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 (4 page)

BOOK: The Earl's Design of Love: The Stenwick Siblings
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After a moment, he broke off the kiss, resting his forehead against hers as his eyes bored into her blue ones.  “We have to stop,” he whispered.

She nodded, not even certain what he meant, but willing to agree with anything he said at that moment.

“We need to get back to the house with all our clues to give to my mother,” he said.  When she didn’t respond, but instead just kept staring into his eyes, he pushed her away by her shoulders.  He carefully took her hand and placed it back into the crook of his arm, guiding her back toward the house.

Diana said nothing as they walked, her mind on the brief kiss they’d shared.  Never in her life had she imagined a kiss could make her feel that way.  It was as if she were floating not walking.

As they passed the rocks he’d been working with the previous day, she looked at them, remembering what it had been like to meet him.  One day she would tell her children and her grandchildren just how she had felt when she’d met the man of her dreams.

When they walked in the back door, her hand was still in his arm, and her mother ran across the room to pull her away from him, hissing softly, “Did he hurt you?  You look like something happened.”

How could she tell her mother that something had happened?  The most wonderful man in the world had just kissed her, and it had changed her world.  How could it not?

 

Chapter Four

 

 

It was the last day of the house party, and Diana had never been happier.  The short affair had been three days of absolute bliss to her way of thinking.  She looked up at a knock on her bedroom door.  Her mother wouldn’t knock, so who could it be?

She went to the door and flung it open, half hoping to see Percy, but the other half of her knew she’d be scandalized if he showed up at her bedroom door.  One of the maids stood in front of her.  “Miss Smith?  The earl wishes to see you in his study.”

Diana had never been to his study, but she immediately nodded.  “Could you show me the way?”  What did he want to talk to her about?  Could he be asking her to stay
a little longer and get to know him better?

The maid had already walked off, walking quickly through the nearly empty halls of the old house.  She led Diana down a staircase and opened a door off the hall.  Diana stepped into the room and immediately smiled when she saw Percy sitting at his desk.  “You wished to see me?”

Percy stood up and walked to her, taking her hands in his and kissing her cheek in greeting.  “Please, sit down for a moment.”  He hovered over her for a moment, as if he was nervous about something, before finally taking his place at the desk across from her.  “There’s something I need to speak to you about.”

Diana turned to him eagerly, her face lit up with excitement.  “Yes?”
  He seemed so formal, so she knew it couldn’t be a marriage proposal.  What could he be so nervous about?

“Well, do you remember when we first met?  I was sorting through a pile of stones?”

She nodded, unsure why he was asking her that.  “Of course, I do.” 

“Well, I told you I enjoy crafting as an avocation.  I need you to know that wasn’t precisely true.”  He looked down at the drawing in front of him, the drawing that was still missing something vital, if only he knew what it was.

“It wasn’t?”  What was he trying to tell her?

He finally met her eyes, leaning back in his chair.  “My father had a gambling problem.  Before his death, he managed to let so many debts pile up, I’ve been working for the past
eleven years to slowly get out of debt.  I sell my stone works.  You have one of the benches I made.”

Diana’s eyes widened.  “I love that bench!”
  A smile split her face.  “Your works are wonderful!”

He smiled, tilting his head to the side.  “Thank you.”
  She hadn’t reacted to his being a craftsman in the way he’d expected.  “So it doesn’t bother you that I have to work for a living?  You would marry a working man?”  He held his breath as he waited for her to answer. 

She laughed softly.  “I think most of the titled gentlemen are…well…wastrels.  I couldn’t imagine being married to a man who didn’t work.  My father has always worked.”

He eyed her for a moment.  “You really wouldn’t mind?”

Diana shook her head.  “Of course, I come with such a large dowry that you’d never have to work again if you didn’t want to.”  She hoped he would continue to work, though.  She hated the idea of him marrying her for her dowry.

“I would want the dowry to go into trust for our children.  I refuse to use your money to take care of the debt my father incurred.”  He watched her carefully to see her reaction to his statement.

