Carrying The Gentleman's Secret - Хелен Диксон - Читать онлайн любовный роман

В женской библиотеке Мир Женщины кроме возможности читать онлайн также можно скачать любовный роман - Carrying The Gentleman's Secret - Хелен Диксон бесплатно.

Правообладателям | Топ-100 любовных романов

Carrying The Gentleman's Secret - Хелен Диксон - Читать любовный роман онлайн в женской библиотеке LadyLib.Net
Carrying The Gentleman's Secret - Хелен Диксон - Скачать любовный роман в женской библиотеке LadyLib.Net

Диксон Хелен

Carrying The Gentleman's Secret

Читать онлайн

Аннотация к роману
«Carrying The Gentleman's Secret» - Хелен Диксон

Unmarried and pregnant!Alex Golding had a duty to stop his brother-in-law’s bigamous marriage. But when he’d seen the bride, he’d offered whatever comfort he could to sweet young seamstress, Lydia Brooks…Lydia has spent weeks trying to forget her brief encounter with Mr Golding – she knows the rich widower can never love her. But when it’s Alex who offers her the investment to open her own shop, she can’t say no. This time their passion is as unexpected as its dramatic consequences…she’s expecting his baby…!
Следующая страница

1 Страница

Unmarried and pregnant!

Alex Golding had a duty to stop his brother-in-law’s bigamous marriage. But when he saw the bride, he offered whatever comfort he could to sweet young seamstress Lydia Brook...

Lydia has spent weeks trying to forget her brief encounter with Mr. Golding—she knows the rich widower can never love her. But when it’s Alex who offers her the investment to open her own shop, she can’t say no. This time their passion is as unexpected as its dramatic consequences...she’s expecting his baby!

Quite inexplicably Lydia’s heart gave a leap of desire, and when her gaze settled on his mouth she was lulled into a curious sense of well-being by his closeness as a rush of warmth completely pervaded her and her lovely eyes became blurred.

‘Just a kiss then,’ she whispered.

‘Just a kiss, Miss Brook,’ Alex murmured in a husky whisper.

Very slowly he lifted his hands and placed them on either side of her face. His eyes darkened as he leaned forward, and at his touch Lydia trembled slightly—with fear or with excitement? She didn’t know which, but she did not draw away as he lowered his head the final few inches and placed his mouth on her soft, quivering lips, cherishing them with his own, slowly and so very tenderly.

His gentleness kindled a response and a warm glow spread over her—but also fear began to possess her…a fear not of him but of herself, and of the dark hidden feelings he aroused within her.

Author Note

I have really enjoyed writing this story. It is about Lydia, a working woman in early Victorian London, who takes control of her own life before the emancipation of women—although calls for change were gathering pace in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

Lydia is an experienced seamstress and designer of ladies’ clothes. Intent on opening her own establishment, she is disheartened but not defeated when the bank refuses her a loan on the grounds of her being a woman. Along comes Alex Golding, a wealthy and influential businessman who deals with business ventures and legalities on a daily basis. He admires her intelligence and knows he is looking at a fighter. When she tells him she is looking for a loan to open her shop he offers her the money, confident that she will succeed…

Carrying the Gentleman’s Secret

Helen Dickson

HELEN DICKSON was born and still lives in South Yorkshire, with her retired farm manager husband. Having moved out of the busy farmhouse where she raised their two sons, she now has more time to indulge in her favourite pastimes. She enjoys being outdoors, travelling, reading and music. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure. It was a love of history that drove her to writing historical fiction.

Books by Helen Dickson

Mills & Boon Historical Romance

Destitute on His Doorstep

Miss Cameron’s Fall from Grace

When Marrying a Duke…

The Devil Claims a Wife

The Master of Stonegrave Hall

Mishap Marriage

A Traitor’s Touch

Caught in Scandal’s Storm

Lucy Lane and the Lieutenant

Lord Lansbury’s Christmas Wedding

Royalist on the Run

The Foundling Bride

Carrying the Gentleman’s Secret

M&B Castonbury Park Regency miniseries

The Housemaid’s Scandalous Secret

Mills & Boon Historical Undone! eBook

One Reckless Night

Visit the Author Profile page at for more titles.


Back Cover Text


Author Note

Title Page

About the Author

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

html#litres_trial_promo"> Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten



Chapter One


Beset with nerves, self-doubt and just a little terror at the speed with which events had taken her over, Lydia stood beside Henry Sturgis, the man who in a few minutes from now would become her husband. The realisation of the fact struck her anew and, as it did, she asked herself again if she was doing the right thing.

When Henry had told her he wanted to marry her, at first she had not been sure of herself, not really. The little time they had spent together had been exciting, but she had resolved to make no resolutions. With the death of her mother one year ago and after a lifetime of fending for themselves, to unite in such intimacy with another human being was a hard step for her to take.

