Read Sweet Deception Regency 07 - The Divided Hearts Online

Authors: Karla Darcy

Tags: #karla darcy, #regency romance, #romantic comedy, #romance, #five kisses, #pride and prejudice, #historical fiction, #sweets racing club, #downton abbey, #jane austen

Sweet Deception Regency 07 - The Divided Hearts (7 page)

BOOK: Sweet Deception Regency 07 - The Divided Hearts
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“Then it’s glad I am that you’ve come to see
America. It’s an enormous country and there’s little here to
confine you.”

Simon clucked at the horses and the team
picked up it’s pace on the road. Judith reveled in the hilly
country that was rising above the bay. Then, as they crested the
hill, her eyes widened at her first view of the enormous house
perched on the edge of the cliff.

“Good Heavens, Father! Is that the
Woodbridge’s house?” Judith asked. “It’s like something out of a
dream.”

“More like a nightmare.” Simon wrinkled his
nose at the pretentious structure. “It’s supposed to be a copy of
Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. Done by some
toffy-headed apprentice to the original architect who worked with
Washington on his renovations. But I’ve been to Virginia and I can
tell you this in no way resembles that graceful and stately
plantation. This version was born definitely the wrong side of the
blanket.”

Judith chuckled at the aptness of her
father’s description. The house was overdone by any standard. The
weatherboard cladding might have been graceful except every feature
of the house had been dressed up by some fanciful ornamentation.
The Palladian style of the front was far too ornate, with fluted
pillars instead of the clean-lined stanchions they replaced. By
squinting her eyes and envisioning the house without the gaudy
ornamentation, she had a fair idea that she would have liked the
original. The house itself had good lines but the frivolous
additions took away from the beauty of its simplicity.

As the horses drew up to join the other
carriages, Judith straightened her hat and brushed the dust of the
road from her pelisse. She gaped as black footmen, bizarre in white
wigs and ornate livery, rushed to assist her to the ground.
Controlling her expression, she waited for Simon to come around.
She placed her hand on her father’s sleeve and winked broadly.

“I shall have to be on my most condescending
behavior,” she whispered, following him up the short flight of
stairs. “Should have brought that delightful ostrich feather fan
or, at the very least, my snuff box.”

“Behave yourself, you naughty minx,” Simon
growled, his grin erasing the harassed look he had worn on the ride
out from town.

Judith’s jaw quite literally dropped as she
entered the foyer. It was as though she had stepped back in time
and place, standing on the rough flagstones of a medieval baronial
hall. Above her, pennants and banners fluttered in a colorful
display. Armor and weaponry caught the light, dazzling her and her
eyes widened with stupefaction as they roamed the shield-covered
walls.

“Just a simple, little American home,” Simon
said straight-faced nearly sending Judith into spasms.

Black servants bustled around the foyer like
a colony of ants. Judith was relieved of her wraps and ushered into
a retiring room where others waited with water and towels to remove
the dust from her travels. She submitted to the ministrations,
feeling rather like a child who had escaped from a governess and
gotten dirty. When she joined Simon in the foyer, her eyes were
alight with amusement which redoubled as he waggled his fierce
eyebrows at her. Smothering her giggles she placed her hand on
Simon’s sleeve as he led her toward the drawing room.

“If you liked the foyer, my dear, I know you
will be enthralled with the drawing room.”

At the entrance of the room, Judith
recoiled, torn between awe and hysteria. “Merciful heavens!” she
breathed.

A riot of color assaulted her eyes and
Judith scanned the four walls in disbelief. Never before had she
beheld a single room so crammed with gaudy and brightly-hued
furniture. A host of colorfully dressed people, moving among the
choicest of the decorative disasters, accentuated the dizzying
effect.

The first thing to draw her attention was
the fireplace on the far side of the room. The mantle was white
marble, the face of which was carved with scenes from mythology.
Gold leaf covered the reeded columns on either side of the opening.
The whole effect was startling but to add to the impact tall case
japanned clocks flanked the fireplace. Judith was familiar with the
Oriental style since at one time “chinoiserie” objects were the
height of fashion in England. One piece might have been interesting
but as she looked around the room she noted that besides the clocks
there was a high chest of drawers, two low tables and even some
wainscot armchairs with the elaborate Oriental pictures covering
their surface.

