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Authors: Bertrice Small

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Fiction

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BOOK: Bedazzled
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The duke and duchess of Glenkirk departed Scotland on the seventh of January, arriving at their house in London, Greenwood, on the thirtieth of the month. There was barely time for their clothing to be unpacked and pressed. Waiting for them upon their arrival was Viscount Twyford, filled with news. James Leslie was not pleased to see the young man, but listened politely.
The queen, it seemed, would not be at the coronation. Once again she had taken the counsel of her religious advisors, ignoring the pleas of both her mother and her brother, the king of France, who wanted her crowned with her husband. Henrietta, however, had been convinced by Bishop de Mende that the Protestant archbishop of Canterbury could not possibly place the crown of England upon her Roman Catholic head. Only he, a French Catholic bishop, could.
As that was completely unacceptable to the English, the queen would not be crowned at all; nor would she be in the abbey when her husband was. Of course the queen’s behavior was outrageous. The duke of Buckingham was openly irate at what he claimed was an insult to England’s church, and to Charles himself. The entire court was talking about it, Adrian Leigh told them, all the while throwing languishing glances at India, who kept sneaking peeks at him from beneath her dark lashes.
Adrian Leigh’s mother had, to his annoyance, come up to London for the coronation. When she learned from her son that India would also be there, she began to advise him, and while he was no longer fond of her as he had been when he was a boy, he had to admit she was a wretchedly clever woman.
“Her stepfather will not even discuss the matter of marriage with me,” Viscount Twyford told his mother. “I attempted to bring it up today when I went to Greenwood to welcome them back to London. I asked if we might speak privately, but he held up that big hand of his and said there was nothing I had to say to him that would possibly be of interest to him. How the hell can I ask for the girl’s hand if he won’t let me? India says he disapproves of our family because of the Lord Jeffers murder,
and
because of your poor reputation. Why the hell must you consort with men of such low station, madame? If you must take a lover, could it at least be one of noble blood? Could you not at least be discreet?”
“Blue blood runs cold,” MariElena Leigh replied dryly. “Besides, Adrian, my lovers are not your concern.”
MariElena Leigh was still a beautiful woman with smooth white skin, dark hair, and large, exciting dark eyes. Reaching out with very long, slender fingers, she plucked a sweetmeat from the plate before her and popped it into her mouth, the pointed tip of her pink tongue catching a drizzle of honey from the corner of her sensuous mouth.
“When the scandals you create endanger my marrying one of the wealthiest virgins in England, madame, they most certainly do concern me,” he told her angrily.
“You cannot erase what has been, Adrian,” she said. “If her family objects to you, you must take another tact, my dearest. I am surprised you have not considered it. Does the girl love you?”
“She believes she does,” he said thoughtfully, “but I am the only man ever to kiss her, or try to court her. She is inexperienced, and has been very sheltered by her family. They have allowed her to refuse the eligible suitors who have come courting her. And why? She believes they were only after her wealth. I, on the other hand, have never mentioned her wealth. Although I am told by those who know that she is an heiress of considerable property.”
“A fat dowry could help us to rebuild Oxton Court,” his mother said slowly. “
Do you love her?
Could you be happy with this girl?”
“She is perhaps a trifle too independent for my taste, but her wealth makes it possible to overlook her behavior. Besides, once we are married, and I have control over India, I will see she changes her ways. The women in her family are very fecund, and several children should take a great deal of the spunk out of her.” He laughed. “I will enjoy having her in my bed. Aye, madame, I could be content with Lady India Lindley and her wealth.”
“Then you are going to have to reach out and take what you want, mγ son,” his mother said. She licked the sweetness from her fingers.
“What do you mean?” he demanded. “Her stepfather will not even speak to me except when forced to do so, madame.”
“Adrian, if you do not take this girl while you have the chance to take her, I can guarantee you that the duke of Glenkirk will see you do not get another chance at her. Convince her to elope with you. Even if you are caught before you can marry her, her reputation will be totally ruined. No one else will want her, and you will win by default,” the countess of Oxton said to her son.
