Unveiled (Undone by Love Book 3) (7 page)

BOOK: Unveiled (Undone by Love Book 3)
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Jane swallowed hard
. “You...you must be Mrs. Carter, my grandmother’s nurse.”

“I am, dear
. And I’m quite busy at the moment, so you must hurry on back.”  She reached for Jane’s arm and wheeled her back toward the hall’s entrance. The blood rose at once in Jane’s cheeks and she stopped short, tugging her arm free from the woman’s grasp.

“No
. I won’t go. I’ve come for answers, and I
will
get them. If you won’t take me to my grandmother, then I’ll find her myself. I
must
see her.”

“Now, child
–”

“I’m not a child
. I’m a woman, fully capable of understanding her condition. I will no longer be pushed aside and denied the truth. I request–no, I demand–that you take me to my grandmother at once.”  

Mrs. Carter pursed her mouth into a scowl, her eyes narrowed at the impertinence
. “As you wish, miss. Follow me.” 

Jane’s heart thumped loudly in rhythm to the tapping of Mrs. Carter’s heels as they climbed the stairs and passed through several doors, then across a wide gallery
. She noted with satisfaction that the corners were free of cobwebs on this floor, the white walls mostly unblemished. They turned into a narrow ante-room, and at last the woman paused before an intricately carved door. She turned to Jane with a frown. “You’re sure, miss?”

Jane nodded in reply, unable to speak
. She held her breath as the woman reached into her apron and produced a key, then slid it into the lock and turned the door handle.

Jane’s nostrils were assaulted at once by an assortment of unpleasant odors
–astringent medicinal smells intermingling with the faint scent of unwashed body. A large four-poster bed dominated the dim room, and there, lying against the ivory pillows, was her grandmother. At last.

Black hair streaked with gray hung about thin shoulders, escaping a single plait that lay across a deflated breast
. Darkly shadowed, pale eyes stared ahead at the wall–unblinking, unseeing. Deep lines ravaged her once-smooth face, all but obscuring her cheekbones. Her features displayed not the slightest bit of emotion–no perception, no awareness whatsoever as her eldest granddaughter approached the bed. Only a hint of the woman Jane remembered remained in this empty shell.

Jane’s heart beat so loudly in her breast that all other sounds were blocked out as she moved forward, pulled to her grandmother’s side
. Jane shuddered as she reached for the woman’s hand, frail and fragile as the finest bone china, lying on the sheet at her side.

“Elizabeth?” her grandmother croaked, spittle issuing forth from thin lips and landing on Jane’s hand
. She fought the urge to recoil.

“No, Grandmama
. It’s Jane, Elizabeth’s eldest daughter.”

Suddenly, the woman pulled her hand from her grasp and began to tremble, her eyes widening as she shook her head wildly about
.

Mrs. Carter placed a hand on her charge’s forehead
. “Shhh, Lady Bassford. Quiet, now. Here, have a spoonful of this.”  Her grandmother allowed the woman to spoon a dark liquid into her mouth. “There, now. We’ll leave you to your rest.”

Her grandmother moaned, a deep guttural sound, and began to rock from side to side as a rivulet of frothy drool made its way down her chin
. Jane flinched at the sight, but Mrs. Carter efficiently retrieved a handkerchief and patiently wiped her mouth.  

“Come, Miss Rosemoor.”  Mrs. Carter laid the square of linen on the bedside table as her charge’s eyes drooped shut, her erratic motions stilled at last
. “Any interruption of her usual schedule disturbs her greatly. She does not welcome visitors. Let us leave your grandmother in peace.”

Jane nodded her assent, then turned back toward the bed once more
. “Good bye, Grandmama,” she murmured. “I love you.” 

With one last look over her shoulder, Jane followed the bustling Mrs. Carter out to the chamber’s ante-room
. Only once the door closed behind them did she find her voice, however small. “I had no idea it was so dreadful. How long has she been like this?”

