The Viscount I Once Loved (Preview)

Chapter one

Rosalind watched while two footmen transported the last of her belongings from the house over at Rothenwood estate; grunting as they carried a large trunk – no doubt filled with linen and other such things. All the paintings that adorned the house had already been sold, along with most items of value; leaving the place with little else but faint remnants of her life and marriage since she had packed the remainder of her chattels for a summer in Bath.

If Rosalind were able to assume full control of her choices, she would choose to remain in the countryside forever. The list of joys that followed her marriage to the Earl of Rothenwood was slim, and seclusion had been one of them. She possessed the liberty to explore the estate, to ride with her daily, and occasionally by herself, to take long walks in the autumnal nature – to dream about winter frosts.


Rosalind turned, a smile already on her lips. She was not entirely loveless — there was love to be found here; one she had borne and cherished and nurtured within these walls.

“Grace,” she said, holding out her arms for her daughter’s embrace. “What have I told you about running?”

“Ladies should walk – always,” Grace said in all her childish impatience. “Is everything packed?”

Her daughter was the reason she had accepted her parents’ invitation to Bath. Rosalind glanced up once more at the sun-soaked stone of Rothenwood house and to the forests beyond comprising their part of the country. She would miss its wildness.

But for Grace, and for their future, she was willing to leave it.

“Almost, my love,” she said, taking her daughter’s hand. “Are you enthused for our journey?”

“Miss Lily said there would be lots of carriages and shops,” Grace said excitedly. “And I will get to see Grandmama and Grandpapa again.”

“You will,” Rosalind said, biting her lip at the thought of her parents — they were well-meaning people but had condemned her to a life of unhappiness by forcing her into a marriage with a man she could never love. “I hope you have a wonderful time.”

“Will you have a wonderful time too, Mama?” Grace asked, hanging on Rosalind’s arm, and looking up at her with brown eyes – same color as Rosalind’s late husband. She had conciliated with that remnant of her husband’s – in fact, she’d learned to love those eyes – but, oftentimes, deep within her she wished Grace had inherited her features only so that their lives would have nothing reminding them of the Earl.

“I will have a wonderful time,” Rosalind said firmly. “Our summer shall be beautiful and we will need to be very kind to Grandmama and Grandpapa for looking after us.”

“You mean after Papa died?”

Rosalind swallowed and glanced at the carriages before them; thinking about all the memories Bath held. “Yes,” she said. “Now that Papa has died.”

“But he died months ago.” A curious face peered at Rosalind, asking questions she felt entirely unprepared to answer.

“And you are not wearing black anymore.”

“That is because the mourning period lasts six months, dear.”

“Are you sad that Papa died?”

“Sometimes,” Rosalind said, glancing down at her daughter. “Are you?”

“Sometimes,” Grace echoed, but she looked away again, already distracted. The sun glowed against her golden hair — a feature she did inherit from Rosalind. “Miss Lily says the luggage will ride separately from us.”

“That is correct.”

At that moment, sparing Rosalind from any further discussion about the state of her feelings – Lily arrived, panting around the side of the building.

“Lady Grace,” she exclaimed breathlessly. “Here I was, thinking you were hiding in the gardens.”

“Grace,” Rosalind chided. “Did you hide from Miss Lily again?”

Grace toed the gravel by her feet.

“It is time for your nap,” Lily said, marching up and taking Grace’s arm. Rosalind relinquished her charge and watched as they disappeared inside the house. She sometimes missed her daughter when Lily took over but, admittedly, it would have been exhausting; having to take care of her on her own – so she was thankful for the help nonetheless.

She took one last glance at the carriages, and gathered her skirts as she turned and went back into the house.

Lena, her companion and best friend, was already in the drawing room pouring them both tea. “I thought you’d want some,” she said in response to Rosalind’s raised eyebrows. “And I gather I was right. Come, sit with me; tell me what is on your mind.”

Rosalind waved a dismissive hand but accepted the tea as she sank into her seat. “You know I don’t like Bath.”

“I believe you shall find Bath has changed since you last visit seven years ago.”

“I detest we must rely on charity to survive.” She sipped her drink. “Had it not been for Charles’ dissolution and mindless squandering, we would not be in this state. His will left us nothing.”

“Consider yourself fortunate his cousin has allowed you to live here so long.”

Rosalind knew she ought to be grateful. Charles’ cousin, having no interest in an estate that could not maintain itself, had acquiesced to them remaining in the house – even if he hadn’t offered her any financial assistance. Her parents, on the other hand, had extended their invitation right when Rosalind was considering selling her final pieces of jewelry. They must have known her desperate need of help, even if she never dared to admit it. “

My parents’ invitation has come at a fortuitous time,” she confessed, trailing her nail along the fine china cup. “And I am grateful. Without their help, we would have nowhere to live since there is no way we could ever stay here.”

