Authors: Cathy Maxwell
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Love Stories, #Historical, #Nobility, #London (England), #Regency Fiction, #Nobility - England, #Marital Conflict
She sent Andres one last, sorrowful look and climbed into the coach. “Move over,” she snapped at Wright, giving his leg a hard shove for emphasis.
“Ow,” he said without true pain.
Gillian nodded to James to close the door, settling herself. “Come over to my side of the coach again and it will be worse,” she threatened in a low voice. She smiled at the friends and relatives calling out their wishes for a safe journey.
“Your side of the coach? We’re being a little petty, aren’t we?”
Her smile turned genuine. This was exactly the tone she wanted to set for the trip. “Not petty.
Territorial. What was it you said earlier? You keep what is yours? I feel that way, too. Starting with the coach seat.” She stuffed her velvet muff between them and gave him her back while she leaned out the window to wave her farewells.
Andres had left the doorway. She didn’t see him amongst the crowd.
In a few minutes, they would be off the estate’s property and who knew when they’d be together again.
Tears threatened. She wasn’t one to cry easily. No good came of crying. Still, she couldn’t keep her old doubts and fears at bay. Watching the passing scenery, she couldn’t help but wonder if Andres had meant the words he’d spoken, if he truly cared enough to wait for her. After all, her husband hadn’t had any difficulty forgetting her.
And what if she was wrong about Andres? What if he wasn’t worthy of her love? Her marriage to a man she’d thought she’d loved had taught her not to trust her judgment.
A folded kerchief was thrust at her.
She turned, following the hand holding it to Wright. “Go on. Take it,” he said.
Gillian didn’t move. She didn’t want him to be kind. “I don’t need it,” she murmured, staring out the window again. The coach had reached the end of the drive and turned onto the road. They were on their way.
“My mistake,” he answered. “I thought you were crying.”
She kept silent, wishing the telltale tracks of tears didn’t run down her cheeks.
“It’s hard to leave places with people you like and admire,” he said as if they were having a conversation.
Apparently not needing comment from her, he continued, “I remember when I was sent off to school.
It was hard leaving my tutors and governess. Then, when I had to leave school, it was hard leaving there. I became accustomed to the way things were.”
She didn’t want to hear his stories. She didn’t want him to make himself sound human or empathetic. The only way she could see her way through this was to think of him as the enemy.
“I’m not sad to leave, Wright,” she said. “I’m sad to be leaving with you.”
The moment the words left her lips, Gillian wished she could call them back. It was not in her nature to be deliberately cruel. And, yet, perhaps that was what was needed to keep him at a distance.
She sat back in the seat, crossing her arms and warring with her conscience.
He was silent.
Gillian dared not look at him. They sat thus for what seemed an interminable amount of time.
Finally, she said, “I’m sorry to speak rudely. But you should know you have no hold over me. I’m not the silly goose of a girl you married. Things had changed between us.”
“I gathered that idea when I had to fight a duel with a Spaniard,” Wright drawled out.
She slid a look in his direction, wondering if he was angry or if he mocked her. She was discovering she couldn’t tell with him.
He didn’t seem to be paying attention to her but looked out his window. His face in profile gave no clue to his inner thoughts.
Gillian closed her eyes and pretended to sleep. No one had to talk when they were asleep. She stayed quiet for a good long time, but eventually the silence became too much for her. She half opened her eyes a bit to see if he’d noticed she’d gone to sleep.
He appeared to be asleep, too.
No, he really was asleep. Here she sat, her every thought taken up with him and his outrageous behavior and he had the indecency to put her out of his mind and take a snooze.
She glared hard at him, willing him to wake.
Wright didn’t move. In fact, it almost sounded as if he snored. Not awful, room vibrating snores but the soft sound of someone who was exhausted.
Gillian threw herself back into her corner of the coach, glad she’d met Andres. Wright had the disconcerting ability to upset her. He didn’t have to do anything. Even sleeping he upset her…except it gave her a chance to be silently critical of him.
