Authors: Cheryl Bolen
"She's merely Lord Bankston's grandniece," Glee said.
Felicity walked up to George and settled a gentle arm around him. "Think on it, George. In the meantime, Glee can make inquiries to see if Miss Spenser would even consider being your children's governess."
Glee's thoughts were flitting through her brain at a miraculous rate of speed. Not only would Sally be perfect for the children, she would be good for George, too. Not in the romantic sense, of course. They weren't at all suited. In fact, they argued all the time. But Sally, with her honest tongue, was probably the only woman on earth who could handle George. If anyone could turn him around, it would be Sally Spenser.
"I should wish for both of you to dine with Blanks and me tonight. Miss Spenser is presently my houseguest, George, and you will have the opportunity to see for yourself if you think she will do."
"You weren't gone very long," Sally said as Glee flew into the room without removing her hat.
"Though Winston Hall seems as if it's in the country, it's but three miles from Bath."
"Is everything all right there?" Sally asked.
Glee seemed distracted, then glanced up at Sally. "We—Felicity and I—are quite naturally concerned about George."
As was Sally. He was blazing a path of self-destruction. Just hearing his name mentioned in concerned sighs caused Sally's stomach to drop. Then it occurred to her that something might have happened to George, something even worse than losing his wife. Her heart began to thud in her chest. "Has anything happened to him?" Her voice croaked.
Glee spun around. "Oh, no."
Sally inhaled. Why had Glee still not removed her hat?
"It's really quite lovely out today," Glee said. "Shall we stroll over to Crescent Fields?"
"Allow me to fetch my hat," Sally said.
A few minutes later the two ladies were strolling along Gay Street, hurried shoppers speeding past them.
"Felicity is especially concerned about George's children," Glee began. "She feels they need the influence of a genteel woman."
"I agree completely with her. Just yesterday it struck me how sad Georgette's face was when she asked you to plait her hair. It's not fair that those children don't have their own mother."
Glee pressed a gloved hand to her quivering mouth. "Oh, you shall break my heart."
"Every time I see George's children, it breaks my heart," Sally said solemnly.
"I told George how attached you are to his children." Glee slowed her pace and hesitated before she continued. "I also told him you were contemplating taking a position as a teacher."
Sally's heart sped up. "And what did he say?"
"He asked if I was speaking of Sally Spenser for he could not believe the niece of an earl would go into service. You see, I suggested you for the position with his children."
Sally whirled around to face Glee, her eyes flashing in anger. "You did what?"
"I said you would be perfect for his children."
Sally could never consent to live under George's roof! Especially since she was so thoroughly in love with him. Besides, George would never have her. He was well aware of the abrasiveness of her personality. He ought to be. He had been the brunt of her criticism all too many times. No, she thought, shaking her head, George would never consent to have such a sharp-tongued she-devil under his roof. He preferred gentle souls like Diana, who had never issued a disparaging remark in her entire life.
"The idea of being employed in your brother's household is absurd," Sally said. She stepped down off the pavement to cross the street but had to wait for a sedan chair carrying a frail, white-haired invalid to pass.
"Why is it so absurd?" Glee asked. "You've never hidden the fact of how attached you are to his children."
Sally hustled across the street. "I adore his children."
"You'd be good for them, too. Poor little Sam loves you above everyone, I do believe."
Tears began to prick at Sally's eyelids. She
love the precious little creature so! But living under his obstinate father's roof was out of the question. "You're making this very difficult for me."
"Then why won't you consider it? For Sam's sake?"
"Because Lord Sedgewick would never have me. You know how we seem to collide with one another." It seemed funny to Sally that Glee had never guessed Sally's affection for her brother in all these years. Sally had been enamored of him since she had first visited Hornsby Manor when she was ten. It was already obvious to Sally at that time that Glee worshipped her brother's best friend, Blanks. The corners of Sally's mouth turned down. Though both crushes had stood the test of time, only one of them had been reciprocated.
