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Authors: Cheryl Bolen

B005R3LZ90 EBOK (12 page)

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Surely he was not naked! Her heartbeat accelerated. "Should you desire that I turn my back as you remove yourself from the bed, my lord?"

"Perhaps you'd better," he said in a voice like the one he used with Georgette. She and Georgette were both virginal, after all, she reasoned with bitterness. She twirled around and faced the door. "I will be asking the same of you. 'Tis a bit awkward."

"I we'll grow accustomed to it."

Had he and Diana known—and enjoyed—each other's bodies thoroughly? Her heart plummeted. She must not allow herself to think about her predecessor. It was most unfair to compare herself to Diana's perfection. She would never know a moment's happiness if she continued to torture herself with questions about Diana.

She heard him come down off the bed, landing hard on one foot as he struggled putting the other into his breeches. From the corner of her eye, she saw his bronzed arm reach across the top of a nearby chair to retrieve the white shirt that had been tossed there the night before. She turned to him, her eyes narrow. "I don't think your nakedness above the waist will offend me." She fully intended to greedily watch as he buttoned the shirt. Would she ever tire of drinking in his physical perfection? She tried to picture George old and portly, but the vision would not come.

"Did you have an enjoyable evening last night?" she asked.

He started to button his shirt. "I always enjoy it when I'm with my friends. They make me laugh, and they make me happy."

If only she could. "Glee tells me Blanks, too, is rather enamored of the fast life with Appleton and the twins. For the life of me, I fail to see how three such mundane men could be the source of such levity."

"I admit when taken one by one, none of them is particularly plucky, but together we have a great deal of fun."

"I think it's time they got married. None of them are spring chickens any longer. They're all past thirty, are they not?"

"They are, but they're exceedingly shy with well-bred ladies."

Her eyes twinkled mischievously. "Does that mean they are not shy with women who are not well bred?"

"I can't discuss that with you, Sally." He dragged up his limp cravat and circled his neck with it. "You're a lady. A virgin. Such is not fit for your delicate ears."

 She came up to him and brushed a stray lock of tumbled golden curls from his brow. "You forget, my dear husband, that I have two brothers."

"I never shared with my sisters information of such a . . . personal nature."

"Edmund didn't, either, but my younger brother and I are very close -- and he does happen to be in His Majesty's Navy!" Her eyes glistened.

"I'll wager he's had his share of women."

"Even when he was up at university, he tells me."

George chuckled as he sat in the chair and began to put on his boots. "We had a girl at Oxford . .. what am I doing telling you about things that should remain unspeakable between us?"

She came up to set a hand on his shoulder. "Please, George, don't treat me like I'm a virgin. I'd as lief people thought me otherwise." If she couldn't be a thoroughly bedded wife, she would at least like to be thought of as one.

"That will be deuced difficult, my dear. You are so very . . . decent."

"I'll wager you won't find me so decent when next we are at daggers drawn against one another—a circumstance I anticipate to occur within the next few days."

He nodded. "Yes, we don't seem to be able to go more than a few days without a disagreement." He finished putting on his boots.


His head snapped up at the forlorn note in voice. "What, Sally?"

"Promise you won't ever hate me. I vow I shall never hate you."

He stood up and came to lower his forehead to bump against hers. "I promise I shall never hate you." His voice was especially low and unintentionally provocative.

He pulled away and moved toward the door. "You and Hettie or Lettie or whatever the gel's name is can commence to curl your hair now. I'm going to see if there's a breakfast to be had this morning."

* * *

By the time Hettie had curled Sally's hair, George was nowhere to be found. She should have expected him to be gone. After all, it was the season for horse racing in Bath, and George did love to wager on the horses.

It was just as good he was gone, for she had many duties to dispatch today. Just because she was young and from a lesser family than her husband did not mean that Sally would allow herself to become meek and complacent in her husband's home.

