Read The Uncatchable Miss Faversham Online

Authors: Elizabeth Moss

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

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BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
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    ‘Nathaniel!’ she exclaimed, both shocked and traitorously excited by the impropriety of his action. ‘Let go of me at once! Are you foxed?’

    ‘Not far off,’ he agreed, his anger evident from his shrug. ‘Though it makes no odds. Drunk or sober, I’d still do the same.’

    Her eyes warred angrily with his, her temper mounting to match his. ‘Be so good as to unhand me, sir, or I shall summon assistance. Don’t think I won’t!’

    ‘But if you were to call out, sweet Nell,’ he responded silkily, ‘I should be forced to silence you.’ His tight smile left her in no doubt what he meant by that insinuation. ‘I won’t have my servants gossiping below stairs about me. Nor my sister gawping at us, for that matter. This is between you and me, my love.’

    The use of her pet name, ‘Nell’, was an insult to her ear; it was the brush of a nettle against bare skin, stinging her with memories she would much rather forget.

    ‘There is no you and me,’ she insisted, and tried to twist away from his grasp.

    ‘No?’ His voice was hoarse. ‘It seems you need to be reminded of the truth, Eleanor.’

    To her horror, Lord Sallinger caught her up in his strong arms, clutching her forcefully against his chest.

    For a moment, her face was smothered in his elegant white shirt and cravat. Beneath the masculine scent of his clothes, she caught the thud of his heart and felt dizzy, unable to breathe. Her legs were suddenly too weak to hold her weight, only the powerful circle of his arms supporting her as she leant against his chest.

    Surely he would not go through with his threat and kiss her? She was not sure she could bear that, to be in his control again, remembering that night when he had found her virginal innocence easy to persuade.

    Flushed and trembling, Eleanor knew she must find the strength to call for help, to summon assistance from whatever quarter, however embarrassing it might prove to be discovered in this position by his servants.

    His fingers lifted her stubborn chin, tilting her face towards his. ‘Maybe I am a little drunk,’ he muttered. ‘Because when I first came out here, I meant to punish you. To confront the untouchable Miss Faversham with some hard truths. But all I can think of right now is kissing you.’

    His other arm snaked about her waist, drawing her closer.

    ‘Nell,’ he muttered, his gaze searching her face with earnest intent. Then his mouth descended in a long kiss.

    His lips hard against hers, she was lost, plunged at once into an achingly familiar darkness. She recalled how her hands had to mould themselves to his broad shoulders as they kissed, how their bodies should fit together perfectly as though made for each other. Not for the first time in her life, a sense of propriety struggled hopelessly against physical desire, and for a few dizzying moments desire was winning.

    Once he had kissed her like this out of love. Now she felt his anger, no doubt remembering her rejection five years ago. Everything she had learnt about how to remain free and mistress of her own fate told Eleanor to push Lord Sallinger away and reject his seduction.

    Yet while his mouth moved so demandingly against hers, she could think of nothing but her own physical needs. A white-hot excitement seared a path through her body, encouraging her to rise on tiptoe, twining both arms about his neck and pulling this man closer.

    As though sensing her instinctive response, Nathaniel groaned against her mouth, his words barely comprehensible. ‘Nell – my wild, sweet Nell. I thought I’d never see you again. That we were done forever, that I’d finally mastered my need for you.’

    His kiss consumed her, blazing its relentless fire throughout her blood. Her body felt weak against his, the memory of what they had done together all those years ago suddenly fresh in her mind as though it had been yesterday.

    His hands slid down over her breasts. They found her slender waist under the white muslin gown, stroking the sensuous curves of her body through its concealing folds.

    Her cheeks were aflame from his kiss, her breath tight in her chest. Surely he did not intend to make love to her, right here on the balcony?

    ‘But I was wrong,’ he continued, muttering under his breath. ‘As soon as I saw you again tonight, colder and more beautiful than ever, I knew what I had to do.’

    Abruptly he raised his head and she felt the chill night air on her face. Her body cooled rapidly as he held her at arms’ length.

    Nathaniel paused. His eyes closed for a moment. Then he stared at her again, speaking in a furious, low-voiced rush.

