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Authors: Diane Perkins

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BOOK: The Marriage Bargain
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It took a moment for Spence to comprehend. “Emma?” he rasped, nearly out of breath. “It was Emma. Emma.”

Blake rested his hand on Spence’s shoulder again. “Easy now. We’ll sort it out later. Do not strain yourself.”

She had changed. The Emma he knew had been round-faced and as soft and delicate as a spring rosebud. That beautiful woman could not be Emma.

“Emma,” he said again.

Blake smiled at him. “You never told us she was a beauty, Spence.”

“A beauty.” Spence nodded.

Wolfe spoke. “We thought she had a squint or something. Some reason to hide her away in the country.” Wolfe’s expression turned intense. “Do you remember the duel, man?”

“Duel?” Spence closed his eyes and could see the field and the young man’s trembling arm holding the pistol. “Esmund,” he remembered. “Dead?”

“No, he’s unharmed,” Wolfe said. “But you remember?”

“Red hair,” Spence whispered. “Don’t remember all . . .”

“I think you need a nice sleep.” Blake softly squeezed his shoulder. “Plenty of time to remember later.”

“You stay?” Spence whispered.

“We’ll stay,” Wolfe said.

Spence let his eyes close again, grateful his friends would remain at his side. As he drifted toward sleep, the image of the angel swam before him. “Emma?” he murmured.

He wanted her to return.


mma did not return to Spence’s room that day, or the next. She sent Tolley in with careful instructions to bathe and shave him and change the dressings on the wound. Mrs. Cobbett brought him broth and bread. Emma left the rest of the time to his friends.

At night she opened the door connecting her bedchamber with his so she could hear if he needed help, but that was the extent of what she would do. She resisted the impulse to check on him while he slept. She had done her part, she told herself. She’d nursed him through the fever. He had no need of her now.

Besides, she had plenty to do. Having guests in the house created extra work. For one thing, there was the matter of finding enough food for them all and for their horses. These two young gentlemen ate a great deal, it seemed to her. Even Spence’s appetite had progressed, Mrs. Cobbett said.

Half the time Reuben also appeared for dinner or breakfast or both. “Checking on my dear cousin,” he would say. He’d always been a frequent and welcome guest at dinner, but this time it vexed Emma to ask Cook to prepare enough food for one more. She did not know why she should be irritated at Reuben. Even when he did not show up, Lord Blakewell or Mr. Wolfe seemed to finish whatever was set upon the table. The wine stores were getting lower and lower as well, and she certainly had no money to purchase more.

Emma reluctantly ordered one of her pigs slaughtered, a fine fat fellow who would have brought a good price at market. She had already given up two others from the litter to divide among the farmworkers, not to mention one more to feed the rest of the estate staff.

The first of the meals the pig would provide sat upon the dinner table in front of Reuben, who had done the carving.

“The roast is excellent, my dear,” Reuben said with a familiarity that suddenly irritated Emma. “Cook has outdone herself.”

“Thank you, Reuben.” She watched with dismay as he took another slice of meat. He, of all people, ought to realize what the meal cost her. He knew more than anyone how tight Kellworth’s funds were. Still, she had to admit her pride had made her hide the true extent of her poverty from him. Perhaps if she’d shared exactly how much they lived from hand to mouth, he might leave enough meat for tomorrow’s stew.

“And how is our patient this day?” Reuben directed this question to Emma.

She stared down at her plate, pushing her turnips to and fro.

Blakewell spoke. “Spence is quite alert today, I must say.”

“That is excellent!” Reuben sliced into his pork, then paused as if he’d had a sudden thought. “I almost neglected to tell you. I have a vial of laudanum from Mr. Price.” He handed it to Emma.

She put the little bottle in her lap.

Wolfe gave Emma a pointed stare. “He asks for you, Lady Kellworth.”

“Does he?” She sipped the half glass of wine she’d rationed for herself.

“You have not attended to him for two days.” Wolfe’s voice was accusing.

“Two days?” Reuben’s eyebrows rose.

Emma fixed her gaze on Wolfe’s. “I have had much to do, sir. The estate requires attention.”

His gaze did not waver. “If you ask me, the estate needs a great deal of attention, attention it has not received.”