It was now her home, and there was much that needed attending to. The lack of a woman's hand showed greatly within the walls of this town house. She would start by removing the clutter. Everywhere she looked were papers and periodicals that no one had ever seen fit—or been qualified—to throw out. On the worktable in the drawing room, for instance, she shuffled through a heap of papers, some of which had been there for the past two years, as evidenced by the date on a yellowed copy of the
Edinburgh Review

With the housekeeper, Mrs. MacMannis, on her heels, Sally swept through each room, barking instructions for tidying each chamber.

The tidiness issue taken care of downstairs, except for in George's library, Sally grimly marched up the stairs to the nursery. As usual, both children ran to Sally when she entered the room. She quickly kissed each of them, then explained she would be back shortly. "I have business with Hortense." Sally turned to the nurse. "I beg a private word with you, Hortense."

The stone-faced woman followed her from the room and down two flights of stairs to the first-floor library. Sally winced at its untidiness. She would have to assist her husband in going through his hoards of paperwork. Sally closed the door behind her and ordered Hortense to be seated.

Sally's heart began to race. As much as she disliked Hortense, she disliked more the task she was about to perform. "I must tell you, Hortense," Sally began, "that while I find you a most competent nurse, I do not find you suitable for my stepchildren."

Hortense's sour face became even more sour, and her mouth dropped open in shock. "How is that, my lady?"

"Because our children have been denied their mother's love, I believe they crave to be cared for by a woman of a far more affectionate nature than that which you possess."

"I can't help it if my disposition is not so lovey-dovey. I've never been mean to the children, nor have I ever neglected them."

"No, you haven't, but it's been my observation that you're too inflexible."


Sally cut her off. "There's really nothing you can say that will persuade me not to turn you out."

"Turn me out?" The woman's eyes narrowed. "Does his lordship know of yer wicked actions against me?"

"My husband has given me the authority to make all the decisions concerning his – our—children for he knows how precious they are to me."

"I'll not leave before I have my say with the master."

"I have no objections to your speaking with Lord Sedgewick. I believe he will agree with me." In a dismissive voice, she added, "We will, of course, give you a good recommendation and are prepared to settle you with half a year's wages to tide you over until you find new employment. You are competent, and I am certain you will find a satisfactory post in another household. Perhaps you'll be the right person for other children. But not for mine." Sally strolled to the door. "You may pack your things now, Hortense. We have no further need for your services."

* * *

The following morning, George found himself in his library face to face with The Curmudgeon. Not only was the woman possessed of a sour disposition, she was also cursed with a face perpetually set in a frown. He fleetingly thought of the frightening effect the woman must have had on his children. How fortunate that Sally was tossing her out. A pity he had heretofore been blind to Hortense's shortcomings. "Sit down, please, Hortense."

He was never comfortable when turning out a servant. Deuced unpleasant. Sally—during their bedchamber chat this morning—had apprised him of her conversation with Hortense the day before; so he had a good idea of why Hortense had sought this interview with him. "You wished to speak with me?" he asked, meeting the woman's icy glare as he lowered himself into a chair behind his massive desk.

"I did," she said, her face tightly contorted into a scowl. "I thought you—as the person who hired me—should be aware that the new Lady Sedgewick has dismissed me."

"I am aware of that fact, ma'am, and I must tell you the decision to do so was mutually agreed upon by my wife and me."

Hortense's jaw lowered, and her eyes narrowed even more. "But my lord! For these past four years my only concern has been for your children, and not once in that time has one word been leveled against my competence."

"You are most competent, Hortense, but my wife and I desire someone who is possessed of a less stern nature to deal with our children."

Her dark eyes seemed to shoot off sparks. "Just because I'm not all lovey-dovey, that upstart new wife of yours holds me in dislike."

"The decision was as much mine as it was Lady Sedgewick's," George defended. He still had not become accustomed to the idea of Sally Spenser claiming Diana's title, even though she had already glided smoothly into the role of mother to Diana's babes. "And I'll not have you speak disrespectfully of my wife," he added.

