How to Impress a Gentleman (7 page)

BOOK: How to Impress a Gentleman
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“We both realized our affinity with plain speech,” Charlotte extolled, shrugging and biting into a crisp, red apple. Lindsay smiled.

“I have already agreed to stand up for Charlotte at your nuptials, Aiden, I hope you don’t mind?”

“Not at all, as long as Charles doesn’t mind walking you up the aisle.”

Charles scowled at the blatant implication, and changed the topic. “I hear that you will be settling your country home at one of your father’s lesser estates about a day’s ride from here, is that right, Charlotte?”

“Yes, my father hopes to hand over the running of his surrounding properties to Aiden, and then prep an heir to run Lincolnshire. It is entailed.”

“Then will you be spending the summers at the Derbyshire estate?”

“Most likely,” retorted Aiden, warming to the subject. “I hope to spend most of the year there, next year. It has much potential and I will need to be there next year to ensure that it turns a proper profit.”

Rolling her eyes at the familiar financial spiel, Charlotte turned to Lindsay and smiled. “So, you won’t be my neighbor after all?” Lindsay asked, surprised at her feelings of disappointment.

“Well, not if you will be living here, with your grandparents, but Derbyshire is located just five miles from Sir Charles’ new estate.” Charlotte stated, slyly glancing at Lindsay from the peripheral vision, as she daintily removed meat from a chicken wing. “May we yet expect to enjoy one another’s company at future picnics?”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked Lindsay, calling her out.

“Oh, fine. Do you and Sir Charles have an understanding? You have been spotted together often since my arrival and you seem a smart match.”

“Oh, that, well, Charles and I have a history together, but there is most certainly no romance involved,” Lindsay whispered, leaning in and blushing to the tips of her ears.

“Pish,” Charlotte laughed with her peridot eyes. “Everyone knows the two of you grew up together on neighboring estates. It looks to me as if childhood acquaintance has turned into something...more. Everyone is whispering over the heated glances the two of you have shared. Admit it, Lindsay, you care for him and always have, despite yourself.”

Lindsay opened her mouth to object but slowly closed it as she realized the truth in Charlotte’s proclamation. Lindsay did care for Charlie, despite the fact she could not trust him. Moreover, when she envisioned home and hearth, progeny and old age, she saw herself with Charles and his children. She almost gasped.

How could her own thoughts turn traitor? How could she overlook such a glaring character defect, as a man who would promise the moon and then disappear without a word, seeking to establish his own future, at the expense of her own? He might have once been her rock, but those days were long gone.

Shaking her head, she rose to leave. Startled from their intense conversation of crops and tenants, Charles and Aiden stood. “Charlotte, gentlemen, please excuse me. I need to check on my sister.” Inclining her head, she strolled off, heading for the path near the back of the clearing.

After a short, stunned silence, Charles looked down at Charlotte, who shrugged her shoulders innocently and bit into a sugared crepe’. Charles then met Aiden’s puzzled gaze and said, “I suppose I must follow her, to insure her safety.”

“I suppose you must,” Charlotte grinned, cheekily. Ignoring her, Charles stalked off, toward the path.

How could she have allowed herself to let Charles under her skin? She wasn’t an emotionally turbulent child. She was a mature, levelheaded, and imminently practical eighteen year old woman. Charles was sullen and domineering. He treated her like a wayward child. And he had proved himself untrustworthy.

His weathered good looks should have no affect upon her, but the juncture between her legs ached just from thinking of him. She couldn’t maintain decorum around this man. He just wouldn’t do! So, why was she again, no, to be honest, why had she always longed for him? It was lowering and humiliating to be in love with a superfluous, irritating, and mysterious traitor.

In spite of herself, when he looked at her, with his whiskey eyes, she felt intoxicated. She felt warm and full, she felt safe and whole, as if she belonged to something bigger than herself. She was a moth, drawn to his flame. Beyond his hard-edged proportions, Charles had a certain mouthwatering, animalistic allure that drew her. It troubled her that she was so susceptible to his charms. She should know better.

“Sometimes I just hate myself!” Lindsay chided, walking faster and squeezing her fists to her sides until her nails bit into the soft flesh of her palms.

“And why would you do that?” came Charles’ rich baritone behind her.

“Uhhh!” she groaned, spinning to glare at him with unrestrained anger and frustration. “Why can I not rid myself of you?”

“And when not two hours hence you were plotting our clandestine meeting?,” he shook his head in mock remonstration. Resorting to the cold shoulder, Lindsay spun back around and resumed her pace.

“Lindsay, wait! Stop and tell me what ails you. Did Charlotte lower your guard and upset you? I can have Aiden reign her in...Lindsay? Enough!”

