Authors: Victoria Alexander
“I’ve made a decision, Robert.”
“No, of course not.” Robert paced the width of his…
“Well, I can’t say I’m surprised.” Edwina, Amelia’s younger sister…
What was the man waiting for?
Robert swirled the brandy in his half-empty glass in an…
“I do appreciate you calling on me today, Harry.” Amelia…
“And I want you to be her lover.”
“I would say that very nearly everyone of note is…
“Thank you for seeing me home,” Amelia said at last,…
Once upon a time…
’ve made a decision, Robert.”
Amelia Bannister Hathaway, Lady Amelia, glanced across the table at her husband, Sir Robert Hathaway. Or rather she glanced at what she always saw at breakfast, the latest edition of the
behind which she assumed was her husband, although on occasion she did wonder. Which wasn’t the least bit fair as she usually spent breakfast reading a portion of the
herself. Still, fairness was the last thing she was concerned with. She drew a deep breath. “I have decided to take a lover.”
“That’s nice, my dear,” Robert said in the manner in which he always responded to her comments at breakfast, absently, without any conscious thought or effort.
Amelia drew her brows together in annoyance and raised her voice slightly. “I am considering your brother, Harry, for the position. As your twin he’s every bit as handsome as you. He’s dashing as well and has just the right sort of reputation for something of this nature. Furthermore, I would not be the first married woman he has had a liaison with. Indeed, as you are as alike as two peas in a pod, it would scarcely seem like infidelity at all. What do you think, Robert? Will Harry do?”
“Yes, of course,” Robert murmured.
Amelia clenched her jaw. “Although, on second thought, involvement with Harry might be somewhat awkward. The family connection and all that. And perhaps variety in a lover, a new face, as it were, would be quite exciting.”
“You’re right as always, my dear.”
Amelia narrowed her gaze. “Perhaps the thing to do would be to put an advertisement in the
. Something along the lines of ‘Gentleman wanted for the position of Lady Amelia’s lover. The appropriate candidate should be handsome with a charming disposition, well read, and well versed in the arts of conversation and intimacy.’ Yes, that should do.” She paused. “Although I’ve never placed an advertisement before. The boys’ nannies and any servants that I’ve hired have always been acquired through agencies. Do you think there’s an agency for this sort of thing?”
“Still, it’s not as if this was a paid position, so I suppose, on further consideration, an advertisement would not be appropriate. No, I shall have to find a lover the same way other women do.”
Goodness, Robert paid no attention to her whatsoever. Was she so dull, so boring, so unexciting that he no longer heard her words? Surely even the most philandering of husbands would acknowledge the fact that his wife was about to follow in his footsteps. And acknowledge it with at least a modicum of outrage. If, of course, he paid her the slightest bit of attention.
“I daresay it won’t be very difficult, I am not unattractive. Indeed, I find I attract a fair amount of flirtation. Mrs. Amherst’s ball is in a few days; I shall begin my quest there. I do intend to be selective, however. Perhaps Harry can assist me in that regard. I suspect he knows any number of charming men who would suit.”
“I would think so.”
“Well, then, that’s that.” The man was impossible. She snatched a piece of toast from the rack and slathered jam on it.
The newspaper dropped. Robert’s brows drew together. “What did you say about Harry?”
“I said he would be perfect to assist me in this endeavor.” She took a vicious bite of the toast.
Amelia resisted the urge to scream with frustration and instead forced a pleasant smile to her face. “My effort to find a lover.”
“A what?” Robert stared in obvious shock. This was much better.
“Were you listening to me?”
“Yes, of course,” he said quickly, although they both knew he hadn’t a clue as to what she had just said.
“What did I say, then?”
“You said…You said you were going to use the services of an agency to help you find a nanny for the
boys. No.” He thought for a moment. “You said you were going to use an agency…” Realization dawned in his eyes. “To help you find a lover!”
“Very good, Robert. You were paying attention.”
He huffed. “Apparently not closely enough.”
“Nonetheless, you gave me your permission,” she said blithely.
“I most certainly did not.” Indignation rang in Robert’s voice.
“You most certainly did. I said I was going to take a lover and you said that was nice.”
“That does not constitute permission.”
She shrugged. “What’s sauce for the goose, as they say.”
