Brash Americans. Proper Lords and Ladies. Firm Discipline.
What happens when an American inherits an earldom from a distant cousin and goes off to London to take up his duties as Lord Winchester… duties which include the widow of the former earl?
And just when Thomas and his bride Lady Katherine get settled in to life as London’s naughtiest couple, Thomas’s sister, Charlotte, makes a surprise trip from America to visit –weeks after Thomas and Katherine have set sail for America.
Sit back and enjoy three naughty Regency romps from Celeste Jones.
Publisher’s Note: These steamy historical romance novels contain elements of domestic discipline. This compilation is comprised of three individual titles.
Solicitor Percy Whitmore studied the man seated across from him. Although his dress and manner were not inappropriate, they were hardly what one would expect of the newest Earl of Winchester. Regardless of Percy’s opinion of the man, as solicitor for the estate, duty required him to explain this man’s unexpected change in circumstances in the clearest possible terms.
“The estate consists of a home here in London which is fully staffed and Aprilvine Park, the ancestral home located in Hertfordshire. It is an expansive estate which includes many tenant farmers for whom you, as Earl, are responsible.”
The man to whom he spoke sat in stunned silence for a moment. “Are you saying all of those things are mine?”
The solicitor smiled and tried to hide his pique. Americans always acted like they had never heard of British traditions. “It is not yours outright, my lord,” he tripped a bit over the title, but like it or not, this man was the rightful heir to the title and as such he became the solicitor’s most prominent client. “The estate is passed down through the family to members of the male line. During your lifetime, you shall have the use and governance of the estate and its profits, but you may not sell assets without consent of the trustees.”
The newly minted earl sat up straighter in his chair. “And just how much are these ‘profits’ you mentioned?”
The solicitor was taken aback by the boldness of the question. “It would be difficult for me to give you an exact figure,” he said, diplomatically, “but I believe you will find the living quite comfortable.”
Thomas, the Earl of Winchester, shook his head from side to side in slow disbelief. “To tell you the truth, Mr. Whitmore, I had myself convinced this whole thing was some sort of big mistake or a prank, though who would go to so much expense to make a fool of me, I do not know.”
“I assure you, sir, this is all quite serious. The duties of the Earl of Winchester are numerous and there are many people whose livelihood will depend upon you.”
“Why? Did I inherit some children?”
“No, my lord, the tenants on the estate. They work the land, which is owned by you, and in exchange they pay a portion of their profits to the estate. But it will be up to you to manage the estate, the grounds and the fields, in order to ensure their success.”
Thomas’ brow furrowed. “You told me my cousin died a year ago. Who has been running things since that time?”
“There is a steward who manages the day-to-day operations. In addition,” here the solicitor paused, unsure of how much to share with Thomas of his new life, “Lady Katherine Winchester, the dowager countess, your cousin’s widow, continues on at the estate and, I understand, is very much involved in the management of the estate. ”
Thomas cocked his head to one side. “Dowager? Is she infirm?”
Percy sighed and hoped his annoyance did not show. “No, my lord. Dowager refers to the widow of an earl. It has nothing to do with age or infirmity.” Had he elaborated, he might have mentioned that Lady Katherine was known to be an energetic and lively participant in London social gatherings, or at least she had been before she entered a period of mourning for her husband, though he believed the proper period of time for a respectable mourning had passed.
“What shall become of her?”
Here the solicitor paused, peering over his steepled fingers at Thomas, before he answered. “That,” he said, “would appear to be up to you.”
The new earl raised his eyebrows in a silent quest for explanation.
“She has no family. Her mother is now deceased, so Lady Katherine is quite alone. She does have a small income of her own which is the result of monies settled upon her by her family when she married. As the dowager, she is entitled to continue on as a member of the household, though where she resides is up to you.” The solicitor shuffled some papers on his desk.
“Are you saying she and I will live together?”
Yet again, the American’s directness stunned the solicitor. “I assume that is one option. I believe currently the countess has a hired companion who lives with her, for the sake of propriety. In most cases, the dowager is set up in a separate, smaller household, of her own,” he said. “Unless she remarries.”
“So why is what happens to her up to me? I am not expected to marry her, am I? I inherited my cousin’s title and estate, but I’d like to select my own wife, if I ever decide I need one.”
“Of course, Lady Katherine is not property to be inherited. She is a lady, in every sense of the word.” The solicitor felt the color in his face rise at the suggestion that such a fine, and beautiful, woman would be included in an estate like a clock or family Bible.
“I believe we have covered all of the documents which needed your attention, my lord,” the solicitor said, changing the subject. “If you would like, I would be happy to travel with you to your new London residence and make the proper introductions.”
Thomas looked the solicitor up and down, scanned the pile of papers on his desk, and stood up. “Thank you, but I believe I would prefer to make my own introductions.”
As the man left, the solicitor felt a pang of regret. Watching Lady Katherine and this man’s first interaction would have been the highlight of his day. If not his whole week.
Thomas stood on the walkway outside a large home on a corner lot, checked the address on the paper in his hand, and charged up the steps to the front door. He hesitated and considered knocking. Earls do not knock on their own doors, he thought, and entered unannounced.
He paused to take in his surroundings. Polished marble covered the hallway, which ran the length of the townhouse. A mahogany table in the entryway contained a silver dish to hold calling cards. A card with the name Lady Arnold sat atop the stack in the salver.