Why? she asked herself. Why was it so difficult? Why was she so sensitive to committing herself to the challenging emotions of love, honesty and trust? Other people didn’t have a problem with it. Why should she?

Fear! Fear of what? Of moving forward, she supposed, of letting another person into her life and pledging herself to them. Pledging yourself meant holding another’s heart in your hand, of offering a secure place where anything was possible and everything between the two involved was understood. Pledging yourself meant facing what life had to offer together in the name of love. The problem was, she didn’t know if she wanted to. It was a risk, like leaping into a void, with no idea what she would find there.

Would it work? That was the question. Unable to make up her mind whether or not to marry Henry, she had decided she would carry on with her work as normal and see how things turned out. But Henry was in a hurry and after further persuasion from him and the resurrection of an unwelcome ghost from her past—a ghost in the shape of her father, who had cruelly abandoned her as a child and now wanted to reinsert himself into her life, which she wanted to avoid at all cost—she had relented, trying to convince herself that Henry was the living promise of all she desired and her escape from fear. But she wouldn’t think of that now. Not here. Not now, not ever.

The minute she had said she would marry him, Henry had set the wheels in motion with what she silently considered indecent haste. She’d had no say in the necessary arrangements. Two days hence they were to travel to Liverpool to take passage for America. Henry lived in America and his father was very ill. Should anything happen to him, he didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the Atlantic. It was for this reason they had come to this Scottish village called Gretna Green, the first changing post over the border, which was also a fashionable and romantic place for couples to marry immediately and without parental consent.

Now they faced the self-appointed priest who, for a substantial fee, had agreed to oversee the ceremony. The house where they had chosen to be married might not be as sanctified as a church, which Lydia would have preferred, but in the hushed quiet of the room and with the requisite two witnesses hovering behind them, it had all the solemnity she could wish for.

Lydia wore a costume of vibrant raspberry, simply styled and unadorned, with a well-fitted bodice. Her bonnet with its wide semi-circular brim, decorated with a small bunch of pink and white rosebuds, matched the dress. A profusion of black curls escaped the confines of the bonnet and caressed her face.

The priest leaned forward. ‘Are you ready to begin?’

Lydia nodded dumbly.

‘Yes,’ Henry was quick to reply, unable to hide his impatience to get the proceedings over with as quickly as possible. ‘Get on with it.’

Lydia looked at the priest when he asked them if they were of marriageable age. Yes, they replied. There was a disturbance at the back of the room as the door was flung open and someone entered.

‘Halt the proceedings.’

Lydia thought she must be mistaken. She thought she had heard someone say the ceremony must be halted. Startled, she turned at the same moment as Henry. It was simply unreal—the people, the priest, the sunshine streaming through the window. Two men had entered the room. The taller one who had spoken strode towards them. She looked him over openly.

His tall, broad-shouldered physique radiated stamina and command, seeming to dwarf the other inhabitants of the room.

‘Can this not wait?’ the priest said crossly. ‘You are interrupting the ceremony.’

‘With justification.’

A sudden silence fell over the room. Lydia felt the cold at the back of her neck. It insinuated itself and slithered like tentacles down her spine. She stared at the man who had made the announcement.

‘What justification can there possibly be that allows you to burst in here and interrupt a wedding ceremony?’ Lydia retorted sharply with a fine cultured accent like cut glass, her gaze passing over the intruder with cold disdain.

The man’s gaze flicked from Henry to her, regarding her with an arrogance that was clearly part of his masculine nature. His eyes narrowed dangerously and his lips curled fractionally, but what passed for a smile was merely a polite obligation and a cool, dismissive one at that.

‘I apologise for any inconvenience caused, but I have justification enough—as you will, I am sure, soon agree. This man is not who he says he is. Had I not come in time he would have committed a criminal act.’

Astonished, Lydia stared at him. ‘Are you a policeman?’

‘No, I am not.’

From the tone of his voice and the set of his head and shoulders, Lydia knew that he was going to tell her the truth of the matter that was the reason for his intervention and her instinct told her that it was going to be worse than her worst imaginings. She stood rigid beside Henry, scarcely daring to breathe, waiting for him to continue.

‘It is my duty to inform you that this man you were about to marry already has a wife.’

Uncomprehending, Lydia felt her eyes widen and she stood immobile as a marble statuette as time drifted by in this sunlit room. In the time it had taken him to utter the words, all the devastation and bitterness of her expression could not be concealed.

There was a ringing silence. Nobody in the room said a word. Henry’s face had faded to the colour of dough. He was the first to recover. His mouth formed a grim line and his expression was guarded and wary—not unlike a small boy’s who has committed a wrongdoing and suddenly realises he has been caught out.

