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Authors: Cheryl Bolen

B005R3LZ90 EBOK (25 page)

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Perhaps the reason he had failed to notice Sally's modest beauty was because he had for so long pictured her with that wretchedly straight hair. Since they had married, though, Sally's hair was curly every day. He wondered how she had managed that. Did she do it to please him?

He was ashamed of his shallowness. That a woman's hair was curly or straight should not matter in the least to him. Especially not with Sally. She was so much more to him than appearance.

"Do you know, George, what we must do with the children?" Sally asked, her dark eyes flashing with mirth.

He cocked an inquiring brow.

"We should take them out on the lake. Children do love to ride in boats, you know. And it would be ever so much fun to have a picnic. I remember how delighted I was as a child to come to Hornsby and go rowing on the lake. Of course, everything at Hornsby was so glorious! And I adored the folly."

"Then we shall picnic at the folly tomorrow. I'll collect the three of you at eleven of the clock."

He would never know how he finished the game or how he was able to climb the stairs beside her without the bulge between his legs giving him away.

When they came to the door of the viscountess's chambers, he said, "I've not seen these rooms since you redecorated. May I see them now?" Good lord, did he hope she would invite him to her bed?

A flitting look of some emotion crossed her face. Was it fear? "Certainly. Come in."

He knew the chambers would be different. Sally was wise to want to leave nothing here that would remind him of Diana and all the intimacies they had shared within this chamber. And Sally had done a very good job. It was a totally different room. The scarlet had been eradicated. The bed—was it the same bed?—looked completely different. It was on a different wall and was draped in ivory silk. At least he thought it was silk. He was not very knowledgeable about fabrics.

The room reflected Sally's personality. Diana's gilded writing desk had been painted ivory. Much more in Sally's understated style, he thought. The room was efficiently laid out, practical, not too elegant, nor extravagant. His gaze swept from the writing desk to the ivory draperies, to the bed—God, but he wanted to take her on that bed this very minute—then settled on Sally. "You've done an excellent job. It's quite lovely."
Like you,
he wanted to say.

Her eyes flitted to the protrusion between his thighs, and he was incapable of meeting her gaze. "Well, I'd best be off." He turned toward the door and left the room.

Once he was in his room and begging for release, he chastised himself for not making love to her. Hadn't her glance to his erection been an invitation to her bed? God, but he didn't know what to think. Sally was a virgin. Perhaps she didn't even know about erections.

And he couldn't just have taken her. With a person one cares about, one must slowly lead up to such a meaningful event. Did he even wish to lead Sally in that direction? Would she have him if he did? Was his desire the result of deeper emotions, or was it a fleeting physical need?

Sleep would be a long time coming this night. He would close his eyes only to see Sally's deep chocolate eyes peering at him. He would turn in his bed and remember the gentle swell of her breasts beneath the gauzy linen of her night shift. And, God, how he wanted her!

* * *

Sally, too, lay awake long after George had left her. Because of what her brother David had told her, Sally did know about erections. Of course, she had never seen one. Until tonight.

What she could not understand—and probably never would—was if George had become aroused over her or over the memory of making love to Diana in this very room.

Sally pounded her fist into the feather mattress and cursed Diana.



Chapter 23


It was as pretty a June day as George could ever remember. The sun warmed him from the inside out, and he smiled from the inside out. Their outing had begun with each child taking a ride upon Matilda. After that, they walked the short distance from the stable to the lake, where they boarded the weathered little rowboat that had been moored beside a wobbly dock since George's own childhood. As he and Sally rowed, George watched his children's faces change from cautious curiosity to smiling, giggling approval. A pity he had not brought them here before. He vowed to make up for that omission. The well-worn oars plowed through the sun-dappled water, then reversed their direction.

They quit rowing, and the boat drifted toward the middle of the lake. George set up each of his children with the appropriate fishing gear.

