Miss Lucy Wilds, aged four-and-twenty years, was sitting in the parlour of her London townhome, painting a still life. The air was redolent with the rich scents of oil paint and linseed oil. In front of her was a small robin’s-egg blue bowl of bright red apples on top of a table, which was covered with a crisp, white cloth. She dipped her brush into the red paint, mixing it with a little of the oil, then began to fill in the shapes of the apples on the canvas. They were already sketched out in the underpainting, done in shades of raw umber.
She was standing beside the window, for maximum light. The sunlight streaming through was warm on her skin. Outside, there was a brief trill of happy feminine voices. Lucy glanced out of her window to see none other than Miss Susan Hamm walking with a group of young women, all of them dressed in bright colors.
I haven’t seen her for at least five years.
Susan was dressed in a lavender silk dress, with a smart Spencer jacket in goldenrod and a matching yellow bonnet. Susan’s hair was in dark ringlets, framing her heart-shaped face. Long ago, Lucy presumed that Susan lost interest in continuing their friendship. It was a shame, really. They had been close—bosom friends of the highest order during their school days.
Lucy—dressed in her paint-smudged smock, her brown hair caught in a plain bun—drew away from the window, stepping into the shadows of the parlour so that should Susan glance up, she wouldn’t see her.
Loneliness, sharp and lingering, welled up inside of Lucy. She breathed in deeply, banishing it to the shadows, where it belonged. It had always been difficult for Lucy to make friends, even before her parents had died, leaving her to be cared for by her spinster aunt, Joan Wilds.
Lucy loved reading and having conversations about literature and politics. Additionally, she felt awkward around people, like she didn’t quite fit in. The frosty reception she experienced at parties when she offered her opinion made things even worse.
The two women rarely mixed with other people. There wasn’t the money for fancy clothes or tickets to assembly balls or the theatre, even if they had wanted to go. Lucy and Aunt Joan were allowed use of the townhouse, as well as a modest income from her father’s estate. They lived simply and quietly. They were both, for the most part, content.
Lucy glanced down. She was wearing a simple grey muslin under her smock—nothing so fancy as Susan’s elegant dress and smart jacket. She knew that, as Lucy was no longer a prosperous tradesman’s daughter, Susan’s interest in being friends had slowly waned. While Lucy and Susan had had rousing discussions, Susan had, more and more, wanted to build friendships among society. Susan could do that—her father was still alive (as far as Lucy knew) and was looking for an equally rich man to marry his daughter.
Lucy herself didn’t have the luxury of looking for a match. She had, several years before, fancied herself in love, only to find that he, too, had grown tired of her. If it weren’t for Lucy’s father’s bequest, she and Aunt Joan would have been destitute. They made sure to make it last. During her parents’ lifetimes, the house had had several servants. However, the two women preferred to cook and keep house for themselves.
Lucy heard the sound of her Aunt Joan’s footsteps, coming down the hall. She turned toward the door, which was open, just in time to see her aunt enter the room.
“A letter has arrived by special courier,” Aunt Joan said, waving an already opened letter in the air. Her aunt was dressed in a sombre black bombazine, her grey-streaked hair pulled back in a severe bun, with several curled ringlets framing her cheeks.
Lucy set her brush and palette down on the table beside the bowl of apples as she met her aunt in the centre of the room.
“Who is it from?” she asked, holding out a hand to accept the letter. It was on thick, creamy paper. The handwriting was almost an art form, with its careful flourishes.
“The widower of my old friend, Lady Thornbridge,” Aunt Joan told her with excitement. “Lord Josiah Sweet, the Viscount of Thornbridge, has offered to host us at his county seat.”
Lucy perused the letter’s content. Aunt Joan had been friends with the viscount’s wife, who had passed five years prior. The two had rarely seen each other, but Lady Amelia Sweet, the Viscountess of Thornbridge, and Aunt Joan had had a regular correspondence and a friendship that spanned several decades. They had met during their days at a fancy manners school for young ladies. As the daughter of a wealthy tradesman, Aunt Joan had been able to attend.
