Read The Earl's Design of Love: The Stenwick Siblings Online

Authors: Morganna Mayfair,Kirsten Osbourne

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Regency, #Historical Romance

The Earl's Design of Love: The Stenwick Siblings (2 page)

BOOK: The Earl's Design of Love: The Stenwick Siblings
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There. 
There was a man with dark hair.  She could make friends with him.

Diana rushed down the stairs while her parents were occupied, knowing her mother would be mortified if she left.
Jane expected Diana to sit in her lonely room and do needlepoint when there were no activities at a house party, while Diana would prefer to wander around and explore the grounds.  She went to the back gardens and smiled as she saw the man she’d seen from the window, dressed in obvious gardening clothes digging through a pile of stones.  “Hello,” she called.

Percy turned to see who was disturbing him.  Had the guests really started arriving already?  He’d hoped there would be a sudden rainstorm, and they would all be stuck in the mud.  The last thing he needed
was a bunch of marriage-minded young women and their mamas crawling all over his estate.  “May I help you?”

Diana smiled and walked over to him, looking down at the stones he was sorting.  “Not really.  I’m here for a party, and just wanted to talk to someone.  Do you have any idea how old this home is?  It’s beautiful.”
  She looked at the house and made it clear she was truly interested in the house and not something else.

Percy looked at her for a moment.  He had no idea who she was, but with her blond good looks and her fiery green eyes, he was surprised she was wanting for company.  “It was built in 1647.”

He turned back to his stones, not wanting to look at her any longer.  There was something compelling about her that made him want to spend the entire day staring at her beauty.  That wouldn’t do, of course, because he had work to do.  He didn’t want to feel obliged to entertain any of the young ladies at the house party, either.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said honestly.  “The stone structure is truly amazing.”  She walked to the wall and ran her hand over the perfectly matched stones.  “I don’t think any stones were cut.  They were placed together in whatever size they came in.”

Percy smiled for a moment, taken by the girl.  She was interested in his craft apparently.  “I prefer that type of stonework myself.  When someone resorts to cutting rocks and making them all the same, there’s really no point in looking at it.  The details of that wall fascinate me.”  He only wished he could take credit for designing it, but he knew that one of his ancestors had done that job.

She turned back to him with a smile.  “It’s nice to meet a fellow lover of the arts.   My father bought a bench for our back garden that was created by a stonemason who did this kind of work.  I was afraid to sit on it at first, because it was so beautiful.”
 

Percy grinned.  “But you sit on it now?”
  He knew the bench she was talking about, because he’d made it himself.

She laughed.  “It’s my favorite place in our back garden.  I go out there with a good book, and sit and read it all day long.”  She wished she could have stayed there this weekend instead of coming to this house party, but her father was determined to see her married before the season was over.
  Her mother had complained to him that she was getting ‘long in the tooth’ and if she didn’t marry soon she never would.

“It must be nice to have the kind of time on your hands where you can sit and read all day.”  Truly, he didn’t enjoy being idle, but he did miss having the kind of free time he’d had before
taking on the responsibilities that came with being an earl and keeping his family afloat.

She shrugged.  “Honestly, I sometimes wish my mother would let me work, but it’s ‘inappropriate.’”  She sighed.  “The life of the idle rich is not for me.  I come from a long line of hard workers.”
  She crossed her arms over her chest, and her eyes dared him to argue with her.

Percy eyed her for a moment, thinking about who she must be.  “You’re not Diana Smith?”
  Was it possible that his mother had picked out a woman for him who actually agreed with his philosophy on life?

Diana’s eyes widened with surprise.  “I am.  Who are you?”

Percy sighed.  If he admitted to her who he was, would she automatically start flirting with him or would he be able to keep up the easy friendship they’d begun with their mutual love of stone work. Maybe telling her would let him know whether or not she was worth pursuing. “I’m Percy, Earl of Stenwick.”

Diana looked him up and down in his work clothes.  “You are?”  Could he really be the earl her father so badly wanted her to marry?
  When had her father discovered good taste?

Percy grinned.  “What, I don’t look like an earl to you?”

She shook her head.  “Not at all.  You look more like a stonemason or a gardener.”

