The Bluestocking and the Rake (The Regency Gentlemen Series)

 

 

The Bluestocking

& the Rake

 

A Sparkling Regency Romance

 

By Norma Darcy

 

Copyright

 

THE BLUESTOCKING AND THE RAKE

 

Copyright: Norma Darcy 2013

 

Published: 27th July 2013

 

Publisher: Sparkling Regency Romance

 

The right of Norma Darcy to be identified as author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the publisher.
You must not circulate this book in any format.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this ebook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. 
Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Find out more about the author and upcoming books online at www.myhistoricalromance.com.

 

Also by Norma Darcy

 

A
Gentleman and a Scoundrel

 

Thank you

 

To Christie
Giraud, my lovely editor. Thank you for your time, professionalism and all your encouragement.

 

To Chris, Dad and Judy, thanks for your love and unwavering support.

I could never have done any of this
without you.

 

To my gorgeous husband for somehow managing to live with a wannabe author and not wanting to murder her! You are my rock and my hero.

 

And finally, to Mum, my inspiration. You are the reason I write.

I miss you more than I can say.

 

Dedication

 

For Norma.

 

I like to think that this one would have made you smile.

 

 

Prologue

 

Holme Park, Worcestershire, Winter 1819.

 

Lydia Latham. She was a pretty girl, he supposed.

Young, slim and willing, too. She was eager enough to be his countess. Eager enough to spend his money. Eager enough to submit to his caresses and anything else he had in mind for gowns and jewels and carriages. If only he would ask her…

But he wasn’t going to ask her.

Lord Marcham tossed off the rest of his drink and set the glass down upon his desk. He slouched in his chair and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.

It was late. Or early, depending on how one chose to regard three in the morning. The library was in darkness save a faint orange glow from the log smouldering gently in the grate.

He couldn’t sleep again.

It was at night and when he was alone that he was prey to his own thoughts. It was at night that he missed her most. She came to haunt him then, with her smile, taunting him, telling him that he was a fool for loving her.

If he closed his eyes, he could bring her to mind, sitting in the chair opposite him as she had the first time he had met her. He imagined her voice, her laugh, the way her magnificent green eyes flashed when she was angry. If he concentrated, he could bring to mind the feel of her lips under his, the way her body pressed eagerly against him, and his mind could conjure an image of what it would feel like to finally make her his, an image he had already dreamed of a thousand times before.

He ached to hold her. He ached to touch her. He yearned to see her once more, to tell her that she could stop running now and to convince her that she needed him as much as he needed her.

He stood up abruptly, went to the window and leaned his forearm against the paintwork. He clenched his fist until his fingernails dug small crescent-shaped welts into the palm of his hand.

How much longer would this torment go on?

He opened the sash window, welcoming the blast of cold air that almost burned his nostrils. There was snow on the ground, thick and white and as hard as granite. He hung his head and leaned his forehead against the cold glass.

When would he be able to stop thinking about her? How long before he could forget her and move on with his life?

He was tired of this continual pain, like a lump of ice at his core that had never quite thawed. He was sick of feeling his heart lurch with foolish hope every time he caught a glimpse of a woman with chestnut hair; he was sick of viewing every social gathering as the moment when they might meet again, only then to suffer the crushing disappointment when she was not present. Why could he not stop seeing her in the faces of other woman? When would he stop running after strangers in the street, convinced by a smile or a fleeting look that she had at last come home to him? When would he stop comparing every other woman to her and find them wanting? When? When? When?

She had permeated his soul, like an indelible stain. She was in his blood, in his bones, his very makeup. He missed her as he would a limb; she had become instrumental to his happiness and he had discovered this fact only at the moment she left.

He hadn’t scoured the four corners of
England looking for her. After their last meeting, he was determined that he wouldn’t. He’d sworn that nothing would make him speak to her again. He would do his best to forget her; vanquish her from his heart and from his head.

She had made it perfectly clear on that fateful night that whatever he thought was between them had been a lie and she at least had felt nothing. So he had let her go without complaint or pursuit. And only the walls of his library knew how much it hurt him to let her go.

The Lord only knew where she was now. She was cunning and clever and elusive. She had probably changed her name again, perhaps more than once. And who was she now? A governess? A teacher? A mistress? What did she do for food and money and a roof over her head? Had she been found dead in a ditch somewhere six months before? Was she even now rotting in some quiet unmarked grave? He pushed the thought away, too cowardly to face the fact that he might not ever see her again. She
was
alive, he was convinced of it. His heart told him that she was. She had to be.

And he hardly dared ask himself if she ever thought of him. Was she as indifferent to him as she had once claimed? Or was she as miserable for him as he was for her?

He turned, leaving the window open, and walked back to his desk. He absently leafed through the pile of letters there. Creditors’ bills. He yawned and picked up a carefully folded note and examined it. He did not recognise the handwriting. He threw it back on the pile. Let his secretary deal with it.

He poured himself another glass of brandy. It was going to be another long night.

 

Chapter 1

 

2 years earlier.

 

Longfield Park, Hertfordshire. September 1817.

