For the Love of the Baron

By: Callie Hutton

Chapter One

April, 1822

London, England

Jonathan, The Right Honorable Lord Stanley, entered the bi-weekly meeting of the Gentlemen and Ladies Literary Society of London, handed his hat, cane and great coat to the man at the door, took two steps and cringed at the sound of Lady Marigold’s laughter. Not that his fellow member laughed like a horse, or any other grating-on-the-nerves sound, but she was always laughing. Certainly, her life wasn’t that funny. The chit didn’t seem to take anything seriously.

‘Twas probably why after more than a few Seasons, she remained a spinster. Truth be known, the girl didn’t resemble any spinster he’d ever seen. Her curly dark blonde hair was always in disarray, but unlike other decorous maidens, that failing didn’t appear to trouble her at all. Her hazel eyes, which he’d seen up close only one time when he’d danced with her at Everson’s ball, had a sparkle to them that always put him on edge. As if she was planning something she knew he would disapprove of.

Yes, there were many things about Lady Marigold that set his teeth to grinding, and his skin to itching. As usual, she was surrounded by a bevy of men, a handful young, a few old, and several in between. She held them captive with some sort of story that he was sure was not anything worth listening to. Despite himself, he picked up a glass of warm lemonade and made his way to the group. Even if she was spouting a bit of nonsense, it might be a way to pass the time before the meeting began.

Why someone as flighty and silly as Lady Marigold belonged to this very proper book club baffled him every time he attended. Surely, she had better things to do with her time, like looking over fashion plates, selecting ribbons, and discussing the next ball with equally silly ladies.

He sipped slowly, not hearing anything coming from those plump lips, but watched the animation on her face as she spoke. Her generous breasts rose and fell as she took deep breaths and related her tale. She waved her hands in a most unladylike fashion as she spoke. Had the girl no training in proper decorum? Of course her mother had died when the chit was young, but someone should have taken her in hand by now.

“Don’t you agree, Lord Stanley?” He started at her question when he hadn’t been listening to anything but the grousing voice in his head. As if she suspected as much, she grinned at him with that smile that always annoyed him as well. Since most times it was directed at him in a way that made him feel like he’d just missed something important and was a dunce to have not noticed it. Blast the girl.

“I am sorry, my lady, but I am afraid I was woolgathering. Excuse me for being so impolite.”

Lady Marigold opened her mouth to respond when Lord Dunkirk, president of the club, announced it was time for the meeting to begin. She flashed Jonathan a look that told him she knew he was happy to discontinue the banter she was surely prepared to engage in. And he would never come out the winner.

Once they all took their seats, Lord Dunkirk cleared his throat and addressed the audience. The speaker, who’d been the president for more than two years, sported a full beard and mustache, which Jonathan had long guessed hid scars from Dunkirk’s time in His Majesty’s service. From what Jonathan had heard, Dunkirk had served well, and bore the physical memory of his time there. He also used a sturdy cane to walk, again most likely from a war injury.

“Before we begin the discussion on our selected book of the week, Lord Byron’s The Vision of Judgment, I would like to make an announcement.”

He waved a cluster of papers fisted in his hand. “Our former member, Lord St. Clair, as you all know, passed several months ago. We are all sorry for the loss of his insight into the literary works we have discussed over the years. However, his nephew and heir, the new Lord St. Clair, is selling quite a bit of the former viscount’s personal belongings.”

Once again, he raised the papers. “In my hands, I have a list of what is to be offered at the estate sale on Saturday, next. I shall pass it around to the membership so each of you might examine the list. There are numerous household items, but I am sure most of you will want to take special note of the books that are being offered for sale. St. Clair had quite a collection in his library.”