Read A Companion for Life Online

Authors: Cari Hislop

Tags: #historical romance, #regency romance, #romance story, #cari hislop, #romance and love, #romance novel

A Companion for Life (5 page)

BOOK: A Companion for Life
6.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“I changed my mind.” Lily waited to hear him
refute that he thought her ugly, but the statement went
unchallenged causing her heart to drop pumping tears to her red
eyes.

“But Grace longs to be a countess; she talks
about it all the time. What am I supposed to tell her? Sorry Goosey
you’ll have to be plain Mrs Bowen forever now that your Aunt Lily
has ruined your dream?”

“Grace may still become a Countess if fate
decrees it. None of us live forever.”

“Why are you doing this? Why would you marry
a penniless old maid who’d break your leg if she tried to sit on
your knee?”

“I have my reasons…”

“Uncle Penryth, you have to annul this
abomination and take her home at once. The whole Philips household
is in uproar. Grace was so upset that her Aunt Lily had abandoned
them she couldn’t leave her room to see me. The servants were
running around screaming obscenities. The younger children were
sobbing. Mrs Philips was in bed with a migraine. Mr Philips says he
won’t have a moment’s peace until you bring Lily home. The house is
in chaos. They need her!”

“Finders keepers, losers’ weepers…” Lily
wiped away her tears and sighed in relief. The elder Mr Bowen
didn’t sound inclined to send her anywhere.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means I’m keeping my wife and I don’t
care what happens in the Philips’ household. When you see my wife’s
bruises you won’t question my actions.”

“Did she tell you Mr Philips beat her black
and blue? It so happens she lost her balance and fell down the
stairs. She’s always tripping and falling. She’s tricked you into
feeling pity and now you’ve been saddled with a useless woman who
brings you nothing, but a higher food bill.”

“She didn’t fall down the stairs
William.”

“Is that what she told you?”

“She told me nothing and that nothing was
quite revealing.”

“And you assumed she’d been beaten so you
rode to her rescue like an avenging knight and chained yourself to
a worthless woman?”

“My wife is neither worthless nor a
yarn-spinner.” The words had a chill that made Lily shiver. She
wouldn’t want him to speak to her in that cold voice. “I don’t care
what you think. You’ll be polite to your new Aunt Lily and make her
feel welcome. Starting right now; each unkind word spoken or
implied in this house or in her hearing will cost you a month’s
allowance. I’d rather hang myself then send her back to that hell.
If you don’t like my new companion you may marry Grace over an
anvil and live with her parents.”

“But Uncle Penryth, what am I to tell Grace?
She wants to be a countess.”

“Unless she was planning my early demise,
there was never any certainty that she’d outlive me to bear the
honour. You’ll simply have to tell her that it’s become more
unlikely.”

“But she won’t be happy.”

“Happiness isn’t having a title. If she loves
you…”

“She does love me!”

“As she loves you, she’ll swallow her
disappointment and find other reasons to be happy. You’ve a decent
inheritance, you’re young, handsome and you have a generally
pleasant disposition when you aren’t being a selfish toad; what
more could a woman want?”

“A title…what if she jilts me? I couldn’t
bear it.”

“She’d be a fool to let you go.”

“But I love her…I want to make her
happy.”

“You can’t make anyone happy; you can merely
be happy and hope your good spirits will influence others.”

“I feel like I’m in the middle of the ocean
with dwindling rations. It’ll be two years before I sight
land.”

“I’ll give you five hundred pounds. That
should buy something to light up her eyes…” Lily’s eyes went wide.
She knew Mr Bowen wasn’t poor, but it seemed almost unthinkable
that anyone could casually offer to waste five hundred pounds on
Grace. Lily opened her mouth to say Grace wouldn’t be happy if she
owned the world, but silently closed her bruised lips. The young
man wouldn’t believe anything she said. Wishing she’d stayed in bed
with her fingers in her ears, Lily hobbled back to bed feeling even
more miserable.

Fifteen minutes later a knock on her door
made her start jarring her aches and pains. “Mrs Bowen?” Hearing
her husband’s voice made her start again. Jerking her blanket over
her head she closed her eyes and prayed she’d die of shame; he
wouldn’t be saddled with an unwanted wife and she wouldn’t be
tormented with silly thoughts of sharing his kisses. The door
opened and then closed. The floorboards merely moaned as he
approached the bed. When she’d walked to the fire they’d creaked as
if about to crack. The unpleasant image of sitting on her husband’s
knee and breaking his leg made her feel worse. “It’s gone eleven.
Would you like some supper?”

