Marrying the Wrong Earl (Lords & Ladies in Love)

By: Callie Hutton

To all those who love their fur babies more than anything else.

Chapter One

London, England, April 1820

Lady Arabella Danvers stared in horror as the Earl of Pembroke groaned and slid his vast body off the settee, landing with a thump onto one knee. He took her hand in his fleshy, sweaty one. “My lady—”

She sucked in a breath. “No, please, my lord. Do rise. Sit alongside me.” She patted the settee, frantic to keep him from proposing. She’d known for some time what his intentions were but had hoped her lack of interest would have dissuaded him. Of course, she’d been well trained in how to word a refusal-of-marriage offer, but each time she’d had to do it, she’d suffered for days afterward seeing the pain of rejection in the gentleman’s eyes.

“I must say this, Lady Arabella. I have admired you for some time now. You must know of my interest—”

“Perhaps I should send for more tea…” She attempted to tug her hand loose from his grip, to no avail. Her mother had left the room several minutes ago, leaving her not properly chaperoned, so apparently, Pembroke’s fumbling attempt at a proposal was not a surprise to Mother.

“I hold you in a great deal of esteem.” He continued on as if she hadn’t spoken. “I would like at this time to ask you—”

“My lady?” Arabella breathed a sigh of relief as the butler, Tavers, entered the drawing room. “Lady Elizabeth and Miss Caroline Davis have come to call.”

She smiled brightly at Lord Pembroke. “Perhaps you should rise, my lord.”

He glowered at the butler then gave Arabella a wan smile. “Yes, yes, of course. I will continue this another time.” He awkwardly shifted his girth to stand but instead fell halfway, practically landing on her.

“Lady Arabella, how wonderful to see you.” Lady Elizabeth and her cousin, Miss Caroline Davis, glided into the room. Pembroke rearranged himself, red faced and puffing, attempting to regain his dignity. Arabella hopped up to greet her guests. The three kissed the air next to each other’s cheeks, exclaiming over gowns and bonnets. No one seemed to notice Lord Pembroke, who gave a soft cough.

“Oh dear, my lord, I did not see you there.” Lady Elizabeth gave him a slight curtsy, as did Miss Caroline, who murmured, “My lord.”

“Good afternoon, ladies.” He turned to Arabella. “I will leave you now to visit with your friends. May I have the pleasure of escorting you on a drive tomorrow afternoon?”

Lady Elizabeth and Miss Caroline both turned to Arabella with raised eyebrows.

“Yes, indeed. Lady Arabella would love a ride tomorrow afternoon, wouldn’t you, dear?” Arabella’s missing mother, Lady Melrose, hurried into the room, all sunshine and happiness.

“Actually, Mother, I had planned to…” She halted, unable to think fast enough.

Mother jumped right in. “Nonsense, a ride in the park would be just the thing. You spend far too much time doing whatever it is you normally do in the afternoons.” She took Lord Pembroke’s arm and walked him out of the room, her voice fading as she chatted away.

“Lord Pembroke?” Lady Elizabeth adjusted her skirts as she settled on a chair across from the settee where Arabella sat. “I had no idea.”

“There is no idea. I know the man intends to propose, but I will not be accepting.” Arabella filled teacups for herself and her two visitors. “Although I am not foolish enough to want love in a marriage, I would at least prefer to like the man I’ll spend the rest of my life with.” She shuddered as she took a sip of her tea. “And I can assure you, that will not be Lord Pembroke.”

Miss Caroline took a small biscuit from a tray on the table in front of them. “It sounds as though your mother has other ideas.”

“Yes, I know. I do wish she would stop pushing me to marry. Due to Papa’s declining health, and then his death, I started late, so I’ve only had one Season. Is it so terrible for me to not take the first man who offers marriage?”

“Pembroke is the third man you have turned down, young lady.” Lady Melrose swept into the drawing room, a frown marring her still-lovely complexion. A frown Arabella had noticed was, of late, a perpetual expression for her once-carefree mother.

Since Arabella was an only child, the family estate had passed into the hands of a distant relative who was currently conducting business in India. They had been told by their solicitor the new Earl of Melrose was expected to return to England and take up residency in the fall.

Unfortunately, Arabella’s late father had enjoyed a predilection for whiskey and faro, and a total lack of interest in the preservation of his estate. Mother had impressed upon Arabella several times that once her dowry was paid, there would be no funds left for her support, so unless her daughter took her in, she would have nowhere to live.

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