Read The Uncatchable Miss Faversham Online

Authors: Elizabeth Moss

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

The Uncatchable Miss Faversham (7 page)

BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
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    ‘Is our company here so dull?’ Though she still smiled, Charlotte’s voice revealed her hurt. ‘It was not always so, I am convinced.’

    ‘Not at all!’ Eleanor longed to please her old friend by agreeing to stay longer, but one glance at Sallinger’s face was enough to convince her that such an agreement could only end in disaster. ‘I shall try hard to see if my plans can be changed, but that may prove impossible.’

    Lord Sallinger seemed absorbed in his own thoughts, still standing stiff and silent in front of the fire. Yet she guessed that his apparent lack of interest was an act, put on for her sister’s benefit. He had neither forgotten nor forgiven the past; she could feel the disapproval coming off him in waves. Indeed, every word she spoke seemed to represent an affront of some kind, his barely perceptible grimaces enough to indicate his true feelings – even though he said nothing, made no move to express himself.

    Eleanor wondered, tearing her gaze from his face, how on earth she could contrive to achieve some time on her own with Charlotte, if her over-protective brother was always at her side.

    ‘This must be a difficult time for you,’ she told her friend, choosing her words carefully, ‘without your husband.’

    Charlotte smiled bravely. ‘Nathaniel takes good care of us though. Robert and I have a whole wing of the house to ourselves, and every comfort. I could wish to be a little closer to London, but some days we venture to Leamington. There is a modiste there now. Such a luxury! Indeed, they say the new Pump Rooms will be finished this summer. It’s a pity you cannot stay longer. But we could take a drive out to Leamington or Warwick one day, if my brother would consent to accompany us?’

    From his position in front of the fire, Sallinger gave a brief bow. ‘I am yours to command, ladies.’

    Charlotte laughed. ‘No need to be so stiff and formal, Nathaniel. Why, we all became such good friends when Nell first came from Jamaica, even if we did run somewhat wild at times. I remember distinctly how you and Nell used to – ’

    She broke off in some confusion as Sallinger’s face darkened, his brows contracting sharply in a frown.

    ‘Oh! That is to say … Well, I’m sure we need not stand on ceremony.’

    There was a silence in the drawing room, broken only by the hiss and crackle of the fire. Even little Robert, attempting to unravel a loose thread from the Persian rug, noticed the break in conversation and glanced up at the grown-ups in silent wonder.

 

‘Is dinner not yet served? Where the deuce is everybody?’

    With those muttered words, Sallinger knocked back the contents of his wine glass and strode from the room in search of a servant, uncaring what Miss Faversham might make of his manners.

    ‘Allenby?’ he shouted down the corridor, then stopped abruptly, caught up by the sight of his reflection in the hall mirror.

    Nathaniel grimaced; he looked the very image of his father tonight, his eyes narrowed and coldly angry, determined to have his own way.

    He had sworn never to become like his father, a belligerent bully, forever berating his wife, his servants, even his children. Yet how was he supposed to react to his sister’s infernal matchmaking?

    Charlotte meant no harm by it, but at times he regretted asking her to stay at Sallinger House while her husband was away at sea. If she had not been so unwell, he would almost certainly never have issued such an invitation. It was bad enough to suffer his sister attempting to interest him in every Leamington debutante who looked at him sideways. But he would not stand by in idle silence while she made these maddening remarks about his history with Eleanor Faversham. He knew what she hoped for – a reconciliation between them, in other words – and her interference was wholly insupportable.

    When he returned to the drawing room, Nathaniel was irritated to find the two women whispering to each other, their heads jerking up as he paused in the doorway.

    ‘It would seem that dinner is ready to be served,’ he said dryly, his temper back under control now. He offered an arm to Eleanor. ‘Shall we go through, Miss Faversham?’

    She looked up at him with a knowing smile as though aware that he was taunting her.

    ‘Thank you,’ she murmured. ‘But I wish you would call me Eleanor. Your sister is right. We have known each other too long for such formality.’

    ‘Eleanor, then,’ he agreed reluctantly. ‘Though only if you will do me the honour of addressing me as Nathaniel.’

    ‘I shall certainly do my best, my lord.’

    ‘I am sure,’ he drawled, noting her pronounced use of his title. Did her smile have to be quite so inviting?

