Unexpected earl, p.28

Unexpected Earl, page 28

 part  #1 of  Hearts and Ever Afters Series


Unexpected Earl

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  Jane almost cracked her head on the window sill as she jumped to her feet.

  Beatrice’s voice carried through the library again. “Jane, are you in here?”

  “Yes!” she called back, hoping her voice was far more calm than she felt. She looked around frantically and settled on pulling a random book from the shelf and opening it just as Beatrice appeared around the corner of the shelves.

  Jane did not meet her gaze immediately, instead pretending to be engrossed in her book.

  “Why are you reading a book about mathematics?” Beatrice asked, pointing at the beautifully bound tome in her hands.

  Jane blinked and snapped the book shut, glaring at her younger sister. “What do you want?”

  Beatrice arched an eyebrow. “Father is looking for you.” An impish grin spread across her sister’s face. “A handsome marquess has come to pay you a visit.”

  “Oh?” Jane asked, sliding the book back onto the shelf and turning calmly back to face her. “That is a pleasant surprise.”

  “Is it now?” Beatrice remarked. “Well, I wonder how the baron would feel to hear you say that.”

  Anger flashed white hot in Jane’s body, but she merely smirked in reply to her sister’s words. “Why would that trouble me?”

  Beatrice rolled her eyes. “You must not be so coy with me. You know exactly what I mean. Come with me. You mustn’t keep the gentleman waiting.”

  Jane followed Beatrice downstairs, grateful for the few minutes to compose herself. She did not want Lord Greenshire to sense her anxiety and hoped that she could use the time she was sure she would have with him to make a sound and wise decision.

  Sure enough, her father made it clear that he had come to visit her in particular, and Lord Greenshire confirmed it by asking if she would like to take a stroll out among the gardens together.

  Fear flooded through her, and she panicked.

  “That sounds lovely,” she responded, almost too hastily. “But I would love it if my sisters were to accompany us. They so love this time of year.”

  Lord Greenshire was obviously taken aback, but he recovered quickly. “Of course, my lady. Whatever you desire.”

  At least now I can delay any sort of proposal that he might attempt, she told herself.

  Soon after, they found themselves in the gardens, her sisters following close behind them, snickering and whispering, and Jane could only imagine what they were saying.

  They walked in silence for a few moments, and Jane’s mind raced wildly. Why was she so afraid of being alone with Lord Greenshire? Why was she so afraid of what she knew he wanted?

  Because of Lord Hays, a sneering voice in her mind reminded her. You fancy him, and you cannot forget that he himself has already proposed to you.

  She scowled. That was not a real proposal, she argued with herself.

  How do you know that he wasn’t expressing his true desires?

  “Are you quite all right, Lady Jane?”

  Jane looked up at Lord Greenshire, who was watching her closely.

  “Oh, yes, of course.” Jane smiled a pleasant smile at him. “I am, thank you.”

  He did not seem convinced.

  “How was your carriage drive to Edgefield?” she quickly asked, deterring him from the conversation and where it might have been going.

  “Most enjoyable,” he said, relaxing. “I find that this time of year is my favorite. The anticipation of a calm, quiet winter after such elaborate social obligations.”

  “I understand.” She cleared her throat. “I had a wonderful time at the ball,” she said, in her most convincing voice.

  He smiled sheepishly. “I did as well. I was very pleased that I was able to sort my poor mother out, and that we were able to have that dance.”

  She nodded, feeling more comfortable as they walked. “I am as well. It was one of my great joys of the evening.”

  “So was spending so much time with Lord Hays!” Margaret called. Beatrice hurriedly shushed her, the two of them dissolving into a fit of giggles.

  Jane turned around, horrified that her sister would even dare do such a thing. She glared at her, unable to stop herself.

  She heard her own heartbeat in her ears as she turned away as calmly as she could from her sister, and continue to walk on.

  Lord Greenshire had stopped as well and fell back into step beside her.

