Stately Passions: Book OneA Crofton Hall Novel
Benjamin Redbourn, Earl of Crofton, has no intention of giving up his beloved ancestral home without a fight. Faced with his mother’s gambling debts, forgery, and the possibility of foreclosure by the bank, Ben vows to make Crofton Hall pay for herself. But opening an Elizabethan manor house to the public isn’t a one man job. With time running out, Ben needs help—and fast.
Ashley Niven has experience managing events, and he also loves history. Being in charge of opening Crofton Hall is a dream come true. As he works with Ben to prepare the house as a venue for lavish weddings and receptions, Ashley finds himself drawn not just to the charm of the house but to the dashing Earl of Crofton. Even if Ashley can look past Ben’s playboy reputation, he fears an affair could prove too much of a distraction.
But Crofton Hall has many secrets, and something hidden for over four hundred years is about to change all their lives.
“HONESTLY, I really am the 16th Earl of Crofton.” Ben had to shout to be heard above the pounding bass, but the blond he was trying to pick up was far from convinced, going by his expression.
When he was younger, he never had to work this hard to pull in clubs in the US. Back in the days when he’d spent most of his nights looking for a willing body, all it used to take was the merest hint of a title, and his accent did the rest. This club in particular had been one of his most successful stomping grounds, full of the New York elite and rich kids, all wanting something a little different from the usual banker or wannabe hipster.
The blond was tall, broad, and would look great against the expensive sheets of Ben’s hotel-room bed. Dylan—at least Ben thought the guy’s name was Dylan—was easy on the eye, but Ben wasn’t the kind of man to discriminate on looks alone for what would be nothing more than a one-night stand. Someone to scratch the itch he got every so often.
He fished in his wallet and pulled out a small plastic card. “This is my UK driving license. And there’s me—Benjamin Redbourn—and my title.”
The blond took the card and peered at it. The lighting wasn’t great, and Ben was a little disappointed to see Probably Dylan moving his lips as he read, but as the message sank in, a wide smile replaced Probably Dylan’s frown. “Seriously? Do you own a castle?”
“Crofton Hall is a manor house. Not a castle.”
Probably Dylan leaned closer, his lips moving against Ben’s ear. “I’m sure you could explain the difference.”
“It’s all a matter of fortification,” said Ben, returning the lascivious grin and licking his lips. “But I’m sure you’d rather get out of here than talk about moats and defensive structures.”
“I’d love to see behind your defenses.”
Ben did his best not to roll his eyes, and reminded himself that Probably Dylan didn’t need to have a startling intellect for the activities Ben had in mind. “Let’s stick to me showing you my hotel room.”
“Sweet. Where are you staying?”
Probably Dylan’s eyes lit up, and Ben could almost see the dollar signs. Ben took his hand and led him through the club and out into the New York night. He had never been averse to using his title and money to get what he wanted, which was why when he was in New York, he made sure he was on the guest list of the type of club where everyone had more money than sense and Ben could be sure he wasn’t picking up a gold digger. Mind you, it didn’t always work, and there’d been more than one incident where someone thought him marriage material. He was still avoiding the Waldorf to be sure he didn’t run into a certain CEO’s daughter.
Once out on the street, Ben hailed a cab. He might have walked if he was on his own, his British sensibilities wanting to use the pavement whenever he could, but with a very eager Probably Dylan pressed against his back, the sooner they were heading away from the Meatpacker’s district and back at his hotel, the better.
The taxi driver growled loud enough for Ben to hear as Probably Dylan wormed his hand under Ben’s shirt and tried to kiss Ben’s neck.
Ben removed Probably Dylan’s hand. “Patience. We don’t want this good gentleman to ask us to leave his cab.”
Saturday night traffic was still busy, not rush hour by any means, but enough that they got caught at several traffic lights, and Ben had to reluctantly guard himself against Probably Dylan’s very talented wandering hands. Ben willed the taxi driver to hurry up. When they drew up outside the Greenwich, he handsomely tipped the driver and led Probably Dylan inside.
“I’ve a corner suite,” he explained as they took the elevator. “I’m only in New York for a couple of days, so it didn’t seem necessary to take the penthouse.”
Ben found himself pressed against the wall of the elevator.
“You have a bed?”
“Oh, yes. A very big bed.”
“Then that’s what’s important.”
The elevator opened, and the pair of them hurried down the corridor, Ben fumbling with the door key as Probably Dylan urged him to get a move on. Safely in the lobby of the suite, Ben captured Probably Dylan in a deep kiss, and it was eagerly returned.
