Read The Earl's Secret Bargain Online

Authors: Ruth Ann Nordin

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Regency, #Historical Romance

The Earl's Secret Bargain (4 page)

Chapter Six


“Regina, Lord Pennella is in the drawing room,” her lady’s maid said the next day.

From her bedchamber window,
Regina glanced up from the book she was reading. “I’ll be down in a moment.”

er lady’s maid offered a nod and shut the door. She put her book aside and rose to her feet. She went to the mirror and checked her reflection, just as she had the day before when Lord Davenport visited. As Lady Seyton suggested, she wore a dress that showed a hint of her cleavage. It was a ridiculous thing to aim for, but Lady Seyton insisted it was to get the gentleman to think about marriage.

“A lady who is suitable for marriage does well to remind the potential husband that he’ll have fun trying for the heir if he chooses her,” Lady Seyton had said.

Even now, Regina had to fight the urge to roll her eyes. The little she had gathered in her lessons boiled down to the gentleman’s need for praise and lovemaking. That was about it. How Lady Seyton considered this worthy of money, Regina could only guess. But she had an impressive history of success with her patrons, so she couldn’t argue with her record. It just seemed foolish that the lessons took a couple weeks.

With a sigh, she left her bedchamber. She told herself this was just another gentleman her mother wished to snare on her behalf. Each of these encounters required a great deal of her, and after yesterday, she was already tired. Though, she
had enjoyed Lord Davenport’s visit. He had a way of handling her mother that impressed her. None of the other gentlemen had known how to respond to her. Indeed, most of them humored her and played along. She wondered if Lord Pennella would be the same or if he’d be able to take a kind, but firm, stand against her mother’s desire to gossip. If nothing else, Regina was looking forward to finding out.

She arrived in the drawing room before Lord Pennella noticed her. He was handsome enough, she supposed. A bit more on the muscular side than she preferred, though she liked the broad shoulders. Hair a bit lighter than Lord Davenport
’s but still brown. At the moment, he was examining his reflection in the window. Her eyebrows rose in interest. None of the gentlemen who’d come by had done something like that before.

He smoothed his hair then winked
at himself. And it was at that point she knew he was not the kind of person she wanted to spend the afternoon with, much less the rest of her life. Thank goodness he wasn’t the only gentleman who had a title in London or else she’d have to run off before her mother could chain her to him.

Clearing her throat to get his attention, she curtsied. “Lord Pennella, forgive me for taking so long to come down.”

Though it was to her benefit she did. She’d do well to do that in the future with the others who came by. Watching a gentleman who didn’t know he was being watched was surprisingly enlightening.

He approached her and bowed. “It was well worth the wait, Miss Giles. You’re even lovelier than the first time I met you.”

Resisting the urge to gag, she managed to smile. Did he really believe she wouldn’t see through the lie? “Thank you, my lord.”

The butler brought in the tray with tea, and she invited Lord Pennella to sit and have a drink with her. It was the
same old familiar routine, one that Lady Seyton insisted would establish a rapport with the gentleman in question. That was why her mother demanded Regina spend a few minutes in the drawing room alone with each potential suitor.

Regina sat in her usual spot and poured tea in both of their cups, but on this day, she decided she’d rather not allow the gentleman a generous view of her cleavage. Instead, she chose an angle that offered him a better view of her shoulder. She saw no reason to encourage

“Do you come to London often?” she asked.

“From time to time when I’ve tired of my many travels to other countries,” he replied.

Her eyebrows rose
. “Oh?”

“Yes. I find it expands my world and gives
me a better perspective on life. I meet fascinating new people and explore the different cultures the world has to offer.”

She couldn’t fault him for that. A good dose o
f curiosity was a healthy thing. If she hadn’t caught him winking at himself, she might be intrigued to learn more about him.

“How about you?” he asked as he accepted the cup she offered. “Do you travel?”

“I’m afraid with all the social engagements my mother requires me to attend, I’m not allowed the luxury of travel,” she replied then sipped her tea.

“Well, there’s nothing wrong wi
th social engagements. I go to many of them myself.”

“I didn’t say there was anything wrong with it. I’m just explaining why we don’t travel often.”

“But you have traveled?”

“A few times in the past. France, Italy, Greece.”

“Those are good countries.”

She nodded. “I enjoyed them.”

