Taming an Unrepentant Earl – Tammy Andresen

Captain Harold Maddox stood on the docks near his Dover home and looked up at the cliffs he’d admired since childhood. Drawing in a deep breath, he filled his lungs with summer sea air. He was home. Taking a few steps down the dock, he winced as pain shot through his hip. He touched the spot and gave the wounded flesh a firm massage, his face tightening with irritation. Blast his body and its weakness. Working the stiff joint, Harry started down the dock once again as he retrieved two letters from his pocket. The first was a missive from the Prince Regent. He’d been made an earl for his valor on the battlefield. His brother’s doing, no doubt. As the future Duke of Manchfield, Barret Maddox had plenty of sway with the crown. And while being made an earl was an honor, Bar had no doubt been delighted to saddle his little brother with that sort of responsibility. Not that he shirked his duties but being a lord was Bar’s idea of a fulfilling life. Harry, however, understood their life would be gone if the French invaded. He couldn’t stay here and close his eyes to where he was needed most.

Harry also had to admit that he needed the army as well. The army had been the perfect place for him. His life had purpose, meaning, discipline, and above all, excitement. Sometimes more than even he could stand. Which led him to his second letter. He touched the bundle of paper neatly folded in his breast pocket. His best friend and fellow captain, Alfred Chesterfield, had died while shielding Harry when cannon fire had ripped through their tent. Harry had suffered shrapnel wounds all over his body, the worst on his hip, but Alfred was gone. Died saving the second son of a family that had three. He’d pushed Harry out of the way, taking the worst of the hit.

And Alfred was the sole provider in his family. Harry should have saved his friend. Not the other way around. As Harry had lay recovering in bed, he’d received a letter from Alfred in care of the General Cross. In the event of Alfred’s death, his friend asked that Harry should make provisions for Alfred’s one remaining family member, his sister, Miss Sophia Chesterfield. Harry personally wanted nothing more than to return to the battlefield and avenge his friend’s death, Alfred deserved at least that. But his superiors wouldn’t allow him to return until he’d made a proper recovery. So he’d decided to use this time to fulfill Alfred’s request. His sister had started several women’s houses five years prior. They were made for just Sophia’s sort.

Women who had no other options could live in these homes and learn skills that would enable them to make their way in society. Decision made, he’d set out to enact his plan, finish his recovery and return to the front. In that order. That had been another benefit of the military, discipline. Something he’d sorely lacked before his career and he was a better man for having learned it. Prior to the army he’d been adrift in a life of pleasure to which so many lords succumbed. An endless cycle of drinking and women that had left him hollow inside. Harry’s residence was still in his brother’s home, though he could, if he chose, purchase one of his own. But he returned home so infrequently, he hadn’t seen the point. And he didn’t bother to stop there today.

Instead, he hired a carriage to make the twohour journey to Capel-le-Ferne, the small seaside village where Alfred had resided before he’d enlisted and his sister lived there still. Which made it exceedingly easy for Harry to travel there and bring the young lady back to his sister Maddie’s newest home for distressed women in Kent. With any luck, he’d accomplish the task, and in doing so, begin to repay his debt to Alfred. Then he could seek out recovery for his hip and return to the army to avenge his friend’s death. Dressed in uniform, he walked, albeit slowly and with a hint of a limp he couldn’t seem to lose entirely, to the staging inn where he hired a coach for the day. “I fully expect to return this evening,” he said to the driver just before climbing into the carriage. The driver tipped his hat and gave a nod. “That’s good, sir, ‘cause if I ‘ave to stay overnight, I charge double.” Noted, Harry thought. Not that he cared about the money, but still.

