Read The Uncatchable Miss Faversham Online

Authors: Elizabeth Moss

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

The Uncatchable Miss Faversham (21 page)

BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
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    She stumbled and he caught at her elbow, keeping her upright with a suddenly powerful grip. ‘Careful, Nell,’ he murmured, his head close to hers, ‘or I shall suspect you of flirting with me.’

    Cheeks burning, she pulled away and pretended to hurry after Robert, though in truth attempting to put some distance between herself and Nathaniel.

    So what if the breeze was whipping at her hem and exposing her ankles? Let him stare!

    She had no intention of sinking in the face of Nathaniel’s flirtations, like some debutante barely bronzed in town ways and open to the first charming smile turned in her direction.

    ‘Robert, dearest, please! Not so close to the water’s edge!’

    She had more sense than to seek this season’s entertainment from that quarter, Eleanor thought fiercely, and she had no need of a husband, however persuasive his kisses.

    A ring on her finger would mean a man in charge of her affairs, and
that
was out of the question!

    Yet the outlandish idea nagged at her all the way back to her town house, and from the look on his face, so tense and withdrawn, she guessed it had not given Nathaniel much peace either. She had to stay away from him until this weakness had passed, or she would find herself even deeper in thrall to him than ever before.

    But how to manage it?

 

Charlotte felt recovered enough to accompany them to Covent Garden on the following evening, an annoyance which made it necessary for Nathaniel to bow and extend his invitation to Miss Louisa Carter too. He had rather hoped that his meddling younger sister would stay at home, with Louisa as her reluctant companion, leaving him free to observe Nell at his leisure.

    This plan having been foiled by his sister’s miraculous return to health, he saw at once that their trip to Covent Garden must become an ‘outing’ rather than an opportunity for a private seduction. Not that he had truly intended to seduce his infamous Miss Faversham at the opera – only imagine how the inhabitants of the neighbouring boxes must have gasped to glimpse them
in flagrante delicto
! – but the thought of having that lady to himself for a few brief hours had given him pleasure. Though why that should be, he was unsure.

   
Because you are still in love with her, you dolt, and want Eleanor for your wife. Not that your intentions matter a jot, for Miss Faversham will not have you. And who can blame her?

    Nathaniel glanced up at the darkening skies as the ladies were helped up one by one into the waiting carriage. ‘It looks like rain.’

    ‘Hush!’ Charlotte remonstrated with him, then peered up at the cloudy heavens herself, her expression rueful. ‘Should I have stayed at home tonight, do you think? I cannot stand a storm. Do you ever suffer in the same way, Miss Carter?’ Settling herself against the deep-padded squabs, his sister turned to Louisa for reassurance. ‘It is the noise of the thunder that plays on my nerves, you understand, and the terrible lightning. When I am not increasing, I bear it tolerably well. But with this heat, so early in the season too. Why, it is barely Easter.’

    ‘You are quite right to say so, Mrs Tatchell,’ Louisa smiled, patting her hand. Nathaniel had the idea that she was secretly laughing at his sister, but it was hard to be sure, her sympathetic voice holding no hint of mockery. ‘It is very warm tonight, and I do not wonder at your feeling uncomfortable. We shall find some refreshing lemonade at the Garden perhaps.’

    ‘Yes, what a good thought. My brother will procure some for us, I am sure. Will you not, Nathaniel?’

    Biting back his irritation, Nathaniel inclined his head politely. It seemed his sister was determined to keep him busy and away from Eleanor’s side tonight. If it was not so unlikely, he might have suspected some kind of plot between the three of them.

    ‘It will be my pleasure to organise refreshments for you, ladies, once I have seen you all safely installed in our box.’

    Entering the carriage last, he found the only space left available to him was next to Eleanor, who sat with hands in her lap and her face turned away.

    She was looking quite magnificent that evening in a lavish, low-cut opera-gown trimmed with lace, and with a filigree pelisse draped across her shoulders in a desultory fashion. He sat beside her, careful not to crush her gown, and found it hard to concentrate on what his sister was saying, so intent was he on ignoring the heat of Nell’s thigh next to his.

    ‘Do you stay in town long, my lord?’ Miss Carter was asking him. She was a pretty piece, if a little over-blown for his tastes, her headdress spangled and feathered, her mouth smiling too broadly. No doubt some men would find that flirtatious tilt of the head attractive, but beside Miss Faversham’s more secretive smiles and looks it felt unsubtle. ‘We have enjoyed your company vastly this past fortnight. It would be a shame to lose you.’