Lena kept her expression blank. “It is a large house, to be sure.”

“Truthfully, I would be happy to remain at this house if our finances were not as dire.” She took another sip and placed her cup back on its saucer. “With Charles gone, I could lead a gracious life here.”

“Bath is merely a transient solution.” Lena said after a moment. “I want to believe the severity of all this shall not last; the tide could turn in your favor.”

“Let us hope it shall turn in Grace’s favor – that is all that matters to me.”


Andrew North, the Viscount Nortingdale, rubbed his head as he surveyed the multiple ledgers lying on the table before him. He had been given the title for just over a year but was still unaccustomed to managing the affairs of such an estate. There was an onrush of bills, constant demands on his time and no woman in charge of servants – not since his mother had succumbed to laudanum and left this life when he was still a child.

A knock sounded on the door and he glanced up; pushing the ledgers to one side. Damned accounts could wait anyway; it wasn’t as though he was getting anywhere with them.

“Enter,” he called.

Hoskins, his butler, entered with a tray on top of which lay a letter. “From your grandmother,” he informed Andrew grandly. “It arrived with an express rider.”

Andrew took the letter which did, indeed, sported his grandmother’s seal on the back. The urgent nature of the letter was quite befuddling— what could be so important?

As soon as the butler left the room, Andrew opened the letter; a frown growing on his face.

My dearest Andrew,
As you may or may not be aware, it is soon to be my birthday. Aging is an indelicacy one cannot avoid and should, therefore, embrace as a natural part of life. I miss you dearly and I beseech you to attend the ball I am hosting in honor of this day. I shall be delighted to see you again after so long.
I must ask you to forgive the urgent pretext of this letter but we both know this was the only path I could take in order to get your attention. I shall be expecting you in Bath.
With love,

Andrew placed the letter down. Her last missive had arrived not three days ago, and it was customary for them to go several weeks between letters. His grandmother had assumed a motherly figure in his life, for which he loved her dearly, but he had not thought she required immediate response to her previous letters.

There were a few minor matters of business he needed to attend to in London but he could deal with them the next morning if he moved a few things around and could be on the road by noon.

His response would hardly arrive before he did. So he hastily set himself down to write one.

Dear Grandmama,
I need no express post to persuade me into coming to Bath; I would not miss your birthday ball for the world.

Andrew used his newly acquired signet ring to seal the letter and summoned Hoskins once again to send the letter.

“Send it with an express rider,” he said, his lips twitching. Now he had come into his father’s rather large and
carefully curated fortune, Andrew need not worry about expenses such as these.

Next, he summoned Simon to the study. Simon was Andrew’s valet and, of all the servants, he was the one he was closest to as he’d been in his service for the entirety of his adult life. “Simon,” he said with a welcoming smile.

“I have some news.”

“Am I to be pleased, my Lord?”

“I expect so. We shall leave for Bath tomorrow.”

Simon allowed himself a small smile. “Then I am very pleased indeed, my Lord. Escaping London’s animosity will be rather beneficial.”

“Oh, tosh. Business won’t falter merely because we shan’t be in London.”

“I expect you shall be visiting your grandmother, the Dowager Countess?”

“Yes. I am well aware of what you are probably thinking, Simon, but she won’t prevent me from managing my affairs.”

An empty statement that was, and they both knew it. Florence would never allow Andrew to spend his time working over the accounts his estate. “I am not entirely certain about the duration of my visit; I suggest you pack whatever you

think I may require for an extended stay.”

“Will you be attending the Pump Room, my Lord?”

“I expect so,” Andrew said carelessly.

“Very good. Do you need anything else?”

“I need you to stop implying I am too consumed and absorbed by my tasks,” Andrew said, but his lips twitched into a smile. “Oh and while you’re at it, the Dowager Countess is throwing a ball – which I cannot miss.”

“Of course, my Lord.”

“Thank you, that is all.”

Simon left the room, and Andrew turned once again to his ledgers. His eyes were tired and they hurt. The urgency of his grandmother’s letter boded badly; he was certain there was more to this invitation. And the sooner he arrived, the sooner he would ascertain the situation.


Chapter Two

After a particularly long day’s travel, Rosalind and Grace arrived at her father’s house in Bath. It was a four-storey building with convenient access to the Pump Room as well as all the shops Bath had to offer. Although the town’s popularity had waned as of late, her parents had never ceased visiting over the summers. That was one thing that had never changed since her childhood.

