The Earl's Lady Geologist is now out!
Cassandra Linfield is a lady fossil collector who declares she will never marry as no man will ever take her studies seriously. When circumstances force her to travel to Town for the Season, Cassy infiltrates the hallowed portals of the Geological Society from which she has been banned. She is horrified when she comes face to face with her nemesis, the infuriating Earl of Rothbury.
Lord Rothbury is a gentleman-geologist with a turbulent romantic past. After a youthful disappointment he vows never to fall in love again, and makes the decision, instead, to seek out a convenient wife when he returns to England from his geological travels abroad.
Brought together by their close family ties, Cassy and Rothbury collaborate on a geological paper and discover a powerful attraction. Marriage, however, is the one subject they cannot agree upon. But when Cassy’s life is threatened, the two realise that love matters more than their objections.
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Praise for The Earl's Lady Geologist
“The Earl’s Lady Geologist by Alissa Baxter deftly weaves together the charm of a traditional Regency romance, fascinating information on scientific society of the time, with a quiet subtext about the challenges faced by women interested in pursuing science. This first book in a new series is wonderfully satisfying on many levels!”
Mary Jo Putney, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author
“A gentle Regency romance, full of sweetness and intelligence. Alissa Baxter’s writing is period perfect.”
Mimi Matthews, USA Today bestselling author of The Matrimonial Advertisement
“A truly traditional Regency romance, with lots of witty banter, very reminiscent of Georgette Heyer. Recommended for anyone who likes a completely clean traditional Regency, with strongly authentic writing, historical accuracy and a satisfying romance. Baxter’s writing is excellent, and her dialogue, manners and settings are true to the era. A spirited heroine, a brooding hero, lots of sparkling banter and an authentic Regency setting—with added fossils! Great fun. From Lyme Regis to the drawing rooms of London, Alissa Baxter takes the reader back to the time of Jane Austen.”
Mary Kingswood, author of traditional Regency romances
Read The First Chapter of The Earl's Lady Geologist
The beach between Lyme Regis and Charmouth, England, December 1817
A cry rang out from the other end of the beach. Cassandra Linfield spun towards the sound. Mary must have found something of interest. Clutching her fossil finds in her hands, she hurried in her friend’s direction, stumbling over a jutting rock in her haste. Regaining her footing, she peered up at the blue-hued cliffs. The limestone-and-clay structure leaned ominously forward. She shivered a little and continued to where Mary crouched on the fore-shore, below Black Ven.
After the violent storm last night, the cliff face was unstable. Should a chunk of mudstone dislodge and tumble onto Cassy’s head, it would render her insensible—or worse. Fortunately, in all the years she had lived in Lyme Regis, she had never sustained an injury while fossil hunting.
She took even greater care these days. Cousin Agnes made it clear when she came to live with Cassy after the death of her mother that she disapproved of her foraging activities. If she so much as sprained an ankle, her cousin would probably write to Aunt Ella, who would then insist that she come to live with her.
The wet brown sand crunched beneath her iron pattens as she threaded her way around the fallen rocks to Mary’s side. “What have you found?”
The other girl shoved her hat to the back of her head, leaving a streak of dirt on her forehead. She peered at a nodule sticking out of the mud and then chipped at it with her hammer. “It’s a fossil fish.”
Cassy bent over. “What a fine specimen. The scales are perfectly preserved.”
Mary squinted at her. “It’s a good cury and will fetch a good price.” She returned her attention to the fossil. “See how the skull is undamaged? Ma will be pleased. Have you found anything?”
“Only a couple of belemnites and a sea urchin.” She opened her palm to reveal the treasures, but her friend didn’t even glance at them. Instead, she fixed a wide gaze on something behind Cassy.
What had so captivated the other girl’s attention? Alarm gripped her stomach in a painful clench as she swung in a slow half-circle.
A large male figure strode along the foreshore in their direction. Within minutes, he was upon them, and his expression did not bode well. Tall and broad, he wore buff breeches, black boots, and a form-fitting double-breasted riding coat. A slate-grey gaze swung from Cassy to Mary and then back to Cassy again.
“Miss Linfield?” The clipped tone did nothing to relieve the ache in her stomach.
She nodded. How did he know her name? If she’d ever seen this man before, she did not recall the occasion. She doubted it not, as his was a face not easily forgotten. His hair was dark—nearly black—and a slightly piratical cast to his features brought to mind legends of wild men upon the seas. However, the rigidity of his square jaw and his flinty eyes gave the lie to her initial impression that this was a man ruled by his passions.
