Sizzling Nights with a Tempting Earl (Preview)

Chapter One

“Pray, forgive me for saying as much, but I do not believe that colour suits you, Sir,” Juliet jested in her usual way. She addressed the gentleman who, at present, was holding a bolt of pale pink cloth, running his fingers over the fine material, and murmuring to himself.

Juliet was working the morning shift at her father’s shop, Bastable’s Finery. When the gentleman had entered the store nearly a quarter of an hour before, the little bell overhead let out a tinkling sound, alerting her to his presence, but it need not have done as much. Her eyes had been drawn to the strikingly handsome fellow. He was tall and moved with athletic grace. His sandy blonde hair was tousled in a ‘devil may care’ way, and she immediately took him for a nobleman because of his fine attire. She spoke to him now, not only because it was curious that he had spent his entire time in the shop fondling the pretty pink material, but also because she wished to look fully into his face and observe his attractive features.

“What?” the gentleman asked softly. He held tight to the cloth but turned toward Juliet.

Ah yes, just as I suspected.

His eyes were a hazy blue hue. The midmorning light poured in through the windowpanes, making them seem lighter and a little brighter than she had first noticed. There was a melancholy air about the gentleman, but when Juliet glimpsed his eyes, she knew that he was still full of hope, which likely explained why he spent his time glancing at the pink fabric.

“I was merely mentioning, sir, that I am not sure that sort of pale pink will suit your colouring,” Juliet replied, pursing her lips together to prevent herself from smirking. “I do not think it will be serviceable to make a riding jacket out of such material, either. It will likely rip to shreds because it is so delicate.”

The gentleman glanced down at the fabric in his hands, then a smile quirked the corners of his finely shaped lips. He unfurled a bit of material and held it up so that it covered his entire chest. “I think you may be judging too quickly, miss. I think I should look quite good in this colour.”

Ahh, a playful fellow; how very refreshing.

It was not often that the gentlemen who visited her father’s shop spent any time looking over the satin and silks, but to find one who also was not averse to jesting with her; well, that was just too good to be true.

Juliet tipped her head to the side and drew her mouth into a pensive expression. “You may be correct, sir, but I cannot tell. Come.” She motioned for him to follow her a few paces to the right and indicated he should step onto the dais, which was right in front of a full-length mirror. She turned to find that the gentleman obliged her and trailed after, bringing the bolt of cloth with him. “Come, come,” she said briskly, “up onto the dais.”

The man gave a sparkling laugh. “This is not something we gentlemen tend to do.”

“It is not,” Juliet agreed, “but I believe the expression is ‘there’s a first time for everything.’”

“Certainly.” The gentleman stepped onto the dais, then turned to meet his own reflection in the looking glass. “Oh,” he muttered woefully. “I do look a right mess today.”

Juliet gazed at him in the mirror. “I should not say so, Sir. But it could be the pink fabric. It does not go with your complexion at all.”

He smiled at her in the mirror. “You have convinced me, miss. A thousand pardons, but I do not believe I caught your name.”

“Miss Bastable,” Juliet replied, giving him a winning grin, the kind her grannie taught her to bestow upon the aristocratic customers who came to the shop. “My father, Sir Dudley Bastable, owns and operates this store.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Bastable,” the gentleman said politely, bobbing his head in a cordial genuflection. “And I think perhaps you are right about this pink material.” He stepped from the dais and held the fabric awkwardly in both hands. Using rather dexterous movements, he flipped the material around and began rolling it back into its proper shape. “I confess now that I was only looking at it for so long because I was thinking of having something made for Freddie.”

“Freddie, sir?” Juliet questioned. “Does he like pretty pink frocks?”

“Freddie is my sister. Frederica,” the gentleman explained. “Somehow Frederica always seemed much too formal, so we have always referred to her as Freddie and besides…” He paused and finished wrapping up the fabric. “I am not sure this colour would look good on her. She is a bit paler than I am, but her hair is darker.”

“Hmm…” Juliet hummed. “I should think it would suit her quite nicely then.”

The gentleman’s heavy eyebrows lifted faintly in surprise. “Are you jesting with me now, Miss Bastable, or simply trying to make a sale?”

Juliet blinked innocently. “Neither, Sir. I assure you I would never mock or tease any of the fair customers here at Bastable’s Finery.”