“Everything is so tall,” Grace said, staring out of the window.

“Yes, indeed. All the buildings are very grand.”

“And there are no trees,” she said wonderingly.

“That’s enough now, Lady Grace, or else you’ll tire your mother,” Lily said. She had offered to take Grace in a separate carriage but Rosalind hadn’t minded the company. Entertaining her daughter was an occupation she enjoyed and aided her in refraining from thinking too much – especially when the very act of thinking would force her to venture into places within her she hadn’t dared enter for seven years.

As they dismounted the carriage, her mother Miranda, Countess of Montshire, descended the steps onto the street, with arms open and inviting. “Rose,” she said warmly, giving Rosalind an embrace before turning her attention to Grace.

“And of course, little Gracie. How wonderful to see you both.”

“Not much has changed,” Rosalind managed.

“Well, you know we are fond of continuity.” Miranda did not seem to notice the tightness in Rosalind’s words, and so she beckoned them both inside. “Your father is thrilled to see you,” she said, her voice echoing through the townhouse’s high ceilings. Once, years ago, Rosalind had lain on her back on the tiled floor and stared right up to the very top of the house and wondered whether if she wished hard enough, she would be able to fly.

The butler had found her, brought her to her feet and admonished her for acting in an unladylike manner.

Grace bounded along, eyes wide at the new sights. “Is it true that you have balls to attend to all the time?”

“Well, not all the time,” the Countess laughed, taking Grace’s hand with the naturalness of a mother. “Oftentimes, we do though.”

“Mama says, when I am older, I too can attend balls.” Grace glanced back at Rosalind, who forced a smile. “Isn’t that right, Mama?”

“When you are older, yes.” she reiterated.

“You must change for dinner,” Miranda said. “Your father will be there, Rosalind, and we have so much to tell you. It shall be served at eight — we abide by town hours here.”

Rosalind forced a smile. “I should have expected nothing less.”

Their luggage was in their chambers already, and Rosalind took her time changing out of her traveling dress into a blue muslin evening gown. Lena was curling her hair as she stared at her reflection in the mirror. Seven years had passed since the last time she saw herself through that mirror and considered how she had changed; her face was thinner now, and her eyes heavier with the weight of the interceding years.

It was apparent to her that sorrow had carved its own path across her face. All those years ago, she’d harbored the hopefulness and naiveté of youth. And love had blinded her to folly; breaking her heart over it. And all this time she’d spent living in misery with a selfish, cruel man had only solidified that grief; a woe that haunted her very being and was exuded through her eyes even when she smiled.

“Is being here difficult for you?” Lena asked.

“I hardly know how I feel,” Rosalind said restlessly. “I was so fond of being here — and even though now I do love the countryside and the peace it offers me, I used to adore mingling at the social events and gatherings, and savoring the brightness of the town.”

“Society glitters like a star.”

“Like the brightest of jewels.” Rosalind sighed. “Until it is sold to the highest bidder.” She fingered the sapphires in her ears. “I am not the same woman I used to be, Lena.”

“You are stronger now,” her friend said. “Loss has rendered you thus.”

She glanced up to meet Lena’s steady brown eyes. “Are you referring to my husband?”

“I believe we both know whom I’m referring to.”

Rosalind rose; one hand pressed to her stomach. “I think it is almost dinnertime.”

Lena joined her as they went downstairs and into the large dining room where her mother was already waiting.

“You look beautiful,” Miranda said, and Rosalind was reminded that for all her mother’s faults, she loved her with all her heart. “I consider myself very fortunate you did not take after my own appearance, or you would have been plain indeed.”

Rosalind shook her head. “You are hardly plain, Mama.”

“I do not possess your ethereal beauty, my love, but I do not resent you for it. All mothers wish their daughters a better life than the one they have known.”

Rosalind sat in her place. “Is that what you wish for me?”

“I am very sad your dear Charles died.”

Her father entered the room, cutting off Rosalind’s remark about how Charles had never been dear to her, and that she did not mourn his death so much as the lack of stability his presence afforded her and her daughter.

“Rosalind,” he said, taking his place at the head of the table. “It is good to have you with us again.”

“It is good to see you again, Father,” she said – avoiding to comment on her being there with them — for of course she would not have come if she had any other option.

“You would not believe the innumerable invitations we have received this year,” Miranda prattled. “Lord and Lady Slade are to host a ball next week – rather unusual for them. And of course, the Viscountess Odendale is holding a soirée. You must come, Rose.”

Once, she would have leaped at the opportunity to attend as many events as possible, but all she could feel now was dread uncurling at the mere thought. She had never experienced life in Bath without…

No, she would not think of him.