Shortening her stride, Lindsay took a deep breath and allowed Charles to walk astride. After a few moments of silence, Lindsay spoke. “Tis not that. Charlotte is surprisingly kind, Charles. I honestly hope to be her friend. It’s just, well...she assumed that you and I had an understanding. It seems many people are under that belief, and we haven’t done anything to encourage such talk! I fear we’ll damage our reputations if we are seen in one another’s company. Let us just put some distance between us, shall we?”

Lindsay turned to Charles, a mixture of dread and longing in her dark, blue gaze. Her eyes grew round as they gazed into his intensity, her eyelashes clumping with unshed tears.

Before Charles realized what he was doing, he had leaned in and touched his mouth to hers. He felt her soft gasp, through her slightly parted lips, and sighed as he wrapped her in light embrace. It felt so natural, it felt, he realized, startled, like coming home. He had ached for this soft embrace for four long years. Her familiar scent of lemons and sugar made him want to nuzzle her neck. As if reliving a dream, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her gently to him.

Lindsay shivered as Charles pressed his lips to the wisps of curls that lay against the curve of her neck. His head pounded as he trailed kisses up her ear and across her cheek. At Lindsay’s moan, he plundered her mouth. Pressing her up against a tree; Charles grasped her breast and squeezed it, sending Lindsay into another moan of ecstasy.

They were lost in a passion of caresses, Charles’ hand entangled in her silken locks, his only thought that he wished this moment would never end. He drank from her lips as if her very essence offered the balm his soul so desperately needed. He groaned when he felt her pull away. Charles didn’t realize that they weren’t alone until he noticed her gaze lay behind him on the path. Turning, he stifled an oath. There stood Lindsay’s grandmother, father, and sister, with, as luck might have it, Lady Reynolds.

 

 

Chapter Four- Escape

 

“Wife and servant are the same,

But only differ in the name:

For when that fatal knot is tied,

Which nothing, nothing can divide:

When she the word obey has said,

And man by law supreme has made”

 

~Lady Mary Chudleigh, 17th Century Wife and Feminist

 

 

“What is the meaning of this?!” barked Sir Richard, scowling and marching forward, amid overly dramatized sighs and gasps from Lady Reynolds.

“Father!” squeaked Lindsay, “I can explain, I was distraught and-”

“No,” stated Charles flatly, cutting her off as he slashed his hand down unequivocally. Stepping in front of Lindsay protectively and, Lindsay noted, territorially, he lifted his chin. “I was carried away with excitement, Sir, as your daughter had just agreed to become my wife.” Turning to Lady Beaumont, he bowed respectfully. “I apologize for taking liberties.”

Sir Richard tensed at the explanation and kept his gaze locked with Charles. “Are you saying you would like an appointment to meet with me, Sir Charles?”

“I am.”

“But, this is quite unnecessary,” Lindsay tried to interrupt.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Lindsay,” Charles drawled. Not removing his eyes from Sir Richard, Charles belied his casual tone by squeezing her hand tightly in warning. “I would hate for your father to misinterpret my intentions. Furthermore, I refuse to short shrift convention or tradition on this, of all matters.”

Sir Richard visually bristled, then responded. “I quite agree. Now, let us return to the picnic together. Lindsay, you and Charles may walk ahead of Leah and me. Lindsay’s chest felt tight with panic and dismay. Her head began to throb as it spun with a cyclone of hope, guilt, and despair. How could this be happening? Her worst nightmare seemed to have just sprung to life.

Betrayed by her own body, she had wantonly offered herself to the very man she knew could destroy her. How could she possibly survive an unhappy marriage with the only man she had ever loved? It was much safer to wed one for whom she did not feel strong emotions. In that way, no great risk was run. In that way, she would not risk losing it all.

Her lips still thrummed from his kiss, beating to the rhythm of her heart. Both her body and her soul seemed to call out for him and she knew with a sinking sensation that she could not survive a marriage with Charles in which he did not return her regard. She could not bear needing him and being abandoned by him ever again.

“Father,” Lindsay began again, turning to him, “I really see no need-”

“Not one word, Lindsay,” barked her father. “Now let’s have no more talk of this business here. We are approaching the clearing.”

Nonchalantly returning to their blanket, Charles resumed his farming discussion with Aiden. As upset as Lindsay was, she didn’t wish to bruise her budding friendship with Charlotte and thus forced herself to smile and speak on benign topics, such as tonight’s dinner menu and Saturday’s ball. Charlotte, it seems, planned to wear a daring neck line in hopes of riling her mother and fiance’ simultaneously.

Lindsay couldn’t keep herself from laughing at her new friend’s antics.

