Authors: L. A. Hilden
Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance, #LA Hilden, #Historical Fiction, #regency romance
Cassie looked at her sister. “Eve?”
“Please go inside, Cassie.” Eve looked down at the ground to blink away her tears, which tore at Paxton’s heart; but when she looked back up at him, he could see the angry defiance in her eyes. “We, Lord Devonhurst, have nothing more to say to each other. I wish for you to leave.”
“I know you’re angry. I came to apologize, love. I’m so sorry for the pain I’ve caused you.” When she turned her back on him, he sighed. He knew this was going to be difficult. “Please,” he pleaded. “I only ask that you hear what I have to say. Isn’t there somewhere we can sit?”
Eve said nothing. She wouldn’t even look at him. She removed her apron, draped it over her arm, and then walked up the steps into the house. Paxton followed quietly behind her. As they entered the modest white walled foyer, she opened a wooden door and hung her apron on a hook. On a small table inside this closet was a pitcher and a bowl, and after pouring water from the pitcher into the bowl, she picked up a nearby handkerchief and began to wash her hands and face while she looked in a small mirror that hung above the table. Closing the door, she continued walking to the back of the house, out some French doors, and onto a circular stone patio where benches sat under shading trees. He noticed she did not offer him any refreshment.
She waited for him to sit before she chose her own spot as far from him as possible. She appeared surprised when a servant brought them some tea. At Eve’s inquiring look, the servant informed them that refreshments were sent upon Viscountess Stonehaven’s behest. Seeing Eve wasn’t going to offer to pour him any, Paxton went to the table where the servant had placed the tea and poured two cups. He offered one to Eve, then set the cup down on the table when she refused to take it before sitting next to her. He felt her flinch at the nearness.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
“You have already hurt me, my lord. Do say what you came to say so you can be on your way.”
Paxton nodded, knowing he deserved her cold treatment and much worse. He wished she’d scream at him, but instead she sat there stonily silent, her hands folded in her lap. He looked around at the beautiful flowers surrounding them. He knew she was responsible for such beauty and he wanted to compliment the garden, but he had a feeling she’d become even angrier with him, if that were even possible. “There are not enough words to tell you how deeply sorry I am. I am a pompous ass. I could sit here and try to explain why I said what I did, but the truth is, there is no excuse for the way I behaved. I most certainly didn’t mean to hurt you.” He paused. “No, that’s not true. I know, in a way, I was trying to hurt you.” He was frustrated with himself for not being able to apologize correctly. How many times had he practiced this apology and still he was making a mess of it. “I’m sorry. I’m making a muck of this. Is there anything I could say to make you not hate me?”
Eve refused to look at him. “I don’t think so.”
“Very well. I guess it’s time for you to break my heart. God knows I deserve it.” Paxton fished around in his pocket and knelt down in front of her. He was suddenly very nervous. His hands were sweating and they shook slightly as he took her hands in his, glad she was at least looking at him. “Eve, I find I am hopelessly in love with you, which I willingly admit addled my brain. But when I imagine a life without you by my side, it is bleak. I don’t want to be without you. I would be the happiest man in the world if you will agree to spend the rest of your life with me. You, my love, have my heart.” He pulled the ring from his pocket and she allowed him to slip it on her finger, which he deemed a very good sign. His heart was racing at a maddening pace. “Say you’ll be my wife.”
Eve was staring at him in amazement, her eyes wide and shimmering with unshed tears. Clearly she had not expected his earnest proposal, but then a few of months ago he would never have believed he’d be on bended knee before the beauty who bumped into him at the theater. He wanted to spend his life with her and the thought of her saying no was killing him. The silence stretched between them, and he felt his eyes fill with tears as realized how important this one woman had become to him.
He remained kneeling before her, determined to hear her response no matter how much it hurt. She looked down at the ring, and he wondered if she was about to pull it off her finger and shove it at him in refusal.
Eve suddenly threw herself in his arms. “I love you!” she whispered in his ear as he lost his balance and she fell on top of him.
Paxton didn’t care that they were lying on the hard stone patio. He hugged Eve to him, not wanting to ever let her go. He inhaled her scent and smiled at her happy face. “Is that a yes?”
“Yes, most definitely, yes,” she exclaimed, placing kisses all over his face. “Have I not told you all along that we are a perfect match?”
Paxton laughed and then caught her face between his hands and kissed her with all the emotion of a man in love. The fact that she was willing to give him her hand after he’d hurt her was proof positive that Eve was a good and forgiving woman. His heart lifted and his spirit soared with happiness.