He frowned.  He looked like a stone mason?  Well, he was a stone mason, but he couldn’t be both a stone mason and an earl this weekend.  “I…like to dabble with the stone arts.  My mother would be mortified if anyone knew, though, so you mustn’t say anything.”

Diana smiled.  “If you don’t tell my mother I sneaked out of my room while I was supposed to be napping, I won’t tell your mother that you were wearing work clothes in the back garden when I sneaked out.”

“That sounds like a fair deal.”  He held out his hand which was covered with dirt to shake hers, before dropping it and wiping his hand on his pants.  “I’m sorry.  I’m filthy.”

“Well that’s what happens when you dabble in the stone arts.”  Diana flashed him another smile, her green eyes dancing with laughter.  “I’d better get back upstairs before my mother realizes I’m missing.”  She turned and ran back toward the house, stopping for a moment to look over her shoulder and see if he was watching her. 

As soon as she got back to her room, Diana sighed.  Yes, he was the man for her.  Just like she knew when a couple wouldn’t be good together, she knew that he would be perfect for her.  She knew how to force him to fall in love with her, of course, but she didn’t want that.  She wanted it to come naturally.  She was a woman filled with the power of love, but for once in her life, she wanted something to happen in the normal way.  She’d had more than enough love-struck suitors at her feet.  She wanted a man who could keep his feet and love her anyway.

Chapter Two

 

 

Percy watched as the nymph who had called herself Diana ran back toward his house.  This was the girl his mother wanted h
im to marry?  When had his mother ever shown good taste?

He wiped his hands with the rag hanging from his back trouser pocket and hurried back to the house.  He needed to change for dinner, because it seemed that he would be escorting Diana to dinner.  He grinned
.  His mother would find ways for them to be together hoping that he would fall for the pretty heiress.  Perfect.  It should be easy to get to know her better.  What else could a man ask for?

 

*****

 

When Diana stepped into the salon before dinner, her eyes immediately scanned the crowd for Percy.  She couldn’t believe the man her father wanted her to marry was actually amenable to her.  He had shown abysmal taste in potential husbands for her up to this point, and she had a hard time believing he was doing so much better.  There had to be something she was missing.

She was flanked on both sides by her parents, her father’s eyes obviously scanning the room trying to figure out who their host was, while her mother looked around for social connections. 
Diana cared about speaking to no one but the man she’d met in the garden. 

Diana saw him standing across the room with an older matron, the dowager countess, she believed.  She had only met the woman once and had not been impressed.  She knew she needed to act as if she had never met him, but he looked up from his conversation and gave her a wink, making her look down and cover her mouth delicately to stifle the giggle that wanted to escape. 
Her mother would not be pleased if she was giggling at a party. 

She followed her mother and took a seat on a sofa at the edge of the room.  It was a small party with only her parents, his mother and sisters, and three other gentlemen she didn’t know, all obviously there just to keep the numbers even.  Diana found all of the small details society matrons worried about to be boring and tedious, so she truly didn’
t care whether or not the numbers were even.  She was certain some day she would need to care, but she hoped it was a long time in the future.

After a few moments of talking softly with her mother, one of her least favorite pastimes, she saw him approaching out of the corner of her eye.  She said nothing as she waited for the introduction that would make it perfectly acceptable
for her to carry on a conversation with him.  She watched as he walked toward her, her heart starting to beat heavily.  He was walking straight toward her.

His mother stepped up behind him, and said in a soft voice that was perfect
ly modulated in every way, “Percy, I would like to present to you, Miss Diana Smith and her mother, Mrs. Jane Smith.  Diana and Jane, this is my son, Percy, the Earl of Stenwick.”

Jane
nodded briefly, but Diana got to her feet and offered her hand.  Percy brought it to his lips.  She noticed as he did that his fingers were raw looking, but very clean.  “It’s nice to meet you, my lord.  I’m so pleased to see you have clean hands.  Why, just the other day a man tried to shake my hand and his was covered in dirt.  It made me want to hide my hands from every gentleman from that moment on.”  She kept her voice soft so the others wouldn’t hear.  Her mother would be mortified if she thought she’d begun a conversation with a gentleman she’d just met that way.

