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Authors: Elizabeth Moss

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

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BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
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    ‘My lord – ’

    ‘Hush,’ he frowned, and then that dark face was blotted out as his lips met hers, her whole body arching towards his instinctively.

    Even while she kissed him back, her arms slipping about his neck, she felt a twinge of fear inside. They were no longer in the safe backwaters of rural Warwickshire, where few might chance to see them, but at one of the brightest parties of the season, and with his dark head at least in full view from the house. If anyone should chance to walk down the avenue of trees as she and Lovett had done, and discovered them together, she might be facing the second honourable proposal of the evening.

    Would it be so terrible to be married to Sallinger? Their love-making must surely scorch the sheets!

    Yet the real question remained, could she hope to remain independent once married to such a man? And if Nathaniel took a mistress after they were married, which seemed a strong possibility, what damage would that do to her heart?

   
Fool, he will never ask you again.

    She acknowledged that truth with a deep sadness. She had already turned Nathaniel down once, had burnt his pride horribly, and could never hope that he would ask for her hand in marriage again. Nor was she truly certain that she wished him to. But oh, she knew what she did wish for. And that was to have him in her bed again.

    The shock of that realisation made her gasp, clutching at his shoulders. What was wrong with her that she could want a man’s love without a wedding band to make it legal? Was she indeed the reckless wanton Nathaniel had so often accused her of being?

    ‘Nell,’ he whispered, searing a line of heat down her throat with his mouth.

    One hand moved to cup her breast insistently and she gave a heated sigh. She ought to stop him, she knew, but her own hands were sliding slowly down his chest, remembering the flat muscular expanse that lay beneath his shirt.

    ‘My sweet Nell.’

    If only they could make love without anyone knowing! Just one more time would be enough to satisfy this yearning, surely? Yet her soul laughed at such foolishness. She had fallen in love with Nathaniel. Once could never be enough, not now that her heart was involved.

    ‘Is that ... is that three kisses yet?’ she managed to ask, torn between taking her satisfaction like a man and escaping before things moved past her control, and saw his dark head lift to survey her slowly, his eyes dreamy, almost drugged.

    ‘Three kisses?’ He stroked her cheek with one tantalising finger. ‘I have to admit, I rather lost count. Perhaps we should start again.’

    ‘I fear someone may be coming this way.’

    He straightened, listening for a moment, then shook his head. ‘Your fears are misplaced, Nell. We are quite alone.’

    ‘Precisely,’ she replied, pushing him insistently away. ‘We have been absent too long. Your sister will be wondering where you are. Where we both are. And once it is known that we are both missing ...’

    He ran a hand through his ragged hair, a muscle jerking in his cheek. ‘Yes, alright. I cannot disagree with that. The irony of being forced to offer for you, like Lovett before me, would be too much!’

    She turned away, red-faced and breathless at this latest insult, even while she had privately to concede it was no more than the truth. But did he have to be so blunt about it?

    In silence, she chose the more shady path back to the house and crossed the lawn, holding her gown up so it would not brush the dewy grass. It must be nearly midnight, she thought, trying not to consider what he had said.

   
The irony of being forced to offer for you!

    A white-hot skewer seemed to penetrate her heart and drive deep, wounding her terribly.

    He caught her up after a moment, his coat straightened, his cravat rather less crumpled than before.

    ‘Nell,’ he said, his voice hard and composed once more, all traces of the lover gone. ‘Will you allow me to call on you while I am in town?’

    ‘What for?’

    He seemed temporarily thrown by that, his eyes narrowing on her face. ‘I thought you might like to show me about town. No more balls or card parties though, I thank you. But we could take in an opera at the Theatre Royal at Covent Garden, or marvel at the mysterious exhibits in the British Museum. Perhaps even the Tower of London with its sinister ravens might be worth a visit. If you can stomach such relentless tourism, that is.’

    ‘It’s a pity, but I have so many engagements already in hand this next fortnight – ’

    ‘Nell, you little wretch!’

    She smiled at his exasperated tone, and shrugged carelessly. ‘Maybe Covent Garden. I admit it is an age since I was last at the opera.’

