It is the year 1763 and King George III is on the throne. Georgian aristocratic life is synonymous with elegance and a devil-may-care pleasure, and the upper classes enjoy a kind of amorality in their love lives. Men, and women, are inclined to take their pleasure where they choose. It is this angle, the tawdry underbelly of high society that the author captures so brilliantly in this eminently readable novel. The rakish, raucous character of the Georgian period is contrasted superbly with the sophistication of the age. The author has created a love story that fans of historical romance will relish. Details of the politics, manners, social mores, and dress are deftly interspersed within the plot lines to fully flesh out the era and the people in it. The author’s characterization, even with secondary characters, is accurate and believable. The plot is complex and interesting; the author guides the reader though the maze of misunderstandings without ever giving the game away. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
—Fiona I. Readers’ Favorite
Stiletto Storytime Review
...Brant’s talent is undeniable and I can’t wait to get lost in more of her wonderful storytelling. Dare I admit…I enjoyed Salt Bride more than many of Georgette Heyer’s own beloved works and that is high praise indeed.
Ye Bath Corner Review
Brant really knows her history and drops in historical fact with fiction in a way that informs and delights. The period detail is rich and the style of writing veers comfortably away from the sort of 'contrived speak' that flags—and trips up—modern writers.
Couldn't put it down: I bought this book for my wife having no intentions of reading it since I'm more a fan of action/adventure and decidedly NOT romance novels. But, a scathing 1-star review by somebody that admittedly had only read a small bit of the book so rankled me that I was subsequently motivated to read it. I am very glad for that motivation because this book drew me in like few others have in recent memory. The development of the characters and their relationships, a splendid cliffhanger plot and superb research that paints a vivid picture of the era all came together to be a real treat for me. I am hooked and next up for me is "Midnight Marriage" which is another Georgian Historical Romance by Lucinda Brant. I guess Clive Cussler and authors of that genre will have to wait awhile.
—BobA "engineer guy"
I generally like crime, mystery but occasional feel the need for a nice romance to brighten up my day. I didn't really expect much from this book but found myself completely engrossed and then my kindle battery died just before the end and I'd left my charger at work!!! My boyfriend was like calm down it's only a book!!! The way this book is written is amazing and the characters developed exceptionally well. I would definitely recommend it.
—J. O'Brien "Bookaddict"
I loved this book from the very first chapter. After I stayed up all night reading it the first time I could not wait to re-read it. Jane is such a sweet, loving and gentle woman, with almost no one to protect and take care of her. Salt appears abrasive on the exterior but he also turns out to be a loving, gentle soul. I fell in love with both Jane and Salt. I intensely dreaded anything that Diana plotted against them. Lucinda: Thank You for this book and I eagerly await your next adventure.
I did not expect to be so caught up in this book that I stayed up till 1am b/c I had to finish it. It's rare that a book actually get's my heart to racing and I'm overwhelmed with suspense. At one point I even told my husband, who had to endure me reading right through dinner, that this book should be made into a movie!! The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 was because at the beginning I found it difficult to keep track of who was who. Often when this or that character is going somewhere or doing something I would have to stop and remind myself of who was who b/c the book doesn't just follow the Lady and the Lord. But I encourage you to do what you must to learn who is who and read this book. I find myself writing my first book review when I've purchased at least 100 ebooks since Christmas, and I'll be hunting up my next Lucinda Brant novel right now.....happy reading!
This book is an absolute keeper. The story is very genuine, and covers a topic that is mostly glossed over in historical romance books. What works for me is the honesty between the characters: I love characters that are open, frank and honest and not afraid to speak their minds. It cuts through much of the crap that characterizes most romance stories and goes straight into the heart of the subject at hand. I love this book and it has definitely become one of my favorites and would recommend that others read this book.
What a way to start a story I was hooked from page one. I had my emotions running full range on this one. I cried, laughed, hated, loved and was just plain PO'd at times. Poor Poor Poor Jane she was so strong and Magnus was a real a hole as far as I was concerned. I loved his response when he got the whole story. I will say that I expect so much more drama with Lady St. John in the end. I wanted her to pay pay pay. Ok I'm breathing calmly again.
A Cut Above: If you appreciate well researched, beautifully plotted and engaging romance then this is the book for you. I've ploughed through many Georgian romances that are advertised to be: 'just like Georgette Heyer' or 'simply fantastic' and haven't managed to plough through the first 100 pages. Here there are no cliche's, no references to autumn as 'fall', pavements as 'sidewalks' or 18th century dukes wearing 'pants'. I admit I hadn't heard of the author so hesitated before buying but now I've read the book I can't understand why she isn't better appreciated.
Feature Book at the Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA)
I really enjoyed this story. It is fast paced and there is lots going on. A cast of wonderful characters also helps keep you smiling along the way... Salt Bride takes us on a journey through the Georgian period of England, filled with lots of twists and turns to the eventual HEA... It kept me intrigued throughout the story and it is a real page turner.
© Helen S.
Fly HighIf you love good Georgian historical romances, you can’t miss this delightful novel by Lucinda Brant. Witty prose and well-researched context, skillfully drawn characters you’ll be captivated by, are the main features in her style. Salt Bride is my second read from Lucinda’s work - after Deadly Engagement - and I must thank her for hours of pure literary pleasure. full review,,,—Maria Grazia
...True talent is when an author creates an in-depth backstory of intricately woven together complicated characters and events and yet the reader starts on page one, right in the middle of the action--and is none the wiser to the author's machinations, only having eyes for what is happening on each and every page, eagerly turning to the next. And boy did Ms. Brant toy with the reader's head!
...The historical research for this novel is evident and well done. The setting expertly designed in the mind's eye, the characters clothing deliciously described, and the use of real time entertainments such as fireworks, tennis, society, etc... were expertly executed.
...Ms. Brant is a genius for dialogue! I was gasping and laughing nearly the entire time. The sensuality is poignant but not gratuitous, and truly adds a measure of romance to the story. I wanted so badly for Magnus and Jane to rediscover their love for one another--and admit to it, and I was not disappointed.
...I highly recommend this book! I was entertained to the fullest while reading, and can honestly say I haven't read a book that hooked me like this one did in quite some time. full review,,,
—Eliza Knight for History Undressed
AmazonWow, If you haven't read a Georgian Historical Romance before, now is the time to start. Lucinda's writing is so good, it will captivate you, allowing you to forget the world around you and dive into the life of Salt. I fully recommend reading this book and I have just ordered a Hardback copy even though I have the Ebook, it's that good I will read it for the rest of my life. This is a book that will not move from my bookcase unless it's to my hands to encase and devour. It will be there waiting for me, picking it up to read when I start thinking about Salt and Jane again. I have only had this book a few months and I have read it several times already, with many more to come. ... Lucinda Brant knows the 18th century so well and this shows in her details throughout the book, making it a pure pleasure to read. I lost myself in the book and forgot my worries of the world as I was consumed by an Earl and Jane. I can't wait to read more of Lucinda's work. If you like the book you can like my Lucinda Brant Fan Page on Facebook. That's how much I loved it, I wanted to discuss with others. full review,,,—Melhaf
Brant now at the top of my buy list: Salt Bride is a satisfying read on so many levels. Firstly, I couldn't put it down. I was hooked from the prologue (sad reading but can't say more or give too much away - download sample and read for yourself). Jane comes across as a gentle soul but it soon becomes apparent that she is more than a match for the Earl of Salt Hendon who is used to getting his own way in all things. Misunderstanding and mistrust dissolve as the newly married couple get to know each other and fall back in love. The villain of the piece is surprising -not who she is but what she does is sinister and skin crawling and at times I wanted to shake Jane and Salt into action. But Ms. Brant knows how to take the reader on an emotional journey that, by the closing scene, had me cheering and satisfied that all was right in Jane and Salt's world. Another book please Ms. Brant - soon
For Your Amusement: My Life—Blog
Dun, dun, DUN! Enter our villian Lady Diana St. John. Complete and utter opposite of our own Lady Di. So to keep the two lovelies separate I shall call this Lady Diana MONSTER Bitch, Monbit for short and cause it sounds french....