    ‘Unlike you, Eleanor, I cannot forget what we did that night or pretend it never happened. But it’s clear that you would rather it had never happened, that you were still a virgin.’ He jerked to a halt, his breath seeming to catch and snag on that word. ‘Because no man will ever be good enough for the uncatchable Miss Faversham. Especially not a cripple with the face of a gargoyle.’

    ‘Nathaniel,’ she whispered through swollen lips.

    ‘Don’t say my name!’

    He’s going to kill me, she thought hazily. She stumbled backwards, staring up at her accuser in bewilderment, and the balcony rail bit into the back of her legs through the white muslin of her gown.

   

Nathaniel was angry. He had not felt this angry towards a woman since - since the last time she had rejected him, he realised, bitterly aware of how easily she, and she alone, was able to wound him. He had invited her to call him Nathaniel. Yet now, hearing it on her lips, he felt maddened, like a wounded animal in a trap.

    His hand sought hers again, clumsy now in his fury. Like a schoolboy with no self-control, he wanted to hurt her, to make her suffer at least a little of the pain he had suffered.

    With cruel deliberation, he raised her hand to the left side of his face, pressing her fingers against the unsightly scarring, and watched how her eyes flew wide, her flushed face losing colour.

    ‘Is this what you abhor?’ His voice was cold as steel, held rigidly free from emotion. ‘Monstrous, I agree. Is this scar why you cannot bear the thought of me in your bed?’

    ‘No!’

    ‘There was a time when you did not hate me so very much, Nell.’

    Nathaniel ignored her struggles to escape, holding her hand against his ruined cheek. He carried on raging at her, relentless now, wanting to hurt her, even as his heart burnt with such a fierce desire that every word seemed to wound him too.

    ‘I remember how you kissed me, welcomed me into your body as though you had done so a hundred times before.’ His voice convulsed. ‘But it was dark that night, was it not? There was no moon then to show you the face of the monster above you.’

    ‘It wasn’t like that. I never intended …’

    She broke off in obvious confusion, a few swollen tears beginning to seep from under those long-lashed lids, and seemed unable to meet his gaze.

    ‘Do you weep to command as well?’ He swore in disgust at the sight of that traditional female response. For a moment he struggled, then cast her hand almost violently from him. ‘Take your freedom then, and may you sleep forever lonely with it. It seems you win again, madam.’

    ‘It was never a game,’ Eleanor managed in a ragged whisper, and dragged a hand across her damp cheek, staring down at the tears glistening on her fingertips as though she could not quite believe what she saw.

    With an effort then, she seemed to pull herself up straight in a belated attempt to recover her dignity.

    ‘Where is Charlotte? I must leave. My carriage – ’

    Swaying perilously, she turned away, almost losing her balance over the low balcony rail. He caught her easily round the waist and set her to rights again, slender and trembling in her white muslin gown. Yet Eleanor no longer seemed aware of his presence, groping her way around the blowing curtains and into the house without so much as a backward glance.

    Nathaniel stood there a moment without following her, raging at himself for a fool. Yet at least tonight’s fiasco had served to reinforce his long-held belief that he must, at all costs, stay away from Miss Eleanor Faversham or risk losing his sanity. Or his good name, one of the two.

   

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

   

By the time Eleanor reached the gloomy sanctuary of Faversham Hall again, dark clouds were obscuring the moon and there was a distinct air of threat about the weather. The lower part of the house was empty and mostly in darkness, but she was grateful for that, having exhausted herself on the short journey home with bitter self-recriminations, wishing she could have dealt with Lord Sallinger’s advances with the coolness for which she was justly famous in London.

    Receiving her discarded pelisse with a respectful bow, Foster muttered something about a coming thunderstorm, and asked if the mistress would allow the dogs into the kitchen for the night, as they were ‘not partial to lightning’.

    Eleanor agreed distractedly, accepted the ready-lit candle from his hand, and climbed the stairs with one hand clutching her gown. Her one over-riding thought was of bed, and the welcome, all-enveloping oblivion that sleep must bring. Though sleep was unlikely to come easily after that night’s events, an evening ruined by the sheer folly of allowing her desire for that man free rein, even if only for a few misguided moments. What must he think of her now, clinging to his shoulders like that, responding to his kisses like the greenest debutante?

    Stiffly, she allowed Suzanne to remove her white muslin gown and flimsy stockings, and prepare her for bed.

