An English House Party Ch. 06byAMY_Monaco©
Thank you so much for the comments, I really appreciate them. They definitely aid and encourage the writing process. Well, here's the next installment. Happy reading!
Jason was in an irritable mood the next morning. He'd tossed and turned all night, sexually frustrated and disturbed by Penelope's words of undying love to that man, Dunsforth.
When he arrived down at breakfast, he gave everyone who looked up a curt nod before taking his place at the head of the table. Having little appetite, he settled only for a cup of coffee before scanning the newspaper. He didn't bother to contribute to any of the conversations going on at the table, though he noticed Alex Coulter, the Earl of Whittenhall exchanged a searing look with Emma.
Jason frowned slightly over the top of his paper, but his attention was drawn away when he heard Penelope's soft laugh nearing. He looked up in time to see her walk in with Dunsforth. Jason hated to see her bright smile fade when she locked eyes with him. He forced his eyes back to the paper, telling himself that last night was over with. They both should be able to move on. They were after all, adults. Dunsforth had taken a seat far away from Penelope, which suited Jason just fine. He put his paper down and saw only half a slice of toast and a small bunch of grapes on Penelope's plate. "Is that all you're going to be eating?" He asked in a low voice, concerned that what happened last night would affect her health.
She lifted one dark eyebrow. "I'm not very hungry this morning, my lord." When he looked at her closely, he saw the slight shadows under her eyes and knew that she hadn't had a pleasant night either. He silently cursed himself.
"I want to speak to you privately tonight, Penelope." He shook his head. "No. Don't argue with me. I'll see you tonight."
Penelope opened her mouth to say something, but then on second thought, closed it. She glanced up at Dunsforth, who was in conversation with Miss Reinhart and Lord Avery. She ached to be with Julian. It was him she should be engaged to, not Jason. Jason, who as indifferent to emotions like love and warmth. She stared down at her plate. Even now she couldn't figure out how he could unhinge her cool and make her feel so vulnerable and less sure of herself. By god, he even made her doubt her own feelings for Julian!
She blinked and then her eyes shot up when his hand covered hers. It was an almost tender gesture. Almost. For some reason she couldn't think of him ever being tender toward anyone. When she met his eyes, there was something indecipherable and dark in his eyes.
"I say, if the two of you continue looking at each other like that, you'll make the rest of the women faint."
Viscount Macey's words broke their trance and both she and Jason looked up to find they had an audience. The women were far from danger of fainting. They all watched with dreamy expressions on their faces, as if they'd glimpsed Jason and Penelope sharing a private moment. Penny tried to pull her hand away, but Jason held it firmly.
"We'll be sorry to lose another bachelor to the shackles of marriage." George Granville said jovially and several people around the table chuckled. Brandon Steel, being the only married one in the party said, "It's not so bad, old man. Don't listen to all the stories. It's rather nice."
"It's fortunate I do not view marriage as being restrictive. Especially not when my lovely bride is one I've known since childhood. There's something reassuring in knowing we have a long history together." Jason said, causing the men to mumble their comments.
Penny knew he was doing it for the benefit of their audience. Resisting didn't help when he lifted her hand up to his lips.
"You are so lucky, Miss Kingsley." Miss Reinhart announced.
Lucky indeed, Penny thought.
"Can I see you tonight?"
Penelope hesitated and then shook her head. "You better not. Jason mentioned that we had something private to discuss..."
Julian said nothing for a moment. He was sitting beside her on the sofa as they conversed quietly. "You've softened toward him."
His comment made her pause. "What?"
"I understand. You're getting to know him...and he is a Marquess and will be a duke in the future."
"I don't see how this means anything. You know I care nothing about titles."
"You're no longer indifferent to him."
Penny stared at Julian, unable to lie to him. Jason did interest her, yet she couldn't understand why.
"We grew up with one another, Julian. Our fathers are good friends."
"He's touched you already, hasn't he?" Julian asked, and she could hear the pain in his voice.
