Read A Wedding Story Online

Authors: Susan Kay Law

Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance fiction, #Historical fiction, #Romance - Historical, #Fiction, #Romance, #Romance: Historical, #Historical, #Fiction - Romance

A Wedding Story (5 page)

BOOK: A Wedding Story
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Her mouth fell open and sound rumbled, a snore that would never be described as delicate, and he couldn’t help but smile.

“Sleep well, Kate,” he murmured, and went to work.

 

He’d left her.

It took her a full three minutes, and several blinks of her sleep-clogged eyes, before it registered completely. It was late, much later than she was accustomed to sleeping—the sunlight that pierced, painfully bright, through the tall windows proved that. The room echoed hollowly, all the magic of evening scoured clean. The debris of the night before was still scattered over the floor, like the remnants of a circus once the tent had been struck, and the strong morning light showed the beating the parquet floors had taken. They’d have to buff the entire place.

For a moment she’d thought he’d simply stepped out for a bit. With the random clutter, it wasn’t immediately obvious what was missing.

But his things were gone. Fury knocked quickly behind panic. His pack, his jacket weren’t there. He’d left the blanket beneath her but stripped off the one that had been spread over her shoulders. If chivalry had ever been drummed in his English head, he’d obviously abandoned it before now.

And he’d taken
her
maps. Left everything else she laid claim to—not to mention Kate herself—as if the maps were the only things of hers that could possibly be of any use.

“Why that…” She scrambled to her feet and kicked aside his blanket with the kind of force she longed to aim at his ungrateful head.

But he’d always taken her too lightly, hadn’t he? Thought her frivolous and easy and loose. More than one man paid for that mistake, often without even realizing it.

He’d learn. She wouldn’t give him any choice in the matter.

Chapter 5

H
e would not feel guilty about it.

Damn it, he would not.

He slung the saddle off the back of the horse he’d bought within a quarter hour of bolting from that overwrought, overgilded, overheated ballroom. He gave Chief a pat for his efforts. He’d been lucky; the gray gelding was a very fine animal, one of a string of two dozen or so riding horses the hotel kept for its guests’ use. It had been much simpler than he’d expected to convince the stable master to sell him one. Apparently the hotel’s manager, or whomever the man had dashed off to wangle permission from, had decided selling him one might garner a favorable mention in the
Sentinel
. Fame, he reflected, did occasionally have its uses.

He really was doing her an enormous favor by leaving her behind. He’d move a hundred times quicker without her…and her luggage. And just look at the miserable shack where he intended to spend the night. Not her style at all.

The sun was sinking low, behind the thick grove of oaks that stood behind the…he couldn’t even tell what it had been. A stable, a gardening shed? Maybe a chicken coop. It was here, it was free, and he’d slept in far worse places.

And there wasn’t much choice. He’d made good time, pushed Chief hard in an effort to catch up with the rest of the competitors. Gotten twice as far as he would have with her “help.”

He led the horse around the back of the hut and tethered it near a stand of thick grass. “I know it looks like you should be inside,” he whispered, “but this will have to do. Can you imagine what she would have said if she’d have to stay here?” The horse snorted, blowing air out its nostrils, and Jim chuckled. “Yes, I think so, too.”

He rounded the corner of the shack and stopped dead in his tracks. “Damn.”

Kate descended gracefully from a neat black buggy, beaming at Charlie Hobson as he assisted her down. She wore a deep blue traveling suit, a tiny, feather-topped confection perched on her upswept swirl of gold hair, as elegant as if she were arriving at a garden party.

She had to tug on her hand until Hobson blinked, roused from his stupor like a hypnotist’s dupe. He released her, then Kate turned toward Jim, her smile perfectly in place, but her eyes…he didn’t know whether to flinch or laugh.

“Lord Bennett! I thought that was you,” she said brightly. “How lucky we stumbled across you so quickly.”

“Oh, yes. Lucky.”

“And wasn’t it completely kind of Charlie to offer me a lift?”

“I’m sure he is kindness itself.”

“Hello there, Lord Bennett,” Hobson said, casual tone belied by the way his eyes scanned back and forth between the two of them. “You seem to have left a few things behind.”

“Kate knows I like to travel light.”

“Come now, Jim.” She closed the silk parasol that sheltered her complexion and used it to give him a playful poke in the arm, which nearly sent him reeling. “No need to pretend. It was such a long ride out here, I’m afraid I told Mr. Hobson all about us.”

“You did?”

“But of course.” He got the tip in his ribs this time. Before she could pull it back he snagged the end and yanked, sending her wheeling before she released the umbrella. Her back to the reporter, she glared at Jim. He just grinned and tucked his new prize under his arm.

