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 (8 page)

BOOK: Sweet Deception Regency 07 - The Divided Hearts
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“And my mother?”

Judith’s words broke the spell that
surrounded Nate. He felt a twinge of disappointment that the touch
of their glances had meant little to her. He realized that she
viewed him with disapproval and he caviled under the knowledge.
Then he remembered his responsibilities and he grinned at his own
discomfort.

“Ah, yes. I arrived in London just in time
to escort Grandmother to a soiree at one of her bosom bows. A
frightful crush, so an obvious success. Since I already was
acquainted with Simon, Grandmother introduced me to your mother.
She was a lovely woman, Lady Judith. She had a sparkle and a
vivacity that lightened the room. She seemed the epitome of
life.”

“I think that is what I find most difficult
to accept,” Judith said, surprised that she felt at ease sharing
her grief with Nathanael. She closed her eyes to her doubts about
the man and dwelled on the warmth of feeling she found in his eyes.
“It seems quite unbelievable that mother is gone. There are times
when I wake and think of something I must remember to tell her and
then feel despair when I realize I am alone.”

“You must never feel alone, my dear,” Nate
said, reaching out to take her hand. “There must be legions of
friends waiting to make you feel welcome. And luckily you have
Simon.”

Judith was jolted when Nathanael touched
her. She had expected the soft pampered hand of a dilettante, but
was surprised to note the firm roughened skin against her own. His
grip was light, almost a caress and her eyes lifted to his face in
wonder. There was a mysterious light in his eyes, that discomfited
Judith. Reluctantly she removed her hand from his.

“Thank you, Master Bellingham,” Judith said
softly.

“My friends call me Nathanael or Nate,” he
said, shaking his finger at her in admonishment. “And I would
consider it an honor if you would count me as your friend.”

Judith raised her eyes to his, surprised at
the sincere tone of his voice. Though the words were lightly
spoken, they did not hold the usual mocking tone she so abhorred.
There was a resonance to the timbre that was pleasing to the ears
and the look in his eyes sent a shiver of pleasure along her spine.
For a moment she studied him, once more noting the muscular
physique and handsome face that would have set him apart in any
surrounding. It was an utter waste; he could be such an
extraordinary man. She was surprised at the almost physical need to
find more depth in the man than she had so far discovered.

“I would be happy to consider you my friend,
Nathanael,” Judith said. And unaccountably she meant it.

“There you are, my dear,” Simon roared,
breaking the spell that surrounded her. “I’m for home, Judith, if
you can tear yourself away from this devilish fellow.”

He slapped Nathanael on the back, making the
man wince at the possible damage to his apparel. Judith grinned at
her father as Nate fussed with his cravat and moved away from the
danger of another such assault by his exuberant friend. Standing,
she extended her hand once more, murmuring appropriate
goodbyes.

“Devil take it, Simon, I shall be sunk in a
fit of the sullens if you take the sunlight from the day,” Nate
emoted.

“Needn’t rush your fences, lad,” Simon said,
mouth quirked wide in amusement. “The flighty wench is here for a
long visit, don’t you know.”

Judith smothered a giggle as her father
prodded the younger man in the ribcage, earning a dark-visaged
glower from the discomfited gentleman. Once more Nate stepped
backward, holding his walking stick in front of him as though
protecting himself from Simon’s encroaching presence. From a safe
distance he made an exquisite leg, his eyes glittering with what
almost looked like humor.

“Lady of my heart, say I may call on you
tomorrow,” Nate begged, fixing Judith with doleful eyes.

Ashamed that despite his earlier kindness,
she still thought of him as a figure of fun, Judith agreed. “I’d be
pleased to receive you, Nathanael.”

“Topping, my dear!” His handsome face glowed
with such delight that Judith’s heart sank. “And with your
permission, Simon, I shall plan a picnic party while I show her the
wonders of our countryside.”

“I know Judith will be thrilled,” Simon
boomed as he drew his daughter away to make the rest of her
goodbyes.