I highly recommend as it was positively delightful to read and not really all that "bosom quivering and man stick throbbing" sappy love story. It was light and fresh with past love reuniting and their new start at life...
Wiltshire, England 1759
The girl in the narrow wooden
bed was in agony. Curled up in a ball, legs drawn up to her small
breasts and thin arms wrapped tightly about her knees,
her whole body shuddered with excruciating contractions. She had no
idea if she
had been in pain for five hours or twenty. Exhausted and bathed in
cotton nightshift with its little lace cuffs and pearl buttons had
twisted and tangled with the bed sheet. Both were soaked with blood.
In the small, brief moments of reprieve between each painful cramp, she
whimpered for the hurt to go away, big blue eyes staring imploringly at her
nurse, as if a simple kiss from this most treasured servant would make
everything better again as it always had with a childhood bruise. But no matter
how tenderly the girl’s feverish forehead was bathed or soothing words of
comfort offered, the contractions continued unabated; the intervals becoming
shorter and shorter until the girl lost all sense of time and space.
Tears coursed down the nurse’s sallow cheeks and she pressed the wet cloth
to her own mouth; it was all she could do to stop herself sobbing
uncontrollably at the sight of her beautiful, sweet-tempered child in such
“Have the girl drink this and tomorrow she won’t be troubled,” she had been
Obediently Jane drank the bitter-tasting draught, on reassurance that the
medicinal would ease the nausea and restore her appetite. She had then thrust
the tumbler back at her nurse, laughingly accusing her of poisoning her.
Yes, Nurse had poisoned her beautiful girl. She knew that now as she bathed
Jane’s tortured forehead free of sweat. She would pray to God for forgiveness
for the rest of her days for not better protecting her girl, for trusting her
betters to do what was right and proper when all along they had planned for
this to happen. But she had poisoned Jane unwittingly. The same could not be
said of the other two occupants of the darkened and airless bedchamber; or the
girl’s absent, unforgiving father, who had disowned his only child for losing
her virginity to a noble seducer who lasciviously planted his seed then
discarded her like a used, worthless thing.
Nurse dared not look over her shoulder. But she knew the man and woman were
there in the shadows, waiting. Jane’s cries and her ministrations to help ease
the pain did not make her deaf or blind. She knew why they were there, why they
suffered the stench and the ignoble sounds of suffering, why they could not
avert their eyes from the offending sight of the waif-like creature with the
translucent skin and distraught gaze who convulsed, sweated, and bled before
them. They had to satisfy their own eyes that the murderous deed was done. How
else could they inform her heartless father that his wishes had been
Nurse hated them. But she reserved her greatest hatred for the noble
seducer. It gave her the strength and single-minded purpose to fight to keep
alive her precious, ill-used girl. It did not stop her jumping with fright when
a firm hand pressed her shoulder.
“The physician will be here soon,” Jacob Allenby assured her. “The recent
snow fall must have delayed him.”
“Yes, sir,” Nurse replied docilely, continuing to rinse out the soiled
sponge in the porcelain bowl on the side table.
“Physician? Good God, what use is a saw-bones?” scoffed the female over
Jacob Allenby’s shoulder. She came out of the shadows to warm herself by the
fire in the grate, her carefully painted face devoid of emotion. “It is evident
my medicinal is working to everyone’s satisfaction. A physician will only
The merchant rounded on her. “Forgive me for not trusting the word of an
angel of death!”
“Pon rep, Allenby, how dramatic you are,” she drawled, a soft white hand to
the heat. “Anyone would think by the creature’s moans she is on death’s door.
She isn’t. Syrup of Artemisia hasn’t killed anyone of my acquaintance—yet.”
She glanced at the bed in thought. “Of course my apothecary on the Strand
advises that the required dose be taken immediately a female suspects she is
with child, usually the first month her courses are overdue,” she mused
matter-of-factly. “That this dolt waited four months before confessing to the
fruits of her wickedness necessitated I increase the dosage to compensate for
her sly stupidity. After all, one must be absolutely certain the monster is
Jacob Allenby ground his teeth. “You’re a cold-blooded feline, my lady.”
“No. I am a pragmatist, true to the patrician blood that flows in my veins,”
she said conversationally, preening at her upswept hair adorned with pearls and
ribbons in the dim light cast on the oval looking glass above the mantle.
“Blood connection is prized above all else. Bastard offspring of indeterminate
lineage have no place amongst our kind.” She glanced at the middle-aged
merchant’s reflection whose frowning gaze remained fixed on the suffering girl
in the narrow bed. “Nor does mawkish sentimentality. Why you agreed to take her
off Sir Felix’s hands, I shall never fathom.”
“Sir Felix Despard is a spineless drunkard who should have kept a better eye
on his only child or she would not now be suffering. As for my actions, they’re
not for you to fathom.”
“Indeed? A Bristol Blue Glass manufacturer could do worse than take as
mistress a nobleman’s quick tawdry rut. She is the offspring of a baronet, when
all is said and done. Used. Discarded. But still very beautiful.”
“You’d know all about quick tawdry ruts, my lady.”
“You rival Mr. Garrick, to be sure. This unholy alliance we’ve formed is so
diverting. La! I do believe it’s the best night’s entertainment I’ve had
“—you went down on all fours at one of his lordship’s orgies?”
“Shall I show you my technique?” she teased, tickling the end of Jacob
Allenby’s snub nose with the pleated tip of her delicate gouache fan. She
pouted. “Tiresome little merchant moralists must dream of rutting titled
ladies. In your dreams is the only place you’re accorded the opportunity of entering
“I pity your offspring, my lady,” the merchant stated with undisguised
loathing and put space between them.
The lady’s hazel eyes went dead. She stared coolly over nurse’s shoulder at
the girl in the bed, who continued to hug her knees tightly and whimper in
pain. Just turned eighteen and with no prospect of future happiness. Good, her
ladyship gloated, and recalled how the squire’s beautiful daughter had
captivated society on her first public engagement.
It had been at the Salt Hunt Ball, and the girl’s extraordinary beauty
coupled with a refreshing natural modesty had caused a sensation amongst lords
and ladies alike. Unsullied and brimming with naïve optimism, charming to all
and sickeningly self-effacing, by the end of the evening she had received three
proposals of marriage and two declarations of undying love. Embraced by
Society, it was expected she would marry title and wealth.
That very night her ladyship had found them together in the
summerhouse down by the lake: the handsome nobleman in all his splendid,
wide-backed nakedness and this beautiful eager virgin with her tumble of
waist-length hair the color of midnight. They were blissfully riding to heaven
together, as if they were the only two in the Garden of Eden. It had enraged
her, but what had crushed her dreams and broken her heart was spying the
ancestral betrothal necklace of the Earls of Salt Hendon around the girl’s
The tragic consequences of the lovers’ unbridled lust could not have made
her happier. But when she least expected it, in those rare moments when she
permitted herself to smugly believe she had regained absolute control of the
future, the image of those two heavenly lovers joined as one haunted her waking
hours and turned her dreams to nightmares.
“You, sir, have no idea to what lengths this mother has gone to secure her
son’s future,” she stated dully and retreated into the shadows just as the girl
let out one last guttural moan that filled the quiet of the airless bedchamber.
“For God’s sake! How much more pathetic whining must I endure?” she growled,
and threw her fan at the wallpaper in a temper. She slumped down on the
horsehair sofa in a billow of blue velvet petticoats. “Allenby, have the wench
examine her. She must’ve expelled the brat by now.”
