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His For The Taking

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His For The Taking

By
Harris Channing

Copyright
2012 Harris Channing

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His For The Taking

A
novella by

Harris
Channing

 

Chapter One

 

Surrey
,
England

1816

"Julianna, how does it feel to
be the spinster sister of England's
most beautiful bride?" Jonathan asked, leaning back against the creamy
yellow cushion of the settee.

"I rather think I’m the lucky
one," Julianna replied, hoping she kept the bitterness from her tone. But
it was hard, for Jonathan had a way of bringing a pot of water to a boil with a
single word.

"How so?" he queried, his
brow lifted in question.

My, he was a handsome devil. She
longed to slap the smirk from his perfectly glorious lips. How she hated and
loved him. The bane of her existence and the joy of her life.

She looked at her younger sister,
her pale cheeks aglow with happiness as she and her new husband spoke in hushed
tones in the corner of the parlor. Abby and Michael would soon be leaving to
visit Italy. A
trip she had always longed to make and never had.

"Well? I'm waiting,"
Jonathan said, giving the back of her arm a pinch.

"Stop that," she scolded,
smacking at his hands to cease his painful pressure. "If you must know, I
wouldn't wish to marry into your family, Jonathan." She lied. "Being
bound to you by friendship is enough, thank you."

"You wound me, dear Julianna.
Do you hold my brother in such low esteem that you would wish he didn't love
your sister?"

She rolled her eyes. "Please,
I wish Abby and Michael nothing but happiness."

"Still my sweet, your words
crush my tender heart. I thought you loved me." He pouted, his words in
jest. A joke that left her aching.

If he only knew the truth, for love
and hate battled for dominance in the darkest part of her heart, at least where
Jonathan Denbigh was concerned. How could he not realize just how much he meant
to her? Just how much he had meant to her since she met him at the age of
thirteen. That she dreamt of him at night and now, sitting next to him, the
musky scent of his cologne, the warmth of his body…well, damn it all, it was
too much.

Standing, she smoothed the skirt of
her azure gown and lifted her chin. "You don't need me to love you. I
think you love yourself well enough."

"Touché," he said leaning
forward, his elbows on his knees. "But you have to admit, I'm a little
lovable."

She smiled down at him and crossed
her arms over her chest. "Yes, I love you like a chicken loves a
fox."

He bared his teeth and growled.
"Be careful little chicken, or I'm apt to gobble you up."

"Oh really Lord Denbigh, I’m
not one of your silly little half wits. Does that charm truly work on
anyone?" But she had to admit, the idea of his nibbling on her had chills
racing across her flesh.

"Too well sometimes," he
admitted leaning back once again with an elegant ease. Lifting a long finger he
motioned toward Constance Whitcomb.

Dressed in a fluid gown of saffron,
Lady Constance demanded more attention than the bride herself. Long, flowing
locks of gold cascaded over her creamy white shoulders. She was beautiful and
she now garnered Jonathan’s full attention. Oh, to have him look at her that
way. As if she was the only woman in the room.

"In fact, Miss Whitcomb has
grown quite fond of the idea of matrimony," Jonathan explained, his gaze
pinned to the golden beauty.

Julianna stared at the woman, just
the sound of her name rankled her and sent currents of jealousy racing through
her veins. She was ever so graceful and the way men gathered around the woman
had her feeling like a scrubbed sow in a silken feed sack.

"Oh Lord Nesbitt, you’re so
very delightful," Constance cooed, her gloved
fingers coming to rest intimately on the young man’s wrist.

Bennett Nesbitt smiled, his
handsome face alight with joy. Did her mere touch turn men of normal
temperament into grinning fools? She pulled her attention away from the pair
and glanced back at Jonathan and her stomach roiled. Had she witnessed a flash
of anger in the depths of Jonathan’s eyes? Dear Lord, was he serious about the
silly girl?

"And you, sir?" she
asked, her voice trembling. "Are you leaning toward a wedding of your own?
I’m certain your father would approve of the match."

