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The Heartless Earl by @reginajeffers is a Mystery/Suspense pick #romanticsuspense #giveaway
The Heartless Earl
romantic suspense; cozy mystery; Regency romance; historical fiction romance; mystery; family relationships
The Heartless Earl 2020 Write Touch Readers’ Awards - 2nd Place Romantic Suspense STERLING BAXTER, the Earl of Merritt, has married the woman his father has chosen for him, but the marriage has been everything but comfortable. Sterling’s wife, Lady Claire, came to the marriage bed with a wanton’s experience. She dutifully provides Merritt his heir, but within a fortnight of the child’s birth, she deserts father and son for a baron, Lord Lyall Sutherland. In the eyes of the ton, Lady Claire has cuckolded Merritt. EBBA MAYER, longs for love and adventure. Unfortunately, she’s likely to find neither. As a squire’s daughter, Ebba holds no sway in Society; but she’s a true diamond of the first water. Yet, when she meets Merritt’s grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Merritt creates a “story” for the girl, claiming if Ebba is presented to the ton as a war widow with a small dowry, the girl will find a suitable match. LORD LYALL SUTHERLAND remains a thorn in Merritt’s side, but when the baron makes Mrs. Mayer a pawn in his crazy game of control, Merritt offers the woman his protection. However, the earl has never faced a man who holds little strength of title, but who wields great power; and he finds himself always a step behind the enigmatic baron. When someone frames Merritt for Lady Claire’s sudden disappearance, Merritt must quickly learn the baron’s secrets or face a death sentence.
He watched as Claire took several quick gulps of air and set her shoulders before she turned to face him. “I shall see to my things being brought to Baxter Hall,” she announced in a shaky voice.
He stood. “I do not think so, Claire. I have tasted your wares, and I find I am immune to them.”
“You did not act immune,” she countered. “You wanted me.”
He feigned nonchalance as he donned his jacket. “I wanted to test your claim’s falseness. I admit not understanding your reasons for allowing me such liberties,” he declared. “But clearly you have no desire for my touch.” He caught her by the arm and dragged his wife toward the hall. “If it is Sutherland you want, Lady Claire, it is Sutherland you will have. I want no man’s leftovers.”
She fought him, clawing at his hands, but his wife was not strong enough to deflect his strength or his wrath. “Who says it is Sutherland?” she screeched as he removed her hand from the balustrade.
“It was always Sutherland” Sterling hissed as he half carried her down the main stairs. “Just remember,” he growled angrily, “I have accepted James as my child because there was a likelihood of paternity, but do not think to thrust Sutherland’s bastard on me.” He knew his servants listened from every corner of the house, but he could not stop the madness he experienced when he looked upon his wife’s face. “I will deny another child.”
As he set her on her feet again, Claire swung away from him. “At least, the baron is no rutting pig,” she screamed. “He is a gentleman.”
Sterling’s insides clenched, but he made no show her words had found a target in reminding him of his wedding bed. He jerked her closer to whisper angrily, “I treated you with less finesse than I would one of Madame Celine’s girls,” he declared. “They, at least, know how to pretend enjoyment. So, if I disappointed you, Claire, you might wish to reconsider your response.”
“I hate you,” she retorted.
Sterling motioned for Mr. Sprout to open the door for his wife. “I do not much care for me either, but your contempt is nothing new.”
“You think to seduce your cousin, but I shall not have it, Lord Merritt,” she warned. “You shall not flaunt her before me—before my friends.”
Sterling backed his wife against the banister. Looming over her, he warned, “Do not dally with your fortune, Claire. If you do anything to dishonor Mrs. Mayer’s reputation, you will live to regret it.”
Surprisingly, his wife shot back, “What could you do to stop me? It is I who rules the ton; you have long ignored your social obligations.”
He smiled with self-satisfaction. “If I even think you have beleaguered the lady, I will first demand a divorce in Parliament, and, secondly, cut off your allowance. Let us see how many invitations you receive as a ruined woman. Even your precious baron will desert you.” He tugged her forward, dragging her toward the now opened doorway.
“Stop. Please,” she begged, stumbling along behind him. “You cannot cut me off without a cent,” she screamed as he pulled her down the entrance steps.