 

“And are you aware,” demanded the Countess of Marcham in her most imperious tone, “that the whole county has been expecting you to make Lady Emily Holt an offer at any time these last two months?”

Her son, Lord Marcham, to whom this remark was addressed, did not immediately reply. As he was not completely decided if he
was
about to make Lady Emily Holt an offer, he was a little annoyed by his mother’s taxing him on the subject. He did not raise his eyes from a three-day-old copy of the
Morning Post
, but pretended extreme interest in the announcements, his dark brows knitted together across the bridge of his nose.

“Horesham is getting married,” he remarked presently, yawned behind one well-manicured hand and turned the page as if his mother hadn’t spoken.

The third occupant of the room, Mrs. Caroline Weir, and the gentleman’s younger sister, gasped and widened her eyes. “Never say so! George Horesham? He is forty-five if he’s a day. Who is he to marry, pray? Never tell me he caught the beautiful widgeon at last?”

Her brother glanced at her, amused. “I would be very much surprised if George gave two hoots if she is a widgeon or not; it is not her intelligence which has drawn his attention. She is what one might call ‘a prime article,’ an incomparable; plump in all the right places and most importantly, plump in the pocket.”

“And of course
you
have never been known to make a cake of yourself over a beauty with no brains,” remarked his sister.

“Oh, no, not
I
,” agreed the earl amiably, completely unperturbed by this comment.

“You
always
take into account a lady’s intelligence. You are well known as a man who likes to spend an evening poring over books and enthusing about the latest scientific discovery or the newest production of a new opera that has been performed to great acclaim.”

He looked up from his paper and smiled sweetly at her. “I spend a lot of time at the opera.”

She choked on a laugh. “Not opera
dancers
, Robbie. That is something altogether different.”

His lips twitched but he asked, perfectly gravely, “Is it?”

She ignored this very provoking remark and said in a wistful voice, “If I could but see you in
love
, Robbie, with a woman with a little common sense, a well informed mind and a modicum of beauty, I would be satisfied.”

“No more than a
modicum
of beauty?” he repeated in mock horror. “Dear sister,
you
might be satisfied but I should not be!”

She dimpled. “If she can then add to these qualities a gentleness of character and sweetness of disposition―”

“She sounds to me like a dead bore. Spare me, I beg of you.”

“Well no-one ever thought that George Horesham would marry―not at his age―not that he is so
very
old, but he has never before shown any interest in matrimony―there is hope for you yet, dearest.”

“I am relieved to hear it. To hear
you
, anyone would think that anyone over forty has one foot in the grave.”

“Yes, and so you have,” she declared tartly.

He smiled. “I’m not there yet, you must wait another year for that.”

“But not a
full
year, Robbie.”

“Little cat,” he murmured.

She smiled sweetly and picked up her fan. “But is it a love match?”

“I think that extremely unlikely,” he said with bruising frankness.

“Then why should a man like him enter into wedlock at his age?”

He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Because he is so
very
ancient, and everyone knows that only young persons are capable of falling in love―isn’t that right?”

She playfully poked her tongue out at him. “I didn’t mean
that
, you know I didn’t. You are deliberately putting words in my mouth to make me lose my temper.”

“Depend upon it, a man of my age may expire half way through the ceremony, after all,” he said and then added as he reached for his teacup, “not to mention the consummation.”

A glimmer of amusement stole into her eyes. “I meant only that a man who reaches five and forty without marrying is almost certainly happy with his own company. It would be an extraordinary woman indeed who could inspire such a man to love after all those years. You must own the truth of
that
.”

“Certainly it is unlikely. But no
t impossible.”

“And why would a young woman, half his age, choose him over any other agreeable young man of her acquaintance?”

“A fifty thousand pound fortune will inspire a great deal of love―or at least all the appearance of it.”

She raised an eyebrow at
him. “So cynical, Robbie? Speaking from experience?”

He grunted but said nothing in reply to this.

“I cannot imagine
you
falling prey to such a woman.”

“Certainly not,” he agreed. “But then I am
not
George Horesham.”

“No indeed.”

The countess, who had been following this exchange with growing impatience, stamped her foot. “Oh, hang George Horesham! Didn’t anyone here what I said?”

“Certainly, Mama,” her son replied coolly.

“Your latest flirtation has become the talk of the town and has given rise to the sort of conjecture which I deplore. I say again, the whole county is expecting an announcement at any moment.”

Robert Hockingham, fourth Earl of Marcham set down the teacup. He was a rather good looking man, well built, with a fine pair of shoulders and a very attractive smile, which he had learned over the years could be used with devastating effect upon women when trying to escape their black books. If he was not precisely what one would call a
Tulip
of fashion, he was nonetheless, elegantly dressed for the morning in pantaloons and a snugly fitting blue coat, highly polished Hessian boots and a cravat of exquisitely tied linen. He was seated by the window in his mother’s dressing room as far away as he could get from the fierce heat of the fire, which was blazing even on this mild September day.

“I don’t give a damn what the whole county expects,” he replied mildly.

