The Midnight Marquess
Chronicles of the Westbrook Brides, Book 3
Obstacles never seem as insurmountable at midnight as they do in the cold light of day…
Aurelie Lemieux once believed in fairy tale endings and true love. But when her half-brother is unjustly executed for treason, she’s thrust into a world of betrayal and danger. Forced to flee France with his children, her dreams of love give way to harsh reality. Aurelie resigns herself to a marriage of convenience as her only chance for survival. However, her heart yearns for the one man she should avoid: her captivating and mysterious neighbor, Adolphus Westbrook.
Intent on evading the suffocating grasp of High Society and the relentless pursuit of conniving debutantes, Adolphus, the Marquess of Edenhaven, seeks solace in a small coastal village. Yet, the fates conspire against him when he crosses paths with the alluring Aurelie under the cloak of darkness. In their stolen midnight encounters, he glimpses the possibility of a love he never anticipated, a woman who could be everything he desires in a bride. Until he suspects Aurelie’s no different than any other husband-hunting woman, and disenchanted, he distances himself.
When a raging fire threatens their lives, Adolphus and Aurelie are forced into a reluctant proximity that exposes the chasm between their social classes. Misunderstandings and secrets abound, testing the depth of their budding feelings. Will they find the courage to overcome their differences and embrace their undeniable passion? Can the midnight encounters ignite a love strong enough to conquer the obstacles standing in their way?
See What Readers Are Saying About The Midnight Marquess!
★★★★★ “This isn’t a long book, but it packed a punch. I enjoyed the interaction between all the characters. The story was fun and delightful and left me wanting for nothing after it was over. It was a joy to read and earns an easy five stars.” ~ Kristi Hudecek-Ashwill
★★★★★ “I thoroughly enjoyed watching Adolphus’ character development as the book progressed, and Aurelie’s combination of strength, determination, and resiliency that helped allow their relationship to blossom and flourish.” ~ Nancy H
★★★★★ “This story was so much fun to read, you just wanted to root for Aurelie and smack Adolphus. She surprises him at every turn, but he does end up surprising her in the end”~ Tina Ullrich
★★★★★ “I adored this story for it’s simplicity and how we sometimes tend to agonize over a situation that only exists in our minds. A truly lovely story that makes us believe in love at first sight.” ~ Ghazal
★★★★★ “Sweet read with not only delightful characters, but add children, a spoiled cat and puppies! How could it not be a win/win?” ~ Linda J
★★★★★ “What an absolutely sweet book. Well written, fast paced, full of drama, love, romance, action, fabulous characters and a superb storyline. The author keeps your attention and brings you to the end wanting more.” ~ Rose Seals
★★★★★ “The Midnight Marquess is a charming and heartwarming tale of love, trust, and forgiveness that will make you swoon and smile. The characters were so likable, and I loved Antoinette, the cat, who made their “cute meet” possible!” ~ Lana Birky
★★★★★ “What a delicious blend of frustration and love this story is! “ ~ Pat Robinson
★★★★★ “This was a really fun book to read. It was very light, and just filled with very sweet moments involving a naughty cat, a somewhat stiff necked English peer, and French immigrant, who just wants to find a way to keep her family whole and happy.” ~ Diane Simon
★★★★★ “An enchanting sweet story, with all the wonderful characters, included the four legged kind, that this author is such a master at creating!” ~ Lori D
★★★★★ “The story contains lovely characters including animals. It is a flirty and easy read with a pleasant plot. A great book to add to your collection.” ~ Suzette
Lymington, New Forest
Number 16 Harbor View Lane
Late April 1826 – Just past midnight
A superior French cognac dangling from the fingers of one hand, Adolphus Westbrook slung his ankle across his knee as he leaned his head back against the chaise longue’s cushion and observed the glittering diamond-like stars in the backdrop of the black-as-coal sky.
The cottage’s open lower-story windows glowed golden behind lace panels—inviting and soothing. An eight-foot-high brick wall encased the small square rear lawn and garden, preventing inquisitive neighbors from intruding into his private oasis or peeking into the house’s ground floor.
Tangy with salt and sea, a balmy breeze better suited to the tropics than the English coast teased the leaves with a lover’s gentle caress. Coatless, his shirt unbuttoned and the sleeves rolled to his elbows, Adolphus wiggled his stockinged toes sans his boots.
Seymour, his valet in London, would be profoundly and utterly appalled at the breach of etiquette—which was precisely why the manservant remained in the city.
My little slice of heaven.
Adolphus sighed, allowing the tension to slip away as he relaxed and enjoyed the quiet and solace of his favorite time of day. No pressures or expectations. No duties or responsibilities demanded the immediate attention of the Marquess of Edenhaven, future Duke of Latham. There was no one to raise a censorial eyebrow at his dishabille or frown at stockinged feet, tousled hair, and bristly jaw.
Of more import—God save me—there were no marriage-minded le beau monde mamas and their doe-eyed, nincompoop daughters to avoid, and—praise the saints—no frivolous young bucks with more virility than brains to put in their places with a scathing glare.
Had he ever been so codpated and bacon-brained? Ruled entirely by his libido?
