“Oh, come along, Jemima!” Amy Place huffed, stopping to look over her shoulder when she realized that her older daughter was not at her side. “Must you dawdle like that whenever we go out?”
Jemima turned away from the shop window. Her eye had been caught by a beautiful dress in pale blue fabric and it looked stunning. It was, of course, far too dear for her, but it did give her some ideas. She did need a new dress, after all. She swallowed back the retort she wanted to give her mother as Amy came hurrying back to her, Jemima’s younger sister in tow.
“I was just having a look at the dresses, Mother.”
Mrs Place pierced her lips, still not looking happy. But she did give the dress a glance and Jemima saw a gleam in her eye. She loved the sight of beautiful things, things that were far out of their household budget. Their father was in despair as to why his wife wanted things she knew they couldn’t afford. Finally, Mrs Place huffed and turned away, beckoning both of her daughters to follow her.
“Well, come along now. We can’t stay in town for much longer. You know Mr Hann and his wife and son are visiting us for tea shortly. We’re going to be late to greet them if we wait for you to stop staring at pretty dresses.”
Jemima stopped herself from rolling her eyes. The Hann family. Daniel and his parents. Why did they have to keep coming over to the Place family home for tea? Jemima didn’t mind seeing Mr and Mrs Hann on occasion, and they were nice people, but even the nicest of people could drive her mad. She just wanted to be left alone.
Unfortunately, Amy Place deemed that unacceptable and that Jemima’s lack of social visits was the reason she wasn’t married at her age.
“Mother, Mr Hann won’t mind if we’re not there to greet them. You know how poor they are with their timekeeping.”
Mrs Place sniffed.
“That doesn’t mean we should be tardy ourselves. And you need to change so Daniel can see you at your best.”
“I need to change?” Jemima looked down at her dress, a simple muslin in pale yellow. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
“Aside from the fact it’s got mud on the hem, it’s not your afternoon best. You know perfectly well what attire you need.”
“I can get the mud off. It’s not much…”
But Mrs Place’s annoyed huff had Jemima falling into silence. Standing beside Mrs Place, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Place smirked. She was clearly enjoying seeing her sister being scolded.
“Just stop arguing, Jemima and come along!”
“Honestly!” Mrs Place turned on her heel and stalked off. “I feel like I’m herding ducks with you and your sister whenever we go out. You know it makes me look like a fool that I can’t keep my daughters in line?”
Jemima sighed and followed her mother, the woman walking ahead with a long, purposeful stride. Amy Place was quite a figure, and she loved to show her face in their small community. Hemingford Grey knew all about the Place family, mostly due to Mrs Place’s attempts to move her daughters further up in the social classes. She liked to go for a walk at least twice a week to greet those with a slightly higher status in Society. Jemima didn’t understand it. She just wanted to be left alone.
Which wasn’t easy when her father was always at work in his lawyer’s office, her mother was forcing her to meet practically everyone who had a title, and a little sister who liked to pester and tease her.
A little sister who was now falling into step beside Jemima with a scowl at her mother’s back.
“I wish she wouldn’t put me in that comparison as well.” She muttered. “That’s not fair.”
“Well, she does have a point.” Jemima said. “You’re just as bad as I am when you get distracted.”
“Only if we’re in the music shop and I find new music.”
Jemima couldn’t argue with that. Elizabeth loved her music and she played the piano almost religiously. It was the only subject Jemima didn’t tutor Elizabeth in, her younger sister choosing to learn things herself. She was a natural with the piano, but it was a shame she couldn’t put her mind to her other subjects. Jemima had asked for her parents to hire a tutor instead of using her to teach Elizabeth, as it was clear that Elizabeth didn’t like the fact her older sister was her tutor, but she had been told that it was cheaper for Jemima to teach her sister. She didn’t have anything better to do.
That had stung when they said that.
“I don’t blame you for getting distracted in there, but you do get lost in a world of your own.”
“Like you do when you’re writing that pathetic poetry.”
Jemima bit back her annoyance. That would never work with Elizabeth. They hurried across the street after their mother, getting out the way of a horse pulling a carriage. The driver touched his fingers to his hat as he passed, both Jemima and Elizabeth nodding in response. Then they followed Mrs Place as she turned left and went down the street.
