Valor of Love (Scandalous Scions Book 2), page 12
“Not if no one knows who she is.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t have come here, then. There are too many who know you here,” Cary said.
“It was a risk I wanted to take to show Lady Lillian the village and the sea. It has been a long summer and she needed a change. Why are you here and not in Northumberland polishing your medals?”
“Do you ask out of curiosity?”
Both of them had their heads together, talking softly. Lilly could easily imagine them both in uniform, planning battles, in the same low voices. The clipped way they were talking was fascinating. She knew she was watching two professions assess risk.
Now she understood why Thomsett had let Cary know who she was.
Cary leaned forward again. “Summer maneuvers, out on the moors. We’ve been there weeks now and most of the men are itching to break out into mischief. You know how it is.”
Thomsett nodded. “Morale is slipping.”
“They would benefit from a little true action, were it to be had,” Cary said with an indifferent tone.
“Are you sure?” Thomsett said sharply.
“I am. My Major, though…well, he’s not you, sir.” Cary grinned. “Commissioned prat. He bought his way in. You earned yours, at least.”
Lilly considered that little tidbit and tucked it away. Clearly, Thomsett was a graduate of the officers’ school at Woolwich.
Thomsett smiled grimly. “Thank you, Cary,” he said, with relief coloring his voice. “That is good to know. Where is the camp?”
“It’s hard to describe. Everything looks the same out there. We’d get lost coming here but for the markers.” Then Cary laughed. “I forgot. I’m talking to a local. There’s an old church, crumbled down to the foundations, two and a half miles north-west of our camp. Do you know that?”
“I do,” Thomsett said. “And now I know where you are camped.” He glanced at Lilly. “We should head back, my lady.”
“So soon?” Cary protested. “Will you not stay for a drink, at least?”
“I don’t drink anymore,” Thomsett told him. “You have one for me.”
“You? You could drink any man under the table!”
“That was a long time ago,” Thomsett said softly.
“Five years is a long time?” Cary asked, looking baffled.
Lilly got to her feet. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Captain Shore.” She held out her hand, forcing him to get to his feet and take it. He bowed in the stiff shouldered way that only soldiers managed. “My lady,” he intoned.
Then he moved the chair out of the way and stood aside for her.
Lilly stepped past him and slid her hand up underneath Thomsett’s elbow and curved her fingers over his arm. “Let’s go home,” she said softly.
They were more than halfway back across the moors before she thought to remove her hand and even then, she let go reluctantly, for his arm was warm and strong.
The next day, Lilly was more than glad to return to strolling the moors. The lonely, sometimes bleak outlook felt safer than a small town of people with long memories.
She did not have to insist upon Thomsett walking beside her. He fell in next to her and for nearly two hours, they walked.
At the stiles, Thomsett would jump over them, then turn to help her over. She stood at the top of one of the broader ones that seemed like a small footbridge crossing a rocky stream, when he met her eyes. “You slept well, last night.”
Startled, she nodded. “Yes, but how did you…?”
“When you do not sleep well, you call out. You did not, last night. Here, watch the first step. It’s loose.”
She stepped down automatically, her thoughts whirling. “What do I say, when I call out?”
His gaze met hers again.
“Oh,” she said. Her throat grew warm. Then her face. “I’ve troubled your sleep, too, then.”
“My sleep is always troubled. Do not concern yourself about that.” He lifted her down to the ground.
It seemed to be the most natural thing in the world for him to do that and to steady her, after.
As she was wearing no corset, she could feel the heat of his hands against her, through the wool of her dress.
His eyes were so green. So warm.
Her heart leapt high and slammed against her chest. For a moment it felt as though the whole world paused. The wind sang in her mind and her heart.
Then the heat of him, standing close enough to press her hoops in against her legs, registered. Heat. Hot breath against her face. Heaviness, harsh breathing….
She was being shaken. Lilly blinked at the bright day. Thomsett was holding her shoulders.
“Look at me,” he urged her.
She met his eyes.
He let out his breath and stepped away from her, a deliberate long stride. He held up his hands.
“I think…I want to go back now.” Her voice shook.
This time, he let her climb the stile by herself.
They were nearly back at the house when Lilly dared speak again. “I wanted to ask you something. About yesterday.”
Thomsett didn’t speak. She took that as permission to ask. “Was it my imagination, or were you pleased by the news that your former comrades are somewhere on the moors?”
“It was not your imagination,” Thomsett said, his voice low.
“Why would that please you?”
He didn’t answer for many steps and for a while, she thought he did not intend to reply. Then he said, his voice tight; “I am no longer the man I once was. If there…if trouble should find you, I would not be able to help. You know why. It comforts me to know that the help you might need is only a few miles away.”
Lilly halted, staring at him, horror curling through her.
Thomsett turned back to face her.
“You are expecting trouble?” she breathed. “You think he…?” She couldn’t finish. She brought her hand to her basque, as illness stirred there.
