From Governess to Society Bride - Хелен Диксон - FROM GOVERNESS TO SOCIETY BRIDE Читать онлайн любовный роман

В женской библиотеке Мир Женщины кроме возможности читать онлайн также можно скачать любовный роман - From Governess to Society Bride - Хелен Диксон бесплатно.

Правообладателям | Топ-100 любовных романов

From Governess to Society Bride - Хелен Диксон - Читать любовный роман онлайн в женской библиотеке LadyLib.Net
From Governess to Society Bride - Хелен Диксон - Скачать любовный роман в женской библиотеке LadyLib.Net

Диксон Хелен

From Governess to Society Bride

Читать онлайн

Аннотация к роману
«From Governess to Society Bride» - Хелен Диксон

The Lord’s convenient wife Lord Lucas Stainton is in need of a governess. The man is ruthless, rude beyond belief, and Eve Brody wishes him to the devil…but the position is hers if she’ll accept. As sparks fly between her and the magnificent man of the house, Eve learns that, shockingly, the dark-hearted Lord is carrying the weight of ruin on his broad shoulders.Desperately craving the security she’s never had, Eve offers a proposal – in return for her secret fortune, she asks only that he take her hand in marriage…
Следующая страница


‘I have a proposition to put to you, Lord Stainton, that may benefit both of us.’

‘Mrs Brody, the last time you had a proposition to put to me it was to apply for the position of nursemaid to my children. What is it this time?’

‘Well—I—I would like to ask you—in all humility—to marry me.’

‘What?’ He was incredulous. The startling pale blue eyes swept over her face. ‘Mrs Brody, I think you must have taken leave of your senses.’

Eve straightened up and walked towards him. ‘Please have the good sense to take me seriously.’

‘I do,’ he ground out, angry now, and insulted. ‘And the answer is no.’ It was an instant response. Unconsidered. Automatic.

Eve met his eyes. This man was sharp, intelligent, and he was observant. ‘The marriage would merely be a business arrangement. You need someone to look after your children and financing. I need a home for myself and my daughter. It will be a marriage in name only—an affair of convenience.’

Lucas gazed at her unblinkingly—a sudden interest seemed to appear in his eyes, and then it was gone.

Helen Dickson was born and still lives in South Yorkshire, with her husband, on a busy arable farm, where she combines writing with keeping a chaotic farmhouse. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure, owing much of her inspiration to the beauty of the surrounding countryside. She enjoys reading and music. History has always captivated her, and she likes travel and visiting ancient buildings.

Recent novels by the same author:










(part of Christmas By Candlelight)




Helen Dickson


Chapter One


The young woman paused to look around. It was early morning and most people were still abed. There was not a sound in this great London park, shrouded in the kind of thick fog the city was famous for. It was as if she were alone in the world. This was the time of day she loved best.

But then, somewhere in the distance, she could hear the pounding of a horse’s hooves. She could almost feel the ground tremble beneath her feet. She resented the sound, that anyone should disturb her solitude. Turning full circle, she strained her eyes, listening to the thundering crash coming ever closer, when suddenly a sharp shout rent the air and a huge black shape of a horse and rider descended on her.

She cried out for him to stop and threw herself to one side, landing on the grass in a tumbled heap. The rider jerked at the reins and the beast reared, its hooves flashing like quicksilver, its coat glistening as the muscles beneath it rolled and heaved. Flared nostrils and blazing eyes gave him the look of a demented dragon. It missed her by mere inches.

The woman saw the man as if through a long tunnel. A small cry came from her throat as she saw the black apparition swing himself from his mount in one quick, effortless bound. With his cloak flying wide behind him he resembled a huge bat swooping down toward her. Seized by terror, she scrambled to her feet; brushing down her skirts she glared at him, her heart pounding fit to burst.

‘You damned fool,’ he roared. ‘What the hell are you doing on the track? I could have killed you.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ she retorted sharply, setting to rights her bonnet, which had been knocked sideways, and trying to smooth away the mixture of terror and anger that had taken hold of her.

He was so tall she was forced to look up at him, and she found herself confronting pale, snapping eyes. Black hair accentuated lean cheekbones and a resolute jaw, and his mouth was compressed into a stern arrogant line.

‘If you had been any closer you could have been trampled to death. Is there no room in that brainless skull of yours for common sense?’

‘Why, how dare you?’ She was incensed, her face pink with indignation. ‘And will you please not wave your crop about like that as if you were going to thrash me.’

The stranger slapped the offending weapon to his side without relinquishing her eyes. ‘I am sorely tempted. Don’t you know not to walk on the track? It’s for horses, not ladies to stroll on.’

She raised her chin belligerently. ‘I do know that, but I didn’t think anyone would be foolish enough to be out riding with the fog as bad as this. And I was only following the track so that I wouldn’t become lost.’

‘Which is a dangerous thing to do at the best of times.’ Abruptly the man interrupted his tirade to say with a touch of concern as a thought occurred to him, ‘Are you hurt?’

She glowered at him accusingly, her face showing no sign of softening. ‘No—no thanks to you. If you had been riding with more care and attention, this would never have happened—or perhaps your horse got the better of you and you haven’t taught it who is master.’