Nurse began to sob openly.
“I wish there’d been another way, my dear,” Jacob Allenby apologized with
real remorse. “You must understand that this is the best outcome for her, with
the least pain.”
He patted Nurse’s shoulder and then he, too, retreated into the shadows.
Understand? Least pain? Nurse wanted to scream. How did any
female recover from the loss of a child, be it from miscarriage, stillbirth, or
taken away at birth? And Sir Felix would have had every right to take it away.
Sent to an orphanage, it would never know its mother, never have a father. Best
if the child was taken now, barely formed and unknowing, because giving birth
to a bastard child was a sin, a stain for life. Her poor suffering darling Jane
didn’t deserve such ignominy.
“Please. Please, please, God. Please let my darling live,” Nurse
whispered and buried her face in the bedclothes, squeezing the sponge so
tightly that her fingernails dug into the flesh of her palm and drew blood.
“Please, no more pain. No more suffering.”
And as if in answer to her prays, an eerie stillness descended upon the
bedchamber as the girl ceased to move and finally lay quiet amongst the down
pillows in the middle of the narrow bed, the agony of the contractions abating
and giving way to relief, emptiness and loss.
Jane blinked at the guttering candle on the side table, tears staining her
cheeks knowing that it was not just sweat from her painful exertions that
bathed her exhausted body in cool wetness but blood, her blood, and the blood
of her unborn child; life extinguished. Quiet sobbing made her turn her head.
She touched Nurse’s lace cap, which instantly brought the woman’s tear stained
face up with a jerk. Her voice was barely a whisper.
“Silly. Don’t cry. There’s nothing to cry for now.”
London, England 1763
“Tom, do I have a dowry?” Jane asked her stepbrother, turning away from a window being hit hard with rain.
Tom Allenby glanced uneasily at his mother, who was pouring him out a second
dish of Bohea tea. “Dowry? Of course you have a dowry, Jane.”
Jane wasn’t so sure. When her father disowned her four years ago, he cut her
off without a penny.
“What is the amount?”
Tom blinked. His discomfort increased. “Amount?”
“Ten thousand pounds,” Lady Despard stated, a sulky glance at her
stepdaughter. Annoyance showed itself in the rough way she handled the slices
of seedy cake onto small blue and white Worcester porcelain plates. “Though why
Tom feels the need to provide you with a dowry when you’re marrying the richest
man in Wiltshire, I’ll never fathom. To a moneybags nobleman, ten thousand is
but a drop in the Bristol River.”
“Mamma,” Tom said in an under voice, close-shaven cheeks burning with
color. “I believe I can spare Jane ten thousand when I am to inherit ten times
that amount.” He regarded his stepsister with a hesitant smile. “It’s a fair
dowry, isn’t it, Jane?”
But Lady Despard was right. Ten thousand pounds wasn’t much of a dowry to
bring to a marriage with a nobleman who reportedly had an income of thirty
thousand pounds a year. Yet Jane hated to see her stepbrother miserable. Poor
Tom. The terms of Jacob Allenby’s will had disturbed his well-ordered world.
“Of course it’s a fair dowry, Tom. It is more than fair, it is very
generous,” she answered kindly before retreating once more to the window with
its view of London’s bleak winter skies and grey buildings. She wished for the
sun to show itself, if but briefly, to melt the hard January frost. Tom could
then take her riding about the Green Park. Somehow, she had to escape the
confines of this unfamiliar townhouse crawling with nameless soft-footed
But there was no escaping tomorrow. Tomorrow she was to be married. Tomorrow
she would be made a countess. Tomorrow she became respectable.
Tom followed her across the drawing room to the window seat that overlooked
busy Arlington Street and sat beside her. “Listen, Jane,” he said gruffly as he
picked at a thread of a tapestry cushion. “You needn’t rush into this marriage
just for my benefit. Attorneys for Uncle’s estate said there is still time…”
“It’s perfectly all right, Tom,” Jane assured him with a soft smile, thin
white hand covering his. “The sooner I’m married the sooner you inherit what is
rightfully yours and can get on with your life. You have factories to run and
workers who are relying on you to pay them their long overdue wages. It was
wrong of Mr. Allenby to leave his manufacturing concerns and his estate to you
without any monies for their upkeep. You shouldn’t be forced to foreclose, or
to sell your birthright. Those poor souls who make your blue glass need to be
paid so they can feed their families. Should they be made destitute all because
your uncle willed his capital to me? You are his only male relative and you
have an obligation to those who now work for you. We know why your uncle made
you assets rich but cash poor, why he left his capital to me, because he hoped
to force a union between us.”
“Why not? Why not marry me, Jane?”
“Because despite being my brother in law, you’ve been my little
brother since I can remember and that will never change,” Jane explained
kindly. “I love you as a sister loves a brother, and that is why I cannot marry
“But what of Uncle’s will?” Tom asked lamely, not forcing the argument
because he knew she was right.
“We have been over this with Mr. Allenby’s attorneys,” Jane answered
patiently. “The will does not specifically mention that I must marry you, Tom,
and so we are not obligated to do so. That was an oversight on your uncle’s
part. The attorneys say that I may marry any man and the one hundred
thousand pounds will then be released in your favor.”
“Any man?” Tom gave a huff of embarrassed anger. “But you are not marrying
just any man, Jane. You are marrying the Earl of Salt Hendon! I cannot
allow you to make such a sacrifice. It is not right. It is not right that in
marrying him you are left destitute. Surely, something can be worked out. We
just need time.”
“Time? It has now been three months since Mr. Allenby died and you
cannot keep putting off your creditors. How much do you owe, Tom? How long do
you think you can go on before you must sell assets to meet your debts?” Jane
forced herself to smile brightly. “Besides, is it such a sacrifice to be
elevated from squire’s daughter to wife of the Earl of Salt Hendon? I shall be
“Wife of a nobleman who is marrying you because he gave his word to your
dying father and feels honor-bound to do so,” Tom grumbled. “Not because he
wants or loves you… Oh, Jane! Forgive me,” he apologized just as quickly,
realizing his offence. “You know I didn’t mean…”
“Don’t apologize for the truth, Tom. Yes, I am marrying a man who does not
care two figs for me, but in doing so my conscience is clear.”
“Well, if you won’t marry me, then marriage to a titled Lothario is better
than you remaining unmarried,” her stepbrother said in an abrupt about face
that widened Jane’s blue eyes. “Only a husband’s protection will fend off
lecherous dogs. Living unmarried in a cottage on the estate was all well and
good while Uncle Jacob was alive to protect you. But even he was powerless the
one and only time you ventured beyond the park. You became fair game for every depraved
scoundrel riding the Salt Hunt.” Tom squeezed her hand. “Uncle showed more
restraint than I. I’d have shot those lascivious swine as let them take you for
That humiliating incident had occurred two years ago but the memory remained
painfully raw for Jane. What Tom did not know was that the lascivious swine of
which he spoke were in truth the Earl of Salt Hendon and his friends. On the
edge of the copse, with her basket of field mushrooms over her arm and dangling
her bonnet by its silk ribbons, she had not immediately recognized the Earl
astride his favorite hunter with a full beard upon his face and his light
chestnut hair tumbled about his shoulders.
He had brought his mount right up to her and stared down into her upturned
face with something akin to mute stupefaction. Then, much to the delight of his
boon companions, he exacted a landlord’s privilege for her trespass by
dismounting, pulling her into a tight embrace and roughly kissing her full on
the mouth. She had tried in vain to push him off but his arm about her waist
was vice-like and he continued to crush her mouth under his, violating her with
his tongue; he tasting of spirits and pepper. When he finally came up for air,
his brown eyes searched her shocked face as if expecting some sort of
revelation. It was only when she slapped his face hard that the spell was
broken and he was brought to a sense of his surroundings. He released her with
one vicious whispered word in her ear and a low mocking bow.
