Authors: Bethany Sefchick
Still, this time, for the first
time in a very long while, Amelia felt compelled to fight back, though she
could not say why.
Only that the need
to defend herself burned brightly within her, as it sometimes did when she was
extremely angry or upset.
"Or perhaps I have seen enough
of a woman making a cake of herself over a man who does not care for her and
will never marry her," Amelia shot back quickly, not giving a wit if she
was not being very ladylike or following any rules of propriety.
This was not like her, but for once, she did
She was normally very shy,
but then, Lydia always did seem to bring out the worst in her.
"If you truly believe that Lord
Weatherby will marry you, Lady Lydia, then perhaps it is you who do not see
things as they are."
"Do not cross me where the
earl is concerned," Lydia hissed.
"He is mine.
Or will be
You would do well to
remember that unless you wish to find your voucher for Almack's revoked."
Amelia did not particularly care if
she never set foot in the establishment again.
She had been pawed at by men seeking her fortune far too many times to
actively wish to go there again.
However, she also knew that Lady Lydia's family, particularly her
mother, was close to both Lady Cowper and Lady Jersey.
A word from them might ruin her family
socially and there would be no recovery from that kind of scandal.
She could not do that to her mother in
Amelia drew in a deep breath,
regretting her words of moments earlier, ones that had been said in anger.
That was not like her, but then she supposed
that jealousy did that to a woman.
"I have no claim over Lord Weatherby," she replied as evenly
"I am merely advising
you to be careful where the man is concerned.
He does as he wishes and is not controlled by anyone.
Push him too hard and he will rebel.
Of that I am certain.
I have known him far longer than most
anyone, after all."
dipped a curtsey at Lady Lydia.
"Now if you will excuse me, I feel the need to lay down for a
Lydia's words were succinct and came out as more of a low, clipped hiss
Amelia did her best to
ignore the other woman but when Lydia slapped the book out of her hands for
emphasis, causing it to fall to the floor with a great thump, that was rather
Amelia bent down to pick up the
book, careful to keep her eyes on Lydia when a shadow fell across the volume at
her feet, darkening nearly the entire corridor, dimly lit as it was, and
snatching the tome from her grasp moments before she could pick it up.
Do we have a problem?"
Amelia winced as she looked up into
the eyes of the one man she had desperately wished to avoid.
Of all the people to find her in the
corridor squabbling with Lady Lydia, it had to be David.
He might not care for her, but she also did
not want him to see her at her absolute worst, and her behavior just now had
skirted dangerously close to scandalous, not to mention childish.
"None at all, my
Lydia was back to her
sweet, simpering self, so pleasant and meek that butter wouldn't melt in her
"I was merely seeing if
Lady Amelia needed assistance.
leave the festivities so very early."
Then she smiled up at him prettily.
"When she dropped her book after feeling the effects of a megrim, I
merely wanted to help her."
"Such a pattern card of
charity you are, Miss Parham," he said, though the sarcasm in his voice
was lost on Lydia.
Either that or she
chose not to notice it.
not tell for the other woman's face wore nothing but a beatific smile.
Lydia fluttered her eyelids at the
"I do try, my
After all, what good is a young
woman without a good and noble heart?"
At Lydia's words, Amelia wanted to
cast up her accounts were she stood, though she did not think David would find
Or, given the twinkle in
his eyes, perhaps he would.
not say for certain.
What she did know
was that she wanted nothing more than to escape and retreat to the confines of
the lovely pink bedroom suite she had been assigned upon her arrival.
There, she could cry in peace, and allow her
heart to ache for all that would never be.
"As I said, a pattern card of
There was a dryness in
David's tone that Amelia was certain went completely unnoticed by Lydia this
She was not nearly that bright,
"Still, it is not the
done thing to have young, unmarried ladies wandering about an earl's home on
I would not want any harm to
come to your reputation, Miss Parham."
"I am perfectly fine under
your watchful eye," Lydia simpered and this time, Amelia almost did cast
up her accounts.
Would the torture of
this night never end?
"Still," he said as
motioned for a woman that Amelia had not noticed earlier to step forward,
"I would be remiss in my duties as a host if you were forced to marry
because of an accident while under my roof.
Miss Markham will escort you back to the festivities, so if you please
follow her, you may return to the others.
That way, there will be no talk if we return to the main parlor
Amelia was rather certain that was
precisely what Lydia was praying for in the hopes of forcing a match between
them, but to her credit she didn't utter a single protest.
Given the sparkling gleam in her eyes however,
it was also evident - to Amelia anyway - that though she may have lost this
round, Lydia had not yet lost the war.
And love was war, at least to women like Lydia who saw men as prizes to
be captured, no matter the method or the cost.
