My Fair Groom (The Sons of the Aristocracy)

Table of Contents

My Fair Groom

Linda Rae Sande

This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher. The author has represented and warranted full ownership and/or legal right to publish all the materials in this book.

My Fair Groom

978-0-9893973-4-6

All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2013 Linda Rae Sande

V1.3

Cover photograph © RomanceNovelCovers.com 
Cover art by KGee Designs.
All rights reserved - used with permission.

This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

To the Boobie Sisters
– thanks for making everyday fun
and Facebook sexy

Chapter 1

A Reunion of Sorts

Late February 1816

“You’re back.”

Alistair glanced up from his ale, his eyes blurry as much from the alcohol as from lack of sleep. “Gabe?” he replied, wondering if his eyes were deceiving him.

Gabriel Wellingham, Earl of Trenton, took the seat at the trestle across from Alistair, setting his own tankard on the worn planks. “Christ. Where have you been?” he wondered, leaning over so he could better see his friend from his days at Eton and Oxford.

The second son of an earl, Alistair Comber straightened and considered how to respond. Should he tell the earl about his time in France? The worse times in Belgium? About the battles in The Netherlands? About the men he’d served with that hadn’t made the trip back over the Channel with him? 

He took a long draught from his ale and set down the mug. “On the Continent,” he finally answered. “Killing frogs,” he added before giving Gabriel a thorough glance. “And you?”

The young earl’s expression seemed dour, and his words confirmed his mood. “Running an earldom. Failing in the Marriage Mart.” He almost added, “Quitting my mistresses,” but thought better of it. How much misery could he share with a friend when they hadn’t seen one another in ...

“Three years?” he asked suddenly. He hadn’t yet inherited the Trenton earldom when he last saw the second son of the Earl of Aimsley.

Alistair leaned back, sobering up enough to consider the question. “That’s about right. And if you’re running an earldom, then that must mean ...”

Damn!
If his brain hadn’t been so addled from lack of sleep and alcohol, Alistair would have known better than to bring up the death of Gabriel’s father.

The seventh Earl of Trenton had been a despot of an earl, a man committed to overtaxing his tenants, making life miserable for his wife (some claimed he beat her every Sunday just because he could), and berating his only living son, Gabriel, because there were no other children to belittle in the Wellingham household. And the man had fathered at least three bastard children by maids in three different Trenton households. Who knew if he saw to their care or education?

Well, Gabriel would be seeing to one of those children on the morrow.

“Two years ago,” Gabriel offered with a nod. “And he is not missed, I can assure you,” he added in a tone of voice that suggested hatred for his late father. “Mother has practically joined a convent. And I ...”
have practically joined a monastery
, he almost claimed, realizing he hadn’t bedded a woman since he quit his mistresses that fateful day when he had
almost
asked for Lady Elizabeth Carlington’s hand in marriage. Almost, because she had apparently learned of his three mistresses (well, only two, since one had quit
him
the night before) and seemed quite incensed that he had any at all.

Didn’t the chit realize that mistresses were a ... necessity? A sign that you had achieved some status in the aristocracy by becoming whatever it was you had been born to be?

But, now that he had spent several months licking his wounds and commiserating with his mother, Gabriel realized that maybe Lady Elizabeth was right. He needed to find a woman he could honor. A woman who would honor him by not cuckolding him just as soon as the first heir was born. A woman he could share a bed with – not just so they could enjoy a tumble, but because they might on any given night. Or in the morning. Because they cherished one another. Because they ...

Dare he say it?

Because they felt
affection
for one another.

If only he had been born in a different family, he might have realized the importance of a spouse who would support him, a woman who would cherish him and welcome him into her bed and make love to him like no other woman had ever done.

George Bennett-Jones, Viscount Bostwick, had that honor with Lady Elizabeth. Their union was one of affection. More than affection, really. If the rumors were true, the two enjoyed a marital bed like no other couple Gabriel could imagine. Apparently, the viscount was at his wife’s beck and call when it came to sexual relations – or any request, for that matter. The latest rumor claimed the man had excused himself from the House of Lords when his pregnant wife sent a footman asking that he return to Bostwick House because she – and this was only rumor – ‘needed him to relieve her increasing back pain’. Apparently, the viscount was able to do just that, because he returned to chambers only ninety minutes later with a rather satisfied smile on his face. And a rather red face.

Gabriel wondered if he would ever do such a thing for his wife, should he ever find someone to marry.

Well, he now knew he had better.

Knew that he would have to do such a thing for his expecting wife. Cherish her as if she were the only woman on the planet. As if his very life depended on her. Because, at this point, his only path to siring an heir was if he could find a woman willing to become his wife. His handsome good looks, blue eyes, curly blond hair and thirty thousand pounds a year could only go so far in attracting a suitable wife; given his reputation in London, a woman would only be willing to marry him if he could offer something beyond the title of ‘countess’.

“And, you?” Alistair asked, wondering at his friend’s sudden silence. The man seemed a million miles away.

Gabriel pulled himself into the present. “And, I ... must find a wife,” Gabriel stated before he drained the contents of his tankard. “The sooner, the better.” He leaned over the trestle again. “And you? What are you after?”