Percy grinned as he looked into her green eye
s.  “I suppose I could keep your right hand here.”  He tucked her hand through his arm.  “That way if any new gentlemen want to shake it, they’ll have to steal it from me.” 

Diana smiled up at him.  “So, I rarely see you around town.  Why don’t you come to the parties during the Season?”  If he had, she’d have met him that much sooner.
  She felt as if she had been wandering around her entire life, incomplete.  Now, she was ready to be part of a set in a way she never had been. 

“I don’t much like the Season.  I find the constant round of parties a bore.  Of course, if I’d known you would be at those parties…”  He whispered the words directly into her ear, so his mother wouldn’t hear what he had to say.  “I’m told that I’m supposed to escort you into dinner tonight.”

“I’d like that.”  Diana’s father had presented her to a constant round of men for the past several years, trying to find her a man to marry.  Her mother was desperate to be more accepted by Society, and if Diana married a titled gentleman, that would make all the difference.  Of course, Diana had never met a titled gentleman she liked to be in the same room with, let alone wanted to spend the rest of her life with, so she’d rejected one after the other.  “It’s nice to have an escort that won’t bore me to death with his hunting adventures.”  As soon as the words popped out of her mouth, she bit her tongue.  What if he enjoyed hunting?

Percy choked on a laugh
, obviously not offended by her words.  “I will do my very best.”

“I could bore you to death by telling you about my adventures finding just the perfect glove if you’d like.”  The impish sparkle in her eyes told him that she was joking.

“Oh, please do!”

“Well, let me start by saying that my mother bought me a ball gown in just the perfect shade of pink.  It wasn’t white, but so pale it was almost white.  You know the color I mean, of course.” 

He held up a hand.  “You caught me.  Please don’t continue!”

Her laugh of utter joy rang out across the room and Alexander turned his head to stare at her.  He looked at his wife.  “Did you hear that?  Did she really laugh?”

Jane had tears in her eyes as she looked up into Alexander’s eyes.  “She did.  I think we’ve finally found the man she will spend her life with.”  Jane closed her eyes as if in prayer.  Diana finally marrying a member of the elite of Society was what she needed to make her life complete.  She could even overlook her over exuberant laugh.

Across the room, Diana smiled up at Percy.  “So tell me about your home.  I find older houses fascinating.  The stonework and the architecture in particular.”  She leaned forward to whisper softly, “Is it haunted?”

He chuckled.  “I thought so when I was a boy, and I used to try to make noises to make my sisters think so as well.”

“Did it ever work?”  Diana knew his sisters, and they were both sweet, but the younger seemed to be afraid of her own shadow.  “Your sisters are Charlotte and Lucy, right?”

“Yes.”  He rolled his eyes.  “Charlotte is twenty-two and Lucy is twenty.  I think they’re just now old enough have Seasons, but of course, they’ve been in London for years.”

Diana smiled, secretly agreeing with him.  She’d saved Charlotte from a bad marriage and the girl didn’t even realize it.  “Charlotte’s not terribly fond of me.”  That was putting it very mildly.
  She wondered if it would bother him once he realized just how much other members of the ton disliked her.

He looked at her with surprise.  “I can’t see anyone not liking you!”

She laughed softly, shocked he hadn’t heard any of the rumors about her.  “You’d be surprised.” 

The butler she’d met earlier that day came to call them into dinner then, and she was relieved they wouldn’t have to continue the conversation.  She held his arm tightly as they walked into the dining room with the long table.  As the host, Percy sat at the head of the table, but his mother had kindly placed Diana to his right. 

As soon as they were seated, she smiled at him.  “What’s for dinner?” she asked in a whisper.

He shrugged.  “I have no idea.  My mother forced me to attend this party.  I wanted to spend the weekend occupied in a different way.”

“With your stone working?” she asked with a smile.

He nodded.  “No one is supposed to know I do it, though.  My mother would have the vapors.”

“But you’re an artist!  You obviously know your craft.”  How could anyone complain about a man pursuing his talents?  One of the things she hated most about the upper class was their utter derision of a man making money.

“You haven’t seen anything I’ve done,” he said, knowing it was a lie.  She had sat on one of his benches for hours reading books.
  He liked to think of her there, enjoying his creation.