"That's why you'd be so very good for George. You're the only person who can unflinchingly tell him the error of his ways."
Sally gave a bitter laugh. "No man wishes to hear of his shortcomings."
"George will come around."
Come around? Then he had already nixed the idea of engaging her for his children? Though not surprised, Sally was hurt. She had her pride. She would never live under George's roof, even were he to fall on his knees and beg her.
Even if it meant losing the opportunity to swaddle Sam and Georgette in her love.
She had every assurance George would succeed in engaging a capable lady of genteel birth. The thought of it caused Sally's heart to sink. She hated the woman already. The woman would not only be able to spoil Georgette and Sam, she would also be able to see George every day. Sally swallowed hard. Would that it could have been she.
What if the lady George engaged was mean-spirited? What if she did not love Sam and Georgette as Sally did? The thought was crushing.
But Sally had her pride. It was all she had.
* * *
At dinner that night, all was amiable. Sally made it through every course without provoking George one single time. After dinner, when the men drank their port, the ladies retired to the drawing room and sat in a row on the silk brocade sofa, Sally in the middle.
"So, have you mentioned the post to Sally?" Felicity asked Glee.
Glee sighed. "I did. She's not interested."
Felicity turned to Sally, disappointment on her face. "But I know you are excessively fond of my brother's children."
Sally met her gaze. "That I cannot deny."
"She objects to their father, I believe," Glee interjected.
"I don't object to George, I mean, Lord Sedgewick, at all! I'll own that it appears I'm at daggers drawn with him more often than not, but I'm really quite fond of him." Her voice lowered. "In fact, I've grown concerned for his welfare, as I know you two have."
Felicity took Sally's hand in hers. "Won't you please consider taking the position in George's household?"
Sally averted her gaze from Felicity's clear blue eyes. "There's the fact your brother does not want me. In fact, he does not even like me, I'll wager."
"How could he not love you?" Glee said.
Sally giggled. "Believe me. To Lord Sedgewick I'm nothing more than an opinionated shrew."
"I do believe you could influence him as no one else," Felicity said.
"She's right," Glee chimed in.
The door creaked open and, her heart in her throat, Sally watched the gentlemen enter the drawing room. Though George was the shortest of the three men, he was still above average height. And there was no question in Sally's mind he was the most blatantly masculine of the three. There was a ruggedness about him that belied his privileged station in life. With his powerful chest and broad shoulders and bronzed skin, he looked as if he heaved heavy crates into the bow of a ship, day in and day out.
Yet no man as impeccably dressed as the Viscount Sedgewick could know such labors. Sally's eyes ran from his stockings up the length of him, lingering over his powerful legs, which showed to advantage in dove-colored superfine breeches. And she swallowed hard. Despite that he was nine and twenty, his waist was as small as it was before he married. Her gaze came to rest on his square face and his casually styled golden hair. His teeth were as white as his highly starched cravat. She noticed, too, the alluring cleft that pinched his strong chin. His was a face she never tired of.
* * *
"Glee said we could play whist tonight," George said, "and I'm claiming Miss Spenser for my partner."
Glee shot an impatient look at her brother. "That's hardly fair to claim the best female player here for your partner, since you're already so skilled at whist."
"Moreland's skill is equal to mine," George said as he cast an apologetic glance at Blanks. "Sorry, old boy, but whist has never been your game."
Glee came to her husband's side and hooked her arm through his. "But, you must admit, Blanks is far better than you at billiards."
"And at riding, and at any number of pursuits," George said.
"You do shoot better," Blanks conceded.
"You and Sally just go ahead and play with Felicity and Thomas," Glee said. She looked up at her husband. "Blanks and I shall set up the chessboard. I'm so very happy to have him home tonight, I shall hoard him to myself."
George felt guilty for taking Blanks away from Glee so often. Both men had changed vastly since Diana had died. Before her death, he and Blanks were the two most happily domesticated men in the kingdom. Now George couldn't bear to be at any of his residences, for all of them evoked memories of the happiness he and Diana had shared there.
