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— Liz Carlyle, New York Times bestselling author
“Jennifer Haymore’s books are sophisticated, deeply sensual, and emotionally complex.”
— Elizabeth Hoyt, New York Times bestselling author
“For jaded romance readers, Jennifer Haymore is an author to watch!”
—Nicole Jordan, New York Times bestselling author
USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Haymore puts a sexy spin on Cinderella in . . .
ONE NIGHT WITH AN EARL
Beatrice Reece, Lady Fenwick, has retired from polite society. Everyone knows her late husband treated her abominably, and she simply cannot bear the whispers of the ton. But it’s the night of London’s premier masquerade ball-and Beatrice’s one chance to revel in anonymity. She hopes no one will recognize her beneath her mask, not even the sinfully sexy stranger across the room who holds her captive in his gaze . . . Andrew Sinclair would know beautiful Beatrice anywhere from the gentle sway of her hips, the richness of her hair, and the lushness of her body. When he asks her to dance, the attraction is instant and all-consuming. The only woman he’s ever truly wanted is finally in his arms. But when the clock strikes twelve, will this one reckless night fade into the morning light?
A Letter from Jennifer Haymore
When Lady Esme Hawkins walked into my office last year, I was shocked. I had no idea why a duke’s sister would come to see me. Not to mention the fact that I’ve written about her—she is a major character in all three of my House of Trent series novels.
After I got over my starstruck surprise at having one of my own characters in my cluttered little office, Lady Esme explained her problem to me. It turns out that she is a lady novelist. She carries a notebook with her at all times, and inside it, she writes sexy, romantic novellas.
And she needed my help.
You see, the lady can’t share her stories openly with the world. They’re far too scandalous. Lady Esme’s brother, the Duke of Trent, is a paragon of morality who is very sensitive to tarnishes on his family’s reputation. The duke’s family lives in the highest echelons of a society that would be utterly appalled if they discovered one of their ranks was penning sexy tales of love.
That’s where I came in. Through me, and under my name, Lady Esme can at last share her stories with all of you.
So, dear reader, I present to you the sexy and romantic One Night with an Earl, a Lady Esme novella.
Beatrice Reece, Lady Fenwicke, stood tall before the full-length mirror in her dressing room. Her gaze moved from the circlet upon her head, made of baby leaves and blue rosebuds, to the linen draped in folds over her body and touching the floor, hiding her silk slippers. She’d saved her money to buy these slippers. They matched the pale blue of her dress, and they were beautiful, with a filigree heart attached to the tops and a beautiful aquamarine stone at the center of each heart.
Thin, twisted black ropes held the flowing dress on, wrapping over her shoulders and between her breasts before cinching at her waist, the two ends dropping down almost to her hemline. She could have been dressed as any Greek goddess but for those black ropes and the black velvet that edged the costume at the hem and neckline.
“You are a perfect Persephone,” Jessica murmured from behind her.
Beatrice turned to her best friend in the world, frowning. “Do you think so?” She turned back to the mirror, narrowing her eyes at the bare skin of her upper arms. “It’s rather scandalous, don’t you think?”
“Not at all.” Jessica grinned at Beatrice in the mirror. “Listen, Bee, this is Madame Lussier’s masquerade. There are certain allowances made at these kinds of parties that are simply outside of our usual social sphere. Being in disguise allows people freedoms they wouldn’t ordinarily have. You wouldn’t know this, of course, because you are such a recluse.”
Beatrice sighed. “‘Recluse’ is a rather strong word. You know why I prefer to stay out of the public eye.”
“I do know why.” Jessica came up beside her and took her hand, raising it so Beatrice could see their clasped hands in the mirror. Jessica squeezed her fingers tightly. “And I understand,” she said softly. “But it’s been over two years. It’s time to move past it.”
Jessica was right. It was time for her to rejoin the world. And tonight her anonymity gave her the confidence to try.
Beatrice might have continued to worry about her bare arms showing if Jessica’s costume hadn’t been so much more revealing. Jessica was an Egyptian queen tonight, her dress skintight, low cut, and sleeveless. A wispy shawl made of the lightest material covered her shoulders, and she wore massive amounts of heavy, Egyptian-inspired gold jewelry. A golden cobra encircled her head, poised to strike at the center of her forehead, and her blond hair flowed in soft waves down her back.
Her dress would garner much more attention than Beatrice’s would. And Beatrice was fine with that. She would be perfectly content to have Jessica receive all the attention tonight. She would stand to the side, a happy wallflower, sip at her punch, and try to guess the identities of those in costume.
Jessica stepped back, hands on hips, and gave her a critical look before grinning. “You look perfect. You make a ravishing female Death, I must say.” There was humor in her voice.