She smiled.  “I like that idea.  I don’t want to be the wife of a man who does nothing.”
  She shrugged.  “I wouldn’t mind if you used the money to get out of debt, but I do want you to keep working.  I like the idea of being married to a man who does something meaningful.”

He walked around the desk to where she sat and took her hand in his, dropping down to one knee.  “With all that taken care of, I just need to ask.  Will you, Diana Smith, do me the great honor of becoming my wife and the next Countess of Pendleton?”

Diana felt her heart jump into her throat at his words.  “I would be thrilled to be your wife.”

He seemed to breathe a sigh of relief at her answer and stood up, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet.  “Are you sure my vocation doesn’t bother you?”
  He had to be certain she wouldn’t change her mind in a month and expect him to quit working for her.

She shook her head, hoping he’d kiss her again.  He’d only really kissed her the one time, and she’d enjoyed it.  “When will we marry?” she asked.

“I have to ask your father for your hand, and then I’m sure the mothers will start planning things.  I think…three weeks?  That’s how long it takes to read the banns.”

She smiled
pressing herself against him.  “Three weeks sounds just about right.”  She pressed a kiss to his chin, hoping he’d dip his head and kiss her, but instead, he pushed her away. 

“I need to talk to your father before I let myself be seduced by you.”

She pouted.  “But I like kissing you!” 

“We’ll kiss all the time after we’re married.  Until then, I need to get this fountain built.  I’ve decided to keep it as a gift for my bride.”
 

“Fountain?”

He nodded, leading her around the table and showing her the drawing he’d made.  “It’s missing something, though.”

She looked at it for a moment, thinking.  “It needs more love.”
  She could see exactly how it needed to be put into it.  Just a small flow of her power to the fountain once it was finished. 

“Love?  How can I put love into a fountain?” he asked, confused.

She smiled.  “I’ll tell you what.  You make the fountain, and I’ll add the love.  You’ll understand then.”

There was a knock at the door then and it burst open.  Her father, a large man with a booming voice, stepped into the room.  “What are you doing in here with my daughter with the door closed?”
  Alexander looked between the two of them as if he was trying to decide which one to scold first.

Percy smiled, taking her hand in his.  “I’ve asked her to be my wife.  I hope
that meets with your approval.”

Alexander looked between his daughter and the man beside her.  “Only if she said ‘yes.’  Half the men in London have asked for her hand.”
  He looked at Diana waiting for her reply.

Diana blushed and hugged her father.  “I said, ‘yes,’ Father.”

Alexander’s smile slowly spread across his face.  “I’ll arrange for the dowry to be transferred to you on your wedding day.  When will that be?”  He seemed to be in a hurry to get the deed done to make sure neither of them backed out.

Percy shrugged.  “It takes three weeks.  I’ll talk to my mother and your wife, and I’m certain that between them we’ll have a date quickly.”

Before Diana knew what was happening, her father was bellowing for Lady Pendleton and Jane.  When the two women arrived, Alex shouted, “They’re getting married!”

Jane
looked between Percy and Diana for a moment before running to hug Diana.  “You’re marrying an earl!”

Diana shook her head.  “I’m not marrying a title, Mother.  I’m marrying a man.  His name is Percy.”

Jane ignored the statement, and turned to Lady Pendleton.  “We’re going to have to get started planning the wedding immediately.”  She looked at Percy.  “When do you want to have the ceremony, my lord?”

Percy looked over at Diana and smiled.  “As soon as possible, so three weeks?  Does that give you enough time to plan everything?”  The look on his face made it very clear that he didn’t care if it gave them enough time to plan everything or not.  They were getting married in three weeks, and he didn’t care who liked it or not.

Diana watched as the two women started bickering over details like where the wedding would be held and when it would take place.  She didn’t care about the details at all, caring more about the life she’d lead once she was married to Percy.  She walked to the side door and looked back at him, holding her hand out for his.

He gazed between the arguing mothers and her father, who was telling the women to keep the price of the wedding down, before joining her and slipping out the door with her to the back gardens.  They walked hand in hand toward the gazebo they’d had to go to for the scavenger hunt.  “Why are none of your designs on display here?”

