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Authors: The Weaver Takes a Wife

Sheri Cobb South (21 page)

* * * *

Once outside, Mr. Brundy stepped into the gaslit street and took a deep breath. The pain in his head had disappeared as if by magic, and for the first time since the viscount had pounded on his door, he allowed himself to feel the full range of emotions which, in the interest of keeping a level head, he had held firmly in check all evening: the horror of knowing that the woman he loved was in danger, and the relief of finding her unharmed; the cold fury that had made him long to inflict bodily injury upon Lord Waverly, and the wonder of knowing that Lady Helen had already done so, and in his defense; the fear of losing the mill, and the satisfaction of discovering himself the winner by a scant four points. And most of all, the sheer, giddy elation of hearing his wife’s parting words. She would no doubt be frantic with worry by now, but since she and her brother had taken the curricle, he was forced to prolong her agony while he walked home.

A crossing sweeper plied his trade on the corner in the hopes of being rewarded by those members of the nobility returning home in the wee hours after a night of merriment. Mr. Brundy, in charity with the whole world, did not disappoint him.

“ ‘ave you a wife, me good man?” he asked the sweeper.

“Aye, guvnor, that I do,” was the reply.

“You ‘ave me ‘eartiest congratulations,” said Mr. Brundy, tossing the man a crown piece.

“Thankee, sir,” the sweeper said, tugging on his forelock. “And a pleasant evening to you and your lady wife.”

He hastily swept a path for his benefactor to cross, but he need not have bothered, for Mr. Brundy was hardly aware of the pavement beneath his feet. He was going home to his lady wife, who loved him.

 

Chapter 15

 

Love...levels all ranks,

and lays the shepherd’s crook

Beside the scepter.

EDWARD BULWER-LYTTON,
The Lady of Lyons

 

“What can be keeping him so long?” Lady Helen wondered aloud as she restlessly paced the drawing room, her skirts flaring about her in a swirl of ruby red satin each time she changed direction.

“They do have six hands to play, you know,” pointed out her brother from his vantage point on the sofa.

“If he loses his mill, I shall never forgive myself,” declared Lady Helen, not for the first time.

“Confound it, Nell, have a little faith in your husband,” the viscount admonished his sister. “Seems to me we’ve underestimated the fellow. For all you know, he might win.”

“We played piquet one night in Lancashire, Teddy,” she confessed, neglecting to mention the stakes on that particular occasion. “I won.”

The viscount let out a long, low whistle, an unflattering estimation of his sister’s skill at cards. “Even if he does lose the mill, he’ll hardly be destitute,” he argued, struggling for something positive to say. “Papa had him investigated quite thoroughly before giving him permission to address you, and it seems he has a respectable income just from his dealings on ‘Change.”

Lady Helen shook her head. “It isn’t just the money, Teddy. That mill means the world to him. I’ll never forgive myself if he loses it because of me,” she said yet again, making another circuit around the room.

“It isn’t your fault, Nell,” Tisdale said soothingly.

This was perhaps an unfortunate observation, as it reminded Lady Helen of the true author of her distress. “Quite right, Teddy. It’s
your
fault, and I’ll never forgive you, either.”

Thus chastened, the viscount abandoned his rôle as comforter. But without the well-meaning interruptions of her brother, Lady Helen’s imagination was free to wander where it would, and her thoughts immediately took a downward turn. If fortunes could be made on the Exchange, they could be lost there as well. Perhaps her husband was more dependent on the mill for his livelihood than her father’s sources had realized. Perhaps, after a brief, cruel taste of prosperity, he was about to be thrown back upon the parish. Well, she determined, if he returned to the workhouse, he would not go alone. She was still his wife, for richer, for poorer, and she would follow him to the ends of the earth.

Her pacing came to an abrupt halt when she heard the front door open and then close. Measured footsteps echoed across the hall, and a moment later Mr. Brundy appeared in the doorway. He looked weary to the point of exhaustion, but his brown eyes blazed with a light which could have been anything from the fevered glow of victory to the half-crazed despair of a ruined man. His hands, she noted with a growing sense of dread, were empty.

She would have rushed to comfort him, but her feet refused to go forward, and when she spoke, her voice was little more than a whisper.

