Read My Lord's Lady Online

Authors: Sherrill Bodine

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Short Stories, #Single Author, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Single Authors, #Historical Romance, #FICTION/Romance/Regency

My Lord's Lady (2 page)

BOOK: My Lord's Lady
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Tilting her head up, Georgina cupped Tildie’s palm to her cheek. Unaccustomed to seeing a trace of sorrow in her normally bright eyes, Georgina reached for a lighter tone and found her sense of the ridiculous. “Just so long as you are not playing matchmaker for Sabrina. Don’t be angry, Tildie, but your Laurentian and I would not deal well together as mother and son-in-law.”

Tildie’s laughter rolled through the parlor, filling the room with vibrance. “I agree with you, Georgina,” she gasped, wiping a tear of laughter from the edge of her eye. “Vane is definitely not Sabrina’s match!”

Chapter 2

Lady Georgina waited for him alone, sitting a large powerful-looking roan that pawed restlessly at the cobblestones in front of the Worthington town house. The dashing hat cocked over her left eye and the form-fitting habit of dark blue velvet stood in sharp contrast to the serene countenance she turned up to him.

“Lord Vane.” She acknowledged him coolly and correctly, then spoiled the pretty picture she made by rushing on enthusiastically, “Your message arrived, and I couldn’t wait another moment to be in the saddle.” Light musical laughter filled the quiet seclusion of St. James Square and a brilliant smile transformed her from a proper lady to something of a minx.

For some odd reason that disturbed him. Lady Sherbourne was a jarring note in the otherwise pleasant reunion with his old governess. He would be most happy to assist Tildie in launching her step-granddaughter, but he wasn’t completely comfortable with her step-daughter.

Unaccustomed to allowing anyone or anything to disturb his well-organized life, Vane flicked her a sardonic glance, wishing to put her safely in her place.

“You don’t ride in the barouche with the others, Lady Sherbourne? I would think you would wish to keep your daughter company on her first visit to Rotten Row.”

“Rest assured, my lord, I shall stay at her side every moment!” She met his sarcasm with her own, glaring at him from dark eyes. “And, from this vantage point, I can be on guard for any potential problem.”

Her pert answer grated. Why couldn’t she voice the banter polite ladies of the
ton
practiced? She
should
be like the other mothers who launched their hopeful daughters, full of charming, insincere flattery calculated to elicit his interest.

But she wasn’t.

He took a huge breath of acrid city air as he realized she had succeeded where legions of others had failed: his interest
was
caught, even if, he told himself, it was simply annoyance he felt.

The barouche rounded the corner from the mews just as Tildie and Sabrina descended the front steps, breaking the cord of tension that vibrated between the two, who danced their mounts so carefully around each other. Sabrina was just as she should be, clothed in a demure powder blue pelisse and poke bonnet trimmed with morning glories. Once again, he marveled at the difference between mother and daughter, then turned his horse in a tight circle to the side of the barouche.

“Good day, Your Grace … Lady Sabrina.” He made sure they were comfortably settled in the coach.

“Ah, my boy, I see you and Georgina have had time for a comfortable coze. What think you of her mount? Does it meet your high standards?”

With deliberate slowness he allowed his gaze to wander over the horse’s lines, then couldn’t resist continuing up Georgina’s body, to rest, finally, on her indignant face.

“I think he looks a killer. Not a lady’s mount at all,” he drawled. “I fear he may be too much for Lady Sherbourne to handle.”

“At last, my lord, a subject about which you obviously know nothing!” she snapped. “Shall we go?”

Sabrina looked anxiously from her mother to him, but Tildie controlled the moment immediately. “By all means, let us set out forthwith.” The barouche rattled forward, lumbering heavily over the cobblestones.

His gut tightened in anger. He gripped the reins with iron fingers, urging his horse to follow. He had allowed himself to be provoked, something that had not occurred since those first hellish months at Eton. Curling his mouth in disdain at this uncharacteristic lapse, he began a polite conversation with Tildie, completely ignoring the source of his discomfort.

But as they moved through the hustle of the city streets, his gaze slid often to Georgina … Lady Sherbourne. True to her word she remained at her daughter’s side, pointing out all the sights of the city: hawkers selling everything from a dusty mountain of potatoes heaped on the pavement, to cups of fresh “country” milk, to hothouse flowers. They passed a small girl offering large red apples from a basket. She took each out and shined it individually, holding it up hopefully to the passersby.

Lady Sherbourne reined her mount as if trying to decide, then she tilted her head, smiled and waved to the child, before hurrying to catch up with the coach. She bent to say something, very softly, to her daughter.

