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Authors: Bethany Sefchick

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BOOK: The Earl Who Loved Me
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As he had hoped, that made her
laugh, her eyes crinkling a bit at the edges as she remembered the incident
from their youth.
 
"Really, my
lord..."

He placed a finger to her lips,
cutting her off, relishing the way they felt.
 
God above how he wanted to kiss her.
 
"David.
 
My name is David
and when we were younger, you used it freely.
 
I would very much like it if you did so again.
 
Amelia."
 
He said her
own name again, just to let her know that he was serious in his request.

She seemed to consider that for a
moment and then an emotion he could not interpret crept into her eyes.
 
"Very well.
 
But only when we are alone.
 
David."

"See?
 
That was not so very hard, now was it?"

"No, not so very."
 
She blushed prettily and he was struck once
more with the need to possess her in every way.
 
Strange that, but he could not help himself.
 
"Now about those oranges."

With a grand sweep of his hand, he
opened the door to the conservatory and ushered her inside.
 
A blast of warm air hit them both in the
face and he quickly moved them inside, lest the room loose any of its precious
heat.
 
The winter beyond the glass walls
was beastly cold and it took three footmen the better part of the night and
well into the wee morning hours to keep the room sufficiently heated to grow
the precious citrus fruit.
 
But he did
love it so.
 
As did Amelia.

And if he began seducing the woman
he loved with citrus fruit?
 
Well he
would do whatever it took to make her his, including the absurd.
 
He also had the kernel of an idea that had
begun to bloom in his mind and he needed a few more moments to be certain that
it would work to his advantage and not harm his chances with her before he
proposed his idiotic scheme and prayed she did not laugh in his face.

Then, David didn't need to say
another word as Amelia stepped inside the conservatory and her gaze fell upon
the six perfect rows of citrus trees, a mix of both lemon and orange trees that
were bursting with brightly colored fruit.
 
He could tell from the look of wonder on her lovely face just how
enchanting she found the scene.
 
Just as
he had hoped.

"Oh, David!" she breathed
in wonder, her eyes shining with happiness.
 
"I had no idea.
 
How utterly
wonderful!"
 
She scurried forward,
no longer his little mouse and not precisely the lioness she had been earlier
but somewhere in between.
 
This was how
he liked her the best, when she was simply being herself.
 
She had acquired a taste for oranges in her
youth, something she had never lost even as she grew older.
 
However, even though her family possessed a
fortune, they did not possess a conservatory full of orange trees.
 
He, however, did.

Grinning like a fool, he leaned
back against one of the heavy wooden beams that supported the glass roof.
 
Above them, muted starlight shone down, the
first phases of a new moon bathing them in a silvery glow.
 
"I knew you would like it.
 
After all, you were the one who continually
encouraged me that my planted seeds would grow into trees, even though I now
suspect you knew all along that they would not."

Shrugging, she smiled at him as she
reached up to caress one of the perfectly round oranges.
 
"You were so hopeful and proud of
yourself.
 
I did not want to disappoint
you."

"I was trying to impress
you."
 
He knew he had captured her
attention when her eyes flew to his and did not look away.

"You were not."
 
She turned away from the tree and reached
his side in a few quick steps.
 
"I
was a child."

"You were a child who adored
me," he countered with a wink, "and I liked to play the hero even
back then.
 
I liked to be your knight in
shining armor."
 
Then he reached up
and plucked the fruit she had been gazing at with longing from the tree and
handed it to her, unsurprised when she quickly peeled it and ate it without
hesitation.
 
"And I knew it and
used it to my advantage."
 
Just as
he was using the oranges now.
 
He would
press every advantage he had, if only she would give him some small sign that
she cared for him.

Amelia found herself blushing.
 
David was right, as he usually was.
 
She had practically worshiped the ground he
walked on and made no secret of it.
 
She
still did.
 
Not that he could ever know
that.
 
"Well, whatever the reason,
even at a young age, I was not so foolish as to believe that a seed from an
exotic fruit that was simply stuck in the ground would grow into anything
useful."

"I didn't know that, though
you were always far more clever than I."
 
David pushed away from the beam and offered her his arm again.
 
When she took it, he began leading her
deeper into the conservatory, past potted plants and lush flowers that scented
the air with their light fragrance.
 
He
had chosen these plants specifically because their smell was light, not so
overpowering that it would harm Amelia.
 
Even when choosing flowers, he was ever mindful of her and her needs, it
seemed.
 
"I was ten and I hated the
idea of becoming an earl.
 
I would have
believed anything that anyone more intelligent than I had told me.
 
Including a skinny girl with messy
braids."
 

He could tell by the soft light in
her eyes that she was finally relaxed, remembering the way it used to be with
him.
 
Remembering that, before anything
else, they were friends.
 
Uncle James
had often said that David's parents were friends first and lovers second.
 
In David's mind, that was the key to getting
Amelia to let down her guard long enough to admit that she had feelings for
him.
 
Strong ones, unless he was wrong,
and he rarely was.
 
These days, anyway.

"You were merely young,"
she corrected softly, allowing him to lead her where he wished.
 
She was under no illusion that this was a
romantic stroll.
 
