Authors: Helen A. Grant
“...A sweet romance saturated with Regency charm,”
and award-winning author.
"..An enjoyable read. Anyone who likes historical romances
or Downton Abbey type story lines will enjoy
this Regency Romance"
" A light, amorous funny love story..."
Rollo Stannington, the Earl of Brockwood, is considered a wonderful catch by the mamas of the ton. He is young, handsome and extremely wealthy. What mother can resist having him as a son-in-law? If only their daughters didn’t pale and tremble in his presence and beat a hasty retreat as soon as they could! Rollo, nicknamed “The Earl of Ice” because of his frigid demeanor, welcomes this reaction. He has no intention of marrying. Ever.
Dianna Wells, a young debutante, is immune to Rollo’s
coldness. Where other ladies stand tongue tied before him, she chats gaily and comfortably with him. She even enjoys dancing with him. No one knows that Rollo and Diana share a devastating secret. One that draws them together yet will ultimately test their growing attraction to each other…
In Pursuit of Miriam
The Earl of Ice
Beloved Guardian (2017 release)
Helen A. Grant
Copyright © 2016 Helen A. Grant. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, no portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the express written permission of Arrow Publications.
Published by Arrow Publications, LLC
7716 Bells Mill Road
Bethesda, MD 20817
All names, characters and incidents featured in this publication are imaginary. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead) is coincidental. They are not inspired even distantly by any individual or incident known or unknown to the author.
Author recognizes that all trademarked items mentioned in the book belong to the trademark holders of said items.
Viscount Westbury's Library
Yorkshire, England, 1820
Fourteen-year-old Miss Diana Wells was walking past the library when she heard a loud thud. Cautiously she opened the door to investigate the cause of the noise. Upon scanning the room, however, she did not see anything unusual. She was about to close the door when a muffled grunting sound brought her focus down to floor level. To her surprise a stranger was sprawled on the floor apparently struggling for breath, and as she watched, his limbs began to shake violently.
She knew immediately what was wrong with the man, and letting the library door slam shut behind her, she flew across the room to where he lay, his whole body now racked with spasms. She quickly pushed aside a chair and a small table to ensure he did not knock into them and injure himself, and then she sat down on the floor beside him and loosened his cravat.
Diana had seen epileptic fits before on many occasions. Her twin brother had suffered from them throughout his childhood until his death two years ago. Mama had told her that
was the stronger, healthier twin. She’d been born first and Colin had been born almost an hour later and after a great struggle. Not expected to live beyond infancy, he had somehow survived into his twelfth year. Her parents had had little contact with him and left his care to paid nurses. Colin was slow to learn and regularly had fits. Sometimes these were small lapses of consciousness when he stared blankly for a few seconds before resuming whatever task he’d been doing, and sometimes they were big fits like the one the man she now sat with was having.
Colin had been Diana’s shadow up till his death and she still missed him greatly. Tears pooled in her eyes as she remembered her precious brother. He had always been frightened and disorientated after a fit, and she had always been there to comfort and calm him.
Gathering her thoughts, she turned her attention back to the man on the floor and felt a wave of relief as the severity of the spasms gradually subsided. She grabbed a cushion from the nearest chair, then gently lifted his head and placed the cushion underneath it. She took his now-still hand and held it; without thinking she offered him the same reassurance she had always given her twin.
The man’s eyelids fluttered open and his blue eyes were piercing. She felt a tiny frisson as she realized that the man was exceptionally good-looking. His dark brown hair had fallen across his forehead, and when his eyes closed again, his lashes lay thick and dark against his pale cheeks.
His breathing eased and Diana reached over and gently brushed his hair away from his face, whispering words of reassurance. “Shh…You are safe…Do not worry…You will be yourself soon.” At length his visage relaxed, although when his eyes fluttered open briefly once more, she could see the confusion there.
“I’ll stay with you until you are properly awake,” she promised as he drifted into an exhausted sleep.
