The Lady and the Earl - Excerpt


A woman’s manipulating behavior is a prescription for disaster. But for whom?

Step into the lavish world of the Regency era in England with The Lady and the Earl. Harriet Manning, a brilliant physician, is passionate about helping others and devotes herself to medicine, despite societal norms standing in her way. With her mother urging her to find a husband, Harriet's life changes when Asheton Dunn suffers a riding accident and is taken to her clinic for treatment.

As Harriet and Asheton grow close during his recovery, they soon find themselves entangled in a forbidden romance that threatens their future. Harriet's family is shocked when they discover Asheton's true identity, the Earl of Lockford. Her mother advises her to abandon her medical aspirations and conform to societal expectations.

Although engaged, their love is met with disapproval from the high society, with Daphne Willis harboring ulterior motives. Will Harriet and Asheton be able to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of their love, or will their love be torn apart by duty and expectations?

With exquisite period descriptions, The Lady and the Earl will transport you to a world of love and intrigue, where societal expectations and personal beliefs collide and the line between love and duty is tested. Prepare to be swept away by this captivating and heartwarming story of a remarkable woman and her journey to find acceptance and love.

The Lady and the Earl is Book 2 in the Return of the Ladies of Sommer-by-the-Sea series

Chapter One


September 1816


Lady Harriet Manning didn’t note the sun-filled day, its warmth, or its beauty. Nor did she observe the clear blue sky with an occasional stray cloud sailing out of sight. If she took the time and stepped out into the garden of Cranford House, her family home, she would have found the fragrance of the fallen leaves, autumn flowers and the slightly salty air invigorating. Unfortunately for Harriet, none of that happened. She was otherwise occupied.

She didn’t experience any of the wonders of the day. Instead, she sat in the north end of the family library, studying scratches in a document’s margins, then scribbled in earnest on a piece of paper. She knew the information the tome contained quite well. It was the notations, the thoughts of her father, as well as those of the military physician, Dr. James Barry, that held her attention.

The library was a warm room from the red damask curtains to the mahogany bookshelves filled with over 4,000 books, several dating to the 14th century. The French windows along the length of the room offered a doorway and view of the garden. The fireplace stood in the middle of the bookshelves and was opposite the windows. In front of the hearth was a rather large settee, several chairs, and tables to create a variety of areas for discourse.

All this was enjoyable, but it was the north end of the room where she felt most comfortable. Here, surrounded by her father’s medical books and papers, was where she spent her time.

Poised to inscribe yet another note, she halted. Her quill hovered inches above the paper as her fine mind sorted out and applied what she read. Pieces of the puzzle shifted, until one by one, they fell into place, sending her into a writing frenzy.

In a rush, her heart shot to her stomach, then back into her throat. She pushed her chair back from the desk and hurried to the glass-enclosed bookcase in the far corner of the room, where her father kept his most precious books.

Her fingertips ran over the spines as she disregarded one book after another. She stopped and reread one spine. Slowly, she let out a deep breath, removed the 14th century Italian medical book from the shelf, and brought it back to the desk.

Harriet opened the treasure and hungrily searched the pages. Several items caught her attention, but she refused to give in to the urge. Instead, she banished the thought from her mind and paged through the book. The information she wanted was here, somewhere.

She was quickly coming to the end of the tome and still had no success. She glanced at the bookcase behind her. Had she been wrong? Frustrated and ready to put the volume away, she turned the page. There waiting for her was the information she sought.

Slow down. Take a deep breath.

Her racing heart returned to normal as she confirmed the recipe. The juice was an old remedy that was no longer in fashion, but the medicinal benefit was logical. Apples. As she read on, one idea after another surfaced. Harriet fiercely wrote them down before they flew out of her head as quickly as they appeared. This was not a cure by any means, but it would ease—

“Why do you spend so much time reading those papers is beyond me.” Lady Manning swept in. As grand as the library was, her mother managed to drain all the air from the room the moment she entered. Jane, Harriet’s lady’s maid, trailed behind with material draped over her arms.

A country girl, Jane took her job seriously. She was loyal, compassionate, and helped to keep Lady Harriet organized. Although if one were to ask her, Jane would say that her ladyship had that well in hand. Tall and thin with a pale complexion, she kept her dark hair in a simple bun at the nape of her neck.