"Yes." She looked away.
"I'm surprised he hasn't thrown me out yet. Does he know?"
"I had to tell him." She said.
"But still you could have kept it from him. He needn't know we've been...intimate."
"He intends to keep a mistress. I wanted to have it out in the open that I will have a lover of my own."
This discussion was becoming tiring. She was beginning to hate that she needed to explain everything she did - to Jason and to Julian.
Penny found herself folding her hands tightly on her lap to keep from fidgeting.
"I don't wish to talk about this anymore." She said finally. "It'll all work out in the end."
It was late into the night when Jason approached Penelope's door. He knocked softly before entering. He found her sitting at the dressing table, brushing her hair out.
"You could have had us meet in your study."
He didn't bother to comment and instead said, "Dunsforth has thanked me for my hospitality and intends to leave."
Her hand froze and she stared at him through the mirror. Then, abruptly, she stood up and started for the door.
"I swear, Jason, if you have said anything or threatened him -- he's a good man. One negative word from you could ruin him."
Jason caught her by the shoulders, preventing her from leaving. "He is leaving by his own choice."
Sadness filled her. Even if she couldn't be with Julian physically, having him near had been a comfort, just to be able to talk to him. She tried once again to get to the door, but he held her firmly.
"He leaves at dawn."
She glared at him through her wet eyes, though no tears fell. "Promise me you don't intend to harm his career. He's worked hard all his life, he deserves his good fortune. Promise me."
Jason frowned. "I promise." She jerked away and turned.
"Is this what you came to tell me?"
"I came here so we could come to some sort of agreement. I understand how this must be for you -- "
"How could you? You've never loved anyone. How could you possibly know what it feels like to love someone and have them taken away from you?"
Jason steeled himself from the warring emotions inside of him. "You're duty is to me, not Dunsforth. I am going to be your husband and frankly, I have had enough of your petulance."
"My petulance?" She turned to stare at him angrily. "I seem to recall your bouts of fury, my lord. Oh! Arguing with you is useless. You must be happy now. Julian will be gone in the morning."
He came up to her, his voice suddenly losing all its anger. "Yes, but will he be gone from your heart?"
"Why would you even care? This is an arranged marriage."
She saw how Jason's jaw tensed as he stared at her. Conflicting emotions flashed in his dark blue eyes.
"I came here tonight to give you this."
He handed her an envelope, slightly bent and worn at the corners. Confused, she stared at it.
"I forgot I even had it until recently. I want you to read it."
"Why, does it contain a curse you've learned from your travels?"
He ignored her comment and bent down to kiss her on her lips. The gentleness of his kiss surprised her, and it only made her want to cry more.
"Just read it." And then he left the room.
Emma moved slowly over Alex, her hands resting on his hard chest. She sighed in contentment as she arched herself, bringing him deeper inside of her. She smiled down at him, loving the way he watched her so intensely. He urged her forward, catching her mouth in a slow, sensual kiss. His hands came to rest on her hips, bringing her down harder on him. With her hands now on either side of his head, she followed his example and rode him until they both moaned in climax.
She went lax on top of him and he was content to have her there, close to him.
It was their third night together and he had yet to pose the question. At the moment, it was too much for his mind. Though he did know that he had to set her up as his mistress soon. It was getting harder and harder to pull out when he climaxed. As his mistress, she would know the ways of preventing pregnancy. Emma rolled onto her side to face him, stretching lazily in a way that reminded him of a cat.
She was striking as she lay there, her black hair spread everywhere on the pillow, her violet-blue eyes darkened by desire.
"I can't seem to get enough of you." He murmured, facing her on the bed.
"Then you should stay the night." She whispered. "We can hide you in the wardrobe when the maid comes in the morning and then you can sneak back to your room."
He chuckled and brought her close. "I have a better idea." His expression sobered. "Come to London with me."
For a moment, her smile faded and then, she rolled onto her stomach, her dark hair falling over the length of her body. "You want me as your mistress."