Even now, two years on, remembering how pitilessly he had whispered that
hateful word, Jane shuddered and swallowed. He could very well have stabbed her
in the heart; such was the hurt that came with that one word: harlot.
She smiled resignedly at her stepbrother, all of one and twenty years of age
and with so much responsibility resting on his thin young shoulders.
“But what else were they to think, Tom? I, an unmarried girl cast out of her
father’s house, living under the protection of an old widower, they could not
take me for anything less than a harlot.”
“No! No, you’re not! Never
say so!” he commanded, a glance across the room at his mother, who was pouring
out more tea in her dish. “You made one tiny error of judgment, that’s all,” he
continued. “For that you must suffer the consequences for the rest of your
life? I say, a thousand times, no.”
“Dearest Tom. You’ve always been my stalwart defender, though I don’t
deserve such devotion,” she said in a rallying tone. “You cannot dismiss what I
did as a tiny error of judgment. After all, that error caused my father
to disown me and brand me a whore.” When Tom made an impatient gesture and
looked away, she smiled reassuringly and touched his flushed cheek. “I cannot—I
do not—hide from that. If your uncle had not taken me in, I would have
ended up in a Bristol poorhouse, or worse, dead in a ditch. I will always be
grateful to Mr. Allenby for giving me shelter.”
“I’d have looked after you, Jane. Always.”
“Yes, Tom. Of course.”
But they both knew the unspoken truth of that lie. Jane’s father, Sir Felix
Despard, would never have permitted Tom to interfere in a father’s justifiable
punishment of a disobedient and disgraced daughter. The past four years had
given Jane time to reflect on the folly of her impetuousness in allowing her
heart to rule her head. The loss of her virtue and its tragic consequences had
bestowed upon her father the right to cast her out of the family home, alone,
friendless, and destitute. She had disgraced not only her good name but also
her family’s honor. Jane did not blame her father for her disgrace, but she
would never forgive him for what he had ordered done to her.
Regardless of what her father, Jacob Allenby and others thought of her, she
still believed in upholding the moral principles of fairness, honesty and
taking responsibility for her actions. The predicament she had found herself in
had not been of her father’s making, it had been hers and hers alone. But Tom
would never understand. Her father and his Uncle Jacob had spared her stepbrother
the whole sordid story, for which she was grateful. Tom was an earnest young
man who saw the good in everyone. Jane hoped he always would.
“You’re the best of brothers, Tom,” she said sincerely and swiftly kissed
But Tom did not feel he had earned such praise. He should have protected
Sir Felix Despard of Despard Park, Wiltshire, had wanted an earl for a
son-in-law at the very least, a duke if he could get it. But he had gone about
it all the wrong way, ignoring his daughter’s sheltered upbringing and
ignorance of the ways of Polite Society and pushed his only child out onto the
marriage mart defenseless and left to her own devices. Tom never forgave his
weak-minded and overly ambitious stepfather and he blamed him for the inevitable
and very calculated seduction of his stepsister.
Tom grabbed Jane’s hand.
“If you had accepted any man but Lord
Salt!” he said fiercely. “He always has this look on his face—hard to
describe—as if someone has dared break wind under his noble nose. The way his
nostrils quiver, I just want to burst out laughing. You may giggle, Jane, but
God help me to keep a straight face if the rest of the Sinclair family have the
same noble nostrils. His sister the Lady Caroline Sinclair is said to be worth
in excess of forty thousand pounds and receives at least three marriage
proposals a week. The Earl keeps her locked up in the country for fear of her
eloping to Gretna with the first fortune hunter who makes up to her, because
she is so naïve as to believe these fools have fallen in love with her and not
“Oh dear, Tom, you make me quite
faint with anticipation at meeting my future sister-in-law,” Jane said with an
indulgent smile. “But how do you know this about Caroline Sinclair?”
Tom pulled at the points of his silk waistcoat with a smile of smug
satisfaction. “I have my sources, Jane. High placed sources at that.”
“La, Tom, will you stop spreading
idle gossip like an old maiden aunt!” Lady Despard lectured disapprovingly,
though she had finally opened her ears hearing mention of the noble Sinclair
family. She stood before the ornate looking glass above the fireplace. A fading
beauty on the other side of forty, she preened herself in the reflection,
gently patting into place her blonde powdered and pomaded upswept coiffure,
adjusting one of the tiny bows scattered strategically amongst this greased
confection. “Lady Caroline Sinclair is Wiltshire’s premier beauty and not yet
eighteen so I’m not surprised Lord Salt keeps her locked up. Look what happened
to you the one and only time you was let off the leash, Jane!”
“What high placed sources, Tom?” Jane asked, ignoring her stepmother and
hoping Tom would do the same.
“Why do you never defend yourself against her petty taunts?” Tom whispered
“I cannot defend the indefensible,” Jane answered simply. When Tom continued
to stare angrily at his mother, she touched the upturned close-fitting cuff of
his velvet frockcoat. “Please, Tom. What sources?”
“Do you remember Mr. Arthur Ellis who came to Despard Park just before your
come out? It was a long time ago now but he was a very particular friend of
mine up at Oxford. Thin, freckle-faced chap with big ears. No? You must
remember Art! He spent the entire sennight gazing at you. Well, Art had the
good fortune to obtain the post of secretary to Lord Salt. Who’d have thought
it back then! Although, I wouldn’t call it good fortune to be appointed
scribbler to a thin nosed iceberg. But in Art’s case, beggars can’t be
choosers, as they say. His family are all terribly clever but odiously poor.”
“But surely Mr. Ellis didn’t abuse his post as secretary and confide in you
about Lady Caroline?”
“Of course not,” Tom answered indignantly, feeling acute embarrassment for
breaching his friend’s confidence. “I pressed Art to tell me about Lady
Caroline because of Uncle’s startling bequest to her. Mamma and I do not
understand in the least why a young lady my uncle never met in his entire life,
who was the daughter of his estranged neighbour—”
“A spoiled beauty worth in excess of forty thousand pounds,” reiterated Lady
“—was bequeathed ten thousand pounds of Uncle’s money. It’s a mighty odd
circumstance and one Uncle’s lawyers cannot fathom either. Can you blame me for
being curious, Jane?”
Jane could not. She did not pretend to understand the hatred between
neighbors, merchant and noble, or what had caused the age-old feud between the
Earls of Salt Hendon and the Allenbys. As for the merchant’s startling bequest
to the Lady Caroline, it created more questions in Jane’s mind than she cared
to speculate on and was glad that the butler chose that moment to interrupt.
“What is it, Springer?” she asked
politely, hearing the door open and turning to look at the butler over her bare
“Lord Salt and Mr. Ellis, ma’am.”
Stepbrother and sister exchanged a wide-eyed stare, as if caught out by the
very object of their gossiping.
“What? He is here now?” Lady Despard blurted out rudely and
before the butler could confirm that indeed the Earl of Salt Hendon and his
freckle-faced secretary waited downstairs, added with a trill of breathless
anticipation, “What a high treat for us all! What a pity Sir Felix isn’t here
to receive his lordship.” She looked at Jane; all resentment momentarily suspended
in the excitement of the moment, and exclaimed, “Brother Jacob was used to say
he’d take a shotgun to that hellborn rake if he came within a mile of an
Allenby female. Shall I order up more tea?”