‘What is this?’ he demanded, his gaze fixed on the intruder. ‘And what the hell are you doing here?’

‘Surely I don’t have to spell it out?’ the tall stranger said, his voice dangerously quiet. ‘Of all the stupid, irrational—Have you lost your mind?’

In the face of such intimidation, Henry was visibly shaken, but it only lasted a moment. ‘Damn you,’ he uttered, his mouth forming the words which were barely audible.

Lydia tore her eyes from the stranger and looked at the man she had been about to wed, telling herself that whatever was happening had to be a mistake, that it was some kind of nightmare. It could be nothing else, but the stranger wore an expression of such steely control that she knew he was telling the truth even though she couldn’t comprehend it just then.

‘Do you know this man, Henry? And how does he know you? Answer me.’

Henry was emanating enough antipathy to suggest he not only knew this man, but that he was likely to commit violence. Anger had replaced his initial shock. Ignoring the woman he had been about to marry, he took a step towards the man, his back rigid and his fist clenched by his sides.

‘You followed me. Damn you, Golding!’ he snarled. ‘Damn you and your interference to hell.’

‘And you’d like that, wouldn’t you? I didn’t think it was asking too much when I insisted you remain faithful to Miranda—after all I have done for you. If it were not for me, your noble pile would have fallen into ruin and you would be living on the family farm, eking out a meagre living off the land. Instead of that you are living the life of the lord you were born to be and still chasing women.’

‘How did you know where to find me?’

The man didn’t so much as flinch. ‘It wasn’t difficult. You left my sister. She became bored and followed you to London. When she failed to locate you she came to me. I decided to pay a visit to your club where your friends were most accommodating with the truth. What lame excuse did you intend giving your wife for your absence?’ He spoke with an edge of aggression in his voice, which suggested that he was a man used to being answered at once.

‘I would have thought of something.’

‘I don’t doubt it. You’ve become rather good at lying to her. Damn you, Henry, you were about to become a bigamist.’

‘Until you stepped in. You could not have orchestrated your arrival with greater skill or better timing.’

‘I will not ask for an explanation—the situation speaks for itself. But how the hell do you think it would stand up in a court of law? Now I am here and though I am tempted to kill you, the love I bear my sister forbids it. Any wife faced with one sexual scandal after another would have her faith eroded in the man she married. She has just grounds to divorce you for this, but I doubt she will. She has a will of iron and your unacceptable, disgraceful behaviour since your marriage has only hardened her further. She is Lady Seymour of Maple Manor, a member of the peerage and no matter what you do to her she means to keep her place in society. Damn it, man, you have hurt her deeply. I hope you’re proud of yourself.’

He switched his attention to Lydia, bearing down on her like a tidal wave, his thick, dark brown hair, with just a hint of silver at the temples, gleaming in the light of the sun slanting through the windows. Tall, lean of waist with strong muscled shoulders, attired in a dark frock coat and cravat and light trousers, his gaze with a touch of insolence passed over her. His mouth tightened and his eyes, cold and unfriendly, flashed dangerously as he glared at her.

He studied her as Lydia studied him. She felt herself chafing under it.

‘What in God’s name did you think you were doing,’ he exclaimed irately, ‘careering round London with a notorious rake before embarking on this mad escapade?’

Lydia felt a swelling of righteous anger, a powerful surge of emotion to which she had no alternative but to give full rein. After all, she was as much a victim of Henry’s cunning as his sister. Her eyes flashed as a blaze of fury possessed her and added a steely edge to her voice. ‘None of this is my fault,’ she flared, suddenly furious at having some of the blame shoved on to her. ‘I had no idea Henry had a wife—or that he was a notorious rake since I do not inhabit his world.Polite society is outside my normal sphere, sir. Nor did I know his real surname is Seymour. I only know him as Henry Sturgis.’

The man stood with his hands on his hips, his light blue eyes like ice set in a deeply tanned lean face with a strong determined jaw and his voice like steel. ‘I wasn’t accusing you, Miss...?’

‘Brook. Lydia Brook,’ she provided, getting her voice under control and her features into a semblance of their normal expression. ‘And you, sir?’

‘Alexander Golding.’

Lydia faced him, resolute and defiant, her small chin thrust forward. She favoured him with a gaze of biting contempt before dismissing him and looking again at Henry. The words the stranger had spoken lapped round her like a wave threatening to engulf her at any minute. Her head felt suddenly weightless and she had to stiffen her spine to remain upright.

She studied Henry’s face and read what he couldn’t hide. In the space of a moment his expression had changed from the amiable, loving man who had been impatient to make her his wife, to that of a self-seeking, cunning being who was clearly thinking quickly what he could do to turn this situation he had not anticipated to his advantage. With the arrival of his brother-in-law, no longer at ease and in control, beads of perspiration began to dot his brow. She could almost hear the workings of his mind.