Viscountess Stonehaven loudly cleared her throat.
“Oh, Mother!” Eve jumped up but didn’t let go of Paxton’s hand. He slowly came to his feet beside her. “We are to be married!” She flashed the diamond ring toward her mother.
“When?” The viscount stepped out onto the patio.
“As soon as possible, Lord Stonehaven. I do hope you and your wife can forgive me for my deplorable behavior. Love tends to do the strangest things to a man. I’m afraid I allowed fear and anger to overcome me. I made terrible accusations that I did not mean, and I promise I will not allow myself to act in such an untoward manner in the future. I was not thinking clearly when I allowed unwarranted emotion to guide my words.”
He placed Evelyn’s hand in his. “When I look at your daughter, all I see is our love and future happiness.”
The viscount took one look at the happiness on Eve’s face and smiled, shaking Paxton’s hand. “I agree with you there. And happy is what you better make her.”
Paxton nodded, understanding the hint of a threat that lingered in Stonehaven’s remark and the strong grip of his handshake.
After the well-wishing and a lavish celebration dinner, Paxton took Eve for a walk so they could be alone. As they walked hand and hand, they talked non-stop about their plans for the future, and of course, about the gardens Eve would be working in at the Devonhurst Estate. They found a nice grassy knoll to sit and watch the sunset.
“Paxton, can I ask you a question?”
“You can always ask me anything, my sweet.” He sat behind her and began to unpin her hair, running his fingers through the glorious red locks.
“Fragments of my memory keep returning to me from the night I was drugged by the count. You said something about my being awake and that I ravished you.” She looked at the smile on his face and then nudged him with her elbow. “Well…did I?”
“What happened between us was magnificent. Indescribable.” He peeked around and read the confusion on her face. “Perhaps it would be best understood if I showed you what actually occurred.” He moved to the front of her and quickly tore a piece of lining from the inside of his waistcoat.
“What are you doing?” she asked, shocked he was destroying his coat.
“Trust me. The destruction of a mere waistcoat is well worth it.” He tied the strip of cloth around Eve’s left wrist and then picked up her other hand to tie them together.
“I still do not understand what you are doing.”
“I’m tying you up, of course.”
“Oh, of course.” She suddenly found herself beneath his muscled frame, her wrists tied together and raised above her head. “I think I’m going to like this demonstration.” She grinned at him.
“Not half as much as I will.” He lowered his mouth and kissed her passionately, leaving them both dazed. He stared down at her, seeing the love in her eyes, and he realized how much he loved and trusted this woman. This revelation left him speechless.
At his silence, she wiggled against him. He hardened instantly. “Promise me you’ll keep your hands above your head.”
“Promise you won’t tickle me?”
“I promise.” Paxton slowly lifted her skirts, feeling his way up her legs until he reached the heated core of her being. Throwing her skirts above his head, he brought his mouth to her.
Eve’s screech of shock was quickly replaced by satisfying moans of pleasure. Her body had lurched, but now she settled back upon the grasses beneath the azure sky while he made sure she saw pleasurable stars before they made their appearance in the skies above them. He smiled with male satisfaction after bringing her to a climax that left her squirming and undulating against him. After unfastening his breeches and yanking them down to free himself, he slid his body up the length of her glorious figure. He entered her in one smooth thrust, impaling himself in her moistness, giving her all of him, along with his heart. As he increased the pace of the rhythmic motion, they both cried out their release together.
In the aftermath of their lovemaking, they lay happily in each other’s arms. “I didn’t do all of that to you, did I?” she asked, referring to him taking her with his mouth.
“No.” He grinned. “I couldn’t help myself. I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.”
Eve moved her hand down his chest and across his chiseled stomach to his already recuperated, hard and throbbing cock. “My turn.” She smiled and lowered her head to him, taking him inside the warmth of her delicious mouth. Paxton groaned, realizing how truly lucky he was to find a woman as right for him as Eve.
After Eve instructed Tiffany to pack all of her belongings, she went off to find Paxton. He wasn’t in the house and he wasn’t out back, and so she decided to try the front yard. She went out on the porch and was surprised to see him standing over the butterfly bushes she recently planted. Colorful butterflies swarmed around him. His brow scrunched and he looked cross-eyed when one landed on the end of his nose. At the sound of Eve’s laughter, he looked up.
“Ah, my beautiful fiancée. How are you fairing this glorious morn?” He walked up the steps to stand before her. “If that smile is any indication, I’d say all is going well.”