Principally speaking, he’d prefer to get this whole business over with as quickly as possible. * * * Sophie sat with her cousin as they assessed the drapes in Sophie’s front parlor. She’d pulled her black veil off her face and tossed it behind her head in order to better examine the silk fabric. Her mourning period was over but she still wore the weeds out of habit. She’d been too focused on her home to change her wardrobe. “Is it too pink?” she asked Danielle as she cocked her head to the side. The pink, in her mind, framed the sea beyond wonderfully but, if a man were to live here, he might find her color palette too feminine. Danielle looked at the drapes and frowned, her dark curls falling over her shoulder as she dipped her head. “What does it matter? I’ve told you nearly every day since Alfred died that you needn’t rush into marriage. We’re fine.

” Sophie tapped her chin, ignoring Danielle. The girl didn’t like change and they’d had their fair share. First when Sophie’s mother passed just before Christmas and then, six months ago, her dear brother’s passing. Her hands came to her hips. Technically speaking, Danielle was right. They owned the house and Alfred had left Sophie with a sizable inheritance that, if she rationed the money properly, could carry them through their lives. She imagined that Danielle assumed without representation they’d simply become spinsters together and live out their remaining years in this house. Dreadful. At twenty years old, Sophie had no intention of waiting around to die. She’d find a way to secure a guardian of sorts so that she might make a suitable match and start a family of her own.

She looked over at Danielle. Where Sophie had dark hair and eyes, Danielle was the picture of classic beauty with lush blonde hair and large blue eyes. Sophie was sure once she married, she could help Danielle make a life for herself with a husband and family of her own. “We’re not leaving, Dani. Not yet. This house is part of my dowry and I want it to appeal to suitors when they come.” Danielle snorted. It sounded even more ridiculous considering how tiny her nose was. “You can’t just have suitors come here with no chaperone and no one to negotiate a marriage contract,” her cousin said for the umpteenth time. Sophie glanced at her cousin.

“There’s a way, I’m sure of it. For now, however, I am doing what is in my control. The drapes.” Snorting again, Danielle tossed herself into a chair, which made Sophie smile. Danielle was normally the epitome of feminine grace. Clearly, the drapes had ruffled her cousin’s feathers. Or perhaps it was Sophie who annoyed her companion. Sophie understood. Danielle was a model of feminine decorum and as such, she would accept her fate with docile obedience. That nearly made Sophie snort.

She had no such grace. Nor would she merely accept what fate had handed her without a fight. “You’ll see, Dani. The answer will present itself soon enough.” The midday light illuminated the curtains giving them a rosy glow. She liked them. “Guardians do not suddenly knock on your door and offer to—” Danielle stopped as the front bell rang. Sophie cocked an eyebrow. “Who do you think is calling?” Danielle wrinkled her nose. “It’s likely Mrs.

Harris coming to say our chickens have wandered into her yard again.” The butler, one of four servants in the house, crossed to the door and opened it. Sophie found herself peeking into the foyer, curiosity making her crane her neck to get a better view. “Good afternoon. How may I be of service?” Peevely asked. “Good afternoon. I am Captain Maddox here to see Miss Sophie Chesterfield.” Sophie gave a delighted clap and spun about to Danielle. The moment she’d heard the man’s deep baritone, she’d known the answer to her problems stood outside the parlor, but hearing his identity confirmed her feeling. “You were wrong, dear cousin.

Our guardian has, in fact, arrived at our door.” Danielle’s mouth had formed into a soft O as she sat up in the chair. Excitement bubbled inside as she grinned down at her cousin, Sophie had a moment of immeasurable satisfaction. Danielle recovered quickly, wrinkling her nose again. “Don’t be ridiculous. He’s an unmarried man and we are unmarried—Sophie!” Sophie paid her no mind as she lifted her black skirts, then rushed to the hallway. She’d never met Captain Maddox, but she felt as though she knew him already. Alfred’s letters had been full of praise for his friend and fellow soldier. She entered the foyer, heart hammering in her chest. “Captain,” she cried, racing headlong through the doorway.