He needed a shave. The growth wasn’t heavy but it was definitely out of character. Wright had often shaved two times a day all those years ago when she’d been close enough to him to notice these things. He appeared now as if he’d missed his morning shave, which wouldn’t be surprising considering he’d been traveling, but it wouldn’t explain his overlong hair.
Interestingly, there were other signs about him that his valet was not doing his job well. Four years ago, Wright had been meticulous about his dress and his person. His valet Hammond was infamous for being just as much a stickler. Either Hammond had left Wright’s service or the valet was going a bit daft.
For example, Gillian remembered Hammond boasting that he used a special starch on neck cloths and had a secret method for applying it. However, right now, the ends of Wright’s drooped like any other mortal man’s. And one of the buttons on Wright’s greatcoat hung by a thread.
Every female instinct inside her sensed there was a mystery here. Something was not as it should be.
Then again, hadn’t that always been the case with her husband?
He snuggled closer to his door as if trying to make himself comfortable.
Gillian wished she had thought to bring along some needlework. Then perhaps she wouldn’t be so distracted by Wright’s presence that she was counting his whisker hairs.
She imagined he had not taken the marquess’s orders for him to return to England well. Wright had always been a bit of a rebel in his family. Of course, as the youngest son, no one had cared much.
There had been two other sons between him and the title. But that had all changed with their deaths.
Gillian had been living under Atherton’s roof when they’d brought news that the oldest, Anthony, had died in a wild coaching accident. Supposedly he had bribed the mail’s driver to give him the reins and that action had almost cost all the passengers their lives. The marquess didn’t waste a beat but had ordered that his second son Thomas be sent to him.
And then Thomas had died in a misfortunate accident. He’d been walking along a narrow side street in a very disreputable area of town after losing a sinful amount of money at a gaming club. It was said a cat had jumped on a window ledge, knocking over a heavy clay flower pot. The pot had fallen on Thomas’s head, killing him instantly.
When the marquess had ordered them to send for Wright, Gillian had known the time had come to leave. She’d hated living in that cold house where even the servants had treated her with disdain. She knew then that if she didn’t attempt to escape, she’d have no chance once her husband returned.
And she wasn’t about to suffer what she’d endured before he’d gone to war when he’d spent his time with his mistress and not with her. The marchioness had once alluded that Gillian was less of a woman because of Wright’s preference for Jess. If that wasn’t a reason to pack her bags and leave, Gillian didn’t know of one.
Her gaze slid back to her husband. Questions crowded her mind about Jess’s death. She’d known very little about her. After he’d left for the Peninsula, there had been no reason to know anything.
Gillian had spent many a restless night resenting the woman, but she hadn’t wanted her to die. She’d never have wished that on anyone.
He shifted, turning toward her, his arms folded at his waist, and she caught the glint of gold on his ring finger.
Wright was wearing his wedding band.
She was shocked. She should have noticed it earlier when he’d removed his gloves to duel with Andres. She couldn’t remember if he wore it after they were first married. She’d been too miserable to care.
Gillian glanced at her gloved left hand knowing she wasn’t wearing her wedding band. She’d taken it off the moment she’d decided to leave him and hadn’t missed it at all.
So why did she feel guilty now?
She glanced back at his ring. She’d purchased it herself. It was the one thing she’d done for her own wedding. His parents had taken over the planning of the event, and her father and stepmother had been thankful to them for doing so. As Aunt Agatha had explained, the marchioness understood what was expected by society for such a grand event better than Gillian and her parents did—and could afford what needed to be done.
Gillian had been swept along, a small player in the midst of a grand event. She’d barely known Wright before he’d asked her father for her hand…and didn’t know him any better afterward.
The first time they had ever been alone had been on their wedding night.
She pushed back against the seat, closing her eyes tight, willing away the memories and failing.
That was the night Wright had told her about his mistress, the night he had confessed he’d loved this former dairy maid who had grown up with him. Of course, he’d made his confession after the marriage had been consummated.
And for that, she could never forgive him.