“For many years, I’m afraid
. I’ve been her nurse for nearly two decades, and she’s gotten progressively worse as the years have passed. At first she’d have long bouts of melancholy that could stretch on for weeks, followed by periods of almost maniacal energy. She’d clean the house from top to bottom, empty her purse in the village’s shops, stay up till the wee hours pacing the floors, rearranging knick-knacks and such until she dropped from exhaustion. But over the past several years, she’s retreated more and more into herself, and she grows weaker by the day.”

“Do you know how long she’s suffered from this terrible affliction?”

“From what I’ve been told, she’s always suffered, since girlhood. It worsened after the birth of her first child. But it was only after her third child, I’m told, that she descended into true madness. Very sad, very sad indeed. Why, I remember when Lady Bassford was the young mistress of Bassford Hall, just at the top of the road. The current Baron lives there now–your uncle, I suppose, with his wife. Yes, Lady Bassford was a fine lady, a diamond of the first water. Such a shame.”  Mrs. Carter shook her head sadly, a faraway look in her eyes. “It was kind of your uncle to allow his mother and Gertrude to live out their days here at The Orchards. Always a lesser estate, but perfectly comfortable for Lady Bassford and Miss Gertrude, and later for poor Susan as well, God rest her soul.”  

“Aunt Susan was...”  Jane couldn’t bring herself to say the words
.

“Yes, similarly afflicted
. Although I’m told your own mother has escaped the family curse. You must be much relieved of that.”

“I am,” Jane murmured
. But was she truly immune? It was obvious that Susanna was–her sister’s disposition remained sunny and bright at all times. But as to her own disposition, she couldn’t help but remember the terrible bouts of suffocating melancholy she’d experienced as a girl–bouts that had worsened with adolescence. What would happen if she were to have children?

She closed her eyes, remembering the image of her grandmother lying just on the other side of the door, drool running unchecked down her chin
. Even worse, her Aunt Susan had flung herself from a third-floor window and broken her neck.  

Scalding tears burned her eyelids
. No, she wouldn’t risk it. Couldn’t risk it. Just as she’s always supposed, she was sentenced to the life of a childless spinster. And strangely enough, just as this thought crossed her mind, so did the image of Lord Westfield, his arms wrapped protectively around young Madeline. Jane reached a hand up to wipe away the tear that coursed down her cheek.

No, it could never be
. Love was meant for others, not for her. She’d been right all along.

“Thank you for your candor, Mrs. Carter
. I should get back at once. Is it possible for you to refrain from mentioning this visit to my Aunt Gertrude? It would only upset her to know that I’ve violated her wishes.”

“Of course, miss.”  The woman nodded solemnly.

Jane turned to go.

“Miss Rosemoor
? If I might... Before you go, I feel I must say this to you.”

“Yes?”  Jane turned back curiously.

“I hope you don’t find it presumptuous of me to say so, but you must know you’re nothing like them.”

“Pardon me?”  Jane’s chest contracted painfully
.

“I can see it, in your eyes
. You’re nothing like them. Your aunt tells me that you come seeking answers, wishing to discuss things she’s not at all comfortable discussing. She’s told me that, as a girl, you were sensitive, given to short bouts of the blues. Although it’s not my place to speak so freely, I must tell you that from the sound of it, you have not inherited this terrible affliction. It would have manifested itself by now, I’m sure.”

“How can you be so sure
? It’s true I suffered from melancholy as a girl. I still do, on occasion, though I’m able to overcome it rather quickly with some fortitude. I’ve shielded my family from the true extent of it.”

“That is your answer, then
. Your grandmother and your Aunt Susan were never able to shield the truth from their families. Their suffering was acute, and painfully evident to those who loved them. Much more than simple melancholy. No, as I said before, the melancholy was followed by periods of maniacal energy–the inability to concentrate, to focus. Quite frightening. Have you ever encountered such as that within yourself?”

“N...no,” Jane stammered
. She hadn’t. “Nothing like that. As soon as the melancholy lifts, I’m right back to my own cheerful, composed self.”

“You see, then
? There’s nothing to fear.”

Jane shook her head, unconvinced
. “Still, I can’t be sure.”