“Aunt Joan,” Lucy said, looking up from the letter, “this is for a four-day long party.” Lucy’s antisocial leanings were sounding their alarm bells. Aunt Joan beamed at her.
“Yes! To celebrate Miss Dinah Sweet, Amelia’s only daughter—and, I imagine, to find her a suitable husband.”
“She came out three years ago, did she not?” Lucy recalled Aunt Joan telling her about it. After his wife’s passing, Lord Thornbridge wrote to Aunt Joan in her stead. Though infrequent, the correspondence was a comfort to Lucy’s aunt, who missed her friend terribly.
“Indeed,” Aunt Joan agreed. “Miss Sweet will turn two-and-twenty this coming September. Lord Thornbridge is trying to secure her a good marriage, and soon. At one-and-twenty, it’s getting to be critical.”
Most ladies were wed by twenty. To be unmarried at two-and-twenty was considered to be late. Lucy herself had given up hope years prior, and found herself to be content with the decision. After all, she and Aunt Joan were comfortable and fulfilled.
“Can’t I stay in London while you go?” Lucy asked, hoping to get out of it.
“Socializing will be good for you,” Aunt Joan said stoutly. “Before winter comes and we two are shut away by bad weather. We get few invitations as it is.”
“Please, Aunt Joan,” Lucy begged. “Let me stay here.” She already knew, by the set of her aunt’s shoulders—she planned for Lucy to accompany her.
“Lucy, I cannot afford to have you out in Society much,” Aunt Joan said. “You, too, will need to begin to consider making as advantageous a match as possible.”
“Aunt Joan—” Lucy murmured, scandalized, but one look from her aunt silenced her.
“I myself know how difficult it is to remain unmarried, and to rely on the goodness of others to help one support oneself.” Aunt Joan sighed, smiling at her niece warmly. “It will be a good chance to perhaps secure yourself a husband. After all, four-and-twenty is not too late.”
“Won’t it be mostly members of the ton?” Lucy pointed out.
“Who said that an intelligent and accomplished woman such as yourself isn’t worthy of an advantageous match?”
Lucy sighed. She knew that she couldn’t fight against her aunt, who had made sure that she was taken care of ever since her parents had died in a carriage accident almost ten years ago. Lucy had never told Aunt Joan that she didn’t plan to marry. Nor did she have the heart to. Her aunt loved her. She couldn’t see how Lucy didn’t fit in with anyone. Aunt Joan was utterly blind to Lucy’s faults, and as such believed that she could marry any man or gentleman that she set her sights on.
“I’m going to write back to Viscount Thornbridge immediately, to let him know that we will certainly be in attendance!”
Lucy watched her aunt leave the room. She knew it hadn’t been easy for Aunt Joan, who had never married. She had always had to depend on the kindness of her relatives. When Lucy’s parents had died, Aunt Joan had stepped in, and they had both lived on the small income that her father’s estate had left for their care.
She knew that her aunt only wanted what was best for her. But Lucy enjoyed their life, now. She didn’t want to marry. Men, or gentlemen, for that matter, could not be trusted. After the ink was dry on the paper, a woman had very few choices but to do as her lord and master said. Lucy meant to be her own mistress.
She turned back to her painting. The apples were beginning to look like perfectly red jewels, as if one could reach into the painting, pick one up, and take a bite. She knew she had talents, but she’d had the misfortune of being born female. Thus, she could only be accomplished—never an actual artist.
Lucy could read, write, and draw. She could speak four languages, and she had opinions on everything, from the arts to politics. She knew that she had been prepared to be a wife, and that disappointed her. Aunt Joan would be sad if they didn’t go to Lord Thornbridge’s estate. Aunt Joan so rarely asked Lucy for anything, that she would have to acquiesce.