His gaze swept from her well-worn straw bonnet to the pattens over her visibly muddy boots. His gaze narrowed on her gloved hands. Stained and filthy, they must present a peculiar appearance to this gentleman who somehow knew her name. For he was a gentleman, that she did not doubt—a gentleman in none too pleasant a humour.
She raised her chin. “I am Miss Linfield.”
He removed his hat and bowed. “I…” He paused as his gaze shifted from Cassy to Mary and the spherical-shaped stone beside which she knelt. Frowning, he took a hasty step forward. “Cease your hammering, girl, before you damage that fossil.” He bent down and studied the nodule Mary had split open. “It appears to be a remarkable specimen.”
Cassy clicked her tongue. “Mary is an experienced fossilist and is in no danger of damaging anything.”
He straightened and glanced at Mary, who now stood defiantly before him. “You are Mary Anning?”
Mary bobbed her head.
“My friend Buckland has spoken of you. My apologies.” His gaze returned to the nodule. “Will you sell me this fossil?”
The dark storm clouds gathering on Mary’s face cleared at these magical words. “Yes, sir…for a crown.”
The man agreed to the price without demur, and the girl’s eyes lit up. “I will take it back to Lyme and clean it for you, sir. Where must I deliver it?”
“I am staying at the Three Cups inn.”
The man’s penetrating gaze returned to Cassy. “Mrs Linfield requests that you return home directly. I shall escort you.”
She took a step back. “My cousin sent you?”
“Indeed. She is perturbed that you are out here on the beach alone.”
“But I am not alone. I am with Mary, and Miss Elizabeth Philpot is further along the shore.”
“Nevertheless, Mrs Linfield is in high fidgets, and it would be well to return home directly.”
She took another step back. “With a stranger?”
He bowed. “I have been remiss in introducing myself. Rothbury at your service.”
He bowed again.
Cassy swallowed. So this was the legendary Lord Rothbury. Even though they were related by marriage, she had never met Aunt Ella’s eldest son, Edward, the Earl of Rothbury.
Widowed at a young age, Aunt Ella had married Cassy’s uncle, Sir Barnaby Linfield, a number of years later. Her only child from that first marriage was the man who now stood awaiting Cassy’s acquiescence.
The earl offered his arm. She studied the superfine cloth of his coat, and then raised her gaze to his. “I will muddy your coat, my lord, if I place my hand upon your arm.”
“It is no matter.” Impatience lent an icy edge to his tone.
“I beg to differ. Clay stains dreadfully. And your coat is very fine. Your valet will not thank me.”
She turned to Mary. “Would you be so obliging as to take my fossils back to Lyme?”
“Just place them in my basket.”
Cassy bent and carefully deposited her finds before she turned back to Lord Rothbury. He still held out his arm. She sighed. “Just one moment.”
She stripped off her gloves and placed her hand in a concealed pocket in the skirt of the grey dimity gown she usually wore for her forays on the beach. The gown was outdated, loosely cut, and made her look a bit dowdy, but she had certainly not expected to encounter any member of Polite Society when she ventured onto the beach today.
A pair of grey kid gloves nestled beside her small rock hammer. She stuffed the soiled gloves into the pocket, then slipped the far more presentable—and clean—gloves onto her hands.
Finally, she placed her hand on Lord Rothbury’s arm, but not before muttering under her breath.
They bid Mary farewell and strolled along the foreshore towards Lyme.
“Your words were lost to the wind, Miss Linfield.”
Dared she voice her opinion? “I was…er…saying that it is just like a man to not care about the work he creates for his servants. If I had soiled your coat with my muddy gloves, your poor valet would have struggled to remove the stains.”
“Potter would not take kindly to your disparagement of his abilities, Miss Linfield.”
She came to a halt and turned to face him. “The removal of blue lias clay from superfine cloth would present a challenge to the capabilities of the most superior gentleman’s gentleman. Or nobleman’s gentleman, in this instance.” Her voice was tart.
He laughed, and somehow, it transformed his face. No longer remote, his expression now seemed warm and open. He also appeared much younger. Why, he can’t be much more than thirty years of age. However, his face soon settled back into its rather severe lines, and Cassy gave a tiny sigh as they resumed their walk along the shoreline.
“Do you often hunt for fossils, Miss Linfield?”
“As often as I am able. I collect them.”
“It is not a safe activity for a lady. What about the tides?”
They passed a couple of fishermen who were inspecting their crab pots. “I look up the tide tables in my almanack when I go out hunting with Miss Philpot…she is my neighbour, and also collects fossils. However, when I am with Mary, I needn’t worry. She has searched for fossils since she was a child and knows the beach like the back of her hand.”
“Yet your cousin frets.”
Her lip tasted of salt spray when she captured it between her teeth. “Cousin Agnes is a worrier by nature, and she has become more unsettled since Papa’s death.”