“I’m sure
. I’ve spent many years in the service of your family, Miss Rosemoor. I can recognize it in an instant. No, you’ve been spared.”

“I hope you’re correct, Mrs. Carter
. Indeed I do.”  But could she risk it? No, she shook her head. It was far too dangerous. Besides, she’d yet to meet a man worth the risk–a man who touched her heart enough to make her believe she could tempt fate.

And then she remembered the way it felt, backed against the tree’s wide trunk, caged in by Lord Westfield’s powerful arms, his insistent mouth pressed against hers, his tongue invading spaces never before explored
. He was a man who wasn’t afraid to say what he thought, to act as he felt, to take what he wanted. Prideful, yes. Arrogant, without a doubt.

Perhaps I’ve met my match
. The thought sent a shudder down her spine.

 

Chapter 6

 

“Jane, it’s so good to have you back,” Emily called out, waddling over to embrace her
. “I’ve missed your company most dreadfully.”

“As I’ve missed yours.”  Jane recognized the truth in the statement
.

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to see you off
. I wasn’t quite myself for a few days, but I’m much better now.”

“I’m delighted to see you so well recovered
. I hope you didn’t mind my taking off to The Orchards like that.”

“No, of course not
. How was Grandmama?”

“The same, I’m afraid
. Not quite well enough for visitors.”  Jane would never share the horrifying images of the madwoman with her delicate cousin. “But Aunt Gertrude seemed well.”

“I’m glad to hear it
. Aunt Gertrude has been so good to Grandmama, sacrificing her own independence to devote herself to her care.”

“Yes, she’s lucky to have her.” 

“So, what shall we do today? I was thinking perhaps to head to the garden and paint. It’s a beautiful day, mild and sunny. The light is perfect.”

“That sounds lovely
. I’ll join you, then.”  Jane reached for her shawl.

“Wonderful
. I’ll have Mrs. Smythe fetch the supplies and send them out. Oh, there you are, Mrs. Smythe.”  Emily looked up as the housekeeper bustled into the room.

“Madam, you have a visitor
. Lord Westfield is requesting your company.”

“Lord Westfield
? Did you tell him that Mr. Tolland is not at home? And not expected back for several hours?”

“I did, indeed, madam, but his lordship insists it is yours and Miss Rosemoor’s company that he desires this afternoon.”

“Strange,” Emily muttered. “I could have sworn Cecil said he was going into the village today with Westfield.”  She shook her head. “Show him in, then.”

Jane reached down to smooth her dress with a frown
. She couldn’t deny that she longed to see him. As she traveled back from The Orchards, she’d barely been able to think of anything save finding herself in his presence once more. Like a magnet, she felt involuntarily drawn to him. It terrified her, her intense longing for someone she barely knew–someone she could never have.

She forced a smile as he strode into the drawing room, hat in hand
. Her heart fluttered against her breast like butterfly wings as he stood before her at last, just as tall and intensely handsome as she’d remembered.

“Mrs. Tolland, Miss Rosemoor.”  He bowed to them, then stood stiffly, refusing the seat that Emily gestured toward.

“Mrs. Tolland, if you’ll indulge me, I’d hoped for a private word with Miss Rosemoor.”

Emily’s mouth popped open, her eyes round
. Jane, standing just behind Lord Westfield and out of his line of vision, madly shook her head. She had no wish to find herself alone with him again. It was dangerous, far too dangerous.

“Why, of course,” Emily said brightly
. “I’ll just be out in the garden, then.”

Again he bowed to Emily with stiff formality before she hurried out
.

Finally Lord Westfield turned to face her, as if just remembering her presence
.

“Won’t you sit?” Jane murmured, ignoring the racing of her heart
.

“Yes, thank you.”  He settled himself into the gold brocade chair by the window, his long legs stretched out before him
. As always, Jane was amazed at the size of him.

“How was your journey to Clifton?”  He balanced his hat on one of the chair’s arms.

“Very well, thank you. I believe I accomplished what I set out to accomplish.”