She squeezed her eyes shut and forced the tightness in her throat to go away. The sun that had shone so brightly had gone out of the day. How gullible she had been to let herself believe after Henry’s passionate kisses and soft persuasive words that he really did want her, for she now realised that his words had been hollow, his passion no different from the passion he might feel towards any woman he was attracted to. The fact that she hadn’t succumbed to his attempts of seduction—indeed, she had adamantly refused to do so without a wedding ring on her finger—had only served to make him want her more and try harder. When she thought she could speak in a normal voice, she opened her eyes and looked at him, trying to stand on her dignity before these strangers.

‘Tell me why you have done this.’ He cast a look at her. She wanted to see it as a look that asked her to understand, but she saw instead the calculation behind it.

‘If only you knew,’ he said, his voice so low that she hardly caught the words. ‘I did want you—’

‘But not as your wife,’ Lydia bit back scornfully, noting that he didn’t look her in the eye.

‘No. I care for you—’

‘You do not ruin someone you care for.’

‘From the first time I saw you, I wanted you. I couldn’t help myself. I have waited so long for this. I thought my chance to possess you would never come. My desire for you subverted whatever sense of right and wrong—of breeding—I have. It’s not something I am proud of.’

‘No. You should be ashamed. We were to have been married. You deceived me and brought me here to make me your wife. You were to take me to your home in America—your father was ill, you said, which was the reason you didn’t want to wait the requisite three weeks for the banns to be read out in church. None of it was true. What a gullible idiot, what a stupid blind fool I have been. How you must have laughed. What you have done is underhand—despicable. Oh, how dare you? You have treated me abominably.’

‘Lydia—if only you knew—’

‘Knew? Knew what?’ she flared, anger flowing through her veins like liquid fire. ‘That you already had a wife? What did you plan to do with me? Abandon me in Scotland following one night of connubial bliss and return to London flush with your success?’ Seeing this was exactly what he had intended, she gave him a look of profound contempt. ‘You disgust me, Henry. How dare you make me an object of pity and ridicule?’

‘What will you do?’

‘What I have always done—get on with my life. Let’s be honest, Henry. You didn’t love me any more than I love you.’

‘You mean to say you didn’t develop a tendre for me?’ he quipped sarcastically.

‘Your intention was to seduce me and when that failed it only served to make you more determined. Instead of doing the decent thing and walking away you went one step further, playing on my ignorance and vulnerability, and offered me marriage—even though you had no right to do so. You are a liar and a cheat. The worst of it is that I fell for your lies. I didn’t know what you were trying to do to me. Your aim was to diminish me, but I will not be diminished—not by you. Not in any way.’

Knowing he had played with her as a cat plays with a mouse was almost more than Lydia could bear. She looked at him, at his curly fair hair and his lean athletic body. His face was sensuous with heavy-lidded eyes and a full-lipped mouth, which, no doubt, women found appealing. He looked just the same, this man who had shown her kindness and consideration and been attentive to her needs. But now, looking behind his handsome facade, she saw that man did not exist any more, if indeed he ever had. Now she saw a man emotionally devoid of those things. She saw boredom and greed, self-interest and contempt for her as his inferior. He looked at her as he would at some low creature—arrogantly and insolently.

She hated him then. She felt a mixture of rage and humiliation that was so profound she almost believed she would die of it.

‘How could you be?’ Henry retorted, her words having roused his anger. On the attack and uncaring how wounding his words could be, he went on to regale her and those present with her many shortcomings, much to his brother-in-law’s irritation.

‘You, my dear Lydia, would make an amusing bed warmer were you not as cold as the proverbial Ice Maiden and set with wilful thorns. Some might think your virtue admirable—personally, I consider it a damn waste of both time and a beautiful woman. It’s unfortunate since beneath the ice you have spirit and should have proved highly entertaining in a chase—which I was about to experience for myself until my brother-in-law blundered in. Any man who shows an interest in you, you hold at arm’s length until there is the promise of a ring on your finger.’

‘Including you, Henry,’ his brother-in-law said sharply in an attempt to silence him on seeing the young woman’s shocked expression and how she had paled beneath the force of his attack.

Henry lifted his arrogant brows, drawling, ‘Including me. I wanted her—rather badly, as it happens—and was prepared to go to any lengths to possess her.’

‘Even to commit bigamy. You have failed, Henry, which is why you are so ready to point out Miss Brook’s faults to anyone who will listen.’

‘Indeed, I confess to having been afflicted by a strong desire to possess her, but perish the thought that I would actually marry a woman of such low character and without a penny to her name.’

‘Your failure to seduce her will do nothing for your self-esteem when you are back in town and you have to face your acquaintances and admit your failure to win the wager and have to part with the five hundred guineas.’