“What goose?” Confusion colored his face. “What are you talking about?”
“Robert.” She braced herself, met his gaze directly, and leaned slightly forward. “Have you taken a mistress?”
“A mistress?” In spite of the righteous tone in his voice, there was the tiniest hint of unease in his blue eyes, accompanied by the distinct sound of a sharp snap only she could hear. No doubt her heart. “No. Absolutely not. Don’t be absurd.”
She held her breath. “Many men do, you know.”
“I do not count myself among their number,” he said staunchly, and rose to his feet. “This discussion is at an end.”
She stared at him. Robert was never abrupt unless he was ill at ease. If she had learned nothing else about him through six years of marriage and two sons, she had learned that. The most dreadful feeling settled in the pit of her stomach. She had thought she knew him
as well as she knew herself until recently, when she’d begun to wonder if she knew him at all.
Amelia nodded politely, as if she were agreeing to nothing more important than the fine spring day. “You’re right, Robert, there is nothing more to say.”
“Very well then,” he said in the manner of a man who had just issued an order and was trying very hard to believe it would be obeyed. “I have an appointment this morning.”
“Yes, you always do.” She gestured toward the door. “You should be off.”
He started toward the door, then hesitated. “Perhaps, however, we might discuss this further this evening.”
“I don’t think there’s anything left to discuss.” She rose to her feet with all the natural dignity of the daughter of an earl. “But I would be happy to discuss anything you wish at any time.”
“I…” His gaze searched hers, then the muscles of his jaw tightened. “I shall see you this evening.”
“I shall look forward to it,” she said with a pleasant smile that faded the moment he left the room. Perhaps they’d have an argument this evening. That would be rather nice. They hadn’t argued in longer than she could remember. Nor did they have the kind of sparring debates, both annoying and stimulating, that they once had. And that was precisely the problem, or at least part of it. They no longer had the passion needed for argument or debate. Or for anything else.
Even the least astute of observers would no doubt say Lady Amelia had a perfect life. The eldest daughter of the Earl of Marsham, she had married a charming,
handsome man of good family, who even at a fairly young age was already one of the most respected solicitors in London. Shortly after their marriage, Robert’s cousin had died, leaving Robert, as the older brother, the heir to his elderly uncle’s property and title. As much as Robert had no wish for the old man’s demise, he was looking forward to the day he would take his uncle’s seat in Parliament and felt the work he did now would only make him better suited to rise in the political world. Someday Robert intended to be prime minister. While he did have a natural reserve—he’d never been overly demonstrative, nor did he freely express his feelings—he had as well a great deal of ambition and passion. Passion for the law, for politics, and once, for her.
It was passion, that unmistakable and slightly wicked glint in his eye for her and her alone, that had attracted Amelia to Robert back in the days not so long ago when she and her younger sisters had been three of the most sought after young ladies of any season. From the moment she had first looked into his eyes, she had been his. Not that she had let him know. Robert had been one of several suitable young men vying for her hand. But he was a competitive sort, and it would never have done to let him know that she was indeed his for the asking, even if it might have been kinder to do so. For whatever reason, Robert’s usual confident manner had been less so in her presence. She had loved that about him.
And when he had at last taken her in his arms, the passion that had swept her away and matched his would have sealed her fate if she hadn’t already been wildly in love with him. Amelia was well aware that
she enjoyed the intimate aspects of marriage far more than any proper, respectable lady should, even if, secretly, she rather relished the idea that in this, if in nothing else, she wasn’t the least bit proper. In truth, deep down inside, she thought she must be something of a tart. Worse, that knowledge didn’t especially bother her. Besides, if God had not intended for relations between men and women to be pleasurable, he would not have made them quite so, well, pleasurable.
Still, she thought, as she listened to the faint sounds in the foyer of her husband taking his leave, their love-making, while not unpleasant, had become perfunctory in recent years. As if there was little interest and effort on either side. A duty rather than a joy. Their nights together occurred with less frequency as well. They had separate rooms as they’d always had, but had rarely slept apart until recently. Now she feared he had found the passion they had lost with another woman.
Amelia had decided long before she was ever wed that she would not be one of those wives who turned a blind eye to her husband’s infidelities. She would not share her husband’s bed with another woman. Admittedly, she couldn’t be absolutely certain Robert actually had a mistress. But the signs were there, and she would be a fool to ignore them. If he didn’t have a mistress now, Amelia had little doubt he soon might. If steps weren’t taken to prevent it.