‘I assure you he knows who is his master.’ He looked at her closely, seeing a gloriously attractive young woman whose whole manner spoke of fearlessness, of her need to let him see that she was afraid of no one, and certainly not of him. Even if she had not jumped out of the way as she had done, he would not have run her down. He was too good a horseman for that, but it had been a close shave. He smiled lazily. ‘What a firebrand you are. Are you sure you stumbled and didn’t just swoon at the sight of me and my horse?’

His hollow chuckle held a note of mockery. A flush of anger spread to the delicate tips of the woman’s ears and icy fire smouldered in her deep blue eyes. ‘Why, you conceited, unmitigated cad. You are arrogant if you believe I would ever swoon at your feet. Thank God I’m not afflicted by such weakness.’ She stepped away from him, finding his closeness and the way he towered over her a little intimidating. ‘Good day to you, sir.’

Not yet ready to be dismissed, he touched her arm to delay her. ‘At least let me escort you to your home.’

Her chilled contempt met him face to face. She slapped his hand away. ‘Do not touch me. I am quite capable of taking myself home. Go away and take that vicious beast with you,’ she snapped, glancing irately at the black stallion that had begun to snort and stamp impatiently, its vigorous temperament reminding her so very much of its master.

‘Aren’t you taking a risk? You might be set upon by footpads or worse. Anything could happen to a young woman walking alone at this hour.’

‘It just did, and I’m of the opinion that I’m in less danger of being set upon by footpads than I am from you. At least they may have better manners.’ Turning her back on him, with her head held high she began to stalk away.

He sighed in feigned disappointment, slowly shaking his head. ‘Such ingratitude.’

She spun round. ‘Ingratitude?’ she gasped. ‘You call me ungrateful? You almost trample me to death and I am supposed to be grateful?’

His eyes gleamed with amusement. ‘Have it your way.’ He set his tall hat securely on his head and swung himself back in the saddle on his prancing beast. ‘Good day to you.’

He kicked his horse into motion. His laughter drifted back to her, his mockery infuriating her yet further.

She stamped her foot and glared after him, muttering all kinds of threats under her breath. She had never met a man who had irritated her as he had just done and it chafed her sorely to consider his flawless success.

It was a glorious spring day. The sun had risen out of a broad expanse of opal mist, and scraps of cloud floated like spun gauze in the sky. Ash and sycamore, cherry and lilac trees were bursting into full flower, and trumpet-headed daffodils and clusters of primroses filled beds and borders. The air had a trace of freshness in it, a breeze blowing across Hyde Park from the river beyond. The park was quiet, save for a skylark singing high above and a few people taking an early morning constitutional, including a young woman walking aimlessly along the paths with two small girls trailing behind her.

Seated on a bench watching her five-year-old daughter, Estelle, running happily between the flower beds pursued by Jasper, a Labrador pup that was a recent addition to the Seagrove household, Eve sighed and looked down at her hands in her lap. Why did she feel so despondent? What was the matter with her? Why did her life seem to be so limited? She had her health. She had a good friend in Beth Seagrove. She was not unattractive and, thanks to her dear deceased father, eventually she would have more money than she would know what to do with. She was reasonably clever and had a broad base of interests. Everyone was always telling her how lucky she was to have Estelle, whom she adored. That should really be enough for anyone—but it wasn’t. There had to be more that she could do with her life, something else to absorb her time and energies.

Tonight she was to attend a private party at Lady Ellesmere’s house in Curzon Street. These affairs where most of the faces were familiar were more to her taste than the more established venues, and she really did enjoy attending them with Beth and her husband. However, Eve was determined to find something to do to earn her keep until her father’s money was made available to her and she could look for somewhere else to live.

Turning her head, she looked at the young woman with the children. She was perhaps eighteen or nineteen. Her clothes were of good quality, but plain grey and unadorned—the same clothes a nursemaid would wear. Her face was pale and dark rings circled her eyes—she really didn’t look at all well. She was seated on the bench adjacent to Eve’s and her head was lowered on to her chest. Her shaking shoulders indicated that she was weeping very quietly.

The two little girls, her young charges, stood in front of her and stared at her. Their faces showed confusion and they were clearly anxious and frightened. The youngest child picked up on her mood and started to cry and shrank into the girl next to her.

‘Don’t cry, Sarah,’ the eldest girl said to the woman on the bench. ‘It will be all right.’

Her words seemed to calm the young woman, not because she was able to believe them but because of the sweet unselfishness of the child uttering them. Raising her head, she smiled at the child but her shoulders remained drooped in dejection.

Eve stood up. Fishing a handkerchief out of her pocket, she went to the unhappy trio. ‘Can I be of help?’ she asked, directing the question at the woman while bending down and smiling at the weeping child. ‘Here, let me wipe your face.’ Gently she dabbed at the tears of the child, who was looking up at her with solemn light blue eyes that reminded her of a wounded puppy. ‘What are your names?’ she asked.

‘I am Sophie,’ the older girl replied politely, ‘and this is my sister Abigail. Abigail is three, nearly four, and I’m five.’

‘Is that so? Well, I’m pleased to meet you both,’ Eve said, thinking what pretty children they were. Both had heart-shaped faces and glossy dark brown curls and were dressed in identical blue dresses. Looking towards where Estelle was playing, Eve waved her over. ‘Estelle, while I sit and talk to…?’ She looked enquiringly at the young woman.

