Their aversion was instant and mutual. Or so it would seem…
Celestia Tolman will never forgive Landry, Earl of Keyworth, for trying to ruin her father’s livelihood. She will, however, teach the arrogant lord a lesson he won’t soon forget. The task should be simple—if she can ignore her untimely and entirely unwanted attraction to the handsome devil, that is…
Landry has no patience for liars and cheaters, and he suspects the delectable Celestia is both. He has no intention of letting her sway his sympathies in favor of her charlatan of a father, and he won’t allow her to steal his heart. At least, that’s what he told himself…
But when ugly gossip throws them together in a most unexpected way, can Landry and Celestia overcome their differences and forge a path to happily ever after? Or are they destined to remain enemies forever?
This intriguing Regency historical by a USA Today bestselling author will make you smile, laugh, and sigh with contentment as you witness the enemies Landry and Celestia fall in love.
If you enjoy reading unique class difference, strong heroine, and lovable rogue stories with a dash of romantic humor and heartwarming emotion, then you’ll adore Collette Cameron’s enthralling WICKED EARLS’ CLUB SERIES. Buy EARL OF KEYWORTH and settle into your favorite reading nook for a page-turning romantic escape into a Regency world adventure you can’t put down.
Though part of a series, this book can easily be read as a stand-alone novel
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Landry Audsley, Earl of Keyworth was a secondary character is Earl of Scarborough and made cameo appearances in some of my other Seductive Scoundrels Series book. When I first introduced him, there was something brooding about him that needed an explanation…a cause. Earl of Keyworth is the third book I've written for the Wicked Earls' Club multi-authors' series which readers have adored. I hope we do several more rounds of wicked earls.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
For each series, I decided on a common theme and then select character names. Sometimes those names reflect something about the series. My characters always have two middle names in addition to their given name. My stories are character driven so I really get to know them by completing a character interview for each before I begin writing. Those facts might change depending on the direction the story takes as I get to know the character even better.
My darling, not a day goes by that I do not wish we were together.
I should have defied Keyworth. I should have been brave and strong
and escaped when I knew I carried you, my precious love.
But Landry needed me. I was so frightened for him…
Can you ever forgive me?
~Letter from the Countess of Keyworth to her daughter, Lenora.
Never sent. Ripped up and burned.
Faringcroft Park—Earl of Keyworth’s Country Seat
16 February 1810—Late Evening
Sweat beaded his brow as Landry Audsley, Earl of Keyworth, held his dying mother’s cold, frail hand. A roaring fire hissed and snapped angrily in the hearth. Regardless, the Countess of Keyworth shivered, her feeble form racked by chills.
The suffocating heat fairly choked him, making it impossible to breathe. Or perhaps it was the unshed tears constricting his throat and cramping his ribs that made the simple task of drawing air into his lungs difficult.
He tenderly drew another blanket from the foot of the bed over his mother’s emaciated form.
Always slight of build, his once pretty-as-a-pansy mother had wasted away these past months until only a shell of the woman he adored remained. She was only two-and-forty—much, much too young to die.
“I love you, Landry,” she said, reaching out to graze his cheek.
A sob caught in Landry’s throat and, with grim resolve, he quashed the evidence of his heartbreak.
“I love you too, Mama.”
He nearly strangled on the five short words. There was so much more he yearned to say.
His mother was all that was gentle and sweet, compassionate and kind. The opposite of the coldhearted, mercenary blighter she had entered into an arranged marriage with. The previous earl had preceded her in death only last year, and within months she had also fallen ill.
So bloody, bloody damned unfair.
Providence. Destiny. Fate. Whatever higher force had dealt this unjust hand was capricious and immensely cruel.
Scorching tears stung Landry’s eyes.
His mother’s delicate features, ashen in contrast to the pale lavender pillows she rested upon, blurred before his gaze. Summoning gritty determination, he blinked the stinging moisture away, lest Mama witness his grief and become even more distraught.
This dear woman’s unconditional love was what had kept him from becoming a replica of the former earl: harsh, unforgiving, selfish, and an abusive, sodding cockscum.
Some claimed giving one’s life for another was the greatest gift, and Landry supposed it was. But loving someone unconditionally, even when it guaranteed you’d suffer at another’s hands because of that love…
Well, that made his mother a bloody saint in his mind.
Landry had not shed a tear or felt the minutest flicker of grief when his father had kicked off his mortal coil in a most befitting manner—an apoplexy while shagging a Covent Garden doxy.
In truth, it was a wonder the previous earl had not perished from the clap or pox decades ago. It was no more than he deserved.
However, the inflexible, unrelenting reality of never seeing his beloved mother again nearly eviscerated Landry.
God, he screamed silently. Desperately.
“Landry, I must…tell you something,” Mama whispered, her voice the merest whisper of sound. An old woman’s weak, quavery voice. Not his mother’s dulcet tones.