She had no desire to spend the rest of her days without passion. Nor did she intend to spend the remainder of her life without the heart of the man she loved. And she would not permit that man to give so much as a single night to any woman but her. No, Robert Hathaway had fallen in love with her once before,
and she had every intention of making him fall in love with her again. And if it took a healthy dose of competition to make him realize he didn’t want to lose what he already had, so be it.
Amelia Bannister Hathaway dearly loved her husband and would do whatever she had to do to reclaim his interest, his heart, and his passion. No matter what the price.
o, of course not.” Robert paced the width of his well-appointed office.
“I see.” Harry Hathaway lounged in the chair reserved for clients and studied his twin brother. “When she asked you, did you answer in the same manner?”
“I said no.” Robert’s tone was sharper than he had intended. Still, it was to be expected. Fear did that to a man. “Just as I’m saying no now. There is no other way to say it.”
“But did you say no without that telling hesitation?”
Robert scoffed. “There was no hesitation.”
Harry raised a brow.
“A momentary pause perhaps. But only because I was taken aback by the question.”
Harry stared in disbelieving silence.
“Very well, I admit my eye
have wandered in recent months,” Robert said reluctantly.
Robert shrugged off the question. “On occasion perhaps.”
“Only your eye?”
“Yes, only my eye,” Robert snapped. “It’s not uncommon, after some length of marriage, for a man’s eye to wander.”
“As long as your eye is the only part of you wandering.”
Robert studied his brother suspiciously. “You sound as if you don’t believe me.”
“Of course I believe you. You are the most forthright man I know, God help you. However, even you must admit, that slight hesitation, that ever so brief pause, well, it’s the mark of a guilty man.”
“Rubbish.” Robert snorted then paused. “Do you really think so?”
“Believe me, as a man who has been guilty more times than I can count, I know. Even the barest hesitation is a sure sign of a man who has something to hide.”
“But I have nothing to hide.” Robert grimaced. “Not really.”
“And yet you feel a sense of guilt nonetheless.”
Robert sighed. “Yes, I suppose I do.”
“It’s not uncommon, you know.”
“No, a wandering eye. I know any number of men who have done far worse than merely allowed their eye to wander and twice as many more who support a mistress. You are, after all, a normal, healthy male who has been married forever—”
“Hardly forever. It’s been a mere six years.”
“An animal kept in a cage for six years will chew off its own leg to escape.”
“I am scarcely an animal.”
“And yet trapped just the same.”
Robert was well aware of his brother’s views on marriage. As the younger brother, if by no more than a few minutes, Harry was under no pressure to wed, to produce an heir, to accept responsibility. There was an occasional moment here and there when Robert quite envied him. But only a moment. Robert liked his life. His position, his purpose, and most especially his wife.
“I don’t feel the least bit trapped,” he said staunchly.
“Even the most domesticated of wild beasts grows restless in its seventh year of captivity,” Harry said mildly.
“I’m not restless, I’m…” Robert blew a long breath. “I’m not sure what I am. Maybe I am restless. Things just aren’t the same now between us as they once were.”
“Ah, the first blush of love has grown cold.”
“Not cold. Merely”—Robert thought for a moment—“content, comfortable. Yes, that’s it. We’re content with one another.”
“Content? Comfortable?” Harry shuddered. “That’s even worse.”
“Come now, there is a great deal to be said—”
“One is content with old shoes or aged gloves or other items worn so long they conform to the quirks of the wearer and no longer require any effort to don. Lack of effort is what makes them comfortable. We take for granted that they will fit without difficulty or exertion.”
“Amelia is scarcely an old shoe.”
Harry considered him silently.
“Nor do I think of her as one.” Still, Harry’s example of an old shoe struck an unpleasantly accurate chord. “Although I admit, in the wake of my own content, I may well have taken her affection for granted.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I made a promise, you know, to cherish her for the rest of my days, and I fear I’ve failed.”
“Nonsense. You’ve given her all any woman could ever possibly want.”
“Apparently not, if she is considering taking another man to her bed.” Once again outrage washed through him. “A lover! Can you believe it?”
