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Authors: Robin Schone

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Erotica

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Beadles
was far too dignified to comment on his mistress’s odd behavior. The top of his
balding head gleamed in the weak beam of sunlight that had trailed her steps.

Elizabeth
bit her lip to contain a hysterical laugh.

It was all
so anticlimactic ... so
normal.

Who would
ever suspect that Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Petre, daughter of the prime minister and
wife to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had blackmailed her way into the
Bastard Sheikh’s house that she might convince him to tutor her on how to give
a man pleasure?

Perhaps
she would awaken to find that this was all a dream and that her husband was
exactly as she had always thought him to be, a man who was more comfortable
with politics than he was with women.

Perhaps
she would awaken and find that the nasty, hurtful rumors that he had a mistress
were false.

Suddenly,
her plan to be tutored by the Bastard Sheikh—a plan that had previously seemed
bold and daring—now seemed merely tawdry.

She had
discussed her marriage with another man. A man who had said things that no
gentleman ever said in front of a lady. Crude words like “bedding” a woman.

She had
spoken of matters and used words that no lady uttered — ever.

Elizabeth
forced herself to walk and not run up the stairs.

She needed
to see her husband.

She needed
him to reassure her that she was still a virtuous, respectable woman.

Her
bedroom adjoined his. She would just peek in to see if he was awake. Then they
would have the talk that but for her lack of courage they would have had years
before.

Heart
pounding, she gently eased open Edward’s door.

His room
was empty. The starched linen sheets and forest-green-velvet spread were neatly
turned down.

Clearly he
had not slept in his bed.

Moisture
burned the backs of her eyelids.

Softly
closing the door—afraid she would jar free the tears that seemed never far from
the surface this last week—she turned around . . . and almost died of heart
failure.

A plain,
round-faced woman enigmatically smiled across Elizabeth’s unmade bed. “You are
up early this morning, Mrs. Petre. I brought you a pot of hot chocolate. Though
the worst of winter is over, it is still quite cold outside.”

Elizabeth
took a deep breath to fight down the scream that clamored for release. “Thank
you, Emma. That was thoughtful of you.”

“The dean
rang up on the telephone. Young Master Phillip has been at it again.”

A smile
lit Elizabeth’s eyes at mention of her younger son, now in his second term at
Eton. Eleven years old, Phillip was bold and bright and she missed him dearly.

It did not
matter that he had not inherited the scholarly abilities of his father and
grandfather. He had the gift of laughter. And that, combined with his boyish
love of mischief, had afforded Elizabeth ample opportunity these last few
months to further her acquaintance with the dean.

Emma set
the silver tray onto the nightstand and arranged its contents to her
satisfaction. “The dean talked to Mr. Petre’s secretary.”

Elizabeth
casually crossed the dark blue wool carpet—so very English in comparison to the
bright Oriental carpet covering the Bastard Sheikh’s library floor—to her desk.
“I see. I suppose Mr. Petre had already left for an appointment.”

The muted
sound of pouring liquid was followed by the overwhelmingly sweet odor of chocolate.
“I wouldn’t know, madam.”

So many
lies, Elizabeth grimly thought as she slid the reticule with the forbidden book
inside it underneath the rolltop lid of her desk.

Emma was
fully aware that Mr. Petre had not slept in his bed. As, no doubt, were all the
other servants.

How long
had they shielded her from the fact that her husband preferred another woman’s
bed?

She peeled
off her cloak and bonnet and tossed them onto the ladderback chair in front of
her desk. The black gloves followed.

Silently,
she accepted the delicate rose-patterned china cup and matching saucer that
Emma offered her. Unable to face the abigail’s knowing eyes, she shied away to
stare out the window.

Pale
yellow sunshine shone on a gnarled, lifeless rose garden. Dried-out hay covered
the barren ground to protect hidden roots, unattractive but effective.

The
Bastard Sheikh’s voice danced and shimmered inside her head.

You
will find, Mrs. Petre, that when it comes to sexual pleasure, all men are of a
certain nature.

How many
times, when she had thought that her husband had merely risen early to attend
parliamentary duties, had he in actuality not come home at all?

She leaned
her forehead against the cold glass. Hot steam spiraled up from her cup and
fogged the window.

Today was
Monday. Elizabeth was scheduled to tour a hospital at ten and hostess a charity
luncheon at twelve. She needed to plan her wardrobe and a short speech, but all
she could think about was the empty room adjoining hers.

What if it
weren’t her lack of sexual knowledge that repelled Edward? What if it were . .
.
she?
Her body, her personality, the utter lack of political charisma
she had failed to inherit from either her mother or her father?

A sparrow
darted up toward the sky. It carried in its beak a piece of hay to add to its
nest.

Suddenly,
Elizabeth knew what she needed.

She needed
to surround herself with a child’s uncomplicated love.

Or perhaps
she needed to make sure that her clandestine meeting with the Bastard Sheikh
had not somehow tarnished her relationship with her two sons.

Elizabeth
turned her back onto the lifeless rose garden. “Tell Mr. Petre’s secretary to
send a note to The Good Women’s Charity Organization. Tell him to write that I
cannot attend the hospital tour or speak at the luncheon because of an
unexpected emergency.”

“Very
good, madam.”

Renewed
life flowed through Elizabeth’s veins. Being a desirable wife might be beyond
her capabilities, but being a good mother was not.

She
flashed Emma a rare smile. “Have Cook prepare a picnic for two ravenous boys.
Then order a carriage to drive me to the train station. I am going to spend the
day with my sons.”

