How to Impress a Gentleman (10 page)

BOOK: How to Impress a Gentleman
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“My things!”

“James, fetch Lindsay’s cloak, please,” was his only reply as he continued with her, out the door and into the courtyard. She was furious, cold, humiliated, hungry, and regretful. All in all, she was the most miserable she had ever been. How had her life become such a mess? How had she embroiled Charles in all of this? Now the only man she’d ever loved would be her husband but not her lover, her partner but not her companion. If it were possible to die of despair, Linnie knew her time was nigh.

Accepting her cloak, Lindsay fastened it with shaking hands and “uumphed,” as she was plopped, unceremoniously onto Doc’s back. Hugging his neck for comfort, Linnie sighed to note that his harness was roped to Charles’ saddle. She would not escape him again.

As soon as they exited the keep’s outer walls, Lindsay began her pitch. “Charles, please, won’t you consider allowing me to stay at Aunt Penchant’s? I could persuade my father to allow you to keep a portion of the dowry, why you could even marry me and keep the dowry. I could return to live here. I do not wish to be bound to a man that resents me, Charles; I just could not bear that!”

Charles’ heart ached at hearing Lindsay, so desperate to avoid him that she would spend the rest of her married life in gentile servitude. T’would be easy to disabuse her of her low opinion of his character. All he need do is tell her the truth about her father’s actions. But to do that meant to bring Sir Richard’s wrath upon him, possibly losing his lands, title, and Lindsay in the process.

“Are you willing to throw away your family’s reputation by living estranged from your husband, so soon after we wed?” he asked, scoffing. “Think on something beyond yourself for once, Lindsay. You always had a flare for the dramatic but this is ridiculous. It is cold and wet and I have to sleep in a tent tonight. You will stop fighting me, or I will do something we will both regret, I swear it! Now I know that your family curse is not a weak female line but the ability of the Beaumonts to drive others mad!”

Lindsay gasped and fell silent. She had never seen Charles so angry. His every word was forced through a clenched jaw, and he appeared near doing violence to someone or something. She had seen her father like this with her mother, though. It was too much. Glancing back over his shoulder, Charles cursed when he saw fat tears running down the bridge of Lindsay’s button nose.

 

 

Chapter Seven- The Pilgrimage

 

 


Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

~Jean Jacques Rousseau, 18th Century Political Philosopher

 

 

Yes
, Lindsay accepted as she continued to plod along on her trusted steed,
my mother was ill. For some reason, the combined stress of losing her sister, child bearing, and an ever more distant spouse has pushed her into a state in which she was unable to live a normal life. I am not my mother. I will choose to live my life, despite what comes my way.

I will not lock away my love. If Charles can not love me, so be it. It is not my responsibility to make him happy. I must decide for myself to be happy. I can love my children, my sister, my Grandfather. I can make friends and be content. I will not place all of my hopes for happiness in one person. I can make this arrangement easier for Charles. I know him. He needs to do the right thing and right now, marrying me seems the right thing. I will not make his happiness impossible by trying to act for him.
A weight lifted from her chest as she stopped trying to control the others in her life. She was responsible for herself, her reputation, her behavior.

She had been so busy trying to accommodate other’s needs, she had failed to behave properly on her own terms. She would be that, “comfortable wife” Charles had always wanted. It hurt to accept less than her dream, but she reminded herself,
dreams can change, and it will be enough. God, please let it be enough.

~ ~ ~

As they reached their encampment, Thomas came up to take the horses. Charles dismounted and walked to Doc to assist Lindsay. It was a surprise and concern to him that she did not ask why they were camping for the night. It was only one in the afternoon. They could have easily stopped to stretch their legs and eat a cold repast before setting back out on their way. Bakersfield would be reached in just over three hours ride. They could have stayed in an inn. The problem was that Thomas had run ahead to scout out Bakersfield and come back with the news that Reverend Daugherty was out of town until tomorrow afternoon.

No decent inn keeper would allow a well bred unmarried lady to stay in an inn with the likes of Thomas and himself. At this point, the lot of them looked as if they had fallen off the back of a gypsy wagon. He would much rather spend the night here, away from prying eyes, and ride into town tomorrow to wait for the minister.

Lindsay did not inquire as to their plans. Instead, she moved about as if she were sleep walking. Moving to the fire ring, she sat on a likely stump and stared into the flames. She was uninterested in the food that was prepared, simply smiling feebly and saying, “No thank you.”

At what was she playing?
He was used to a verbal and contrary Linnie. This new, quiet, uncomplaining creature was unsettling. Charles decided to bide his time and see what changes the evening wrought. Some rest should bring her back to herself.

