<An Earl Like You>

August 28, 2018
An Earl Like You
978-0-06-267294-0

When you gamble at love...

When Hugh Deveraux discovers his newly inherited earldom is bankrupt, he sets about rebuilding the family fortune—in the gaming hells of London. But the most daring wager he takes isn't at cards. A wealthy tradesman makes a tantalizing offer: marry the man's spinster daughter, and Hugh's debts will be paid and his fortune made. The only catch is that she must never know about their agreement.

You risk losing your heart...

Heiress Eliza Cross has given up hope of marriage until she meets the impossibly handsome Earl of Hastings, her father's new business partner. The earl is everything a gentleman should be, and is boldly attentive to her. It doesn't take long for Eliza to lose her heart and marry him.

But when Eliza discovers that there is more to the man she loves—and to her marriage—her trust is shattered. And it will take all of Hugh's power to prove that now his words of love are real.

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Inside the Story

Reviews & Honors

Desert Isle Keeper! "The romance between Eliza and Hugh is tender, sensual and passionate; the chemistry between them fizzes and sparks… Intelligently written, strongly characterised and gorgeously romantic …" —AllAboutRomance.com

Inside Story & Bonus Features

The second in the Wagers of Sin series. The first book is My Once and Future Duke, wherein Eliza's friend Sophie meets her duke.

Eliza's father calls her Lilibeth, as a nickname for Elizabeth. I was inspired by Queen Elizabeth II's childhood name, Lilibet.

Bonus Scene

Between The End and the Epilogue…

Edward Cross had never been afraid to go after what he wanted. It had been a long time, though, since a pursuit of his blew up so catastrophically in his face.

“What was I to do?” he growled, pacing the room with his hands in fists.

“Mind your business?” suggested Lilian Moleyns.

He glowered. “She refused to go out in society! How was she supposed to meet anyone?”

“Perhaps she was happy that way.” Lilian kept stitching away at her embroidery, as calm as anything. Normally Edward admired that; she was flappable, this mistress of his. Normally he was the same way. He did not respect men who couldn’t hold their tempers, and he had long prided himself on being a man of iron control.

But this… this was beyond bearing. His daughter, his darling Eliza, had called him a liar. She’d looked at him with disappointment, and then she’d left him without a word. For almost two days he had no earthly idea where his child was, if she was hurt or in need.

Actually, this time he knew she was hurt.

He had always been there was she was in need, quick to fix everything before it could trouble her. But apparently this time he’d miscalculated. This time he’d been the cause of her hurt, not the source of her comfort. And then she’d run off before he could turn things around and talk her out of her anger.

“She wasn’t happy,” he finally said, flinging himself into a chair. “Before Hastings, I mean. Always digging in the garden, playing with that dog, visiting the poor with the vicar’s wife… She was wasting away before!”

Lilian gave him a level gaze. “That wasn’t really your decision to make, was it? She’s of age.”

“You don’t understand,” he muttered. He should have known better than to discuss Eliza with Lilian. He never had before; a man’s child must be kept in perfect ignorance of his mistress, and vice versa.

But this rupture with Eliza had rattled him and shaken him. He couldn’t seem to stop talking about it. And now that Lilian had clearly taken Eliza’s side, part of him was discovering that he’d brought it up because perhaps he wasn’t so sure of his own actions.

No. He discarded that. He wanted confirmation that he’d done the right thing—a bold, brash thing to be sure, but still correct.

Lilian raised her brows and snipped her thread. “No? What precisely did you do?”

He glowered again. “Nothing but a little matchmaking, the sort of thing women do all the time. I brought her together with a suitable husband.”

“Did you?” Lilian poked around in her sewing box. “According to gossip it was the most astonishing wedding this year. Everyone believed it was because of your money.”

He shot to his feet. “Who said that about her? Who?”

She tipped back her head. “Everyone, Edward. Did you think London wouldn’t notice when one of the most eligible earls on the market married your daughter?”

His hands flexed. He need to punch something. “He’s in love with her!”

