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Authors: Elizabeth Boyle

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

Stealing the Bride (21 page)

BOOK: Stealing the Bride
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Georgie blew out a disgusted sigh. “Men! It would serve that dunderheaded fool right if you did marry someone else.”

Sarah shook her head. “It isn’t like that, Mama. Cousin Temple didn’t sound all that happy about it. Not in the least. He said it was the only way to see Lady Diana safeguarded.”

“Safeguarded!” Diana bounded up from her chair and started to pace furiously from one side of the room to the other. “I am sick to death of that man trying to protect me! Can’t he see that it is the other way around? I am trying to save

She paused in her hysterics for just a moment to look at the mother and daughter who sat side by side, both calmly staring at her.

Sarah turned to her mother. “I rather like her.”

“So do I,” Georgie said. “So do I.”

Diana threw up her hands. “Oh, what am I to do? He’s determined to leave me behind.”

Georgie stood and made her way to Diana’s side as gracefully as a woman nearing her term could move. She wound her arm around Diana’s shoulders and gave her a tight squeeze. “Never fear, I have some experience in these matters.”

Chapter 13

he next morning, Colin’s voice rang out from his study, echoing through the house like the sharp retort of cannon fire. “Georgie! Blast it, Georgie, where is it?”

In the dining room, Lady Danvers serenely enjoyed her morning repast while the footmen cringed as the master of the house continued his tirade.

“You may go,” she told the relieved servants.

They scurried from the dining room knowing full well the mistress and master were going to have one of their “discussions.”

There would be no need to lurk about hoping to overhear what was being said. When Lord and Lady Danvers discussed something, it was surprising it wasn’t heard in Mayfair.

“Georgie,” Colin hollered again. “Drat it, I know you are about. Come out and tell me what you’ve done.”

Georgie smiled and continued buttering her toast.

Colin came barreling into the dining room as if the house were afire and the French were sailing up Lake Windermere, the waters of which sparkled and lapped at the grassy promenade that ran from the shore to the nearby doors. “Where the devil is

“Where is what?” she asked, as calmly and innocently as she could muster.

“You know damned well what,” Colin said, standing at the head of the table as if he were on the quarterdeck of his ship and shouting orders at his crew.

“Colin, you’ll have a fit of apoplexy if you continue in this fashion. That and you’ll wake the children, that is, if you haven’t already,” she scolded. “Now please sit and have some breakfast and we can discuss whatever it is that has you in such a vexing state.”

When Colin continued to stand his ground, Georgie’s brow cocked and she nodded for him to take a seat.

“Yes, well, sorry for the shouting,” he finally muttered, before pulling out his chair and settling into it.

She continued spreading another layer of butter on her piece of toast. “Now what is this all about?”

“I placed some papers in my strongbox last night and this morning they are missing.”

Georgie fixed her gaze on her toast. “And you believe I took them. Colin, you know I haven’t the skills necessary to open your strongbox. Picking locks is Kit’s forte, not mine.”

“Yes, well, if your sister were in the house I would be heaping this upon her head, but I still suspect you know where they are.”

“And why is that?” she asked.

“Because you have buttered that poor piece of bread three times since I arrived.”

Georgie looked down at the pile bending her toast in half and cringed.

“Now do you want to tell me how you got that special license out of my strongbox and where it is?”

Georgie wasn’t about to confess that Kit had taught her how to pick locks on her last visit to Danvers Hall. Instead she launched a swift counterattack. “You certainly didn’t think I’d stand idly by while you married poor Lady Diana off to one of those nobcocks, did you? How could you even consider such a notion?”

Colin threw his hands in the air. “Georgie Danvers, I’ll not be drawn into another argument by letting you taunt me with false colors. Now where is that special license?”

“I gave it to Lady Diana. I thought she should have it. If a woman is going to be married off in some hideous bride sale, then at least she should have some say in the matter.”

“She’ll have plenty of say. I have no intention of seeing her wed to anyone but Temple.” Colin glanced around the room. “By the way, where is Lady Diana?”

“The poor dear was so worn out yesterday after her travels, I fear she went to bed quite exhausted.”

It hadn’t answered Colin’s question, but at least it was the truth.

“Well, good. The longer she stays asleep, the better off she is. And she must stay out of sight, Georgie. I need your help on this. If we are to keep her safe for Temple, she needs to remain out of sight. The servants need to be instructed to tell anyone who asks that the marquis and Lady Diana left at first light for Gretna.”

