Unveiled (Undone by Love Book 3) (5 page)

BOOK: Unveiled (Undone by Love Book 3)
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“Come, then, Miss Rosemoor. I’ll show you to the salon and arrange for a tray of tea and biscuits. And you, young lady, shall explain yourself.”

Madeline bowed her head, looking penitent.

“Miss Crosley, ring for Robards at once and inform him that your charge has been located at last,” Mrs. Pierce said, her voice cool, as she reached for Madeline’s hand.

The younger woman briefly cast a scathing glare at the housekeeper before nodding and disappearing from sight
.

Jane stepped into the cavernous front hall and looked around in fascination as she untied and removed her bonnet
. She couldn’t help but gape at her surroundings, grand yet tasteful. The floor was inlaid marble, pale pink veins showing beneath the gleaming surface. Deep-blue velvet drapes framed floor-to-ceiling windows along the hall’s front wall, looking out onto the manicured drive. Matching velvet settees lined the far wall, placed at perfectly symmetrical intervals. A pedestal crowned the center of the hall on which an enormous floral arrangement sat. The rich, fragrant scents–hothouse flowers, no doubt–perfumed the air, and Jane inhaled deeply.

As she followed Mrs. Pierce and Madeline across the hall and under the intricately carved archway leading out, Jane’s eyes skimmed over the two portraits flanking the arch
–one a formal portrait of Lord Westfield himself, looking as arrogant and imposing as ever in fawn breeches and dark blue riding jacket, a pair of hounds sitting at his heels; and the other depicting an older gentleman in red jacket and powdered wig, no doubt the previous Lord Westfield.

“Look at your face, Miss Madeline,” Mrs. Pierce scolded as they entered the yellow and gilt salon
. She retrieved her handkerchief and vigorously scrubbed the grime from the girl’s flushed cheeks. “Why, if the Master were to see you now, what would he think? You’re a fright. Tea first, and then the nursemaid will draw you a bath. Sit, Miss Rosemoor.”  She gestured to a sofa the color of the midday sun. “I’ll fetch the tea at once.” 

“But I promised to show Miss Rosemoor my pony,” Madeline wailed
.

“Another time, dear
. Have a seat, child, and entertain Miss Rosemoor while I see to the tea.” 

As Mrs. Pierce bustled out, Madeline launched into happy chatter
–a far cry from the frightened girl Jane first encountered. Not ten minutes later, Mrs. Pierce reappeared, pushing a heavily laden tea cart.

“Mmmm, apple tarts.”  Madeline reached for one with a smile as Mrs. Pierce poured the tea into delicate bone-china patterned in blue toile
. Jane reached for a biscuit and nibbled distractedly.

“Mary Ann’s the prettiest ever,” Madeline exclaimed, brushing pastry crumbs from her lap
. “You’ll see.” 

“Mary Ann?”

“My pony. Haven’t you been listening?”

“How could she not, Miss Madeline, with you going on as you are
? Shush, now, child. Give poor Miss Rosemoor a bit of peace.”

“Oh, no, Mrs. Pierce
. It’s quite all right. Why, Madeline reminds me of a dear friend of mine, Lady Mandeville. Lady Mandeville could go on all day about horses. So you’ve already learned to ride, then?”

“Oh, you should see young mistress ride,” Mrs. Pierce interjected, her eyes shining with pride
. “The master taught her himself, he did, to ride and jump.”

“Did he?” Jane asked, surprised that a man like Lord Westfield would take such interest in his young ward
.

“I want him to teach me to shoot, too, but he says I’m too young
. Perhaps when I’m older–”

“Shoot, indeed
. He most certainly will not teach you to shoot. It’s not at all appropriate for young ladies. Simply scandalous.”  Mrs. Pierce shook her head, her lips pursed in censure.

Madeline looked crestfallen, and Jane almost laughed aloud
.

Suddenly a door slammed and heavy footsteps in the hallway jolted Jane from her quiet enjoyment
.