“Excellent. That greatly improves a marriage.” She threaded her needle again. “How does she feel about him?”

“She adores him,” Edward barked.

“Then I expect they’ll work it out between themselves.”

Restlessly he paced the room again. She was probably right about that. Eliza’s husband, the Earl of Hastings, had done exactly what Edward expected him to do: he’d fallen wildly in love with Eliza once he’d spent a little time with her. And Edward knew his daughter; she loved him back, and the moment Hastings began apologizing for his actions, Eliza’s heart would melt and she would forgive him.

He also expected her to do the same for him. It was just a rude shock to realize it might take longer than a few days.

“Perhaps you should write her a letter,” suggested Lilian. “Make your first apology in writing.”

“My first apology!” He stared at her.

She arched her brows. “Yes, Edward. What you did was horrible. It might take multiple efforts to persuade her you truly are sorry.”

“Fine,” he grumbled. “I suppose it’s a womanly thing.”

She laughed and sighed at the same time. “Yes, Edward. Women like to receive apologies when wronged. You’d better make it a very good one.”

So he did. Lilian was usually right, especially when it came to what females liked. He sat down and wrote a short, succinct, very direct letter of apology to his daughter. His Eliza was too kind, too gentle, too good to stay angry at him for long. Everyone really ought to be pleased with him, or at least not so angry.

My dear Eliza—

It is true that I bought up Hastings’s debts. My only intention was to encourage him to call upon us a few times. I knew that if he would just spend some time with you, he would realize how very lovable and worthy you are, of any man in the realm, be he an earl or a royal prince. Perhaps I did deal a little harshly with him at the beginning, but it was only done to protect your heart. If you had not wanted the fellow, I never would have made him stay—no, I would have chased him away.

You must admit it did work out for the best.

Forgive your papa and I shall never do anything so thoughtless again.

Papa

“She hasn’t answered my letter,” he said to Lilian.

“No?” She served the fish. They were dining at her home, just the two of them. Without Eliza at home Edward hadn’t eaten at his own table in weeks. He’d become rather fond of dining with Lilian.

“It’s been a month.” Five and a half weeks to be precise.

Lilian gave him a level look. “Not very long.”

“Five weeks! Nearly six!”

“That shows excessive male arrogance,” she said with a reproving look. “Your apology must not have been humble enough.”

He scowled, and went back to eating his fish. Lilian did not understand, but she was a woman, and he had asked her advice. That night, he wrote another letter.

Dearest Eliza—

I have not heard from you, which has been quite disturbing. I sincerely regret that you have turned aside the father who cares for your happiness above everything in this life. I humbly ask forgiveness.

Your papa

“She still hasn’t answered me,” he muttered to Lilian.

“Who?” she whispered back. They were at the opera, where she had persuaded him to take a box. Silly stuff, opera, but without Eliza’s company, he found himself indulging Lilian’s whims more and more.

“Eliza, of course.”

She gave him a speaking look. The diamonds he’d given her sparkled at her throat. She looked uncommonly lovely tonight, now that he thought about it. “Can we discuss it later?”

“You said to write a more humble letter,” he persisted. “And she still has not replied, after three months.”

“She’s not in town, Edward,” Lilian returned. “Perhaps she’s been busy.”

Not in town? Edward was jolted. His daughter had left town and he didn’t even know. Where had Hastings taken her? He would set his man to finding out. He had to be sure Eliza was safe.

“And you should leave her be,” Lilian added, tapping his arm with her fan. “If she wants to write to you, she knows where to send the letter.”

“But—“

“Hush!” She leaned forward, blatantly ignoring him, as a woman stepped forward on the stage and began to sing, louder than the rest.

This time he waited another week, hoping against hope Eliza would relent. Nothing came.

My darling child—

Would it help if I apologized to Hastings as well? It pains me not to hear from you.

Your papa

“What should I say now?” he asked Lilian directly. “It’s been five months since I’ve heard from her.”

“Perhaps you should say nothing.”

