Unexpected earl, p.27

Unexpected Earl, page 27

 part  #1 of  Hearts and Ever Afters Series

 

Unexpected Earl
 



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  "You mean to allow him to pursue something with me?" Jane asked, and the girls all laughed together.

  Yet they still gazed at her expectantly.

  "You know that a lady's business is her own to share when she pleases," Jane began. "But you are my friends."

  She looked around the room towards the corner where Lord Greenshire was, in fact, standing alone. He did not look the least bit displeased to be there. Instead, he stood tall and proud, gazing around the room for what she assumed was herself.

  He had dark hair, well styled, not the least bit untidy. It was hard to tell from where she stood, but she knew his eyes to be a wonderful shade of blue, almost the same shade as her dress. He had a strong build and almost perfect posture. He looked noble. She would be proud to be married to such a man.

  She looked back to the other ladies.

  "Lord Greenshire is indeed a desirable match, and I believe that we could be a good pairing. He would be able to provide a life for me that my father would approve, and my mother is just as infatuated as you are, Louisa."

  Louisa flushed pink, but she smiled. "I only wish that I could have gotten to him before you did, Jane."

  "But what of Lord Newton, Louisa?" her sister said, gently poking her in the arm. "He is a marquess as well, and I believe he is to inherit almost as much as Lord Greenshire."

  Louisa looked over her shoulder at Lord Greenshire. "Yes, but he is not as handsome."

  "According to you, perhaps," Lady Sarah teased.

  "Good evening, ladies."

  They looked up to see Lord Greenshire had appeared, an easy smile on his handsome face.

  The other three women began to giggle as if they were young girls, and all looked at Jane.

  Jane simply smiled calmly in return, ensuring that her feelings were not apparent on her face. She felt delighted that he had come over to see her, and also felt frustrated at the other girls for being so foolish.

  “How is everyone this evening?” he asked, looking between them all.

  “Wonderful, Lord Greenshire. How kind of you to ask,” Lady Violet said, her face a pale pink, her hands clasped together tightly trying hard not to fidget.

  “And you, Lady Jane?” he asked, his deep blue gaze shifting to her.

  She felt as if she could get lost in his eyes, and the feeling surprised her. She nodded her head respectfully. “Quite well, my lord. Thank you. And how do you do this evening?”

  “Much better now,” and his smile widened.

  His words were met with knowing smiles from the other women.

  “I should think that we have somewhere else to be, don’t we, ladies?” Lady Sarah said, grabbing her sister’s and Lady Violet’s hands. “If you will excuse us, my lord. Perhaps we shall see you again later this evening.”

  Without another word, Lady Sarah pulled the other two women with her out from between Jane and Lord Greenshire and back out toward the foyer, all of them chittering away excitedly.

  “My, they are quite excited this evening, aren’t they?” Lord Greenshire said pleasantly, his hands clasped behind his back as he took a casual step toward Jane.

  Jane nodded her head. “Indeed they are, my lord. Though I feel there are few moments in which they are not as excited.”

  “How long have you been friends?” He asked, looking down at her.

  Jane noticed, not for the first time, that she only came up to his shoulder, and she was not considered a short woman. She returned his gaze.

  “For many years, my lord. We met before we were introduced to society, and we take every advantage that we can to spend time with one another.”

  Lord Greenshire grinned again. “I find that most admirable. I myself have few friends, but I believe it is different for men.”

  “I believe that is true,” Jane agreed.

  A moment of silence passed between them as they both gazed around the room together.

  “What do you think of the ball this evening?” Lord Greenshire asked, raising his hand to gesture around the room. “Is it pleasing to you?”

  “Your family always holds the most elegant affairs,” Jane said. She meant it; there had not been a ball that she had attended there that was not fit for the royal family themselves. “I love the red and orange hues that the duchess chose as colors for decorations this year.”

  Lord Greenshire smiled at her. “Yes, she felt that embracing the coming of autumn was an appropriate way to allow everyone to enjoy themselves to the fullest this evening.”

  “Your mother is a very wise woman,” Jane agreed.

  “She certainly believes so!”

  The two of them laughed together.

  “I received your letter,” Jane said, looking back up at him. “I was very pleased to receive it.”

  “I am very glad that you did,” he said, his face brightening.

  “I certainly was looking forward to seeing you this evening,” she replied, not dishonestly. “And I believe that you are quite the flatterer and also one of the kindest gentlemen that I have had the pleasure of knowing.”

  If she did not know any better, she would have thought that his cheeks colored.

  “And of my offer?” he asked, after clearing his throat.

  “To which are you referring?”

  “Why, to dance with me, of course,” beamed Lord Greenshire.

  She smiled a genial smile. “Lord Greenshire, how could I ever live with myself if I were to decline?”

  He bowed his head toward her. “You honor me, my lady with your acceptance.”

  He offered her his hand, which she accepted gracefully.

  Her heart began to beat faster as his fingers closed around hers, and he looked happily down at her. She knew that many eyes were on them as they walked across the room toward the area where they were to dance, and she felt proud.

