Married at Midnight
An Authentic Regency Romance
When the young and handsome Earl of Pennington discovers the inheritance from his great-uncle depends on him marrying at midnight on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he is irate. Marriage is not part of his plan to save his impoverished estates. He crosses paths unexpectedly with the beautiful Roxanne Chesney, who is fleeing from her abusive husband. He offers her a contract: marriage for six months to help him fulfill the conditions of his great-uncle’s will, enabling him secure his inheritance. In return he will pay her a small fortune. Can Roxanne resist this offer? What about the revolting Edgar Doyle who forced her into a loveless marriage that has not been consummated? Roxanne has escaped Edgar’s clutches, but she wonders how long she will manage to evade him. The earl’s contract has no strings attached. The offer is irresistible except for the fact that Roxanne is already married!
— scroll down to read book sample —
"This book is a must read for all Regency fans. It was a lovely story—well written by a talented author. I will certainly read more of her books. Highly recommended." —★★★★★ Reader Review
"Adventure, misadventure, trials and tribulations aplenty, chance encounters and moments of pure comedy abound as the plot unfolds, all adding up to a story that is a perfect mix of romance, mystery and mayhem. The characters are delightful, the dialogue witty, and the villain of the piece is truly vile through and through. As with all good tales of romance, the problems are eventually resolved, love wins out in the end, and the baddy gets his comeuppance—a satisfactory conclusion all round!" —★★★★★ Reader Review
"Married at Midnight is filled with secrets and lies in the joyous world of the Regency Romance scandal. I’m so pleased to have found this fantastic homage to the original regency genre, filled with all its realistic melodrama and suspense as the romance pans out. Another superb work, can’t wait to read more!" —★★★★★ Reader Review
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Arabella Sheraton grew up on a diet of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and many other writers of that period. From Jane Austen to Georgette Heyer, Arabella has found both enjoyment and inspiration in sparkling, witty Regency novels. She also loves history and generally finds the past more fascinating than the future. Arabella wrote her first Regency romance to entertain her aged mom who loved the genre. Arabella is honoured to share the adventures of her heroes and heroines with readers.
SAMPLE FROM MARRIED AT MIDNIGHT
“Julian Edward George St. John Trevallon, the twelfth Earl of Pennington, was sunk so deep in thought that his concentration wavered. Twilight had fallen and he struggled to see clearly in the gathering gloom. As the curricle turned a sharp corner in the road, he swerved to miss a dark-clad figure trudging along the grass verge. Swearing softly under his breath, he tooled the reins and regained control of the horses. He caught a brief glimpse of a white face and a flash of russet hair as the vehicle shot past the pedestrian.
A second brief glance and Ned’s exclamation was enough to bring the curricle to a halt. The dark-clad figure had toppled over into the road. Julian thrust the reins into his groom’s hands, his brows knitted in consternation.
“I could not have hit her,” he muttered to himself.
“No, sir,” Ned asserted. “There’s no chance of that. The ’orses would’ve shied away.”
“Stay here,” commanded the earl. “I cannot leave her there.”
“Take up a woman in the curricle? Ye canna be serious, sir!”
“For once, Ned, can you put aside your abhorrence of women and do as you’re told.”
Ned rolled his eyes skywards. “There’s a-gonna be trouble, sir. Remember all them animals ye brought home as a lad. Birds with broken wings, foxes caught in traps, rabbits—even that starveling village brat ye wanted to share ye dinner with. Now a female.”
Julian staggered back to the curricle bearing the woman in his arms.
“Don’t be ridiculous. She’s hurt,” Julian snapped. “Fetch the flask and get some brandy down her throat. I think her arm is broken.”
Julian laid his burden on the grass verge, loosened her clothing, and held her head while Ned managed to pour a few drops of brandy down her throat. The fiery liquid elicited a spasm of coughing from the young woman and soon her eyes opened. She gave a cry of alarm at seeing two male figures leaning over her. Julian helped her to sit up. Then he shrugged off his driving coat and wrapped it round her.
Silencing her feeble protest by placing a manicured finger against her lips, he said in a reassuring tone, “My dear madam, you are obviously unwell. Rest assured you have not fallen into the hands of two ruffians, although my groom here may have given you that impression with his frightening appearance.”
