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Authors: Cari Hislop

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BOOK: A Companion for Life
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To hell with the song; you said you loved
me. How can you love me and make eyes at him? You’re acting like a
heartless coquette.”

Grace slammed both hands onto the keys and
jumped up knocking over her stool forcing Rosamund to hurry over to
the pianoforte. The young woman’s lovely face was red with rage as
her mother took her arm. “Dearest, you played that song so
beautifully. Perhaps you’ll treat Lord Morley…”

“Mr Bowen says I’m a heartless coquette.”

Rosamund glared at William before putting an
arm around her daughter. “Dearest, you know he’s just jealous of
Lord Morley…you’re the sweetest dearest girl.”

“I’m not jealous of Morley. I’m the one Grace
loves; at least I was this morning.”

Grace’s eyes filled with tears. “How can I
love a man who refuses me a church wedding? I can’t elope Mamma;
I’ll die of shame. Harriet will crow that her wedding was perfect
and what will I be able to say? I got a headache from the sound of
the smithy’s hammer striking the anvil? That isn’t romantic, it’s
common.”

“Dearest, you shall have the grandest church
wedding ever devised.”

“I wouldn’t deny you…” William tried to
caress his beloved and had his hand slapped away. “…we can travel
up to Scotland with your family and have a church wedding.”

“Why would I want a church wedding in
Scotland? No one of consequence would attend. I want to be married
in London. Mamma…you promised!”

Rosamund turned an evil eye on Penryth. “I
think it’s time you gave your permission Mr Bowen, don’t you?”

“I don’t remember your daughter mentioning
these silly conditions when we completed the legal paper work for
her dowry; an interesting piece of legal work. I don’t remember
reading where exactly her money is being held or by whom. If she’s
so wealthy and the young people wish to wed why don’t they live off
your daughter’s money?”

“It’s invested in bonds until she’s
twenty-five.”

“Does Morley know your dearest daughter’s
inheritance has been badly invested?”

“Her dowry is perfectly safe.”

“Is it? Who did you lend it to? I’ll give my
head for breaking they promised you a return for the money too good
to be true.”

“Mr Bowen you are insulting. How does my
sister endure you at the dinner table let alone in her bed?”

The flames of hell raged in his chest at the
thought of never being allowed to share Lily’s bed. “You’ll have to
ask her. In the mean time if your daughter wishes to marry William
immediately she’ll require a ceremony in Scotland and a desire to
share her bedchamber and dress allowance with her husband for two
years. I won’t give my permission, but I’m sure she’ll be happy
with William.” Penryth glanced across at Morley. “She won’t find a
better man the Kingdom.”

“Share my dress allowance? I’m not sharing my
dress allowance with anyone. Do you expect me to look like a
pauper?”

“Grace, you said you loved me. Would you want
me to be seen in rags?”

“I wouldn’t want anyone to see you. I’d be
too embarrassed to admit my husband couldn’t afford to keep me let
alone buy himself a new hat. You’d have to stay in the attic.”

“Attic? I’m not marrying you to sleep in the
attic. I’ll sleep with my wife or be hanged.”

“Sleep with the dog; you’re not sharing my
bed. Why should my father pay to keep your brat?”

Penryth could feel his nephew trembling. He
looked at the boy’s profile and grimaced in empathy. Love’s
blindness was painfully dimming. “But you knew the conditions…you
said you’d do anything to marry me.”

“I don’t remember saying anything so stupid.
How dare you put words in my mouth? You make me sound like a
desperate ninny…”

Morley picked up Grace’s hand and pulled it
to his lips instantly winning a hopeful smile. “Miss Grace, don’t
throw yourself away on this boorish boy I beg you. I know a better
man who’d give anything to make you his wife and he wouldn’t have
to wait two years to buy you all the pretty expensive things a
beautiful young wife deserves.”

“And who is this perfect man my Lord?”

“Grace!” William slapped the keyboard earning
a scowl from his beloved. “Tell me you love me or tell me to go. I
refuse to stand here and watch that rakehell make love to you.”

The young woman pursed her lips as if
contemplating her choices. “If your uncle sends Aunt Lily home and
gives his permission along with a promise of a generous allowance
from your capital I’ll love you forever.”