“It was hideous, I tell you, Lindsay. Although it was a lovely soft, shimmery silver, my mother made me choose a high collared style, with ruffles and buttons! Ruffles on this beautiful satin! I am a thin person, Lindsay, I do not do well with ruffles and frills. So, I took it with me when I visited my cousin last month. I had saved all of my pin money since February and was able to bribe the young seamstress who was working on Caroline’s trousseau to make the sultry adaptations.”

“No frills, no neck line at all, why they will just die!” She whispered in ecstatic anticipation. “I simply explained that I intended to wear the dress after my nuptials and the seamstress seemed placated. This is my way of reminding Aiden and my mother that they may have their way in some regards but I am and will remain my own person.”

“And just how do you plan to remind us?” inquired Aiden, glancing at Charlotte with a touch of asperity.

“Oh, you know, by redecorating Derbyshire, Aiden. I’ve told you I’d like free reign in that regard and you have been most accommodating.” Aiden searched Charlotte’s face, distrusting, but soon turned his attention back to Charles and their discussion of stud horses.

Lindsay chuckled, well entertained. “How is it that we have never gotten on before this day, Charlotte? It seems we are well matched.”

“Precisely, before this day, we were too well matched, while unattached, that is. So, what were we to be but one another’s competition? Now that we are practically settled old matrons, we are free to socialize as we see fit. My Mama can’t help but approve. You see,” she nodded at her mother who sat regaling Lindsay’s grandmother with some tale from her youth.

“I do. It just seems so unnecessary. The competition.”

“Yes, well my mother thrives on competition. I am just relieved that now it will come in the more benign form of who has more grandchildren and whether my gowns remain in the first stare of fashion. I don’t deal well in dabbling with other’s personal lives.”

“Yes, I quite agree. I hope your mother will remain focused upon your successes, Charlotte. Shall we gather up and head back? I see gray clouds in the distance.”

“Please, let’s. I would rather not be seen looking like a drowned rat.”

~ ~ ~

After returning from the picnic, all the women retired to their bed chambers to rest. Lindsay could hardly have stayed with the men without attracting undue attention, so she ascended the stairs to her mother’s old bed chamber.

The suite was much unchanged, other than the fact that the bed was neatly made and the furniture properly polished. Lindsay had gathered up her mother’s books and placed them in her own room the day she’d been taken away.

Rubbing her mother’s ring distractedly, Lindsay walked over to the large window and peered out at the clear blue sky. Squinting, she imagined she could see all the way to London from which her mother’s soul had flown.

“Watch over her, Aunt Lindsay,” she sighed, turning from the window and making her way out to the stables, to see if Harry might take her for the ride he’d promised. The sun shone beautifully and she couldn’t help but turn her face up to it, soaking in its loving caresses. It was there, in front of the stable door, lost in pleasant ecstasy, that she over heard the conversation between Aiden and Charles.

“It seems, then that you are well and truly hooked. You could not have planned this scenario any better, had you tried.”

Laughing, Charles agreed. “Yes. I cannot wait to see the look upon that bastard, Sir Richard’s face when I lay claim to his daughter and demand a hefty dowry for the inconvenience.”

Aiden, too, laughed, full of mirth. “To think he has gone out of his way to rid his daughter of your presence, and now he will pay to give you power over her. Quite ironic, I say. What does Lindsay think of this?”

“Lindsay will have to come to terms with the truth. I am in need of a dowry and a biddable wife. I may have my hands full dealing with Lindsay, but because of her father’s betrayal, I can demand a sizable dowry up front. It is a convenient and satisfying conclusion.”

“And Lindsay is aware of all of this?”

“Which part? My scheming to force the match, or my lack of funds? She is aware of none of it. She will discover our arrangement soon enough.”

Sickened by the unsought revelations, Lindsay grasped her stomach. The emotional pain of Charles’ words swept through her and she felt as if her abdomen would split open, unable to contain the venomous deceit. Silently, she turned and ran back down the path, noiseless tiptoes in slippered feet.

~ ~ ~

After lying in bed, wide awake for more than an hour, Lindsay rang for her maid, Whitney. “Whitney, please try to do something with this hair, and is there anything you can do for these circles under my eyes? I look like a raccoon!” As the abigail brushed Lindsay’s thick mane of hair, working out the worst of the tangles, she babbled on about this and that gossip, not noting that Lindsay clasped her hands tightly in her lap to keep them from shaking.

“So I says to Thomas, I says, you best not be thinking of touching me, you over grown lad, or I will tell the Miss, I says.” When she received no outraged response from the Miss in question, Whitney’s eyes sought her employer’s visage in the vanity mirror. Puffy and red, Lindsay had evidently been sobbing before Whitney’s entrance into the room.

Shaking the dazed Lindsay lightly by the shoulder, she questioned, “Are you all right, Miss? Have you and your Sir Charles had a row? I do so hate it when my James and I quarrel.”

“No, and he is not
my
Sir Charles, Whitney...but I am afraid I am most unhappy at the moment.”