‘Sarah, Sarah Lacy,’ she provided quietly.

‘While I talk to Miss Lacy, why don’t you take Sophie and Abigail to play with Jasper—would you like that?’ she asked the two little girls. They nodded, looking shyly at Estelle, but not moving until Sarah had given them her permission.

‘It’s all right, children. You can go. I can see you from here.’

Typical of Estelle, who was accustomed to playing with Beth’s two boisterous boys, she held out her hand to Abigail, and the three of them chased over the grass after a staggering Jasper, who stopped suddenly and sat down in a heap of tumbled legs.

Smiling, Eve sat next to the young woman. The poor girl was obviously not well. Her skin was pale and her soft grey eyes had a wild, almost desperate look about them.

‘I hope you didn’t mind me suggesting that your charges play with my daughter. The puppy is quite harmless.’ The young woman shook her head. ‘My name is Eve Brody, by the way.’

‘No, I don’t mind. I’m their nursemaid. It’s good for them to be with other children. They so rarely are, poor mites.’ Lowering her head, she stifled a sob. ‘I’m sorry…’ she began, then broke off miserably.

‘It’s all right, Sarah,’ Eve said, moving closer to her. ‘Are you ill?’

Unable to meet the kind stranger’s eyes, Sarah looked down at her fingers twisting her handkerchief in her lap. ‘I’ve just got a bit of a headache, that’s all,’ she answered shyly.

‘Have you seen a doctor? Perhaps he can give you something that will help to make you feel better.’

Sarah shook her head and sniffed. ‘I’ll be all right. I feel better than I did.’

‘Then why are you crying? You look quite distraught.’

‘To tell you the truth, miss, I’ve been at my wits’ end these past weeks. I don’t know what to do. Really I don’t.’

‘Why is that?’

‘Mark, my young man, lives and works as head groomsman at a big house in Surrey. He’s asked me to marry him, but it would mean leaving my job—and the children.’

‘What’s so terrible about that? Surely there is someone else to care for them—their mother?’

‘They have no mother. My master, Lord Stainton, the children’s father, is in the middle of closing down the house, which is why I’m out with them so early—to get them away from the upheaval. Workmen are all over the place and his lordship isn’t in the best of tempers. Apart from myself and the housekeeper, most of the servants have been dismissed, and very soon we are to move to Lord Stainton’s country estate in Oxfordshire. I haven’t told Mark yet and I’m dreading it. He doesn’t understand, you see, the bond I have with the children.’

‘If your position means so much to you, then why doesn’t your young man go with you?’

‘Lord Stainton can’t afford to take on more staff. His lordship’s affairs really are in quite a bad way, which is why he has to sell his London house.’

‘Even so, his problem is not yours, Sarah. Lord Stainton must find someone else to look after his children. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I’m sure there are lots of young ladies with the right credentials who would jump at the chance.’

‘I know—but there has been so much heartache in their young lives that I hate the thought of deserting them. They’ve been in my charge since Abigail was a year old. I can’t bear to leave them. It will break my heart—and theirs—but I know I must.’

‘Your concern is commendable, Sarah, but you do have to think of yourself.’

Estelle’s laughter came to them from across the grass. Eve’s eyes were drawn towards the sound, seeing her daughter rolling on the grass with Jasper on top of her licking her face, while Sophie and Abigail looked on, reticent to join in, but smiling none the less. Concerned, she fixed her attention on the young woman by her side.

‘You really do look quite poorly. Perhaps you should go home and lie down for a while,’ Eve suggested.

Sarah shook her head. ‘That’s impossible, although I really should be getting back.’ She stood up, putting one hand to her head and the other grasping the back of the bench as she swayed slightly. ‘Oh, dear. I do feel quite dizzy.’

Standing up, Eve took her arm. ‘Come, I’ll walk back with you. I can’t let you go by yourself.’

‘Oh, no. You’ve been very kind, but I’ve imposed on your time long enough.’

‘I insist. Besides, I have nothing better to do. Where do you live?’

‘Not too far away, just across the park in Upper Brook Street.’

‘Then it is not far from Berkeley Street, which is where I live. Come, children,’ Eve called. ‘Estelle, you must carry Jasper.’ She smiled as she watched her daughter bend down and pick a wriggling Jasper up off the grass and tuck him beneath her arm.

Stainton House was certainly in a state of upheaval. Workmen swarmed about all over the place and furniture was being either covered with dustsheets or loaded on to wagons in the street. Holding the children’s hands, Eve and Sarah went inside. The size of the house surprised and impressed Eve. With its white-and-gold décor, she could well imagine how elegant it must have looked before the workforce moved in.

Eve was about to say her farewells to Sarah and the children when Jasper broke free of his captor and landed on the floor. Excited by the new environment and noise, the little dog bounded yelping loudly up the broad sweep of the staircase rising gracefully from the centre of the hall.

‘Don’t worry,’ Sarah said, having recovered a little from her earlier discomfort. ‘I’ll go after him.’

