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Authors: Jennifer McNare

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BOOK: Dreaming of You
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Once he reached the privacy of his coach, Gavin’s jaw tightened and his teeth clenched, his features turning as hard as granite as his anger built to a burning rage.  
God damn her to hell
, he thought furiously.  
 

As his driver maneuvered the vehicle through the busy London streets, Gavin once again leaned his head back against the seat, closing his eyes.  This time however, he tried to focus on his anger, for if he could stay focused on that, then perhaps he could keep the pain at bay.  Unfortunately however, it wasn’t that easy, for as each second ticked by the crushing pain that squeezed his heart like the tightening of a vise only continued to grow stronger and more pronounced, until finally he could fight it no longer.  It had all been a lie.  He’d trusted her, cared about her, and she had betrayed him, both then and now.  No not she,
she
had a name now.  It was Melody.
 

Melody Cavendish, the angelically beautiful Countess of Edgington had lied to him, deceived him, and played him like a fool, time and again.  
God, what an accomplished actress!
  With a talent like hers she should be on stage, performing for the masses.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for Nelson’s inadvertent revelations, he likely never would have uncovered the truth.  Blinded by her tantalizing beauty and deceptively innocent charm, he might never have discovered what a cruel, heartless bitch lurked beneath that disingenuous façade.  
Lies, all lies.
  Those same three words reverberated in his head again and again, like the relentless beating of a drum.  As much as he hated to acknowledge it, it hurt even more than he could have thought possible.
 

Eventually however, his thoughts turned in a different direction.  
William and Emma
.  As difficult as it was to believe, he’d had not one child stolen from him but two, a son
and
a daughter.  He had two children, children whose faces he had never seen, children who had no idea that
he
was their father.  He felt his pain slowly give way to the anger once again.  They were his, a part of him, his very blood, and they had been taken from him in the cruelest and most callous manner imaginable.  
William and Emma,
his children.
 

He could well-understand Nelson’s anger now.  As implausible as it seemed,
his
son, the boy who should have been
his
heir, was instead the current Earl of Edgington.  Knowing full-well the child wasn’t his, Charles Cavendish had left his title, as well as his entire fortune to another man’s son.  Was it as Nelson had claimed?  Was Charles so besotted by his beautiful young wife that he’d willingly aided her in her scheme, kidnapping the son of a peer and close business associate, and then allowing another man’s bastard to inherit everything?  The notion that Melody could have wielded such power over her husband was extraordinary.  Then again, he’d fallen into her trap as well, he reluctantly acknowledged.  He recalled the air of innocence she’d projected the first time she’d come to the cottage and again at the Middleton’s ball.  The tears, the hesitancy, the fear she’d exhibited that first afternoon, clearly it had all been a sham to illicit his sympathy and cooperation, and it had worked perfectly.  What a dammed fool he’d been, he thought again.
 

When the coach ultimately pulled to a stop in front of Rutherford House a short time later, Gavin’s mind was set.  At long last he finally had his answers, and now, someone was going to pay.  Fortunately for Charles Cavendish, there was little he could do to a dead man.
 

 

 

 

When Melody exited the parlor a few minutes later, her tears had all been wiped away and she could only hope that her features revealed nothing of her inner turmoil.  Walking up to where Mr. Burke stood in the front foyer, her expression was deceptively calm and composed.  “Mr. Burke, would you please advise the staff that the children and I have accepted an invitation to visit the Dowager Duchess of Rutherford at her country home, and that we will be departing first thing in the morning.”
 

If Mr. Burke was surprised by the sudden announcement, the slight widening of his eyes was the only indication.  “Of course, My Lady.”
 

“If you could have the traveling cases sent upstairs as soon as possible,” she continued, “I shall instruct Elizabeth and Miss Tibbs to begin preparing our things.”
 

He nodded.  “Will you need the travelling coach readied as well, My Lady?”
 

