Updated: Jul 22
Miss Katrina Carrick had two goals. The first, was to sell the contents of her father’s bookshop to pay his debtors. The second, to secure another position as a governess.
Lord Timothy Strotham wanted nothing more than to purchase the contents of the Carrick’s Book Shop and Lending Library and be on his way. He did not count on getting the deceased owner’s daughter as part of the bargain.
When thrust together, will Lord Timothy be able to deny his own desires or will Katrina proved to be too much of a temptation? When it comes time for them to part, will either be able to let go?
Blackrig, Scotland, February 1816
Katrina Carrick had hoped this day would never arrive. She’d done everything in her power to stop it from happening but had failed.
Sick dread filled her as she paced within the Carrick Book Shop and Lending Library. The smell of leather and paper was home to her, and soon it would belong to another.
This shop had been her father’s love, especially after Katrina’s mother died. He poured all that he had into this place and their home, which was a set of rooms above the shop. Katrina had been raised in this building, sleeping above and reading below at every opportunity.
She’d tried to keep the shop open after her father’s sudden death a year ago, but the debts made it impossible and the hardest thing she’d ever had to do was decide to sell everything. She knew her father had struggled but Katrina had no idea as to the extent until the bill collectors began to come around. The shop that he loved didn’t make enough funds to pay down those debts. They barely paid for their basic needs.
She hadn’t even realized that the building, where she’d made her home most of her life was owned by another, and she could no longer pay the rent. Further, she was four months behind, and the owner had given her until the end of the month to remove her personal belongings and the contents of the book shop.
Her only choice was to once again become a governess. She was a miss of five and twenty from a small village in Scotland, well-educated as her father wouldn’t have it any other way, and few options available to her. Her only experience with employment was this shop and as a governess in two previous homes.
Katrina couldn’t think about employment right now, however. She needed to prepare for her meeting with the possible future owner of her father’s books.
The dread she was feeling didn’t come from having to sell the books, as she’d come to terms with the necessity, but the fear that the only person who had shown interest in purchasing them would change his mind. She needed those funds to pay off the debts and if she were fortunate, there would be enough funds left to support her until she found employment.
When gentlemen were in this predicament, they simply married an heiress. A miss did not have the same option. She had neither a dowry nor connections.
“You should let me negotiate,” her cousin, Broderick, said as he came from the back. Broderick Carrick, current Baron Carrick, had inherited debt nearly as crippling as Katrina had. Their fathers had been brothers, and neither had ever made their fortune, but quite the opposite.
“It was my father’s shop. The future owner must negotiate with me,” she insisted.
“He may not wish to negotiate with a female,” Broderick reminded her. It was also the reason he’d come to Blackrig.
“I appreciate your assistance, Broderick, but I need to do this on my own.”
He shook his head and smiled. “Always independent.”
“Aye. It’s a failing of mine.” Except, her father had raised her to be independent and think for herself. It was Society, what little she knew of it, that saw her independence as a shortcoming. Her father had even left everything to her in his will. Society may frown on a woman owning a business, but he hadn’t.
“I wished you’d also reconsider and come live with me instead of seeking employment.”
She appreciated the offer, more than she could ever express. “I will not be a burden to you.”
“You would not be a burden,” Broderick insisted, but they both knew the truth. “I’m not in such dire straits, Katrina. Not like before. I’ve made many improvements and have begun to earn an income from the land.”
“I can see to myself,” Katrina insisted again, though if she did not find a position soon, she might just have to live with her cousin. At least he wasn’t a stranger. When they were younger, they had been rather close, as their fathers had remained close. Unlike her other cousin, Lord Alden Knight, who had arrived shortly after her father’s funeral to insist that she return with him.
Katrina had never met Alden before. His father was her mother’s older brother. Their grandfather, the Earl of Chedworth, had rejected and disowned Katrina’s mother when she married a mere baron’s second son instead of the future viscount that he had chosen. Katrina had sent Alden away as she wanted absolutely no assistance from her mother’s family.
Alden had returned a few days ago when he learned that Katrina needed to sell everything. His father now wished to make things right, give her a home, and a Season and to see her properly wed, even though her and Alden’s grandfather still refused to lift a finger. Therefore, Katrina had rejected the offer once again. Besides, she was nearly on the shelf, and it would look foolish if she presumed to enter Society now.
