Unexpected Earl, page 32part #1 of Hearts and Ever Afters Series
She smirked at the thought. “When I confronted him, he was speechless. He had no idea that I had seen him. He’s an utter fool if you ask me, because he was bound to be discovered. It’s no wonder that he earned the reputation he has.”
She tapped her foot angrily. “It’s no matter though. He won’t be coming around my family or anyone else I know ever again. They have all been warned.”
Still Lord Greenshire stood with his back to her, but she could still believe that he was listening to her. Why else would he stand there in the dark?
“I have learned my lesson,” she said, taking another step toward him. When he did not move, she walked around to stand in front of him.
His gaze was stony, and his jaw was set. He looked as if she has struck him across the face, and he still did not speak.
“I am so very fond of you, Lord Greenshire. That had never changed through this entire thing. If anything, this has just proved to me how much…” she blinked more tears out of her eyes that had appeared, “How much I care for you.”
“I do not know what to believe. It sounds as if I am your second choice.”
His voice was shaky and low. He sounded as if he might begin to cry as well.
“No. You were never my second choice. Trust me,” she said, standing so close to him that she could feel his breath on her cheeks. “Trust that I am telling you the truth. I never loved him. But I do…”
He took a step back from her, and she felt as if she had shattered, her heart a million pieces of shimmering glass.
“I will leave first thing in the morning,” he said, and Jane was immediately reminded of the manner in which he departed last time she saw him.
He left Jane standing alone.
Jane collapsed where she stood, in the middle of the cold, dark foyer, and her face fell into her hands. She sobbed into them, and eventually she felt arms around her shoulders. She did not care who it was, only that they were warm and they were guiding her away from the door.
What a fool she had been. How entirely selfish and ridiculous she had been. She realized that she must live in a fairy tale, in order to have the ability to choose between two men who adored her, both of whom would understand if she chose the other.
Instead, one ended up being a fraud, and the other the true hero in the story. She ended up being the villain.
Jane found the warm comforting arms to be her mother. The duchess helped Jane to her room and undressed her and helped her into her nightgown. Her mother wiped her face with a warm cloth and took the ribbons and barrettes out of Jane’s hair, allowing her gold tresses to fall around her shoulders.
The duchess didn’t ask any questions, much to Jane’s relief. Her heart was broken and she did not wish to speak about the scene her mother had witnessed. When the duchess left, she kissed her daughter on the forehead and said farewell. Jane retreated to the comfort of her bed and felt her body relax somewhat beneath her warm blankets, with a roaring fire in the fireplace in the corner of her room.
“I should have chosen him in the first place,” she whispered to the dark ceiling. “I should never have allowed myself to be wooed by a man like Lord Hays, someone who had such a reputation. I should have listened to my own beliefs and what I knew to be right.”
She could no longer cry any tears. There was a hollow emptiness that she feared she could never fill, and she deserved every second of that feeling.
Chapter 8 - Forgiveness
The next day was unbearable. Jane had hardly slept, and she had no appetite. She stayed in her room and hoped to be left alone, but that was wishful thinking.
Her mother had been the first to visit her. The duchess tried to get Jane to tell her what had happened, but she refused. Jane simply sat on the edge of her bed, staring out of the window, her hands firmly grasping her blankets.
Her father came in next, sometime after breakfast. He, too, attempted to ask her questions, even pleaded with her. She fought the urge to burst into tears again, because she knew that her father was not only upset for her, but was disappointed. She had ruined a perfectly good match for herself, and nobody knew what Lord Greenshire would say to his family and friends.
"Did he say anything before he left? Anything at all?" the duke asked, looking at her.
"He just told me he was leaving first thing in the morning."
"Nothing more?" he asked.
She shook her head and resumed her gazing out of the window.
"I am sorry, my daughter. I truly am."
"Do not be," she said. "It is my fault, after all."
She wished she had not said so much, for it brought on another onslaught of questions, and eventually, she simply asked him to leave and give her some space.
Her sisters tried to visit as well, but she would not allow them into her room. She was far too angry with them to see them, for she felt as if part of this entire affair was their fault. If they had allowed her to maintain her relationship in the way that she had seen fit, then perhaps Lord Greenshire would not have become so frustrated by the entire affair. Perhaps his perception would not have been so colored.
Jane kept asking herself if she ever would have mentioned Lord Hays to Lord Greenshire if her sisters had not teased her about him. Would she have ever been open about it? Would things have ended the way they had with Lord Hays?
Perhaps something even worse would have happened. Perhaps Lord Greenshire would have seen her with Lord Hays at some point. Maybe it was better that the conversation with him had happened at her home, with only her sisters as witness.
She tormented herself asking many questions, hoping that somehow she could make sense of everything that happened.
After a whole day locked away in her room, Jane had to admit, even to herself, that she was hungry and exhausted, and she could not hide from her life forever. She found the strength to bathe, eat, and pull herself together enough to sit in company with her family. No one brought Lord Greenshire up in conversation, and she was grateful for it.
Her sisters spent a good portion of their time discussing the coming New Year’s Eve ball that the duchess was planning. Hundreds of people were to be in attendance.