“I’m not hungry.” The mattress moved. Was he
sitting on the bed in his red dressing gown?” The longing to look
at him was nullified by the knowledge he found her ugly.

“Why are you covering your head? Do you think
I’d visit you unclothed?” Lily could only be grateful the blanket
hid her acute embarrassment. “Have I said something to upset you?”
Lily’s throat was too tight to lie. “You’re not crying again are
you?” Lily’s choking sobs seemed to silence him for several
minutes. “Do you need some more laudanum?”

“Yes.” She’d keep taking laudanum; she’d
sleep forever then she wouldn’t have to face him.

“You can’t have it on an empty stomach. It
might give you nightmares. You’ll have to eat first. I’ll get your
tray while you remove your shroud.” The benign dictator had spoken.
She was being stupid again. What did it matter if the man thought
her ugly? He’d only married her out of pity. After he left the room
she sat up too despondent to get out of bed and find her shawl.

Ten minutes later her eyes slid towards the
closing door. He was balancing a silver tray on his hip. Her heart
begged her not to die, if only to be able to see him every night in
his half unbuttoned red dressing gown. The fabric appeared alive as
it flowed around his calf length nightshirt and bare legs. Blushing
she looked down at her lap where a few minutes later masculine
hands protruding from red silk sleeves set down the tray. Instead
of leaving he sat down on the bed and stared at her. “Thank
you.”

“It was nothing…did you sleep well?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Slaying dragons and rescuing maidens
in dreams is beyond even my abilities.” His teasing tone cast a
spell on her eyes, dragging them up to his face lit by the candle
on her tray. She could easily imagine him slaying dragons.

“Did you have a good day?” It was an inane
question. What was the man supposed to say? I married a fat ugly
penniless stranger; yes I had a very good day.

 

“It wasn’t dull. I married a woman who’ll
never send me on a quest to India in the hope that I’ll die of
fever so she can marry a lover. I had a pleasant luncheon with my
bride, battled a dragon and then paid a visit to my mistress who on
finding I’d become a husband tried to brain me with ceramics.”
Hearing him mention his mistress caused Lily to inhale as she
swallowed filling her lungs with chicken soup. She coughed over her
tears as a helpful hand tapped her on the back until she was
breathing air again. The hand remained on her back. “Good. You’re
still on the land of the living.” The hand fondled her thick braid
of hair and then retreated.

Lily wanted to sink down into the mattress
and disappear, but she had to know. “Do you love her?”

“Her?”

“Your mistress.”

“Do I love Lady Gillingham? No.”

“Is she beautiful?”

“On the surface…you’re not crying again are
you?”

“No.” It was an obvious lie as Lily wiped
away fresh tears.

“Good. I insist you eat and breathe
separately unless you want people to think I killed you.” Lily
found it difficult to swallow as images of Mr Bowen holding a
beautiful naked woman in his arms were papered on the inside of her
brain. “Is something wrong? You look upset.”

“It’s nothing…”

“Ah, that evil nothing again; does it bother
you I have a mistress?”

She stared at her tray wanting to scream,
‘Yes it does!’ “It’s none of my concern.”

“When the lady insults you by hinting she’s
intimately acquainted with your husband it will be your concern.
Will you take a lover if my company proves…unstimulating?”

“Of course not…that would be wicked.”

“Do you think me wicked for bedding another
man’s wife?”

“Yes.” Her husband smiled in amusement as his
eyes trailed over her chest. She shivered as two strange fires
collided in her spine.

“Shall you attempt to reform my evil ways Mrs
Bowen?”

“No.”

His eyes widened in exaggerated disbelief.
“But you’re my wife…” The words had a teasing tone that felt like a
taunt. “…wives always try to reform their husbands. I understand
it’s inevitable as sunrise.”

“I rather think it’s the other way round.”
Lily blushed at her temerity as she glanced up to see if he was
angry. An amused smile egged her to continue. “Men are always
trying to change the women in their lives with unpleasant
consequences. I couldn’t change you any more than I could change
Rosamund. And what good would it do if I could? Just because I
don’t think you should be…you know. Who am I to tell you how to
live your life?”

“True, I’d have to assent to the reformation
and why would I do that?”