Lindsay, lost in thoughts of remorse for Whitney’s injuries, sat mentally preparing the letter she would write her as soon as she was able.

Dear Whitney,

Can you ever forgive me for endangering you as I have done? I do pray that none of your injuries prove permanent. If you scar, I swear I shall never forgive myself. I spoke with Aunt Bess and she seems amenable to the idea of you working for her and marrying James.

Charles left you a few coins to help you on your way. I hope that they will suffice. If you are in need of anything, please write me at Braxton Hall. I have decided to marry Charles. It is not the practical match I had hoped for, but it is not an untenable marriage either.

I wish you happiness, dear Whitney. My home is always open to you, if you should need it.

Best Wishes,

Lindsay Beaumont

Thus relieved of a nagging sense of duty to Whitney, Lindsay lay within the newly erected tent to rest.

Once the morning storm had passed, the day grew progressively warmer. By six, the air was positively sticky with humidity and heat. Lindsay woke from her three hour nap, soaked in sweat. This would not do! She gathered her toiletries and night gown grumpily and headed off toward the adjacent creek. Henry had chosen their camping spot well. The tents were placed along an overgrowth to the clearing. The side of the creek was open to their camp site but one need only walk a few paces before the tree line began again, offering privacy for bathing.

Lindsay picked her way down the embankment and grinned to see a flat, pebbled area about the size of a vendor’s cart. An old tree stump stuck out from the middle of the dried up bed and a large, stately oak concealed the area from the campsite. Undressing, Lindsay quickly tip toed across the sand bar that separated this dry bed from the rest of the rushing water. Not allowing herself time to think about the temperature of the stream, Lindsay dived straight in. She was completely unprepared for the mind numbing blast. It had been at least six years since Linnie had gone bare skinned into a creek. The section of creek she had chosen was particularly deep and particularly chilly.

Beating her legs furiously, Linnie surfaced with a scream. Smoothing her hair from her face, she began to laugh at herself. What a nitwit! Oh well, she was quickly becoming accustomed to the water and it began to feel quite exhilarating. At least she no longer felt like the living dead. She may turn into a snowman by the end of this bath, but she would be a lively one! Kicking rather leisurely back to the sand bar, Lindsay climbed up and over it, to fetch her bar of soap.

Hearing the rustling of bushes and the “ting, ting, ting” of a pebble flinging its way down the ten food drop. Lindsay froze and looked up. There, at the top of the embankment, stood Charles.

“Dear God, Lindsay, are you okay? He had his pistol drawn and was looking for armed assailants behind every tree. She stood, shivering and covered herself as best she could, one arm across her breasts and the other covering her private area.”

“Charles! Get out of here! I am trying to bathe!” When he simply stood there and stared, unable to make sense of the situation, she quickly turned and jumped into the freezing water once more.

“AAAH!” she cried upon surfacing. “The water is frigid!” Not stopping to check his reaction, she quickly began lathering her hair and body with soap and rinsing out her hair rapidly. Lindsay felt goose bumps all over her body.

“You screamed because the water was cold? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Lindsay, I thought someone was murdering you!” Pacing back and forth for a moment, not knowing what to do with his pent up adrenaline, Charles cooled down enough to be only slightly perturbed. He sat with his back against an elm to wait for Lindsay to finish her toilet and return to camp. With his head bent back against the tree, Charles smiled, remembering the sight of Linnie’s sweet apple bottom as she hopped into the rushing water.

“Charles! Could you please leave so that I can get out of this water and get dressed?” Lindsay called up impatiently.

“No,” Charles stated emphatically. “I will not look but I am not leaving. You should have told me you were quitting camp instead of sneaking off to bathe alone. Something could have happened to you. What if a vagrant had come upon you? You could have been ravished, or worse!”

Climbing out of the creak, Lindsay quickly crouched to wash the excess sand off of her shins and hands. Glancing up at Charles, to assure herself he wasn’t peeking, she was relieved to see that he had placed his tricorn cap over his eyes and appeared to be napping with his head leaning back against the tree. She quickly tiptoed across the pebbled creek bed and picked up a blanket to dry herself. The hair on her arms and legs stood at attention.
I look like a plucked chicken
, she thought morbidly.

Her awareness of Charles, lounging like a predator above her, left her feeling like cornered prey. He did not have to look at her to give off an aura of complete control. She felt a tickle in her stomach and her woman’s parts warmed. Drying quickly and slipping her flannel night rail over her head, Lindsay sighed as she sat upon the stump to slide on her stockings and slippers.