“Shh, Mama,” he soothed, leaning down to press his mouth to her too-cool, pale-as-milk forehead. “Save your strength.”
It would not be long now.
He swallowed the grief strangling him.
Soon his sweet mother would draw her last labored breath.
Doctor Rendle had left an hour ago. Shaking his silvery-white head, he’d patted Landry’s shoulder in a fatherly fashion. “I am deeply sorry, my lord. There is nothing more to be done. The countess will pass shortly. I have given her laudanum to keep her comfortable.”
Rage burgeoned in Landry’s chest at the unfairness.
By God in heaven.
Evil people should die young.
Those as decent and loving as his mother should live to a ripe old age. To see their son married and to hold their grandchildren in their loving embrace. To enjoy the peace and happiness that was denied them for far, far too long.
The muffled weeping of Warner, his mother’s lady’s maid for the past two decades, came from the corner she huddled in miserably. The sniffling and watery shudders agitated Landry, but he did not have the heart to order her to leave the bedchamber.
He well knew how much Warner loved his mother. How, she too, had willingly acted as a buffer between the dying countess and the previous earl’s violent rages and calculated cruelty.
“No, Landry. You must…listen to me.” Mama grasped his waistcoat, weakly urging him nearer. “I should have told you long ago. Certainly after Keyworth died.”
Landry had removed his cravat and coat before the doctor left. It somehow seemed wrong to be attired in starchy formality at a time like this. Besides, the bedchamber was a blistering inferno, the scarlet and orange flames in the hearth fiercely battling each other for dominance in a skirmish neither would win.
Sweat trickled down his back and soaked his underarms. His discomfort did not matter. He’d endure hell’s fires if it meant easing Mama’s suffering a single jot.
Landry forced a smile, though his facial muscles protested the effort, and a merciless vice crushed his breastbone, threatening to pulverize it into dust.
“What is it?” he asked, wishing she would save her strength. Each additional minute with her was a treasure he could store up in his heart and memory.
“You have a sister,” she whispered through blue-tinted lips.
“What?” Landry drew back, his befuddled mind trying to comprehend what she had murmured.
Was she delusional?
Was that a sign of impending death?
Pressing two fingers to his temple, he searched the recesses of his mind.
Had Dr. Rendle mentioned anything of that nature?
Landry honestly did not know.
He could not remember half of what the kindly doctor had told him.
Grief had turned Landry’s mind into a foggy, cottony, befuddled mess.
“I named her Lenora, Landry,” Mama sobbed softly, a sodden handkerchief pressed to her mouth. “Keyworth was not her father.”
So his gentle-hearted mother had taken a lover.
Brava for her.
She certainly deserved a sliver of happiness after having been married to the monster she had called husband for four-and-twenty years. Regardless, his sire’s hypocrisy was beyond maddening and equally infuriating.
Where was this sister?
Shunted off to live in obscurity with a distant relative?
Squeezing her hand, he said, “It is all right, Mama.”
For what else did one say to one’s dying parent when they were confessing their darkest secret?
“He…he did not even permit me to hold her,” she muttered raggedly, almost as if speaking to herself. Repeating a phrase she had no doubt murmured over and over and over again to herself in her sorrow.
“She would be ten years old now, my little girl,” Mama said.
Scorching wrath tunneled through Landry’s veins in the next heartbeat. He fought to keep the anger from showing on his face or manifesting in his voice.
He knew of three boys born on the wrong side of the blanket his father had sired—all by different women. And all of whom had been servants in the debaucher’s employ.
Undoubtedly, more of his seed had found fertile soil in the countless other women from the filthiest slatterns to the nobles’ perfumed and powdered wives he’d swived. Worse than a rutting bull, the previous earl had not been the least selective or discreet in whom he tupped.
In his typical callous fashion, the reprobate had dismissed his pregnant servants on the grounds of promiscuousness. Likely as not, the cockscum had forced himself on them.
When Landry became the earl, he had hired Dirby Madagan, a detective, to locate each ill-used woman and had settled a generous portion on those women and their sons.
It was the least he could do.
And yet…it still was not nearly enough for the disgrace and humiliation the poor misused women had endured. Would continue to endure, for the status of illegitimacy would forever hang over his half-brothers’ heads.
Landry had seen to it that the boys received an education, and when they were of an age, he would help them in the vocation of their choice.
How it must’ve enraged his father to have sired three more sons that he could never claim, while his wife had never born him another child. Just the one heir. Landry. No spare to satisfy the old earl’s ego or guarantee the continuance of his spindly, unworthy branch of the family.
Reeling from his mother’s confession, Landry asked, “Who is her father?”
All this time, he’d had a sister thirteen years younger than he.
Did she have quicksilver gray eyes and chestnut hair with reddish-bronze ribbons like their mother and him?
Did she possess the same sweet disposition and innocent beauty as their mother?
With apparent effort, his mother tipped her mouth upward a fraction.
