An Earl's Agreement

By: Joyce Alec

Chapter One

London 1836

Miss Lucy Donoghue sighed happily to herself and settled back a little more against the cushions of the window seat in the library. Looking out of the window at the beautiful gardens below for a brief moment, she let her mind drift to thoughts about life and love, picturing herself as the heroine in the book she held in her hands.

Her parents would be horrified if they knew she was reading such a book, considering these novels to be both unorthodox and entirely unhelpful to a young woman of quality.

Lucy could not agree.

The books opened up a world far beyond the trappings of society, where one could find someone of worth who sought love over expectation. They told her that matrimony could happen between two individuals who held a deep and long-lasting love for each other.

It was certainly not what she saw in her own parents’ marriage. There might be affection of sorts, but nothing akin to love existed between them. Her father, the Earl of Withington, held a great deal of power within society. For whatever reason, he had a shrewd mind and could accomplish wonders within his business dealings, which garnered him a great deal of respect from the gentlemen within his acquaintance. His wife—Lucy’s mother—had the ability to look down her nose at almost anyone, even those above her own title, to the point that a great many ladies sought her favor. Lucy had heard it said on more than one occasion that to have Lady Withington’s favor meant that you were accepted within society.

Lucy, for herself, had very little interest in the subject. She attended balls and other events with her parents with good grace, but much preferred to spend her time in quiet pursuits, such as reading or discussing what she had read with anyone willing to engage with her. She had heard her mother exclaim that she had never wished for a bluestocking for a daughter, yet Lucy had not found herself caring one whit.

She was the second child, with the first, her brother Jonathan, already married and settled. Of course, he was the apple of her parents’ eyes, especially because he had done as he was expected and married well. Their father had sent him to the country with his wife, giving them one of his many holdings as a wedding present. In due course, Jonathan would inherit the earl’s title and take on all of his responsibilities.

Lucy had never been close to him. He had always been willing to do what he was asked, whereas she wished for more. She still remembered the day their mother had pressed a certain young lady’s suit onto Jonathan. On that day, she had known in her heart that her brother would marry within the year—and so it had come to pass. Jonathan had married Lady Victoria Bentson within a few months, and now, after a year, had already produced the heir to the earl’s title.

Jonathan was everything she was not: proper, compliant, and entirely respectable. She was not particularly good at the pianoforte, she shunned needlework, and she attempted to further her own knowledge through reading and discussion.

No one wants a bluestocking for a wife, she thought to herself, recalling her mother’s words and ignoring the sharp twist in her heart at the memory.

Sighing to herself, Lucy picked up her book from her lap and snuggled back against the cushions, propping the novel up on her knees. Here, hidden away in the window seat, she was able to enjoy her love of prose without anyone interrupting her. Her parents had, on many occasions, sought her out, though they had never been able to find her hidden amongst the curtains in the library. Thankfully the housekeeper had something of a soft spot for Lucy, and so never once told her parents where she might be, even if she was fully aware of it.

“This cannot go on much longer, Charles!”

Her mother’s shrill voice reached Lucy’s ears, making her jump with surprise. Slowly closing the book, she wondered whether to pull open the curtains and announce her presence, but then her parents would know one of her favorite hiding places and all would be undone.

Instead, Lucy remained entirely still, thinking that she might stop up her ears with her fingers. She did not want to eavesdrop, did not want to hear her parents’ private business, which was not hers to know.

“Whatever shall we do with her, Charles? Did you see her at the ball last evening?”