Charles’ groin was pounding by the time Lindsay had picked up her brush and begun to untangle her matted hair. He hadn’t precisely lied to her; he hadn’t looked directly at her as she had lifted herself from the water and made with her night time routine. Neither had he closed his eyes. He had instead made use of his excellent peripheral vision to catch glimpses of pale flesh, dark hair and soft curves. She was Diana bathing in the woods. As Diana, she would have surely turned him into a deer for her hounds, had she discovered him peeking.

She had not, but he was sorry anyway. She was glorious and he could not touch her. What a torment! He longed to go to her now and finish brushing her hair. He longed to pull her hair back and kiss that white neck of hers until she moaned and sighed for more. He longed to spread her round thighs and plunge deeply into her pink, moist depths until he had spilled his seed and his love into her.

Maybe then
, he thought,
she will accept this marriage and come to me with open arms and an open heart. She wants children. If I could give her one, would she grow with love for me, as our child grows within her?
He did not know and he did not care. All he knew was this primal urge to take her, to brand her and make her his. She
was
his, damn it! She had been his since the beginning of time. She had been his since the day they first met. When did she stop realizing that?

Frustrated and impatient to possess what he had always taken for granted, Charles stood and skidded down the root filled embankment, boots first. Looking up, startled, Lindsay opened her mouth as if to speak but was struck dumb by the intensity in Charles’ face. She did not recognize that look. She did not know what he was feeling but she knew he was full of some emotion. Looking up at him, as he drew near, Lindsay’s mouth remained delectably open.

Charles bent slightly and offered her his hand. When she took it, he drew her up and into his arms. Leaning down once more, Charles kissed her firmly. She opened her mouth further, accepting his kiss. Driven mad with his need to taste her, touch her, possess her, Charles plundered her mouth, laving her tongue with his over and over again until she picked up on the concept and began to move her tongue as well.

Charles grasped her more tightly around the back and moved his mouth to her neck as he had fantasized. God, she smelled so good! Lemons and sugar again! How? Her soap! It must be her soap. It was intoxicating. As he began to trail small kisses, nips and licks down her neck, he unbuttoned her high collared night gown and ran his tongue down the cleft between her breasts.

Gasping, Lindsay stepped back and pulled her night rail shut at the top, looking into Charles’ eyes with surprise and confusion. Charles checked his aggressive behavior.

“I am sorry, Lindsay. It has been a tumultuous night and day and I got carried away. I will not demean you by behaving like a drunken sailor. Let me help you carry your things back to camp.”

Lindsay stared at Charles, unable to keep up, unable to assimilate this new, physical being with the remote and brooding figure that frustrated and beguiled her. She was transfixed with the awakening of this strong and take-charge man she had seen today. Charles had many more levels to his personality than she had ever guessed and she was beginning to realize that she would likely develop a tendre for each and every one.

Yet, she definitely did not care for everything he did. She did not always like to see certain aspects of his character when they decided to appear, but Lindsay definitely loved this man in every incarnation. She was curious to explore this primal side of him that had shown itself in brief glimpses over the past few days. He was losing his prized control around her and she liked it. Lord knows she had lost her control enough around him.

Looking him up and down from his flushed forehead to the tips of his filthy boots, she noticed a tightness in his breeches. Looking directly there, she drew her brows together in puzzlement.

Charles cleared his throat and bent to pick up her dirty traveling clothes. Holding them in front of his crotch, he asked, “Are you ready to return to camp?”

Blushing, Lindsay nodded without making eye contact and followed him up the steep slope. Pondering over the change to Charles’ anatomy, Lindsay gasped and then laughed out when she theorized as to the reason for Charles discomfiture.
If human males were made anything like horses or dogs, then Charles’ private parts must have been preparing for mating!
Giggling at her deduction, she quickly covered her mouth and put her head down.

“What?” Charles asked, embarrassed and not a little irritable.

“I am just not used to you being less than in control. I think I might like it.”

“Like it when I act a complete clod?”

“No, ‘like it’ when you act like a human being with faults and sensitivities and real, true emotions.”

“Oh.” Charles had never really thought of it that way, but he was very pleased that Lindsay was not turned off by his weaknesses. She seemed to accept them as part of him, a part of him she might actually enjoy! He had forgotten that trait about Lindsay, the one that made them such good childhood friends.

“Lindsay, when Thomas and I set up the sleeping arrangement, we expected to have a maid with you. We have two tents. I do not feel comfortable with allowing you to sleep alone out here where anything or anyone might wander up and cause you harm. I will be sharing a tent with you.”

“I cannot relax with you in my tent, Charles. Your ire makes me physically ill. Will you stop being angry with me?”

BOOK: How to Impress a Gentleman
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