An Earl's Agreement(6)

By: Joyce Alec

“I mean you no harm, Lady Lucy,” he continued. “Please, do not run from me. I might, in fact, have something of a solution for you.”

Lucy found herself unable to take her hand from his, the warmth of his body soaking into her chilled limbs. Instead of running, she turned her head to look into his eyes, taking in his serious expression.

“You are not funning me, I hope, Lord Caldwell,” she warned. “I have no idea what possesses you to offer to help me, but in truth, I have no other options available to me.”

“No, I am not funning you in the least,” he replied. “I have had dealings with Lord Hutton in the past and will do anything in my power to keep you from him.”

Lucy let out a long breath, knowing she had to at least listen to him. “Well then, Lord Caldwell. What is it you suggest?”

Chapter Three

Lord Caldwell cleared his throat. “My mother is also pressing me to wed soon,” he said slowly. “As of yet, she has not picked any lady in particular, but I fear it will not be long.”

“Someday the title of marquess will be yours,” Lucy said with a roll of her eyes she was sure he could not see. “Of course she wants you to wed! You will need to produce an heir.” Heavy irony lined her voice, as she once more grew inwardly weary with society and its heavy dictates.

“You are correct,” he replied without a trace of humor. “But I find myself not quite ready to enter such a state. Perhaps, with both of our situations, there might be one easy solution.”

“Such as?” Lucy asked, struggling to see where he might be coming from. “I cannot see any—”

“We become betrothed.”

His words shocked her, dragging her breath from her body. She stared at him, breaking into laughter. “You cannot be serious.”

“Of course I am,” he said, sounding a little affronted.

“And what should we do when the time comes for us to wed?” she questioned, thinking this was possibly the most ridiculous suggestion she had ever heard. “I will not lose my reputation over a broken engagement.”

He did not answer for a moment. “If you are forced to marry Lord Hutton, then you will have no reputation to worry about.”

Lucy closed her eyes as his blunt words hit her square in the chest.

“You may break the engagement, Lady Lucy, and I shall take full responsibility.”

“And what exactly will you say?” Lucy found herself asking, faintly. She could not understand why she was already so willing to consider this, but she had to admit that he was quite right. She would have no reputation to speak of if she was married to Lord Hutton.

“I will say some such thing about a mistress, fueling rumors and the like. I am sure you will have the ton on your side, full of sympathy for you, whereas, hopefully, the rumors will push any willing lady from my side for another good few months. Besides, I hold the honorary title of earl, and one day I will inherit my father’s title and fortune. Your parents should be pleased with the decision. All in all, I think it will work out well.”

Lucy shook her head. “But nothing will stop Lord Hutton from wedding me once our engagement is at an end. The problem remains.”

Lord Caldwell chuckled. “I can see that you are right, but it will, at least, give you some time to consider what else you can to do extricate yourself from his grip.” He leaned forward, and Lucy felt her breath catch in her chest. “If you do not agree, and it is entirely up to you whether you do so or not, you must steel yourself for what will happen the moment you step back into the ballroom.”

Lucy did not need to ask what he meant, knowing that her parents would have Lord Hutton introduced to her almost immediately. He would then take her to the dance floor, dance at least two dances—if not three, which would then ensure that all of the society knew there was an attachment between them. She would not be able to refuse without making a scene, bringing shame to both herself and her parents.

“I… I cannot see any other way,” she said softly. Her mind was scrambling to think clearly, but she simply could not even begin to think of any other solution. “Though this is quite ridiculous, Lord Caldwell,” she said, a little more strongly. “I have not even seen your face, and now we are to be apparently engaged?”