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Authors: Emily Dalton

Tags: #Regency, #:Historical Romance

Lily and the Lion (22 page)

BOOK: Lily and the Lion
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Winny straightened and looked rather smug, which was not the attitude Lily had expected. "Peter already knows, so neither of you need fret about
that!"
"But Winifred," Julian exclaimed, much surprised, "how did he react? And who's with him, for heaven's sake?"
"In answer to your first question, he took it just as you thought he might. He woke up from his nap right after you left, when I had just barely laid my hand on his brow to check for a fever. He was too excited at being home to sleep deeply, I suspect. When he enquired where you'd gone, I was inspired to tell him the whole truth immediately. There is never anything to be gained by procrastination, you know! Besides, judging by the way the two of you have been looking at each other just since you arrived tonight, I rather suspected that Peter had an inkling of what was afoot, anyway. And, yes, he admitted that he'd suspected a growing attachment between the two of you, but tried to ignore what his eyes and ears clearly told him."
"Is he blue-deviled, then?" Julian prompted her.
"He was at first, but I scolded him about it, telling him that sometimes people are destined to be together in this life. I've always believed that, you know. I truly believe that Edward and I made a pact before we came to this earth, to share our lives here. I told him that you and Lily were perfect for each other, and that he—Peter, you know—had probably been the divinely directed means of bringing you together!"
"And that bag of moonshine resigned him to his loss?" Julian remarked with dry good humour.
"Julian, I thought you had changed!" complained Winny, laughing.
"Not
that
much!" Julian said, winking at his sister.
"Well, you're quite right, of course. My theory of predestination did not exactly soothe his wounded heart, but then the Cavendish twins arrived for dinner and I—"
"The Cavendish twins!" exclaimed Lily, much diverted. "How did you
think
to do such a thing, Winny? Why, it is the perfect antidote for Peter's megrims!"
Winny pursed her lips in a pondering pose. "Once again, I can only suppose that I was inspired to send word to them after Pleshy arrived, letting them know that Peter was expected this evening. They have enquired about him regularly, you know. On an impulse, I also invited them to dinner. I knew Peter would be fatigued, but he has always been so close to Lizzy and Lucinda—"
"Don't excuse yourself, Winny," said Julian. "There's no need. You couldn't have hit on a better welcome for Peter. He may be tired, but the company of good friends will do him a world of good."
"If he finds them as jolly and pretty as he did before, maybe he'll eventually offer for one of them," suggested Lily. "The only thing is, he'll have to choose between the two, and perhaps he'll never be able to do so!"
Once again Winny looked highly self-satisfied. "That won't be a problem. You see, Lizzy's been engaged these six weeks! She long ago relegated her feelings for Peter to a sisterly affection, but Lucinda still pines for him, poor dear!" Winny's face brightened. "But now he has only to make up his mind about
one
Cavendish twin, and seeing them together tonight makes me rather hopeful! Come, you two, judge for yourself! Come and look at them!" Then Winny exited the room, apparently unable to stay long away from her son and the young lady she hoped soon to call daughter.
Lily allowed herself to be pulled to her feet by Julian, but declined the idea of presenting herself in the drawing-room in such a travel-worn state, her disarray compounded by the caressive pawings of her dear Lion. She would discover where her room was and freshen up first, if he didn't mind.
Julian tucked a stray wisp of chestnut brown hair behind Lily's ear, his loving gaze travelling over the delicate features of her face as if to memorize them exactly. "I'll let you out of my sight now, my dear little vicarage child. But do not loiter, or I shall have to come fetch you!"
Lily stroked Julian's jacket lapel and looked coy. "Goodness, was that a threat? Do you imagine I'm afraid of you, my lord? If you must know, my dear husband-to-be, while I admittedly tremble in fright at the appearance of a wee rodent, I shan't be put into a quake by the roaring of my very
own
pet lion!"
Julian growled and pulled her roughly against him, and Lily fearlessly returned his embrace.

