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Authors: Morganna Mayfair,Kirsten Osbourne

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

The Earl's Design of Love: The Stenwick Siblings (3 page)

BOOK: The Earl's Design of Love: The Stenwick Siblings
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He studied her for a moment.  “Do you know Anthony and Gabriella Lancaster?”

She nodded.  “Everyone knows them. They’re the sweethearts of London.”  She said nothing else, wondering why he was asking.  The Duke and Duchess of Avondale was adored by everyone, and known to be more in love than a couple had been in decades.  You could see the love in their eyes when they entered a room, and they always danced at least two dances together.

“I went to school with Anthony.  Tell me, what color do you see above them when they’re together?”

Diana closed her eyes not wanting to answer the question.  Why would he believe her?  Everyone believed they were the love match of the century.  Finally she took a deep breath and looked into his eyes.  “Blood red.”

Percy’s face was one of shock, and he turned from her.  He alone knew that Anthony hated his wife.  He’d married her for her riches and nothing more.  His father had forced the issue, and Anthony had done his duty by his family
but had always insisted on playing the part of a man in love.  “What about your parents?”

Diana smiled slightly.  “They’re a blue.  Not a true purple, but close to it.  Father worships Mother, and Mother wants him to be happy, but she doesn’t feel the kind of love for him that he does for her.”  She shrugged.  “They’re happy together, though.”

Percy had surmised as much, not through any mystical power, but by the way the couple treated one another.  He looked down at Diana for another moment.  “I’m going to take you to a mirror in my hallway.  I want to know what color you see.”

Diana shook her head.  “I don’t want to make any decisions based on this ‘power.’  Please.”
  She hated the idea of looking into the mirror and seeing red.

He put her hand through his arm and carefully walked down the hall with her, stopping in front of a long mirror.  “Well?  Are we red?  Or purple.”

Diana stared at their reflection in the mirror, realizing she’d never seen such a true purple.  He was the one and only love of her life.  She decided then and there that if it didn’t work out with Percy, she would find a way to remain a spinster.  Never would she be happy with not having love when she knew where she could find it.

She pulled away from him and ran toward the balcony, hoping he wouldn’t follow.  She didn’t want to admit to the perfect purple they made together.  How could she?  Would he think he should propose if she did?  She only wanted to marry a man who wanted her
for herself.  Not because some mystical power said they should be together.  Not because she was an heiress.  Because he loved her, Diana Smith.

He followed her out, wondering what she could have seen to upset her so much.  He’d still not been convinced she was telling the truth until he saw her face turn stark white when she’d looked into the mirror.  He walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, rubbing them gently.  “What did you see?” 

Diana brushed away the tears streaming down her face.  “Do you realize you’re the first person I’ve ever told about what I see when I look at people?  All my life I’ve seen this, and it scares me.”

He turned her around so she was facing him, gently rubbing one of the tears from her eyes with his thumb.  “Thank you for telling me.”  Percy had no idea why he would believe such a ludicrous story, but suddenly he did.  He believed she could tell when people were meant to be together.  He leaned down and brushed a kiss across her forehead.  “No one should have to experience something like that alone.”

She sniffled delicately and accepted the handkerchief he gave her to wipe her nose and eyes.  “Our aura was the purest purple I’ve ever seen,” she said, unsure whether or not he’d believe her.

He stared at her for a moment, wondering if that was good or bad.  He was attracted to her in a way that he’d never been attracted to another woman, but had she put her spell on him?  “Did you do something to make me fall in love with you?”

She shook her head, her eyes never leaving his.  “I couldn’t do that to you.  I don’t want to trick someone into falling in love with me, even if he’s the man I should spend the rest of my life with.  I want to only be with a man who wants to be with me of his own accord.”

He nodded for a moment, before leaning down and brushing his lips against hers.  “My mother desperately wants me to marry you.  I understand your father feels the same?”

She nodded.

