Read Lord Harry's Folly Online

Authors: Catherine Coulter

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Lord Harry's Folly (39 page)

BOOK: Lord Harry's Folly
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“But your grace” Croft tried to lower his voice to a more dignified pitch, but the marquess interrupted him brusquely.

“Out of my bloody sight, Croft. I’ve no patience left for you. God, you reek.” He turned on his heel and headed for the quiet of the library. “Send a footman with brandy and don’t you taste it.”

He didn’t see Croft wave his hand frantically at his back. He flung open the library door, kicked it closed with the heel of his boot and strode directly to the fireplace. It didn’t occur to him to wonder why such a brightly blazing fire was burning in the grate, and he splayed his hands toward the warmth.

“It’s about time you have returned home, Jason. After five days, I must tell you that the servants had seriously begun to doubt my word. Croft even started tippling again, so that proves that he believed me an imposter.”

He spun about so quickly that he had to grab the edge of the mantelpiece to retain his balance. For a long moment, he stared at Hetty, not one word taking form in his mind.

She stood quietly, her hands resting on the back of a chair. She was dressed in a modish yellow jonquil gown, her blond curls tied with a yellow velvet ribbon. She looked very beautiful and very serious and very pale.

“You, Hetty, you’re here? I don’t believe this. You’ve been here at Thurston Hall all this time?”

“Yes,” she said, walking slowly toward him. “I’ve put you to a good deal of trouble. If you wish to yell at me, I will grant you the opportunity without interruption. Do forgive me, Jason, please.”

“Yes, I damned well want to yell at you and shake you and kiss you until you’re senseless. Bloody hell, I’ve been frantic with worry. Everything went wrong. I went to Belshire Manor, then on to Jack’s house in Herefordshire. I prayed, by God, I’ve turned into a Methodist this past week.”

Then he opened his arms to her. She covered the distance between them on a dead run. He pulled her roughly to his chest, burying his face in her hair. He tightened his hold about her back, as if afraid she’d disappear.

“I’m truly sorry, Jason,” she whispered, raising her head from his shoulder to gaze into his dark eyes. “Pottson told me where you’d gone. Lord Harry thought for a while to set out after you, but I decided it ridiculous for both of us to be riding the roads of England. Please forgive me for being so foolish. It’s just that I didn’t know what to do. There was just too much and I couldn’t seem to sort through it all. All I could think about was Thurston Hall and you.”

He thought fleetingly to inquire just how the devil she’d spoken to Pottson, but he wanted to kiss her her mouth, her stubborn jaw, the tip of her nose. He wanted to inhale her scent, to kiss her soft hair, to mold his hands around her breasts. God, if something had happened to her

“Do you forgive me, Jason?”

She didn’t let him answer, but stood on her tiptoes. As his mouth closed over hers, feather light, she felt his hands stroking up and down her back, cupping her to bring her hard against him. She loved the feel of him, the differentness of him. She loved him. It was some moments before he drew back and looked down at her. There was a dark, dreamy quality in her eyes he’d never before seen. Tenderly, he kissed the tip of her nose, her chin, the soft curls at her temples. The weariness and concern that he had worn like a heavy mantle slipped from him, and he gave a shout of pure joy.

She giggled. “Does that mean you forgive me?”

“It means that I’m so grateful I’ll be pure of heart for the rest of my years on this earth.”

“Will you promise me something, your grace?”

“I shout with joy that you’re all right, and you have the gall to call me ‘your grace’?”

“It’s about marrying me. Promise me that if you have any doubts, if it bothers you what my father did, that you won’t go through with it. I don’t ever want you to think I trapped you into marriage like Elizabeth.”

“Shut up.”

He kissed her, this time, his hand stroking from her breasts down to her belly until he was resting his hand against her, feeling the heat of her through her gown. He hoped she felt the heat of his hand.

“If you ever again compare yourself to Elizabeth, I’ll thrash you. I mean it, Hetty. You aren’t Elizabeth. What your father did, both of us will have to come to understanding about it, and we will. I am sorry for it, for the pain it’s giving you. But we shall marry just as soon as I can procure a special license.”

“All right,” she said, gave him a fat smile, then fell to kissing him again. He was nibbling on her ear when she said, “Oh goodness, you’re exhausted, you must be ready to eat a horse and have a hot bath. Shall I ring for Croft?”

“No. The sot is in the cellar drinking my sherry. I should have booted him out years ago, but dammit, he’s been here since I was born.”

She kissed him again, then said, “When dear Croft wasn’t foxed, he treated me in the most suspicious manner. I swear he thinks me one of your mistresses.”