Judith’s mouth was set in a sweet smile,
though Simon noted that her eyes were stormy, waiting for the ride
home before she vented her annoyance at her father’s high
handedness. London manners had their uses, he chuckled as he
followed the stiff-backed figure towards the foyer. Turning in the
archway, his eyes crossed with a pair of steady blue eyes set in a
handsome face. Nate Bellingham raised two fingers to his temple in
a grinning salute. Simon nodded slightly, his wide mouth smug at
his own cleverness.

Chapter
Four

“Can I really go with you, Judith?” Patrick
asked, voice awed with the prospect of such a treat.

“No.”

“Yes.”

Judith and her father spoke at the same time
causing Patrick to swing his head in puzzlement between the two
figures. He shifted uncomfortably as the adults glowered across the
breakfast table at each other.

“I don’t think it would be a good idea,
Patrick. Nathanael will not be best pleased to have your company,”
Simon said, avoiding the flinty eyes of his daughter.

“Why not, Father?” Judith asked, her eyes
innocent. “I can’t imagine that he would have any objections to the
inclusion of Patrick on our picnic. After all the child eats very
little.”

“Should at least ask the lad.” Simon had the
single-mindedness of a bull.

“Like you asked me?” Judith replied
sweetly.

Simon cleared his throat, his square face an
apoplectic red. Judith was not intimidated by the fury in every
line of his body, and being as mule-headed as her father, she
refused to back down. On the ride home from the Woodbridge’s, she
had accused him of maneuvering her into an untenable position. He
knew that she did not favor Nathanael’s company and yet he
circumvented her by giving her no opportunity to turn down his
invitation to the picnic. Her father’s reply at the time had been
that he thought she might grow to like Nathanael if she spent some
time with him.

Judith still did not understand what Simon
and Nathanael Bellingham had in common. Over the years she had come
to understand her father’s values and the things that he enjoyed.
She knew he hated artifice of any kind and he had been
inexhaustibly verbal in his criticism of the fribbles of London
society. Simon believed that every man had gifts and that to waste
them was an offense against nature. Nathanael seemed the absolute
antithesis of her father’s standards. Yet, by the frequently
glimpsed amused look in his eye, it was apparent that Simon had a
genuine fondness for Nate.

Still wondering at the puzzle, Judith turned
to Patrick, her eyes softening as she noted the expectant look on
his face. “Father’s just a touch crotchety this morning, Patrick.
Nothing to worry about. A little too much socializing yesterday. I
am quite sure that Mr. Bellingham will be delighted that you are
able to join us. Besides, it will be fun for me having you
along.”

The boy was torn, aware that there was more
to the situation than was apparent to him. He had seen Judith and
Simon brangle before, although it was nothing compared to the
fights his parents used to have. It was difficult knowing what to
do. He was not at ease with his new life to know where his
allegiance should lie. He stared at Simon whose hairy eyebrows were
bunched like clouds building up before a storm.

“Iffen you think it would be all right, sir,
I’d like to go?”

The older man’s eyes fastened on the boy’s
serious face. He noted the tension of the slight body and the
absence of pleading in the child’s carefully contained expression.
Pluck to the bone, Simon applauded. A great hamlike hand shot out,
ruffling Patrick’s black hair and he waggled his eyebrows to the
boy’s entertainment.

“I believe that Judith’s suggestion of your
inclusion might prove quite salutary. Occasionally women chance to
hit on a bright idea.” Simon held up his hand at Judith’s
unladylike snort. “Seems to me, lad, you are due for a treat after
putting up with all those fittings for a proper wardrobe. And while
we’re on the subject of your new sartorial splendor, Mr. Baker
informs me that you have some little hesitancy over his suggestions
as to bathing procedures.”

“No offense meant, sir, but the bleed-”
Patrick coughed to cover his error. “Mr. Baker, that is, wants me
whole body scraped till it’s raw.”

Judith raised her napkin to cover her smile
at the injured tone in the boy’s voice. She had to admire Simon’s
straight face as he nodded understandingly at Patrick’s
distress.

“You’ll just have to go along with Mr.
Baker, lad, because it’s been my experience that it never pays to
cross the man.” Simon lowered his voice at the end of this
statement as though afraid his friend might appear like an avenging
angel. “Mr. Baker knows everything there is to know about turning a
body into a fine gentleman. Therefore until you’re of a proper age
to dispute that point, I would suggest you not take issue with the
man.”