"Yes, he would," Jonathan
conceded, his jaw twitching with irritation. "But I would like a wife who
can read Shakespeare and understand what old Will was talking about."

"And since when does a woman's
mind concern you?"

Jonathan stood and gazed down at
her, his dark eyes flashing. "If I choose to share my life with a woman, I
want to be able to carry on a conversation that goes beyond the latest fashion
and gossip."

Julianna lifted her eyes to meet
his stern gaze. "I'm sorry if I offended you," she replied. "But
this is a side of Jonathan Denbigh that I haven't seen before."

His expression eased and he gave
her chin a playful pinch. "Perhaps you weren't looking."

Her lips curled into a relieved
smile. "Let me know the next time the reformed gentleman makes an
appearance. The rake has been gallivanting all over the countryside for far too
long." She said the words with humor, but her heart knew the painful truth
of them.

Leaning in, his warm breath fanned
across her cheek, her abdomen tightening at the close contact. All playfulness
and jest slipped from his countenance. Her heart beat at a maddening pace.
"You'll be the first to know. For the truth is, Lady Julianna, I
believe…"

Dear God, he truly did look like a
ravenous beast, ready to devour her. Had she become the only woman in the room?
Or was she little more than a ploy to force Constance to
look their way?

Still, all joviality had
disappeared, the taunting, the teasing that exemplified their relationship,
gone. What she recognized in his eyes rivaled what she always felt when she saw
him upon entering a room. Was he going to kiss her? Right there in front of
everyone? Surely not! He was a rake but he wasn’t a fool. And what had changed
that he would even consider such a thing?

At the dull, rhythmic tapping of
wood against wood, Julianna pulled her attention from Jonathan. No easy task,
for he'd never looked at her in such a serious manner before. Yet she
recognized the sound and it always demanded her full consideration.

Grandmother Chesterfield entered
the parlor, her graying hair pulled in a severe knot, her silver blue eyes as
alert as any bird of prey. She focused on Julianna, her brow lifted in question
as her gaze slid back and forth between her granddaughter and Jonathan. She
puckered her lips before tapping the cane hard against the floor. As always, at
the harsh sound, all talk ceased and everyone stopped what they were doing to
look upon the Chesterfield
matriarch.

"Abby, Michael, your carriage
is at the ready. It is time for you to grace Italy
and allow Italy
to grace you."

Abby let out an enthusiastic
giggle. "Oh, the warm sun, the blue skies. I can hardly wait!" She
lifted the skirt of her pale gown and rushed to Julianna, blonde curls
bouncing, sapphire eyes alive with happiness.

"Take care sister," she
said, pulling Julianna into a tight embrace. "I will write every day to
tell you about Italy.
I know how much you want to go, too."

Julianna held tight to Abby, her
heart aching at the idea of her baby sister being so far away. But more than
that, it ached for the change that would occur when she returned to England.
For they would never again have the closeness afforded to sisters that dwelled
beneath the same roof.

"You take care," Julianna
whispered, tears stinging her eyes. "And I will look forward to your
letters."

Jonathan stood at Julianna's side,
shaking his brother's hand. "Congratulations, again dear Michael. Will you
write letters, too?"

Michael's cherubic face lit up, his
dark eyes flashing with mischief. "I don't plan on having time to
write." He grabbed his wife's hand and kissed her knuckles. "But I'm
sure Julianna will be happy to share her news with you. Isn't that right, my
sweet sister?"

"Will you?" Jonathan
asked, turning to face her, his eyes too flashed with mischief. "Will you
share their happy news with me?"

"Certainly. You know you're
always welcome here. You have been since childhood. Why would that change
now?"

"Things have changed. Your
sister and my brother have wed. Whether or not you like it, you are bound to me
by friendship
and
family ties."

She narrowed her eyes and stared up
at him, the dull twinge of longing flared back to life. "Jonathan, why are
you making lists of our connections?"

