Authors: L. A. Hilden
Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance, #LA Hilden, #Historical Fiction, #regency romance
“That’s a wonderful idea,” Mother agreed, reaching in her handbag to retrieve a card with their address to give to Lydia. Eve wondered why her mother was taking such an interest in Paxton’s sister but assumed it was because her mother felt Lady Lydia was too young to be in these environs.
“I would like that, thank you.” Lady Lydia smiled graciously.
“We will bid you all a good evening,” Paxton said stiffly as he escorted his sister away.
“What’s wrong?” Lydia asked, loosening Paxton’s grip on her arm. He had informed her they were leaving.
“I don’t believe you. You’re never tired. It’s Lady Evelyn, isn’t it? She’s the one you were waiting for earlier. I saw the two of you dancing. Everyone kept speculating as to why the Earl of Devonhurst would suddenly take part in dancing. A love interest perhaps?” Paxton scowled at her. “I didn’t say it.” Lydia let him help her with her cloak and they walked out into the starry night to their awaiting carriage. After they were seated inside, Paxton rapped on the roof to signal the driver.
“Lady Evelyn’s not too young and she has a look of intelligence about her,” Lydia informed him. “She stood up to you, which means I like her. Plus she’s quite pretty, which I’m sure you noticed.”
“I’ve noticed,” Paxton replied with a sneer.
“I don’t see why you’re upset. So you like her. She seems to like you too. Of course it goes without saying that she will want marriage. Is that what’s bothering you?” Lydia waited for a response, but Paxton quietly looked out the carriage window at the passing houses. He didn’t wish to think about marriage.
“You don’t have to answer. I know that’s the reason you’re agitated. I can’t believe you fear women to such an extent that you refuse to marry. I never imagined you were such a coward. Now if you ask me, you are in need of an heir and…”
“I didn’t ask you. I’m not afraid of women. And I’ve never been a coward,” Paxton said heatedly.
“Well no, but let us pretend you did ask me. I would tell you that you and Lady Evelyn seem like a suitable match.”
Paxton couldn’t take much more of his sister’s praising of Eve. It was already proving impossible to remove the woman from his thoughts. How dare Evelyn let that villainous French count take her home? And here he had thought to offer to escort her home. The situation had him wondering about her relationship with the count again. Lydia was still talking when Paxton came out of his reverie. “Speaking of suitable matches, was anyone able to hold your interest this evening?” he asked, reminding himself that his sister’s future match was his main focus this Season.
“Lord Ashton asked me to dance a few too many times according to Society’s rules. He is such a nice man.”
“Yes, too bad he cares nothing for your reputation. I do hope you only danced with him the appropriate number of times.” Paxton knew Lord Ashton had an insatiable appetite for women and that he was also known to frequent brothels nightly. He didn’t need the man hovering around his sister.
“Yes, and we went for punch and then walked in the garden.”
Paxton felt his body tense as anger swept over him. “You are not allowed to walk in gardens, Lydia! Devil’s teeth! You know better than to behave in such a scandalous manner, to act without regard for your reputation. You will not walk in a garden again. Is this understood?” Although he knew in his heart that Lydia would do whatever she pleased, the thought of some man pawing her in the garden did not sit well with him.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake! You want me to marry, and yet you don’t want me to become better acquainted with anyone. And stop looking at me like that. Cole happened to be on the balcony and he felt it was his duty to chaperone the walk. So I do know better.”
“Good man.” Paxton made a mental note to thank his friend the next time he saw him.
“Of course you give
praise. The Marquis of Geary had a lady on each arm.”
Paxton knew exactly when that moment was. “Please don’t walk in gardens, or anyplace for that matter, without an escort.” This was something his mother needed to tell her, not him.
Lydia didn’t respond.
Evelyn stood in front of the traveling carriage hugging her sister. “I wish you weren’t leaving.”
“It’s best I go. Besides, Victoria and I always have a splendid time. I will share our adventures with you as long as you promise to share yours.”
“I will, but you better not be too adventurous.”
“You either.” Cassie continued embracing Eve. “I saw you with the Earl of Devonhurst last night,” she whispered. “It is obvious you’re smitten with him.”
“I’m afraid I cannot help it.” Eve looked at their mother and father saying their goodbyes on the steps. “Do you think Mother noticed?”
“I’m not sure. The buzz around the room was that an innocent had finally lured the rapscallion earl. The consensus according to the
is that the Earl of Devonhurst will seduce you and leave you ruined. Not that it matters what the gossips say, since you’d never allow such a thing.” The girls stopped hugging. “I assume that the next time I will see you you’ll be an engaged woman. Pick wisely, my dear sister.” Cassie climbed the metal steps into the carriage.
“She is ready, Father,” Eve hollered to her parents. She watched her father release her mother then make his way to the carriage to embrace her. He was escorting Cassie to Victoria’s and from there he would be stopping by the Stonehaven estate before returning to London, which would take him at least a week’s time.
“I’ll see you soon, sweetheart. Take care of your mother, and don’t marry until I return,” he said in jest.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, Father.” As the carriage pulled away, Eve and Madeline waved from the steps.