“I don’t want to get caught,” he replied. “I want to wed her, and bed her before her family can intervene. If we were stopped before I could accomplish those two things, the duke is quite capable of dragging India back to Scotland and marrying her off to some highlander who would know nothing of the scandal; and finding his bride a virgin, would be satisfied with the match. I must take her someplace that they are unlikely to look for us at first.
But where?”
“Take her to Napoli, to my brother’s house,” his mother suggested. “Your uncle Giovanni will welcome you at Villa di Carlo. You can marry the girl, and bed her to your heart’s content The Leslies of Glenkirk are unlikely to seek you there, for how could they know of it? When she has given you a son, then bring her home to England. Her family will be forced to welcome you then, Adrian.”
For the first time in many years, Adrian Leigh embraced his beautiful mother. “You are so damnably clever, madame!” he said. “You have always looked after my best interests. It is perfect!”
She shook him off gracefully. “You must convince the girl, Adrian, and, believe me, it will not be easy.” She sat back in her chair, and, reaching for her goblet sipped the wine he had earlier poured them.
“Why not? She loves me,” he declared with the enthusiasm of his youth. Picking up his own goblet, he swallowed the cool red wine thirstily until the goblet was empty.
“She loves her family, too,” the countess of Oxton replied wisely. “She will be torn between you both. You will have to make her choose you over them, my son, or you have not a chance, despite her feelings.”
“But how, Mother?”
“We must make certain that the duke and his family continue in their coldness toward you despite your charm and good manners. The sweeter you appear, and the chillier their reception, particularly if it is in Lady India’s presence, will only help but make the girl take your side. Do not at any time criticize her family, my dearest. Defend them, saying if you had a beautiful daughter, you would want to protect her, too, from what you believed was an unsuitable match. Remind her what a fine old family the Leighs are. Say things like ‘We are not wealthy or powerful people like your family, but we are honorable and noble.’ That, too, will make her take your part. You will appear to be a worthy and virtuous young man, held unfairly responsible for the wicked behavior of your elder brother, and your flighty mother, neither of whom you approve of, and would disown if it would not break your poor old father’s heart.”
Adrian Leigh laughed, genuinely amused by his mother’s cunning. “You are absolutely diabolical,” he said. “Again I say it is a perfect plan, Mother, and I thank you.” He leaned from his own chair and kissed her cheek.
“If she proves too reluctant, Adrian, you must make love to her in order to convince her. I do not mean you should deflower the girl, but I assume, from what you have told me, that you have only traded kisses with her so far. Caress her breasts. First through the fabric of her gown, and then, if you can, slip your hand into her bodice and gently fondle her. Be certain not to frighten her, however, else you lose your advantage with her.”
“I should like that,” he said softly. “She has the most tempting little breasts I have ever seen.”
The countess of Oxton smiled at her son knowingly. He was a great deal more like her than he was willing to admit. His wife would not be unhappy with him as she had been with her son’s father, the cold bastard.
The king was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Candlemas Day, February 2, 1626. The queen watched the procession from a window in the gatehouse of Whitehall Palace. The king wore a white satin suit, but, overall, the coronation was an austere event as the royal treasury was almost bare. Only the generosity of several wealthy families, prevailed upon by the duke of Buckingham, made it possible for there to be a celebratory feast afterward. The duke and duchess of Glenkirk had kept a sharp eye on India, whose behavior was demure in the great abbey. Afterward, when they entered the banquet hall at Whitehall, however, India managed to give her parents the slip, and find her way to Adrian Leigh, who greeted her warmly.
Helpless to stop her without causing a scene, James Leslie nonetheless saw where she went. Back at Greenwood House that evening, he paced the family hall angrily. “She hae deliberately disobeyed us, Jasmine, and I for one hae had enough of her willfulness. We will leave for Scotland at the beginning of the week.”