“Nothing!” He almost drove the carriage into the ditch. Lilian seized his arm, but then she only laughed as he righted the horse and they swerved back onto the road. In spite of his pique, Edward grinned. He liked a little excitement, too. “What do you mean, nothing?”

“If she hasn’t written to you, it probably means she has nothing to say to you. And,” she added as he reeled, “it might mean she still doesn’t care to hear from you.”

“What rubbish is that? How can she forgive me if she won’t speak to me? I have apologized three times, Lilian!”

“Was it a typical Edward Cross apology?”

He scowled but had the sense not to answer that.

“You think of only your own position,” she said. The wind blew the fur trim on her hat and brought a bright pink to her cheeks. She was beautiful in winter. “You always believe you are right. Your notes to her have explained how your plan worked out in the end, haven’t they?”

He said nothing. Damn it, how did she know that?

“Perhaps you should wish her a happy Christmas and leave it at that, my dear,” she suggested. “Without mentioning how she ought to come visit you and forgive all your sins.”

He sighed, and she tucked her hand into his pocket with another laugh, and they rode through the frozen park in silence.

Dearest Eliza—

I wish you and Hastings a very happy Christmas. May the new year bring you both much joy and love.

Your papa

PS: I have sent this letter to Rosemere and to London, as I do not know where you are spending the winter. I hope it will find you well.

“A letter!” He burst into Lilian’s drawing room with it held high. It was the second day of the new year. “She has replied at long last!”

“How wonderful!” She smiled in delight. “Is it cordial?”

“Eliza is the kindest creature on earth,” he scoffed. “Of course it is.”

Her smile turned wistful. “Of course.”

“You would like her,” he said without thinking.

Lilian blinked. Edward closed his mouth, astonished he had said that aloud. Of course he couldn’t introduce his mistress to his daughter. Eliza was a countess now, and Lilian was… a gentleman’s widow. While he was the son of a laborer.

“What does she say?” Lilian asked. “Are you forgiven?”

“Er… not entirely.” He stuffed the letter into his pocket. For a moment he’d almost shown it to her, until that disconcerting realization that Lilian was more Eliza’s society than he was. The letter was also very brief, and mainly wished him a happy Christmas. There was no word of forgiveness or regret for the long separation between them, but he chose not to dwell on that.

“I’ve got something for you,” Lilian said then. She rose and left the room, coming back a few minutes later with a large basket. She set it down on the floor in front of him.

Edward eyed it warily. “What is it?”

She laughed, touching his arm. “Open it!”

He removed the lid and was immediately licked. The pointer puppy struggled to bound out of the box, and Edward looked at Lilian in dismay.

She was still laughing, sitting on the floor so the pup could climb into her lap. “You were lonely, so I got you a companion.”

“Haven’t I got you?” he asked in affront.

Her laughter faded. “A companion at home,” she clarified softly. “Happy Christmas, Edward.”

My dear Eliza—

Your letter warmed my heart exceedingly. A very joyous new year to everyone at Rosemere. Is Cornwall dreary this time of year? I never saw it otherwise but I hear reports of great beauty near Rosemere.

You may be amused to hear I have somehow acquired a dog, although I assure you it is only temporary. He is a pestilential thing.

Papa

PS: Your husband has been sending me money. Pray tell him there is no need between family.

Over the next several weeks he received three letters from Eliza. They were all short and rather dry, nothing like the long conversational letters he knew she usually wrote. Still, she was speaking to him again.

He was savoring a cigar at his club one night after receiving one of those letters, when an old friend took the chair next to him. “How goes it, Cross?” asked David Southbridge.

“Splendidly. I’ve had a letter from my daughter.”

“The countess.” Southbridge said it with a wry twist. “I trust she’s well?”

He grinned. “Yes. I hope she’ll be in town again this year.” Hastings would have to return to London for the season, and bring Eliza with him. Once she was in town, he would find an excuse to call on her, and smooth everything over once and for all.

“I shall warn Grenville,” said Southbridge with a smirk. “He’s quite keen to avoid the earl.”