Harriet couldn’t quite make out what it was. Or to be more precise, she didn’t care to make it out. The thought of how to adjust the medicine was lost, and she returned to reading the document. With any luck, the forgotten idea would resurface.

An incessant, low, steady sound droned on, interrupting her concentration. She would have tossed the paper on the desk if she could. Her mother was humming as she attended to Jane’s bundle, now placed with care on the chair on the other side of the desk.

Despite not wanting to smile, Harriet’s lips slowly formed a grin. The melody was one she used to beg her mother to sing when she was young. Another deep breath and once again, she read the document, the same paragraph for the third time.

She lifted her head, prepared to suggest her mother might be more comfortable in the morning room. She put down her quill and glanced at her. She wasn’t being fair. Her mother didn’t mean her any ill will. Harriet let out a defeated sigh. On the contrary, her mother encouraged Harriet to find her own way and pursue her interests.

Mama tolerated her daughter helping her father. Helping him was one thing. However, striking out on her own as a physician was another.

She grew up in a progressive home, an oddity in London. To others, a midwife, even a bonesetter could be tolerated, but a female physician was beyond acceptance especially by the ton. And for a woman such as herself—titled and with funds—well, she needn’t do anything, other than marry.

“Madam Pembroke sent your gown.”

Her mother pulled away the material covering her prize and held up a stunning pale green creation.

“A ball gown?” Harriet’s gaze flicked upward.

Please, Mother. Not now.

Her mother brought the gown to her, the silky material begging to be touched.

“We’ll be in London for your father’s presentation at The Royal College of Physicians. I plan for you to take full advantage of the Season.”

Harriet picked up the papers, paused, then put them down. No use trying to concentrate on the documents now. She was well aware of the direction her mother would take the conversation next.

“You can’t stay barricaded in this library or at the clinic. How do you plan to meet anyone? Do you expect a young man will simply present himself at the door?”

Harriet half listened to her mother lament. Her mother went on and on, and she found herself staring at the attractive soft fabric now on the desk.

Madam Pembroke created an outstanding gown. The seafoam-green creation was beautiful. The bodice was delicately embroidered with a fine silk thread, then enhanced with artistically placed seed pearls. A spray of the small pearls cascaded down the front of the skirt and pooled at the hem. The design was breathtaking. Where would she wear it? She had no intention of attending parties or the theater. Harriet was going to London for one reason and one reason only.

Her mother may be excited about the Season, but Harriet looked forward to sitting in the gallery at the Royal College to listen to her father’s presentation.

With admiration, Harriet gazed up at her mother who never failed to astound her. Despite her average height and willowy figure, the woman’s piercing blue eyes never missed a thing. She was elegant and refined with a regal bearing that commanded attention.

With a strong sense of social justice and advocacy work on behalf of the less fortunate, her mother was an inspiration to many, including Harriet.

Her mother placed the gown over the back of the chair and sat beside her, her hand resting on her arm. Harriet examined her face for signs of judgment and disapproval. But all she saw was compassion and worry. And the shade of something else. Hope.

Who was she to dash all her dreams?

“Would you like to slip it on? It is the perfect color with your hair.” Her mother brushed a curl from her face. “I’ve always thought it the color of a fine burgundy. And your amber eyes rimmed with sparkles of gold. Yes. This dress will be perfect.”

“You go on. I’ll wait.”

The cadence of the song was woven in her voice. Mama was not playing fairly.

“Mama, I would adore trying on the gown, but I cannot at the moment. With Father away tending a patient in Royston Mills, I must take his place at the clinic.”

Her mother stood and picked up the gown. She fluffed the skirt, then gazed at Harriet.

“The color is perfect for you.” Her smile got brighter if that were possible.

“The color is as beautiful as the gown.” Harriet gathered the papers and put them into a folio.

She went through the basket that sat on the library table. Bandages, tinctures, salves, and small envelopes of several medicines. Satisfied she had everything, she closed the basket and put on her spencer.

“I promised Father I would see to any patients who came in while he was gone.”

Her mother buttoned her coat, as she did for her father before he went out.

“Do I pass inspection?” Harriet couldn’t stay annoyed with her long.

“Of course you do.” Her mother stood back and regarded her work.

“I’ll try on the gown for you when I get home.”

“After dinner, then. Your father won’t be home for another day or so. I have you all to myself.”

* * * *

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