Blakewell favored them all with his dimpled smile. “Let us not quarrel over this delicious meal.” He directed a question about the church to Reuben.

Emma eyed Blakewell from under her lashes. The man hid much beneath that charm of his. She actually preferred Wolfe’s open animosity. She knew where she stood with Wolfe. What went on inside Blakewell’s mind was impossible to discern.

“Lady Kellworth,” Blakewell addressed her again in his still-affable tone. “We have sent word to Wolfe’s man in London to bring our clothing and Spence’s.”

Another mouth to feed, thought Emma. “Very good, sir. When may we expect him?”

“Two or three days, I believe,” responded Wolfe.

This visit of theirs showed signs of lasting a very long time. Certainly Spence would require a long recovery, and she suspected his friends would stick to him until he was well enough to leave with them. She ought not shoulder this responsibility alone, not when the man responsible for her lack of funds was finally unable to escape her.

Emma decided she would visit her husband, if that is what his friends expected of her. If he was as alert as they indicated, she would demand some money.

After every possible morsel of food on the table had been eaten and Cook’s pie totally consumed, Mr. Hale and Tolley removed the dishes and brought out one of their last bottles of brandy for the gentlemen.

Emma put the vial of laudanum in her hand and excused herself. She ascended the stairs to Spence’s bedchamber with a determined step.

Spence hung onto the bedpost, too weak to move. His shoulder throbbed with pain and he felt like an idiot for trying to get on his feet.

He panted with the effort of remaining still, resting a minute, hoping to garner enough strength to make another attempt to climb back into bed. He feared he’d wind up in a heap on the floor.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Enter,” he responded, forcing some volume into his voice.

He hoped it was that footman Tolley. If it was Blake or Wolfe, they’d give him a scold for getting out of bed.

walked in.

He almost let go of the bedpost.

He’d begun to think she would never return to his room.

She rushed over to him. “What are you doing out of bed!”

He tried to smile but feared it came out more like a wince. “I meant to test my legs. They do not wish to hold me, it seems.”

“Foolhardy.” She lent him her shoulder and let him lean his considerable bulk on her as she assisted him back into the bed.

“You are not so recovered as that,” she scolded.

He examined her close up as she plumped the pillows and straightened the bedcovers. At seventeen she had been like a rosebud that one could not imagine becoming more beautiful as it flowered. His uncle had not been able to keep his hands off her, and Spence could not bear him to pluck that perfect bud, crushing it with his ardor.

“Emma?” he whispered.

She stepped back. “Yes, I am Emma, my lord.”

His gaze flicked over her again, taking in the elegant tilt of her head, the lushness of her figure, the confident stance. This was not the delicate rosebud he’d left here at Kellworth.

She stiffened. “Am I so altered? Or have you merely forgotten your wife’s appearance?”

He wrinkled his brow. He’d offended her, of course. “You are altered, Emma.”

She wrapped her arms around her chest, and a bit of the vulnerable young girl he married showed in the gesture. “Well, that may be,” she murmured.

They stared at each other. He did not know what to say to her. “You tended me. I thank you.”

She shrugged. “I saw you through the fever. A wife’s duty, that is all.”

Her chill rose like a barrier between them. “I am afraid I have caused you much trouble,” he said uncertainly. “I do not know why Blake and Wolfe brought me here when London would have been closer.”

Her eyes flashed. “They did not explain?”

He strained to sit up straighter, but a sharp pain shot through his shoulder. She stepped forward, reluctantly it seemed, and repositioned the pillows behind him.

“I have a bottle of laudanum from Mr. Price. Shall I pour you a dose?” She took the bottle from a small pocket in her dress.

“No laudanum,” he managed.

The wounded who survived best on the Peninsula, Spence had observed, were the ones who forced themselves to keep moving, never giving in to the pain. That was why he’d tried to get on his feet, why he would not cloud his mind with laudanum. He wanted to regain his strength.

She shrugged and placed the bottle on the table next to his bed. “As you wish.”

He peered into her eyes. “Do you know why I was brought here?”

She did not answer right away. Finally her chin set in determination. “You were shot in a duel and pronounced dead. Your friends brought you here for burial.”