“I wish you’d reconsider my father’s invitation,” Alden said, coming from the back as Broderick had. No doubt the two had been discussing what was to become of her since neither one would accept that she’d be just fine on her own without the guidance or protection of a male relative.
“No thank you,” she politely refused.
Katrina held no animosity toward Alden. He was innocent in what had happened, and in truth, she liked him. Under different circumstances, she would have likely enjoyed coming to know him. However, she did resent their grandfather for what he’d done to her mother. Nor did she hold any respect for Alden’s father, as he’d not stepped in to support her mother in her decisions. Therefore, he couldn’t make it right now.
“I assume the gentleman exiting the carriage is the future owner of the books.” Broderick nodded toward the window.
Katrina turned to note a blonded-headed gentleman on the walk before her shop.
Dread filled her belly again and she said a quick prayer that he’d solve her current situation.
“Lord Timothy Strotham is buying your books?” Alden asked in surprise.
At that moment, Katrina wasn’t certain if allowing Alden to be present was going to be a blessing or a curse.
“What do you know of him?” she asked.
“Bit of a prig,” Alden answered. “Though not so bad, I suppose,” he amended. “During our university days, Lord Timothy either had his nose in a book and studying or rowing. His team was unbeatable.”
An athlete and a scholar? An unusual combination.
“Being the fourth son of a marquess, Lord Timothy knew that he must have a profession. Upon graduation, he was accepted as a fellow and tutor at Oxford. I believe he still rows, as well, though not for the university.”
When Lord Timothy Stortham learned that an entire book shop and lending library was being sold, he’d written directly, then set out to Blackrig, Scotland.
It never occurred to him to own a book shop or lending library before, but as soon as he read the advertisement, Timothy knew that’s what he wanted. It was the answer to the dissatisfaction in his current profession at Oxford. Sadly, the school hadn’t changed since he was a student. The sons of gentry and wealthy commoners, or those who could pay their way, spent little time in class or at their studies. They attended lectures only when necessary and expected to know what was going to be on the exams prior to taking them. It had always been a practice for nobility. They were there because it was socially expected, but it mattered little if they actually received the education they paid for. What bothered Timothy was that many of these gentlemen were the very ones that would one day take a seat in Parliament, and they squandered an excellent education, which would have benefited them when the future of England was being decided.
Such a waste and he simply didn’t wish to be a part of it any longer. However, his options were limited, which was why seeing an advertisement for the contents of a book shop and lending library had intrigued him.
As he did own property located outside of Middleton, Timothy had made the rash decision to resign his position and purchase the contents of the book shop so that he could open his own lending library. Thankfully he was wealthy enough to do so. Actually, it was his father who offered the assistance as he had more money than he could spend in a lifetime and was generous with his younger sons, so long as it was for responsible endeavors. Marquess Shomberg fully supported Timothy’s plan to settle in Middleton and open his shop.
The home and small estate of no income had been left to him by an uncle. Timothy hadn’t visited since before he’d inherited, but he had fond childhood memories of the home and looked forward to taking up residence. When he originally inherited, his uncle’s solicitor had assured Timothy that a trust had been set aside for the upkeep and to pay a woman to come clean regularly and that it wasn’t necessary for Timothy to travel to Middleton until he wished to do so. At the time the will was made, his uncle knew that Timothy couldn’t afford to leave his position at Oxford to move to Middleton where he’d have no income. The home was meant for Timothy’s future, or if he chose, he could sell the property if in need of income.
Timothy had toyed with the idea of just selling the property, but he liked the idea of having land and a house and hoped that one day he could afford to settle there. Buying a book shop was the very thing he needed, especially since he knew Middleton did not have a lending library, circulating library, or book shop.
It was a risk, that he knew. He knew nothing of owning a shop, all he knew was that he loved books and bookshops and libraries. He may fail miserably, but little else interested him. Besides, once he did marry, which he hoped to do one day, he’d lose his position since only bachelors could hold the position of tutor or fellow. When that time came, Timothy would need to find another way to make income, so he might as well try his hand at owning a bookshop now, before he had a wife for which he was responsible.
