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 (5 page)

BOOK: The Earl's Design of Love: The Stenwick Siblings
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She shook her head sadly.  “She would be mortified.  Mother would assume everyone would think we’d anticipated our vows, and that I was carrying, and we had to get married immediately to spare my shame.”

Percy sighed, kissing her forehead.  “So would my mother.  You game?”  He didn’t really care if people talked about him.  They’d been talking about him since his father died.

“No, I’m sorry.  It’s too important to my mother to do everything ‘correctly.’”

“I was afraid you’d say that.”  He rubbed the back of his neck.  “I guess I’ll just have to stay here and play with my fountain while you go back to London and make the rounds and act all happy to be engaged.”

Diana looked up at him with a smile.  “I am happy to be engaged.  If it were any other man, I wouldn’t be, but it’s you.” 

He smiled, brushing one last quick kiss across her cheeks.  “I hope the next three weeks move very quickly for us both then.”

Diana sighed.  “You know you’ll need to come into town at least once during our engagement.  My mother will want to throw a huge engagement ball for us.”

He groaned audibly.  “I’ll have to pretend to be one of them again?”

She giggled.  “I’m sorry.  It’s expected.  We have to do what’s expected for Mother at least until we marry.  After we’re married, we
can do whatever we want to do.  As long as we hide in the country to do it.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.”

She pulled his head down for one more kiss before standing.  “Please do!”

Chapter Five

 

 

Two weeks later, Diana sat in her room while her maid, Anna, brushed through her long blond hair, arranging it just perfectly atop her head.  It was the evening of her engagement ball, and she hadn’t seen Percy since they’d left the country party a few hours after their engagement.  The two mothers had spent all their time together, planning out each minute detail of both the party and the wedding.  Diana had ignored them for the most part.

She knew she should be
nervous about seeing Percy again, but she wasn’t.  She was simply excited, because she felt so strongly for him, and she was certain that he had feelings for her as well.  Maybe he didn’t love her yet, but the potential was there.

She slipped into the pale pink gown her mother had purchased new for the evening.  It had a narrower skirt than she usually wore, and was cut a bit lower.  Diana wasn’t certain how Percy would feel about it, but it made her feel as if she were doing something terribly naughty.

Anna took a step back from her and smiled.  “You look beautiful.”  She studied her for a moment.  “It needs something.  Do you have your mother’s pearls?”

Diana nodded.  “They’re on my table.”  She pointed to the table with her brush and other beauty aids.

Anna rushed over and picked up the box containing the pearls, carefully draping them around Diana’s neck.  She once again stood back and studied her mistress.  “That’s perfect.  Couldn’t be better.”

Diana stepped in front of the mirror and gazed at herself.  “Yes, that’s perfect.”  She turned to her maid and confidante.  “Thank you,
Anna!”  She threw her arm around the other woman and hugged her tightly.  “I get to see him tonight!”

Anna
laughed.  “I know. I can see how happy that makes you.  He must be a good man.”

“Oh, he is!”  Diana put her slippers on
and opened the door to go downstairs where she knew her parents would be waiting, and most likely, Lady Stenwick and Percy as well.

She walked down the stairs slowly, determined to make a good entrance in case he had already arrived.  As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she saw his eyes fill with warmth as he watched her. 
She walked close to him and made a slight curtsey as she’d been taught.  “My lord.”

He took her hand and smiled down at her, raising her hand to his lips to receive his kiss.  “You look absolutely stunning this evening.”  His eyes traveled
up and down her body, coming to rest on her cleavage.  “One more week.”  He lowered his voice as he said those words, so she would know they were meant just for her.

“I’m so happy you could make it into town for our engagement party.  I know how busy you are.”  The words were formal, but the look she gave him let him know that she was thinking only of him.

“Let’s take a turn around the ballroom.”  He put her hand to the crook of his arm and walked with her slowly through the still mostly empty ballroom.  “I was worried that when I saw you again I would wonder what it was that had made me ask you to marry me, but the second I saw you, it all came rushing back.  I simply can’t imagine what my life would be without you now.”

