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A Companion for the Count

A Companion for the Count

Narrated by Jessica Elisa Boyd

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Emma Arlen, a devoted companion to the duke's eldest daughter, reluctantly agrees to distract a persistent Sicilian suitor as a favor to Lady Josephine. Little does she know that Luca, the Conte di Atella and ambassador from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, is on a mission to secure a politically advantageous marriage. However, Emma consistently disrupts his plans with her presence. Their shared moments deepen their connection, and Luca realizes he doesn't mind the interferences caused by Emma. As the time for Luca's departure approaches, Emma must face the possibility of losing him or risking her heart.

As the second stand-alone novel in a new series by author Sally Britton, this story continues the Clairvoir Castle romances. This is a light-hearted, romantic series set in the Regency period.

Main Tropes

  • Nobleman/Companion
  • Relationship Sabotage
  • Duty vs. Desire


Emma Arlen has spent a decade as a member of the duke’s family, in the position of companion to his daughter and ward to the duke himself. She would do anything to show her support to the ducal family for their love and kindness. When Lady Josephine begs Emma to distract a most determined Sicilian suitor, she agrees at once. How hard can it be to keep one man entertained for a few weeks?

Luca, the Conte di Atella, left his home in the newly formed Kingdom of the Two Sicilies under the direct orders of King Ferdinand I. Luca’s duty as ambassador to England includes everything from negotiating better trade agreements to strengthening the bonds between the two nations. If possible, by marrying a lady of high birth. When he optimistically sets his sights on Lady Josephine, Miss Arlen consistently disrupts his plans. The more time that passes, the more he realizes he does not mind at all.

Continually in the conte’s company, Emma recognizes in him a spirit of adventure and nobility like she has never witnessed before. When the time comes for him to go, will she be able to part with him and keep her heart intact?

As the second stand-alone novel in a new series by author Sally Britton, this story continues the Clairvoir Castle romances. This is a light-hearted, romantic series set in the Regency period.

Intro to Chapter One

Clairvoir Castle, the Duke of Montfort’s estate, housed over thirty servants, eight members of the duke’s family, a governess, and Emma Arlen—who really did not fit in any of the other categories of occupants. 

Emma, the duke’s ward and companion to Lady Josephine, the duke’s eldest daughter, sat in her usual spot in the upstairs morning room. With her legs tucked up on the sofa and an embroidery hoop occupying her hands, she did her best to ignore her friend’s pacing from one end of the room to the other.

Despite the large number of permanent residents residing in the castle, the duke welcomed guests in large groups and with great frequency. 

New arrivals were expected that very day. 

“I cannot like Papa’s insistence that I arrange entertainment for the ambassador.” Lady Josephine often received a share of the hostessing duties. Usually without reserve. “He reminded me again, at breakfast, to be attentive to the count.”

“I was there, Josie.” Emma raised her gaze momentarily to her friend’s. “His Grace insisted nothing. I would say he suggested you would have better ideas for entertainment than most, given that the ambassador is a gentleman closer to your age than your father’s.”

The duke’s eldest daughter did tend toward the dramatic, at least in private. Hers was an emotional nature, but not volatile. She possessed great kindness and compassion and a desire to see all around her happy. But she had also possessed an over active imagination since girlhood.

Josephine glowered at Emma. “I think it has more to do with the fact that the ambassador is unmarried. Papa is trying to play at matchmaking. You know he is.”

“I know no such thing.” Emma returned her attention to her embroidery and pushed her needle through the cloth of the handkerchief. Sometimes, the best way to help her friend get through these moments was to maintain her own composure. “Your mother and father do not believe in young marriages. As you are only nineteen, I think you are safe from them forcing you to the altar.”

Age was not the only thing to consider, either. The duke and duchess wanted their children’s happiness. They would never force a match that their child did not like. Though they might try to arrange meetings with eligible bachelors from time to time, it was not in their nature to be heavy-handed.

“But he is foreign nobility. That would be a boon to all of England. And Father knows I detest all the men equal to my rank here.”

Emma stuck her needle in the work before shaking the hoop at her friend, barely concealing her amusement. “Firstly, Josephine, you have not met all the suitable men in England. Secondly, the kingdom this ambassador represents is new and volatile. Your father would never want you in such an uncertain position. Not after everything that has happened in France.”

Josephine sat down with a huff. “The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies is a steady nation, Emma. King Ferdinand has the full support of Britain.”

