An English House Party Ch. 04byAMY_Monaco©
"Where is she off to?" Nora voiced, just as their host started after Penelope. The Viscount waved at them dismissively.
"They're childhood friends. They used to challenge each other to races all the time. Now you mentioned..."
"They are a handsome pair." The Earl commented to Emma. Their horses were several yards away from the Viscount and Nora Ferguson's. "Jason and your sister, I mean."
"Do you think so?
"I understand you grew up together."
The memories were fond ones, and it brought a smile to Emma's lips. "Yes. Our fathers are great friends and one of our family homes is next to their family seat at Delaford. You are acquainted with the Marquess from his travels, my lord?"
"We met in Italy, where I have a villa."
"Are you Italian?"
"My mother was. The title, of course belonged to my father."
"That must have been in interesting childhood. You speak Italian, then."
"Fluently. It's the language of lovers, you know."
She smiled confidently. She'd met his kind before. Though she only had one Season to hone her social and flirting skills, she'd met every kind of man. The shy, the boisterous, the friendly and the womanizing. It was obvious which category the Earl fell under. Men like him, she was sure, always wanted the last word. Normally, his type only annoyed her -- the self-assured arrogance they possessed in acquiring any woman they wanted to warm their bed. Yet there was something about the Earl that intrigued her. And she always loved a good intrigue.
"I am sure you use Italian to compliment women all the time."
He smiled wickedly. "Both in the bedroom and out."
She stared at him wide-eyed then let out a nervous laugh. "You mean to shock me." He reined in his horse closer to his. "I'm merely being truthful, cara."
She appreciated honesty. And she returned the sentiment. "My lord, you'd have better luck to aim your interests at another young lady of the party. You will find I will not simper and sigh at your charm, nor will I laugh at your comments simply to boost your ego."
Something darkened his eyes and he lowered his head closer to hers. She caught a whiff of him, the smell of leather and citrus. She'd decided right then and there that it was the most masculine scents she'd ever smelt.
"Miss Emma Kingsley." The way he say her name, drawing out each syllable was like a physical caress of his hand on her bare skin. She drew up her back to keep from shivering. "I am a man accustomed to getting what he wants. Whatever I aim to possess, I succeed. And you, Emma, I aim to have."
They served themselves for breakfast later that morning. As guests piled their plates up from the sideboard in the dining room, Penny found herself eating alone in her room. Her so-called accident labeled her an invalid for the afternoon and as everyone expressed sympathy, they also left her alone to recuperate for the coming evening. Emma checked on her briefly, making sure she was comfortable before joining the others for the morning meal. Jason later came up to make sure she was all right.
"I'm sore, thanks to you." She said, wincing in pain as she stood up. He came toward her with a swagger that heightened her anger.
"I could always soothe away your pain. You seemed to enjoy it earlier."
Penny took a big step back from him. "No. You just stay away from me. I don't want you touching me again."
"I think that will be a bit difficult, as I am your fiancé." He bent his head down to kiss her. "From now on, when we see each other, you will greet me with a kiss."
She thought of Julian and shook her head. "I will do no such thing."
"Then I will initiate the kiss. We'll slowly work our way up to more...intimate activities."
Penny felt herself grow warm in his embrace. "You've become impossible. When will you get it into your thick head that I won't carry out your demands like some slave? Like I said, we live in a civilized world."
He brought their faces close. "When it comes to taming you, it seems I must be uncivilized." She felt his lips brush against her cheek. "And in bed, you will find that I am nothing but." She pushed him away and this time, he didn't resist.
He started for the door. "I'll have one of the maids bring an ointment for you to ease some of the discomfort. But I implore you to send word immediately if you wish for a more personal nurturing. I would have the greatest pleasure in nursing your wounds."
After lunch, a group went out to take a stroll in the vast gardens spread over the estate. The boxed hedges were trimmed and blooms of every color brightened the otherwise ordinary day. Emma found herself breaking away from the group, wanting to explore the grounds at her own pace. She carried a book with the intention of reading quietly in the little alcove near the fountain where a statue of Venus stood. She remembered as a little girl that it was her favorite place on the entire estate.
