Authors: Cathy Maxwell
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Love Stories, #Historical, #Nobility, #London (England), #Regency Fiction, #Nobility - England, #Marital Conflict
“I have a housekeeper,” he returned levelly. “What I want is a wife.”
“We’ve had this conversation,” she said almost pleasantly. “I don’t want to be your wife.”
“I should have married a meeker woman,” he grumbled, and she had to laugh.
“I will accept that as a compliment.” She turned to face him. “Now, tell me why you really came for me.”
Wright groaned and leaned his head against the back of the seat. “You are tenacious.”
“Thank you,” she said dryly.
He stared at the ceiling a moment and then said, “I want a position on Liverpool’s personal staff.
There are those in Parliament and the War Office that wish Wellington to return home. They believe we have no chance of defeating Napoleon. They are wrong. We are going to chase the bugger all the way back to Paris and put him in a cage. However, Wellington’s enemies will do anything to stop the war, even to cutting off funds. I can help the army in the War Office. I can see that the men receive what they need to fight hard and fight well.”
He turned to her. “My father doesn’t want me there. He believes there is no political advantage and wants me to accept an ambassadorship to Holland. It doesn’t carry the political costs of the position Liverpool is offering.”
“And you don’t want to be an ambassador?”
“Absolutely not. I’d rather count bullets and boots for our fighting men than sip tea with diplomats.”
Gillian ran her fingers over the velvet muff between them, considering this information. “It helps that my father is one of Lord Liverpool’s mentors.”
“It does,” he agreed, his voice carefully neutral.
“I know his lordship. He’s always been kind to me.”
“He has,” her husband agreed.
Thoughtfully, Gillian brushed over the velvet before reaching a decision. She raised her gaze to his.
“If I help you, what will you do for me?”
“So it has come to that between us. Tit for tat. Very well, Gillian, what is it you want?”
“My freedom, Wright. What I’ve always wanted.”
“I won’t give you a divorce,” he insisted. “I can’t.”
“Yes, you can,” she challenged. “If you take on a position as a member of Liverpool’s staff, you will be able to do anything…quietly. So there’s my price, Wright.”
“What if I don’t?”
She smiled. “Then I shall make such a noise and fuss over our marriage that no one shall want you around them. I’ll disgrace you, Wright, and I’ll leave you anyway.” Who would have thought four years ago that she’d have so much power?
His gaze narrowed. She braced herself for a broadside of anger.
Instead, he drew back into his corner of the coach on that observation. For a long moment, he was silent. “Very well,” he said at last.
“Very well, what?” Gillian pressed.
He leaned toward her. “You help me succeed at gaining the position I want on Liverpool’s staff, and I will give you your freedom.”
He had agreed . She was stunned. She could be with Andres.
“But for now, you must play the adoring wife,” Wright reminded her. “And you must do it convincingly.”
“I’m a marvelous actress,” she assured him, her spirits soaring with happiness.
“Then it is a pact,” Wright said. He held out his hand.
“Yes, a pact,” she agreed, taking his hand and giving it a firm shake.
Wright laughed and then brought her fingers to his lips. “You are a formidable opponent, my lady,”
he murmured before brushing a light kiss to the back of her hand. He released his hold before she could protest.
For a second, she sensed a trap. She hadn’t anticipated his capitulation to her demands would be this easy. Then again, he believed in his cause. It meant more to him than her.
Wright lowered the window and leaned out. Gillian had not noticed how dark the day was growing until now. “Pull over at the next decent-looking inn,” Wright ordered George. He sat back into the coach. “There should be someplace to rest our heads coming up here shortly.”
She nodded. This had been a tiring day, one filled with highs and lows. Besides, she never liked traveling in the dark.
They didn’t speak then, each lost in their own thoughts. Gillian’s were on Andres. She could not wait to write and tell him the good news. Perhaps she could post a letter from the inn.
A few minutes later, the coach turned off the main road, stopping at the Bear’s Hollow, a cozy inn located a half mile off the main road. George had known of the place. He told them it was clean and without frills, which was perfectly fine. Gillian was exhausted by the day’s emotions. She longed for nothing more than her dinner and a good night’s sleep.
