I Wish for Your Kiss, page 1
Table of Contents
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Out of the corner of his eye,
Justin saw her straighten her glossy curls with a gloved hand. He had a sudden image of his own fingers stroking the silky strands. His heart pounded erratically, and he took a deep breath in an effort to calm himself. “Promise… promise me that you will cover up again if you get cold.”
“Of course, I promise. But I’m certain there will be no need.” Her joyous laugh rang out. “Oh, it’s so nice to be outdoors in the fresh air. Look, there is not a cloud in the sky!”
As he urged the mare forward, Justin realized that anyone would be hard-pressed to stay gloomy in her company for long. Not only was she obviously a happy person, she was intelligent and a lively conversationalist. It was a joy to be around her.
for Your Kiss
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
I Wish for Your Kiss
COPYRIGHT © 2016 by Cynthia Moore
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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Cover Art by RJ Morris
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
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First Tea Rose Edition, 2016
Digital ISBN 978-1-5092-1014-5
Published in the United States of America
Because this is a second chance story,
I would like to dedicate this book
to my doctors at Scripps
who saved my life and gave me a second chance:
Dr. Paul Hyde
Dr. Pushpendu Banerjee
Justin Wexley, Marquess of Rockton, strode down the garden path, his gloved hands pushed deep inside the pockets of his coat. The underside of his boots ground against the hardened, icy surface of the gravel walkway. Although it was not as cold as the record-setting winter the year before, Justin was aware it had been several weeks since he had been outdoors without being covered from head to foot to guard against the prevailing frigid temperatures. Perhaps the inclement weather was a foreshadowing of heavy snowfall in time for Christmas, now only four days away.
It was good to slip out of the house for a brief period, no matter how chilly the temperature. He was troubled by a sense of confusion or perhaps it was unease. Whatever the problem, it made him feel unbalanced; he certainly was not his usual confident, assured self. For his own peace of mind, he needed to determine the cause of his discomfort as quickly as possible.
He had made a last minute decision to spend the holiday with his friend from Eton College days, Edward Teague, the Earl of Norton, and his family on their estate not far from Dover. Edward had been married to his wife Mary for several years. They had a brood of three children, one only a few months old. Both Edward and Mary were doting parents, believing their love and affection for their offspring would best be shown by including them in their daily activities, not simply consigning the children to the nursery to be looked upon at very brief periods throughout the day.
The children didn’t bother Justin. The infant was usually sleeping in its cot while the other two played quietly with their toys or listened with rapt attention as their parents read them stories. He had a hunch the cause of his preoccupation and restlessness was an unexpected visitor by the name of Miss Catherine Simms, the only daughter of the late Viscount Meyer.
Miss Simms had abruptly appeared on the scene three days ago. She was a childhood friend of Lady Norton. Edward had explained to him that the two had corresponded over the years, but the distractions of a growing family combined with the sudden passing of both Miss Simms’s parents meant there had been little or no opportunity to meet each other in person. A chance encounter in London a month previously had resulted in Lady Norton issuing an invitation to her friend to join her and her family for the Christmas holiday.
Justin prided himself on his ability to avoid the Parson’s mousetrap and the cunning wiles of unmarried ladies. He was content with the way he lived his life. He could see no need to saddle himself with a wife who had nothing of interest to say and would never love him. He had an heir; his cousin was a hale and hearty young man. He was also smart and diligent. Justin had absolutely no qualms about leaving his estate and title to him.
That was not to say he was one to eschew the company of ladies. Rather to the contrary, he usually attended some select suppers, breakfasts, and balls in London during the Season. As a wealthy peer and owner of a profitable estate, Justin was well aware that the members of the elite society he was a part of would frown upon him if he never consented to make an appearance at such events.
He believed that he conducted himself with the utmost decorum and graciousness in these circumstances. He made a concerted effort to be amusing and well-informed, no matter how trying the situation, throughout all of his encounters with the ladies. Justin was aware that many thought him aloof; hard to please. Their opinions hadn’t mattered to him, until now.
Justin took a deep breath and sighed. Frosty white mist swirled in front of his face. He tucked the wool scarf more securely underneath his chin as he stared directly ahead without actually seeing the landscape. Unusual sensations had taken over his very being; absentmindedness, loss of appetite, the inability to sleep, tossing and turning in his bed at night. He wasn’t ill, but he certainly didn’t feel like himself. Surely, there was a simple explanation for the state he was in, but a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach was a precipitate indication that he knew perfectly well what ailed him. He noticed a wooden bench near the path, underneath a small grove of leafless aspen trees and walked closer. He lifted one booted foot to the edge of the seat and contemplated the dappled white trunks on the trees in front of him.
