Authors: Cheryl Holt
Evangeline sat at the harpsichord in the music room at Fox Run. It was very late, and she was smarter now, so she didn’t touch the keys. She was afraid she’d attract an audience.
For the prior four days, ever since Lord Run had kissed her in her bedchamber, she’d been a ghost in the house. She’d sneak down early to breakfast, then flit back to her room and hide all morning. She spent the afternoons with Vicar Bosworth, calling on neighbors and being introduced to important parishioners.
When she returned to the manor, she’d creep inside, would rush upstairs and have a supper tray delivered. The evenings were long and dreary and, occasionally, she heard laughter and singing wafting by, as if Lord Run was entertaining. Those were the most difficult hours, as she yearned to go down and join in the merriment.
She was a very social person, not prone to moping or solitude, so she was being particularly reserved. Yet it was necessary to restrain herself. Lord Run had an uncanny ability to coax her to flagrant immoral behavior, and the only deterrence she could devise was complete avoidance.
So far, it had been working well. She hadn’t seen him again, and he hadn’t bothered her.
Her awkwardness around the vicar was gradually waning, and Evangeline was starting to realize why Miss Peabody had betrothed her to him. Though the area was prosperous, there was suffering too, but he wasn’t concerned about the less fortunate.
Evangeline could make a difference, could perform good deeds and help others who hadn’t had her advantages in life. Marriage to Vicar Bosworth wouldn’t bring her joy or devotion—or even much in the way of companionship—but happiness was fleeting and could be illusory.
Instead, she would settle for contentment, and in the longer scheme of things, that was a higher pursuit, a higher goal.
Why then, was she so miserable?
In her palm, she clasped a miniature statue that had always been hers. It was a goddess—she’d never learned which one—and carved out of ivory. The initials
were written on the bottom in dark ink, but they had faded over the years. In her first memories, she’d had it with her, and she thought it might be a significant item from her past, often wondering if it had been her mother’s.
She always carried it, and when she looked at it, she felt calmer and more in control. She placed it on the box of the instrument, and she stared at it, sensing as she constantly did that it was sending her a message. Unfortunately, she could never decipher what it was.
She traced a finger across the grooved lines of the carving, curious about the artist, why it had been made, why she had it.
“Tell me what to do,” she murmured, but of course she received no reply.
She’d asked Vicar Bosworth if there’d been any progress on removing her from the manor, but Lord Run had refused to allow it so, apparently, that ended the matter.
For the moment she was trapped, but she had to leave. And in the future, when Lord Run was in residence, she had to ensure she never bumped into him.
Though she hated to admit it about herself, she’d sinned with her body
her mind. By kissing Lord Run as she had, she’d betrayed Vicar Bosworth, and she ought to confess her indiscretion to him, but she was too cowardly.
During any part of the torrid embrace, she could have stopped it, but she hadn’t. She’d been eager to keep on to a conclusion she couldn’t describe, but that she certainly seemed to crave. All these days later, she was raw and jumbled on the inside, as if invisible fires had been ignited and needed to be extinguished.
Lord Run had begged her to have an affair, to be his mistress. While she’d assumed herself insulted by the request, on further reflection, she was surprised to discover that she wasn’t actually that opposed.
He intrigued her in ways she hadn’t known she could be by a man. She was a very passionate individual, but under Miss Peabody’s stern rules, she’d had to tamp down her wilder impulses. Lord Run lured them to the fore. He made her feel she could give them free rein, that she could—in his presence—be the person she was meant to be. She wouldn’t have to conceal her true nature.
Her desire to grab that more reckless, more carefree existence was so potent she could almost taste it.
She glanced up, and to her dismay, Lord Run was watching her from over by the door. She wanted to tell him to go away. She wanted to tell him to
go away. She wanted to ask him if he was sorry for their kiss. She wanted to tell him she hoped he
sorry for their kiss.