“Which is why the count is coming to visit your father. To strengthen that support and forge new relationships. That means he will spend most of his time with His Grace and your eldest brother.” 

As a nearly lifelong companion to Josephine, Emma knew the intimate details of the family’s lives. Consequently, she also knew many things about the political state of her nation. Though the war with France had ended years before, Britain still felt the repercussions keenly, as did most of Europe. The reorganization of Italian governments and titles had barely settled, with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies one of two governments dominating what had once been several city-states loosely held together by European rule. 

Napoleon’s quick conquest of Italy and its resources had alerted the other large European powers to the importance of securing the city-states into more unified wholes. 

Josephine’s sigh brought Emma back to herself. “Josie, rest easy. This Italian ambassador is the same as all the others. A political guest, and not at all a permanent one.”

“I hope you are right. I have no desire to marry at present, nor to leave my family. I am quite happy as I am.” Josephine folded her hands in her lap and lifted her chin higher. “I have more than enough to occupy my time and attention.”

Emma pretended thoughtfulness as she tapped her chin with one finger. “What if he is handsome?” If her friend would not be comforted, perhaps Emma could tease Josephine out of her worries. 

“If he is handsome, you are more than welcome to him.” Josephine took up a cushion and threw it at Emma, who caught it while laughing. 

“I have no more desire to wed than you do.” She thought a moment, then amended her statement with a wrinkled nose. “At present.”

When she did decide to marry, she hoped to have the full support of the duke. His place as her guardian, and his acting as a father to her in everything but name, had won her trust and love when she was still a little girl, mourning the loss of her parents. 

“You will help me if the count proves overly flirtatious?” Josephine asked, somewhat plaintively. “I have no wish to disappoint my father, or hurt the count’s pride, but I will not play the flirt. Even if it is for political relations.” 

The weight of the moment, the seriousness of Josephine’s tone, sobered Emma. “You are not truly worried, are you? His Grace isn’t trying to encourage your marriage to a stranger. If he hoped for a match, he would say so directly.” She lowered her embroidery hoop to the basket beside her chair.

“But what if this is a test? If the count and I get along, Papa might bring him back in a year or two or give the count hope that there might be a union between us one day.” Josephine tangled her fingers together in her lap, as she did when nervous. 

Emma rose and came to kneel before her friend, stilling the movements of Josephine’s hands by laying her own across them. “Josie, why do you worry so? If the count does not suit you, your father will not press the matter. If you find you do like the count, there would be no harm in seeing him again in the future. I think you are borrowing trouble, nothing more.”

“I know what people see when they meet me, Emma.” Josephine’s voice fell almost to a whisper. “We both do. They see my father’s power and influence. Not a woman with her own head and heart. I may be only nineteen, but I know well enough that I am a pawn on the board to most people. A means to an end.” She shivered, then clutched Emma’s hand in both of hers. “Promise me you’ll help as long as you can. I want my freedom a little longer. Please.”

Emma stared up into her friend’s lovely blue eyes. As children, they had often pretended they were sisters rather than friends. They both had brown curls, were of similar petite build, and liked all the same games. Only their eyes were different—Josephine’s blue and Emma’s brown. With age, their subtle differences had become more pronounced. Emma’s nose was small and turned up slightly at the end, and Josephine freckled easily and was a few inches taller than her friend. And Emma filled out her gowns a little more than the duke’s daughter.

But they had stayed as true and as close as sisters, despite any physical changes they underwent or the disparity in their ranks. 

Emma made her vow with all the love of a sister. “I will help you, Josie. I promise.”

In whatever way she could.

* * *

Luca closed his eyes against the bright afternoon sunlight streaming through the carriage windows. Travel in carriages rarely agreed with him. He fasted rather strictly on days when he knew he would be in a wheeled conveyance longer than a few minutes, and on unknown roads. Small sips of tea were all he permitted himself. 

Travel on horseback was much easier, but his secretary had insisted that the Conte di Atella, di Regno delle Due Sicilie, could not arrive on an English duke’s doorstep in anything less than the finest carriage money could buy. 

Never mind that he would show up feeling horrifically ill.

Concern about Luca’s relative youth had already clouded the opinions in the Italian courts on whether or not he would make a suitable ambassador to England. Surely, eight and twenty years were enough to garner trust for a man of his education and lineage.

