured at the room around them though Alice was certain she meant far more than that. Though it did not much matter to Alice truly. Her intentions had worked. She had managed to distract Nancy, at least for now. 

“And where is the Viscount? Will he not be joining us for refreshments?” Alice asked quickly when she heard her mother clearing her throat. 

“Oh, I am sure he will join us at some point,” Nancy insisted, looking as though she might burst with excitement at the thought of seeing her husband. Envy clawed at Alice’s stomach for only a moment. Seeing the happy gleam in her friend’s eye was a good thing, and she would not allow her worries at her parents’ disappointment in her to cloud that. 

“Lady Kendall,” Alice’s mother said firmly, clearing her throat in a way that could not be ignored. Nancy turned to look at her for a moment and Alice watched the realisation begin to form upon her sun-kissed face. 

“Oh, Alice, you are a mischievous one!” Nancy snapped at her though her tone was not entirely unfriendly. She turned back to Alice with an even deeper scowl on her face, “You know I cannot resist talking of my dear husband, but you will not distract me from this matter.” 

Not thanks to you, Mother, Alice thought, daring a glare at her mother even as she wondered what exactly had been said between the two of them. Exactly how much information had they managed to share before they had sent Holly to find her?

“Viscountess Kendall is quite right, dear,” her mother insisted, flitting her fan just as she had in the carriage even though the drawing room was much more sheltered and far cooler with the windows and patio doors swung open to allow the countryside air inside. “We must know why you are adamant to destroy any hope of a future you might have.” 

Alice gasped, horrified by her mother’s words. She had never heard her speak as if the situation was so dire and Nancy glanced at her counterpart with an obvious warning in her striking blue gaze before she turned back to Alice and said, “What your mother means to say is, is it not perhaps time that you began to think of settling down and getting married?” 

Alice’s entire body instinctively recoiled at her words, and she struggled to hide the extent of her disgust from her face. Instead, she took another moment to take a sip of her drink before responding, “Have I not shown enough interest on the matter? Did I not entertain the suitors this year, Mama?” 

She glanced over expectantly at her mother, hoping she might afford herself a little more time if she were to remind her mother of what she had done this Season, accepting the men who called upon her to offer gifts and flowers, even allowing some of them to escort her to races or allowing them the honour of a slot upon her dance card at balls. She was far more open to the prospect than she bad been for her previous two Seasons, and yet, she was not quite there yet. 

“Well, yes, you have been quite amiable but…” Her mother began with a nod and Alice began to feel some relief until Nancy spoke up. 

“Your mother tells me that you only accepted those who did not appear too serious or even those you knew your father would never be accepting of.” Nancy sounded utterly horrified as though she could think of nothing better than seeing her best friend married off so that she might share in the happiness she herself had found. 

Yet there is no promise that I shall find that same happiness, Alice reminded herself, remaining firm in her belief that she would never rush into a marriage for fear that she might find herself worse off than she was even now. 

“I was merely testing the water,” Alice admitted with a shrug. She lifted her cup to her lips only to find that she had all but drunk the contents and was forced to place it back on the saucer before placing both on the table, likely looking as awkward as she felt. 

“And yet you still saw fit to frighten every one of them off?” Nancy insisted with one perfect eyebrow raised. “Was not even one of them suitable to you? After all, I have heard that there were many suitors at your door this Season.” 

Nancy gritted her teeth to stop from cringing. Her friend was not entirely wrong. Yet she forced a smile and said, “I was merely being myself, Nancy. How was I to know that I would frighten them away?” 

“Poor Mr Walton appeared terrified that you were some kind of genius and much too smart for him when we both know that you merely use far greater words simply to intimidate,” her mother announced, her lips quivering as though she was holding back laughter and when Alice looked at her mother directly the two of them began to laugh. Alice remembered how horrified the man had been when she had asked him his opinion on biological studies and how shortly into the conversation he had made his excuses to leave. 

“Then there was Mr Denworth, who you all but accused of smelling like a sewer,” her mother continued, and Alice had to bite her own lip to stop from laughing. 

“Can I be blamed for being honest?” Alice asked and all three began to laugh because they were all aware of just how awful Mr Denworth’s personal hygiene problem was. 

“I cannot say that I blame you for that one,” Nancy agreed, “though your mother tells me that you almost gave Lord Renforth chest problems when you insisted upon racing him on horseback over your father’s estate.” 

Alice scowled at her friend then, hoping to remind her that they had both always laughed and joked quietly about how Lord Renforth had been old when they were children and was still old now, yet he had never married. She had merely offered the older gentleman the kindness of her company while keeping her own time occupied so that another more suitable man might not try to come along and put himself in front of her and her parents. The last thing she wanted was for them to fall for a man and expect her to do the same. 

