When George Keppel, the Earl of Newport, broke off their romance, and married another woman, in 1809, Jane Sommersby was devastated. When his twins were born less than five months after that wedding, Jane swore she'd had a lucky escape; that she had been spared great misery.
Now, it's 1812, and Newport's a widower who is pursuing her, once more. Like Byron, Newport is dangerous to know. At least, he's dangerous to Jane's wounded heart because she has never stopped loving him.
ExcerptTuesday, 5 May 1812
Miss Jane Sommersby longed to step outside onto the terrace to enjoy the cooler night breeze, yet she felt trapped within this sweltering, crowded, London ballroom. She glanced at the terrace door and thought about escape, not only escape from the crowd and heat, but also from Lord Newport, as he was now slowly making his way across the room towards her.
Yet, she knew her attempt at escape would be counter-productive. Newport would follow her out onto the darkened terrace. The last thing she could afford was to be caught in a compromising situation with him.
She looked toward the familiar voice of her cousin, Edmund, the Marquess of FitzSimmons. “Fitz,” she replied, feeling herself smile at him. She hadn’t expected him here.
His answering smile didn’t dim the sadness in his eyes. He was, as she expected, nursing a broken heart over Sally.
“How long have you been in Town, Cousin?” Jane asked.
“I arrived just before sunset.”
Yes, she could believe that. He looked bone weary in addition to heartsick. Knowing Fitz, he had left Wales before dawn today and had ridden hell-for-leather, changing horses every few miles after exhausting each animal.
“Does your mother know you are in town?” she asked.
“She does now,” her cousin replied with a dry chuckle. “I see her looking at me with a mixture of pleasure and dismay.”
There was only one reason he’d have abandoned his duties on his father’s estate and left his own racing stud in Wales in the hands of a steward. “You’ve come to Town in search of a wife, then,” she said. “Are you certain you wish to do this?”
That one tightly spoken word told her all she needed to know. He was here out of duty, looking to settle for a conventional marriage for the sake of securing an heir.
“I should be delighted to help you find someone suitable,” Jane offered, knowing no one she presented to him would ever measure up to the only woman he’d ever loved, the only woman he’d ever love. Yet, each lady would do her duty to him, as he would to whatever lady he chose. She supposed he could make a good marriage, by the standards of society. Yet, he deserved, Sally deserved, far more than this. It made her sad.
He nodded, slightly. “Thank you. I shall call on you tomorrow afternoon and we shall go riding in the park where we will be able to talk more freely.”
“I shall have to consult my calendar. I believe I already have a commitment,” Jane replied.
His expression reminded her of a small boy denied a treat.
“Then you are not available tomorrow afternoon for a ride in the park with your favorite cousin?” he asked.
“Oh, has Reggie’s ship docked?” she teased, trying to banish some of the sadness from his eyes.
Fitz chuckled, then said with clear affection, “You remain the same incorrigible chit you always were.”
“I fear you are all too correct in that. Your mother cringes at the very thought, however, I do prefer to ride for exercise in the mornings. Come around for breakfast at nine. We can ride out after we eat. The parks are empty at that hour.”
“Very well. Have you a partner for the supper dance?”
“Yes, Fitz, she does,” Lord Newport said. “Me.”
“Newport, how are you?” he greeted the other man warmly.
Jane’s heart skipped a beat as she looked at George Keppel, Lord Newport, the man who had shattered her world by marrying another woman three years ago.
“I am well,” Newport said. “Miss Sommersby, this is our dance, is it not?”
She should have simply told him he was mistaken, and gone to the dance floor with Fitz. Yet she found herself saying, “Cousin, if you’d excuse us?”
Then she wondered why she had done this. Of all the men in the room, Newport was the last person she wanted to dance with. Wasn’t he? And yet, she had to honestly admit part of her wanted to be nowhere else than on the floor sharing this dance with him. It wasn’t sensible. Still, she couldn’t hide from the truth, unpleasant as it was.
“Of course. I should allow my mother to introduce me to at least one suitable female this evening,” Fitz allowed, clearly not cherishing the idea of his mother’s idea of a suitable match for him. Then he walked away.
“Had you promised this dance to another?” Newport asked.
She kept her voice low. “A little late for you to ask, is it not? As a matter of fact, I managed to redirect the original gentleman to another miss who would be far better suited to him. Were intelligence and ambition readily translatable into currency, together they would not have the price of a twist of tea.”
“You always did have a way of sizing up people quickly. It’s part of what makes you such a good chess player,” he said in clear amusement.
His smile still took her breath away. She wondered what that said about her sanity. Nothing good, she supposed. She forced herself to breathe as she took his arm and went out onto the dance floor to join the forming set.