Goddess of the hunt, p.14
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       Goddess of the Hunt, p.14

         Part #1 of The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy series by Tessa Dare
 
Page 14

 

  Then, two years ago, he’d returned to London as the Earl of Kendall. It took only a few more meaningless trysts to realize the thrill was gone. His father was dead. The ladies themselves had no complaints, and the matchmaking mamas had all but given him up. The only person he was disappointing was himself.

  Besides, he had an estate he needed to learn to run, before neglect ran it into the ground. Jeremy took the desire and penned it safely away. He had considerable experience caging unwanted emotions. He reasoned he could keep lust locked up, as well.

  Ha. It had taken one kiss. Well, three kisses. The first was rather bad; the second, a vast improvement. And God in heaven, the third … Lust had sprung free of its cage and now roamed his body at will. A year’s worth of pent-up desire, unleashed in a heartbeat. And in those dozen times a day that Jeremy longed to call off this ill-conceived plan, it was always the lust that roaredno . He tried to believe he had better, nobler reasons for keeping Lucy out of Toby’s bedchamber. Perhaps he did, somewhere, in some forgotten recess of his mind, filed under Gentleman. But a wild, savage, lust-crazed Beast was currently prowling the earth in his skin, and the idea of Lucy in any man’s bedchamber—other than his own—incited the Beast to violence.

  Jeremy raised his gun to his shoulder, took aim at a distant tree stump, and fired. Chips of rotten wood exploded into the air. Henry, Toby, and Felix stopped in their tracks and stared at him as though he had burst into song.

  “There was a pheasant,” he said.

  Three heads swiveled in unison to regard the cratered tree stump, then turned back to face him. Henry opened his mouth to speak, but Jeremy silenced him with a look.

  TheLook.

  There were few aspects of his father’s demeanor Jeremy found worth imitating, but The Look was one of those few. Like it or not, he had inherited his father’s ice-blue eyes and heavy brow. With a bit of practice, giving someone The Look came as easily as flexing a muscle.

  The Look meant different things at different times, depending on the recipient and the occasion. It could mean, “Hold your tongue. ” It could mean, “Lift your skirts. ” On one particularly memorable occasion, it had meant, “Put down the damned candlestick before you embarrass us both. ”

  But whatever The Look meant, it conveyed authority. The Look said, without equivocation,I lead, and you follow .

  There was only one person in Jeremy’s acquaintance who remained utterly impervious to The Look. And damn, if she wasn’t leading him around by a satin ribbon.

  “He’s giving you that look again,” Sophia whispered.

  Lucy raised her head from her book. “Who is?”

  “Lord Kendall, of course,” Sophia replied, dipping her quill in a pot of ink. “He’s quite taken with you. ”

  “You mean Jemmy?” Lucy looked up to catch Jeremy glaring at her from across the drawing room. She grinned and winked, and he looked away. No doubt he was still smarting about the ribbons. Or the cat hair on his coat. Perhaps the brandy. It couldn’t be that she’d stolen his sherry trifle at dinner. He had never cared for dessert. Whatever was irking him, it must be something truly dreadful. Marianne sat down to the pianoforte, but he scarcely took note.

  “Oh, he is quite taken with me,” she answered Sophia in a matter-of-fact tone. “He’s thoroughly besotted. ”

  At last,someone had noticed, even if it was the wrong person entirely. Lucy had put Jeremy through the paces of a besotted suitor for three days now, but Toby remained oblivious. For that matter, so did Henry, Marianne, Felix, and Kitty. It was unspeakably maddening. She might have eloped with a gardener ages ago, and no one would have noticed.

  “You call him by his Christian name?” Sophia raised an eyebrow. “So very brave. Perhaps even a bit wicked. ” Her mouth twitched in a strange smile.

  Wicked?Lucy had forgotten. She was speaking with an angel. Why, in heaven’s name, had she chosen to sit near the escritoire? She ought to have known Sophia Hathaway would be seized with the urge to write letters. Lucy yearned to be truly wicked and escape with her book to the window seat, shutting out Sophia and society with one yank on the plum-colored drapes.

  “I’ve known him for ages,” Lucy said. “Since I was a girl. He wasn’t even the Earl of Kendall then. He was Viscount Something-or-other. ”

  “Warrington,” Sophia said, putting quill to paper with a delicate touch. Lucy watched as sweeping strokes and precise loops flowed from Sophia’s quill. Even her penmanship was perfect. Lucy hated her with a wicked, inky-black passion.

  “Hmm?”

  “Viscount Warrington. ”

  “Oh. ”

  Sophia laid her quill down on the table and stretched her hand. “Correspondence can be so tedious,” she said. “Nothing drains the joy from a happy memory like the act of committing it to paper ten times over. Don’t you agree?”

  “I wouldn’t know,” Lucy answered, returning her attention to her book. “I don’t write letters. ”

  “None at all? Whyever not?”

  Lucy shrugged. “I’ve no correspondents. ”

  “Surely you must have,” Sophia said. “What about your friends from school?”

  “I never went to school. I always had governesses. ”

  “Do you not still write to them?”

  The suggestion brought a smirk to Lucy’s face. “No,” she replied. “We weren’t especially close. ”

  “Well, you shall have at least one correspondent soon. ”

  “Oh, really? Who?”

  “Me,” Sophia said, glancing up from the letter. “I shall be inconsolable if you do not writeme after we leave. ”

  “Yes, of course,” Lucy muttered. She turned a page of her book and inched her chair in the opposite direction, as if insincerity might be catching. The very idea of writing letters to Sophia Hathaway was absurd. As if they were friends!

