An Unwilling Earl by Sharon Cullen Series: Mayfair Men of Mystery Book One Genre: Adult Historical Romance Publisher: Entangled Amara Publication Date: March 25, 2019
life has taken an unexpected turn. He’s now the Earl of Ashland and expected to
marry. But he’s done that before and had his heart ripped from his chest. When
Charlotte shows up at his door needing protection, he offers to marry her––in
orphan, suspects her sinister cousin of terrorizing London. When her maid
disappears, she fears for her own life and runs away. Lord Ashland offers
marriage, and it’s the perfect solution. But it isn’t long before she finds
herself falling for her new husband.
Unfortunately, he won’t allow himself to love anyone ever again. And she knows her dark secret could destroy everything.
The day was gloomy, wet, and tired looking, as if London were simply weary of being a city.
Jacob Baker dodged a muddy puddle and stepped over a steaming pile of horse dung. With a quick sidestep he barely missed running down a finely dressed matron.
She sniffed and harrumphed and lifted her chin to stomp past him.
Jacob was late for a meeting with the estimable Oliver McCaron, the Earl of Armbruster. It was their weekly Mayhem Meeting, as they liked to call it, where they perused the newspapers looking for the most sensational crimes and tried to solve them while drinking copious amounts of port. They had been doing this for years. Jacob wasn’t quite sure how this amateur sleuthing actually started, but he seemed to remember it was after some drunken revelry.
A sudden shout from the street and the terrified cry of a horse made him turn to find the frightened animal, pulling a loaded cart of barrels, rearing onto its hind legs. Below him, cowering on the cobblestones, was a young man, arm extended to shield his face, head turned away from the deadly hooves.
Jacob jumped over a puddle to grab the young man’s arm and drag him away before the horse could trample him. The man was more of a boy, and he appeared to be quite wanting in the food department, for he was very insubstantial. So insubstantial that Jacob yanked much harder than needed and ended up on his rear on the wet cobblestones, the boy sprawled on top of him.
Quickly the boy pushed himself up, springing to his feet in a remarkably graceful way.
Jacob stood a little more slowly, brushing the mud and gunk off his trousers. The driver yelled a few obscenities followed by a rude hand gesture and urged the nervous horse on.
“Are you hurt?” Jacob asked.
The lad shook his head. His face was grubby. Only God knew how long it had been since it had been washed.
He was wearing a red velvet waistcoat with odd patches worn off in places. His jacket, so old and dirty that the creases were shiny with grime, was blue and sported wooden buttons. Even his shoes did not match, one black button-up, the other brown laced. His shirt was brown now but had probably been white at the beginning of its life.
The boy’s face was smooth, with not a bit of facial hair, and he had wide blue eyes. The eyes appeared larger, the cheeks sunken. Dirty blond hair stuck out from beneath an old top hat that he had shoved onto his head after Jacob unceremoniously yanked him out from the horse’s hooves.
“At least tell me that you are unhurt,” Jacob said.
“I’m fine.” This came out as a throaty whisper that Jacob strained to hear.
Jacob reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin. “Take this. Get a hot meal to calm your nerves.”
The boy looked at the offer warily, but his eyes told the real truth—that a hot meal was much needed.
Jacob waved the coin in the air. “Go ahead. Take it.”
The boy snatched the coin quickly and pocketed it even faster. “Thank you,” he murmured.
“You’re sure you’re unhurt?”
He nodded and then ran away. For a moment, Jacob stood in the middle of the street, splashed by the passing carriages and carts, and watched the boy weave in and out of the crowd until he disappeared down a side alley.
The doorman at Brooks gave Jacob’s muddied appearance an odd look but let him in anyway.
He found his friend, Armbruster, sitting in his usual nook, reading The Times. Other London newssheets were stacked neatly beside him.
Armbruster lowered the paper enough to eye Jacob’s wet and muddy trousers. “What happened to you?”
“Just another day saving lost boys from death by horse’s hooves.”
His friend grunted and folded the paper to place it on the table between them. Jacob read the headline and shook his head at the words meant to incite fear. “How many bodies has this been?”
“Four. Another woman. The police are speculating she was a servant, but it’s hard to tell since she was found with no head nor hands.”
The city was nearly in hysterics, although Jacob was hard-pressed to determine exactly which kind of hysterics. People were alternately horrorstruck and enthralled—locking their servants inside while devouring the newspapers for more sensationalized details. Preachers were screaming from the pulpits that the devil was at work, and women—especially women of the serving class—were afraid to go outside for fear of being the next victim.
A bottle of their favorite port appeared, and the servant poured two healthy glasses before moving on.