Edward waved it off. Hasting claimed Grenville had cheated him once, although Edward didn’t see why Grenville would do that. Nor why Hastings would care, now that he had Eliza and her fortune. “Where’s he been?”

“Amsterdam, since the fall. He’s still intent on solving balloon transport.”

“Idiot.” Edward frowned. “He’s spent a good bit of time there. And he left in a mighty rush. Is there something in that rubbish idea?”

Southbridge was lighting his own cigar. “Of course not. Balloons are death traps. No, Hastings put the fear of God into him. Got him booted from the Vega Club, too.”

Edward drummed his fingertips on the arm of the chair. “Did he really cheat Hastings?”

“Oh, it was just a spot of fun, Cross. Nobody was harmed.”

His frown deepened. “That’s my daughter’s husband.”

His friend snorted. “And a bit of a prig he is. No humor in him. It’s all been bred out of toffs like him.”

“It made him think Grenville cheated him the night I watched them play,” said Edward slowly. Hastings had flung that in his face the day Eliza left, and all but called Edward a cheat, too. He’d been so shaken over his daughter’s treatment of him that he’d mostly let it go. Hastings had been angry; Grenville probably had taken some advantage of him. Edward hadn’t thought much about it. “Before he courted Eliza.”

Southbridge hesitated, then leaned forward. “You know Grenville likes a bit of intrigue. When you told him to play Hastings, well…” He shrugged.

“I never told him to cheat!”

Southbridge took a long pull on his cigar. “You didn’t have to, Ned.”

It took him a moment, but he lunged across the table between them and dragged Southbridge forward by his cravat. “He did it?” he demanded. “Grenville really cheated Hastings, both times?”

“Of course he did,” choked Southbridge. He clutched at Edward’s arm, scattering ash everywhere. “Let— go!”

Edward shoved the man back into his seat. Southbridge glared at him as he gasped for breath. “You never told me!”

“Why would I?” protested Southbridge furiously. “We all knew you wanted Hastings on a spit, and you got him!”

It was the shortest brawl in the history of the club. Only four punches and a kick, before the waiters could separate them. Edward left, his coat askew and his temper boiling, while a servant tended Southbridge’s split lip.

Dearest Eliza—

I hope you will be in London early this spring. I would like to show you this dog—he is not mine, he is only staying until I can find him a suitable home. He is bigger than Willy, although saints be praised he does not bark as much.

You may also be pleased to hear that I am done with Southbridge and Grenville. They are both untrustworthy, shifty fellows, and I have been deceived by them for too long. Tell Hastings, as they did him some injustice as well.

Your papa

PS: Your husband persists in sending me money. Please ask him to stop.

“She’s having a child!” He could barely contain his delight.

“Congratulations, my dear,” said Lilian warmly. “A grandfather!”

He grinned and waved one hand. “Will I be too old a fellow for you then, with a grandson on my knee?”

She laughed. “Do you intend to start wearing long caps and forget when your eyeglasses are on the end of your nose?”

“Not yet,” he scoffed. “Think of it, Lilian—a child! I’ve not had a child to spoil in decades.”

“You must keep the parents’ wishes in mind,” she told him. “Spoil their child too much, and you may spoil your relationship with them.”

“I shall commission a hobby horse for the boy today,” he said with a wink.

“It may be a girl.”

“She can ride the hobby horse just as well.”

Lilian laughed. “Of course!” For a moment they shared a gaze, he grinning like a fool and she smiling fondly. “Congratulations,” she said again. “I’m delighted for Lord and Lady Hastings, and for you.”

He dug into his pocket. “That’s for you.”

She took the jeweler’s box with surprise and confusion. “Why?”

“A gift.” He had to celebrate his grandchild somehow, and he didn’t dare approach Eliza.

She opened it and gasped.

“Don’t you like it?” he prodded.

“It’s beautiful,” she said slowly. She touched one of the emerald bracelets. “Why?”

He stared at her. “You don’t like it. I’ll get something else. Or better yet, take it back and choose your own.”