A smile tugged at the edges of Beatrice’s lips. “Persephone wasn’t death. She brought life to the land.”
“Half the time,” Jessica argued, “but the other half, she lived in the underworld with Hades, and she certainly was the Queen of Death.”
“You’re right. Are you sure the idea isn’t too…I don’t know…too dour?”
Jessica laughed, a sound that always made Beatrice feel lighter. “Of course not. Among gruesome monsters and men and women trying to actually portray Death, you will be a breath of fresh air.” She spun away and walked toward the bed, returning with a small velvet-covered box. “Now. I have two gifts for you. First a gift from David and me.”
David was Jessica’s husband, a grumpy sailor who loved Jessica beyond all measure. Jessica and David had come to Beatrice last month to celebrate her birthday with her in her sitting room, bringing her little presents and going into the kitchen to help her bake a pineapple cake—Beatrice’s favorite—while Beatrice’s parents had scowled at them and whispered in disgusted tones about their only daughter behaving as if she were no better than the servants.
Beatrice opened the box and gasped. It was a gold linked chain with small rubies spaced at intervals around it.
“Rubies?” she breathed.
“Perhaps,” Jessica said with a smile. “But in Persephone’s case, they are pomegranate seeds. There are six of them, see? They are the six seeds that she ate that doomed her to spend six months of the year in the underworld with Hades.”
“It’s beautiful,” Beatrice said.
Jessica laughed as she took it from the box and secured it around Beatrice’s neck. “No more beautiful than the sapphire earrings you gave me last year. We are equal now.”
Beatrice gave Jessica a tight hug. “Thank you.”
“But we’re not finished. I promised you people wouldn’t recognize you tonight, did I not?”
“You did.” Anonymity had been her only condition before she agreed to go to tonight’s masquerade.
Two years ago, a few months after her husband had been killed by the Duke of Wakefield, Beatrice had attempted to make a reappearance in her old social circles. The rumors had started immediately, followed by a full-blown scandal. People had whispered when she’d walked past or given her the cut direct or sneered in her face. Caricatures of her gleefully applauding over her husband’s dead body had appeared in the papers.
Society’s scorn had cut almost as deeply as her husband’s belt. She’d begun to stay inside, needing to hide from it all.
Now she was ready to venture to a masquerade, because there Beatrice could step out of herself and become someone other than Lady Fenwicke, a title and persona she despised but could never scrub away.
Jessica turned to her, holding a large box in her hand. She placed the box on Beatrice’s dressing table and removed the lid. “Look,” she said, stepping aside.
A mask lay on a bed of white silk. It was an almost-full mask, enough to cover most of Beatrice’s face, ending just above her lips and swooping low over her cheeks.
And the design…Beatrice had never seen anything like it. It appeared to be made of thin, blackened steel. It had a Baroque look, with a filigree design that would allow flesh to peek from between the elaborate twists and scrolls of metal. The almond-shaped cutouts for her eyes were encrusted with crushed stone that glimmered like tiny gems in the lamplight. Beatrice reached out to touch the rough-looking little stones.
“Black diamonds,” Jessica said. Beatrice drew her hand back quickly. When she looked at Jessica, wide-eyed, her friend laughed again. “It’s not from me. Max, Jonathan, and Will bought it for you when I admonished them for not remembering your birthday last month.”
“Jess,” Beatrice breathed. “You shouldn’t have. They shouldn’t have.”
Max, Jonathan, and Will were Jessica’s three brothers-in-law. Max was the Duke of Wakefield—the man who’d killed Fenwicke to save her and Jessica from his madness. Jonathan was the Earl of Stratford, and Will was a gentleman. While she knew they could afford this luxury, it was still too much.
“I certainly should have reprimanded them, and strongly. They are very forgetful, and in my opinion, forgetfulness is a true sin.” Jessica straightened, looking affronted by their failure to acknowledge Beatrice’s birthday, even now. “And they love you like a sister, so of course they wanted to compensate for their poor behavior. This”—she waved her hand at the mask—“was my idea, and they were more than happy to help.”
“I love you,” Beatrice said softly. “You and David both. And your sisters and brothers-in-law, too,” she added, her eyes stinging with tears. “You are my family.”
“And you are ours.” Jessica pointed a stern finger at Beatrice. “No melancholy, and that’s an order.”
Beatrice gave a little laugh, because her friend sounded like David now, spouting out orders to his seamen. “Yes, ma’am.” She gave a little salute even as she blinked back tears.
“Good. Now, try it on.” Jessica used both hands to carefully pull the mask out of the box. She fitted it on Beatrice’s face, then secured the ties around the back of her head.