“Do you think you can write poetry, Elizabeth?” Jemima asked. “It’s not as easy as you think it is.”
“I can write letters and I write well enough. I can write poetry.”
“All right, fine. I’ll set that for you when we start your lessons tomorrow morning. See if you can write better poetry.”
Which wouldn’t be easy. Jemima’s poetry wasn’t great, but it was passable. Elizabeth could write nicely, but her spelling was still atrocious. Mrs Place thought her daughter wrote beautiful prose, but it was nonsensical. Jemima knew she shouldn’t be mean towards her sister, but every time she tried to prompt Elizabeth into doing the right spelling or doing it in a way that made sense, Elizabeth told her to go away and she didn’t need any help. The girl was far too prideful to ask for it, and Jemima had no time for her arrogance. Most of the time, it was just Jemima telling Elizabeth what she needed to do and then she sat off to the side doing her own thing while Elizabeth focused on her lessons alone. She did not like Jemima telling her what to do.
Another reason they should hire a tutor. They did not get along in the best of times and their parents expected them to get along in this capacity. Jemima knew she was going to scream at some point.
They were coming to the final shop in the street, which was a tobacconist’s. A handsome carriage was waiting outside. Mrs Place walked by the carriage just as a young man wearing a dark blue coat came out of the shop, carrying a couple of parcels. He stopped abruptly to avoid himself colliding into Mrs Place, but Jemima’s mother didn’t falter in her stride. She simply nodded at the young man.
“Thank you, sir.”
Jemima had to bite back a groan. Mrs Place never realized that she was an incredibly rude woman. She saw it as being forthright when she needed to be. Jemima saw it as something else entirely. Now she was stuck with the embarrassing situation of apologizing to a stranger for her mother almost walking into him.
But before she could move, however, the stranger got onto the carriage, saying something to his driver. As he got in, however, something dropped to the ground by the wheels. But the stranger didn’t notice, simply disappearing inside the carriage and shutting the door.
Jemima hurried forward as the carriage headed down the street, looking down to see a small leather-bound book at her feet. It must have dropped out of the man’s pocket. She picked it up. It was a small book, just slightly bigger than her hand, but it was thick. And it was heavy. Delicately made, almost like it was brand new. Wrapped around it was a thick leather shoestring, looking like one end was stitched into the spine of the book.
It looked like one of those journals Jemima’s father loved to use.
“Jemima?” Elizabeth appeared at her side. “What is it?”
“It’s…it’s a notebook of some kind.” Jemima turned it over in her hands. “It must have come out of his pocket when he was getting into the carriage.”
“Oh?” Elizabeth looked over her sister’s shoulder. “A journal. Father uses them all the time.”
“I wonder if there’s something salacious in there.” Elizabeth giggled. “Something naughty.”
Jemima stared at her.
“Elizabeth! You’re too young to be saying such things!”
“What? I’m not a child!”
“As far as everyone is concerned, you are until you turn eighteen. Don’t you forget that.” Jemima put the journal into her reticule and tightened the strings. “I’m going to be responsible and look after it. It’s not for us to pour over and see what the writer has put between the pages.”
Elizabeth pouted, sticking out her bottom lip.
“Spoilsport.” She muttered.
Jemima jumped. Their mother was outside the gate of a nearby cottage, hands on her hips as she frowned at her daughters. Clearing her throat, Jemima started to walk again.
At least they weren’t too far from home. Their home was a nice-sized cottage on the outskirts of Hemingford Grey, just out of the way of foot traffic but right on the way in from St Ives. There had been instances when Jemima could easily hail the carriage going to St Ives right outside their front gate.
But much as Jemima wanted to get home and find a place to put the journal, a place where Elizabeth couldn’t snoop, she wasn’t too keen on going to see Daniel Hann. He would be wanting to get her attention, and Jemima found him rather boring. When he wasn’t being overbearing. Amy and Charles Place thought he was a charming, polite young man. They clearly hadn’t seen the real person.
Jemima had when they grew up as children. And she hadn’t liked that side of him.