EPILOGUE

P
EEKING THROUGH
the draperies at Ashton House ten years after the marriage of Julian Winslow, Lord Ashton, to Miss Lilith Clarke, lately of Whitfield in the County of Kent, one might observe any number of interesting happenstances.
For example, on Christmas Day, 1825, Peter and Lucinda came to show off their infant sons, a set of twins. The twins were the most recent additions to their hopeful family of four. Peter fully and quickly recovered from his illness,
and
his disappointed love, with the help of the timely blossoming of Miss Lucinda Cavendish, who, at the advanced age of three-and-twenty, became the most beautiful woman of Peter's acquaintance. It did not hurt, either, that she was as jolly as she had ever been as a girl and was still not averse to horseplay.
Much to Julian's pleased astonishment, Pleshy and Janet married, too. Pleshy stepped down from his position as valet to tackle the challenge of farming, and soon discovered that he was as talented in this area as he had been in the area of rigging out Lord Ashton in the first stare of fashion. They prospered despite the speedy introduction of five little Pleshys into the world and their mother's preference for romping and turning cartwheels with the little dears over other more domestic duties. Pleshy cherished Janet's love of life and, with steadfast devotion, helped her forget all about that early part of her life which had not been so gay…
At six-and-twenty, comely Belle still had not married, but she didn't seem to mind in the least. She proved to be much more than "deedy" about the house. In fact, she was so very good at everything she did that she soon was promoted to a sort of under-housekeeper, ready to step into Mrs. Strand's shoes when that lady decided to retire and live with her widowed sister in Harrogate. Not that Belle was anxious to usurp Mrs. Strand's position, for she loved the older woman dearly and had begun to look upon her as a sort of foster mother. The feeling was entirely mutual and Mrs. Strand often thanked his lordship for bringing dear little Belle to Ashton House.
Norton Bickford came to collect his deed and his gun, his family of four children and a surprisingly diminutive wife in tow. Pleshy and Norton became neighbours and friends and often discussed crop philosophy over a tankard of ale. Due to their mutual interest in modern farming and the sharing of tried-and-true methods of cultivation, they both enjoyed a comfortable living.
A rumour had once been heard that Nort was a reformed highwayman, but it was quickly put to bed. No one as gentle and mild-mannered as "Ol' Nort" could ever have held anyone at gunpoint, thereby flirting stupidly with the looped end of a rope. When their fifth child was born—another son—Norton asked Lord Ashton's permission to christen him Julian. Urged by Lily to disregard his natural, humble aversion to such a tribute, Julian finally graciously accepted. Ironically, "Jule," as he was nicknamed, turned out to be the naughtiest of their entire brood.
Sebastian was Peter's faithful companion till he left his very comfortable mortal existence for cat heaven. When Peter stayed in London, he even went so far as to sport Sebastian about Town in his curricle, Sebastian reposed in all his regal furriness just next to him on the seat. This started a new fashion, and carriage cats became all the rage, which happenstance of Sebastian's sojourn on Earth became a fitting eulogy for so devoted a pet. However, Sebastian was so obliging as to leave behind several look-alike offspring, so that Peter might always have a yellow cat as companion for as long as he chose to keep one. And he
did
choose to keep a yellow cat at his side till the end of his days.
As for Julian and lily, Life was as adventuresome as Julian predicted at the start. Their house quickly filled up with cats, serving effectively both as rodent deterrents and four-legged hot bricks. But the army-like number of children they'd mutually agreed to bring into the world was not to be. Lily lost one child before she delivered a son, named Richard Thomas after Julian's two brothers. However, after Richy's robust entry into life, there were no other conceptions.
Satisfied with his hearty little heir, and his beloved wife's continued good health despite her inability to conceive another child, Julian suggested that they adopt a brother or a sister for Richy. Lily, never behindhand in pursuing an idea which greatly appealed to her, quickly swelled the number of children at Ashton House to five. Richy acquired two sisters and two brothers, all of differing ages, looks and backgrounds, from a foundling home in Holybourne, which was the nearest town. There would have been more, but Julian knew that if the line was not drawn somewhere, his philanthropic little wife would turn the house into an orphanage, with five children in each room!
Sundry unfortunates continually came in the way of the Winslow family over the years, and the poor wretches were always fed and clothed and sent on their way with references for employment or at least some good, sound advice and a few golden coins. However, Julian was occasionally called upon to thwart the unscrupulous designs of practised scapegraces intent on taking advantage of the notoriously generous Lady Ash ton. Always alert to the possibility of such abuse, Julian earned a reputation for being as swift to serve retribution to those who deserved it as he was to extend a helping hand. He was a good man, there could be no doubt about that. But he was cunning, too, not easily fooled or trifled with.
As for the Clarke family, the vicar and his wife and progeny frequently visited Ashton House, bringing with them all the noise and disorder of Whitfield Vicarage to mingle with the noise and disorder of Ashton House—which, indeed, had become just such another beatific bedlam.
As for the ton, they missed Julian's wit and handsome looks, but enjoyed for some time the fascinating story of his return to rural hermitage, and of the little vicarage mouse who had fearlessly pulled the thorn of bitterness from The Lion's paw.

 

 

 

' 'THE LION'S" ROAR WAS WORSE THAN HIS BITE
No one could doubt that Miss Lily Clarke was
a vicar's daughter. So angelic was she,
charitable and compassionate, that all
God's creatures earned and deserved her
boundless devotion.
Even those who did not wish it, such as

Julian Winslow, Lord Ashton. Long ago,

Julian had taken mans' measure and found it

lacking. Since then he had kept his own
counsel with the lone arrogant pride
attributed to the King of Beasts.
But Julian's fierce demeanour did not
discourage Lily, who set about to remove the
thorn from "The Lion's" paw.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

EPILOGUE

BOOK: Lily and the Lion
11.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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