“Why do I not believe you?” the gentleman countered, with his own playful smile dancing on his lips.

She shrugged. “I need not persuade you to buy a thing, sir. The quality of our fabrics and the work done by my family speak for itself.”

The gentleman nodded, then glanced around the room. “I can see you speak the truth. Your family has gathered quite the collection here.” Juliet knew every square centimetre of the shop just as well as she knew the back of her hand, but she tried to see it as this gentleman did, looking upon the splendours for the first time.

The shop was separated into several rooms or compartments. The one in which they stood was devoted, almost strictly, to fabrics. Muslins, silks, satins, and lace were displayed throughout the room. Customers could drift by the bits of cloth and reach out to caress a sample piece, just as the gentleman had been doing with the pink material.

One entire corner of this room was devoted to ribbons. It was a rather fantastic sight. A shelving unit had been specifically built to house the spools. It rose all the way to the ceiling and was so tall, in fact, should a customer wish to see the colours at the very top, Juliet or her sister Madalene had to climb a ladder to reach those kept on that shelf. The true enjoyment Juliet wrought from being in this part of the store was because of the splendid colours that made every surface of the room seem bright and gay. Spools of white cloth were not merely a delicate, pristine hue. They were ivory, champagne-coloured, eggshell, and milky shades. From there, the room exploded with a vivid array of colours. Everything from sunset gold to sage green to royal blue or fiery vermillion could be found neatly packed into the shelving units in this room.

When Juliet’s eyes drifted back to the mirror, where the gentleman still stood, she saw that he was nearly as impressed by the glories of the riotous colours as she was and that sparked her to ask, “What is your favourite colour, Sir?”

The gentleman seemed a little startled by her question. He glanced down at his own attire, which caused Juliet to notice for the first time that he was dressed in all black. He had been holding the pink for so long, her eyes had to adjusted to the contrasting colours. “I like green,” he answered, then paused and amended his statement. “Allow me to show you.” Without waiting for her to reply, he stepped away from the mirror, returned the pink fabric to its rightful place, which she appreciated him doing immensely as she loathed having to clean up after customers when they left items lying about, then marched over to a circular rack that featured a pleasant collection of green bolts of cloth.

“I imagine you like this one best?” Juliet had been responsible for setting up this display, and she liked green best of all. She took a guess about the gentleman’s preferences, simply selecting the colour she most often admired. She tapped her fingers on an emerald hued bit of silk.

The gentleman stood on the other side of the circle, but craned his head to peer at her suggestion. “I do like that one,” he replied, letting his long, spider-like fingers dance over the other bits of fabric, “but I think I prefer this.” He tapped a bit of hunter green coloured velvet cloth. He tilted his head to the side, then playfully jested, “but you are the expert, Miss Bastable. Perhaps you might suggest what would look best?”

“I do so like a challenge, sir,” Juliet murmured, then she audaciously took a step nearer to him. They stood close to one another, but not so much so that anyone looking on, like her grannie or papa, would scold her later for being forward. His eyes widened in surprise at her words and bold actions, but he did not step away. Juliet pushed aside the lime green coloured cloth, then fingered the newest bit of material that was called quite simply rosemary green. But to get the fabric she truly wanted, she had to lean quite near to the gentleman. Her hand brushed against his jacket sleeve and still he did not back away, and that thrilled her immensely. “This one,” she announced, scooting around him so she would no longer be touching him but all the same staying near enough they could whisper to one another if they liked. She ran her fingertips over the soft, velvety cloth.

“You do not think it is too dark for me?” The gentleman asked. He lifted his hand and ran his fingers dangerously close to hers. She was not wearing gloves because she found doing so while she worked hampered her. Juliet needed to be able to feel the fabrics and speak to the customers knowledgeably about the materials. If she wore a pair of gloves, that diminished her abilities. But when the gentleman’s fingertips, which were also without gloves, skated flirtatiously near to her own, she felt a warmth thrumming between them.

“This shade of fabric lightens and darkens, depending upon the movements of the wearer.” She skipped her fingers away from his. “I thought you might like to have a garment that altered with your moods, just as your eyes do.”

He gazed at her and did not speak for a long moment. “How do you know that?” he whispered. “We have only just met.”