“I understand, sir,” Patrick said, clearly
unhappy with the turnout but wise enough to accept the inevitable.
“And thank you for letting me go on the outing. I promise I won’t
be any trouble.”

“See that you’re not, lad,” Simon warned.
“Judith will explain it to Master Bellingham.”

Judith wrinkled her nose at her father,
wondering if Nathanael would be gracious about accepting young
Patrick as a chaperone. She was in charity with the man, yet still
hesitant about spending any prolonged period of time in his
presence. Now, with Patrick’s addition to the party, she was
looking forward to the outing.

Realizing the forwardness of inviting
Patrick without consulting Nathanael, Judith dressed with
particular care. She was aided in her quest for fashionable
perfection by Phoebe Finney, the maid-of-all-work who had appointed
herself Judith’s abigail.

At fourteen, the young girl had the
legginess of a colt but, having been raised on a farm, had none of
the grace and fragility of a young thoroughbred. At first, she had
been intimidated by Judith’s beauty and sophistication, but soon
learned that her master’s daughter had the same inbred courtesy and
respect for others that had endeared Simon to the Finney family.
Phoebe’s assistance as an abigail consisted of fluttering around
Judith like a hen with a favorite chick. The girl did assist with
buttoning and arranging hair but by and large her presence was more
of an entertainment for the young servant than aid to her
mistress.

“Tie the bow just a little bit closer to
your cheek, miss,” Phoebe said, standing back so that she could get
a proper look at her charge. A wide smile lit the plain face in
approval. “That’s jes’ perfect.”

Phoebe pressed her small hands against her
flat chest, sighing with pleasure at the picture Judith made. Her
Miss, as she had started referring to Judith, wore a white sprigged
muslin that fell in a graceful sweep of skirts from the cherry red
ribbon tied below her breasts. The neckline was cut in a wide
sweep, running from shoulder to shoulder. The cherry ribbon edging
the bodice gave a pinkish tint to Judith’s skin and was echoed by
the ribbon that circled her graceful neck. Puffed sleeves with tiny
cherry bows accentuated the slenderness of her arms.

But for the devoted Phoebe, Judith’s hat was
the last word in feminine fashion. It was made of bleached straw
with a wide, floppy brim. A wide cherry ribbon crossed the crown
and tied beside her ear in a large bow, adding the perfect piquant
touch to the ensemble. Phoebe’s adolescent face was filled with
reverence as she handed Judith her matching pelisse and followed
her down the stairs.

Nate had already arrived and was talking
quietly to Simon in the drawing room. Both heads were close
together and there was an intensity to their conversation that
bespoke of more than social trivialities. For several minutes they
were unaware of her presence and Judith had an opportunity to study
Nathanael unobserved.

Today the man was a symphony in blue, she
noted with amusement. His superfine jacket and pantaloons were the
cobalt of his eyes. His powdered hair was clubbed and adorned by a
flat blue bow. As usual there was lace at wrists and neck but this
time it was edged with thin bands of blue satin. His waistcoat was
a dazzling rainbow of blue hues, draped with watch fobs that
jangled metallically when he moved. Long, tanned fingers caressed
the knob of his carved walking stick and Judith found herself
mesmerized by the motion.

She must have made some sound, for suddenly
the men broke apart, their eyes taking in the beauty of the young
woman in the doorway. There was a freshness and a purity about her,
Nate thought, quite remarkable, since she was no longer a
schoolroom miss. She appeared neither jaded nor bored which was the
usual expression in those who had endured more than one London
season. Her golden-hazel eyes seemed to view the world with a
combination of amusement and curiosity. She was so vivid and alive
that it was a moment before Nate could gather his wits enough to
acknowledge her presence.

Judith was grateful that Nathanael was too
well bred to evince any discomposure at the inclusion of Patrick.
Without much ado, the threesome clambered into an open carriage
drawn by a matched pair of greys. It appeared from the start that
Nate had set himself to be pleasant company. As he set a leisurely
pace up into the hills, he chatted with the boy, leaving Judith to
her own thoughts as she drank in the beauty of the countryside.

BOOK: Sweet Deception Regency 07 - The Divided Hearts
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