Authors: Maggie Ryan,Blushing Books
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Victorian, #Regency, #Historical Romance
Women of Wintercrest – Book 4
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Lucy finally accepted the truth of Edward's promise. She would not be handed over to some man she did not love. Edward saw her smile as it lit her face, her eyes clear and shining. He understood that she had finally accepted his gift, one that few young women receive. She received the gift of choice.
Only Lucas' upbringing and respect for Edward allowed him to behave like a gentleman. Every time he saw Lucy led onto the dance floor by Charles, to pull her away, was his first instinct. He wanted her back in the carriage, seated next to him. He wanted her trembling hand on his arm so that he might hold it under his and offer her comfort. He wanted her to look up at him as she had earlier, to see the fear disappear from her eyes and then to be filled with wonder. Hell, he wanted her teetering on a ladder, so he had reason to pluck her from its rungs and spank her bottom for being so careless and to show her that he was the one she should have chosen. What he did not want, what he could not stand for another moment, was to see her smile as Charles Lloyds bent to kiss her cheek yet again.
As the evening progressed, it seemed to become understood by all present that Lloyds had claimed the sweetest prize at the ball. Lucas gritted his teeth as he watched Charles escorting her onto the dance floor.
"It seems Charles took every opportunity to press his advantage," Lucas heard Edward speaking behind him as he and Louisa joined the despondent man. Edward watched as his friend's shoulders sagged.
Lucas gave him a nod of acceptance. "I swear it was not for my lack of desire, Edward," he said, his voice soft. Edward could hear the unmistakable yearning in his friend's voice.
"It takes a strong man to step aside, Lucas," Edward said. "Letting her go, if Charles is truly her choice, is the proper thing to do."
"I do not give a damn what is proper, Edward," Lucas said, "she is meant for me. She
is meant to learn all there is to learn at my feet. God knows I want to be the one to teach her to purr, even with her cheeks stained from her tears after she learns more painful lessons at my hand."
Louisa shivered at the deep resonant tone of Lord Huntington's voice.
Louisa knew that Charles Lloyds also loved her sister. She knew that he would keep her safe and make her feel loved. However, she knew deep within her soul that Lucas was the only man truly capable of setting her sister free. He was the one to bring her to accept everything within herself, to be completely alive. She understood that Lucas was exactly like Edward. He would demand so many things, unwavering obedience expected. He would never hesitate to use discipline as a tool in Lucy's lessons. Though Louisa knew her sister would be shedding many tears at this man's hand as he wielded a paddle, strap, switch or worse on her bottom, Louisa also knew he was the one that will send her to untold ecstasy with his touch and his love. Her heart ached for not only Lucas but for what her sister seemed to be denying herself.
Lucas' voice softened, "I wished it with all my heart and soul, but she must come to me. You've given her the gift of choice, Edward. I will not force her on this one thing. She must offer me all she is with no reservation. She must recognize me as not only her mate, but as her everything."
They stood watching, as the young couple seemed lost in each other while the music moved them about the floor. Eleanor joined them and smiled, as she too saw the couple dancing and the resignation on Lucas' face.
"Though I know your heart isn't ready, my dear Lucas," she said, placing her hand on his arm, "remember that there are many special little ones awaiting their own Papas." Lucas didn't answer, but did give a slight nod. Eleanor patted his arm, "Perhaps now you might come visit me, as you promised." Her voice was teasing, but the smile Lucas finally gave her was not one of a man anxious to make such a visit.
"Perhaps on my next visit, Eleanor," he said softly, though he had no such desire. At that moment his only desire was to claim the kitten that had stolen his heart. He wanted her desperately, loved her completely, but knew it would take the same depth of feelings from Lucy as well. "It is time I return to Hunter's Ridge." Edward saw the sorrow in both his friend's and his wife's eyes. He clapped Lucas on the back and then turned to Eleanor and was soon leading her onto the floor. He instinctively knew that his own little lady wished to comfort the man in her own sweet manner.
Louisa waited for a moment before placing her own hand on Lucas' arm. "Please don't give up so easily, Lord Huntington," she said softly. Though she saw the same couple as everyone else as they danced, she knew her sister more thoroughly than any other soul on earth. Lucy was smiling and appeared to be happy, but Louisa knew something was missing. She did not look at Charles the way Louisa looked at Edward.
"The clock has not yet struck midnight," she teased. Lucas finally rewarded her with a small smile as he acknowledged their earlier references to the fairy-tale. He may have lost his own princess, but knew he would be eternally thankful that Edward, his dearest friend, had managed to claim his own.
"Edward is an incredibly lucky man," Lucas said, pulling her into his arms as they stepped out onto the floor. Louisa smiled, knowing she was also an incredibly lucky woman.