Juliet smirked. “It is my job to read my customers, sir. Your eyes are darker now than they were a moment ago when you stood nearer to the windows. Besides, I can also tell that you spend a great quantity of time travelling outdoors and so it is befitting that your attire moves, bends, and twists with you.”

The heavy, deliciously intense moment that hung between them dissolved when a perky laugh burst from the gentleman’s lips. He lifted his hand and touched the tip of his nose. “You only know I spend time travelling and being outdoors because the sun kissed my skin yesterday and I still bear the marks.”

Juliet lowered her head slowly, in a nod of acknowledgement, hiding her self-satisfied smile for a moment. “Well done, sir. My powers of deductive reasoning are no match for you.”

“Ha!” She was rather enjoying listening to the laughter that emanated from this gentleman. Even though it was evident, he was gentile and proper, he did not seem at all unwilling to share a laugh or two with the local shopkeeper’s daughter. So many of her customers were quite the opposite. They looked at her almost as if she were one of the fixtures in the shop to be noticed for a fraction of a second, but nothing more. It was nice to feel as if she was truly making a connection with someone for once.

“You are quite spirited, Miss Bastable. I think I should like to introduce you to Freddie. I fancy the two of you would get along quite well.”

“I should like to meet Miss Frederica,” Juliet replied amiably. “Did she come into Springdale with you today?” Her eyes flicked around the shop. It was busy, but she was sure she would have been able to identify any young lady who was the sister of this strikingly attractive man.

“She…”

“Graham! Whatever are you doing?” The gentleman looked up, and it was then that Juliet learned his name. A second gentleman entered the fabric room, having come from the adjoining compartment where a long counter ran nearly the length of the whole space and customers paid for their purchases. He stood very tall with a confused expression fixed upon his handsome face. He had a thick crop of dark, nearly black, curly hair, which he wore in the style of the day, with a heavy amount of Macassar oil slicking it into shape. His dark brown eyes scrunched, giving Juliet the impression that he had just stepped from outside the shop and was taking a minute to adjust to his new surroundings. “We agreed to meet back at the carriage at a quarter past eleven.”

Graham, the gentleman Juliet had so enjoyed meeting today, pulled a silver pocket watch forth. “Ah,” he said, then snapped it shut almost immediately. “I see that I have kept you waiting. Do forgive me, Solomon.”

“There is nothing to forgive,” Solomon replied, waving away the apology with the back of his hand. “At least not yet. Should we keep your mama and sisters waiting though…”

“Yes, of course,” Graham interjected. He turned to Juliet. “I hate to leave so quickly, Miss Bastable. You have been rather accommodating today and I should like to…” His eyes flicked around the shop. “Perhaps I should buy some of that pink fabric after all.”

Juliet grinned broadly at him. “You have changed your mind, then? Decided I do not know what is best for you and your sister?”

Graham gifted her with an impish smile. “Let us just say that I was drawn to that pink fabric for a reason. I think I ought to at least take a bit of it with me.”

“And who knows?” Juliet added. “If you get it home and realise that I was right from the beginning, you may just have to return it tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Graham murmured, “I shan’t do that, Miss Bastable. You or your father might think it offensive.”

“Surely not,” Juliet returned, aiming to keep her manner breezy and capricious. “Customers are dissatisfied all the time. And should you find yourself amongst that number, then I suppose you would have good reason to return here again tomorrow.”

“Yes,” he said slowly, cottoning into her insinuation. “I see what you mean. Let us try out the pink fabric, then.”

“Very well, sir.” Juliet bustled to the other side of the room.

Graham called after her, “But Miss Bastable, I also think I should take some of the green you recommended.”

“Graham,” his friend, Solomon, reproached him liberally, “we really must be going. You should have completed your purchases a quarter of an hour ago.”

“If you are so very impatient, Solomon, go wait in the carriage,” Graham retorted.

Solomon snorted, then crossed his arms over his chest. “I will wait with you,” he said in a low, almost disappointed sounding voice. “But if your mama is distraught, I shall tell her it was you who chose to dally in the shops.”

“Very well,” Graham said smartly. “we agree then. I am to blame, entirely, for our delays.”