The overall impact of the room on Judith was
a feeling of restless movement. In fact, the legs of the high chest
were so overly curved that she had the distinct impression that the
piece was ready to walk away. Before she could catch her breath,
Judith’s hostess hailed her.

“Oh la, sweet child,” Priscilla Woodbridge
warbled as she hurried across the room on her tiny high heel
slippers. She had changed her church ensemble for one of yards of
pink muslin that fluttered around her ample figure. Pink ribbons in
streamers and bows were strategically placed giving the look of a
festooned confectionary cake.

Judith dropped into a graceful curtsy,
hoping that her face had not betrayed her chagrin at the appalling
decorations which made one wonder at the ability of anyone to
remain in the room for any length of time.

“Welcome to Seaview. A cunning name, don’t
you think? Let me reacquaint you with all my guests.” Priscilla’s
mittened hands clamped onto Judith’s elbow and propelled her into
the room. Dismissively the woman waved Simon to the far side of the
room. “Winfield is over there holding court. As usual he’s regaling
the men with tales of his misspent youth at court. I’ll take care
of darling Judith.”

Simon crooked his eyebrow at his speechless
daughter and took himself off to the far side of the immense room.
In Priscilla’s wake, Judith followed, or more properly was dragged,
from group to group, making the rounds with her hostess. Several
hours later, Judith pressed her fingers to her throbbing temples
wondering how soon she and her father could leave. Simon had been
correct wishing they had remained in town. Right now she could be
reading a good book in front of the fire instead of smiling
woodenly at this misplaced group of people.

For Judith the most bewildering aspect of
the afternoon was that she felt as though she had been transported
back to London and was watching a second rate drawing room comedy.
The majority of the people she had met resembled actors playing
their parts as proper English gentlemen and ladies. In a country
that had fought a war to sever their ties with England, it was
incredible that this group of people clung so tenaciously to the
outward appearances of the London social set.

She had never thought much about the
artificiality of her life in London. But seeing that world
superimposed on the fresh, new country she had seen in the carriage
ride from town, was somehow jarring. Thinking back to the people
she had met after the church service, the ones who intrigued her
were different than the ones gathered at Seaview. The people that
she had enjoyed talking to had a straightforward, honest quality
about them. They had not impressed her as imitators of a bygone
lifestyle but rugged individuals who reveled in the sheer
excitement of creating a new country.

She had met some interesting and amusing
people among the guests. The older men had a courtly quality that
Judith found quite charming, treating her as though she were as
fragile as delicate china. Several of the older women had
entertained her with fascinating stories of the early days of
Newport. Although the younger set treated her with a disconcerting
deference, she found a few of the girls had a deal of conversation
above the usual topic of fashion. Perhaps, given time, she might
find someone her own age that she could talk to with more
depth.

Much to her dismay, Judith found Nathanael
Bellingham the most intriguing member of the ensemble. She had
attempted to avoid any group that gathered around him, but to her
own chagrin her eyes were constantly drawn to the popinjay. Even
when she turned her back to him, she would catch the deep rumble of
his voice or the irritating sound of his braying laughter. From the
secluded security of the window seat, Judith contemplated the
odious man.

As usual Nathanael reclined amid a circle of
simpering young girls, their skirts spread like petals around them
as they sat at his feet. He resembled a garden gnome surrounded by
showy flowers, Judith muttered. He was pointing his quizzing glass
at one of the blushing beauties, apparently twitting her about some
beau. The others in the group hung on his every word, vying for his
attention. Judith had to admit there was something diverting about
the man, but she found it unbelievable that anyone could seriously
credit his worth. The man was a fraud, a poseur.

His leg injury was a patent taradiddle. At
times when he moved, he forgot to limp or even limped on the wrong
leg! However in the midst of a crowd his lameness became pronounced
and he leaned on his walking stick for support. Worst of all, if
someone attempted to assist him, he waved them away with an
expression of martyred stoicism. Yet for all his outlandish
affectations, everyone appeared to enjoy his company. And most
baffling of all, was her own father.