The three children went and sat halfway up the stairs, watching the workmen with rapt expressions on their faces. Eve stepped aside to let two men pass carrying a gold-and-green striped sofa in the direction of the street, and turned when a voice barked out, ‘Bloody hell, man, be careful! That portrait is worth a small fortune. Any damage and the buyer will refuse to take it.’

Eve strode over to the owner of the remark—a jacket-less, dark, forbidding figure, his grey breeches moulding his muscular legs and thighs, his white shirt open at his tanned throat, and his hair as black as a panther’s pelt. Her face was a mask of indignation.

‘Do you have to swear in front of the children?’ she remarked haughtily. She saw his shoulders stiffen at the sound of her voice and when he spun round and his eyes sliced over her, she could almost feel the effort he was exerting to keep his rage under control. The man had ramrod posture and an aura of exacting competence, and Eve almost collapsed when she saw his face—it was as hard and forbidding as a granite sculpture and he was looking at her as if she were a mad woman who had invaded his domain.

She also recognised him as being the man whose horse had almost trampled her to death the day before.

‘I’ll swear when I like in my own house…’ Suddenly he froze and his eyes widened. ‘Good Lord, it’s you—’

‘Unfortunately that is so. And do you have to shout? My hearing is perfectly sound and you’re frightening the children.’

‘Children? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m their father.’

‘Precisely, and for that reason alone you should have more control over your temper,’ Eve snapped, having recovered from the shock of meeting the rude and thoroughly obnoxious gentleman for a second time.

Lord Stainton turned his dagger gaze on the terrified servants, who had ceased what they were doing and stood frozen to the spot, their eyes agape. ‘Who the hell let this emotional woman into my house without consulting me first?’

‘I am not an emotional woman and, as I have already told you, I am not deaf, so kindly lower your tone.’ Turning on her heel, she strode to the stairs to collect Estelle.

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’ he thundered, striding after her irate figure with the silent sureness of a wolf, stopping in his tracks when he saw three apprehensive young faces peering down at him from the stairs instead of the usual two. Placing his fists on his hips, he glowered from the extra child to the angry young woman. ‘Miss Lacy,’ he shouted. When Miss Lacy failed to appear, he cursed softly and pinned Eve with his gaze. ‘Where has that child come from,’ he demanded, pointing a long narrow finger at the offending child, ‘and what the hell is she doing in my house, today of all days?’

Eve’s eyes flew to the children while still feeling concern for Sarah. After all, it was the purpose for which she had walked into the lion’s den just minutes before.

‘The child you are referring to is my daughter.’

‘Then do you mind removing her from my house and yourself along with her? As you can see—’

‘You are moving out,’ Eve snapped.

‘Do you always make a habit of stating the obvious, Miss…?’

‘Mrs—Brody, and, yes, I do,’ she said, her eyes flashing as cold fury drained her face of colour and added a steely edge to her voice.

He returned her gaze steadily, studying her as though she were some strange creature he had just uncovered in his home. He had already noted her slight American intonation; her Scottish name was another fact that intrigued a rather bemused Lord Stainton. There was a moment of silence in which he tried to calm himself.

At thirty-two years of age, six feet four inches tall and with amazingly arresting eyes he was a strikingly handsome man. Rugged strength was carved into every feature of his bronzed face, from his straight dark brows and nose, his firm and sensually moulded lips, to the square, arrogant jut of his chin. Just now he was also formidable as he glared at the young woman who stood before him on his black-and-white marble floor. Every line of his face was set with disapproval.

‘Have you had an edifying look at me, Lord Stainton—I assume that is who you are?’

‘You are correct in your assumption, Mrs Brody.’

‘You are also the most ill-mannered, arrogant, inconsiderate man I have ever encountered,’ she upbraided him coldly.

His eyes narrowed and his lips tightened. ‘I dare say I am all you accuse me of. It goes with the title.’

Eve was in no mood to be mocked, and she could see by the gleam in his eyes he was doing exactly that. ‘Then with you as an example, I can only hope you are the last titled Englishman I shall ever meet. Yesterday I fervently hoped and prayed I would never have the misfortune to set eyes on you again. Nothing has changed. Such an outward display of temperamental frustration is regarded as a sign of bad breeding where I come from.’

Ramming his fists into his waist, leaning forward, he stared at her in blank fury. ‘Really! You really are the most infuriatingly outspoken woman I have ever met. How dare you come into my house and say these things to me—things you know nothing about.’

‘Oh, I dare say a lot of things to a man who scares his children half to death and terrifies each and every one of his servants so they creep about in fear of you. The whole house vibrates with a tension that springs from you, Lord Stainton. It’s a wonder you have any servants at all to order about. By the look on your face I would wager I’ve hit a sore spot. Please don’t disappoint me by holding your temper. I would hate to see you explode with the effort.’

‘Believe me, Mrs Brody, you would not want to see me explode. I have a temper, I admit it, a violent one when I am driven to it. And how I raise my children and choose to live concerns only myself.’

Eve had made her point with an icy calmness. Lord Stainton was so taken aback by her outburst and her forthright way of speaking that his superiority evaporated as he stared at the attractive young woman whose fury turned her dark blue eyes beneath gracefully winged dark brows to violet. Framed by a heavy mass of auburn hair arranged neatly beneath her bonnet, her face was striking, with creamy, glowing skin, high cheekbones, and a small round chin with a tiny, intriguing cleft in the centre. Her nose was straight, her mouth soft and generously wide. His gaze moved over her slender body with a familiarity that brought a rush of colour to her cheeks.