Jane hoped that she would not see Lord Greenshire. She did not think that she could bear it. She was not sure she could face anybody.
Lord Greenshire had not return or send a letter. Margaret informed Jane that his actions meant he had no intention of courting her any longer, and she should just move on.
"But that should not be very hard for you, should it?" she had commented in a sneering tone. "Making men fall in love with you is perhaps your greatest talent."
Jane nearly threw her fork across the table at her smirking face.
She had to admit, her sister was right; at least, she was somewhat right. If it was true that Lord Greenshire had turned his attention from her, then she would need to begin the process once more of finding another suitable husband.
She forced herself to be the ever dignified woman that society knew her to be, and pushed her feelings for Lord Greenshire into the very back recesses of her mind, in a very small, protected corner. It was easy to pretend as if nothing happened, and before the week was out, she felt almost as if she were back to normal. At least, she hoped it would appear that way.
A few days later, her brother John and his wife Agnes arrived with her nephew. Their arrival brought great joy to Jane, giving her a wonderful and happy distraction. She did not feel as if she had to force herself to be in the company of others once they had arrived.
John and Agnes shared with the family that soon, their little boy was to have another sibling. With the news of Robert and Alice expecting, the duchess burst into tears from all the excitement. She was to be a grandmother again, and to two more precious children.
Jane found herself alone with Agnes in the sitting room one afternoon, enjoying a hot pot of tea together, with the little one cooing in a soft voice. Jane sat on the floor beside him, holding him up on his feet with her arms arou
"I had a long conversation with Alice when I went to stay with them," she told Agnes.
Agnes took a sip of her tea, and then looked down at Jane curiously.
"You did? About what?"
Jane rolled her eyes. "Oh, come now, sister. Of course you know."
When Agnes was still perplexed, Jane sighed heavily.
"About that afternoon I almost ruined everything for Robert and Alice. When I barged in on you both and interrupted you and caused all of that trouble?"
Agnes smiled sweetly at Jane. "Oh, Jane, that doesn't matter anymore. I had already forgiven you and moved on." She gently touched Jane's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "I know how fiercely protective you are of your siblings. I knew that you and Alice would eventually become good friends."
Jane smiled, but it did not last long. She looked up at Agnes.
"I do not know. I seem to make a mess out of every situation—especially the relationships in my life. I am quite good at ruining those."
Agnes's brow furrowed, and she looked more closely at Jane. "Whatever do you mean?"
Jane shook her head. "You know, Agnes, I was thinking..."
Agnes hesitated, still lingering on Jane's last thought, but Jane wished to move past it.
"All right, what is it?"
"When you have your next child, I would be most pleased to come and help you take care of them both."
Agnes simply stared at her.
"Having one child is difficult enough, I'm sure, but having two may be near impossible for you and my brother to handle without going absolutely mad. I know that you will have help to care for the children, but I would be very pleased to spend more time with my nephew and his new brother or sister."
Agnes studied Jane's face, and she took a deep breath.
Jane did not like the look on her face.
"My dear," Agnes began. "What a kind offer you have made. It is most generous of you. Certainly we could use all of the help we can get when our next child is born, and of course, you will always be welcome to visit us."
She sat down on the floor beside Jane and looked at her very intently.
"But this is not about the children at all, is it? This is about something else."
Jane swallowed and looked back at Jane. She looked quickly away.
"I do not know what you are implying," Jane said rather simply.
Agnes smiled gently. "I think you do."
Jane remained silent.
Agnes sighed. "Beatrice told me what happened between you and Lord Greenshire."
Jane groaned in reply, but Agnes held up a hand to her, stopping her from any further protest.
"She was very kind to you, do not worry. I know how she and Margaret can be, but I think they are sincerely worried about you. Beatrice did nothing but simply retell the events. No personal opinions or attitudes were present."
Jane huffed, and she passed the babe back to Agnes. She stood and relocated herself to her favorite chair by the fire.
Agnes followed and sat down in the chair beside her, allowing the little one to play on the floor.
"Listen, I do not know what she told you..."
"She told me that Lord Greenshire had come to visit. That Lord Hays had come up in conversation, and while the two of you spoke alone, something came up that upset him greatly. So much so that he actually left the estate and returned home."
Hearing it so starkly from someone who had not been there made Jane relive the awful moment when Lord Greenshire walked away from her a second time. Jane studied the hem of her dress, picking at a loose stitch.
“I take your silence as confirmation,” Agnes said, though not unkindly. “Jane, running from your problems will fix nothing. They will not disappear if you simply ignore them.”
Jane glared at Agnes, even though she knew that she was right.
“And that is what I believe you are trying to do by offering to come and help John and I.”
Jane felt her cheeks flush. “It is not as if that is the only reason that I wish to come and stay with you.”
Agnes smiled and nodded her head. “I know that, Jane. I know that you love your nephew, and you love your brother and me, but you are needed here. This is where you can begin a new start on your own life.”
Jane frowned. “You are right, I suppose.”
Agnes said heartily. “I think you would make a fine governess.”
Jane smiled in reply. “I think you are far too kind.”