His brows drew together
. “Is that so? Well, it’s good to have you safely returned.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

A moment of uncomfortable silence ensued. Jane found herself fidgeting in her seat, unable to meet his questioning gaze.

“You’re comfortable here in Derbyshire, then?” he finally said
.

“I am, indeed.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”  He leaned forward in his chair. “Miss Rosemoor, I won’t beat around the bush. Madeline is in dire need of feminine companionship, and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to raise the child on my own. What’s more, Richmond Park is in need of a mistress, a capable mistress. It’s time I take a wife and produce an heir. You must realize, of course, that I seek only companionship–nothing more. A partner, of sorts. I’m not offering love, nor will the relationship ever progress to such a state.”

Jane refused to allow her astonishment to show in her countenance
. She raised one brow, hoping to affect a haughty posture. “You sound as if you are offering me a position in your household, Lord Westfield.”

“I apologize
. But this arrangement would no doubt benefit you greatly,” he continued, obviously completely unaware of her discomfort. “I’m told your brother, the Viscount Rosemoor, makes his home in Scotland, but what if he later decides to take up residence at your family’s estate in Essex? What then? Will you be content to make your home with your brother and his wife? Wouldn’t you prefer a home of your own?”

Jane remained silent in reply.

“Besides, I think we’ll suit nicely,” he added, sounding almost cheerful. “I had meant to go to London, much as I loathed the idea, and choose from amongst this Season’s debutantes. You’ve saved me the trip.”

“Is that so?” she sputtered, no longer able to hide her indignation
. Why, the arrogant fool! “I’ve saved you the trip?”  Had he truly thought she’d accept such an offer–one so thinly cloaked in insult?

“Will you give me your answer?”  He drummed his fingers on his knee.

Jane rose to her feet. “Indeed I will, my lord. My answer is no.”

His forehead creased, his eyes widened perceptively, though he remained seated
. “I might ask whatever would induce you to decline such an advantageous offer.”

“And I might ask what would induce you to make such an insulting offer,” she shot back.

“Insulting? I’m offering to make you mistress of the finest estate in Derbyshire.”  He rose and reached for his hat. “To make you a countess, for God’s sake.”

Jane peered up at him with narrowed eyes, her face burning with anger and humiliation
. “I’ve no intention of taking a husband, Lord Westfield. Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe our business here is concluded.” 

“Indeed it is, Miss Rosemoor.”  He tipped his hat back onto his head.

In their haste to quit each other’s company, they found themselves tangled together at the door. “Oooh,” Jane exclaimed, elbowing her way past the hateful man and out toward the garden without a backward glance.

 

***

 

“Oh, the insufferable man! The nerve.”  Jane stormed down the hall, flinging open the pair of French doors leading to the garden. “How dare he?”  She crossed the terrace in angry strides, practically flinging herself down the stairs to the garden in haste. “How dare he!” she repeated, her voice rising in pitch.

“Dear Lord, Jane, whatever is the matter?”

Jane looked up to see Emily rise unsteadily from a wrought-iron chair, a canvas on an easel behind her.

“The nerve of that man, Emily
. You’d never believe–”

“Lord Westfield?”

“Yes, Lord Westfield. The most arrogant man I’ve ever met.”

“Whatever did he say to you
? Why did he wish to speak with you privately?”  Emily’s normally smooth brow was knitted into a frown.

“To ask for my hand in marriage, that’s why.”  Jane all but spat out the distasteful words.

“No,” Emily said, her face beaming.

“Oh, yes.” 

“Then why are you angry? Surely you accepted his offer?”

“Why ever would I
? I declare, never in my life have I been so insulted.”

“By an offer of marriage
? From an earl with an enormous income? I confess I’m astonished. Why, he’s perhaps the most eligible bachelor in all of Derbyshire. You should be honored by the compliment.”

