It Happened One Season Online - Stephanie Laurens

Prologue

Sebastian Montgomery Trantor sank back in the wing chair angled before his library’s hearth, and smiled rather smugly at the blaze roaring in the grate. There was something intensely satisfying in sitting snug in his own home while beyond his walls a tempest raged.

Outside, the wind moaned, rising to a bansheelike crescendo before dying away to a dismal drone. Rain swept in sheets across the lead-paned windows, punctuated by the staccato patter of hail. It was a very good night to be safe inside.

Brandy glinted in the cut-crystal tumbler on the table by his elbow. The weight of the leather-bound tome he was perusing felt comfortable where it rested across his thighs.

Gaze fixed on the leaping flames, he reached for the tumbler, sipped. Savored the complex flavors as the brandy slid down his throat, felt the warmth of the fire on his booted feet.

All were comforts he’d worked for, had envisaged, planned, and striven to achieve, and now he had them: the gothic monstrosity of Grimoldby Abbey that he’d purchased when it had been one step away from irredeemable ruin had been transformed into a modern home sporting every comfort. His investments had prospered further, enabling him to indulge his interest in ancient languages, scripts, and cryptography. His library would make any expert swoon.

He’d found and employed staff who, like him, appreciated a quiet, restful life, one undisturbed by unnecessary fuss.

These elements—a large, old, but comfortable home and the staff to go with it, money enough to do as he wished, an excellent library and the few other material comforts he enjoyed—had been the stuff of his dreams through the years of his army service. As a second son, he’d done his duty and, as was his nature, had enjoyed the endeavor while it lasted, especially as his knack for ciphers had ensured he was in frequent demand for special assignments, in turn ensuring he’d never been bored.

But the wars had been over for several years. On returning to England, he’d set about assembling his dreamed-of future life. And now it was his.

His to wallow in and enjoy.

Smiling again, he set down the tumbler, picked up his book, and focused on the page of Mesopotamian hieroglyphics he was slowly working his way through.

He’d barely completed a line when someone started hammering on the front door. Not just a knock, but a ceaseless battering.

He frowned, listened to his butler’s footsteps as Finley crossed the tiles of the hall to the massive oak front doors. Faint sounds of an arrival reached him; the library door muffled the voices, yet apparently Finley had admitted whoever had sought aid. From the desperation of the hammering, aid had been the goal.

Imagining an overturned carriage or some similar mishap and having every confidence that Finley would deal with the matter quietly and expeditiously, Sebastian refocused on his page.

The library door flew open.

He raised his head but, recognizing the intruder’s boot steps, didn’t rise.

His brother Thomas strode directly to the fireplace, bringing a lingering scent of ozone and rain.

Without looking his way, Thomas bent and held his hands to the blaze.

Sebastian glanced back to see Finley standing in the open doorway, a question on his face. “Bring another glass.” Sebastian looked at Thomas. “And prepare a room for his lordship.”

Finley bowed and withdrew. Sebastian heard the door click shut.

Before he could ask what had brought his brother out on such a night, Thomas whirled.

Sebastian was shocked by the haggardness in his face. “What is it?”

Thomas stared at him, after a moment opened his mouth, then glanced at the door. “Wait. I don’t want to be interrupted.”

Sebastian obligingly possessed his soul in patience while Thomas fell to pacing agitatedly before the hearth.

Eventually Finley returned bearing a tray with another tumbler and the decanter of port Thomas favored.

Finley set down the tray, then glanced at Thomas. At his curt nod, Finley poured a generous dose of the port, restoppered the decanter, and handed the glass to Thomas.

“Thank you, Finley,” Sebastian said. “That will be all.”

Finley bowed and retreated.

Thomas swigged a sizeable gulp of the port.

Inwardly wincing—he’d rarely seen his brother so distraught—Sebastian murmured, “I’m surprised to see you. Isn’t Estelle’s time near?”

His sister-in-law was expecting her fifth child, one everyone held high expectations would be Thomas’s long-hoped-for heir.

“The time is nigh—well, now.” Thomas took another gulp, then lowered the glass. “She’s had the baby.”

Thomas’s grim tone declared the news wasn’t good, but he then fell into a brown study, staring at the half full glass in his hand.

“And?” Sebastian prompted.

“It’s