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Authors: Diane Gaston

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BOOK: Regency Wagers
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She shook her head.

He held her gaze. ‘As you have said, you have nowhere else to go.’

She cast down her eyes.

‘Madeleine, you are no prisoner here, if you wish to go.’

Her glance flew back to him. ‘I do not wish to leave. You are correct. There is no place for me.’ Her voice cracked.

His finger drew a line down her cheek. ‘Let us not speak of this now. We have much to do.’

He watched her turn away, stooping down to hand Linette some clothing. ‘Put them in the trunk, Linette.’

The laces on the back of her dress were undone. ‘Let me lace you,’ he said, reaching for them as she stood up again.

She twisted away from his hand. ‘It is no use. The dress no longer fits.’

‘Change to another then. I will leave the room if you desire privacy.’

She kept her eyes on her daughter, a doll-like miniature of herself. ‘I have no other dress.’

‘No other dress?’

‘Well, there is the horrid red one, but Sophie washed it and it is quite wet still. I must have grown out of this one since last wearing it.’

He studied the frock, and it did indeed look unfashionably old and slightly girlish. ‘A long time ago, I collect.’

‘The day Farley brought me to London.’

Devlin heard the edge in her voice. How had she come to be in Farley’s clutches? ‘You brought only one extra dress?’

‘I did not want Farley’s clothes.’

Devlin raked his fingers through his hair. He had not calculated on having to purchase a wardrobe. Did the little maid and the child need to be clothed as well?

Madeleine regarded him, her eyes serious. ‘Do not worry. Sophie will know how to alter it. She is clever at such things. In the meantime, if I go out, I shall wear my cloak. It covers everything.’

‘We will get you clothes, Maddy.’

She lifted her eyes to him before walking over to Linette.

 

Later that afternoon, Madeleine held Linette’s hand as she walked through their new rooms. Linette chattered, and she answered automatically, trying to stay out of the way of Devlin and Bart, busily carrying in trunks and boxes.

She had feared Madame LaBelmonde would have furnishings as gaudy and garish as in Farley’s establishment, but these rooms were genteel, the golds, reds, and greens muted and beautiful. She might have chosen them herself. Would it not be lovely if this really were her house? She the mistress, and Devlin…

No, she must not pretend. But as she strolled through the rooms, she could not help herself.

She entered the parlour and ran her finger across the polished mahogany and silk upholstery. She pictured herself seated on the couch, and Devlin, on the nearby chair, reading the latest newspaper. Linette sat at her feet, playing with a doll. She ought to be doing something in this fantasy, but what? Her attempts at embroidery used to wind up in tangles, and she had never paid enough attention to sewing to know how to mend.

Sophie walked in the room in such high spirits her usually pale face was flushed with pink.

‘Oh, Maddy, it is the loveliest set of rooms I have ever seen. Do you think we may really stay? Look at the furniture.
I should like to keep such nice tables polished. Do you think lemon oil or beeswax would do?’

Madeleine stared at her, not having any notion of what best polished wood, nor whether they might stay.

Sophie did not seem to notice she had not responded. ‘I shall ask Mr Bart.’ Sophie swept out of the room as quickly as she had come in.

‘Mama, I want Mr Bart!’ Linette pulled at her hand to follow Sophie.

‘No, Linette. Mr Bart has much to do right now. He’s moving boxes.’

‘I want boxes, too.’

‘Let’s explore the kitchen, shall we?’

She led Linette to the kitchen where the little girl opened cabinet doors, momentarily distracted by new discoveries within. Madeleine ran her hand over the cupboard, imagining life inside this kitchen. She saw herself kneading bread, and Devlin entering, kissing her cheek, and asking for his meal.

Folly! She knew not the first thing about making bread, nor how to cook a meal.

Devlin entered the kitchen, carrying a big wooden box. ‘Maddy, is the kitchen well supplied?’

She opened a cupboard. ‘There are things in here. Do you suppose it is adequate?’

Devlin stood next to her and peered in the open cupboard. ‘Hmm. Well, Bart will know.’ He set the box down on the table and walked out.

 

Much later, the five of them sat around that rough wooden table, having finished a hastily prepared meal of bread from the nearby bakery and hard cheese. Devlin poured each of them another glass of wine, giving Linette, seated on his lap, a small sip from his own glass. The little girl puckered her lips at the taste, and he laughed.