The man slept soundly for about a quarter of an hour and she stayed next to him throughout. When he was fully awake, she stood and kept hold of his hand to steady him as he also rose to his feet. He was tall; taller than her father, with broad shoulders narrowing to slim hips. His clothes, although somewhat rumpled now, were fashionable and of good quality. He was obviously a gentleman.
Diana suddenly became aware that she was still holding the man’s hand. Embarrassed, she dropped it and hurried out of the library. She returned to her room and, other than making the decision not to discuss the encounter with anyone—it would be most unfair to the stranger—she put the incident out of her mind.
* * *
Viscount Maythorpe, Rollo Stannington, son of the fourth Earl of Brockwood, stayed for a short time in the library gaining his composure after the girl had fled. He knew what had happened to him. He had suffered from occasional epileptic seizures when he was younger, but not having had one since he was thirteen-years old, had assumed he had left these behind with his childhood.
His seizures were never talked about in his family and only those closest to him were aware he suffered from them. If he had a seizure as a child his family left the room and servants were ordered to do likewise. He received no comfort from them and upon his recovery the event was never mentioned.
The look of concern he saw in the girl’s large brown eyes had surprised him and he had sensed that he could safely rest until fully recovered. Why this should be so he had no idea. After all, he was a fully grown man of twenty-one years and the girl could have been no more than thirteen or fourteen. Her dress and slight figure suggested that she was still in the schoolroom.
Viscount Maythorpe had journeyed to Yorkshire to visit Viscount Westbury, a man acclaimed for his horse-breeding and fine stables. Following the seizure, however, Maythorpe was so greatly disturbed by its occurrence that he made up some excuse to the butler and left without having even met Westbury.
Rollo Stannington, now the fifth Earl of Brockwood, checked his reflection in the mirror without any vanity. His dark hair was cropped fashionably short, his shirt was a pristine white, and the double-breasted burgundy waistcoat fitted him perfectly. His necktie was arranged in an elaborate Gordon Knot; cream close-fitting drop-front breeches and brown leather boots, which shone from prolonged polishing, completed his outfit. All that was needed was for his valet to help him into his tailcoat, hand him his hat and gloves and he would be ready.
His destination tonight, no different from the previous Wednesday and the one before that, was the ball at Almack’s Assembly Rooms. According to his mother, non-attendance was not an option, and Rollo usually found it easier to acquiesce than oppose her. He would dutifully dance with half-a-dozen young ladies, many of whom found him frightening, and stay just long enough to satisfy his mother and then escape to White’s, his favourite club, for the rest of the evening.
His nickname, which ladies of the ton usually whispered behind their open fans, was “The Earl of Ice.” Rollo was quite aware of this sobriquet and why it was bestowed upon him. Having unexpectedly suffered a seizure four years earlier on a trip to Yorkshire, he had made a decision to never marry for the simple reason that he did not want to produce offspring who might be similarly afflicted. And having had one more seizure since that time, he had no inclination to change his decision. On his father’s death he had taken the title of Earl of Brockwood and, following this, had endured much pressure from his mother to find himself a suitable wife, something he had no intention of ever doing. He had a younger brother who should be able to produce enough heirs to satisfy. However, his mother, always having ignored his condition to the best of her ability, gave no thought to the possible implications to future generations.
Rollo had sown plenty of wild oats even before he reached the age of majority, and, despite rumours to the contrary, had not been celibate since. He was, however, extremely discreet; and when it came to single young ladies, he exerted great care when in contact with them, and even greater care when in any conversation with their mothers.
He never danced more than one dance with any young lady and made a rule never to escort one into supper. He did not permit himself anything other than the most circumspect conversation and did not ever succumb to their teasing or flirting. He had learnt to school his expression to ensure that he never smiled or showed any encouragement during conversation. His blue eyes, if anything, were cold. Friends and family who knew him when he was younger would say this was a great loss because, although considered very handsome, he was even more so when he smiled.
He was intentionally cold toward all women, and not only was he aware of his nickname, he found it served him very well indeed.
As none of his friends were aware that he suffered from seizures, he chose not to enlighten them as to the cause for his apparent indifference to women. He knew that some malicious gossips had even questioned whether he had a preference for boys, but he ignored this, knowing it to be unfounded.