Neither of them was interested in the boutique furnishings or the ridiculously expensive décor. Ben steered Probably Dylan through the sitting area toward the bed, then pushed him backward to land on the soft mattress.
Ben’s phone chirruped, and he took it out of his pocket and tapped the screen.
“Important?” asked Probably Dylan, sounding—justifiably—a little petulant.
“No, only Catlin.”
“Catlin? Wife? Girlfriend?”
“Good Lord, no. As much as I enjoyed the hours I spent in the arms of beautiful women, I always insisted they weren’t blood relatives.”
“She’s my little sister.”
Probably Dylan grinned and began to peel open his shirt, one button at a time.
“Then if it’s not important, why don’t you come over here and show me what royals do for fun.”
Ben was about to explain the difference between being an earl—and therefore a member of the nobility—and actually being royalty, but if Probably Dylan liked the idea he was about to shag a royal, Ben thought better of ruining the fantasy. He quickly scanned the text message.
Call me as soon as you can. Mummy’s acting odd.
Their mother was always acting oddly, and Ben was sure it would eventually boil down to her gin-and-pear-drop addiction. He shuddered at the thought of the horrible sweets his mother loved so much and threw the phone on the dresser. Probably Dylan’s appealing abs were a pleasant distraction from his sister’s message.
Ben stalked forward, unbuttoning his shirt as he did so. “So, where were we?”
BEN THREW back the duvet and bounced out of bed with the exuberance that always followed a night of excellent sex. Probably Dylan—he never did confirm the attractive blond’s name—had left early, Ben mumbling a vague agreement about meeting up when he was next in town. He spotted an eleven-digit phone number scrawled on a sheet of hotel stationery, and without thinking twice, crumpled it into a ball and threw it in the bin. He wasn’t looking for anything more than one night. Not interested in anything long-term, or even a repeat session. His physical urges, the ones that reared their lusty heads every few months, were sated, and that was good enough for Ben.
After a shower that was supposed to mimic being caught in a rainforest, he padded back into the bedroom and picked up his phone. Several pointless e-mails, Twitter follows, and Facebook notifications assaulted him, and he frowned when he saw two more texts from Catlin.
Are you back in England yet? Please call me, Benny!
Mummy keeps saying she has really done it this time. Benny, please call me!
Catlin was an utter drama queen. God only knew how Spenser, her rather nice-but-dim fiancé, put up with her.
After tapping out a text, he hoped it would be enough to appease her.
Flying back today. Should be back at the manor in time for supper. Mother is probably alluding to finishing the last of the vintage port. Doubt there’s anything to worry about.
Remembering his flight and the prospect of having to negotiate the battlefield that was JFK airport, Ben dressed, pulling on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt he’d acquired during Milan fashion week from a model he’d met at one of a blur of after-show parties. Not caring about the creases he was putting to the Vivienne Westwood shirt and trousers he’d worn last night, he shoved everything into his leather holdall. He emptied the safe in the room, collecting his wallet, a handful of papers, and the jewelry he’d removed last night before venturing out into the New York nightlife. He slid a gold-and-ruby ring onto the little finger of his right hand—a ring every oldest male Redbourn had worn, going back even further than the 1st Earl, Anthony Redbourn. His watch, now firmly strapped in place, had once been both his father’s and his grandfather’s. If it could talk, that watch would no doubt corroborate the stories he’d been told about flapper girls in the Roaring Twenties, life with a member of the French Resistance in occupied France during World War II, and how it had been lost, then won back in a game of poker in a burlesque club in Paris in the sixties.
Taking a few moments to artfully tousle his hair, Ben checked to see there were no stray grays mingled with the brown and that his eyes weren’t bloodshot, because red didn’t go with hazel. He picked up his bag and left. Another successful trip to New York was coming to an end. He checked out, and the concierge ordered him a cab.
An hour later, having cleared Fast Track security, he settled into a comfy chair with a Talisker whisky—no ice—in the First Class Lounge and waited for his flight back to Heathrow.
Oh My Gosh! I absolutely loved this book and it is among my top 5 reads this year.
The story of Lord Benjamin (Ben) trying to get the Hall out of the debt his Mother racked up is really well told.
Ashley who helps Ben get Crofton Hall of the trouble it is in is tall Lanky and really good looking. Once appeared quite the geek and now Ben has a hard time keeping his distance from his employee.
The romance is what I like to refer to as a Very slow boiling one....one that will not let you down at all in the end. I cannot wait for the rest of the series.
I immediately purchased the first book in the preceding series called The Actor and the Earl. Ms Cohen will be on my to read list hopefully for a long time to come.
Jolly good novel just need some Jam Roly Poly to go along with the read.
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