“I couldn’t be better.” She threw her arms around him for a hug.
Paxton held her, kissing the top of her head. “I’m glad. I must say last night’s sleep was the best I’ve had in a long time.”
“My mother always makes sure the mattresses are turned and flipped for perfect comfort.”
“I wouldn’t say it was perfect, since it was missing an essential element.”
“And what was that? Did you have a lumpy pillow?” she teased, knowing full well what he actually meant.
“No, the essential element is my future wife.” They both smiled.
“We are leaving for London right away so we can start wedding preparations. I hope that’s all right?”
“Sounds perfect, my sweet. As a future husband, I have some necessities to take care of as well.”
“Like procuring a license and making sure our day is perfect. I already sent word to the Devonhurst servants at our country estate to air out rooms and stock up on supplies, and I gave them a list of instructions for the gardeners.”
“Do you think your mother will mind us having our wedding ceremony in the garden?” Eve was still leery of Lady Veronica. Their first meeting didn’t go at all well. Paxton had assured her that his mother was extremely sorry for her rudeness and promised to make it up to her future daughter-in-law. Eve told him that wasn’t necessary, but he didn’t agree.
“My mother wouldn’t care if we were married in an abandoned chapel, as long as we are married. I’m sorry she was cruel to you. She really isn’t mean-spirited.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that your mother is unkind.”
“My mother can intimidate people. It happens to be a pastime she enjoys. Don’t worry. She’ll love you. In fact, I daresay she already does. You turned her wayward son around and put him back on the track of matrimony. She won’t know how to thank you enough.”
“You were wayward?” Eve teased.
“Hush, love.” Then Paxton kissed her.
“Come, I can smell lunch and I’m famished.” Eve pulled him along. “I feel it fair to warn you that my mother will play twenty questions about our wedding plans. She wants everything to be perfect.”
Paxton stopped and turned Eve toward him. “Then it will be.” He kissed her again. “Stop worrying.”
She gave him a nod and they walked hand and hand into the dining room.
The Stonehaven women sat at a large round table in the renowned Madame Devane’s dress shop in Mayfair, London. After going through piles of pattern books, they finally decided on styles and fabric for each of their gowns.
Madame Devane came out from the back of the shop followed by three young seamstresses. She was a no nonsense kind of woman with a sense of style that had many of the most fashionable knocking at her door. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. It’s been the most trying day, but that’s neither here nor there. So what can I help you ladies with today?”
“My daughter, Lady Evelyn, is to marry the Earl of Devonhurst. We decided on some patterns and have chosen some fabrics for the celebratory event,” Mother informed her.
“Wonderful. I love clients who know what they want. Tell me which ones you have chosen to grace your beautiful selves.”
While Mother pointed to the various bolts of cloth, Madame Devane nodded at her workers to carry them into the back room where all the sewing took place. “I can tell from your selections that you have exquisite taste. Now, which one is the bride-to-be?” She looked at Cassie and then her eyes came to rest on Eve. “I can tell it’s you. Come with me and we’ll have you measured, my lady.”
Eve followed Madame Devane behind a pink curtain to one of the various fitting rooms. “How did you know I was the bride?”
“You have all the signs of a lady in love.” When Eve looked at her funny, she said, “It’s in your eyes.”
Madame Devane popped her head out of the curtain. “You two,” she spoke to her assistants, “please have the ladies measured.”
The assistants quickly ushered Mother and Cassie into other fitting rooms.
The sound of the bell tinkling indicated someone else had entered the shop. “Hello!” a female voice called out impatiently.
Eve saw Madame Devane roll her eyes in annoyance. “Excuse me.” She popped her head out of the curtain again. “Please have a seat, Lady Amsley. Someone will be with you shortly.”
“Well, they had best be hasty. I don’t have time to waste,” Lady Amsley replied in obvious irritation.
Because of the simple cut of the dress Cassie chose, she was the first one finished with her measurements, and so she walked back out to the main section of the shop to look for some soft white material to make her sister a wedding gift.
“Hello.” Cassie smiled, greeting the pretty blond woman sitting on the love seat. When the lady ignored her, Cassie shrugged her shoulders and continued looking through material.
The young lady who took her measurements came out from the back with a red dress draped over her arm. “Here’s your dress, Lady Amsley. If you’d like to try it on…”
Lady Amsley snatched the dress from the girl. “How else am I supposed to know if it’s sewn correctly?” She disappeared behind the curtain only to reappear some minutes later in her red dress, which had a recklessly low neckline. She looked at herself in the large three-way mirror located in the main room of the shop.
