Read A Virtuous Lady Online

Authors: Elizabeth Thornton

A Virtuous Lady

 

 

 

A NOBLEMAN'S DESIRE

 

"You have insulted me in every possible way! You may take your honor, sir, and go to the devil."

Ravensworth's brow was black with anger. He stood up
to
 
tower
over her, and she shrank back to see the menace in his eyes.

"Let me go," she
cried,
her self-control almost at breaking point.

Cruel fingers dug into her shoulders as he turned her to face him. "Do you care for me? Do you?" He shook her angrily. "Tell me, damn you!"

Briony longed to deny it, but she could not. She gave him a stricken look and remained silent.

"Oh Briony, Briony," he said with a harsh laugh, "how unfortunate for you that you are incapable of telling a lie."

He took her face between his hands and drew her closer. Briony stilled in his grasp. Something in his coiled, pantherlike stance warned her that to resist would be fatal. She was conscious for the first time of the sheer power of him and it frightened
her. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For my cousin, Lois.

 

 

 

 

 

ZEBRA BOOKS

 

are
published by

 

Kensington Publishing Corp.

475 Park Avenue South

New York, NY 10016

 

Copyright © 1988 by Mary George

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

 

First printing: March, 1988

 

Printed in the United States of America

 

CLS 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter One

 

The faint strains of the orchestra wafted up the wide well of the imposing, marble staircase and invaded the quiet seclusion of Briony Langland's fourth-floor chamber as she prepared for bed.

"A wicked waltz," said Nanny reprovingly. Her lips pursed in displeasure, and she glowered at Briony's pale reflection in the oval mirror of the polished mahogany lady's dressing table. But Nanny's arm never wavered for an instant in its habitual labor of brushing Miss Briony's long, fair, soft tresses until they shone like silk.

"One hundred," she said at last, laying down the silver hairbrush.

That a ball was in progress in the nether regions of
Broomhill
House in the village of Richmond near London and she banished to the Olympian heights of her uncle's mansion disturbed Miss Langland's equilibrium not one whit. Briony did not like balls. She had never been to one, but she knew that dancing was frivolous and so, by conviction, if not by inclination, Briony detested balls.

Nanny nimbly braided Briony's hair and wove the plaits into a neat coil, securing them with pins to the crown of her fair head. The final touch to this toilette was a scrap of Nottingham lace, euphemistically called a "night cap," which was gingerly placed on Briony's braids and tied securely under her chin with ribbons. Briony glared distastefully at the reflection in the mirror, which, as was to be expected, glared distastefully back. She looked to be nearer a child of twelve than a full-grown woman of nineteen years.

"Now into bed with
ye
," said Nanny peremptorily. Her charge hesitated. It was on Briony's mind to ask Nanny if she might read for only a few minutes before snuffing out the candles, but something in the resolute stance of Nanny's buxom figure made her change her mind. She climbed posthaste into the high, four-poster bed and pulled the blankets up to her chin.

"Skin and bone, that's what ye are," said Nanny. "
Ye're
wasting away before my eyes.
It's
porridge and fresh cream for ye every morning before ye even sit down to table to eat yer English breakfast." Nanny was Scottish.

"Yes, Nanny," replied Briony meekly. Briony had no intention of eating such unpalatable fare.

Nanny came closer to the bed and subjected Briony to the closest scrutiny. "And dark circles under yer eyes like rings o' soot!" Her voice softened. "My wee lamb, ye must have done with this grieving. Can ye no see that it's not what yer mammy and yer pa, God rest their souls, would want for
ye
? It breaks my heart to see ye like this.
Tis more than a year since the terrible tragedy.
Now that
ye've
put off yer mourning and come to bide with yer aunt and uncle, can ye no find a little contentment? Are ye no happy here, Miss Briony?"

Briony swallowed. "Of course I am happy, Nanny.
As happy as I can be under the circumstances.
I am merely a little homesick for Langlands and Aunt Charlotte, nothing more."