“No. No.” He came to her, moving quickly. “Now, I’ve worried you. That was not my intention. I would have you sleep, while I lay awake worrying about such slim possibilities. That is what I was taught to do, Lilly. I anticipate every eventuality and plan for it. Please, don’t look at me like that.” His hand raised, as if he would take her arms once more yet he aborted the movement and curled his hands into fists and put them back by his sides.
“That is why you do not sleep.” She stared at him. “Oh, Thomsett… Just my being here is stirring your memories, isn’t it? My presence not helping you at all.”
His gaze met hers. “Mine is not helping you, either,” he said, his voice low.
The three feet that separated them was a declaration of that truth. He would not come closer, whether he wished to or not, for fear of stimulating her memories, as he had done at the stile.
He turned away. “I’ll go ahead and have Shelby put the kettle on,” he said, his voice low. He strode away, before Lilly could protest, rounding the big outcrop and moving fast.
* * * * *
Another carriage waited in front of the cottage, this one a smart cabriolet with a single mare, happily nuzzling inside a nose bag.
The driver was sitting upon the bench outside the front door, his head up and his eyes closed, enjoying the sun. The front door was open, as it often was.
Thomsett was nowhere to be seen.
Lilly rounded the carriage and slipped in the door without startling the horse and nearly ran into Thomsett. He stood just inside the door, tight with tension.
A young, good looking man in high boots and breeches rose from the rocking chair, a smile on his face. “Lady Lillian, at last,” he said. “Shelby said you would be along sooner or later and I must say the wait was worth it. My mother said you were the most beautiful woman on the moors and by God, she was right.”
Lilly flinched. “I don’t believe we’ve b
The man looked at Thomsett. “You…what did you say your name was?”
“Be a good chap. Do the honors, as there’s no one else to introduce us.”
Thomsett stood like a rock, unmoving. Except that Lilly could see a pulse beating in the base of his neck.
She moved around him. “You are?” she asked bluntly of the man.
He frowned, looking at Thomsett. Then he brought his gaze back to Lilly and smiled winningly. “The Honorable Darnell Newman at your service, Lady Lillian.” He bowed and straightened, his smile in place, his eyes dancing. “My father is Baron Dalehouse.”
Something cold touched Lilly’s middle. She swallowed. This was the reason why Lady Dalehouse had been inspecting her. Her son was unmarried and she was ambitious. She had seen Lilly as a captive opportunity.
“I am afraid, Mr. Newman, that you have been misinformed about my situation. I am not open to receiving anyone at the moment.”
“Oh, I’m not calling here for myself,” Darnell Newman said. His smile didn’t slip. “I am merely a messenger, sent to bring you an invitation in person.” He picked up his hat, a cane and his gloves, tucked the hat under his arm and put the gloves and cane in that hand, which left one hand free.
He was a broad-shouldered man. He was young and vital with the energy that thrummed in the young. His cheeks were not ruddy like most Yorkshire people, only touched with pink, which made the most of his clear gray eyes. His hair was thick, brown and wavy and his thighs strong. He would make some woman a wonderful husband. However, if he thought Lilly was a potential wife, he was much mistaken.
Lady Dalehouse must have rushed home that day to report to Darnell that a prize, an Earl’s daughter, was on their doorstep.
Why had Lilly not anticipated this? She had been too long out of society and had fallen out of the habit of thinking in such ways. It was all so tedious and ultimately meaningless, in her opinion. It was all posturing.
Darnell moved to stand in front of her, perhaps three inches too close, yet not close enough to call him on it. He lifted her hand and bent over it. “My mother bids you greetings and urges you to accept her invitation to our house party next week. It is the event of the district, you must understand. My mother is most anxious that you attend as our guest.” He bent lower, not quite kissing her hand. It was outrageous, yet not quite indecent enough to protest.
The flesh on the back of Lilly’s hand crawled. She couldn’t pull her hand away without insulting him and there was no cause to do that. Yet.
She drew in a breath, trying to calm her swooping heart. “I am afraid I must decline, Mr. Newman. I do not consider myself a member of society any longer.”
“Oh, but this is not one of those straight-laced London affairs,” he said quickly. “People come from miles around. It’s a marvelous time, really. You would enjoy yourself. I would make sure of it.”
She did pull her hand from his, then. “I said no.”
He straightened, perhaps for the first time understanding that Lilly was not reacting in the prescribed manner most maidens followed. His smile faded a little. “I understand you’ve been quite alone here for some time and have grown accustomed to the silence. A large affair like this…you may think it intimidating, only I assure you, it will not be, not with me by your side.”
His finger came up to her lips, not quite touching them. It silenced her as he had intended.
“I will not take no for an answer,” he said. “Not today. I will return tomorrow at this time and give you the night to consider your answer. Good day, Lady Lillian.”
Lilly watched him leave, flabbergasted. He stepped outside and put on his hat, then smacked his gloves against his thigh, as if he was pleased with himself. He almost leapt into the cabriolet, as the driver swung himself up into the driver’s seat and picked up the reins. The horse walked on, pulling the carriage out of sight.
