Sequel to The Actor and the Earl
The Crofton Chronicles: Book Two
Sebastian Hewel will endure many things to maintain his role of Bronwyn, the wife of Anthony Redbourn, Earl of Crofton, so he and Anthony can be together. But when Queen Elizabeth demands a favour of Anthony, Sebastian’s world is in danger of being fractured beyond repair.
The Queen requests Anthony to seduce Lady Marie Valois, the beautiful daughter of a French noble, to discover the whereabouts of her father, who is wanted by the King of France. There is no way Anthony can refuse the Queen, but Sebastian having to watch his lover pretend to court another is more painful than he thought. However, when Lady Marie takes a fancy to Sebastian when he is dressed as himself at Crofton Hall, Sebastian find his roles reversed and a green-eyed Anthony to contend with.
Things go from bad to worse with the arrival of Lady Marie’s brother, Lord Nicholas Valois, who is not happy that his sister has been linked to a man like Anthony. But when Valois’s head is turned by Lady Bronwyn and her acerbic wit, Sebastian has to survive the attentions of both siblings. And a very jealous Earl of Crofton.
Third edition – previous editions published by Dreamspinner Press. Re-edited for publication.
- 5 To Be Read lists
- 2 Read lists
Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Class Differences, Marriage of Convenience, Married Life
Word Count: 63000
Setting: Elizabethan England
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Sebastian Hewel watched with amusement as Anthony Redbourn, Earl of Crofton, tried to escape the clutches of Lady Tenmor, a widow with a fondness for men several years her junior. From his position to the side of the room, he had seen Anthony politely try to excuse himself several times, but she either didn’t understand his subtle pretext or didn’t want to. A servant offered Sebastian a goblet of wine, which he accepted, and despite enjoying watching Anthony’s discomfort he wondered if he should go to Anthony’s rescue or wait to see if one of the earl’s many friends at court would be his salvation.READ MORE
They’d been at Richmond Palace for the afternoon. Queen Elizabeth, although in residence, had not left the privy chamber, but had treated her guests to a spectacular display of birds of prey on the grounds. Guests were now waiting for the evening banquet to begin, and Sebastian couldn’t wait to sit down. An afternoon of standing in the heat of summer, coupled with the layers of Lady Crofton’s dress, had left him light-headed, and he was worried he was in danger of fainting. He tried to gain some relief with his fan, but playing Bronwyn, the wife of Lord Crofton, lent him few ways of relieving himself of the heat. And on several occasions he’d had to stop himself from scratching under his periwig in case he dislodged it, or swiping at his brow lest he smeared his ceruse, the white paint even more uncomfortable than usual. At least the others at court also appeared to be suffering, but unfortunately not enough to stop them from gossiping.
Two women behind him were whispering about the latest scandal concerning the Duke of Norfolk and a married Italian countess, but spotting Sebastian, they changed their topic.
“I wonder what it is about her?”
“It can’t be her face. I’ve seen prettier horses.”
Sebastian turned to face them. They were two of the commonplace, over-painted women who floated around court with little better to do than hold inane conversations about the current fashions or spread malicious rumours. Usually he’d let the empty-headed chitchat wash over him, but whether it was the heat or the fact he was tired after a late night with Anthony, his patience had worn dangerously thin and he was in no mood to let it pass. “Perhaps if you spent less time talking about me and more time devoted to the needs of your husbands, you’d know how to keep a man interested.”
Sebastian didn’t wait for an answer—their scandalized expressions were reward enough. He strode away, wearing a smug smile as he came to stand by the open door to a terrace, a vantage point that still allowed him to keep an eye on Anthony, and offered a pleasant breeze. Anthony, dressed in a new golden doublet, was a striking sight, and Sebastian was happy to admit he would willingly pass the time watching his lover. The picture Anthony painted as he made another valiant attempt to remove Lady Tenmor’s hand from his arm without causing offence was as entertaining as Anthony was attractive.
Sebastian turned his attention away from Anthony to see who had addressed him. He didn’t know the woman’s name but recognised her from a previous visit to court. He’d at first considered her one of the ilk more likely to whisper behind his back than talk to his face. She had sharp features, but while not classically pretty, he thought she was beautiful with expressive blue-green eyes, and, he noticed, she also appeared troubled by the heat.
“Yes,” he at last answered. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”
“Lady Abigail Foster,” she said, waving her fan. “I thought I’d introduce myself, since you seem to be all alone.”
“I’m waiting for my lord.” He nodded in Anthony’s direction.
“Ah, yes, Lord Crofton.” Lady Foster laughed. “How things have changed. You really are a miracle worker. It wouldn’t have been that long ago Anthony would’ve been encouraging the dowager duchess rather than fending her off.”
