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 (5 page)

BOOK: My Lord's Lady
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In the dim light, he couldn’t make out the expression in her eyes. Without speaking, she gathered her daughter to her side and defiantly walked down the long hall away from him.

He forced his breathing into its natural rhythm. A lifetime of control would not be lost in one moment of weakness, he decided as he paced the corridor outside his children’s rooms. He would conquer these feelings, whatever they were, just as he ordered everything else in his life, of that he had no doubts!

Chapter 5

The effort he took to stay out of Georgina’s way for the next three days was the distraction that caused him restless nights, he decided. His preoccupation was so great that he lost to Amesley at cards, something he rarely, if ever, did. Naturally, he blamed this on his excessive concern for his children.

He had limited his contact with all the ladies to the most transitory, so as to not single out Georgina. It seemed to be inordinately easy to accomplish. At one dinner Georgina begged to be excused due to a headache, and the next evening he had urgent business to attend to.

Certainly he was not experiencing any difficulty dealing with his feelings. In fact, if they were all not forced to remain together in his house, he felt sure he would have already conquered—whatever it was that bothered him.

It didn’t seem fair that the mere glimpse of her in Leticia’s room could conjure up the urge to taste the forbidden fruit of her mouth. But after the debacle of losing to Amesley, he seemed to be unable to focus on anything but these feelings she inspired.

Usually he took what he wanted with cool detachment. In this case, that course of action was not possible. Although Georgina was a mature woman of his world, and he knew from personal experience her counterparts enjoyed liaisons wherever and with whomever they pleased, he sensed that she, for all her bold manner, was not of that ilk. In addition, she was Tildie’s beloved stepdaughter.

But even more frightening to him was the loss of his carefully cultivated control. He even went so far, one night in his study, to list the difficulties a misalliance with her would create. For a few hours that exercise reassured him. But on his next glimpse of her, the list, the reasons, all went out of his head. He had not been this emotional since that fateful day at Eton when the cowardly Laurentian Wilburforce was re-created into the aloof Vane.

Vane decided to generate another excuse to miss dinner this evening after the night before when the company dined practically in silence. It was so marked that even Sabrina attempted to break the tension by initiating a topic—the Elgin Marbles—which failed miserably when the others noticed a look that flashed between Georgina and himself. Just as he was about to declare insanity, he was interrupted in his library by Amesley.

Amesley strolled in, without knocking, casually cupping two brandy snifters in his long fingers, attempting to control a monumental grin. “I’m to be the brave one who dares confront the lion in his den,” he quipped.

Really this was too much! Lifting his brows, Vane forced his mouth into its habitual mockery and took the amber-filled crystal between two fingers. “What are you blathering on about?”

“Vane, it’s as plain as the nose on your face that you and Georgina are avoiding one another. The intriguing question is why.” He settled his lean frame in the chair on the other side of the hearth as blithely as you please.

“Don’t be absurd, Peter! It does you no credit.” Vane tossed the brandy down. Its burn was a refreshing reminder that the world still had some normalcy. He met his friend’s eyes. “I assure you it’s all in your imagination.”

“Mine. And Tildie’s. And the little Sabrina’s as well.” He let that sink in while he fetched the decanter and poured another glass for Vane. “In any case, I know for a fact Georgina’s avoiding you. Told me so herself,” he declared with aplomb.

Irrationally, that rankled. “How peculiar,” Vane returned more tersely than he’d intended. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Knew you hadn’t. You’ve been too busy doing the same!” Amesley’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “Been friends since that day at Eton when you saved me, Forry. You have my ear if you need it.

“What I obviously need is to better entertain my guests.” Downing this brandy he rose to his feet. “Come, let us find the ladies and plan a divertissement. Are they in the front parlour?”

“Last I spied them, they were off to visit your children.”

His lips almost curled into a rueful smile before he caught himself. What could be better than to confront the object of his torment than where it had begun in earnest!

The children were bored. They’d been confined to the house for the better part of a week, and a certain restlessness was leading them to tease each other. Georgina, despite her determination to put
from her mind, was more amused than indignant over the fact Vane had so carefully avoided her. Truth be told, she didn’t want to see him either. And so she had told an inquisitive Amesley when he had remarked about his friend’s odd behavior.