Diana smiled, her head resting on his shoulder for a moment as they walked.  She knew it was improper, but they were to be married in a week.
If someone felt the need to gossip about her for it, they could just go ahead and do it. Charlotte was off in the corner of the room with a group of young ladies, and she kept giving Diana glaring looks.  Lucy was beside her, as always, but her looks were more inquisitive than glaring.  She seemed to be waiting to form an opinion of her future sister-in-law.

Percy walked her over to the group of women, and introduced her to his two sisters, both of whom she’d known for some time, but only superficially.  “Charlotte, Lucy, this is my
fiancée, Diana.  Diana?  My two sisters, Charlotte and Lucy.”

Charlotte wrinkled her nose slightly in distaste, but knowing her brother supported her said, “Welcome to the family.”
  She quickly turned back to her friends, effectively dismissing Diana.

Diana was well aware of how Charlotte felt about her, and smiled gratefully that she didn’t act badly upon meeting her.  “Thank you.  It’s very nice to meet you, Charlotte.”

Lucy held her hand out and gripped Diana’s warmly.  “I think you’re just what Percy needs to teach him to act like a gentleman again.”

Diana grinned, immediately liking his younger sister.  She had no real friends among the young ladies of the ton, both because her father was in trade and because her powers frightened people.  They didn’t really know what went on with her, but everyone knew there was something odd, which left them feeling unsettled.  “Thank you.  It’s good to finally have sisters.” 

Lucy grinned, leaning forward to whisper into Diana’s ear.  “It’ll be nice to have a sister I’m not in competition over the gentlemen with.”

Diana laughed softly.  “I think we’re going to get along very well.”

Percy watched the two heads bent together and thought Diana would fit in splendidly with his family. 
One more week.  Just one more week.

Percy led her back to her mother and his, who were standing with their heads together, as usual, watching the two of them.  When they reached them, her mother smiled.  “I’m going to go let the orchestra know to play the first waltz.”
  She gave Diana a look that let her know she needed to be on her best behavior.

Diana sighed.  It was to be their first dance as an engaged couple, and they’d have to dance it alone in the middle of the ballroom.  She didn’t want to have to do it alone, but she knew there was no choice.
   She hated being the center of attention.  He led her to the center of the dance floor and waited as the orchestra began the waltz, and then led her effortlessly in the dance. 

For Diana, the world narrowed to just her and Percy.  There was nothing and no one that mattered as much as this man holding her in his arms.  Their eyes met and clung together, and for her, it was as intimate as any kiss they’d shared.  She felt as if they were one, dancing in front of dozens of people that she’d forgotten existed.  So this was love.  She didn’t know if he realized yet that it was love, but she certainly knew it.  Nothing in the world could ever be as perfect for her as that moment, with him.

After the dance, he took her to her father, who did an obligatory father daughter dance.  Her father had refused to take the dancing lessons she and her mother had so carefully attended and paid attention to so he stepped on her feet more than he danced gracefully.  She could see Percy dancing beside her with his mother, and when the dance finally ended, her father returned her to him.

Percy tucked her hand into his arm and walked toward the balcony door
s, flinging them open and stepping out into the darkened area.  He said nothing as he led her down the stairs and off to the side of the house, pulling her into the shadows.  His lips pressed against hers, and he gathered her fully against him, kissing her ravenously.

Their other kisses had been sweet kisses of exploration, but this kiss?  This was pure need.  His hands stroked up and down her body through the silk of her dress.  “I can’t wait until we’re married,” he mumbled against her lips.

Her hands tangled in his dark hair and she pressed as close to him as she could, her tongue meeting his stroke for stroke.  “Soon.  One more week.”  She was panting when he finally raised his head.

“Where will the wedding be?” he asked, obviously out of breath.  “I had just asked when you came down the stairs, but didn’t get an answer.”
  He didn’t add that he was too caught up in her to even wait for the answer.  She’d become the sole focus of his universe.

“My mother wants it to be here in town,” she told him, stroking his cheek.  He’d obviously shaved right before leaving for the party. 

He nodded.  “We’ll go to the wedding breakfast, of course, but how would you feel about leaving afterward and heading back to the country?  I don’t want to be surrounded by people our first few days of marriage.”

She smiled.  “I think that’s a brilliant idea.”
  She wanted nothing more than to be alone with him. 

“I know you’re used to having a lot of servants around, but I really only keep a few in the country.  Will that bother you?”