“I feel for you, Miss, I do. With James away at Mrs. Penchant’s estate, I barely have seen him once a sennight. I have no idea how we will keep on, with no prospects for him here, and I just cannot bear to leave you, my bonny lass, to tend to an elderly widow. It t’would break my heart to go.”

“And yet, it seems your heart is breaking whilst you stay, Whitney.”

“I know,” she nodded, dabbing at a tear with her shirt sleeve. “I am a woman torn in two.”

“Well, I had planned to visit Aunt Bessie this summer. Maybe, maybe we could throw caution aside and go! Would you like to Whitney?”

“Oh, Miss, how I would love it!” Whitney’s chubby cheeks flushed crimson and her brown eyes sparkled.

“What if we were to stay for a while with Aunt Bess, so recently widowed? She might wish for some female companionship.”

Whitney’s face darkened. “Sir Charles and Sir Richard would never allow that, Miss Lindsay, I am quite certain they would want you near them now, with your first season under your belt, they’ll be focusing on a wedding, I’d wager.”

“I have no wish to wed, Whitney. I’d much rather serve as Aunt Bessie’s companion. If they will not let me, I will simply leave before any announcements might be made that would require me to marry. This fiasco with Charles will die away soon enough.”

“And what if he loves you?”

“He does not wish to marry me, Whitney. Why on earth would he? Charles still sees me as a petulant child. I am doing him a favor by leaving.”

“But, my mother always told me, I thought-I thought you loved Sir Charles.”

“I thought I did, Whitney. In some ways I suppose I still do, but he is not the boy he once was. He is now a treacherous man. He thinks my father somehow betrayed him and seeks revenge. He’ll make us both miserable, Whitney.”

“Now, please, I shall perish of angst if I can not get underway soon. Let us pack my things and then you can ready yourself. We must pretend to go for a ride. I have already told Harry that I wanted to ride Doc again today. I will simply ask him to saddle Gus, telling him that I wish for female companionship. He’ll think nothing of it. I can make my excuses at dinner and you can meet me at the stable entrance.”

“If I go, I know that I shall certainly lose my employment through your father. I hope that Mrs. Penchant will not withdraw her offer for my services!”

“I know this is an impetuous and fool hardy, but I cannot just stay and let life happen to me. You know that I must take my fate in my own hands. Your mother was my nanny. She certainly must have told you that I have a tendency to run off when I am provoked. Please believe me when I tell you that I have only ever left to prevent myself or others from doing something, in the heat of the moment, that they might regret.”

“Losing Charles and then my mother has been hard for me, Whitney; you must know that. I just want to find a place where I am wanted-needed. Perhaps Aunt Bess will provide such a place. What do you say?”

“We will go, Miss., but I go with you only because I have always longed for a grand adventure and the end of this journey will bring me to my James. I think it’s the devil’s own choice ye’ make for yerself, Miss Lindsay. How can ye’ say ye’ve lost Sir Charles when he is right there, offering his hand?”

“Marriage must be based in trust, Whitney. I would rather never marry than to marry someone I will grow to detest. Thank you, Whitney, for risking so much for me. You are a true friend!”

~ ~ ~

Even with Whitney’s careful ministrations to Lindsay’s toilette, and their fastidious packing, Lindsay had been down to dinner early. She arrived under the guise of checking over the seating arrangement, in the hopes of catching Leah alone.

Leah wandered into the sitting room with a chattering companion and Lindsay wasted no time joining them. The room grew quiet as Doctor Evers began to recite an Alexander Pope poem:

“Is it, in Heav'n, a crime to love too well?

To bear too tender or too firm a heart,

To act a lover's or a Roman's part?

Is there no bright reversion in the sky

For those who greatly think, or bravely die?”

 

Beneath the quiet applause, Lindsay grasped Leah’s elbow and whispered in her ear, “Leah, dear, do give everyone my regrets at dinner tonight. I fear I have a terrible megrim and will be lying down in our room to sooth my head.”

Leah squeezed Lindsay’s wrist affectionately, then gave it a soft pat. “It has been a trying day for you,” Leah consoled. “Go, rest. All will be well, you will see.”

Lindsay nodded then quietly quitted the salon. After trudging half way up the first flight of stairs, Lindsay stopped and descended. Peering around the edge of the entry way, she watched Charles enter the sitting room. Lindsay dashed up the stairs, entered her shared bed chamber and quickly scratched out a note to Leah. Not bothering to seal the missive,
she quickly folded the letter and laid it on her pillow.
Grabbing her small travel bag, she slipped from the room.

Lindsay tiptoed down the narrow servants’ stair and into the vegetable garden. Jogging around the corner, and across the side yard, she approached the stables.

BOOK: How to Impress a Gentleman
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