My Darling Caroline
For all the wonderful readers
who kept their fingers crossed, hoping for another printing…
Chapter 1 Caroline Grayson gently reached in and, carefully avoiding thorns, snipped the… Chapter 2 Caroline’s wedding to the Earl of Weymerth, during one of… Chapter 3 Caroline sat at the kitchen table, a mug of strong… Chapter 4 He couldn’t believe he was actually going to do it. Chapter 5 Caroline dressed in a pale peach evening gown, tied her… Chapter 6 He would simply have to seduce her. Chapter 7 Caroline sat on the settee in her husband’s study, in… Chapter 8 For two weeks she worked diligently, only to find defeat… Chapter 9 The flowers bloomed brilliantly. Chapter 10 Sleep was impossible. Cold wind and rain had been building… Chapter 11 Brent had suggested they go for a walk, the two… Chapter 12 He preferred thick, strong coffee in the morning, but alas,… Chapter 13 On her twenty-sixth birthday, exactly eighty-six days after her arrival… Chapter 14 Caroline fairly ran to the stables, intensely angered, stopping for… Chapter 15 It took Caroline nearly thirty minutes to gather the strength… Chapter 16 The guests were beginning to arrive, taking sherry and hors… Chapter 17 Gwendolyn finally made her nightly departure, leaving Caroline alone at… Chapter 18 He watched her walk toward the door of the structure,… Chapter 19 Charlotte knew she was carrying. She’d probably conceived at Miramont,… Chapter 20 Instinct alone told her she’d made a devastating mistake the… Chapter 21
Caroline slowly opened her eyes to the light of morning,… Chapter 22 Jane held her gloved hand out to one of the… Chapter 23 Cursing was not in her nature, and neither were such… Chapter 24 Perhaps because it was still sprinkling, perhaps only by chance,… Epilogue Brent knocked twice, then walked into Baron Sytheford’s study, the same… ? Author’s Note Acknowledgments About the Author Other Books by Adele Ashworth Copyright About the Publisher
Caroline Grayson gently reached in and, carefully avoiding thorns, snipped the stem from therosebush, pulling the bud toward her with nimble fingers to have a closer look. She eyed itwith the detachment of a scientist, the expertise of a scholarly botanist, turning the roseslowly in her hands, taking careful note of its structure, its delicate beauty.
It was magnificent, the loveliest and healthiest plant she’d bred so far. It would take timeto find a name dignified and unique enough for such a creation, though. She needed somethingperfect for such a perfect rose.
The sudden rustle of skirts made her turn. Stephanie, her youngest sister, was all but runningtoward her through the garden, the early-morning sun playing shiny cords of light through therichness of her blond hair and off the blue silkiness of her gown.
“Come and look at this one, Stephanie,” she called out, smiling with complete satisfaction,her attention again focused on her rose.
“Caroline,” Stephanie said, gasping as she approached, “you’ll never guess—”
“Slow down,” Caroline admonished as her sister grabbed her sleeve.
Stephanie took two deep breaths and wiped stray hair from her cheeks, stained pink from thecool morning air, her eyes wide and glowing with apparently delicious news.
“The Earl of Weymerth”—she gulped for air—“is here, and Father wants you to meet him.”
Caroline, however, was much more concerned with the lovely creation resting firmly between herforefinger and thumb. “Do you like it?”
Stephanie dropped her gaze to the flower and gave a squeal of delight. “Oh, this one’slovely! Two colors of purple.”
Caroline grinned pridefully, placing the rose in her sister’s outstretched hand. “More alavender fading into purple, really. Now explain yourself. Who is here?”
Stephanie’s eyes danced in merriment. “The Earl of Weymerth,” she replied very slowly.
Caroline looked at her blankly, prompting Stephanie to sigh with exasperation. “Really,Caroline! Brent Ravenscroft, the Earl of Weymerth? Society’s talked about him for years—somesort of family scandal, I think, though nothing that really damaged him socially. For a time hewas courting Pauline Sinclair. You know, of the Sinclairs of Harpers Row. Then she dumped himon his arse—”
“—and everybody speculated that he was mean, or foul-tempered and ugly, and that’s why shedidn’t want him.” She dropped her voice to a mischievous whisper. “But I just got anexcellent look at him, and he’s not ugly at all.”