I shall do so only when I am ready, she insisted to herself, knowing that this conversation with her mother and best friend was truly going nowhere. 

“Will you at least begin to think of your future for what remains of the Season?” Nancy asked, her face turning from humourous to stern. Alice gulped and offered her friend a firm and genuine nod. I shall think about it but that does not mean I must make any rash decisions. 

It was just then that Alice appeared to be saved from her interrogation by the sound of voices coming from the hallway. A knowing look passed between the two viscountesses and Alice was instantly certain that there was more to their plan than met the eye. 

“Lady Kendall, it appears that your other guests are arriving,” Lady Skeffington announced, an overly happy smile upon her face that caused a shiver to run down Alice’s spine. 

 

Chapter Two

Determined not to be the first to arrive at his best friend’s weeklong festivities, the Earl of Warrington, Lord Thomas Nott, had decided to hold off leaving his home until the very last minute. His residence, Warrington Fields, sat only on the far side of a small village just outside Oxfordshire and it would be a rather quick carriage ride through the town to Lord Kendall’s residence of Kendall Hall. Although he loved his friend dearly, having grown up together and attended university together, he would not allow himself to be subjected to the Ton for even a moment longer than was required of him. Better to turn up toward the end of the guest arrivals to ensure that everyone was far too busy to bore him with idle conversation, or worse still, have elderly noblemen throwing their young daughters at him for marriage. It was the curse of an Earl, especially one with great fortune such as himself with no siblings to share in it. Far better to arrive just before everyone was due to prepare for dinner. 

Or so he had planned. Yet that morning, around eleven o’clock, his butler had attended to him, offering terrible news that his carriage had been brought up but that one of the wheels had splintered leaving it unusable until it could be fixed. The butler, as was his nature, had offered the solution of having another carriage brought around but the Earl was aware of just how long that might take. 

“Have my horse saddled. I shall ride. It is not far,” he had announced to the butler who did not look best pleased at the suggestion but also did not offer any kind of objection. “You may send my things along after me once a carriage has been prepared,” the earl had added in the hopes of swaying his butler. The man had seemed far more pleased with this and nodded, disappearing to adhere to his master’s request. 

Now, the Earl found himself riding. And he found that he was rather enjoying it. It had been a long time since he had been able to merely sit upon horseback and breathe the fresh air. Having been an Earl for only a short time after the death of his father, his attentions had been needed elsewhere, correcting documents, signing papers, responding to condolences and congratulations at his new title. After that, the family businesses had taken over and all his spare time had been spent merely trying to catch up around the social events of the Season, many of which he had been expected to attend and yet declined wherever he could. As a newly made Earl, many were all too willing to try to catch his eye with the promise of a pretty maid for his enjoyment to wed and bed. Yet he had no interest in such things. At six and twenty, he was still a young man and merely wished to enjoy his newfound freedom without his papa breathing down his neck upon how to act amongst society. 

That freedom came to a head now, knowing that if his father had still been alive then he would not be on horseback now. He would still be at Warrington Fields, awaiting another carriage for them to be horrendously late for his friend’s festivities, or worse, not attending at all. 

“If we shall not attend upon the first day, we shall not attend at all,” his father would have stated in a gruff and rather grating tone and Thomas would likely have protested only to have his protests fall upon deaf ears. 

It is good to be an Earl, he thought, closing his eyes for several moments to breathe in the warm, fresh country air as he led his horse from the village and out the other side, down the dirt road that would eventually turn off to Kendall Hall. 

He tried not to think of anything other than the present, tried to merely enjoy his surroundings, not thinking of the fact he would likely have to borrow something to wear from his dear friend for dinner if his own things did not arrive in time. Perhaps, he had left something there upon a previous visit which would still fit. 

Opening his eyes, the Earl marvelled at the fields stretching away on either side of him. Some housed sheep or even pigs while others were brimming with wheat or wildflowers. All was beautiful and surrounded by rolling hills that very often Thomas wished to get lost in, if only for a few hours, away from all the stress and responsibility that had now landed itself upon his plate. Running his fingers through his glossy brown hair, already windswept, he took another deep breath and wondered, How much might Owen have changed? 

He had seen it too many times. A gentleman who had once been carefree and fun had become boring seemingly overnight the moment he found a wedding band upon his finger, too frightened of upsetting his new bride to continue upon the path he had led for his entire life. 