Jane informed the butler in a perfectly controlled voice that he was to show
his lordship and Mr. Ellis up at once, and to bring a fresh pot of tea and
clean dishes. But no sooner had the door closed on the servant’s back than she
sank back on the window seat, as if her knees were unable to support her waif-like
frame. She was deaf to her stepmother’s entreaties that she go at once to the
looking glass and there tidy her hair and straighten the square neckline of her
bodice, and blind to her stepbrother’s frown of concern, thinking that if she’d
brought her needlework to the drawing room she could at least pretend
occupation and never need look the nobleman in the eye.
Coming face to face with the Earl of Salt Hendon, Jane lost the facility of
Magnus Vernon Templestowe Sinclair, ninth Baron Trevelyan, eighth Viscount
Lacey and fifth Earl of Salt Hendon, strode into the drawing room on the
butler’s announcement and immediately filled the space with his presence. The
papered walls and ornate plastered ceiling shrunk inwards, or so it seemed to
Jane who had grown accustomed to the Allenbys, who were all short and
narrow-shouldered. The Earl was neither. He was dressed in what Jane presumed
to be the height of London elegance: A Venetian blue frockcoat with elaborate
Chinoiserie embroidery on tight cuffs and short skirts; an oyster silk
waistcoat that cut away to a pair of thigh-tight black silk breeches rolled
over the knees and secured with diamond knee buckles; white clocked stockings
encased muscular calves and enormous diamond encrusted buckles in the tongues
of a pair of low heeled black leather shoes. Lace at wrists and throat
completed this magnificent toilette. Yet, neither ruffled lace or expertly cut
cloth could hide the well-exercised muscle in the strong legs or the depth of
chest and width of shoulder. But he did not dominate by size alone. There was
purpose in his stride, and when he took a quick commanding glance about the
room the intensity in his brown eyes demanded that those who fell under his
gaze pay attention or suffer the consequences of his displeasure.
Lady Despard, standing near the fireplace, brought him up short. She dropped
into a low curtsey, giving his lordship a spectacular view of her deep
cleavage. When the Earl tore his gaze from her over-ripe bosom, it was to turn
and regard Jane with a disdainful glare. A look, hard to read, passed across
the nobleman’s square face and then it was if he suddenly realized he was being
less than polite. He bowed slightly as Lady Despard rose up and with her son
crossed the carpet to greet him.
Formal introductions gave Jane time to find her composure. She stood frozen,
awed by the sheer physicality of the man, unable to bend her stiff knees into
the desired respectful curtsey. She appeared calm enough but inwardly she felt
sick to her stomach and relieved at the same time. She was glad that he barely
looked at her. When he did, it was with tacit disapproval and as if to make
certain she was paying attention. This expression stayed with him when he spoke
a few words with Tom. Jane saw it in the clench of his strong jaw and the way
in which his lips pressed together in a thin line, giving his classical
features a hard, uncompromising edge. Yet, no amount of cold disdain could
diminish the fact he was a ruggedly handsome man.
Tom managed only a few words with the Earl before his mother interrupted.
She looked up expectantly at the nobleman from under her darkened lashes and
endeavored to engage his interest with a run of small talk; her inanities about
the inclement weather, particularly the unusual severity of the frosts for the
start to the new year, receiving polite but monosyllabic replies. Jane frowned
and was embarrassed by her stepmother’s blatant flirting with this jaded
nobleman who was obviously accustomed and thoroughly bored by the wiles of
women who constantly threw themselves at him.
When he turned his powdered head and stared straight at her, as if he was
well aware she was taking full measure of his person, Jane was so startled to
be caught out that she felt the heat rush up into her white throat. The fire
burned more brightly in her cheeks when he had the bad manners to look her
over, starting at her thick black braids caught up in a silver net at her
shoulders, lingering on her breasts covered by a plain muslin bodice before
traveling down the length of her petticoats to her matching silk slippers. When
he frowned, as if she did not meet his expectations, Jane dared to put up her
chin and stare back at him before turning to the window in dismissal.
Her gaze remained steadfastly to the driving rain, despite being aware that
her stepmother was now droning on at the freckle-faced secretary, Mr. Ellis,
whom Jane had failed to notice standing a few steps behind his noble employer,
and who was now doing his best to be polite and interested in Lady Despard’s
London sightseeing forays. Then, close at her back, she heard Tom’s eager
response to the Earl’s invitation to take part in a game of Royal Tennis being
held at his lordship’s private court at his Grosvenor Square mansion the day
after next. Tom said he would be honored to be included in his lordship’s
His lordship’s tournament indeed, thought Jane, when only ten minutes
earlier Tom had been poking fun of his lordship’s noble nostrils!
The Earl drawled something banal about hoping this Arlington Street address,
usually occupied by his lordship when Parliamentary sittings continued on
through the night, was proving satisfactory accommodation for Tom and his
mother. Tom thanked his lordship for the use of his townhouse, saying that as
soon as it could be arranged he and his mother would let a suitable residence
of their own for a month or two to enjoy what London had to offer before
returning to Bristol. The Earl told him to take his time. There was no
immediate rush for them to vacate. And then the room fell silent.
The silence went on for so long that curiosity made Jane turn away from the
window. Had there been a chair close by she would have sat down upon it from
shock. Tom had deserted her, settling with his mother and the secretary, his
friend from Oxford days, in the far corner of the drawing room to take tea and
talk over old times. They had left Jane to face Lord Salt alone.
His lordship stared over her head and out the window.
“Miss Despard, it is customary to permit me to bow over your hand,” he
drawled with just that touch of insolence required to bring immediate
But Jane was too much affected by his closeness and his earlier unfavorable
appraisal to be bothered with the niceties of a formal introduction and her
hands remained firmly clasped in front of her. She told herself she was being
obstinately bad mannered, but for the first time in years she allowed emotion
to rule her tongue and spoke her thoughts.
“I am fully sensible to the honor you do me, my lord,” she answered in a
clear voice, gaze riveted to the engraved silver buttons of his waistcoat. “But
I am not ignorant of the fact it was forced upon you in a most ungentlemanly
manner. It is a circumstance I bitterly regret and wish I could alter.”
There was the smallest of pauses before Salt said in his insolent way,
“You’ve had ample opportunity to release me from such a damnable circumstance.
You merely had to refuse the honor. Still, there are some eighteen hours before
This blunt speech did tilt Jane’s chin to his face, blue eyes wide with
astonishment. He was offering her the opportunity to give him an eleventh hour
reprieve; indeed his very manner suggested he expected her to do so there and
then. That she wanted to release him from his forced obligation with all her
heart was momentarily forgotten with the wound to her feminine pride. That he
did not even have the good manners to disguise his abhorrence for a match that
was of her father’s making, not hers, angered her into giving an impudent
“You cannot imagine, my lord, that I leapt at your backhanded offer of
marriage,” she stated with as much coldness in her voice as she could muster.
“Doubtless there are dozens of females eager to take their place at your side
as Countess of Salt Hendon. I wholeheartedly wish you’d offered for one of these
ladies, then this horrid situation would never have presented itself.”
“I am not in the habit of making life-altering decisions merely to oblige
others,” he replied coldly, gaze remaining fixed to the wet windowpane. “Yet…
knowing you for a fickle female with no heart and even less brain, who has the
bare-faced cheek to accept a backhanded offer of marriage, I should
indeed have married the next fresh-faced virgin who presented herself for mounting.”
Jane staggered back a pace, mind reeling and hand out to the heavy brocade
drapes for support at such crude speech. “How… How dare you speak to me
in such a repulsive manner!” she whispered indignantly, a fervent glance at her
tea-drinking relatives at the far end of the room. “I am not one of your whores
who you can—”
This brought his hard gaze down to her beautiful face. “Come now, Miss
Despard,” he said with bored indifference. “Your show of offended sensibilities
insults my intelligence. It is a bit late in the day to exhibit virginal
outrage.” He watched her throat constrict and when she turned her fine nose to
the window, giving him a view of her lovely profile, he smiled crookedly. How
well she played the part of indignant female! As if she was the injured party.