But the woman did recover quickly. In a blink, her mask was back on. “He asked so politely, how could I refuse to explain our little game?”

“Game?”

“Yes,” With her free hand, she patted Hobson on the arm. “How, when we first met—”

“In Peru, right?” The reporter pulled out his pad and flipped it open, pen hovering above it like a waiting vulture.

It was a clumsy gambit, but Kate sidestepped with ease. “No, I said Brazil.” Her laughter was low, a seductive lure, and Jim saw Hobson swallow hard. The sap was trying hard to hang on to his professional detachment. He’d give Kate three minutes to destroy it completely. “I’d journeyed there to join my father. He was a botanist. Sadly”—her mouth trembled prettily—“he was dead by the time I arrived. I needed a job, and your expedition sounded so interesting. You said I was hired…if I could find you. Honestly, Lord Bennett,” she said, voice light with chiding disappointment, “it really would be more fun if you posed more of a challenge.”

“I’ll try to do better next time,” he muttered, watching in disbelief as Hobson yanked crate after box after trunk of
stuff
out of the back of his buggy. Jim had taken less with him to the Arctic.

“There you go,” Charlie said, sweating, red-faced. “Now, if you don’t mind—”

“It was so very kind of you to give me a ride,” Kate interjected, so smoothly it barely registered as an interruption.

Hobson’s brow furrowed. “My pleasure. But now, Lord Bennett, if you don’t mind a few additional questions.” He yanked out his notepad again and flipped through the pages. “If I could just find my notes…ah yes, here we are. Now, when you and poor Matt Wheeler were planning your ill-fated expedition, did you—”

“I don’t talk about that.”

“I’m aware that you
haven’t
, which is all the more reason that you should. As I’m sure you’re well aware, in the absence of facts people are apt to fill in the spaces in the most imaginative ways. In fact, rumor has it…”

Kate adroitly slipped her hand through Hobson’s arm and leaned against him. Ever so slightly, scarcely enough to be improper, but it was enough to send every thought from his head.

“Mr. Hobson, I am so very grateful for your assistance. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“I…”

Jim would be willing to bet ol’ Charlie had more than a few ideas in that regard. It bothered him, though he knew it shouldn’t. What did he care what she promised, or did, with another man? He was only annoyed she’d managed to track him down, he told himself.

“Charl…Mr. Hobson, you did say you wanted to reach the next inn before full dark, didn’t you? And that you must begin to write shortly if you are to wire your story on time?” He was moving slowly but surely toward his buggy, blinking around him when he reached it as if he didn’t quite know how he’d arrived there. “I simply couldn’t impose on you any longer.”

“It was no imposition.” She looked up at him and somehow he found his foot on the running board.

“We will be seeing you again along the way, won’t we?”

The slightest pressure of her fingertips on Hobson’s elbow seemed to lift him up to the seat. “You can count on it.”

He turned around a half dozen times as the buggy rolled away, his expression half-bewildered, half-suspicious. Each time Kate waved brightly after him, encouraging him on his way. The instant he rolled over a slight rise out of sight, she whirled on Jim with all the fury of an uncaged badger.

“You left me,” she said bluntly.

“And you damn well should have stayed left.”

“We had an agreement.”

“Which I altered to what it should have been in the first place, if you’d been willing to be reasonable.”

“Reasonable?” Her voice pitched higher. “It’s reasonable to let you go off, grab all the glory and the money, and leave me wallowing behind, hoping you’ll be charitable enough to pitch a few pennies my way when it’s all over? No, thank you. I’ll earn my way.”

“And how do you plan to do that?” He’d no time for this, no energy. He was a half day behind the bulk of the competitors as it was. She would only slow him down. And so he raked her head-to-toe with as offensively insolent a gaze as he could manage. His brother had worn this expression more often than not. Though he’d tried to forget that, and every other thing about his vicious and brutally self-centered sibling and sire, he’d never quite been able to do so. First time it had ever come in useful, though.

“Truly, your skills are not…well, not to be insulting, but I’d just as soon conserve my energy.”

He’d expected anger. Hoped she would go flouncing off in an offended huff, ridding himself of the problem. Instead, she betrayed no umbrage at all, as if crudities no longer had the power to shock her. “Yes, and
your
skills have been
such
an advantage up till this point.” She waved her hand dismissively. “For all you know, we’re headed for Newport. And I’d wager I’ll be far more effective there than you.”

“Newport? Yes, I’m sure that’ll be a challenge.”

“Oh, you have no idea, to so underestimate the treacherous and complicated waters of society.”

He drew himself up, falling back on the role he’d spurned so long ago. “So much more difficult than English society, then?”

“As if you’d know.”

“Excuse me?” After years of being accorded higher rank than he’d deserved, hearing that rank dismissed brought him up short.