George suspected poor Blanks accompanied him everywhere for two reasons. The first was to keep George from killing himself. The second was to deny himself Glee's torturing presence. For Blanks, when in his cups, had confessed that he had vowed not to bed Glee for fear of losing her on childbed as George had lost Diana.
As wretched as he felt for Glee, George didn't want Blanks to impregnate her, either. He feared losing one more woman he loved.
He pulled out the chair for Miss Spenser, then sat across from her. While they were waiting for Moreland, who was pouring himself a snifter of brandy, George felt compelled to make conversation with Miss Spenser.
"How long do you plan to stay in Bath?"
"Only for a few weeks," Sally answered. "What about you? Do you not have any plans to return to Hornsby Manor?"
He stiffened. He couldn't go back there. It was where he and Diana had been happiest. Besides, he would go mad without the amusements of Bath. When he had Diana, he had had no need of amusements. "Not in the foreseeable future."
There she goes again!
What was the opinionated Miss Spenser going to chastise him about this time? "Why do you say that?"
"It is my belief that you conducted yourself with great maturity during the time you resided at Hornsby and turned the estate back to prosperity."
Why was the chit always right? Damn her. The superior Miss Spenser. Since he had left Hornsby, the coffers had begun to dry up again. Of course, it did not help that he had squandered a considerable amount of money on his recent hedonistic pursuits.
"Also, I think country life would be more agreeable for your children."
have opinions on everything! "A pity your life is so dull you have time to contemplate my actions so thoroughly."
A great sadness came over Miss Spenser's face. Really, he had overstepped the bounds of propriety. "Forgive me, Miss Spenser, 'twas a most unkind thing for me to say. I should be flattered that you care at all about my children and me." A moment later, he added, "my children need all the care they can get, or so my sisters tell me."
"Forgive me, my lord, for being quite unable to hold my tongue, but your children—especially your son—could use more caring from you. I only tell you this because I am so devoted to them. They both are extraordinary children."
Conflicting emotions of anger and pride surged through him. Anger at the outspoken Miss Spenser and pride in the children Diana had borne him. He decided to ignore Miss Spenser's impertinence. "I suppose I should thank you for the pretty words about my offspring."
"I do not desire your thanks. I only spoke the truth."
That was the woman's problem! She was constantly blurting out the truth, no matter how offensive the truth was. Really, he did not know why Glee suffered the chit's company. Of course, Miss Spenser never chided Glee. Perhaps that was why his sister tolerated the brazen maid.
The Morelands joined them at the whist table, and George dealt the cards. After evaluating his hand, he watched his partner. She looked different tonight. Actually better than she usually looked. It was the hair. He always pictured the spinster with hair as thick and straight as a brush used to paint a barn. But tonight her blond hair smoothly waved. He had to admit it a vast improvement. Though he didn't know why she bothered attempting to make herself attractive. No man would ever have her. Too demmed disagreeable.
Out of the blue he remembered Glee's outrageous proposal to have Miss Spenser come to a position in his household. How bloody awkward that would be. Not as much because they clashed, but because of the difficulty of having an employee who was almost as highborn as he. How
one get on under such circumstances? Would he have to dine with her every night? What about Sunday services? Would she expect to sit in the family pew? Good Lord, there was much to contemplate before he was ready to engage a well-born lady for his children.
Not one time during the ensuing game did Miss Spenser berate him. In fact, she even complimented him on his skillful play. And when a particular rule was in dispute, she agreed with his interpretation of it. Which was a novelty. When she had been his partner in the past, she had argued with him about rules. But not tonight. Tonight she was being very agreeable.
She even smiled readily, and she was in possession of a very fine smile. Deep dimples on both cheeks. With her hair curled, she actually looked rather pretty. Of course, she was much too thin. And her skin was indelicately dark for a lady, but he thought he rather liked it.