She sighed. “That wasn’t the point. Thank you.”

But he could tell she wasn’t pleased.

Dearest Eliza—

Your letter fills me with inexpressible joy. Your mother would be delighted beyond all reason as well, and it pains me that she is not here to bask in this happiness as well.

I hope you are feeling very well and taking great care to stay safe. Willy, for instance, should be locked up immediately, as dogs present great danger to anyone who wishes to walk in a straight line. I have tripped three times over Scout, even though I do not intend to keep him. (The cook named him, not I, for his ability to locate dropped scraps of food)

Your papa

PS: Your husband seems to know the amount of his father’s debts to the very farthing. I suppose that is admirable, even though I do not want his money.

“Mrs. Moleyns is out,” the butler told him.

“Out!” Edward was perplexed. This was his usual day to visit Lilian. “When will she return?”

“I do not know, sir.” The butler paused. They both knew Edward paid many of the household bills, including the butler’s salary. “I believe she has gone to Eton.”

He frowned. Lilian’s son was at Eton, a strapping boy of fourteen or so. Edward had never met him, only seen the portrait in her sitting room. Much the way he had never, until recently, spoken to her of Eliza, Lilian almost never spoke to him of her Patrick.

“I’ll wait,” he said, and went into the drawing room.

It was very late when she returned. He’d fallen asleep in the comfortable wingback chair by the fire when the sound of the door roused him. He scrubbed one hand over his face and listened, with a faint smile, to the sound of her voice in the hall. Lilian had a beautiful voice. Now that he heard it, he realized how much he’d wanted to see her.

She came in a moment later, looking exhausted. “Edward. You shouldn’t have waited.”

“My dear.” He came to kiss her cheek, and she flinched. Concerned, he inspected her face. “Sit down, Lilian. You look about to fall over.”

“It was a very long day.” She dismissed her butler and took a seat—not the one beside him on the sofa, but in the armchair opposite.

“Is Patrick well?”

She sighed. “His health is fine. His disposition…”

“Ah, boys,” said Edward knowingly. The lad must have been fighting, or playing pranks on his tutors. He’d never had a fancy education at a posh school like Eton, but boys were the same everywhere.

Lilian twisted her hands together. “I think we must stop seeing each other.”

For a moment he didn’t understand. “What?” Then, as it sank in— “What?

“It’s been almost two years,” she said. “Quite long enough for any affair.”

Edward was thunderstruck. “Why?” was all he could say.

Finally she looked right at him. Lilian was several years younger than he, and a very lovely woman still. Beautiful, really. Far more beautiful than a man like him should ever hope to attract. “Yes, why? Why are we still doing this?”

“Well—well—you know why,” he blustered. “Companionship. Friendship.”

She sighed again. “Patrick was almost sent down for fighting with another student, who said his mother was a whore.”

He was on his feet at once. “The little pustule. Was he punished for slandering a lady?”

“Of course he wasn’t. The boy’s father is a viscount. If anything, the headmaster probably agreed with him, and only allowed Patrick to remain because his father was a colleger there.” She rose also. “And if this is only for companionship, I think it’s time to end it.”

He could only gape. He was being… dismissed?

“Soon you’ll be back in Lady Hastings’s good graces, and have her child to spoil,” Lilian went on. “You shan’t miss me, between your work, your daughter, your grandchild, your friends—”

“I most certainly will miss you!” he barked. “What rubbish. You’re…”

And he paused. What was she? The person he came to with every interesting bit of his life. Even some of the dull bits, actually. The only person he could unburden himself to, about everything.

“Good night, Edward,” she said, and walked out of the room.

Dearest Eliza—

London is very grim these days. I may be coming down with an affliction of some sort; I cannot seem to take pleasure in anything.

Although I know it is for the best, it grieves me that you will not be in London this year. Hastings had better be taking great care of you. Is the food in Cornwall to your taste? Your mother wanted nothing but strawberries and roasted duck before you were born. If ever you are in want of something, I would be delighted to send it.

