The Seduction of Mr. Yarnsby – Hildie McQueen

The dreary sky and constant drizzle provided a perfect background to the sad state of affairs. Alexander Yarnsby paced the front room of the country estate. Thankfully, the only people who’d attended his father’s burial were close family. The few friends his parents had managed to keep limited their interaction to sending notes of sympathy. “How is this possible?” Lady Claudia Yarnsby, his mother, repeated while wiping tears from her pale cheeks. “He had another family?” The appalling revelation had come to light just moments earlier, when a man and woman arrived just as his father was to be lowered to the ground. “May we see him?” the young woman had asked, her face red and blotchy from crying. Her companion, who looked to be just a bit younger, failed to hold her back as she rushed toward the burial plot. “He does not deserve your tears,” the man had exclaimed to the woman, not seeming to care who overheard. Unsure what had happened but needing to take control, Alexander and William, his close friend, had immediately approached the couple. “What is the meaning of this?” Alexander demanded. The woman burst into sobs, her body shaking as she attempted to speak but was unable to due to her grief. Her companion’s gaze met Alexander’s, pure hatred emanating. “The earl is our father. We have lived in London our entire lives.

Upon seeing the announcement of his death, we came to see if it was true.” Alexander’s mother had been promptly overcome by emotion, screaming that they were liars. The entire scene had turned into a shouting match between the woman who’d just arrived and his mother. The burial was stalled until everyone could calm. Alexander had ushered his family to the house, after the vicar had insisted the family adjourn inside and allow the newcomers a moment alone. If not for his mother’s distress, Alexander would have argued against the interlopers being given any kind of heed, but he’d decided it was not the right moment. His time to find out the truth would come as soon as they left. Now he peered out the window at the pair who remained next to the coffin. He couldn’t help but wonder what their scheme was. It had to be money, of course.

“They are nothing but charlatans,” Duchess Torrington, whom he referred to as “aunt,” said. “To go to such lengths to extort money is outrageous.” Her husband, Duke Torrington, held out the paper he’d been studying. “It all seems legitimate. They have proof, birth records, everything signed by the earl himself.” Unlike everyone else, William Torrington, his childhood friend, remained calm and came to stand next to him to study the couple. “They seem to be genuinely grieving.” “Father had many secrets,” Alexander replied. “This is but one of them. So far we’ve discovered bank accounts at multiple locations.

The office he maintained in London is curiously empty of many items, which makes me wonder if those two are responsible for the missing ledgers.” The vicar neared the two outside and spoke to them for a few moments. After looking toward the house, they finally made their way to a hired carriage. Alexander wondered why, if they were who they claimed to be and had a relationship to his father, did they not have a carriage of their own? His father’s fortune was immense. Much larger than he’d expected. Alexander narrowed his eyes. “Come with me.” Hurrying to catch up with the interlopers as cold rain fell onto his face, Alexander was angry. Now his mother would have to sit in harder rain because of the delay. William came alongside.

“Don’t do anything rash.” Upon seeing him, the woman climbed into the carriage, but the young man stood by the open door. “I assume you are planning to demand inheritance,” Alexander asked, not phrasing it as a question. The male’s cold gaze met his. “I will not speak of this at the moment.” Both were extraordinarily unremarkable. Pale hair, dull eyes, and matching slender builds. They seemed to be the type that spent most of their time indoors, rarely enjoying fresh air—or any sunlight, for that matter. “When will you speak of it?” Alexander asked. “You did not bother to introduce yourselves.

” The man’s face hardened. “I am Jasper. My sister, Bettina.” He motioned to the woman who sat in the carriage and looked on. “You will be hearing from our representative. One way or another, what is fair will happen.” Jasper climbed into the carriage and slammed the door shut. “They’ve already hired someone,” William said. “They are well versed in what to say or, in this case, not say.” “No surname,” Alexander said.

