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Chance At Love Tess St. John

Chance at Love -- Available Now
Chances Are Series -- Book Four
Historical Romance

Lady Lorna Keys has taken over her late husband’s responsibilities until her son is of an age to run the earldom. With the Swing Riots striking close and pressure from her husband’s uncle, Lorna becomes concerned about her son’s safety.

Lorna’s brother rescued Hamilton, Viscount Voss, from his abusive father when he was sixteen, and her family hired him as a servant. Five years ago, he revealed his true identity and reclaimed his title. The ton disapproves of the way he lived as a servant; therefore, he gladly avoids the peerage and will never trap a woman into marriage.

When Hamilton arrives worried about Lorna, she realizes a marriage of friendship to him will solve all her problems.

Taken aback when Lorna proposes, Hamilton understands she and her son need protecting, but he cannot abide the platonic union she offers and makes a proposal of his own—one that might give them a chance at love.

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CHANCE AT LOVE 

Prologue 

London, England ~ Summer 1829 

Viscount Bradley Voss, Hamilton to his friends, stepped out of the carriage and rubbed his tired neck. The cool night wind provided a respite from the summer heat. He’d spent the day and evening in the office at Royal Compass, entering transactions into journals for the merger of parts of the jewelry business and Kendrick Gem Mines. He enjoyed his business partnership and the duties it entailed, except he’d been working too much of late, remaining long past the hours of operation. Once he focused on the numbers and figures, he lost track of time.

Exhausted, he was ready to crawl into bed and stay for days. Perhaps he should go to Bella’s home, her warm body next to his would comfort him any way he needed. He considered getting back into the carriage and—

The door to his apartment banged open. Orson, his butler, ran to meet Hamilton on the street, almost tripping down the stairs. “What took you so long? I sent a message to Lady Placette’s hours ago.”

Most people would be stunned with the way Orson greeted him, but Hamilton demanded the directness from his servants. He did not want the people who worked for him to put him on a pedestal. He promised to fire them if they did, which led to quite a few prospects turning around and leaving during the hiring interviews. As a result, not one of his employees was over the age of five and twenty.

“I did not visit Bella tonight.”

“Hell and damn,” Orson held out a missive. “This came for you. The footman who delivered it requested you come as soon as possible. I assured him I would give it to you when you returned. I expected you long before now, though.”

An eerie sensation prickled up his spine as he unfolded the missive. Lights from the street posts lent enough of a glow for him to read Mrs. O’Brien’s handwriting. Hamilton, come quickly.

Without a second of hesitation, he ran around the row of apartments to the stable. Although he’d just arrived in his carriage and it was still out front, a horse would make the trip faster. He snatched a bridle off the tack wall and hurried to Jupiter, his grey gelding. Hastily, he attached the bridle and led the horse out of the stable. He mounted Jupiter bareback and took off.

The streets were relatively empty. As he raced to the Earl of Keys’ London home, he prayed everything was all right. He knew Edgar, Lord Keys, was out of town, so if Mrs. O’Brien needed Hamilton, whatever was happening must in some way involve Edgar’s wife of two years, Lorna.

When Hamilton was sixteen, Lorna’s brother, Silas Green, found him beaten half to death and rescued him. Instead of telling the Greens his true identity, Hamilton went to work for them as a servant. Three years ago, at the age of six and twenty, he confessed to everyone who he was and returned to his rightful place in his family as viscount.

Within minutes, he arrived at the two-story brick home. He threw Jupiter’s reins to a waiting stablehand and raced up the front path. Cries came from inside the house. Little Piers’ cries. Was the child ill? Is that why Mrs. O’Brien sent for him? He knocked.

A moment later, the door opened and the butler, Wallace—usually composed and aloof—appeared flustered with his coat unbuttoned and his grey hair messy. “Lord Voss, please come in.”

He stepped inside where the wailing was louder.

“We are in dire need of your help. A messenger arrived earlier with news Lord Keys’ ship never made it to its destination. When a search ensued, parts of the ship were found, but no survivors. They determined the vessel was caught in a storm and torn asunder.”

Bloody hell.

Hamilton turned when he heard the rustling of skirts. Mrs. O’Brien rushed toward him. She had formerly been the cook for the Green family and went to work for the Keys when Lorna married Edgar. “Hamilton, thank God you are here. I am at a loss on what to do.”

“Wallace explained the horrible news.” He handed the butler his hat.

