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An Earl Like Any Other E-Book

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When the boy you loved returns as a man holding a grudge...

Lily Taylor has a tumultuous past with her neighbor, Owen Lennox, the Earl of Trent.

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A past she's been able to avoid for years while he's traveled the Continent. However, with Owen's return to Hampshire, she can't help falling into old habits and courting trouble whenever he's near...

Owen Lennox still harbors pain from the betrayal of his childhood love, Lily, and while he'd prefer to forget their past liaison, he can't resist her stubborn, rebellious charm...

One night will change everything, forcing the two lovers to reconcile their past for a brighter future...a future that'll arrive in nine months' time.

Content Note: Explicit language and sexual scenes along with an accidental pregnancy.

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From An Earl Like Any Other

PROLOGUE

HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND 1864

He shouldn’t be touching me.

Lily Taylor understood the rules of propriety. She knew the consequences of letting a man other than her husband take certain liberties with her body would not end well for her. Did she particularly care as the man in question’s fingers massaged and tugged on her reddened nipples?

In a word? No.

Did that make her a harlot? A strumpet destined for a fiery afterlife? Perhaps, but then again, Lily found it difficult to muster much defense while her neighbor, Owen Lennox, kept his warm hands full of her breasts, and his mouth preoccupied her own.

“God, Lily, I love how you feel,” Owen murmured, pressing her forcefully into one of the stone columns surrounding them in their secret meeting spot—the lake gazebo.

“Mmm… I can tell.” Her hips lifted to rock hard against his erection, wishing they had time for her to see it, touch it. But they were both expected home soon, so their illicit rendezvous needed to stay constrained to feverish kisses, though Owen had already broken the rule by ripping her dress open to reveal her pale chest to the sunlight.

What a sharp turn their relationship had taken.

Growing up together with his father’s estate bordering her family home, the majority of their interactions had been arguments while her sisters observed from afar—varying degrees of amusement and exasperation on their faces. Spats Lily had relegated to standard back and forth between spirited friends.

But all those heated exchanges masked an attraction that had become undeniable over the past months. Since her eighteenth birthday to be exact.

When a silly argument over the best flavor of cake ended with their lips finding each other in a haze of passion. Passion grown bolder as they acted upon their desires as evidenced by today—the scrape of Owen’s calloused palm imprinted on her chest where he’d slipped inside the loose linen to caress bare skin.

“Soon, we won’t be stuck meeting like this. Won’t be forced to restrain ourselves.”

“To be fair, we don’t restrict much,” she admitted. They’d explored more of each other than they’d originally expected—at first trying to maintain decorum and proper courtship. Unfortunately, Owen and Lily both possessed fiery temperaments as evinced by past arguments; it seemed those same qualities applied to lust and desire, too, because their wills to be good hadn’t been strong for long.

“True, but I want more. Need more.” Owen nipped at her bottom lip. “I hate sneaking around so much. I want to parade you around on my arm during the day and have you at my bedside at night.”

She yearned for those things, also, though she was a bit more pragmatic about their circumstances. He was Lord Ashland, first son of the Earl of Trent, and she was a country girl born to a former professor. Their stations were not equal.

“I feel the same way, but we mustn’t rush. Your parents… They’ll require time to become accustomed to the idea of us.”

“They won’t stop me. I’ll make them see reason, and they’ll love you as much as I do. It’s not as if you don’t already have their friendship.”

Lily sighed, a sense of familiarity settling over her. They’d had this conversation before. “I know. I know.” Seeing the waning sunlight turn orange and gold, she extracted herself from his hold, quickly doing up the buttons on her dress. “However, they may change their minds if they discovered I made you late for supper. We should head home.”

Owen opened his mouth to argue but shut it after noting the beginning of sunset, too. Helping Lily right the rest of her dress and holding her hair ribbon as she rebraided the long strands, he placed another lingering kiss on her lips before walking her to the edge of the woods where they would depart.

“I love you, Lily. Believe that. Believe in me.”