The door to the sitting room slammed open, and Beatrice and Margaret were standing in the frame, fighting to get inside the room first.
Both Jane and Agnes got to their feet.
“What has happened?”
“Is someone hurt?”
Margaret managed to squeeze in first, and she dashed over to where Jane stood.
Beatrice said exasperatedly from the doorframe. “No, no one is hurt.”
Margaret looked as if someone had just brought Christmas early. “Lord Greenshire! He is here!”
Jane and Agnes looked at each other.
“You must be joking,” Jane said, though part of her wondered why Margaret could be so cruel. “There is no way he would have returned.”
“Unless he believed you,” Beatrice said coolly. She shrugged her shoulders. “You are not a liar, sister. He must have seen that for himself.”
Jane started breathing fast and heavy. She clutched at her chest. “Oh, no. What do I say? What do I do?”
Margaret steadied her.
“Just speak to him,” Agnes advised. “You owe him that.”
As if speaking his name had summoned him, Lord Greenshire appeared in the doorway beside Beatrice.
Beatrice looked up at him, for she barely stood at his shoulder, and shuffled to the side to allow him to see into the space.
His eyes quickly found Jane, who had suddenly felt as if she had been dunked into the frigid lake outdoors. Where her heart had been hammering against her ribs moments before, she wondered if her heart had completely stopped.
“We will give you both some privacy,” Agnes said, as she scooped up her son and ushered Margaret out the door. Jane saw Beatrice’s shadow scurrying off after the others.
For a few moments, they simply stared at one another. Jane did not feel as if she could move her limbs at all, or she might fall over from fright.
The silence was driving her mad, though, so she decided that she should speak first. This was all her fault, after all.
“I…” her voice cracked, and she swallowed away the lump that had risen at the back of her throat. “I thought you were never coming back.”
“I thought the same,” he said, his voice also unsteady. “But I could not allow my own selfish feelings to ruin what could possibly be the very best thing to have ever happened to me.”
At first, she was not sure that she had heard him correctly. She expected him to say that he didn’t wish to come back. She even partially expected some sort of scolding or discussion about how much she had hurt him.
But he…thought that he was selfish?
She gaped at him.
He stepped into the room. “I must apologize for my actions. Storming out on you, twice no less, is the most ungentlemanly thing I could have done to you. Especially this last time. You did not deserve such disrespect. I might have been hurt or angry, but that did not give me the right to walk out on you in order to soothe my own feelings. And for that, I am deeply sorry.”
She could not believe what she was hearing. The way she had treated him, and he was apologizing to her? It simply furthered her belief that she did not deserve him.
“As for my behavior throughout the rest of this incident, I must apologize as well. My reaction was unbecoming. I was a fool to believe I was the only man pursuing you, and surely I was not the first. I had not made my feelings clearly known, and I should not have expected you to have known how I felt.”
“I did know,” Jane replied weakly. “I did know, and I s
Lord Greenshire shook his head and took a step toward her. “You are not in control of other people’s feelings,” he said plainly.
She shook her head. “No, you cannot take all of the blame for this. I have been insensitive and foolish. How could I have treated you the way I did? How could I not have been…”
“I should have listened to you,” he said. He was standing directly in front of her now. “You were open and honest with me –”
“I don’t know if I would have been if my sisters had not dragged it out of me by teasing me in front of you!”
He smiled at her. “Lady Jane, you did nothing wrong. He approached you, and you spoke to him a few times. Unless…”
She saw fear flicker in his eyes.
“No,” she said immediately. “No, that was it. He did not attempt anything more.”
Thank the Lord.
He said with relief. “See? Then you did nothing wrong. I cannot fault you for falling for the charms of such a man when I had not made my intentions known. I have heard of his reputation, and that is why I was so worried.”
Jane said, “I feel terrible for hurting you.”
“No, I should not have been so sensitive.”
They both laughed softly.
She felt as if she could have flown up into the ceiling and never have come down. It was more than she could have ever hoped for, more than she could have ever wanted as a response from him. She did not know whether she should continue to laugh or to burst into tears.
“I am so pleased that you understand.”
“When you told me about your encounters with Lord Hays, I should have listened to what you wished to tell me. Not every woman would be so forthcoming with the truth. I had time to think about what you said. Lord Hays never deserved my jealousy, and you did not deserve any more pain. I hope that you can forgive me for turning my back to you, as you did not deserve my reaction. I imagine that I caused you a great deal of distress when I left the night I did.”
Jane felt her lip tremble, so she resorted to nodding in reply.
She felt tears well in her eyes. “I had hoped that you could forgive me.”
JOYCE ALEC SERIES:
Other author's books:
- A Lady's Mystery: Regency Romance (Ladies, Love, and Mysteries)Alice's Arranged Marriage (Home for Christmas Book 1)An Earl's Redemption: Regency Romance (Brides of London)A Viscount to Remember: Regency Romance (Brides of London)Diamonds of the Marquess: Regency Romance (Season of Brides)The Viscount's Promise: Regency Romance (Weddings and Scandals)The Aristocrat's Charade: Regency Romance (Brides of London)Promise of the Earl: Regency Romance (Season of Brides)
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