“It looks lovely,” the assistant complimented her.
Madame Devane could hear the conversation and she excused herself from Eve to check on her rude client.
“Lady Amsley, a pleasure to see you again. I was concerned that you no longer wished to purchase this gown. I’m terribly sorry to hear about your husband’s passing.”
“Thank you for your condolences, Madame Devane, and yes, I’m still purchasing this dress. I’m not one to go around dressed in somber black, regardless if people think I should. I despise black. I despise mourning. And most of all, I despised my late husband, and so the red dress suits me perfectly.”
“Then I will have the dress wrapped for you.”
“Yes, do.” Lady Amsley said nothing more as she walked back into the dressing room to change.
Cassie purchased the fabric she wanted and then sat down on the love seat to wait. The
was next to her and she picked up the paper as her mother came out from the back of the shop. “Mother, look, the wedding announcement is in the paper.” She read it out loud. “Who says miracles can’t happen. The very sought-after Earl of Devonhurst has finally been shot by cupid’s arrow. The unattainable earl is to wed Lady Evelyn Manning, daughter of Viscount and Viscountess Stonehaven, at the end of the Season. The couple’s parents couldn’t be happier.” Cassie handed the paper to her mother.
“Did you hear it, Eve?” Cassie shouted.
“Yes, I did. Save the article for me. I’ll be out in a minute,” Eve hollered back.
“I heard you too.” Lady Amsley came out of the dressing room more than annoyed. “It happens to be next to my husband’s obituary,” she said, obviously appalled and glaring at Cassie who set the paper down.
“Oh! They really should put death notices and marriage announcements on separate pages,” Mother said matter-of-factly as she walked around Lady Amsley to sift through some feathers.
Eve returned to the front of the shop. She looked at the lovely blond woman who had been nothing but insulting since she entered the establishment. She wondered how a woman so pretty on the outside could be so ugly on the inside. Perhaps she was more upset about her husband’s death then she cared to admit. After all, grief affected everyone differently. Eve felt it necessary to give the lady an excuse for her behavior. Such rudeness was not to be borne without some excuse. “I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your husband.” Eve knew she’d be crushed if something were to ever happen to Paxton.
“Thank you.” Lady Amsley eyed Eve with curiosity. “You see, I know Paxt…I mean Lord Devonhurst very well. I admit I’m more than surprised by this news. I was under the impression that the earl never wanted to marry.”
“The rest of London thought the same, but the earl was no match for Lady Evelyn Manning,” Cassie boasted.
“Yes, well, I have yet to meet this Evelyn to make such a judgment.” Lady Amsley raised her nose in the air haughtily as she continued to put on her gloves.
“Then allow me to introduce myself. I’m Lady Evelyn Manning.” Eve did a partial curtsy as she enjoyed watching the woman’s eyes widen.
“Oh, now I am even more surprised. I am Lady Beverly a…um…close friend of your fiancés.”
“Girls, what do you think?” Mother had collected numerous items around the shop: a square hat, some pink and blue dyed feathers, and some large white beads. She had managed to assemble all her findings together in a bizarre manner. “It would make a lovely headpiece, don’t you think?”
Both girls looked at each other and burst into laughter. “Mother, you can’t wear that to the wedding,” Cassie stated, and then started laughing again.
“It’s a dreadful combination.” Eve fell into laughter when she saw Lady Amsley’s horrified expression. Mother joined in the laughter.
Apparently irritated by the family gaiety, Lady Amsley grabbed her red dress and left, sending the Stonehaven women into another round of merriment.
“I was merely jesting.” Mother smiled, putting the stuff down on a table. “Oh well,” she said, referring to Lady Amsley’s quick departure. “Some people are entirely too temperamental. Are you girls ready? I think we’ll go to Gunther’s for an ice.”
“Sounds delicious.” Cassie scooped up the paper and handed it to her sister.
“Thanks.” Eve read the paragraph announcing her betrothal again, smiling as she pictured Paxton’s handsome face. “I’m ready.”
The next day Paxton was surprised to find his mother and sister with their heads together in his study. “I thought you two were staying with Cousin Rebecca.”
“There is too much to be done for us to be there. I need to have this house in order.” His mother flipped through menu cards, tossing the ones she liked onto a nearby chair and discarding the others on the floor.
“And why must you bring order to this house?” Paxton was afraid to ask.
“For your party!” his sister answered happily.