It was afternoon when Eve descended the stairs ready for her outing in the park. Since her appearance in society, the hall had been filled with so many gentlemen callers that her mother had to hire extra servants to direct traffic. However, today, the hall was empty, for Eve had an engagement with Lord Bakersfield. She had on a new dark green riding habit embroidered with black at the cuffs. Her red hair was curled and styled on top of her head, and a small riding hat of black beaver adorned with gold tassels and a green ostrich feather rested jauntily off to the side. Her black half-boots and York black gloves finished off the ensemble. Coming to the bottom of the stairs, she could hear her mother talking to Lord Bakersfield in the parlor. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting long, my lord.” Eve smiled a greeting as she entered the cheerful room.
Brandon stood up from the sofa, his eyes scanning her from head to toe. “Not at all. I was having a pleasant conversation with your mother. You look exquisite. Shall we go?”
“Yes, I think so.” Brandon led her outside while her mother watched from the doorway as they mounted the waiting horses.
“Her name is Serenity,” Brandon said, indicating the gray mare. “My father named her that due to her disposition. I thought the two of you would get along well.”
Eve looked at the sleek lines of the mare with the white star on its nose. Although she didn’t know much about horses, she could tell it was a fine mount. “She’s beautiful.” Eve patted the horse’s nose, and then Brandon helped her into the saddle. It felt odd to have a stranger’s hands around her waist. She learned that Brandon was stronger than he appeared. He dismissed the groom who waited with the horses and told the man to return in a couple of hours. He easily swung himself onto his own champion mount, and then they made their way to Hyde Park.
They were greeted by many acquaintances, and after riding for an hour, Brandon helped Eve to the ground. She took his arm and they went to sit next to the Serpentine, beneath a large willow. The park was full of people, mostly members of the
, but one could also observe lovers out for a stroll, mothers and governesses watching children play, and many people sitting alone reading and enjoying the nice weather. A slight breeze was in the air, gently stirring the leaves overhead. It was quite entertaining to watch the people going by with their fancy attire and their often too-curious looks. The branches of the willow swayed beside them, while street vendors could be heard hawking their wares. Children were laughing and running about. Yes, it was a very pleasant afternoon, Eve thought.
After laying out a saddle blanket, Brandon dismissed himself for a moment. Eve watched as he approached a couple of the local vendors. He returned with a bouquet of wild flowers and two warm sweet rolls.
“Your mother told me you are a lover of flowers.”
“Yes, I am, and these are lovely. Thank you.” Eve examined the colorful blossoms and then laid them next to her. “It makes me wonder what else my mother told you.”
Brandon laughed as he sat down next to her and handed her a roll. The smell of cinnamon wafted through the air and Eve sighed with contentment. An outing with Brandon had been a good idea.
Paxton sat at his desk, grateful that the ledger he was going over was accurate. His last solicitor had not been an honest man, which is why he double-checked every expenditure that came across his desk. He swiveled his chair around to gaze outside the study window overlooking the park. The sight before him surprised him so much that he shut his eyes and reopened them to make sure he wasn’t imagining things. No, Lady Evelyn was still there, sitting under a tree and laughing at something her companion was saying as she pulled a piece of sticky dough from a sweet roll. Her green riding habit clung to her closely, revealing the outline of her sensuous curves, which sent a jolt of lust roaring through his body. She licked delicately at her sticky fingers, and he immediately grew hard. She laughed again as she took the handkerchief the young man offered her. Why was this woman suddenly everywhere he turned? And who was she with? It wasn’t the count, but then he had heard through various circles that men lined up at her house on a daily basis. Lady Evelyn Manning was taking London by storm and making half the men in London mad for her.
Does she know she’s sitting in front of my house? Should I enlighten her?
She seemed to be enjoying herself, and he noted how the young man’s eyes never left her face. It was obvious the gentleman was enamored by her. Paxton refused to admit that she had the same effect on him as well.
“Lydia!” Paxton shouted as he got up from his desk and walked into the hall. The butler came in as fast as his feeble legs would carry him. “James, have you seen my sister?”
James nodded. “Yes, my lord. She said she was going to have tea with your cousin, the Duchess of Arlington.”
“Did she take that large beast she calls a dog with her?”
James, always stoic, showed no sign that his employer’s request was odd. The staff was well aware the earl did not like the animal. “No, my lord. I believe Brigs is in Lady Lydia’s room.”
“Then have him fetched for me and see that he is put on a leash.”
“Right away.” James left to take care of the task, and not five minutes later Paxton was handed the leash attached to the excited Great Dane, the beast panting and lunging toward the door, anxious for his walk. Paxton never went anywhere near the dog, and he cursed as his arm was nearly jerked out of its socket. “You better open the door, James, before this dog decides to rip my arm off.”
James quickly opened the door and watched helplessly as his employer was yanked through the entranceway.
Frustrated and not wanting Lady Evelyn to see him with the uncontrollable mongrel, Paxton yanked back on the leash, bringing the dog to a choking stop. “If we’re going to do this, we will do it my way.” Paxton wrapped the leash around his hand a few times so as to give Brigs less slack to run. “Now,” he got next to the dog, and said, “come.”