Then, David turned and smiled at
Amelia and she wanted to sink into the floor, praying a hole would suddenly
open up beneath her and whisk her away to parts unknown.
All he had done was make things worse for
her, even though he could not have known it.
Lydia was not stupid and was watching the exchange with a keen eye.
It was also clear that David
expected Amelia to say something, but she was silent now, her earlier outburst
draining what was left of her dwindling courage, though a flicker of her
earlier rage still burned hot inside of her.
Heaven forgive her if she opened her mouth and said precisely what she
Instead of replying, Amelia simply
took the book, which David was now holding out to her, silently and nodded in
She was known to be shy, after
Such reticence was to be expected
of her, which was a good thing because had she spoken, she did not know if she
could keep a civil tongue in her head.
"I am perfectly safe with you,
my lord," Lydia tried again when the attention had turned away from her,
but she also soon realized that the earl would not capitulate on this
"Still, if you insist, I
will go now.
But I will save you a
dance tomorrow night, perhaps the first waltz, and we can discuss how very,
safe I feel when I am in your presence."
When he merely glared at her in
response, Lydia sighed, knowing full well she had been thwarted in her attempt
to snare the earl this night, and was in danger of angering him to the point
where she would no longer be in his favor.
After a brief curtsey, she meekly followed the Markham woman down the
corridor, though Amelia was certain it was all an act.
To Lydia's credit, however, she only glanced
back once to glare at where Amelia and David still stood.
"Well that was
unpleasant," he intoned dryly when Lydia was well out of sight.
"I absolutely detest that
Then he shivered for good
"She gives me the very
chills just thinking about falling into her clutches."
Then he peered down at Amelia who was still
clutching the book he had returned to her.
"But are you well, my lady?
You have not said a word since your, ah, outburst earlier."
The sparkle in his eyes let her know that he
had been pleased that she had spoken up and was not in the least angry with
Still, Amelia held her tongue,
frightened of what she might say if she spoke, unwilling to allow David to see
any further inside of her soul or provide him with a peek at her desires.
For then he would know the awful truth, the
one that would cost her his friendship forever.
Those two words could make her very insides
shiver, but he did not mean them.
least not in the manner that she wished he did.
Better to play the mouse than the lioness at the moment, she
He was familiar with both
parts of her, certainly, but if she allowed the lioness out right at this
moment, she was afraid that she would come to regret it.
"Merely a megrim," she
lied softly, but it was only a little lie.
Her head did hurt, though decidedly less now than it had earlier, the
lack of the cloying lilac scent in the hallway helping immeasurably.
Now that she had vented her anger, she
discovered that had helped her head as well.
"It is nothing, my lord.
Honestly, I am well."
The look on the earl's face,
however, indicated that he did not believe her.
"I can summon a physician, if you wish, Ame...my
Then he cleared his throat
and looked away from her, as if that could some how hide the fact that he had
almost used her Christian name, something he had not done in years.
"Or rather one of my staff can."
He gestured behind him, and Amelia noticed
that at some point Tivens, the Weatherby family's long-time butler had appeared
as if by magic.
The man was so
positively silent in his every move, that often times when they were children,
she had wondered if he was real or merely a ghost.
"If you are unwell, my lady, I
can send for Dr. Tewksbury in the village," Tivens said solemnly, his
glance flickering between the two of them and their close proximity to one
another, obviously noting that David stood far closer to Amelia than was
"He is not so
fine as a London physician, perhaps, but he is good at his job none the
Shaking her head, Amelia held up
her hand in protest, making certain to keep her voice soft.
I am fine."
clutched the book to her chest like a shield.
"I simply do not care for parlor games.
trailed off, searching for the right word.
"...tiresome," she finally finished, biting her lower lip for
"Especially as I do
not care for crowds or grasping fortune-hunting men who see my dowry and not
And there are plenty of those in
attendance here, unfortunately."
Then she winced, realizing what she
had just said.
Apparently she could not
hold her tongue tonight no matter how she tried.
She wanted to blame the late hour but the truth was, whenever she
was around the earl for any length of time, she found herself slipping back
into old habits from childhood, including freely speaking her mind.
She needed to control that urge and she well
If they were in London, she
would be a scandal by now.
"The men I cannot control,
Many of them came at my
uncle's invitation, and I am so very sorry for that.
Had it been up to me, I would not have invited those who are
known rakes and fortune hunters.
understand what it is like to be seen for what you can offer financially rather
than who you are."
David did look
rather contrite and he glanced away, obviously sharing Amelia's pain in that
She shook her head, not wanting him
to feel any worse than he already did.
"It is not your fault, and I have become rather skilled at avoiding
those sorts of men."
She had years
of practice acquiring that skill, unfortunately.
"Still, you should not have to
Not in my home."
His voice was hard and laced with a touch of
anger, which made her love him all the more.