Carlo Torlonia, his secretary, sat across from Luca at that moment. Reading.

Next to Torlonia sat Luca’s manservant, Gabino Bruno. Il valletto in Italian. Valet in English. Of the three of them, Bruno’s English was the least capable, and Luca’s the most. He had studied English with tutors for several years, along with French during the occupation of the French pretenders. 

French had been easier than English.

“Are you reading anything of interest, Signor Torlonia?” They had agreed to speak English unless it was absolutely necessary that they revert back to their native Italian. Torlonia needed the practice. Luca still had moments when his accent came out more strongly than he wished. Poor Bruno at least understood a great deal, even if he could not speak more than a few words of English. 

“The history of Rutland, Signore.” Torlonia glanced up from his book. “I thought it best to prepare for conversations which might require more knowledge of the duke’s lands.” Why did the man always sound smug when he spoke? It was yet another detractor to their relationship.

Luca leaned into the corner of the carriage, looking out as they entered a lane shaded by large trees. Oaks, he thought. There were more oak trees in England than he had seen in the Italian countryside, and their oaks were undoubtedly of a different variety than those his homeland boasted. 

His homeland. A place in turmoil, despite the finalization of the kingdom’s borders. Already there was talk of secret societies set upon destroying the monarchy, of sowing dissent and rebellion, plunging his land into more bloody conflicts too soon after the war with Napoleon.

He winced when they came out of the shaded lane, turning upward toward a hill. He caught the briefest glimpse of towers resembling the battlements of ancient castles. He blinked. They were turning up a road to go to that castle.

“I thought Clairvoir Castle was newly constructed.”

Torlonia glanced up from his book. “Ten years ago, I am told. On a site as old as the Norman invasion, where three castles have existed before.” He shook his reading material toward Luca. “I told you this book would prove useful, Signore. You are also saying the name wrong.”

Luca folded his arms over his protesting midsection. “Wrong? Is it not French?”

“As with everything else the English do, they adapted it to suit themselves. I believe they pronounce the castle name Clee-ver.” As Torlonia had performed nearly all the meetings and tasks necessary regarding their invitation and travel to the duke’s country seat, Luca trusted his secretary. Still. “Why ruin a perfectly good French name that way?”

The secretary shrugged, then elbowed the sleeping manservant beside him. “Bruno, we are arrived. Wake up.”

Bruno jolted awake. Though he neared the age of fifty, he usually had as much energy at hand as Luca. “Mi perdoni, mio ​​Signore.” He straightened his coat, then leaned forward in the carriage to adjust Luca’s cravat. “You did not sleep?”

Luca lifted his chin, keeping his eyes on the window. “No. You know how I feel about carriages.”

The servant nodded once, sharply. “Since you were bambino piccolo.” Bruno had been with Luca’s family for as long as the ambassador could remember, proving a loyal servant despite the upheaval of the nation and the noble class. 

Though Torlonia had advised Luca to find a British valet, Luca kept Bruno with him. Loyalty was far more important than a fashionably knotted cravat. No matter what the secretary said about it.

Torlonia tucked his book into a large leather bag he kept at his side, its long strap perpetually over his shoulder. “Remember, Signore. You are not to overtax yourself with politics. This is a respite from the politics of our nations, unless the duke extends an invitation for such discussion.”

Luca shifted, and the pounding in his head began again, more vigorous than before.

He represented the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, even though he was of Northern Italian descent and education. His family’s holdings, and the title granted him by the king, made him a man of Sicily despite his birth in a northern city-state. 

“I hope you will not forget your duties. Your plans for courting the duke’s daughter—they will only distract you,” Torlonia reminded him, somewhat stiffly. 

Luca narrowed his eyes at the other man. “Sua Maestà il Re said it would be a good thing to take an English bride. To strengthen our ties to their nation.”

Another reason his stomach refused to behave. Political discussions and responsibilities were one thing, but thus far, flirting with the daughters of English noblemen had proven less enjoyable than Luca had hoped. Not only did he have Torlonia’s disapproval to reckon with, but the women he had encountered had not impressed him to make any overtures. The young ladies he had met, cousins to the royal family, children of titled men, were all too eager to pounce on him. Many had attempted to speak Italian, with varying levels of success, and still more had made him uncomfortable with their pointed ploys to capture his attention. 

