Title: A Masked Earl
Author: Kathleen Buckley
Genre: Historical Romance
Eight years ago, Aurelia sparked a duel and refused both offers of marriage which might have saved her reputation. Ruined, she is resigned to spinsterhood, knowing she will have to leave her family’s home when her brother inherits. He has never forgiven her for the humiliation of the scandal. When at the request of its solicitor, she helps to determine the true heir to a neighboring estate, one of the claimants presents a challenge to her mind—and heart.
The search for the late Earl of Barlyon’s surviving son rips away John Barlicorn’s life in London’s underworld. If he ignores it, his mother and sister may be cast upon the charity of the next heir, a distant relative. Returning to Barlyon, he faces a rival claimant, the risk of being revealed as a criminal, and the fascinating Aurelia. But how can he marry any lady, given his own discreditable past?
As they walked, Aurelia was tolerably sure that the man beside her was the Earl of Barlyon. His pace slowed, and they fell a little behind Phoebe and her beau, which she thought reckless. However, the pair were not far behind Lady Barlyon and her escort.
“My dear Aurelia, or may I call you Aurie?”
The moon had risen. Being at the full, it flooded the way with light. So much for the Dark Walk! Romantic as that cool nacreous illumination was, those wanting more privacy for their courting (or dalliance) had slipped away, probably to the Druid’s Walk. Aurie rather wished they had returned to it. But given that they had this path almost to themselves but for an unaccompanied gentleman sauntering toward them and the rest of their party some distance ahead, it would do. The moonlight was a charming accompaniment to a ramble with a man she found too attractive for her own good. If indeed he was Barlyon and not one of the others. She stifled a sigh.
The oncoming walker exclaimed, “Aurelia?”
She stopped. The man’s back was to the moon, leaving his face invisible, but his form and his tone were all the clue she needed. “My lord marquess?” Her voice raised in pitch almost to a squeak.
“Who is this fellow and what pretensions does he have, that you are alone with him?”
Furness uttered the demand in a voice thunderous enough to frighten the bunnies in the undergrowth or any couples dallying there. Nine years vanished in a blink as she was catapulted back to the seventh of June, 1732.
Ahead of them, Barlyon saw Hawkins wheel around at the sound of Furness’s raised voice, inadvertently pulling Lady Barlyon with him. Then a slight man pelted past, startling Barlyon, who had not heard his thudding footfalls approaching, so intent had he been upon Furness. Who the devil—?
In the silence as he and Aurelia and Furness stared after him, the sounds of hasty passage through shrubbery were audible. Before he reached Lady Barlyon and Hawkins, the runner cut into the thicket at an oblique angle.
Aurelia breathed in sharply. “Where have they gone?”
His mother and Hawkins had been first in their procession, and he and Aurelia had been third. Now there was no one