Authors: Cheryl Bolen
"I believe I shall. I've plenty to occupy me," Hortense said as she made her way toward the door.
Once Sam finished his comfit—leaving fudgy smudges around his mouth—he came to the rocker and in his wordless way demanded Sally sit there and hold him.
She laughed as she sat down and hauled him on her lap, dabbing his face with her handkerchief, then kissing his clean cheek.
The first thing he did was pull off his shoe.
"You're such a goose," she said good-naturedly. She kissed the top of his head before she began to play the piggy game.
In the meantime, Georgette came to giggle at Sally's side. "Remember when I was little, and you played piggies with me?" the girl said when Sally finished. "You're my very favorite aunt, even if you aren't truly my aunt."
Sally leaned over and kissed Georgette's little alabaster cheek. "I declare, that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. And now I shall tell you a secret." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "You are my very favorite little girl, and I think your papa is the luckiest man on earth to have you for his daughter."
Georgette beamed. "We had such fun yesterday with Papa. I wish we could go to Syndy Gardens again today."
Sally smiled at the girl's mispronunciation. "I don't think I can manage taking you all the way to Sydney Gardens today—since your brother is too little to walk that far—but I daresay we can walk to Crescent Fields."
Georgette clapped her hands. "Can we go now?"
"You're to say
may we go now
, love," Sally gently reprimanded. "And yes, my pet, we'll go now." With Sam still in her arms, Sally stood up and bent her face to his. "Would you like to go bye-bye?"
He vigorously nodded his little head and pointed toward the door.
* * *
Just before they reached the Royal Crescent of like-fronted Georgian town houses, Sally thought a woman walking in her direction looked remarkably like the pretty Miss Johnson who had gone to school with Sally and Glee. As the well-dressed young lady drew closer, Sally was certain she was Miss Johnson, who had not been in Bath in a good while. Sally drew in her breath. The self-centered Miss Johnson had never been a great favorite of Sally's.
As they came face to face, Miss Johnson's brows lowered. "I did not know you had children! Indeed, I did not even know you had married!"
"Oh, these are not my children," Sally said with a laugh. "They're Lord Sedgewick's."
At the mention of George's name, a look of sympathy swept over Miss Johnson's lovely face. "Oh, the poor little motherless children."
Sally wished people would not speak so in front of Sam and Georgette.
Miss Johnson fell into step with them. "Where are you going?"
"I'm taking the children to Crescent Fields."
"A lovely day for an outing."
It looked as if, invited or not, Miss Johnson intended to accompany them. "How long have you been in Bath?" Sally asked her.
"Mama and I arrived quite late last night. Papa will join us next week. We've taken the Corrianders' town house. Do you know it?"
Of course Sally knew it. It was one of the finest houses in Bath. Miss Johnson's family was flush with riches but poor in pedigree, a situation that Miss Johnson had been encouraged to rectify by marriage. Sally had always thought the young lady clung to Glee because the Sedgewicks were an old, aristocratic family. Exactly what Miss Johnson wished to marry into. She had thrown herself at George for as long as Sally could remember.
"Actually, I was on my way to pay a call on Glee," Miss Johnson said.
"I'm her guest."
Miss Johnson lowered her voice. "Tell me, what of poor Lord Sedgewick? I expect a man as handsome and as titled as he has remarried by now."
"Lord Sedgewick appears no better than he did two years ago when he lost his wife."
"Oh, the poor dear."
Glee was not convinced of Miss Johnson's sincerity.
"What the poor man needs," Miss Johnson continued brightly, "is a woman to make him forget."
And Sally perceived that the attractive, wealthy Miss Johnson fancied herself just the woman to snare him! Sally would dearly love to scratch out her eyes. "No woman could ever replace the late Lady Sedgewick," Sally said. Which, unfortunately, was true.
Miss Johnson affected a thoughtful expression. "No, I suppose not. It would take a completely different type of woman to . . . to take Lord Sedgewick's mind off his departed wife. Since the first Lady Sedgewick was possessed of dark hair, I believe his next wife shall be blond!"