“Should I assume it’s the same as mine?” “I would not,” William replied. Chapter 1 London, England – December 1817 “Happy Christmas!” The Humphries family gathered at the doorway of their London home to welcome the visitors. Giddy with excitement, Vivian Humphries could barely stand still. It was to be a wonderful holiday because her sister Clara was in London spending Christmas day with the family. Standing in the doorway beside Clara was her husband, the dashing Viscount William Torrington, along with his parents, Duke and Duchess Torrington. Welcomes and kisses on the cheeks were exchanged as the group entered and were greeted by Vivian, her parents, and her sister Penelope. All together it was a mad jumble, and she loved every second of it. Just behind the group, the most maddening man stood and was obviously there to visit as well. Like a brother to William, Mr. Alexander Yarnsby was included in everything.

Of course, it shouldn’t have surprised Vivian he was there. She took a deep breath, deciding not to allow his appearance to dampen her good spirits. Forcing her smile to remain, Vivian slid a look to Penelope, her youngest sister. As expected, Penelope had no qualms whatsoever at showing her displeasure at Alexander Yarnsby’s appearance, glaring at the man. “We are pleased that you are joining us today,” her mother, ever gracious, told Yarnsby as he bent over her hand, kissing the back of it. Just as his green eyes met hers, Vivian took a step back. “I do believe Cook calls.” She began to turn, but Penelope took advantage of the announcement. “I will go and see what she needs.” Her sister dashed away, taking with her an opportunity for Vivian to ignore the ever-overwhelming Mr.

Yarnsby. “Miss Humphries. It is a pleasure, as always.” His deep voice was like a smooth velvet. At least to Vivian it was. He didn’t seem to have the same effect on anyone else in her family. Since her mother looked on, she held up her hand, and he took it. “Mr. Yarnsby.” “Isn’t it wonderful we have a houseful at Christmas?” her mother exclaimed to someone.

Vivian wasn’t sure who, as her attention was riveted to where Mr. Yarnsby’s lips lingered on her hand. “Vivian?” Her mother studied her. “Why don’t you and your sisters slip into the parlor?” Apparently, she’d forgotten to breathe because she gulped in air, alarmed to have lost herself for a moment. Thankfully, Yarnsby was already walking away with the other men to her father’s study. How long had she been standing there like a statue with her hand in the air? It was most mortifying and the reason she disliked being anywhere near the annoying Mr. Yarnsby. There was a knowing smile playing on the edges of her mother’s lips when she looked at her. “Would you like to see the preparations in the dining room?” her mother asked Duchess Torrington, and they left. Her mother wanted time alone with Her Grace as they’d become fast friends and liked to coordinate the social events they’d attend.

“I would think Mr. Yarnsby would be spending the holiday with his own family,” Vivian announced as soon as she entered the sitting room. “I find the man most distracting. He does everything in his power to annoy me.” Clara’s expression became pensive. “I do believe that he and William have spent the holidays together since they were very young.” There was more to the story, but it was not something Vivian truly cared to speak about. He’d already distracted her enough for the day. “I truly hope Tommy comes tonight. I wish to discuss becoming engaged.

” Penelope sighed dramatically. She was enamored with the idea of marrying her childhood friend Thomas Rutherford, who presently worked as an understudy at Parliament. Clara’s eyes widened. “You must not do such a thing,” Clara chided. “It is most inappropriate to bring up the subject of marriage with someone who has not declared himself.” “I agree,” Vivian added. “A lady should not have to ask a man to declare himself.” “Very well. I am sure he will make his intentions clear soon. It is just that he is very busy.

” Penelope looked out to the garden and once again sighed. Vivian took her young sister’s hand. “It is not that we do not wish you to be happy. However, we do not wish you ruined by your own actions.” “I find the confines of society utterly suffocating. However, your statements have merit,” Penelope agreed with a pout. To keep from laughing, Vivian bit her lip. The youngest, while a delight, was proving to be as adventurous in nature as Clara. Both of her sisters often disguised themselves by borrowing the maid’s clothing to go about town on whatever outlandish adventure called to them. As much as Vivian agreed with some of the things they did, she’d always been more reserved.