Ned gave a snort and the young woman smiled reluctantly.
“I am Julian Trevallon, the Earl of Pennington, at your service. Are you able to stand? I fear you have injured your arm.”
The woman’s dress, an unbecoming mulberry colour, was streaked with mud and another dark substance. Although she managed to stand with Julian’s assistance, her left arm hung limp.
“Try to take a few steps,” he suggested.
She attempted to obey Julian’s instruction, but fell against him with a moan of pain. He caught her in his arms and laid her back on the grass.
She said in a weak voice, “I thank you kindly, sir, but my affairs are not your concern. You are not responsible for my welfare. If you could convey me to the nearest inn, I will manage.”
She gasped several times, as if struggling for breath.
Julian frowned. “I think not. Pray do not agitate yourself.”
He turned to Ned, whose face was a picture of disgust.”
“Ned, fetch the young lady’s portmanteau, which I see has fallen into the ditch, and then bring the horses round. We shall carry her to Penrose right away. She must see a doctor.”
“Ter Penrose, sir? Cain’t we leave ’er at the nearest inn, like she said? She’s no more’n farmer’s lass, most likely.”
Ned’s tone conveyed his protest at his master’s outlandish idea.
Julian’s frown deepened. “We will most certainly not leave her at the nearest inn, since the last one we saw was quite a few miles back and we are no more than thirty minutes away from Penrose.”
Ned’s expression spoke volumes and Julian knew exactly the message his groom conveyed. No gentleman of quality would take up into his curricle a strange woman whose unaccompanied circumstances and dowdy clothing were a clear indication of her low status. However, certain details about this young woman had escaped Ned, such as her educated tones, the soft, clear notes of her voice, her fine profile, and long white fingers which bore no signs of manual labour or a wedding ring.
To the earl, Providence had stepped in and delivered a solution to his problems and possibly those of this genteel, although evidently impoverished young woman.
“Hell and damnation! You cannot be serious!”
The expletive rang through the poky room crammed with bookshelves, bundles of legal documents, and a layer of dust overall. Mr. Benjamin Huggett, aged sixty-five and solicitor to the Trevallon family for the past thirty years, nodded forlornly. He resembled a shriveled little spider, dressed in rusty black, all sharp elbows and bony knees. His bald pate boasted no more than a few grey wisps, combed with care across the shiny dome. Sharp eyes peered through small round glasses and their quick intelligence indicated that, despite his years, Mr. Huggett still possessed all his faculties.
He hesitated. “I’m afraid it’s true, my lord. The terms of your great-uncle’s will are laid out here quite clearly. You inherit his entire fortune of…” he peered at the paper in his hand to verify the facts, “…over two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, a magnificent sum by any reckoning, on condition that you marry the woman of your choice at midnight before your thirtieth birthday. You must also remain married to her for six months before you inherit the money. There are a few bequests to faithful retainers and several charities, but they in no way impinge upon the bulk of the estate. In addition, you receive several handsome properties, including Mulbarton House, your great-uncle’s residence.”
Mr. Huggett peered over his glasses and pursed his thin lips as he studied the young man striding up and down in frustration before him.
“And if I do not comply with this…this melodramatic fairy tale of instructions, what then?” The client’s expression was strained, his voice harsh.
“Alas, sir, you receive not one penny and the estate will be divided up between numerous worthy charities and hospitals. Mulbarton House is to be turned into an orphanage, with enough money to maintain its existence for many years.”
Julian Edward George St. John Trevallon, the twelfth Earl of Pennington, swore again. Mr. Huggett could not understand why his client seemed so angry about the conditions of the will. Surely every young man ultimately wanted to marry and produce heirs; notwithstanding the fact that the impoverished Pennington estates were in dire straits and, without a remedy, the family would lose the entire lot. Such a remedy had most fortuitously arrived in the form of a doting, albeit eccentric, relative whose demands were a little unorthodox, but not unnatural. What was wrong with an uncle’s wish for his great-nephew to marry and inherit a vast fortune?