    They had reached the house. She could see Charlotte on one of the balconies to the right, peering anxiously over into the darkened gardens, and knew they had returned not a moment too soon. Of Thomas Lovett there was no sign, and for this she was very glad, hoping the younger man had left the party and that she would not have to confront him inside.

    ‘This is where we must part,’ she said, turning to him. ‘I would rather not be seen entering the house with you.’

    ‘Of course not.’ Nathaniel bowed sardonically. ‘The “Uncatchable” Miss Faversham must preserve her reputation at all costs. Embarrassing enough to be wandering the gardens unchaperoned at this hour. But to be seen leaving the ball with one gentleman and returning with another – ’

    ‘Hush, you may be overheard!’

    Eleanor removed her glove and allowed him to kiss her hand, trembling at the way his dark eyes seemed to pin her to the evening, as though seeing through to her soul.

    It was confusing, but the more time she spent with Sallinger, the less easily she could remember why she needed to keep pushing him away. Surely she was strong enough now to resist a husband’s attempts to control her life? After all, she was no longer that impulsive young woman who had fled Warwickshire for the excitement of London, seeing a life of imprisonment behind every offer of marriage.

    Besides, Nathaniel was no longer the intense young soldier who had so threatened her peace of mind. He was deeply cynical now, and although his love-making was still urgent, it was tempered by experience. He was dangerous, yes, but also steadier, more controlled, the sort of man she would instinctively have trusted had they met under different circumstances.

    Was it wrong to suspect him of wishing to control her?

    ‘Covent Garden,’ she murmured, withdrawing her hand. ‘I shall look for your note, my lord. And I’m sure Charlotte will be pleased to see you if you call.’

    Lord Sallinger inclined his head with his usual mocking smile, yet there was a gravity to his voice which she had not heard since her youth. ‘Your servant, Miss Faversham.’

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

‘Boat! Boat!’

    ‘Yes, my dear,’ Eleanor laughed, ruffling the little boy’s hair as they stood together on the bank of the Serpentine, watching Robert’s new model boat bobbing away across the ruffled grey-green water. Its immaculate white sails flapped in the breeze, each miniature porthole glistening cheerily in the sunlight. ‘What an admirable craft she is too. Nothing can stop her now. Except maybe a duck or two. I would not be surprised if she could sail all the way to ... oh, I don’t know where ... Maybe the Orient?’

    ‘To France,’ the boy insisted stoutly. ‘To fight Boney!’

    Behind her, there came a deep rumble of appreciative laughter, reminding Eleanor who else was present at this auspicious launch.

    ‘I don’t think we need worry too much about that villainous popinjay,’ Lord Sallinger reassured his young nephew, though not without a touch of irony in his voice. ‘Bonaparte’s safely out of mischief’s way on Elba now. Or so the government would have us believe.’

    Replacing her gloves, she turned to Nathaniel with a shy smile. He was looking rather splendid this morning, she thought, covertly eyeing the broad shoulders of his blue superfine and the way his tan breeches moulded themselves so elegantly to his muscular thighs and calves.

    ‘I must thank you again, my lord, for agreeing to accompany us on this outing.’ She felt a little unsure of herself, despite the pale green muslin dress and matching bonnet with its delectably scalloped ribbons, fluttering now in the breeze. ‘Indeed, it was very kind of you to forego the pleasure of a visit to Jackson’s Saloon in favour of Robert’s wish to go boating. I would almost certainly not have known how to mend that tangled rigging as you did, and then poor Robert must have gone home disappointed.’

    Lord Sallinger inclined his head without comment, barely glancing in her direction. This was their fifth excursion together since his arrival in London, though Charlotte and Louisa had been of their party on the two previous occasions. Yet his lordship’s manner towards her had remained cool and aloof throughout.

    Perhaps Nathaniel was regretting his earlier decision to stay in town and still blamed her for Charlotte’s refusal to go home, no doubt preferring the solitude of the country to the endless morning calls and card parties that were
de rigueur
as the season began to come to life. He had not said so, of course. But whenever they found themselves alone together, she could sense his withdrawal, a definite chill in the air between them.