“Mr. Brundy?”

Without a word, he advanced into the room and moved to stand behind her. Then, withdrawing the necklace from the breast pocket of his coat, he draped it around her neck and fastened the clasp. The last vestige of Lady Helen’s self-possession fled. She buried her face in her hands and burst into great, wrenching sobs that shook her whole body.

“ ‘ush, now, love, it’s all over and no ‘arm done,” murmured Mr. Brundy, drawing her into his arms and holding her close.

“I say, dashed fine show!” exclaimed the viscount, leaping to his feet to congratulate his brother-in-law. “You must tell me how you did it!”

“Tomorrow, per’aps, but not now,” replied Mr. Brundy in a voice that brooked no argument. “Much as I enjoy your company, Theodore, I think I’ve ‘ad me fill of it for one night.”

Tisdale’s wide-eyed gaze shifted from Mr. Brundy to the weeping woman in his arms, and back again. “Right-o!” he said with a broad grin, taking his abrupt dismissal in the spirit in which it was intended. “Until tomorrow, then!”

Mr. Brundy continued to hold his wife long after the viscount had gone, murmuring endearments into her ear and drinking in the lavender scent of the honey-colored tendrils tickling his nose. At length, her tears ceased to flow, and she raised her eyes to his.

“Oh, Mr. Brundy, however did you manage it?” she asked.

He merely shrugged. “Just because I don’t choose to gamble doesn’t mean I don’t know ‘ow.”

“But when we played piquet in Lancashire, you were
dreadful!”
insisted Lady Helen.

“ ‘aven’t you guessed, love? I let you win that night.”

“Oh.” As she digested the implications of this disclosure, Lady Helen stiffened in his embrace. “In fact, you didn’t
want
to kiss me.”

“Is that what you think, ‘elen?”

The look in his eyes made her heart beat unaccountably faster, and she let her gaze drop to the top button of his waistcoat. “Truth to tell, I don’t know quite
what
to think of you, Mr. Brundy. Papa said you desired an aristocratic wife to solidify your position in Society, but you have never appeared to me to be overly concerned with Society’s opinion of you. To be sure, you have never been anything but good to me, but the same may be said of the way you treat your workers—”

“I’ve never treated any of my workers like this,” objected Mr. Brundy, pulling her none too gently into his arms and kissing her in a way that left no doubts as to the violence of his affections.

“Oh!” said Lady Helen unsteadily, when she could speak at all. “Lord Waverly said that you were—were not indifferent to me.”

“Not indifferent to you?” he echoed incredulously.

“I believe ‘besotted’ was the word he used,” she confessed.

“For once, I find meself in complete agreement with ‘is lordship. I’ve loved you from the moment I saw you, ‘elen. I took one look at you and it was bellows to mend, and no mistake. Made a regular cake of meself, I did, vowing on the spot that I was going to marry you and browbeating poor David Markham into introducing me.”

Lady Helen flinched at the memory of her own behavior on that occasion. “And I was perfectly beastly to you!”

“And why shouldn’t you be? You were used to ‘obnobbing with peers of the realm, not work’ouse brats. ‘ad it not been for me, you would’ve married a dook or an earl with a title to match your own.”

“I can think of no title I should covet so much as that of Mrs. Brundy,” said Lady Helen.

“Still and all, love, I’ll never be a fine gentleman like your other suitors.”

“That’s not true!” she protested, emphasizing the point by clinging rather closer. “You have always been a gentleman in the noblest and best sense of the word, and—and you are the finest person I’ve ever known, Mr. Brundy.”

“Do you know, ‘elen, it’s become something of an ambition of mine to ‘ear me given name on your lips?”

“And do you always achieve your ambitions, Mr. Brundy?” she asked breathlessly.

“Always, up to now. Please, ‘elen. 'Tis the only name I can offer you that’s truly me own.”

“Very well—Ethan,” whispered Lady Helen.

“Say it again,” he commanded, and although his tone was playful, there was a light in his eyes which would not be denied.

“Ethan,” she repeated, with more conviction.

“Louder.”

