• 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

03 – Chapter Three

“Oh, Papa! “That awful man tried to kill Rascal.” Amanda ran to her father, oblivious to the shocked stares of the three men at the doorway and her state of dishabille.

When informed that his daughter was missing, Michael Sinclair had set out with his friend, Reverend George Abernathy, and two servants to search for her. The thin trail of smoke coming from the abandoned cabin had given him hope that he had found her.

“He has seduced you, is more like it!” Michael’s roar was that of a wounded bull. Sheltering his daughter from view inside his great coat, he glared with murderous intent at James, who stood silently by, cravat still in hand, his face reddening.

“I’ll have satisfaction for this Dowsley. What have you to say for yourself?”

But James’ mouth felt too dry for speech. Sinclair’s daughter! His gut tightened with certain, awful knowledge. Michael Sinclair, his neighbor and one of the richest, most influential men in the neighborhood, was no man to cross.

Christ, what a mess. What an awful muddle. Why had he not made the connection when she had identified herself? The damnable brandy he’d imbibed since mid morning was to blame. It had dulled his sense and turned his mind to mush. Given the way Miss Sinclair was undressed, how was he to know she was a lady? Even though it had been eight years since he last saw her, he should have recognized her voice. Honeyed and with a lovely musical lilt, it was the one thing about her that had not changed. James vaguely remembered a tall, gangly, laughing girl who looked nothing like this angry, voluptuous woman.

Well, he was sober now. He’d sobered the moment Michael Sinclair stormed through that door. Not that sobriety would get him out of this mess, Lord him help. James knew he was doomed, for obviously there was only one solution. He felt a momentary sense of rebellion. He did not want to marry this country mouse, not when he was so close to winning Eleanor’s heart.

“Sir, nothing happened …”

“That’s only your opinion!” Michael’s voice trembled from controlled anger. “You may wish to view this situation in a positive light, Downsley, but it should be as plain as the nose on your face that you have besmirched my daughter’s honor!” He paused, as if trying to collect himself, then continued. “You have done many things I’ve disapproved of, but I wasn’t aware you were in the habit of seducing young ladies. In that regard I had always thought you a gentleman.”

James’ face flushed a deep scarlet. He had always admired Michael Sinclair, and his words stung. For more years than he could count James had skillfully eluded the procession of high born virgins who had cast out their lures to him each Season. Instead, he’d preferred to conduct his affairs discreetly with a select group of experienced, preferably married ladies who understood the rules of the game, and who enjoyed a light-hearted dalliance as much as he. It was just his miserable luck to be caught on the one occasion that he failed to follow his own code of conduct.

“Sir, if I could undo the events of this past half hour I would.”

Having calmed down enough to listen, Amanda finally recognized him.

“The Earl of Downley? You? You told me your name was Cavendish, a rather common name in this area, wouldn’t you say? You conveniently forgot to mention your title, my lord. I should have recognized you instantly, but since you so rarely grace this area with your presence, I did not place you.”

The earl’s face showed a welter of conflicting emotions. “Miss Sinclair …” he began.

“Don’t!” Amanda hissed. “Don’t try to apologize! This cabin. It is situated on your lands, is it not? Tell me, my lord, are you always in the habit of treating your guests in this shabby fashion, or only young ladies who need your help?”

He blanched, but said nothing.

She turned her head toward her father, and begged, “Please, Papa. Don’t force me to marry that abominable man.”

Michael Sinclair’s expression softened for a moment, then hardened into resolve. “Mandy, love. You must trust me to decide what’s best.”

He then turned to George Abernathy, who had steered the gawking servants away from the door. “George, would you take Mandy home? Helen must be beside herself with worry, and someone ought to tell her of what has occurred. I would rather that it come from you, my friend.”

Nodding grimly, the vicar placed his cloak around Amanda’s form and led her to the carriage. When she had been bundled inside, Michael handed her Rascal’s small form.

“He’s still a bit winded, Mandy. Now, go home with Reverend Abernathy. We’ll talk later, I promise.”

Amanda appealed to her father once more. “Please, Papa. I don’t want to marry him.”

“There’s only one way to handle this situation, as you well know, child.”

“But I’m positive we won’t suit!”

At her artless statement, Michael Sinclair smiled. “The situation is out of my control, my dear. Reverend Abernathy will insist on the marriage even if I don’t. Now, please go home. Your mother will be worried.”

When the carriage disappeared around the bend of the narrow rutted lane, James met Sinclair’s stern gaze with a calm he was far from feeling. He had been in complete agreement with Miss Sinclair: They would not suit. She was so different from the sophisticated and elegant wife he had envisioned for himself, and he knew instinctively that this country-bred woman would feel like a fish out of water in London Society. As for living in Downsley Hall, nothing would induce him.

Sinclair quickly made his point. “I want satisfaction, Downsley, one way or the other, though my preference is to settle this matter peaceably. Do you understand?”

James understood all too well. Marriage was the only acceptable option. As a man of honor he had no choice but to offer for Miss Sinclair’s hand, or else her reputation would be irrevocably ruined. The earl accepted the situation with a cool panache he was far from feeling. Although a commoner, Michael Sinclair was not a man to cross. He had, through wise investments and shrewd trading, parlayed his merchant father’s modest fortune into one of considerable landed wealth. Thus he commanded great respect and influence locally.

The earl clenched his jaw. “I shall arrange to visit you at your earliest convenience.”

Good. That settles it, then.” Michael looked vastly relieved and oddly satisfied. He met the earl’s cool gray eyes with a speculative look. “Your presence surprises me, Downsley. I had not thought to ever see you on these lands or at Downsley Hall again.”

James merely shrugged, amazed to hear Sinclair speaking to him at all, and certainly never with such civility. Still, he supposed sharing a conversation with the man was better than being strangled by him. Not wishing to reveal the real reason for his visit, he offered a half truth. “An emergency recalled me.
Unfortunately, my steward’s taken a nasty spill from his horse and has been laid up with a broken leg, else he would have seen to the matter himself.”

Sinclair nodded in understanding. As tall as James, his thickset figure and massive shoulders gave the impression of a much larger man. He was still handsome in a rough hewn way, and must have made quite an impressive figure in his youth, James mused.

How long has it been since you’ve been here? Six years? Seven?” Michael’s gruff voice cut through James’s thoughts.

“Eight. To attend my father’s funeral.”

Silence greeted the earl’s answer. Unspoken between them was the scandal the earl had created when he failed to appear for his mother’s funeral two years before.

“Are you traveling alone?”

In a manner of speaking. I sent my valet on ahead in my curricle to alert the staff of my visit. I followed on horseback.”

“I see.” Sinclair hesitated for a brief moment, then spoke again. “I was sorry to hear of Charles, Lord Hungerford’s death. The news was shocking, to say the least.”

“Yes, quite,” James only said. In fact, he’d been devastated to hear of his friend’s death from a fall. Today marked the one year anniversary of Charles’s fatal accident and James’s grief was as raw as the day when he’d first heard the news. As he’d journeyed home, he’d imbibed an unaccustomed quantity of alcohol simply to put this day out of his mind.

Michael Sinclair coughed. “Come to my house later this evening, Downsley. Before dinner. That should give me some time to inform my wife and daughter of our plans. The marriage settlements, I assure you, will not take long.”

“Whatever you wish, sir. I suppose you keep country hours. Will six o’clock do?”

The older man nodded.

The two men parted, knowing the day’s events were far from settled and that they had much more to discuss. But as Michael Sinclair watched the earl mount his black horse with the ease of a sporting Corinthian, a half smile twisted his mouth.

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Copyright, 1999

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