He shrugged.  “Let’s see how this weekend goes then.  We’ll spend as much time as we can together, and we’ll make a decision before you go back to London.”  His thumb traced her lip.  “I think you would be the perfect wife for me, once you know everything.”

“What do I not know?”  She looked up at him in surprise.

He squeezed her shoulders.  “It’s time for us to go back inside, or we’re going to end up forced into a marriage whether we want it or not.”  He led her into the house and closed the door gently behind him.  The dancing was about to start, and although he hadn’t danced in over ten years, he knew he remembered how.  Holding her for a waltz was at the top of his list of things he wanted to do.

Chapter Three

 

 

The following day, Lady
Stenwick divided her guests into teams for a scavenger hunt.  Each team consisted of a male and a female partner, with each of her children matched up with the person she wanted them to marry.  Percy looked over at Diana with a smile when the teams were announced.  No one knew Stenwick Manor quite as well as he did.  If Diana proved to be at all competitive, the two of them should win easily.  If she didn’t prove to be competitive, well, he would have hours alone in her company.

As soon as they received their first clue, Diana and Percy headed out the back door.  “What’s the clue?” he asked.

Diana looked down and read aloud.  “Find a place where you won’t have to say ‘nay.’  You will find your next clue under something to keep warm.”  She looked at him with a frown.  “Not a very original clue, I’m afraid.”

Percy shook his head.  “Mother isn’t known for her wit.”

“The stable?  The horses say ‘neigh’ for us?”

“That would be my guess.”  He offered her his arm, and the two set out for the stable. 

Neither felt the need to rush, so they enjoyed the scenery around them as they walked, taking in the sunshine and the fresh air.  It was a beautiful spring day.  The flowers were in bloom, and Diana was enjoying getting to know the estate.  “Have you lived here all your life?” she asked.

He nodded.  “We have a townhouse in London that I frequented during the Season until I went off to Eton.  I left Oxford as soon as my father died and came back here.  My mother and sisters still spend most of their time in London, but I prefer the country life.”

“I’ve lived in London my whole life, but it’s always a dream to be in the country.  I never feel as if I fit in at the parties.”  She sighed, kicking at a stone on the path they were walking.  “It’s gotten to the point when I walk into a ballroom, I’m ostracized.  People think I’m some sort of a witch, and I hate it.”  She knew it was partially her own fault for trying to help others, but she couldn’t just sit back and let people make doomed marriages.

Percy looked at her with surprise.  “I didn’t realize it was that bad for you.”

Diana nodded.  “The men avoid me, because they’re afraid they’ll fall under my ‘spell.’  The women avoid me because so many of their men have been ‘taken by me.’  My whole purpose is to keep the wrong people from marrying and being miserable, but I’ve obviously gone about it all wrong.”

“I wish you could have stopped the wedding between Anthony and Gabriella.  As beautiful as she is, she makes his life a living hell.  I tried to warn
him, but he wouldn’t listen.”  He’d known Gabriella slightly before his friend had married her, and he’d seen her toy with the affections of man after man.  She’d wanted to marry a duke, though, and she’d done it.

She sighed.  “One of the limitations of my abilities is that I can see when people are wrong for each other, but I can’t see why.  For instance, I knew that Gabriella and Anthony didn’t belong together, but I didn’t know why until I saw Gabriella with Sir George Pendleton.  Those two belong together.  Their purple was almost as deep as ours.”
  She didn’t add that she knew who Anthony should have married as well.

He thought about that for a moment.  “So it’s not that either of them are bad people.  They just make each other miserable.  They could both be very happy with other people.”

“That’s right.  Think of it this way.  I could never be happy married to a person who was selfish and thought only of his own needs.  That would make me crazy.  But there are some women, who are such nurturers, they want someone they can shower their love on.  They would be miserable with a man who was a giver, because they couldn’t shower him with love.  Does that make sense?”

Percy nodded.  “I never really thought about it that way.  I guess I always thought that two ‘good’ people would be a perfect match but not necessarily.”
  He was learning a great deal from her as they talked about how to make a good match.  Who’d have thought it possible?