Sebastian didn’t think he’d ever become accustomed to how some members of the nobility spoke their mind, as if their opinion was not only wanted but actively sought.
“I cannot for the life of me understand why people are so interested,” he replied, trying to sound dismissive.
“Because you are different!” She laughed again. “You have a fresh face and a sharp tongue, and the ability to tame one of the wildest men at court—of course people are going to be interested.”
“Well, I would rather they weren’t.”
Lady Foster’s eyes sparkled with amusement as she smiled wryly. “And I wish my husband was less interested in card games, but we can’t have everything.”
“I am hardly asking for everything.”
“Come now, Lady Crofton, surely a few wagging tongues are a small price to pay to have the court watching you in fascination rather than enduring their pitying stares, which was the case when you first came here.”
“Maybe so, but it does not mean I relish it—either way.” It was comforting, in an odd way, to hear the views of some of the court had changed. Sebastian had no reason to doubt Lady Foster’s word, but equally, he was cautious of why she’d attempted to befriend him, and he had no wish to engage in further conversation. “I’m afraid you must excuse me, my husband may need me.”
“Of course. But don’t be surprised if it just encourages more talk—Lord Crofton rescued from the clutches of the too-friendly widow by the intriguing Lady Crofton.”
Sebastian couldn’t help but laugh. “Intriguing I could live with.”
He curtseyed, which Lady Foster returned, and approached Anthony, who was resembled a deer trapped by the hounds of the hunt. He waved his fan and let out an overly loud sigh. “Oh, there you there, my love. Isn’t it awfully warm?”
Anthony’s relief was obvious. “My lady, I hope you are not suffering too badly.”
“I must admit I am feeling a little faint. But I think a short walk in the gardens before the banquet will help.”
Anthony turned back to Lady Tenmor. Her eyes had narrowed in annoyance when Sebastian had joined them, and as Sebastian had spoken, her frown had transformed into a scowl. “You must excuse me, Lady Tenmor. I should accompany my wife—I would not want her to succumb to a fainting spell out in the grounds on her own.”
With Anthony’s hand on his lower back, Sebastian headed out into the gardens. The relief of the light breeze was immediate, and he sighed happily.
“Are you all right?” asked Anthony.
“Nothing fresh air and being out of the palace won’t solve. And I thought you might need a reason to escape.”
Sebastian took Anthony’s arm and they meandered towards a number of chestnut trees, their wide span providing a shady patch Sebastian was glad to reach, and he thanked the Lord there was a bench underneath it on which to sit.
“I really don’t know how you do it,” said Anthony, leaning over and picking up a fallen leaf.
Sebastian watched Anthony twirl the leaf by its stem. “Do what?”
“Wear that dress and everything that’s underneath it in this heat. I don’t think I could survive being wrapped in so many layers—the material of my doublet is bad enough.”
“Bronwyn can hardly spend the whole summer out of sight just because I’m feeling a little warm,” said Sebastian, and he saw Anthony’s brow wrinkle slightly.
“But that doesn’t mean I should drag you to sweltering London. Perhaps we should return to Crofton Hall sooner than we had planned.”
Sebastian smiled and laid his hand on Anthony’s arm. “You worry too much, my love. I’d be the first to tell you if I didn’t want to be here.”
They shared a tender kiss, Sebastian not allowing more in case Anthony smudged his thick white ceruse. “We should go back.” Sebastian stood but as he did so, a wave of uncomfortable dizziness assaulted him and he swayed.
Anthony grabbed him. “I think you need to lie down.”
“I’m perfectly fine.”
“Nonsense.” Anthony pushed him back to sit down on the bench. “Wait here. I’ll have the coach brought around and we’ll return to the town house immediately.”
Before Sebastian could argue, Anthony was striding away. He watched as Anthony stopped the first servant he came across, and while he couldn’t hear what was said, Anthony’s exaggerated arm movements left Sebastian in no doubt that the servant would be swift to answer his demands. His dizziness passed as quickly as it had come, and Sebastian intended to tell Anthony he had no need to leave. He didn’t want Anthony to remain at court on his own—and more importantly, not give the likes of Lady Tenmor the impression that, with his wife gone, Anthony was available—but Sebastian didn’t get the opportunity.
Anthony returned and pulled him to his feet. “The carriage is being brought around.”
“You fret too much. I am better now.”
“I will not argue about this—you’re in no state to endure an evening at court. What you need is a good night’s sleep.”
“Whose fault is it I didn’t get a good night’s sleep last night?”
Anthony grinned but schooled his features. “Even more of a reason I should ensure you get one tonight.”COLLAPSE