“Damn it to hell,” a deep voice boomed, reverberating off the walls
. “I’ve searched every inch of the property with no sign–”

“Master,” Mrs. Pierce interrupted, dashing out toward the hall
. “She’s home. Right here in the salon.”

“Thank God,” came the familiar voice, moving closer
.  

Jane found herself shrinking back into the cushions as Lord Westfield hastily strode into the room
. Madeline flung herself into his arms as he knelt to one knee. His coat was half buttoned, his cravat askew. His dark hair was mussed as he doffed his hat. Jane watched in rapt fascination as he pressed the small child to him, eyes closed, his face buried in her hair.

“Don’t ever do that again, poppet,” he said hoarsely
. “You’ve no idea how worried I was, how–”

He opened his eyes at last and his gaze met Jane’s over the top of Madeline’s fair head
. His shock was evident. He released Madeline and stood, straightening his coat as he did so. Then his usual mask of cool indifference took its rightful place upon his features.

“Miss Rosemoor,” he said levelly, with a curt nod in her direction
. “I see you’ve met my niece.”

“I have, indeed,” she replied, rising from her seat
.

“Madeline is my ward.”  He placed one hand on the top of the girl’s head
. Something about the protective gesture touched Jane deeply.

She swallowed hard and attempted a polite smile, tried to make her tone light
. “I was out walking Cecil’s park this afternoon and I fear I strayed a bit onto your property where I stumbled upon Madeline. We found our way here together.”

“Oh, and she’s the nicest lady, Uncle Hayden,” Madeline added enthusiastically
. “Please, can she stay for dinner?”

“Yes, I’m sure
–”

“No, I’m afraid I cannot
–”

Both spoke at once, and Madeline looked curiously from one to the other with wide eyes.

“Madeline, as much as I’d love to, I’m afraid I must get back to Mrs. Tolland. She’s feeling poorly today, and besides, I’m taking a trip to Clifton tomorrow and must be up early in the morn.”

“Is Mrs. Tolland unwell?”  His brow creased, a frown suddenly darkening his face
.

“Nothing out of the ordinary for a woman in her...ahem, current state.”  Jane’s cheeks burned
. She was astonished at her own candor, yet his obvious concern had moved her to such an admission.

“Ah, I see
. Very well.”  The worried creases smoothed from his brow. “And what of Tolland and his ankle?”

“Still smarting, I suppose, though he’s made no mention of it
. But he limps when he thinks no one is watching.”  When Jane had gone to his study and asked him about visiting The Orchards, he had been overly generous and accommodating, promising to make the necessary arrangements himself. Yet his eyes had never once met hers.

“Some escort he was, the fool.”

Jane felt the heat rise again in her cheeks. She’d blushed more in Lord Westfield’s presence these past few days than she had in her entire life, no doubt.

“Anyway,” he said with a wave of one hand, as if he were shooing away a pesky fly
. “Perhaps you can join us for dinner another evening.”

“Of course,” Jane replied.

Madeline, obviously feeling forgotten, tugged on Lord Westfield’s sleeve.
His niece
, he’d called her. Jane’s brows rose suspiciously, for one only had to glance at the pair, standing beside one another with the same green eyes and the same strong, proud chin, to suspect a different relationship altogether. Perhaps she was his daughter.

His bastard daughter
.

Just then Miss Crosley stepped into the room, interrupting Jane’s musings on the child’s parentage
. The governess entreated her charge to go upstairs at once for her bath.

“I won’t leave without saying good-bye, I give you my word,” Jane promised
.

With one reluctant glance back at Jane, Madeline obeyed
. Jane listened as the pair’s footsteps faded and then disappeared altogether, and then she and Lord Westfield faced one another, silent, for what felt like an eternity.

After a beat, he reached down and buttoned his coat with sharp, precise movements
. “I apologize for my current state. I’m afraid I left in a bit of haste.” 

“No need to apologize,” she answered as he straightened his cravat.

