Setting a Lady’s Heart on Fire (Preview)

Chapter One

Actonham, Norfolk, East Anglia, England, 1820

The wind always seemed particularly strong when promenading in Actonham Park, thought Miss Adele Mayne grimly, holding a hand on her head to secure her bonnet in case it was abruptly whisked off her head. She glanced at her stepmother, Lady Mayne, who was walking alongside her while her three younger half-sisters skipped ahead, laughing as they battled the wind with their hoops.

“It is blowing a gale, Mama,” said Adele, gritting her teeth. “The girls will be impossible by the time we return home.”

Lady Mayne smiled. “Indeed, they will, Adele. I have often noted that wind and children do not mix well. The wind seems to infuse them with a wild energy. They turn into little savages.” Her voice was full of wry amusement and affection.

Adele smiled, gazing fondly at her little sisters. They all had golden hair in varying shades. Fredericka, who had just turned eleven, had dark gold hair, the colour of honey. Helena was nine, and her hair was a particularly warm shade of caramel, with bright golden streaks throughout. And little Prudence, who was seven, had hair that was so white it almost looked like a halo of light surrounding her head. 

Adele’s smile widened as she studied them. They were like peas in a pod, so alike, almost identical in looks. The same broad faces, bright blue eyes, and smattering of freckles across their snub noses. It was only the varying colours of their hair and their height differences which set one apart from another. They were all long-limbed and lanky.

She turned back to her stepmother. The girls had inherited their looks and physique from their mother. Lady Mayne’s golden hair might be sprinkled with grey now and her blue eyes a little faded, but the girl’s bone structure was clearly visible in her face, and she was long-limbed like her daughters. No one would ever doubt she was their mother. But people who didn’t know them always paused, slightly puzzled, when they saw Adele next to her family, for, of course, she didn’t look like her stepmother or sisters at all. She was the polar opposite of them. Auburn-haired, green-eyed, and petite.

It is like I am an alien amongst them, she thought. A duckling within a nest of swans.

She had inherited her looks, hair and eye colour, and stature from her own late mother. Her father, the Viscount Mayne, was tall, dark-haired and swarthy. None of his children looked like him at all. Which, of course, confused people even further.

“Perhaps we should cut short the promenade,” said Adele, glancing at the girls, who were bright-eyed and indeed looking rather wild, swinging their hoops in the air with abandon. “They are growing more restless by the minute.”

“No, we are not going to do that,” said her stepmother, in a firm voice, taking her arm. “Promenading is the best way to see and be seen. One never knows who one shall bump into.” Her eyes narrowed as she gazed at Adele sideways. “One never knows what eligible bachelors one shall bump into, Adele. We shall endure the girls’ high spirits for the sake of it.”

Adele suppressed a sigh of irritation. Her stepmother had a plan for her, of course, which was marriage with a suitable gentleman as quickly as possible. She was always dropping hints that Adele wasn’t getting any younger, even though she had only just turned one and twenty. Adele had tried to talk to her, tell her that she really had no interest in marriage at all, but Lady Mayne wouldn’t hear a word of it. She simply could not understand that a young lady might not wish to marry. It was supposed to be every young lady’s ultimate goal.

“You are silent,” noted Lady Mayne. “Please tell me you are not still reluctant to find a suitor, Adele. Just because you had a disappointing Season last year does not mean it will be the same this year, child.”

Adele rolled her eyes. “Not just last Season, Mama. Every Season since my debut has been disappointing.” She took a deep breath. “The gentlemen of the ton are all the same. They want a lady who shall be decorative and nothing more. They do not care for a lady’s opinion. They do not care what is in my mind. In fact, I believe they all desire a lady who has no mind of her own at all.”

Lady Mayne laughed, tightening her grip on her. “It is true that a lot of gentlemen just want a wife for decoration,” she said. “But not all, Adele. I know how fiercely clever you are and that it means a lot to you to be valued for your mind. Do not despair. I am certain we shall find a gentleman who appreciates it.”

Adele bit her lip. She did not share her stepmother’s optimism or enthusiasm. In fact, she was secretly hoping that sooner or later her parents might just concede defeat and allow her to live her own life. Perhaps become a governess. For there was no other path for a clever woman to take in this life, when she wished to utilize her mind. 