Lydia stood like a pillar of stone, her mind numb. Her senses and emotions would return when she realised the nightmare she was experiencing now was no nightmare at all, but an extension of reality that would affect the whole of her life. But at the moment she was too traumatised to feel or see beyond it. Henry’s insulting words and the stranger’s revelation hung in the air like a rotten smell. No one had insulted her as much as this and it was more than her pride could bear. She saw it all now.

Dazed and unable to form any coherent thought, she backed away as the implication of what she’d heard rammed home. Her heart began to beat hard with humiliation and wrath. She was appalled and outraged—there was no possible way to deny the awful truth.

Henry had made a wager with his friends to seduce her and, should he win, he would be richer by the sum of five hundred guineas. It was more than her lacerated pride could withstand. Her face glazed with fury. Oh, the humiliation of it. Any tender feelings that might have remained for him were demolished. The discovery of his treachery had destroyed all her illusions.

‘How dare you?’ she said, her voice low and shaking with anger. ‘How dare you do that to me? I do not deserve being made sport of.’

‘Miss Brook,’ the stranger said. ‘Please believe me when I say I regret mentioning—’

Her eyes flew to his. ‘What? The wager? Is that what you were about to say? Why should you regret it? Why—when you were telling the truth? I have a right to know the extent Henry went to in order to get me into his bed.’ She looked at Henry. ‘What you have done is despicable. From the very beginning you set out to degrade me in the most shameful way of all. I am not too proud to admit that in the beginning I was foolish enough to fall for your charms. You’re no doubt accustomed to that sort of feminine reaction wherever you go,’ she said scathingly, ‘even though you have a wife. It would give me great satisfaction to know that handing over five hundred guineas for your failed wager would ruin you, but I doubt it will.’

Faced with such ferocity, Henry took a step towards her. ‘For heaven’s sake, Lydia, it was just a wager—a moment of madness. I never intended to hurt you,’ he said in an attempt to justify his actions, but Lydia was having none of it.

‘A moment of madness!’ she flared, her eyes blazing with turbulent animosity. ‘Is that what you call it? There is no excuse for what you have done. What is true of most scoundrels is doubly so of you. You would have ruined me, defiled me without any regard to my feelings and then cast me off as you would a common trull, you—you loathsome, despicable lech.’

‘Lydia, listen—’

‘I am not interested in anything further you have to say. But you listen to me, Henry Sturgis—Seymour—whoever you are,’ she said, her chilled contempt meeting his spluttering apologies head on. ‘I will never forgive you for this. From now on you will keep your distance from me.’ She turned from him and walked away. She couldn’t bear to look at him. The man and woman who had been brought in to witness their wedding stood side by side, rigid, their faces blank and expressionless as she brushed past them.

What he had done to her and what it would mean for her in the future spooled before her like a long ribbon of anger and grief. She wanted to lash out at him, to claw his face and pound him with her fists. Hate, disgust, disappointment and a deep sense of humiliation and hurt throbbed inside her skull and tightened her chest until she thought she would choke.

He had brought her all this way for a pretend wedding on the strength of a wager with his friends. She felt as if he’d taken a knife to her and sliced her into little pieces. Gripped by a terrible miasma of pain and deprivation—feelings she recognised, having grown up with them—she turned and ran unseeing out of the room which she had so recently walked into with a happiness she could not conceive. Now she saw nothing, heard nothing but the heavy pounding of her heart as she left the house and out into the street, hurrying to goodness knew where—anywhere, as long as she didn’t have to go back into that room and face them all, to confront the truth of what Henry was and what he had done to her.

Rage, white-hot and fierce, coursed through her, bringing a suffering so excruciating as to be unsupportable. She felt cruelly betrayed, lost and abandoned, the immensity of it causing her intense pain.

She knew she’d feel better if she could only get away. If she could escape from him. She didn’t want to stop because then she wouldn’t have to think about anything else. But eventually she would have to stop and when she did she would have to feel, which she didn’t want to face. She didn’t want to see Henry. She didn’t want to look in his eyes. She hadn’t loved him. She didn’t know what it meant to love anyone, but it did nothing to lessen her humiliation and the pain of such a public betrayal.

She kept on heading out of the village. What she was planning to do when she stopped running she couldn’t say. The most important thing was to get away. She heard her name being called. She kept on going. Her heart was racing in her chest and she felt a sharp pain in her side.

‘Wait,’ someone called.

She heard herself gasp and saw the road ahead of her blur. She kept hurrying on. She heard footsteps behind her and then another call of her name. Not until a hand grasped her arm did she halt, breathing hard. She turned, her mind and her senses disjointed, the people and carriages passing by in a maze of confused colours and muffled sounds. Her confusion was exacerbated by the colour of light blue eyes surrounded by thick black lashes, the sound of a deep, mellifluous voice and the pleasant aroma of a sharp cologne. Still holding her arm, Alexander Golding led her to the side of the road, out of harm’s way of passing carriages.