Caroline smiled lightly as she dropped her clippers to the soft earth, wiping her sleeve overher perspiring forehead. In many ways Stephanie, although only seventeen, was a total innocent,for she had always felt that any vice a man might have could be ignored if he were attractive.Evidently she thought Lord Weymerth now above reproach.
“I don’t think you should be taking such an interest, Steph,” she chided as she took thelavender rose out of her sister’s fingers, starting her way up the stone path toward thehouse. “You’re betrothed, if you’ll remember.”
Stephanie fell into step behind her. “I wasn’t considering him for me, Caroline. I wasconsidering him for you.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she returned through a laugh.
Stephanie groaned softly. “There are other things to consider in this great big world besidesplants and…Sir Alfred Markham—”
Albert Markham,” she corrected.“
Stephanie said no more until they neared the house. Then smugly she disclosed, “I think Fatheris considering Lord Weymerth for you as well.”
Without pause, Caroline opened the kitchen door and walked into the house, placing her rose onthe counter to free her hands for washing. The thought of her marrying anyone was just soincredibly unbelievable it wasn’t even worth discussing. “I don’t know where you get theseideas—”
“From Father’s mouth,” Stephanie cut in sarcastically. “I heard him say he’s giving you tothe earl along with some things he’s selling him.”
Caroline reached for a towel, gazing at her sister speculatively, quick to note the cunninggrin playing across her lips, the sparkle in her pale blue eyes. That disturbed her a little,as Stephanie was the only living soul who knew of her plans to leave England and study botanyin America, and she had more than once expressed her desire to have her older sister remainclose to home.
Still skeptical, Caroline brushed a stray curl from her cheek. “I’ll talk to him.”
“I’d bathe first,” Stephanie piped up in a melodious, mischief-filled voice.
Ignoring the comment, Caroline picked up her rosebud and headed toward the study. Brimming withconfidence, she approached the closed door, but before she could knock she heard tense, malevoices. Suddenly oblivious to her position, she instinctively leaned closer to listen to theargument between the two pompous oafs on the other side.
“I’ll pay you whatever you’re asking, but I refuse to marry for what rightfully belongs tome,” she heard a stranger’s voice say in a deep, husky timbre. “My property was soldunfairly, probably illegally.”
“Everything was purchased legally, Weymerth, and I can prove it.”
The voices lowered, and after a moment of listening to words too muffled to understand, sheheard them again, this time louder in tone but softer in urgency as the man tried to reasonwith her father.
“This has nothing to do with you, Sytheford, but if I ever decide to marry, I’d rather she besomeone of my choosing, not a daughter of yours I’ve never met.”
“Caroline will give you a smart, sturdy son—”
“That is not the issue here!”
“A man in your position—”
“Listen to me well,” she heard the earl quickly counter in a dangerously subdued voice. “Ido not want to wed your daughter. I don’t care how many other worthy noblemen have asked forher hand. I don’t care that she is the loveliest creature this side of the Continent, that shehas hair the color of sunshine or eyes the color of amethysts. I care only for my property, andby God, you’re going to return it to me fairly. This conversation is finished.”
A long, deadly silence ensued, then she heard her father’s deep growl fill the air. “Perhapsyou should take a look at this.”
After precisely fifteen seconds the earl yelled, “Oh, Christ!” A fist slammed hard againstthe desk.
Her father said smugly, “It’s a bill of sale. Come Monday, they’re gone.”
“You can’t do this—”
“I will unless you marry my daughter.”
Caroline’s heart started pounding. For several seconds she couldn’t breathe as therealization hit her like a brick in the face.
This could not be happening. She had plans, she had dreams, she had…thought her fatherunderstood.
Horrified and disoriented, Caroline slumped her shoulders and dragged her body across the halland into the morning room. Sunlight streamed in through beveled glass to create a peacefulfeeling in the sparsely decorated room, but it did nothing for her ever-increasing sensation ofpanic. She sat heavily on the yellow sofa and stared into the cold fireplace, forcing herselfto take deep breaths.
She felt shocked. Enraged. Even scared. She swallowed hard to fight back tears, for if nothingelse, she needed to keep her wits intact and think things through before her father came out ofhis study to inform her that he’d chosen her a husband.
The thought made her shiver with revulsion. In her heart Caroline knew her father’s love forher was genuine, deeply felt, but she also knew that out of the five daughters he had sired,she was the disappointment.