Mrs Brody was a young woman in her early twenties, and she moved with a natural grace and poise that evaded most of the women he knew. Despite being a married woman, she exuded a gentle innocence that he found appealing. Beneath this he sensed an adventurous spirit tinged with wilfulness and obstinacy.

Appalled that he could find the time to scrutinise a complete stranger who had entered his home uninvited and chastised him so forcefully, when all around him there was complete and utter chaos, in sheer frustration he turned from her.

‘I’ve had enough of this charade, Mrs Brody. I have to get on. No one invited you here. There is the door. Use it.’

Eve could feel her face flaming in response to his rudeness. Her momentary shock gave way to a sudden burst of wrath. ‘You’re right, they didn’t. I came to make sure your children’s nurse arrived home safely. She was taken ill in the park and I considered it an act of human kindness to see that she made it home without mishap. Now that is done, it will be my pleasure to remove myself and my child from your house—when I have retrieved my dog from all this chaos, that is.’

He spun round to face her once more, and for the first time Eve saw his hard façade crack. ‘Dog? What dog?’ he echoed blankly. There was more than irritation in his question—there was stunned amazement.

‘The one that disappeared up your stairs when we came in.’

‘Are you telling me that there is an animal running loose in my house?’

‘That is exactly what I’m saying—but don’t be alarmed,’ she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, ‘it won’t bite. Ah, here it is now,’ she said, thankful to see Sarah coming down the stairs with Jasper in her arms. Meeting her halfway, she took the pup and got hold of Estelle’s hand, impatient to get out of the house as quickly as possible.

‘I see Lord Stainton is out of sorts again,’ Sarah whispered softly, looking at Eve with quiet concern. ‘Are you all right?’ She glanced over her shoulder. ‘Have a care. His lordship is not a man to listen or be reasoned with when he’s in one of his infamous adverse moods.’

With her back to Lord Stainton, Eve smiled at Sarah. ‘Oh, I think I can manage his lordship, Sarah.’

‘Unfortunately his temper rules his head. He will soon calm down.’

‘No doubt so will I—when I am out of this mad house. Now you take care of yourself, and marry that young man of yours before too long.’

Confronting Lord Stainton for the last time at the bottom of the stairs, she lifted her chin, in no way intimidated by this man. ‘Seeing that you are in the middle of a self-destructive rage cycle, Lord Stainton, I’ll get out from under your feet. I’m only sorry that I subjected my daughter to the rantings of a very rude lord.’

‘You have caught me on a bad day, Mrs Brody.’

‘Considering I have encountered you on two occasions, Lord Stainton, judging by your behaviour it would seem that you have a bad day most days.’

‘Not at all, Mrs Brody. If your daughter has been in any way upset by my “rantings”, then she has a small measure of my sympathy—the remainder of it must go to your long-suffering husband.’

Eve looked at him directly. ‘I am a widow, Lord Stainton, and my husband’s suffering was of short duration. He was killed outright by an English bullet in New Orleans. Now,’ she said, grasping Estelle’s hand tighter and clutching Jasper to her bosom with the other, ‘I have no wish to detain you any longer. Good day to you.’ She swept out of the house like a galleon in full sail, too angry to say one more word.

In a state of suspense, Lord Stainton stared at the open doorway through which Mrs Brody had just disappeared, feeling as if a hurricane had just blown itself out. He also felt bewildered and extremely angry with himself and a complete idiot, his expression holding more than a little dismay and remorse at what Mrs Brody had just divulged. From an early age he had been taught by his parents and his tutors to project a veneer of civilisation, regardless of how he was feeling, particularly when his emotions were incensed. He had just failed dismally.

‘Miss Lacy,’ he called, halting the nursemaid as she climbed the stairs to take Sophie and Abigail to their rooms. ‘Mrs Brody? Who is she and where does she live?’

‘Apart from her name I—I don’t know who she is, Lord Stainton. She never said. Although she did say she lived on Berkeley Street.’

‘I see.’ He was about to turn away when he remembered something Mrs Brody had said. ‘Miss Lacy.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Mrs Brody did mention that you weren’t feeling well,’ he said on a softer note. ‘Do you need to see a doctor?’

‘No, sir. I’m feeling much better now.’ She bobbed a little curtsy. ‘Thank you for asking.’

‘Good.’ With the skill he’d perfected when his wife had left him, he turned away and coldly dismissed Mrs Brody from his mind.

Disturbed and upset following her encounter with the insufferable Lord Stainton, and feeling a headache coming on, with a morose sigh Eve sank on to the sofa in the drawing room of the Seagroves’ elegant house on Berkeley Street, unable to believe the furious altercation had happened at all. Her anger had evaporated somewhat on her walk back, but she was still shaken. The dejection that had replaced her fury was completely uncharacteristic of her.

With the children happily ensconced upstairs in the nursery and William, Beth’s devoted husband, at work at the Foreign Office, glad to have some time to themselves, Beth poured them both some tea and sat back. She cast a sharp, searching look at her friend’s exquisite features.