Miss Simms had arrived suddenly, without warning. He remembered comparing her hasty entrance to a whirlwind; she seemed to appear and overshadow the space with her presence in a matter of moments. After the butler Grayson announced her, nothing was destined to be as it had been ever again. She entered the room on the butler’s heels, hastily pulling on the strings of her fur-lined hat, brushing away Grayson’s efforts to assist her. She tossed the hat, along with her gloves, onto the seat of an empty chair and rushed headlong into the open arms of her friend. From there, she made a quick turn to acknowledge her host and without pause, swiftly moved across the room to peek at the sleeping infant.
The other two children, who only moments before had been playing with their toys in the corner of the room, stood in unison, loudly questioning the newcomer if she had brought them any books.
Miss Simms laughed merrily with a cheery, tinkling sound. “Hello, Lady Beatrice and Lord Peter Moss, I can’t tell you that. You must wait for Christmas.”
Mary put her hand
Miss Simms turned to him, and he saw her face clearly for the first time. Her auburn colored hair was in some disarray after the hurried removal of her hat; wisps of the curly, silken strands had fallen from their fastenings to frame her heart-shaped face. She had a dainty nose, tipped slightly upward at the end. Her clear, creamy complexion was illuminated by a pair of large brown eyes, surrounded by thick, dark lashes. Her eyes appeared to twinkle as she smiled engagingly at him with full, ruby red lips. “My lord; it is a pleasure to meet one of Edward’s schoolmates.”
He took her proffered hand in his own and bowed over it. “It has been many years since Edward and I have walked those lofty corridors, but we have managed to stay close. I’m honored as well to meet a special friend of Mary’s. Please call me Justin. We are to be a part of the family for the holidays, after all.”
“Very well; I’m Catherine.”
He released her hand and studied her lovely face as she stared up at him. “How did you and Mary first become acquainted?”
“Our families owned adjoining houses in Mayfair, and our nannies were sisters. I was an only child and Mary had two brothers. It was inevitable that we would become inseparable.”
“I can picture the scene now. Your two nannies enjoying a good gossip on a park bench while you both sneak away and hide behind a nearby tree or bush. I feel sorry for the poor ladies’ nerves.”
Her brown eyes widened when she heard his observation. “However did you guess?”
He grinned at her. “Something in your manner when you stormed into the room, similar to a fresh breeze blowing off the ocean. It made me think you were probably a busy, lively imp as a child. I imagine you were the one that coerced Mary into misbehaving?”
She smiled at him and once again filled the room with her joyful, merry laughter. “I can think of a few instances when it was her idea but yes, the decision to make mischief was usually done at my instigation.”
A portly lady appeared at the door shrouded in a heavy shawl. “Miss Simms, come to your room to change before you catch your death of cold.”
“I will be there shortly.”
Justin cocked one eyebrow. “Who is that worthy woman?”
Catherine’s unblemished cheeks turned rosy. “My companion, Miss Wicker, she is forever worrying about cold drafts in large houses such as this.”
“Come join me in the nursery when you have finished.”
Justin registered a moment of surprise when he heard Mary’s voice behind him. He had been so caught up in his discussion with Catherine he had forgotten there were others in the room. A sense of regret panged him as she turned away to follow her companion.
Justin lowered his foot to the ground and slapped his gloved hands against his thighs. It was time to saddle his horse and go for a quick ride. It was just the thing to clear his mind of its muddled, nonsensical ideas.
A couple of hours later, Justin handed over his well-exercised horse to Edward’s head groom. “Rub Atlas down well, Turner. I put him through his paces today.”
“Yes, my lord. I’ll see to it that he receives the best of care.”
Justin studied the bright, candlelit reflections on the windows as he walked from the stables to the front of the house. Darkness came quickly this time of year and the warm glow was a welcoming sight on what promised to be a very cold night. Before he could stop himself, his thoughts went back to Miss Simms— Catherine. So much for his good intentions! He gave himself up to the inevitable and acknowledged the ideas that were going through his mind. Would she and Mary be closeted away in the nursery once again as they had been quite often since her arrival, playing with the children? He imagined they chattered and gossiped about their acquaintances, offered opinions on garments, and gave each other a basic critique of the activities in their daily lives. Or was it possible Catherine had already dressed for dinner and was, at this moment, cooling her heels alone in the drawing room waiting for someone to join her?