The eyes that looked into hers were as transparent and as brilliant as sunlight on water. His sharp, sceptical gaze seemed to bore into her brain.

‘Are you all right? You are upset.’ He spoke evenly, without sympathy, seemingly uncaring of her plight or the cause. Her chest was rising and falling in rapid succession.

‘Of course I am upset,’ she replied irately, trying to pull herself together. ‘What Henry has done to me is unforgivable. What was I? Some tender titbit he decided to play with, a simpleton to fill his needs for a night or two. What amusement he must have had playing his sordid little game with me. And how disappointed he must now be feeling, knowing he has lost his wager.’

Nothing moved in his face, but his eyes darkened. Quietly, he said, ‘I am sorry you had to find out like that.’

‘Yes—so am I, but thank goodness I found out before it was too late. Now would you please let go of my arm?’ He obliged at once.

Her anger somewhat diminished, Lydia stared at the darkly handsome stranger. He possessed a haughty reserve that was not inviting. There was also an aggressive confidence and strength of purpose in his features, and he had the air of a man who succeeded in all he set out to achieve. From the arrogant lift of his dark head and casual stance, he was a man with many shades to his nature, a man with a sense of his own infallibility. With her mind on what Henry would have done to her had this stranger not intervened, she was unnaturally calm, as calm as the Ice Maiden Henry had accused her of being.

‘I—I...’ Words seemed to stick in her throat, almost choking her. She felt exposed and vulnerable, knowing this man was seeing her like this. Normally poised and in complete control of herself, she felt so undignified. It was all so humiliating. When she had first looked at him she had seen by his face that he was a hard man not easily softened, so she was surprised he had even come after her. ‘Please excuse me. This is all so sudden—so confusing.’

For the first time, Alexander looked at her and she at him. Something passed between them. Each felt that this moment was one of great importance, that they stood on the edge of something tangible, but they did not understand what it could be. Lydia swallowed hard. She could not seem to look away. She thought she should scream or try to run away. She did neither. Noise and bustle went on around them, but the sounds and people were lost to them as they looked at each other. It was a look that stretched for only seconds, but seemed far longer before Lydia averted her eyes as her heart swelled with such a bewildering array of emotions that she was overwhelmed.

* * *

Caught off guard by the effect this young woman was having on him, Alex immediately recollected himself. He could see she was still in the process of reeling from the truth of what Henry had done. She was dressed with tasteful simplicity in a gown the colour of raspberries. Her features were striking, her hair beneath her bonnet a rich, shining black. Her large dark green eyes tilting slightly upwards were moist, droplets of tears caught in her thick fringe of lashes glittering like diamonds. Her mouth was as red and ripe as a berry, her lower lip full. The sun was warm and the light glinted softly against her. It made her skin luminous. Quite tall and slender, she was wholly arresting and he could not seem to drag his eyes away.

When he had burst into the room to halt the wedding, he had been unable to focus on anything else but his brother-in-law. When he had learned Henry had come to Scotland and his reason for doing so, he had taken the young woman to be one of the high-spirited good-time girls who thought of little else but the frivolous pursuit of pleasure, whose life was one constant round of uninhibited fun and who thought it necessary to be a rebel, to outrageously defy the order of society—hence her easy compliance to adhere to this mad escapade.

The anger provoked by Henry’s reprehensible behaviour began to subside a little, and Alex felt a faint stirring of admiration for the self-assured way in which the young woman faced him. Anger burned like a flame in her eyes and he was touched, despite himself, by her youth. When he looked at her, there was no hint of the softening in his mood. His eyes, harsh and impenetrable, met hers, and, if she had but known it, they were adept in keeping a legion of employees in their place.

‘I imagine it is,’ he said at length. Beginning to see how devastating it must be for her to realise she had fallen prey to a seducer, he suddenly showed a hint of human feeling. ‘This cannot be easy for you. You did not know Henry had a wife.’

Wishing herself anywhere but where she was, facing the lonely place that rejection and anger had taken her, Lydia blinked hard to make the tears of hurt, anger and frustration disappear, hating herself for a weakness which ordinarily she would never show. ‘Had I known that, I would not be here. I cannot believe he has done this to me. How could he?’

There was a desperate, almost wild look about her. She seemed ready to bolt like a wild horse at any moment. The cords in her neck were strained and the glimmer of tears slipped like melting dreams from her eyes. Alex felt a curious need to treat her with gentleness, to say something to comfort her. But he didn’t know her or understand the nature of her grief, or her true relationship with his sister’s husband.

‘It’s all right. I am not about to judge you.’