  “Curious that your sisters would mention Lord Hays,” Lord Greenshire commented, just quiet enough for her to hear.

  Her sisters were still behind them, laughing at themselves. Jane felt as if she might burst with anger and embarrassment.

  “It is curious, indeed,” Jane spat, glaring over her shoulder at them.

  Why would they ever say something like that when Lord Greenshire was around? What sort of sense do they have if they decide to attempt to sabotage my relationship with him?

  She could have screamed out loud in her frustration.

  She could feel Lord Greenshire watching her closely, so she composed herself as best as she could, and smile a forced smile.

  “What is it?” he asked.

  “What?” she asked, still trying to quell her anger. “Oh, it’s nothing. Nothing at all.”

  He nodded his head, and they continued to walk.

  “So what do you think of this Lord Hays?” Lord Greenshire asked, his voice steadier than she would have expected. “I assume you are acquainted with him?”

  “I have been introduced to Lord Hays.”

  “And…what do you think of him?”

  Something in his tone surprised Jane. It was not anger or sadness. It was curiosity, and it was caution. She could sense that he had tensed up, and his ease of presence had gone.

  It was at that moment that she realized that he was not entirely sure that he wished to hear her answer.

  “I find him to be an amiable man,” she said slowly, and then quickly added, “for a man in his position in society.”

  He glanced down at her. “I have felt the same.”

  She felt a slight comfort.

  “My parents met his father at a social gathering in London some years ago. Apparently his grandfather had been knighted by the queen for a minor land steading, and his father had spent through a good portion of the inheritance. Lord Hays was given what was left, and he seems to have taken after his father in more ways than just his good looks.”

  Jane swallowed hard. She was ashamed at the stab of defensiveness that she felt at Lord Greenshire’s words against Lord Hays. She had not known that of the baron, or his history. She knew that her father did not know much of him, other than he had a bit of a negative reputation. And yet, he was still invited to all of the major social gatherings. Whether or not that was because many of the women fawned over him like bees do honey, she was not entirely sure.

  “I found him to be quite humorous,” Jane went on. “I have found him to be both interesting and engaging.”

  “My cousin said the very same thing about him,” Lord Greenshire commented, “Right before he decided to go off and begin a new acquaintance with a very pretty young lady from the French royal family.”

  Jane felt as if her feathers were rustled.

  “So did you see this Lord Hays at the ball?”

  Jane wondered if she should answer honestly. It was only because her sisters had made such a ridiculous slip of the tongue that she had spoken with the baron that she decided to tell the truth.

  “I did, but only for a moment.”

  She was not sure what else she should say, and so she waited for him to continue.

  When he did not, she began to feel nervous, and therefore began to speak without much thought for what she was saying. “He apparently had seen you and I walking toward center of the ballroom to dance, and that was when you were intercepted by your butler. He told me what a shame it was that we were not able to dance.”

  “Was that all?” Lord Greenshire inquired.

  Again, she noticed that he was not angry, nor was he tre
ating her as if she were a child who had misbehaved. However, an underlying hurt gave her pause.

  “Because I heard from a few of my friends that the two of you were seen in a different room, away from the rest of the ball.”

  The accusation was clear in his tone. It was as if he were waiting for her to deny it. And it was almost as if he wished she would.

  She looked back over her shoulder at her sisters, who were still following behind them, but further away now.

  She waved them away. Margaret noticed and gave her a questioning look.

  Jane replied by nodding her head back toward the house.

  Give us some privacy. Please.

  Beatrice took the hint, for she grabbed Margaret’s hand and dragged her back toward the back terrace.

  She looked up into the face of the man standing in front of her. He was indeed handsome in his fine clothes and bright eyes.

  As she looked into his face, she realized, not for the first time, that he deeply cared about her. That was why he was so concerned about her behavior with another man.