Rollo had a very small circle of people he would describe as his true friends. He had many acquaintances and found the number of people who claimed friendship with him had vastly increased when he inherited his title. Only his closest friends saw the true Rollo; to all others he maintained his frosty facade.
Tonight, as usual, Rollo would stoically endure the ball. Occasionally he even found some amusement at the lengths the ladies, both married and single, would go to in order to try to gain his attention.
Arriving at around nine o’clock, he found the ballroom already overcrowded. He acknowledged Lady Sefton, the patroness, and then made his way toward his mother and his brother, Oliver, who were surrounded as usual by a number of old friends and acquaintances. Rollo, assuming his customary bored expression, joined their party and endured a mild scolding from his mother about the lateness of his arrival. He almost imperceptibly raised an eyebrow and only Oliver recognized it and smiled at him sympathetically.
Let the onslaught begin
, thought Rollo. The sooner he could get out of there the better.
Lady Fanshaw, a sparrow-like woman with feathers in her hair and a chirpy voice, was the first to capture his attention and so he dutifully marked her daughter’s card for a dance; he knew that would please his mother, as well. He was next approached by the formidable Lady Devonson and he obliged her eldest daughter, Miss Daphne Spence, with the offer to dance a quadrille; while very rich, she was a plain little thing; he would not have any trouble keeping his distance from her. Lady Bellhouse’s daughter, Marianne, was more of a problem because he did find her curvaceous figure very attractive, and so he sidestepped this temptation by steering her toward Oliver, who was more than happy to partner her.
Rollo took the floor with the timid Miss Spence, and after she had tried to make conversation with him and gained little response, she gave up. He simply let his mind drift, his feet automatically completing the steps and staying in time to the music.
He returned Miss Spence to her mother at the end of the dance, whereupon he spotted his old friend Bono, namely Viscount Bonton. The man’s height made his shock of white-blond hair visible over the crowd, and Rollo crossed the room to talk with him.
“Dashed dull affair as usual,” commented Rollo. “What say we escape to White’s for a nightcap?”
“Excellent notion,” agreed Bono. “I am engaged for the next set, so shall we say about eleven o’ clock?”
Rollo checked his fob watch. “Only another hour to survive.”
Bono went cheerfully off to dance with the beautiful Miss Elizabeth Stannidge, leaving Rollo unable to escape from Lady Sefton, who was heading his way like a ship under full sail.
“Lord Brockwood, it is as always a pleasure to see you here,” she trilled, her broad face flushed with anticipation. “There are two newcomers to our Assembly to whom I would like to introduce you.”
Rollo groaned inwardly but his features showed nothing of his thoughts. It seemed to have become a custom that every new debutante had to be paraded in front of him. He knew that, regardless of how they looked or how large or small their dowry, he would offer to dance with them both. He did this purposely to make clear that he did not favour one over the other, that he did, in fact, favour neither.
As he expected, two girls were drawn forward for his inspection. They were obviously friends and, heads together, they giggled as Lady Sefton first introduced their mothers to him. He then waited for the older women to introduce their daughters. He had played this part of bored acquiescence so many times it required no effort. He did wonder if he was becoming somewhat jaded, and perhaps he was.
He thought the first girl was called Caroline but was not sure, for he’d not been paying much attention. He showed no emotion as she smiled up at him, her green eyes wide in awe, and pencilled him in for a dance.
The second young lady, slightly shorter and finer-boned, was propelled forward and introduced as Miss Diana Wells. As Rollo asked her if she would be so kind as to reserve him a dance, he did not bother to hide his bored expression. She raised her head and looked directly into his eyes as she withdrew her dance card from her reticule. Immediately a current of shock ran through him. He had seen those large brown eyes before and they were now looking at him with exactly the same compassionate expression he had seen then. He knew instantly that she was the girl from Yorkshire who had witnessed his seizure. This young lady knew his greatest secret.