    ‘I told you not to go,’ her maid muttered, handing her the new jar of Parisian cold cream. ‘That man’s been nothing but trouble for you, Miss Nell.’

    Smoothing the cold cream lavishly into her throat, Eleanor raised her chin and stubbornly refused to rise to such bait. She knew that Suzanne was right though; she ought never to have gone to Sallinger House tonight. Not that she would ever admit to such a costly mistake. She was still trembling slightly from what had almost amounted to an attack, and did not think she could handle a telling-off from her maid as well – not after Nathaniel’s brutal behaviour and speech.

    Had Sallinger truly intended to hurt her tonight, or had the entire episode been a combination of too much wine and masculine pique?

    She met her own eyes in the mirror, and knew that she was at least partly to blame. She ought to have reacted coldly at his first touch, not allowed that wild, unexpected burst of passion to sweep her deeper into his arms. Her powerful response must have given Lord Sallinger the impression that she was still interested in his suit, and that, as she knew, was fatal if one wished to discourage a gentleman’s advances.

    Suzanne noted a slight discolouration on the tops of her arms, her dark eyes narrowing. ‘What’s this?’

    ‘Nothing.’ Carefully, checking it was properly closed, she replaced the lid on the pot of expensive cold cream. ‘I stumbled and … and Lord Sallinger caught me before I could fall.’

    Her maid did not believe a word of it, of course. But for once, dear Suzanne did not pursue her curiosity any further, only pursed her lips in disapproval at Eleanor’s flushed countenance and soft, swollen mouth, no doubt recognising the indisputable signs that her mistress had been kissed – and mercilessly.

    Suzanne poured a little tepid water into the bowl so that Eleanor might wash her hands before bed, then slid the old warming copper from the bed and replaced it on the hearth. She tutted to herself over some torn lace on the neck of the muslin gown but said nothing, leaving the bedchamber with the damaged gown laid carefully over her arm.

    ‘Goodnight, Miss Nell,’ she said as usual, then paused at the door and looked back. Her mahogany eyes were watchful; the Jamaican-born maid knew Eleanor better than anyone else and rarely failed to sense her changing moods. She was also the only servant who ever dared to answer her mistress back. ‘Should I lay out your riding habit in the morning? Will you be wanting to ride tomorrow?’

    ‘I’m not sure.’ Eleanor placed her candlestick on the bedside table, straightening as a thought struck her. ‘Suzanne, do you enjoy being back here in Warwickshire?’

    Her maid hesitated, then shook her head. ‘Not much,’ she said shortly. ‘But where you go, I must go too.’

    ‘Forgive me, I wish to know …’ Eleanor took a deep breath, knowing herself to be intruding on personal territory. ‘Is it because of John Tranter that you’re unhappy here?’

    Suzanne blushed and looked away, clearly embarrassed by such an open mention of her suitor’s name. She and John Tranter had been engaged to be married for over a year now, to Eleanor’s knowledge, but the maid had refused to leave her service so far and yet had also sworn not to work once married. Which meant she and her suitor had reached a stale-mate.

    For once, although older than Eleanor and rarely at a loss for words, Suzanne seemed unsure what to say in reply to this very personal question.

    ‘Maybe so, Miss Nell. I do miss him, being in the country here.’

    ‘I know there’s been an understanding between you and John for a while now. I love you dearly, you know that. But you are free to leave my service and to marry, if you wish, with my blessing.’ Eleanor paused, suddenly wishing she could hug her fierce, proud maid, and tell her to go and be happy. But, indeed, part of her selfishly hoped to delay Suzanne’s departure for as long as possible. It seemed to her that they had been together almost as long as she could remember, and she could not begin to imagine life without her. ‘You understand that, don’t you?’

    Suzanne said nothing to this speech, though her dark eyes widened and glistened. Perhaps she did not know what to say.

    She bid her mistress another husky goodnight, giving that familiar jerking bob of a curtsey as she left the room.

 

For several hours, Eleanor lay in uneasy wakefulness, hiding her face under the bedclothes at times, at others watching the play of shadows on the wall as the fire died. The knowledge that her dearest Suzanne might leave her soon was a constant threat to her peace of mind, especially on such a difficult night, when she had come home trembling and unsure of herself. She fell at last into a restless sleep, only to be woken in the early hours by a deafening rumble of thunder about the house, so loud it seemed to shake the walls.

BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
4.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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