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Authors: Barbara Cartland

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BOOK: The Temptation of Torilla
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The diversion was successful.

The Marquis started talking of his ambition to win the Gold Cup at Ascot and discussed which owners were likely to defeat him in this objective.

Then he found himself telling Torilla about his Arab thoroughbreds, which had come from Syria and the horses that his mother had admired from Hungary.

He talked at times almost indifferently, drawling his words while his eyelids dropped lazily, but Torilla was not deceived. She knew his horses meant a great deal to him.

“I imagine you can ride well,” he said a good deal later, bringing the conversation back to Torilla.

“I have not ridden for two years,” she answered. “Please tell me what horse you are entering for the St. Leger then, when September comes, I can look for its name in the newspapers.”

The Marquis accepted the change of subject, but he was astute enough to realise that the two years that Torilla had just mentioned had something significant about them.

At the same time, if she thought she was preventing him from questioning her, he was equally aware that she did not desire to talk about herself.

Because he had no wish to upset her, he therefore did not press the subject, but merely watched the different expressions, which succeeded each other in her large and extraordinarily beautiful eyes.

As the meal drew to a close and the Marquis sat back with a glass of port in his hand, he thought it was the first time he could remember dining alone with a woman and talking entirely about himself.

Always those with whom he had spent so many idle hours had wanted to talk about themselves – granted in connection with him – but they were never loath to express their feelings, their emotions and indeed their ambitions extremely volubly and sometimes it seemed unceasingly.

‘There is a mystery about this girl,’ he told himself.

As they moved from the table back to the fireplace and the landlord, having set the decanter of port at the side of the Marquis’s chair, withdrew from the room, he found himself curious.

“You are travelling South to be married or betrothed?” he enquired.

“No, nothing like that.”

“You sound very positive. I am sure there are many men eager to pay their addresses to you.”

Torilla smiled.

“Actually there is no one.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Are there no men where you come from? Or are they all blind?”

Torilla blushed.

The Marquis’s eyes were amused as he watched the colour rise in her face, before he said in his deep voice,

“You are very beautiful, as you must be well aware when you look in your mirror.”

Torilla looked into the fire and did not reply. But he saw her clasp and unclasp her fingers together and knew that she was apprehensive.

“Where are you staying tomorrow night?” he asked in a different tone.

Torilla thought for a moment.

“I think it is
The
White Hart
at Eaton Socon.”

“Then I shall not be able to ask you to dine with me again,” the Marquis said. “I turn off before I reach there.”

He thought there was a shadow of disappointment in her eyes but was not sure.

“You must take good care of yourself when I am not there to protect you,” he went on, “although of course by rights, having rescued you twice, I should do so a third time.”

“I hope not!” Torilla said quickly, then looked confused and added hastily, “I don’t – mean that. I just mean that – accidents and – other adventures are disturbing and very – frightening.”

“Of course they are,” the Marquis agreed, “and that is why, as you well know, you should not be travelling alone.”

“It could not be helped,” she answered. “There was no one who could come with me.”

“No one?” the Marquis questioned.

She shook her head, then, as if she was afraid he would question her further, she said,

“I think, sir, as I have to rise very early tomorrow morning and it is getting late, I should retire to bed.”

She rose to her feet and the Marquis also rose.

He seemed to tower above her and she looked up at him thinking he was not only the most impressive but also quite the most handsome man she had ever seen in her whole life.

Because she felt suddenly a little shy she added quickly,

“As I will not see you again, sir, I want to thank you with all my – heart for your – kindness to me. If you had not – been there last night – ”

She looked away from him with a little shudder and the Marquis replied,

“But I was there, and perhaps, Torilla, one day we will meet again.”

He held out his hand as he spoke, she laid her fingers on it and his tightened over them.

It gave her a strange feeling and again because she felt shy she stammered,

“Thank you – thank you – I only wish I could express myself more – eloquently.”

“If you wish to express your gratitude,” the Marquis said, “there is a very easy way to do so.”

She looked up at him questioningly, not understanding what he meant.

He took his hand from hers and put his fingers under her chin.

It was impossible to move, impossible to think of what might happen, before his arms were round her and his lips came down on hers.

For a moment Torilla was too astonished even to breathe.

Then, as his lips held her captive, she thought she should struggle, that she must run away, but the touch of his mouth seemed to hypnotise her into immobility.

The warm insistence of it made her feel as if something live moved within her, rising through her body and her breasts up into her throat.

It was a sensation so wonderful, so unlike anything she had ever known or dreamt of, that she ceased to think.

It grew in intensity until she felt as if she was no longer herself but a part of him and everything that she had ever known or longed for seemed to be concentrated in the feeling he aroused in her.

He held her closer still, his arms imprisoning her and yet she made no movement to escape.

Suddenly the wonder of his kiss became a rapture that was so intense, so ecstatic, that it seemed to pierce her with a dagger-like pain, yet it was a perfection and a glory that came from Heaven itself.

How long she was close against him, how long the kiss lasted Torilla had no idea.

She only knew that she was transported out of herself and into a place that had nothing to do with the world in which she lived and breathed.

It was as if her feet were no longer on the ground and she was flying through space, not a human being but a mythical spirit or nymph filled with magic –

The Marquis raised his head and his eyes looked into hers.

She was trembling as she came back to earth with a thump and remembered who she was and why she was there.

Her face was radiant as she stared up at him, her lips parted, her breath coming quickly between them.

Then with a little inarticulate murmur, hardly knowing what she was doing, she turned and moved across the room.

She passed through the door, closing it behind her before she ran – or did she fly? – along the passage and up the stairs into the sanctuary of her bedroom.