“Come on, Jemima!” Elizabeth tugged on her sister’s arm. “Let’s go! I’m hungry, and Mrs Mason said she was going to cook her shortbread today.”
“Oh, for goodness sake!” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “What’s the matter with you? Nervous that you’re seeing Daniel again?”
“Of course I’m not.” Jemima frowned. “Although this is the third time in the last two weeks. That is a little too much, even when they’re your friends.”
“Maybe there’s a reason for Daniel to be coming over so much with his parents.”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe Mother and Father and Daniel’s parents are trying to set up a match for both of you. Push you into courtship.”
Jemima stopped short and stared at her.
“They wouldn’t do that. Would they?”
“Why not? You’re five-and-twenty now, Jemima, and you’re still unmarried.” Elizabeth huffed. “If you don’t get married, there’s little chance that I will be able to find a good match. An unmarried sister is good at keeping marriage prospects away for everyone else.”
“That’s not the case. And you’re not old enough to be talking about marriage.”
“I still need to consider it and weigh up my options.” Elizabeth started tugging Jemima into walking again. “And what’s wrong with marriage, anyway? It means you’ve got someone to look after you, and Daniel comes from a wealthy family. You two would be a good match.”
Jemima didn’t think so. She had made the choice when she was younger that when she married it would be for love. No matches because it was financially beneficial or the families were friends. Jemima didn’t see anything romantic in it at all. Besides, she didn’t exactly have much for a dowry. Her father had money and he was a hard worker, but they were certainly not wealthy. No matter what the situation, the dowry would play a big part.
Her parents might have thought Daniel was a good choice, and he did have money, he was good-looking and he had connections. But Jemima didn’t love him. She tolerated him, at best. It was only because Mr and Mrs Hann were nice people that she could sit in the same room at Daniel. She didn’t want to upset them.
“Life isn’t all about getting a husband, Elizabeth.” Jemima pulled her arm away. “Enjoy being unmarried while you can. There’s only so much freedom you’ll have as a wife.”
“Any more than we have now?” Elizabeth snorted. She turned away and walked after their mother, who was striding off down the road. “You’re going to grow old and alone if you keep thinking like that.”
Jemima sighed and followed her. She wasn’t going to argue it any further, and Elizabeth liked to provoke her into a retort that had Jemima being scolded for being unkind to her sister. Elizabeth was approaching adulthood and she still acted like a child.
As she walked down the road towards their cottage, Jemima slid a hand into her bag and closed her fingers around the journal, feeling the smooth leather against her fingertips. It was a very nice book, and clearly owned by someone in the nobility. Jemima found herself thinking about the young man who had dropped it. He didn’t look much older than her, tall with dark hair. Strong, firm stride and a purposeful air. When he wasn’t being walked into by a middle-aged woman determined to get home so she didn’t look tardy for her guests.
Would she see him again to give the journal back? Jemima didn’t know. She knew practically everyone in Hemingford Grey, but she didn’t recognize him. He was probably from St Ives, or he lived in one of the wealthy houses just outside the village. Jemima loved to go for walks, but she kept to herself a lot of the time. Besides, she was not the type a man of a high social status would interact with.
She would find a way to get the journal back. Once she had changed and sat through afternoon tea. Then the time would be her own.
Nicholas Templeton, Earl of St Ives, headed into the library and grinned when he saw the dark-haired beauty sitting on the window seat. She gave him a coquettish smile and rose to her feet, giving him a curtsy.
“My Lord St Ives.”
“Miss Jennings.” St Ives glanced into the hallway and saw that there was no one hanging around. The other guests were in the drawing room and the servants were busy clearing up after dinner. He closed the door and crossed the room. “I trust you’re having a pleasant evening tonight.”
“Very pleasant, thank you.” Catherine bit her lip, her eyes sparkling. “You do know how to be a gracious guest, Lord St Ives.”
“Very gracious, I hope.”
Catherine’s gaze was appreciative as she looked him up and down. She was not shy in displaying what she thought. St Ives liked her fire, her witty retorts and her sweet voice. She would be perfect as the next woman in his bed. He had made up his mind about that within minutes of meeting her earlier in the year while in London. St Ives prided himself in choosing a woman who would be pliable but responsive. The young ladies he chose didn’t disappoint.
