Authors: Jane Charles
Tags: #alpha male, #regency england, #anthology, #regency anthology, #catherine gayle, #jerrica knightcatania, #jane charles, #ava stone, #espionage
Miss Whitton stopped and looked up at him. “You don’t wish them to be able to take care of themselves?”
It isn’t necessary that they do. They have me.”
Yet you are here, and they are somewhere else.”
Blast, she did have a point, but what was he to do? There was no danger at home, and they were safe. There was an army of servants at the estate, many of them young, strong footmen and stable hands who could see to their safety. “They are perfectly safe and will soon be traveling to London with my aunt and uncle.”
Miss Whitton nodded and began walking back toward the house. Why did he feel she disapproved?
I see that you would have them coddled, to be moved from your home to another. From your protection to that of a husband without ever considering they may wish for something different.”
I just want them to be happy.” Devlin sighed. That was really all that mattered.
A small smile came to Miss Whitton’s lips. “That is nice to hear. I had thought you simply wanted to marry them off so they were no longer a burden.”
Is that what Miss Whitton thought? Did his sisters think that? Oh, he had bungled this whole guardian business. “My sisters have never been, nor will they ever be a burden.”
I was beginning to suspect you were much like my grandfather.”
Danby?” He wouldn’t mind being more like His Grace. Danby’s children and grandchildren probably never give him a bit of trouble. They wouldn’t dare do so.
Yes. He was fed up with his grandchildren because none of them had married, and by his estimation, some were well past the time that they should. He ordered us all to the castle for Christmas, and before January was half way complete twelve were married.”
That was an amazing feat, even for Danby. Devlin considered calling on His Grace for advice. If the duke could see most of his grandchildren married within a fortnight, then Devlin should be able to see the same thing happened for his sisters. “How did you escape?”
Miss Whitton stomped away from him. “Grandfather hadn’t picked the perfect husband for me yet.”
He picked each husband and wife?” Did that mean he chose John for Elizabeth? But how was that possible? Danby shouldn’t have even known John existed or that he was a part of Elizabeth’s life.
He might as well have,” Miss Whitton grumbled. “Though each cousin did end up with who they wanted.”
It sounds rather expedient to me.”
Miss Whitton glared up at him. “You would think so, since you wish to marry off your sisters.” She turned and began marching back to the house. He hurried to follow.
I will have you know, Lord Marston, most ladies do not like having their lives dictated, being told what they can or can’t do, who they should marry, and so on.”
Devlin grasped her arm gently. Why was she in such a dander? “I don’t know why you are so upset. He didn’t marry you off to some stranger.”
But he will before the year is out if I am not married by Christmas.”
That didn’t give him much time. How could he court her, see if they were a good match, while he had his sisters to worry about? No, he couldn’t let Danby marry her off to someone else who would have access to those delectable lips before Devlin was ready. What if his sisters didn’t do his bidding and marry in time? What if Miss Whitton was lost to him before he ever had a chance to know more about her?
Damnation, why was he even concerned about a lady he had known barely two days, who was a delicate daughter of a vicar, who calmed him in ways nobody ever had, who could shoot a small cup off a fence rail at fifty paces, and who had the warmest blue eyes, golden hair and body of a goddess?
Because she affected him in ways no woman ever had, and he wasn’t ready to give her up.
He needed to make sure Danby didn’t marry her off to someone else, but how could he accomplish that? “Perhaps you’re overreacting.”
Miss Whitton stiffened and drew in a deep breath. “Of course you would think so. You’ve not had to live your life doing and being what everyone expected.”
She yanked her arm away and strode to the house. Devlin simply watched her go.
Louisa flopped down on her bed. What had gotten into her, and why did Marston have the ability to make her so angry? She was never angry. Frustrated at times, but never angry. But that gentleman made her experience all kinds of new emotions.
She stared up at the light pink canopy above her head. And why had she revealed so much to him? Why had she told Marston about Grandfather and his plans to marry her off? What must he think about her fit? After the way she’d yelled at him, twice now, he probably would avoid her for the rest of the visit and not even look her way in London.
And why did she care? Louisa blew out an exasperated sigh and rolled over.
Because he had kissed her. It was her first kiss and in truth, she wanted to kiss him more. Much more, and she had no desire to kiss anyone else. Not that there were any other gentlemen to kiss at Bentley Manor other than Jordan. But even he didn’t inspire her to want to explore things better left behind closed doors after marriage, not that she was sure exactly what those things were. The only gentleman who ever made her heart pound was Marston, and he didn’t want her.
Louisa rolled to her other side. That was the crux of the matter. He didn’t want her. When she announced she would be married at Christmas, he hadn’t even flinched. If he cared he would’ve had some sort of reaction, wouldn’t he? Had her kissing been that bad? Did he not wish to experience it again? How humiliating. She so desperately wanted him to give some indication that he didn’t wish her to marry someone else, but she might as well have announced she was going in to tea for all the expression he offered.
Maybe she was simply tired. She hadn’t slept much last night and when she did, Marston appeared with his wicked smile and delectable lips. A devil in her dreams.