She was the middle child and so very different from the others. Her sisters were, every one,blessed with long, graceful figures, light blond hair, light blue eyes that were so like hermother’s, lovely faces, and perfect marriages. Even Stephanie was just recently betrothed tothe Viscount Jameson after only one season. To their credit, they made her father quite proud,as they all fit the image of gently bred women, settling down nicely in polite society.
But Caroline took after her father with her small form and dark brown hair and eyes. Plain andunbecoming, she had heard some say. Over the years, it had grown to matter less and less toher, though, because she had found her destiny. She knew what truly mattered in her life.
She was smart, exceedingly bright in the areas of mathematics and botany. At the age of fourshe could calculate numbers, multiplying them two, three, even four times simply with her head,baffling most everyone who knew her, especially because she was female. Females had no businessunderstanding mathematics, even if it came to them naturally, or so she’d often been told.
Caroline, however, without being formally taught, possessed such unspeakable knowledge. By agenine, she could calculate not only numbers, but the age and growth of each plant in hermother’s garden. She would spend hours with the flowers and greenery, estimating growthpatterns, determining ages and variations of color and size with such precision that before shehad even reached her twelfth birthday, most people, including her loved ones, assumed her to bethe strangest girl in En gland.
At that age she didn’t care what others thought. Her family loved her despite their inabilityto understand her. Not even her father could keep up with her computations and explanations,and he was a man. But what infuriated her was the fact that had she been fortunate enough to beborn a boy, she would have been called gifted and allowed to study in the finest institutionsand with the finest instructors in the world. As a girl, she was termed odd and secluded in herhome until her father, Charles Grayson, fifth Baron Sytheford, could do something with her,which for years had been a problem without an answer as she was now nearly twenty-six years ofage.
For as long as she could remember, Caroline had wanted to study botanical science with SirAlbert Markham at Oxford University, but trying to gain acceptance as a scholar had been themost difficult thing she’d ever attempted in her life. She’d known from an early age thatbeing female was a hindrance, but she’d never expected Sir Albert, the greatest man she hadever read, had ever studied, to deny her entrance to Oxford’s Society of Botany strictlybecause she was female. Only two years ago she’d sent him a comprehensive letter detailing herwork, her complete analysis of breeding techniques to create the precious lavender rose, andstill he’d rejected her, his condescending letter of response implying she should stay home,marry, and grow flowers for her husband and neighbors to admire.
But from that crushing blow she learned her greatest life lesson—being female got you nothingin the scientific world, but being male gave you a chance. And she would succeed as ascientist, at Columbia University in New York, because she’d been accepted to study there by
one of the best, Professor Walter Jenson. She’d been accepted to study there because thistime, when sending her scientific data, computations, and information regarding herself and herexperience as a self-taught botanist, she’d wisely presented herself as a man, Mr. C. S.Grayson. Being a woman would never stop her again.
Or so it seemed until now.
Everyone expected her to die a spinster, and that was exactly how she wanted it. She didn’thave time for an overbearing husband. She had her work, her plants and flowers, her dreams ofstudy. Now it appeared they would all be tossed aside, for her father had suddenly, withoutwarning, found her a husband in the Earl of Weymerth. A husband to whom he could, and would,gladly bequeath his most unusual daughter.
Caroline slowly stood and walked with wooden legs to the window, crossing her arms over herchest as she stared at the garden where her dreams lay, her flowers bloomed into pinpoints ofbrightness and brilliant color in the cool, sunny morning. Until only fifteen minutes ago, herworld had been joyous, her life rich with beauty. Now her choices, her desires, were meltingaway like the wax of a burning candle.
She had all but finalized her plans of travel to America, although she had yet to tell herfather of them. She still wasn’t completely prepared, having notebooks and documents to updateand organize, her emeralds to sell for money to book passage. Until today, her two biggestproblems had been finding lodging once she arrived in New York, and persuading Professor Jensonto allow her to study with him and his colleagues when he discovered she was a woman. Becauseof these and other considerations, she hadn’t had the time or energy to deal with her father.Now she would have to deal with him on the issue of marriage, of all the blessed things.
Caroline knew she had to think quickly. Now more than ever she would need to call upon hersuperior intellect if she expected to get herself out of this mess, and if she considered heractions thoroughly, perhaps she could turn the situation around to her advantage.
First of all, Lord Weymerth was a gentleman. She could assume he would see logic since he, nodoubt, didn’t want to marry her either. He had certainly said as much.