A soft,
elusive scent teased her nostrils.

The
perfume.

“But first
I would like you to draw me a bath, please.”

“Would you care
for refreshment, Mrs. Petre?”

The dean pointedly stared at his ornate gold pocket watch. His
neatly trimmed whiskers, silver with age, twitched with annoyance.

He did not like conducting business with a mere woman, even if
that woman was the mother of two of his students. Especially when she had
barged in without an appointment.

Elizabeth smiled, refusing to be intimidated by the older man’s
obvious attempts to do just that. Having confronted the Bastard Sheikh, she did
not think any man could ever discomfit her again.

“No, thank you, Dean Whitaker. What has my son done now?”

“Master Phillip attacked a student at breakfast this morning.” The
dean slipped his watch back into his pocket and pinned her with a glare from
beneath bushy white brows. “He had to be physically restrained.”

“And what did this other student do to provoke him?” she asked
sharply, her maternal instincts bristling.

“Master Phillip claims Master Bernard is a Whig, madam, and as
such is an outrage to his social conscience.”

Elizabeth was torn between amusement and shock.

On the one hand, Phillip had never shown any interest in politics.
On the other hand, he had never before engaged in fisticuffs.

That he would simultaneously develop the two tendencies rang a
warning bell inside her head.

“And what does Master Bernard have to say?” she asked mildly.

“He does not say, madam. Your son’s shocking display of violence
has reduced him to a quivering mass of nerves.”

Elizabeth surveyed the dean’s outrage for long seconds. Finally, “What
form, pray tell, is Master Bernard in?”

“Master Bernard is in the ... fifth form.”

The dean was reluctant to relay the information.

With good reason.

Phillip was eleven and in the first form. Bernard, in the fifth
form, had only one more form to complete before graduation.

Her son was indeed ferocious to reduce a student who was four to
six years older than himself into a “quivering mass of nerves.”

“Are you suspending Phillip, Dean Whitaker? Because if you are, I
must inform you that I have been considering removing Phillip for quite some
time. Harrow, I believe, offers a higher standard of education than does Eton.
And, of course, if I remove Phillip, then I will also take Richard. I know he
has only six more months before he takes his exams, but still. . .”

“There is no need to jump to conclusions, Mrs. Petre.” The dean
was loath to lose not only money but prestige—the two boys had a very
influential grandfather and father, both of whom had attended
Eton. “I am sure that with
the appropriate monetary funds—after all, damages were minimal, and boys
will
be boys—”

Elizabeth stood up. “Please contact Mr. Kinder, my husband’s
secretary. He will make arrangements to pay you for damages. I would like to
see my two sons now.”

“Master Phillip is in detention and Master Richard is in class.
Perhaps another time .. .’

“I think not, Dean Whitaker,” she said briskly. “Harrow is looking
more and more desirable.”

“Very well, Mrs. Petre.” He picked up a small brass bell and rang
it. Immediately, his clerk, a middle-aged man with stooped shoulders who was as
timid as the dean was aggressive, entered the room.

“Bring Petre major and Petre minor to the visitor’s salon, Mr.
Hayden. Mrs. Petre, if you will follow me.”

Two pairs of shoes echoed hollowly along the wooden hallway, the
dean’s soft and unassuming, hers sharp and intrusive.

Eton was a depressing place, Elizabeth thought, all gleaming wood
without one single finger smear to account for the hundreds of boys who
occupied its hallowed halls.

The dean threw open a door and stepped back for her to enter. “Pray,
make yourself comfortable, Mrs. Petre. Master Phillip and Master Richard will be
here directly.”

The visitor’s salon was not a room that invited comfort. It
contained two leather wing chairs that confronted a rigid walnut sofa with a
three-medallion back and eight legs. A small, mean coal fire burned in the dark
granite fireplace beside the sofa.

Taking off her cloak, bonnet, and gloves, Elizabeth perched on the
edge of the sofa and stared at the glowering coals.

She wished she could keep her two sons home with her, warm and
safe from harm.

She wished it were enough being a mother.

She wished

“Hullo, Mother.”

Elizabeth swiveled around on the edge of the sofa.

Phillip stood in the doorway, auburn hair ruthlessly combed back
from his face. He nervously shuffled from one foot to the other.

His left eye was swollen shut. His right one was bright with
unshed tears.

She wanted to run to him and smother him with hugs and kisses.

She wanted to sweep him away from Eton and all of its dangers.

She wanted to give him the dignity he was so valiantly struggling
to hold on to.

“Hello, Phillip.”

“You talked to the dean.”

Elizabeth did not bother responding to what was plainly obvious.

“Am I going to be expelled?”

“Do you want to be?”

“No.”

“Do you want to tell me why you picked a fight with a boy in the
fifth form? Those are pretty vicious odds.”

Phillip balled his fists. “Bernard’s a Whig—”

“Please do not insult my intelligence by repeating that nonsense.
Besides, we do not call them Whigs anymore—they are Liberals.”

His shoulders drooped. “I’m not a boy anymore, Mother.”

“I know you are not, Phillip.” She offered him a wry smile. “You
have the black eye to prove it.”

He stood a little taller at her words . . . and seemed to grow
even younger than his eleven years. “Please don’t ask me why I started the
fight. I don’t want to lie to you.”

“Obviously, I must ask you, and because you have never lied to me
before, I do not believe you will now.”

Phillip stared down at his shoes; finally, he mumbled, “He said
something.”

“About you?”

“No.”

“About Richard?”

BOOK: The Lady's Tutor
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