Please keep writing to me. Your letters are the only cheer in my days. I miss you, my dear child.

Your papa

PS: You need not thank me for giving Hastings’s money to the Foundling Hospital. It is what you told me to do with it, and they are welcome to it.

He tapped the knocker on Lilian’s door and stood back to wait. It had been over two months since she told him it was over. She had replied briefly to his notes, refused his flowers, and stopped his payments on her accounts.

It was the last straw in a difficult year, and finally it had broken him.

“Tell Mrs. Moleyns I would like but a moment of her time,” he told the butler.

The man’s eyes were sympathetic. He took the card and disappeared.

Lilian came downstairs several minutes later. She looked uncommonly lovely, and his mouth dropped open at the sight. “Mr. Cross,” she said formally.

“Mrs. Moleyns.” He hated this. “It’s very fine out. Would you care to take a turn about the park with me?”

“You wanted only a moment,” she reminded him.

“To ask that question.” He tried a winning smile. “It can be a very short walk. I brought the dog.”

As if on cue, the animal barked outside, where his lead was tied to the railing. Lilian pursed her lips, trying not to smile. “Very well.”

They walked to the expanse of Regent’s Park, finding a quiet path. He took the lead off the dog, who bounded ahead of them. “My daughter has a son,” he said.

Lilian’s face lit with an honest smile. “How wonderful for Lord and Lady Hastings!”

He nodded. “She’s invited me to come see the babe.”

Her face softened in understanding. She squeezed his arm lightly, the way she always did. She was so even-tempered and generous, the very best woman he knew.

“How is Master Moleyns faring?” he asked. The boy must be home on school holiday now.

“Better. He’s glad of the chance to leave school. He’s visiting my sister and her husband in Shropshire. He needs a man’s guidance at times and my brother-in-law is very fond of him.”

He glanced sideways at her. She looked somber but not upset. It must be hard for her, raising a son on her own. Lord knew he’d been twisted this way and that, raising a daughter without his wife.

“My father was a poor man,” he said abruptly. “My mother had to work, taking in washing. I hated seeing her so tired and worn. When my uncle left me five hundred pounds, I vowed I would provide for my wife and family better than that.

“I made a handsome sum before I wed Susannah,” he went on. Lilian was listening in silence. “The daughter of a baronet! I never thought a woman as gentle and sweet as she would ever have me, but she did, and I loved her devotedly.

“But my fortune was not enough to save her.” He paused, the memory still painful. “She died in childbed, and the babe with her, attended only by the local midwife who reeked of gin. Well, it may have wrecked me. From then on I believed that the only surety in life a man could have was enough fortune and strength of mind to pursue a bold course.”

“Did you bribe the Earl of Hastings to marry your daughter?” she asked.

“No! Is that what gossip says?” He scowled. “I… bought his debts. I may have coerced him into calling on Eliza—just to see if they would suit, mind you.”

“Edward,” she said, aghast. He’d never admitted it to her before.

He waved one hand. “I know, I know! That turned around on me rather badly.” He paused again. “It’s a very fortunate thing Eliza does care for the fellow so much, and he for her. I acknowledge that it could have gone very badly, and I would have suffered for it the rest of my life.”

“I hope you shan’t make the same mistake ever again.”

“Thinking I know better?” He heaved a sigh. “I shall try desperately to avoid it. Because I was so sure of my actions, I was blind to the equally appalling actions of my supposed friends, who conspired to cheat Hastings and make him even more vulnerable to my plan. So at least there’s that victory: I’ve rid myself of some dishonest companions.”

“I never liked Grenville,” she remarked.

Edward gave a firm nod. “I’m done with him, and Southbridge, too.”

They walked in silence for a while. The dog circled back to them and then loped away again, his ears flapping and making Lilian laugh. Edward smiled at the sound; he’d missed her laughter.

“Would you come with me to see my grandson?” he asked abruptly.

Lilian’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

“Come with me,” he repeated. “Eliza has invited me to Cornwall to see the child.”

