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Authors: Jennifer McNare

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BOOK: Dreaming of You
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Though he directed an occasional glance toward the woman seated across from him, Gavin’s attention was primarily focused upon his son as they journeyed to the country.  The boy’s exuberant nature and near nonstop chatter was as unanticipated as it was enchanting.  Unlike his sister, who was clearly the quieter and more cautious of the two, William seemed to take to him instantly, almost as if they were old friends.  
It was both wonderful and oddly dispiriting, for although he rejoiced at William’s affability, it pained him beyond measure to know that the delightful young lad seated beside him had absolutely no idea that he was his father.  The only solace was in knowing that
someday
his son would know the truth, as would his daughter.  Of that, he was resolute.  Though he wasn’t certain as to the when or how, there was absolutely no question in his mind that his children
would
learn the truth.
 

Casting another quick glance toward Melody, Gavin could literally see the nervousness and trepidation in her demeanor as she sat gazing out the window, a circumstance he found incredibly gratifying.  He’d deliberately given her no indication as to what to expect when they arrived at Rutherford Park and could only hope that she was anticipating the worst.  It was no more than she deserved.  In fact, she deserved a hell of a lot worse.  However, this particular journey wasn’t about her, it was about William and Emma.  For over four long years he had wondered about the fate of his child, wondering where he or she was, what he or she looked like, what kind of life his child had been given, but now that he’d found them, not one child but two, he would wonder no more.  They were his, and he wanted to know them.  In the days to come he intended to start building a relationship with his children, for he had missed far too much of their young lives already.
 

Turning from the window, Melody inadvertently caught Gavin’s gaze upon her, but the look in his eyes was cool and assessing and she quickly turned away.  Peering down at her daughter, she noticed a stray curl resting against her forehead and reached to gently push it back into place.  Glancing up, Emma smiled and then returned her attention to her book as Melody softly stroked her silky curls.
 

Observing the loving exchange, Gavin might have thought that she’d contrived the tender display merely for his benefit, but as he’d watched her interaction with William and Emma thus far, it was apparent that the affection between Melody and the children was genuine.  It wasn’t what he had expected, for it seemed strangely at odds with the woman he now knew her to be, a cold and calculating schemer willing to do anything, even the most devious and reprehensible acts, to get what she wanted.  For the sake of the children, he was relieved to see that her callousness apparently didn’t extend to her offspring, but still, it did little to change his feelings toward her.  
 

 

 

When the coach finally rolled to a stop in front of his family’s centuries-old country estate, Gavin and Melody had said little more than a handful of words to one another during the ninety minute trip from the city.  Fortunately however, William and Emma had seemed completely unaware of the silent tension between the adults, and could scarcely contain their curiosity and excitement as they got their first glimpse of Rutherford Park through the coach windows.  
 

“Oh, it’s a castle,” Emma exclaimed, her eyes wide.
 

It wasn’t of course, but the grandiose structure was close enough he supposed.  “Grand enough for a princess?” Gavin asked playfully as the door was pulled open by a slender footman dressed in a red and gold uniform, the colors of the Rutherford family crest.  
 

“Yes, oh yes,” she exclaimed.
 

His daughter reminded him a great deal of Natalie as a child, with one noticeable difference.  Unlike Emma, his younger sister hadn’t had a shy bone in her entire body.  “I am very glad that you like it, My Lady.”
 

Emma flashed him a bright smile.  
 

With her large green eyes, chestnut curls and ivory complexion, Gavin recognized that his daughter was destined to be a beauty.  Like her mother, he thought somewhat grudgingly as he rose from his seat.  
 

“Welcome home, Your Grace,” the footman greeted as Gavin exited the vehicle and stepped down onto the wide gravel-covered drive.
 

“Thank you, Thomas.”  Turning, he extended his hand first to Emma, and then to William as they eagerly moved from the shadowed interior of the coach and out into the bright sunshine.
 