Madeleine gazed at all of them. She pretended they were a
family, without a care, sharing a simple meal and pleasant conversation. The thought made her smile.

Devlin caught her eye and winked at her. ‘I propose a toast.’ He raised his glass.

‘I want toast,’ Linette said.

‘To our new abode,’ Devlin said.

‘New ’bode,’ Linette parroted.

‘Hear, hear,’ Bart responded.

‘It is a lovely place.’ Madeleine sipped her wine and swept her gaze from corner to corner.

Devlin gave her a smile. He’d had no idea that pleasing her would make him feel mellow and strangely content. He raised his glass again while Bart sliced a piece of cheese and handed it to Sophie. Little Linette banged on the table with both hands.

The mellow feeling returned. ‘Tomorrow, ladies, we shall visit the mantua maker. Outfit you properly.’

Panic came over the shy Sophie’s face. ‘Oh, no, my lord.’

Devlin at last saw an opportunity to befriend the skittish young woman. ‘Would you not like a pretty dress or two?’

Sophie shook her head and dared to glance up at him for a moment. ‘No pretty dress. Nothing pretty. A bit of fabric will do, if it is not too dear. I do not presume to ask, my lord.’

‘Sophie, you are part of our household. You deserve decent clothing.’

‘Yes, my lord.’ She slid off her stool and cleared the dishes.

Devlin rolled his eyes and caught Bart’s disapproving look before the man followed Sophie out of the room.

‘Do not mind her, Devlin,’ Madeleine said. ‘She does not want presents, I think.’

He took a gulp of his wine. Linette relaxed against his chest, still at last.

‘She is afraid of you.’

He gave a dry laugh. ‘Indeed.’

‘It is because you are a man.’

He ran a finger through Linette’s hair, brushing it off the child’s forehead. ‘Bart is a man, I’ve noticed.’

‘True.’ She looked quizzical.

‘Well, Maddy, shall you and I visit the modiste or do you choose to be your own dressmaker, too?’

He meant to be good-tempered, but she responded with a wounded look.

‘I cannot sew.’

Lord, women were difficult.

‘It is of no consequence,’ he said, hoping to return to her good graces. ‘I’m sure we can find a skilful mantua maker. I would be pleased to see you in a pretty new dress.’

Her countenance changed, as if he had said something of great importance that had never occurred to her before. ‘Of course. I understand perfectly.’

He wished he understood. Devlin poured himself more wine and drained the entire contents of his glass. It was easier to evade the musket balls of an entire French battalion than to navigate a simple conversation with a female.

‘Linette is falling asleep. I need to make her ready for bed.’ Madeleine rose from her chair.

‘I’ll carry her.’ Devlin lifted Linette, and the little girl relaxed against him, a warm bundle more than comfortable against his shoulder.

He followed Madeleine into the bedchamber where they had set up Linette’s bed. A connecting door joined the two upstairs bedchambers. He wanted to think of Madeleine knocking softly on that door and coming to him in the night, but, after the morning’s débâcle, he was sure she would not do so.

Madeleine pulled out a tiny nightdress from the bureau. Linette’s meagre supply of clothing barely filled half a drawer, and Devlin vowed to ensure the child, as well as the mother, had a pretty new wardrobe.

‘Place her on the bed, please.’

He did so as gently as he could. ‘Toast,’ Linette murmured, opening her eyes momentarily.

Madeleine glanced at Devlin and smiled. How pleasant it felt. He had no idea domesticity could be so comfortable.

After she settled the child into bed and kissed the soft pink forehead, Devlin wrapped his arm around her and squeezed. ‘She’s a fine child, Maddy.’

‘She is everything to me.’ Her voice shook with emotion.

Madeleine leaned her head against Devlin’s shoulder. His strong arm felt so comfortable, she could almost imagine he belonged to her and they were gazing upon their own—

No, she must not lapse into that particular fantasy. She must remember that Devlin wished to see her in pretty dresses, just as Farley had. She must remember that she owed him for his kindness.

‘Shall I ready myself for bed as well, sir?’ She modulated her voice as she had been used to doing for these last years.

He placed her away from him and looked into her face. Madeleine knew how to control her expression. She smiled, half-demurely, half-seductively. She gently caressed his neck, leaning forward so when he glanced down, a peek of the rounded shape of her breasts was clearly visible. She led him to the connecting door, pulled him into the other room, closing the door behind her.