“Perhaps I will,” she hedged.

“Oh, well, it is in two days so there is time for you to decide, my dear.”

Rosalind suspected she would not be given the option of making up her mind; she would be expected to attend this soiree and any arguments to the contrary would be dismissed. Her mother was an expert at dismissing thoughts or intentions she did not wish to entertain.

“Perhaps, now we might speak about Grace,” Rosalind said. “Her education, specifically. I had hoped you would be inclined to employ a governess for her while we are here. I would have done so at Rothenwood but the state of our affairs did not allow—”

“Indeed, we must speak about Grace and what we could do to facilitate her future,” her father said. He eyed her sternly. Rosalind had inherited his eyes but not the way he leveled them at people with the weight of his intent. “I have reflected upon the matter, as I am certain you have too, and the most suitable solution would be for you to marry again.”

Rosalind almost choked and put her knife down with a clatter. “I—”

“I understand you have not been a widow long but, you must know, there is little else for you now. Your daughter needs a father, and you need a husband to provide for you both. Your stay here will undoubtedly present some suitable opportunities.”

Rosalind caught her breath. “And if I do not wish to marry?”

“Your wishes are not of primary concern. Your daughter is, and we cannot assist you both beyond the course of this summer. You must have a husband, Rose.”

“Only another husband — a titled, wealthy one — can provide you with the security you need,” her mother said gently.

“I understand marriage does not concern you presently but you should consider Grace.”

“I am considering Grace,” Rosalind said, her voice choked. “Everything I have done thus far — including accepting your invitation, which I now see was under false pretenses — has been for her sake.”

“Then you must see that there is no other way forward.”

Rosalind gritted her teeth. Her father had behaved like this once before; with heavy-handed assurance he was doing the right thing only to condemn her to a loveless marriage. Now, however, everything was different. She had Grace to think of — that much was true — and there was no particular gentleman her parents had in mind. Bath was better than London. If necessary, she could put her daughter first and find another man to marry. A gentleman of her choice would be better than Charles, no doubt, and while she was certain she could never love again, perhaps respect would be enough.
“Unfortunately,” her father said, “I have to return to London tomorrow. I have business there I must attend to.”

“Of course, Father,” she said.

“I shall return in a few weeks; hopefully to good news.” He sent Miranda a long look, and Rosalind knew her mother was in charge of overseeing her matchmaking.

“At six-and-twenty with a daughter in tow, I hardly imagine I shall have many prospects,” she said, her voice steady.

“Never mind titled gentlemen. At what stage do you anticipate me having to settle for the first man inclined to offer for me?”

“You are the widow of an Earl and the daughter of an Earl,” her father said, raising an eyebrow. “Your family ties are impeccable, and you are still young. I foresee no difficulty in the matter.”

Rosalind bit her lip and kept quiet, uncharacteristically so, until they reached the end of the meal and she returned upstairs. Instead of retreating to her chamber though, she headed towards the nursery where Grace slept. Six-year-old Grace, who had nothing but Rosalind to rely on. And Rosalind had nothing but the knowledge she must marry. Again.

She sat back on the rocking chair; watching her daughter’s steady breathing. She had been a fool for even thinking her father would be tempted to offer her charity. He was the kind of man who always planned ahead, and an ulterior motive with mixed intentions. It felt as if a vise had clamped around her chest; stopping her breath. Once more, her father was steering her toward an unwanted marriage and, once more, she would have to pose no objections. Her own feelings were of no value and she would called, yet again, to sacrifice her happiness at the discretion of others.

Grace slumbered on; oblivious to Rosalind’s presence, her heartache, the dizzying realization that their lives would change forever.

“For you,” Rosalind murmured, stroking Grace’s hair back from her face. “I would not do this for anyone but you.”


The Dowager Countess of Stanshire lived in a manor house slightly far from Bath’s city center, in a green and grassy area notably distant from other houses. Andrew had always loved it there; he had spent many happy years exploring the vastness of its gardens after his mother’s death.

Today, however, he hadn’t come to indulge in a journey down memory lane, and so he dismounted, handed the reins to the groom, and was greeted by the butler at the front door.

“Evening, Stewart,” he said. “Is she inside?”

“Good evening, my Lord. She is waiting for you in the drawing room.”

Once, when he was still a child and had been led to his grandmother in a similar fashion, these halls seemed particularly intimidating. Now, though little had changed but Stewart’s graying head, he felt nothing but a sense of relief to be back.

Maybe Simon was right: maybe he was working too hard.

“The Right Honorable, the Viscount Nortingdale,” Stewart announced as Andrew reached the room.
“Really, Stewart,” the Dowager Countess scolded. “We both know who he is. Andrew,” she said now to him, holding out a hand. “How good it is to see you.”