Assuredly not—more was the pity.
At Christmastide he’d decided it was time to search for a wife, a woman like his sister Althelia. Except, Adolphus hadn’t met any women like her, and he’d made no real effort to look either. Years of avoiding grasping duchess want-to-bees couldn’t be unlearned overnight and neither could his pessimism and cynicism when it came to women.
Adolphus took a sip of cognac, holding it in his mouth for a couple of seconds, savoring the robust flavor and velvety texture before swallowing. The mellow heat glided to his stomach, coating his insides with warmth.
Not that he needed warming.
The sunniest area in all of England and possessing the mildest clime, Lymington might not be a sultry Caribbean or Mediterranean paradise, but the temperate evening proved quite refreshing and tranquil.
Yes, purchasing this inconspicuous cottage in the rustic borough last year had been just the thing. Adolphus hadn’t intended to buy property in the coastal township. However, on a visit to check on his investments, he’d given into a rare impulse and purchased the furnished house, tended by a cook-housekeeper, a maid, and a man of all work.
Lymington, a quaint harbor township established in the second century and boasting Georgian influence, had become his escape and reprieve from London’s stench, noise, hubbub, and the never-ending demands a peer of the realm faced. And don’t forget evading matrimonial-minded denizens intent on securing a title for their eager daughters, the ilk of which infested London’s Marriage Mart as numerous as vermin in London’s rookeries.
His motives weren’t all self-serving. He’d invested in the thriving salt industry in the area and had a vested interest in no less than three ships undergoing construction near the town quay, so residing in Lymington part of the time made perfect sense.
However, the residents knew him simply as Ab Westbrook, not a wealthy marquess and future duke. And Adolphus wanted to remain anonymous. He relished the anonymity and convenience of being an ordinary man. Many people who would’ve typically fawned at his feet could scarcely be bothered to spare him a glance or give him the time of day in Lymington.
Adolphus didn’t mind the obscurity a jot.
True, a chance existed that someone would recognize him—a visitor, a tourist, a local he’d yet to meet—but for now, he’d maintain his false persona. He’d derived his alias, Ab, from the first letter of his given name and of one of his middle names, Benedict.
His family wasn’t even aware he owned this sanctuary—mightn’t ever know, truth be told. During a moment of insanity in March while visiting his childhood home, Hefferwickshire House—the ducal grand estate—he’d nearly blurted the truth to them. But something precious and private had held the impulse in check.
This cottage and township were his treasures.
He needn’t share them with anyone else—not even the duchy.
Besides, on Adolphus’s last visit home, his brother Lucius had provided enough excitement and distraction by arriving with a mysterious Spanish beauty. Clodovea had piqued Adolphus’s interest, but when he realized Lucius was tail-feathers-over-beak besotted with Miss de Soverosa, Adolphus had done the gentlemanly thing and retreated.
He’d not risk alienating another brother over a woman—even if she were an intriguing, intelligent, sultry incomparable.
Last Christmas, he and his adopted brother Layton had made significant progress toward amending the rift between them. Nevertheless, Adolphus had learned his lesson through and through. Though Virginia, Layton’s dead wife, had been a harlot at heart and propositioned everything in trousers, Adolphus had resolved to stay well away from his brothers’ women and never again offer unsolicited advice.
It seemed a man in love was incapable of seeing what was before his nose.
Adolphus wrangled his wayward musings back to the present and his main reason for being in Lymington—in particular, this neat cottage situated on a sloping cobbled street.
His birthright had dictated his entire future since he came squalling into the world three and thirty years ago. This cottage in a respectable, if not precisely affluent and elite, neighborhood was his lone bit of rebellion from the life imposed upon him.
He couldn’t travel as he yearned to, unfettered and free, so he did the next best thing.
Glorious, sleek vessels that would sail to all the exotic and fascinating ports he longed to visit and explore but never would.
A future duke wasn’t permitted the privilege of galivanting about the world as Adolphus’s brothers, Lucius, Leonidas, Darius, his twin Cassius, and Layton, were wont to do. Even their sister, Althelia had spent a couple of years in America whilst Adolphus stayed with his boots planted firmly on good ol’ English soil.
Heaven forbid that the ducal heir should become ill, get injured, or, God’s toenails, die while roving from country to country or sailing the seven seas.
Both of which had been cherished boyhood dreams.
Oh, the grand adventures Adolphus had planned, the explorations and escapades he’d imagined, the quests he’d meant to accomplish.
Before the reality of his birth and position had shoved those unrealistic fantasies overboard to sink to the bottom of the ocean. To lay like sunken treasure, never to be retrieved. Even if said future duke had several brothers who could easily take his place should the worst occur.
But the worse wouldn’t because, though no saint, Adolphus knew his duty.
Hadn’t it been drilled into him since he could walk and talk? Until at the ripe young age of six, he’d comprehended his life with its privileges wasn’t truly his own.
The duchy always had and always would dictate his choices and future, and it always, always, came first. Not sailing vessels to foreign destinations nor traipsing through humid jungles or trekking across scorching deserts.