I wish I could attend university, she thought wistfully. How wonderful would it be to become an astronomer?

For the stars and the mysteries of the sky were her passion. Papa had bought her a telescope when she was young, and she had simply fallen in love. Her favourite thing in the world was studying the night sky. And reading books about the subject. 

But only gentlemen could study astronomy, of course. No ladies, or any women, could attend university. No, the only way she might have a chance at her own life was through teaching. She knew that she would lose her status if she did it—daughters of viscounts weren’t supposed to be governesses. She didn’t need to become a governess. Usually, highly placed ladies only became governesses through desperation, if they were impoverished and marooned without any other options in life. But she didn’t care about any of that.

Adele opened her mouth to tell her stepmother what was running through her mind, then closed it again. She didn’t understand and never would. Lady Mayne was as dear to her as if she were her own mother, who had borne her. She had acted in the role of mother to her ever since she could remember. But she was also a very proper, conventional lady. Well-born ladies sought marriage and nothing else, in her stepmother’s opinion. Adele really did feel like the duckling in the nest of cygnets most of the time. Out of place entirely.

She was different to the others. Different to everyone in the ton. Perhaps she was a changeling, she thought in despair. Perhaps she had been placed in the wrong crib at birth.

She was distracted from these troubling thoughts by the delighted cries of her sisters. They were rushing ahead towards a group of people approaching them. Adele smiled, shaking off her dark thoughts. For approaching were two of her best friends in the world—Miss Catharine Atkinson and Mr Garrett Southill, along with Catharine’s mother and younger sister, Blanche.

She couldn’t help it. She let go of her stepmother’s arm, running to them, just like the girls. 

“How wonderful to see you both!” cried Adele when she was close enough to be heard. 

Catharine laughed with delight before kissing her on the cheek. Garrett was grinning as always. Mrs Atkinson nodded kindly. Lady Mayne caught up to the group.

“How lovely to see you, Mrs Atkinson,” said her stepmother, inclining her head. “It is rather a windy day for promenading, is it not?”

“Indeed, Lady Mayne,” said Catharine’s mother, rolling her eyes. “We were just thinking about heading home to our warm hearth.”

Adele slid up to her friends, edging herself between them, taking both their arms. Catharine and Garrett had been her closest friends since childhood. They all lived on neighbouring estates on the outskirts of the village of Actonham. They had climbed trees, made treehouses, and played elaborate games together in the woods surrounding their homes when they were children. And their closeness had never diminished. 

“A warm fire is a tempting thought indeed,” agreed Lady Mayne, tightening her gloves. 

Mrs Atkinson nodded. “Have you heard that Dunlop Manor is about to be inhabited at long last, Lady Mayne? The Viscount Savile has decided to arrive for an extended stay there.” There was a dramatic pause. “And his cousin, Lord Lucas Savile, is supposed to be accompanying him.” Her eyes were glittering with excitement.

Lady Mayne raised her eyebrows, swivelling to her stepdaughter. “Did you hear that, Adele? Not one, but two very eligible gentlemen have just landed in our midst!”

Adele flushed. What did she care if a whole group of eligible gentlemen had decided to take over Dunlop Manor? But she knew that wasn’t the reaction her stepmother was seeking. She must play the part of the dutiful, eager young lady.

“How perfectly amiable,” she said, forcing a smile onto her face. “That house has been vacant forever. I thought the Viscount Savile would never reside in it.”

Mrs Atkinson leaned towards her, lowering her voice. “He is a rather reluctant viscount,” she said, nodding her head primly. “He has a reputation for waywardness. Apparently, he has been living abroad for years. That is the reason he has never resided in the manor since assuming the title upon his late father’s demise.” She turned back to Lady Mayne. “It is an open secret that the Viscount does not wish to marry. So, I am afraid we may have to strike him off the list of eligible gentlemen for our girls, my lady.”

Lady Mayne looked disheartened. “Oh, I see. How disappointing.” Then her face brightened. “But there is still his cousin? Lord Lucas?”