“Ethan,” she said a third time, laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Mr. Brundy, having at last heard his name upon her lips, lost no more time in kissing it off. Alas, this pleasant enterprise came to an abrupt end when Lady Helen pulled away.

“Oh, Mr. Brun—that is, Ethan, darling!—I’ve a confession to make.”

“What is it, love?”

“About that five hundred pounds—”

“Pray don’t think of it again,” insisted her husband.

“Oh, but I must! You see, I felt so perfectly dreadful about lying to you that I donated all my pin money to a school for orphans, and so if I am to replace my dancing slippers or buy new gloves or—or anything of that nature, I am completely at your mercy.”

Mr. Brundy took a moment to contemplate the strength of his position before asking, “Completely at me mercy, you say?”

Lady Helen nodded.

“And if I’ve none?”

“Then I suppose I must economize by remaining quietly at home until next quarter day.”

“That settles it! You’ll not ‘ave a brass farthing out of me,” declared Mr. Brundy, softening the blow, however, by kissing her again.

“Well, then,” said Lady Helen with uncharacteristic shyness, “since it seems I am to have a great deal of time on my hands, perhaps—”

Finding her reluctant to continue, he prompted, “Per’aps what, love?”

She took a deep breath. “Perhaps we need not wait a
full
six months, after all.”

Gripping her shoulders, he looked intently into her green eyes. “Are you sure?”

Her color was high, but her voice was steady. “Quite sure, Ethan.”

Mr. Brundy needed no further invitation. Without a word, he swept his wife up in his arms and started for the stairs.

* * * *

As dawn cast its gray light over Mayfair, Sukey tiptoed into her mistress’s bedchamber to clean the grate and light the fire. She was brought up short by the sight of Lady Helen’s undisturbed bed and the fine linen nightdress spread out, untouched, on the counterpane. My lady, it seemed, had flown the nest.

Self-preservation struggled with duty as Sukey vacillated on what course of action to take. Should she risk a beating and waken the master to inform him of his wife’s defection, or should she keep a still tongue in her head, and risk a beating when he discovered she had known all along? To be sure, Mrs. Givens might swear that he hadn’t an unkind bone in his body, but then,
her
position was secure. In the end, however, duty carried the day, and Sukey picked up the key from Lady Helen’s bedside table, unlocked the connecting door into the master’s bedchamber, and silently turned the knob.

Her jaw dropped at the sight which met her eyes. My lady’s magnificent diamond necklace lay on the table beside the bed, along with a number of hairpins. The bed curtains were drawn tightly shut, but the sounds of soft sighs and deep, satiated breathing emitting from within betrayed the presence of more than one sleeping inhabitant. Most telling of all, the carpet was littered with Mr. Brundy’s coat, waitcoat, breeches, shirt, and cravat—along with Lady Helen’s ruby-red gown, petticoat, shift, white silk stockings, and dainty satin garters.

As the significance of her discovery began to dawn, Sukey’s ash can slid to the floor unnoticed, and she ran from the room.

“Mrs. Givens! Mrs. Givens!” she shrieked as she clattered down the back stairs. “You’ll never credit it, ma’am, I’ll
swear
you won’t!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheri Cobb South is the award-winning author of five Regency novels, including
The Weaver Takes a Wife, Miss Darby’s Duenna,
and
Of Paupers and Peers.
  She has also written a number of teen romances for Bantam’s long-running Sweet Dreams series, and her short fiction has appeared in national magazines such as
Woman’s World, ‘Teen,
and
Campus Life.
  She made her mystery debut in 2006 with the publication of
In Milady’s Chamber
, which introduced Bow Street Runner John Pickett.  Sheri lives in Mobile, Alabama with her family, and loves to hear from readers.  She may be contacted at [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © by Sheri Cobb South

Originally published by PrinnyWorld Press (0966800508)

Electronically published in 2007 by Belgrave House/Regency Reads

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

No portion of this book may be reprinted in whole or in part, by printing, faxing, E-mail, copying electronically or by any other means without permission of the publisher. For more information, contact Belgrave House, 190 Belgrave Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94117-4228

 

     http://www.RegencyReads.com

     Electronic sales: [email protected]

 

This is a work of fiction. All names in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to any person living or dead is coincidental.

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