Authors: Jillian Eaton
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Historical Romance
“A somewhat valid point,” Grace said grudgingly, but there was a fond light in her eyes as her gaze dropped to Catherine’s stomach, now faintly outlined beneath the empire waistline of her walking dress.
Catherine had discovered she was pregnant shortly after returning to
. She had thought about writing Marcus a letter for weeks, but had eventually discarded the idea as folly. She had never in her wildest dreams imagined a baby would come from their one intimate night together and she was terrified of what Marcus might do if he found out she was carrying what could be his heir, if it was a boy. She had already lost her husband; she could not live with herself if she lost her child as well.
When the sky began to darken outside the tea shop the two women stood and said their goodbyes. Grace lived with her parents only a short half block away, in the opposite direction of Catherine’s townhouse. She offered to accompany her friend, but Catherine gently pushed her along, and struck out on her own.
The wind had picked up and snow blew in the air as Catherine fought through
’s foot traffic. She was jostled and pushed as she walked briskly forward, but she kept a firm grip on her purse and managed to reach her townhouse without incident.
A tidy brownstone set back from the street behind a wrought iron fence, it had been Marcus’ wedding present to her. Neither of them ever imagined it would one day come to serve as her primary residence.
Exhausted by the rapid pace she had set for herself, Catherine collapsed into the first chair she came to after her butler took her cloak, scarf, and muff before disappearing into the kitchen to ready a pot of tea. Closing her eyes, she began to rub her belly in soothing rhythmic circles.
“A bit late to be out walking by
, isn’t it?” A painfully familiar voice drawled from the shadows.
With a loud gasp Catherine jolted upright. Her hands flew to her mouth in silent dismay as Marcus unfolded himself from where he had been leaning against the far wall and stalked across the parlor to stand in front of her, his jaw clenched tight and his gray eyes dark as the clouds outside.
“Is there something you would like to tell me, Catherine?” he asked quietly. His gaze swept down her body, lingered briefly on the soft swell of her belly, and jerked back up to her flushed face.
Catherine’s mouth opened and closed, but she couldn’t force any words out. Belatedly she realized nearly every candle in the house had been dimmed and no servants were in sight. Clues that would have alerted her to Marcus’ presence if she had not been so tired.
“I… I do not… when… what are you
here?” she finally managed to croak out. Inside her chest her heart beat rapidly. She drew in a deep, unsteady breath and curled her arms around her stomach in a protective gesture that brought an immediate scowl to Marcus’ face.
“There is no reason for you to be afraid of me,” he snapped. “I did not come here to hurt you. I simply want to know why you have kept your pregnancy from me. Is the child mine?”
The bluntness of his question was the spark she needed to find her voice. “Yes,” she said and then, because she had nothing else to hide, continued in a voice raw with emotion and barely restrained tears. “The baby could no one else’s but yours, Marcus. I have never been with another man.”
His jaw hardened. “Since you became pregnant, you mean. You have not been with another man since you became pregnant.”
“No,” Catherine countered softly. She looked down at her hands. Her simple gold wedding band seemed to glow in the dim candlelight and she spun it anxiously around on her finger, struggling to find the words with which to tell her husband the truth. “I mean never. I… I should have told you sooner, but when you never asked me directly, when you just believed all of the rumors…”
She felt a faint pressure on her knees and looked up to see Marcus kneeling in front of her chair, his face unnaturally pale and his eyes almost feverishly bright. He had lost weight since the last time she had seen him and his cheeks were gaunt, his hair untended. He looked miserable.
“What are you saying?” he asked hoarsely.
It was time – past time – to finally reveal the truth. Catherine swallowed hard, and proceeded to do just that. “I have never been unfaithful, Marcus. I flirted, true, but it was only an attempt to bring you back to me. I was young and vain, and missed you oh so terribly when you left. I thought if I made you jealous you would want to keep me by your side, but it only drove you away. Why did you leave? Didn’t you love me?” Unshed tears pooled in the corners of her eyes but she held them back, instinctively knowing this was her final chance to find resolution with her husband, if only for the sake of their unborn child.
Marcus flinched as if she had struck him. He closed his eyes and drew in a ragged breath. “I loved you with every part of my soul, but I was stupid and arrogant. I had everything I needed, but I needed to have more. When I returned to
and believed you had been in the arms of other men… it drove me mad. I couldn’t reason, couldn’t think. I made the wealth I thought was so important, but the sacrifice was far too great. I see that now.” His fingers dug into the soft flesh of her thighs as he leaned towards her and the desperate love she saw etched across his face robbed the very breath from her lungs.
“I would welcome the life of a pauper,” he whispered achingly. “If it meant I could spend just one more night in your arms.”
“Oh, Marcus…” Tears flowed freely down her cheeks. In the space of an instant they were in each others arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and sobbed into his chest; he fisted his hands in her hair and pressed his face into her neck.
Time itself seemed to slow. The room spun in a lazy circle while Catherine clung to Marcus with all of her strength. He lifted her chin and kissed her damp cheeks, her temple, her nose… before settling with desperate hunger on her mouth. Their tongues entwined as they strained towards each other and liquid heat slid down Catherine’s body to pool in the most intimate part of her.
“Wait, my darling.” His face straining from the effort, Marcus gently grasped her shoulders and set her away from him.
Catherine murmured in helpless
loathe to be separated from him for even a second. He chuckled low in his throat and reached out to tuck a loose curl behind her ear, his fingers lingering like a whisper on the curve of her jaw.
