Title: The Heartless Earl: A Common Elements Romance Project Novel
Author: Regina Jeffers
Genre: Romantic Suspense; Historical Romance; Regency Romance
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, 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.
“Straighten your clothing,” he ordered as he stood to rearrange his own. He sat on the same chair as earlier and forced his feet into his boots. He had handed her his handkerchief to wipe herself clean.
As Claire adjusted her skirts, Sterling watched her from the corner of his eye. His wife’s hands trembled, and she had turned ashen white. Her hand drifted to her mouth to fight back a repulsed stomach. Seeing her thus, rage coursed through him. Nothing had changed. He felt as disgusting and inept as he had during those early days of their marriage. She had tolerated him today as she had tolerated him on their wedding night. Pure loathing filled his heart.
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 that her words had found a target—that they had reminded 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 sue Lord Sutherland for criminal conversation—a very public and very detailed lawsuit that the newsprint adore sharing for they bring new readers clamoring for the latest on dits, and then I will demand a divorce in Parliament, and, finally, 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 that 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, get 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.
November is a time to be thankful. What are you most thankful for this year?
I regularly volunteer at my local Department of Social Services, and, right now, we are taking requests from families for what we call the “Christmas Bureau.” Thanks to a generous gift from a wealthy couple, we will be able to serve an additional 200 families in our county, plus the nearly 500 we already were able to approve and those we have placed with churches and Secret Santas. It pleases me greatly to make those phone calls. I win, and they win. It does my heart well.
Why is your featured book worth snuggling up to?
The Heartless Earl is a tale that will keep the reader guessing: murder, secret codes, deception, and a cross country chase to save Sterling Baxter’s son from a kidnapper. Moreover, it will be fun to locate the 5 Common Elements found in all 70 books in this project: a lightning storm, a set of lost keys, a haunted house (or the rumor of its being haunted, a stack of thick books, and a character called “Max.” [Note! The Common Elements Romance Project includes a variety of authors and genres, as well as setting, each including the same FIVE elements hidden with their plot lines.]
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Runs November 1 – 30.
Drawing will be held on December 1.
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.”
Social Media Links:
Every Woman Dreams: https://reginajeffers.wordpress.com
Austen Authors: http://austenauthors.net
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Regina-Jeffers/e/B008G0UI0I/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1479079637&sr=8-1