Read The Uncatchable Miss Faversham Online

Authors: Elizabeth Moss

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Historical Romance

The Uncatchable Miss Faversham (11 page)

BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
9.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

    Eleanor blushed, looking down without much appetite at her plate of cooling eggs.

    However reprehensible, her father’s behaviour was not equitable to Sallinger’s position – visiting his mistress with the woman’s unfortunate husband still alive and on the premises!

    ‘You are not hungry, Miss Faversham?’ Matilda demanded, watching her with interest.

    ‘Not particularly,’ she admitted, putting down her fork. ‘I have never been a great one for breakfast.’

    ‘Small wonder you cannot eat this morning, Miss Faversham,’ Bernard said, patting his greasy mouth with a napkin. ‘Funerals are never conducive to a hearty appetite. And the weather, as my brother has been at such pains to point out, has been moist and unseasonably humid these past few days. There is nothing worse than humidity for the stomach. But you will know all this, I am persuaded, after your upbringing in Jamaica.’

    ‘It is certainly humid in the West Indies,’ Eleanor agreed. ‘But I cannot agree that hot weather must inevitably put one off one’s food. It is possible to adjust even to the hottest climates.’

    ‘Indeed?’

    Thomas grinned at her across the table. ‘I must say, Miss Faversham, what a life you have led. It sounds like quite an adventure – Jamaica, the high seas – ’

    ‘Thomas!’ His brother was frowning again, his long fingers tapping the table. ‘Our late mother is to be buried today, and even though we were never close to Mamma, it behoves us to recall the seriousness of the occasion. Besides, I’m sure Miss Faversham must be too busy for idle chit-chat.’

    Eleanor smiled down the table at the younger man. ‘I’m afraid your brother is right. I do have a hundred things to attend to this morning. But I’d be happy to tell you all about Jamaica later. Maybe tomorrow, if you consent to stay on after the funeral a few days?’

    ‘Bernard?’

    His brother shook his head, finishing his tea and standing up. ‘That is kind of you, Miss Faversham. But business impels me to return to Oxfordshire first thing tomorrow. And Thomas himself plans to travel down to London.’

    Despite his brother’s disapproval, Thomas seemed keen to discuss his travel plans. He turned to her, smiling. ‘Yes, for I intend to seek lodgings with a friend in Whitechapel. So perhaps we will have a chance to talk again at some later date. When do you return to London yourself, Miss Faversham?’

    ‘I’m not sure yet,’ Eleanor said slowly, and found herself blushing again, for no obvious reason.

    Once the funeral was over, there would be nothing to hold her here in Warwickshire. Indeed, she could return to London first thing in the morning. Yet she felt strangely reluctant to do so.

    ‘There is still some business to be dealt with around the estate. But I imagine you will see me in London before the summer.’

    ‘No one stays in London for the summer, of course,’ Matilda said, standing clumsily to join her husband. ‘It is too oppressive.’

    ‘I have been used to go to Brighton in past summers,’ Eleanor agreed. ‘But this year, I may return here to Faversham Hall instead, now that Mrs Lovett is no longer – ’ She broke off, embarrassed by her own lack of sensitivity. ‘But I beg your pardon. I have been rattling on too much as usual, and you are no doubt wishing to prepare yourselves for the funeral. The cortege will leave here for the church at around eleven o’clock, if you would care to join me at that time. I presume you intend to follow the coffin on foot, as the chief mourners?’

    ‘
Danke, ja
. We will be ready for eleven o’clock,’ Matilda stated unequivocally, and with a magnificent curtsey, swept from the breakfast room.

    ‘Thomas?’ Bernard cleared his throat unnecessarily loudly, lingering in the doorway and looking back significantly at his brother. ‘Perhaps you would care to join us in the library for a time of quiet prayer and reflection before the cortege leaves?’

    ‘Frankly, I’d rather – ’

    ‘Now, if you please,’ his brother insisted.

    Eleanor hid her smile. A time of quiet prayer, indeed. The older Mr Lovett was merely concerned about the propriety of leaving her alone with a young bachelor, since she was, after all, still unmarried and – in this house, at least – shockingly unchaperoned.

    Of course, if the older Mr Lovett knew how little virtue she had left to protect, he would be horribly outraged and probably keel over with an apoplexy on the spot. As would most of her London acquaintance, indeed.

    From being the Uncatchable Miss Faversham, she would become the Unspeakable Miss Faversham overnight, with every door in polite society closed to her. Of course, nothing of note had happened except that she, an unmarried girl, had spent one night of her life alone with a man.