More than one unmarried woman had called him exotic

Perhaps he did not look exactly as their gentlemen—fair-skinned and fair-haired as many of the noblemen he’d met had been—but given that he had seen men and women with as many variations in hair and eye color in his own country, he knew no one could tell his origins by looking at him. 

Yes, he had dark hair. Yes, he had dark eyes. And no, he did not freckle in the sun, he bronzed. But surely there were plenty of Englishmen who did the same.

The carriage rolled to a stop, and Bruno handed Luca the tall black hat they had acquired in London for formal occasions. 

A servant in the duke’s livery stepped up to the door, and Luca’s chest tightened. 

“Time to make a good impression,” Torlonia murmured.

On both the duke and his daughter. Luca’s king wanted him to take an English wife. Courting Lady Josephine was a certain step in that direction. Though he had never expected to wed for king and country, Luca would do his duty to both.

Luca stepped out into the shadow of the duke’s castle. Castle Clairvoir. A masterful construction, with four levels of windows visible from where he stood and make-believe battlements crowning towers and top floors alike. Though he had seen many ancient castles in the Italian cities, and onhis journey through Spain, where he had served as an ambassador for the previous six months, this castle had a charm of its own. 

Servants waited along the drive, dressed in livery and uniforms which proclaimed the wealth and status of their employer. 

Head up, Luca approached the doors as they opened to reveal a long corridor—a tall hall lined with ancient shields and medieval weaponry.

And a cannon at the other end, positioned as though it might fire down the corridor to defend the castle at a moment’s notice.

The duke and duchess waited inside, standing so as to grant him an unrestricted view of the room stretching into the distance. In a row next to the ducal couple were the people he presumed to be their family members and important members of the household. 

Luca stepped inside, removing his hat and gloves and handing them to a waiting servant. 

The duke’s black hair turned silver above the temples, and he boasted broad shoulders despite being in his mid-fifties. His duchess, the very picture of sophistication and elegance, greeted Luca with a warm smile.

Luca bowed deeply before the duke, and the Englishman’s deep voice echoed off the tall ceiling and hanging shields. 

"Welcome to Castle Clairvoir, Count Atella. We are honored to host the ambassador of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and look forward to strengthening the ties between our countries. Allow me to present to you my wife, the Duchess of Montfort. My mother”—an older woman with graying hair and a nose remarkably similar to the duke’s held her hand out to Luca for him to bow over it—“Sarah, Duchess of Montfort.”

Next in line was a tall man near Luca’s age. The duke’s heir. “My eldest son, Lord Farleigh. My eldest daughter, Lady Josephine.” The woman next to the heir took after her mother in appearance, tall and willowy in stature, with a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. Brown hair, blue eyes. Pretty. But young.

This was the woman to whom his secretary objected, and his king would likely approve, if Luca wished to pay her court. 

A movement behind Lady Josephine drew his attention to another young woman, a woman with dark hair, an impish nose, and brown eyes that met his briefly before her gaze dropped to the ground. She was a few inches shorter than Lady Josephine, dressed as finely, with a smile hiding at the corner of her mouth.

“Lord Atella, allow me to introduce my companion, Miss Emma Arlen. She is my dearest friend and has helped me devise all manner of entertainments for your stay with us.”

Miss Arlen curtsied, her smile disappearing completely, and her gaze did not raise to his again.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Josephine. Miss Arlen.”

The duke spoke again, his deep voice commanding. “My younger children, two daughters and a son, will meet with us in the garden for refreshment after you have recovered from your journey.”

Luca bowed again. “Of course.” He gestured to his secretary. “Allow me to introduce Signor Torlonia, my personal secretary. He will assist me in matters of state and correspondence with my king and His Royal Highness, Prince George.”

All the introductions made, the duke called the butler of the household to show Luca to his suite of rooms. Luca cast one last glance at Lady Josephine, determined to offer her his most charming smile, but she looked behind her at the same moment. His gaze skipped over her shoulder to Miss Arlen, who peered back at him with one eyebrow raised. 

He forced his attention away, following the butler up a staircase, then another, and through a hall dominated by a painting of the duke. 

Torlonia quickened his step to walk beside Luca, whispering so as not to be overheard by the butler. “The Lady Josephine. Che bella. And such eyes. She will be a distraction if you are not careful.” 

Luca nodded once, sharply. But rather than think of blue eyes, he remembered a pair of brown beneath a skeptically raised eyebrow.

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