Catherine Jennings was looking to be one who would please him immensely. They enjoyed each other’s company, and Catherine had been making hints that she found him very attractive. St Ives had noticed it during dinner when Catherine kept giving him looks across the table.
St Ives knew there was going to be a lot of sneaking around this week while he was Mr William Jennings’ guest, but he would happily do it if it meant spending precious time in bed with the host’s beautiful daughter.
“Mother and Father are still talking about you.” Catherine crossed the room towards him. She brushed her fingers over his coat, fingering the pin in his cravat. “I know Father’s impressed with you. After hearing of your reputation, he was concerned about having you in the house.”
“I’m surprised he agreed to let me stay here for the week.”
“I am his youngest daughter, and he lets me have what I want.” Catherine walked her fingers slowly up his cravat. “And I wanted to have you here this week. As my guest.”
“Then I hope I don’t disappoint.”
Catherine’s smirk said everything. She was good at making people aware of what she wanted with just a look. St Ives had been getting a lot of looks since they first met, and he didn’t need to guess. She wanted him. How her parents hadn’t noticed this, St Ives had no idea, but Catherine was the type of young lady who always got what she wanted.
Who was St Ives to deny that?
Catherine was stepping closer now, her skirts brushing against his legs. She curled her hand around the back of St Ives’ neck and started to tug him down. Suddenly, she sprang away from him so quickly that St Ives swayed. Whoa, what had just happened there? Then he heard a familiar voice behind him.
“Forgive me, Miss Jennings, Lord St Ives. I didn’t realize you were here.”
St Ives turned and glared at the intruder. Theodore Ramsbury, Earl of Ely, was standing in the doorway with a slightly bemused expression. Then the bemusement disappeared and his smile widened. He knew exactly what he had interrupted. Catherine, looking rather flushed, cleared her throat and brushed her hands down her skirts.
“I’d better get back to the guests. Mother will be asking questions if I’m away for too long.” She glanced at St Ives, her eyes glinting. “Maybe we’ll carry on this…conversation at a later time, my lord.”
“I look forward to it, Miss Jennings.”
St Ives already knew where Catherine’s room was. He just needed to wait for everyone to fall asleep.
Catherine left the room, giving Ely a brisk nod before she left, shutting the door a little too hard behind her. St Ives turned to his friend and glared.
“Did you have to do that, Ely?”
“It was an accident.” Ely held up his hands. “I really didn’t know you were in here. I was just trying to find somewhere to hide.”
“Hide from what?” St Ives went to the couch by the fire. He sat down and stretched his legs out. “Are the conversations not up to your high standards?”
“You know Mr Jennings speaks in such a monotonous tone and only about his business prospects.” Ely slumped onto the couch across from his friend with a heavy sigh. “I would like to talk about something that isn’t about his shipping business.”
“I thought you wanted to get into a business venture.”
“Not with that old crout.”
St Ives chuckled.
“Old crout? He’s barely sixty.”
“That’s still old.”
That was coming from a man who had just passed his thirtieth birthday. Ely called anyone over forty old. St Ives shifted his legs towards the fire. It was a cool evening, and the fire was nicely tickling the heat up his body.
“You won’t think it’s old when we end up sixty. I hope we’ll still be spritely then.”
“I think we will.” Ely made a face. “I don’t think I could cope being stuck in one room or unable to go more than a few feet.”
“Don’t be daft. People at that age aren’t like that. And Mr Jennings has more spirit and stamina than a lot of people in middle age. He’s just boring.”
“Do you want to say that a little louder? I’m sure that will get back to Miss Catherine.”
She was the youngest of five children, and William Jennings had been in his late thirties when she was born. Catherine herself had complained about her father on multiple occasions. St Ives simply nodded and let her talk. He knew when it was time for a woman to take his attention. If they knew he was good at listening, then it endeared him to them.
It certainly worked with Catherine. She had been about to kiss him before Ely had come stumbling in with his big feet. The handsome blond Earl of Ely could certainly draw a woman’s eye, but he wasn’t good with social cues and graces. Somehow, that made him endearing and women would flock around him if they didn’t flock around St Ives.