That shall not be me, Thomas determined even as he kicked his horse on faster, hoping not to be too late to his friend’s residence. Lord forbid I should incur the wrath of the new Viscountess, Thomas thought with a chuckle, remembering the pretty and charming young lady his friend had chosen as his wife. As wives went, she was not entirely displeasing though Thomas withheld too much judgement for fear it might affect his friendship. After all, he was not perfect, and he was sure that the lady too would have impressions of him also. 

Thomas was just beginning to think of how he might be able to test the measure of their marriage and whether his friend was truly happy when his horse suddenly let out the most horrendous whinnying sound, rearing back on his hind quarters as if something had startled him. 

“Whoa! Boy! Easy,” Thomas urged him, gripping the reins tightly in one hand while holding onto the saddle with his other. The last thing he needed was to go toppling from his horse when he was expected somewhere. Even before knowing for certain the problem, Thomas could practically hear his father’s mocking tone in his ear, ‘I told you riding would not be the best option. You ought to have waited for the carriage’. It was exactly what he would have said had he still been alive and had Thomas returned home with his tail between his legs. 

Yet, the late Earl of Warrington was not alive, and Thomas was such now and he would handle the problem, whatever it was, and prove to his father that all would be well. Though he was gone, Thomas felt as though his father was still upon his shoulder, watching and waiting for him to fail. Thomas felt as though he was only slightly ahead of what he needed to be doing, what was expected of him, and he was beginning to feel as though it might all topple around him.

“There now, boy,” Thomas soothed his horse with a stroke upon his neck, hoping that after a moment’s respite the great black stallion would find the courage to continue onward. Yet when he dug the heels of his riding boots into the horse’s ribs, he found the beast only moved a couple of steps before offering signs of rearing again. Certain that he would likely fall from his saddle if he tried to force the horse into something he did not wish to do, Thomas decided it would be best to climb down and investigate from the ground. Still holding onto the reins, having pulled them over the stallion’s head, Thomas examined his horse thoroughly, quickly finding the problem with a great sigh of exasperation. 

“Just what I need,” he announced grimly, cursing under his breath as he saw the awkward angle at which his horse was holding his rear foot. Closer inspection told Thomas that the stallion had cast a shoe. Stroking down the horse’s neck and along his shoulder, he glanced down the lane in an attempt to gauge how far from Kendall Hall they were. After some inner deliberation, the Earl decided it was much too far to force his horse on what would quickly become a lame leg. 

“Looks like it is a trip back into the village and a visit to the farriers’ for us, boy.” Thomas sighed and offered his stallion a lump of sugar from his pocket before he began to turn back around. Walking back to the village would be far quicker than walking the rest of the way to Kendall Hall. Thomas could only hope that the fine weather would hold out. A glance skyward caused him to hope so. The sky was as blue as blue could be, and there was barely a cloud in sight. 

By the time he returned to the village, he was aware that many of the other guests would likely have already arrived at Kendall Hall. He tried not to think on the fact too hard as he located the farriers and enquired as to how long it might take for his horse to be reshoed. 

“I can get right to it, my lord,” the gruff and potbellied man assured him, taking the reins of the stallion eagerly in the hopes that swift service would yield decent coin. 

“I would appreciate your swiftest work though please do not hurry into any mistakes,” the Earl said with a smile. “Shadow here is my most treasured friend.” 

“I’ll treat him as royalty, my lord,” the farrier promised and so, Thomas left his stallion in the man’s capable hands, assuring the man that he would find the second half of his payment awaiting him in the nearest tavern once the job was complete. He then headed directly there, hoping to rest his aching feet and find something to fill his stomach before beginning his journey once more. 

It was upon a window table, sitting alone, that the Earl sat enjoying a bowl of rabbit stew and an ale when a young lady approached him. Thomas could tell what she was just from the looks of her. He had seen plenty of her like in his time, had even been with one or two in his youth, and yet her arrival now made him cringe as she offered a curtsey and asked, “My lord, forgive the interruption but it is a dreadful shame for one so handsome as yourself to eat alone.” 

I would rather be alone, Thomas thought though he offered the woman a polite smile, discreetly taking only a glimpse of her overly ample breasts before he stated, “I am happy to eat alone, though if you are hungry, you are welcome to join me.”

“And if I am not hungry for food, my lord?” 

Thomas gritted his teeth. As a gentleman, he would not be hostile toward the woman, even if he found her flittering close by as annoying as that of a fly. He knew well why she had targeted him. Though he wore fairly plain riding clothes, he was almost certain that every man, woman, and child in the village was aware of who he was. His father, having been a great patron to many of the villagers’ businesses, was well known and he in turn had been forced to make himself known also, especially as the new earl taking over his father’s old patronages, at least those he deemed worthy. 