For all her sheltered upbringing, she was very intelligent and pragmatic. She recognized that women got themselves into trouble with scoundrels. She’d heard the horror stories as to how easily a rogue could wear down virtuous impulses, but Evangeline had believed fallen women to be imprudent and weak of character.
Now, all of a sudden, she understood how physical attraction could spur a female to perilous conduct. She was on a very dangerous ledge, desperately keen to do whatever he suggested.
“Hello,” he quietly murmured as he came over to her.
“I thought you might be down here.”
“You know me well. Musical instruments seem to call my name.”
He pointed to her goddess statue. “That’s a pretty carving.”
“Yes, it is.”
He reached for it, but she snatched it away and stuck it in her pocket. Though her anxiety was silly, she kept the statue secreted away, so most people weren’t aware she had it. It was her good luck charm, her talisman for protection, to ward off evil.
She suspected she’d once been told to never let go of it, to never lose it. Or maybe it was simply an orphan’s attachment that didn’t indicate anything at all.
At her odd, grasping behavior, he scowled.
“I apologize,” she said, “but it’s a special memento.”
“It’s all right. I merely wanted to look at the details.”
She shrugged, trying not to appear foolish. “I’ve just always had it. It might have been my mother’s, but I’m not sure.”
“Then by all means, you should keep it close.”
“I always do.”
Their stilted conversation stumbled to a halt. They stared and stared, a thousand questions rocking her. She’d like to ask why he’d come downstairs, if he’d been searching for her, but they couldn’t be in the same room, not for a single second. The minute she saw him, she was eager to race to ruin. It was a disastrous urge that couldn’t be acted on.
“You’ve been hiding from me,” he said.
“I figured I should.”
“You don’t have to. I’m an adult, and you were very clear that I should leave you alone.”
I don’t want you to leave me alone,
she nearly wailed.
“How are things with my cousin?” he inquired. “I’m told the two of you have been socializing in the afternoons.”
“Is the situation getting any better for you?”
“Yes,” she lied.
“Are you being honest with me?”
She frowned. “Why wouldn’t I be honest?”
“I warned him to be kind to you. If he’s not, I’ll talk to him.”
The notion that he’d intervened on her behalf again, that he was determined to be her champion, was inordinately thrilling.
“I don’t need your assistance,” she insisted. “He and I will be fine.”
Dubious and unconvinced, he nodded, and she held herself very still, her gaze level and calm. She was being pelted with such intense yearning that she could barely keep from leaping off the bench and throwing herself into his arms. Could he feel the pressure building between them?
“I’ve decided I should return to London,” he abruptly announced.
The news was extremely distressing, and she gripped the edge of the bench so she’d remain firmly planted on it.
“Why would you?” she asked. “I hope it’s not because of me.”
“Of course it’s because of you,” he baldly admitted, and he sounded angry.
“If my presence is disturbing you, I’m quite content to depart. Simply inform the vicar that you no longer mind, and he’ll find me other lodging.”
“No. You can stay here.”
“But it’s ridiculous to let yourself be chased away by me. I’m insignificant to your daily routines, and as I’ve proven, I can keep out of your way.”
“I don’t want you to keep out of my way. That’s the problem.”
Giddy elation rocked her, but she fought to conceal her reaction. She couldn’t be glad about his interest, couldn’t be delighted by what it indicated.
“About the other night…” His voice trailed off.
“What about it?”
“I’m not sorry. You’re probably expecting me to apologize, but I won’t.”
“There’s no need to apologize.”
“Why is that?” He glared at her, daring her to respond. “You can say it, Evangeline. Why is there no need?”
She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me.”
“It couldn’t possibly.”
He was overwhelming her with his greater size and imposing nature. Just by his standing so near, she was completely befuddled. She was a very lonely, very ordinary female. How was she to ignore what was occurring? How was she to fend it off?
“Tell me you feel it,” he said.
He gestured to her, then himself. “Then tell me you don’t feel it. Tell me it’s not happening.”
“There’s nothing happening.”
“I’m not lying.”