Of course, she had told no one, not even Tildie, the real reason she had not been herself since that night. Not even to herself did she wish to acknowledge the feelings that had burned through her blood in that moment they had swayed provocatively close. She had wished for his kiss as much as he had wanted to kiss her. It was deuced uncomfortable that they both were fully aware of it, and both fighting to pretend it had never happened.

Suddenly the ridiculous specter of two mature adults acting like green youngsters tickled her sense of humor, and she burst into laughter.

Leticia blinked up at her from the floor where she sat drawing designs on a sheet of parchment. “I’m so happy your eyes are smiling again.”

Taking the child’s hands, Georgina swung them to and fro. “You’re right! We’ve been much too glum. I think we should do something truly delightful today, since you and Lawrence are so much better.”

“What do you suggest, Georgina?” Tildie asked from the rocking chair where she mended linen just to have something to occupy her time.

“Lawrence and Leticia must decide,” Georgina threw herself into the spirit of the moment, anything to take her mind off … “You must each decide what is your greatest wish right at this moment.”

A wistful sigh escaped Leticia’s lips as she glanced out the window at the misty day. “I wish it was summer, and we could have a picnic. I love picnics ever so much. Father only lets us go on them in the country.”

Her twin hesitated, still seeming a trifle uncertain of the merriment they had tried to introduce into the sickroom. Finally, he looked up at her. “I would enjoy playing a game of hide-and-seek,” he said slowly, as if the treat was beyond measure.

“Oh yes, yes!” Leticia bounced up and down on the rug, her gold-red curls flying. “A picnic and a game of hide-and-seek!”

“Then, so it shall be!” Georgina declared, standing and flicking out the folds of her favorite willow green satin day dress. “Follow me.”

Laughing, Sabrina caught Leticia’s hand and helped her from the floor.

“Lawrence, escort me please,” Tildie demanded, and immediately he presented his curved arm.

They made a great processional down the front stairs, Sabrina making a mock trumpet with her hands and tooting, albeit softly. Foweley came into the front hall wide-eyed. He appeared shaken by her demands, but even he was not proof against the children’s gasps of pleasure as they heard what she requested.

“At once, my lady!” he assured her, twirling on his heel to do her bidding.

By the time they arrived in the vast ballroom, two maids and three footmen were moving the heavy carved chairs against the walls and spreading a veritable mountain of coverlets and pillows upon the highly polished wooden floor. Another footmen built up a roaring fire in the enormous fireplaces at either end of the room.

Sabrina had retreated to her room and came now bearing hats or scarves for each to choose, “as protection from the blazing sun.”

For some reason that pronouncement sent Lawrence into gales of laughter. Once they were all settled comfortably, a picnic was spread out before them. Vane’s excellent French chef had outdone himself to create the fantasy. There was cold roast fowl, slabs of crusty bread, two kinds of cheese, the children’s favorite shortbread, ripe red apples, and lemonade.

While they ate, Sabrina and Tildie took turns roasting the children with fantastic tales of picnics they had attended.

“That was ever so delicious,” Leticia cooed, snuggling closer to Sabrina, when she was finished.

“Now can we … play?” Lawrence asked with a tentative smile.

“Of course we can!” Georgina declared, pushing to her feet. “Would you like to begin, Lawrence?”

Would his father’s eyes blaze so brightly if he ever smiled like this, Georgina wondered absently. Refusing to concentrate on such an absurdity, she ruffled the boy’s silky hair.

“The rules are: there are no rules! Everyone has to stay in this room, though, agreed? Now we shall all hide as you count very slowly to twenty.”

Vane had counted on having his confrontation with
now and getting it over with. But the ladies were nowhere to be found, not in the morning room, or the children’s rooms. He could feel his tension building, but attempted to remain very blasé as he observed.

“It appears the ladies have unwisely allowed the children to leave their rooms.”

Amesley flicked him an uneasy glance. “I’m sure there was a good reason.”

Not deigning to answer, Vane spun away. It was one matter for Georgina to throw his thoughts into chaos, but it was quite another for her to upset the well-ordered routine of his home and family!

Laughter, childish and other echoed from the third floor. Without consideration he thundered down the hall and took the stairs two at a time. He flung open the wide double doors of the ballroom, and to his surprise Sabrina spun past him, tripping prettily into Amesley’s waiting arms.