She walked along the rose bushes, her hands clasped behind her back, offering a picture of innocence. She expected the Earl to show up any minute, and truthfully had hoped he would. He didn't disappoint her, for he appeared in the opposite direction, walking casually toward her, making a show of observing the flora.
"I dare say I'm dull company compared to your opera singers and actresses, my lord." He fell into step beside her, his shoulder bumping hers as they walked. "How do you know I court opera singers and actresses?"
"Don't all men? They are such...cultured people, after all." Was her dry response.
"At the moment, no more so than you." He glanced behind her, saw the book and plucked it out of her hand. He scanned the title.
"Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. A romantic, are you?"
She smiled. "Sometimes. But I'm a realistic romantic."
He scoffed at her. "There's no such thing as a realistic romantic. You're either practical or a daydreamer. And I have a feeling you are the latter."
Emma stopped to admire one of the plants, picking one of the white flowers and lifting the bloom to her nose. "And I shall venture a guess that you are the former?"
"Practical and ambitious, among other things. Every man has to be so we may rise above the ranks."
"A man can be a romantic and practical and still succeed. Just as a woman can. Look at Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy."
"Your Mr. Darcy doesn't exist in real life."
"Oh, he's out there in some way shape or form."
He bent his head down toward hers, so she'd only have to tilt her head to feel his kiss. She felt his warm breath caress her face. "Is that what you want? A proud, socially inadequate fop who spouts poetic words and undying love?"
She shot him a challenging look, feeling her lips curve into a sensual smile. "I want a man who's confident enough to seize his desires."
Alex's eyes lowered to her rosy mouth, so full and bow-shaped, it beckoned for a kiss. This game they played of cat and mouse ignited a fire inside of him he hadn't felt since he was a green lad, anxious to bed his first wench. She was young -- nineteen -- he knew this because he'd inquired, yet she acted like a woman in charge of her own fate. She didn't bat her eyelashes at him or take offense at his blunt conversation. Nor did he intimidate her. Instead, she met his comments with a challenge of her own, answering him with a candor that surprised even his jaded age of five and thirty.
Emma felt him lean in and she stealthily stepped aside, avoiding his kiss. If he thought she was that easy to get, he had another thing coming.
"I could give you a tour of the gardens, my lord. I'll even show you my favorite spot at the Venus fountain."
He watched her with eyes darkened with passion and for a moment, he said nothing. Then he straightened and clasped the book in his hands behind his back. He cleared his throat. "Lead the way, cara."
"Then what did he say?"
Emma looked at her sister through the mirror as she brushed her raven back hair. "He said he was a man accustomed to getting what he wants."
From the edge of the bed where Penny was perched, she rolled her eyes. "Men. They think they own everything, including the people they meet."
"I've dealt with his kind before. I'll be able to handle him." Emma replied.
"I'd be cautious, Em. You think you've known every kind of man, but this isn't like it was during your Come-Out. The Earl could be dangerous."
Emma said nothing for a moment. She met her sister's gaze in the mirror once more. "He intrigues me, Penny. I don't know what it is about him, but there's just something. I can't stop thinking about him."
Penny grinned. "Perhaps you're falling in love."
Emma smirked. "I most definitely am not falling in love. The Earl is so...oh! He's so sure of himself. He thinks he can weave his spell over me like he does his opera singers. I am determined to show him that I won't easily fall to his prey. I'm not one of his ladyloves he can shower attention on one moment and then discard like yesterday's newspaper. Penny, I have two weeks to give him a taste of his own medicine."
Penny shook her head, hid her wince as she got off the bed and pressed her cheek against her sister's. "Heaven help the man. Emma Kingsley aims to serve justice."
A vase of hothouse flowers arrived for Penny just as she was leaving her room the next morning. Attached to the yellow mums was a card. Written in a strong, sweeping hand were the words, "To brighten your day, darling -- J."
"Well, he isn't much for poetry, is he?" She muttered. She had to admit though, the blooms were quite pretty and had the maid set them near the window. She bumped into Nora Ferguson on the way down the stairs.