Nanny stood looking pensively at her charge for a few moments longer. "Give it time, my wee lamb," she said gently. "
Ye've
been here for only a
sennight
, and ye could not remain longer at home in the care o' yer father's aunt. It was not fitting
for a lass
o' yer years to be so cut off from society, and the poor woman could scarce take care o' herself, never mind the likes o' ye and Master Vernon. Here at least ye have yer cousin Harriet to keep ye company. Sure London is no like being in the wilds o'
Shropshire
, but a body can get used to anything after a while."

"But Richmond isn't London, Nanny!"

"Near enough." Nanny sniffed. "I have not noted any lack o' fine ladies and gentlemen with their top lofty ways! See that ye don't become one o' them."

Briony chuckled. "Aunt Esther is going to have her work cut out for her if she thinks to turn a Quaker girl into a fine lady. I give you your own words, Nanny. 'You cannot make a silk purse of a sow's ear.'"

"Yer mammy raised
ye
to be a
real
lady, not one of them simpering misses. Was she no a lady herself before she became a Quaker?"

"Mama was always a lady," agreed Briony readily. "After all, she was Uncle John's sister."

"Then see that ye remember all that she taught
ye
, even though ye must learn new ways o' doing things now that ye're wards o' yer grand relations."

Nanny bustled about shaking out Briony's garments—dull, gray, Quaker garments—before sorting them and storing them in the large, mahogany press
Which
stood against the wall. Briony watched her movements from under gold-tipped lashes and in a burst of affection broke out, "Oh, Nanny, what ever would I do without thee? I do love thee."

Nanny turned on her mistress roundly. "Miss Briony!
Mind yer tongue."
She softened her rough tone. "Ah my wee lamb, it was ever yer
wont
to express yer affections in the Quaker way. But ye must be careful now. What would yer grand relations think if they could hear
ye
? I thank the Lord that yer pa never allowed ye and Master Vernon to speak in that foolish Quaker way of yer mammy's."

Briony's face dimpled with mischief.
"Shame on thee, Nanny!
Dost thou not know that the Bible is written in the Quaker
tongue—and thou
a Puritan?"

"Enough, I said!" Nanny was not amused. "And," she went on primly, "I am not a Puritan. I am a Scottish Presbyterian."

"Same thing," teased Briony.

"Ach—Sassenachs!"

Briony's eyes fairly sparkled. "Nanny, is it fair to indulge your own foolish whim to talk in that incomprehensible Scottish tongue of yours whilst denying me the privilege of conversing in my peculiar, Quaker way?"

"It's not the same thing, my wee lamb, as ye well know. Yer uncle is yer guardian, and what he tolerates in me, he would not abide in you! And what yer aunt would say, I hardly like to think. No doubt she would take it into her head to have a fit of the vapors."

No, admitted Briony inwardly, her uncle and aunt would not be favorably impressed to find themselves addressed in "
thees
" and "
thous
." The Quaker mode of speech was one that their father had not tolerated in his children although he had always appeared to find it charming in his wife. But even Mama did not always remember to speak in her plain, Quaker mode, for as the daughter of the first Baron Grenfell, it had never been part of her upbringing.

Briony's expression grew thoughtful. "Nanny, you know what Aunt Esther intends for me—fine gowns and dresses, parties and balls, concerts, theaters and outings, and oh, a dozen other things. She means for Vernon and me to take our places in Polite Society. I don
'
t wish to seem ungrateful or rebellious, but how can I permit it? How can I be true to all that I believe in—to be true to everything Mama taught me?"

Nanny
MacNair
stood at the bottom of the large four
poster
, surveying the sweet face of her "wee lamb." It did not surprise her in the least that Briony, who had always been
somewhat intractable as a carefree youngster growing
up
in a loving, and sometimes permissive, Quaker home should now take it upon herself to honor the memory of her dead mother by conforming to what she had in the past dismissed as merely irrelevant. Nanny chose her words with care.

"Yer mammy, as a good Quaker woman, raised
ye
in the fear and love o' the Lord. No woman can do more for her children. But yer father, too, was a god-fearing man although no Quaker. Ye must honor his memory also. Yer uncle is yer guardian now. It is yer duty to obey him. Let yer conscience be yer guide. Do everything ye are asked to do, but do it without sin."

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