Justin vaulted up the outside steps as he imagined such a possibility and thrust his gloves into Grayson’s waiting hands. The quicker he changed, the sooner he could join her. If he could engage Catherine for a few minutes in a somber discussion on the merits of some banal topic of mutual interest, he was certain he would arrive at the same conclusion as he had with all previous marriageable women. With their heads full of the rules of etiquette and the pressing need to make a good impression on an eligible peer of the realm, the ladies were either unable or unwilling to lend their thoughts to other serious and thought-provoking matters to liven up a dialogue. He would lose this silly attraction for Miss Simms within moments once she proved herself to be as dull as all the others.
He pushed open the door to his bedchamber. “Higgins!”
“Yes, my lord?” His valet walked out of the dressing room holding a pressed and starched cravat in his hand.
“I’m going downstairs a bit early this evening. I need you to perform your magic and turn me out in double-time.”
Higgins draped the cravat over a nearby chair before turning to make his way to the clothes press. “The black coat and pantaloons with the royal blue waistcoat, my lord?”
Justin shrugged himself out of his coat and untied his crumpled cravat. “That will be fine, Higgins.”
A short time later, Justin strode down the main staircase brushing absentmindedly at an imagined speck of dust on his coat sleeve. He walked soft-footed down the hallway to the drawing room door, intending to reach it before Grayson became aware of his presence. It wouldn’t do for the butler to announce him. If Catherine was indeed inside the room on her own, Justin wished to catch her by surprise. It would give him a better chance to observe what activity, if any, she was preoccupied with at the moment.
He turned the knob on the door and pushed it open. He was gratified to see Catherine sitting unaccompanied on the sofa. She had an open book on her lap and a wooden basket stuffed with what appeared to be an assortment of colored thread balanced on a cushion beside her.
“My lo…Justin! Are you looking for Edward? I don’t believe he is down yet.” She smiled at him and started to rise from her seat.
“No, please. Stay where you are. I am content to wait for the others in your company, if you have no objection.” He raised his brows and grinned at her.
“Of course, come join me.” She pointed at the basket. “Miss Wicker will be returning momentarily. She was sorting her embroidery thread and suddenly realized a favorite color was missing. She has gone to search her bags vowing to retrieve the treasured article.”
Justin heard her words with a sense of panic. There wasn’t much time for him to judge Catherine’s worthiness. He must forge ahead and complete as much of his observation as quickly as possible. “You are reading a novel? Are you a fan of the Gothic romances that I understand are currently the rage?”
Catherine’s jubilant laughter filled the room. “Heavens, no! I must confess I am drawn to less fanciful subjects in the novels I read. At present I’m perusing Lord Bryon’s latest poem The Corsair. Have you heard of it?”
“How could I not be aware of it? Did it not sell over ten thousand copies on the first day of release?”
“Yes, and twenty-five thousand in the first month.” She looked down at the book in her lap and frowned. “I wish I could experience the same enthusiasm for the piece as those who rushed to purchase it obviously felt.”
“You do not like it?”
He heard her sigh before looking up and smiling at him. “I have never been a fan of Byron’s poetry. I promised an acquaintance of mine, who was one of those initial ten thousand admirers, to read the work after she had prattled on and on about it whenever we met each other in town.”
“I don’t believe I have ever heard anyone complain about the man’s writing. What is the sourc
She stared into the fire for a moment before turning to face him. “I’ve never met him, but I have heard tales of his vainness and conceit. Such traits are obviously hard to admire in a person. They are even harder to applaud in a long work of poetry such as this. When I read about the hero in the tale, Conrad, I have a good sense that I’m experiencing the character of Lord Bryon as well.”
Her answer surprised him. Could it be that she thought about subjects other than marriage and the weather? Perhaps she was just good at prevaricating. He must delve deeper. “Give me some examples.”
“Conrad is continually claiming to be chivalrous and brave. Yet when the time comes to prove his assertions he is too weak. Others must defend him and his honor.” She sighed again. “I suppose those who enjoy this work would argue that the interest in the story comes from Conrad’s ability to rally those around him to come to his aid, but I find no delight in it.”
“I finally found the thread at the bottom of my trunk.” Miss Wicker stood in the doorway triumphantly brandishing a bit of red string from underneath a pile of several woolen shawls draped across her broad shoulders. She turned to pull the topmost cover more closely across her shoulders and started. “My lord, I didn’t see you! Forgive me.”
Justin came to his feet, preparing to leave. He had much to think of. “It is of no matter, Miss Wicker. Your mistress and I were passing the time until the others join us for dinner.”
He turned to find Catherine standing next to him. “I enjoyed our discussion, my lo…Justin. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the piece as well.”
“I must admit I have not read it.”
“Oh no! How thoughtless of me!” She placed her hand on his sleeve. “I hope my comments haven’t ruined it for you.”
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