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 (8 page)

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

 

 

Their honeymoon ended much too quickly to Diana’s way of thinking.  Less than a week later a messenger came from London begging for their presence.  Gabriella Lancaster had died of whatever illness had plagued her, and Anthony wanted Percy by his side as he went through the funeral preparations.
  Percy hadn’t hesitated for even a moment as he’d rushed to change into travel clothes and get ready to leave.  His friend needed him, and he would be there.

The fountain had been finished just that morning, and he’d stared down at it, knowing it still needed something.  Diana had promised to look at it, but she hadn’t had a chance before they’d gotten into the coach to race off to London.
  During the long drive, he’d held her hand tightly, his head tilted back against the back of the seat.

She had rested her head on his shoulder to give him what comfort she could, but knew that it would never be enough.  She knew he didn’t grieve Gabriella, but hurt for his friend who must be dealing with terribly conflicted feelings.  He’d been trapped in a loveless marriage, and now he was free, but at what cost?  The two had a small child together, and she knew that Percy must be thinking of how terrible it would be for William to grow up without a mother.

They drove straight to Anthony’s house once they arrived in London, knowing they would stay with him, rather than at the smaller Stenwick townhome.  Diana didn’t really know Anthony or Gabriella, so she felt like she didn’t belong, but Percy kept her close to his side.  He shook hands formally with his friend, seeing the hurt in the other man’s eyes.  Even though there’d been no love between the two, it was still hard to lose his wife and the mother of his young child.

“How did it happen?” Percy asked as the three of them stood alone in Anthony’s study.

Anthony shook his head.  “She started complaining of headaches a few months ago.  I had the physician come out and examine her, of course, but he could find nothing wrong.  The headaches grew steadily worse until she was seeing two of everything.  For the past week, she’s done nothing but lay in bed, in the dark.  William would be brought in to see her every afternoon, but even he wasn’t getting a reaction from her.”  Anthony took a deep breath.  “She wasn’t the best wife in the world, but she was always an excellent mother.”  He suddenly looked at Diana worried he’d said too much in front of a stranger.

Percy shook his head.  “She knew the first time she saw the two of you together
there was something wrong,” he said not explaining further.  “So what does the doctor think?”

Anthony shrugged.  “He said she could h
ave had a brain lesion, but the only way they would know is if they cut her head open to see, and I can’t allow that.”

“No, I can see why you couldn’t.”  Percy sighed.
 

Diana
took the duke’s hand in hers.  “I’m so sorry for your loss.”  She knew the words seemed empty, but what else could she say?  I’m sorry your son lost his Mama?

Anthony nodded briefly.  “Thank you both for coming.”

Percy stayed with his friend while Diana went out to find out what arrangements had been made so far for the funeral.  Even with the couple not being close, Anthony was in no shape to plan anything.  She quietly took over while her husband stayed with his friend.  She wondered how long she should wait before she arranged a house party as she worked.  Charlotte would need to be matched up with Anthony at the first available opportunity before either of them found anyone else.

She shook her head.  What was she thinking?  The man had just lost his wife, and all she could think about was making sure when he remarried, he married the right woman?  She needed to get her priorities straight.

 

*****

 

After the funeral, they stayed on in London for another twenty-four hours before Percy declared they’d done all they could. 
He needed to get home so he could return to work and to his honeymoon.  He invited Anthony and William to visit them in the country as they left.

A visit to his mother and sisters in their townhome was the only thing planned on their way home.  He knocked on the door and waited as the butler showed them in.  His mother was sitting in the parlor as usual, with the girls on either side of her.  They were going through invitations trying to decide which events they would attend for the next week.  The Season was drawing to a close, and
his family wanted to make the most of the last round of parties.

Horatia
looked up and smiled as she saw Diana and Percy standing in the doorway.  “Sit down.  Please.”  She indicated the small couch across from her.  “What are you doing back in London so soon?”  She seemed genuinely pleased to see the two of them.

Percy rubbed the back of his neck, obviously exhausted from their time in London.  “I came to support Anthony.  He’s having a hard time with Gabriella’s death.”
  He didn’t elaborate, because he knew his mother would assume it was because Anthony had loved Gabriella so much, he couldn’t bear to be without her.

“Oh, of course he is!  I’ve never seen a couple more in love than the two of them.  Well, maybe you two, but you’re the only ones.”
  Horatia looked between the newlyweds with a smile, obviously taking all the credit for the young couple’s happiness.

Diana blushed and looked down at her hands at the words.
  Percy hadn’t told her he loved her, so the words of praise were embarrassing.  She hoped they didn’t make him think that he owed her the words or anything, because she wanted them, but she wanted them to be sincere.

Charlotte let out a scoffing laugh.  “Oh, Mother.  You know Percy just married Diana for her dowry.  No one would marry her if they didn’t need her father’s money.  She’s too…odd.”
  Her voice was harsh as she said the words, her dislike of Diana obvious.  Of course, Diana knew she was only repeating what she’d heard so many other people say.

Diana didn’t react to the words, but she wanted to run from the room.  Instead she sat quietly, wishing the floor would open up and swallow her whole.

Percy jumped to his feet and loomed over Charlotte.  “How dare you speak to my wife that way?  Her dowry is in trust for any children we may have.  I’m still working every single day to support this family, just like I always have.”  His eyes were filled with anger as he scolded his sister.

Charlotte shook her head, ignoring the dangerous look in her brother’s eyes.  “But everyone says that you just married her for money.  Even Mother said she felt badly that you were forced to marry her to keep us all in party dresses.”
 

