An English House Party Ch. 09byAMY_Monaco©
Author's Note: Thanks for reading everyone! And remember to vote!
The morning they were due to attend a ball Emma woke very early. Before breakfast was served, she took a short ride in Hyde Park. She thought the morning air would clear her head, but not a half hour into her ride, her thoughts turned to the one man she was trying to avoid.
Jason's horse fell in step beside hers. She angled her head high so she could see past the smart forest green hat she wore.
"Good morning, Jason."
"Where is Penelope this morning?"
"She's rather busy with wedding plans. Later, after breakfast, we are due at the shops to order the right flowers, the right shoes, the right last minute frocks."
"I suppose men are excluded from these outings."
"Of course." Emma smiled. "But do join us for breakfast. No need to go change. Your riding attire will be perfectly acceptable, so let us head back now. I'm simply famished."
The sideboards in the breakfast room were topped with silver dishes. Both Emma and Jason helped themselves. She was just seated when the footman came in with the post. As her father had already left early, she skimmed the letters, putting aside all correspondence and invitations until there were none left.
Emma let out a breath. She could hardly expect a letter from Alex, but somewhere deep inside, she had hoped...
Penny walked in and Emma put a bright smile on. "Penny, just look at all these invitations. I haven't read any yet, but I've decided we're going to accept them all."
Jason's eyes locked on his fiancée and stood up to help Penny with her plate. "Good morning, darling."
It was two weeks since he'd been able to make love to her. Whoever said distance made the heart grow fonder obviously wasn't thinking about making love.
"Emma told me about your female outing today. Think I could convince you to let me escort you two?"
Penny laughed softly and nodded when he gestured at the steak ham. "I will be purchasing a few things I don't want you to see yet."
"I want to see you alone, Penelope. I miss you."
The brightness of her smile was something he'd asked for a long time. "We'll have some time alone tonight at the ball."
"Considering it's Lady Snyder's, I'm sure. Tonight, then."
Emma split the pile of letters with her sister, but soon left them for the gossip columns. She skimmed the latest scandal, one involving a Mrs. K------, who was caught with a Mr. J------, sans clothes.
There was a brief on eligible bachelors and what parties they were going to attend. Her eyes came upon the following article and her breath caught.
'Speaking of eligible bachelors, the dangerously handsome Earl of W---- was seen boarding a ship bound for Italy just three days past. How society is deprived of it's favorite rake!' It said. Emma quickly put her tea down and clutched the paper, reading the words carefully.
'One wonders if he will be staying in Italy for awhile, since it is noted he did not accept any of the coveted invitations extended to him by the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Havenwood and the Earl of Garrett. It was curious, though, that on the same ship, a certain widow by the name of Mrs. Katherine D---- was seen talking to the Earl.'
Katherine Dunfy. A wealthy widow, notorious for taking titled lovers only. Emma skimmed the rest of the article, but the words had gone on to describe some other bit of news.
So, Emma thought, she had been replaced by a woman almost twice her age, with two dead husbands under her belt. Fine by her. Let Alex Coulter make love to Katherine Dunfy.
"Dear, you look a bit pale."
Emma looked up and forced herself to fold the newspaper slowly. "Look at me, I'm so involved in the gossip columns, I forgot I'm hungry."
She took up her plate again. "I'm so excited for today, Penny. I want to stop into the perfumery and I think it's time Father got a new pair of cuff-links."
Penny smiled at Jason. "You see, we'll be too busy shopping to be good conversation to you if you come. Emma, I think we better make a list of all the things we need. Freddie, could you get us paper and stylus."
"Here, let me." Emma said to Freddie when he came back. As she scribbled down their list, her thoughts drifted to Alex again. He was Italy. Perhaps it was for the better. ***
Jason hated large crowds. Country parties were all well enough, but as the loud chatter of old henwits floated over the well-orchestrated music, Jason remained close to his bride-to-be. His father was off with Mr. Kingsley, puffing away on cigars in the smoking room.
With drink in hand, he stood with several acquaintances, his eyes lifting occasionally to watch Penelope on the dance floor, currently in the arms of a Sir Geoffrey.