“By the way, I don’t waste conversation on whores.”
“If you hope to unsettle me with your-your—by that then you are
vastly mistaken in my—in my—” She stopped herself and bit her full lower lip,
for how could she say the word character when she had none?
He seemed to read her mind for he said so softly that she could only just
hear him, “You were wise not to say it. You lost what little character you
possessed when you thumbed your nose at constancy and decency to take up with a
conscienceless old merchant. But as you are your father’s daughter I am
inclined to believe Sir Felix never taught you the meaning of such words. Thus
I will own that the fault lies with me for being taken in by your beautiful
Jane bravely met his gaze, and seeing the loathing in his eyes, a painful
knot formed in her chest, making it difficult for her to breath. She did not
understand what she had done to deserve such hatred. He spoke of her not being
constant or decent and yet if there was one thing she had been in those days,
weeks, and months after the night in the summerhouse, it was constant. Nor did
she understand why he had such an intense dislike for Jacob Allenby, the only
person to offer her sanctuary. She knew there was no point defending her own character
with this male colossus of unreasonableness, but there was no reason for him to
besmirch her protector. She forced herself to remain outwardly calm, saying
“Your vast experience of the type may give you some latitude to speak to me
as you would any whore of your acquaintance,” she said in a steady voice, “but
it does not give you leave to besmirch Mr. Allenby’s unblemished character. I
have never heard an unkind word spoken about him. And despite the difficult
circumstances in which I lived under his roof, I never had cause to—”
Salt goggled at her, appalled. “I won’t stand here and listen to you
“—slap his face!”
There was a moment’s heavy silence and then the Earl let out such a bark of
genuine laughter that he startled those taking tea to momentary silence. “My
dear Miss Despard, pride still smarting?”
“I have no idea to what you are referring, my lord.”
“Don’t you?” he asked curiously, the anger gone from his deep voice. “I’d
wager my best Hunter you were sorely disappointed when your merchant protector
intervened that day on the Hunt. Truth be told, you had no need to lash out as
you did. I wasn’t about to offer you a second helping of my vast experience.”
“What a dull, hollow existence you must lead to hold to the memory of
such a trifling incident. I assure you I had not recalled it until now.”
His smile was sardonic. “It was to your dull, hollow existence I was
referring, Madam. Your hand hasn’t been the only one to have slapped this noble
“What a comfort to know there are females who have spurned Wiltshire’s
“No. I never said that. Every other slap invited pursuit; yours I’d no
desire to satisfy. Easy game doesn’t interest me. No, don’t turn your face
away,” he commanded in a low voice, pinching her small chin between thumb and
forefinger and forcing her to look up at him. “Do we go before parson tomorrow
To her shame and embarrassment, Jane felt hot tears sting her eyelids and
she swallowed hard, unable to give him an immediate response. He had exposed
the raw nerve of her life under Jacob Allenby’s protection by stating the
painfully obvious. The old Bristol merchant had kept her fed and clothed and in
return whenever he visited the little thatched cottage that nestled in a grove
between the Sinclair lands and the Allenby estate she was at his beck and call.
If it hadn’t been for Tom’s supervised quarterly visits, her life would’ve been
unbearable. And now this arrogant nobleman dared to sneer at her and expect
release from an obligation he had given in good faith.
It humiliated her to think that on his deathbed her estranged father had
forced Lord Salt to honor a promise made to her years earlier. Her father had
fulfilled his life’s ambition in bringing about her marriage to this arrogant
nobleman by means of blackmail, with no thought to her feelings in the matter
or the mortification she would endure as wife of a reluctant husband. It
humiliated her further that Jacob Allenby had written up a despicable will
leaving her no choice but to accept the Earl’s offer of marriage or watch her
stepbrother face financial ruin. And as much as she wanted to release Lord Salt
from his forced obligation, as much as she wanted to tell him why she must
accept his backhanded offer of marriage, she could not; it was with an aching
heart and a halting voice that she gave the Earl the answer she knew he did not
in the least want to hear.
“There are factors—circumstances—Yes, my lord, we will go before parson
“You surprise me,” he said with an ugly pull to his mouth. “But what female
could resist the lure of a coronet? Be good enough to hold out your left hand.”
Listlessly, Jane did as she was told and was rewarded by having an old gold
filigreed band set with sapphires and diamonds slipped over her ring finger.
She did not look at it nor was she aware the band was too large for her slender
finger until the Earl mentioned he would have the ring resized once they were
married. She thought her mortification complete until she was ordered to sit on
a ribbon-back chair placed in the center of the Turkey rug by the fire. It was
only then that she realized she was alone in the drawing room with the Earl and
his unobtrusive secretary.
Tom and his mother had abandoned her
“You will sit, Miss Despard.”
It was a command Jane ignored.
“Very well. Let that be your last act of defiance,” Salt replied coldly,
taking a turn about the room, circling her as a lion did its prey.
Tomorrow, once you and I have been up before parson, spiritually and legally
we become one. Make no mistake, Miss Despard, I am that one. As that one, you,
as my wife, will act in accordance with what is in my best interests. Never
forget: wherever you go, whomever you see, however you conduct yourself, it is
me that society sees, not you.
You will not do or say anything that I do not want you to do or say. You
will not go anywhere that I do not want you to go. You will do precisely as you
are bid. Do I make myself perfectly understandable?”
Jane understood. He was intent on making her realize how thoroughly
undeserving she was of the social position to which he was reluctantly
elevating her. And yet, what she was thinking was how much he had altered since
they had danced at the Salt Hunt Ball four years ago. It had been her
eighteenth birthday that day and her first proper social engagement, her coming
out as a young lady.
During the hunting season and later the Salt Hunt Ball, indeed during the
whole of that wonderful autumn month preceding her eighteenth birthday, he had
been an entirely different being from the one standing before her now. She
remembered that behind those thin uncompromising lips there were beautiful
white teeth, and that he possessed an infectious, good-humored laugh that made
his brown eyes crinkle at the corners. And then there was the summerhouse…
Instantly, she mentally pulled herself up.
It didn’t do to let her thoughts wander to the summerhouse by the lake and
what had occurred there. The summerhouse made her acutely aware of the
consequences of her impulsive actions and that only brought forth darker, more
unspeakable memories, memories she tried desperately to suppress. Nurse had
told her not to dwell, she must go forward, not look back. That was the last
piece of advice Nurse had given her before her death. She missed her nurse terribly.
She wished with all her heart she was with her today. She needed her strength
and her no-nonsense approach to life. Go forward, don’t look back, child!
Looking forward meant accepting the Earl of Salt Hendon as he was now, not as
he had been during that fateful autumn.
“I will take your silence as assent and not stubborn disobedience,” he
stated, circling her once more. “You are not unintelligent and thus you will
see that if you play your part in public, if you adhere to the strict
upbringing you had as the daughter of a county squire, society will, given
time, come to accept you not only as my wife but as the new Countess of Salt
Hendon. As Lady Salt, you will soon be invited everywhere. As for Polite
Society’s private opinion of you, that is of supreme indifference to me.” He
signaled impatiently for his secretary to step forward. “But how you conduct
yourself as my wife is very important to me and to my family. To this end, I
have had a document drawn up which sets out the rules that will govern how you
will live as Lady Salt. Ellis will read it aloud and you, Miss Despard, will
sign it as evidence of your understanding of how your life will be conducted
from this day forward.”
“This document, my lord,” asked Jane with studious enquiry, but unable to
hide a sardonic dimple in her left cheek, “does it state terms by which you
will conduct yourself as my husband?”
The choking sound came from Mr. Arthur Ellis.