“Oh.” In a flash she appeared to conquer her shyness to meet Amesley’s startled eyes. “I’m so sorry, my lord.”

Incredibly, the rakish Amesley blushed, but recovered quickly to ask, “What delights have we interrupted?”

“We are playing hide-and-seek with the children,” she replied simply.

Vane stood for a few moments, stiff with shock as his gaze took in the muddle in the middle of the ballroom, including the remains of their sumptuous spread. A thundering wave of anger washed over him as his son, wearing his night robe and slippers, crawled out from beneath a long trestle table at one end of the room. A moment later his sister, likewise dressed, followed him. Their faces were healthy and happy, but he managed to dismiss that thought at once.

“What is the meaning of this?” His roar caused the crystal drops on the chandelier to quiver; even the flames in the hearth appeared to cower.

In three long strides, he reached his stunned children and cupped their cheeks with his hands. At least their flushed cheeks were not due to a renewed fever! Before he could begin to question them, Tildie stepped from behind a long wine-colored drape at one of the tall window embrasures. Silently, she studied him for a long moment.

Her composure brought him up short. A loud creaking noise drew his attention to the large black walnut armoire where Georgina peeped out merrily.

“I guess I wi…” She stopped short when she saw him there.

He glared at her, letting go of his children to cross the room and tower over her, menacingly close.

“I can guess whose idea this is. I wish to speak with you in the library forthwith,” he hissed through a tight jaw. Not waiting for her reply, he turned away. His retreat was blocked by Tildie, her knowing eyes demanding his indulgence.

“Sabrina and I shall accompany the children back to their rooms, Laurentian,” she stated crisply.

Almost bewilderedly, he nodded then fled to the library. Emotion bit at his nerves and he vowed to settle this once and for all!

A long whistle escaped Amesley’s pursed lips. “Never seen Forry like this.”

“Father is…”

“Angry,” Leticia finished for her twin. They stood with clasped hands, gazing around in fear.

gets angry,” Lawrence uttered softly.

“Yes, it is quite interesting.” Tildie declared, taking each child by the hand. She settled her dark piercing eyes on Georgina, who had stood immobile since Vane’s attack. “What do you plan to do about it, my dear child?”

Georgina was stunned by this turn of events. Vane’s whole air of detachment was gone, and decidedly so. He appeared vulnerable. This turn of events was infinitely more threatening to her fragile resolve to put him from her thoughts.

But she needs must remain strong, not only for herself but for the children. She looked Tildie squarely in the eyes. “I plan to have a long overdue talk with our host, and afterward I shall join you in the nursery.”

She swept from the room with her chin thrust to the ceiling as armor. She wasn’t sure quite how she’d end this nonsense once and for all, she just knew she had to.

She pulled the library door open peremptorily and locked it behind her. Vane stood at the hearth, the flickering firelight arcing a halo of red in his shiny auburn hair. His eyes had darkened to navy as though to mask the strength of his inner struggle.

She was suddenly frightened by what she was about to do, but deep inside she knew it was the only course to follow. She needed answers, not only for herself, but for him.

She chose to start on the attack. “You have frightened your children over nothing. They have recovered sufficiently to be allowed from their rooms, and well you know it. Your anger is not about something as simple as a picnic and games to amuse your children. You are angry at yourself, and at me, for what seems to be happening between us against our will.”

“Your boldness is, as always, charming.” His drawl was decidedly pronounced. “But in this case, you are quite correct.” He took a menacing step away from the fireplace and toward her. “What do you propose we do about it?”

Slightly unnerved, she took a step back and looked at him warily.

He crossed the room to stand over her. “I repeat, what do you propose we should do about it?”

She lifted her chin and glared up at him. “It seems obvious to everyone that something is going on. And it’s the height of absurdity. We are not green youths, Vane. We are both five and thirty. If we wish to indulge this totally inappropriate fascination … and kiss, we should do so. It will no doubt be the cure for both of us.” At the blaze in his eyes, her voice trailed off to a whisper.

“I’m tempted to put it to the test,” he challenged.

“Then by all means let us do so.” She gave back as good as she got, refusing to back down an inch.

He stared at her for a long moment until she stoically closed her eyelids. The touch of his hands on her shoulders burned right through to her skin, but she stood unresisting, and waited.

BOOK: My Lord's Lady
9.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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