"Abigail!" Grandmother
pounded the cane on the floor, her countenance demanding all chit chat cease
and desist. "Your carriage will wait but your ship will not. Now please,
give your grandmother a kiss."

In flurry of satin skirts and the
scent of roses, Abby rushed to her grandmother's side. It was an odd display of
affection. Abby sobbing on Grandmother's shoulder. Grandmother's expression
offering no sign of sorrow except the single tear that ran down her wrinkled
face.

"Go, child. God speed and much
happiness."

Michael offered Julianna and
Jonathan a final tight lipped smile as he waded into the fray of lace and
linen. "Come along, Abby," he said, sliding his hand around her small
waist. "Make the goodbye swift and sure. For we will see them all when
summer has reached the gardens."

She nodded, her blue eyes red with
tears. "Yes. I love you Julianna. Grandmother."

And hand in hand they left.
Julianna watched her precious sister embark on a new life, leaving her behind.
Behind and alone.

Her stomach roiled with the
realization. She was indeed the spinster sister of England's
most beautiful bride.

She pressed her fingers to her
temples. "Will you excuse me? I feel a headache coming on," she said,
fighting through her sob. "Good evening to you, Jonathan."

"Are you all right?" he
asked, tilting his head in concern. He reached for her, but she backed away.
Was that pity in his eyes? God, she could take anything but pity from Jonathan
Denbigh.

"I-I'm sure I will be."
She moved past him and facing her grandmother, she dipped her knee. "Good
night, Grandmother."

The matriarch reached out and
touched Julianna's cheek, her gnarled fingers warm and soft. "Good night,
child. I'll see supper is sent to your room."

Unable to fight the tears any
longer, Julianna rushed into the hall and up the spiral staircase to her room.

This morning the house had been
filled with joy and anticipation. But that was behind her now. Her stomach
throbbed with emptiness for she needed to speak to her sister and her sister
was gone.

Throwing herself on the bed, she filled
her pillow with her anguish.

***

"What just happened?"
Jonathan asked, looking to Lady Chesterfield and wondering why she didn't
follow Julianna. If he could, he would have followed her. He would have offered
her a hankie or pinched her arm until she squealed and forgot about her sorrow.

 
His stomach clenched at the memory of those
tears sliding down the young woman's cheeks. Damn it, he didn't like seeing
Julianna cry. Not one little bit. Seeing her irritated with him, he liked. Sad,
not at all.

"She realized her sister has
gone and she's alone," Lady Chesterfield replied moving deeper into the
room, her cane tap-tapping against the oaken floorboards.

"But she's not alone,"
Jonathan replied, curling his hands at his sides. One sister marries and suddenly
the other is lonely? Confusion mixed with frustration. He'd never understand
the fairer sex. Never. "She has a doting grandmother and friends who care
for her a great deal."

"Indeed," she replied,
looking imperiously down her nose at him. "Now, follow me into my study.
We have much to discuss and it needs to be done alone."

He glanced over his shoulder at
Bennett Nesbitt. The man had practically drooled all over Julianna’s slippers
at the wedding and now he turned his wet nose toward Constance.
Not that Constance didn’t relish a wet nose.

Still, he followed Lady
Chesterfield to her study as directed. One simply didn’t
not
do what Lady Chesterfield asked. It was bad form or stupidity.
Either way, you ended up doing as you were told with a pat on the head or
switch to the legs. Having known her since his youth, he chose the pat on the
head.

Once alone in the powder blue room,
Lady Chesterfield shut the door. "Do you consider yourself one of
Julianna’s friends?"

The question caught him off guard.
"Yes, of course."

Lady Chesterfield insinuated
herself atop the well worn chair behind her desk. Resting her head on the back
cushion, she peered at him, her stare unnerving to say the least. "Sit,
Jonathan. Keep me company."

He released an exasperated sigh.
"Aren't you going to see to her? Make sure she's all right? If I were in
your position, I most certainly would."

BOOK: His For The Taking
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