“Yes, it is terrible. Lorna has not been herself since we learned of the tragedy. She is now gazing into space holding Piers. She refuses to let him go. He is hungry, and has soiled his clothes and hers. He’s been crying for a while now.”

“When did she learn of the accident?” he asked.

“Early this afternoon.”

Had his sister Tilly heard the news? Her suitor, Mr. Carstairs, had been on the voyage with Edgar. One thing at a time. He would go to his sister in Southampton as soon as he could.

Mrs. O’Brien continued, “Lady Keys, Wallace, Miss Abernathy, and I have tried everything to get Lorna to relinquish her hold on the babe, to no avail.”

The bawling heightened to a piercing pitch.

“Heavens above.” Mrs. O’Brien tore down the hallway.

Hamilton followed her to the library. He entered and stopped short. The room held more candles than most ballrooms. It was lit up to look like daytime.

Lorna sat erect on the settee, staring across the room. Eight-month-old Piers wailed and squirmed, yet his discomfort went unnoticed by Lorna who held him in her lap. Davina, Dowager Countess of Keys, stood near the window with Piers’ nanny, Miss Abernathy. Both women were wringing their hands, their eyes and noses red.

Hamilton nodded to the ladies before he approached Lorna. Her red hair hung from its pins in scraggly disarray and her skin looked pale. The closer he got to her, he saw her green eyes were glassy, glossed over, and did not blink.

“Evening, Lorna,” he said over Piers’ sobs.

She did not move.

“I realize it is a rather late hour to call.”

Lorna showed no reaction.

Hamilton kneeled in front of her. Piers held out his arms to him, his hands clenching and unclenching while he screamed.

“May I hold Piers? He wants Uncle Ham to take him.”

She ignored him, her hands tight around the child’s plump belly.

“He’s hungry and needs changing.”

Still no reaction.

Unaccustomed to seeing anyone this withdrawn, he kept talking, trying to reach her. “You need to eat, too, dear. I think it would be a good idea if we let Miss Abernathy see to Piers.”

Hamilton moved so his face was right in front of Lorna’s.

Her eyes glared through him.

His gut wrenched, he hated to see her so detached from what was happening.

He reached out and cupped her cheek. Her skin felt ice cold. He looked into her eyes, and said in a calm, yet forceful voice, “You’re hurting Piers. You do not want to harm him. I am going to give him to Miss Abernathy. She will take care of him.”

Her arms stayed around the baby as Hamilton rose from his knees while picking the child up. When he stepped back, her arms fell away. Neither her head nor her eyes moved. She appeared to be a shell of herself.

Piers wrapped his little legs around Hamilton’s waist while his chubby hands clutched his coat.

“There, there,” he patted the child’s back and kissed his head.

Miss Abernathy dashed toward them. She took the baby and hugged him close, relief in the tears rolling down her cheeks. Cooing and cuddling Piers, she hurried from the room.

Hamilton unbuttoned his soiled coat and waistcoat and took them off as he went over to Mrs. O’Brien. “Have a bath prepared for Lorna.”

“One is waiting in her suite. I will have another couple of hot pails brought in to take the chill out of the water.” She scurried off.

“I will have your clothes cleaned, sir.” Wallace rescued the garments.

Hamilton had not even noticed the butler followed him into the room. “My thanks.”

Lady Keys was still by the window. He walked over to her. He’d always liked the dowager. She possessed a quick wit and was extremely kind to Lorna. Her blue eyes were devoid of the spirit she typically showed, her blonde-grey hair in a braid.

“I am sorry to learn about Edgar.”

“Thank you.” She exhaled. “Right now I am concerned about Lorna. When we first received the news I expected her to cry, but she didn’t. All she wanted was to hold Piers. She talked to him and entertained him, but as the sun went down, her mood became more and more despondent. That is why we brought in every candelabra we could find, but it was not enough. She has been this way for hours. We all tried to convince her to release Piers. I never thought she would let the poor dear out of her arms.”

“Her shock will pass, simply may take time. I am sure you are equally in disbelief.”

“I cannot bear to think about Edgar. To be honest, Lorna’s reaction has been a distraction.” She raised a hand to her temple. “Mrs. O’Brien suggested we ask you for help. I hope this is not too much of an imposition.”

“Of course not.”

It was only logical Mrs. O’Brien would suggest asking Hamilton to help since none of Lorna’s family members were in London. With the Season recently ended, Lorna’s uncle, the Duke of Sennox, and his wife would be back in Southampton. Lorna’s sister, Jean, had married only a couple of months earlier and was on her honeymoon. And Lorna’s other sister and brother lived in Scotland.