And, it just so happened Miss Johnson was possessed of
blond hair. Sally fought an overwhelming urge to stuff her handkerchief into Miss Johnson's mouth. A more scheming, calloused, selfish female she had never known. "And since Diana was gentle," Sally said, "I suppose the next Lady Sedgewick will have to be . . . loud?" Sally smiled slyly at her former friend.
Miss Johnson directed a haughty "harrumph" at Sally.
When they reached the park, Sally set Sam down, and he and Georgette began to play tag. Poor little Sam, Sally observed, still had not figured out that he could never catch up with his sister.
Sally and Miss Johnson went to sit upon a bench and discovered another old friend of theirs there. The bookish Miss Arbuckle sat reading a periodical.
"I declare, it's Miss Arbuckle," Sally said with genuine friendliness. For she had always admired the meek Miss Arbuckle.
The young lady, who wore spectacles, greeted them shyly.
"What are you reading?" Sally asked.
A smile came over her face. "It's the newest treatise by Jonathan Blankenship."
"Oh, Glee hasn't told me of it," Sally said. Poor Glee had too much unpleasantness on her mind of late to think of her brother-in-law's newest work in the
"I didn't know you were in town, Miss Johnson," Miss Arbuckle said.
"We've only just arrived. I do hope we can all get together at the Assembly Rooms. Tell me, how is company in Bath at the present?"
Miss Arbuckle shrugged.
"A bit thin, I should say," Sally answered.
The women chatted for half an hour before Sally stood up. "I really must get the children back. Their nurse will be worried."
"I'll come along with you," Miss Johnson said.
She just wants to see Lord Sedgewick,
Sally mused. Where Sally's adoration of him had always been hidden, Miss Johnson's had always been overt.
When they reached the town house, Sally turned to say farewell, but Miss Johnson would not be denied a chance to see Lord Sedgewick.
"I believe I'll just come on in with you, then we can walk together to Blankenship House," Miss Johnson said.
They returned the children to the nursery. With great sadness, Sally kissed them good-bye. Would this be her last visit with them? She could be summoned to Miss Worth's any day now. She squeezed the children a bit tighter than usual. "Be good, little darlings," she said as she left the room, a tear slipping from the corner of her eye.
She and Miss Johnson quietly descended the stairs. When they reached the bottom, Sally heard the closing of an upstairs door and glanced up and into the sullen face of Lord Sedgewick, who had not seen her. His haggard looks fairly took her breath away. He had not shaved, and dark shadows hung under his eyes. He looked wretched. No doubt Miss Johnson had mistaken him for a servant for she was already out the door.
Not wanting him to know she saw him, Sally quickly turned away and left the house, her heart heavier than ever.
Good lord, but he had behaved abominably at the Assembly Rooms the night before. George winced as he drew open the velvet library draperies and came to sit in front of his desk. His plan was to look over the ever increasing stack of tradesmen's bills, but the tumult raging within him pulled his thoughts elsewhere.
As much as he hated to admit it, the sanctimonious spinster had been right. Being three sheets to the wind before the clock struck nine was appallingly bad form for a man of his years.
'Twas one thing to get bosky when one was with one's fun-loving friends. 'Twas quite another to drink oneself into oblivion in the middle of the afternoon in the privacy of one's own library. But that is just what he had done. And his wretched head was paying dearly today.
As satisfying as it had been to take the children to Sydney Gardens the day before, it had also painfully reminded him of how much his children had missed by not having a mother. They clearly adored Sally Spenser, and, more importantly, they needed the genteel young woman.
If being reminded of his—and his children's—unbearable loss wasn't enough to send him to the liquor cabinet, the discovery that the nurse he had long trusted so implicitly was nothing more than an unfeeling, dogmatic dragon inundated him with feelings of guilt. So, like a cad still at Oxford, he had drowned himself in drink.
A lot of good that would do his children. He thought of his sweet little Georgette, and his heart physically ached for love of her. She deserved a better father.