He hated having to ask his father for funds, but the number of books needed for a lending library was quite expensive. Timothy also hoped to pay him back. In turn, his father insisted that it was a gift, as by order of birth, Timothy would get nothing other than quarterlies and the Marquess of Shomberg wanted all his sons to be successful and happy. He also wished they would each marry, but most especially the oldest.
Being the youngest, at least Timothy didn’t have the same pressure on him to take a wife.
As Timothy stepped from his carriage and looked up at the sign of Carrick’s Book Shop and Lending Library, he took a deep breath. Once he purchased all the books, his fate would be determined.
A bell tinkled above the door when he stepped inside to find a woman in her twenties, a man similar to his own age, and surprisingly Lord Alden Knight. Knight had the benefit of being the oldest son of the oldest son to the Marquess of Chedworth, but that didn’t explain why he was standing in a book shop in the small village of Blackrig, Scotland.
“Lord Timothy Strotham,” Knight greeted. “Let me introduce you to my cousin, Miss Katrina Carrick, owner of the shop, and her cousin, Mr. Broderick Carrick.”
He hadn’t realized that the shop was owned by a woman and assumed he’d be dealing with a man. “Knight, Miss Carrick, Mr. Carrick,” he greeted. Women didn’t negotiate purchases, which was likely why Knight and Carrick were also here. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Timothy muttered.
“Are you interested in the whole of the collection, or specific volumes,” Miss Carrick asked. “Your inquiry was not specific.”
He shifted his gaze to Knight.
“My cousin insists on handling all negotiations herself.”
Miss Carrick drew herself up and squared her shoulders. She reminded him of the governess he’d had as a lad.
However, his governess hadn’t been this pretty, or young. The woman who stood before him with her honey blonde hair, warm brown eyes, pert nose, and full lips should be gracing a ballroom, not own a book shop. Except, she wouldn’t be the owner for much longer.
“My initial intention is to purchase the whole of the shop,” he answered. “However, I intend to inspect the books before I decide and to then determine their value.”
She gave a quick nod. “The shop contains nearly four thousand books.”
He hoped the shock wasn’t evident in his features as he tried not to react. The advertisement hadn’t given a number, but he’d not expected so many in a shop in a small village. The cost may be far higher than he’d anticipated.
“Many were collected over the years,” she continued. “To be honest, in the more recent years, Carrick’s has been more of a lending library than a shop as few in Blackrig can afford to purchase a book already bound but they did possess the funds for a subscription.”
Books that had been read often would not hold the same value as a newly printed, never read volume, which he’d need to take into consideration. It also meant that each book would need a more thorough inspection than he’d intended, to make certain there were no tears, the binding was still strong, that no pages were missing, or any other damage that could happen to a book.
Given there were four thousand books, it would likely take him a sennight, if not a fortnight.
“Well, shall we get to it?” She smiled as if anxious to get started. “Which section would you like to examine first?”
Timothy balked for a moment as this was not what he was expecting.
“I will begin at the back and work my way to the front, and catalog as I go with what I wish to purchase and books I wish to leave behind.”
Miss Carrick moved to go behind the counter, then reached under it and pulled out a leather booklet. “Each book is listed here, along with the purchase price and date. Simply make a notation.” She handed it to him. “In pencil please, in the event we do not come to an agreement.”
The bell on the door tinkled again and an older man stepped in.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Buchanan.” Miss Carrick greeted cheerfully, then introduced Timothy. “Mr. Buchanan is my solicitor. Once we’ve agreed on a value, he will complete the purchase agreements for our signatures.”
“Mr. Carrick will not be here.”
“Nay. I need to return home today.”
Timothy looked to Knight.
“I am off to London.”
He was being left alone with this woman. This was not at all what he had expected. However, it should not alter any decision to examine and then purchase books. He’d only need to deal directly with her once his decision had been made.
“She has a mind of her own and is independent,” Mr. Carrick warned.
“Further, she’s asked us to leave,” Knight explained.
“I’m certain you have no objections, Lord Timothy.” Miss Carrick smiled. “As I am the owner of the books you wish to buy. My cousins can be of no assistance to you.”
He cleared his throat. “No, of course not.”
What the blazes had he gotten himself into? He wished to inspect books, and purchase them, not be forced to deal with a beautiful, yet determined female.