“No, that won’t be necessary.  His Grace has kindly offered to serve as our escort, and will be by to collect us in the morning.”  
 

“I see.  Is there anything else you would like me to see to, My Lady?”
 

“No, Mr. Burke, that is all.  Thank you.”  
 

As she made her way up the stairs, Melody could only speculate as to what her imperturbable butler was thinking at that moment, but if she had learned anything useful from her late husband, it was that thankfully she owed no explanations to those in her employ.   
 

 

Chapter 20

 

As promised, Gavin presented himself at the Cavendish residence first thing the following morning.  As he entered through the front door, he was pleased to see several large traveling cases waiting in the foyer and quickly instructed the butler to have them loaded within the second coach waiting out front.  Then, while the older man issued orders to the uniformed footmen standing in attendance, he stood impatiently as he waited for Melody and the children to be informed of his presence and to make their appearance.
 

Clearly she’d been awaiting his arrival, for she and the children descended the sweeping marble staircase just a few minutes later.  Stepping forward, his expression was guarded as he watched the trio make their way down the wide steps, his gaze shifting back and forth between the young boy and girl, his son and daughter.  It was an extraordinary, yet strangely disconcerting moment.
 

The realization that Gavin was seeing his children for the very first time had Melody once again fighting back tears.  After last night, she’d thought that she had finally cried herself out, but apparently that wasn’t the case.  As she fought them back now, she tried to imagine what it would be like if their roles were reversed, if it was she who was seeing William and Emma, her own flesh and blood, for the first time.  With her beloved children’s hands held tightly within her own, it was heartbreakingly painful to even contemplate such a thing.  What a fool she’d been to think for even a second that he could ever forgive her for her part in taking them from him.
 

When at last they stood before him, Gavin was rendered momentarily speechless, for the two sets of curious eyes gazing up at him were the exact same shade of green as his own.
 

“Children, this is His Grace, the Duke of Rutherford,” she began, nudging them forward, “the gentleman I told you about.  Please say hello.”
 

“Hello, Your Grace,” they echoed, nearly in unison.
 

“Your Grace, please allow me to introduce you to… my children, William and Emma.”  The guilt she felt, introducing Gavin to his own children, was nearly crushing in its intensity.
 

Recovering himself, Gavin managed to find his voice.  “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, William, Emma,” he said, nodding politely to each of them in turn, before turning his attention to their mother.  “Lady Edgington, good morning.”  He nodded again.
 

Melody attempted a smile.  “I hope we haven’t kept you waiting long.”
 

“No, not at all.”  For the sake of the children, he returned her smile with an artificial one of his own.  “If you are ready to depart, my coach is waiting out front.”
 

 

 

As they entered the duke’s elegant traveling coach, Melody took the rear-facing seat, sitting the children one on each side of her.
 

Stepping up into the vehicle, Gavin settled himself onto the unoccupied seat across from the trio as one of the footmen closed the door and raised the step.  Within moments they were off.
 

“What is that?” William asked curiously, before they had gone more than a mile, pointing to the wrapped package that rested upon the seat next to the duke.
 

“William,” Melody admonished gently.  “That is His Grace’s and none of your affair, kindly remember your manners.”
 

“Yes, Mama,” William said, looking sheepishly down at the tips of his brown leather boots.
 

“Actually, it’s for you,” Gavin stated, causing William to look up, his expression brightening at once.
 

“For me?”
 

“And for your sister,” he clarified, casting a smile toward Emma.  Like her brother’s, her face lit up as she turned her wide-eyed gaze toward the package.
 

Lifting the parcel from the seat, Gavin swiftly unwrapped the heavy paper and extracted the two books from within.  On an impulse, he’d picked up the toy books at a nearby shop just before he’d arrived at the Cavendish residence.  Filled with dozens of brightly-colored illustrations, he’d thought the books might help to keep the children entertained during the hour and a half long journey to Rutherford Park.  Handing one to William and the other to Emma, he was inordinately pleased by their reactions.
 