Penelope looked so beautiful tonight, her dark hair swept up with pearl hair combs. The cream colored gown she wore was a confection, with a neckline that dipped enticingly low and short sleeves showing all that wonderful, flawless skin. The material moved with her body as she danced, forming against the curves of her long legs.
Her partner spun her around and she was suddenly on the other side of the room, facing Jason. Just for a moment, their eyes met. He held his breath when he saw the laughter and happiness reflected in her eyes.
Suddenly, something spread in his chest. His heart swelled almost painfully and he found himself smiling, even though Penelope was still dancing and unable to see it.
'I hope one day to see laugh lines mar the corners of your eyes...it would mean you have shared a happy life with me.' He recalled the lines he'd written years ago. Since rereading the letter two weeks ago, he could remember every word.
His eyes stayed on Penelope as she danced, her smile returning that of her dance partner's.
'I hope to see the gold band slightly dulled on your finger, an indication that you never took it off.'
His eyes flew to her gloved hands.
'I've never loved anyone...but as you are my future wife and the mother of my unborn children, I give my heart to you.' Absently, he placed his half-finished drink on a passing waiter's tray, eyes never straying from Penelope.
"Know that you hold my heart in the palm of your hand." He mumbled under his breath, just as the music ended.
He started for her.
"Excuse me." He said to Sir Geoffrey and took hold of Penelope's hand.
"My lord." Sir Geoffrey bowed.
"I need to speak with you alone." Jason said, leaning down to whisper into her ear. His own heart was pounding, his hand tightened on hers. "Now."
She gave him a strange look, but nodded. Out of the ballroom, down a lit hall and into a smaller one, Jason instantly had her between him and the wall. He kissed her, without care to anyone who would venture past.
A small laugh escaped her and he rained fervent kisses down her neck.
"What has gotten into you, Jason?"
He kissed her deeply. "You were right, darling."
"Right about what?" More amused about his behavior, she smiled.
"That one day I would look across the room and see the woman I love." He nipped at the corner of her soft mouth. "That woman happens to be you."
"Jason," She was speechless, and it made his smile.
"I love you, Penelope."
"I thought you would never..." She shook her head. "I want you to know that I'm not saying this because you did, but I love you, too. I was afraid to tell you."
"I want you to tell me everyday, beginning right now."
She wrapped her arms around his neck. "I love you, Jason."
"Let us find a more...private room, shall we?"
"But the party! Everyone will be wondering."
"Hardly. Just for a bit. I want to show you how much I've missed you." He rubbed his lower body against hers in encouragement. "We'll be very quiet."
A month of afternoon teas, balls and musicales passed. It was now days away from Jason and Penelope's wedding.
That night, Jason escorted his bride-to-be and Emma to his private box at the opera. The show was one that was raved the performance of the century, so the reviews brought in crowds. It was during intermission that Emma wandered off on her own, first speaking with a friend, then greeting an old acquaintances of her father's.
She'd taken special care of her appearance tonight for reasons she didn't quite know. She wore a gown of deep purple, a shade matching her eyes and shot with silver. It was cinched at the waist and sported the ever-popular lowering of the neckline. White flowers were pinned to her dark hair, emphasizing her dark beauty.
The drone of conversation filled the halls as intermission had everyone coming out of their stuffy private boxes. But she thought she heard something familiar, a certain deep voice...Emma went still.
The curtain was about to open and she ought to go back to her seat. She was about to turn when something out of the corner of her eye made her stop.
Alexander Coulter stood there with several people, looking as dangerously handsome as ever. His hair looked more brown than red in the dim lamplight of the opera house. But from where she stood, she could see all the details of his face. He was dressed as all the other gentlemen were, in formal black with a gray vest and starch white neck cloth.
He suddenly leaned down to listen to his companion's words.
Emma's eyes flew to the woman at his side and went pale. The woman was beautiful, the cool blond with a serene expression on her slightly tanned face. An Italian opera singer perhaps? She didn't look like one, but she did possess height and a long, graceful neck.
She heard Alex and his companion share a laugh and sound tightened Emma's heart.
