An Earl's Agreement(4)

By: Joyce Alec

She had no doubt that her father would do exactly as he said, for he had always been a hard-hearted man. That was why he had been so prosperous in his business dealings: a man with a tender and compassionate heart would not be willing to make some of the callous decisions he had.

If Lucy refused to marry Lord Hutton, she would find herself without a home and without funds—and then what was she to do? Find employment somehow, even without references, without the proper attire? She would be cleaning the homes of her counterparts, easy pickings for any gentlemen who had his eye on her. Could she run to the country? Stay with her brother?

Lucy sighed to herself, knowing that Jonathan would not come to her aid so easily. He was too straight-laced and would most likely return her to her parents’ home, instructing her to do as she was told. No, he would not be any kind of help.

For the first time, Lucy wished she had some kind of close friend to whom she could turn. Of course, she had acquaintances, but none of the other young ladies had ever seemed remotely interested in what she considered her passions. They were too interested in discussing their latest achievements, whether it was on the pianoforte or just how many gentlemen callers they had. Lucy had never formed a particular bond with them, nor with anyone else.

This left her entirely alone, she realized. Her heart sank and moisture began to cling to her lashes. Her shoulders began to shake as she finally understood how desperate her situation truly was. So lost was she in her sorrow that she did not hear footsteps, followed by a sudden gasp of shock.

“I do beg your pardon, miss.”

The voice caught her attention at once, and, hastily wiping her eyes, Lucy glanced up at the tall figure in the doorway of the arbor.

“Oh, no, it is quite all right,” she murmured, hating that her privacy had been intruded upon. She said nothing else, hoping that the intruder would leave her in peace. In the gloom, she could not make out his face, and as her heart began to pick up its pace, she hoped desperately that he was not about to attempt anything discourteous.

Her face warmed with embarrassment. Perhaps he had been planning a liaison in this very place and she had put his plans awry. She would not leave, however, for that would mean returning to the ball where she was sure Lord Hutton would be waiting for her. No, that simply would not do.

“I do apologize for the intrusion,” the man said, not making any sign of leaving. “But I have noticed that you seem to be in some distress. Can I assist you in any way?”

“Not unless you can prevent my father’s dictates from being enforced, no,” Lucy replied before she could stop herself. “Please, do not let me bother you.”

“It is of no trouble,” he responded, gesturing to another bench to her left. “May I?”

She hesitated, still unable to see his face in the darkness. Her nerves jangled as a loud warning sounded in her mind that she absolutely should not be ensconced with a gentleman in a garden arbor, no matter how kind he appeared.

“You are reticent, of course,” he said, as if reading her thoughts. “How rude of me not to introduce myself. I am Lord Caldwell.

Lucy’s eyebrows lifted with surprise. “Why are you not enjoying the ball? Won’t your parents be searching for you?”

Lord Caldwell sat down carefully, and the bench groaned loudly. “I needed some fresh air. My mother is currently enjoying the ball, but my father, the Marquess of Blackinstore, has gone to Paris on business of some sort. first son of.”

Lucy nodded into the darkness, thinking hard. Any man with such a title could be one of two characters: either they went out of their way to throw their wealth and title around, treating others entirely abysmally, or they took their responsibilities seriously and spent their years working hard so that they might one day be ready to take on their father’s title.

As of yet, Lucy did not know which character Lord Caldwell might be, although his voice was warm and friendly, which gave her some hope that he might be the latter. “I am Lady Lucy Donoghue,” she said heavily. “Daughter of the Earl of Withington.”

He inclined his head. “How very nice to meet you, Lady Lucy Donoghue.” A momentary pause left them in silence. “Might I ask what has upset you so?”