If St Ives was lucky, more than kissing would happen later.
“You’re really going to make Catherine Jennings your next lover, aren’t you?” Ely asked.
“Well, I’d certainly like to explore what’s going on more between us.” St Ives shrugged. “What better way to do it than being a guest in her home for the week? Her parents are often busy with their own activities, so Catherine is left to her own devices.”
“All the easier for you to explore things.” Ely arched an eyebrow. “And I’m guessing this is going into the journal as well?”
“Of course. Like everything else.”
This would certainly be going in his journal. St Ives was sure that there would be some very noteworthy activity. People would call it shallow that he wrote down his escapades in the bedroom into a journal, but St Ives liked to have a memory of good times. Ely thought it was crass and that he didn’t have any respect for women. St Ives had a lot of respect for women. He just expressed it in a different way.
His friend had asked if he was ever going to stop, because when he finally married it wasn’t exactly something to be carrying around. To which St Ives had shrugged and said if it happened, he would throw it away. And he didn’t think he was going to be getting married anytime soon. He was having too much fun.
And he hadn’t been able to find the one woman who would make him stop and pay attention. That would be a very good way of getting him to settle down and focus on his future.
“Just be careful with this one, Nicholas.” Ely jerked a thumb at the door. “From the look of it, she wants more than just an affair. She’s after a marriage.”
“I’m sure someone else can give that to her, but it won’t be coming from me. She knows that.”
“You might want to tell her a bit more forcefully if she starts talking about marriage.” Ely pointed out. “It’s going to be one of those things that will happen once you’ve got her into bed. I know when a woman is going to start thinking about a wedding.”
St Ives laughed.
“You worry too much. Catherine knows that I’m not looking for marriage. We’re going into this knowing what’s going to happen.”
“A woman does change her mind. You know that.” Ely frowned. “You’re going to get into serious trouble one day, Nicholas. You’ll break the heart of a girl who loves you dearly, and you won’t be able to get her back. Or you’ll get your heart broken.”
“My heart broken?” St Ives tapped his chest. “I don’t think so. I’m made for stronger stuff.”
Besides, in St Ives’ mind, the idea of a perfect woman for him didn’t exist. He would be turning thirty on his next birthday, and while he had been drawn in by beautiful women, none of them had reached deeper inside him. It was all just superficial to him. If there was a special woman who would capture his attention and never let go, someone to make him fall in love for the first time in his life, then St Ives had yet to find them.
Catherine would be a perfect wife for someone, especially someone who could handle her fire. But for St Ives, it was only in passing. She understood that. She might want more, but St Ives wasn’t going to give her anything further than some fun between the sheets. If there was any indication Catherine was pushing for a ring on her finger, he would be gone.
It had happened before, and St Ives could do it again. Hopefully.
He was still thinking about it as he got himself ready for bed a short while later. Instead of going back to the drawing room, where he would see Catherine and bid her parents goodnight, St Ives went straight up to his room. Catherine would follow a short while later, and then he would make his way across the house. Her parents slept at the other end of the wing the family used and they were known to sleep very deeply. His body stirred at the thought of getting that supple body naked and pressed against him.
Oh, he was going to have a good night, certainly.
St Ives had stripped down to just his trousers and stockings, his valet picking up his clothes and putting them to one side as he left out his master’s night clothes, when he remembered his journal. It had been in his jacket pocket earlier in the day, St Ives only just remembering to grab it as he was leaving home. He had been running late, so it had been a bit of a rush to get his things together. And St Ives had remembered that he needed to bring gifts; he couldn’t turn up at a house he was staying in for a week without gifts. It sweetened the hosts and softened them towards him. St Ives liked to try and stay on everyone’s good side, wherever possible; it made things easier to sneak around when he needed to.
If your parents could see you now, they would be turning in their graves. They didn’t raise you to be like this.
They’re not here now. But I am. And I’m going to enjoy myself while I can.
The coat he had been wearing that afternoon was lying across his trunk at the foot of his bed. St Ives checked the pockets. But there was nothing there. He checked the inside ones as well as the outside. Again, nothing.