Percy stood quietly, his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. 
He had never come so close to hitting a woman in his entire life, and he wasn’t about to do it now.

Diana sighed, reaching out to take his hand.  “It’s all right.  I knew it was what everyone would say when we married.  I’ve never been the darling of Society.”
  She was surprised he was standing up for her like that.  She knew he cared about her, but to be as angry as he was over an offhand remark shocked her a great deal.

“But it’s not true!  I married you because you’re an amazing woman, and I couldn’t imagine my life without you!  People need to stop talking about you.”

Diana noted that he didn’t say he loved her, but she didn’t say anything about it.  “Isn’t it enough that we both know that?” she asked softly.  It was enough for her to know he thought she was amazing.  The only thing remarkable about her were her powers, and they only tended to anger people.

Lucy looked between Diana and Percy and smiled.  “Every time someone says something to me about her dowry, I tell them it’s a love match.  That I’m thankful that my brother met a woman who was so perfect for him that he couldn’t take his eyes off her.”  She shrugged.  “I think God looked down at you and smiled, Percy.  You have a really special wife.”

Charlotte jumped to her feet.  “A special wife who runs around stealing other women’s beaux.”  It was obvious as soon as she said the words that the core of the problem was right there.  She was angry because she felt that Diana had stolen her beau.

Diana shook her head.  “I never stole your beau.  Do you really think a man who loved you would have looked at me that way?  I never cared one whit about Bart, and if you think back to that night, you’ll recall that I did nothing to invite his attentions.”
  She tried to reason with the other girl, wishing that she could just tell her what had happened but knowing it wouldn’t work out.

Charlotte glared at Diana.  “Everyone knows that you do
something
to men.  We don’t know what it is, but someday we’ll all figure it out.”  Her face was red with anger.

Diana stood.  “I think it’s time for us to leave, Percy.”
  She wasn’t willing to listen to another word, and she was worried Percy’s mind would be poisoned against her, even though he knew what had happened.

Percy shook his head.  “No, it’s not.”  He looked at Charlotte.  “You were saved from a marriage to a man who meant nothing to you and to whom you meant nothing.  He never asked for your hand.  There were rumors he was about to propose, but he asked another woman to marry him three weeks later.  Consider yourself lucky.”

Charlotte had tears streaming down her face.  “I loved him!”

“You don’t know what love is!”  He took a deep breath trying to control his temper, which had gotten way out of control.  “Make me a promise.  If you want to marry, and consider yourself ready, let Diana help you choose a husband.  She has a way of seeing whether or not a match will be a good one.”  He said as much as he felt like he could without giving away his wife’s secret, because he did want his sisters to be happy.

Charlotte glared at Diana.  “I couldn’t trust her.”

Lucy smiled at Diana.  “If the offer is good for me as well, I trust you completely.  I never believed the rumors about you to begin with.”
  She reached over and squeezed Diana’s hand, obviously wanting to be friends with her new sister.

Diana smiled at Lucy, happy that one of her new sisters liked her.  “I’d be happy to help you whenever you’re ready.”

Horatia sat staring at the people around her with a baffled look on her face.  “Are you staying for dinner?” she asked Percy as if nothing had happened between them.

Percy laughed shortly.  “Not tonight, Mother.  We’re on our way back to
Stenwick Manor.”  He took Diana’s hand and led her toward the door.  Before he reached it, he looked back at Lucy.  “You should come visit us soon.  We’d love to have you.”

Lucy beamed her pleasure at the invitation.  Her brother rarely invited even family members to visit him, and she hated summers in London.  “I’d like that.”

 

*****

 

After dinner that evening, Percy led Diana to the finished fountain.  “You said once that you could help me with it, but I don’t even know what I need.  What’s missing?”

Diana looked at the fountain and her face lit up with a smile.  She walked in a slow circle around it, her hands reaching out to touch the stone work.  “It needs love!”  The object was absolute perfection in her eyes other than the love she needed to make happen.

He looked at her like she’d lost her mind.  “Love?  How can I give it love?”
  He was genuinely confused.  He put love into everything he created, so why did this one need more?

She shook her head at him.  “You can’t, but I can.  I’ve had dreams of this fountain since I was a child.  When you first showed the plan to me, I knew this was the one.”

“The one?”

She shrugged.  “It’s another one of those things I’m not sure that I can explain.  I’ve seen this fountain doing things that no normal fountain can.  It’s meant to be a wishing fountain.”

“A wishing fountain?”  A fountain where people tossed coins?  Was that what she meant?

“Yes.  A fountain that will make wishes come true if they are wished with a pure heart.”  She took a deep breath and put her hands on the top of the fountain where the water would one day trickle out of
it.  Concentrating with all her might, she felt the power flow from her fingertips.  “There.  I think it’s ready now.”  She opened her eyes and looked at it, smiling with pleasure.

Percy looked down at the fountain and walked slowly around it.  It didn’t look different, but it
somehow seemed different.  Somehow what had been missing from it no longer was.  “What did you do?”

“I gave it the power to grant wishes.  At least I think I did.”
  She frowned.  “I hope I did.”

He laughed.  “Well, it seems complete now.”  He eyed it for another moment before turning to her and taking her into his arms.  “Where do you want to put it?”

“What do you mean?”   Hadn’t he sold it?  Surely there would be someone who wanted it.

“I told you it was your wedding gift.  What will you do with it?”  He watched her carefully.  He’d known when he told her that it would be a wedding gift that she hadn’t taken his words at face value. 

“But you could make so much money from it so you can pay off your father’s debt.   I can’t take that.”  She wanted it, though.  She wanted it more than she’d ever wanted anything.

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