Salt’s lip curled. “Don’t take me for a fool, Miss Despard. You will listen
to Ellis and when he’s done put your signature—”
“Oh, this is all very unnecessary!” Jane complained with an impatient sigh,
annoyed beyond endurance by such insufferable arrogance. She sat down upon the
chair. “You said yourself, my lord, that once we are married we become one and
that you are that one. Then what is the purpose of my signature to a document
that you could very well sign in my stead? You have made it perfectly clear
that I cannot do or say anything without your permission. Is there not some
wording in the marriage vows about obeying? That should suffice, surely?
Besides, if you’ve no thought for me, then spare one for your secretary, who,
anyone with eyes can see, is as uncomfortable with this wretched business as I
For the second time that morning, Salt goggled at her. Not only that but he
could not speak.
Mr. Ellis, despite Jane’s accurate observation and wishes, thought it best
to begin reading aloud before his lordship burst a blood vessel. He had seen
his employer angry, he had seen him furious, but never had he seen him so angry
that he was lost for words. In the three years he had been employed in the
Earl’s household no one, not servant, retainer, friend or family member, had
ever spoken so frankly to his lordship.
Looking at Jane over the parchment that shook in his trembling hands, it was
as if it was only yesterday that he had first gazed upon his friend’s beautiful
stepsister and fallen under the spell of her loveliness on the spot. And so it
was with the hint of a smile that Arthur began to read, though the smile soon
disappeared when his concentration returned to the written word. He had not
given much thought to the Earl’s strictures at the time of their dictation,
except that they seemed just and necessary for the self-preservation of a great
and wealthy nobleman about to marry a young woman who had lived unmarried with
an old Bristol Blue Glass manufacturer. Yet, taking another glance over the
sheaf of papers at the girl who sat ram-rod straight, hands clasped lightly in
her lap, he felt acute discomfort to be reading out what was nothing less than
a sentence of life imprisonment; albeit in a prison that was a magnificent
sprawling Jacobean mansion in the heart of Wiltshire, but a prison nonetheless.
“…As to the dowry Miss Jane Katherine Despard brings to the marriage, a
dowry bequeathed to her by Jacob Allenby of Allenby Park, Wiltshire and
Bristol, Lord Salt refuses to accept a guinea of the ten thousand pounds,”
Arthur Ellis continued after a short pause to clear his throat of nervousness. “Further,
Lord Salt instructs Miss Despard to bring to the marriage only those
possessions that were hers at the time she was denied the protection of the
house of her father, Sir Felix Despard, Squire of Despard Park, Wiltshire.
Thus, everything that was gifted to her by Jacob Allenby: clothes, jewelry,
money, writing instruments, china, linen, furniture, servants, horses,
equipage, in fact anything at all that was purchased with Jacob Allenby’s coin,
will not form any part of her dower. The said articles are to be discarded and
disposed of before marriage.
“Upon marriage, Lord Salt forbids Lady Salt to live in London, to visit Bath
or its environs or to visit Bristol and its environs. Lord Salt directs Lady
Salt to live year-round at his seat in Wiltshire: Salt Hall. Lady Salt will be
confined to Salt Hall and may take exercise only in the immediate parkland
surrounding the Hall’s main buildings. Lady Salt is not to venture beyond the
lake or the gardens without the express written permission of her husband. Lady
Salt is not to take it upon herself to visit any of Lord Salt’s tenants, the
vicar and his good wife, or visit the local village of Salt Hendon.
“Lady Salt has her husband’s permission to do with her apartments at the
Hall as she so pleases. Her apartments will consist of bedchamber and six
adjoining rooms plus a room and closet for her personal maid, but the remainder
of the one hundred and sixty-seven rooms are to be left as she finds them; so
too the grounds; so too the summerhouse by the lake, a place within the
parkland expressly forbidden her ladyship. Once a year, when his lordship opens
his house for the Salt Hunt, Lady Salt will confine herself to her apartments
and the small rose garden and courtyard thereto attached. From time to time,
Lady Salt may have visitors to Salt Hall, but Lord Salt must approve them in
writing before their intended stay. None by the name of Allenby may trespass on
Lord Salt’s lands. Furthermore and finally—”
“No!” Jane interrupted, up off the chair. “I will endure much, my lord, but
that I will not tolerate! You may strip me of every material possession given
to me by Mr. Allenby, though that is no great loss, but you cannot strip me of
my memories. You can lock me away in your hideous house and dictate my
movements, but as I am quite used to my own company, that will be no great
deprivation. But you will not take from me the only family I have.” She sniffed
back tears; it was a prosaic action, yet it caused the secretary to drop his
gaze from her lovely face. “Tom is my brother,” she continued in a calmer
voice, turning her head to look at the Earl who had not moved from his position
by the window. “You may argue that he is my brother in law only, but he
is the only brother, the only close relative, who has cared anything for me
since the death of my mother when I was not quite a year old. And he was the
only relative to continue to own me after I left my father’s house. I love him
dearly. I will not allow you to banish him. He may visit me whenever he chooses
“—or what, Miss Despard?” Salt drawled to the rain-spattered window. “You
will stamp your pretty foot and refuse to go through with the wedding? Please,
say the word…”
Jane stared at the broad back for a good ten seconds and then sat down
again, in defeat. She shut her eyes hard to stop the tears and dropped her
head, hands clasped tightly in her lap.
The secretary felt his stomach turn over.
Finally, the Earl turned his wide back on the clearing sky and propped
himself on the sill.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Despard,” he said quietly. “At the time the
document was drawn up I was unaware that Mr. Thomas Wilson had been required to
take the name of Allenby under the terms of his uncle’s will. Ellis will
correct the document to read ‘no Allenby but Mr. Thomas Wilson Allenby, her
ladyship’s brother etc and so forth’.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Jane replied, unconsciously twisting the unfamiliar
oversized betrothal ring and audibly sighing with relief.
The Earl inclined his powdered head and turned again to the window, but not
before his secretary saw the crooked smile that twisted his mouth. “Ellis? Have
you lost the facility of speech? Pray continue. You’re forgetting I have a
prior engagement that requires I be elsewhere within the half hour.”
“Yes, my lord, of course,” the secretary mumbled and coughed, for he had
been glancing at the next and final paragraph to be read aloud and wished
himself anywhere but in this drawing room standing before this lovely young
woman. Jane’s impassioned interruption had broken his flow of words and as such
would only highlight this next stipulation all the more. “Furthermore, when his
lordship is in residence at Salt Hall, Lady Salt will not seek to question,
interfere or acknowledge her husband’s domestic arrangements—”
“You mean to bring your lovers to Salt Hall.”
The secretary paused, but as the sentence was a statement and not a question
he continued, though he couldn’t stop the flush to his freckled cheeks.
“—This in no way negates Lady Salt from her responsibilities as a dutiful
and obedient wife. Should his lordship desire to avail himself of his—of his
conjugal rights, his wife will oblige with mute servility. This document dated
this day and so forth etc, etc.”
Mr. Ellis noisily reshuffled the pages to hide his embarrassment, not a
glance at either party, and quickly crossed to the small walnut escritoire in
the far corner of the room where it had been placed by the undraped window to
catch the muted rays of sunlight of a cold January day. He picked up the inkpot
but had not flicked open the silver lid when he was directly addressed by Jane.
Such was his surprise that he jumped and would have spilled ink down the front
of his fine linen waistcoat with its polished horn buttons but for the fact his
thumb remained poised over the lip of the closed lid.
“Mr. Ellis?” Jane enquired with a frown of puzzlement as she slowly rose to
her feet but did not move away from the chair. “This document makes no mention
of any children of the marriage.”