She didn’t look convinced. Distrust clouded her eyes. Fiercely, she wiped away her tears with the back of her hand. ‘But I think you will.’ She tried to sound scornful. She only sounded afraid. The stranger would know, hear her inner weakness, and she despised him for knowing. Her natural resilience began to reassert itself. She looked at him, eyes flashing, defiant chin lifted. ‘I thank you for arriving when you did.’

‘There’s no need.’

Alex noticed her posture—arms stiff, hands clenched by her sides. Her face was white like alabaster and her eyes glittered. He could not take his eyes off her—in fact, she looked quite magnificent. She reminded him of a rapier blade made of steel. Drawn up to her full height, she was standing on her dignity. He could see that the fear had left her and she was in the grip of an ice-cold, venomous rage. He waited for her to conclude whatever inner battle she was engaged in and he tried to keep his face as non-committal as possible.

‘I imagine you were looking forward to going to America.’

‘Yes. I can’t pretend otherwise—a new start—I’d hoped.’

‘You must be disappointed.’

‘One has to learn to live with disappointments.’

‘Really? You seem rather young to be stacking up the bitter lessons of life.’

‘No one knows at what age life will deny us.’

Alex looked at her. He tried to read her face, to see what emotion and meaning were behind her words, but he couldn’t. He suspected that this young woman had a great deal of pride and courage, and both those things would force her to brave out the situation no matter how devastated she was.

Lydia stood and stared about her. What was she to do? Until now there had been Henry, experienced and decisive, to give her guidance and to take ultimate responsibility of the journey north in the hired coach and of their wedding. Now, she realised, she was on her own. Her hopes and dreams for a future which she had built were fractured suddenly. But, God willing, it was not irreparable.

‘I will not go back into that room,’ she said. ‘I do not want to see Henry again. Not ever.’

Alex noted the even tone of her voice and the directness of her contact with his eyes. ‘No one expects you to. Return to the hotel. I will make sure Henry does not trouble you. I want to say it was remiss of me not to enquire as to how what has happened has affected you. I do apologise most sincerely. I am not usually so unmannerly and I realise I spoke to you most unfairly earlier. I do beg your pardon.’

‘Since he is married to your sister your anger was justifiable. Believe me, sir, when he proposed marriage to me I took time to weigh my options, considering every possible outcome of permanently tying my life to his.’ She smiled bitterly. ‘When it comes to making decisions I am the least impetuous person you could meet. I should have thought about it some more.’

‘You weren’t to know he was already married. How could you? Come. Let me walk with you back to your hotel.’

‘Thank you.’ She fell into step beside him, slanting him a look. ‘You have gone to a lot of trouble.’

He shrugged. ‘I was left with no choice. Believe me, Miss Brook, I would not have halted your wedding without good reason. Consider yourself lucky that I discovered what he was up to before it was too late. I am sorry if this has inconvenienced you, but you must see that I have done you a favour.’

‘Yes—yes, I realise that.’ She stepped away from him. ‘I will return to the hotel. I shall be boarding the coach going south in the morning.’

Having reached where she was staying, they stopped outside and Alex looked down at her, noting a tiny cleft in her chin that was almost invisible. She had style and bearing, and there was a tone to her voice and an imperious lift to her head that spoke of breeding, of being superior to the ordinary woman. He suspected she was very much her own person—a woman of her time. In the sun’s bright light her colouring was vivid now. She dazzled him, drawing him to her with a power that enthralled him, and he stared at her with a hunger that went beyond anything physical.

He was quite bewildered by what he felt for her. It was an emotion he had no words for. All he knew was that it was different to anything he had felt in a long time, something that had sprung up suddenly, taking him by surprise, and he knew he couldn’t and didn’t want to walk away from her.

‘I, too, will be staying at the hotel. It would give me great pleasure if you would dine with me tonight, Miss Brook?’

Lydia took a moment to consider his request, thinking that she really should refuse in the light of everything that had happened. But feeling restless and dissatisfied and having no wish to be alone on what should have been her wedding night, she accepted.

‘Why—I—Yes, thank you. I would like that.’

* * *

Returning to the wedding venue, Alex immediately sought out Harris, his manservant—the man he relied on implicitly in both his business and personal life.

‘Where is my brother-in-law, Harris?’

‘Still inside—doing his best to placate the minister who was to conduct the ceremony. His attitude is of a man who is not at fault.’

‘Which comes as no surprise to me, Harris.’

‘He wanted to go after the young lady, but I told him to wait here.’

‘You did quite right. He’s the last person she wants to see right now. I’ve taken her back to the hotel. It grieves me to say so, but my sister’s husband is a wastrel with a warped sense of humour and his reasoning, to put it mildly, is perverse. He is capable of gross infidelity and would have boasted of the conquest to his worthless friends had he brought it off and to hell with his reputation and the hurt it would have caused both his wife and Miss Brook.’