Blushing at his fervent declaration, she smiled. “I love you, too. Now, go before we both get caught together.” Shooing him away, she watched his disappearing form and then turned for her family’s cottage, breaking into a run.

Lily’s feet pounded against the dirt path, a brisk breeze ruffling the wisps of hair around her face, until she skidded to a halt outside her home and braced two hands on the white fence cordoning lush gardens from wild forest.

Mama would be happy to see her roses finally starting to bloom, she thought absentmindedly, as a glimpse of scarlet unfurled to her left. After their children, the Taylor couple’s pride and joy lay with the flourishing foliage encapsulating their quaint home—especially now that Mr. Taylor had retired from teaching to focus on research.

Releasing a sigh of contentment, the chaotic energy coursing through her body slowly calmed as she stood still under the warm sun and closed her eyes to the brightness. She loved this place—the old cottage, the tangles of wildlife at her fingertips, and the lake and gazebo home to her and Owen’s trysts.

Murmurs from inside floated on the air—girlish chatter—no doubt from Hazel describing another one of her stories to Iris and Caraway. As the youngest sister, she reaped the benefits of being the baby of the family, doted upon and indulged, while sharing the fantastical imaginings she created. Though Lily preferred living in the present reality, she admired her sister’s ability to create and dream such detailed fictional tales.

Temperature cooled to a reasonable level after a few more minutes, she patted warm cheeks that she’d attribute to the weather and exercise if asked, rather than Owen’s kisses, and stepped inside the cool interior of her home. Immediately, the familiar scents of baking and fresh flowers wound around her in the gentlest of bonds, and Lily breathed deeply, allowing it to draw her closer to her sisters huddled in the living area.

“Lily, you’re back! And just in time.” Hazel raced over with arms full of old clothing. At sixteen, a youthful exuberance clung to her awkward limbs. “We were about to rehearse the scene between Alessia and Aqua the Mermaid.”

What fun…

“Must we do this now?” Or at all, considering they weren’t little girls anymore. But she kept that thought to herself.

All Lily really wanted to do was take a nap and relive the afternoon with Owen.

“If we have to participate, so do you.” Caraway, the eldest sister, sat in a worn armchair reading over a sheet of paper in her hands.

“It’ll be fun. Don’t be a sourpuss,” Iris said from her perch by the fireplace. Technically a cousin, she’d been raised as a Taylor sister after her mother—Lily’s aunt—abandoned her as a baby. “Oh, how was your run?”

Renewed heat brought a blush to her cheeks. “Agreeable. You know there’s nothing ever exciting to report. The path around the lake remains the same.”

“We thought you might have seen Owen. that’s what she’s trying to get at,” Caraway explained, a no-nonsense gleam in her eyes.

“I think you mean Lord Ashland,” Hazel corrected.

“He may be a lord, but he’s also very nearly a brother to us. Even if he hadn’t told us on numerous occasions to call him by his given name, I would. We’re too familiar.”

The one break in Caraway’s usually propriety-conscious mind.

Trying to keep her tone neutral—empty of her true feelings— Lily asked, “Why would you think Owen and I would’ve met?” Her sisters weren’t oblivious; it wouldn’t surprise her if they suspected something between her and their neighbor’s son. But Lily couldn’t fathom how they’d learn about the intimate meetings at the lake gazebo.

How could they unless one of them managed to follow behind her daily run? And the only one capable of such a feat was Hazel with her quick-moving feet.

“Mrs. Holly stopped for a visit while you were gone. She relayed the message of his return from Cambridge. We wondered if he’d be walking the lake while you were out.”

The tension in her shoulders loosened as she bent to wiggle a makeshift mermaid’s tail onto her stockinged feet. A reasonable assumption based on Mrs. Holly’s information, not because Lily’s emotions were displayed for all and sundry to see.

She’d learned of Owen’s arrival yesterday when she’d found a note from him tucked into their hiding spot, setting up their meeting today.

“Oh, he must be spending time with Lord and Lady Trent.” A troubled huff escaped as she yanked the too-small tail up her calves.