    Yet that fact alone would be enough to condemn her in the eyes of society.

    It seemed that the irony of her famous reputation for chastity must never fail to amuse and frustrate her.

    ‘If you would excuse me too,’ she said gently, rising from her own seat only a few seconds after the young man. She dropped both gentlemen a modest curtsey, keeping her eyes lowered. ‘I must speak to the vicar and see about the church flowers. Until eleven o’clock, sirs.’

 

Charlotte shifted uncomfortably next to Nathaniel in the Sallinger family pew, her black taffeta rustling.

    ‘Oh dear, I wonder how much longer we shall have to wait. Perhaps we should have brought cushions. In my condition, these wooden pews can be such a trial,’ Charlotte complained in a whisper. Her glance slid indulgently to her son Robert, whose stubby legs were kicking rhythmically against the underside of the pew. ‘Dearest heart, please don’t kick. Sit nicely for Mama.’

    The boy paid no heed to his doting mother, continuing to sway back and forth on the creaking wooden seat.

    ‘Robert!’ Nathaniel said sharply, and the pale stubby legs stopped mid-kick.

    His nephew looked up at him with a petulant lip, but wisely made no further nuisance of himself, even when his mother bent to smooth back his curls and pat his knee.

    At that moment, there was some commotion at the church door. The cortege must have arrived from Faversham Hall. Mr Reynolds, the church organist, as though responding to some unseen signal, swivelled triumphantly in his seat and struck up the first chords, upon which the air swelled with a mournful dirge. The congregation dutifully rose, a few of them looking curiously back along the aisle at the approaching coffin and its entourage.

    Charlotte, who was always overcome at funerals and weddings alike, gave a quivering cry and buried her face in a black-edged handkerchief, for all the world as though burying one of her own relatives. Her child peered up at her sobbing form scornfully and opened his mouth as though to comment on this performance. Catching his uncle’s stern gaze, however, little Robert bit his lip and remained silent.

    Nathaniel tried not to smile at the boy’s frustrated expression. Very occasionally, looking like ‘a wicked pirate’ - as the exasperating infant had once described his scarred face - had its advantages.

    The coffin swayed into sight, borne aloft by six stalwart men in black. Behind the coffin and its bearers, came the chief mourners, heads bowed. He considered the strangers among them with narrow-eyed interest. The portly gentlemen in front was presumably the eldest son of Mrs Lovett, and the statuesque woman on his arm must be his wife. Which meant that the blond-haired younger man, accompanying Eleanor Faversham, was the youngest Lovett.

    Miss Faversham herself looked a picture of elegant mourning in fine black silk, her gown modestly long and caught up in one hand. His gaze dropped slowly over Eleanor’s pale bosom and slender waist, frustrated by the heavy mourning veil which left him unable to see her expression.

    But it was the sight of her other hand, lying white and still on the young man’s arm, that set Nathaniel’s teeth on edge.

    So the insolent young puppy thought he had permission to touch her, did he?

    Allenby had told him the Lovetts had stayed overnight at the Hall – what other liberties might the youngest one have taken, knowing Eleanor to be alone and unprotected?

    The gossip in the village was that the Lovetts were in trade somewhere near Oxford, had not seen their shockingly disreputable mother in years, and had only come down for the funeral in hope of an inheritance. That told Nathaniel everything he needed to know about young Lovett, whose proprietorial touch as he guided Eleanor into her pew left Nathaniel ready to do violence. The young man was no doubt hoping to seduce and wed the heiress to Faversham Hall, just as his widowed mother had mistakenly hoped to ensnare Eleanor’s father once he was free to remarry.

    Nor did Eleanor’s ease with such intimacy – never once pulling away from Lovett’s touch, as she invariably did when she was with him – help to control his soaring temper.

    Nathaniel realised that his clenched fists were trembling with rage. He folded his arms oppressively across his chest, somewhat relieved when the congregation was invited to sit.

    His sharp-eyed sister saw too much these days; it had taken a great deal of argument earlier in the week to persuade her that he was not still emotionally attached to Miss Faversham. If Charlotte were to spot his reaction now, and make the necessary connections, he would be forced to face her relentless inquisition after the service.

    The funeral service seemed interminable. He muttered the responses with the ease of long habit, sometimes allowing his mind to drift and listening to the sound of soft rain against stained-glass windows instead of the priest’s pious intonations.