For the first time he saw Sabrina’s gentle smile, and a light flush rose to give healthy color to her translucent skin. From his vantage point, he could see pleasure transform Georgina’s face. Obviously she’d succeeded in distracting her daughter. The obvious love and respect the two shared was quite apparent.

Suddenly Georgina glanced up and caught him watching her, but she looked away quickly. From then on, they were both careful not to meet the other’s eyes.

Bloody hell! He was acting like a green ’un. Surely he was long past such nonsense!

Resolutely he withdrew into the icy aloof bower that had always served him well.

Fortunately, Rotten Row was well traveled this day. Dashing riders and an assortment of carriages thronged the way and proved a good distraction. He nodded to a few acquaintances and managed a brief salute to a racing rival. Then dutifully, he paused to greet the Countess Lieven and introduced his party.

She lifted her brows slightly in surprise, but otherwise greeted Tildie with her usual charm. The tale of the old Duke of Worthington marrying his deceased invalid wife’s companion had been a nine-days wonder four seasons ago, and the countess had an unusually good memory. Vane pulled away from the carriage to allow the women to converse easily across the cart path.

“Vane! Hello!”

Glancing a few paces behind, he spied Peter Amesley. The slight breeze ruffled his classically curled brown hair, but otherwise the boy’s appearance was a credit to him.

With a flick of his head, Vane beckoned him forward. When the countess’s carriage pulled away, he urged the young man up to the side of the barouche.

“Your Grace, may I present Peter, Lord Amesley, and one of my dear friends.” He gestured appropriately, “The Dowager Duchess of Worthington, Lady Georgina Sherbourne, and her daughter, Lady Sabrina.”

Peter studied Tildie curiously for a moment, then his eyes lit in a smile that had caused many a heart to flutter in the
ton
.

“Your Grace, may I be so bold as to tell you how delighted I am to meet the estimable ‘Tildie.’ ” He winked broadly in Vane’s direction. “You see, I was Vane’s fag at Eton, so was privy to his praise of you.”

“Of his years at school I know little, young man. We must talk. And soon.” Tildie’s voice brooked no protest.

But Vane felt he was on safe ground; Peter had been four years behind him, so had escaped knowing the worst. And, after all, this was what he had promised. He looked to Her Grace and the almost imperceptible movement of her head settled the manner.

“I’m having a small dinner party tomorrow evening, Peter. Very much
en famille
. Her Grace and I have much to catch up on. Join us.”

Peter was as smart as a whip and as wild as the north wind, but at heart as pleasant a friend as Vane could wish for. After a brief glance at Sabrina’s blushing countenance and a more lingering regard of Georgina, astride her roan, he nodded.

“I look forward to it. And I promise to reveal all sorts of tales about Vane for you.” With a grin he was off, mingling among the riders now choking the way.

“Well, Laurentian, I’m sure we’ll all look forward to a cozy dinner with Lord Amesley and to hearing about your school days,” Tildie declared firmly, settling a shawl over her shoulders.

“An evening discussing my boyish exploits is not my idea of entertainment,” he drawled, his words for Her Grace, but his eyes remaining sardonically on Georgina’s face.

“On the contrary, my lord, I’m sure the evening will be memorable.” Georgina’s mouth curled in a peculiarly roguish smile.

“Yes!” A soft voice intruded on their conversation. “Particularly, my lord, if your children will be joining us.”

Everyone stared in surprise at the suddenly animated Sabrina.

Noting their surprise, she glanced quickly from her mother to him. “You did say
en famille
, didn’t you, my lord?”

“Of course he did! I, too, look forward to seeing Lawrence and Leticia again!” Tildie, never one to beat around the bush, added her opinion. “It shall be quite the thing for all of us. Now I believe I’ve had enough excitement for one day and would like to return home.”

The return trip to St. James Square went slowly, the streets now clogged with the bustling life of the city. The roan was frisky among the carriages and horses milling past, but Georgina kept him under control. Admiration for her horsemanship grudgingly pushed its way into the other emotions she inspired in Vane, none of which he wanted to examine too closely.

Why a woman, albeit a lovely one, who was every bit of his thirty-five years, and who had a bold and sassy demeanor, which he’d always deplored, should stir such deep feelings was beyond his comprehension.

Lost in thought, he nearly missed a look of horror widening her eyes.

Some lout had tipped the apple girl’s basket, and was tormenting her by rolling all the apples into the street. She frantically chased first one and then another across the cobblestones, disregarding the danger.