“So you have been outside of England and tasted a piece of the world.” He smiled at her in a way that made her feel like a young child who was to be patted on the head for such a good deed. “It’s refreshing to meet a young lady who has some life experience.”

Yes, indeed she had plenty of experience if one considered visiting the stores in those countries with a mother who was searching for something “new” and “different” to wear. But she chose to keep quiet about this little secret.

“Tell me,” he began after he drank some tea, “have you been in London all Season?”


“But you haven’t been to many of the balls, have you?”

“I’ve been to most of them.” Where was he going with this?

“That’s strange.”

“What’s strange?”

He shrugged, though he shot her what was probably the same smile he gave every lady he hoped to charm. “You’re so beautiful. I should have noticed you sooner.”

“Perhaps there were
ladies at the other balls who were more beautiful than me and that’s why I didn’t catch your attention sooner,” she suggested, intentionally putting him on the spot and wondering what he’d do about it.

As it turned out, his face grew pink.

Her mother entered the drawing room, relieving him of having to come up with an adequate response. “Lord Pennella, I presume?” her mother greeted.

He set the cup on the tray and bowed to her. “At your service, Mrs. Giles. I was just enjoying a pleasant chat with your charming and lovely daughter.”

Charming and lovely? Regina highly doubted the sincerity in his words. But to give him the benefit of the doubt, she reasoned he was merely being polite.

“Thank you, my lord,” her mother replied, glancing her way in obvious pleasure.

Regina forced a smile in return then quickly looked down at her hands so she wouldn’t have to maintain eye contact with her. Yesterday hadn’t been so awkward. In fact, it’d been very nice. She wondered if Lord Davenport would ask to see her again.

“Regina, are you ready to go to the museum?” her mother called out.

Unaware that her mother and Lord Pennella had been speaking, Regina turned her attention back to them. With a nod, she went over to them. “Yes, I’m ready.”

Regina joined them in Lord Pennella’s carriage, and her mother made a show of fussing over how expensive it must have been.

“We wanted an interior so fine but couldn’t afford such lavish upholstery,” her mother rambled as she ran her hand along the edge of the seat.

“You only live once,” Lord Pennella said with a laugh. “I see no reason to deny the very best when I escort beautiful ladies around town.”

Her mother chuckled, and Regina turned her gaze to the window. Fortunately, her mother wasn’t paying attention to her or else she’d never hear the end of it.

“Of course, I hear Lord Edon also has a fine carriage,” her mother spoke up.

Regina grimaced. Her mother was trying to gather information from him, just as she’d tried it with Lord Davenport and the other gentlemen they’d been out with that Season.

“It’s no secret that Lord Edon has the best carriage in all of London,” Lord Pennella said. “He keeps winning every single game he ever plays.”

“Does he?” Her mother’s eyebrows rose in interest. “I heard he was lucky.”

“Lucky?” He laughed and shook his head. “No, he’s not just lucky. He’s ruthless. He claims that he doesn’t want to win every game, but that’s what he does. Thankfully, his father-in-law put an end to it or else I’d have no money left.”

Her mother laughed at his joke. “I bet you’re better off not gambling, my lord.”

“Perhaps I would be, but I have to admit that there’s a certain thrill in it. The chance of winning or losing is a powerful one. It’s the risk, and the bigger the risk, the greater the thrill.”

Regina glanced at him. He seemed particularly pleased with himself, and it only affirmed her initial thought about him. He was already in love…with himself.

The carriage came to a stop at the museum. With a sigh, Regina followed them out of the carriage, bracing herself for the mindless chatter
she’d likely have to suffer through for the next couple hours. No doubt, it was going to be a long and exhausting afternoon.


A firm hand clasped Toby’s shoulder. Toby glanced up from the paper he was reading at White’s. He’d hoped that since Pennella was supposed to be at the museum with Miss Giles and her mother, it would afford him some peace.

But here Pennella was, and he’d brought the self-satisfied smirk with him. “The bet is as good as settled,” he said as he sat across from Toby. He crossed his legs and clasped his hands over his lap. “So, when would you like to hand me your estate?”

“Miss Giles accepted your proposal?” Toby asked, trying not to give away his apprehension.

“I haven’t proposed yet.”

Toby relaxed. Good. That meant he still had a chance. “Then you’re a little premature.”