‘Shall I kiss you?’ she purred, wrapping her arms around his neck. Not waiting for his answer, she stood on tiptoe and touched her lips to his.

Yes, she could do this, she thought, keeping her body in firm control. She could indeed pleasure Devlin and repay his kindness without ever pleasuring herself.

Devlin wound his arms around her and pressed her against him. Desire flared inside him, and he deepened the kiss. She reached her hands around to loosen the already loose strings of her dress. It fell to the floor, leaving only her corset and shift. He ran his hands across her bare shoulders.

So lovely. So soft. Like honey. He wanted her. Wanted to plunge into her, join himself to her and not feel so alone.

‘Shall we go to the bed, my lord?’

The words echoed in his mind, from long ago.

He released her, watching as she moved toward the bed. She tossed a seductive glance over her shoulder.

She climbed onto the bed and turned to face him. ‘Come, let me remove your clothing.’

He rubbed the back of his neck. And stood his ground.

‘Come,’ she purred, reaching her arms above her head, arching her back. ‘Come, my lord.’

Devlin spoke quietly. ‘You must call me Devlin. Did you forget that, Maddy?’

She rolled to her side and stared at him.

‘This is not Farley’s establishment.’ He stared back.

She twisted the sheet in her hand.

‘Go to your room, Maddy. Your daughter might need you this night.’

She sat up. ‘No.’

‘I do not want your favours.’ Something else from her, perhaps, but not what Farley required of her.

‘But you must.’ A desperate look came over her.

‘No.’

She scampered off the bed and gathered her dress, holding it in front of her, covering herself with it. ‘Please, Devlin, you must let me make love to you. You must.’ Her words came out between laboured gasps.

‘No, Maddy.’

He walked to the door and opened it.

‘Devlin, I am used to this. It is not difficult. I will pleasure you. It will be pleasant, I promise you.’ Tears sprang to her eyes.

With every sensation in his male body, Devlin wanted to accept her offer, but he could not bear the emptiness in her seductive words. He well remembered what had passed between them that first time and this was not it.

She rubbed her eyes, now red and swollen. Her nose had turned bright pink. ‘I…I wish to show you my gratitude.’

‘Gratitude? Do you think I desire your lovemaking out of gratitude?’

Confusion wrinkled her brow. Devlin suspected that was not part of her practised repertoire. She clutched her dress in her hands. ‘You want me, I know you do. Men like to…to…You liked it, too.’

He had indeed, but not when her eyes stared vacantly and her words were rehearsed.

‘Go to bed, Maddy. Your own bed, not mine.’

She dropped her dress to the floor and wound her arms around his neck, kissing wherever her lips could reach. At least her rehearsed seduction had fled, but her desperation was no better. None the less, his body flared to life. He picked her up and she sighed in relief, nuzzling his neck. He carried her through the doorway and dropped her on to the large bed in the other room.

‘No, Devlin.’ She grabbed the front of his shirt, trying to pull him back. ‘You do not understand. I must do this.’

He moved her hands away, trying to be gentle, but not succeeding. The demands of his body were making him harsh. ‘You do not need to bed me. It is not something I demand of you.’

‘But it is the only thing I can do.’

Madeleine watched him turn away from her and walk toward the door. ‘You do not understand,’ she whispered. ‘It is the only thing I can do.’

He did not look back, but closed the door behind him, leaving her alone.

 

Devlin fled down the staircase and out into the damp night air. He strode through lamp-lit streets until reaching the nearest gaming house. Instead of sounding the knocker, he stood staring at the entrance. What would he find inside? Cigar smoke? Bad brandy? The luck of the draw? It was not ennui
he sought to dispel this night, but the turbulence left in Madeleine’s wake.

Why not accept her gratitude and bed her? He’d rescued her from Farley’s, hadn’t he? Taken in her child and her mouse of a maid. Provided them proper lodgings.

Devlin turned from the door of the gaming establishment and walked back to the street. When he had first met her, she had come to him, not with gratitude, but desire. Almost like loving him. He had never forgotten.

He wandered slowly through the streets, until he found himself back at the door of his expensive new rooms. The place was quiet as he entered, a single candle providing light. He glanced toward the back of the place where the two other bedchambers were located and wondered what might be occurring behind those closed doors. Was Bart holding the frail Sophie protectively, lest the ‘lord’ attack her in the night? Had Sophie offered her body to Bart, as well? Had he accepted?

BOOK: Regency Wagers
12.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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