‘Well, you did try to warn your sister against marrying him.’

‘Since when did Miranda listen to anything I have to say?’ Alex retorted crossly. ‘I sometimes wonder about the family she married into—that the very fabric of the Seymour line is flawed in some way. As you know, I have no particular liking for my sister’s choice of husband, but I did not imagine he was capable of this. His father had a dubious carry on—a gambler and a womaniser who left a pile of debts. There’s a dark thread running through that family, Harris, and who knows where the devil it will appear? I pray to God not in my as-yet-unborn nephew or niece.’

‘I very much doubt it,’ Harris said.

‘Let’s hope not. I would protect Miranda from this—but when she gets a bee in her bonnet she won’t give up until she is in full possession of the facts. She knows he’s been seeing another woman—but not the extent of it. For her sake I would like to keep this whole thing quiet. Should the story get out the dirt will stick and the unsavoury backlash will cause her unbearable hurt.’

Alex strode into the house, meeting Henry coming out. Alex was a serious individual and known as a hard, unyielding taskmaster by those subordinate to him. He was also a ruthless businessman who had made a large fortune in shipping and mining in the north of England and an even larger one in clever investments in the railways and abroad. He had settled a more-than-generous dowry on Miranda, knowing of Henry’s debts and his run-down estate which would benefit. Alex looked at him with contempt.

His normally arrogant brother-in-law was now subdued, demoralised by the events that had overtaken him, existing in a numbing vacuum of his own uncertainty. ‘Well?’ Alex demanded. ‘Things have ended this way because of a miscalculation on your part—Miranda’s failure to remain in Surrey and your friends’ willingness to talk. It was a stupid mistake, the sort of error that could cost you your marriage. What have you to say for yourself?

‘What can I say? You appear to know everything.’

‘Quite. You care for nothing but your own self-indulgence. How dare you treat my sister in this despicable manner! You disgust me.’

‘You must listen—let me explain...’

Alex shot him a look that would have stopped a racehorse in its tracks. ‘Hold your tongue! I don’t have the stomach for it now. I would like to spare Miranda the details of what you have done, but I do not see how it can be avoided. She will be deeply wounded by your betrayal, but no doubt she will forgive you eventually—foolish girl. You are undeserving of her devotion. I believe you hired a coach to come here?’

Scowling and tight-lipped, Henry nodded.

‘I want you to leave here without delay, even if it means travelling through the night. You will go straight home to your wife, where you will confess what you have done and beg for her forgiveness. Is that understood, Henry?’ Henry flinched before his cold anger. ‘Damn it all, Henry, I will not rake over the sordid events that have brought you here. My anger will probably get the better of me and I won’t be responsible for my actions. I have to remain in the north for a few days. When you reach Surrey you will remain at home—close to your wife—and keep a clear head. Where your friends are concerned you will maintain a discreet silence. I expect your full cooperation in this. You and I have important matters to discuss.’

‘Lydia—Miss Brook, she...’

‘Has no wish to see you. You will not try to approach her. Is that understood?’

Henry nodded and swallowed audibly. ‘Yes.’

Alex turned and walked away.

* * *

Alone in her room at the hotel and hidden from prying eyes, Lydia felt her whole body tightening as something tried to escape her, yet as fierce as she tried to suppress it, it was to no avail. Tears started to her eyes and began to flow, in sheer frustration and desperation. She wept for the present, in which her dreams and every wish seemed to be shattered, and she wept for the future, which now looked empty and bleak.

Henry’s appearance into her life and his proposal of marriage had meant a liberation from a life that had held her chained to Alistair’s workshop. Alistair, who had been her mother’s lover and her employer, worked her hard, the constant pressure he put on her making her long to be free, to own her own establishment and create her own designs. Her dream had been her mother’s dream, too. Before she had died she’d said it didn’t matter that she hadn’t realised her dream because she, Lydia, would carry forward her dream. Through her she would live on.

Henry had been a means of escape.

As his wife Lydia would have had a freedom from responsibility she had always dreamed of. Marriage to him promised great changes in her life. If she did actually marry him, her circumstances would alter dramatically. In short, she thought bitterly, he was a means to an end. But it had not been like that and now, with hindsight, she saw how he had skilfully manipulated her during the time she had known him. Determined to possess her, he had used patience, cunning and ruthlessness to gain her trust and devotion to get her into his bed.


Получить полную версию книги можно по ссылке - Здесь

Следующая страница

Ваши комментарии
к роману Carrying The Gentleman's Secret - Хелен Диксон

Комментарии к роману "Carrying The Gentleman's Secret - Хелен Диксон" отсутствуют

Ваше имя


Введите сумму чисел с картинки