She shook her head.  “I’ll want to bring my maid if you don’t mind.  I don’t care about much else.”  She didn’t add that she wanted her maid as much for companionship as she did for the help she’d give her.

Percy’s eyes were bright as he brushed her lips with his, this kiss much softer than earlier.  “We think alike about many of the important things.”

“Yes, we do.  I think that’s why we’ll suit so well.”  She rested her forehead against his shoulder.  “We should go back inside.  We’re being honored with this party, and people are going to notice if we’re not there.”

He sighed.  “I know.  Many of my friends from Oxford will be here as well.  I haven’t seen most of them in years.”
  He wasn’t certain how many of them he wanted to see, since most had been superficial friendships, but he was happy to see Anthony.

He led her back to the house and through the balcony door.  Her mother rushed over and hissed, “
Where have you been?”

She shrugged, gripping Percy’s arm tighter.  “We wanted to talk alone for a moment.”

Jane’s eyes took in her daughter’s swollen lips, but she said nothing.  “Your father wants to make a toast.”

“Yes, Mother.”

The two of them hurried over to where her father stood with a flute of champagne in his hand, and they each took a flute from the tray being offered by the servants standing nearby.  Diana had never had champagne and eyed the glass with interest.  She only hoped she liked it.

She didn’t listen to what her father said, instead standing close beside Percy and looking at him.  When he was near, no one else in the world mattered to her.  Marriage was going to be perfect.  How could it be anything else?

 

*****

 

Diana walked slowly down the aisle, holding onto her father’s arm.  They were using the church she’d gone to as a small child for the wedding.  A church she had always liked, but hadn’t believed anyone would allow her to marry in.  Her father had pulled some strings, and she’d gotten her wish.  It was odd to see so
many of the upper class in the church, but she felt so happy, she didn’t care.  Many of her friends from childhood were there as well, most of them dressed in their finest clothes, which didn’t hold a candle to her worst rags.  Diana didn’t mind, though.  Just seeing their faces made her feel like she was doing the right thing.

At the end of the aisle, her father placed her hand in Percy’s as he took his seat.  She remembered nothing else of the ceremony.  She must have said all the right things at the right times.  She knew she was shaking a bit as he leaned down and pressed a soft kiss against her lips. 

They went back to her parents’ town house
for the wedding breakfast.  She sat at his right hand, and they smiled at one another ignoring everyone else in the room.  After breakfast, she went upstairs to change into her traveling clothes, because they were heading back to his country home.  She changed quickly, and descended the stairs.  She could hear his voice coming from her father’s study, where he’d told her to meet him, and she raised her hand to knock, when she heard another voice.

“You’ll have it so much easier now.  You did a smart thing marrying her.  You can stop working all the time and live the life you were meant to live.” 

Diana felt the tears well up in her eyes and she ran back up the stairs, wanting to make sure no one saw her.

“No, I’ll continue working.  I told her I wouldn’t marry her if I received her dowry.  We’re putting the money in trust for our children.”
  Percy was adamant.  He wasn’t going to use her money for his father’s gambling debts.

Anthony
shook his head.  “You don’t always have to do the noble thing.  You’ve paid for your father’s mistakes long enough.  Use the money to get out of debt.  You won’t care for her any less just because you’ve used the money set aside for her.”

Percy shook his head.  “I’ll have my family out of debt with my own hard work in just four years.  I don’t need to use her money.”
  He knew Anthony had used Gabriella’s money when they’d married, but Anthony hadn’t loved Gabriella.

“Be a hero then!”

“How are things going with you and Gabriella?”

Anthony
sighed.  “Terribly.  She’s ill now, and the physician can’t figure out what’s wrong.  I can’t find it within myself to be sad about it.  She’s a good woman, but I have no feelings for her.  None.”  He shook his head.  “I don’t want her to die, of course, but I think she’s going to.”

“I’m sorry.  I wish you’d found a better match.”

Anthony shrugged.  “What’s done is done.  I’ll never cheat on her.  Especially not now that we have little William to think about.”  William was their three year old son.

“I know.  You’re a good man.”  Percy opened the door and looked out.  “I wonder what’s taking Diana so long.  I’m ready to get back to the country.”
  He was ready for his wedding night.  Would it be crass to admit that aloud?

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