“I’m so glad you’ve come. Alfred told me so much…” The words died on her lips. In that moment, she realized that she knew Captain Maddox not at all. Because while Alfred had told her all about his valor on the field, his honor and integrity, his unfailing friendship, he had never once mentioned that Captain Maddox was handsome as sin with overlong dark hair that brushed his ears and a square jaw in a devil-may-care sort of fashion. Nor had her brother said a word about his deep brown, almost black, penetrating eyes or his slightly hooked nose that gave him an air of danger. And Alfred had most definitely not mentioned the man’s full and sensuous lips that started a riot in her belly as she stared at them. Lord help her, she was in trouble. Chapter Two Harry reminded himself to close his mouth. It had fallen open at some point and his chin had been dangling halfway down his neck like a gawking fool. But Sophie Chesterfield was nothing like he’d expected.

Alfred had described a girl, errant and vivacious, but a child nonetheless. Despite her mourning attire of all black, this was a woman who stood before him. Her glowing face brimming with life and so beautiful she’d stunned him speechless. He told himself part of the problem was her resemblance to Alfred. They had the same hazel-colored eyes but honestly, that was where their similarities ended. Alfred had been bronze-skinned with near black hair while his sister had a much fairer complexion. Her rich brown hair and creamy skin looked soft and so inviting as did her petal pink lips that were accentuated by the slow spread of a blush along her cheeks. The color disappeared under the high collar of her dress, but the dark weeds didn’t hide her lovely curves. “Miss Chesterfield, I assume?” he asked, stepping through the door, though he hadn’t strictly been invited. He hoped her enthusiasm had been invitation enough, but he wasn’t entirely certain because after her initial burst of greeting, she’d positively frozen.

Her delicate, ungloved hands clasped in front of her stomach, which showed off her beautifully tapered fingers. He brought his gaze back up to her face. High cheekbones and a delicate little nose that twitched just the slightest bit greeted him as she stared back. “Answer the man,” another woman called from in the front room where Miss Chesterfield had just exited. Miss Chesterfield blinked twice. “Of course. Yes, I am Sophia Chesterfield. Although Alfred called me Sophie. But I’m sure you know that already.” She smoothed her skirts.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She dipped into a slight curtsey and he gave a bow. Sophie. The name would roll off his tongue. He could picture holding her close and whispering her name in her ear. Another woman joined her. Taller and exceptionally pretty, his gaze lingered on her for a moment before returning to Sophia. There was a sweetness to her beauty that was like a boon. It tugged at his insides, warming them. “Pleasure to meet you, Miss Chesterfield.

I’ve heard a great deal about you as well. Alfred talked of you often.” Though he’d never mentioned Sophia’s stunning looks. “This is my cousin, Miss Danielle Frazier.” Inwardly, Harry winced. Alfred had only just learned of his aunt’s death days before he’d been killed by the cannon fire. Communication was often slow to reach the front. But he’d failed to consider that he did not have one woman in need of assistance but two. Bloody hell, he’d been here all of a minute and the situation was already getting complicated. “May I come in?” “Please do,” Sophia gestured into the front room.

Then she turned to the butler. “Please have a tray of tea and cakes prepared for our guest.” “Most kind,” he replied as he made to follow her into the room. Stepping close, he caught the subtle hints of sea air and spring rain, mixed with…he drew in a subtle breath and caught the distinct notes of gardenias. Lovely. “Please, have a seat,” Sophia answered. Her voice had a decidedly mezzo quality that danced over his ears and made him clench in all the best places. “Thank you,” He waited for the ladies to sit on the settee across from him, then he took a seat next to the fire. “Your brother left me with some specific instructions that I am eager to discuss with you. I’ve journeyed several days to get here, and I’m anxious to execute his request to expedite the return to my home.

” “Of course.” Her smile widened as she nodded. “Though you are welcome to stay for as long as you like and come to visit as often as you wish. I know Alfred considered you family, which means that Danielle and I do as well.” He glanced at Danielle again before allowing his gaze to settle back on Sophia. The feeling tightening his loins was anything but familial as he perused her features once again. “That is very…kind.” After drawing in a breath, he started to speak again when a harried-looking housekeeper entered with a tray. Sophia immediately stood and after the tray was set down on the table between them, she began to pour him tea. He watched her steady hands work as she passed him a cup and saucer.