Second, it was already July. She wasn’t ready to pack her bags, in more ways than one, and shestill lacked the courage to talk to her father, to sully his impeccable reputation by runningoff unwed and unchaperoned to study a man’s science in another country. She’d writtenProfessor Jenson just last week to inform him she would be arriving no sooner than January, soshe still had several months to plan, to think, to decide how to handle such a fragilesituation.
She looked to the delicate rose still clasped in her hand, twirling it slowly between herfinger and thumb. It was so awfully fine, so marvelously beautiful, soft and silky to thetouch. What a joy it would be to create such flowers as these and be recognized for the talent,the skill.
She raised her eyes to look back out the window, sighing as she lowered her forehead to theglass.
Disgracing her father was truly what plagued her. She loved him deeply for the caring he’dalways shown her and her sisters. Where any other father would have washed his hands of hisgirls and tossed them to servants and governesses to raise, hers was always there forthem—listening, concerned, advising them and fulfilling their individual needs with greatlove—and he had taken every effort to indulge them with great affection, especially since theywere motherless, as theirs had died of fever not twelve years before.
But this was a turn she didn’t understand. The Baron Sytheford was cunning, and he usuallyplanned fully and thought with great care before acting. This sudden idea of marriage seemedrash, and to her knowledge, her father had never been rash in his life.
So what was she supposed to do now? Marry Weymerth? And why him of all the eligible gentlemenin society?
Caroline’s heart suddenly ached with longing of desires now seemingly more out of reach thanever. Damn, but men stunk to heaven when they used their larger muscles and tiny, narrow mindsto control the smaller sex. She wanted nothing more than to overcome that convention. Butperhaps the idea was indeed as futile and stupid as her sisters told her from time to time.Women were put on this earth to marry and allow their husbands the generous use of their bodiesfor the sole purposes of creating heirs and gratifying male sexual needs—unconditionally. Atthat moment, she despised them all.
She stared out to her huge bed of roses, her sweet-smelling daffodils, her tulips that sheprized because they were so difficult to grow and even more difficult to breed. God in heaven,what should she do now? It all seemed so dismal, so hopeless…
Then suddenly, as with any sharp intellect, a small, very tiny image began to emerge from thedeepest recesses of her mind. Slowly it began to take shape, to build, and without warning itgrew so that even the color before her faded from the dazzle of brilliance filling her senses.
If she married him…
Caroline grinned and jumped back from the window to look down at her hands, now shaking with asudden burst of energy. What if she married him? She didn’t want a husband, but so what! Ifshe married the earl, she would be fulfilling her father’s wish and then she could, after thattime, put all of her talents and intelligence to good use by creating a way of leaving the manto study her science. He wouldn’t want her anyway, for she had all but concluded he was beingcoerced into taking her as a wife as well, and she certainly didn’t have anything wifely tooffer him. She was an unbecoming, set-in-her-ways spinster.
But if he was smart, and she hoped to God he was, perhaps she could strike a deal with him, andthey could both go their separate ways as did many married couples. If the marriage wereannulled in say…four months, she would be able to leave her husband to a life of his own,catch a ship to New York, and be free from society’s demanding, irritating mores to do as shewanted—needed—to do.
This was the way out. And it was falling into her lap.
Caroline fairly twirled around in glee over her genius. Then, suddenly, she heard shoutingagain from the study, then scuffling, then her father’s chair being pushed across the woodenfloor, then shouting again.
She rolled her eyes. Idiot men.
“Caroline!” her father roared seconds later.
She tried to hide her triumphant smile as she replied smoothly, “In here, Father.”
He walked briskly into the morning room, seemingly surprised that she was only across the hall;then his eyes grew angry as he looked her up and down.
“Are you never clean, girl?”
Sighing, she noticed the upturned collar and wrinkles on his usually pristine shirt, his mussedhair, the twitch in his cheek as it made the curls in his gray-brown side whiskers flair.Obviously he and the earl had exchanged more than words.
Men. Pompous fools.
Lifting her rosebud to his view, she returned lightly, “I’ve been breeding African lilies andpruning roses—”
“Yes, yes, yes,” he cut in impatiently. “The Earl of Weymerth…”
Suddenly he seemed lost. Drawing a deep breath, either from nervousness or as some sort ofstall tactic, he finally finished by adding nothing more than, “The earl wants a word withyou.”
Caroline placed her hands on her hips and glared at him. “You want me to marry him, don’tyou?”