“Please accept my condolences on the death of your father, Miss Linfield.”
She gave a brief nod. Her papa’s recent demise weighed on her heart like a heavy boulder.
“You take no male servant with you on your expeditions?”
She shook her head.
“These cliffs are unstable. There are often landslips.”
“Indeed. Usually after a storm. But that is the best time to hunt for fossils. I am careful, however, and keep well away from the cliff face.”
Lord Rothbury’s silence unnerved her, and she peeked at him. His grim profile said more than words. They walked on, and she racked her brain for a suitable topic to deflect attention from her controversial hobby.
She’d never been good at making polite conversation. She preferred to discuss interesting subjects in depth rather than flitting from one shallow topic to the next. No wonder Cousin Agnes despaired of her.
The silence stretched between them until her taut nerves insisted she break it. “Is Aunt Ella well?”
He came to an abrupt halt, and Cassy along with him. He frowned, and she released his arm as if it were a snake. Why did he have to glower so?
“My mother is concerned about your well-being. Your cousin wrote her a fine tale about your unorthodox activities here in Lyme. My mother asked me to ascertain whether Mrs Linfield’s letters were in any way exaggerated. I see now they were not.”
She drew in a sharp breath. Cousin Agnes frequently threatened to write to Aunt Ella about her activities, but it was a shock to discover she had done so. How unfortunate that Lord Roth-bury had discovered her on the beach today—muddy, untidy and much the worse for wear. She could not appear more unladylike if she had tried.
She eyed him doubtfully. “It…it may be slightly unorthodox for a lady to hunt for fossils, but I assure you I am not the only female in Lyme who does so. Mary and Miss Philpot are often here as well. Cousin Agnes fusses so.”
“And yet…” His grey eyes narrowed. “My mother is no fuss-pot, and she is as concerned about your activities as Mrs Linfield is.”
Her brow creased. “She is? Cousin James spent many weeks over the last few summers hunting along the beach with Papa and me. Your mama made no objection then.”
“My mother’s concern is not for my brother.”
“Only for me?”
“But why? It puts me out of all patience. I dislike being cooped up indoors, and fossil hunting is a hobby I enjoy.”
“Surely you must see why it is inadvisable, ma’am.” Impatience edged his tone. “When you were a child, it did not matter. But now you are an unmarried lady, and you have yet to make your come-out in London. Collecting fossils is an eccentric activity for a young lady on the lookout for a suitable husband.”
Her hands clenched into fists. “I see no difficulty then, my lord, as I am not on the lookout for a suitable husband.”
“Come now, ma’am. Surely you must see the lack of sense in that statement.”
Her eyes glittered. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single lady in possession of a good fortune must be in no want of a husband.”
“And it is also a truth universally acknowledged that a single lady with a penchant for novel reading is not always wise.”
She gritted her teeth. He was impossible. She longed to give him a heated dressing-down, but it would do her no good. She set off briskly along the beach again, but he easily kept pace with her.
They passed Church Cliffs, and then Gun Cliff, in silence before a sharp bend in the shore brought the town into view.
He offered his arm again then, and she reluctantly placed her hand on it as they passed the bathing machines on the beach, deserted at this time of the year.
Built between two hills which rose to a height of about five hundred feet, Lyme spread its way from the bottom of a narrow valley and up its sides, sloping to the east and the west. At the bottom, room existed for only one thoroughfare. Cassy and her unpleasant escort passed a number of houses along the shore before making their way up Broad Street towards Silver Street, where she lived.
A south-westerly wind blew off the sea, and the walk up to the home she shared with her elderly cousin took about five minutes. She shivered and huddled deeper into her thick shawl.
Despite the steep slope, the earl paced beside her without obvious loss of breath. For some obscure reason, this irritated her. He did not attempt further conversation until they reached Hilltop House, a charming, three-storey stone structure with a slate roof, a portico over the door, and a walled front garden.
Langton opened the door, and the old family retainer failed to hide his dismay at her appearance. He glanced apprehensively at the earl before shepherding his mistress towards the staircase.
“Is Mrs Linfield in the drawing room?”
The butler bowed. “Yes, Miss Cassandra. I shall bring the tea tray in presently. Should I send Betty to your bedchamber?”
“Please do.” She turned to the earl. “I shall be with you in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, my lord.”
He inclined his head gravely. “Pray do not hurry on my account, Miss Linfield. You will require a fair amount of time to…er…tidy yourself.”
Her jaw tightened. “I am not given to fussing about my appearance.”
“Indeed?” He met her gaze squarely. “I had suspected as much.”
She shot daggers at him before she stalked up the wooden stairs to her bedchamber. Insufferable man!