“I appreciate you coming.” The older woman swayed on her feet.

He slid an arm around her shoulders, supporting her. “When did you last eat?”

“When I broke my fast this morning.”

Wallace came back, and Hamilton waved him over. “Lady Keys needs to eat.”

“Right away, sir.”

Hamilton squeezed her shoulder. “If you ever need anything, send a message any time, day or night.”

She bobbed her head as she took Wallace’s arm and leaned heavily on him as they left.

Once they were gone, silence befell the room. He looked at Lorna, and an ache formed in his chest. Poor dear, she was so young to be a widow.

Hunching in front of her again, he got into her line of vision. “We must get you cleaned.”

Not so much as the slightest flinch from her. The blank expression on her face was devoid of emotion.

He carefully reached for her, putting one arm under her knees and the other behind her back. When he picked her up, she wilted in his arms. Her head rested on his chest as he carried her out of the library.

Mrs. O’Brien hastened toward them. “Lorna’s maid is sick today, but the dowager’s maid is waiting to help me bathe her.” She turned around and led the way.

Hamilton climbed the stairs cautiously, careful to keep a tight hold on Lorna. Though trim of build, she was dead weight in his arms.

Mrs. O’Brien opened a door and waved for him to follow her through the sitting room, bedchamber, and into the changing room. The tiny pink room was everything feminine and smelled like roses from the bath soaps floating in the tub’s steaming water.

He rested Lorna’s feet on the ground, but she did not support herself as he held her. Mrs. O’Brien and the other maid carefully took hold of Lorna.

“Call me when you’re done.” Hamilton walked out and closed the door behind him. He glanced around the bedchamber. Decorated in cream and pink, she most likely did not share this room with Edgar. No man would be comfortable in here.

His gaze settled on a leather case on the bedside table. He went over and picked it up. The small telescope had belonged to her father. He opened the case and pulled it out, then extended it to its full length. About three months after he’d been living with the Greens, he found ten-year-old Lorna outside looking at the sky. She’d invited him to use the telescope and said, “Most people like to see the moon on a clear night, but I think the best nights for looking at the sky are when no moon is out, because there are so many more twinkling stars.”

“Hamilton,” Mrs. O’Brien called.

He set the telescope down and stepped back inside the changing room.

Lorna sat on a stool with the women each holding one of her arms. He picked Lorna up and carried her to the bed. Mrs. O’Brien folded the sheet and blanket down while the other maid said, “I must get back,” and left the room.

He set Lorna on her back and tugged the covers to her neck. “Would you like something to eat?”

No response.

He tenderly swept the damp hair from her face, then straightened and turned to Mrs. O’Brien. “I will sit with her the rest of the night. If she is not better by morning, we will seek the counsel of a doctor.”

“I can stay with her, Hamilton.”

“Get some rest, Mrs. O’Brien. You’ve suffered enough hell today.”

“It is all so sad.” She began to quietly sob. He put his arms around this woman who treated him like her own child when they both were servants of the Greens. She held on to him for minutes before she pulled away and walked over to the bed. She whispered something as she kissed Lorna’s forehead, then turned to him. “I pray her night is better than her day.”

He prayed for the same thing.

“I will make a tray of food and send it up.” She left the room, leaving the door wide open.

Hamilton approached the window and let the refreshing breeze cool him. The night was dark, with a sliver of moon shining overhead. The sound of tree crickets croaking both soothed and irritated him at the same time.

After Wallace brought a tray, Hamilton ate a bite before he glimpsed toward the bed.

Lorna had silently moved on to her side and was looking at him. Truly looking at him.

He strode over to crouch beside the bed.

Tears filled her eyes.

His insides clutched. He wished for any way to take her pain away.

She slid out of bed and put her arms around his neck. He sat on the floor and held her. She began crying immediately. “Our last words to each other were cross ones. I pleaded with him not to go on his trip, explained I had a bad feeling. He scoffed and said I was being silly and unreasonable.”

Her face buried in his shoulder, she sniffed. His shirt was already wet from her tears. “We’d never spoken that harshly to each other. We were so at odds I refused to see him off when his ship set sail or wish him well.”

He slid one hand over her hair to her nape and his other hand stroked her back in soothing circles. “Do not let that be your only memory, Lorna. Remember all the good times you shared with Edgar. How he loved Piers.”

Nodding against his shoulder, she continued to cry. She knelt in front of where he sat. The position uncomfortably awkward, but he stayed where he was, trying in any way to give her whatever she needed in that moment.