Would she be forced to marry the gentleman her grandfather picked and make the best of it?
No, Louisa refused to settle, even though it was probably expected of her. But what was she to do?
Somehow she needed to change her fate and see that Marston was included.
Louisa glanced up when Marston walked into the breakfast room. She was alone at the table as nobody else had risen yet today. “Good morning, Lord Marston.” She would be pleasant. She would not argue or yell.
Good morning, Miss Whitton. I trust you slept well.” He walked to the sideboard and began filling a plate with food.
She would have if his devilishly handsome face would stay out of her dreams. “Yes. Thank you for asking.” She had long since finished her breakfast but was settled in a chair, sipping tea, waiting for him.
What could they talk about? She didn’t want to mention the Little Season or his sisters, because those topics were the source of their past arguments. But what else could she ask? She blew out a breath. She had never been at a loss before. Why was it only with him?
Is something wrong, Miss Whitton?” He took the seat across from her.
No. Why do you ask?”
Because of your sigh and frown.”
A footman came forward and poured coffee into his cup.
Nothing.” She certainly couldn’t tell him that she was trying to think of a topic with which to woo him. What had they discussed before? What interested him? An idea formed and she waited until he had a mouth full of food before asking. “You never did tell me of your travels. Where have you been?” It was only fair to give him a moment to consider his answer, or lie, if necessary.
He chewed slowly before swallowing. “I’ve been to a number of places.”
Marston would not get away with offering such vague answers, and he couldn’t very well leave the table to avoid answering them, not with a plate full of food before him, unless he wished to starve.
Tell me about some of them.”
What do you wish to know?” he countered.
Have you visited many countries on the continent?”
Yes.” He took a bite of eggs and chewed. If Marston ate any slower, he would still be eating when luncheon was served.
He took a drink of his coffee. “Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Greece.”
He bit into a piece of toast with a bit more force than necessary. Apparently Marston didn’t like being questioned, and these weren’t even difficult questions to answer. It wasn’t like she asked how long he had worked for the Home Office or if he had had killed anyone.
Over the past five or six years.”
Louisa brought a hand to her breast. “Wasn’t it dangerous? I mean, with Napoleon and the fighting. I know I worried about my sister endlessly while she lived in France, though she was in the south, it was still dangerous.”
But she was married, so she had the added protection of her husband.”
They both knew Elizabeth had never been married before John, but Louisa would play along. “Not for the last year. Had I known she was alone, I would have worried more, or perhaps gone to live with her.”
That would not have been wise.” He shoveled more eggs into his mouth.
Because I might have learn the truth?
It wouldn’t have been safe. It was equally dangerous to travel across France as to sail to your sister’s home.”
Despite their shooting match yesterday, Marston would probably always think a lady needed the protection of a gentleman. Though she bristled at the assumption, maybe it wasn’t so bad to let him think he was needed if it gave him peace of mind.
Were you ever afraid while you traveled? It must have been as dangerous for an English gentleman.”
He placed the fork on the plate and settled back in his seat. His dark brown eyes focused on her. “Yes, there were times that I was.”
That was probably the most honest answer he’d given when talking about his life. And truthfully, what did she know about his profession other than what was romanticized in novels? Perhaps it was best if she didn’t ask any further questions. While she wanted a more exciting existence, living in danger from day to day wasn’t exactly what she was looking for. “Well, hopefully Napoleon will be dealt with soon and we can all safely travel there one day.”
A smile came to his lips. “One can only hope.”
Louisa pushed out her chair and stood. “I will leave you to your breakfast. Have an enjoyable morning, Lord Marston.” She left the room without a backward glance. As much as she wished to continue conversing with him, she was at a complete loss for any other topic.
Miss Whitton, wait.” He followed her into the foyer. “Would you care to take a stroll in the gardens?”
He’d come after her. He hadn’t even finished his breakfast. “I would enjoy that very much, Lord Marston.”
He offered his arm and escorted her out the front door onto the paved path that would take them to the southwestern portion of the property.
Devlin didn’t want Miss Whitton to leave yet, but she had finished her morning meal and he hadn’t really added to their conversation. He would have loved to tell her of his travels, but they weren’t of pleasurable pursuits.
His appetite left him when she exited the room. Being in her presence was more necessary than the food before him, and he rose quickly to follow.
Her delicate hand was warm on his sleeve, and he inhaled her rosewater scent. What was it about Miss Whitton that was so soothing? Even when she was angry with him, she calmed him in a way that couldn’t be explained. Even exasperated in her presence, he was still relaxed. It was blasted confusing.
He barely slept last night because of her. He needed to figure out how to keep her from being married off before he was in a position to court her. If he approached Danby, would he agree? Surely His Grace would understand that Devlin’s sisters needed to come first, having eighteen grandchildren of his own. But, what if Miss Whitton didn’t wish to wait for him?
He needed to make her want to wait for him.
She said nothing while they walked and entered the gardens, but there was no need for words. Ahead of them was a maze, one he’d viewed from Bentley’s library. “Have you tried the maze?”