"I'm glad you're recovering from your fall beautifully." Nora said. The Fergusons were a warm duo, friendly and easy-going. Brother and sister soon became a favorite of the party, for they got along with everyone. Both fair-haired, with faint freckles scattered across their noses they made an attractive pair. They were the only son and daughter of philanthropists who'd died years ago on a ship that sunk on its way to Asia. Their strict grandfather raised the twins.
Nora hooked her arm with Penny's and together they rounded the landing toward the dining room. "The Marquess seemed anxious all day, probably worried that you were in pain. He kept glancing at the ceiling."
He was probably gloating in his power over her, Penny thought angrily. She offered Nora a smile.
"We've schedule another ride after breakfast. Will you be well enough to join us?"
Penny shook her head. "I better not. Perhaps next time."
She found her sister chatting quietly with the Earl at the breakfast table. When she sat down with her plate, Jason folded down the newspaper he was reading.
"Sleep well, my dear?" He leaned over the table and brushed their lips together. She froze and glanced around the room, blushing from the neck up. She felt some relief that no one paid them mind.
"Very well, thank you." She answered tightly.
"I hope you liked the flowers I sent up."
"Excellent. They've planned another ride, this time to the nearby village. I hope you'll decline to recuperate properly." The conversational tone he used irked her, but she tried to calm herself. She shouldn't allow him to anger her so. If she was going to survive a lifetime with him, she might as well get used to his ways.
"I have declined. I thought I might spend some time in the library or in the gardens."
"I think I'll join you, for I've declined the ride as well."
She shot her fiancé a look, which he returned with the lift of his eyebrow as if he dared her to refuse him. Penny lifted the glass of orange juice to her pursed lips.
There was great commotion as the party readied for the village. George Granville, the gentleman who was fond of hunting and fishing broke into a debate with Lord Huxley on the ideal weather to hunt for Quail. Emma, who'd also declined to join them, rolled her eyes as she met her sister's gaze. She slipped her arm into the crook of Penny's as they headed toward the study.
"I saw the flowers in your room. Quite pretty and thoughtful of the Marquess." Emma commented.
"He's a completely different person as I thought he would be. I know I judge him from a child's memories, but I cannot possibly see the resemblance between the sweet and kind Jason I knew to the Marquess, with his quick temper."
"Temper?" Emma shot her a skeptical look. "He seems even tempered to me."
"Yes, to you and everyone else. But when he's with me, he's the Devil himself, ordering me to do things and claiming to do what's best for me."
"You two make quite a picture."
Their two dark heads lifted as the Marquess came to join them. "I trust both of you are settled into your rooms and enjoying the party."
It was Emma who offered a genuine smile. "We have. And I confess that now that I am here, I will never want to leave. You were right to make this your permanent residence, my lord."
"Please, it's Jason. We're family."
"Not yet, we aren't." Penny said. Emma stood a little straighter as the Earl entered the study.
"I think I shall search your library for a good read." Emma announced and started for the far end of the study, while Jason led Penny to the other.
"How are you feeling today, Penelope?" Jason asked in a low voice.
She took a seat near one of the fireplaces, taking her time to adjust her skirts. "I'm fine, but I am surprised you care at all, my lord. After all, you are responsible for half of my pain."
"Still angry about it? You used to be very forgiving."
"If you think I forgave you for placing that frog in my bonnet all those years ago, you are sadly mistaken."
Jason chuckled softly and took a seat beside her. "If it's any consolation, I did the same to your sister."
Penny tried not to smile. "Yes, but she didn't put the bonnet on." Then she couldn't help herself and let out the laugh she'd been holding in. Jason joined her; the sounds of their mirth was lost in the cavernous study, barely reach Emma and the Earl. When their laughter died down, Jason met her gaze.
"I know this must be hard for you, Penelope." He began. "Marrying someone I don't really know is new for me, too."
Penny sobered and looked down at her folded hands. "Hasn't it occurred to our fathers that we might fall in love with other people?"
Jason thought about this for a moment. "Our society doesn't believe in love matches, not for us anyway." He saw her nod slowly, as if reluctantly agreeing with him. Even unsmiling, she was beautiful. Her profile was flawless with classical features, and had he noticed this before? She had a tiniest birthmark just below her left earlobe. It was almost hidden by a wisp of hair, but as close as he was sitting, he could see it. He felt an unusual urge to press his lips there.