When she gave him the delicate china, her fingers just brushing his. Heat sizzled down his arm at their light brush. The tips were achingly soft and as creamy as he’d imagined. He clenched his teeth together. Why was he so focused on this woman? He shouldn’t be…at all. She’s his dead friend’s sister and he was bound to protect her. What was more, Danielle, wasn’t that her name, was his usual type. Tall, fair, eye-catching from across a crowded room. Sophia’s looks were far more…detailed. If a man were in a crowd, he might miss her entirely.

Average height, brown hair, she didn’t stand out until one looked closer. It was the upturned shape of her eye, the full curve of her lip, the thickness of her lush hair that drew him in. She poured another cup of tea and handed it to Danielle then poured one for herself and returned to her seat. “Please help yourself.” She gestured to the tray loaded with crustless sandwiches and cakes. They looked delightful. His stomach growled and he realized he hadn’t had a bite to eat all day. As if to remind him of his disabled state, his hip twitched painfully. He lowered his hand to his hip, gently rubbing as he set the teacup down and took a sandwich. Food always helped him feel better.

It would be a problem, however, that he’d have to overcome. As a soldier, he had to go long stretches without food. Hunger could not affect his decision-making ability. The sandwiches were delightful and, as he finished his third, he noticed both women were patiently sipping their tea while they waited. Clearing his throat, he set his plate down. “Delicious. Thank you.” He tugged at the lapels of his jacket. “Shall we begin?” he said matter-of-factly, unwilling to let Sophia’s magnetic pull on him distract him from the task on which he’d embarked. He’d arrived at her doorstep to bring her to a safe place.

Period. * * * For some odd reason, Harry’s words caused a nervous flutter in Sophie’s belly. Meeting her brother’s dearest friend should be a joyous occasion. But he seemed a bit out of sorts. He pulled at his coat and he seemed eager to complete his business. She also noted the way he massaged his hip like it pained him. Had he also suffered an injury? “There is no rush on our part. Have a cake.” She gave him her best smile as she pointed toward the tray. He frowned down at the confections as though they might bite him.

Sophie glanced at them wondering what might be wrong. They looked perfectly delightful to her. Mrs. Patterson was a good cook, but her baked goods were positively delicious. A girl had to take care not to plump out her waist line. “Thank you,” he finally answered and reached for one of the cakes decked with pink frosting. Then he took a generous bite, filling his mouth with the confection. He slowly chewed as his eyes rolled back. “That is incredible,” he said after he’d swallowed. “Mrs.

Patterson does an excellent job.” She leaned forward, truly curious about his choice of cake. “Now let me ask you. You chose the pink-frosted, I noticed. Do you like the color pink?” Dani gave a mild groan, but Sophie ignored her. Captain Maddox looked at Danielle for a moment before he glanced back at Sophie. There was something in his gaze that made her feel as though he were drinking in the sight of her. Since he’d arrived, he studied her for long periods. He swallowed again and then asked, “I beg your pardon?” “Please, let me explain.” She folded her hands in her lap as she leaned even further out.

“See, I chose the color pink for those curtains. I think they frame the ocean beautifully and when the evening sky gets hues of pink, it will look even more divine. Do you agree or not?” Captain Maddox took another bite of his cake as he stared over the top of the confection. She couldn’t read his gaze. “Don’t mind her.” Danielle also scooted forward. “She hasn’t dressed herself in anything colorful so she’s dressing the house instead and convinced she will find a suitor based on the merits of her decorating.” Captain Maddox finished his second bite and shook his head. “I’m afraid that won’t do at all.” “The pink?” Sophie stood, disappointment making her restless.

She crossed over to the drapes, fingering the silk as she frowned at the delicate fabric. “You don’t like it?” “The drapes are lovely.” He cleared his throat. “But we’ve more important matters to discuss.”

.

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