    His gaze returned to the model boat as it moved further out across the sunlit stretch of water chosen for its maiden voyage.

    He raised his voice to reach the boy, who was still kneeling eagerly by the water’s edge. ‘Looks like she’s making for that little pier yonder, Robert. If you hurry, you may yet catch her as she comes in to harbour.’

    As the boy dashed away to the wooden pier with a triumphant shout, Eleanor felt a flutter of concern for his safety. If the child were to fall in, the languishing Charlotte – exhausted by nearly two full weeks of shopping and social calls and card parties – would never forgive her. Nor indeed would she forgive herself!

    ‘Careful, Robert!’ She frowned anxiously after her young charge. ‘Not so fast, dear. The water is deeper than it looks.’

    ‘Great heavens, let the child be. He’s enjoying himself. And even if the boy is unfortunate enough to fall in, I can drag him out in no time.’

    She looked back at Nathaniel over her shoulder, her eyes narrowing with annoyance at that dismissive reprimand. ‘That is hardly the point, sir, and you know it. Your sister would be distraught if aught were to befall Robert while in my charge.’

    ‘Charlotte raises a stink every time my nephew so much as scrapes his knee,’ Lord Sallinger pointed out lazily. He held out his arm to her. ‘Shall we walk along the bank? I believe the Lady Charlotte is about to dock and my assistance may be required again, by the look of her sails.’

    Flushed and still somewhat on her mettle, Eleanor had no option but to accept his proffered arm, though she laid her hand on it as lightly as possible. Given that Lord Sallinger was her only escort today, she would look an odd sight flouncing away from him in a public park. There was little she disliked more than giving the widows and dowagers of the ton more food for gossip about her, so she nodded her head and accompanied him towards the short wooden pier jutting out into the water.

    A young couple passed them, heading in the opposite direction, and Eleanor could not but feel a pang of envy and despair as she saw their laughing faces, turned so lovingly towards each other.

    She considered that she and Sallinger must look like a married couple to any casual observer, with Robert their little son.

    How very strange it would be, she thought feverishly, to walk out arm in arm with Nathaniel in a public place, not as combatants but as married lovers. She tried but could not imagine it – though it was not such a leap to imagine his lordship in her bed each night, his strong lean body moving atop of her with vigour and purpose.

    Her blush deepened at such a dizzying, outrageous thought. Though hopefully her companion would attribute her hot cheeks to temper and not notice how her fingers trembled on his arm. Nathaniel had already shown himself capable of taking advantage of her weakness and would not hesitate to do so again, of that she was sure – even in a public place like this.

    If she was not careful, she would end up the talk of the town, her long-lost virginity nothing beside her open
affaire
with a man who was neither her fiancé nor her husband.

    He looked down at her with his customary mocking smile. ‘Given up being argumentative at last? That’s excellent news. I was beginning to think I might have to kiss you into silence.’

    ‘I beg your pardon?’

    ‘Not at all.’ Much to her annoyance, Nathaniel pretended to take her question as an apology, nodding his head graciously. ‘I only hope you shall be able to keep it up tomorrow night. I have reserved us a box at Covent Garden, but there can be little pleasure in the opera when your companion is a talkative woman. I have accompanied my sister there on a number of occasions, and usually regretted it.’

    ‘No doubt you consider your own conversation enlivening, my lord? I must own to finding it a trifle unpolished at times.’

    To her chagrin, he did not take offence at her cut, but threw back his head and laughed. ‘Touché, you little cat. You know, I sometimes wonder how it might have been if you had accepted my proposal when we were younger. Such unvarnished exchanges would have been commonplace between us, I dare say.’ Pensively, his gaze followed the running boy ahead of them. ‘But perhaps a child would have made the arrangement bearable.’

    Now there could be no disguising the heat in her face. To think of him as her husband, of their raising a child between them!

    Eleanor turned her head away, staring blindly at the neat grassland of Hyde Park around them, barely aware of the sun on her cheek or the breeze that sent the new foliage on the trees dancing. These feelings she had developed for him were far too dangerous. If he ever suspected that she still held a torch for him, if he chose to use that foolish weakness against her ...

BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
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