  “And you may not forget me,” Sophia warned with a sly smile, “no matter how many new friends you will make, once you’re a countess. ”

  The word gave Lucy a jolt. “Acountess?”

  “Come next season, you’ll be the darling of theton . Everyone will be desperate to meet the woman who captured the elusive Earl of Kendall. ”

  “No, they won’t,” Lucy clipped. “Because he willnot be marrying me. ”

  “Why not?” Sophia looked disbelieving. “You said yourself he’s thoroughly besotted. He’s an earl. He’s wealthy. He’s your brother’s friend. ”

  “He’s cold. He’s stern. He’s forbidding. ”

  Sophia lowered her voice. “Yes, but isn’t that what makes him so attractive? In that strong, silent way, of course. Just to look at him, I’d imagine he has all sorts of dark, thrilling secrets. ”

  Lucy didn’t like Sophia speculating on Jeremy’s “dark, thrilling” secrets. Mostly because she knew there were none. Lucy had known him for eight years now. She knew everything there was to know about Jeremy Trescott, and none of it was the tiniest bit thrilling.

  Except his kiss. Lucy grudgingly admitted that his kiss was, indeed, just the tiniest bit thrilling. Days later, she still felt that kiss in her toes. And that Look of his—the same glare that had always bounced right off her glib indifference—now penetrated her poise, setting off a queer humming deep inside her.

  “Rich, handsome, titled …” Sophia ticked off the attributes on her fingers. “He’s a magnificent catch, by any standard. ”

  “Who, Jemmy? If he’s such a magnificent catch, why don’t you want to marry him?” Nowthat would solve matters nicely.

  “If he looked at me the way he keeps looking at you,” Sophia whispered, “I might. ”

  Lucy clapped her book shut in one hand. She turned her gaze back to Jeremy, only to find that he was indeed giving her that Look again. And this time he did not look away. Their gazes held, locked, deepened. She tried to imagine seeing him for the very first time—viewing him as Sophia did, just a fortun
e and a title and dark, imaginary secrets. She nearly laughed aloud with the absurdity of it.

  But then Jeremy’s gaze shifted, scanning down her body in an unhurried fashion, almost as though his mind didn’t know his eyes had gone wandering. And Lucy realized he was not looking at her as though seeing her for the first time. He was, she fancied, looking at her as though he’d seen her many times before—in various states of undress. A potent awareness coursed through her veins, and with it spread a most curious sensation.

  Lucy felt as though she were seeingherself for the very first time.

  “Cousins,” Sophia blurted out, tugging Lucy from her reverie. “Surely you have cousins to write. ”

  “None on my mother’s side. On my father’s side, there’s Aunt Matilda—” She nodded toward the corner, where her aunt was opening a silver box encrusted with lapis lazuli to gather a generous pinch of snuff. “But she never married. My grandfather farmed indigo in Tortola. I suppose I do have cousins there, but we’ve never met. At any rate, they would be far older than I. ”

  “Tortola!” Sophia’s eyes widened. She propped her chin on one hand and stared unfocused toward the bank of mullioned windows. “How romantic. If I had cousins in Tortola, I would write them a letter every week, if only for the pleasure of imagining its voyage across the sea. My little missive—my tedious scribbles of everyday life—tossed about on the ocean, washing up on a distant, sandy shore. ” She sat up abruptly, her hand dropping to the table with a dull thud. “Or pirates!” she exclaimed, giving a tiny shiver. “Imagine—my letter falling into the hands of pirates. ”

  Lucy eyed Sophia with amusement. “What a vivid imagination you possess. ”

  “Yes. ” Sophia’s face grew wistful, and she tapped her quill against the inkpot. “I rather wish I hadn’t. It’s a curse, to imagine so many wonderful things and never see them come true. ”

  An uncomfortable silence followed, during which Miss Hathaway’s demeanor made a swift progression from pensive to morose. And a strange sensation filled Lucy’s breast. Something uncomfortably close tosympathy .

  Impossible. Sophia was the enemy. One didn’t sympathize with the enemy.

  But then the enemy sniffed and bit her lip, and the horrifying truth became inescapable. Itwas sympathy. How vexing.

  “I don’t expect the pirates would know how to read it,” Lucy said, obeying the strange compulsion to cheer her companion. “But if you’re so enamored of the notion, you’re welcome to write my cousins for me. ”

  “May I?” Sophia perked immediately. She drew out a fresh sheet of paper and dipped her quill. “What are their names?”

  Lucy paused. “I don’t remember. ”

  “What was your father’s brother’s name?”

  Lucy thought for a moment. “George, I believe. After my grandfather. ”

  “Then his son must be George as well. ” Sophia put her quill to paper. “Dearest Cousin George,” she read aloud, pausing briefly before beginning to scribble again. “We are enjoying fine weather. ” She paused again. “My brother’s annual hunting party is underway. This year Waltham Manor is enlivened by the company of Mrs. Crowley-Cumberbatch and her sister, Miss Hathaway. ” Sophia gave Lucy a sidelong glance as she dipped her quill.

  “Miss Hathaway is a delightful and charming lady,” she went on. Her lips slowly shaped each word as her quill danced frantically across the page. “We are already the best of friends. In fact, she has recently implored me to address her by her Christian name, Sophia. ”

  She cast Lucy a wide smile, which Lucy repaid in a rather bewildered fashion. Sophia’s eyes sparked with sudden inspiration, and she dipped her quill yet again. “I write you to invite you, dearest cousin, to my upcoming wedding. While the engagement is not yet formalized, it cannot be long. By the time this letter reaches you, I will very likely be Lady Lucy Trescott, the Countess of Kendall. ”
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