Authors: Allison Lane
Pain flashed through his eyes. “I need you. I hadn’t realized how much until I returned to England. It wasn’t just war that left me empty. I’ve been lonely from the beginning, though until I saw you again, I couldn’t admit why. The hardest thing I ever did was to cut you off at the knees and send you away in tears eleven years ago. I need you by my side, Chloe. I love you. I always have. But there was no room for you in the army. That life is not for you.”
“Slow down. Do you really love me?”
“Of course. Why are you surprised?” He touched her face. “You are a beautiful woman. Kind. Intelligent. And so much more. Please marry me, sweetheart. I know it won’t be the same as the life you had planned, but I’ll try to make you happy.”
“You already have.” She smiled. “I love you, Andrew. Dreaming of you has helped me through the bad times since you went away.”
“Thank God.” He pulled her against him. “Does that mean you accept?”
“With all my heart.”
“Good.” He grinned. “Tomorrow’s courier can fetch a special license.”
She smiled into his green eyes, grateful that he held her, for happiness was weakening her knees. His kiss slammed heat and excitement through her system – real, immediate, and pure. No more longing for the impossible. No more wars between duty and desire. He was hers. Forever. And never again need she fear for his life.
She clung as he deepened the kiss, amazed at the range of feeling tongue and lips could engender and the changes apparent as she pressed closer against him.
“Beautiful Chloe,” he murmured, slanting his lips in another direction. He was home. Chloe was his at last. Her arms triggered passion and a contentment he’d never felt before. After years of focusing on the moment, he could finally look to the future with joy and anticipation.
A giggle in the hallway pulled them apart.
“Not here,” she murmured.
Andrew was breathing heavily, but he knew she was right. “Poor timing – again. Next time we’ll be alone. Gray’s couriers are so fast we can have the license by Thursday.”
He hugged her one last time, then glanced at the mantel clock. “We’d best return to the ballroom. We must be there when William announces his betrothal. We’ll confirm our own plans tomorrow. He’ll need good news to counter Truitt’s arrest.”
Chloe laid her son Kevin in his cradle, smiled at Mary and Sally, then headed downstairs. Usually she waited until Mary finished feeding Katy, but today Chloe was anxious to find Andrew. It was the anniversary of their wedding, though the intervening year had been so full that she’d had little time for reflection.
But much had changed. Living at Grayson House while Andrew studied with Soane had been far from the quiet time she’d anticipated. Gray and Mary had insisted that she and Andrew take their places in society. Chloe had protested the expense, but Gray had been adamant. Their breeding made them welcome, and Andrew needed the contacts if he was to attract noble patronage.
Mary was right that Gray always got what he wanted. Chloe had been swept into a whirl of calls and parties that slowed only when morning sickness intruded.
She smiled at the reminder of Kevin. He looked exactly like Andrew and promised to be just as adventurous.
It had been a good year. Andrew’s love grew stronger every day. And watching him tackle a job he enjoyed filled her heart with happiness. Soane might declare him a genius, but Chloe cared only that he was at peace.
A screech reverberated along the hallway, making her shiver. Today they began demolishing Rothmoor Park – which meant they must soon remove to the steward’s cottage.
Replacing Rothmoor was the right decision, she acknowledged as she headed downstairs. The old rooms were small, with awkward access and twisted hallways. Damp pervaded everything. Even after four months under its roof, she couldn’t like the place.
And just as well.
Gray met her at the foot of the stairs. “How are the children?”
“Mine is asleep. Yours are still awake, though Mary should be finished with Katy soon. Nick is outside with his nurse, so he won’t be underfoot for at least an hour. Where is Andrew?”
“Removing the library paneling. He found a buyer for it.”
“So he said.” She grinned at the surprise in his voice. “Just because you hate this house doesn’t mean its pieces are useless. The library paneling perfectly matches Lord Bingham’s great hall – same dimensions, same patina. He is thrilled that he can replace that damaged section.”
“I know. And a dozen people are bidding on the linenfold from the entrance hall. I have to admit that it’s beautiful, but I still prefer marble.”
Shaking her head, Chloe headed for the library.
“The mail arrived while you were upstairs,” said Andrew, kissing her soundly. He wasn’t shy about demonstrating his love. They had eleven years to make up. “Lord Wroxleigh wants me to design a new wing for his manor – design only, so I can do it now. He’s offering two thousand.”
“Soane convinced him I’m worth it.” He grinned. “And William wrote. He finished his renovations. He swears he must watch Martha every second to keep her from arranging furniture in the new wing.”