“You’re probably right. Now that he’s nearing his majority, I’m sure preparations are being made for a betrothal.” Hazel plopped onto the rug-covered floor and flipped through her own lines for the play.

The nonchalant declaration caused Lily’s hand to jolt and a ripping sound filled the room.

“Lily, you tore the seam!”

Glancing down, ragged threads and her cream stocking peeked through where the patched scales of a mermaid tail should have been. “I’m sorry. It was an accident.”

Caraway sighed then waved a hand in dismissal. “No matter. We’ll fix it later.”

Nodding, Lily asked the question foremost in her mind. “To my knowledge, there hasn’t been talk of a courtship. Why would there be a betrothal? Did Mrs. Holly mention something?”

“No, but eventually he’ll need a countess. Might as well start the search early.” Iris answered with a shrug of her thin shoulders. An ethereal creature come to life, she more resembled a fairy or nymph than a flesh and blood girl of nineteen.

Caraway continued, “You know how these things work with the nobility. Frankly, I’m surprised he hasn’t been promised to someone since birth.”

Iris and Hazel agreed, their muted voices fading to the background as Lily’s mind flashed to a previous conversation—one of promises made and societal rules broken. Discussion of marriage despite differing stations.

And she regretted ever giving into such fantasies.

What was I thinking? This isn’t one of Hazel’s stories.

Living in Shoreham, a quaint village in Hampshire, it was easy to ignore society’s expectations. As part of the eccentric Taylor family, she was used to feeling separate.

But those things didn’t apply to Owen, an earl’s son—no matter how far away they lived from society’s epicenter.

“I hope she’s not too snobbish, whoever she is,” Hazel said, interrupting Lily’s spiral into despair. “It’d be a shame if we couldn’t see Owen anymore.”

Snobbish or not, Lily would avoid the couple—it’d be too painful seeing him with another woman.

It’ll be worse if we continue down this path.

She needed to put an end to their liaisons.

Owen would refuse to listen to reason, she knew. He could be as stubborn as an ox when he wanted to be, which was anytime they were together, when he wanted to spark a playful row.

So, it had to be her.

But how?

A simple breaking of their relationship wouldn’t be possible. Forget the past few months of kisses and touches, they had years of friendship behind them. Owen would fight her, even if she was doing it to save both of them from future heartbreak.

“That day is far off, I’m sure. Are we going to rehearse? If not, I can get back to the handkerchief I’m embroidering for Mama’s birthday.” Iris tensed as if to leave until Hazel put a staying hand on her knee.

“No, no, we’ll start now.” She cleared her throat. “We open on a ship…”

Lily listened with half an ear as the future she’d dared to dream about with Owen dissolved in the face of reality. A lone tear tracked down her cheek, which she swiftly brushed away before her sisters could notice.

Stop being dramatic.

Common sense fought for supremacy. They were young, not truly in love.

Yet, it didn’t soothe her as she’d hoped.

A passing childhood fancy or not, Owen—Lord Ashland—and she could never be together.

And it was up to her to break both of their hearts before true, permanent damage occurred.

***

TWO DAYS LATER

His friends laughed when he bragged about marrying the girl of his dreams. They thought him imbecilic for tying himself to one woman at so young an age. Men were supposed to sow wild oats, traverse the world, and indulge in its delights—namely, women.

But Owen had never yearned for that sort of life. His parents loved each other despite a business contract preceding their marriage, and he held high hopes for his own love match.

And fortunately, the woman in question lived right next door.

Lily Taylor.

He adored her, plain and simple. She drove him mad with longing from her teasing smile to their fiery arguments, and even more recently, with her kisses.

Yes, Lily Taylor would be his wife and the next Countess of Trent.

They would spend their lives together in Hampshire near both of their families, and eventually children would be raised in the same grassy knolls they’d played in, swim the same lake. Honestly, he couldn’t wait.

Heading towards the stables for his daily ride, Owen entered with a sense that all was right in his world.

