Home > Rules for Engaging the Earl

Rules for Engaging the Earl
Author: Janna MacGregor

 


Acknowledgments


Sometimes in my author life, a character won’t leave me be. This is the case with Jonathan Eaton, the Earl of Sykeston, who first appeared in The Bride Who Got Lucky. Over the years, I’ve received countless inquiries from dear readers asking if he’d get his own story.

Here it is. He’s such a special character, and I had a tremendous amount of help in bringing him and Constance to life.

Kayla Bashe has my eternal gratitude. Her sensitive insights on Rules for Engaging the Earl and specifically, Jonathan, were priceless as his character took shape on the pages.

Finally, I’m in awe of Dr. Lauren Neuman. Her medical specialty is physical medicine and rehabilitation. She was so generous in giving me her time to discuss how Jonathan’s life would have been impacted by the wounds he suffered during the war without the help of modern medicine. Dr. Neuman patiently answered all my questions and offered suggestions regarding Jonathan’s mobility and the lingering physical symptoms he might have encountered from the gunshot wounds to his lower extremity. I’m forever in the good doctor’s debt.

Finally, a huge thank you to my darling husband, the author of my romantic life.

 

 

Prologue


Portsmouth

1805

Only one person in the entire world had the power to make Jonathan Eaton, the Earl of Sykeston, push everything aside and ride like the devil over the fields at breakneck speeds to reach her.

Constance Lysander.

With each gallop of the horse’s hooves, his eagerness grew. Finally, he’d come upon the stately home that sat on a hill overlooking the English Channel. He slid off his horse, then with a natural ease vaulted the stone wall that surrounded their meeting place.

Most saw Constance as a serious-minded fifteen-year-old, but not Jonathan. If you looked long enough at her steady gaze, you could see an extraordinary world open before you. Her intelligence, spirit, and kindness never ceased to amaze him. Her insights on what mattered most in life helped keep him on a steady course. After their respective parents had died from an influenza that had swept through Portsmouth years ago, he’d discovered how much they had in common. When he told her of his hopes for his future and his ambition for life, she’d listen and offer her advice without censure.

She was his best friend, and he couldn’t wait to share his unexpected news with her.

Jonathan removed the dust from his ride with a few well-placed slaps of his bicorne hat against his thighs, folded it under his arm, then entered her house. It was her late parents’ vacant home and their secret meeting place. Constance lived next door with her widowed aunt, Mrs. Venetia Hopkins, whom everyone called Aunt Vee.

Jonathan headed toward the conservatory. It was the room where they always met. As he was about to call her name, a muffled conversation drifted toward him.

“Come lie next to me.”

Jonathan’s quick strides came to a halt. There was no mistaking it was Constance’s voice.

“What a handsome fellow you are? Give me a kiss,” she crooned.

A kiss?

Jonathan hurried on his way. There was only one creature to whom she’d murmur such sweet nothings.

Reggie.

Damnation. He’d always wanted to kiss her but foolishly thought it might change their friendship. Now he might never have the chance.

“Don’t, Reggie.” Her tone changed from playful to warning. “Reggie, no.”

Jonathan entered the room where there was only one piece of furniture. A sofa sat in the center facing the endless banks of windows that overlooked the sea. A massive animal slowly rose and peered over the sofa back, then emitted an ungodly sound.

A belch.

“Don’t move, Constance.” Jonathan took a running leap and jumped over the sofa with the beast watching his every step. He landed on his feet and faced her nemesis. “What have you done, you cretin?”

With deliberate ease, Constance sat up. “It’s too late. He ate my sandwich.” She released a woeful sigh. “Thank you for your valiant try.” She turned her attention to the beast. “Reggie,” she scolded. “You’re a naughty pup.” Her voice melted into a cooing sound like a mother to a child. “That sandwich wasn’t yours.”

Jonathan closed the distance between them. When he reached her, he took her hands in his then pulled her off the sofa. Without another thought he hugged her close.

She stiffened slightly, then melted into his embrace.

Her body fit perfectly against his. He inhaled her clean scent. It reminded him of the wind that skipped across the sea right before a rainstorm—wild and beautiful at the same time.

“What’s that for?” she said softly.

“I couldn’t remember the last time we hugged.” Jonathan didn’t want to think that it might be their last. He pulled away and looked into the deep blues of her eyes. Midnight blue, sapphire, and indigo all melded into a unique color that was hers alone.

“That’s sweet.” She playfully swatted his chest, then grabbed his hand and brought him to the sofa. “Come and sit with me but give Reggie enough room.”

“You care for that mastiff more than me, I think.” Jonathan slid his gaze up and down the gigantic animal while the animal did the same to him, licking its chops. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to make me jealous.”

She slid him a side-eyed glance, then smiled. “Perhaps.”

Jonathan felt an instant sense of relief. With his leaving, Reggie offered protection and companionship for Constance and her aunt Vee. “You’re home early from the shipyard today.”

Her face grew animated. “After I finished my morning studies, I helped Mr. Bridges. He’s teaching me the business. Soon, I’ll be the ‘Sons’ in Lysander & Sons Refitting Company.” She waggled her eyebrows.

Jonathan waggled his own. “I’d say there’s not much resemblance between you and sons.”

“You think so?” She waved a hand down the front of her muslin dress. “I can still wear my breeches, but they don’t fit as well as they did last year.”

He was quite aware of that fact. She was an attractive young woman. Even more so, there was a beauty to her innocence. Jonathan had seen it from the very first time he’d met her. Young men had started to notice her too. They were already vying for her attention. Every Sunday after church, Jonathan would escort Constance and Aunt Vee home. His chest tightened. Which of the young bucks would escort her when he was gone?

“I’ve started to wear dresses to the dockyard.” She exhaled. “I guess all good things must come to an end.”

“True.” He took her hand in his, and together they sat on the sofa. “How are the knots coming along?”

She smiled sheepishly. “I spent half the night working on them. I may have conquered the figure eight, but the bowline still has me for a loop.”

They both laughed.

“You’ll master it, I’m certain.” Still holding her hand, he clasped it tighter, not wanting to let her go. “I have news.”

Her gaze flew to his, and a brilliant smile appeared. “I do too.” When the dog tried to nose his way between them, she patted him on the head. “Lie down.”

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