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 (4 page)

BOOK: My Lord's Lady
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Chapter 4

Tildie eyed Georgina with mild reproach. “
I
am doing nothing. You and Laurentian are handling it quite well yourselves.”

Caught in the grip of disbelief, she stared into her stepmama’s calm face, for once speechless.

“Darling Tildie, we don’t even
like
one another,” she finally replied.

“Ah, but is that really true?” Tildie’s lips twitched into a conspiratorial smile. “Or are you instead fighting your attraction to one another?”

Stunned by Tildie’s unabashed, and hitherto unknown romantic nature, Georgina could only shake her head in disbelief. “I am thirty-five years old—long past the age for such romantic notions. I am too old to fall in love,” she declared firmly.

“What utter nonsense!” Tildie’s eyes snapped in the firelight. “If that were true, I would never have married your father at the advanced age of fifty and six! Do you know why I did so?”

Was it the chaotic emotions Vane inspired, or the fact she was nearly overcome with glimpsing this side of her beloved Tildie, whom she thought she knew as well as herself, that closed her throat with tears?

“I shall tell you,” Tildie exclaimed, leaning forward in the chair. “It was springtime four years ago. We were having our usual game of whist in the parlor, and naturally I was beating your father all to flinders. And as usual he was grumbling.” In the dim light Tildie’s face softened with remembrance. “Then he looked at me and said, ‘Matilda, you are the best cardplayer I’ve ever met, I don’t want to lose you. My daughter and Sabrina don’t need you as a companion as much as I need you for a wife.”

Her rosebud mouth deepened at the corners. “I looked at him glaring at me so fiercely from beneath his shaggy gray brows, while he absently rubbed at the gouty foot propped before him, and I suddenly realized I loved that man. I had loved Laurentian, and I loved you and Sabrina as I think a mother does her children. But what I felt for your father was quite different. So I accepted his offer. And that is the only reason I did so.”

Tildie slid back into the depths of the chair, her face concealed in shadow. “So there you have it! I’m sorry if I shocked you, Georgina. But strong emotion is not bounded by years, and so you should know!”

The tears that had closed her throat now spilled from her eyes. Licking them from her lips, Georgina knelt down to lay her cheek against the soft wool of Tildie’s black skirt.

“I’m so glad it was a love-match,” she whispered. Against her closed eyelids danced images of her father in his last years, and in each remembered scene he was smiling. “You made him very happy.”

Tildie touched her chin with the curve of her fingers, and Georgina raised her tear-streaked face.

“Darling Tildie, I know you love me. I know you wish for my happiness. But I have been a widow for nearly fourteen years.” She laughed lightly and caught Tildie’s hand. “I may not be too old to fall in love. But I am sorely out of practice.”

“I am positive you have the means to regain the ability.” The firm voice was the remembered one from the schoolroom.

“Even with a relentlessly stern man who never smiles?” she asked with equal seriousness.

“Answer me this, Georgina. Have you ever wondered what Vane’s mouth would look like if curled in laughter?”

It was as if Tildie was privy to her thoughts. Stunned, she didn’t answer.

“And would you not like to be the one to bring about such a change,” she continued evenly.

At these final words, Georgina rose slowly to her feet. In these strange circumstances, trapped in Vane’s home surrounded by his belongings, his children, and ever conscious of his disturbing presence, she was at a loss to answer. In truth, she was afraid to give voice to the vivid, not entirely unpleasant, exhilaration curling through her veins.

“Darling Tildie, I’m not prepared to answer at this precise moment,” she said sweetly. “Let us see what tomorrow reveals.”

Vane stood in the hall outside Lawrence and Leticia’s rooms, gazing through the pane window into the darkness. Dawn was coming weakly, fighting its way through the mist of rain and gray fog, which hung like a pall over the city.

A sound waffling through the open door of Leticia’s room sent him immediately to her side. Even in the dim light cast by the bedside candle he could see the shadow of dozens of spots across her rounded cheeks and forehead.

“Father,” her whisper was little more than a breath.

“I am here.” With one finger he touched the tip of her nose. “All is well, Leticia.”

“Are Lady Sabrina and her mother still here?” she asked slowly. Her eyes were heavy with sleep and kept drifting closed.