He shrugged. “The proposal is a mere formality. We all kne
w I had a better chance of winning, and today only sealed the deal.”

“How so?”

“I have a gift for keeping ladies enraptured.”

Ignoring the few gentlemen who stopped their talk to listen to them, Toby forced out, “And how did you enrapture them?”

“Not them. Her.”


“The mother. Mrs. Giles. I regaled her with all sorts of amusing anecdotes.”

“Did you?”

“Yes. Her mother was curious about a lot of the nobility, so I let her in on some little tidbits of information she won’t find in the scandal sheets. You know, the way to a lady is through her mother. If you can win her mother over, then the battle’s already won.”

For the first time since he’d made the wager with Pennella, Toby felt a spark of hope. Maybe he had a chance with Regina after all. Pennella could delude himself all he want
ed. In fact, the more he did, the better. “Until Miss Giles accepts your proposal, the wager stands.” He rose to his feet. “I think I’ll offer Miss Giles my condolences. The poor thing must be distraught after spending the afternoon with you.”

The other gentlemen chuckled, but Pennella narrowed his eyes at him. If Pennella had
taken the time to listen to Miss Giles, he would have realized she didn’t like gossip. But he didn’t, and that gave Toby a surprising advantage. And this was one advantage he was going to pursue.

Going to her house unannounced would never do, but he could send her a request for another visit. By the time he reached his townhouse, he knew exactly how he’d word the
calling card. And he didn’t waste any time in sending it out.

Chapter Seven


“You received a second request from Lord Davenport to see you?” Lady Seyton asked two days later as Regina and her mother sat in Lady Seyton’s drawing room.

Though Lady Seyton had directed the question to Regina, her mother spoke on her behalf. “Yes, we did.”

We? Regina bit her lower lip so she wouldn’t say something. There was no ‘we’ in the
calling card he sent. It was only for her. But leave it to her mother to treat this as if they were both being courted.

Lady Seyton chuckled as she poured them a cup of tea. “The first time together is always the hardest one. A second request from the gentleman almost assures a proposal is

Regina’s mother let out a squeal of delight. “I just knew it!” She squeezed Regina’s arm before Regina could take her cup of tea. “I just knew he was interested in you.”

“You think all gentlemen are interested in me,” Regina reminded her then took the cup from Lady Seyton.

“But this one wants to see you again. It’s a good sign.”

“I agree with your mother,” Lady Seyton said then sipped her tea. “This just might be the one.”

As much as the prospect excited her, Regina couldn’t help but think it was too soon. The walk in the park was very enjoyable, more so than she thought possible. But it was only one time. What if the sec
ond venture didn’t go so well?

What a silly question. Regina knew what it meant. It meant she had to start all over again, something she dreaded. Not only had she found Lord Davenport refreshing, but she didn’t know if she had the strength to go through the initial pleasantries
with someone else. All right. Perhaps she hadn’t been so pleasant with Lord Davenport, but he’d had a surprisingly good sense of humor about the whole thing. It was hard not to find such a gentleman attractive. More than just attractive, really. He was someone she could fall in love with.

After they finished the tea, her mother patted Regina on the arm
and looked at Lady Seyton. “Now that we have a gentleman who wants another visit, what is the best way to proceed?”

“I’d say it’s a good idea
to keep doing what you’ve been doing all along,” Lady Seyton replied. “Obviously, it works.”

“But surely, there must be something more to it than that,” her mother pressed.

“Besides delighting him with your personality, I can’t think of much more a titled gentleman wants except to get an heir.”

Her mother glanced Regina’
s way, and Regina shrugged. Why Lord Davenport liked her well enough to want to see her again, she didn’t know. She’d been pretty skeptical about gentlemen and marriage in particular. The fact that she hadn’t scared him off spoke volumes of how much the poor man could endure, something that probably amazed her mother to no end.

Her mother offered her a smile. “Perhaps we ought to remind him of how important heirs are to gentlemen. I’ll hint about such things when he comes by.”

Regina’s eyes grew wide. Good heavens! Did her mother really think that was a good idea?

“That’s a good idea,” Lady Seyton replied. “It never hurts for someone other than the lady to subtly remind him of these things.”

“I can certainly do it, and I assure you I’ll choose my words with great care.” Her mother stood up. “Thank you for your advice, my lady.”