    Nathaniel tucked her hand firmly over his arm, in command of himself again. She was a woman like any other, and he had resisted many women before, some of them far more sensual and alluring than Miss Faversham.

    He only realised his mistake when her hip brushed lightly against his as they passed through the doorway, her flesh soft and tantalisingly feminine. It seemed to him as though Eleanor had swayed deliberately in his direction, forcing Sallinger into an aroused awareness of her body.

    Eleanor glanced up at his sharp intake of breath, and Nathaniel schooled his expression to give nothing away, staring straight ahead with a stony face. She must not be allowed to know his weakness where she was concerned. To suffer another rejection at her hands ...

    His fists clenched at the thought like a prize fighter’s and had to be slowly, consciously relaxed before she noticed.

    No, such a humiliation could not be permitted. Better Eleanor thought him cold and uncaring than a fool. Better he stood apart from all the rest she had so casually rebuffed by not appearing to care.

    Nathaniel led the way through into the dining room and bowed with formal precision, silently indicating where a place had been set for her. He seated himself at the head of the table, with Charlotte at the other end and Eleanor to her left.

    It had been some time since they had last entertained in such style at Sallinger House, the dining table glittering formally with candelabra and elegant silverware.

    Settling back in his winged, high-backed chair, Nathaniel looked down the full length of the table in the candlelit room, such finery suddenly stifling and unreal. The damask napkin laid so carefully across his lap felt rough as sackcloth under his fingers, crystal glassware glinting at him in the candlelight, reminding him of formal dinners in their past.

    His hand trembled slightly as he tasted the decanted wine but he ignored it, nodding to Allenby to serve the ladies. He had let his emotions run wild for this woman once, and had nearly ruined both their lives by it. That madness would not be repeated, however much her presence might vex him and test his self-control.

    ‘Little Robert has already dined,’ Charlotte was explaining cheerfully as she made herself comfortable at the other end of the table, apparently oblivious to the tension in the air. ‘He takes his meal in the nursery at five o’clock and is usually abed by now. I will go up after dinner to kiss him goodnight. He will not settle to sleep until I have done so, poor little thing.’

    ‘He must miss his father badly,’ Eleanor murmured, keeping her gaze firmly on her bowl as the servant ladled a thick, delicious-smelling vegetable soup into it.

    Charlotte began to say something in reply, then stopped, her breath catching in her throat as though unable to continue. ‘Indeed,’ she managed falteringly. ‘Indeed, so do I.’

    ‘You must stop distressing yourself with this constant pining, Charlotte,’ Nathaniel heard himself saying, and only then realised how harsh his voice had sounded. He forced a smile at his sister, softening his tone. ‘I am sure Henry will return as soon as your letter reaches him. But these things take time. You must try to be patient.’

    ‘Yes,’ his sister said, gulping. ‘You are right, of course.’

    ‘I’m sorry, but I must disagree.’ Eleanor seemed to rush at once to her friend’s defence, anxious perhaps to put him in his place, no doubt as she did so many of the young bucks in London. ‘It is only natural for Charlotte to want her husband home again as soon as possible. In her condition, surely we cannot blame her for being anxious and very much in need of her husband’s reassurance?’

    Sallinger looked at her through the candlelight without speaking. For a moment he considered those glossy chestnut curls, that enchanting but eminently stubborn profile. By God, she was still a beauty!

    Nonetheless he found his lip curling at her earnest declaration. What did Miss Eleanor Faversham know of love? Widely considered the most heartless flirt in London, she had not earned the soubriquet “Uncatchable” for nothing.

    It was tempting to point this out and watch her reaction, but Nathaniel merely shrugged and drank deep from his glass instead. He was not about to air his views on their guest’s character with the servants listening.

 

Dinner was an uncomfortably one-sided conversation. Charlotte talked mostly to herself while Eleanor tried conscientiously to listen to every detail of her friend’s life but in truth caught only the occasional word. Her true focus of attention was at the other end of the table, troubling her soul and carelessly elegant in a dark blue coat and flawless white cravat.

    It was with a profound sense of relief that the chairs were drawn back at last and the two ladies allowed to escape the table.