“What? You can’t put conditions on love. You
either love me or you don’t and what the devil does your Aunt Lily
have to do with us?”

“Mamma says if Aunt Lily comes home I can
have her as a wedding present.”

Penryth’s mask cracked revealing disgust. “Do
you think your mother’s sister is a slave to be given away like a
bed? I wouldn’t allow my wife to return to this hell-mouth if she
begged me. There will be no persuading me in either case.”

“Well Mr Bowen, you can’t want to marry me
very badly. If you loved me, you’d find a way to persuade your
Uncle.”

“How can you judge my love for you on whether
someone else does something? How would you feel if I said I could
only love you if you could persuade your mother to stand on her
head right now? Uncle Penryth wouldn’t change his mind if he was
dangled upside down over a cliff; how can you hold that against
me?”

“How dare you suggest Mamma would do anything
so wicked? You’re a rude beastly man and I never want to see you
again.” William was dismissed with a flick of her head as Grace
smiled at Morley. “My wounded heart longs for comfort; pray who is
this perfect man looking for a wife my Lord?”

Penryth silently escorted his white lipped
nephew back out of the Philips’ house and into their waiting
carriage. His nephew sat with his back to the horses staring out
the far window as London slowly unrolled like a painted scroll.
There was no elation in being right, but there was relief. If any
man deserved to marry Grace Philips it was the Earl of Morley.

When the younger man knocked on the carriage
roof with his stick to stop the carriage and get out Penryth
restrained the impulse to ask where he was going. The footman
closed the door and William disappeared into the night without a
word. He’d get drunk and do something stupid; hopefully he wouldn’t
run off to Scotland to marry a pretty demi-rep in search of an easy
retirement.

As his carriage pulled up outside his London
town house, Penryth was reminded that he had troubles of his own.
It would be a long uncomfortable night in his chair by the fire
worrying about William and dreaming of forgiveness. He stopped by
his bedchamber door and stood there imagining what might have
happened if he hadn’t left the breakfast table to visit Melisande.
Hating himself, he forced himself to walk away. He’d ask Mrs Jones
to let him help make one of Lily’s favorite cakes. With each bite
she’d consume an invisible portion of kindness. That would be the
start. He’d fill her life with so many kindnesses that she’d
eventually forget that she hated him. One day she’d smile and ease
the hellish ache.

Chapter 13

Lily woke in the middle of the night, her
stomach protesting numerous missed meals. Lying on her back, she
was wide awake and hungry. Staring at the dark ceiling, she inhaled
thoughts of Mr Bowen. How could he kiss her as if he loved her and
then go and… The thought of Mr Bowen lying with Lady Gillingham
made her feel nauseous. How could he sully himself with such a
heartless woman? Of course Mr Bowen had admitted before Lady
Gillingham’s visit that he didn’t love his mistress. He’d admitted
he was just using the woman, not that that made it any less sordid.
And if he didn’t care, why had he kicked in her door and begged her
forgiveness? Why didn’t he demand her forgiveness? He’d rescued her
from Rosamund and married her. He could have rescued her and packed
her off to his country house to be a servant. He could have
arranged a small annuity and sent her off to anywhere. He didn’t
have to marry her, but the man appeared to desire to make her
happy. Why? Perhaps the riddle of Mr Bowen was wrapped up with the
enchantment that had turned a swan into a man. Lily’s imagination
wandered until her thoughts looped back to the fact he’d chosen to
marry her. She could hardly blame him for breaking her heart when
she’d accepted his proposal knowing there would be other women.
Since her parents’ death, Rosamund had taken a particular delight
in revealing all the sordid details of Mr Bowen’s love life.

Lily sighed as she pushed away the sickening
thought of Mr Bowen in that woman’s arms. He’d sounded contrite,
but his mistress had verbally attacked his wife and he did have a
fat lip. Had he really made love to that woman pretending she was
Lily? The thought cooked her cheeks with mortifying heat. Why would
he do that? Did he really want to make love to his fat wife? He’d
denied Lady Gillingham’s scandalous claims that Lily was too fat to
share his bed and he had promised he’d never see Lady Gillingham
again, though he didn’t promise not to find another mistress. But
the man had married her out of pity.