Following the children, Melody stepped forward and took Gavin’s outstretched hand.  She wasn’t surprised when he released it the moment her feet touched the ground.  Although his behavior toward her had been nothing but cordial in front of the children and servants, she had no expectation that it would remain so if they were to find themselves alone.  The man she loved despised her, and as heart-wrenching as it was to think it, she feared that nothing she could say or do was ever going to be able to change that.
 

“May we go and see your hounds now, Your Grace?” William asked, looking up at Gavin with a hopeful expression.
 

“Not so fast, scamp,” Gavin chuckled.  “First, there is someone I would like you to meet.”
 

“Who?”
 

“Her name is Jane, Jane Montrose, and she is my mother.”
 

 “Is she a queen?” Emma asked, gazing up at the immense four-story house that did in fact bear a striking resemblance to a fairytale castle.
 

“No Emma, she is not a queen,” Gavin said with a touch of amusement.  “She is the Dowager Duchess of Rutherford.”
 

“Does she know that we are coming?” Emma asked, her expression growing uncertain.
 

“Yes, she does.  In fact, I sent word to her, informing her of our intended visit, just yesterday.”
 

“May we see the Weimaraners after we meet the duchess?”
 

“William,” Melody said in a chiding tone.
 

Gavin however, merely chuckled again and ruffled the boy’s hair.  “I promise,” he said, dropping his hand to William’s shoulder and gently but purposefully directing him toward the house.
 

“Welcome home, Your Grace,” the butler said as the foursome climbed the front steps and crossed the threshold into the grand foyer.  
 

“Thank you, Hawkins,” Gavin replied as he guided the children into the large, two-story room.
 

Entering the house, Melody discovered that the interior of the home was just as impressive as the exterior, the lavish décor an obvious testament to the family’s incredible wealth.  She had little time to admire the beauty of her surroundings however, for Gavin immediately began their introductions to the silver-haired butler, and then quickly began issuing instructions regarding the unloading and subsequent placement of their belongings.  
 

“Is my mother at home?” Gavin asked, once Hawkins had sent the footmen scurrying to their tasks.
 

“Yes, Your Grace.  She is presently taking tea in her sitting room.”
 

Nodding, Gavin turned to Melody.  “Perhaps you and the children would like to explore the rear gardens while I alert my mother of our arrival.”  The letter he’d sent the day before, advising his mother to expect him, as well as the Countess of Edgington and her two children, had been relatively brief and unexplanatory, and thus she was certain to bombard him with question after question the moment she laid eyes upon him.  “Hawkins can direct you.”
 

“Yes of course, that sounds lovely.  Shall we go and stretch our legs for a while children?”
 

“Yes, Mama,” Emma agreed, while William nodded his head in accord, albeit a tad reluctantly.
 

Gavin knew full-well that William was chomping at the bit to see the hounds he’d been telling him about, but unfortunately his young son was going to have to be patient.  His mother would soon learn that he and his guests had arrived, if she hadn’t already, and he needed to speak privately with her before the introductions were made.  He had a great deal of explaining to do.
 

 

 

When he entered the rear gardens some twenty minutes later, Gavin found Melody admiring his mother’s prized rose bushes while the children stood a short distance away, laughing playfully as they tossed tiny pebbles into the elaborate manmade pond that housed a large variety of ornamental fish.
 

Hearing the faint crunch of gravel, Melody looked up and saw Gavin striding down the footpath toward her.  As she had on the very first day Charles had sent her to the cottage, she longed to turn and flee, but now, just as it had been then; she knew that running away was not an option.  Horrified at what Gavin’s mother must think of her, she was dreading the upcoming meeting with the duchess almost as much as she’d dreaded that first trip to the cottage.  Unfortunately, there was little she could do other than to stand and await her fate as Gavin approached.
 