But his daughter did not take to fishing. First, she was terrified of the worms. She calmed down when her father assured her she did not have to handle the offensive creatures nor would she even have to look at them since they would be down in the water. Then when her brother -- with their father's help -- reeled in a squirming trout, and Georgette saw the hook skewered into the fish, she begged her father to throw the defenseless creature back into the water.

The request threw George into a quandary. On the one hand he wished to please his daughter. Hadn't he always done everything in his power to make her happy? On the other hand, he was compelled to teach the boy manly pursuits. A sportsman simply did not spare the lives of the creatures he hunted, be they rainbow trout or richly pelted foxes. He finally decided that he was obligated to set an example for the boy.

George lifted his solemn gaze to Sally.

Without a single word passing between them, his wife knew he was imploring her to intercede with Georgette. After all, Sally was a female, too, and she would best know how to handle his squeamish daughter.

Sally moved to set a gentle hand on Georgette's shoulder. "I think, pet, that angling is a sport for men and lads. It is rather disgusting, is it not?"

Georgette's nose wrinkled when she responded. "It's odious."

A smile played at George's lips. His daughter's ability to mimic her elders belied her tender years. A pity one's children had to grow up so fast.

"Exactly," Sally said, picking up a pair of oars. "I believe we'll push off toward the shore, and you and I, pet, will go up to the folly. I shall need you to help me prepare the picnic."

Georgette's face brightened. "Can we have the picnic in the folly?"

"If you'd like, dearest."

A gentleman could not allow a lady to do all the rowing. George let his grip on Sam's fishing pole slide. "Hold the pole like a good lad," George instructed as he took up the other set of oars and began to row.

"You don't have to help," Sally said. "It's so short a distance I daresay I can easily handle it by myself." She eyed Sam. "You'd better help Sam. He's much too young for such responsibility."

"He'll do better if he's on his own."

As soon as those words were uttered, Sam's pole eased into the dark green depths of the lake. Sam grunted and spun around to his father, pointing his pudgy finger toward the ripple spiraling on the water's surface. He grunted again.

"Sensible Sal. Must you always be right?" George sent Sally an amused grin and exhaled with dramatic emphasis. He took the pole Georgette had tossed aside, and he baited it for Sam. This time he pulled Sam into the space between his own legs and pinned his arms around the intent lad, careful to keep one hand on the lad's pole. How foolish he had been to think a two-year-old capable of fishing alone!

While he and Sam attempted to fish, Sally rowed ashore. When she finished, he lifted Sam and stood him in the center of the boat. "Allow me to help the ladies from the boat." George proceeded to assist Georgette, then Sally to the wood dock before turning back to Sam. "Do you want to go with Mama?"

Sam shook his head and backed farther away from George.

"Fish?" George said to the boy.

Sam's head bobbed up and down.

Chuckling, George climbed back into the boat and placed the youngster once again between his legs as he began to row out to the center of the lake. There, he stopped and helped cast Sam's line into the lake. When no fish nibbled at their bait within a few moments, Sam grew impatient. He pointed to the water and with his hand made flipping images. Then he grunted.

George's eyes danced as he watched his determined son's pantomime. The lad really was rather bright. A most quick learner, to be sure. Without being aware of what he was doing, George pressed his lips into the golden curls on top his son's head. The lad's head was warm, as if the metallic glints in his pale hair imprisoned the heat.

It suddenly became clear to George that Sam was too young to sustain an interest in fishing. The lad liked action. He never tired of riding Matilda—what a horrid name for a pony. George fancied that Sam would never tire of rowing upon the lake. The little fellow loved movement. And the faster, the better.

It also became clear to George that his son was very much like him. His heart tripped over the realization. He swallowed. Again, without being consciously aware of what he was doing, George tightened his hold on the little scamp. The boy felt entirely different than Georgette had at the same age. She had always been feather light. Like her mother. But Sam was a sturdily built lad, to be sure. George's chest tightened. Didn't every man desire to have a son? A son in his own image? Diana had died giving him this boy, and he had never—until this moment—valued that son. Suddenly his heart overflowed with this newly realized love he held for the boy.