Until the vision before him sent it crashing to the ground in a blazing inferno.

Lily—his Lily—stood in the arms of one of the stableboys, Asa Lynch. Her lips touched Lynch’s in a facsimile of what they’d shared only the day before, and a peculiar cracking originated in his chest. “Lily?” Surely that odd croak hadn’t come from him, yet it must have because two pairs of eyes turned to stare at him—one set arrogant and the other pained, or so he thought before it disappeared beneath a cloud of determination.

“My lord, I wasn’t expecting you,” Lynch had the gall to lie.

“I come for my horse, Hercules, every day at two. Can’t imagine how it slipped your mind, though I can see you’ve got your hands quite full at the moment.” Owen couldn’t look at her any longer. Didn’t want to say her name, let alone think it.

How could she betray him this way?

Why would she do this to them?

They’d talked of love, of marriage. They’d made promises to each other.

He was going to tell his father about his decision, convince him of its rightness, despite the lack of her station as the daughter of a former professor. Earls were powerful in their own right as were their sons. If he chose to marry below his class according to society, then he would, and be happy to rub their noses in it.

Except Lily kissed Lynch. In Owen’s stables.

She’d broken his heart in one fell swoop, and suddenly, the gentle caution his father offered, the laughter of his friends, caught up to him. He’d been a fool to believe in such things as happy endings. To trust the affections of an eighteen-year-old girl. A girl who’d always bucked tradition, down to the very breeches she wore now after clearly running here from her family’s cottage.

“Leave. Now.” He motioned for the open door behind him. Lily scurried past, her steps faltered as she drew even with his shoulders but continued forward without a word. What could she say anyway? Apologies would be useless. Especially now with the blood running high in his veins.

“I said I needed Hercules. Is it not your job to do my bidding?” The most imperious tone he could muster blurted out, and Lynch snapped to attention—saddling Owen’s horse before sauntering away, unable to resist another smirk.

The bastard.

Mounting his chestnut horse, Owen cantered forward until they reached a private stretch of land, and he gave Hercules freedom to run. The blistering wind chapped his cheeks as they flew across the Hampshire countryside. Recklessness chased their tail, and Owen almost wished there were obstacles to jump—to conquer—because he itched to release the pain sloshing around in his gut.

“Goddammit!” The epithet shouted into the air, carried away to oblivion, encapsulating the raging emotions threatening to drown him under their weight. Conflicting emotions spanning the spectrum of love and hate.

And he loathed the weak part of him that didn’t immediately kill every last ounce of love he harbored for Lily. Give it time, and she’ll fade to a painful memory. Yes, time. And space. That’s what he needed.

Owen recalled one of his compatriots embarking on a tour of the Continent soon. Miles Brandon, while frustrating at times, certainly knew how to enjoy life. Something his suddenly tattered life needed desperately.

Slowing Hercules to a calmer pace, they turned back home as Owen plotted for an extended stay abroad because the more he pondered the idea, the more enticing it became. His parents wouldn’t begrudge him a jaunt around the world, and the intrigues of new locales would distract Owen from the impetus of his trip.

I’ll leave for a few months, maybe even a year, and when I return, a certain neighboring woman will be a footnote in my past.

Lily Taylor—love of his life, betrayer of his love—would no longer matter to him.

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M
M.W.W.
A whirlwind of emotions.

A whirlwind of emotions. To me this book is all about the power of the mind. Lily is forever caught in her emotions, and allows them to influence drastic decisions. She quickly spirals into a dark mental state, becoming overwhelmed in negativity and self regret. The way Owen helps her to overcome and learn to control the darkness truly spoke to me. His love for her is so strong, and can not be broken. The way these characters are described paints a beautiful picture of individuality, each one having such clear characteristics. The physical challenges that they have to overcome are just as impactful as the mental but the true strength of the story comes from the emotional breakthroughs. A lovely story. This was my first read of Jenna Frosts. I truly connected to the Garden a girls and can’t wait to read the stories for the rest of the family.

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