‘What has you looking so grim, Eve? Tell me.’

‘I met someone today.’

‘Did you? Well, there’s nothing so unusual about that. Is it someone I know?’

‘I would think so. Lord Stainton, and I have to say he is the rudest, most conceited man I have ever met in my life.’

Beth laughed. ‘Then that explains it. What happened?’

In no time at all Eve told her everything that had occurred, from the moment she had met Sarah Lacy in the park to being ordered out of Stainton House like one of the criminal fraternity. She didn’t tell her about their previous encounter in the park, since Beth was always chiding her for going off by herself. When she had finished Beth looked stunned.

‘Dear me! It sounds to me as if you have upset that illustrious lord.’

Eve grimaced. ‘I didn’t mean to—although I suppose I was somewhat rude and outspoken, and in his house, too. Do you know him, Beth?’

‘My dear Eve, the whole of London knows Lord Stainton.’

‘What do you know about him?’

‘He’s devastatingly handsome for one thing—you must admit that.’

Bringing the image of the tall, lean and superbly fit Lord Stainton to mind, Eve could not deny that despite his stern, finely chiselled mouth and the arrogant authority stamped in his firm jaw and the cynicism in his cold, light blue eyes, he was breathtakingly handsome. ‘Yes, I suppose he is.’

Beth sighed almost dreamily. ‘I do so like handsome men.’

‘I know. That’s why you married William,’ Eve commented teasingly.

‘Oh, no,’ Beth said, chuckling softly as she took a sip of her tea. ‘William is sensible, reliable and conscientious, but also sensitive, gentle and idealistic. That is why I married him.’

‘I agree, he is all those things. William is a paragon among men, and not a hardened cynic like Lord Stainton. What else do you know about him?’

‘Well, on a physical and intellectual level there’s none better. He inherited the title from his brother, who died several months ago. He lives quietly and isn’t often seen in society these days, although I have seen him on occasion at the more sedate affairs. He’s been the object of gossip ever since he divorced his wife Maxine about a year ago. She’s the daughter of the Earl of Clevedon—Lord Irvine. At the time the divorce created a scandal that set the ton on fire.’

Eve stared at her in shocked amazement. ‘Divorce? He divorced his wife—the mother of those two lovely children? Why on earth would he do that?’

‘I don’t know all the details, but what I do know is that his wife caused complications from the day he married her. Compounded in her many faults, apparently, was the fact that she was exquisitely beautiful, elegant and clever and attractive to other men. A man of Lord Stainton’s character would not tolerate infidelity.’

‘She had an affair?’

‘Several, apparently. After the birth of her second daughter it’s rumoured she indulged in one affair after another, the most intensive being with Lucas Stainton’s own brother. Her behaviour really was quite scandalous. She actually walked out on Lord Stainton to live with his brother in the country.’

‘She left her children?’ Eve gasped, appalled that any woman could do such a thing.

‘Yes, she did. Apparently the divorce turned out to be extremely expensive—it virtually ruined him. Of course Lucas’s brother didn’t help matters, being an inveterate gambler. The Stainton coffers were depleted long before he died.’

‘Then Lord Stainton will have an unenviable task on his hands replenishing them.’

‘Indeed he will.’

‘Is he ostracised because of his divorce?’

‘On the contrary. It all adds to his mystery and charm. The ton positively pander to him and no one would dare give him the cut. Of course he is free to marry again, but the aristocratic mamas on the look out for suitable husbands for their darling daughters do not consider an impoverished, divorced lord at all suitable. However, he’s favoured for his looks and every hostess in the ton has been trying to lure him back into society, but he declines their invitations.

‘I believe he’s selling his London house and moving to the country.’

‘Yes, I know. Laurel Court. It’s close to William’s parents’ house in Oxfordshire and it’s very beautiful, although sadly neglected. If he’s selling his house in Mayfair, then hopefully it might help pay some of the debts. If not, who knows what he will do. If he wants to keep the estate, then he might even resort to marrying an heiress—and why not? He won’t be the first impoverished nobleman to marry for money and he won’t be the last.’

‘That seems rather drastic, Beth.’

‘To you, having lived almost all your life in America, I suppose it does. In English society, marrying for money is considered a perfectly acceptable undertaking. However, pride is a dominant Stainton trait and Lord Stainton will find it extremely difficult and distasteful having to resort to such extreme measures. But that said, I do believe he might honour us with his presence tonight with Lady Ellesmere being an old friend of the family and the occasion being a rather sedate affair.’

Eve’s eyes snapped open as a blaze of animosity and a shock of terror erupted through her entire body. ‘Lord Stainton will be there?’

Beth laughed, in no way sorry for her friend’s consternation. ‘Don’t be alarmed, Eve. He may decide not to go.’

‘On the other hand he might.’

‘Try not to worry. By now perhaps he looks back on the incident with amusement.’

‘If he does, then he has a warped sense of humour, Beth. He will not find the incident amusing, believe me. In fact, I might stay at home. Lord Stainton will not want to see me any more than I wish to see him. Besides, I have developed this terrible headache in the last hour. An early night suddenly seems most appealing.’

‘Nonsense. You are going. With a room full of matrons and grandes dames, I am relying on you to talk to me. As for the headache, I’ll give you a couple of my powders to alleviate it. Take one before you go and another before you go to bed.’