She must have been staring, because the blond touched Alex's sleeve and nodded subtly to Emma. Horrified that she'd been so obvious – and on the likes of Alex Coulter – had Emma turning on her heel. She let out a sigh of relief when the soft ringing indicated for everyone to return to their seats. She wouldn't have to suffer any introductions.
When she took up her seat, she berated Alex silently for ruining her evening. The nerve! To think he actually brought his mistress here. And he must have known seeing him would be too much of a distraction, so she would be unable to concentrate on the performance.
By the second, shorter intermission, Emma was silently fuming and refused to get out of her seat.
"I think I'll just sit here, Emma. You and Jason can go on. The intermission is only ten minutes, so I'll hardly be able to go anywhere."
"May we come in?" A knock followed the question. Emma swung around to see Alex standing at the doorway of Jason's private box. His hateful mistress was there on his arm.
"Whit, when did you return to London?" Jason came forward.
"Just." Alex said. "I wanted to make it back before my homecoming turned into a treasure hunt of sorts, for the gossip columns. Miss Kingsley."
"My lord, it's good to see you again." Penny replied.
Emma was forced to stand, as manners dictated.
"Miss Emma." Alex nodded and brought the woman next to him forward. "It is my pleasure to introduce to you my sister, Lady Ella Coulter. Ella, the Marquess of Fords, his fiancée, Miss Penelope Kingsley and her sister, Miss Emma Kingsley."
Emma stared dumbfounded, all anger gone. Sister?
"I am very glad to meet you, Miss Emma." Lady Ella said. "May I?"
Emma nodded. She glanced at Alex, who stood there talking to Jason and Penny.
"I have to say I was hoping I would be introduced to you soon."
Emma was finally able to find her tongue. "I understand you have come here from Italy. Do you make your home there or here in London?"
"I suppose more in Italy. The weather is so much nicer there."
"Yes," Emma laughed. "I suppose you are right. Are you enjoying the performance?"
"Very much. But I seem to favor Italian operas performed in Italy."
Lady Ella Coulter was as composed as her cool blond looks. She was also very friendly and even invited Emma and her sister to tea one afternoon at their convenience. Minutes before intermission came to an end, they excused themselves.
Alex barely said a word to her, but as he said his good-byes for the night, his gaze lingered on her. Jason and Penelope were smart enough not to comment.
Alex took a fortifying swig from his flask and looked anxiously out the carriage window. He knew it was past midnight and the streets were empty and dark. He was restless, tapping his fingers on the windowsill. When the carriage finally came to a stop and he jumped out, stalking up the steps of the Kingsley residence. With his fist lifted, he started pounding on the door.
He did this until an old man answered, glaring up at Alex in his nightshirt and cap.
"What is the meaning of this, sir?"
"I demand to see Emma Kingsley. And I am the Earl of Whittenhall, not a mere sir. Now please, let me in so that I can speak to her."
"I think not. Callers can visit between the hours of – " The butler pushed at the door, but Alex held it firmly open. Before the butler could say anything, Alex walked right into the foyer.
"Let me repeat myself. I demand to – "
"Demand, sir?" Came an angry voice from the stairs. Mr. Kingsley came downstairs with a candlestick in his hand. "I don't care if you are the Prince Regent himself! You will call at the appropriate hour."
Was this entire maddening household deaf? "I won't leave this house until I have spoken to Emma, Mr. Kingsley."
Alex's eyes went up further to see Emma standing at the top of the stairs, wrapped in a long dressing robe, her long beautiful hair over her shoulders. Penelope was there behind her.
"It'll be only a moment." She implored. Her father started to grumble, which must have been meant as consent, for she descended and showed Alex into a small drawing room.
With the door closed, she walked past him and her perfume intoxicated him. She kept her back turned to him.
"Cara," he called softly.
His plan had been to court her, as she deserved. He'd give her flowers and take her out on rides through the park. But after seeing her the first time in so long, it had unlocked all the desire and need he felt warring within him. He no longer had the patience for a courtship and long engagement.
"I thought she was one of your new ladyloves." She turned her head so he could see her profile, but she still wasn't looking at him.
"I brought Ella back so she could be introduced to you."