The dog seemed to understand for he walked close to Paxton’s side as they crossed the street and entered the park. Paxton walked casually past Eve and her escort, hoping she would notice him. However, it seemed the couple were enthralled in their conversation and they didn’t even raise their eyes toward him.
Paxton then stood to the side, watching Eve. Preoccupied, he did not notice the red leather ball go rolling right in front of Brigs’ face. The dog took off at a run, almost pulling Paxton’s arm off. He literally had to run behind the beast to prevent himself from being dragged as he tried to regain his footing. Brigs finally caught up with the ball and sank his fangs into it, destroying the child’s toy with a few good chomps. Suddenly Paxton could hear the wailing of a little boy and the sounds of a mother trying to soothe the child. “Great. Now look what you have done!” Paxton scolded the dog loudly.
“Do you think he will now contemplate before doing such a thing again?” Evelyn laughed behind him. She obviously witnessed this minor catastrophe.
“Lady Evelyn, what a pleasant surprise.” He glanced at Brigs, who lay down to chew on his trophy.
“Can I be of any assistance, my lord?” she asked, seemingly amused by his sneered expression.
“Would you mind watching Brigs while I have a word with the boy and his mother?”
“Not at all.” Eve reached out and unwound the leash from his hand, noticing the red welts from the dog’s speedy run. She gently rubbed his hand with her own.
The Earl of Devonhurst seemed not to know what to make of the gesture. His expression was somewhere between anger and being appalled, resulting mostly in a look of confusion that Eve found quite amusing.
“Thanks. If he tries to run, drop the leash so he does not take you with him.”
Eve nodded. She did not intend to be dragged all over the park. “Believe me, I will,” she assured him. She watched as Paxton made his way to the crying child. He crouched down to console the boy, apologizing and trying to explain the reason for his dog’s behavior. He then went to a vendor and purchased the boy a shaved ice. The crying stopped immediately. He gave the mother some money for a new toy and returned to Eve.
“That was very well done,” Eve stated. “It seems you have a way with children.”
“I used to be one.” Paxton laughed, taking back the leash and glaring at Brigs. “It was the least I could do.”
“Do you walk your dog here often?”
“Actually, he’s not mine. He’s Lydia’s, thank God. And no, I don’t walk him often. I live right there.” Paxton pointed at the Georgian mansion.
Eve looked at the white home with its stone colonnades and large ceramic flowering pots in front of the entrance. “It’s lovely.” She envisioned climbing flowering clematis snaking its way up the columns, which would make the façade perfect.
“Who’s the lucky impatient fellow who keeps glancing over here?” the earl asked, sounding a bit piqued.
Eve looked at Brandon. “He is the Marquis of Bakersfield. We are enjoying a ride and visit to the park.” Eve felt stupid for stating the obvious.
“Where’s your chaperone?” Paxton surveyed the surroundings.
“This is a public park, my lord,” Eve answered haughtily.
“Yes, well, I don’t wish to keep you. Thank you for your help, Lady Evelyn. I apologize for interrupting your outing.” Paxton gave the leash a yank and Brigs bounded to his feet.
Eve wanted to tell him that he was welcome to interrupt her anytime, but instead she said, “I’m glad I could be of some assistance. It was nice seeing you again, my lord.” She wanted to reach out and touch him but knew she couldn’t. “I hope I will see you again soon.” Why wouldn’t the man ask her to accompany him somewhere…anywhere.
“Perhaps you shall.” Paxton lifted her hand, and when her gaze met his, he brought it to his lips. “Take care of yourself, my sweet.”
Eve felt her heart speed up. She was glad she wasn’t wearing gloves, for she had to remove them earlier to eat the sweet roll, and the sensation of his warm breath and lips on her skin…
Oh my, it is heavenly.
She was about to boldly ask to see him again when he turned on his heel and marched away with Brigs leading the way. Disappointed, she went back to sit down next to the Marquis of Bakersfield.
“I see you were able to assist the earl with his dilemma.” Lord Bakersfield’s stern tone indicated his displeasure at her prolonged absence.
“Yes. Thank you for being patient.”
“You may not approve of my personal interference, but since you have newly arrived in the city, I feel it is my duty to inform you that the Earl of Devonhurst is notorious for his abhorrence of marriage. His reputation has been called into question as a result. In case you are unaware, the gossipmongers are having a splendid time discussing your involvement with the earl.”
Eve felt heat enter her cheeks. She was tired of all these warnings about the Earl of Devonhurst. “I am aware of the earl’s so-called reputation and his stance on marriage. I thank you for your…um…advice, my lord, even though it is not necessary.” She was becoming far too angry over this subject, she realized. She in fact found herself wanting to scream at Lord Bakersfield that it wasn’t his duty to guide her away from anyone.
We were having such a nice time and now it is ruined.
“Perhaps we should return home now,” she suggested.
Lord Bakersfield seemed to realize that he had said too much, and she could have sworn she heard him curse. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You haven’t.” Eve smiled, trying to reassure him as she stood, picked up her flowers, and walked to Serenity. Brandon helped her into the saddle. “I had a lovely time,” she said.