It was a glorious sunny day. Overhead, the sky was an almost impossible shade of blue, without a single cloud. The foliage in the woods was bright green, rustling as a warm summer breeze blew through the leaves and the horses’ hooves thundered over the soft green grass. The hounds were baying. Before them, the magnificent buck sprang through the trees.
The buck’s antlers were wide, like chandeliers, and his brown russet coat was sleek. He was fast, too.
Silas Sweet, the eldest son and heir of the Viscount of Thornbridge, urged his large black thoroughbred onward. He leaned low over Black Jack’s sleek coal-coloured neck, winding his fingers into the horse’s mane. Silas had been trying to catch the buck all summer, to no avail. Not only was he fast, he was good at giving them the slip.
The hounds suddenly paused, and he brought his horse to a halt. His friend, Levi Wilmington, the grandson and heir of the Baron of Dartmoor, soon caught up. He pulled his bay hunter to a halt.
“Seems they’ve lost the scent,” Silas mused.
“Bad luck.” Levi pulled his top hat off, running his fingers through his mop of brown hair.
They both sent their horses forward at a walk, the hounds all moving slowly in front of them.
“Here, I thought we were sure to catch him,” Levi said.
“It looks like we return home empty-handed, yet again.” Silas sighed heavily as Black Jack danced nervously beneath him. The buck had led them on a mad dash, only to escape at the last moment. Silas was beginning to think that the buck was some sort of forest spirit—one that could vanish into thin air at the drop of a hat.
They turned their horses towards home, ordering the dogs to follow them.
“I imagine we’ll be having quite the group out with us soon,” Levi mused.
“Any day now, the guests will be arriving for the party,” Silas agreed. “My father wants to marry my sister off as soon as possible.”
“Naturally,” Levi said. “Dinah’s a very kind-hearted lady. She deserves only the best.” Silas knew that Levi and Dinah were like brother and sister. Otherwise, he might have suggested the match himself.
“According to my father, it will be the party of the decade. Anything for Dinah, of course. Only the best.” Silas was grinning.
They both laughed. Ever since Dinah’s birth, the Viscount of Thornbridge had been wrapped around her tiny finger. Dinah was doted on not only by her dear Papa, but her two brothers, as well.
As the two gentlemen urged their horses into a canter in the direction of Thornbridge Manor, Silas thought about the party. It would be a four-day long extravaganza. He was looking forward to meeting all of the ladies that would be there. He planned to steal kisses, and perhaps, have a small dalliance or two, as was his wont.
It had been months since his last, back in London, during the Season. He was ready for something—someone new. Though he had no plans to marry. Not ever.
Silas loved his freedom. He couldn’t imagine being trapped in a passionless marriage, having to always sneak his dalliances. So, he planned to remain single, forever. He figured his father would eventually change his mind, then make Silas’ younger brother his heir. Michael planned to marry, after all. It was the perfect solution for everyone.
As Silas and Levi arrived at the stables of Thornbridge Manor, a familiar barouche-landau was also pulling into the drive. It was pulled by a perfectly matched pair of Norfolk Trotters, both of them black as midnight. The door to the carriage was opened by a footman, and Silas’ brother, Michael, climbed out.
“I say! Is no one here to greet me?” he asked. Michael had been to London, to check on the family’s business investments. He was the only child of Lord and Lady Thornbridge to look like their mother, with his chestnut-coloured hair and hazel eyes. Silas and Dinah both had black hair and blue eyes, like their father.
“We’re here, old chap!” Silas said, clasping his brother’s hand. “You’re just in time for Dinah’s party.”
“I hope you’re planning on behaving yourself this time?” Michael asked, raising an eyebrow. “It’s for our sister’s future and well-being, you know. It’s not an event that’s being arranged just so you can have an excuse to drink and chase skirts.”
