Read The Reluctant Marquess Online

Authors: Maggi Andersen

Tags: #Regency, #General, #Romance, #Historical, #Erotica, #Fiction

The Reluctant Marquess (14 page)

BOOK: The Reluctant Marquess
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When Brigitte appeared, she said, “Take out my carriage dress and pack a small trunk for me, please. I am retiring to the country for a time.”

“Will you be away long, my lady?” Going to the clothespress, Brigitte cast a backward glance, her eyes clouded. No doubt much had been made of her and Robert’s behavior in the servants’ quarters.

“Get me pen and paper first,” Charity said. “I shall write you a recommendation. Lady Fremont requires a ladies maid. She has had her eye on you for some time.”

“But I prefer to work for you, my lady,” Brigitte protested.

“You will enjoy working for a Frenchwoman. I believe she refuses to wear anything but Parisian clothes.”

“Vraiment?” Brigitte looked slightly mollified. “How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know. I feel the need of a good rest and some fresh air.” The excuse seemed apt as she did look pale and wan lately.

“Pack my simplest clothes. I shan’t be attending any balls or parties.” She sat down at her bureau and scratched out a note to Lady Fremont extolling Brigitte’s virtues and one to Robert, echoing what she had just told the maid. It sounded so rational and sensible she was surprised when she read it again.

The words lacked all the emotion and distress she suffered. She still trembled as she folded it and sealed it with wax. “Please deliver this to my husband’s valet,” she said and handed it to Brigitte.

After changing into a carriage dress, she calmed herself and went downstairs, passing the footman who’d just taken up position in the corridor. “How is your gout today, Barker? Has the powdered elm bark helped?”

He gave a brief, self-conscious smile. “It did, thank you, my lady.”

Buttoning her redingote, she made her way to the foyer and found the butler there. “I’d like the carriage within the hour, Hove. I’m returning to Cornwall for a time.”

Hove’s polite expression didn’t alter beyond a faint flicker in his eyes. “Very well, Lady St Malin. Do you wish to leave a message for his lordship?”

“I have done so.”

“You shall be taking your maid?”

“No. I go alone.”

Hove’s eyebrows snapped down, before he recovered himself. Snobbish man, Charity thought crossly. Some of the servants were more conscious of upholding propriety than the ton themselves.

“I would advise that two armed footmen accompany you. And there’s your carriage pistol should you need it.”

Chastened by the man’s obvious concern, she said contritely, “If you feel it necessary, Hove.”

“Highwaymen frequent that route, my lady. One can’t be too careful.”

“I’m sure you are right.”

A footman opened the front door for her, and she went down the steps, already planning her trip. She had a handsome dress allowance, certainly enough to pay for two night’s accommodation. To simplify matters, she would stop at the same inns where she and Robert had stayed. Both were of the highest standard. Not that she cared for such things, but it would prove safer.

Robert arrived home at dusk, his wet coat dripping cold water down his neck and his Italian leather boots squelching and spattered with mud. It had poured during the race. He could barely see the track, and Mercury, who took a dislike to the heavy going, ran a distant fourth. The horse pulled up sore and would spend time out to pasture. He had cursed himself a thousand times for his treatment of Charity that morning. Why on earth had he not just invited her to join him? It would have been a generous thing to do. Charley Bartholomew would have waited and they might have gone in the carriage. It would have pleased him to watch her enjoying herself. Then that awful scene would not have erupted. He should have stayed and put things to rights.

Robert groaned at his cowardice. Yes, cowardice. It hurt to admit it, but he’d refused to face up to anything of late. Not so Charity. She had taken up the reins of her new situation in life with remarkable aplomb. She made a gracious marchioness. He’d failed there too. He should have praised her more often. When had he become so mean-spirited?

He shrugged out of his damp travelling coat. Perhaps it wasn’t too late. He would do so now. His anger at what he saw as her disloyalty had melted away. And he could not find it in his heart to believe her of infidelity with Southmore, or anyone else. That bastard might pursue her, but she would never welcome it. Now capable of clarity of thought, he saw that he was at fault. But would she forgive him?

He stripped off his gloves and handed Hove his mahogany cane, coat and hat. “Where is Lady St Malin?” he asked, combing his fingers through his hair.

A gleam appeared in Hove’s eye. “Why, she’s gone to Cornwall, my lord.”

Damn the man, why did he look so self-righteous? Robert frowned. “Cornwall?”