Lily sighed in longing. It was stupid to
think he’d ever fall in love with her even if he did like orange
frizzy hair and that’s what really hurt. She’d live the rest of her
life with her cheek pressed against a gold door that could only be
opened from the inside. The door would never open. She’d stare into
strange eyes that seemed to shift between dark brown and dark blue
depending on the light and know that no matter how kind he was,
she’d remain shut out of his heart. She was being stupid again;
allowing her dream world to collide with reality was only making
her miserable.

Her stomach rumbled again demanding
attention. It had a painful emptiness that suggested she’d been
sleeping for several days. Did she dare sneak down to the kitchen
and find something to eat? She hadn’t yet visited the kitchen. She
didn’t know where anything was kept. She reluctantly rolled out
from under her warm bedding and pulled on her thin dressing gown.
She shivered as she watched her breath form a faint haze in the
darkness. After little more than a week of physical comforts her
body was forgetting how to endure deprivation. The key in the lock
was ice cold as she opened the door. She unconsciously walked down
the hall to her broken door; the room was cold, the bed empty. Had
he found some other woman’s bed to warm? She wiped away annoying
tears and tiptoed over creaking floorboards in the direction of
the hall until the faint smell of a coal fire drew her to Mr
Bowen’s sitting room.

Peeking inside, a fire cast soothing
shadows over the wing back chair and black boots resting on the
fender; the master was in residence. Sighing in relief she closed
the door behind her and tiptoed closer. Her husband’s arms were
folded across his chest. His hair jutted out in random unwashed
clumps while a new beard outlined frowning lips. Whatever he was
dreaming it wasn’t pleasant. Would he be angry if she disturbed his
sleep? Her aching stomach urged action. She touched his arm as the
large bracket clock behind her on the wall struck a quarter past
three. “Lily?” He jumped out of the chair smoothing down his hair
as if he needed to look his best in the half-light. “I was hoping
you’d come. I’m so sorry! If there’s anything I can say or
do…?”

“Do you know where Mrs Jones keeps the bread
and cheese? I’m hungry.”


Hungry? Oh…” His shoulders, dark against
the firelight, visibly slumped; he’d obviously thought she’d come
to forgive him. “With reason you’re hungry. You’ve been locked away
for nearly three days…I’ll bring you a tray.”

“I don’t expect…”

“Sit down…please.” He reached out to touch
her face, but withdrew his hand before he could be chastised. “I’ll
be back in a few minutes.” He stood there looking at her for
several seconds before abruptly hurrying out the room. Feeling
emotionally and physically exhausted, Lily crumpled into his
vacated warmth that smelled of sweet tobacco. She sat back and let
the chair embrace her. If only its owner’s arms were equally
innocent, but for a selfish cad he could be uncommonly kind.

And if he hadn’t meant to hurt her; did that
make any difference? It didn’t magically ease the painful ache, but
she hesitantly reviewed the situation from his perspective. Unless
he was lying, which seemed plausible, he’d visited his mistress
because he wanted to make love to his wife, but why? It didn’t make
any sense, but whatever the truth, he’d managed to infuriate both
his mistress and his wife.

Her stomach growled with pleasure as China
chinked against a silver tray as it was lowered onto her lap. “I
brought two cups…” Lily’s heart forgot its wounds as his fingers
lightly brushed against her legs. She had to look at the tray to
understand he was referring to a pot of tea. “May I remain?”

“If you wish…”

“No Mrs Bowen, what do you wish? If you find
my company unpalatable…”

“It’s your house Mr Bowen. I’m hardly going
to dislodge you from the only warm room and send you to freeze in
the hall.”

“It’s your house too Mrs Bowen and if you
wish to be alone I’ll leave.”

“You may remain.”

“Thank you…” His body slumped onto the
fender, the movement stiff and inelegant. Her enchanted swan
appeared to have a broken wing.

“Thank you for bringing me a tray.”

“It was my pleasure.”

“You take your tea black?” The words were
inappropriately mundane.

“Yes.”

She handed him the cup and saucer without
looking at him. She could feel him watching her as she lifted the
silver cover off her dish to reveal a large piece of iced cake,
sliced ham and toasted crumpets. “Oh Mr Bowen…” She picked up a
crumpet and took a large bite.

BOOK: A Companion for Life
3.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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