Goddess of the hunt, p.4
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       Goddess of the Hunt, p.4
 

         Part #1 of The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy series by Tessa Dare
Page 4

 

  “Thisplace? Lucy, we could live anywhere you wish. Travel the world, if you like. Of all the homes I could give you, you tell me this is the home you want?”

  She nodded.

  “For God’s sake, why?”

  “Because this is the home you need. ” She smoothed a lock of hair from his brow. “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t love it, too. Lord knows, you could have left it in the care of a steward and never looked back. Jeremy, we can make Corbinsdale a home again … fill it with light and laughter. ” She dropped her gaze, then snuck a glance at him through lowered lashes. “And children. ”

  He winced. “Children? Here?” He looked over his shoulder toward the woods. “Lucy, how can I even think it? This is a horrible place for children. ”

  “It’s not a horrible place at all. It’s a good place. ” She put her hand on his cheek and waited for his eyes to meet hers. “It’s a good place,” she repeated. “It’s also rough and wild and intractable, but that’s why I love it. It’sus. ”

  “Us. ”He blinked away a glimmer of emotion. “Do you know, I love hearing you say that word. ”

  He bent his head to hers, and for several moments Lucy could not have said anything. Even when he broke the kiss, all words had vacated her mind, save one. “Jeremy,” she sighed.

  “And that—” he dropped another light kiss on her lips—“is the word I adore hearing most of all. ” He shifted her weight in his arms and resumed walking toward the manor. “Thank God you stopped calling me by that infernal nickname. ”

  “I did stop calling you ‘Jemmy,’ didn’t I? How curious. I don’t even recall when that happened. ”

  “Don’t you? I do. ”

  The dark note in his voice reverberated through her body, and desire echoed back. Lucy formed an immediate suspicion of which occasion that might have been. But then she realized something else. She gasped. “Thomas called you Jemmy, didn’t he? That’s why you could never abide it. ”

  His silence—and a brief hitch in his stride—served as confirmation.

  Lucy laid her head against his shoulder. “Oh, dear. Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

  Again, he said nothing. But she needed no response. Of course, hehad told her, scores of times, not to call him that. He scarcely could have explained why. She shut her eyes and burrowed into his shoulder, feeling acutely every example of her insolence over eight years.

  “I’m so sorry. You were always so rigid, so proper—I couldn’t resist needling you. I never meant to … to stab you in the heart. ”

  He chuckled. “That’s a bit dramatic. Don’t apologize. You couldn’t have known. If it makes you feel better, for the most part, youwere simply annoying. ” She gave his arm a playful swat, and he squeezed her tight. “But I suppose, in a way … you never allowed me to forget him. I wasn’t always glad of that. ” He paused. “But now I am. ”

  “Does that mean we can stay here at Corbinsdale?”

  “It means …” He sighed heavily. His boots echoed over the cobbled stone entryway as they approached the Abbey’s thick wooden door. “Lucy, I don’t …”

  His voice trailed off as they entered the foyer and a throng of wide-eyed servants rushed to greet them. From the back of the horde emerged a most familiar, yet most unexpected figure.

  “Henry?” they exclaimed in unison.

  Jeremy slowly lowered Lucy to the floor. With one sweeping glare, he cleared the room of servants. She had to admit, that Look had its uses.

  She clutched Jeremy’s coat around her body. Henry approached her slowly. He took in her disheveled state, eyeing her from tangled hair to bare toes. “My God,” he said, his voice shaking with rage. “What has he done to you?”

  He turned his burning gaze on Jeremy. “I’ll kill you. I warned you before, and now I’ll kill you. And—” His nostrils flared. “I’m going to enjoy it. ” Henry started toward him, his hands in fists.

  Lucy threw herself in her brother’s path. “Henry, no! You don’t understand. ”

  Henry glared over her shoulder at Jeremy. “You said you’d take care of her, you bastard!” He gestured toward Lucy’s tattered clothing. “Just look at her! She’s a disaster. ”

  Lucy clenched her jaw and let the words bounce off her pride. “I had a little accident. You know how clumsy I am. Just a little mishap in the woods, that’s all. Jeremy—” She swallowed. “Jeremy came to my rescue. You should thank him. ” She looked over her shoulder at her husband. “I should thank him. ”

  “I’ll thank him to go to hell. ” Henry glanced down at her bare legs. “What the devil were you doing in the woods half-naked?”

  She shut her eyes. “Henry—”

  Jeremy interjected, “She’s cold, Henry. I’ll be glad to explain everything. But let us go wash and dress, and then we’ll sit down to breakfast and discuss this like civilized people. ”

  “Civilized people? You call this civilized?” He advanced on Jeremy, backing Lucy up between them. “If you think I’m allowing my sister to spend another minute in this house, you’re mad. I’m taking her back to Waltham Manor, where she belongs. ”

  “You can’t just take her,” Jeremy said, his voice growing rough with anger. “She belongs here. She’s my wife. ”

  Henry’s eyes narrowed. “Not if I kill you, she isn’t. Then she’s your widow. ”

  They lurched toward each other. Lucy put out her hands, one on either man’s chest, bracing her outstretched arms to hold them apart.

  “Stop it, both of you! No one is killing anyone. This is absurd. ” She turned to her brother. “Henry, why are you here?”