“My lady said she left you a note, my lord. Perhaps with your valet?” Dread rising in his throat to choke him, Robert ran upstairs, seeking Fenton. He found his valet at the clothespress sorting through his stocks.

Fenton turned. “I’d better have those boots, my lord,” he said with a grimace.

“Never mind that man, do you have a note for me?”

“Yes, I do, my lord.”

Fenton hurried to the bureau and snatched up the note. Robert scanned it quickly. The formal letter revealed little. Crumpling it in his hand, he paced the room. He knew her state of mind all too well; had been aware of it for some time.

She had wanted something from him, for some obscure reason, he felt he couldn’t give. She had wanted his love. He uttered a string of curses under his breath as he forced himself to face yet another truth. He had been angry in one way or another since the will was read. Did he want her to suffer as well for his past hurts? The thought sent a prickle of shame up his spine. He rubbed the back of his neck as if to eradicate it. Pivoting on his heel, he was filled with a new sense of purpose. Might something wonderful come from all this even now?

His valet waited, looking expectant. “Pack my trunk, Fenton. For a lengthy stay in Cornwall.”

“Best remove those muddy boots, my lord. And change your clothes before you catch your death.”

Fenton had a one track mind, Robert thought. But he was right; he couldn’t visit looking like he’d lost his senses, although he felt quite close to it. He fell into a chair and held out his foot for the valet to pull off his boot.

Fenton straddled his leg and pulled. “Do you wish a bath drawn, my lord?”

“No time for that. A basin and hot water will suffice.”

Washed and wearing fresh clothes, Robert left the room and went downstairs to the salon. The candelabrums had been lit, and a fire burned in the grate. He pulled the bell and poured himself a whisky. The drink warmed his insides as he sipped it, but failed to ease his angst as he stood in front of Charity’s portrait. How regal she looked, like the true marchioness she had become. Sir Thomas had captured all those qualities Robert had resolutely ignored. Her calm good sense as well as her beauty. He had thrust away her every attempt at affection, spurning her concern for him and her loyalty. What a fool he was. The door opened, and the butler entered. “I require the brougham, Hove.”

“As you wish, my lord.” Hove cast an approving glance at the portrait. “Lady St Malin looks very fine, doesn’t she, my lord.”

“She does indeed. My lady took the coach, I gather?”

“Yes, my lord. I took the liberty of sending two of the footman to accompany her. I made sure they were armed.”

Robert nodded. “You did well, Hove. Hire a chaise for tomorrow. I leave for Cornwall at first light.”

A smile lit Hove’s eyes. “I’ll send a footman right away, my lord.”

A muscle worked in Robert’s jaw as he climbed into the brougham. “Portman Square.”

He had a lot to do to start putting things to rights. He would begin with his mother. He was prepared to eat crow for Charity’s sake and attempt to repair the rift. But he’d be damned if he’d fall upon his step-father’s breast and beg forgiveness. He grinned at the thought. There was only so much his minx of a wife could make him do.

He walked into the sitting room to find his mother and father had been enjoying a glass of sherry on the sofa. What a cozy pair they made. He tried to ignore the reaction he always felt, like a knot settling in his solar plexus. Had he not got over all this by now? He bowed. “Mother, Charlesworth.”

His mother rose and flew to him. “Robert.” She tenderly put a hand up to touch his face.

He bent and kissed her cheek, painfully aware that she was growing older. “Sit down, Mother. I believe I’ll have a drink also.”

Lord Charlesworth beckoned to the footman. “A brandy?”

“Please.”

When they’d settled, Robert took a breath. “Charity accuses me of being a poor son. A poor husband as well, but that’s between her and me. I’d like to repair the rift in our relationship, if you agree.”

“Agree? Oh, Robert.” His mother balled a handkerchief in her hand, her eyes misty.

Lord Charlesworth nodded stiffly.

“It is time to put paid to old wounds.” Robert took a fortifying swig, tasting walnut, almonds and vanilla, the hallmarks of the best French brandy. “I know I’ve not acted well.”

“No, you haven’t.” Lord Charlesworth frowned. “But I’m sure we can put that down to immaturity.”

Robert could still feel rage towards this man. It heated his gut, and he opened his mouth to retort. But then he remembered Charity; to win her love this must be done. He took another swallow. “I will always remain fond of my mother, Charlesworth,” he said carefully. “I understand her needs and wish her and my siblings to be a part of my life. But the truth of it,” he couldn’t resist adding, “is that you did not want me as part of yours. After you married my mother, and particularly after your first child was born, you wished me to the very devil.”