Mrs Atkinson nodded. “Indeed, there is,” she said. “And I have it on very good authority that the Viscount is planning to make his cousin his heir.”

“How odd,” said Lady Mayne, frowning. “The Viscount is very serious about not marrying, then. I thought perhaps it was just a whim. Often gentlemen enjoy their bachelorhood so much they are reluctant to part with it. But they usually do once the right lady comes along, or they reach a certain age, and the issue of having an heir becomes pressing.”

“Not the Viscount Savile,” said Mrs Atkinson, shaking her head. “Making his cousin his heir shows how serious he is about the fact he expects to never have children of his own, and he is nearing thirty.” She paused. “But Lord Lucas’s value rises with that decision. He shall be viscount one day. Apart from the fact he is already wealthy and titled in his own right.”

Adele looked away, growing bored with the conversation. All she wanted was to drag her friends off so they could have a private talk. But just as she was about to suggest it, her stepmother turned to her again, her blue eyes filled with fervour.

“We must focus on this Lord Lucas then, Adele,” she said. “Hopefully, he shall make himself known around the social circle and fall madly in love with you! How exciting!” She clapped her hands together with glee.

Adele caught Catharine’s eye. Her friend knew all about her reluctance to marry. And the conversation was getting rather embarrassing. Why did mothers insist on being so forward about it all? She and Catharine had often pondered the subject. 

She had no desire for this lord to fall madly in love with her. She didn’t want any man to fall in love with her. They were all the same. Lord Lucas Savile would be just like the rest of them. 

Then she thought about the mysterious Viscount Savile, who had been living abroad for years, and who didn’t want to marry at all. Idly, she wondered why such a highly positioned gentleman would make such a choice. It was hardly conventional. He was trying to march to the beat of his own drum just like she was. 

She felt a spark of admiration for the unknown gentleman. Good on him. At least she knew that she was safe from him, at least. Or, to be more precise, from her stepmother’s machinations. The whole marriage-market business bored her to tears. And she doubted that could ever change.

Chapter Two

Ashton, the Viscount Savile, rushed out the front door at Dunlop Manor. He had seen the horse and its rider approaching from the drawing-room window. Lucas had arrived at long last. He was so happy to see his younger cousin that he barely waited for him to dismount before enveloping him in a bear hug.

“It has been an age, Cousin,” said Lucas, returning his hug. “How many years is it since we last saw each other?”

Ashton pulled back, gazing at him fondly. Lucas had filled out. His younger cousin was a man now. His hair was still a mop of golden curls, maybe just a shade darker than it had been. But he still had the same bright blue eyes, always inquisitive, always warm. It was so good to see him.

“It has been four years,” he replied. “Just before I went to France. We last saw each other just after Father’s funeral.”

Lucas shook his head incredulously. “The time goes quickly, does it not?” A smile spread over his face. “But some things never change. Blood is thicker than water. I have missed you, Ash.”

Ashton’s heart turned over in his chest. “I have missed you too, little cousin.” He clapped Lucas on the back. “Come in. Let us have a brandy to celebrate your arrival and get out of this infernal wind. We have much to catch up on.”

***

In the parlour, they sat by a roaring fire. Ashton leaned over, refilling his cousin’s glass. It was cold and windy in Norfolk this time of year, he reflected ruefully, even though summer was just around the corner. He had forgotten entirely how cold England actually was. But he supposed living in the south of France for so long, where the climate was much more temperate, would do that to a man.

Lucas gazed around the room. “Why did you decide to set up residence here, rather than go to your ancestral seat, Cousin?”

Ashton grimaced. “My lady mother permanently resides at Hawkridge Hall,” he said, sipping his brandy. “And even though I made the decision to return to England, I have my limits. I believe we would end up killing each other if we had to live together again for any length of time.”

Lucas laughed. “That is a bit dramatic, old chap! I know that you and your lady mother have never really seen eye to eye, but surely time and age tempers all old disputes.”

“I do not think so,” said Ashton, his voice grim. “It might be four years since we last saw each other, but some things never change.” He drew a deep breath. “I have never gotten along with either of my parents, Lucas. You know that. I am willing to see my mother from time to time now, but live with her?” He shook his head.

