Authors: Susan Sizemore
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Fiction
On a Long Ago
"WE HAVE UNFINISHED BUSINESS, YOU AND I."
"You remember what we were doing when we were
interrupted," James continued.
Honoria paled, but her voice was steady and
sarcastic when she said, "I have a vague recollection of
some minor activity we were engaged in."
James twined his fingers with hers beneath the
dinner table; her hand was icy cold.
"In the garden," he whispered seductively.
"Remember? The birds sang."
"The birds were caged."
"The fountain played."
"The base was cracked. It leaked," she sniffed.
"There were jasmine and roses."
She gave the slightest of haughty nods. "I do recall
studying the garden in some detail."
"You were flat on your back on a bed of flowers."
James ran his thumb slowly across the back of her hand.
"We will finish what we started."
AVON BOOKS, INC.
Copyright © 2000 by Susan Sizemore
For my sister, Mary Buso.
Take care of yourself.
Love, Susan G.
put up with this, Father. Not for a
She balled her fists at her side. "I am going to stamp
my foot now. I tell you, since you cannot see it for the
width of my skirts."
The Duke of Pyneham smiled.
He was an indulgent father. She was a loving
daughter. Their disagreements were few, and her
tendency since the death of her mother had shattered him
eight years ago had been to give in to whatever he wished
of her. There had been entire weeks back then when he'd
stayed in his room with the curtains shut. She'd nursed
him and coddled him and whispered and tiptoed and done
whatever else she could to bring him out of his grief.
Gradually, he'd returned to the world.
Honoria realized that what had been necessary for
his well-being back then had now become habit for both
of them. Still, she hadn't expected this when he'd asked
for a private word with her in the library of their London
townhouse—though she supposed she should have. Eight
years in the country among her books and correspondence
must have dulled her wits.
She looked into his smiling face and added, "You
are trying to manipulate me."
He crossed his arms. "I've been manipulating you
from the first. Of course I was planning your marriage
when I asked you to come to London to act as my hostess
for the Coronation season, instead of your cousin Kate.
I'm surprised you've just now realized it, a clever lass like
"I am no lass. More of a Scottish milkmaid tricked
out in a silly dress." She glanced down at her gown, a
frothy creation of palest foam green and creamy lace, and
grimaced. Why she had allowed her dressmaker to talk
her into such an unbecoming gown, she had no idea. A
moment of feminine weakness, perhaps? Here she was, a
strapping, freckle-faced redhead wearing spectacles and
standing nearly six foot tall, tricked out in an outfit far
more suitable for a delicate young miss's come out. She'd
come out, and gone back in, quite some time ago. What
she wore might be all the rage, but it was most definitely
not her. "Mutton dressed as spring lamb," she scoffed.
"I'm twenty-six years old."
"All the more reason for you to do as I bid. Every
eligible man in Britain is waiting in the ballroom upstairs
for you. And you look lovely."
"As cows go."
"You're beautiful, my dear."
"You are looking through the eyes of love, sir." She
laughed bitterly. "And all those eligible men will tell me
I'm beautiful because they're looking through the eyes of
She was the rarest of rarities, a woman who was
heiress to a ducal title and fortune in her own right. She'd
have ignored them tonight as she always did, but her
father had just informed her that she must choose a
husband. They'd been arguing about it for nearly half an
hour now, late for their own ball.
"I trust you to know the men who are fools and liars
and cheats from the one who will truly mean it."
"I didn't before," she reminded him.
"You were young. You are not so young now," he
went on relentlessly. "And I want grandchildren."
She simply was not ready to deal with this subject—
would never be able to deal with it.
She had left her heart somewhere in North Africa —
well, it had been broken, anyway—and her freedom was
all she had left. Now her father was demanding she give
She had been betrothed once and betrayed twice.
She wanted no man in her life. No husband. Children
would have been a blessing, but she was willing to settle
for supporting large numbers of orphans rather than
enduring the physical act required for begetting progeny.
It was not that she loathed the idea of a man in her bed.
Her problem was exactly the opposite, in fact. Passion
was her downfall, one she would not allow in her life ever
"If you wish to dandle something on your knee, I
don't see why I have to be involved in the process."
