Submitted Date 08/20/2021

Back in 2007, I started this story. I have the Prologue and part of the first chapter. But for the life of me, I have no idea where I was going with this story.

So, to have a little fun, I'm going to give you, my followers, a chance to influence something in my book.

Whoever sends me the best answer to the question at the end of this blog will win a character named in their honor and a mention in the dedication of To Wit's End. Good luck and may the best idea win!



England, May 10, 1815


It permeated the air and was soaking into the ground. Rather rapidly at that.

Jonas McQuillen, Earl of Arundel, slowly opened his eyes and stared at the grey clouds that were rapidly closing in above him. It was going to rain, as it always did in the spring. And summer. And fall. Come to think of it, it rained all the time. He blinked, his deep blue eyes taking in the sky.

His side no longer throbbed, but his hand was sticky with his own blood. He lifted it, gazing at the crimson stain across his palm. He watched the way it slid down his fingers, fascinated by the slowness of the liquid, the color, the feel.

He was dying. And no one even knew where he was. He could smell the sea, the gulls overheard flitting on the evening breeze. He should've known better than to trust her. He should've known better than to let her get under his skin the way he did, to allow himself to indulge in the overwhelming desire to possess her, to fall in love with her. He was a fool and he could only believe that his father and grandfather were gazing down upon him right now in disgust.

Jonas lifted his head slowly, looking around. He could see the dim tan line of the road. She hadn't even dumped his body in the brush, leaving him along the side of the road like so much garbage. He could only wonder where she was now. Probably catching a boat out of Southampton or Portsmouth. He managed to roll to the side that currently didn't have a dagger stuck in it. The movement made him hiss, his head spinning at the pain.

He recognized the woods, the way the trees bent in the breeze off the channel. He was not far from home. But no one would miss him for days. He had been in London attending to business and was expected home for another fortnight. Why had she done this? Why had she played him for a fool?

Why did he let her?

That was the question Jonas would die asking and he knew it. The only consolation to his death was that the family title would not pass on to his cousin Barth, the greedy cretin had hoped. It would go to their uncle instead. It was little comfort.

Barth. Was Gwendolyn, his sweet Gwen, in cahoots with him? Had she lied to him all this time, planning to help his cousin take his lands? He fell backward onto the grass again, his head spinning. His stomach clenched and he doubled up in pain.

So this was how his life would end. No heir. No wife. Not even the opportunity to see his twenty-eighth birthday, which would be in two days. No. His fate was to die on the side of the road only a few miles from his manor home, the smell of his own blood and the sea air mingling in his nose.

He closed his eyes, letting himself drift in and out of consciousness. Something startled him and he opened his eyes. The felt thick and heavy, filled with grit. The sun had set, the last waning rays of light just visible over the horizon. He heard the sound of a coach approach, but he was too weak to move. He raised his hand for a moment, but let it fall, not even having the strength to hold it up. Dust danced in the air and he heard the jingle of the harness. It was close, yet so far.

Jonas saw the flash of a lantern behind his eyes and he opened his eyes yet again. When did he close them? He couldn't remember. He could see the shadow of a woman standing over him, felt the brush of soft fabric against his cheek. A face swam into view. "Gwen," he whispered. His voice was hoarse, his throat parched and dry.

"Oh Jonas," she sighed. She brushed a lock of his hair from his forehead as she looked up to someone he couldn't see. "Let me take you home."


Chapter One

Two months earlier

It was the first event of the season and Earl Jonas McQuillen was not looking forward to it. If he hated anything more, it was being at the whim of the Ton and their social season. He would've rather been home in his Manor, riding his horses, dealing with the everyday concerns of the people he was responsible for, enjoying the solitude of the British coastline.

But no. He was in London, attending to business matters pertaining to his estate and suffering at the hands of the matrons that felt they were responsible for arranging the perfect marriage for the very eligible Earl. He really abhorred this time of year.

Jonas stood beside the refreshment table, a glass of wine in his hands. His blue eyes watched the pastel perfection of young ladies as they paraded along the dance floor with their partners. Their skirts flared and billowed, petticoats peeking out from beneath the silk and satin. He exhaled slowly, not interested in a single one of them.

He was about to leave, only an hour into the gala when he saw her. She moved slowly through the crowd, her long brown hair piled high atop her head in the current fashion. Pearls glittered from the chestnut locks, matching the strand that graced her swan-like neck. He let his eyes linger along that line of soft skin before taking in the features of her face. She was a startling beauty, her eyes a violet that matched her dress, full lips that tilted into a radiant smile that encompassed her whole face. Her beauty was elegant and rare. His mouth actually went dry.

Jonas allowed his eyes to follow her around the grand ballroom. She nodded politely to the others as she passed, her lashes thick as they lowered to gaze as possible suitor after suitor raised her hand to their lips for a polite kiss. She was graceful, yet she seemed sad. She paused for a moment as the string quartet paused before beginning a waltz. She turned to the large window, gazing up to the moon. He could've sworn there were tears in her eyes as she slowly swayed with the music.

"Ah, there she is," a voice said from behind Jonas. "We wondered if she would come."

Jonas turned to the man, recognizing his boyhood friend, Stephan Alarick, now the Marquess of some quaint jurisdiction at the northernmost border of England. "Greetings Stephan. I'm surprised to see you here." He shook his old friend's hand.

"The same to you, Jonas. You were the last person I expected the Ton to get their grubby paws on." Stephan's eyes glanced back to the woman in question. "That is Gwendolyn St. James, by the way. Third or fourth cousin to the King and quite favored at court."

"Really. She is quite enchanting," Jonas commented as his eyes followed her from the window towards the terrace.

"She's the one every eligible bachelor is trying to snare this season. I don't see anyone winning her hand, though."

Jonas looked at his friend. "Why?"

Stephan shrugged, a graceful lift of his shoulders. "She insists on marrying for love and claims that she will remain a spinster if she must until that day happens." He finished the wine in his glass, setting it on the table. "She's fairly stubborn in that regard and her parents refuse to force her to do something she'd prefer not to."

"Well, that's an interesting notion, but we'll see who shall win," Jonas remarked. He set his own glass beside Stephan's. "I think I shall ask the young lady to dance."

Stephan nodded. "Then I shall wish you the best of luck, my friend if that is the young lady you have plans to win. She will give you a very merry chase."

Jonas watched as Gwendolyn slipped through the doors and into the night. "A merry chase. I like the sound of that." He smiled and slipped through the crowd, following Gwendolyn into the night.




Who is Gwendolyn St. James and what secret is she hiding?

I look forward to your answers! Please comment below, drop me an email at Subject: To Wit's End Contest, or answer on social media.


Contest ends 08/31/2021. Winner will be announced on 09/02/2021.




Copyright 2021, Beth A. Freely. All Rights Reserved.


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