From Award Winning Author Cassandra Dean comes a short novella set in her Lost Lords world.
After years out of Society, Lady Penelope Masterton is eager to enjoy her friend’s house party. Ever the wallflower, she never expects to attract any attention, especially not the attention of the Earl Wainwright. Everyone says he’s an inconstant flirt, that no lady has ever held his regard for longer than a season, so why, then, does the roguishly handsome earl claim he wants her for his wife?
Alastair, Earl Wainwright, thought he would never find his person, the one he would love and cherish above all others, and he certainly never expected to find her at Lady Stayne’s house party. His first sight of Lady Penelope takes his breath and then his heart, but a reputation for inconstancy makes it she doesn’t believe his suit is true.
Now, Wainwright is desperate to do everything he can to convince Penelope he is worth taking a chance…and that a never-serious rogue can be deadly serious about persuading his lady.
Miscelgate, Lakes District, England
A GUNSHOT RENT THE air, echoing through the trees and brush. A split second later, the cries of grouse screeched in concert with the bark of the hounds, followed by the further crack of gunfire.
Alastair, Earl Wainwright, shifted his grip on the shotgun. He hadn’t bothered to load it and so it was still open and balanced in the crook of his arm. Ahead, the other members of the hunting party chortled and shouted, offering praise to those who had felled such a fearsome beast as a tiny fowl. His own groom stood awkwardly to the side, clearly at a loss that his charge held his own weapon, but if Wainwright held the gun then none of the others would think to question his lack of participation. Or, at least, that was his hope.
This house party was, as he’d supposed upon receiving its invite, turning out to be a bore. While he had the acquaintance of most in attendance, he would count none of them a close confidant, and the effort of smiling and keeping all interactions jolly and light was exhausting. The hostess, Lady Stayne, was an old friend and he’d been loath to disappoint her with a reply in the negative. Veronica had firm opinions, and she was not shy about sharing those opinions, especially when one had, perhaps, not attended the last three of her soirees and had received an invite to this fourth event which had practically dripped in acid. He shuddered. Lord save him from being the focus of Veronica’s wrath.
An underkeeper set loose dogs into the brush, the Sanderson Collies snuffling through the thicket enthusiastically. A good breed, the Sanderson. Lord Sanderson had outdone himself, and Wainwright made a note to pick his brain the next time they were in the same vicinity.
He didn’t like hunting, had never liked hunting, but somehow he’d made a name for himself as a breeder of exceptional hunting dogs. He’d been breeding dogs since he’d first learned it could be done, and though he’d originally done so for the extraordinary challenge of achieving the desired characteristics, he conceded breeding hunting dogs was a highly lucrative venture. Only last night, he was trying to enjoy his whisky when Veronica’s husband had accosted him to present his case in blusterous voice as to why he should have priority to the next litter from Wainwright’s kennels. Mad for hunting, Lord Stayne, by all accounts, spent every free moment wandering around estates with gun in hand and an eye for the death of game everywhere. If Wainwright’s scant experience was any indication, the accounts were overwhelmingly true.
Wainwright winced as another gunshot tore through the air. God, what he wouldn’t give for the company of someone he held in more than a passing acquaintance. There was such a mammoth difference between conversing with those you knew slightly and those you’d known just about your whole damn life. What he wouldn’t do to have a good friend to confide in, to turn to in this moment and make observation of how stupid hunting was.
Instead, it had been platitudes and discussing the weather, and biting his tongue because any comment he made that could even be termed slightly controversial would be blown out of all proportion—
Gritting his teeth, he exhaled. It might be he was a tad frustrated by the situation. This house party was to be three weeks out of his life. He would survive. They were already four days in, and once it was over, he could return to his own estate for a while and enjoy terrorising the children and exasperating his staff.
Although this could have all been avoided if Roxwaithe had bloody attended like he’d bloody said he would. Wainwright’s own acceptance had been predicated on the promise from his friend that he would attend, however at the last moment Roxwaithe had ‘matters’ that could not be ‘ignored’.
Wainwright snorted. More likely Lydia Torrence had a need, and Roxwaithe fell all over himself to fill it. The man was completely head over heels, though he refused to admit what anyone with eyes and a partially working brain could see, maintaining instead she was too young and professing shock whenever anyone raised what was plain. True it was Lydia was young and not yet out in society, but she wouldn’t be young forever and it was clear Roxwaithe was biding his time, remaining unwed for the moment she convinced him she was old enough. Maybe she was fourteen years their junior and she may be on the precipice of her debut to society, but one day that excuse would no longer fly and Roxwaithe would find himself wedded, bedded and no doubt delighted with the state of affairs.
A smirk tugged at him. He’d laid a quiet wager the wedding would be at the end of the season of Lydia’s debut, and even then only because Roxwaithe would hold out for her to enjoy her season while Lydia pressed for an earlier union.