The curse of being the eldest and feeling responsible for them, she supposed. “Ladies,” Gerard, the butler, stood at the doorway. “Misters Rutherford and Jameson are here.” Her stomach dipped and her breath caught. “Oh goodness, I’d forgotten that I mentioned Christmas dinner to Mr. Jameson,” Vivian said, jumping to her feet. “I must inform Mother.” As she dashed from the room, Penelope’s voice was loud. “This will be a most enjoyable Christmas, will it not?” “Mother?” Vivian entered the kitchen to find only the cook and another cook’s maid, along with Mary, her companion, and Molly, Clara’s companion, scurrying about. “Your mother and Duchess Torrington have gone to the sitting room,” Molly said, rushing to her.

They embraced. “I miss you so, Miss Vivian.” “I miss you as well,” Vivian replied, meaning it. She hurried to her mother’s small sitting room to find the two women, each with a cup of tea, at ease with each other’s company. “Mother, Mr. Jameson is here, and Tommy has also arrived.” “Oh dear,” her mother said, immediately getting to her feet. “I will have to direct that two more place settings be added.” She hurried from the room, leaving Vivian with Duchess Torrington. Theresa Torrington was a striking, youthful woman with hazel almond-shaped eyes and a bright expression.

She gave the illusion of being much younger than her true age, a number Vivian did not venture to guess. “Come sit, Vivian,” Duchess Torrington said, motioning to the chair her mother had just vacated. “We have never had the opportunity to get to know each other privately have we?.” “I am pleased that you and your husband came tonight,” Vivian said, sitting. “She purposefully left out Mr. Yarnsby’s unexpected presence. The woman smiled brightly. “We were delighted that the invitation was extended. We expected a quiet evening at home with only Alex for company.” “Yes, well, we could not allow it,” Vivian said.

“We look forward to seeing you and your family whenever you come to London.” She looked to the doorway. “When you return to the country, will Mr. Yarnsby go as well?” With a delighted chuckle, Duchess Torrington patted her hand. “Of course. Is he not lovely? I do hope that you or your younger dear sister catch his eye. I do love Alex and wish for him to be happy.” Why would the arrogant man not be happy? In Vivian’s opinion, if the man was alone, it was his own doing. “I am not sure that he will consider either of us. He seems preoccupied with .

himself.” Vivian stopped speaking at her unfortunate choice of words. Once again Duchess Torrington laughed as Vivian covered her cheeks in mortification. “I did not mean to say he is self-absorbed. Oh dear, what I mean is that he seems to prefer his own company.” It didn’t sound much better; there was nothing to do that would erase her gaffe. “Do not worry, dear, I will keep this between us.” Duchess Torrington became pensive. “Alexander is naturally reserved, which can at times be off-putting. You must believe me when I say that he is the least arrogant person ever.

When you get to know him, you will agree.” “I do apologize,” Vivian started. “He is part of your family, and the last thing I wish to do is to speak ill. It is the way of the Humphries to have a hard time curtailing our tongues.” “Which is what makes each of you so delightful.” Thankfully, her mother returned and took Duchess Torrington’s attention. “Everything is prepared and settled. Let us go to the dining room. I believe the gentlemen are already there.” Upon arriving at the dining room, Clara and Penelope met them at the doorway.

The men stood and held out chairs. Vivian wasn’t sure where to look. While she wished to greet Mr. Jameson, she hoped to avoid looking at Mr. Yarnsby. “Miss Vivian,” Melvin Jameson said in greeting. His hand on the back of a chair, he motioned for her to sit. “I am pleased that you accepted my invitation. I did not expect you’d be free,” Vivian replied, smiling at him. Melvin Jameson had never lost the plumpness from youth.

He had a cherubic face that was not unpleasant to look upon. The slight lift to the corner of his lips gave the impression of being continuously in good spirits. With dark eyes and overly pink lips, he reminded Vivian of youths in Rubenesque paintings. Melvin was the likeable sort that everyone felt at ease around. A total contradiction to Mr. Yarnsby, who stood on her left side. Vivian slid a glance past Melvin to Clara, who was having a horrible time keeping from smiling. Narrowing her eyes, Vivian pinned her youngest sister, who sat next to family friend, Tommy, across the table from her. Penelope gave her an impish smile. “You should sit.

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