Lady Seyton rose to her feet, Regina quickly following. “I fully expect this is the one who’ll propose.”

Her mother’s smile widened at the prospect, and Regina had to admit she hoped Lady Seyton was right.


On the day Lord Davenport was due to arrive, Regina had planned to wait in her bedchamber for his arrival, but the task proved much too daunting. She tried to focus on her book. After her tenth failed attempt to understand what she was reading, she gave up and put the book aside.

Not sure what to do
with her time until he arrived, she left her bedchamber and slowly walked down the hall. To her surprise, her mother came rushing up the stairs.

“Are you sure it’s appropriate for a lady to be caught running through the house?” Regina asked, a hint of amusement in her tone.

“I have good reason to run,” her mother insisted and took her by the arm before guiding her back to her bedchamber.

“What’s wrong? Is my hair out of place or my dress not properly secure?”

“No, no. Nothing like that.” Once they were in her bedchamber, her mother shut the door and turned to her, a wide smile on her face. She took a calling card out of her pocket and showed it to her. “Lord Pennella wants to see you again, too.”


“Isn’t it wonderful? You have your pick of two titled gentlemen.”

Regina could hardly speak. She thought for sure Lord Pennella wouldn’t
want to see her again after the way she talked to him.

“I’m going to give a little extra money to Lady Seyton. Her techniques work like a charm,” her mother added. “I’ll send Lord Pennella a
card back and accept on your behalf.”

Regina opened her mouth to stop her, but her mother
hurried out of the room. She considered calling after her mother. But really, what good would it do? Her mother would love to tell her friends that her daughter had two titled gentlemen vying for her hand. The least Regina could do was give her mother the luxury of doing that. It wasn’t like she had to say yes if Lord Pennella proposed.

“Miss Giles,” her lady’s maid said, peering into the bedchamber, “Lord Davenport is here.”

Good. A much needed distraction. Right now, she would enjoy the afternoon. She thanked her lady’s maid then went down the stairs. Recalling the way Lord Pennella had admired his reflection in the window, she kept her steps silent as she approached the drawing room.

She stopped before she reached the open door
, so he wouldn’t see her. She peeked into the room. Lord Davenport stood by the window, just as Lord Pennella had. But he had his hat in his hands and his gaze was focused on the floor.

“I hope you’ll be at Lord Toplyn’s ball.” He shook his head. “
No, that doesn’t work.” He paused. “I was planning on going to Lord Toplyn’s ball and wondered if you’ll be there.” He sighed and tapped the hat.

It took her a moment to realize he was trying to think of a way to ask if he could see her again. He probably didn’t want to seem too eager. The thought made her skin warm in pleasure. It was very sweet that he worried so much over whether or not he could spend time with her. Indeed, it was a refreshing change from the other gentlemen she’d met. Lord Davenport really was sincere in his affections for her.

He turned to the window and hesitated a few seconds then asked, “Did you hear Lord Toplyn’s having a ball?” Seeming to be satisfied, he nodded and looked toward the doorway.

She took that as her cue. After she entered the room, she curtsied. “Good afternoon, my lord.”

He bowed. “It’s an honor to be here.”

“The butler will bring our tea in soon. Will you have a seat?”

He nodded and sat on the settee.

She hesitated to sit by him. If he’d been Lord Pennella, she wouldn’t have even considered it. But this was Lord Davenport, and she wanted to. In a bold move that she never thought she’d take, she sat next to him and noted that he smiled. Relaxing since he hadn’t been taken aback by her
bold move, she returned his smile and asked, “How have you been since we last talked?”

“Good. And you?”

“I’ve been fine. Nothing of interest happened.”

“It didn’t?”

She shook her head. She hadn’t realized how much she’d been looking forward to seeing him again until that moment. “No, it didn’t. I’m glad you came by today.”

“You are?”

She studied his expression and fought the urge to chuckle. If she guessed right, he worried that she hadn’t given him a second thought over the past three days. “Yes, I am.”

The butler came in and set the tray of tea in front of them.

She waited until he left before she continued talking. “I know it doesn’t seem like I enjoy much about London,” she began as she poured his tea.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” he quickly spoke up. “You seemed to enjoy the park the other day.”

“Yes, I did. And I wanted to thank you for steering my mother away from gossip. It was nice to spend an afternoon without listening to who is doing what and who performed the worst scandal.” She handed him his cup and poured tea into hers. “Maybe if I didn’t have to listen to it so much, I wouldn’t mind.”