Lily glanced over her spoon heaped with bread
pudding. The teasing tone was suddenly serious as if he genuinely
desired an answer. “I’ve no idea.”

He abruptly reached out and lightly caressed
one of the bruises on her face. “Your sister did this to you,
didn’t she?”

Her eyes filled with tears blurring her
pudding and his sudden look of irritation. “Grace had one of her
rages. I had to stay with her so she wouldn’t harm herself or leave
her room. It’s part…was part of my duties. Afterwards, Rosamund
blamed me for…for letting Grace fall asleep on the floor. She lost
her temper.” Her spoonful of bread pudding visibly shook as she
sniffed back more tears. “If anything went wrong it was always my
fault.”

“They both hurt you?”

“Yes.”

A string of coarse adjectives were
whispered away into the darkness. Lily wiped her eyes as her spoon
still weighted with one of her favorite desserts dropped to her
tray. Sharing the awful truth made her feel sick with worry.
Exposing the truth could only cause countless unseen problems that
would all be her fault. Why hadn’t she died? She’d bring Mr Bowen
only misery and as his nephew had pointed out, a higher food bill.
“Lily…” The way he’d said her name was like hearing a familiar song
sung for the first time by someone who could sing. He reached out
again and caressed her cheek causing pleasurable shivers. “…I
insist you tell me if they so much as pinch you.”

“But I’m your wife; they wouldn’t hurt me
now.”

“Wouldn’t they? I don’t trust any of them.
Apparently the Philips household is in an uproar without you; they
miss you now you’re gone. Isn’t that touching? No please don’t
cry…”

“I can’t help it Mr Bowen; I feel so happy.
You’re so good and kind. Even if you only married me to irritate
Rosamund; I’ll be a good wife. I won’t be a burden. I’ll only eat
one meal a day. I only need three new dresses a year and I’m good
with a needle so I can make them myself. I don’t need a fire in my
room and I won’t complain if you see your mistress every day…”

“Lily…” The way he said her name made her
sound beautiful. “…eat as much of whatever you want. Don’t you dare
go hungry and think I’d be pleased. Order three hundred and
sixty-four dresses every year if you wish. And if you dare go to
bed in a cold room I shall come in the night and make a fire so
large you’ll dream it’s mid-summer. As for Lady Gillingham, I
rarely visit her more than twice a week though I must admit after
this afternoon I wouldn’t care if I ever saw her again. A woman who
hopes her adoring husband dies of fever so she can marry one of her
lovers for a more prestigious title makes a man uncomfortable. You
on the other hand are extremely comfortable.”

“Am I?”

“Yes and I’ve always liked your smile.”
Lily’s mouth fell open, her eyes wide with disbelief as his hand
came to rest on the bedclothes covering her knee. “It’s rather
distorted at the moment…” Lily’s brain was incapable of digesting
his words. What was distorted? Her thoughts were certainly
distorted. How could thoughts be organized when there were only a
few layers of cloth between his hand and her leg? “…but I remember
how it looked when you used to greet me with such enthusiasm.
You’re not going to cry again…?”

“No…”

“Good. After Rosamund jilted me I should have
asked you to marry me.” The words were matter of fact. “At least I
would have found a smiling bride at the altar, though I dare say
your parents would have made me wait years for the privilege. Would
you have accepted your sister’s discarded fiancé?”

“Lily’s heart felt like it was being
flattened by rocks as she stared at her tray with bitter
disappointment. “Please don’t tease me Mr Bowen, not about
that.”

She felt him touch her face, but didn’t look
up. “I wasn’t teasing Mrs Bowen. Eat your pudding; I’ll prepare
your medicine.” Humming a cheerful tune, his hand reluctantly slid
off her leg and picked up the candlestick. He seemed to hesitate
before rising. As soon as she counted three moaning steps she
allowed herself to look up. The light threw his back into darkness
revealing only faint slashes of deep red as he walked over to a
dressing table and carefully measured the opium drops into a glass
of water. What did he mean when he said he wasn’t teasing? The
question swirled around her brain making her feel dizzy. She looked
up after he placed the glass on the tray still resting on her
lap.

BOOK: A Companion for Life
6.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen
Shadow Play by Barbara Ismail
The Turning by Francine Prose
After the Rains by Deborah Raney
Summer by the Sea by Jenny Hale
One Night Rodeo by Lorelei James