“But I do,” retorted his mother, shifting herself on the sofa where she lay amongst an impressive array of cushions and shawls. “
You
may have no care to the reputation of this family but I can assure you that I do. And I will not stand by and watch you toy with the affections of a respectable girl. Your father put up with much from you Robert, but this kind of behaviour is not seemly in a Hockingham.”

The earl cast aside the newspaper, stood up abruptly, and moved to the window to look out at the park beyond. It was a fine day, with the first hint of autumn in the air, and the rolling lawns were silvery with dew. He braced one hand high against the paintwork and watched a rider, his youngest sister who was just turned eighteen, trotting away from the house with a groom. He smiled faintly, knowing that as soon as she was out of sight of the house (and their mother), she would in all probability break into an unladylike gallop which would have the groom struggling to keep up with her.

“Who says I am toying?” he asked at last.

His mother shrieked and raised her smelling salts to her nose. “You don’t mean that you are
serious
about this girl?”

The earl shrugged again. “I must marry someone, you know.”

“Yes but…
Lady Emily Holt
? Robert, pray be serious.”

“I
was
being serious.”

The countess gaped and was lost for words.

His lordship’s sister took up the baton. “Robbie, you are funning,” she declared, fanning herself vigorously, an unladylike sheen of sweat upon her brow as a result of the excessive heat of the room. “What does Lady Emily Holt have that any other society beauty does not?”

“A meek temper,” he replied with the ghost of a laugh, still with his back to them, watching the riders until they had disappeared into the trees.

“A meek temper?” she repeated blankly.

“Yes…a most desirable accomplishment for a woman.”

“And is that what you want from marriage?” she asked. “A mild and meek little mouse who won’t say boo to a goose?”

“Certainly it is. I do not wish to be harangued at every turn.”

Daughter and mother exchanged worried glances.

“And are you in love with her?” demanded the countess from behind her handkerchief.

The earl turned around at last and put up his brows in surprise. “Not in the least.”

“Then why choose this slip of a girl when Halchester’s daughter is worth eighty thousand pounds? When I think of all the heiresses you could have had any time these last twenty years, beauties too some of them…and you choose Lady Emily Holt.”

“Because they would hate to live at Holme,” he replied, examining his fingernails.

“Hate to live at
Holme Park?” repeated his mother blankly. “Hate to live in one of the finest houses in the country?”

“Company there is rather thin, Mama, as you know full well. Lady Emily comes from that part of the world and knows what to expect. I would not take a society beauty to Holme and have her wasting away and constantly berating me to move back to
London. The parties and pleasures of town no longer hold any appeal for me and I require a wife who will be happy to live with me in the country. Lady Emily Holt is a respectable young woman and she will do well enough.”

His sister stood up and went to him, laying a hand on his arm.

“Are you sure Robbie?”

“Certainly. How could I not be? She is an excellent female.”

“And will turn a blind eye to your infamous parties, all night drinking and mistresses?” asked his sister, lowering her voice.

He smiled sweetly. “My dear Caroline, I cannot imagine what you may mean.”

“Hmm,” she replied. “Memory going already, is it?”

“I do
not
have a mistress and I will wager that these days, I am very often in bed earlier than you are.”

“I’m sure you are,” she murmured, “but I’ll wager not alone.”

He smiled affably. “Perfectly alone, I assure you, and I prefer it that way. A man of my advanced years cannot contend with too much excitement, you know.”

“What utter nonsense,” she declared.

“It is not nonsense. I thought you were always up with the latest
on-dit
, Caro, but it seems that you have not heard,” he said. “
I
am retired.”

She choked on a laugh. “Since when did a man of your kidney retire?”

He shrugged. “Since I realised that there are a great many days in my life spent far too foxed to achieve anything meaningful. Whole weeks have passed which I can honestly say that I do not remember a damned thing about. A life of idle dissipation, even for such a wastrel as me, ceases to hold any fascination after twenty years of it.”

“Gentlemen in your line do not retire,” she said firmly. “And you may think it is amusing to pull the wool over my eyes, Robbie, but I am not Sarah and not as green as you may think.”

He laughed, spreading his hands. “It’s true.”

She gave him a knowing look. “And who was that blonde piece I saw you with last week if you are retired?”

He grinned ruefully. “I was merely making myself agreeable.”

“Hmm,” said his sister, clearly believing it all a hum.

“I do
not
have a mistress,” he repeated, “and I have no immediate desire to change the situation. And really, sister, it is most improper in you to speak to me of such things.”

She arched a brow. “Lady Harwich?”

He sighed. “Lady Harwich returned to her husband a number of years ago. Your information is sadly out of date.”

“Mrs Brandon?”

“You
have
been listening to gossip,” he marvelled.

“Miss Susan Hartcourt, then.”

He smiled but made no answer.

“Ah. I knew it!”

“You’re not
listening
to me, sister. I have no mistress,” he said again.

“And is your heart still untouched after all these years?” she asked softly.

He smiled, his grey eyes twinkling. “Dear Caro, always the great romantic.”

“I would see you in love, Robbie.”

He pulled a face. “You would see me make a cake of myself,” he retorted.

She took his arm and led him over to the other window, out of earshot of their mother. “Don’t throw yourself away on Lady Emily. Be patient.”

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