Rollo experienced a number of different emotions, but did not allow any of them to show on his face. Even someone observing him very closely would have noticed at most only the slightest catching of his breath. That she had recognized him was beyond doubt; he had seen it in her eyes. Whether or not she would disclose his secret he did not know. He was reasonably certain she had never done so before, but perhaps she had not known who he was.
And now she did.
Looking at her empty dance card, he indicated the next dance but one. He was fully aware that this was a waltz, but he kept his face schooled and gave no indication of this. He needed to speak with her and the waltz would give him the best opportunity. He hoped that people would not see anything in this; after all, as far as any observer would be aware, there was nothing remarkable about the girl to warrant his particular attention.
Rollo was not sure what he hoped to achieve but knew that he needed to gauge if Miss Diana Wells was likely to tell others what she knew of him; if she did, the reaction would be swift. Society did not like imperfection amongst the nobility, and if imperfection was found, it was kept hidden or shunned. He did not care over much for the opinion of others, but he knew that, if his affliction became known, not only himself but his mother and siblings would suffer from the tainting of the family name.
Having gained permission from the patroness for Diana to waltz, he approached her and she smiled shyly at him. He had noticed she had not been partnered to dance since her arrival and hoped for her sake that, once he’d danced with her, some of the young gentlemen would feel encouraged to do likewise.
“I believe I have this dance reserved?” Rollo asked. “Lady Sefton has given permission.”
Without speaking, Diana took his arm and he led her to the dance floor. She was petite, her head coming no higher than his shoulder. Her gown, a pale peach colour, was suitably demure for a young girl in her first season. Her light brown hair had been fashioned in a simple style. He noted that there was nothing in her features to displease, but she was not a beauty.
Having swiftly made his assessment of her, he raised her hand and placed his other hand on her back just above her waist as he heard the orchestra strike up the first bars of the waltz. Her free hand she rested timidly on his shoulder, and feeling her trembling, he knew that she was nervous. He did not speak to her immediately but waited until he felt her relax as they moved across the dance floor. She danced extremely well.
Eventually he broke the silence. “Miss Wells, I think we have met before, have we not?”
Rollo had to revise his first observation that her looks were nothing out of the ordinary when she raised her large brown eyes to his and smiled. Her eyes were very fine indeed, and her smile transformed her face, making it, if not beautiful, very compelling.
“Yes, indeed. I hope you are now keeping well?” Her eyes searched his as she waited for a response. Rollo felt as though she was looking into his very soul and had to blink and quickly dismiss this thought as fanciful.
Keeping his expression shuttered, he probed further, trying to determine whether or not she intended to disclose his affliction.
“I am indeed keeping well,” he replied. “Thank you for asking. I am only very rarely afflicted in the way you observed. So rarely, in fact, that none of my friends and acquaintances are aware of this issue.” Damn it, he wished she would stop looking at him; he was not going to beg her to keep his secret.
“I am pleased to hear you are well, my lord.” She continued to study him closely as if trying to read his mind. “I can see no benefit for you in others knowing that you have suffered fits. It is, after all, a very personal matter.”
It was only habit that prevented Rollo from smiling down at her in relief. He knew instinctively that he could trust her and that she would not spread her knowledge. He respected the fact that she had directly referred to the fit, rather than trying to politely skirt around the matter.
“I had not had a seizure for many years and I was so very taken aback by it that I did not think to thank you for help at that time. So I will do so now.” He hoped that was now the end of the conversation. The young lady, however, was not prepared to let it drop so easily.
“Is it the fits—or seizures, as you call them—that make you unhappy and cross?” Diana questioned without guile.
Rollo was at a loss how to respond; it was not polite for a young lady to ask such a direct and personal question. Reasoning, however, that it had been he who had first introduced the topic, he felt a rebuke would be unjust.
“I am neither unhappy nor cross,” he replied a little sharply, and to his amazement he saw the girl raise her eyebrow slightly as though she did not believe him. He even imagined he heard a slight “humph” sound come from her.
They continued the dance in silence and when the music stopped he escorted her back to her mother. With satisfaction he noted that it was time for him to find his friend Bono and escape to their club.