Behind the Mask (House of Lords) (48 page)

BOOK: Behind the Mask (House of Lords)
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***

 

They spent a blissful week at the earl and countess’s townhouse in Knightsbridge. Eleanor had never been more indulgently happy. They shared intimate dinners, stayed up late making love, and slept through the morning in each other’s arms. They laughed and touched and kissed, and soon she knew every inch of his body, every smile and gaze.

One night they were sitting in the library, which Eleanor had declared woefully small. She had managed, however, to find a copy of
Much Ado about Nothing
, and they were reading it aloud to each other, the book spread across Colin’s lap as she leaned against him, laughing at the foolishness of the heroes and heroines and the folly of the players. They came to a scene Eleanor had read a hundred times before.

“‘And I pray thee now tell me,’” Colin read Benedick’s line with a grin, “‘for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?’”

Eleanor had to laugh as she read Beatrice’s part. “‘For them all together’,” she said, pressing a kiss to his neck. He had undone his cravat, for the night air wafting through the windows was very warm, and now she allowed her fingers to follow her lips, caressing the skin beneath the thin lawn of his shirt. She went on, “‘But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?’”

“‘Suffer love!’” Colin read as her fingers strayed to the buttons of his waistcoat, “‘a good epithet! I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will.’”

“‘In spite of your heart, I think,’” Eleanor spoke the line without looking at the page, for she knew the words by heart. She undid the buttons of his shirt, tracing the muscles of his chest with her lips. “It is your line, Colin,” she said.

He flipped back several pages and said, “No, it’s yours.” He pointed to a spot on the page.

Eleanor looked down and laughed. “‘Speak, cousin,’” she read, “‘Or if you cannot, stop his mouth with a kiss and let not him speak neither.’” She picked up the book and tossed it onto the floor. Then she swung herself up to straddle him, her arms coming around his neck, her lips teasing his. She felt his hands working the buttons that ran down the back of the simple gown she had donned, and she smiled against his lips as his fingers brushed the bare skin beneath.

“Where is your chemise, my little hoyden?” he asked.

She ran her tongue along his jaw and licked his earlobe. “Don’t you agree that it’s more convenient this way?” she asked as he pulled the gown off her shoulders.

“Mmm,” he said, dropping his head to her exposed nipple and taking it into his mouth. He pushed the gown down around her hips as she braced her hands on his shoulders and ground herself against his erection. His fingers found the last button, and he pulled the gown over her head, flinging it aside. She leaned down to kiss him, tugging off his shirt and reaching for the buttons of his trousers. When she had loosened them, he laid her down on the sofa and dragged them off. She reached for him, guiding him into her, and he thrust deep, loving her languidly in the haze of the hot summer night, taking her slowly, until she cried out and dug her nails into his flesh, begging him for release. When they came together, she could have sworn she saw all the stars in the night sky dancing above them.

For a long time they lay in each other’s arms, neither speaking. Outside in the gardens a fragrant jasmine was blooming, and its scent filled the air.

“You have a fondness for libraries, My Lady,” he whispered as he kissed her hair.

She giggled. “I hope we shall have one in Brussels, then.”

“We shall have a dozen,” he promised.

 

EPILOGUE

 

November 28, 1835

 

“How does this look?” Eleanor asked, holding out the scroll.

“No,” Meddur said, taking the brush from her. For weeks she had been learning how to form the Arabic symbols that made up his language, but it was slow going. Her arm had healed, but there were still days when it was sore, making the precise movements it took to create the beautiful symbols difficult, and more than once they had both become quite exasperated with each other. But Meddur always forgave her, and day after day when he had finished his duties with Colin, they had come back to the library in the little house on the edge of the
Paleizenplein
to resume their practice.
 
“Like this,” he said now, showing her how to angle her wrist to get the placement of each symbol correct.

“Perhaps it is because I’m not used to writing right-to-left,” she said for the thousandth time.

“You English do everything backwards,” Meddur said with a grin, playing along, pretending that there were no other hindrances to her learning. Neither of them had ever spoken of that night when she had killed the Tuareg, though Meddur joked often about the night the two of them had first met. “She shot me in the foot,” he had said to a French diplomat a few weeks earlier, “but after that I think she began to like me a little better.”