Lucas looked sad. “My parents always said it was a crying shame,” he said. “Your family was always so fractured, Ash.”

Ashton’s mouth tightened. “It is just the way of it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “One learns to live with it. At least I always had you and your parents. That was something.” He hesitated. “You have always been like a younger brother to me, Lucas. Why did you never come to see me in France?”

Lucas sighed. “I would have loved to travel to France and see you. But the old man said he needed me at home. And he controls the purse strings, Ash. I am not financially independent like you, old chap.”

“Not yet,” said Ashton, in a thoughtful tone. “But now that I am determined to make you my heir, it will happen one day, Cousin.”

Lucas gazed at him incredulously. “I thought my eyes were deceiving me when you mentioned it in your last letter, Cousin. Are you really serious about this? You truly wish to make me your heir?”

Ashton nodded. “I am very serious about it. In fact, I plan to have my will changed as soon as I get to London, to reflect it. You will be the next viscount, Lucas. You have my word.”

Lucas sighed. “I do not understand, Ash. While I am very grateful and would never reject the offer, how can you be so certain that you will never have children of your own? A son and an heir?”

Ashton put down his brandy, gazing solemnly at his cousin. “I do not want to marry,” he said slowly. “The thought has been pestering me for years. I thought I might resolve it and feel differently about the whole matter one day. But I have found that the older I get, the more determined I am about the decision. I am almost thirty, Lucas. I believe that if I am still so committed to not marrying at this age, then it is meant to be.”

Lucas gaped at him. “But why? Most gentlemen take it on, even if they are reluctant. A marriage of convenience, to procure the heir and the spare, if nothing else.”

Ashton laughed. “They do,” he said, picking up his glass again, twirling the stem in his hand. “But even a marriage of convenience can turn sour, Lucas. One must live with the lady one has chosen forever. Marriage isn’t always a bed of roses. I have learnt that the hard way.”

“You are thinking about your own parents’ marriage,” said Lucas slowly. “I admit it was a bad marriage. Everyone knew it.” He took a deep breath. “But just because they did not get along and fought like knaves does not mean you will have the same kind of relationship with your own wife. There are good marriages out there. My parents are happy together.”

Ashton smiled grimly. He had tried to think along those lines for years. He had tried to convince himself that he might be able to take the plunge and marry one day, hoping against hope that he would choose his bride well, and they might have a pleasant life together. That it wouldn’t end up being the bitter, tangled mess that his parents’ marriage had been and that he had to endure all his life.

But he just couldn’t manage to convince himself. His cynicism ran too deep. And with it, the dawning knowledge that he could never put any children of his own through that hell. He could never risk that he might do so. It didn’t matter if it was a marriage of convenience or love—it could still descend into that dreadful abyss. 

Once the decision had been made, he had felt lighter. Freer. The pressure was off him. But the fact remained that he still needed an heir. The title must go to someone when he died. And that was when his thoughts had turned to the man sitting across from him now. Lucas had always been like a little brother to him. He was his first cousin. The title, estates, and wealth would stay in the family. He really couldn’t think of a better solution to the problem.

And that was why he had returned to England now. So he could talk to Lucas about it and convince him if need be. There was also another reason he had invited his cousin here for an extended house stay at Dunlop Manor, which was part of his whole plan, as well.

“I know there are happy marriages, Lucas,” he said, sipping his brandy thoughtfully. “But there are an awful lot of bad ones. I am simply not willing to risk it, old chap. Apparently, my parents were deliriously in love at first and declared they couldn’t live without one another.” He rolled his eyes. “And look how that turned out.”

Lucas frowned. “But….”

Ashton put a hand in the air. “No, I have made my mind up, Cousin. You cannot convince me otherwise. I have pondered it for years, as I said. I did not make the decision lightly.” He took a deep breath. “But if you are to become my heir, you will need a viscountess. And a son and heir. The continuation of the title means a lot to me…So I would like you to find a wife as soon as possible. Preferably during this visit.” He sat back, feeling satisfied.