It was merely two old
friends chatting, remembering simpler times.
 
He was trying to help her forget about the argument with Lady Lydia and
nothing more.
 
Still, she could not deny
that she was enjoying herself.

They walked in silence for a bit longer
until he halted before a filigreed wrought iron bench.
 
When he bade her to sit down, she did,
feeling a little giddy with delight but doing her best to keep her emotions in
check.
 
There was something different
about David tonight, about the way he moved and the way he looked at her.
 
If she didn't know better, she would think
he was trying to seduce her.
 
That,
however, was stupid and merely a product of her overactive imagination.
 
Yet it was nice to pretend for a time.

When he silently reached over and
plucked a blush-colored rose from a nearby bush and handed it to her, she
wondered again what he was about.
 
There
was more to this stroll than a trip down memory lane.
 
He was restless and yet attempting not to appear so.

"David," she finally
ventured when he began to pace in front of her, "is there something
amiss?"
 
She had been deliberate in
her use of his Christian name, wanting him to remember that they were friends
and that she was doing as he had requested.
 
Even if he did not love her, he could trust her with his secrets.
 
She would never betray his confidence.

"No," he smiled at her as
he sank down next to her.
 
She did not
move away, allowing his thigh to press against hers.
 
"I am merely anxious.
 
The house party ends tomorrow night and I am not certain that all of the
guests have had an enjoyable time."

As he expected, well hoped really,
she scoffed at that notion.
 
"How
could they not?
 
You are an admirable
host."

"Ah, and there is the
rub."
 
He prayed that he looked
appropriately contrite.
 
"I am a
host.
 
A man.
 
Not a woman.
 
And Aunt
Harriet has not taken as active of a role in planning events as I had hoped,
leaving much of the entertainment planning up to Lady Lydia and her
mother."
 

He knew why that was, of course,
since Aunt Harriet had hinted that Lady Lydia would make a fine countess for
him.
 
It did not matter if he did not
agree, at least not to his aunt, much as she loved him.
 
All she saw was the future of the earldom in
jeopardy if he did not wed and produce an heir soon.

"They do plan some rather,
shall we say, inventive games," Amelia confided quietly.
 
"Then again, I am not one for games, as
you well know."
 
She held up the
volume of Shakespeare she still held in her hands.
 
"I am rather boring, I'm afraid.
 
Not at all the kind of woman so popular at the moment.
 
Not that this is any great surprise to you,
of course."

"The
ton
's loss
then," he said with a dismissive sniff.
 
"Intelligent women should be all the rage, at least if the men of
Society had any sense about them."

Amelia smiled at his attempt to
ease her aching heart.
 
"In my
experience, the men of the
ton
are not necessarily interested in a
woman's mind.
 
They are more interested
in discovering a lady's other attributes."
 
She would not say such scandalous things to another man, but this
was David and it felt nice to flirt for a bit.
 
He understood her better than any other man ever would, and would take
her actions in stride, she was certain.
 
This night would be something to remember in her old age.
 
The night she had attempted to seduce the
great Earl of Weatherby in his conservatory.

"Fools, the lot of them, I
say."
 
He stuck his tongue out
then, hoping to make Amelia laugh, for everyone well knew his reputation for
enjoying a woman's other attributes.
 
He
was a bachelor and not a saint, after all.
 

When Amelia laughed as well, David
smiled.
 
"Seriously, though, I
would like to make certain the other women have enjoyed themselves as
well.
 
Were the parlor games enough?
 
Was there too much emphasis on the hunting
party the other day?
 
I simply do not
know.
 
What do the women here want?
 
I very much would like to know.
 
And not for the nefarious reasons you
assume, my dear Amelia."

Immediately, she felt bad for
David.
 
He had tried very hard to make
certain this house party was a success.
 
She also knew he would not ask her opinion, for she disliked most of the
activities Lydia had planned and executed, usually to her benefit in order to
get closer to David.
 
She also knew that
David was too polite and proper to ask the other women their opinion and even
if he did, they would not tell him the truth anyway.
 
After all, he was an earl, not to mention their host.

But
she
could ask the women
for him she decided quickly.
 
The
question was why did it matter to him?
 
Then she remembered his talk throughout the season about wanting an
heir.
 
To have an heir, a man must first
have a wife.
 
And David was clearly in
search of one.
 
It was suddenly obvious
to Amelia that he wanted to know what he could do better so that he might attract
a woman - not one like Lydia, but rather one who would love him for the
wonderful man he was.
 
He wanted a
lovematch like his parents had, a woman who placed him above all others.
 
Who loved him above all others.

That woman was standing right in
front of him.
 
But he did not know
that.
 
Yet.

Amelia eyed David shrewdly, seeing
an unexpected opportunity present itself, perhaps the first and only one she
would ever have, to get closer to him.
 
Close enough that he might finally see her as something more than the
girl he had grown up with, the girl whose father owned the neighboring
estate.
 
Finally, he might see her as a
woman and a desirable one at that.
 
One
that he could love, in time anyway, and take to wife.
 
A woman who would give him his heir and as many spares as he
desired.

BOOK: The Earl Who Loved Me
8.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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