Indeed, Meddur had become one of Eleanor’s truest friends over the last year. She had developed a wide social circle amongst the diplomats who populated the salons of Brussels, of course, but it was good to have someone with whom she could always be honest. Indeed, she had shared the greatest secret she had ever kept with Meddur. She only hoped that Colin would not be angry that his aide knew before he did.

She took a deep breath and tried again. “It has to be perfect,” she said, and then with a smile she added, “he won’t be able to read it if it isn’t.”

Meddur laughed. “You are better at this than your husband, it is true. But he has not the time you have to learn.”

Eleanor could not argue with that. Since their arrival in Brussels more than a year ago, Colin had been swept up in the attempts to negotiate a peace between the Belgians and their rivals the Dutch. It was slow going, and he had come home impossibly frustrated many times, but he was confident that a settlement would be arrived at eventually. Eleanor had faith in him. Despite his protestations, in their year together on the Continent she had seen a capable, confident diplomat, and she was proud to stand at his side.

Indeed, Eleanor had found many reasons to be satisfied with her life on the Continent. She missed her friends in England, of course, but they wrote frequently, and when Imogen had written with the latest news of the school, she had also accepted Eleanor’s invitation to visit after the holidays. Eleanor had been just as thrilled at the prospect of the visit as she was to hear that the Knightsbridge School was a grand success. Several prominent ladies had taken an interest, and as a result of their generosity the school had been able to admit two dozen more children that autumn. From the tender descriptions Imogen wrote Eleanor could picture the faces of the children, their joyful smiles and tinkling laughs. But even as her friend reveled in the joy of the pupils and her work at the school, Eleanor sensed the loneliness Imogen felt, and she longed to see her happy again. Perhaps a visit to the Continent would do the trick. Eleanor already had a long list of eligible bachelors who might cheer her friend. Just last week she had met a young count at Queen Louise’s salon, and she had immediately begun dreaming up a clever way to introduce him to Imogen.

Thinking of the queen reminded Eleanor of their evening engagement. Colin would be expecting her to be ready when he arrived home. She bent over the scroll and tried to focus on the elegant script, moving her wrist fluidly as she sketched out the words. It was a line from a poem by the great Persian poet Rumi, one she had only read a few days earlier. When she had traced the words with her fingers and read them that first, halting time, a single tear had rolled down her cheek.

Colin came in, already in his evening dress. “Are you two still at work?” he asked, straightening his cravat.

Eleanor put the finishing touches on the calligraphy-like script and looked over at Meddur, who nodded his approval. “I have something for you,” she said as her erstwhile tutor rose and went out into the hall. She lifted the scroll, the ink still wet. He took it carefully, staring down at the words.

“A test,” he groaned. “And I haven’t been studying this week.”

“Try it,” she said, working hard to keep from grinning.

He scowled down at the words. Eleanor stifled a giggle. “‘That’s how you arrived...’ no, no, not arrived. ‘That’s how you came here, like a single light made of the brightness of our two lives, our beloved one.’”

For a long moment he stared down at the scroll. Then he looked back at her. She smiled.

“Eleanor,” he said softly, “are you...?” She put a single hand to her abdomen and smiled. She did not need to say any more. He dropped the scroll and scooped her up into his arms. “My perfect, beautiful wife,” he said, pressing his lips to her hair and resting a hand against her belly.

“Are you happy, Colin?” she asked.

He set her on her feet once more, his eyes meeting hers. In them she read everything she needed to know. He smiled. “More than I ever dreamed I could be.”

Read the entire
House of Lords
series by Meg Brooke:

 

The Secretary

Clarissa Martin is determined to continue her father’s work, but the only way to do so is to return to the back halls of Parliament—disguised as a man. Anders
Rennick
, Earl of Stowe, is in desperate need of a secretary, and he’ll take the first man who applies for the job. Sparks fly when he discovers that his new secretary isn’t quite what he thought!

 

The Tutor

Cynthia
Endersby
has vowed never to marry. But in order to escape her father, she must find work, and there is only one thing she is qualified to do. Charles Bainbridge is facing down his first Parliamentary session, but because he never expected to become the Duke of Danforth, he finds himself in need of a tutor. What neither of them expected is a lesson in passion.

 

 

 

 

BOOK: Behind the Mask (House of Lords)
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ads

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