By the time Eve was ready to leave for Lady Ellesmere’s party, her head was aching quite badly. Having taken one of Beth’s powders and feeling no effect, she took the one she was supposed to take before she went to bed. After tucking Estelle in bed and kissing her goodnight, she went to join Beth and William.

Lady Ellesmere’s house was a blaze of light when the carriage drew up outside. A liveried footman stepped aside as they swept into the marble-floored hall. Entering the salon, they paused and Eve’s eyes swept the assembled guests dressed in their finery, the ladies beautiful in silks and satins fashionably cut.

With an eye for comfort, luxury and fashionable elegance, the walls were hung with ivory silk delicately worked with a gold-and-green design, the colours reflected in the upholstery and the heavy curtains hung at the windows. Expensive Turkish rugs covered the floor. The room was aglow with the dazzling radiance of myriad candles, the delicate crystal pendants of the chandeliers splattering the walls with prisms of light. Soft music being played by a string quartet could be heard in the background and for those guests who sought entertainment two adjoining rooms had been set aside for gaming. The French doors were set wide to catch the coolness of the night and to allow guests on to the wide lantern-lit terrace.

It was an informal affair. Lady Ellesmere, a striking middle-aged widow, was seated on a gold-coloured chaise longue. Like a queen, bedecked in sparkling jewels and her richly coloured silk skirts spread about her, she reigned supreme.

Taking two glasses of champagne from a silver tray, William handed them to his companions, then took one for himself and surveyed the glittering company.

‘Rather splendid, isn’t it?’

‘As usual,’ Beth answered. ‘It’s what you expect at Lady Ellesmere’s affairs. How is your headache, Eve? Has the powder I gave you helped?’

Eve smiled. Relieved to see no one she would rather not, she began to relax. ‘Yes, I believe it has—although I did take the other one just to be on the safe side.’

Beth stared at her in shock. ‘You took them both? Oh, Eve, you really shouldn’t have. They really are quite strong. I wouldn’t drink too much champagne on top of them if I were you.’

William chuckled softly. ‘Just one of Beth’s powders is enough to send the sufferer off to sleep for a week, Eve. Two powders and you can guarantee being rendered unconscious for a fortnight.’

Feeling perfectly all right and in no way concerned, Eve laughed and took a sip of her champagne. ‘I never drink more than two glasses anyway, so worry not, you two. In fact, I think when we’ve spoken to Lady Ellesmere I might partake of some refreshment,’ she said, her eyes straying to the connecting salon where tables had been laid out with delicious delicacies.

Lucas saw Eve the instant he entered Lady Ellesmere’s salon. Seeing her made him stop, shocked into inaction. His brows drew together in disbelief that she was here, and that the harridan who had invaded his house earlier was the glamorous red head strolling casually through the roomful of wealthy elite with William Seagrove and his wife.

Lucas was with his good friend Henry Channing, who was easy to please and the most amenable of men. Henry revelled in London life, which was a change from the backwoods of Newcastle he’d been brought up in. With his looks and his father’s wealth he was well received everywhere, his trade origins being conveniently forgotten.

Henry followed his gaze, interest lighting his eyes when he saw the delightful object of his friend’s attention. ‘That absolutely divine creature is Mrs Eve Brody,’ he provided, ‘born in England and raised in America. Her father passed away recently, leaving her immensely rich, I believe.’

‘Is that so,’ Lucas drawled drily, staring at the champagne in his glass.

‘Mrs Brody, who is a widow, has received numerous offers of marriage in America. Since coming to England, she has attracted a great deal of interest, but she discourages those suitors as soon as their intentions become apparent to her.’

Lucas turned a baleful eye on his friend. ‘You seem to be extremely knowledgeable about Mrs Brody, Henry.’

‘My sister is a close friend of Beth Seagrove.’

‘Then that explains it. However, I am not remotely interested in Mrs Brody, Henry.’ Turning his back on Eve, he smiled at Lady Ellesmere, who was beckoning him over, and began walking towards her, abandoning a bemused Henry.

Later Lucas’s eyes were drawn to Eve again, standing near the refreshment room, the light from the chandelier bathing her in a golden glow. From across the room he studied her stunning figure and flawless beauty. Her heavy, fiery auburn hair had been twisted into burnished curls at the crown. Her gown was pale green with a tightly fitted bodice that forced her breasts high and exposed a daring expanse of flesh.

Having been aware of his presence for some time and feeling his razor-sharp gaze on her, Eve found the memory of their angry altercation still very much on her mind. It made her feel quite ill at the same time as pride forced her to lift her chin and rebelliously to face him across the distance that separated them, meeting his ruthless stare. For the second time within twelve short hours her dark eyes beheld another’s in mutual animosity.

Lord Stainton’s tall, athletic frame was resplendent in black jacket and trousers. In contrast, his shirt and neckcloth were dazzling white. He looked unbearably handsome. He also looked utterly bored.

Eve stood in resentful silence while his gaze slid boldly over her, from the top of her shining deep red curls to the toes of her satin slippers. She was accustomed to the admiring glances of gentlemen, but there was nothing gentlemanly about Lord Stainton’s insolent, lazy perusal of her body. Incensed she turned her back on him to listen to what Beth was saying to her.