Mr. Huggett’s gaze alighted upon the gentleman in front of him. Julian Trevallon was a handsome young man of twenty-nine. His attire was fashionable, but not foppish, his education was first-rate, and his manners were faultless. Mr. Huggett had no doubt that Julian Trevallon would easily find a young lady who could be persuaded into matrimony with such a personable, and about to be enormously wealthy, gentleman. The Earl of Pennington presented a very fine prospect, indeed. Extremely eligible. He eyed his client. The earl’s shoulders were encased in an exquisitely cut coat of cobalt blue superfine, and while his tailor might not be Weston or Stultz, his tasselled Hessians proclaimed Hoby. Mr. Huggett was positive he could see Julian’s reflection in their mirror-like surface. The young earl might prefer life as a country gentleman, but his town appearance declared him a man of elegance and excellent taste. Mr. Huggett had had sartorial aspirations in his youth and could appreciate quality tailoring when he saw it. No, he thought to himself, Julian Trevallon presented a superb catch for any young woman, if only he would adhere to the conditions of the will, ridiculous though they might sound.
At that moment Julian’s brow was furrowed with concentration and what appeared to be anxiety. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and strong. His military exploits at Waterloo bestowed upon him maturity, an excellent physique, and a rakish scar across his right cheekbone, the legacy of a sabre cut. This blemish only served to enhance his excellent profile and firm chin and render him even more attractive to the ladies who viewed him as a romantic, heroic figure. His fair hair was sun-streaked and usually curled correctly into a fashionable style, courtesy of his admirable valet, Peters, who had been his father’s man. Now his blond locks were in disarray since Julian had dragged his fingers in despair through Peters’ careful handiwork. Grey eyes, the colour of storm clouds, stared into Mr. Huggett’s beady black ones.
“There is no mistake? No possible mistake?”
Mr. Huggett shook his head with regret. He was fond of Julian and wished it might be otherwise, but alas, the will stood firm, in clearly expressed, if unconventional, wording.
“Read it again.” The command came in a low, pleasant voice.
Julian Trevallon turned away. He stared out of the grimy, lead-paned windows of the solicitor’s rooms in Gray’s Inn. A slight drizzle and dull skies rendered the view of dirty streets and grubby buildings outside even gloomier.
Mr. Huggett cleared his throat and read aloud in a squeaky treble the wishes of his client’s great-uncle, Sir Oswald Barton, who had both inherited and made a fortune.
“It is my wish that my great-nephew, Julian Edward George St. John Trevallon, the only relative I hold in affection and consider worthy of inheritance, receive my entire fortune and properties on condition that he follow these instructions to the letter. He should be married at midnight, on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, to a respectable young woman who is capable of bearing him heirs and contributing to his future happiness. I believe fervently in the institution of marriage, both as a mainstay of a moral and orderly society, and because I feel that a man should not live out his years alone. I hope Julian will consent to an old man’s wishes and see them as motivated by care for his future contentment. I lost my only chance of happiness and marital joy early in life and he should not suffer the same.”
Mr. Huggett looked up at his client in bewilderment. “I don’t understand.”
Julian gave a wry smile. “It is quite a romantic story, so I suppose one can excuse the sentimentality of an old man.”
He sat down in a shabby armchair, crossed his legs, elegantly clad in dove-grey pantaloons, and adjusted his grey and white striped waistcoat.
“Great-Uncle Oswald was engaged to be married when he was twenty-five. He fell in love with a fragile beauty, the only daughter of a local parson. Naturally, his parents and friends frowned upon the match, but I believe the father was a man of good stock and the lady so enchanting that soon everyone quite forgave her inferior background and he obtained his parents’ blessing. Oswald was of age and had received a portion of his future inheritance already, so he was an excellent prospect. However, the story goes that the lady adored him, regardless of his fortune. Three days before the wedding, tragedy struck. A party of young people, including Oswald and his betrothed, spent a day out on a picnic and were caught in a downpour. Apart from a few colds, none of the party suffered any great illness except Oswald’s beloved. She caught a cold, which soon became pneumonia. Death followed several weeks later.”
Julian’s voice was sombre.