“Honored
? By his insults?”  Jane shrugged off Emily’s touch and paced a circuit before the easel. She thought of all the offers of marriage she’d received in the past–polite, sometimes passionate declarations of abiding affection and admiration. Some–William Nickerson, for one–actually professed to love her. They’d acted as if Jane would be bestowing the greatest honor on them if she accepted their suit, and it had been with great regret that she’d had to refuse them. But never,
never
had a man acted as if
he
were doing
her
a favor.

He didn’t want
her
–he wanted a mother for the child he called his niece, a vessel to carry his heir. A brood mare. Nothing more. She would save him a trip to London, that’s all. She was convenient; he hadn’t even felt the need to properly court her. He’d only expected her gratitude. He could have at least pretended admiration; it would have been so much less offending. She would have refused him either way, but at least her pride would have been spared.

Jane reached her hands up to her temples
. Oh, what a confounding mess she’d gotten herself into. She wasn’t able to think rationally, hadn’t been able to since she’d come to Derbyshire. Perhaps it was time to go home. She’d gotten her answers, after all.

“Cousin Jane
? It’s time.”

Jane realized Emily was speaking to her
. She shook her head in confusion. “I’m sorry, Emily. Time for what?”  Emily was standing behind the chair, leaning against it, gripping the curved back with white knuckles and a mysterious smile.

“The babe
. It’s time. My waters just broke.” 

 

***

 

The impertinent woman had actually refused him. Hayden could barely believe the insult. Damn Tolland and his brilliant ideas. He laid the crop on Andromeda’s flanks, spurring the stallion into a gallop as he crossed the wide-open field on the far side of the wood.

She must be mad
. Wasn’t there some mysterious mental illness that plagued her mother’s family? She seemed rational enough on first inspection, but perhaps he’d misjudged her. Had she expected flowery professions of love? He only believed in speaking the truth, and she seemed a sensible girl, not the type to expect pretty words and false promises. Whatever was the matter with her? He’d made a perfectly reasonable offer, one which any sensible woman in her position would gladly accept. He was utterly and completely confounded by the absurdity of it.

At last he reined in the horse
. He’d been riding aimlessly for more than an hour, and it had done nothing to ease his wounded pride. He needed a drink. Badly.

He swung down from the saddle as a groom hurried over to take the reins, Vlad loping alongside the boy
. The enormous white dog hurried to its master’s side, leaning against him with his tongue lolling out. Hayden reached down to stroke the thick, wavy coat. “Good afternoon, old boy. Out for a run? Where’s your flock?”

Vlad answered by taking Hayden’s hand in his muzzle, chewing his master’s fingers with delight
. The ferocious dog’s gentleness never failed to amaze its owner. Hayden had bought the dog as a pup on the continent, impressed by the loyalty and intelligence he’d seen in the breed. He hadn’t been disappointed. Vlad took to his beloved sheep at once, defending the flock with his life. Hayden knew with unflagging certainty that the dog would similarly protect his master–or Madeline–should the need arise.

The pair set off together across the park toward the house. Hayden bent and retrieved a sturdy stick from the lawn and threw it ahead, into the tall grass for the dog to fetch
. Vlad lunged after it, disappearing from sight and then racing back to drop the stick at Hayden’s feet. He threw it again, enjoying the game. Yet several minutes later, the dog had yet to return to his side. Puzzled, he increased his stride, anxious to see what had distracted the beast.

Cresting the last rise before the drive, Hayden heard Vlad’s raucous bark and craned his neck, searching for the cause of the excitement
. His brows drew together at once. Tolland’s coach was in the drive. Strange, as he’d thought Tolland had gone into the village for the day.

“Why, what a beautiful boy you are,” he heard a familiar voice call out
. An unmistakably feminine voice.

What the hell
?

And then he saw her
–Miss Rosemoor, eagerly stroking the intimidating dog’s ears as if he were a lap dog. What was she doing here, so soon after he’d quitted her company? Had she come to tell him she’d reconsidered his proposal?

His chest swelled with anger
. Did she honestly think he’d repeat the offer?

He walked indolently to her side and bowed
. “Miss Rosemoor. What an unexpected surprise.”

BOOK: Unveiled (Undone by Love Book 3)
3.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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