"I want you as long as we share this passion for each other, cara." He kissed her shoulder.
"And pray, sir, what shall I tell my father and sister? That I've taken a lover but have no intention of marrying him?"
Ah, yes, there was the matter of her family. He'd been so obsessed about getting Emma to be his that he'd completely forgotten that she was a well-bred young lady.
She reached over and traced a long slender finger over her face. The action tugged at his heart. Such an unpracticed, innocent gesture, so different from what the women of his past had done.
"Oh Alex, let us just be content with this week." She said softly. "We shall end it while it is still good."
Normally, he'd been content, even thrilled to hear those words from a woman. Yet from her, he rejected the idea.
"We're good together, cara. We should make this last."
Emma felt her lips curl into a slight smile. "What will you do with me? Set me up in a small house, visit me once in awhile?"
"I'll set you up anywhere you wish. You'll have a troop of servants, all the gowns you want; I'll shower you with jewels -- sapphires to compliment your eyes and dark beauty." He gave her a strange look. "I'll take you to my villa in Italy."
"Is that where you take all your women?" She asked playfully, but he only shook his head.
"You are the first I have suggested it to."
"But I'll be your mistress there." She rolled onto her back. "I think it best we end it when this party comes to a close, Alex."
He came over her, his fingers tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear. How she loved to see his red-brown hair in the soft glow of the firelight. She reached up to comb her hands through it, the thick locks tangling in her fingers. Emma knew she would always remember these moments with him. Not just when they were making love, but when they were holding each other, content to be with one another in the stillness of night. Few words were needed. Everything they thought, wanted, and shared was in their eyes.
He kissed her lips. "Consider my offer. I want to show you my home. I want you with me."
"You just enjoy the thrill of chasing me." She replied softly. He frowned.
"I want you more than that, cara."
"You like women, Alex. I do not hold it against you for what you are. Can you not just simply accept the fact that I neither ask nor require anything of you but these weeks of pleasure? I didn't ask you to set me up in style."
"I am offering it to you."
Emma felt her heart twist. If only she could just settle for being his mistress. Alex, for all his impressions of being cavalier and uncaring, revealed a gentle side many did not know about. But she knew deep in her heart she wanted something more, marriage and babies. She wanted devotion and love, all of which Alex Coulter was not willing to offer.
"Please just understand that I want nothing from you but what we are able to share here." She stretched again and kissed him on the lips.
He grasped her by her hips. "I should go."
She nodded. He was reluctant. For the first time in his life, he was disinclined to leave a woman's side, no matter that he was satisfied. He found himself wanting to just hold her, to sleep with her in his arms.
That's when he stood up from the bed and made to grab for his robe. He'd never spent the entire night with a woman and with such a thought popping into his mind had him bemused. He may want Emma Kingsley as his mistress, but he wasn't quite ready to...well, he wasn't sure what he was ready for. He'd asked her to come to his villa in Italy, his retreat and he'd never asked any woman that before. That was enough for now.
"Sweet dreams, cara." He murmured against her lips and slipped out of her room. The ache in his chest returned again as he stripped for his own bed. He rubbed his chest absently as he thought of Emma. She was resigned to end it in a week. He was determined to have her. The only obstacle was to convince her, a well-bred lady to become his mistress. An innocent, a voice told him. She wasn't one of the practiced seductresses he'd known, but a young woman who'd come to him untouched.
"Ah, cara, I must have you."
A picnic was planned for the next day. As the entire party took carriages out to the grassy hills covering the Marquess of Fords' grounds, the sun was high and bright. Servants set up blankets on the grass along with large umbrellas to block out the sunlight.
"You're not being subtle, my lord." Emma said, as Alex took a seat next to her on the blanket.
He set down his plate and leaned over to whisper in her ear, "I don't wish to be subtle, cara. I will have you after this week ends."