Silas laughed, throwing his head back. He patted his younger brother on the shoulder. “Of course not.” He wanted what was best for Dinah, and knew that at one-and-twenty, it was almost past time for her to be wed. What was more, she wanted to be married.
He and Levi shared a glance. Levi’s lips were quirked upwards, trying not to smile. Levi had known Silas since their school days. Neither of them had changed much.
The three gentlemen walked inside of Thornbridge Manor, where the butler informed them that the midday meal was about to be served. So, they headed up to the dining room.
Their father, Lord Thornbridge, and their sister, Dinah, were already seated. Both stood as the others joined them at the table.
“You’re late,” Dinah said, smiling sardonically. She was dressed in a white muslin. Her black hair was arranged in a bun, with ringlets framing her cheeks.
“Nice of you both to wait for us,” Silas replied.
“How is London, Michael?” their father asked as he settled his cloth napkin onto his lap.
“Busy and bustling, as usual,” Michael replied. “All of our accounts are healthy, so I would say that the trip was a success.” He sliced into his veal cutlet. Before he took a bite, he looked at his father. “How are the plans for the party going?”
“Almost complete,” Lord Thornbridge said, beaming at his only daughter. “It will be the perfect summer gathering. We’ll make sure to find our Dinah a proper gentleman husband.”
She blushed. Dinah had debuted three years ago, during the London Season. She had not found a husband the past several winters, but their father was determined to find a suitable one for her by the end of the summer. She would turn two-and-twenty in September. They all wanted Dinah to be happily married, thus the wait.
“Do you all recall the treasure hunts that I used to arrange for all of you while you were children?” their father asked. He took a bite of his veal, chewing with clear relish.
“How could we forget?” Silas asked, with a laugh. Lord Thornbridge had created epic hunts for his children, with a long list of clues that took them on wild adventures throughout the estate.
The door opened and the butler, Mr. Fort, barely had a moment to announce their guest when he entered himself, barging in as he usually did.
“Mr. Percy Stalton,” Mr. Fort said quickly.
Percy Stalton was the heir of a rich tobacco merchant, who had recently purchased a nearby estate. Silas and Levi had been spending time with him over the past year. He was tall, with dark hair and brown eyes; he thought himself handsome. Percy was a true rake. Silas merely dabbled.
“You’re early,” Silas said. He glanced around at the table. Everyone was smiling, though they all looked disappointed. The family didn’t particularly like Percy Stalton. They always treated him with politeness, as they treated everyone else—something he took advantage of.
“Naturally,” Percy replied. “I wouldn’t miss the party for the world.” His eyes went to Dinah, who looked down at her food. Silas’s own skin crawled at the thought of Percy Stalton attempting to woo his sister.
“Have a seat,” Lord Thornbridge said. “We’re just having luncheon.”
Percy grinned, and took his seat as the servants rushed to set a place for him. Everyone sat, eating their food, the sound of the cutlery clinking on the plates.
It’s going to be a very long weekend, Silas thought to himself. Especially since it’s already beginning.
Aunt Joan was dozing on the seat just across from Lucy. The journey from London had taken them two days, and it had been an exhausting trip. They had taken a coach from London to the small village of Shere, where the viscount had had his very own barouche-landau meet them for the last leg of the journey. Aunt Joan had been vastly excited to have her first ride in the sleek black carriage—with a perfectly-matched pair, no less!
She had completely exhausted herself, and had been asleep for the past hour while Lucy watched the green fields and rolling hills of the countryside pass by outside of the window.
The carriage was just pulling into the long drive, which led to the viscount’s estate. She gasped at the sight before her.
“Aunt Joan!” Lucy said. “Look.”
Aunt Joan shook off her sleep, then peered eagerly out the window. “Oh! It’s so beautiful, is it not?”
The viscount’s manor was a grand four-storey sandstone building, with many windows that glittered in the sun. There was a lake in front of the house, which was nestled into the countryside like a jewel. In the fields that surrounded it grazed fine, sleek horses, their tails swishing lazily back and forth. They were majestic animals, in shades of brown and black.