“I’m always surprised at who does make good matches.  I’ve tried to help young ladies at balls by suggesting they set their cap for the gentleman who has a purple aura with them, but they always seem to want the reds.  I guess it’s human nature to want what’s bad for you.  Like a woman on a slimming regimen who wants nothing but sweets.”
  She shrugged as if she’d never understand the people around her.

He laughed.  “I would never compare a woman on a slimming regimen to a woman who is looking for her soul mate, but I can see what you mean.”  He stopped talking as they stepped into the stable.  He walked to his favorite stallion and lifted the blanket hanging on his stall door. 
Sure enough, there were several envelopes under it, so he took the one with his name written with Diana’s.  It seemed odd to him to see their names written together that way, but at the same time, it felt so right.  “Let’s see if she does better on this one.”  He scanned it and shook his head.  “If you go to an octagonal building and look up, you will find your next clue.”

“Lead the way to the gazebo, my lord!”
  Diana did her best not to laugh at the clue.

“Mother needs serious help if she ever does this again.  Her clues, well, they leave a lot to be desired.”
He shook his head, hoping that he’d never be involved in a scavenger hunt again.  He was enjoying this one, of course, but only because Diana was beside him.

Diana smiled.  “At least she’s trying?”

They hadn’t seen any of the other couples while they were out.  “Do you think anyone else is even trying to win this?” he asked, scanning the grounds for the others.

She shrugged.  “This is a ‘getting to know you’ exercise.  Hopefully people are getting to know each other.” 
She didn’t particularly care if they won or not.  Getting to know him was the only thing she was even considering at that moment.

“Not too well, I hope.  My sisters are half of those other couples.”  He frowned as they walked.  “Do you know if the men with them are good for them?”

She looked at him in surprise.  “Do you know I wasn’t paying attention to auras at all?  Well, except to your mother’s.”  She shrugged, half surprised at herself.  She had been so caught up with him that she hadn’t done what she considered her duty.

He stopped short.  “My mother’s?” 

She shrugged.  “She and the vicar?  I know they’re not of the same social class, and should never marry, but…well, they’re a good match.”

He let out a bark of laughter.  “My mother and the vicar?
”  He couldn’t imagine his mother married to a vicar.  She was the last person who should marry beneath her with her feelings of superiority.

“I said I don’t think it should happen!”

He shook his head.  “No, I think it should!  She was never happy with my father.  I mean, what woman is truly happy in her marriage?”  He looked at her for a moment.  “You truly believe she’d be happy married to the vicar?” 

“I don’t know.  I know that he’s a good match for her, but I don’t know that she would be happy married to him, because she would lose her social status, and that’s obviously very important to her.”

He put her arm through his again and started toward the gazebo.  “My mother and the vicar.”  He smiled down at her as they walked.  “Who else have you seen that should be together but isn’t?”

She laughed softly.  “Well, there was one society matron who was a red with her husband, but a purple with her butler.”
  She didn’t mention who, because it was just too naughty, but she enjoyed sharing her little secrets with him.

Percy let out another laugh.  “You know, I don’t think I’ve laughed as much as I have with you in the whole time since my father died?”

“Do you miss him?”  Diana couldn’t imagine life without her parents.  They drove her mad at times, but she cared about them both a great deal.

Percy shook his head.  “He was a very hard man.  I miss the responsibilities I didn’
t have when he was alive, but I don’t miss him at all.” 

“I’m sorry.”  Diana felt badly for him.  She had a good relationship with both of her parents, despite their constant attempts to marry her off.  “Are you close to your mother?”

“Not really.  She’s a lot more focused on my sisters than she ever has been on me.  My father didn’t care about much except his own interests.”

Diana was glad she’d never had to live through anything like that.  They spotted one of his younger sisters with her companion racing across the lawn toward the stable.  “Could they have just figured it out?”

He sighed.  “Charlotte is not exactly known for her brain.”  He looked down at her.  “More importantly, what was their aura?”  He watched her intently as she looked at the young couple sprinting across the property.

