An Undeniable Passion Ch. 02byopels©
Saturday seemed to come all too quickly for Virginia. She sat at her dressing table pinning her hair into a severe chignon wearing her most unflattering dress. She was determined to look as unattractive as possible.
Lucy, her maid, entered and exclaimed, "Oh, miss. Did you forget Mr. Thompson is coming this afternoon? Perhaps we can find you something prettier to wear." She began to look through the large oak wardrobe, pulling out a very pretty dark blue velvet dress. "You look lovely in this. You still have time to change, and we can redo your hair."
"Thank you Lucy, but I have not forgotten that Mr. Thompson is coming. I chose this dress specifically for his visit."
Lucy looked completely mystified by her mistress' words. "B-b-but miss, please excuse me, but that dress is not at all becoming."
"Yes, Lucy, I know. I have no intention of impressing Mr. Thompson. Father invited him and has insisted that I help him to entertain. He seems to have ideas that Mr. Thompson is interested in courting me. Well, I intend to discourage that interest."
"Very well, miss." Lucy put the gown back into the wardrobe thinking how nice it must be, to be able to dismiss wealthy suitors so carelessly.
Gregory Templeton's words echoed Lucy's as Virginia came down the stairs. "Have you forgotten that Charles Thompson is coming to call on you this afternoon? Go upstairs and change into something more fetching, that gown is dreadful. And do something with your hair. Put some ribbons in it or some curls. Where is that girl of yours?"
He was about to call for Lucy when Virginia spoke. "I have not forgotten that he is coming. That is why I am dressed as I am. I am not at all interested in Charles Thompson and I am hoping that he will change his mind about being interested in me."
Her father, desperate that his daughter change her attitude, pleaded, "Ginny, you haven't even given him a chance. Please make yourself look pretty and be nice to the man. Any girl in town would be thrilled to have him come to call."
"Then he can go and call on them. I have spoken with him and found him charming in a polite and distant way, but his behavior at the ball the other night was really dreadful. If you had seen him you would not have invited him today."
"He told me he asked you to dance only twice. That does not appear to be unseemly. Only your refusal both times was."
"Twice? Father, it was more than twice. Every time I stepped off the dance floor he was at my side begging the next dance. It really was appalling."
Gregory could take no more. It was imperative that she be charming and attentive this afternoon. "Young lady, I will not have you ruin this opportunity. You will go upstairs this minute and change your dress into something more flattering and you will undo that ridiculous hair do. Call your maid immediately."
Shocked by his stern tone, Virginia could only stare at him. He had never before spoken to her in such a manner.
"Now, before he gets here!" he all but shouted at her. Virginia ran from the room, calling for Lucy.
Fifteen minutes later the butler announced Mr. Thompson. Gregory stood to greet him and apologized for Virginia's absence. "You know how long it takes women to get ready," he laughed nervously.
A maid entered with refreshments and left it on the table, as Virginia entered the room wearing the blue velvet that Lucy had earlier suggested. Her hair had been released from the tight chignon and was now loosely bound at the nape of her neck, the long fiery red curls hanging down her back. The deep blue of the gown complimented her ivory complexion and turned her green eyes turquoise. She looked questioningly at her father who nodded his approval, breathing a sigh of relief.
Charles rose and taking her hand he chastely kissed the back of it. Complimenting her on her beauty he said, "You look just as breathtaking as you did at the ball."
"Thank you. You're much too kind," she murmured in response. Reaching for the teapot, she asked, "How do you take your tea, Mr. Thompson?"
Virginia was the very image of the perfect hostess. She was charming and attentive as her father had instructed but she was also cool and distant. The afternoon passed pleasantly enough and she eventually found Charles to be not quite so distasteful.
Near the end of the visit, Gregory murmured an excuse and left the room to give them a few minutes alone. As soon as he had left, Charles said, "Miss Templeton, I really must beg your pardon for my abominable behavior the other night at the ball. I was just so taken with your beauty that I acted in a most appalling manner and can only hope that you will forget the episode and that we can start with a fresh slate."