“I haven’t been here in nearly ten years,” Aunt Joan said, sadly. Lucy smiled at her aunt. She knew that she missed her friend greatly.
Lucy felt incredibly nervous, her stomach twisting in ways that she’d never known that it could. She was dressed in a simple grey frock, a black Spencer jacket, and a straw bonnet with a black ribbon, tied in a neat bow underneath her chin. She glanced down at her hands, folded in her lap. Her kid gloves were getting worn at the fingertips.
Someone will notice, she thought wryly. I hope they don’t hold it against me. Lucy was fully prepared to not be liked. After all, why get my hopes up?
When the carriage stopped in front of the house, a tall older gentleman and a young lady were waiting to greet them, along with the members of the household staff. They both had the same black hair and blue eyes.
This must be the viscount and his daughter.
The gentleman walked to the carriage, offering his hand to Aunt Joan, just as one of the footmen opened the door to let both women out.
“Miss Wilds,” he said, “it’s so kind of you to come all this way.”
“Lord Thornbridge!” Aunt Joan exclaimed. “Thank you for your invitation. This is my niece, Miss Lucy Wilds.”
The viscount held out his hand to help Lucy down. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said.
“Thank you, My Lord,” she murmured.
“This is my daughter, Miss Dinah Sweet,” he said, and the women all curtsied to each other.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Miss Sweet said. “Unfortunately, my brothers are not at home, but they will be soon.”
“Come,” Lord Thornbridge urged them. “We will get you both settled in your rooms, and then, perhaps, my daughter can show you around the house.”
“I would love to see the gardens,” Lucy murmured.
“Then you must,” Miss Sweet said, smiling. Lucy smiled back at her. Miss Sweet seemed very kind, though Lucy suspected that they hadn’t much in common. She was relieved that Aunt Joan would be there, to act as a buffer. Aunt Joan could always be depended upon to get along with everyone else—and to keep up a steady stream of polite conversation.
Lucy had unpacked her trunk, putting all of her dresses into the large hardwood armoire that stood in her room. She and Aunt Joan had been offered the use of Miss Sweet’s lady’s maid, but they had declined. Neither of them was used to being waited upon.
“Aunt Joan?” Lucy called out. She knocked on the door which joined her room to her aunt’s.
“Come in, Lucy.”
Lucy opened the door, peering into her aunt’s room. It was the same as her own—decorated with a lush silk wallpaper in a deep royal blue, with a dark mahogany bed and matching armoire. A mustard-coloured duvet covered the bed, and an oil painting of a woodland scene hung over the fireplace.
“Are you going to accompany me to the gardens with Miss Sweet?” Lucy asked.
“I think I may take a nap,” Aunt Joan said. She did look tired after their long journey, but Lucy didn’t want to go alone. Her aunt usually kept up a long stream of discussion, allowing Lucy to fade into the background.
“Please, Aunt Joan,” Lucy said. “I’ll have nothing to talk to her about.”
“Of course, you will!” Aunt Joan said. “You just have to find out what the two of you have in common.”
“I care nothing for fancy parties or fashion,” Lucy pointed out. After all, what would a fine lady have to do with an ordinary woman of modest means? And an orphan, no less! Young, fashionable ladies who were recently debuted were interested in fashion, the London Season, and gossip of the ton, all things that Lucy had no interest in or experience with.
“Then talk to her about things that you do care about,” Aunt Joan said, sitting down on the bed. “Just be yourself, Lucy.”
“I’ll let you rest,” Lucy said, resigning herself to going alone.
“When you return, please wake me,” Aunt Joan said. “I want to have enough time to dress before dinner.”
Lucy left the rooms, walking to the parlour to meet Miss Sweet. Together, the two young ladies headed outside. Lucy wished that her aunt would have come—she didn’t think she would have much in common with Miss Sweet.