“Robert,” his mother gasped.

“And I know for a fact that you swayed Millicent Burrowdale’s father against my suit,” Robert continued ruthlessly. Lord CharlesworthCharleston’s self-righteous expression didn’t alter. He still thought he’d been right, damn him. In Charlesworth’s opinion, Millicent, a merchant’s daughter, was not suitable.

Robert felt a prickle of anger at the thought, despite the fact that when he’d met Millicent recently, he found her surprisingly shallow and rather dull.

“The girl was well beneath your touch,” Lord Charlesworth said, still with that smug look Robert disliked so much. “And I thought that you needed guidance in the matter. Past history now though.” He took his wife’s hand. “My concern is for my dear wife. Anything to make her happy.”

Perhaps the man, fatuous as he was, spoke the truth. Robert had puzzled over what his mother saw in Charlesworth after being married to his father, an active member of Parliament and a most imposing personage. But who was he to judge? He glanced at his mother and clamped his lips on the accusation that she had not stood up for him nor taken his side when he desperately needed it. He now understood how easy it was to make a mistake. No one was infallible, least of all he. He accepted how torn she must have been.

He put down his glass and rose. “Then we are in agreement.”

He went to kiss his mother’s cheek. “I am going to Cornwall for a time. When I return, my wife and I shall call on you.”

“She is a wonderful young woman, Robert. I like her very much.”

“I do too, Mother.”

“I know you’ll be kind to her. She is deserving of your love.”

There was something in her gaze he hadn’t seen before. She treated him like a man and no longer merely her recalcitrant child of ten and four. The age he’d been when all this began. He suffered a swift and painful desire to make her proud of him.

He left the house, feeling relieved and lighter somehow.

Robert sat in the carriage deep in thought. It was easy to like Charity. In fact, he loved her. Funny, when he admitted it to himself, he didn’t feel even a twinge of fear.

With two footmen riding shotgun, the trip proved uneventful, despite Hove’s fears. In the afternoon of the third day, tired and desperately unhappy, Charity arrived at the castle. Memories assailed her. She had left here with so much hope and now returned defeated.

The carriage entered the cobbled courtyard, and a footman jumped down to assist her. James rushed out to welcome her, followed closely by Felix.

“Lady St Malin,” he said. “We received no word of your coming.”

“No. I’m remiss, James.” Charity returned his warm smile. “It was a hasty decision. I found I needed some rest and fresh air. London is exciting, but it does drain one.”

“We have plenty of fresh air here, my lady,” he said with a grin.

“Send the carriage back to London tomorrow,” Charity said. “I have no need of it, but his lordship may.” She wondered as she said it if she would ever return to London.

“Right you are, my lady.”

In her old chamber, Charity removed her hat and sat by the window. It was autumn and cooler, but the grass was still green along the shore, and the sky a clear, cloudless blue. All the colours here seemed brighter. After the grey skies of London, it looked like heaven. She heard the slap of the waves on the shore and wished she could enjoy it all with a light heart. Seagulls soared, their sad mournful cry echoing her feelings. The heavy smell of the sea wafted in on the breeze, and salty tears gathered at the back of her throat.

A knock came at the door.

“Come in.” Charity quickly wiped her eyes. “Rebecca. How nice.” A footman followed, carrying her trunk.

“I didn’t bring much with me this time, Rebecca.”

“Shall I attend to the gowns before they crease, my lady?”

“Yes, thank you.” Sagging in a chair, she watched the girl’s brisk movements. She was almost afraid to be alone with her thoughts.

James appeared at the door. “Is there anything more I can do, my lady?”

“I’ll take my afternoon tea in the library.”

“I’ll have a fire going in there in a trice. And alert Cook. He’ll want to prepare one of your favourite meals.”

“Thank you.” Charity swallowed. “You’re so kind.”

With a bark of welcome, Felix joined her in the library. From the long windows, shadows slanted across the meadows with the setting sun. A branch of a maple tree, its leaves a fiery crimson, scratched against the leaded panes. She settled on the sofa stroking the dog’s silky head and thinking back to the night she’d first met Robert. In her mind’s eye, she saw him standing with an arm resting on the mantel, one long leg crossed over the other at the ankle. With distance between them she began to examine why it had all gone so wrong. She had made mistakes, she admitted, but couldn’t he have forgiven her? She’d tried so hard to be the graceful wife he wanted.

BOOK: The Reluctant Marquess
13.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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