Captivating the Earl (Lords & Ladies in Love)By: Callie Hutton
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To The Beau Monde chapter of the Romance Writers of America. I could never write Regency books without them.
Suffolk County, England, August 1818
Richard, The Earl of Hawkins, known to family and friends as “Hawk,” gazed out the window of his carriage as the vehicle rounded the final bend to his cousin, Gerard, The Earl of Wycliff’s estate in Suffolk. He’d been traveling for three days and was weary to the bone.
Truth be known, his ennui came not merely from the journey, but life in general. He’d been feeling this tedium for months now. No amount of liquor, games, or bed sport had altered his mood.
The carriage came to a rolling stop in front of the massive stone building. The familiarity of the place lifted his spirits. He’d spent quite a bit of time here as a lad, running through the woods behind the house, climbing trees, and building fortresses. He and Wycliff shared a birthday, one year apart, and had always been close.
The front door opened, and Leah, Wycliff’s countess, strolled down the pathway, her arms extended. “Hawk, we’re so very glad you came to visit. The children were beside themselves with glee awaiting your arrival.”
Hawk took her small hands in his large ones and bowed. “My lady, I am delighted to be here and bring happiness to the little ones.”
She grinned. “Liar.”
He grinned back at her open honesty. It was well known that Hawk regarded children as foreign creatures from another land at best and barbarians sent by the devil to torture adults at worst. But Wycliff and his wife loved the urchins and spent most of their time in the country for their benefit.
Leah linked her arm in his. “We have planned some parties while you’re here.” She leaned back and looked at him. “I do hope you intend to stay for some time?”
Since everything he’d left behind in London no longer appealed, there was no reason for a short visit. Recently, he’d spent time at his own estate at a house party his mother and sister had hosted, and that had provided enough socializing and maternal contact for a while. His mother preached incessantly about duty to his title. If she had dragged one more young, giggling lady in front of him with that knowing look in her eyes, he would have jumped from the nearest window.
And probably just break a leg, since most encounters had taken place in the drawing room on the first floor.
Hawk patted Leah’s hand. “I am at your disposal for as long as you can tolerate me.”
They entered the house, the familiar bust of one of Wycliff’s ancestors still resting in the same place it had been for centuries. The black and white tile floor brought back memories of numerous games of knuckles where he and Wycliff had been evenly matched.
His gaze wandered to the winding staircase that he and his cousin had slid down numerous times, racing out the front door, usually with Wycliff’s governess chasing behind them, threatening all sorts of retributions from his father.
“He had a meeting with his steward this morning. They’ve been cosseted for some time, so he should be free soon. Why don’t I show you to your bedchamber, and you can have your man unpack, and refresh yourself from your journey. Tea will be in a half hour.”
Hawk followed her up the stairs, Leah chatting with him over her shoulder. He’d forgotten how lively, and tiring, she could be. The perfect woman to have all those urchins running about. She led him to a large bedchamber on the northwest corner of the house. “I avoided the northeast corner room since I didn’t think you would want sunshine first thing in the morning.”
Was his dissipation so well known, then, that his hostess had expected him to be over-indulging on a regular basis? He conducted himself no differently than any other bachelor of the ton who spent the majority of their time dodging the parson’s noose. Although, lately, his guilt had possibly caused him to over-indulge a bit more than usual.