Reaching Melody’s side, Gavin glanced briefly toward the children and was pleased to see that they were still occupied with the pond and hadn’t yet noticed his presence.  Wrestling with what to tell the duchess about Melody and the children, he had ultimately decided to keep the truth of the situation a secret, as it had been for the past several years.  With the loss of his father and brother, the last thing he wanted to do was to cause his mother more pain.  To reveal the shocking and abhorrent purpose of his abduction at this point would only cause her to suffer more than she already had.  So he’d lied.  
 

Keeping his voice low, he apprised Melody of the discussion he’d just had with his mother.  “I told her we had an affair.”
 

Melody blinked in confusion.
 

“I never told my family the reason I was abducted,” he explained.  “And despite the present situation, I see no reason to do so now.  So I lied.”  
 

Melody was stunned.  “You never told them?”
 

“I thought it best that they not know the details.  I told them only that I was physically unharmed during my captivity, and little else.”
 

“Oh.”  She didn’t know what else to say.
 

“I told my mother that you and I had met shortly before I was taken, and that a brief intimate relationship had ensued.  Considering you were married to the earl at the time, it only makes sense that we would have kept it from becoming common knowledge.  I also told her that I was unaware that I was William and Emma’s father until your recent arrival in London, and that you had kept it a secret these past years in order to conceal their illegitimacy.”  
 

“I see.”  So his mother thought her an adulteress.  She supposed it was better than the truth, though not by much.  Regardless, it was probably better than she deserved.
 

“Although the dates do not match up exactly, they are close enough to be plausible.”  
 

It was then that William turned and noted Gavin’s presence.  Calling to his sister, the pair tossed aside the last of their pebbles and rushed toward them.  
 

“Is it time to meet the duchess?” William asked as he came to a stop at Gavin’s side.
 

“We were careful not to soil our clothes,” Emma added proudly, glancing between her mother and the duke.
 

“Well then, you have both done a far sight better than I would have,” Gavin said, eyeing them approvingly.  “When I was a lad, our poor governess was forever chastising my brother and me for muddying our clothes when we played outdoors.”
 

Melody hid her amusement as the children nodded understandingly, their expressions empathetic, for their own governess was constantly cautioning them to keep out of the mud whenever they ventured outside.
 

 

Chapter 21

 

Thankfully Melody’s introduction to the Dowager Duchess of Rutherford wasn’t nearly as difficult as she had feared it would be.  It was due in large part to the presence of the children, for it was apparent at once that Jane Montrose was completely taken with William and Emma.
 

Though Gavin had informed his mother that the children were as yet unaware that he was their father, it was glaringly apparent that the duchess was eager to assume her role as a doting grandmother.  The fact that she had been bemoaning her lack of grandchildren for years, and now, despite the circumstance of their birth, to suddenly be presented with not one, but two, was clearly a joyous, albeit unexpected turn of events.  It was a tremendous relief, for Gavin was fully aware that not all persons of their station would eagerly welcome an illegitimate child, or children as it were, into their midst with open arms.  In fact, most wouldn’t.
 

“Would you care for another, dear?” Jane asked, as William once again eyed the silver serving tray laden with an assortment of delicious sweetmeats.  
 

“Yes please,” he replied from his seat next to the duchess, and then reached eagerly for another one of the tempting morsels.
 

“And you, dear?” she asked Emma, who was seated on the settee to her right.
 

“No thank you,” she answered softly.
 

“Emma isn’t nearly as fond of sweets as William,” Melody stated with an indulgent smile toward her children.  She was seated across from the duchess and the children upon a beautiful armchair adorned with yellow and blue gros-point needlework that must surely have cost a small fortune, while Gavin occupied the matching chair next to her.  The exquisitely decorated parlor, yet another indication of the Rutherford’s enormous wealth and impeccable taste, was extraordinary to say the least.  There were priceless works of art displayed throughout the room, and Melody found herself hard-pressed to keep her gaze from straying from one magnificent piece to another.  Though impressive in its own right, Edgington Hall paled in comparison.
 

BOOK: Dreaming of You
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