CHAPTER THREE

Torilla stepped out of the stagecoach when it reached Hatfield and saw that one of her uncle’s carriages was waiting for her.

She also recognised the groom in his blue livery with silver crested buttons, who smiled as he raised his tall cockaded hat,

“Good afternoon, Miss Torilla. Nice to see you again.”

“And it is nice to see you, too, Ned,” Torilla answered. “I am so relieved that you are here to meet me.”

“Her Ladyship thought miss, you might not be arriving until tomorrow,” Ned replied, “knowing how unpunctual the coaches are.”

He gave a disdainful glance at the unwieldy vehicle, as he picked up Torilla’s valise and carried it to where a closed landau drawn by two well-bred horses was waiting in the yard.

The coachman whom Torilla also knew greeted her and she stepped into the comfortable carriage to sit back against the cushioned upholstery while Ned collected her trunk.

It was just like old times, she thought, with attentive servants she had known since she was a child.

She wished Abby was with her to appreciate the quickness with which the guard of the stagecoach handed Ned her trunk. Then they were off towards the village of Fernford, which was two miles outside Hatfield.

All the time Torilla had been travelling for the last two days, she had found it difficult to think of anything but Sir Alexander Abdy.

It had been impossible to sleep after he had kissed her and she had lain awake in the darkness feeling the pressure of his lips still on hers and his arms enfolding her.

She had often wondered what it would be like to be kissed and now, she thought to herself, things could never be quite the same.

When she listened to the fairy stories her mother had told her and read mythical tales in books as she grew older, she had always felt there was something mystical and wonderful behind the ordinary things that were familiar.

She sensed that one day she would understand the yearning that was sometimes within her and the emotions, which were inescapable.

When moonlight filtered between the branches of trees in great shafts of silver or sunshine was dazzling on the stillness of water, she felt a response that was strange and yet exciting.

At other times she would be aroused by a butterfly hovering over the opening petals of a flower or when she heard music in the breeze blowing through the trees.

She had always felt then as if what she was trying to understand was just out of reach. She sensed it, felt it near her, and yet it was elusive and like a will-o’-the-wisp she could not touch.

Suddenly she had captured it and had known it was hers at the touch of the Marquis’s lips.

It had been so inexpressibly wonderful and, although her body responded to it, she had known that the real glory was her mind.

She thought too, that it was what she had often felt when she prayed and when she attended the Communion Service very early in the morning when the only light in the darkness of the Church was the candles on the altar.

Though she tried to explain to herself what she felt, it was beyond words, it was a secret but an inseparable part of herself.

Shyly she thought that in a way last night she had also become a part of the man who had kissed her.

As the day passed and she spent another night in a coaching inn, she thought perhaps she had imagined the whole thing.

Could there really be a man who looked like Sir Alexander Abdy? Who had such presence and such consequence and could arouse in her feelings that made her quiver even to think of them?

‘I shall never see him again,’ she thought despairingly and then told herself that perhaps it was a good thing.

If she set aside the magic of what had happened, it came down to the fact that she had allowed a stranger, a man she had met by chance, to kiss her and she had made no attempt to struggle or free herself.

She had been completely submissive and captive in his arms.

That it was a wonder beyond wonders did not prevent her knowing that her mother would have been extremely shocked by her behaviour.

What was more, she herself could give no reasonable excuse for the manner in which she had behaved.

She could not bear to imagine what Abby would have thought had she accompanied her. However, if Abby had been there, Sir Jocelyn would not have forced his way into her room and she would not have needed to be rescued.

Before she arrived at Fernleigh Hall, Torilla decided that she would never tell Abby, Beryl, or anyone else what had occurred.

It was a secret of which she was not ashamed because it had been almost a miracle of joy and she would not defame the memory of it by pretending that she was sorry.

No one would understand the inner consequence of what on the surface was only a reprehensible escapade.

The horses turned in through the small lodges standing on either side of the huge wrought iron gates surmounted by the Fernleigh Crest.

Then Torilla was driving between oak trees, among which she and Beryl had played ‘hide and seek’ when they were children, and she saw ahead of her the tall, red-brick mansion which had been built in the days of Queen Anne.

It was an attractive house and most people exclaimed at the splendour of its architecture, but to Torilla it was simply home.

She could hardly wait for the carriage door to be opened and the step to be let down before she sprang out.

Even as she did, Beryl was there waiting for her at the top of the steps.

She put her arms round Torilla and the two cousins kissed each other affectionately while Beryl cried,

“Dearest, dearest Torilla! I have missed you! How glad I am to see you!”

“And I am so happy to be here,” Torilla answered with tears in her eyes.

“The stagecoach actually arrived on its proper day!” Beryl said. “I can hardly believe it, any more than I can believe that you are back. I have so much to tell you!”

She drew Torilla by the hand into the big salon, which overlooked the rose garden at the back of the house.

Only as Torilla put up her hand to undo the ribbons of her bonnet and pull it off did she exclaim,

“Beryl! How lovely you have grown! You are much, much more beautiful than I remember!”

“I wanted you to think so,” Beryl answered, her eyes twinkling.

What Torilla had said was true.

Her cousin was indeed justly acclaimed as the most beautiful girl in England and her admirers had not been exaggerating when they compared her to an English rose.

She had golden hair, not the colour of Torilla’s, but a vivid gleaming sovereign gold. Her eyes were the colour of a thrush’s egg and her complexion the pink-and-white of every woman’s dreams.

She and Torilla were the same height and had as children been the same size, but now because Torilla had lived in the North on a starvation diet she was thinner than Beryl.

There were little hollows under her cheekbones, while Beryl’s face was a smooth and well-filled oval.

BOOK: The Temptation of Torilla
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