Hortense rose to her feet and glared at him. "I can see there's no further need to continue this conversation."

"No need at all," George said, standing and escorting the dissatisfied woman to the door.

After she was gone, a lightness buoyed George. Good riddance to horse-faced Hortense! He experienced another emotion, too, though it took him a moment to realize that it was a swelling pride over Sally. He only wished he could have seen her when she unflinchingly berated the heartless nurse. His Sally was doing a fine job. A most fine job indeed.



Chapter 11


In the days that followed, their lives fell into a routine. It was not a routine that was particularly to Sally's liking. She went to bed alone every night yet woke up each morning with George, smelling of cigars and port, beside her. Their private time each morning was the only part of the day when she was really able to talk to him, for he was always off to a horse race or a boxing mill, and at night he much preferred carousing with his male companions over dancing attendance upon the plain woman he had married.

Sally's heart flinched whenever it crossed her mind that George and his friends might be keeping company with whores. She knew George to be a virile man, and she often found herself wondering if he ever desired sexual relations with anyone other than the wife he had lost. Her brother David had told her men had a biological need to bed women, whether they loved the woman or not. Though she had long been accustomed to the idea of her virile younger brother keeping company with women of that sort, Sally was completely unable to picture George with that kind of woman.

Since she had little influence over her husband's behavior, Sally decided to concentrate her efforts on those matters she could control. The condition of their house was shaping up. Her firing of Hortense must have put fear into all the other servants for they never seemed to stop working. Indeed, every chandelier sparkled, all the books in the library were free of dust, and every piece of furniture in the house had been moved so the floors beneath could be thoroughly cleaned. She rather fancied it was the most thorough work the servants had ever done.

In regard to the now vacant position of nurse, Sally had notified the agency that she was in need of a gentle, kindhearted woman to serve as nurse to her children, and she was soon besieged with applications that she divided into two stacks: one for rejections, the other for consideration. Of course, she would not make so important a decision without consulting her husband.

Each day she made time from her schedule to take the children to one of Bath's parks. As much as she and Georgette tried to get Sam to speak, their efforts were fruitless. Other than "Mama," he refused to say anything. Not a single night did she lay her head on her pillow and not worry about the little boy who was now her son.

Though she had not been successful at getting Sam to talk, she had been extremely successful at teaching him and his sister to put their things away in the proper place. It became a joke between her and Georgette that the children must not turn out to be as sloppy as their papa. "What are we to do with him?" Sally would lament, her eyes sparkling as much as the children's.

She and George had now been married for three weeks and had not yet had even one of their famous disagreements. A decidedly unusual occurrence.

That was to change.

Once Sally had read a stack of over two hundred applications for the nurse position, she narrowed it down to two and twenty. Then she informed her husband over breakfast one morning that she expected him to assist her in selecting a new nurse.

"I trust you completely," he said, not deigning to look up from his morning newspaper. "After all, I heartily approved of dismissing The Old Curmudgeon." Both of them had ascribed that moniker to Hortense.

"It's not that I'm incapable of making a good decision," Sally countered, "it's that it's a decision you and I should make together. They are

He glanced up from his paper briefly. "Ours, and I'm certain you'll do a far better job than I in selecting the new nurse. After all, I'm the one responsible for saddling the children with The Curmudgeon."

She smiled. "Even were I their blood mother, I would seek your guidance in this decision."

Mildly irritated with her, he tossed his newspaper aside. "You will not let up until I accommodate you, will you?"

"No, I won't," she said, her eyes shooting daggers at him.

* * *

He had to admit his slim wife could be a rather formidable opponent. Again, he wished he could have heard her when she dismissed The Curmudgeon. He'd wager that she'd minced no words. She certainly never had with him. He could count on her to be completely truthful, though she was not offensive. He drew in his breath and tossed her an impatient glance as he threw down his newspaper. "Very well, dearest nag. Where shall we undertake this momentous task you insist on involving me in?"

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