“Yes, they are here.” Wanting to comfort her, he continued to rub the tip of his finger over her tiny nose. “They shall be here until you and Lawrence are well.”

“Good,” she sighed, and allowed her lids to shut. “Lady Sabrina is so pretty … and her mama … has smiling eyes…”

He stayed until the even rise and fall of her small chest beneath the cover told him she slept peacefully. Then he stooped and tucked the cover more tightly around her. He crossed the hall to follow the same ritual with his sleeping son.

He stood again by the hallway window, but this time he didn’t lift his eyes to the outside world. Instead, he fought a battle within, against his helplessness in the face of his children’s suffering. But he managed to quell the rage with his iron will, just as he had learned to conquer all strong emotion so long ago.

A few hours later the doctor found him still standing in the hallway keeping watch over his children. After examining each child, he cautioned:

“The fever is down. It should vanish once all the spots have appeared. But you must keep them quiet for as long as possible.” He gave Vane a sympathetic smile. “It will be difficult to keep active youngsters abed once they are more the thing.”

Vane raised his brows in disdain. “
I
shall see to it.”

“Of course, my lord!” the doctor blustered. “In any case, I will return at the end of the week, unless you need me before.”

Vane, now reassured about his children’s safety, bethought himself of his guests. He found them all gathered in the breakfast room.

“You look dreadful, Laurentian! You should seek your bed at once!” Tildie declared frankly. “But first, tell us what says the doctor.”

“The fever should break by tonight. But you need not be concerned. I have the situation in hand.”

He was strangely touched by the worried faces turned toward him; yet, he had been self-sufficient for so long, it was impossible to let the barriers down. His gaze paused at Georgina’s slightly stern countenance. Now her eyes were not smiling—as Leticia had observed—they were wide with a deep crease of concern between them. The expression was appropriate, but he marveled that he missed the sassy wit and bold self-confidence that filled the atmosphere around her with life.

“Is there anything you
will
allow us to do to help?” Her voice was polite, but her choice of words did not escape him.

“Yes, Vane! Can’t let Lawrence and Leticia languish in the sickroom without a bit of fun.” Amesley flicked him a smile. “Lady Sabrina and I are all set for that game of jackstraws when they are well enough.”

Lady Sabrina flushed, but instead of staring down at her toes, managed to give Amesley a smile that indeed made her pretty. Extremely pretty, Vane noted, although she lacked her mother’s animation.

“Thank you for your concern, but I shall look after the children myself.” Years of control could not be so easily abandoned. Expecting opposition, he glanced quickly toward Georgina, but she remained uncharacteristically silent. He unbent enough to grab a piece of toast from the sideboard. “I shall join you all at dinner and inform you of the children’s progress.”

It was a promise he had every intention of keeping, but as the hours ticked by, even his iron will wasn’t proof against exhaustion. He’d brought a chair and propped it against the wall between the children’s rooms so he’d be within earshot. After the doctor’s visit and their breakfast, strangely enough, both had fallen back to sleep. After the third time he caught himself nodding off, he sought his own chamber.

He carefully removed his whipcord chocolate jacket and unwound his neck cloth to place it carefully into his valet’s waiting hand. Then to Marlowe’s horror, he flung himself half-clothed across the bed. Too well-trained to do more than cluck with disapproval, the valet left Vane in peace, closing the door quietly behind him.

Vane stretched and sighed, conscious of the responsibilities facing him. He would close his eyes for a few moments, no more.

As exhaustion overtook his willpower, he found himself in the grips of a powerful dream: He wandered through a cold stone building, alone. Taunts and jibes echoed off the walls, which closed in around him, trapping him. There at the end of the hall stood a group of laughing, shouting boys. He was back at Eton, very small, very frightened, very much out of his element.

The boys surrounded him suddenly, and they pulled his too-long flaming red curls, teasing him. In that circle of hostile faces, there wasn’t one spark of sympathy. He had no one to defend him, but himself. This was not the first time they had attacked him, or the tenth, or the fifteenth. But, of a sudden, he determined it would be the last!

The feel of his fist against the first boy’s jaw sent a shock quivering through him. The crunch as his hand smashed into the second’s nose was terrifying. And a sense of power grew within as he successfully fought them off.