Female voices could be heard from a room to the left. An experienced hunter, he approached his prey on footsteps muffled by thick rugs on the marble floor. He paused to listen.
“An American! Oh, Lady Katherine, how will you stand it?”
“I do not know. I am sure he is quite savage. They all are, you know.”
“Barbarians. I heard Lady Margaret Smith-Smythe’s husband forced her to receive some distant relation of his and the level of their vulgarity forced Lady Margaret to take to her rooms for a week after they finally departed.”
“They made such a fuss about being independent and not wanting to be part of our country, why can they not simply stay away?”
“Exactly!” The other woman said. “But,” her voice became more serious, “what shall become of you? He is now the Earl. He could force you out of your home, could he not?”
Lady Katherine sighed. “Yes, such is true. I am in quite a precarious situation. Fortunately, he has not arrived yet. I will continue to enjoy myself until I am forced to deal with him.”
“You do enjoy yourself as much as possible,” Lorena said, and Thomas detected a note of envy in her voice. “When is he expected?” Thomas heard the sounds of plates and silverware being moved. “This cake is delicious.” Apparently her friend’s situation had not dimmed her appetite.
“No one knows when he will arrive. Those Americans,” she practically spat the word, “they know nothing of consideration for others or decorum in general.”
Lorena shuddered. “I pity you. Will you be required to socialize with him?”
Katherine shrugged. “My role is certainly unclear. I should hope to be able to go on living my life without interference, though I do not know if such will be possible. Much depends upon this man.”
“Do you have a plan?”
“I shall win him over the same way I did the last Earl of Winchester.”
“Lady Katherine! What a thing to say!”
“A woman has few options available to her, Lorena,” Lady Katherine said. “With Charles, my virtue and beauty appealed to him. Since my virtue is no longer intact—”
“And has not been for quite some time,” laughed Lorena.
“Hush!” Lady Katherine joined the laughter. “I shall use other methods to secure my position.”
What kind of fool does she take me for? Thomas stepped around the door and prepared to enter the room to confront the two women in the midst of their disparaging remarks, but the appearance of one of them stunned him sufficiently to stop him in his tracks. He surmised that the woman nibbling a piece of cake was Lady Arnold, which meant that the other was Lady Katherine Winchester herself. Although seated, he could see she was taller than average and regal in her bearing. Even the way she sipped from her tea had an air of distinction to it.
Beyond that, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Shiny black hair crowned her head yet soft tendrils framed her face. Dark eyes and red lips stood out from her fair complexion in dramatic contrast.
The way her mouth caressed the edge of the fine teacup in her elegant hand made him wonder how it would feel caressing him. The mere sight of her tongue as it slid over her crimson lips had set his manhood off in a manner that he found most distracting.
He stepped back into the shadows behind the door and retraced his path until he found himself back on the sidewalk in front of the house.
First order of business will be better security for the house, he thought as strolled around the block.
Second order of business: show Lady Katherine there’s a new earl in town.
Lady Katherine bid adieu to her guest. She had not realized how much she missed the company of others now that her companion, Mrs. Thatcher, had gone to care for an ill sister. Katherine expected her back within a week.
The idea that she needed a companion had not sat easily with Katherine, but upon the death of her husband, it was the expected thing to do. A single woman, even a widow, could not go traipsing about unaccompanied.
She retired to her room to rest before dinner. She had come to love her private sanctuary at the London house, nearly as much as she loved her suite of rooms at Aprilvine Park. Her husband, Charles, had indulged her every whim and she had used his accommodating nature to her advantage, creating a sumptuous boudoir filled with comfortable furnishings in the most luxurious fabrics available.
She ran her fingers along the heavy velvet curtains attached to the posts of her bed. It was not simply the opulence of her surroundings that meant so much to her, but the security that they represented.
The only daughter of an earl, she had grown up in luxury and indulgence. Her brother had inherited the title, but soon gambled away most of the assets set aside for the care of Katherine and her mother, which left Katherine’s unsurpassed beauty as the only real asset she and her mother had to support themselves. Her mother had guarded her daughter’s virtue like the treasure it was until Charles, the Earl of Winchester, had fallen madly in love with Katherine.
Charles had been an attentive and kind husband and Katherine found that over time she had grown to care for him very much. Her deepest regret was her inability to conceive an heir.
Not only had it saddened both Charles and Katherine to be childless, but because the estate was entailed upon the male line, sudden widowhood had thrust Katherine into the role of dowager, and without any relationship or affinity with the new earl, she assumed he would consider her as simply an extra responsibility to be dealt with as expediently and thriftily as possible.
She could live out her days in the role of dowager countess, but even the mere sound of it was too dreary and uninspired to consider. Life was meant to be experienced and enjoyed. There were balls and concerts to attend. Gossip to be shared. How she longed to promenade along Hyde Park in a fine new dress and hat. She had performed the requisite period of mourning for her husband and the social season was just beginning. She had no intention of sitting on the sidelines.
Her best option was to find a new husband—no small task, even for her. For one, although still beautiful, she was no longer a maiden. Secondly, her inability to conceive had not gone unnoticed by the eligible gentlemen of her acquaintance.
Beauty, without fertility, would only get her so far.
And finally, now that she had experienced life as Lady Katherine Winchester, how could she possibly be satisfied with any other existence?
Her fate, over which she had no control, rested upon the whims of an uncultured American.
She had flirted her way into the good graces of the most desirable men of London society. One silly American ought to be wrapped around her finger in no time.