‘If the weather is nice tomorrow, I think we’ll take a picnic to the park. Would you like that? There’s to be a balloon ascent during the afternoon. The children would love that.’

‘I wouldn’t mind seeing it myself and it will certainly do the children good to get out of the house and let off some steam. How long will it be before your house in Camberwell is finished?’ Eve enquired. There was great excitement in the Seagrove household over the large house being built for them in Camberwell, south of the river. Like many businessmen, William was moving his family out of the centre of the city, yet close enough for him to drive in to work.

‘Another two months—and I cannot wait. Eve, I’m glad Estelle’s settled in so well. When you arrived, I confess to being worried that she would miss New York.’

‘Your brood have made it easy for her, Beth. In fact, at the moment life is one huge adventure for my darling daughter.’

Beth smiled, hiding her dismay that the same could not be said for her friend. Since Eve’s arrival, she had quickly become a popular figure on the social scene. Several eligible bachelors had been plaguing her relentlessly to allow them to pay their addresses to her, but she politely shunned them all, seeming to have no interest in forming that kind of relationship with any man.

Glancing across the room at Lord Stainton, Eve watched him prowl among the guests. He seemed to radiate barely leashed strength and power. There was something primitive about him, and she felt that his elegant attire and indolence were nothing but a front meant to lull the unwary into believing he was a civilised being while disguising the fact that he was a dangerous savage.

When he began moving into their vicinity, Eve’s urge to flee promptly overpowered every other instinct. ‘If you will excuse me, Beth, I would like to visit the ladies’ room.’

Having seen Lord Stainton arrive and the shock register on Eve’s face, Beth laughed and placed a restraining hand on her arm. ‘Oh, no, you don’t. I think you should be properly presented to Lord Stainton and forget your earlier encounter.’

When Beth drew her forward, mentally Eve braced herself.

Unable to avoid a confrontation, Lucas stood his ground and bowed graciously to Beth. ‘It’s a pleasure to see you again, Mrs Seagrove. Your husband is here?’

‘He is indeed, although I fear a game of faro has caught his interest. Lord Stainton, may I present my good friend, Eve Brody.’

Eve looked at Lord Stainton’s shuttered eyes. She could find no trace of gentleness or kindness anywhere in his tough, ruggedly chiselled cynical features. His slashed eyebrows were more accustomed to frowning than smiling, and he had a hard mouth with a hint of cruelty in it. It was a face that said its owner cared nothing for fools, and in the light blue of his dark lashed eyes, silver flecks stirred dangerously, like small warning lights.

‘We’ve already met,’ she stated, toying with the glass of champagne she held between her fingers.

William chose that moment to emerge from the gaming room; seeing him, Beth hastily excused herself, determined to reach him and coax him away from the game of whist that was about to start in the other room.

Lucas nodded to her and again fixed his gaze on Eve. ‘That’s right, Mrs Brody, we have met. I’m flattered that you remember me,’ he replied, keeping a good distance between them.

Determined to appear calm and unaffected by their early encounter and not indulge in a public display of temper, Eve forced a smile to her lips. ‘I’ve tried to forget our unpleasant encounter, Lord Stainton. It’s difficult.’

‘Well, here’s to your future success.’

He lifted his glass in a mocking toast. Eve did the same. Unfortunately her head chose that moment to spin. Her hand shook and the champagne sloshed out of her glass and spilled down the front of her dress. Lord Stainton jumped to the wrong conclusion as to why her eyes looked glazed and, raking her with an insulting glance, his mouth curved scornfully.

‘Didn’t anyone tell you about the perils of drink, Mrs Brody?’ he remarked contemptuously. He saw her flinch, but her gaze never faltered.

‘I don’t,’ she bit back, resisting the urge to snatch his glass and toss its contents into his arrogant face.

‘It is obvious to me that you do and that you cannot hold it,’ he said imperturbably.

Desperate to appear normal, Eve was thankful when a solicitous footman was already lowering a tray of champagne to come to her aid. With a grateful smile pasted on her face, she handed him her glass and took a napkin he offered with shaky fingers. She proceeded to dab at her dress and handed it back.

‘Thank you,’ she said, glancing around to see if they were being observed, relieved to find the incident had gone unnoticed.

‘Perhaps you would like some more champagne,’ Lord Stainton said in a silky voice.

‘No, thank you,’ she replied tightly.

‘It’s a very wise person who knows when to stop.’

She glared at him. ‘Go away, Lord Stainton. You really are the most provoking man alive and quite insufferable.’

Instead of being insulted or angered, he looked at her with amusement and shook his head. ‘What were you expecting to find, Mrs Brody? A socially accepted gentleman? A rake or a dandified fop? I am none of these.’

Before Eve could react to his words, in a mockery of another toast, he said, ‘Enjoy your evening.’ And he walked away to join Henry Channing.


Получить полную версию книги можно по ссылке - Здесь

Следующая страница

Ваши комментарии
к роману From Governess to Society Bride - Хелен Диксон

Комментарии к роману "From Governess to Society Bride - Хелен Диксон" отсутствуют

Ваше имя


Введите сумму чисел с картинки