“I don’t think the people involved in the scandal want others talking about it.” He cleared his throat. “I know I wouldn’t.”

“I doubt my mother would either. It’s different when you’re the one on display.” She put the teapot down and returned his smile.

“I agree. And sometimes a person stumbles into a situation without even meaning to.”

“Exactly. We don’t know why the person did what they did. It’s not up to us to judge their motives.”

After a moment, he
sipped his tea. “I was wondering, did you hear Lord Toplyn’s having a ball?”

Hiding her smile, she nodded. “My mother mentioned it. She makes it a point to go to as many as she can.”

“Well, I’ll be there, and I’d be honored if you saved two dances for me.”

Pleased, her face grew warm. “I’ll do that.”

She couldn’t recall a time when anyone had such a pleasant effect on her. It was more than the beginning of romantic attraction that she felt. Deep down, she knew this was a gentleman who had the potential to be a friend, a companion she could spend her life with, sharing its ups and downs. Perhaps he sensed the same connection she did.

“Lord Davenport,” her mother said, breezing into the room, “it’s good to see you again.”

She gave an elaborate curtsy that almost made Regina spit out her tea. But she managed to swallow it before any damage was done.

Lord Davenport quickly set his
cup down and bowed. “Thanks for having me.”

“Oh, any
time,” her mother replied. She sat in the chair close to Regina and gestured for Lord Davenport to sit. “I thought we’d sit and talk for a while before going out.”

Sensing her mother was up to something, Regina studied her expression.

“In fact,” her mother began as she took Regina’s cup from her and added more tea to it, “just last night, my daughter and I were talking.”

Regina’s eyes narrowed as her mother added a lump of sugar to the tea and stirred it with a spoon. “Where are you going with this?” Regina asked, sure she didn’t want to know. Morbid curiosity, however, was getting the best of her.

“You needn’t be so shy about it,” her mother told her then handed her the cup. “Drink up, dear.”

Regina shook her head and handed it back to her. “I’m not thirsty anymore. You take it.”

“Very well.” Her mother took a sip. “It’s very good. I should pay my compliments to Cook.”

“It is good tea,” Lord Davenport said.

“Would you like more?” her mother offered.

“No, thank you. Like your daughter, I’ve had enough,” he replied.

Regina wondered why her mother was stalling. There was obviously something on her mind—something she was scheming—and she had yet to come out and say what it was. And worse, the longer she waited, the more uncomfortable Regina felt.

“We usually drink green tea,” her mother rambled. “It’s supposed to be good for your health. Or so I’ve heard. But lately, we’ve been trying different flavors. Sometimes you have to do that, you know. Do something different so you can find out what you might be missing.”

“Where are you going with this, Mother?” Regina asked again. If she had any clue, she could take measures to turn the conversation in another direction.

“Just talking about tea.”

No, she was only using that as a means to get to what she really wanted to discuss. Regina closed her eyes for a moment and prayed for patience.

“As I was saying,” her mother continued, “trying something new might be exciting.”

“Are you referring to traveling?” Lord Davenport asked, his eyebrows furrowed.

“No, though that is a good way of seeing what else life has to offer,” her mother said. “There’s more to the world than the little corner we live in.” Before Regina could open her mouth and suggest her mother get on with it, her mother gave the tea back to her. “What do you think of this black tea, dear? It’s good, isn’t it? Drink up.”

Deciding she’d had enough of this silly game, Regina put the cup back on the table. “This isn’t about tea, and I know it. What are you getting at?”

“Children. Specifically, grandchildren for me in my old age,” her mother blurted out.

Regina’s jaw dropped. They had no such conversation!

“Lord Davenport,” her mother continued, “I assure you that my daughter would make a wonderful mother. She comes from a healthy stock, too. She could have many sons.”

“That’s enough, Mother,” she spoke up once she could talk. She stood up. “Now is a good time to go to the carriage.”

Other books

Simply Sex by Dawn Atkins
Las poseídas by Betina González
Peril on the Sea by Michael Cadnum
Madman on a Drum by David Housewright
The Good Neighbor by A. J. Banner
The Phoenix Land by Miklos Banffy
Ménage by Faulkner, Carolyn Copyright 2016 - 2024