She stepped back, analyzing her work. She reached up and adjusted it slightly. The metal felt cold against Beatrice’s skin and smelled of steel. Yet it fit to her face so securely she knew she’d have no concerns about it falling off.
“There,” Jessica pronounced. “It’s perfect. Look at yourself, Lady Persephone.”
Beatrice turned to the mirror once more. The filigree of the mask hid the round shape of her face and her button nose. It made her appear as if she had high, sharp cheekbones and a straight Roman nose. Her eyes glowed a rich brown in contrast to the glint of the black diamonds and the dark metallic sheen of the mask. And the ruby necklace sparkled, the red a stunning contrast to the darkness.
Below Beatrice’s nose, the mask swooped down to cover most of her lower cheeks, and the edge of the metal curved back up to the bottoms of her ears, covering every bit of her face above her ears and skirting the edge of her hairline all the way to the top of her forehead. Tendrils of her dark brown hair had pulled away from the black ribbon tying her hair back in a queue and framed her face around the mask.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered.
Jessica preened in the mirror, leaning forward to outline her eyes with a kohl pencil. “Of course. I knew it would be.”
As Beatrice donned her long, white gloves, Jessica painted dark lines of kohl on her face that extended an inch or so from the outside edges of her eyes. If not for her fair features and blond hair, Jessica might actually look a bit like an Egyptian.
Jessica put a touch of rouge on Beatrice’s cheeks beneath the mask—which Beatrice complained about since no one could see her cheeks. Jessica merely said, “Just in case,” and continued by applying berry juice to stain Beatrice’s lips. When she’d finished, they looked in the mirror once more, admiring Jessica’s handiwork.
“We make quite the pair,” Jessica murmured. “The Egyptian queen and the queen of the underworld.” She sighed heavily. “I wish David were here to see us.”
Beatrice smiled. When David was at sea, Jessica missed him desperately. So much that she sometimes accompanied him on his voyages, though he complained lovingly that she was a hellion on board and caused his more superstitious sailors to think she was going to be the death of them all.
“He’ll be back in another two weeks,” she reminded her friend. He was on a short voyage this time, just down to Portsmouth to have some work done on one of his ships.
Jessica nodded, then took a fortifying breath. A good idea, Beatrice thought, and she took one of her own.
“Ready?” Jessica asked.
“Yes,” Beatrice said firmly.
“Let’s go, then.”
Jessica wrapped her filmy shawl around her shoulders. Beatrice donned her long, white linen cloak. They went down the stairs of Beatrice’s father’s house. All was quiet on the ground floor. She and Jessica had planned this night carefully, knowing far ahead of time that her parents would be gone until the wee hours of the morning at Lady Charrington’s supper and ball.
They both knew full well that Beatrice’s parents would forbid Beatrice from going to Madame Lussier’s masquerade. Though Beatrice was a widow and widows generally had more freedom in society than unmarried ladies, her parents insisted that if she lived in their house, she must be a model of propriety. Because of her husband’s death, the revelations of his abusive treatment toward her, and the resulting scandal, she was an embarrassment to them. They preferred that she not expose herself in society at all.
As Beatrice and Jessica walked into the entry hall, Cook came bustling in from the direction of the kitchen. She clapped her hands together, causing a small cloud of flour to billow from her hands.
“Oh! Milady! You are…” Cook’s mouth worked, but she stopped speaking, as if she couldn’t find the right words.
Beatrice smiled, her heart swelling. Her lonely hours at home had enabled her to befriend all the servants, who had colluded in this evening. But her best friend of all the servants was Cook, who allowed Beatrice into the kitchen anytime to do anything she wished, from helping chop vegetables to creating new experimental dishes of her own. Cook said she was so talented ’twas a pity she was born so high.
Beatrice didn’t know about the “talented” part, but it certainly was a pity she couldn’t openly practice what she most loved to do. To her, cooking was like art. As artists worked with varying shades of paint, she worked with textures and tastes, mixing and matching to find the perfect culinary combination.
“And you, too, Mrs. Briggs,” Cook added. “The two of you are such a bedazzling sight, my old eyes just might go blind after all.”
Jessica laughed. “Thank you.”
Not caring about all the flour, Beatrice gave the older woman a tight hug. “Wish me luck,” she whispered in Cook’s ear.
“You don’t need it, milady,” Cook assured her.
That calmed her. Cook believed in her, and so did Jessica. Their trust meant something.
She released Cook and headed outside, where one of the footmen, James, had hailed a hack for them. “Thank you, James.”
“Anything for you, milady.”
She smiled at him as he helped her into the carriage. He bowed and closed the door.
