Page 10 of Earls Prize Curves

You’ll do everything but deny yourself her charms.


Mrs. Lee’s headrestedagainst the wall as guttural snores erupted from her corpulent form. Unsurprised by the elderly woman’s lack of care forherwhereabouts, the enthusiasm coursing throughClara’sveins waned as she gently woke the woman to claim a headache. “Could we please go home? A good night’ssleepno doubt will help.”

“Ah, yes. Feeling a bit drowsy myself.” Mrs. Lee yawned, sending the feather in her coiffure swishing through the air, before theyshuffledout of the ballroom to gathertheir cloaks and call for the Netherfield carriage. Clara tried to act as normal as possible, but her body and mind were racing with inappropriate desires.

Lord Covington had propositioned her as if hetruly wereherdark earl.

And she’d accepted him.

What were you thinking?

That I’m doomed to a marriage where I’m more a nursemaid than a wife.

Lord Evanston would require round the clock care along with her parents, and despite her pleas, the trio of misers would not relent on their view of Clara’s purpose—to serve them.

The latest addition to their argument was the nearness of Lord Evanston’s estate to theirs.The ideal placement to alloweasy access betweenourhomes, my dear, her father had explained.

Staring out the carriage window, Clara reined in the swell ofdespairpiercing her chest. She shouldn’t be fretting about the future when an illicit rendezvous with an earl twice her age lay ahead. When the imprint of his palm around her throat remained on her skin. When the fire of his kiss lingered on her tongue.

Sarah and Mary would be appalled.

Her friends wouldn’t understand the attraction their father held for her. Frankly, Clara felt she shouldn’t either with their age difference, but Lord Covington wasn’t a doddering old fool. Virility clung to him—a man in his prime—and the promise of his strength and attention were too much to resist.

He’d called her hislittle lamb—an endearment with wicked undercurrents. Like shewasa helpless creature in need of tending.

And oh how she yearned to be tended to by him. Protected. Even if only for the short while of their affair. Clara would lock the memory away to remember when Mother forced her to read Leviticus for the umpteenth time in a stuffy room.It’s always been my favorite book of the Bible.Or when Lord Evanston inevitably tried to consummate their marriage, despite his bad health.

She would unwrap each touch and kiss like a gift uponChristmas and dream of the time she dared sneak away for a week of pleasure with an earl, reveling in this one choice she made for herself.


Two weeks later,anunmarked carriage jerked over muddy roads as Clara waited to arrive at the cottage where Lord Covington had arranged for their clandestine assignation to take place. Rain fell in torrential waves over the roof, and she wondered if it was an ominous sign from God to turn back now before irrevocable damage took place. For a fortnight, her emotions had swung from one end of the spectrum to the other—fear and doubt about her choice then excitement and anticipation.

Clara never would have assumed she’d be the kind of woman to steal away for an affair with a man nearly twice her age and the father of her friends, no less. Of course, an opportunity had never arisen until recently.

For obvious reasons.

Her clothes remained out of fashion and too tight because her parents refused to purchase an updated wardrobe, a deterrent to catching a potential suitor’s eye.

And her days were spent caring for aging parents, a role they preferred she keep instead of hiring a full house staff and losing her to a man, another mark preventing her from finding a husband.

Unless that husband was Lord Evanston, of course.

A shudder of disdain and frustration iced down her spine. If she was destined to be married off to a friend of her father’s—destined to be relegated as a nursemaid years before her time—she might as well take advantage of this one chance at a passionate affair. Why not indulge? She could do worse than the darkly handsome Lord Covington.

Which was what finally convinced Clara to board the carriage he sent, sealing her decision.

They stopped in front of a stone manor covered in moss and vines after a jostling journey from London. A footman opened the door and helped her alight to the ground before retrieving her traveling trunk. Despite the rain, Clara slowly traversed the gravel path as she contemplated the secluded home, her umbrella keeping most of the weather from ruining her traveling outfit.

The manor bore no resemblance to the place she’d imagined. When she’d heardhunting lodge, the image of an abandoned cottage came to mind—unused and dusty—not a well-kept retreat in the forest.

Upon arriving at the front entry, an aging butler ushered her inside where Covington waited for her at the bottom of a polished staircase. She was relieved of her umbrella, bonnet, and gloves before being guided towards the earl.

“Welcome. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your room.” Eyes darting to the butler whose focus had turned to the footman returning with her trunk of clothing, an embarrassed flush suffused her skin. What must he think of her? Would he mention an incriminating tidbit to someone? Doubts about her decision fought for supremacy until Covington took her arm in his and led her upstairs.

“Don’t worry about Bixby. He’s loyal to a fault and paid very well for his discretion. The house staff is limited to the bare minimum needed to keep things running smoothly, so there’s no need to fear untoward gossip.”

Tags: Jemma Frost Historical
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