Juliet carried the pink fabric in both arms and approached Graham so she could pick up the green bolt of cloth as well. “Or perhaps you should feel free to place the blame at my feet, sir. For if I had not kept you, it is likely you would have bought this pink fabric long ago and been on your way.”

Graham opened his mouth to say something, but he could not because Solomon spoke again. “Really, Graham. We are pressed for time. Can the garments not wait until another time?”

“Just the pink then,” Graham said as he beamed at Juliet.

She nodded dutifully, then carried the cloth into the adjoining room. While she cut away enough material to make a fairly nice day dress for a lady, Juliet found the task a little perplexing. Graham did not dictate how much he wanted, nor did she know Miss Frederica’s measurements or the style of gown she wished to have made. She cut a bit more than she normally would, to allow for these matters, then reluctantly wrapped the fabric in brown paper, bound it with a soft ribbon, and handed it to Graham.

She did not wish to see him go, but knew not how to make him stay.

“Thank you, Miss Bastable,” Graham said when he accepted the proffered parcel. His fingers gently brushed against hers and Juliet was flooded with the warmth she thought she had detected flowing between them earlier. “If it is all the same to you…” he began, but his friend interjected.

“Please, Miss Bastable,” Solomon said with a great sense of urgency, “just put the cost on his tab.”

“Yes, sir,” Juliet replied, nodding at both gentlemen. They exited the shop, with Graham giving her one last look over his shoulder. No sooner had they gone, and Juliet was joined at the counter by her older sister, Madalene. Both girls were rather tall and slender. They had been told for years that they looked so much alike that they were practically twins. So, when Juliet rose onto her tiptoes so she could gaze after Graham, Madalene copied the motion, making herself even taller so she could see him climb into his carriage.

Once he was safely ensconced inside, Juliet shrugged her shoulders and returned to her work. She reached for the ledger, where her father wrote all the open accounts, and flicked the pages, looking for someone with the name “Graham”. It was then that Madalene gasped loudly. Her bony fingers clutched Juliet’s arm. “Do you know who you were speaking to just now?”

“Graham,” Juliet replied nonchalantly. “I suppose I do not know if that is his Christian name or his surname, though. Why? Do you know him somehow?” She studied her father’s handwriting, looking through the alphabetical list of patron’s names.

Madalene’s gripped tightened on Juliet’s arm. “I hope you did not say anything unbecoming to him, Juliet.”

Juliet scoffed, then looked up to see her sister was in earnest. She was still staring out the window, but her face was stricken and pale. “Why would you say such a thing, Madalene? You know I am always on my best behaviour when I am with our customers.”

“That man…Graham…” Madalene hissed, the word reacting almost as if it was vile or cursed. “He is not just any gentleman. He is the Earl of Cogsley.”

“Impossible,” Juliet countered. “He was…”

“Look!” Madalene insisted. She let go of Juliet’s arm and pointed at the retreating carriage. Now that it was pulling away from the storefront, the coat of arms was clearly visible. The carriage was unlike any other; black and sleek. It was more ornate than most, and the shield painted on the door was unmistakable. The sunbeam yellow and vibrant green colours heralded the Cogsley earldom, and Juliet had to blink twice, just to be sure she was seeing them correctly.

Once she accepted the truth of the matter, Juliet mentally reviewed her encounter with the earl. “Hmph,” she remarked, “I suspected he was a nobleman, but I did not realise he was the earl. Fancy that. He was just as agreeable as any other young man.”

“Oh, Juliet,” Madalene groaned. “I do hope you did not make a spectacle of yourself or run him off. He and his friend did leave rather hastily.”

“I had nothing to do with his abrupt departure,” Juliet assured her.

But I do hope I have something to do with his eventual return.

For even though Juliet now knew the handsome man she’d amused herself speaking to this last hour was none other than the Earl of Cogsley, she was not daunted by that fact at all. Rather, she found it more interesting that he had elected to keep his status quiet. And it was that intriguing premise, along with his spirited laugh, that made her most anxious to see him again.

Chapter Two

“What do you have there?” Graham was called out of his own thoughts when Solomon spoke.

“Hmm?”

“I asked about the package in your hand, Graham,” Solomon replied. “What did you purchase?”

Graham glanced down at the neatly wrapped parcel. “Were you not paying attention while we were in the shop? Did you not see what I bought?”