Before Georgina could rein her mount, he dug his heels into his horse’s flanks and galloped into the fracas. Leaning over, he plucked the child from beneath the wheels of an on-coming phaeton and swung her effortlessly up before him.

He stared straight at her tormentor. “Gather up every apple,” he commanded.

Trembling in fear, the lout did what he was bid. The gathering crowd applauded wildly, nearly drowning out Georgina’s gasp of relief beside him. He set the girl, wide-eyed, on the sidewalk, and walked his mount to and fro making certain all the fruit was returned.

Georgina slid from her roan to kneel in front of the grubby child, taking her own handkerchief to wipe the little girl’s tear-streaked cheeks.

“Are you all right, child?”

“Thanks to his fine lordship,” she nodded. Suddenly she thrust two gleaming apples into Georgina’s gloved hands. “For him and you, his lady.”

Clutching the fruit basket to her skinny chest, she disappeared with flying dirt-streaked skirts into the crowd.

Sunshine shone full upon Georgina’s face, setting off golden lights in the dark hair waving against her forehead beneath her ridiculous hat. Sherry washed into her brown eyes as she gazed up at him. For the first time, he noticed that they were neither stern, nor bold, but soft.

“You saved that child’s life, Vane,” she breathed with a little catch in her voice.

He shrugged. “These street urchins are a resourceful breed. The child would have saved herself if we hadn’t been passing.”

Georgina held his gaze unabashedly. Then her lush mouth bent into a slow smile.

The thoughts Vane inspired as he stood in the foyer, biding them a correct farewell, were confusing. For the first time Georgina noticed his impeccable riding clothes—the superbly tailored black riding jacket showing off the width of his shoulders and the buckskin breeches that molded to him. His Hessians were polished to a mirror sheen, even the exertions of their ride had not dimmed their luster. He presented a magnificent picture.

But it was his demeanor that seemed so jarringly out of place. It was that feeling of distance between himself and the rest of the world that disturbed her so. It wasn’t an armor of pomposity at his own much-vaunted importance as she’d first thought. Such a man would not have taken the time nor wasted the energy on the apple girl today.

His beautiful blue eyes were cold, instead of sparkling with life under Tildie’s fulsome praise. Even Sabrina’s softer words of admiration washed over him, his disciplined features revealing nothing.

“I will send my carriage for you tomorrow at seven,” Vane murmured, clearly eager to quit their presence.

She closely watched the well-formed lines of his lips, wondering again how deeply they might curl if he ever smiled. She stared after him as the front door clicked shut.

“An odd gentleman, is he not, Mama?”

At her daughter’s gentle inquiry, she removed her riding gloves and hugged Sabrina warmly. “Yes, an odd gentleman, indeed. However, his children seem delightful. Perhaps tomorrow evening we can solicit our stern lord to allow us to play games after dinner.”

Sabrina’s bright catch of laughter struck a cord deep inside Georgina, and tears pricked behind her eyes. Anxiously scanning her daughter’s face, she saw with relief that the last lingering red spots had faded from beneath her pale skin, and her eyes were less shadowed from her illness.

“If anyone can convince him to unbend, Mama, it will be you,” Sabrina giggled.

If the man did nothing else for them, at least he had brought her darling back to life.

“I agree, child. Now rest before luncheon,” Tildie ordered, but with a slight softening of her usual crisp tones.

Blowing kisses, Sabrina traipsed lightly up the stairs.

“She is better,” Tildie declared. “It was the right decision to come here.”

Wrapping her arms about her shoulders, Georgina paced restlessly across the black and white marble squares. “So it seems. But I think you hoped to find Lord Vane more approachable.”

“What I
hoped
for, was to have my two dearest charges meet at last and become friends. It is an event I am devotedly determined to see happen.”

Georgina stopped and stared at her beloved Tildie, feeling the hard beat of her heart against her ribs. This woman had been the bulwark of her life for as long as she could remember. She could no more lie to her than she could fly to the moon.

“Darling Tildie, I’m sorry this isn’t turning out as you wished,” she said simply, reaching out to clasp her stepmama’s hands. “Vane and I…” struggling for words, she swallowed down a knot of pain that she should have to disappoint Tildie so. “Vane and I do not rub together well for some reason. I wish for your sake it was otherwise.”

Tildie’s gaze deepened in intensity, her shrewd eyes oddly noncommittal. “Don’t fret, dear child. I can wait to see what tomorrow brings.”

BOOK: My Lord's Lady
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