“Children?” the secretary repeated thinly, voice breaking on the word, a
swift telling glance at his employer who remained inert. Slowly, he replaced
the inkpot on the desk and picked up the quill. “My lady, I-I—Ma’am—um—Miss
Despard, there is—there is no-no such paragraph dealing with such an-an
eventuality. No provision has been made for children of the marriage.”
Jane’s frown deepened, more so because of the note of nervous apology in the
young man’s voice. “Mr. Ellis, that document is most frank and therefore so
must I be when I tell you that it stands to reason that if a husband exercises
“Ellis, be so good as to wait a moment in the passage,” Salt ordered, a
rough jerk of his head at the door. He watched his secretary hastily rearrange
the sheets of parchment and quill and ink before scurrying from the room with a
short bow. “Poor Arthur. You have disconcerted him, Miss Despard.”
Jane was frowning at the closed door but she turned at this and regarded the
Earl openly. “Yes, I must have. I am sorry for he is a nice young man. But I
don’t see why he should be so coy when one must assume that if a husband and
wife share a bed—”
“Miss Despard, I am unable to father a child.”
This statement was greeted with such an expression of horrified disbelief
that the Earl let out a deep laugh of genuine good humor, finally allowing Jane
to see his lovely white smile.
“My dear Miss Despard! Priceless! The look on your lovely face is—priceless.
Dear me! I must own I’m glad you’re not a virgin. Only a woman familiar with
the carnal delights of the bedchamber could so misinterpret such a statement.
Accept my apologies for disconcerting you.” He made her a bow, smile vanishing
as quickly as it had appeared. “I am still very much a man, Miss Despard. What
I should have said, to make myself perfectly plain, is while I am more than
capable of the act, the physicians tell me I am unable to beget a woman with
“How is that possible?”
Salt glanced up from drawing on his fine kid gloves and saw it was an
earnest enquiry and not one designed to unsettle him. He had to grudgingly
admit he preferred her direct approach to the timid dissimulation used by most
“Years ago I fell off a horse in full flight over a fence. I landed very
hard and awkwardly on a particularly cherished part of my anatomy. It was
excruciating. My—er—ballocks swelled to the size of apples, turned black
and went hard. To say I was extremely worried for my manhood would be a gross
understatement. I was advised by the learned physicians who attended on me that
although the swelling and bruising would subside I had in all likelihood
suffered some internal injury that would leave me barren. Since my recovery, I
have had the hollow satisfaction of rutting with impunity. Not one of a string
of mistresses has presented me with a bastard which would seem to confirm the
physicians’ learned opinion.”
“Years ago? How many years ago?”
“Ten years ago?” Jane blanched. She reached out for the ladder back
of the chair to steady herself. If he believed himself infertile then… He did
not know he had impregnated her that night in the summerhouse… Her note had
never reached him… He had not chosen to ignore her… He remained ignorant after
all these years… But surely… So many questions and possibilities swirled about
her mind that she felt herself sway and thought it prudent to sink back onto
the chair. She looked up at him. “My lord, what you say is not possible.”
Embarrassed by her acute disappointment to this news and annoyed that he
should feel a stab of inadequacy at not being able to provide this heartless
jezebel with a brood of brats, he snapped back impatiently, “Miss Despard, it
is not only very possible, it is fact. Now you will excuse me. My carriage will
collect you tomorrow at eleven and convey you to my house in Grosvenor Square
where a private ceremony will be conducted without pomp and circumstance. And,
God willing,” he muttered to himself as he crossed the Turkey rug, “with very
few persons in attendance to witness my humiliation.”
A blank-faced footman opened the door for the Earl.
The sheaf of parchment on the little escritoire awaiting Jane’s signature
fluttered but was ignored.
Jane forced herself up off the chair and scurried after him, determined to
say something but her thoughts were such a jumble of mixed emotions that she
had no idea where to begin or what to tell him. She certainly couldn’t bring
herself to inform him there and then that the physicians who had advised him he
was barren had got it wrong. He would not believe her without proof. Jacob
Allenby’s constant sermons about the wanton wicked ways of the nobility had her
convinced that the Earl was not the sort of nobleman to concern himself with
the fruits of his couplings and she had been given no reason to disbelieve him.
But here was the Earl telling her that he was infertile and had believed
himself to be so for the past ten years! Why then had Jacob Allenby lied to
her? How then was she to disabuse the Earl of his conviction? And when?
Jane did not know what to say, or how to tell the Earl that he was as
fertile as the next man, without breaking down into a flood of tears for the
loss she had suffered. So she kept her mouth shut. When the right time presented
itself she would confess all to him, but that time was not now.
At the door, the Earl hesitated, turned on a low heel, and almost collided
with Jane who was close at his back. She managed to pull herself up only inches
from falling into his arms, which he had instinctively thrust out to stop her
falling forward. They were so close that her hooped petticoats crumpled against
his long muscular legs and she caught a hint of his masculine cologne. It was
such an evocative scent that she was gripped with a sudden frisson of desire
and was so shocked by it that she quickly stepped away and hung her head.
Salt gently tilted up her chin with one gloved finger, forcing her to look
him in the eyes. Wordlessly, he searched her beautiful face, a knot between his
brows. Her liquid blue eyes stared back at him with such frankness that he
could almost deceive himself she was without guile. The pouty curve to her
lovely lips was so rosebud red and made for kissing that he wanted to crush her
mouth under his until they were bruised and numb.
Bruised and numb…
That’s how he felt, had been feeling for so many years now that he was
drained of hope. He wanted to blame her and the false promises of love and
devotion he had tasted in her kisses. Beauty such as she possessed was utterly
beguiling and yet so wretchedly deceptive. He reviled everything about this
young woman who was to become his wife and countess and yet there was no
mistaking her inherent allure. She had captivated him four years ago, trapped
him, made him lose his head, forget all that he had been taught about being a
gentleman and what he owed his name, and made him cast caution to the four
He had allowed his heart to rule his head.
In a single night of passion he had ruined a gently bred girl of good family,
destroyed his honor and given Jacob Allenby the means by which to have his
revenge on him. He hated himself for what he had done to Jane, but he reviled
her for not having the strength of character to believe in him; to wait for
him; to be constant and true. She had not waited. Worse, she had not kept
secret their night of passion as she had promised and was rightly disowned by
her humiliated father. Even more appalling, she had run to the protection of
Jacob Allenby, a man he loathed and despised, a reprobate who masqueraded as a
The passage of time and countless lovers and he convinced himself he was
cured of Miss Jane Despard. And then, two years ago while on the hunt, he had
come across her gathering mushrooms in a field scattered with awakening
wildflowers. With a sickening thud of realization he knew he had been fooling
himself. He was not cured. He festered with guilt for ruining her and for still
wanting her. He sunk lower still by giving his word to her dying father that he
would indeed honor the pledge made to her in the summerhouse on her eighteenth
birthday and marry her.
Marriage, if it did nothing else but expunge the burden of guilt and restore
his sense of honor, was worth the humiliation of friends and family. He could
at least get on with his life with a clear conscience of righting a serious
wrong. That he still wanted her, desperately, he could easily cure. He would
make her his wife, bed her, and then banish her to his estate, lust and honor
both satisfied. Yet, the gentleman in him made one last futile attempt to force
her to realize what sort of union she was entering into.
“Miss Despard, you are a young woman with many child-bearing years ahead of
you. With your face and figure, you could easily ensnare yourself a wealthy
husband capable of giving you children. Release this barren earl from his
Jane curtsied but kept her gaze lowered because her eyes were brimming with
hot tears of shame. Real regret sounded in her voice. “I am sorry to disoblige
you, my lord, but I must marry you.”
There was the briefest of silences and then the Earl was gone, the door
slammed so hard that Jane jumped and took an involuntary step back fearing it
had come off its hinges. Alone, she crumpled to the floor in a billowing balloon
of petticoats and gave in to her disordered emotions.
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