A tear slid down Emma's cheek. "I thought I would never see you again. The papers said you sailed back to Italy."
He closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her tightly.
"I did so to prepare the house for a new mistress, cara." He murmured into her hear. "For God's sake, end my torment. Marry me."
She looked up at him. "Did you mean what you said about my meeting your sisters?"
Alex let out a frustrated laugh. Emma Kingsley was definitely a siren, teasing him one moment, tormenting him the next.
"I love you, Emma, of course, I meant it. I told you I would stop at nothing to have you. Why do you think I came storming in here in the middle of the night like a fool?"
She shared in his laugh and touched his crooked neck cloth. "I love you, too, Alex. Even before you took me to your bed."
He tilted her chin. "You didn't answer my question, cara. I am not leaving this house – this very spot – until you give me an – "
"Yes, I'll marry you, Alex."
"Thank God." He kissed her.
The door behind them swung open. "I have heard enough!" Came Mr. Kingsley's voice as he burst in. "You come into my home howling like a wolf and here I see you about to ravish my youngest daughter in her father's home. Leave us, Emma. I must speak with the Earl. Privately."
Emma's spirit, one of the things Alex loved so much as there in her eyes. She kissed Alex right on the mouth and then her father on the cheek before closing the door. Like a lovesick puppy, Alex touched the spot her lips had covered.
"In case you haven't the faintest idea, my lord, a man goes to the woman's father for permission to marry her. You young pup! There are formalities, man!" Mr. Kingsley said sternly, his arms clasped behind him. He paced the room slowly and eyed Alex's rumpled appearance disdainfully. "Now, state your business."
"I've come here to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage, sir."
The older man grunted. "Is that so? What have you to recommend yourself?"
Alex's eyes narrowed slightly. "I have wealth enough to allow Emma to live in the way she is accustomed. I'm of sound character and do not gamble or drink excessively." He cleared his throat. "I love her, sir."
"You love her." Her father sounded unconvinced. That certain something in the man's tone made Alex snap. After months of missing Emma, of being away from her, he wanted an end to all these obstacles.
"You are her father, sir, so I wish not to offend you. But if it is necessary, I will do anything to have Emma as my countess. I am prepared to kidnap her and take her to Italy, where we will be married, if I do not have your blessing. The carriage outside need only to await my orders."
Mr. Kingsley lifted an eyebrow. He suddenly came forward and clapped Alex on the back so hard, the wind was knocked out of him.
"Glad to hear it, my boy." The man laughed. Alex blinked.
"Kidnap her! You must be besotted beyond reason. Come, let us share a drink." He didn't wait for an answer and started for the bar.
"Do I have your blessing then?" Alex asked carefully.
"Yes, of course. Wait until Delaford hears about this. Kidnap her! Let us have cigars. No? Not everyday a man has a suitor burst in at midnight demanding to marry his daughter. Now, the wedding."
"I want it to be as soon as possible."
"I am afraid she cannot marry before her sister is. It's just not done."
"A few days after. I don't wish to be parted from her any longer." Mr. Kingsley's eyes narrowed in a suspicious manner that had Alex flushing.
"No, I don't think you do." The older man said slowly. "Say goodnight to Emma and return in the morning. We'll discuss the marriage contract then."
He had five minutes to say goodnight to her. With the drawing room door closed, Emma was melted into Alex's arms as he did wonderful things with his hands and mouth.
"Was he very mean about it?"
Alex chuckled. "Not at all, not after I threatened to elope with you. He found that rather humorous."
"Leave your bedroom window open later."
He licked the flesh below her earlobe hotly. "I may be a reformed rake, but I am not going to remain celibate until our wedding. Leave your window open, I'll climb up and keep you warm tonight."
"How are you ever going to get up to my room?" His wicked gaze met hers. "You underestimate a very aroused man-in-love." He cupped her bottom and rubbed against her. "Just do it. I'll be here in thirty minutes."
"I love you, Alex. Don't ever become the stuffy sort, bent on following all the rules."
He ground his hip to hers seductively. "You can count on my being very wicked in bed, every night, cara. Remember, window open."
He thought for a moment. "And no clothes. I like you wet and naked waiting for me."