  She felt proud of herself for being able to find such a man as Lord Greenshire, and also for the fact that it was she who was to dance with him. She knew that many women would have sacrificed all of their inheritance in order to marry him, or even to be noticed by him. She took immense satisfaction that she was able to remain calm and collected as they crossed the room.

  She was indeed worthy of marrying a man in such high standing.

  “My Lord Greenshire,” came a voice that had suddenly appeared beside them.

  “Yes, what is it?”

  Jane felt a flicker of fury deep inside her. She steadied her features as she peered at the man who had stopped them. She recognized him immediately as the house butler, and he was bowing low.

  “My apologies, my lord, but your father is looking for you.”

  “Please tell him that I will see to whatever it is that he needs as soon as I have danced with Lady Jane,” he said, holding their clasped hands aloft.

  The butler bowed even lower. “My lord, I do apologize, but he insisted that you come now. Apparently your mother is in a right fit, and he cannot calm her.”

  “About what?”

  She could hear the anger creeping into his voice and felt a small satisfaction. He cared enough for her to be frustrated when his time with her was infringed upon. She suppressed a smirk.

  “Apparently Lady Hobbs said something about your sister and her son, and the insinuation has blown out of proportion. Your father asked for you to come and remedy the situation.”

  Jane saw Lord Greenshire roll his eyes before he gathered his composure. “Fine. I will be there momentarily.”

  The butler bowed low again and hurried away.

  Lord Greenshire turned to Jane, taking her other hand up in his. “Lady Jane, I am terribly sorry that I must leave you, and I am afraid that I could be gone for some time. Once my mother is in one of her tempers…”

  Jane nodded her head and fixed the most understanding look on her face that she could. “I understand. Go and do what you must do.”

  As he walked her over to a chair, he said fervently, “I will return. I promise that we will have that dance.”

>   With an incline of his head, and a quick kiss on her hand, he disappeared into the crowd.

  “My heavens, I thought he would never leave.”

  Startled, Jane whirled around.

  Leaning against one of the pillars was the baron, Lord Hays.

  He had wavy, auburn hair that fell to his shoulders and a closely trimmed beard that made him look ten years older than he was. He was shorter than Lord Greenshire, but he was broad shouldered and had a wide jaw. One eyebrow was arched in amusement, and the ever-present smirk curled one corner of his mouth.

  “Lady Jane,” he said, bowing deeply to her.

  “Lord Hays.”

  He straightened and grinned at her, taking a long stride toward her. “My, you are even more ravishing than the last time we met,” he said. He had a deep, husky sort of voice that made Jane’s face feel warm.

  His eyes widened, and his smirk grew. “Have I somehow managed to stun the perfectly eloquent Lady Jane to silence?”

  She blinked a few times, coming to her senses. She returned the mischievous look. “You give yourself too much credit, Lord Hays.”

  He threw his head back and laughed. “You have wit in that pretty head as well. Good girl,” he said. “Now, I was hoping that we could find a quieter place where we can speak without having to raise our voices in such a manner,” he said.

  Before she could protest, he grabbed her hand and pulled her from the room and down a short hall to a drawing room.

  She was familiar with the room, and it was not entirely vacant; others who wished to be away from the music in the grand hall had retired in here, sitting closely together on low couches, speaking in hushed voices.

  It felt very intimate, and she looked about for anyone that she knew well.

  She found no one.

  He pulled her to a long, emerald settee and gently lowered the two of them onto it.

  “Would you care for a drink?” he asked, noticing a servant walking past with a tray. He did not wait for an answer before deftly pulling two tall crystal flutes from the tray and returning to his seat beside her.

  She watched him as she accepted the glass.

  He was, in every way she knew, the opposite of Lord Greenshire.

  He leaned back against the settee as if he were in his own home, while she perched on the very edge, with her back straight.

  “So, Lord Greenshire has taken a liking to you, has he?” Lord Hays asked, taking a sip from his flute.

  “It appears that he has,” she answered, but almost regretted it as soon as the words were out of her mouth. It wasn’t like her to admit things so readily.

  Jane was having a hard time concentrating on his words. He was such a handsome man, that she found joy simply in watching him. Something about his attitude was incredibly attractive, and the way in which he carried himself. He was just so comfortable and confident, and she found it almost admirable.

  Part of her spirit scolded her for that.

  You’re better than that.

  Am I?

  Lord Hays shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose I should not be surprised. I believe that most men in all of England have hoped for a chance to dance with you.”

  “You jest, Lord Hays.”

  “Do I?” he responded, his eyebrow arching even taller. “According to our dear friend Lady Violet, apparently, he is considering asking for your hand.”

  A confusing burst of feelings coursed through her. Pride and guilt, as well as fear, and doubt.

  She swallowed hard, but Lord Hays simply watched her, waiting for her to give something away.

  “I have heard nothing of the sort,” she said, hoping to change topics. The last thing that she wished to discuss with a man as handsome as Lord Hays was another man that she wanted to get to know better.

  He grinned, and laughed out loud again. “Perhaps I should do the very same thing, but beat the gentleman to it.”