“You are, and you shouldn’t try it with me. With me, your face is an open book.”
“Fine, then. Here’s the truth, and it’s all I’ll say about it.”
“Fine. What is it?”
“It’s as if sparks ignite when we’re together. I don’t understand it.”
“Neither do I.”
“It confuses me.”
“You’re much too sophisticated, and I’m much too naïve.”
“You are,” he agreed.
“Separation seems the only solution.”
“I concur, which is why I’m leaving for London in the morning.”
she yearned to plead, but for once, she kept her mouth shut.
“I think it’s probably for the best,” she resolutely replied.
“If I never see you again, I’m certain I’ll be abandoning something remarkable.”
She smiled. “If that’s what you suppose, then your imagination is running wild.”
“My imagination is working perfectly. I can
all sorts of indecent scenarios, and you’re front and center in every one.”
Her heart raced with a pulsating flutter, but she paid it no heed. “I don’t have an indecent bone in my body, Lord Run.”
“You’re wrong, Evangeline. In fact, I suspect
bone in your body might just be pining away for what I can give you.”
“And what is that?”
“I have to show you. If I don’t, I’ll always regret it.”
* * * *
Being obstinate and demanding as he rarely was, Aaron lifted her off the bench. She didn’t protest being manhandled—not exactly—so he simply told himself she was amenable.
She’d rattled loose an intriguing facet of his character. He’d previously viewed himself as being passively restrained, happy to go along and get along. Apparently, he’d never wanted anything as much as he wanted her, and on this occasion, he wasn’t about to be denied.
As he crushed his mouth to hers, as he swept her into a stirring kiss, he felt as if he was floating outside himself, as if he was watching some other hapless fellow behave precisely as he shouldn’t.
He’d informed her that he was departing for London, and he meant it. His bags were packed, and he’d left instructions with the housekeeper. Bryce and Florella were staying for another week or two, but Aaron was riding off at dawn.
For four torturous days and nights, he’d been fretting over what to do about her. He’d traveled to the country to escape the pressures in London, to take a break from the burden of being engaged to Priscilla. Yet his brief sojourn had provided no haven at all.
He’d tried to avoid Evangeline, but he was infatuated beyond all reason or sense. Finally, he’d been forced to deal with the madness she’d induced. He
to leave, but a tiny and insistent voice in his head kept telling him not to go without a goodbye.
There was a sofa behind them, the back of it facing the door so if anyone walked by, they couldn’t be observed from the hall. He spun them and laid her on it. He followed her down and stretched out on top of her, trapping her so she couldn’t squirm away.
He hadn’t ceased kissing her, and he wasn’t sure he ever would. The sparks they generated had inflamed him, seemingly to the point of no return, and he couldn’t decide what he was planning. He wanted to strip off her clothes, to see her naked, to lick and nibble and taste and never stop.
His hands were everywhere, in her hair, on her shoulders and arms, each stroke of his palms arousing him to a higher level. He rolled them so she was wedged to the back of the sofa. She was wearing one of her functional gray gowns, the buttons easy to manipulate through the buttonholes.
He opened the front and slid a hand inside, quickly finding that—it being very late—she’d shed corset and chemise, so he encountered bare skin, then a perfect breast. He massaged it, pinching the nipple between finger and thumb. She moaned against his lips, and snuggled herself to him more tightly, as if she couldn’t get enough of what he was doing to her.
At least he told himself that was what was happening. It was entirely possible she’d like him to desist, but he was too consumed by lust to notice.
He pushed down her dress, then abandoned her mouth to blaze a trail down her neck, her chest, until he reached her bosom. He sucked a pert nipple into his mouth, laving it, biting it.
He shifted to the other breast, to the other nipple, giving it the same potent attention, then he wandered back and forth, back and forth.
Eventually, she whispered, “Lord Run, please. We can’t keep on.”
“I’m desperate to know you like this, Evangeline.”
“But it’s so wrong.”
“No, it’s not. When there is such an attraction between us, it can only be very, very right.”