Something in his grave tone tweaked at Georgie’s conscience. “Colin, whatever for? You sound so serious.”

“I am. I fear Diana is in terrible danger.”

Georgie chewed on her lip for a moment. “As bad as all that? Are you certain?”

Colin cocked his head and stared at his wife. “What have you done? Georgie, tell me immediately. What have you done?”

The great clock in the hall struck the hour and Georgie sighed in relief. She’d promised Diana she wouldn’t say a word until after ten, lest Colin try to stop their plan.

Now she was free to tell the entire story. So she did.

Colin sat in his chair for a few moments, shaking his head, as if he couldn’t believe this, his wife’s latest scandal. “Georgie,” he said, his voice ominous in its tone. “How could you?”

“She loves him,” Georgie rushed to say. “And you know he loves her. Oh Colin, can you forgive me?”

Then her husband surprised her and laughed. “Forgive you? I’m just dumbfounded I didn’t think of it myself.” He rose from his chair and held out his arms. “Come here, Georgie girl. Have I told you how much I love you?”

“Not today,” she said, falling into the warm embrace of the man she loved so very much. Casting a glance out the window at the road beyond, she said a little prayer that Lady Diana would be as lucky.


Temple drove the carriage northward along the shore of Lake Windermere as if the devil were nipping at their heels. Elton sat beside him grumbling.

With no one about, Elton wasn’t about to let Temple off lightly, heir to a dukedom or not.

“Don’t see why you don’t just marry the gel,” his servant said. “Then we wouldn’t have to drive all the way to Scotland on some fool’s errand.” He spat over the side, as if to punctuate his displeasure.

“I cannot marry Lady Diana,” Temple told him.

“Don’t see why not.” Elton crossed his arms over his chest and nodded at a pothole up ahead. “She’s not bad looking and she’ll come with a passel of money.”

Temple drove around the hole that could have swallowed a pony cart or at least one of their wheels. “I’m not going to discuss the matter, Elton, so you might as well leave off.”

“Harrumph,” the man snorted and closed his eyes. “Got to marry one day, lad. No two ways around that. Can’t figure what ye’re waiting for.” Elton leaned back in his seat and pretended to sleep.

Temple wasn’t fooled. He knew it worried the man to distraction when he decided to drive. Elton was convinced that Temple would put them into the ditch one day.

But he needed to be in control of something. Lord knew he had little control over his own life.

Once, for a few glorious days, years ago, he’d lived the life he’d always wanted. With Diana.

But even now, when he looked back on those precious days at Lamden House, he often wondered if it had been naught but a dream. For by the time he’d returned to London, he had been rudely reawakened to the life that lay ahead for him.

London, 1796

The Foster ball was one of the premier opening events each Season, and it appeared this year was going to be no different.

The Marquis of Templeton stood near the door watching the arriving guests. He dismissed one young lady after another, for he was waiting for the arrival of a certain miss.

Lady Diana Fordham.

It had been over two months since he’d last seen her, kissed her, and he was anxious to renew his suit.

When Temple had woken up that first morning at Lamden Hall, it was to a throbbing shoulder and memories of a beautiful young woman whispering encouragement to him, offering him her lips as a balm to the hell he was feeling.

And over the fortnight that he spent recuperating there, Diana had been a constant figure in his sickroom, despite Mrs. Foston’s best efforts to keep her impetuous charge well away from him.

Obviously the lady knew what was behind her young charge’s flushed cheeks and starry-eyed gaze.

And though he hadn’t done anything too dishonorable, he wasn’t about to let anyone else have the chance.

Lady Diana Fordham wouldn’t be available for very long this Season. He intended to call on her father first thing tomorrow morning.

He continued his sentry’s watch of the door, when to his dismay, he heard his grandfather’s voice behind him.

“That you, boy?” the duke called out.

Temple flinched. He couldn’t help himself. He’d be one-and-twenty soon and still he found himself cringing each time the duke crossed his path.

While other men took great pride in their heirs, Temple knew he was a miserable disappointment. His grandfather made sure to remind him of that fact each time they met.

“There you are, boy,” his grandfather said, coming to stand beside him. There was no handshake exchanged, no words of good wishes. The duke found such displays nothing more than weak-minded falderal.

“Heard you were shot,” His Grace said, in a matter-of-fact tone that would have been more appropriate if he’d been asking Temple how he liked the cattle offered at Tatt’s the previous week. “I won’t stand for it, boy. Won’t have you throwing your life away.”

