A Wicked Earl’s Widow by Aubrey Wynne
Eliza is forced into marriage with no idea her life will change for the better. Married less than a year, her unwilling rake of a husband is surprisingly kind to her—until his sudden death. The widowed Countess of Sunderland remains under her in-laws’ protection to raise her newborn daughter. But her abusive father is on the brink of financial ruin and has plans for another wedding.
Nathaniel, Viscount of Pendleton, gains his title at the age of 12. His kindly but shrewd estate manager becomes father and mentor, instilling in the boy an astute sense of responsibility and compassion for his tenants. Fifteen years later, his family urges him to visit London and seek a wife. The ideal doesn’t appeal to him, but his sense of duty tells him it is the next logical step.
Lord Pendleton stumbles upon Eliza on the road, defending an elderly woman against ruffians. After rescuing the exquisite damsel in distress, he finds himself smitten. But Nate soon realizes he must discover the dark secrets of her past to truly save the woman he loves.
“Another beautiful historical romance gem from Aubrey Wynne.” N.N. Light Book Reviews
“Well-crafted,engaging tale of loss and love.” Verified 5 star review
“A sweet, historical romance to brighten any heart. By the end, I was teary-eyed and touched by the story.” Goodreads Review
Eliza rubbed the polished marble set in the stone wall, one gloved hand tracing her husband’s name. A tear rolled down her cheek as Althea clutched at her skirts, the toddler pulling and fidgeting in the quiet mausoleum.
Here lies the body of
Carson Roker, Earl of Sunderland
Son of Allan Roker, Marquess of Falsbury
16 June 1815
Aged 31 years
The Lord hath given him rest from all his enemies. 11 Samuel 7:1
“Oh, Carson, I miss your laughter and strength. I envy the fact your demon no longer chases you, but mine is close on our heels.” The chill of the surrounding limestone seeped into her bones. “How shall I keep him at bay?”
She sniffled and bent down to touch her daughter’s plump cheeks. The tiny face turned up, two matching dimples peeking out from the corners of her mouth as she smiled.
“Can you see how beautiful your little girl grows each day? Your mother says she has your coloring and my eyes, your boundless energy and my common sense. A perfect combination, don’t you think?”
Althea tugged impatiently at her skirts again. “Mama, go now.” One chubby finger pointed toward the small garden behind the mausoleum. The stained glass at the end of the building shed a pastel rainbow over the budding flowers and short rock wall.
“Yes, my sweet, you may play.”
The girl ran toward the back exit then stopped. Her small feet hopped on the reflecting kaleidoscope of colors, the sun’s rays gleaming through the painted glass.
“Yellow,” she said and hopped again. “Gween.” Another hop. “Blue.”
“Very good. Only two, and you know all your colors.” She brushed back the glossy midnight curls that rebelled against the confinements of hat and ribbons. The lacey plum bonnet matched the girl’s sparkling eyes.
“Yes, go pick some flowers. Not too many and only those that have bloomed.”
Eliza sat heavily on the bench across from Carson’s epitaph. Althea squealed in delight at the yellow blossoms clinging to the locked gate. One of these days, the enclosure would not be tall enough to hold her precocious daughter.
The monthly visits were a comforting ritual. At first, she’d come to be alone and grieve. To mourn the death of her husband taken after a year of marriage, leaving behind a pregnant widow. To mourn the affection she’d dreamed of all her young life, only to have it snatched away so quickly. To mourn the father who would never hold his child, and the child who would never know the man her father had become.
Theirs had been an arranged marriage. A duty for Carson, the Earl of Sunderland, a twin who had tried to pass his responsibilities on to his brother. An escape for Lady Eliza, daughter of the Marquess of Landonshire, from a brutal father and a lonely childhood. Her father had not cared about the roguish character of his future son-in-law. His priority was increasing his wealth and improving the family connection.
Carson’s reputation as a rake had not been exaggerated. Yet Eliza had sensed a generous but vulnerable heart in her husband, cleverly disguised by sarcasm and alcohol. The wedding night had been brief and perfunctory. The groom had been gentle but distant. She had seen little of her husband during the days following until…
She smiled, remembering the first gift he’d given her. A bouquet of flowers he’d picked at dawn as he stumbled home after one month of marriage. He had knocked at her door, one hand behind his back, smelling of alcohol and the clubs. After a mumbling an apology for missing the previous night’s obligations, he’d handed her a bouquet of crushed violets.
“I thought they matched your eyes.”
She had gazed from the mangled petals to the contrite man intensely interested in his dusty boots. As she put the flowers to her nose, the sweet scent was her undoing. The tears had come unbidden and swift as Eliza clutched the first gift she’d ever received from a man. It had also been the earl’s undoing when she gave him a brilliant watery smile.