Mr. Huggett sat hunched in a leather chair behind his desk, surreptitiously dabbing his eyes with a large white handkerchief as the sad tale of lost love unfolded.
“Great-Uncle Oswald made even more money with solid investments and never married. He became a recluse and took to performing good works. His philanthropic gestures have saved many a charity from closing. He was also generous to my mother, and it is her money that has enabled me to survive the current straitened circumstances of the estate.”
Mr. Huggett gave a polite cough. “Forgive me, my lord, but why are you so against the conditions of the will? They are unusual to be sure, but ultimately you benefit greatly.”
Julian sighed and leaned back in the armchair. He closed his eyes for a moment. When he looked at the solicitor again, Mr. Huggett’s bright gaze was still fixed upon him as the old man waited for an answer.
“I am not averse to marriage, Mr. Huggett. ’Tis just the strange circumstances of my great-uncle’s demands that disturb me. I don’t want to be told to marry. I resent my inheritance being conditional upon a marriage. I need to think.”
“Pardon me for saying, but don’t think too long, my lord. You do not have the luxury of resentment. It is your thirtieth birthday next Saturday. You have exactly seven days to choose a bride.”
The old man’s face wrinkled in consternation.
“Er…you do have suitable ladies among your acquaintance, do you not, who would be fitting candidates if you choose one of them? Your sister Sophia—the Duchess of Silverton, I should say—I am sure will be of invaluable assistance in the matter of an appropriate young lady.”
Julian’s firm lips curved in a smile.
“Have no fear, Mr. Huggett, my sojourn at Penrose has not made me turn hermit. I am acquainted with a profusion of admirable young ladies and Sophia would be only too delighted to peddle a host of damsels in front of me if she thought she could tempt me into the parson’s mousetrap.”
Clearly relieved to see a smile on his client’s face at last, Mr. Huggett tittered, “I shall await your instructions, my lord, and hope to be the first to felicitate you.”
Julian shrugged on his many-caped driving coat and took his leave of the faithful solicitor. With Mr. Huggett’s admonitions of haste ringing in his ears, he leaped into the curricle where his groom, Skelton, waited. Julian was not surprised when this worthy gentleman, who had been with the old earl in the same capacity, addressed his present lord and master with the air of confidence that only a retainer of many years standing could achieve.
“I ’opes that the money’s yours, sir, and we can get about settin’ the old place t’ rights?” His pointed optimism was not lost on his employer.
The afternoon had grown more dismal, although the drizzle had stopped. Julian looked skywards.
“We’d best be off, Ned, or else we won’t make Penrose before five o’clock.”
His groom’s muttered opinion on the fleetness of his lordship’s fine pair of steppers went unheard as the custom-built curricle clattered on the cobbled streets. Julian was lost in thought for a long while, although this did not impair his handling of the ribbons in any way. Usually a taciturn man, Ned could not contain his curiosity.”
“Beg pardon, sir, but did we get the blunt?”
Julian did not chastise his servant for such a forward question. All their hopes of salvation were pinned on the contents of this extraordinary will. He sighed. An explanation of the bizarre conditions of the document drew an astonished curse from Ned.
“Crazy old codger!” Then Ned brightened. “So, ye get ’itched to a pretty young miss and that’s that? Easy enough, ain’t it?”
“Not quite.” Julian’s tone was dry. “It appears I have to remain married to the suitable young lady for a minimum of six months before I receive one penny of my fortune.”
Ned wondered aloud at this strange restriction, but Julian knew very well where his great-uncle’s thoughts had lain. Within six months his bride would no doubt become pregnant and bear a child. Julian would then be more inclined to stick with the marriage, settle down, and enjoy the matrimonial bliss his great-uncle had in mind for him. That was the problem. While Julian Trevallon was not completely averse to the idea of marriage, as he had said to Mr. Huggett, it was the possible fruits of a union that discouraged him from going ahead with this outlandish plan.
If only the damned will had not contained those conditions, he thought, all would be well and he would have had the funds to restore his life and estates to prosperity.
Blast Great-Uncle Oswald!
And then the appearance of a strange young woman turned the tide in Julian’s affairs.”