The journey to Madame Lussier’s house didn’t take long. London was dark tonight, the thick layer of coal smoke obliterating any starlight, and there was no moon. But gas streetlamps glittered at intervals along the road, and even at nine o’clock, pedestrians crowded the street in the pleasant late-spring evening.
Beatrice sat quietly, her hands clenched tightly in her lap, trying not to worry that someone might see right through her mask. If that happened, if someone discerned her identity, there would be snickers from the gentlemen and whispers behind fans from the ladies.
She tried to focus on the familiarity of Jessica beside her. Jessica had found her in her darkest time—when Fenwicke was at his worst. Her friend had burst into her life like a ray of bright sunshine. She and her family had saved Beatrice, and she was certain she’d never find a way to repay that generous gift.
As they drew closer to Madame Lussier’s, Beatrice felt sweat pearling on her forehead, even though it wasn’t warm.
“You’re going to be all right,” Jessica said quietly. “They won’t know who you are. All they’re going to see is Persephone.”
“Just have fun,” Jessica said. As if it were that easy.
“I’m certainly going to try. You too. I don’t want you to hover over me, Jess. You must dance and have a wonderful time, no matter what happens. Promise me.”
“Of course I shall have a wonderful time. We both will.” Jessica sounded utterly confident.
The hackney drew to a halt in front of the stately residence bordering Hyde Park. Dozens of lanterns glowed along the building’s façade, sending pools of golden light onto the street below, where people milled about.
Mingled among those who had chosen to simply wear their formal evening dress, there were all sorts of costumes. Peering out the foggy window, Beatrice could see sheikhs and Turks and ladies wearing breeches, and both sexes dressed in the traditional Venetian domino outfit. Most everyone, even those in evening wear, wore masks.
Excitement was palpable in the air. She watched a man wearing a domino costume, the nose of his mask a long, gruesome thing, saunter up to a lady holding a blue, feathered mask to her face and whisper in her ear. She reached up and stroked his arm suggestively.
Beatrice stared, fascinated, grasping the door handle tightly. She might be a recluse now, and she’d always been shy, but there had been a time in her life when she’d enjoyed such gatherings. And tonight, she could tell already, would be a visual feast. Just looking at all the costumes could entertain her for hours.
She wouldn’t think about the repercussions of someone recognizing her. And she wouldn’t think of what would happen if word got back to her parents. None of that would happen. She reached up to touch her mask. She was safe. She was anonymous.
The door swung open, wrenching the handle from her grip, and a blast of cool evening air washed over her. Squaring her shoulders, she alighted from the hack and stepped into the melee.
Andrew Sinclair, the ninth Earl of Weston, fingered his champagne glass distractedly. He wished he were at home, studying the latest unclassified flora brought back from South America.
PRAISE FOR USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR JENNIFER HAYMORE:
"4.5 stars, HOT! Readers have been eagerly awaiting this sequel to Confessions of an Improper Bride, in order to finally uncover the truth about Meg Donovan's "death." Haymore creates a highly satisfying answer, drawing the reader in with wonderfully realistic characters, adventure, passion and unexpected plot twists while crafting another delightful entry in the Donovan series."—RT Book Reviews on Pleasures of a Tempted Lady
- "With beautifully rendered characters, lush sensuality, and a riveting story line, this well-told tale puts a refreshing spin on both the hidden identity and classic reunion plots and gets Haymore's new series off to a delightful start."—Library Journal on Confessions of an Improper Bride
- "Jennifer Haymore strikes a good balance of strength, sensuality, drama and intrigue in her characters...With enduring characters that exhibit strong chemistry, I very much enjoyed Ms. Haymore's unique, engaging style and look forward to reading the other books that are a part of this series."—www.fictionvixen.com on A Season of Seduction
- "Each time Ms. Haymore writes a book in this series I think there is no way to top the one I just finished. I started this latest one and realize she has done just that and has proven to me how fresh this series can remain. The characters of Becky and Jack are so full of life and longing just trying to make the right connection between family, relationship and future happiness while figuring out who to trust with all their secrets. This is a wonderful story and while I recommend reading the 1st two it is not imperative as Jennifer Haymore is a magician at connecting the plot from one book to the next-- but trust me you will have to buy the first two, they are that good."—The Reading Reviewer (www.marygramlich.com) on A Season of Seduction
- "Sweep-you-off-your-feet historical romance! Jennifer Haymore sparkles!"—New York Times bestselling author Liz Carlyle
- "Jennifer Haymore's books are sophisticated, deeply sensual, and emotionally complex."—New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt
- " For jaded romance readers, Jennifer Haymore is an author to watch!"—New York Times bestselling author Nicole Jordan
- On Sale
- Apr 1, 2014
- Page Count
- 120 pages
- Forever Yours