This feeling was a new experience for Lucas. Though he had never lacked for female attention, he had also never been ignored in such a polite manner.
Determined not to mar Lucy's enjoyment of the ball, he had forced himself to continue to partner with various women. Though he enjoyed the feeling of soft females in his arms, he found he was only barely able to remember the proper steps of each dance. He'd only partnered with Lucy for three dances out of the dozens she had enjoyed. On the first dance, she had still been a bit unsure of herself and he had made every effort to offer her support and encouragement. The second had seen her smiling and happy, her nervousness forgotten as she enjoyed the ball. The third was at this moment.
"I told you that you would be the belle of the ball, Lucy," Lucas had said, before pulling her into his arms for this dance. She had blushed and Charles' eyes shot him daggers. Lucas continued speaking as he led her through the intricate steps of the dance. "It's hard to remember my frightened little kitten. I suppose I no longer need to worry because all I see now is the lioness I knew you had within you. You've captured every man's heart tonight."
Lucy was hesitant to speak as she heard a trace of something she had never before heard in his voice. She looked up to see his eyes and actually stumbled at the heat she saw in them. Lucas' hand tightened on her waist to steady her.
She attempted to cover her nervousness. "Do you think Cleo is proud?" she asked, attempting to bring a smile back to his face. She watched as the heat was replaced by sadness and wished she hadn't spoken. Even though his hand tightened around hers as he turned her on the floor, she felt him moving away. He hadn't answered her question and his eyes had moved to look over her head. She wasn't aware that the music had stopped until he sighed and released her.
"Lucas," she said, her heart pounding in her chest. He looked so distant, and it frightened her. He closed his eyes briefly at the sound of his name coming from her lips for the first and last time. He forced a smile as he opened his eyes, knowing that Charles would reach them in another moment. His hand lifted and he stroked a finger down her cheek seeing the concern filling her eyes.
"Yes, little one, Cleo is very proud of you tonight. You have nothing to fret over and nothing to fear. I'm just sorry that ... I only wish I...." he paused, seeing Charles already reaching towards Lucy.
"What?" Lucy asked, her heart stuttering at the look on his face, even as her cheek burned where he had touched her so gently. Lucas stepped away and offered her a small bow and another smile.
"Nothing. This is your night, princess, and your prince is ready to claim you," Lucas said, and then gave Charles a bow as well.
Lucy was turned and pulled into Charles' arms as he accepted his victory and bent to kiss her lips for the first time. She felt her stomach lurch as he pressed his lips hard against her own. When he released her, she gasped for air, her mind spinning. She wasn't aware of the room crowded with people watching the drama of the evening draw to a close. She wasn't aware that Edward and Louisa stood only a few feet away. She wasn't aware that Pastor Reed stood watching, disapproval coloring his face. She didn't see the soft smile of Lady Eddington as she stood next to her husband, his arm holding her to his side. She didn't notice Eleanor Summers standing across the room, as she chaperoned her young students. All she felt was the heat of her former professor's lips against her mouth as her hand lifted and a finger touched her lips. She saw Charles beaming at her, his desire obvious as he began to reach for her again. She turned to see Lucas standing alone, the concession he had announced evident to the entire room.
Lucy's smile was breathtaking to observe as it lit her entire face. Every person in the room watched and smiled remembering the first time they had known they were in love. Not a person moved as Lucy stepped forward, her arms lifting to wrap themselves around the man who had captured her heart. As she drew his head down and kissed him, she understood what her sister had meant. She knew she had found her true self as well as her soul mate. The depth of her emotions was revealed as the lips beneath hers branded her with his claim. Every fiber of her body now burned with the desire for this man, this one man to teach her the passions that had been ignited deep within her soul.
Edward began to clap his hands in approval as the room witnessed a real fairy-tale coming to life. The room was soon filled with the sound of dozens of people clapping as they smiled and chuckled. Safely tucked into the loving arms of her husband, Louisa smiled as she heard the clock chime the magical hour of midnight. Her twin was not only the belle of the ball, she had outdone Cinderella – she had two men desperately in love with her. She looked into her husband's face and saw his smile reflected hers. They both watched as Lucille Rose Furniss stepped forward to claim Lucas, her Prince Charming.
Lucy's world consisted of only this one thing. His lips claimed hers as they seared into her soul, marking her as his for the rest of their lives. His hands cupped her face gently, his forehead touching hers, his voice for her ears only when he released her mouth.
"You are mine, Kitten, now and forever."
"Yes, I am yours," Lucy managed to whisper, her heart pounding with the knowledge that her choice had been true. He kissed her once more before pulling her into his arms, encircling her as he lifted his face. Edward smiled and understood that Lucas had no idea that his cheeks were shining with his own tears. He bent to see his own wife smiling with happiness that was reflected in her twin's face.