Andrew’s step faltered. Instead of the hale and hearty lady he had expected to see, his grandmother sat in a chair with a blanket over her legs, her usual color dimmed from hollowing cheeks. “Grandmama,” he said blankly. “Are you quite well?”

“Stop staring, boy,” she said, beckoning him closer. “I am well aware my appearance is not how you expected it.”

He bent and kissed her on the cheek. “You ought to have told me.”

“I’m telling you now. Sit — I’m growing weary just looking at you.”
Andrew sat on a chair, and she took hold of his hand, gripping it tightly.

“I did not lie to you,” she said. “My birthday is indeed soon, and I should like you to attend my ball, of course.”

“You may not have lied about this,” Andrew said dryly, “but you cannot possibly tell me you have been entirely truthful.”

“Few people ever receive the entire truth.” She sighed and patted his hand. “But you are right — I did conceal the state of my health from you. As of recent, I have been feeling tired and weak; it appears there is a something amiss with my heart. My physician will gladly inform you on the specifics.”
Andrew privately resolved to do just that.

“The fact is, Andrew, I do not have much time left.” For a moment, she broke away and glanced at the carpet. Her gray hair had been pinned up behind her head just as elegantly as always, but her face was thinner, the lines deeper, her hazel eyes larger by comparison. Those eyes had resisted time’s call; they were the only part of her that had remained the same since he was a boy.

Time could not be defied and would not be denied; Andrew knew that as much as he knew the sky was blue. It was an instinctual knowledge, that everything once born would eventually succumb to death, a piece of knowledge he had never dared to think it would affect his grandmother as well. Not when she had been such a beacon of life in a world he so valiantly struggled to understand.

“Now now, I do not require your melancholy,” she said, turning her attention to him again. “Had I wanted to be mourned, I would have decided to disclose the condition of my health these past few weeks.”

“You have known for weeks?”

“You were occupied in London, and I was engaged with planning on how I intend to spend the last few months of my life. There is much I wish to do.”

“Months.” The word dropped from Andrew’s mouth unintentionally, and he struggled to control his expression. “You have months left?”

“As it would seem. I beseech you, my dear boy, brush the glumness off your face. Your presence gives me joy and there is no need for you to brood over this turn of events. No one is expected to live forever.”
Andrew glanced up and smiled at her in a ghostlike manner. “Notion and reality are very different, Grandmama.”

“Indeed they are, and that is precisely why I summoned you here.” She paused just long enough for him to formulate her next statement, and said, “I want you to settle down, Andrew.”

“I am perfectly settled, Grandmama,” Andrew said cautiously. This was veering into dangerous territory; prospects he did not wish to consider again. The past was long gone and he had no intention of revisiting it.

Or marrying.

“Do not tease me,” she said. “We both know you need to marry.”


“You marrying concerns mostly your happiness. And mine – knowing you are content.”

There was once a time, seven years ago, when Andrew had believed he’d found love – he was but a mere boy, though, and knew nothing of the world. Now that he did know more about the world – he was content with life the way it was; devoid of the burden coming with love and marriage.

“I am content now,” he said.

“When was the last meaningful attachment you formed?”

He met her gaze steadily. “This is none of your concern.”

“As your last living relative, Andrew, I beg to differ.” She caught his hand in hers. “It is my biggest wish to see you happy and married before I pass.”

There was nothing Andrew could say to that, even if the prospect of marrying again made his stomach sink. It was true he would have to marry eventually, if only to sire an heir to take over the estate when he eventually died, but he had not intended it to be so soon.

“There is a soirée at Odendale Manor in two days,” she said with a mischievous smile. “I would be honored if you were to escort me.”

Andrew couldn’t hold back his smile. “Shall I have to fend off suitors, protect your honor?”

“As though I have any left to protect,” she chuckled. “But there will be many beautiful young ladies there, and I trust you can bring yourself to leave my side long enough to dance with a few.”

“I suspected there may be an ulterior motive.”

“You should know me well enough by now to know there is purpose to all I do,” she said, perfectly truthfully. Andrew had long since learned never to cross swords with his grandmother if he wished to venture out alive. “So, Andrew? Will you come?”

“You know I could never refuse you anything,” he said, bending to kiss her hand again. “Much as I should like to.”

She laughed again; a throaty laugh that sounded like in imminent danger of making her cough. “I have missed you. These next weeks shall be wonderful.”

Andrew was less certain of that; he wished never to bind himself to another woman as he had so nearly bound himself to one seven years ago. But his grandmother was dying, and this was the one thing he could grant her. He would not fail.

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