The Earl's Inconvenient Wife

By: Ruth Ann Nordin

Chapter One

April 1813


“Remind me why I’m here,” Nathaniel Buford, Earl of Roderick, said as he checked his gold pocket watch.

Perry Ambrose, Earl of Clement, shook his head in amusement. “I did that exactly forty seconds ago. The answer won’t change just because you want it to.”

With a sigh, Nate returned the watch to his pocket and looked out the carriage window, noting the crowded streets where horses pulled other carriages toward the same place: Rendell Hall. All the ladies would be dressed in their finest in hopes of snaring a gentleman—preferably one who was titled—to marry. The knot in his stomach tightened. How he hated the marriage market!

“Remind me, again, why I’m here,” Nate repeated.

Perry groaned, though a chuckle rose up in his throat. “You poor, poor man. You really should murder your brother for dying without an heir.”

“Don’t think the thought hasn’t crossed my mind.” Despite his sour mood, his friend’s words made him smile. If anyone could make him feel better about his current predicament, it was his childhood friend, Perry.

“You should count your blessings, Nate. You’ll have your pick of ladies.”

Their carriage came to a stop, and Nate straightened in his seat. One glance out the window notified him they had reached their destination. Hopeful young ladies who were there to enjoy their Season climbed the stairs to Rendell Hall. Heaven help the ones who were going in for a third Season. They’d probably be better off giving up. Not that such matters concerned him. He was here to get a wife, and with any luck, he’d find her before the night was up.

He glanced at his friend who grabbed his cane. It was ironic that Perry wanted to get married but hadn’t had much luck. Between the two of them, Perry was far more jovial. But for some reason, Perry hadn’t found a wife, though he’d attended social gatherings in the previous two Seasons. Perry had wagered that Nate would walk out with one before the night was over because, as Perry put it, once Nate set his mind to something, he didn’t stop until he got it.

“Try a more congenial countenance, Nate,” Perry said as the coachman opened the carriage door. “Ladies prefer gentlemen who smile.” Nate forced a smile, and his friend rolled his eyes. “Good heavens. You look like you’re in a great deal of pain.”

It was close enough to the truth so he didn’t deny it. He left the carriage first and breathed in the night air. Somewhere in Rendell Hall was the future Lady Roderick, the lady who’d enable him to pass on the title to his son. That shouldn’t be too hard. It would have been preferable if Hester hadn’t jilted him so she could marry the Duke of Aquilla, but he doubted she would have been content with being a countess when she could be a duchess instead. When it all came down to it, the title availed much to gentlemen.

His friend steadied himself with his cane and limped over to him. “Don’t compare those ladies to Hester.”

Surprised, Nate furrowed his eyebrows. “How did you know I was thinking of her?”

With a shrug, he mused, “You grimace when you think of her.”

“Do I?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Steeling his resolve, he trudged up the steps, going slower than he needed to so that Perry could keep up with him. Having been born with one leg shorter than the other, Perry lacked the grace and speed of other gentlemen.

“It is unfortunate we can’t trade places,” Nate mumbled as they approached the entrance of the ballroom.

“You don’t want to trade places with me,” Perry replied as he followed Nate inside. “Might I suggest you pick a lady who is beautiful?”

Lowering his voice so others couldn’t hear them, he asked, “You suggest no other attribute?”

“I’m not sure you need another one. Should she be as horrible as you fear, you’d have the consolation of knowing she’s nice to look at.”

Nate chuckled. Leave it to Perry to find something worth joking about when Nate faced a decision that would affect the rest of his life. Turning his attention to the mission at hand, he scanned the room, noting the couples dancing, some in merriment while others looked as happy to be there as he was. Maybe it was wrong, but he took a small comfort in knowing he wasn’t the only bachelor being forced to think of his legacy.

Perry nudged his arm. “What about her?”

His gaze went to the pretty blonde on the other side of the room who fiddled with her curls. “No.”

“Why not? She’s the best looking lady in the room.”