“The pond was put in by my father,” Miss Sweet explained, cutting into Lucy’s agitated train of thought. “The gardens were my mother’s doing. She loved the flowers. She spent a great deal of time fixing them to look just as she envisioned.”
Lucy looked at the lush cornucopia of flower beds—there were lilies, roses, and hydrangeas, surrounded by fruit trees and neatly trimmed box hedges. A grey stone path led through it, winding lazily through the foliage.
“It’s beautiful,” Lucy murmured, her artist’s eyes drinking in the sight. The late Lady Thornbridge certainly had an eye for detail. The colours all blended into a picture of exquisite profusion.
Lucy inhaled, smelling the sweet scent of the flowers. The air out here in the countryside was much fresher than that of the city, though she didn’t say so. It hadn’t the smells that London did.
“It’s the best place to sit and read,” Miss Sweet told her. “Of a morning, I like to bring my book here, to this bench.” The wooden bench was made of sleek ash. Lucy glanced around. It was so quiet and peaceful. The soft sound of the wind, twining its fingers through the leaves, was all that she heard.
“I imagine it would be,” she commented, her curiosity piqued by Miss Sweet’s comment about reading. “What are you reading right now?”
Lucy looked at Miss Sweet, astonished. “I love that book,” she confessed, realizing that she had underestimated Miss Sweet.
“Do you really?” Dinah grinned. “I find it terribly exciting.”
“As do I!”
“To think, anyone at all could find themselves stranded on a desert island,” Miss Sweet commented. “It’s good to know how to survive.”
“True,” Lucy murmured. “I always felt a little akin to Mr. Crusoe. I felt as though I’ve had to survive in a world that’s a little bit hostile to a person like me.” What she meant was, an orphan.
Miss Sweet nodded. “I, too, have felt that way. If you’re female, then you must survive in a world run by gentlemen.”
“That’s true,” Lucy mused, finding the conversation to her liking. “I’d much rather be allowed to call myself an artist and a scholar, rather than merely being considered accomplished.”
“As have I,” Miss Sweet admitted eagerly. Lucy realized that she had just met a potential friend, if their friendship could survive the long weekend.
Then came the sound of horses’ hooves, clopping on the hardpacked dirt of the drive. Both of them turned to see two gentlemen getting out of a very fancy barouche-landau.
One was extremely handsome, even from a distance. He had black hair and was dressed in a midnight blue frock coat, which showed off his broad shoulders. His breeches were pale cream, and his boots shone. The other was brunet, similar in height, but with less of the attraction of his companion.
“My brothers have arrived,” Miss Sweet said, raising her hand and waving to them.
Lucy swallowed and nodded. She didn’t dare ask anything more. To do so would be to betray her decided attraction to the one.
“A Viscount’s Bet of Seduction” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Silas Sweet is the heir to the Viscount of Thornbridge, and a chronic disappointment to his father. His favorite things in life are his bachelorhood and bets. After losing a hunting bet to his friend, Silas has to make Lucy fall in love with him. He is secretly attracted to Lucy already, so he’s more than happy to be the one who steals her heart away. Will he manage to win this game of seduction?
Lucy Wilds is a happy spinster who has more opinions than many people think appropriate. She has vowed to never wed, but the moment she meets Silas, she finds herself swept off of her feet. Even though she swore she will be single and happy for life, the undeniable passion she feels will make her lose her mind. But even when Silas proves to be secretive, why does his love still feels like exactly what she needs?
When this pair unites, the temptation is too strong to resist and soon, they find themselves in the ashes of their passion…Until she finds out the truth. Silas will attempt to make amends with Lucy, but this fiery young Lady won’t be easy to handle. Will his secret lead to their demise? Or can the fiery Lady find it in her heart to forgive the man who has claimed her body, her mind and soul?
“A Viscount’s Bet of Seduction” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.