Emma popped a grape into her mouth. "You are too sure of yourself. I said I wasn't one of your -- "
"Bloody opera singers." He answered frustratingly. "I know. That's why I like you."
At least he liked her. She wasn't sure if that was good and kept herself from dwelling on it further. Enjoy it and him, then leave. It was becoming a mantra in her mind, but the more she was around him, the harder it was to ignore her feelings.
Again, Alex had discarded his hat despite the sun and his eyes squinted from the brightness of day, causing faint lines to appear at the corner of his eyes. He conversed easily with others and shared a laugh with the Viscount and Nora before he caught Emma watching him.
"Will you return to London, my lord?" Miss Reinhart asked of the Earl. Emma was curious herself of what he would do. She herself would, of course return to her family home.
"At the moment I cannot answer that, as my decision will be influenced by others." The Earl replied mysteriously. "Business, you see." He then added. Emma could see the looks exchanged by the others.
Meanwhile, Jason and Penelope partnered up on a blanket and were sharing their meal as they listened to the others.
"I don't like the way the Earl watches my sister." Penny said in a low voice. Jason looked up and watched the said couple for a while.
"Alex is just flirting with her. These house parties usually bore him and your sister is an intriguing creature."
"No, I think there's something more."
Jason leaned over her and rubbed her arm in a comforting manner. "Do not worry yourself too much. I've been watching them, as well. And if it gets out of hand, I'll have a talk with him."
Penny looked up at him in surprise. "You would?"
His blue gaze was unwavering. "She's my family, too, now. I'll see to her protection, as well as yours. Alex may be a rake, but he'd take care where Emma is concerned." At least he hoped.
He too, had noticed the looks exchanged between them. Alexander Coulter would never seduce a debutante; his interest in Emma was purely because there was no one else to amuse him here.
Yet Jason felt doubt seep in when he saw the Earl's hand slip over Emma's waist briefly before coming to rest on the blanket behind her. It was a possessive gesture, a territorial male making claim on his female. Emma looked into the Earl's eyes as he did this and said something to him that had the man laughing out loud, causing several heads to turn their way. The couple was oblivious to their audience.
When Jason glanced at Penelope, she was thankfully talking to Jamie Ferguson. His thoughts soon switched to the letter he'd given her the night before. He wondered if she'd read it yet and suddenly felt self-conscious about it. He shifted uneasily on the blanket and on a whim, captured her hand and brought it to his lips. He needed to touch her in some small way, feeling insecure of what the letter might do to them. He felt her fingers close over his and he squeezed back. He knew she was upset about Dunsforth leaving, but he was grateful the man had. When Dunsforth had shown up in Jason's study, he hadn't expect his straightforward manner.
"My lord, I respect you as both a man and a businessman, so therefore, it is my wish to decline the rest of your hospitality and take my leave in the morning."
Jason, who'd been sitting at his desk, looked Dunsforth in the eye. "This is about Penelope."
Dunsforth swallowed hard and nodded curtly. "Yes, it is."
Jason stood up and went to the window, hands clasped behind his back. "I understand you and my fiancée have known each other for some time."
"I love her, my lord. Let's not foot around the subject."
"Yet you choose to leave a week before the party ends, when it could be time spent with her before she marries."
"This secrecy between us...it ill befits her station. And I do not wish to offend you anymore than I have."
"It doesn't offend you, Dunsforth?"
The man laughed dryly. "I used to be a dock loader. There's very little in this world that could offend me." When Jason turned, the man shifted his feet. "I shall leave at dawn."
"Allow me to offer you passage home."
Dunsforth shook his head. "All is arranged. I haven't told Pen -- Miss Kingsley, and I would have you do so."
Jason lifted an eyebrow. "No last words to her?"
The man drew up his height stiffly. "She knows how I feel."
Jason remembered feeling hurt by this confession. What was it about this man that he could gain Penelope's affection?
Jason extended his hand and Dunsforth accepted it reluctantly. "My lord, I only have one request."
"That you try to love her. Penny deserves that much."