I’m continuing my series of Spotlights on my Georgian series. For any of my readers who have read Only A Mistress Will Do, you may remember several young ladies who were secondary characters in the book. I liked these women quite a lot, so when they began whispering to me that they had stories too, I listened, and began the Captivating Countesses romance series. Therefore, today I’m spotlignting the first book of that series, A Countess of Convenience.
Following a tragic accident, an unconscious Judith Harper is returned to her childhood home to die. Miraculously, she awakens but to a horribly changed world in which she finds her husband dead and her world upended.
Judith must regain her strength, not only to reclaim her life but also to right a terrible wrong–a feat which may require her to marry again, and quickly. But not only is Judith not ready for another husband, a marriage before her year of mourning is up will ruin her in London society.
Still, if she hopes to have her life back, she may have to risk the scandal and make a marriage of convenience…but to whom?
John, Lord Haxby has loved Judith since childhood, and because of that he stood aside while she married another eight years ago. Now she is free of her odious husband, he hopes he can persuade her that he is the only man who can make her truly happy. However, he discovers Judith is more than interested in Lord Farringdon, the man who saved her life. Can he stand aside once more and watch the love of his life make a grave mistake, or will he step up and show the woman he loves he is not a convenient solution to her problem, but the perfect one?
“You were taken ill during the fall, Mrs. Harper?” The earl’s jovial face was suddenly lined with concern.
“John, do not be ridiculous. Please call me Judith, as you have always done.” The fact that he wished to be circumspect about their relationship spoke well of him, but then John had ever been kind and thoughtful. And a stickler for the correct forms. “Yes, I apparently fell and was knocked insensible in November. I have only just regained my faculties a day or so ago.”
Her long-time friend frowned. “I cannot believe you were ill, and I did not hear a word of it.” Gesturing toward Dora with one hand, he took up the cup of tea with the other. “I danced with Miss Harper at Christmas, and she did not mention it at all.” He sent a stern look to Dora. “I assumed you had simply chosen not come to Town for the holiday.”
“It was in Town that my sister-in-law fell, my lord.” Dora sent him an earnest look with just a touch of contrition. The girl might not be worldly, but she knew how to handle a man. “At the time we hoped she would recover swiftly, but that was not the case. We returned to Harper’s Grange shortly after the Braeton’s ball so my sister-in-law could recover at home in a timely manner. Unfortunately, she did not.” Dora’s frown lifted. “But please tell us of your elevation. How wonderful for you.”
“Yes, do tell us, John.” Judith nodded and smiled, glad to be back on a less stressful topic. “I was quite amazed when Inman announced you as Lord Haxby. I told Mamma I had no idea who that was.”
“Oh, there’s not that much to tell, my dear.” He accepted another cup of tea from Mamma, sipped it, and set it down. “Not an unusual situation, really. I’d known, of course, my uncle was the Earl of Haxby, but he had two sons, so I never dreamed I would inherit. But two years ago, the second son, Harry, went out to India and died of a fever. That left my cousin Richard, who was actually betrothed, so again we thought the title secure.” He shook his head sadly. “But before he could marry and get an heir, he was stupidly killed coming home one night by a footpad. My uncle never got over the shock. His health has been deteriorating this past year, and in January he succumbed to winter fever.” He touched the black silk band on his arm. “So I assumed the title.”
“I am so sorry, Lord Haxby.” Mamma looked sorrowful as she clasped her hands in her lap. “You have had one tragedy after another strike you these past years.”
John didn’t reply, and Judith struggled for a topic not so melancholy. She remembered well the story of the tragic loss of his wife and son in childbed.
Seeming to summon strength from somewhere deep inside him, John nodded and deftly changed the subject. “I have come back to Donningham Hall for a few weeks. It will remain my primary residence for the time being. The Haxby seat is in north Yorkshire, near Strensall.” He sipped more tea then turned directly to her. “Will you be staying in Cambridgeshire long, Judith? If so, I would like permission to call upon you before you leave again for your home in Wiltshire.”
Mamma cut her gaze from John to Judith. All Judith could see were enormous white rings around her mother’s normally placid blue eyes. “You have not heard then, my lord.” She swallowed but continued. “Judith’s husband was killed in January. A duel, it seems. So as soon as Judith could be readied to travel, she was sent here.” Mamma nodded so hard her chin bounced off her chest. “And here she shall remain.”
John’s head swiveled sharply toward Judith. “Your husband was killed, Judith? I hadn’t heard that. I’m terribly sorry for your loss. May I offer my condolences?” But he didn’t sound sorry. Neither did he look it. He looked like a man who’d glimpsed salvation. His large, dark brown eyes had gone black. On alert, ready to pounce at any moment.
If she was right, John could look elsewhere. She wasn’t ready to be anyone’s salvation. Neither did she intend to marry a man just because it would make a sensible match, or a convenient one. Suddenly overcome by the gravity of these thoughts, Judith’s head throbbed. She couldn’t wait to be alone in her bed again where no one would ask any questions.
“Mamma, I am suddenly feeling unwell.” Judith laid her napkin on her plate of barely tasted sandwiches. “A headache likely brought on by my exercise today. I should not have tried to do too much. Will you come tomorrow, John? Perhaps we can continue our conversation.” Then she could impress upon him her need to continue grieving her husband.
“Of course, my dear.” John jumped to his feet. “Please forgive me if I’ve caused you fatigue. I will pray for your continued recovery. Mrs. Welbourne, Miss Harper.” His gaze bored into Judith, and a chill raced down her spine. “Good afternoon, Judith.”
He bowed and retreated through the door, leaving Judith weighing the possibility of leaving with Dora if that meant she could escape the attentions of her neighbor. Dear though John was, she wouldn’t encourage that look in his eyes. She had no intention of marrying John or anyone, and she’d best find a way to disabuse him of the notion as soon as possible.
Is Judith truly so committed to spurning John’s suit?
A Countess of Convenience is available in ebook and print formats from Amazon, and in ebook format also from B & N, Kobo, and Apple.
Captivating Countesses series