    ‘It has been a pleasure to accompany such delightful ladies about London, Miss Carter. However, I still intend to return to Warwickshire within the next se’ennight.’ He felt rather than saw Nell stiffen at his side. ‘I have some business to conclude in town, and then I hope my sister will accompany me home to Sallinger House where her safety and comfort can be assured.’

    ‘Dear Nathaniel, how very good you are to me, not even to mention how rudely I left you behind.’ Charlotte fanned herself restlessly, her cheeks slightly flushed. ‘In truth though, if this unseasonable heat continues, I shall not complain at returning into Warwickshire. I had forgotten how sultry it can become in town during the season.’

    ‘You have only to say the word – ’

    His sister gave a little shriek. ‘No, no, I do not mean to return just yet! There are a thousand things still to accomplish. And Mademoiselle Falouche has yet to deliver that very delightful lilac gown she measured me for. Just think, it has been designed with specially expanding panels to allow for my growth over the last months. Oh, it will be so marvellous to own an evening gown that does not pinch or pull. All mine are sadly put away now until after my confinement. You cannot mean to deprive me of such a gown, surely?’

    ‘We can arrange for it to be delivered,’ he pointed out reasonably.

    ‘But not altered if it should not fit!’

    Miss Carter patted her hand again, smiling. ‘There, there, Mrs Tatchell. Calm yourself. I am sure your brother does not mean you to leave town before the lilac gown has been fitted properly. Do you, Lord Sallinger?’

    ‘By no means,’ he agreed, meeting the younger woman’s eyes with a mixture of amusement and astonishment. Miss Louisa Carter knew just how to manipulate those around her, keeping the mood even. No wonder she had remained the Uncatchable Miss Faversham’s most favoured companion all these years. The girl clearly had a talent for soothing even the most offended suitor until he went away almost satisfied by his rejection. He even found himself adding, ‘Indeed, when we do return to the country, I am sure my sister would be glad of your company if you should care to visit us, Miss Carter.’

    Charlotte’s angry flush had subsided. ‘Do you mean it, Nathaniel? Oh yes, I would be very happy to see you in Warwickshire, Miss Carter. What a treat that would be. Please do say you will visit us!’

    Miss Louisa Carter’s eyes shone with appreciation as though she alone had understood his meaning. To have such a talented companion on hand would free Nathaniel from the obligation of always having to entertain his easily bored sister. ‘Of course I shall,’ she agreed readily, though her blue-eyed glance shot swiftly across to Eleanor’s face, still turned away; perhaps she was not sure how that idea would sit with her friend. ‘Nothing could afford me greater pleasure than to see your lovely Warwickshire home for myself. Eleanor has spoken of it many times, but that is no substitute for seeing it with my own eyes.’

    Again Nell stiffened at his side, though this time she turned her head slightly to return Louisa’s glance, her profile unreadable.

    He wondered if she was angry at her friend’s indiscretion, and could not suppress the tiny leap of hope in his heart.

    Had Eleanor indeed mentioned his home to her companion, and on more than one occasion? That would seem to suggest an emotional attachment rather than the cool, mocking disinterest with which she had greeted him on her return to Warwickshire.

    Oh, he knew that he could awaken fire in her body. But in her heart too? That was too much to hope for from the Uncatchable Miss Faversham.

    The carriage lurched to a halt, and he caught Eleanor’s arm as she was knocked almost off the seat.

    ‘Steady,’ he murmured, then leant past her to stare out of the carriage window at the narrow street ahead. Deeply conscious of the daringly low-cut new French gown she was sporting, and his proximity to the creamy white expanse of breast it could not help but reveal, he found some difficulty in concentrating on the crowded approach to Covent Garden. ‘There has been some kind of accident further up the street.’

    Eleanor stirred at this information and finally spoke. Her voice was a soft honeyed breath across his cheek, they were at such close quarters. ‘Is anyone hurt? Can you see?’

    ‘I do not believe so. A vegetable cart would appear to have spilt its load, that is all. There, we are moving again. And we are almost at the Garden anyway.’

    ‘How exciting!’

    Nathaniel managed a smile for his sister’s childlike enthusiasm, leaning back past Nell and her revealing gown with as much nonchalance as he could muster.