Something in his over eager manner did not seem quite right to Virginia, it was almost as if he were hiding something. However, she replied, "Of course, Mr. Thompson, consider it forgotten." I wish I could forget that evening myself, she though to herself.
"Splendid. I should like to call on you again. Would that be all right?"
Finding that his visit had not been as terrible as she thought, she consented. "Yes, Mr. Thompson that would lovely."
The look of satisfaction that settled on his face as soon as she spoke made her regret her words. Something is certainly not as it seems with Mr. Thompson, she thought. Mentally shaking her head she chastened herself, I'm just looking for fault where there is none. Her father seemed to have his hopes set on this match and while she would not necessarily encourage it she also would not purposely ruin it either.
True to his word, Gregory found his debt to Mr. Binton paid the following Monday. However his other debts were still a great problem and he knew that the only solution was Virginia's continued courtesy to Charles. He only hoped that Charles would ask to marry her. Even if the debts were paid the money was still gone. Gregory had lived a life of leisure his entire existence. He had never worked, just lived off the ample proceeds of his father's investments and trust funds. However, he had sold off the investments and plundered all of the trust funds but one in order to satiate his obsession with gambling. He had no trade, no way to earn money. That remaining trust fund and Charles Thompson were his, and Virginia's, only salvation.
Later in the week Gregory asked Virginia when she was to see Charles again. "He is sending his carriage for me on Saturday. He has invited me for tea. Lucy will accompany me."
"I'm glad to see that you have changed your mind about him."
"Yes, Father, you were right. He can be rather charming."
Feeling that their financial worries would soon be over, Gregory felt generous and gave Virginia some money to buy herself something with. "Go with Violet into town and get yourself that green velvet bonnet you mentioned."
"Oh thank you Father," Virginia exclaimed, kissing her father on the cheek.
Virginia was constantly amazed by the number of people she saw loaded down with bags and trunks heading for the harbor. The lure of America was greater than ever and more and more people were risking the crossing to try their luck in the raw new land. Liverpool's Mersey Harbor was a large one and most of the ships were either going to or just returning from America. People from all over Europe came to Liverpool to begin their voyage. The streets were full of people in the traditional clothing of their homeland, speaking in a dozen different languages and accents.
As the two girls walked down the snowy street together they always attracted the attention of more than a few men. However, today they ignored the stares that followed them.
"I don't know Vi, something just didn't quite seem right. It was almost as if he were hiding something, or lying about something." Virginia was trying to explain Charles' visit to Violet.
"Maybe he was just so distracted by your dazzling beauty that he only seemed to be acting strange," Violet laughed.
"No, really, I'm serious. He was not distracted, although he did seem a bit distant and not at all what I was expecting. I guess what I was expecting was for him to behave as he had at the ball. Annoying and over attentive."
"Were you disappointed that by his coolness?"
"Heavens, no. I was relieved. And he did apologize for his behavior that night. Still, something wasn't quite right."
"Are you going to see him again?"
"Yes, he's invited me for tea at his home on Saturday. Lucy will accompany me."
Violet was so excited for her friend. "Oh, Ginny I'm so happy that you finally have a romance. All your talk of wanting to fall in love, madly and deeply in love. How are you to fall in love if you never give any man a chance? You've only received Charles once and you're already certain that there's something wrong with him."
"Oh, I know. I keep telling myself that it's just my imagination, that I'm purposely trying to find fault." Turning pensive she continued, "I just thought that when I met the right man I would know the instant I saw him. Know that he's the one."
As they turned a corner a man struggling with a large trunk bumped into Virginia causing her to stumble on the icy cobblestones. He staggered away, distractedly calling out what appeared to be an apology, not realizing that he had knocked her off balance. As she attempted to regain her footing a strong arm grabbed her around the waist and pulled her up.
She found herself suddenly staring up into the most beautifully intense hazel eyes she had ever seen. She was so close, she could see the mingled green and gold flecks of the irises. They were surrounded by thick dark lashes and topped by a strong masculine brow. She was so mesmerized that it was a moment before she realized that the man was still holding her.
Pulling herself out of her trance she said, "I appreciate your help, sir, but could you please release me?"
"I just wanted to make sure that you had your balance," he replied in a smooth, deep voice.