“What good will that do?” his wife asked. “India will correspond with young Leigh, and we will be returning to England come summer.”
“There will be nae more letters! By summer India will be either betrothed or, better yet, married,” James Leslie replied firmly. “Since India will nae choose a suitable match for herself, we will choose one for her.”
“Ohh, Jemmie!” his wife murmured. “I don’t like to do that to India. I want her to love the man she marries.”
“Your father chose Prince Jamal, your first husband, for you. You dinna know him until you married him, and yet you were happy,” the duke reminded his wife. “Your grandparents chose Rowan Lindley, India’s father, as your second husband, and you grew to love him, didn’t you? So much so that you almost died when he was killed. King James chose me as your third husband, and we have nae been unhappy, hae we? I know you love me, darling Jasmine, and I certainly love you. India is behaving in a childish manner. She hae deliberately fixated herself upon an unsuitable man, and refuses to look elsewhere, because she thinks if she continues in her stubbornness she will, as she hae many times before, get her own way. But this time it is nae about a gown or a puppy. This is India’s life, and I will nae hae her miserable for the rest of it because she chose the wrong man. I owe that to her father.”
“Have you any ideas for an appropriate match?” Jasmine asked.
“Well, I would hae you ask your aunt Willow about eligible young Englishmen, and I know both Angus Drummond and Ian MacCrae hae unmarried sons. They would be more than favorable to a match wi our daughter. Both the Drummonds and the MacCraes are solid families. Nae great titles, but educated, and nae fanatical where religion is concerned. Still, your aunt may know of some suitable young noblemen, and India, being English by birth, might prefer to live in England near her two brothers, Henry and Charlie, and your family.”
“I suppose it is the only way,” Jasmine said reluctantly. Her husband might be taking a firm approach, but he certainly wasn’t being unreasonable, she thought. India, of course, would rage and howl, but they had no other choice. Her mother-in-law had been right when she had suggested that India was ripe for bedding. Before the girl caused a scandal with the wrong man, they were going to have to marry her off to someone more eligible.
“By summer we’ll hae a wedding,” the duke decided firmly. “Then you and I will hae to consider what to do about Fortune, for she will be sixteen in July, and should also be wed.”
“I had thought to take her to Ireland,” Jasmine said. “I had always intended giving her MacGuire’s Ford and its lands. I think she should therefore have an Irish, or Anglo-Irish husband, Jemmie.”
“Excellent!” he agreed.
“We
will take Fortune to Ireland this summer. Henry will go to Cadby, Charlie to Queen’s Malvern. Patrick will remain at Glenkirk in my stead, and the other two lads may either go down to England, or remain at Glenkirk. Then it is settled, my love?”
Jasmine nodded. “It is all for the best,” she agreed. “It is past time we established the girls, but I hate to lose them. The time has gone so quickly. Just yesterday they were little lasses, running barefoot through the vineyards at Belle Fleurs. Do you remember the first summer we brought them to Glenkirk and they swam naked in the loch? I remember how they splashed and giggled, refusing to come out of the water even when their lips were blue with the icy, icy cold.” Her eyes grew moist. “Where did my little girls go, Jemmie? Where did they go?”
He put a comforting arm about her. He had no answer to such a question.
In a dark corner of the family hall India had listened to her parents so cruelly deciding her fate. Now she sidled carefully from her hiding place and slipped into the hallway of the house, bumping into her sister, Fortune, as she exited.
“You’ve been eavesdropping!” Fortune accused her.
“Be quiet!
” India hissed. “Mama and Papa will hear you. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I was in the hall when they came in, and they didn’t see me, so I hid in a dark place, and listened. You won’t believe what I heard! Some of it concerns you. Come on!” She half dragged her younger sibling up the stairs to the bedchamber they shared. Closing the door behind her, she announced dramatically, “We are to be married!”
BOOK: Bedazzled
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