“Well, no, but I saw how you were with the stones, studying each one.  I can’t wait to see something you’ve completed.”  She smiled at him, letting him know that whatever he did was fine with her.

There were, of course, other people around them throughout the meal, but she noticed none of them.  Through every course, she talked to him, and no one else.

After dinner, the women went to a parlor to wait while the men had brandy and cigars.  It was a ritual that Diana found old-fashioned and ridiculous, but she said nothing.  With only three young ladies there, there was no entertainment for the evening, but they would have some dancing later.  She couldn’t wait.  Surely Percy would ask her to dance and they would float around the room in each other’s arms.  How had she spent her entire life waiting for such a special man, and only just now met him?

When the men returned to them, Percy gave her an odd look as he offered her his arm.  He escorted her out onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air, and asked her in low tones, “What power do you have over men?”  He gave her a look that told her someone had been telling tales.

Diana’s eyes widened.  She didn’t know how to answer that question.  She knew the answer, to some extent, but the ability to put it into words wasn’t something that she was equipped with.  “I’m not sure how to answer that question,” she answered him honestly.

“I heard no less than five stories in the past thirty minutes about how a young man will be on the verge of proposing to his young lady, he’ll see you at a ball, and all of his focus will be on you.  He’ll be able to think of nothing but you until the following day when his lady will invariably throw him over for the way he was with you the previous evening.  You have no explanation for this?”  He stood and watched her carefully, waiting for her response.

She sighed.  “I was born with…I don’t know how to put it into words.  I’ve never actually spoken of it with anyone.”
  And she didn’t want to explain it now.  She wanted to get to know him slowly, without her powers coming into question so soon in their relationship.

“I need to know what is wrong with you.”
  His voice was low but adamant.  It was clear he wasn’t going to give up until he knew everything.

She shook her head vehemently.  “Nothing is wrong with me.  I just have the ability to…see whether or not couples should be together.  When two people are at a ball together, I will see an aura if you will.  It’s a color above their heads that tells me if they should be together or not.” 
She wished she had better words for what she experienced, but she’d never told anyone before, even Anna.

He gave a half laugh.  “And what color means they shouldn’t be together?”

She sighed, knowing he wouldn’t believe her.  “Red.  Red means danger in auras.”  She waited for him to tell her she was insane.  She knew if the situation were reversed, she would probably tell him
he
was insane.

“And a good color would be?”

“You don’t believe me so why are you asking?”  Diana took her arm from his and started back into the ballroom.  She knew then it couldn’t work between them, not if he couldn’t believe her.  She wished they could have gotten to know one another better before the topic came up, but she was certain it was happening this way for a reason. 

He caught her arm and stopped her.  “What color is a good color?”

“Purple.  There’s everything in between, but red is bad and purple is good.  Why don’t you go laugh at me now?”  She’d never actually put into words before what she saw when she was around people.

“And for you and a potential husband?  Do you see colors?”
  Percy looked as if he were actually interested in what she was saying, although he was obviously skeptical.

She shook her head.  “No, not unless I stand with a man in front of a mirror.”
  She’d never met a man she’d cared to look into a mirror with.  She’d always known instantly when a man was wrong for her.

“And you’ve done that?”

She shrugged.  “A few times as we danced I would catch a glimpse.”

“Has it ever been purple?”

Diana sighed.  “Never.  I’ve wanted it to be, and tried to convince myself it was once or twice, but always I’d find out he was after my father’s money.”  She shrugged.  Did it really matter?  He was done with her as well.

Percy stared at the young woman in front of him.  He could tell that she believed what she was saying.  “One of my sister, Charlotte’s, beau’s fell in love with you for one evening only.  How did that happen?”

Diana shuddered, afraid to admit to the other half of what she could do.  “When I see a couple together that I know will not work out, I well, I make him fall in love with me.  I’m not sure how I can explain it better than that.  I send out this feeling, toward a man, and he will suddenly do anything for me.  Anything.”  She shrugged.  “The feeling only lasts until I’m out of his sight and then he’s back to normal, but it’s always enough for the women to realize they aren’t meant to be with the man.”

BOOK: The Earl's Design of Love: The Stenwick Siblings
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