Skewing his mouth into a mocking grin, Adolphus narrowed his eyes, angled his head, and studied the jumble of stars overhead. He was absolute rot at identifying constellations. Some ship’s captain he would’ve made.
Was that group of stars Leo?
It could be Pegasus or a pig, for all he knew.
He hitched a shoulder before taking a hefty swig of cognac.
In truth, other than the Milky Way and the Plough, he had no idea where one constellation ended and another began. Such studies were not part of proper peerage tutelage, yet any smuggler worth his salt would know exactly where he was at sea based on the stars’ location.
Cocking an eyebrow, Adolphus gave the amber liquid in his tumbler a speculative glance. Might this have been smugglers’ contraband not so long ago?
Lymington had a robust and fascinating smuggling history. Supposedly, clandestine tunnels beneath the streets led to the harbor. Rumor had it that a former Church of St. Thomas vicar had allowed smugglers to store contraband in the church’s tower—no doubt for a percentage of the booty. Or so the locals proudly claimed without a hint of compunction or chagrin.
“Get down here, you pesky creature.”
A woman’s husky whisper caused Adolphus to lift his head and turn toward her frantic French-accented murmurs coming from the yard beyond the brick barrier.
“Zut, rotten cat,” she muttered. “Spoiled. Cosseted. Pampered. Mon Dieu. You cause me no end of trouble.”
Atop the brick wall dividing his cottage from the one next door, as nonchalant as a lion basking in the African sun, lay a long-haired white cat flicking its bushy tail. The feline gazed at Adolphus with an imperious who-are-you stare befitting a queen.
He’d not met any of his neighbors—by deliberate choice—but neither had anyone occupied that particular house on the other occasions Adolphus had been in Lymington.
When had they opened the cottage?
Of more import and concern, were the occupants here to stay, and would they disturb his peaceful retreat?
Movement and more mumbling echoed from the garden wall’s other side.
If Adolphus had to guess, the woman dragged a chair to the edge to retrieve her cat.
Adolphus caught a whiff of honeysuckle carried on the balmy night air. It must be from next door, for his little strip of land didn’t contain the plant.
Clearly of no mind to obey its mistress, the creature stood and then arched its spine.
“Non. You shall not jump. I have no wish to climb over the wall,” the woman whispered with such vehemence Adolphus couldn’t suppress a grin. “I do not know the neighbor, but I’m sure whoever they are, they would not appreciate a midnight visitor. Besides, I might break a leg. Not that you would care.”
The cat deigned to give her a haughty glance before, with a swish of its considerable tail, lifted a front paw and licked it.
Had the good Lord ever created a creature more arrogant, entitled, and disdainful than cats?
Why, yes, He had.
English aristocrats, and he was related to several. Not his immediate family, of course. Those Westbrooks didn’t put on airs.
More irritated muttering continued in French and filtered to him on the night breeze.
After setting his tumbler aside, he rose and glanced around the garden. He hadn’t a ladder or other chair to stand upon, and the chaise longue wasn’t tall enough to do much good.
He spied a rake tucked into a corner by a small shed, along with a few other garden tools.
Raising an eyebrow, he gave the self-satisfied cat a side-eyed glance.
The feline would not like Adolphus’s solution to the dilemma.
“Come down here this minute, Antoinette. You selfish beast. I am tired and must be out of bed by six. Zut. You can sleep all day, but I cannot. Do you know how late it is?”
It must be close to one in the morning.
Fatigue even weighted Adolphus’s eyelids, and he smothered a yawn.
The woman changed her tone, weariness replacing her vexation.
“S’il te plait, Antoinette.”
What did she expect when she’d named the cat after a cossetted queen?
Pity for the fatigued woman stirred him, for surely it wasn’t her beguiling voice and seductive accent that caused the ripple of awareness thrumming through him.
Adolphus grabbed the rake before stealthily approaching the partition.
“I might be able to help.”
Absolute silence met his offer.
Craning his neck, he regarded the cat, still intent on grooming herself. In the moonlight, her white coat took on a silvery glow.
Were her eyes blue or green?
“Hello? Are you still there?” he asked.
“Oui,” came a tentative response.
“I cannot quite reach her and have nothing to stand on. I do have a rake. Do you think she’ll jump down if I gently nudge her?”
A low, derisive but very fetching chuckle met his inquiry.
“Oui, but she won’t like it and may never forgive you. Antoinette holds grudges. And I should warn you, she gets even.”
Mayhap the pampered puss would stay off the wall in the future.
“I’ll take that chance.”
However, before Adolphus could prod the cat, she turned, lifted her tail in a rude feline snub, and hopped down.
More rustling ensued, followed by a cat’s plaintive yowl.
“S’ monsieur. I have her now. I am sorry to have inconvenienced you.”
“Think nothing of it.”
Adolphus propped the rake against the bricks before leaning a shoulder on the cold, hard surface and folding his arms. He’d never know what the devil prompted him to add, “Sleep well. Sweet dreams.”
Too much cognac.
That was what.
“Merci. Bonne nuit.”
The mysterious woman’s dulcet tones lingered with Adolphus long after he climbed into his bed and stared at the ceiling with his hands folded beneath his head.
Who was his midnight visitor?
Why did he care?