A smile on his face, George watched Sam squirm loose from him and make his way to the discarded oars. As heavy as they were, Sam managed to pick them up and bring them to his father. Speed. That is what the boy wanted. He wished to go. And go fast.

George swiftly powered the oars from one side of the lake to the other. A look of sheer, wondrous glee settled on Sam's intent little face. When George happened to glance at his daughter, who had left the folly and come close to the dock, he realized she was jealous. Sally had been right. All children did indeed love boat rides.

He rowed to the rickety dock. Sally came down the knoll, the breeze molding her saffron dress against the gentle curves of her body. Silvery blond hair swept away from her smiling face. His breath caught. When had Sally become so lovely? As she came nearer, he was unable to remove his eyes from her, unable to dislodge the lump that stuck in his throat.

"Food's ready," she called.

He had almost forgotten. Being in the sun always gave George a hearty appetite. Dispelling sensuous thoughts of Sally, he scooped up Sam and disembarked from the wobbly boat.

Georgette and Sam ran up the knoll to the folly, while George and Sally lagged behind. Where did children get so much energy? Would that he felt like running uphill. He took Sally's hand, a gesture that completed his total satisfaction. Being back at Hornsby with his children and the wife with whom he shared so much, his own life was finally, at long last, complete. What more could a man ask for? His heart drummed. There was only one thing. He wished to make Sally the wife of his heart. He wished to love her with his body and with his soul. His breath grew thinner as they reached the top of the knoll.

Sally had spread out the food on the benches, just as they had done when the two of them had come here before. Now he was sorry they had decided to eat here. Sitting beneath the trees held much more allure than eating on marble benches that reposed upon marble floors under a metallic domed roof. They did not need the folly's protection today. There could never be a more beautiful day than this lovely May afternoon.

"Would you mind greatly if we took our plates down closer to the lake?" he asked Sally. "It's too pretty a day to spend in this mausoleum."

"Not at all," she said as she began to gather up the basket.

"Don't bother with that. We can each carry our own plate."

She gave him a doubtful look. "I'm afraid every morsel of food would slide off Sam's plate by the time he reached the bottom of the knoll."

Of course she was right. "I'll take his." George took both plates and began to walk down the knoll, following his running, squealing children.

The four of them gathered together on the grass ten feet from water's edge.

"I hope we shall not be bothered by ants," Sally said before she bit into a hunk of cheese.

Sally worried too much. Ever since the business with the sheep, she had been obsessed over the children's safety.

Neither child had much of an appetite. There were too many other distractions. Sam ate a total of two bites, both of sweet blackberries. Georgette dabbled at eating a bite from each food, but stopped sometime after her nibble on the hard-cooked egg and before trying the comfit Sally had insisted Cook pack.

George and Sally exchanged amused glances over the children's boundless energy. The children derived a great deal of fun from throwing stones into the water. After that, they crossed and recrossed the hump-backed bridge a dozen times before deciding to feed bread to the family of mallards that inhabited the lake. The children then walked up the knoll and ran down, squealing all the way down.

"How can two such small creatures make that much noise?" he asked.

She shrugged and handed him a hunk of bread. "The bread's fresh."

His teeth sunk into a slice, and he nodded. "I declare, all of Cook's food is fresher since you came to us."

Sally laughed. "She must fear meeting the same fate I dealt The Curmudgeon."

He loved to watch Sally laugh. He loved that she had come out without a bonnet. So what if her face darkened? He had come to admire her tawniness. He had come to realize there was much to appreciate about the woman he had selected to be his bride for all the reasons except love. His chest tightened. He thought, perhaps, he had come to love Sally. He nearly laughed out loud at the ludicrous idea that he had fallen in love with the former Sally Spenser.

He was rather glad the children were not underfoot at the moment. He wished to have a very serious conversation with his wife.

Georgette called to him from the bridge. "Papa?"

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