“It’s yellow.  It’s a very middle of the road color.  They wouldn’t be good, but they wouldn’t be terrible.  If I saw them together at a ball, I wouldn’t interfere.”

“Oh good.  So they could be content together?”

She nodded.  “Most people are going to fall into the middle range.  They’ll be content, but never truly happy.  If they fall in the dark blue or purple, true happiness together is possible.”

“When you see Lucy with her companion, let me know if they’re compatible.”

“I will.  Truly?  I wouldn’t interfere if Charlotte fell in love with Stephen.  If he makes her happy, then she should marry him.”
  She shrugged.  “Only when people are red do I do anything at all, and then only if they haven’t proceeded as far as engagement.”

“But you said he couldn’t make her truly happy?”

She sighed.  “There’s a feeling of euphoria that everyone experiences when they first fall in love.  Even people who aren’t truly compatible.  If she experiences that with him, and seems happy, don’t stop them from marriage.”  Charlotte didn’t have much hope of marrying the man who was right for her anyway, because she happened to know the man was already married.

“But I want my sisters to have the ultimate happiness.”

“Well, then be a mean big brother and pick out their husbands, but don’t expect them to forgive you when you’re done.”  She looked away from him out toward the gazebo where they were walking.  She knew he wanted what was best for his sisters, but he had to realize he would push them away if he was too controlling.

He sighed.  “I guess we can just do our best to push them toward men they should be with.”

“We?”

He patted her hand which was still tucked into the crook of his arm.  “We.”

The clues got sillier and sillier as the day wore on.  It was obvious the only thing his mother had worried about with the scavenger hunt was that each couple got as much time alone together as possible.  She’d apparently started them all at different places so they wouldn’t run into one another too much.

Percy watched her as they walked, thinking about what it would be like to be married.  He would ask her to sign an agreement that all money from her dowry be set aside for their children.  He had no desire for her money.  He wanted things to continue as they were with him supporting his mother and sisters fully.  He didn’t ever want her, or anyone else, to think that he’d married her merely to get out of the debt his father had created with his gambling.
  She was the only woman he’d ever met that he was willing to ask to share his life even though the full debt wasn’t yet repaid.  He knew she wouldn’t care.

He loved the way the sun shone off her blond hair and the way her eyes lit up with laughter at his mother’s more unfortunate clues.  When they reached the last of their clues (They knew it was the last, because it was clearly labeled, “Last Clue
.”) he was annoyed with himself for not taking advantage of the time they had alone together.  He grabbed her wrist and pulled her behind a huge tree by the pond on the edge of his family’s property.

“I’ve thought about touching you all day, but I wasn’t sure how you’d react,” he whispered, looking down into Diana’s eyes.
  He desperately hoped she wouldn’t argue with him.

Diana took a step closer to him, so they were less than a foot apart, and smiled up at him, knowing exactly what she wanted.  “Why don’t you see?”

He pulled her against him, smiling at her gasp as his body was pressed all up against his.  “I want to kiss you.”

Diana nodded slowly, her gaze glued to his lips as he slowly lowered his head to hers.  When his lips first danced across hers, she let out a gasp of surprise.  Other men had stolen kisses, but this?  He would never have to steal a kiss.  If kissing felt like this, then she would hunt him down and force him to kiss her every chance she got.

Her hand rose to rest at the back of his neck, while her other went to his shoulder, and rubbed him through the fine cloth of his jacket.  He pressed his lips against hers a bit harder than at first, and she parted her lips, inviting his tongue inside.  His kiss startled her with its familiarity.  All at once it felt foreign to have someone else’s tongue in her mouth, but right that he was touching her this way.  How had she lived her entire life without touching this man?

His tongue teased the inside of her upper lip, and she let out a low moan of pleasure, sinking deeper into his kiss.  This was what it felt like to be held by someone who cared about you then.  She hoped he cared, at least.  He wasn’t after her money like all the other men of the ton, was he?

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