Searching the room, Judith’s eyes settled on
Simon. Earlier she had spotted him deep in conversation with
Nathanael. She could not imagine what the two men could find to
discuss, but assumed by the sober expression that crossed both
their faces that it was not merely a trivial colloquy. There was
almost a furtive quality to their behavior, which struck Judith as
pure fancy, since the men were speaking in full view of the other
guests.

“Devil take it, Lady Judith,” Nate’s deep
voice interrupted her thoughts. “One more frown and I prophesize I
shall fall into a decline.”

Judith had been so engrossed in her
ruminations that it took a moment before she could bring herself to
acknowledge the man and respond civilly. “Many apologies, Master
Bellingham. I was deep in contemplation of the room.”

“It’s surely a dazzler,” Nate said, lifting
his ever-present quizzing glass to his eye. “Perhaps I might
conduct you on a tour of some of the more enchanting
adornments.”

Nate extended his hand which Judith could
hardly ignore. She stood up, walking beside him as he commented
good humoredly on some of the more outrageous appointments in the
room. His sarcastic banter was extremely entertaining and Judith
began to understand why everyone seemed to find the man’s company
so enjoyable.

“This should prove to you beyond question
that the ladies of Newport are beforehand in their artistic
achievements.”

Nate stopped in front of a wall sconce which
was a framed representation of what Judith suspected might be some
form of native village.

“This is quillwork, m’dear,” Nate said,
running one long finger across the surface of the picture. “It’s
made up of seaweed, rocks, flowers or whatever the lady of the
house finds to hand. Winters in Newport can be exceedingly long and
what more pleasant occupation than putting together some rare
atrocity from readily available artifacts.”

“It’s… .” Judith halted, unable to conjure
anything complimentary.

“Exactly!” Nate said, moving her to the next
item on his conducted tour. “If you liked the quillwork, I know you
will be enchanted with this.”

Judith looked down at the needlework top of
the mahogany card table. Turret like corners were dished out to
provide space for candlesticks. At first glance the needlework
scene was just another wildly colorful landscape, but on closer
scrutiny Judith was amazed to note the voluptuous reclining
shepherdess asleep beneath an apple tree. The apples were shown
falling from the tree and two strategically placed apples rested on
the figure’s breast giving the appearance that the woman was quite
naked from the waist up. In disbelief, Judith glanced up at Nate,
biting back a shout of laughter at his innocently crooked eyebrow
and the flash of white teeth in his widening grin.

They continued their tour circling the room
until Nate returned her to the turkey work couch near the windows.
She stroked the knotted pile fabric as he explained that the
geometric pattern was done to evoke a feeling of Middle East
textiles.

“Methinks, m’dear, that I have fulfilled my
duty to entertain you. Now it falls to you to divert me,” Nate
said. “And are you enjoying your visit to our provincial
shores?”

Judith was tired of the cutting drawl of his
voice. She had enjoyed her conversation with him but longed for him
to speak without the sarcastic trappings. Despite all the artifice
she was still not convinced that the outward guise reflected the
man beneath. She suspected that for some reason he was capable of
putting on the manner of a care-nothing-fop at a moment’s notice.
However, for the life of her, Judith could not understand what Nate
hoped to gain by such an impersonation.

“There has been little chance to see much of
the city,” she answered. “My father and I have been catching up on
our lives since his last visit to England.”

“I hope I need not tell you how sorry I feel
about the death of your mother.” The tone of Nate’s voice sounded
genuinely sincere. “I met her only once and then, briefly.”

“When was that?” Judith asked eagerly.

“It was while I was at Cambridge,” Nate
said, his eyes distant as though remembering. “I had been sent down
for a minor infraction. Some to do over three opera dancers, a farm
cart and a dozen chickens.”

Much to Nate’s delight, Judith giggled, her
face almost incandescent as her eyes glittered with amusement. For
a moment he lost his train of thought, staring into the huge
luminous pools of golden light. The sounds of the room diminished
and his senses expanded, aware of her as he had never been of
another woman.

BOOK: Sweet Deception Regency 07 - The Divided Hearts
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