The breeze blew a lock of hair across her face. There were threads of silver among the dark brown, just as there were in his own. She tucked it behind her ear and gave him a stern look. “That would be improper and you know it.”

He coughed. “Well, not really. Not if you come as my wife.”

Her mouth dropped open. Then she swung her reticule and swatted him. “Edward Cross! You would lie to your own daughter that way?”

“Not lie!” He dodged another swat from the reticule, which was heavier than it looked. “We could make it true.” Not only had he learned his lesson about lying to Eliza, he rather thought this solution was one of the finest ideas he’d ever had.

“If that’s the best marriage proposal you can make, my answer is no!”

“Do I have to kneel?”

She stopped hitting him. “What would it hurt?”

When she put it that way… He got down on one knee. “Lilian, I know you could do much better than an old duffer like me. But I couldn’t possibly do better than you. I’ve been counting my lucky stars ever since you agreed to let me call on you, and I’ve been in love with you ever since.” He paused. She was watching him expectantly, her cheeks pink and her eyes bright. The reticule hung harmlessly on her hand. “I do love you,” he said almost apologetically. “I know I’m a crude fellow who doesn’t show it well, but you’re everything to me. Who will distract me from spoiling my grandson half to death and riling up Eliza’s temper again? And… I’ve missed you dreadfully, my dear.”

She pursed her lips. “What about the dog?”

“This dog who sleeps under my bed?” He raised one brow and they both looked at the puppy, now asleep with his head between his paws. “Did you think I could get rid of anything you gave me?”

Her lips trembled, and she swiped one hand across her eyes. “Why couldn’t you ever say this sooner?”

He sighed. “Male arrogance, I expect. You told me I have too much of it.” He waited hopefully, but she only stood biting her lip. “I took you for granted. You were too good to me, and I was spoilt by it.”

“You want your own way too much.”

He laughed without humor. “And I’ve reaped a bitter harvest for it this year.”

“I won’t put up with it, if I accept you,” she warned.

He lifted one shoulder. “I expect that’ll be good for me.” His knee was starting to ache but he stayed where he was. “Will you think about it?”

“Have you got a ring in your pocket?” she asked suspiciously.

He gave a bark of laughter. “God no. How presumptuous would that be? I thought we’d choose one together if you want one.”

She let him wait a long moment before saying, “Yes.”

He climbed back to his feet and they resumed walking. The dog scrambled up from the ground and raced off after a squirrel, chattering from a nearby tree. “You’ll have to meet Patrick, you know.”

“Do I have to win his approval first?” That was worrisome. The boy had got himself in trouble over their relationship. He might be resolutely against Edward marrying his mother.

“No,” said Lilian tranquilly. “He’s a boy of fourteen, Edward, not my father. But don’t you want to?”

He grinned. “I do. For that will mean a great deal to you.”

“And Lady Hastings,” she began, but he squeezed her hand.

“Eliza has the kindest heart. She will want to like you.”

She laughed. “After hearing of her so much, I very much hope we shall be great friends.”

Dearest Eliza—

Your invitation brought great joy to my heart. Nothing could keep me from Cornwall and I am making arrangements to arrive on the day you named.

I have been wrong, sometimes spectacularly wrong, about many things in life. This last year has been a humbling one, not least due to my own many faults. I was wrong to presume I knew what, and who, could bring you happiness. I was wrong to trust men like Grenville. I was wrong to use my fortune not for the comfort and benefit of my family and others, but as a tool to get my own way. I was wrong to coerce Hastings, and I will beg his pardon when I reach Cornwall. As I will yours, my beloved child. Whatever my hopes and justifications, I treated you very shabbily.

I would like to bring someone with me, if you agree. Her name is Lilian, and I hope she will be my wife by the time we leave for Cornwall. She has been your loyal champion these many months, and assured me repeatedly that I was the one to blame for everything. It has taken me a while to realize it, but now I am convinced she has been right this whole time.

But I am very certain that marrying Lilian is the right thing to do. I hope you will like her.

I shall be counting the days until we see you all.

Your loving papa