Lady His Own

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  • Edition: Revised
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2013-05-03
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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The seven members of the Bastion Club have served loyally in the perilous service of the Crown. Now they've banded together to support one another through their most dangerous mission of all: getting married.When Charles St. Austell returns home to claim his title as earl, and to settle quickly on a suitable wife as well, he discovers that experience has made him impatient of the young ladies who vie for his attention-with the exception of Lady Penelope Selborne. Years ago, Charles and Penelope's youthful ardor was consummated in an unforgettable afternoon. Charles is still haunted by their interlude, but Penny refuses to have anything more to do with him.If controlling her heart was difficult before, resisting a stronger, battle-hardened Charles is well nigh impossible, yet Penelope has vowed she won't make the same mistake twice, nor will she marry without love. But when a traitorous intrigue draws them together, then ultimately threatens them both-will Penny discover she has a true protector in Charles, her first and only love, who now vows to make her his own?


A Lady of His Own

Chapter One

Restormel Abbey
Lostwithiel, Cornwall
April 1816


A log shattered in the grate; sparks sizzled and flew. Flamesleapt, sending fingers of light playing over the leather spineslining the library walls.

Charles St. Austell, Earl of Lostwithiel, lifted his headfrom the padded depths of his armchair and checked that noembers had reached the shaggy pelts of his wolfhounds,Cassius and Brutus. Slumped in hairy mounds at his bootedfeet, neither hound twitched; neither was smoldering. Lipseasing, Charles let his head loll back on the well-wornleather; raising the glass in his hand, he sipped, and returnedto his cogitations.

On life and its vicissitudes, and its sometimes unexpectedevolution.

Outside the wind whistled, faint and shrill about the highstone walls; the night tonight was relatively calm, alive butnot turbulent, not always the case along Cornwall's southerncoast. Within the Abbey, all was slumberingly still; it was aftermidnight—other than he, no human remained awake.

It was a good time to take stock.

He was there on a mission, but that was largely incidental;learning whether there was any truth in tales of Foreign Office secrets being run through the local smuggling channelswasn't likely to tax him, certainly not on a personal level.His principal objective in seizing the excuse his erstwhilecommander Dalziel had created, and thus returning to theAbbey, his ancestral home, now his, was to gain sufficientperspective to examine and, he prayed, resolve the increasinglyfraught clash between his desperate need for a wifeand his deepening pessimism over finding a lady suitable tofill the position.

In London, he'd found himself hip deep in candidates, notone of whom was anything like the lady he needed. Beingmobbed by giddy young misses with more hair than wit whoviewed him only as a handsome and wealthy nobleman, withthe added cachet of being a mysterious war hero, had provedsomething of a personal purgatory. He wasn't going backinto society until he had a firm and definite vision of the ladyhe wanted for his own.

Truth to tell, the depth of his need of a wife—the rightwife—unnerved him. When he'd first returned after Waterloo,he'd been able to assure himself that that need was onlynatural; his association with six others so very like himself,all equally in need of wives, and the camaraderie that hadflowed through their formation of the Bastion Club—theirlast bastion against the matchmaking mamas of the ton—had reassured and soothed his impatience and blunted thespur for some months.

But now Tristan Wemyss and Tony Blake had both foundand secured their wives, while he, with his more edgy, restless,desperate need, was still waiting for his lady to appear.

It had taken the last few weeks in London, being suckedinto the whirl as society prepared for the intense months ofthe Season, to comprehend fully what fed that increasinglyedgy need. For thirteen years, he'd been dislocated, cut offfrom the society to which he'd been born and to which he'dnow returned. He'd spent thirteen tense years buried in enemyterritory, never relaxing, never less than alert and aware. Now, even though he knew he was home and the war wasover, he still found himself, at parties, balls, any large gathering,mentally apart. Still the disguised outsider watching, observing,never able to let down his guard and freely merge.

He needed a wife to connect him again, to be a bridge betweenhim and all around him, especially in the social sense.He was an earl with numerous sisters, relatives, connections,and obligations; he couldn't hide himself away. He didn'twant to hide himself away—he was constitutionally unsuitedto being a recluse. He liked parties, balls, dancing—liked people and jokes and having fun—yet at present, eventhough he might be standing in the middle of a ballroom surroundedby laughing hordes, he still felt he was outside,looking in. Not a part of it.

Connection. That was the one vital ability he needed in awife, that she should be able to connect him to his life again.But to do so, she needed to connect with him, and that waswhere all the bright young things failed.

They couldn't even see him clearly, let alone understandhim—and he wasn't at all sure they had any real interest inthat latter. Their notion of marriage, of the relationship underlyingthat state, seemed determinedly and unalterablyfixed in the superficial. Which, to his mind, came perilouslyclose to deception, to pretense. After thirteen years of lying,both living a lie and constantly dealing in fabrication, the lastthing he would permit to touch his life—his real life, the onehe was determined to reclaim—was any element of deceit.

Fixing his gaze on the flames leaping in the hearth, he focusedhis mind on his objective—on finding the right lady. He'd had no difficulty rejecting all those he'd met thus far;accustomed to gauging character swiftly, it usually took himno more than a minute. Yet identifying what characteristicshis right lady possessed, let alone her whereabouts, had thusfar defeated him. If she wasn't in London, where else shouldhe look?

The sound of footsteps, faint but definite, reached him.

He blinked, listened. He'd dismissed his staff for thenight; they'd gone to their beds long ago.

Boots, not shoes; the boot steps marched nearer, andnearer, from the rear of the house. By the time the stepsreached the back of the hall, not far from the library, heknew that whoever was strolling through his house aftermidnight wasn't any servant; no servant walked with that relaxed,assured tread.

He glanced at the hounds. As aware as he, they remainedslumped, stationary but alert, their amber eyes fixed on thedoor. He knew that stance . . .

A Lady of His Own. Copyright © by Stephanie Laurens. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from A Lady of His Own by Stephanie Laurens
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