There was a time when Thomas might have enjoyed this woman’s company to her full extent. He would have taken liberties in exchange for coin as many a young nobleman had been known to do, if discreetly. Yet today, and for many weeks previous, he had found himself growing tired of such things, all too aware of how any such scandal might affect his earldom. He was all too able to imagine what his father might say now that he was watching him from on high. 

All the same, with one more glance at the woman, he was aware of her need. Though she did indeed have large, ample breasts, he could also see the sharpness of her collarbone and the paleness beneath her rouge that suggested she was quite malnourished. It was not a porcelain paleness and she had not hidden the dark circles beneath her eyes very well. Taking pity upon the young woman, Thomas reached into his purse and produced a silver coin. “You may eat and rest for the next few days without fear of another man,” he announced, handing the coin to her. When she took it, he gripped her hand around the coin and added firmly, “Be sure to use it on nothing but food and board.”

He saw the way she gulped down a lump in her throat and the way her pretty green eyes widened, as if she was fearful of what he might do if she chose to ignore his words. Then, she quickly snatched her hand away as though the coin in her palm was her only lifeline. 

“Thank you, my lord,” she said, curtseying low before she scurried away in the direction of the bar. Thomas was at least pleased to see she had the intelligence to order food and place her name upon a room for the night. When she glanced back at him with a smile, he offered one back and returned to his own meal.

It was shortly after he had finished that the farrier’s boy arrived to tell the Earl his father had reshoed his horse. Thomas drained the last of his ale, sucking in a deep breath to ready himself for what remained of his journey before following the boy who could not have been more than ten out through the front of the tavern. Just as the boy had said he would be, Shadow was tethered to a hitching post outside. 

“Did you bring him here all on your own, boy?” Thomas asked, astonished at the fact that such a scrawny young lad could possibly have handled his great black stallion all the way from his father’s workshop. 

“I did, me lord,” the boy responded, looking quite abashed. Though Thomas knew that the boy had likely been sent in the hopes of wheedling a little more coin from his purse, he had to admit the boy’s feat was quite impressive. After giving the boy the payment for his father’s work, he took out a copper and placed it in the boy’s other hand. “Be sure to keep this one for yourself, young man.”

The boy’s eyes widened, brimming with pride as Thomas ruffled his scruffy head and sent him on his way. Though he had only eyed his horse’s hoof from a distance, he was certain the farrier would not be foolish enough to make a mistake. It was not as if he could hide from an earl if he were to come looking for recompense. Yet as soon as the boy was gone, he lifted the horse’s leg, pleased at Shadow’s obedience, and examined the new shoe more closely. The workmanship was fine, and Thomas quickly found himself on his way again, though he was all too aware of the late hour. 

Although the day was still bright, the summer air had begun to cool and there was a haziness suggesting that the sun would likely soon be descending toward the horizon. It would not be long before Kendall’s guests were ushered into the dinner hall and the last thing Thomas wanted was to arrive during dinner. He would most certainly not allow his late father that pleasure, not after all that had already gone wrong.


“Bewitched by a Mysterious Earl” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Having seeing her parents’ loving marriage, the fiery Alice Skeffington dreams of a true, passionate love. Yet, when she attends her best friend’s party, she doesn’t know that a secret marriage market has been played behind her back… Whereas she is determined to entirely avoid courtship and enjoy her time, she soon finds herself stimulated with feelings of burning passion, as a new seductive guest appears at the residence…

Could this mysterious arrival change Alice’s mind on marriage?

Lord Thomas Nott tries his best as the new Earl of Warrington, after his father’s death. His parents’ affectionless union had long derstoyed his idea of marriage, making him entirely focus on business. Although he tries to stay away from the ton, he accepts his friend’s invitation to a party that would change his life forever. When he meets the tempting Alice, he makes it clear that he is not one of the suitors lined up for her. However, the guilty spark of desire soon starts burning his heart…

What will he do when he finds himself stuck between the seductive, stubborn Alice and an old flame?

As Thomas’s strict nature collides with Alice’s glamorous world, they get tangled up in a scandalous game of lust. When marriage expectations and scheming partners start to cast their shadows upon their tantalising liaison… Will Alice and Thomas find the strength to confess their sinful feelings? Or will their fears and ambivalence destroy their only chance of flaming, endless romance?

“Bewitched by a Mysterious Earl” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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5 thoughts on “Bewitched by a Mysterious Earl (Preview)”

  1. Excellent beginning to what appears to be a twisty/turns plot line with interesting characters….

    BTW —- a bit of editing is needed in a couple of places…

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