Alistair regarded Gabriel for a long time before he answered. At least he didn’t have to marry ... at least, not right away. He was the second son, after all, and had a bit of leeway when it came to who he married.

And when.

“A way to make a living,” Alistair stated with a cocked eyebrow. “Father has cut me off.”

The earl furrowed his brows, surprised at the simple statement. “Why?” he asked, curious as to the Earl of Aimsley’s reason for deciding to disown his son. Especially since Alistair was the second son. And had been an officer in the British Army.

Shrugging, Alistair decided truth was the best course when it came to explaining his situation. It was unlikely the earl would believe him anyway. “I sold my commission in order to fund a five-percenter so I could give fifteen pounds a month to one of my regiment’s widow and her children,” he stated, his words so clear he might have sounded sober for the first time since hitting the shores of England.

Gabriel considered this comment for a long time before replying. “Sold it ... for how much?” he wondered, thinking that even a five-percenter wouldn’t pay enough to cover the debt every year until the widow died.

“Eight-hundred pounds,” Alistair answered with a sigh.

Not enough, indeed.

“How much do you need?” Gabriel asked then, thinking he would simply give the necessary funds to his friend.
I’m rich as Croesus
. Who in his earldom would notice a few thousand pounds were missing? He could tell his estate manager it was a gambling debt.

Alistair stared at his friend, on the one hand impressed that Gabriel would understand his situation and on the other incensed that the earl would think Alistair needed help with funding the promise he had made to one of his soldiers. “I don’t. I’ll find a position and pay the debt myself,” he murmured, deciding not to sound too offended.

Alistair had already made up his mind he would see to the debt. Since his father had decided he had somehow erred in making the promise to Michael Regan, then it was his responsibility to find a paying position to fund his promise. If it meant being a footman in a duke’s estate home, then he would do so, although he rather doubted a position as a footman would pay enough. At least he would have room and board.

“Doing what”? Gabriel wondered before draining his tankard. The barmaid was at his elbow in an instant, setting down a new tankard and removing the empty one before he could raise a hand to summon her. She raised an eyebrow in Alistair’s direction.

“Another for me,” Alistair said to her wordless query. She set down a tankard and removed his empty one, giving him another raised eyebrow. “Ten shillings, and I’ll have you sleeping like a baby,” she offered, her free hand moving to her hip as if she were challenging him.

Alistair looked up in surprise. He had to look like a world-weary traveler. Or an old fogey, the way he had practically limped into the tavern, not having ridden a horse in nearly a month.

“I appreciate the offer, love,” he replied with a nod. “But I’ll be sleeping like the
dead
before the hour is out,” he added sadly.

The barmaid tossed her head to one side and twirled away, obviously taking his rejection personally. He stared into his mug of ale, realizing it would be his last for the evening.

What had Gabriel asked before they were interrupted?
“Oh, and if you know of someone who needs a stableboy, I could use a position,” he stated with a sigh.

Of all the positions he could fill at an aristocrat’s home, stableboy or groom would suit him perfectly. His second home was Tattersall’s, after all. And although he had asked at that establishment first, the owner had obviously not believed he was serious about working at the horse trader’s facility – as a groom or in any other position.

Gabriel considered his friend’s response, not believing Alistair would be willing to work in service in order to make his promised payments to a war widow. “Lord Mayfield was complaining at White’s last night that his stable lacked a decent groom,” he offered, giving Alistair a shrug.

Straightening on the trestle seat, Alistair stared at Gabriel. “Mayfield?” he repeated. Stanley Harrington, Earl of Mayfield, had one of the finest stables in Park Lane! Alistair had been present for at least half of the earl’s purchases at Tattersall’s. “I’ll inquire,” he said with a nod. “Thank you.”

Gabriel gave his friend a nod. “I’m heading back to Bilston in a fortnight,” he stated before taking a quick drink from his new tankard.

Alistair nodded. “Back to the earldom?” he wondered, thinking Gabriel would return to Staffordshire to lick his wounds and find a woman he could employ as a mistress. It wasn’t as if Trenton was
really
ready to find a wife.

“Hmm,” Gabriel murmured in reply. “And to a certain inn where I hope to find a barmaid with a rather round rump,” he replied with a wicked grin.

Raising an eyebrow, Alistair wondered why he couldn’t feel joy at the earl’s comment. At one time, he, too, would have welcomed the charms of a barmaid with a round rump. But now ... now, now he was
tired
. War weary. Disillusioned. And in need of a bed and a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow he would head to the home of Lord Mayfield and see to a position as a groom. If he could convince the man in charge of the stables that he could handle horses and was willing to work hard, he just might land a position. And a position in the stables usually meant a room above the stables. Not the best quarters on an estate, but probably better than what he had endured the past few years on the Continent. “Safe travels,” Alistair offered as he raised his tankard.

Gabriel regarded his friend and finally gave him a nod. “And to you, too,” he said before tapping his tankard against the one held by Alistair. “When next we meet, one of us had better be married.”

Alistair’s eyes opened wide.
Was the earl daft?
“Then, it had better be
you
,” he replied with a lopsided grin.

Smiling and shaking his head, Gabriel Wellingham replied, “Only if I can marry a barmaid.” He drained his tankard in one long gulp and took his leave of the tavern.

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