She especially deserved Miss Spenser. He could search the kingdom high and low and never find a lady better qualified than Miss Spenser. Not only was she of impeccable lineage, but she was possessed of a keen mind, too. Most importantly, she truly loved Georgette—and the boy, too.
Now George had gone and offended Miss Spenser. No sooner had he told her he would do whatever it took to secure her for his children than he had told her what a bloody bad idea it was. A fine lout he must have appeared. Was he so weak a man that he was threatened by the well-meaning mouth of spinster of but two and twenty years?
There was nothing to do but to swallow his diminishing pride and beg the lady's forgiveness. He should be prepared to do whatever it took to secure her for his children.
At the very least, he should be able to tolerate her didactic ways. After all, she only spouted off so because of her affection for the children. And for him, he admitted reluctantly. He knew she was truthful when she told him she had always held him in great affection. Why else would she beg that he change his wayward ways? A simpleton could see that he was doing his best to follow Diana into the grave. And what would that do to his children? He ought to admire Miss Spenser for caring at all for him. Truth be told, he could not understand why she—or anyone—would.
For the sake of his motherless children, he would have to swallow humble pie.
He reached across the oak desk and took up his plume in order to enumerate a list of concessions he would grant Miss Spenser. He had to leave no consideration unaddressed. The lady must be given to understand how desperately he needed her and how important it was to him and the children that she come to live with them.
First, he had to assure Miss Spenser of his sincerity in wanting her. He began to write. Miss Spenser's opinions would always be solicited. She would have to be assured she would never be treated as a servant but as a treasured member of the family. She would not be given the title of governess because that is not what he wished her to be. She would be a
to his children, a mother figure, so to speak. She would be given her own chamber in the family wing. She would, he paused as he wrote, take her meals with the master of the family.
With regards to the children . . . Miss Spenser would have complete authority over them. That authority would extend to the hiring and dismissing of any employees who would interface with his children. A nurse. A future governess. Even a drawing master.
What of financial compensation? He set down his pen as he thought. Miss Spenser would be expected to dress as the well-connected lady she was, and would be at liberty to make purchases to assure that she dressed as a member of a viscount's family. The bills for her wardrobe, of course, would be sent to him. In addition, he was prepared to settle her with one hundred fifty pounds a year. He swallowed hard as he took up the pen and continued to write. An exorbitant sum, to be sure—as much as all his servants put together got and then some.
Then an idea struck him, and he put down his plume, a frown on his face. He got up from his desk and began to pace the library's Turkey rug, shaking his head. What a bloody idiot he had been! Indeed, even his usually wise sisters had been exceptionally foolish to encourage him to engage Miss Spenser for his children.
Miss Spenser could not be allowed to live under his roof! Think of what the gossips would say. She was an unmarried lady. The niece of an earl. And he, the Viscount Sedgewick, was an unmarried man. No proper lady would ever give consideration to a position of such perceptible intimacy. Especially in light of the reputation he had earned in his bachelor days before his marriage to Diana. Indeed, he thought with shame, even in his grief, he had not been without the physical comforts offered by women of loose morals.
He shook his head ruefully. No respectable lady would ever consent to his proposal.
What was he to do? Except for Diana's hand in marriage, he had never wanted anything more than he wanted Miss Spenser. For his children. It was imperative that he secure her. If his children could not have their own mother, then Miss Spenser was the next best thing.
A sobering thought struck him like a slap in the face. There was something he could do! Of course, he had no guarantees that Miss Spenser would look favorably upon this new, bizarre proposal. The girl, after all, ran rather contrary to what was expected of a young lady. The fact was, there was nothing she could do that would surprise him.
His heart beating erratically, he settled on this novel scheme. It was, after all, the only logical thing to do to secure Miss Spenser for his children for the rest of their lives.
He would simply have to marry her!
As distasteful as was the idea of anyone replacing Diana, George was willing to go through with it. After all, there was no hope for another love match for him, for he would never again meet the likes of Diana. No matter what the cost to himself, he owed it to his children to secure Miss Spenser for their mother.