Lucas’s jaw dropped. “You want me to find a wife from the small pool of eligible ladies around Actonham? We are not in London, Cousin.” His frown deepened. “Besides, why the rush? I am only three and twenty. There is plenty of time to secure a wife. You will likely live to a ripe old age. I might assume the title in my sixties.”

Ashton shook his head. “Anything could happen, Lucas. People die young. There are always illnesses and accidents. I want the title secure. And the only way of doing that is for you to marry and produce a son as soon as possible.”

Lucas ran a hand through his mop of golden curls. “You sound like a man on a mission, Ash! I cannot promise anything. And I am starting to feel a little pressured.”

“But you do wish to marry, do you not?” asked Ashton, leaning forward in his chair, gazing at him intently. “That is what you have always told me, at any rate. You have no qualms with the institution as I do. What does it matter then if you marry now or in ten or twenty years?”

Lucas shrugged. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. But still, I would like to choose my wife carefully. I do not want to end up with someone I do not get along with or is too spoilt.”

Ashton laughed. “This is probably the best place to make a choice, Lucas. The ladies in these rural areas are a lot less sophisticated and jaded than in London. Plus, they are all clamouring for a good match. I can guarantee you will be swamped by them, once they know you are my heir. I daresay you can have your pick of the bunch.” He grinned. “A wholesome, innocent country rose.”

Lucas grinned. “I do not mind looking. But I cannot guarantee that any lady shall catch my eye. And I refuse to marry solely based on the lady’s position in life. We must be like-minded.” He hesitated. “I do not want an unhappy marriage either, Ash. Although I am not quite as opposed to the risk of it occurring as you are.”

Ashton nodded. “Of course, Cousin. I would never force your hand. That would be repugnant to me.” He grinned. “There is no harm in looking, though, is there? In fact, there may be great fun in it! Shall we start soon? I heard there is a district ball this coming Saturday. All the eligible young ladies should be there. What say you?”

Lucas laughed. “Whyever not? I enjoy a ball as much as the next person! And if a lady happens to catch my eye, then we shall see about taking it further. Is that sufficient?”

“It is,” said Ashton, his grin widening. He refreshed both their glasses again, then raised his own high in the air, toasting his cousin. “Here is to you, Lucas. I hope you enjoy your time at Dunlop Manor. And dare I say, I hope you find the lady of your dreams, as well. Shall we drink to it?”

Lucas laughed again, holding his own glass aloft. “Why not? Here’s to Norfolk, old chap. I hope it is a rewarding visit for both of us.”

They drank. Ashton felt a warmth spread through his chest as he gazed at his cousin. 

He had never wanted to return to England, but now that he was here, it might prove very fruitful. He had secured himself an heir without all the trouble of marrying and having children. And if they found the right lady, his cousin might soon be having an heir of his own. The continuation of the title might just be ensured for at least another generation, in one fell swoop. The thought of that was something to be thankful for, indeed.


“Setting a Lady’s Heart on Fire” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Miss Adele Mayne is tired of being pressed to court. Thinking she can never be herself within marriage, she wants to become a governess, and she is planning to do so after the season is over. What she never expected, though, was the seductive Viscount Savile and his cousin Lord Lucas’ arrival in town, that will flip her well-ordered plans upside down. When Lord Lucas sets his sights on her, will the ravishing Adele dare to admit her sinful desires for his cousin?

A lady torn between a Lord and a Viscount…

The pressing need to find an heir brings Ashton, the captivating Viscount Savile, back to England, a place filled with bad memories of his upbringing. After deciding to make Lucas his heir, he becomes the most eligible bachelor in the district. Until Lucas decides to go after Miss Mayne and jealousy comes to the surface, along with flaming passion. Will he manage to fight this powerful attraction and let his cousin have her instead?

A love triangle, the season’s most scandalous affair…

As the summer and the courting progresses, things get rather more complicated. Even though Ashton is a man with a questionable past, who has sworn to never marry, still, his touch makes Adele’s blood run hot… How can this ever end well, especially since neither of them is willing to admit their lust? Will they manage to overcome their fears and fight against his cousin’s plans? Or will they be drifted apart from the wicked lies once and for all?

“Setting a Lady’s Heart on Fire” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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