“He’s in for a surprise, isn’t he? Yes, I can’t wait to see him sneaking the champagne from our wedding breakfast. Now, before I take myself off for a bath, when did you see Pottson? He came to me, you know, panting that you’d skuttled the pike. He was the one who sent me to Belshire Manor.”

“I did pack a portmanteau and buy a stage ticket to Sussex. But early the next morning I realized there was nothing there for me at Belshire Manor. I couldn’t bring myself to return to Father’s house, so I paid a final visit to Lord Harry’s lodgings and sent Pottson with a note to my father explaining that I’d accepted an invitation from Lady Alicia to again visit Thurston Hall. Pottson thought it a rather clever idea, though he felt terribly guilty that he’d sent you to the far reaches of England.”

“You have a lot to make up to me for, Hetty.”

“That sounds a bit alarming but ever so much fun.”

“Ah, yes,” he said, as he kissed her again and forced himself away from her.

“Is Lord Harry finally content to return to the wilds that disgorged him?”

He saw the wistfulness in her eyes, heard the reluctance in her voice when she said, “I guess there’s no choice. He has to disappear. I’ll miss him, Jason. He was so free. He could do anything he wished. He shot at Manton’s. He held the faro bank at White’s, where he was a member. He drank as much as he wanted. He went to a brothel. Henrietta Rolland could never do any of that.”

“Henrietta Cavander.”

“Even a female Cavander wouldn’t be welcome at White’s or at Manton’s, or at Gentleman Jackson’s or at Lady Buxtell’s”

“Please stop, you’re making my hair curl even as it turns gray. Will you make these sacrifices for me, Hetty?”

“It will be difficult, Jason.”

“I’m giving up Melissande.”

“Thank you,” she said in the sweetest voice he’d ever heard from her, then she sent her fist into his belly.

He grunted, then grinned down at her. “Poor Melissande, she’s losing both Lord Oberlon and Lord Harry.”

“Lord Harry didn’t really care for her all that much, truly.”

“Naturally not. Lord Harry wasn’t able to partake of her most, ah, awesome offerings.”

He closed her mouth with a light kiss, then drew back and said, “I don’t want you to ever feel anything but free, Hetty. There’s no reason why we couldn’t set up our own version of Manton’s, here at Thurston Hall. You’ve been bragging much about your prowess with pistols, my girl, but you have yet to test your skill against a master’s. Now, let me leave you for a bit to scrub off the dirt of our English roads. Then there are things we must discuss. All right? You swear to me you won’t leave again?”

“I swear.” She stroked her fingertips over his beloved face. “I’ve known you as my love for such a short time, but I have no doubts at all. I want you with me, Jason, forever. I think I will bring you a good-sized dowry. You will have to visit my father for those matters, and for that I’m sorry. I must have him at our wedding, for it is proper and Jack and Louisa would wonder were he not to be here.”

“Can you forgive him, Hetty?”

“Oh no, I’ll never forgive him for what he did, yet there’s nothing I can do to change him now or in the future or alter the past. He is as he is, Jason. All of it makes sense to him and to Lord Mulberry and to others. But there’s Jack and I don’t want him to know.”

“No, I don’t either, nor does your father, but for far different reasons.”

There was a light scratching on the library door. “Damn,” the marquess said. Reluctantly he drew away from Hetty.

“Your grace. Miss Rolland.” Croft stood in the doorway, his bulbous nose like a red beacon in the candlelight, a tray holding a bottle of champagne and glasses held firmly in his hands.

“He’s dipped into the champagne even before our wedding breakfast,” the marquess said, then just shook his head.

Hetty held his arm as laughter tumbled out. “How very thoughtful of you, Croft. Do you not think, your grace, that it would be most proper for us to have a toast among the three of us? After all, you told me that Croft has been here since before you were born.”

Croft beamed at Hetty, choosing to ignore the dark frown on the marquess’s face.

“It’s a wonderful event,” he said, and quickly poured the champagne into the beautiful crystal glasses.

“To the marquess and marchioness of Oberlon,” Croft said grandly, and without further ado, emptied the glass in one long drink.

“My immense thanks for your thoughtfulness, Croft,” the marquess said. He clicked his glass to Hetty’s, then sipped at his own champagne. “Tell you what, Croft, why don’t you take the rest of the bottle and get out. If we require your presence, we’ll take the initiative and ring for you. We’ll even take the initiative and hunt you out in the pantry where you’ll doubtless be snoring away.”

Croft bowed low, hastily picked up the tray, and weaved his way happily out of the library.

“He’s an original,” Hetty said. “Truly, he is an original.”

“There’s another original.”

“And who is that?”

He clicked his glass to hers.

“To Lord Harry, that daring young gentleman who gave me the love of my life.”

 

 

BOOK: Lord Harry's Folly
6.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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