As if sensing her anger, Wright woke with a start. He glanced around, his eyes glassy. Realizing he was sprawled across the seat, he sat up. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to take over.”
“You’re very tired,” she observed.
He nodded and rubbed a hand over his face.
“Your valet is not doing you a service,” she said. “The marvelous Hammond is growing lax in his duties.”
“Hammond is fine,” he replied. He yawned. She realized he wasn’t angry. He was trying to stay awake.
Again, she had a sense that all was not as it should be. “Wright, is something wrong?”
His head whipped around. “Why do you believe something is wrong?”
“I’ve never seen you sleep this hard.” She could have mentioned the wedding band, or that after months of writing, his sudden appearance at Huntleigh could be seen as a concern.
“I haven’t been sleeping well,” he murmured. “It’s nothing more.”
“Jess’s death has really saddened you, hasn’t it?” she asked, curiosity making her probe for the truth.
His brows came up. He leaned back in his corner. Slowly he nodded his head. “I knew her all my life…” His voice trailed off as if he didn’t wish to discuss the matter.
But Gillian had to ask questions. The man she knew as her husband was acting strangely. She remembered him as being almost as cold and indifferent as his father. This was a new Wright, and she didn’t know if she trusted him.
“What is going on, Wright? Why did you come for me? Why did you put on your wedding band?
And why this almost disregard for Jess’s death?”
That gained his attention.
“I don’t have disregard for Jess’s death,” he bit out.
“You seem remarkably—” She paused, searching her mind for the right word. “Sober. You are sober but not heartbroken over her death.”
“I’ve adjusted to the idea,” he mumbled, an idea Gillian found preposterous. But then he went for the attack before critical words could escape her mouth. “And I have a name,” he insisted crossly. “Why do you insist on referring to me by my title as if we are mere acquaintances?”
“Because we are mere acquaintances.”
He scowled at her, an expression so terrible it startled a laugh out of her. That wasn’t what he’d wanted. “I might have liked you better when you were a mousy debutante,” he muttered.
“I know you didn’t,” she countered.
For a second, he looked stunned, and then gave a bark of laughter. “You’re right. I actually admire your spirit. You have bottom, Gillian,” he said, referring to her courage, and then he smiled his approval, the expression completely transforming him into the man she’d tumbled into love with that night on the ballroom floor…and she couldn’t help but smile back.
Wright seemed to have changed. This man was different than the one she’d married. They would not have had such a moment four years ago. She liked him better now.
He held up his left hand. “Is the ring what bothers you? I’ll take it off if you wish, but mind you, Gillian, my not wearing this ring doesn’t make us any less married. We are what we are. You might not like it. You might not like me. But I am your husband.”
Perhaps it was Jess’s death that had freed him to come for her? Perhaps he truly did want to be her husband.
Her expectations of him, her opinions all seemed to be turned upside down. Gillian knew she shouldn’t trust him, but was surprised at how open she was to this new person he seemed to have become. Was it her imagination that he was gentler, kinder…more considerate? Such small things and yet they wore well over time.
“What is going on here, Wright? Why did you come for me?”
“I told you I needed you.”
He said the words as if they were the explanation for everything.
“And I don’t know that I have anything to give you. I fear it is too late for us. We aren’t good for each other. We never were. And I want you to know, I will not go back to live under your father’s roof. I can’t live among such shallow people any longer. I refuse to do so.”
Again, his reaction was not what she’d anticipated. He shrugged. “We won’t be going to my father’s house.”
Gillian’s mouth dropped open. She had to close it before she could ask, “You don’t live there. And they let you?” She fell back against the seat. “I thought especially after your brothers’ deaths and how hard they battled with you to return to London, they were going to keep you under lock and key.”
“Come along, Gillian. I am more my own man than that.”
She rolled her eyes. “I know the marquess. Everything must be his way.”
The angry muscle in his jaw tightened. She wondered if he knew how easily he gave away what he was thinking with the tense reaction. “I know my family’s faults, Gillian. I don’t need instruction from you.”
“Did you come for me because you need a housekeeper?” she guessed, ignoring his show of temper.