“What I can’t believe is that she asked your permission. Women generally don’t ask their husband’s approval before they launch themselves on the tempestuous seas of infidelity.”
“She didn’t ask.” Robert narrowed his eyes. “She announced it. In much the same casual manner she might have announced that she was planning to try a new seamstress or a well-recommended milliner, or commission a painting from an unknown artist!” Determination set his jaw. “I don’t care what she wants, I’ll be damned if I’ll allow it.”
Harry stared. “You’re really concerned.”
“Naturally I’m concerned. I’m bloody well more than concerned. This isn’t some sort of joke, you know. This is my life we’re talking about. And my wife!” Robert drew a deep breath. It wasn’t like him to lose his temper. He prided himself on his self-control. Still…“Blast it all, Harry, I’m afraid. What if it’s too late? Worse.” He met his brother’s gaze. “What if she’s realized I am not the same man she fell in love with?”
“Don’t be absurd. You’re precisely the same man she fell in love with. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Haven’t I?” The idea hadn’t occurred to him before now, but he had changed. Oh, not in his ambition or the goals he had set for his life—those would never change—but in other, less obvious ways. Now that he thought about it, comfort and contentment had taken the place of desire and excitement. And had done so without his notice. Yet another unpleasant realization. An annoying voice in the back of his mind noted that perhaps he should have had these revelations before now and they should be given further attention. But at a later time. Now there were more pressing matters to attend to. He shook his head. “That’s not what I meant. What I meant was that she might have discovered that I…that you—”
“I merely lent my assistance, my expertise, as it were, to my only brother when he needed it most.”
“When I was trying to win her hand you took my place.”
“Only because you needed my help. If I recall, your feelings for Amelia had reduced you to little more than a blithering idiot.”
“It wasn’t that bad.” Although in truth it had been nearly that bad. Even from the vantage point of six years, Robert still had no idea what Amelia had done to him. Certainly she was the only woman he had ever fallen in love with, and he had known from the moment he’d met her that she was the one for him. That certainty perhaps—the realization of her importance to his very existence—was what had indeed sapped his confidence and made him, at least in the beginning, if not actually a blithering idiot, then
something very much like one. If it hadn’t been for his brother smoothing the way for him, saying all the words Robert couldn’t quite get out, Robert wasn’t sure he would have won her hand or her heart. After all, he hadn’t been the only man interested in Amelia Bannister.
“Besides, I only impersonated you a mere four times.” Harry shrugged. “Hardly worth mentioning.”
“Four?” Robert frowned. “I only recall three.”
“Four, three, it scarcely matters now. It was six years ago.”
“Furthermore, it has been my experience…” Harry glanced at his brother. “And for the sake of argument I suggest you agree that I am far better acquainted with the dissatisfactions of married women than you are.”
The muscles of Robert’s jaw tightened with impatience. Normally his brother’s amorous adventures were, at best, amusing, and, at worst, a source of exasperation and potential scandal. At this particular moment and given the personal nature of the situation at hand, Harry’s expertise was every bit as annoying as it was necessary. “Go on.”
“As I was saying, it’s been my experience that women who discover they have married the wrong man do not need six years to reach that conclusion,” Harry said firmly.
“Then the fault lies with me.”
Amusement curved the corners of his brother’s mouth. “Probably.”
“What am I going to do?” An awful, helpless ache seemed to have taken up permanent residence within him. The sort of pain one surely felt when struck by
the realization that loss was imminent and there was nothing to be done about it.
“Oh no.” Harry shook his head, and Robert had the distinct impression his brother would have backed away from him if he’d been standing. “While I admit to a certain skill in the handling of dissatisfied wives, I have no idea how to—”
“Come now, surely you of all people—”
“Pay attention to her,” Harry said abruptly. “Show her how much you care about her.”
“She already knows that.” Robert tried and failed to hide the defensive note in his voice.
“If she does, she’s forgotten. It’s no doubt become lost in all that contentment and comfort between you. She needs to know that you are more than merely content. That you cannot live without her.”
Robert stared. “I thought that was obvious.”
Harry shrugged. “Women who are confident of their husband’s affections rarely announce that that are seeking a lover.”