His smirk faded. Lydia Torrence had quite clearly determined Roxwaithe her person, and though he’d protested, Roxwaithe had determined her his. What would that be like? To know your future, your happiness, was tied to a particular one, whose company you desired over all others in the world? He couldn’t even begin to imagine. He’d reached the age of thirty-one, two hundred and seventy-six days and he’d never found the one woman who he wanted above all others. Could be he’d never meet her.
It wasn’t that he kept himself from the company of ladies. Indeed, it could be more correctly said to be the opposite. He enjoyed flirting, dancing, and the society of women, and went out of his way to ensure a merry and light interaction with the fairer sex. Veronica teased him about it mercilessly, as did his other friends, both female and male alike, but he enjoyed himself and so did the ladies with whom he engaged in flirtation, so where was the harm? Maybe it smarted some others thought him fickle, his emotions fleeting, but he did enjoy himself, so in the end what matter was it?
More gunshots rent the air. Bloody hell, what were they trying to do, depopulate the whole county of grouse? Ahead, Lord Stayne punched the shoulder of a grinning man whose gun still smoked. Unable to stomach any more, Wainwright offloaded his shotgun to a footman and turned in the direction of the house. He was a fool to have even agreed to this. He was not a hunter, had never been a hunter, and the stupidity of it all was antagonising him to no end.
As he approached the house, he slowed his stride. A carriage rumbled along the drive, coming to a halt as a flurry of servants spilled from the house to welcome the new arrival. Christ, in the mood he was in, he had no desire to greet someone new, especially someone who had the temerity to arrive four days late. Perhaps it would be best if he lost himself in the forest.
Another gunshot cracked the sky. On the other hand, if he went back, one of those fools would surely shoot him.
Starting again for the house, he grimly plotted a course which would avoid as many people as possible. Although, who would arrive at a house party four days late? Unable to help himself, he glanced at the carriage.
It had come to a complete stop, a groom jumping from his perch on the driver’s bench to open the door. A lady descended, her subtle stretch indicating she’d been travelling a time. He didn’t recognise her, but then he didn’t make it his practice to know everyone in society.
A second woman emerged from the carriage. Swaying slightly, she lifted a hand to hold her bonnet to her head as the wind whipped around them, teasing brown tendrils to escape and wind about a slender neck. Her form was slight, her pelisse and gown a little too big. She was shorter than the first lady by a few inches, such that she would only come to just above his shoulder if they stood side by side. She turned her head and he saw her face.
He sucked in his breath. He didn’t know her, had never seen her before in his life, but a voice screamed in his head: It’s her. It’s her. It’s her.
Blood a mad thrum in his veins, he wanted to rush to her side, to take her hand, feel her skin against his. He wanted to know her taste, her sighs, the feel of her fingers digging into him as he covered her body with his. He wanted to know her history, her thoughts, if she believed the current economic climate best benefited the British Empire, and what type of cheese was her favourite. He wanted to know everything. He wanted to know her.
Involuntarily, he took a step toward her. Veronica emerged from the house, wreathed in smiles. Veronica would introduce them. He hastened his step, no thought but to reach her side.
A gunshot split the sky.
Stuttering to a stop, he ran his hand over his hair. Christ, what was he thinking? He couldn’t force his acquaintance upon her, no matter how much he wanted to. She had no idea who he was.
From across the expanse between them, Veronica hugged both women and escorted them inside.
Wainwright stared at the empty space she had left behind. After thirty-one years, two hundred and seventy-six days, he’d found her. His person. Christ, now he understood why Roxwaithe leapt at the slightest crook of Lydia’s finger. He didn’t even know his person’s name yet, and he was fairly certain he would do just about anything to see her smile.
Methodically, he started to plan. Veronica knew her. Veronica could introduce her. He could dance with her at the ball tonight. He would charm her and woo her and by the end of the house party, she would agree to allow him to court her. He didn’t know how long it would take to convince her of the seriousness of his suit, but it didn’t matter.
He couldn’t wait to know her.
Exhaling, he laced his hands behind his head. Right. This house party would proceed for another two and a half weeks. He had two and a half weeks to come to know her and convince her he was hers. He could do that. He was accounted a catch, he only had need to convince her to catch him. He could do that in two and a half weeks.
A grin split his face. He was so bloody glad he’d come to this house party.
BEHIND THE STORY
What’s in a name?
As with all the Lost Lords books, I shorted the name of this to the first letter of each word in the title – PLP. So super boring but kinda practical? Anyway, that’s the nickname!
The Story Behind the Story
I had such fun with Oliver’s friend Wainwright and his lady in RESCUING LORD ROXWAITHE that I had to write their story.