  “I did spend some time with him,” she continued quietly, gently. “We talked of the ball, of all the people…”

  She swallowed hard as she remembered his flippant words, and it drew a forced smile to her face in order to hide it.

  “Do you…” he began, and she saw as his jaw tensed. “Do you have feelings for Lord Hays?”

  She felt her eyes widen, and her breath catch in her throat.

  “I…” she began, and then immediately realized that she had said the wrong thing.

  Lord Greenshire turned away from her, scratching his chin with his hand, his other hand on his waist.

  She walked over to him.

  I should have said no. You foolish woman, you should have said no.

  “Lord Hays is a very agreeable man,” she began. “He is kind and –”

  “He has taken great interest in you,” Lord Greenshire cut in. “And I worry that you have taken just as much of an interest in him.”

  “Lord Greenshire,” she began, and he held up his hand.

  “What of me?” he asked. “What are your feelings toward me?”

  She could see the desperation in his face, hear it in his words.

  She wanted to tell him how much she cared for him, soothe his fears with her reassurances. She knew that all it would take is a simple denial of anything she might feel for Lord Hays, and he could finish what he had come there to accomplish. She knew that he wished to propose.

  “I admire you greatly,” she said. She was having a hard time thinking or forming words as his sad eyes looked into hers. How she wished she would just tell him. “I believe you to be an honorable man and a man of integrity.”

  He laughed hollowly and shook his head. “You speak of my characteristics, and nothing of how you feel.”

  She stammered for a moment, but he took a step back from her.

  “I need to think,” he added, turning away from her, looking up the path that wrapped around to the front of the house. “I have much to think about.”

  And with a simple nod of his head to her, he turned and walked away.

  He did not even meet her eyes.

  “Wait, Lord Greenshire!” she called after him, but he would not look back at her. “Please, come back!”

  She watched him until he turned the corner, and then she collapsed onto her knees.

  What had she done? She had done everything wrong in those few moments with him when everything should have gone well and have gone right.

  She already knew the disdain she would receive from her father as he would surely see Lord Greenshire leave. She knew the theatrical sobbing that her mother would subject her to. Her sisters would tease her, and she would not be able to stand any of it.

  Her parents and sisters would all ask the same question, and it was one that she was not sure that she was able to answer.

  Would Lord Greenshire ever come back? Would he ever propose to her?

  Chapter 4 – One and the Same

  Jane was very pleased to see that one of her very dear friends, Lady Emmeline, had replied to her letter, and her response had arrived the morning after Lord Greenshire's visit. Her friend invited her to visit as soon as that the second weekend in November, and Jane hastily scrawled a reply on the back of the letter.

  I heartily accept your invitation, dear friend. I need your wise counsel. I shall see you this Saturday.

  After working through some details with her parents, she wrote letters to all of the other friends she had planned to stay with, including her brother Robert, and let them all know she would be staying with her friend, and to write to her there if they needed her before she continued on with her travels.

  Her mother crooned after her, saying that the house was growing more and more lonesome every year, and it would be even more sad without Jane there to brighten every cold morning.

  Jane brushed her off, feeling far too caught up in her own emotions to worry.

  "Mother, I will be home for Christmas, of course. I just...have to get out of the house."

  Her sisters, on the other hand, were suspicious of her and her hastiness. Margaret spent most of dinner the night that Lord Greenshire had visited staring at Jane, her gaze intent and scrutinizing. Jane pleasantly looked back, and yet felt hollow deep inside of herself.

  What am I to do?

  Her father had been surprised when Lord Greenshire departed as quickly as he had, but Jane simply replied that he had some urgent business to attend to. Beatrice made to protest, but Jane trod on her younger sisters foot, distracting her enough that their father asked no further questions.

  In truth, she believed he had every right to leave the way he had. She had done nothing to assure him in any way that a proposal would be accepted, and she felt great guilt about it. But what was she to do?

  When Lady Emmeline's letter arrived, Jane knew it had been an answer to her prayers.