Temple tamped down the anger welling up inside him. He might be his grandfather’s heir, but that didn’t give the duke the right to dictate his life. “I have no intention of ending my work for the Foreign Office just because of my recent inconvenience.”

“Inconvenience!” the old man snorted. “You damned near died.”

Temple glanced at his grandfather. From anyone else that might have sounded like genuine concern, but he knew that such feelings were impossible coming from the duke.

At least she cared
, a small voice whispered.
She loves you.

At the doorway, a bevy of young ladies was entering. Temple did his best to glance nonchalantly in their direction. The last thing he wanted to do was to alert his grandfather as to his feelings for one certain miss.

He shouldn’t have worried; his grandfather was lecturing him once again and hadn’t an inkling of the rebellion Temple was considering.

Outright anarchy, the duke would call it.

“…I’ll not have it. Mark my words. You are my heir and as such you will do as I say.”

“And that is, Your Grace?” he murmured.

His grandfather’s face colored darker than his favorite claret. “Demmit boy, listen to me. You will cease these common heroics and settle down. Why, I’d rather see you turn into one of these featherbrained popinjays that all the town considers fashionable than continue risking
dukedom for some ill-conceived idea of nobility.” To emphasize his point, he waved his hand in dismissal at a young rake dressed to the nines and turning heads with his outlandish fashions and exaggerated manners. “True nobility is knowing when to send your inferiors to do the job.”

Just then Diana entered the room. She paused for a second at the doorway, and glanced about the room until her gaze met his. Then her starry eyes sparkled just as he remembered.

He felt as if they were the only two people in the room, but unfortunately they weren’t. Worse yet, his grandfather noticed.

“She’s a right fetching gel. A bit lively though, but that could be

Temple spoke before he considered his words. “I wouldn’t want to see her improved.”

“Bah!” the duke sputtered. “You’ll change your mind soon enough after you marry her.” Before Temple could utter a word to the contrary, the duke stopped him, holding up his aristocratic hand in a gesture that was known to silence the House of Lords. “I’ve heard the rumors. I know you fancy her. So go ahead and marry the girl. Bring a good dowry, and we might even get the King to join Lamden’s earldom into the Setchfield title.” The man puffed out his chest and rubbed his hands together as if it was all settled. “Oh, I have my reservations about the match. Lamden’s been too lenient with the chit. But a few weeks at Setchfield Place and she’ll understand what nobility means. I’ll see to that.”

Chills ran down the length of Temple’s limbs at the thought of Diana being subjected to the duke’s heartless definition of nobility.

He knew it only too well. It had been beaten into him every day since his own parents had drawn their last breaths and the duke had taken charge of his young heir with a ruthless ambition.

“Your Grace,” he said in the best civil tone he could manage, “when I marry I have no intention of living at Setchfield Place.”

The duke laughed, chortling guffaws that held no humor, only mockery. “You don’t, do you? And where do you propose you’ll live, boy?”

When Temple didn’t answer, standing moot and ramrod-straight, the duke only laughed harder.

His grandfather continued. “You’ll live where I say and when I say. As long as I’m alive, you haven’t anything to your credit but what
give you.” His eyes narrowed and his voice lowered to tones meaner than a badger. “Don’t you ever forget that.”

Even then, Diana flashed a smile in his direction, a smile capable of inspiring mutiny. Make a man believe that he could slay dragons. Even the ducal kind.

But his grandfather was a shrewd man and most likely saw the insurrection brewing in his heir.

“Don’t you get any foolish notions like your father did. He thought he could marry against my wishes and live on your mother’s money, live on their love for each other. Live on love! Bah! We know what came of that, now don’t we?”

His great gray brows drew together in a stormy line. “Once your mother’s money ran out they had no choice but to come crawling back to Setchfield Place begging like a pair of ragtag gypsies.” The duke shot another glance over in Diana’s direction. “Love destroyed your father. Took his pride. Made him weak to your mother’s demands. I won’t see you make his mistakes.”

Temple wanted to tell the duke that it wasn’t true, that love hadn’t made his father anything but happy, but in some ways what his grandfather was saying was true, and that in itself was enough to terrify him.

Setchfield rubbed his hands together as if they’d reached some sort of accord. “There now, I’ll send my man around to gather up your things and have them installed in my town house. In the meantime, I’ll see to the settlement and all. I won’t have Lamden thinking he can send her off with less than our due.”

BOOK: Stealing the Bride
10.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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