He jerked the coach’s door open and was surprised to find Miss Sutherland, lurking in the interior shadows. “Well, obviously, Claire, as you left Miss Sophia to wait in the carriage, you did not plan to tarry at Baxter Hall,” he hissed. Sterling’s grip tightened on his wife’s upper arm. “What would you have done if I had demanded you stay?” His voice rose in rage. “I could do so: You are my wife. I have the legal right to demand you live under my roof or go without my support.”
“No man rules me,” she asserted.
Her words infuriated him. He roughly pulled her into his body and planted a menacing kiss on her lips. “Now, be away from me.” He picked Claire up and threw her into the waiting carriage. “If you ever approach me again, you will be writing your own divorce papers, Lady Claire.”
His wife scrambled to right herself. “You have no heart, Merritt,” she charged. “You are heartless. A heartless earl!”
Sterling presented her a stiff bow. “If so, my dear, it is because you have carved it from my soul.” He slammed the coach’s door and strode into his house.
For hours after the fiasco he had created upon a public street, Sterling sat in a darkened study. He sought sanctuary from the maddening scene he had created on Mayfair’s streets. His wife brought out the worst in him. For nearly three years, he had hidden away, shunning Society to minimize the truth of his greatest mistake. In every other aspect of his life, he garnered respect, but, in marriage, he had become a complete failure. Now, those who did not know of his shame before would be able to recite it chapter and verse.
His grandmother had slipped a hastily written note of apology under his door, stating how she had attempted to send Claire away before he saw her. She blamed herself for not actually seeing to Claire’s removal from Baxter Hall.
“Your wife,” she had written, “as we are both well aware, is not easily dissuaded, but I take the blame for this latest farce. I should never have forced her hand by reminding her of her lack of motherly instincts and her deceitful nature. If I had known...”
But none of them could have known. Even now, he held no idea of what Claire meant to prove by entering his house and making such assertions.
“Regrets after the fact prove hindsight is no sight,” his grandmother had written. “But when Claire threatened to send me to the dowager house of your smallest properties—to dare to banish me from your life, I ordered her from the house, reminding Claire until you remove me, I remain the mistress of your households. I ordered Sprout to see your wife from the premises, but I did not wait to oversee her removal. Evidently, she left my sitting room while I fetched Sprout to do his duty.”
“Regrets!” Sterling groaned audibly. “Truly in hindsight I know many. I kissed Claire on the street before my neighbors’ prying eyes. How absurd!” He had actually taken Claire on his ballroom floor. He had sought vindication for the way his wife had treated him, but he had made the situation worse. Instead of making an effort to find some pleasure in his ministrations, Claire had simply endured his lovemaking. True, he could have been gentler, but his lack of foreplay was not the problem. From the beginning of their acquaintance, Lady Claire had despised his touch: She hated everything about the experience. “Then why did she initiate it?” He asked himself that question repeatedly. “It is not as if Claire holds no knowledge of the act. What did she hope to gain by becoming my wife again? None of it makes sense.”
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
Like any good romantic suspense, The Heartless Earl walks the delicate balance between the thrills of suspense and a blossoming love story. Those who read this genre might liken the experience to riding a roller coaster—hurdling along at break neck speed while being tucked safely in one’s favorite chair at home. While suspense and romance appear, on first glance, to be heterogeneous genres, one must understand they are both filled with swings in emotions, from ultimate highs to devastating lows. They share the idea of anticipation. Of uncertainty. Of fear. And of excitement. Hearts pound erratically. Breathing is restricted. The body feels weak.
The Heartless Earl is fast-paced and suspense-filled and contains a ring of truth common to all my tales. It is a charming, intriguing love story, and one you will not want to miss.
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Regina Jeffers, an award-winning author of historical cozy mysteries, Austenesque sequels and retellings, as well as Regency era romances, has worn many hats over her lifetime: daughter, student, military brat, wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, tax preparer, journalist, choreographer, Broadway dancer, theatre director, history buff, grant writer, media literacy consultant, and author. Living outside of Charlotte, NC, Jeffers writes novels that take the ordinary and adds a bit of mayhem, while mastering tension in her own life with a bit of gardening and the exuberance of her “grand joys.”
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