“What if she’s discovered she can live without me?” A cold hand squeezed his heart at the very thought of his life without Amelia in it. “I can’t live without her, Harry. She’s part of my life, part of me. Of what makes me who I am.”
“Tell her, not me.”
“I’ve never been good at telling her of my feelings. It’s always been easier to talk to her about politics or the current state of affairs or art or music. But this…” He shook his head. “What if telling her isn’t enough?” Robert paced the width of the office and tried to ignore a sense of panic that had threatened since Amelia’s announcement this morning. He drew a calming breath.
All was not yet lost. “It does seem to me, however, the first thing I need to tell her, again, is that I do not have a mistress. I must convince her of that.”
Harry scoffed. “It’s too late.”
“Too late?” Robert glared at his brother. “How can it possibly be too late?”
“If she didn’t believe you the first time, the more you try to convince her now, the less likely she will be to believe you.”
“But it’s the truth.”
“Nonetheless, when you’re dealing with a woman, truth is rarely the best defense.”
“Amelia has always been a sensible, rational sort. Surely I can make her see that whatever has led her to doubt my fidelity is nothing more than a simple misunderstanding.” Even as Robert said the words, he knew Harry was right. Amelia would never believe him. Regardless of the fact that his transgressions were only momentary and consisted of nothing more significant than the wandering of his eye and perhaps his mind.
“So what am I to do now?”
Harry’s brow furrowed thoughtfully. “Nothing.”
“Don’t be absurd. I can’t do
“No, of course you can’t,” Harry said slowly, and Robert could almost see the wheels and gears of Harry’s mind working. Harry had always been good at working out puzzles. “Still—”
“The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Amelia does indeed plan to acquire a lover.”
“Women who intend to take a lover hardly ever tell their husbands, particularly before the fact.”
“Then you think this is a ruse?” Robert’s spirits lifted. “She’s trying to make me—I don’t know—take notice perhaps?”
“I could be wrong,” Harry said quickly.
“But you could be right.” Robert resumed pacing, his thoughts racing in front of his words. “It’s just the sort of thing she’d do too, if indeed she thought I had lost interest in her or, worse, had a mistress.”
“I’m wrong a great deal of the time you know.” A warning sounded in Harry’s voice.
Robert ignored him. “That’s it, obviously. Amelia would never…”
“She’s entirely too…”
“She would, wouldn’t she?”
“You know her better than I,” Harry said in a noncommittal manner.
“This is bad, Harry, this is very bad. I don’t know if she would really take a lover or not. How could I not know that about my own wife?”
“You’re right, that is bad.”
“Not that I would allow it.”
“Nor should you,” Harry said firmly.
“Still.” Robert folded his arms across his chest and tried to sort out his wife’s intentions. “Regardless of her true purpose, it’s obvious that I have to do something to convince her of my affection. And regain hers. The question is what to do.”
“Perhaps you need to start at the beginning?”
“The beginning? What do you mean, the beginning?”
“Court her, Robert. Flirt with her. Win her heart all over again.” Harry shrugged. “You did it once, you can do it again.”
“I had your help then.”
“And you shall have it again. Although not in the same manner,” Harry added quickly.
“No, you pretending to be me wouldn’t work at all now. She knows me too well. Court her, you say.” Robert considered the idea. He didn’t have a better one at the moment, and Harry’s suggestion did make a certain amount of sense. He had won her heart once; surely he could do it again. “She suggested you, you know. As a potential lover, that is.”
“Robert.” Harry straightened in the chair. “I would never. Not with Amelia. Not with your wife.”
Robert smiled wryly. “It’s good to know you have some moral standards.”
“Indeed I do.” Indignation sounded in Harry’s voice. “I never have, nor do I foresee a situation in which I ever would, seduce the wife of a friend, and definitely not the wife of my brother.”
Robert bit back a grin. “My apologies.”
“Accepted,” Harry muttered. “I can’t believe my own brother would think me capable of such a thing.”
Robert studied him for a long moment. “Four?”
“It might have been three.” Harry shrugged. “I really don’t remember.”
Robert considered his twin. In their youth, he and Harry had been somewhat competitive when it came to the favors of lovely young women and not above impersonating each other in pursuit of whatever lady had caught their eye. A lady who, as often as not, ultimately preferred Harry. He chose his words with care. “Even so, I can’t help but wonder—”