Armbruster took a swallow of his. Jacob was not in the mood for port. Strangely, the encounter with the boy had shaken him. It wasn’t often that one saved a life. It was a peculiar feeling, and he wondered where the boy lived and what circumstances had brought him so low.
“Have you looked through the rest of the papers?” Jacob asked.
“Some. A woman’s husband was poisoned. That one is simple. She surely has a lover and wanted the husband out of the picture.”
Love and jealousy. It was a common theme. He’d learned that most crimes were solved by looking to the ones closest to the victim.
“What else?” he asked.
Armbruster leaned back and eyed Jacob speculatively. “Word has it you’ve been elevated in Society.” This was said in the bored way that he affected when in fact he was anything but bored.
“You can’t believe everything you hear,” Jacob said, but he couldn’t match the blandness of Armbruster’s tone. His heart had suddenly dropped to his stomach. He was surprised Armbruster had said something and then surprised he’d been surprised. Of course he would say something.
“Oh, I have this from the most trusted source.” He paused. “My mother.”
Jacob winced. If the Dowager Countess knew of the inheritance, soon all of London would know.
“You are an earl. An earl, Ashland. With all of the benefits it entails.”
Jacob tapped the arm of his chair in irritation upon hearing his title come from his friend’s mouth. “I’m a solicitor, Armbruster. It’s what I’m trained for, and it’s what I want to be.”
“An earl is much better than a solicitor.”
Armbruster would say that. From the moment the man had drawn breath he’d been trained to be an earl. He’d been groomed for it before he could eat solid food. It was in his blood, and he fit the role well. He liked being an earl.
Jacob knew nothing about any of that and wasn’t sure he was even interested.
“I guess I should give my condolences on the death of your cousin.
“Thank you, but I never met the man.” And now he’d inherited the title. “I don’t know the first thing about being an earl.”
“Never fear, friend. That’s where I come in. I’ll teach you all you need to know.”
Jacob snorted. “Spending your days at Brooks and your nights in houses of ill repute?”
“I don’t do that every night.” Armbruster appeared to be offended, but Jacob knew the opposite was true.
The man had a certain reputation that kept the matchmaking mamas away, for fear their lily-white daughters would be infected with whatever it was that he exuded.
He’d perfected the image of a classic rogue. A wretch who drank too much, slept too late, and was a general ne’er-do-well. But Jacob knew he was so much more. He was a shrewd businessman, skilled at making money. He’d catapulted the Armbruster earldom into one of the most successful and richest of the realm.
“Wasn’t your cousin married?” Armbruster asked.
“He left a wife and young daughter behind. Unfortunately, the wife has proven that she is not in delicate condition with an expected heir.”
Armbruster grunted. “And what will you do with the widow and her daughter?”
“I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself most days. How the hell am I supposed to decide what to do with them?”
“Well, let’s not think about that now.” Armbruster reached for the stack of newssheets. “Let’s find out what London’s underbelly has to offer us.”
An Unwilling Earl was one heck of a read. A serial killer in Victorian England…an “unwilling” earl and still-grieving widower who is also an armchair sleuth with a pretty decent track record…a marriage of convenience (or marriage of safety and convenience, maybe?) and a future countess running for her life, in hiding as a street urchin…yes, please to all of the above!
Though it all seems like quite a lot, Ms. Cullen brings all of that together–and more!–into one heck of a story. I loved Charlotte and Jacob, both together and individually as characters. The suspense portion of the romance made my true-crime reading and listening heart want to stand up and applaud (please tell me that the Co-Ed Killer influenced this story at least a little…) even while my romance-loving half swooned at the lovely romance at the heart of it all.
Excuse me while I go add more of Ms. Cullen’s books to my TBR…
Rating: 4 stars / A-
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
are the hardest things to write. I always want to be interesting and make it
sound like I’m a world traveler. Unfortunately I’m not a world traveler. Yet.
And I like to think I’m witty but my bio doesn’t seem so witty. So here is an
unofficial bio–bulleted and in list form. 1. I wrote my first book when I was
nine years old. It was about a girl and her horse and it was written on a flip
top spiral notebook. I designed and drew the cover myself. 2. I attended three
high schools and met my husband on the first day of my third high school. I’m
not uber-religious but I believe that God had a hand in that. 3. When I was
thirty-three I decided to get serious about my life-long dream of publishing a
book. I gave myself a deadline of four years to get published. I figured people
earn a college degree in four years and that should be adequate time for me to
learn to write a novel. 4. My first published book, A Forever Kind of Thing,
was published four years after I started writing. 5. I have three very talented
kids. One is talented in music, another in writing (hmmmm) and another in
sports. 6. I love dogs. If I could I would adopt every homeless dog out there.
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