    ‘I must go upstairs to the nursery and kiss my dear little Robert goodnight, otherwise he will never settle,’ Charlotte said hurriedly as they entered the drawing room together, pressing her hand in a conspiratorial fashion. ‘Please forgive me for leaving you, Nell. I will not be long, I promise. Then we must talk.’

    Eleanor stood a moment in the drawing room, unsure what to do, then made her way to the curtained windows, suddenly caught up on a wave of nostalgia. There was a small balcony, if she recalled rightly, that overlooked the back lawns and formal gardens.

    Nathaniel had taken her onto that balcony once when they were younger, to show her the distant glitter of water that marked the course of the River Leam. She could still remember how tightly he had held her, his arm linked possessively about her waist.

    How young she had been then, and how unused to strict English notions of propriety!

    Her cheeks flamed at the memory. It had been a dreadful mistake on her part to allow the young noblemen so many liberties, to let him think she was open to a proposal. She had always been fascinated by Nathaniel’s brooding intensity, his battle scars only making him more attractive to her, but marriage to such a man?

    At eighteen, his proposal had terrified her. Eleanor had seen with her own eyes how some women seemed to shrink and fade after marriage. It had happened to schoolgirl friends in Jamaica, their youthful bloom lost, their new husbands controlling every aspect of their lives.

    Would Nathaniel have been any better?

    Slipping outside onto the chilly balcony, Eleanor shivered and wished she had kept her pelisse. But the beautiful silvery view over the moonlit gardens was enough to make her forget the cold.

    ‘All alone?’

    Eleanor turned, startled. She had not heard Nathaniel coming out behind her onto the balcony.

    His body seemed to fill the narrow space, strong and imposing. She tried to look at the man without giving herself away, to meet his gaze with cool detachment, but she was convinced he must be able to see how attractive she found him.

    That thought made her blush.

    At twenty-five, fresh from the war on the Peninsular, Lord Nathaniel Sallinger had been a wiry, almost awkward young man. He had never been attractive in any conventional sense, for the left side of his face had been cut about fiercely by some sabre-wielding cavalryman at Corunna, after which Nathaniel had been trampled by the man’s horse, leaving him with a permanent limp.

    Yet there had been something mesmerising about the scarred young officer, a bristling physical presence which had drawn her to him from their very first meeting.

    Now his chest and shoulders were broader, their muscular strength only emphasised by his tight-fitting jacket. His waist was slim though, drawing her eye – albeit reluctantly – down to his powerful thighs encased in buckskin pantaloons.

    She understood so much more now about the physical needs of her body than when he had first touched her at eighteen. If he were to make love to her now, how would she respond?

    ‘Lord Sallinger,’ she managed, her voice unsteadier than she would have liked. He moved closer, and something like panic flashed through her at his unexpected proximity. ‘Charlotte will be back at any moment. She has gone upstairs to – ’

    ‘Kiss her brat good night?’ he supplied, his tone ironic. Sallinger saw her swiftly raised eyebrows and shrugged. ‘Oh, I’ve affection enough for the boy, but not a parent’s love. He makes enough damned noise about the place to wake the dead.’

    Eleanor found herself shivering again.

    Lord Sallinger must have caught the tiny, involuntary reaction, because he stepped closer. ‘Cold?’

    ‘Not enough to signify,’ she said hurriedly.

    Lord Sallinger stood motionless, bare inches away, facing her with an unfathomable expression in his dark eyes.

    Eleanor turned her gaze on the moonlit gardens, not daring to look up into his face again. She did not know what to think of his behaviour. At dinner, his lordship had seemed so cold and distant – always polite, urbane, yet cold nonetheless.

    Out here, there was a huskier note in his voice which seemed to suggest intimacy.

    She shook away the impossible thought, disdaining to fall into that glittering trap a second time. Nathaniel did not care a button for her, had never truly cared for her, and was making his contempt clear with every cutting word aimed in her direction, every dismissive turn of his head.

    ‘Eleanor,’ he began, frowning down at her.

    ‘My lord?’

    ‘For pity’s sake, don’t ‘My lord’ me as though you were some blushing village maiden.’ His voice was low and exasperated. Suddenly, he seized her hand and pressed it flat against his chest, forcing her into contact with the warmth of his body. ‘As though you had no knowledge of this!’

BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
6.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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