“A party for…?” He looked around at the piles of napkins, candles, and invitations.
“It’s for your engagement.” The countess set the stack of cards down and moved to a pile of different colored linens.
“Mother, I don’t think Eve wants to have a party. The wedding plans have been occupying much of her time.”
“Nonsense. Besides, she won’t have to do anything but show up.” Veronica handed a pile of invitations to Lydia. “These are addressed and ready to be sent out.”
Lydia took the stack, winked at her brother, and left the room.
“Paxton, as you are aware, Evelyn and I didn’t meet under the best of circumstances. I think this party will help make up for some of my rudeness upon meeting her. You’ll see. It will be great fun. I would also like to invite Evelyn and her family over for dinner tomorrow. Just a small, intimate family gathering to welcome the Stonehaven’s into our family.”
“I’m sure dinner tomorrow will be fine, but as far as throwing an extravagant event, I’m sure a simple apology will suffice.”
“That’s not the same, dear. This is my special way of welcoming Evelyn, and I feel it’s important for me to do this. Moreover, the invitations have already been sent out over the last two days.”
“But I wasn’t even here. For goodness sakes, Mother, you sent out invitations before you even knew if Eve accepted my proposal?”
“I had no doubt of her response, dear. After all, you are my son.”
Paxton shook his head as if dazed, kissed his mother on the cheek, and left. “Try not to go to too much trouble.”
“Nothing’s too much when it comes to my children.” She continued to go through different colored linens. “And don’t forget about dinner tomorrow evening.”
“James, I need you in here!” his mother hollered.
Paxton felt sorry for the butler as he hurried past to do the soon-to-be dowager countess’s bidding.
It was a warm spring day, the descending sun shining brightly. Evelyn carried her parasol slanted to the side to protect her face from the brilliant light. Her other arm was linked with Paxton’s as they strolled happily through Hyde Park.
“So the planning is going well?” Paxton asked as he nodded at an approaching couple and Eve said hello.
“Yes, my mother and sister have been very instrumental in making sure everything is just right.” They greeted another passing couple.
“Speaking of mothers. I’m afraid mine has been busy with some planning of her own.”
“How so?” Eve asked as he led them to a vacant bench along the trail. A tall Elm shaded the bench, so Eve retracted her parasol and sat down.
“She wants to make up for the horrible way she treated you. She has decided to throw us an engagement party. I know this means you’ll have to have another gown made, which means more shopping when you have already been doing so much of it lately. And I know, as the guest of honor, you’ll be sought after all night, which is exhausting. I tried to explain to my mother how busy you are with the wedding, but she can be a very persistent woman. If you are completely against the idea, I will have cancellation notices sent out immediately.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m honored by your mother’s gesture. I do very much want her to like me.”
“There is one more thing.”
“And what is that?” she questioned happily as she adjusted her skirts.
“She wants to have your family over for dinner tomorrow evening.”
“I’m sure they will be delighted. Just let me know what time. When is the engagement party?”
“This Saturday,” he said with a crooked face.
“Oh my, that is soon, but I don’t foresee a problem. I believe I already have the perfect dress to wear.”
“Eve, you didn’t perchance find time to speak to Lord Bakersfield about our engagement, did you?” Paxton moved to his feet to stand in front of her.
“No. Why do you ask?”
Paxton looked back over his shoulder. “Because here he comes.” He helped Eve to her feet.
“Would you mind if I speak to him privately?”
“He doesn’t look happy. I think I should stay.”
“I would be ever so grateful if you would be a sweetheart and go over there and buy me one of those sticky buns from the vendor.” She indicated a vendor across the park.
“You mean the vendor way over there?” He pointed across the park teasingly.
“Yes.” She slapped his chest and advised with humor in her tone, “And walk slowly.”
“Very well, my sweet.” He kissed her cheek, looked at Bakersfield who was rapidly approaching, and walked away.
“Lady Evelyn.” Brandon bowed stiffly when he at last stood before her.
“Lord Bakersfield, it is lovely to see you. I have wanted to speak with you.”
“Perhaps you wished to enlighten me as to your upcoming nuptials?”
Eve could hear the hurt in his voice. “Yes. I wanted to apologize for not telling you before it was printed in the papers. I was out of town, and with things happening so quickly…”
“I was forgotten,” he stated.
“No, no, not forgotten. I didn’t have time, which is why I’m glad you’re here. I hope we can still be friends. I enjoyed the times we spent together. Maybe we can still go riding once in a while.”