St Ives began to panic. He couldn’t have lost the journal, could he?
“Yes, my lord?”
His valet appeared beside him so silently St Ives wasn’t aware that he had moved. The middle-aged man was very soft-footed.
“I…have you seen my journal around? I can’t find it.”
“No, my lord, I haven’t seen it.” Simmons raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you normally have it on your person?”
“I thought it was in my coat. But it’s not.” St Ives tossed the coat onto the bed and opened the trunk. “It’s not there.”
He began to rummage through the trunk. Now he was really panicking. The journal was meant to be something private, a little memento for himself. It wasn’t for anyone else to read. If anyone had gotten their hands on the journal and made the contents public, there was going to be a lot of embarrassment. The only saving grace was that his name wasn’t mentioned in any part of the journal, but it wouldn’t take much to know who he had been writing about.
St Ives didn’t want to think about the repercussions right now. Being friendly with everyone around him wouldn’t help him if they knew what he had really been up to.
“I’ll have a look around the house, my lord.” Simmons put aside the clothes he had been holding. “Maybe it fell out and one of the servants has it.”
“Don’t go and ask the staff!”
“I’m not going to say what’s in the journal, just to see if they’ve seen it. It could have fallen out when you arrived.” Simmons shrugged. “If it hasn’t, there’s not a lot I can do, I’m afraid.”
St Ives sighed.
“All right, fine. Just do what you can. I must have my journal.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Simmons bowed and left the room. St Ives slammed the trunk shut with a growl. It wasn’t there, either. He definitely left the house with it, and he remembered having it when he passed through Hemingford Grey. But then he stopped outside the tobacconist’s shop and brought a few things for Mr and Mrs Jennings. Catherine had said her father likes snuff, and St Ives wanted to bring a good gift.
Had it fallen out of his pocket in the street? St Ives could only hope that this wasn’t the case. Because that meant anyone could have come upon it. Or maybe it had fallen out in the carriage. But surely he would have noticed?
St Ives slumped on the trunk. He needed to get it back. It may not have been marked with his name, but if the wrong person read it, they would be able to figure out who was whom. And then the women he was on good terms with wouldn’t want to be on good terms.
Where on earth had it gone?
“An Earl’s Flaming Journal” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Jemima Place is an alluring village girl, who tries to settle herself between her controlling parents and her rebellious nature. While she seems compromised with her middle-class status and arranged future, fate will throw a scandalous journal in her path… Even though she knows what the right thing to do is, she is unable to resist her curiosity and finds out all the tempting details about the sinful life of its owner. After taking a secret peek at the intruiging pages, Jemima hurries to sneakily return the journal, when she is confronted by its writer; a vigorous Earl who comes to completely shake her world. Soon, she will find herself falling for a man who likes to make his experiences a literary escapade. Knowing that a dreadful scandal can tarnish her name, will she follow her fiery heart and surrender to her burning desire?
Nicholas Templeton is a charming young Earl known for his magical ability to seduce whoever is around him, especially eligible ladies. Therefore, driven by his impulsive passion, he likes to relive his storming conquests by writing them down. However, the shocking details of his wild life are at risk when he loses his precious journal. Fearing that his voluptuous life is likely to be exposed, he announces a reward for anyone who finds it. Intrigue replaces surprise when Nicholas catches sight of the seductive village girl who returns the journal, as she is like no other woman he has encountered before. Even though he knows he is just a pleasure seeker, he is determined to conquer her. Yet, will he manage to seduce her with no strings attached, or will he end up with his heart broken?
The more Jemima and Nicholas are trying to resist their flaming fervor, the more they keep running into each other. Can this scandalous journal be the beginning of the end of a deep and unexpected affection? They both have to choose between status, duty and undeniable emotions, and yet, when they share their first passionate kiss, lust will be too overwhelming to resist. Ripped apart, they can’t go back, they can’t go on, and they can’t let go… Will their untamed desire manage to overpower their inner struggles and stand against the social standards? Will they lose their hearts to the most sizzling affair of their life, or will their relationship fade in vain once and for all?
“An Earl’s Flaming Journal” is a historical romance novel of approximately 40,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.