  “What…what do you mean?” she replied, her stomach suddenly feeling as if it were filled with ice.

  “Lady Jane, would you marry me instead?”

  She hesitated for only a fraction of a second, but in that time, she felt as if a lifetime had passed.

  Was he…was he serious? She could not tell. His face was straight, the usual amusement gone. His gaze was steady, fixed on hers, and he was waiting.

  Waiting for her answer.

  As she opened her mouth to reply, with what, she had no earthly clue, he fell back against the settee cushions and laughed raucously, slapping his free hand against his knee as if it were the most hilarious joke that he had ever heard in his life.

  His laughter drew stares from others in the room, and she nervously smiled at them all, hoping that he would quiet down. She felt embarrassed, vulnerable, exposed, and yet…

  Would I have said yes? Was I going to say yes?

  Soon after, Lady Sarah and Lady Louisa discovered her, and she knew from their looks that she would be berated relentlessly about how she was with both Lord Greenshire and Lord Hays that evening. She made up some excuse about needing to speak with them and left Lord Hays, who was still terribly amused by his own jokes and didn’t seem troubled at her departure.

  She told her friends nothing of what he said, for she was deeply troubled by it. Not by the fact that he had said what he said; he was a rather rambunctious, forward man, and that was not what had surprised her.

  What had surprised her was that she had wondered if he was serious, and even actually considered his request. Considered saying yes.

  What in the world is happening to me?

  Chapter 3 – Of Books and Gardens

  Three weeks had passed since the ball at the Duke of Kirkland's estate, and fall was in full swing. The leaves were now varying shades of red and amber and gold, and the air smelled crisp and earthy.

  Jane and her sisters knew that soon they would be ushered indoors for the long winter months in order to prevent any sort of illness, so they ensured that they were outside any chance that they could get. They were grateful that the warmth of summer was lingering, and even though their father's house was enormous, it became awfully cramped when they were the only walls they would see until the first whispers of spring.

  In order to prevent herself from going utterly insane, Jane wrote to some of her friends, requesting to stay with them during the winter. The change in scenery would liven up some of the more dreary weeks.

  She also made plans to visit with her brother Robert and his wife Alice. She had a difficult time coming to terms with their relationship, but she loved Robert and wanted to get to know Alice. Her brother sent a letter back to Jane with an enthusiastic acceptance and said she would be welcome to stay as long as she would like. She only intended to stay for a few days as she was passing through, but she would try and say it as politely as possible.

  ***

  It was a late October afternoon when Jane, who sat on the front porch of the manor with a book in her hands, saw a carriage pulling up the drive to the house. Curiously, she slid a finger into her book to hold her spot, and she rose to her feet. She did not recognize the carriage, but it certainly belonged to someone of status. Golden filigree adorned the sides and the doors, and the footman was dressed better than some lords she knew. He beamed at her from atop his perch as he pulled the carriage around the front of the manor.

  “Ah, that must be him.”

  She looked up to see her father standing beside her, and he smiled at her.

  “Who is it, Father?” she asked.

  He did not answer, but walked down the stone steps to the gravel drive, as dignified as ever.

  She felt her eyebrows pinch together, and she pursed her lips. Why did he not answer her question?

  She took a step in her father’s direction as he reached the carriage.

  The footman hopped down from his seat and, with an elaborate flourish, opened the door.

  Out stepped Lord Greenshire.

  Jane heard a gasp escape from her own lips.

/>   What is he doing here? She wondered. Why was I not informed of his visit?

  It was apparent that her father had expected him, seeing his reaction, but what was he… She felt her ears grow hot and the tips of her fingers grow cold.

  Lord Greenshire glanced up at Jane as he spoke with her father, and his gaze held more than words could.

  He’s here to ask for your hand in marriage, a small voice somewhere in her mind told her.

  She was not sure how it happened, but in a moment’s time, she was in her father’s library, in the back, where she used to hide when she was a child when she was afraid. She must have put her book down somewhere, for it was no longer in her hands, and she was crouched beneath a window that looked out over the front of the estate.

  What are you so afraid of? She said to herself, looking up at the window.

  Her heart pounded in her chest, and she felt short of breath. It was so strange; she had never felt so nervous about something in her entire life, especially being around other people. Especially not handsome men.

  She turned herself around and lifted herself up just enough that she could peer outside without being seen.

  The carriage had moved, but her father and Lord Greenshire were still conversing out in the drive, the setting sun causing their shadows to look as if they had been stretched.

  Lord Greenshire was very handsome, she realized again, and her heart skipped a beat. She swallowed hard. But was she ready for this, for what he was doing?

  Why had he not spoken with her about it first? Of course she knew his intentions; they had been clear to anyone who had eyes when they were together. But it all just seemed so sudden.

  Why would he discuss it with you? Of course he would go to your father first. He is a proper gentleman, after all. A year ago, this would have sealed the deal for you.

  She grimaced. Lord Hays’s flippant offer flashed across her mind, followed by his boisterous laughter.

  She peeked out the window again, and her father and Lord Greenshire disappeared.

  She slid down the wall to the floor.

  “Jane?”

 
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