“It does not matter, darling. He was not a nobleman or even landed gentry. He died…some time ago. Your father—”
Landry’s mother winced, an expression of indescribable anguish flickering across her ravaged features. She licked her chapped lips. “He…”
“Yes?” Landry prompted. “He…?”
“Keyworth…killed him when he learned I was…with child.”
“A duel?” Landry asked incredulously, unable to disguise his astonishment. His father had never seemed the honorable or courageous sort.
“No. Keyworth…he shot him in the back.” A single crystalline tear trailed from the corner of one eye. “Keyworth gloated about it to me.”
She had never called the late earl anything but Keyworth in a carefully neutral tone. As if she had retreated to someplace within herself where he could not hurt her anymore. As if inflecting any emotion into the word validated him in some manner.
“He delighted in telling me…all of the horrific details,” she whispered brokenly. “How much my darling suffered.”
The bloody, bloody murdering blackguard.
“I welcome death.” A soft, faraway look entered her gray eyes. “I shall see my beloved again, at last.”
“Do you have any idea where the earl would’ve sent the babe?” he asked, now desperate to gather as many details as he could so he could find Lenora.
Where did Landry start looking, for God’s sake?
Ten years was a very long time—too long?—to attempt to find a trail likely gone arctic cold. Nonetheless, he must try.
Mama gave a shallow nod.
“Warner spied on Keyworth for me. He sent Lenora to live with a family in France. In the Touraine region. All of these years, I have tried to find her, but Lenora seemingly disappeared without a trace.”
Her voice cracked, and the torment on her frail face ripped Landry’s heart from his chest. Another tear trickled from the corner of her eye.
That devil’s spawn had sent an innocent babe to live in France while England and France had been at war? He’d probably hoped the child would die.
Or…had he disposed of the innocent babe?
That possibility soured Landry’s stomach. Bile seared the back of his throat, and acrid bitterness flooded his mouth.
He abhorred the notion—couldn’t conceive such evilness.
Regardless of how repulsive the thought, he must consider the possibility. If his sire could cold-bloodedly shoot a man in the back and confiscate a babe at birth, he could also dispose of a defenseless infant without a qualm.
“The physician said I would bear no more children after Lenora. I laughed in Keyworth’s face and told him I would cuckold him with any willing man hereafter.” Mama coughed, her thin shoulders quaking.
Landry offered her a drink of water. After a small sip, his mother curved her mouth into a sardonic smile he’d never before seen upon her face. “It drove him positively mad, trying to figure out who I had been with. There wasn’t anyone, of course. Not after…” Her lower lip quivered. “But I so despised him that I made it appear as if there were dozens and dozens.”
“Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turned, nor hell fury, like a woman scorned.”
A rather infamous line from playwright William Congreve whispered across Landry’s mind.
How greatly he had underestimated his mother’s strength and determination.
She focused her failing gaze across the room. “It was not hard to do, you know. Keyworth always wanted to believe the worst of me.”
Aye, that festering sod’s perception of everyone and everything was tinged with his pessimism and his own depraved outlook.
Mama clutched at Landry’s hand, suddenly frantic. “Find her for me, Landry. She should be…with her brother.”
She gasped, struggling to breathe for a pair of heartbeats.
A rusty blade skewering his heart would hurt less than watching her suffer—watching her die.
“Promise…me…my son,” she rasped, her breathing ever more labored. “Before all else, please make finding your sister your priority.” She drew in a shallow, rattling breath. “Then I can…rest in peace, knowing my children have each other.”
Holding both of her hands in his, choking on the bevy of sobs throttling up his throat, Landry nodded. His tears flowed freely now, and he did not give a blacksmith’s oath. The person he adored the most, his constant in an uncertain and often cruel world, was leaving him.
At three-and-twenty, he would be alone.
He had no one.
Except for a ten-year-old sister somewhere.
And the possibility of a wife and children someday.
For his own sake, because of what his mother had longed for and been denied, and to spite the rotter burning in hell who’d sired him, Landry would not have a cold, distant marriage filled with icy disdain or fulminating anger.
By God, I would marry a flower hawker or a seamstress if she loved me, and I loved her.
“I shall find her, Mama.” He pressed his lips to her icy knuckles.
“Thank you,” she uttered so softly the sound barely slipped past her dry lips.
“I vow it,” he swore. “I shall make finding Lenora my top priority.”
She was gone before he finished his oath.
USA Today Bestselling, award-winning author COLLETTE CAMERON® scribbles Scottish and Regency historical romance novels featuring dashing rogues, rakes, and scoundrels and the strong heroines who reform them. Blessed with an overactive and witty muse that won’t stop whispering new romantic romps in her ear, she’s lived in Oregon her entire life. Although she dreams of living in Scotland part-time. A confessed Cadbury chocoholic, you'll always find a dash of inspiration and a pinch of humor in her sweet-to-spicy timeless romances®.
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