“Thank you, Your Grace,” Emma said, smiling shyly as she accepted the gift.
 

“Thank you, Your Grace,” William echoed as he grinned and eagerly reached for the book.
 

“That was very thoughtful of you.”  Melody’s soft spoken statement drew Gavin’s gaze and for a brief moment it was free of animosity.  He was so devastatingly handsome, just looking into his eyes left her feeling slightly breathless.
 

“I thought they might help to pass the time.”  
 

“I am certain they will.”  
 

“Mama, look at the pretty pony.”
 

Melody pulled her gaze from Gavin’s face and turned her attention to Emma.  Her daughter held the book open in her lap, her expression full of wonder as she pointed to a small white horse with a garland of vibrantly-colored flowers encircling its neck.  
 

“Isn’t she beautiful,” Emma breathed, as her finger traced along the horse’s back.
 

“Oh my yes.  She’s a true beauty,” Melody agreed.  “Grand enough for a princess I would imagine.”
 

Emma nodded her agreement.  “Yes, she is surely grand enough for a princess, perhaps even a queen.”
 

“Mama, look here,” William requested.  “See this hound.  I’d like to have a pup just like this one,” he said as she turned her head, placing the tip of his finger below the illustration of a noble-looking grey-colored hound walking alongside his master, a waterfowl clamped firmly between his teeth.  “Isn’t he fine?”
 

“Indeed.  He is quite a remarkable-looking fellow,” she said approvingly.  “Perhaps His Grace would like to see as well.”
 

Thinking the boy would simply turn the book around to show him the picture, Gavin was surprised when William immediately slid from his seat and swiftly moved across the coach, climbing up to sit beside him, and then opening the book wide as he pointed out the hound he admired.
 

“Isn’t he fine?” William asked again, turning his gaze up to the duke.
 

Gavin made a point of studying the hound with great thoroughness before he responded.  “You have a good eye William,” he said, nodding in appreciation.  “That particular hound is called a Weimaraner, and they are widely known to be exceptionally good hunters.”
 

William smiled widely, scooting closer to Gavin as he let the book fall open between them.  “Do you have any Wei…mar…aners?” he asked, struggling a bit with the unfamiliar word.
 

“I do.  As a matter of fact, I have two of them,” he said.  “I could show them to you when we reach Rutherford Park if you like.”
 

“Oh yes.”  William nodded enthusiastically.  “That would be grand.”
 

Watching as William and Gavin studied the pages of the book, William delighting at each new illustration, then regaling Gavin with a plethora of questions and observations, Melody felt a wide range of emotions.  To see her children reunited with their father was something she had always dreamed of and it filled her with a profound sense of joy.  Yet at the same time, knowing how much time they had lost, she also felt an overwhelming sense of sorrow and regret.  In addition, she felt an enormous sense of trepidation, for she had no idea
if
or
when
Gavin meant to tell the children the truth of their relationship to him.  However, she suddenly realized that it might not matter what Gavin intended, for with the two of them now seated side by side, the resemblance between he and William became glaringly apparent.  As Melody studied their features she was astounded by the similarities and couldn’t help but think that others might notice as well.
 

As the coach raced along the wide dirt road en route to Rutherford Park, and as she pondered the purpose of their trip, Melody grew increasingly desperate to know if Gavin was simply making an attempt to get to know William and Emma, or if he intended to tell them that he was their father?  Frustrated, she could only sit and wonder, for she still knew no more now about his intentions than she had the day before.  Glancing back and forth between the children, she couldn’t fathom what their reaction might be to such a shocking revelation.  They were still so young, so blissfully innocent and trusting.  How would they react, knowing that she had lied to them about their father?  How could she explain it to them?  How would she make them understand?  The unanswered questions filled her with dread.  Turning her gaze to the window, she felt her eyes grow moist and blinked back the onslaught of tears yet again.
 

BOOK: Dreaming of You
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