  “Why do you think I’m here? The minute I got your letter, I ordered the carriage. If you’re miserable enough that you want to come home, you can come with me now. You don’t have to wait until Toby’s wedding. ” He glanced down at her briefly before directing his cold stare back at Jeremy.

  Lucy cringed. She’d forgotten she’d sent him that letter, the day Jeremy left for London. Of all the times for her brother’s protective instincts to surface. “Henry, I’m not miserable. ”

  “But your letter said … Why else would you want to come home?”

  “To help Marianne, of course. ”

  “Marianne?” Henry blinked. His green eyes went from blazing to puzzled. “Why would you need to help Marianne?”

  “With her confinement, you dolt!” Henry blinked again. Lucy turned to him, putting her hands on her brother’s shoulders. “She’s increasing again. You mean she hasn’t told you?”

  “No, she hasn’t. ” He turned and looked at the ceiling, dragging a hand through his hair. “Damn it, no one ever tells me anything. ”

  “Congratulations,” Jeremy offered weakly.

  Henry shot him a look. He turned back to Lucy. “So you’re saying you don’t want to come home?”

  Lucy shook her head. “I’m happy here. ” She felt Jeremy step up to stand behind her. He placed his hand on the small of her back, and she leaned against it.

  “Are you certain?” Henry asked, eyeing her with suspicion. “Because it looks as though you’ve been to hell and back. ” He cast a wary glance at Jeremy. “Maybe you’re just afraid to tell me in front of him. Maybe we should discuss this alone. ”

  Lucy laughed. “Afraid? Me? Henry it’s been only a matter of weeks. You can’t have forgotten me so thoroughly as to think that. ”

  “I haven’t forgotten how much you dislike him, either. Nor the way he compromised you, the blackguard. ” He shouted over her shoulder at Jeremy. “I should have called you out then. I should have shot you dead. ”

  The two men lunged at one another again, and again Lucy forced them apart, arms outstretched. “Stop this, both of you! You’re behaving like children. ”

  But they weren’t children, these two seething idiots whose chests struggled against her palms. They were men. The two men Lucy loved most in the world, and the two peo
ple who would do anything for her. They cared for her, but they cared for each other, too. And Lucy sensed that she could hold them together as much as she’d pushed them apart.

  “Listen to yourselves,” she said, looking back and forth between her husband and her brother. “The two of you have known each other since you were boys. You’ve been the best of friends for ages. Like brothers, really. ” She let her arms fall back to her sides. “Well, now you’re brothers in truth. ”

  Lucy turned to her brother. “Henry, I will always love Waltham Manor. ” She glanced at Jeremy. “I suspect we all will. We had a kind of family there every autumn. None of us wanted it to end. I think … no, Iknow that’s why I was so desperate to stop Toby from getting married. That’s why Jeremy kept coming back, year after year, even though he detests hunting. And that’s probably why you never sent me to school or to Town, and why you kept putting off my debut. ” A shadow of guilt crossed her brother’s face. She placed her hand on his arm. “It’s all right. I didn’t want to leave you, either. You’re my brother, and I’ll always love you. But Jeremy is my husband now, and my home is with him. ”

  “Just because you married him doesn’t mean you have to live here,” Henry said. “I won’t permit you to stay here suffering, just to satisfy his pride. ” He shot another glare at Jeremy.

  Lucy grabbed the lapels of her brother’s coat and shook him until his gaze dropped to hers. “Henry, stop it! You’re being ridiculous. ” She spoke slowly, enunciating every word. “Iwant to be here. I am not suffering. Not in the least. ”

  He opened his mouth to object, but she silenced him with another shake. “For God’s sake, Henry! We’re madly in love, can’t you see?”

  “Madly in love?” Henry snorted. “Impossible. I don’t believe it. ”

  She released his coat with a growl of frustration.

  Jeremy moved behind her, his chest pressing against her back, his strong hands resting on her shoulders. “Henry,” he said. “Believe it. ”

  Henry’s forehead smoothed. His steeled jaw went slack. He inhaled sharply, as though he might speak, but then released the breath in a bewildered sigh.

  Just then, the door burst open behind them. All three wheeled about to see a grizzled man in homespun garments enter, leading a scrawny boy by his ear.

  Not just any scrawny boy. Lucy gasped. “Albert!”

  “Caught him nosing around near the traps, the little mongrel. ” The man, whom Lucy presumed to be the gamekeeper, twisted the boy’s ear. Albert winced and stomped down on the gamekeeper’s toe.

  “Filthy vermin,” the gamekeeper spat, wrenching the boy’s ear harder. “A good whipping will beat that out of you. Or perhaps you’d prefer a few years of hard labor with your father?” The gamekeeper turned his attention to Jeremy. “Well, my lord? What shall I do with the cur?”

  Lucy grabbed Jeremy’s arm. She opened her mouth to make an impassioned plea for the boy’s release, but his stern mien silenced her. He shook his head slightly in warning. “Trust me,” he said in a barely audible whisper.

  She bit her lip and glanced over at Albert. The boy was watching her intently, waiting to see how she would react. She would never convince him to trust Jeremy if she didn’t trust him herself. Sliding her grip from her husband’s sleeve to his hand, she interlaced her fingers with his. She cleared her throat, casting Albert a pointed look. “Yes, my lord. ”
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