    He had often met Eleanor here in secret when she had first come here from Jamaica. The gloom of the village church had proved to be one of the few places where they could be alone together without the eyes of the world upon them. Eleanor had been wild and unpredictable in those days, impossible to pin down, almost ethereal. Yet she had been open to the call of her own sensual nature in a way no other girl had ever been with him.

    Their meetings here had been hurried, fleeting, intense. With the church always open, and few visitors outside the usual times of service, it had been easy for him to slip away and spend a few moments alone with her, their hands – and sometimes, more daringly, their lips – meeting in the dusty silence of the high-backed pews.

    Did Eleanor remember any of their secret passion now? He doubted it, for surely other men must have followed him into her bed over the years and blotted out the memory of those first kisses. His teeth ground together with anger and frustration. If only he had refused to accept her reply and had gone after her to London, perhaps he might have persuaded Eleanor to change her mind and marry him. But his pride had not allowed it.

    Charlotte nudged him urgently with her foot. ‘Nathaniel!’

    He stared in surprise, then realised that everyone else had risen for the closing hymn.

    Lurching to his feet, Nathaniel joined in hurriedly with the second verse, glad that the hymn was a familiar one.

    Glancing across at Eleanor, he felt sure he could detect amusement in the tilt of her veiled chin, and gritted his teeth. Whether she liked it or not, he was determined to speak to her today, and if that young Lovett got in his way, he’d take great pleasure in knocking the fool down for his impudence.

    Standing near the graveside with Charlotte and little Robert, he watched Eleanor through the drizzling rain, waiting impatiently to take her to one side. She was so close to the Lovetts though, continually turning to them in conversation, it seemed almost impossible that he might get a chance to be alone with her.

    At last, after the final prayers had been said and the priest had taken his leave, Eleanor moved away from the mourning family at the graveside.

    Still veiled, she took herself a few steps down the slope towards the church, halting under a dark yew tree where the rain barely fell.

    Nathaniel excused himself from Charlotte’s side with a few muttered words and followed Eleanor down the slope.

    He was aware of several heads turning with surprise in his direction, including Charlotte’s, but for that moment he did not give a damn what anyone thought of his behaviour. He might not get a better chance to speak to Eleanor before she returned to London, and he could always find some explanation later to throw Charlotte off the scent.

    ‘Miss Faversham?’

    Her head whipping round in quick alarm, Eleanor turned to face him as he approached.

    Her elegantly black-gloved hands clenched into fists and she took a hurried step backwards, as though afraid he would actually touch her.

    ‘Lord Sallinger?’

    Nathaniel stopped a few feet away, unsure now what he meant to say to her, except that it must be some kind of debasing apology for his boorish behaviour. Though swallowing his pride was the least of his worries at this moment.

    He had not seen Eleanor at such close quarters since that appalling night at Sallinger House when he had so completely forgotten his intention to stay cold and aloof. Now, the proximity of her body stung him as never before, and the thickness of that heavy, black veil over her face was an added frustration he could do without.

    He make an impatient gesture. ‘Must you stay veiled, madam?’

    Eleanor hesitated, then raised both hands to lift the veil slowly from her face, throwing it back over her chestnut curls.

    Her face was pale but composed, only a slight redness to the eyes indicating some possible affection for the lady they had just buried.

    ‘I suppose not.’

    Her lips remained unsmiling, as did the blue eyes fixed on his face, but she sketched a brief curtsey – along with a muttered enquiry after his health – as though determined to stick to the formalities.

    ‘Thank you, I am well,’ he nodded, dismissing the subject of his health with impatience. He gritted his teeth, determined to get through this painful moment as quickly as possible. ‘I’m glad to have this opportunity to speak with you alone, Miss Faversham. I wanted to apologise for my conduct the other night. What I did was unforgivable. Under my own roof, as well. I cannot imagine that you would ever wish to visit Sallinger House again – indeed, no one would blame you if that were the case – but if you could bring yourself to accept this apology, I believe my sister Charlotte would be glad of your company at lunch tomorrow.’

BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
9.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Detonator by Andy McNab
Mr. Monk is Cleaned Out by Lee Goldberg
Belles on Their Toes by Frank B. Gilbreth
Strings by Kendall Grey
Touch Me by Callie Croix
2: Leer - Pack Takeover by Weldon, Carys
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
A Nation Like No Other by Newt Gingrich
The Divide by Robert Charles Wilson
How to Kill Your Boss by Krissy Daniels