The innkeeper, Mr. Peters, had a nephew serving under Wellington. He had heard of the dashing Colonel Lord Wright and was honored to have them for guests.
Gillian waited in the coach while Wright made the arrangements. He came out to escort her inside.
“You’ll want some privacy. I’ll wait for you downstairs.” Mr. Peters led her upstairs.
The room he showed her was charming, and very clean. A four-poster bed covered in a white counterpane dominated most of the floor space beneath a window.
Mr. Peters lit the fire in the hearth’s grate and left her to herself, saying, “If you and your lordship need anything, you have only to ask. I pray that the two of you are comfortable here.”
Gillian was happy to see him bow out, desperately needing a moment to freshen up a bit. However, once she was relaxed, the implications of the innkeeper’s kind remarks sank in.
She and Wright were expected to share a room—and that bed, which suddenly seemed very small.
This would not do.
Gillian went downstairs, a woman on a mission. She found Wright in the taproom that also served for dining. He had claimed a small table over by the hearth. A rather large family with several lively children and an elderly parent were sitting at a table in the middle of the room enjoying their dinner.
“How is the room?” Wright asked, rising to his feet as she approached. “By the way, I ordered a glass of sherry for you. I remember it is what you like to sip before dinner.”
“Thank you,” she murmured, as she took a fortifying drink to approach the subject uppermost in her mind. “We must have separate rooms.”
Her husband studied her a moment. He wasn’t pleased.
She readied herself for a quarrel. Her foremost argument would be their pact, but then he said, “Very well. Let me see what I can do.”
At that moment, Mr. Peters and his wife approached the table, carrying trays loaded with food. “I also took the liberty of ordering for you,” Wright confessed and seemed to brace himself for her response.
“It’s perfectly fine,” she said, another topic on her mind more important than his high-handedness.
Besides, she was hungry.
He waited until the majority of the dishes had been placed on the table before raising his voice and saying, “Peters, we have a problem. I am going to need two rooms.”
Caught in the act of placing warm bread on the table, the innkeeper’s brows came together. “Two?”
Wright held up two fingers as confirmation. “Can that be arranged?”
“Yes, yes, my lord. Anything for you.” He glanced over at the tableful of family who had stopped eating their meal to hear if this had anything to do with them. It did. “I’ll tell that family they can’t have the room. We’ll move them out to the barn.”
Shocked, Gillian asked, “Are you saying you only have two rooms in this inn?”
“Two rooms fit for guests,” the innkeeper said. “There’s one other room for my daughter. It’s the tiniest of places. The wife and I sleep in the back parlor. If you will give me a moment?” He bowed and started toward the family.
Wright made no move to call him back. Gillian looked from her husband to the innkeeper who had reached the family’s table. “You aren’t going to stop him?” she asked her husband.
Reaching for bread, Wright said, “My lady wishes two rooms.”
Gillian could have groaned aloud. He was doing this on purpose.
The innkeeper was starting to make his request. The family had gone silent and frowns appeared on several faces. Gillian could not let him go on any longer. “Innkeeper, please, everything is fine.”
“What do you say, my lady?” the innkeeper asked, turning his head as if he were slightly hard of hearing.
“I said, one room is fine,” Gillian answered. “Please do not put those people out.”
“Yes, my lady,” Mr. Peters said with a huge smile of relief. A relief echoed by the family at the other table.
Gillian felt the worst sort of person for even giving them a concern until she glanced at Wright. He buttered his bread, a secret smile on his face.
Every suspicious nerve in her body went on alert. Without a doubt he had an ulterior motive in mind. Wright had plans to seduce her.
At that moment, his gaze met hers, and she knew she was right. He had the devil’s own gleam in his eye. He meant to sleep with her and win her over. He truly thought that she was that simple.
So much for the pact.
But if he thought she was the same foolish girl he’d married years ago, he was wrong.
A woman’s will was much stronger than a man’s…and her husband deserved the lesson she was going to happily teach him. Her heart belonged to Andres and there was no way to make the fact clearer than letting Wright know exactly where he stood in that most sensitive of marital battlegrounds—the bed.