“By Christ, woman, if you weep over wilted flowers, you’ll flood the Thames when I give you jewels.”
She’d only nodded her head and sniffled. Carson had pulled out a handkerchief and awkwardly dried her cheeks. As she looked up at him, their eyes met and held. Something passed between them at that moment. Two lost souls finding the same purchase in a storm they’d battled all their lives. He’d kissed her then. His lips gentle and sweet. It had been a different kind of kiss from her wedding night. Not polite and careful but questioning and heavy with need. Her first taste of passion.
Nate scanned the outlying pastures and the one road leading through the countryside and into the village. An old woman hobbled along with a tall walking stick, a cloth bag slung over her shoulder. Even from this distance, he guessed it to be the old healer Mrs. Stanley collecting herbs. He gave her a quarterly allowance to tend to the poorer families in the village. The others paid her by coin or goods. Some of the tenants didn’t like her coal black eyes and thought her more witch than healer, but the closest physician was fifty miles away.
“How long did you say you were staying?” he asked, looking away from the road.
“A few days at the most. I’m on a business errand and headed to the weaving mill in Glasgow. My cousin wants to add cotton to the wool and flax production.” Gideon waved a hand toward the sheep. “My father says we have the raw materials we need and importing cotton will be less profit and more risk. I’m going in his stead to get the details and make a decision.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank you enough for advising on that investment in the cloth factory. It was the beginning of our family’s return to society.” If he were a demonstrative man, Nate would give this man a bear hug. “Anything I can do to in return, remember I am always here.”
“Stop! It’s called friendship. I consider you one of the few men I can trust. Now, shall we go see what drink Maxwell has stored in the cupboard?” Gideon tossed the reins over his black gelding’s neck. “If we are very lucky, his wife will have some fresh bread butter pudding. That woman can do miracles in that tiny kitchen.”
“I’ll race you to the top of the hill just above the village.” Nate put a foot in the stirrup and then cursed as Gideon spurred his horse and took off. “You whey-faced scoundrel. Do you cheat at the tables too?” he yelled, jumping into the saddle and kicking his bay.
Nate gained on Gideon, who applied to the crop to his horse and pulled ahead once again. Both men broke a sweat along with their mounts as they crested the hill. A black coach, pulled by two pairs of grays, trotted along the road below. The village of Pendle did not get many visitors, especially in a fine carriage. It carried no crest and wasn’t the mail, so it poked Nate’s curiosity. Were they lost? Or were they heading to Pendleton Estate?
Ahead of the unidentified coach, Old Mrs. Stanley was still making her way slowly home. As she approached a patch of woods, two young men emerged and approached her. Nate eyes narrowed as he studied the duo. “Those two lads don’t look familiar.”
Mrs. Stanley flapped her hands at the newcomers and shook her head. The two males assumed a crouched position with their arms out at their sides and circled their prey, preventing escape. One man tried to grab her bag, and the feisty healer hit him in the head with her walking stick.
“Why those bloody footpads!” Nate dug his spurs into the gelding’s flanks and tore down the hill, Gideon close on his heels.
As they galloped down the hill, the carriage pulled to a stop. One of the assailants fled while the other turned his attention to the new arrivals and pulled a pistol. A woman in a deep blue velvet cape and bonnet emerged from the coach. A shot rang out and the driver grabbed his shoulder, dropping his whip. The woman snatched it from the ground, picked up her skirts, and ran toward the ruffians. To his shock, the slight female raised her arm and flicked the whip, slashing the scoundrel until he dropped his weapon. The driver of the coach must have been in shock also for he sat frozen in his high seat.
“By Christ, an avenging angel,” shouted Gideon from behind. “Who the devil is she?”
Nate had no idea, but by God he would find out. He only hoped she didn’t turn the whip on him.
Author Aubrey Wynne
Bestselling and award-winning author Aubrey Wynne is an elementary teacher by trade, champion of children and animals by conscience, and author by night. She resides in the Midwest with her husband, dogs, horses, mule, and barn cats. Obsessions include wine, history, travel, trail riding, and all things Christmas. Her Chicago Christmas series has received the Golden Quill, Aspen Gold, Heart of Excellence, and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence.
Aubrey’s first love is medieval romance but after dipping her toe in the Regency period in 2018 with the Wicked Earls’ Club, she was smitten. This inspired her spin-off series Once Upon a Widow. In 2020, she will launch the Scottish Regency series A MacNaughton Castle Romance with Dragonblade Novels.
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