"Look, I won't fall in love with anyone, I give you my word."
She looked up. "Matters of the heart cannot be controlled at will, Jason. I thought you intelligent enough to know this."
"You will soon realize that I can control mine. If I give you my word, than believe it. I won't fall in love with anyone." He repeated.
Penny rolled her eyes. "You say this now, but one day you will look across the room and gaze upon the woman you wish to marry for love. We do not control who we love."
He let out an incredulous laugh. Penelope Kingsley was the most beguiling and baffling creature in his entire acquaintance. "It is starting to sound like you want me to fall in love with someone else. Or is there some other motive?"
Penny lifted her face, smiling mysteriously. "My motives are my own, Jason. You will never know the truth of them."
When the Earl joined Emma, she was scanning the titles on a shelf housing foreign books. His eyes followed the curved of her narrow shoulders, right down to her trim waist and the rest of her. He'd lost track of how many hours he'd lain in bed, imagining her beneath him, on top of him, and everything in between.
"I thought you were joining the others to the village." Was her greeting. She didn't bother to look at him.
"I knew I'd find more fascinating company elsewhere."
"And have you?"
He gave her an once-over; so blatant it caused her to shift restlessly. "I think you know the answer to that, cara."
"I wish you wouldn't call me that, my lord."
"And I wish you wouldn't call me 'my lord.' It's Alex."
She laughed. "That is only reserved for family or..."
"Lovers?" He suggested and enjoyed seeing the heat flare in her eyes. What he really wanted was to see her eyes darken as he entered her for the first time. She'd be exquisite. Daringly, she met his gaze and leaned in a little closer.
"Is that what you wish us to be, my lord?"
The question surprised him, yet at the same time, he'd expected a playful response. Emma wouldn't answer him any other way, and he was beginning to find this one of her most attractive qualities. It was safe to say he actually liked Emma Kingsley. Which was saying much, for there was a very select group he respected or truly liked.
He leaned closer, until their faces were inches away. "I'd like to be as close to you as possible, cara. If our host and your sister weren't in this room, I would take you up against this bookcase right now and show no mercy until you were screaming my name." If she were any other woman, Emma was sure she would have fainted dead away. The image he described fascinated her. Unconsciously, her lips parted, causing his gaze to shift to her mouth. Never in his life had he wanted to kiss a woman more. By god, he'd give his entire fortune to taste those lips, to feel her melt in his arms as he drank her in.
"I told you once, my lord that I am not one of your opera singers."
"Cara, you have my word that I want you more than I want my next breath. Opera singers, be damned."
Emma was taken aback by his confession. His voice had grown husky, their voices lowered to such an intimate tone, anyone would think them lovers. She was determined to let him think he was dealing with a skilled seductress.
"I grow weary from such a confession. Men really should be more creative when enticing me to their beds." Her offhanded comment had his eyes narrowing slightly. As meaning sunk in, he lifted his arm, resting it against the bookshelf.
"You are only nineteen."
"How old were you when you first bed a woman?" She challenged.
"Touché. Only, for well bred young ladies, I had thought..." He smiled slowly. "Give me the word and I shall come to you."
His intense eyes held promise. One she was so tempted to accept yet something told her to hold off. She felt the ache in her breasts, in her belly, the wetness between her legs. She knew the basics of lovemaking, having accidentally come upon a couple at a party during her Season. She'd been unable to tear her eyes from the sight of a woman first using her hands to pleasure the man before he slid his member into her. The image had forever been etched into her mind. She didn't think it would ever become useful to her until now.
Abruptly, Emma grabbed a random book of the shelf and turned away from the Earl.
"Penny, Jason." She called. Jason and her sister looked up from their deep conversation. "I've decided I want to go back into the garden for some reading. The Earl says he has some business to take care of and I hardly want to interrupt the two of you."
Penny waved at the seating around them. "You aren't interrupting anything. Of course, you can join us."
"No, I really think the fresh air will do me good, so if you'll excuse me." With her back turned to them, she was able to exchange a sensual look with Alex. "My lord, I hope you shall finishing your business in time to enjoy tonight's...entertainment."