For the Earls Pleasure

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She sighed inwardly, but nodded assent while her mother beamed encouragement. At nearly twenty-five Christabel was already perilously close to being on the shelf and she could no longer delay the decision to marry. Sir Julian might not be the most exciting man of her acquaintance, but he was solid and dependable and would make a restful husband.

More than that, he would be an adoring one. And she could trust him. After the bruising experience of her girlhood, such a man was surely worth any amount of excitement. Her parents had loved Richard as a son and his dismissal had hit them very hard. Jilting a man three weeks before the wedding was the height of bad ton and scurrilous gossip had swirled around her head for months. For a moment she looked blindly up at him. Past distresses were crowding in on her and, for the second time that morning, she looked for escape. She needed distraction, needed to be on the move.

They began slowly to stroll around the gallery. As always her elegant figure drew glances of frank admiration from those she passed and Sir Julian, feeling pride in his possession, held her arm even more tightly. While they walked, he spoke sensibly about the paintings they inspected and she tried hard to conjure interest in his carefully considered opinions. He was a good man, she told herself severely, and she must not hanker for more.

That way lay disaster. She had learned that lesson well. The relationship with Joshua had petered out, destroyed by her guilt and his inevitable betrayal. They jangle the nerves rather than soothe.

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Sir Julian was standing before a group of canvases whose landscapes pulsated with lurid crimsons and golds, an anarchic depiction of the natural world. Why did he always have to agree with her? Richard would have mocked her pretensions, laughed openly at her and they would have ended sharing the joke together.

How strange to think that he would soon be in England, but this time returning as the new Earl Veryan. At the funeral Lady Veryan had been beyond grief; it was certain to be a very sad homecoming for her son. A few hundred miles away, the new Earl Veryan gazed blankly over the sea as it threaded itself swiftly past the ship. He was deep in thought and not all of it was pleasant. The last image of his father played through his mind, the stocky figure waving from the dockside, a bright red handkerchief in his hand, growing smaller and smaller as the ship made its way to the open sea.

He had been away from England for too long; he had not been there for his father when he needed him. Now at last he was returning home, but to an unknown life. He knew himself well capable, but he was sorry to be leaving Argentina behind. The country had been good to him. A rugged outdoor life had taught him authority and decisiveness. And life there had not been all hard work. The social round was lively and largely free of the stifling conventions of London society, and the tall, handsome Englishman was a popular guest.

There had been music and laughter and plenty of beautiful women happy to engage in a light flirtation or more. It had become a way of life for him, demanding little emotion and no commitment.

For the Earl's Pleasure

The moon cut a path across the surface of the small waves so bright that it made him blink. His eyes focused on the expanse of ocean, at the different shades of silver and black stretching to the horizon, then to the lanterns which hung above him, swinging comfortingly to the rhythm of the ship. The crew were engaged elsewhere and he had the deck to himself. Dinner would be served soon and he did not want to escort Domino to the table smelling of tobacco. The boat gave a louder creak than usual with the sudden swell of the ocean, but the vessel soon recovered its peaceful passage.

A sailor appeared from the deck below and waved a greeting. But it was tranquil now and he had leisure to think. The grey eyes were expressionless, his dark straight brows furrowed. The meeting with his mother would be painful, he knew, but there would be joy too. To be home again; to feel Cornish air on his skin once more and to awake to the sound of Cornish surf breaking on the rocky cove below Madron Abbey. In just a few weeks he would be walking it in reality. Immediately the ship berthed in Southampton, he would post up to London and ensure that Domino was safely consigned to the care of her aunt.

The sooner he could do this, the sooner he could travel on to Madron.

Reward Yourself

The speaker was a diminutive brunette who barely came up to his chest. She raised a pair of soft brown eyes to his hard grey ones and smiled sweetly. Richard smiled back in response. Were you thinking of leaving the ship without telling me? Or, more like, you were just about to smoke one of those noxious cigars of yours. He looked guilty and she crowed with delight, clapping her hands together and doing a little dance around him.

He doubted that, but it would hardly be surprising if she thought so. His mind was beset with worries over his mother and grief for his father and he had no wish to assume the responsibility of a seventeen-year-old girl. Domino had been invited by the English branch of her family to spend a Season in London and then to make the journey on to Spain and her paternal home in Madrid. Alfredo de Silva was insistent that his daughter should experience something of European society. Domino must be launched on society and not in a rough-and-ready place like Buenos Aires.

As a considerable heiress, and charmingly pretty, his daughter could look to the highest for a husband. There are dangers. Domino will be able to travel in safety to England and then on to Spain. And you will be with my darling to protect her on the long journey. He would see her safely on land and delivered to an aunt in Curzon Street, but after that his role would end.

Domino was speaking again. I can have fun, but I must make sure that I meet lots of gentlemen too. Eligible gentlemen.

Anne Mallory — USA Today Bestselling Historical Romance Author

My father was ten years older than my mother. And I like the way he looked in his wedding pictures.

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Worldly and experienced. She looked up at him trustfully, the melting brown eyes smiling a clear invitation. He was taken aback. This was one outcome he had not foreseen. He knew too well the pain which could accompany the insubstantial dreams of youth. The image of a pale-faced girl with a torrent of red curls and glinting green eyes swam suddenly into his vision. He was startled. It must be that he was nearing England, coming home after so many years. She would be settled amid the London society he hated, probably married with a pair of children to her name.

His parents, mindful of his feelings, had never kept him informed of her whereabouts or her doings. And he had not wanted to know.

The sharpness of that moment still cut at him. Three weeks to their wedding and she was sorry, she loved another. He had drifted into the engagement with Christabel. But in the end it had not felt that way. He had begun the affair in nonchalance and ended in love.

He had wanted to marry. It had been a revelation. Now standing on this weathered deck, the empty ocean spread before him, her beautiful sensual form seemed to envelop him once more and he felt himself grow warm and hard with longing. He cursed silently. To feel passion after all these years was ridiculous. Surely it was only an image of the past that aroused such feelings, only an image, not reality that still had the power to hurt.

He had to agree. The moon had risen fully now and the world was bathed in silver.

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And he had gloried in it. But keeping her too close may put her precious life in danger.