“We still need to talk and I cannot think clearly when I am touching you,” Marcus admitted, the hint of a smile tilting his mouth upwards.
Catherine’s gaze flitted down his body to where the bulge of his manhood was quite evident and pink stained her cheeks. Nibbling on her lower lip she obediently took a step back and linked her hands across her belly. “Y-yes?” she asked, unable to keep the quiet hitch from her voice.
“We have been unbearably cruel to each other, Catherine. We have done and said things –
have done and said things – that cannot be easily forgotten, or forgiven.”
Her eyes closed as pain closed like a vice around her heart. He was going to leave her again, and heaven help her but she would not survive it. Not now, when she had felt what their love for each could be like. A single tear dropped from the corner of her eye and glistened on her cheek like a diamond. It contained
and every betrayal she had ever suffered, every sleepless night she had endured, and every hope she had seen crushed.
She started when she felt something press ever go gently against her cheek. Her eyes opened to watch in silent wonder as Marcus caught her tear on his thumb and pressed it to his lips.
“Do not cry any more, my beloved. I cannot bear it,” he said gruffly, his own eyes suspiciously damp.
Catherine reached out for him blindly. He caught her outstretched hand and pressed it flat to his chest. Beneath her palm she felt his heart beat, steady and strong, and she knew.
She knew the past was the past. She knew the hardships that had once kept them apart were now bringing the together. She knew the bond they shared could be strained, but never broken. And most importantly, she knew that…
“I love you,” she said fiercely.
“Oh Cat,” he sighed.
A giddy laugh escaped her as he plucked her up in his arms and spun her around. When he set her back down on her feet he kept her cradled against his chest and the words he whispered in her ear brought even more tears, but these were tears of happiness, not grief, and the smile that captured her mouth could have rivaled the sun on the brightest of days.
“I loved you yesterday, today, and I shall love you for every tomorrow. You are my heart, my soul, my very reason for being,” he finished simply.
“Truly?” she asked, winding her arms around his neck.
He gazed down tenderly into her upturned face, and ever so softly touched her mouth with his.
Now pack your things. No child of mine is going to be born anywhere but Kensington. And you had best get used to being there wife, for I fear
does not suit me at all.”
Biting back a laugh, Catherine traced a fingertip down the side of his face and played idly with a dark curl. “How do you know it does not suit you? I think it is a rather wonderful place,” she said, lowering her lashes to disguise the mischief in her eyes. More than anything she yearned to return to the quiet peacefulness of Kensington, but Catherine would not be Catherine if she gave in too easily.
“Because I have been here nigh on a month!” Marcus said. “I have attended every bloody ball, spent half my fortune on charities, and sat through more boring tea parties than I can count.”
“You have?” Catherine asked in surprise. Sudden apprehension flashed across her face as she considered
her husband had been in
for so long without coming to see her. Surely he had not brought a mistress with him?
Seeing her expression, Marcus captured her hand and brought her knuckles to his lips. “I was looking for
, darling,” he said, exasperated.
“Then you… left your mistress in the country?” she asked hesitantly.
“I never had, nor will I ever have, a mistress. You are the only woman for me, Lady Kensington.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Then why didn’t you come here first when you came to
“Because I am a stubborn, foolish man,” he admitted with a wry smile. “Who wanted a chance encounter with his wife instead of coming to her home and begging her forgiveness on his
One blond eyebrow arched. “You did not get on your knees,” she pointed out, disguising her grin with a raised hand.
“For the love of… Ah, Cat, we are going to drive each other mad.”
“And then some,” she agreed. “Do you remember what we used to do after we fought?” she asked coyly, lashes fluttering.
The sudden hardness against her thigh told her Marcus
remember. She shrieked with delight when he swept her up in his arms to take the stairs two at a time and smiled into the crook of his shoulder.
Finally, her husband had come home.
“He looks like he is going to faint, doesn’t he Grace?” Grinning ear to ear, Josephine sat up from the willow backed settee she had been lounging on and glanced across the parlor to where her beloved friend’s husband Marcus was pacing a hole in a rather lovely Persian rug.
“He does look a bit pale,” Grace agreed. Perched on the edge of a windowsill across the room, she was desperately trying to stay cool by fanning herself. It was only May, but the temperature was unusually warm for spring. Smothering a yawn with the back of her hand, she slouched against the window and pressed the side of her face against one of the glass panes. It offered little respite from the stuffiness of the room and she struggled to open the window. “Jo, do come here and help me.”
Rolling her eyes, Josephine stood and crossed the room in three graceful strides. She studied the window for the briefest of moments before standing on tiptoe to unlock the latch at the top.
Don’t you ever look at how something works before you try to work it?”
“Not often,” Grace admitted with a cheeky grin. Dropping her entire head and shoulders through the opening, she sighed in relief.
“Ah, so much better.”
“You are going to fall out,” Josephine predicted mildly.
“I fell out of a window
summer,” Grace reminded her, her voice slightly muffled. “I can’t do it twice in a row.”
“Yes, well, best you come back inside. Lord Melbourne has just arrived.”
Grace sat up so fast she slammed her forehead against the bottom of the window. Grimacing, she jumping down from the windowsill, promptly turned one ankle, and went hopping across the room like some deranged rabbit.
Observing the general chaos that seemed to follow her friend where ever she went, Josephine clucked her tongue and went to intercept Lord Melbourne, subtly closing the pocket doors to the parlor behind her to give Grace a moment to compose herself.