Solomon’s fair skin turned a slight shade of pink. Slashes of red highlighted his already pronounced cheek bones. “I confess I did not notice. I was too busy observing other things.”

Graham chortled. “You mean you were gazing longingly at Miss Bastable?”

Solomon gave a shocked gasp, but his colour stayed heightened, indicating Graham had caught him out. “You cannot…I mean to say, I was only…”

“Do not fret over the matter, Cousin,” Graham said consolingly. “I noticed just how attractive Miss Bastable was too and I admit fully that I remained much longer in that shop than I intended because I was enchanted by not just her good looks but her clever wit.”

Graham thought over the time he’d spent with Miss Bastable and realised that even though he’d well overextended himself, by lingering longer than he ought to have done, he had not nearly satiated his desire to be near to her. She had a lovely face with soft, round features. While her complexion was pale, her dark brown eyes and rich chocolate brown hair seemed to make her features glow. He had been struck, especially, by her mischievous smile. Her lips were pink and full, but when she beamed at him, she displayed a glittering set of perfectly straight and even teeth. He had simply been enchanted by Miss Bastable’s smile, and only Solomon’s relentless nature could have dragged him away from her side.

“So, you spent all day with her, then?” Solomon questioned. His colouring returned to normal, and he seemed placated by knowing that he was not the only one who found Miss Bastable attractive.

“Hardly,” Graham scoffed. “I should have liked to, though. Why did you feel the need to hurry us back to Thrup Hall?”

“Your mama said you were expecting a visitor later,” Solomon explained.

Graham perked up at that notion. “Did she say who was calling?”

Solomon smiled at him sympathetically. “I am sorry to have excited you so, Cousin. I fear it is just your solicitor and steward. They are coming today to review a few of your business transactions.”

“Yes,” Graham murmured, “of course. I do not know why I should dare to dream anyone other than business associates should ever visit us again.”

Solomon leaned forward. “Do not despair, Graham. Your mother and sisters will return to their happy ways eventually. You must give them time to mourn properly.”

“But it has been more than two years,” Graham cried passionately. “I loved my dear father more than anyone in this world, but we cannot continue to wallow in this state of gloom. It has been so long, too long, since any joyful event or jubilant visitors came to Thrup Hall. Are we to live the rest of our lives lamenting our sad loss?”

“Your father was a great man,” Solomon said quietly. “Your mother and sisters may always feel keenly the stab of grief that accompanies losing him.”

“As do I,” Graham countered. “But I cannot endure living my life this way. At some point, can we not find a way to move forward?”

Solomon settled back into his seat and gnawed his lower lip thoughtfully. “I confess, when I first arrived at Thrup Hall nearly six months ago, that I wished to find you, your siblings, and your dear mama in better spirits. But I suppose we must endeavour to cope the best we can.” He nodded once more at the package in Graham’s hands. “Now tell me, what did you buy?”

“It is just a bit of fabric,” Graham answered. He fiddled with the sleek ribbon, tugging it free and unveiling the frothy pink cloth. “Miss Bastable did not think it would look well on me, but I would dearly like to see Freddie in something like this.”

Solomon looked at Graham quizzically. “Freddie? Are you sure this would not suit Georgina’s tastes better?”

Graham laughed. “I do not know, but I should like to see either of them wearing something like this instead of drab and dreary black.” He looked down at his own attire. “Just being in that shop with the colours saturating all those beautiful fabrics, it was nearly enough to bring tears to my eyes.”

“You may be exaggerating a tad there,” Solomon retorted. “The shop was nice, but hardly so spectacular as to garner such high praise.”

“And yet,” Graham persisted, “when I first walked into the shop, all I could think about was how, not so very long ago, my sisters and mama wore so very many colourful gowns. Do you remember the frock Georgina once wore to Lord Patterson’s ball?”

“The one with the matching ruby red turban?”

“Yes!” Graham exclaimed. “And every gentleman in the ton flocked to my father’s side, seeking an introduction be made.”

“I suppose Georgina still has that dress. Perhaps it is in a wardrobe or closet somewhere,” Solomon suggested.