“I’ve been considering.”

“God save us.”

She paid him no mind. “I’ve met a few lords in my time, a baron or two. Philadelphia is hardly the frontier, as you know.”

“I know.”

“Each and every one of them owned a refinement of manner, a courtesy that seemed as native to them as their accents. Not to mention an air of inherent nobility, all of which are remarkably absent in you.”

“They are?” He could sketch a bow as well as anyone, dance attendance as if she were the queen herself if the situation required.

She didn’t quite roll her eyes. “Well,
obviously.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that you’ve overstated your lineage.”

“And why would I do that?”

Her expression bordered on pity, as if only a fool would need something so obvious explained. “Why does anyone? Pursuit of gain. Would all those books, all your lectures be quite as well received if you were, say, the son of a mere gamekeeper? Or a footman?”

A footman? Somewhere, his father’s rotting carcass was rolling like a log downhill. He almost wished the old bastard were still alive, just so he could hear that insult. “I don’t suppose they would.”

“There. You see?” she said, satisfied at having proved her point.

He decided—quite generously, he thought—to allow her her fun. “So how did you find me?” he asked, then lifted a hand to gainsay her answer. “No, no, let me guess. Someone in the stables—someone male. A stableboy, or the stablemaster himself?”

She smiled, the first one since Hobson had trundled off into the sunset. “The stablemaster, of course. He was quite proud of the horse he sold you. He simply pointed me down the road…. If you’re trying to avoid discovery, Bennett, following a straight path without ever turning off is not terribly effective.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” He hadn’t bothered because he’d figured she’d wake up, realize he’d abandoned her, and commence to howling. And give up. In the future he’d take what was obviously her ridiculously cursed stubbornness into consideration. For the moment it appeared that dragging her along until she gave up might be less trouble than trying to shake her. “And Hobson giving you a ride?”

“I believe that Mr. Hobson considered the contest, and thus his future articles, more interesting with me in it than me out of it. He positively
scrambled
to assist me.”

“No doubt. Having a neophyte die a spectacular death always makes for good copy.”

She didn’t even blanch. “Unless you don’t want all those readers to think you too inept to keep me alive, you’d best help me stay that way.” She squinted down the road. “Do you know where we’re going? Or are you simply following the trail the others left behind?”

“I know where we’re going.” He grabbed his dirty green pack from the ground, slung it over his shoulder, and started for the shack.

She waited for him to continue. When he didn’t, she scurried forward to place herself between him and the sagging door. “Well?”

He glared at her for a moment, then sighed. “There’s a place on the coast of Massachusetts, a day’s ride north of Boston. Eighty years ago or so a shipping magnate brought an old castle from England stone by stone and rebuilt it on the highest point in a hundred miles. Cost him a good chunk of his fortune. Most people thought he was crazy.” He shrugged, figuring it was no crazier than trying to search out a mythic temple or climb a glacier-sheathed mountain. “Locals call it the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

“Hmmm.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Amazingly versed in American history, aren’t you? Considering I’ve never heard of it.”

“I’m sorry your education is so inadequate.” He tsked sadly. “Actually, the most fascinating young woman is employed at the Rose Springs. Well acquainted with nearly all points of interest in the entire northeastern United States. Very fond of rising early for energetic strolls. A highly intriguing woman.”

She glared at him with decided heat—enough to be flattering if he were susceptible to being flattered by her jealousy.

“You didn’t offer her part of the prize in exchange for her information, did you?”

“I most certainly did not. You’re not the only one whose charms are occasionally appreciated by the opposite sex.”

“Hmm.” She rocked back on her heels, sending her skirts swaying. “I thought you objected to my using my…charms for personal gain.”

“I don’t care one bit how you use your
charms
.” There was too much of an edge to the words, enough bite that she had to suspect the lie beneath them. And right up until he uttered them, he’d no idea just how much of a lie they were. “I object to your attempting to use them on
me
.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she assured him, a flash in her eyes that a wiser man would have taken for warning. God save him, he couldn’t help but view it as a challenge. “I’ve no intention of wasting my wiles on you.”

“See that you don’t. Not that they’d work anyway, but it’s very…”—he paused just long enough for her temper to flare—“time-consuming.”

“Time-consuming,” she repeated.

“Of course. Think of all I could have accomplished if I hadn’t wasted the last half hour listening to you babble.”

“And clearly I was the only one talking.”

“Yup,” he said cheerfully. Too cheerfully. He should have been running in the other direction. He should have been ignoring her completely, making plans to leave her behind—for good this time. Or working out some sort of practicable agreement for the remainder of the trip, one that allowed him to pretty much overlook her existence ninety-nine percent of the time.

BOOK: A Wedding Story
7.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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