“Dead?” He lurched forward, but the pain accosted him again. “Dead?”

“Yes.” Her tone was stiff.

He closed his eyes as the pain hit him again, and brought back the memory of relentless darkness. His breath became more rapid and he broke out into a panicked sweat.

A cool hand touched his brow. Her scent, like a spring garden, filled his nostrils. He opened his eyes, and she leaned over him, looking distressed. “I have made you ill.” She bit her full pink lip. “I ought not to have told you.”

She lifted her hand and stared at it as if its action had surprised her. In his fevered state her hands had stroked him like that, comforted him, made him feel safe from the darkness.

He tried to give her a smile. “Forgive me. It was a momentary weakness.”

She stepped back again. “It was entirely my doing. I will not plague you with more conversation.”

She spun around and headed toward the door.


She halted but turned only her head.

“Stay with me a bit.” He tried not to sound too desperate, but the whole afternoon he’d felt panic whenever left alone.

“I have much to do.”

“Let others do it,” he begged. “Sit with me. Tell me how you go on here, Emma. I wish to hear of you.”

She swung around to him, eyes blazing. “You
to hear of me?”

He was shocked at the change in more than her manner. She fairly bristled with anger. “Of course. Have you liked living at Kellworth? Have you been happy here?”

She strode back to his side. “I would believe you wished to hear of me, that you ever considered my happiness, sir, if you had acknowledged even one of my letters.”

“Your letters?” His head throbbed and he felt dizzy again. He pressed his fingers against his temple, but the movement sent a shaft of pain through his shoulder. Unable to stop himself, he groaned.

Her voice lost some of its edge. “I shall send your friends to attend you. I suspect you can wait a bit longer to hear of how life has been at Kellworth.”

The room started spinning and he shut his eyes to make it stop. When he opened them again, she had gone.

Emma dismissed Susan, declining, as she always did, Susan’s offer to help her dress for bed. It was difficult enough to let the elderly maid untie her laces. The woman’s arthritic fingers worked so slowly Emma nearly perished from impatience.

After Susan shuffled out of the room, Emma donned her nightdress and sat at her dressing table to take the pins from her hair and brush out the tangles.

She examined herself in the mirror by the golden light of her colza lamp.

Was she so altered? She tried to see what changes three years had brought. She’d grown another inch in that time, and her figure had turned more womanly, but what was it he’d seen that prevented him from remembering her?

Emma jumped up from her seat and hurried to the door connecting her room with her husband’s. She’d almost forgotten to open it a crack so she could hear him if he roused during the night.

She returned to her dressing table and ran her fingers down her cheek. Her face was terribly thin, she thought. She was thin all over, though it was less apparent with her large breasts, and disguised by her clothes. She examined her neck, trying to remember if it had always been so long. Her complexion was tinted by the sunlight and her arms firmed by hard work. Perhaps he’d thought her a maid—a garden worker. That was what she was.

She grabbed the brush again and dragged it ruthlessly through her long curls, attacking the knots and trying to think of nothing else.


The brush fell from her hands and bounced on the carpet. Spence stood at the doorway. Rather, he leaned against the doorjamb, breathing hard.

She jumped to her feet and ran to him. “What are you doing? You must not leave your bed.”

He took a careful step inside her room, leaning against a bureau near the door. “Wanted to get up,” he panted. “Saw your light.”

She came to his side and offered her arm to lean on. “I will take you back to bed.”

He pressed against her, and she could feel his firm muscles through the thin layer of her nightdress. “No.” He gestured toward a chair.

Feeling no choice, she walked him over to the chair where Susan usually sat, hearing the catch in his breath with each step. He winced as she eased him into the chair. His breath came hard.

She walked over to her water pitcher and poured him a glass of water. He downed it greedily.

“You ought to be in bed.” She stood over him.

He looked up at her, his piercing blue eyes even more vibrant than in daylight. “Blake and Wolfe told me what you did.”

She squared her shoulders. “What I did?”

He reached out and grasped her hand, the touch surprisingly gentle. “I made them tell me about the duel and about . . . my death.” He closed both hands over hers. “You made them open the casket, Emma. You found me alive. If you had not . . .”

BOOK: The Marriage Bargain
6.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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