Percy looked at her.  “I don’t think you understand just how tight finances have been for my family.  My father mortgaged everything that wasn’t entailed.  I’ve had to sell everything I’ve ever created to make enough money to slowly pay down the debts and keep my mother and sisters in dresses for each new Season.”  He sighed.  “The debts are half gone now, but my work is fetching a larger price with everything I make.  If my predictions are correct, I’ll be out of debt in about four years.”  He looked at her.  “Can you live simply for four years?  Not running off to London for every Season?”

She nodded eagerly.  “I hate the Season.  One or two parties a year, if they’re important, I can stand.  The rest of them are just the same thing over and over.  The same women trying to trap the same men.  The same mothers trying to match their daughters to the same men their daughters didn’t want last week.  I would be happy to never go again.”
  Diana truly hated the Season.

“What about when our daughters are old enough to have Seasons of their own?”

She blushed at the idea of having children with him.  “Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.  I hope to never have to put them through a London Season.  Maybe we can find them husbands some other way.  Don’t ask me how, but I don’t think any woman should ever have a Season forced on her if she doesn’t want it.”

He kissed her cheek, liking how she thought.  “That sounds good to me.  The only time you may be required to go is if my sisters find men they want to marry.  I’d want you to see if they were compatible with their beaux.”

Diana sighed.  “No more matching people the old fashioned way, I guess?  We’ll only do things the way you want to do them, which means I get to match up the entire world.”  She’d play along with him and tell him who would be good matches.  She just didn’t want to have to be the one to tell people who they must marry.

Percy smiled.  “That sounds good to me.  The whole world would be so much happier if everyone only married people who were meant for them, and never married people they didn’t belong with.”

She laughed softly.  “That may be true, but I think you’ll find people aren’t going to agree to marry who I think they should.”  She looked around her, seeing everything through different eyes as she held his hand and walked with him.  “I’ve really tried to talk to people about their choices in spouses.  I’ve talked until my face turned blue, but to no avail.  No one cared what a young girl had to say about who they were compatible with.”

He looked down at her with a smile.  “It is rather hard to believe that you can look at a couple and see whether or not they should marry.”
 

“I know it is.  I’m glad
you
believe me though.”  She didn’t think she could marry him if he hadn’t known or understood what a burden it was to her.

“I didn’t at first.  It’s when you mentioned
the Lancasters that I knew.  He’s told me how miserable he is being married to her.  They fight constantly.”

“They do a really good job of hiding it.”  She shrugged.  “Why did he tell you?”

“We were roommates at Eton, and then again at Oxford when he was engaged to her.  He had stars in his eyes every time he mentioned her name.  I was his best man.  His father wanted the marriage, because she was an heiress, and at first he agreed, but long before they were married, he had come to dislike her.”

“I didn’t know that!” 

Percy nodded.  “He is the only one who knows that I’m working to support my family.  We share a lot with each other.”

“I wish there were a way to match him with the woman he needs.”  She sighed.  She didn’t tell him that his sister, Charlotte, was the woman for
his friend.  She had seen them talking together at a ball and had wanted to cry.  The pure purple had been beautiful, but he was a married man.

“He won’t divorce her.”  He stepped into the gazebo and took a spot on one of the benches, patted the seat beside him.  She sat with him automatically, still holding his hand.  No one had held her hand that way since she was a small child, and she found it comforting.  “Is it hard for you to know that people don’t belong together when they have no choice in the matter?”

“Sometimes.  I want to rage at people not to marry the wrong person, but no one is going to believe me.  I think that’s the hardest part for me.  I want to help people, but no one will believe a young woman who hasn’t even found love herself.”

He raised an eyebrow as he looked down at her.  “Maybe it will get easier once
we’re married.”

She smiled up at him, her tongue creeping out to moisten her lower lip.  “I hope so.”

He watched her tongue, and slowly lowered his head, his own barely reaching out to touch the moisture on her lip.  He let out a low groan.  “I don’t want to wait three weeks.”

Diana smiled, resting her cheek against his shoulder.  “I want to get married yesterday.”

“How upset would your mother be if I obtained a special license and we got married in three days instead of three weeks?”

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