Lilly whirled to face Thomsett. His face was like marble. “I’m sorry,” she told him.
His lips parted in surprise. “You are sorry? For what?”
“For everything. For bringing you here. For forcing you to go through such vileness.” She moved around him, for he stood where he had from the moment she had come into the house, where he had come to a halt when he had seen Newman, she guessed, lounging in her rocking chair.
His arm came out, halting her, like an iron band crossing her middle.
She drew in a sharp breath, then grew still, her heart thundering. She was afraid to look at him. She was afraid to move at all.
He grasped her waist and turned her to face him, moving slowly. So slowly. He brought his hand up under her chin and with a light touch, lifted it, making her look at him.
His gaze roamed over her face, as if he were reacquainting himself with it. Then he looked at her lips and her breath whooshed out of her.
It didn’t occur to her to speak, or move away, or protest that this was wrong. He was far beneath her station and what he was about to do was break the trust Raymond had put in him. None of that mattered, not even by an inch. Not now.
He bent and kissed her. It was the lightest of touches. In her debut season, she had received many stolen and wicked kisses and none of them had been this gentle, or so packed with feeling as this.
She trembled and wished she could cling to him. Why can I not cling? He has held me up for weeks now…. So Lilly put her arms around his neck and swayed against him.
He groaned and pulled her tightly to him. His lips pressed hard against her. His kiss was deep. Delightful. When his tongue touched her lips, she was startled. As it slid inside her mouth, she shivered with delight. No man had done this to her yet it felt wonderful, all the same.
His hand was in her hair, his fingers holding her head steady and Lilly sighed, surrendering to him.
Her sigh seemed to act as a signal. Thomsett let her go so quickly, she swayed. He stepped away from her. Horror showed in his eyes. Self-loathing.
“No, don’t think that!” Lilly begged him.
Surprise skittered across his face. Then it cleared. A mask seemed to drop over him, shielding everything from her.
The butler was back.
“It seems I must think for both of us,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Finally, I must think.”
He turned and walked out of the house.
Thomsett did not return that night. Nor the next day.
In the afternoon of that long day, when Darnell Newman was due to arrive for his answer, Lilly left a curtly worded refusal sealed and sitting on the table with his name on it and told Shelby she was retiring for the day and did not wish to be disturbed, not even if the sky was falling.
She lay in her bed and listened to Shelby and Newman talking. Newman’s tone grew strident. Then she heard the cabriolet leave once more and silence descend. She turned her face to the wall and closed her eyes.
Perhaps he’ll come back tomorrow, she told herself.
Thomsett stayed away from the house for five days.
Lilly had Shelby to tend to her needs, those few she could not take care of herself. At night there were the books.
Still, she fretted. Every crunch on the gravel outside made her jump and look out the window. She sat on the window seat for most of the day, staring out the window at nothing, her thoughts chaotic. She didn’t go for her walks, for that would take her away from the house.
I must think for both of us, he had said.
Yet Lilly found she was reflecting upon that moment herself. Over and over, puzzling it out, trying to understand what had happened and what the consequences could be.
She badly wanted to speak with him.
When Thomsett did return, Lilly was at the window again. She saw his tall figure in the heavy black overcoat, moving around the rocky projection of the bluff and at first, she thought she must be imagining him, a product of her tire
Lilly put her hand on the window and pressed her fingers into the cold glass, her heart leaping.
Thomsett opened the door and moved into the little room. He didn’t seem to be surprised to see her sitting on the window seat. He took off the coat and draped it over the back of the sofa, then sat on the other end of the seat, looking at her.
His eyes were red-rimmed and his chin dark with growth.
“Your eyes,” she breathed. “Have you…did the memories…?” She put her hand to her mouth.
“No, not the memories,” he said, his voice low. “Guilt. Self-flagellation. Call it what you want. A moral conscience is considered a fine trait in a man, only they fail to point out how it eats away at one’s soul.” He paused. “I came back to apologize.”
“Yes, I thought you might.”
He looked surprised. Then he nodded. “You agree with me. It was a terrible mistake—”
“No. I do not agree.”
He drew in a sharp breath. “Lilly…”
“If you think you must apologize, then you should call me Lady Lillian. You cannot have it both ways.”
He fell silent. His gaze was steady. Then, “Lady Lillian—”
Thomsett curled his hand into a fist. “You must listen to me.”
“I insist you listen to me first,” Lilly replied. “You stayed away because your conscience demanded it, only that is because you think you are just a butler and I am beyond your reach, that what we did is wicked and that society will make both of us pay for daring to break ranks.”
“If ever this got out they would crucify your family,” Thomsett said. “For everything your Great Family has done for me, I should reward them with ruin?”
“Did you think that when I kissed you, I thought I was kissing the butler?” she railed at him.
Thomsett swallowed. Then, in a low voice, “No,” he said heavily.
“Finally, a truth,” she breathed.
“Lilly, there can never be anything between us. You must understand that.”
He sat back. “I beg your pardon?”
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