“But why does she not wear it?” Graham questioned. “The London Season is but two weeks away and instead of flocking to establishments like Sir Bastable’s Finery, having new gowns made for various balls, parties, and soirees, my sisters sit in Thrup Hall, staring dejectedly at their embroidery hoops.”

“Come, Graham,” Solomon cajoled, “It is not so very abysmal as you make it out to be. Just yesterday, I heard Henrietta say she thought of going into the village. She wished to buy some, ah…”

“Black lace,” Graham finished the statement for him. “She is in need of more black lace handkerchiefs. They are so very difficult to come by and Henrietta has cried so much these past two years, she must seek out more to quell her tears.” Graham ran his fingertips over the soft pink fabric. “My sisters are all of marriageable age. They all made their debuts in London Society and yet, they are not even the slightest bit interested in leaving Thrup Hall or beginning their own lives with suitable husbands.”

Solomon asked delicately, “Are you worried that if they do not wed soon, they will all become spinsters?”

“Of course not,” Graham replied. “They are handsome women who are accomplished and well-bred. Any man would be lucky to take one of them as his wife.”

“Then what vexes you so greatly, Cousin?” Solomon queried.

“I wish to see my sisters happy,” Graham answered honestly. “That is all. Not only would my father have wanted his daughters to marry, but he would have wished for them to make love matches. But they shall not do either if they never leave our family’s estate.”

“I see,” Solomon said quietly. “So, you thought by purchasing the pink material you might entice one of your sisters, perhaps Freddie, to give up their mourning cloaks and rejoin Society?”

“I do not think it is too much to ask, do you?” Graham returned.

Solomon shook his head slowly. “You do not ask too much, but perhaps you should have gone about matters differently.” He nodded at the pile of pink cloth. “Right now, you are just presenting your sisters with a swath of pink fabric. Should they wish to do anything with it, they will have to return to town and have the seamstress sew them an actual garment.”

Graham snorted. “I suppose I did not think of it that way. Do we not have anyone at the estate that can make something with this?”

Solomon pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Perhaps one of the lady’s maids could manage to make something serviceable, but I really think it would be better if the sisters of the Earl of Cogsley were only seen out and about in dresses that were sewn by a true designer.”

“Huh,” Graham gave a heavy laugh at his own misstep. “I suppose Miss Bastable knew that all along.”

“The young woman in the shop?” Solomon asked. “You think she assumed that by giving you just this parcel, you would have to come back and see her again?”

“I do not know,” Graham answered. “But I am not averse to finding out.” The carriage rolled to a gentle stop and Graham hastily retied the ribbon and brown paper trappings around the fabric. “But I hope that was her intention.”

“You wish to see Miss Bastable again?” Solomon prompted. He scooted nearer to the door so he could exit the coach just as soon as the coachman opened it.

“Certainly,” Graham replied. “It would be a pleasure.”


“Sizzling Nights with a Tempting Earl” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Juliet Bastable dreams of a life beyond her family’s dress shop, until her father’s knighthood thrusts her into high society. As she navigates this unfamiliar territory, Juliet catches the eye of the seductive Earl of Cogsley, a man whose mere presence sets her heart aflutter. In his arms, she discovers a passion within her that she never knew existed, and her once-distant dreams for a better life finally seem tantalisingly close. Yet, Juliet must confront the harsh realities of a society that values status over love.

Will she risk everything for the fiery desire that burns within her?

Graham, Earl of Cogsley has been trapped in his grief for too long, but when he lays eyes on the alluring Juliet, he feels a spark that ignites a long-forgotten flame within him. As he gets to know her, he discovers a woman who is both strong and compassionate, and he can not resist the temptation. However, as a nobleman, he knows that his undeniable passion for Juliet will be frowned upon by society…

Can he find the courage to break with tradition and pursue a sizzling love that goes against everything society expects of him?

As the night of the ball approaches, Juliet and Graham’s feelings for each other grow more intense. Their stolen glances and whispered confessions leave them both burning with need, unable to resist the attraction between them. With society’s watchful gaze upon them, they know they are taking a risk, but the allure of each other is too strong to ignore. Will they be able to overcome the obstacles that stand in their way and find the happiness they both crave? Or will their scandalous affair be just another casualty of the rigid social order that governs their lives?

“Sizzling Nights with a Tempting Earl” 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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