    His formal white pantaloons felt tight, the elaborate folds of his cravat more restrictive than ever. His teeth ground together with barely contained frustration. If he had been alone with Miss Faversham in this over-warm closed carriage, he would not have been answerable for his actions.

    ‘You have dropped your gloves, Charlotte. Here they are.’ He reached for the door as soon as the carriage pulled up near the entrance to Covent Garden’s ornate stone facade, eager to be out of the carriage’s stifling atmosphere. ‘Will you need my assistance in descending?’

    ‘Let me go last, I need a moment to arrange my skirts.’ His sister waved a flustered hand at Eleanor. ‘Do please help Nell down first, and Louisa. But what a nuisance if it should come on to rain! I have not brought an umbrella, and the doctor warned me most specifically against catching a chill. Perhaps I should not have come tonight, after all.’

    Hiding a smile at his sister’s continuing lament, he leapt out first and turned to offer his hand to Eleanor. She bent slightly to leave the carriage, her hair dressed with a net of gold, her gloved fingers warm in his grasp, one emerald satin-covered foot peeping out from under her raised gown.

    ‘Beware the mud here,’ he murmured. ‘I would not wish you to spoil those very dainty shoes.’

    ‘Especially where the horses have been,’ she laughed, and their eyes met. Then he had no choice but to relinquish her hand, for Miss Carter was in the doorway and holding out her own.

    ‘Do you not miss the theatre, living in Warwickshire, my lord?’ the younger girl asked, jumping down lightly, almost without needing his assistance. ‘Eleanor and I attend the theatre frequently. It is such a congenial way to spend an evening, do you find?’

    ‘Call me a dull dog if you must,’ he smiled, helping his sister down from the carriage last, ‘but I must own to being perfectly content fishing, hunting and shooting on my estate. I have nothing against a good opera or other theatrical event, and indeed used to love watching the travelling players as a lad. But if all the theatres in England were to close down tomorrow – as history tells us they did in the past, even in this great capital itself – I should not miss ‘em.’

    ‘Nathaniel!’

    ‘Does the truth offend you so much, Charlotte? Must I lie to save my face – or yours, by association with such a dullard?’

    ‘No indeed, Lord Sallinger,’ Louisa said at once, rushing to his defence as he led the three ladies through the crowds outside the smart new pillared entrance to the Theatre Royal, ‘for there is no better company than a gentleman who knows his own mind and is not afraid to voice it. I only hope you shall not be bored to death by tonight’s performance.’

    ‘With such charming company to keep me entertained?’

    Louisa laughed and accepted the offer of his arm as they passed beneath the portico and into the plushly refurbished theatre foyer. ‘You are a dreadful flatterer, my lord. But I find there is always a grain of truth even in the most outrageous flattery, so I shall accept your praise in the spirit in which it was offered and ask merely, which way to our box?’

    Glancing casually over his shoulder, Nathaniel noted that Eleanor, so pale and silent in the carriage, seemed to have regained a little colour as she helped the lumbering Charlotte through the theatre foyer.

    He smiled experimentally in Eleanor’s direction, and was both satisfied and piqued when she ignored him.

   
Jealous at last, Miss Faversham?

   
Her cheeks flushed with a small red spot, Eleanor was staring straight ahead. She did not falter even when Charlotte leant more heavily on her arm, complaining about the crowds milling about outside the theatre entrance.

    ‘I suppose they are all hoping to hear the “Messiah”,’ his sister was saying, her voice quite distinct above the general hubbub in the foyer. ‘What better for Lent? I have always admired Handel’s music, and I am told that Mozart’s arrangement of his “Messiah” is quite spectacular. Though I must admit that lighter works hold my attention rather longer. Shall there be a comic piece tonight as well, do you think?’

    Nathaniel smiled, handing over his ticket to one of the theatre staff and tucking Miss Carter’s hand more tightly over his arm as the man bowed and led the way to their reserved box. He felt a twinge of guilt as the girl smiled back at him trustingly, but he could not allow remorse to ruin his revenge.

    If the redoubtable Miss Faversham had persuaded Charlotte to accompany them to the theatre tonight, as he rather suspected she had, in order to act as chaperone and thus knock his planned seduction into a cocked hat, it would serve Eleanor right to be stuck with entertaining his sister all evening instead.

BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
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