Honoria took a deep breath. "You are not so old, sir. Any
woman in Britain would be lucky to have you as a
She had expected the hurt look that came into his
eyes. She had not expected his fist to come down
forcefully on the polished alabaster top of the table next
to him. She took an involuntary step back.
Her father's face, as red as a beet for a moment,
returned to normal and he crossed his arms. "I will not
wed again, my dear. You know that very well," he said
grandchildren, but among the most important is that I
want something of your mother to survive. You are so
like her, in looks and in temperament." He put his hands
on her shoulders. "I want you to have children and
grandchildren of your own. You are my and your
Honoria's throat tightened with emotion.
"Therefore," he added sternly, "you will wed. Soon,
my dearest Lady Alexandra Margaret Frances Honoria
Pyne. I command it."
And he had the right to command her, as head of the
family. He very rarely did. He was a man who asked
nicely, or suggested, or merely hinted—and not very
often, or for very much. She was used to doing pretty
much as she pleased most of the time, and liked it that
way. But it was his right to command her obedience, as
his daughter and his heir. She could see the stubbornness
in his eyes and in the set of his jaw. She'd often seen
similar stubbornness looking back at her out of a mirror,
and knew how hard it was to get around a Pyne who'd
made up his mind.
"I vowed never to marry after Derrick broke off our
engagement," she told him. "Perhaps I have never
mentioned that to you before, but I did make the vow."
"You were young and heartsore. Your heart has had
time to mend. It is time for you to go back out into the
world." He smiled fondly, though he looked no less
adamant. "Go out and conquer it."
"Ah," she said. "You want me to heave some likely
lad over my shoulder and haul him home for stud service,
is that it?"
"No. I want some likely lad to be strong enough to
conquer you." He waved a hand in the general direction
of the world beyond the library. "Unfortunately, we have
to start the search among the peers of the realm. It's not
milquetoast you need, my girl, but a real man. We'll start
with every eligible bachelor of noble birth in Britain, and
move on from there if we have to. I'd as soon see you
married to an innkeeper, if the man made you happy."
"We?" She canted an eyebrow at him. "I want no
part of this manhunt."
"The hunt is on, whether you like it or not." He
offered her his arm. "And now it's time to meet our
Blast! Well, there was really no use in prolonging
the argument. All she had to do was go off and be her
usual prickly self, and the suitors would scurry off to find
more accommodating game. She smiled just a little at that
thought. Then she plucked off her spectacles, which she
never wore in public, and gave her father her arm.
"Lead on, sir," she told him. "And we'll let all those
would-be St. Georges have a turn at the dragon."
"It's about time your father asked me to take you in
hand," Cousin Kate whispered, none too quietly, as she
stood beside Honoria in the receiving line by the
doorway. Most of the guests had finally arrived, and the
duke was now making his effusive way around the knots
of gathered people. Honoria lingered by the entrance, in
the formal role she preferred. She could speak a polite
word or merely nod and send people on their way as
propriety demanded. Here she was in control while
behaving in a manner that was utterly correct for her
position in society.
"I have plans, indeed I do," Kate added. "There
hasn't been a wedding in the family in too long a time."
Lady Kate Kilgrew was a widow in her fifties, a
second cousin of the duke's on his mother's side. The late
General Kilgrew had served honorably under Wellington,
and rumor had it that Lady Kate had as well. She never
denied having been anyone's mistress, though she never
claimed to have been, either. She said that gave her an air
of mystery, though in these sadly moralistic times it was
better to come down on the side of discretion, if a choice
had to be made. She was as fond of society as Honoria
was of privacy, and quite the most opinionated person
Honoria had ever met, save herself, of course. Lady Kate
was a short thing, as round and pink as a ripe peach.
"I've married off four children of my own," Lady
Kate reminded Honoria, tapping her on the arm with her
folded fan when Honoria persisted in ignoring her. "So it
isn't as if I'm not experienced in these matters. You look
ridiculous in pastels, by the way," she added.
"I know," Honoria agreed. She knew Kate had been
expecting an argument and was pleased to have
confounded her. "I've already ordered gowns more to my
taste, so you needn't bother foisting your dressmaker on
me." She plucked at the satin bell of her skirt. "This was