• A Regency Romance Novel

    Amanda Sinclair is forced into a loveless marriage with a handsome but brooding earl. James Cavendish is in love with another woman, but no matter how hard he tries, he is unable to resist Amanda's charms. The morning after their wedding night, James returns to London, leaving Amanda at his Sussex estate. Taking the reigns in her hands, Amanda follows her husband, determined to win his heart and claim her status as his wife.
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  • Storm over Sussex Gainsborough Woodcutter's Cottage Sussex Woods in Spring Downsley Hall South Downs Rosewood Manor Rosewood Manor's Drawing Room Ancient Roman villa, mosaic tile floor, Sussex South Down Sheep Bottle feeding lambs

07 – Chapter Seven

The yellow parlor was a sumptuous yet cozy room. Although Amanda normally loved its cheery atmosphere, she felt she would never be able to enter it again without remembering the earl’s icy proposal. She moved restlessly through the high-ceilinged, oval interior, smelling the fragrant bouquet of lilacs that graced the central round table, and touching the elegant flowers without thought. Then she sank unsteadily onto a settee and wept.

Helen Sinclair entered a short time later to comfort her daughter, shadowed by Rascal. The young dog trotted up to his mistress, and nuzzled her hand before curling into a tight ball at her feet. Helen opened her arms, and consoled Amanda until her daughter’s tears subsided.

“There, there, my angel, the worst is over. Lord Downsley has behaved honorably and your Papa has every confidence a scandal has been avoided.”

“Oh, Mama, how can I marry someone I neither respect nor admire? And as I told Papa, he is so very old.”

Helen smiled at Amanda’s artless outburst. At one and forty, she was only four years older than the earl. Except for an occasional gray strand in her flaxen hair and a few laugh lines around her mouth and eyes, she scarcely looked older than her daughter. “Old as he may be, my child, he is a handsome man and a most suitable prospect. I believe one day you will come to care for him, as he will you.”

“Never! The man is vain, arrogant, and insufferable to boot, and I absolutely loathe him!”

“I admit he treated you shabbily, and for that I cannot forgive him. But for your own sake and happiness, you must make the best of this situation. An arranged marriage is not the end of the world, and your father and I have every reason to hope yours will result in mutual love and esteem.”

“Lord Downsley loves only himself, Mama. He has no regard for others and certainly none for me.”

Helen silently disagreed, but knew better than to argue with her strong-willed girl. Through her own fathers’ close friendship with the earl’s father, she had known Lord Downsley almost all her life. He had won her affection the year of her coming out when he had developed a schoolboy crush on her and sent her the sweetest, most awkward poems.

Since Amanda had no knowledge of this, Helen only said, “I do know that he is loyal to a fault. Do you recall his friend, Charles Metcalfe, Lord Hungerford?”

Amanda nodded her head. She had vivid memories of the marquess, a blond, muscular man with a ready laugh and a joie de vivre that infected everyone around him. It was strange how well she remembered Lord Hungerford, but could scarcely recall the earl, except that he had always been with Lord Hungerford, a silent and frequently morose figure, always lurking in the background.
“You are likely too young to recall this, Amanda, but Lord Hungerford was a rapscallion and forever getting into scrapes, though he had the ability to charm his way out of a room full of snakes. I can’t think of two boys who were more opposite in looks and personality than Charley and Jamey, as my papa called them. Yet they were inseparable. Lord Hungerford always reminded me of a big sloppy lapdog. Loveable, yet irresponsible. It amazed everyone that he and Lord Downsley managed to be such close friends, for even at a young age, the earl was always so contained, so . . . quiet and dependable. One would have thought Lord Downsley would have been deeply offended by his friend’s escapades, instead he tempered Lord Hungerford’s excesses and saved him on more occasions than I can recall.”

“They must have had little in common.”

“Oh, but they did, at least on the surface. They were such a formidable pair – two male heirs who stood to inherit their fathers’ fortunes and titles. They were handsome and charming, and popular with everyone in the area, especially with the ladies.”

“If the earl is such a paragon of respectability, and is so very highly regarded, then why did he behave as he did yesterday?”

Helen frowned. “I don’t know, except that it was most uncharacteristic.”

“Perhaps not,” Amanda sniped, unwilling to attribute any good qualities to the earl.

“It’s understandable that we might differ in our opinions,” Helen allowed. “But I beg you to trust me in this. Although you may regard Lord Downsley as a spoiled and self-centered man, I know he has many agreeable qualities, and I have every confidence he will make you an excellent husband if you would only give him the chance.”

Amanda judiciously refrained from speaking. She admired her beautiful mother, and sought out her opinions in most matters, but in this instance she disagreed with her overly generous assessment of the earl. Although she’d had no choice but to accept his proposal, the thought of spending the rest of her life with a man she neither loved nor respected was more than she could bear. Feeling her tears start up again, she averted her face.

Observing her daughter’s quiet distress, Helen hugged her. “There are several household matters that require my immediate attention, my child, else I would stay. Don’t ever forget how proud your papa and I are of you. And try to keep in mind that, no matter how awful this situation seems to you just now, it will all resolve itself for the best.”

“Yes, Mama,” Amanda whispered, her anguished expression belying her words. Her life would never be the same again. By June she would be shackled to a man almost twice her age, a man who held no regard for her, and certainly no real affection. Worse, they would never experience the loving intimacy that her parents had always shared.

Amanda watched her mother leave, still in shock over learning that both her parents desired this union. She was on her own now. There would be no help coming from their direction.

She reclined against a cushion, her thoughts in a whirl. Warm breezes drifted through the tall window, teasing a strand of her hair across her cheeks. Tucking it behind her ear, she pulled her long legs under her and settled Rascal comfortably on her lap. Stroking his soft fur, she listened to the familiar sounds outside: the muffled talk of the stable lads, the horses nickering in the paddocks, a maid singing as she worked, a shepherd whistling his commands.

She would miss this house, she realized sadly. If only she had not promised her parents that she would marry the earl. She’d regretted accepting his proposal the moment the words popped out of her mouth. But there was no point in bemoaning her acceptance. The only recourse she had left was to make herself so objectionable that the earl would not want to marry her for ten times the amount of her dowry.

She thought hard for a few minutes, her brow creased with the effort. She just had to think of a ways to make his life miserable! Then an idea came to her mind, and Amanda instantly perked up. Since their engagement had not yet been publicly announced, she realized she had more than enough time in which to offend James Cavendish’s patrician sensibilities and to drive him back to London as fast as his horse could gallop. For the first time since encountering the earl, Amanda smiled.

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Copyright, 1999

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