  The days dragged on miserably until Saturday. Lord Greenshire was silent, as she had received no letters from him since he had visited. She felt both relieved and fearful of this. Her indecision may have been honest, but her wisdom perhaps too late in appearing.

  The first time she felt she was able to share the burden was when she threw her arms around Lady Emmeline when she walked into the doors of her home.

  "My friend, it is wonderful to see you again," Emmeline said, laughing as the two women embraced. "It has been far too long."

  "It has indeed, my friend."

  Emmeline was a tall, slender girl, with a pointed chin, high cheekbones, and a narrow nose. Her hair was the color of the blackest coal, and her eyes sparkled like sapphires. She was very pretty, and Jane often wondered why she had not married yet.

  "Come, let us adjourn to my sitting room. I have some hot tea prepared for us. I had no idea it would be as cold as it turned out to be this day. You must be terribly frigid!"

  Jane did all she could not to run to the sitting room.

  The servants laid out a lovely display of pastries and teas for the girls at a low table beside the window that looked deep into the forest beside their manor. Jane had spent many weekends in this very room with Emmeline.

  As soon as the servants bowed themselves from the room, Emmeline whirled around to face her friend, her finger pointed at her.

  "What is all this about, Jane?"

  Jane, who was holding a teacup to her lips, blowing the hot tea, peered up at her friend. "Whatever do you mean?"

  Emmeline sat in the chair beside Jane, leaning close to her. "Your letter! I have known you for many years, and I have never known you to not fill an entire page with a response to my letters!"

  Jane looked down at the teacup. The tea smelled wonderful, and calming, after such an anxious carriage ride over. She suppressed a chill that tried to take hold.

  Emmeline studied Jane's face closely.

  "Oh, Emmeline," Jane finally said, putting her teacup down and burying her face in
her hands. "I am so lost. I do not know what I am to do!"

  Jane felt her friend's hand on her arm, a comforting gesture, and allowed Jane a few moments to compose herself.

  When Jane finally looked up, Emmeline offered her a delicately embroidered handkerchief, which Jane accepted with a quiet, "Thank you."

  "Now tell me what all of this is about!" Emmeline asked, also offering Jane a small, sweet pastry.

  Jane nibbled on the edge of the pastry.

  "Well, Lord Greenshire visited the manor at the end of September."

  Emmeline's eyes grew wide. "Did he? And what happened?"

  "I know what you are thinking, and no, he did not propose to me. Though I suppose that was his intention..." and Jane went on to tell Emmeline everything that had happened, including her sisters' teasing about Lord Hays.

  Emmeline's face wrinkled. "Lord Hays? Isn't he that baron that is quite flamboyant and rude?"

  Jane's pride stung at Emmeline's words. "He is not like that.”

  Emmeline furrowed her brow, and then her eyes widened with understanding. "Jane...you aren't telling me that..."

  Jane looked away.

  "Oh, you haven't, have you?" Emmeline pressed, leaning back away from Jane, apparently appalled. "You haven't fallen for Lord Hays, have you?"

  Jane leaned back against the chair in which she sat. "No, I have not fallen in love with the man. But..." she looked back up at Emmeline. "I don't know, Emmeline. He seems to have taken a liking to me, and he is just so...romantic."

  Emmeline looked at Jane as if she had never seen her before. "Romantic? Well, that is a surprise." She shook her head. "I do not believe my ears," she said, but not unkindly. "This is not like you, Jane, to be at all tempted by a man of such a low place in society."

  Jane nodded. "I know."

  "Then what is it about him that you find attractive?"

  Jane shrugged her shoulders. "He is just so very different than most men I have met. He is confident, which I admire, and he is, as you say, quite flamboyant. He tells you what he is feeling, even if it is a bit shocking."

  She felt her cheeks blush.

  Emmeline laughed.

  "What?" Jane retorted sharply. "What is so funny?"

  Emmeline grinned. "He sounds just like you, my friend."

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