They all ran then, and he ran, too, his breath gasping through his tight hot throat. He ran back through the hallways to his room, latched the door, and grabbed a glass to examine the bruises forming on his face. Badges of honor. He grabbed up a scissors, determined to cut off the hateful curls—but instead, he ran a comb through them, taming them somewhat and only trimmed them slightly.

He shivered with cold and lifted his lids to blink into utter darkness. Taking a deep breath, he remembered where he was,
who
he was. What he had
dreamed
. That day, so long ago, he learned the truth of power—he never gave up his individuality. It was then he made his decision to be the best in everything so no one dare taunt him again. And he buried deep within the powerful emotions that had surged through him when taking revenge against his attackers.

Painstakingly over the years, he had built an icy wall of aloofness. It had served him well. He shook his head to clear it. It still did.

The connecting door to his dressing room creaked open. Marlowe stood in his night robe holding a lighted candle before him. “My lord, you are awake.”

“Good God, Marlowe, what is the time?”

“Midnight, my lord.”

“Midnight! Why didn’t you wake me?” His roar of outrage sent his valet scurrying around the chamber, lighting a candelabra on the mantel and poking up the fire.

“I would have done so, my lord, but the Duchess of Worthington forbade me.”

Knowing just how forceful Tildie could be, Vane was somewhat mollified. He nodded coolly at his quivering manservant. “It’s done, Marlowe. I suppose Her Grace has also been attending the children.”

His valet’s relief at the return of Vane’s habitual calmness was so enormous, he forgot himself and actually laughed. “Oh, I should say, my lord. The ladies have taken over the sickroom.”

He should have seen through their demure acquiescence at breakfast, especially Georgina’s uncharacteristic silence. Now, he had no recourse but to accept their help with as much grace as possible.

“Since the ladies have surely retired, I shall be in charge once again. Carry on as usual, Marlowe.”

“Oh, but, my lord…”

“That will be all!” Vane stalked from the room, still in dishabille.

As they had last night, both children’s doors stood open to the dimly lit hall. Lawrence was sleeping peacefully, his skin cooler to Vane’s touch. He tiptoed into his daughter’s bedchamber and stopped as if he’d walked into an invisible wall.

Georgina, her rich brown hair tumbling about her shoulders, was curled up in the rocking chair next to the bed. Her eyes were closed, the long dark lashes outlined against the cream of her cheek. He stood for a moment regarding her. Then he realized there was a slight chill in the room, as the fire had burned down to embers.

The chair rocked her gently toward him as he tucked a quilted coverlet around her. She stirred, the coverlet slipping down to reveal her night robe had parted. The rules of his world dictated that he not awaken her. In truth, he should remove himself at once. But good manners and a sense of gratitude for her care of his children commanded he not allow her to sprawl uncovered in the chair.

He tried again, kneeling before the chair. As he tucked the coverlet behind her, covering her transparent night rail, his face brushed her soft hair and he felt her sweet breath against his throat.

His grip was all steel lined with velvet as he eased her back into the depths of the chair, away from his warmth. In sleep, her lips were slightly parted and full. He wondered how they would taste against his own.

As he watched, her eyes fluttered open and her gaze met his.

“Forry…” She said his name on a sigh.

Desire burned hot coals low in his abdomen. Suddenly her sherry-washed eyes were full of awareness, and he knew she too felt the desire pulsing between them. She shivered, and shook her head slowly in denial.

“Georgina.” Unwisely, he reached out to pull her into his arms, to taste those forbidden lips.

“Mama, I … Oh!” Sabrina’s soft shriek brought them both to their senses.

Georgina, holding his eyes, withdrew into the protection of her coverlet. He couldn’t seem to look away either. He jumped to his feet and backed across the room.

Women had their place in his life, he had just moved his latest mistress out of the snug house in Bishop’s Woods; but, he had no intention, now or at any time in the future, of disrupting his ordered existence with falling in love.

Gruffly he ordered Sabrina, “I am here now, so take your mother off to bed.”

Pulling on the thick plait hanging over one shoulder, she glanced nervously in her mother’s direction, but still didn’t move from the doorway.

“Lord Vane is right, Sabrina. Come, we shall return to our chambers.” She rose from the chair, her heavy hair curved across her cheek, hiding her face.

BOOK: My Lord's Lady
8.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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