“Will you sit?” he asked, his tone decidedly polite.

“Of course.”  On shaky legs, Jane returned to her previous seat on the sofa
. “I believe the tea is still warm. Shall I pour?”

“Yes
. Thank you.”  He reached for the cup she offered.

“She’s delightful, my lord.”

“What? Who?”

“Madeline
. Such a lovely child. Her liveliness must brighten your household.”

“Liveliness
? Oh. Yes. An orphan, my niece. She had nowhere to go and I, ahem...”  He took a sip of tea. “She’s been with us since infancy. Miss Crosley does a fine job. Madeline’s a terribly bright child, but, I fear, in desperate need of a woman’s influence. Your cousin is very kind to her. Madeline is usually timid among strangers. I’ve never seen her take to someone as quickly as she has to you. You must have made quite an impression on her.” 

“I...suppose so.”  A feeling of unease settled in her stomach
. It was not prudent for her to remain alone in his company. “I’m sorry, my lord. I must go.”

“Call me ‘Hayden.’”

“An unusual name,” she replied, stalling.

“My mother’s maiden name
. Lady Caroline Hayden of Kent, before marriage. Her father was the Duke of Umberton.”

“I see.”  Jane fidgeted in her seat
. She couldn’t possibly call him by his given name. Despite their indiscretion, she’d only made his acquaintance what, two, three days ago?

“And perhaps I should call you Jane,” he added.

“Perhaps not,” Jane replied.

“Tell me, how do you find Richmond Park?”

“Extraordinary.”  She brightened at once, her mood lightened a measure. “I’ve never in all my life seen a house so pleasingly situated, nor so elegantly appointed.”

“I agree, but then I’m prejudiced
. I’m glad it pleases you.”  He leaned back in his chair and eyed her closely. “I think perhaps it could use a woman’s touch,” he said.

“Whatever do you mean?”  Jane’s heart began to thump noisily against her ribs
.

“Richmond Park
. It has been many years since the estate has seen a mistress.”

“I must say, it certainly does not seem to suffer for the lack of one.”

He shrugged. “I do my best. You said you were leaving tomorrow for Clifton?”

“Yes, to visit my great-aunt and grandmother at The Orchards
. I haven’t seen them in quite some time.”

“When will you return?”

“It depends upon my grandmother’s health. She’s...unwell. A sennight at most, I suppose.”

“When you return, you must fulfill your promise to Madeline or she will be sorely disappointed
. You must join us for dinner.”

“Of course.”  Where had the gruff, acerbic Lord Westfield gone, and who was this new, polite man in his stead
? Her heart leapt in her breast as it suddenly made sense–she saw the truth with startling clarity. Appraising her like a brood mare at Tattersall’s; assessing her accomplishments; and now, measuring her affection for his ward and her approval of his home. ‘She won’t do,’ he’d said on first meeting her.  

He wanted a wife
.

Jane sprang to her feet and hurried to the window, gazing out on the lake with churning emotions
. The sun was fast moving toward the horizon, casting a golden glow on the lawn below. No matter his designs on her, she would not have him. She couldn’t, not even if she wanted to.

“I must go,” she repeated, placing one palm against the glass
.  

And then she felt his warm breath on her neck, tantalizing her, drawing gooseflesh across her skin
. How had he crossed the distance separating them on such silent feet? How had she not felt his presence behind her before it was too late?

His hand covered hers on the glass, his taut body pressed against her back
. A shiver began at the base of her spine and worked its way up. His lips pressed into her hair, behind one ear.

“Jane,” he murmured, so quietly is was little more than a sigh, his breath seductively warm against her skin
. She could feel the beating of his heart through the layers of cloth that separated them. Involuntarily, she inhaled his masculine scent–sandalwood and leather.

More than anything, she wanted to turn around, to press her face into his broad, muscular chest, to gaze up into his mesmerizing eyes, to kiss him again as she had kissed him in the maze
.    

BOOK: Unveiled (Undone by Love Book 3)
2.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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