“May I have another glass of sherry, my lord?” she asked sweetly.
“Certainly,” he said, almost filling the glass to the brim. He lifted his in a toast. “To tonight.”
Men could be such fools. Four years ago, she hadn’t understood the power a woman could exercise over one of them. Now, she did.
“Yes, to tonight,” she echoed.
Brian sensed a new ruthlessness to his wife, especially when she gave him such a sweet, “come hither”
She was laying a trap. Years in the military gave him a sense of when to be wary.
And the problem was, the very male part of him didn’t care if it was a trap or not. That part of his anatomy wanted to come to her “hither.”
It had been a long time since he had made love. Too long. Yes, he did want to share a bed with Gillian. Not only were they man and wife, but she had quickly become one of the most fascinating women he’d ever met.
Muscles that had been sore with exhaustion from weeks of sleepless nights now hummed with energy and he went light-headed as blood flowed to another part of his body.
Gillian slid a look at him from beneath her dark lashes with a feminine knowledge as old as time. She knew she had him hard.
And he knew she couldn’t wait to rebuff him.
It was suddenly a game of cat and mouse they were playing. The question was, which one of them was the cat?
Brian grinned, certain it would be him.
Wright’s arm came over to rest protectively on the back of her chair as he held up the sherry bottle.
Gillian had to swallow a smile. This was almost too easy. She knew his intentions. Fortunately she had a good head for drink, but she shook her head anyway. “I’m fine.”
He frowned his disappointment as he set the bottle back on the table.
He did not remove his arm. A moment later, the innkeeper brought over a bottle of wine. Gillian did let Wright pour her a glass and his spirits seemed to be restored by that small allowance. It was actually a respectable vintage and went well with the chicken. Gillian felt herself start to relax.
The truth was, Wright could be a charming companion. Especially when he set his mind to the task.
He started telling her the tale of a Portuguese boy who had climbed to the highest boughs of a tree to save a cat. Both of them became too afraid to climb back down. Wright’s soldiers managed to bring the boy out of the tree but the child was distraught until they agreed to save the cat. The smallest man under Wright’s command had bravely climbed for the cat, only to have the animal hiss and claw at him.
In the end, Wright had gone up himself.
“You are adept at climbing trees?” she asked.
“I am one of the best,” he answered.
Gillian frowned her disbelief and he laughed. “It’s true,” he assured her. “I like climbing them. The higher the better. I climbed almost every one of them at High Meadows.” High Meadows was the Atherton country seat estate in Berkshire. “But I understand why you are laughing. My men weren’t too certain of me either. I had arrived only a few weeks before. I was an untested officer, the worst sort.”
“So what happened?” Gillian asked.
“I proceeded to climb the tree,” Wright said, cutting a slice of his chicken. “Unfortunately, the cat kept moving—upward.”
“Perhaps he didn’t want to be rescued,” she suggested, drawing a parallel with her own circumstance.
He indicated with a lift of his brow he knew what she was thinking. “Sometimes, the sensible course is out of our hands.” She didn’t know if this was part of the tale, or if he was responding to her own unspoken thoughts.
“The thought did strike me,” he admitted, “that if we all left, kitty would have come down on her own. Unfortunately, that course was closed to me. We’d attracted a great deal of attention. I looked down from my perch in the tree to see I was surrounded by every villager for miles around, infantrymen from other companies as well as my own, and Wellington.”
“He was there?” Gillian widened her eyes at the mention of the famous general.
“Yes, watching to see if I would make a fool of myself. It appeared as if I would.”
She leaned toward him, her distrust evaporating in the face of a good story. “So what did you do?”
She knew that Wright would not let the cat best him.
He smiled as if acknowledging her thought. “I followed that cat out onto the highest, thinnest limb.”
“Could it hold your weight?”
“Did it break?”
Wright grinned. “You know it did. First it bent under my weight. The cat was not pleased. He dug his claws into the limb and made great yowling sounds at me. My men said they could be heard all over the valley.”
“And then what happened?”