“She should know better.” William’s heir was due in three months. “How is Peter?” Her brother never wrote, but William kept them posted. Peter had surprised everyone by hiring a competent man of business who divided the shipping proceeds between estate improvements and sound investments. Fields House was on the road to recovery. Peter hadn’t touched cards or dice since.
He had also discovered a sheaf of papers in a cupboard inside the priest’s hole that had been hidden behind the open door. It was also accessible through a small panel in the dressing room. The pages had contained enough evidence against Ashley and Truitt to hang them both – interviews with customers whose orders had gone wholly or partially astray, letters from military men listing shipments containing spoiled provisions or short quantities, affidavits from merchants who had sold infested grain and spoiled meat to Truitt and Ashley. Sir Nigel had correlated the data to prove that most of the army’s supply trouble could be traced to Truitt’s company. His investigation had helped Chloe put his blackmail behind her.
Andrew recalled her attention. “Peter is unhappy because his fields are producing less than William’s. He visits often, seeking advice on agricultural reforms.”
“He finally grew up. Kevin would have been proud.”
“William also reports that Mrs. Truitt returned to her family in Shropshire. George’s betrothal was forcing her back into society, but she couldn’t face the lingering scandal.”
“Perhaps.” He picked up his pry bar and attacked the next section of paneling. “Catherine is expecting again – early spring. And Laura’s latest companion resigned. That makes four. William refuses to look for a fifth one. He moved to her to a private asylum near Plymouth.”
“I sometimes wonder how I managed to stay with her for two years.”
“You are a saint.” He kissed her thoroughly. “There’s also a letter for you.” He pointed to a table.
She frowned at the unfamiliar hand, then cracked the seal. “What the—”
“What’s wrong?” Dropping the pry bar, he slid an arm around her shoulders.
“It’s from Allison Fields’s solicitor – I think she’s a great-aunt. If I remember the story right, my grandfather kicked her out of the family for some scandal no one ever explained.”
“Apparently she died last month and left everything to me.”
“What?” He grabbed the letter.
“It can’t be all that much if she’s been on her own all these years. She never married.”
“You stopped reading too soon.” He pointed to the second page. “A house in Kensington and ten thousand guineas. What a piece of luck!”
“Dear Lord.” She shook her head. “I didn’t even know I had relatives in London. We should at least have called on her.”
“If she was keeping track of you – and it sounds as though she was – then she could have called on us.” Retrieving the pry bar, he popped the panel off.
“What’s that?” The boards had covered a hole.
“What’s what?” asked Gray from the doorway.
A small chest sat inside. “You missed this when you cleaned out the house,” said Chloe, tugging it out. It was heavy.
Gray opened it to reveal a necklace and several brooches. Beneath them lay gold coins. Old coins. Chloe didn’t recognize the heads.
“Buried treasure.” Andrew nudged the chest.
“Probably Tudor,” said Gray, “though it might date back to the War of the Roses. My ancestors were on the wrong side of more than one conflict. They managed to hold on to the land, but the place was sacked twice. Congratulations, Andrew. Quite a trophy.”
“Our contract stipulates that everything on the building site as of yesterday is yours to salvage at your own expense and for your own profit until demolition is complete. So the chest is yours.”
“The agreement covers building materials, not family heirlooms.”
“He’s right,” said Chloe, lifting a brooch set with emeralds. “This belonged to the lady in the green dress.” It had been her favorite portrait before Gray emptied the gallery.
“The first countess.”
“And thus yours,” said Andrew, pressing the brooch into Gray’s hand.
“Very well, but the rest is yours.”
Chloe watched them argue, knowing that Gray would win in the end, but that Andrew wouldn’t mind. Working together had made them good friends. She suspected that Andrew was even closer to Gray than he’d been to Kevin, for they had more in common. And that was good. A man needed friends.
And she needed Andrew. Somehow life had turned out to be perfect.
1 Lord Grayson wed Mary Seabrook in
The Rake and the Wallflower
2 Lord Rockhurst wed Catherine Parrish nee Seabrook in
The Notorious Widow
Allison Lane is the author of 20 Regency novels and 6 novellas. She is a Holt Medallion Winner and the 2005 Romantic Times Career Achievement Award Winner, as well as National Readers' Choice Awards Finalist for three books.
The Rake and the Wallflower
won 1st Place for Best Regency in 2001 and was a Finalist in the Golden Quill Contest for Best Regency of 2001
Visit Allison Lane's website at http://www.eclectics.com/allisonlane
Copyright © 2001 by Susan Ann Pace
Originally published by Signet Regency (0451206045)
Electronically published in 2006 by Belgrave House
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This is a work of fiction. All names in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to any person living or dead is coincidental.