"Yes, I'm sure that I do," Virginia replied tersely, her anger beginning to rise. She pushed on the man's arms to let her go.
Not relinquishing his hold, he asked, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, quite," she snapped and with that she pushed against his chest and freed herself from his grasp and in doing so almost lost her balance again.
As she attempted to collect herself, Violet piped up, "Thank you so much for your help, Mr...?"
"Drake Stratford, at your service," he announced, with a nod. He towered over the two young women. His thick, dark, almost black hair, flecked with snow flakes, was tied back with a ribbon. He was wearing an impeccably tailored long, black, wool great-coat that hugged his broad shoulders and strong arms. His long legs were encased in black breeches and shiny black boots. A white shirt stood out starkly against his otherwise black attire. His full lips broke into a smile displaying straight white teeth. "And you two lovely ladies are?"
Violet, holding out her hand, and batting her lashes at the handsome gentleman introduced them. "I am Miss Violet Adams and this is Miss Virginia Templeton."
"Well, Miss Adams and Miss Templeton it is surely a pleasure to meet you," he stated, taking Violet's hand and gallantly placing a kiss upon it, but keeping his eyes on Virginia.
Virginia, not impressed by his charm, and unsettled by his intense gaze, said coldly, "Thank you again for your assistance, Mr. Stratford, I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you. Good afternoon."
His eyes insolently scanned over Virginia's tall slender figure. With a smirk he replied, "I assure you, it was no inconvenience at all, but rather, a pleasure. Good afternoon ladies."
As he walked away Virginia could not help but notice his confident stride and the way the young women in the street turned to stare at him.
"Really, Vi, can you believe the rudeness of that man?"
"Oh, but Ginny, he's so handsome, and charming, and I do think he was rather taken with you!" she replied with a wink.
"Oh, you really are terrible. I'm sure he won't give me another thought." Virginia could still feel his strong arms and chest under her hands and rubbed them together as if to rid them of the feeling.
Even though she was sure that the man would forget her the moment he turned away from them she was annoyed that she could not stop thinking about him. As they were sitting having lunch, she suddenly realized that she was no longer paying attention to Violet's excited chatter about her new romance with Charles but was thinking instead about how Drake's chest had felt under her hands as she pushed herself out of his grasp. Even though she had been wearing gloves and he was clothed in a heavy wool coat she had still been able to feel the hard muscles in his chest and arms.
"Ginny, are you listening to me? You seem to be in another world. Perhaps you're thinking about the extremely handsome Mr. Stratford?" her friend teased.
Annoyed that Violet had read her thoughts so clearly, she retorted, "Of course not, don't be silly. I would just rather not talk or think about Charles."
"Well then, how about we do talk about that handsome stranger?" Her dark blue eyes twinkled mischievously.
"I didn't think he was handsome at all. In fact, I didn't even notice," she stated with an effected air of disinterest.
"Mmmm...really? Well, I certainly did and he most certainly was!"
In a desperate effort to change the subject Virginia asked, "Where shall we go shopping? Father gave me some money to buy myself something with and I would like to see if that bonnet I looked at last week is still there."
Violet tried to suppress a smile and began to chatter on again about the various places they could go that afternoon.
Over the next few days Virginia continued to find herself in the middle of some task and suddenly be not thinking about it at all, but thinking instead about Drake Stratford. The feeling of his strong arms and chest and the way it felt to be held by those arms and pressed up against that chest gave rise to butterflies in her stomach. She would close her eyes trying to rid herself of the feeling but all she could see were his warm amber eyes staring intently at her. She angrily pushed the thoughts and images away but they still came back and caught her unawares.
Saturday arrived and Lucy had just finished arranging Virginia's hair when the butler announced that Mr. Thompson's coach had arrived and was waiting to take them to the Thompson's home. The Thompson family lived in a large red brick mansion. Virginia looked on in awe as the carriage pulled up in front of the house. Of course she had seen the house a few weeks before, when they had arrived for the Christmas Ball, but in the excitement of that evening she hadn't really taken notice. However, now, in the light of day, she took a good look. A liveried footman helped her and Lucy out and escorted them to the front door, where the butler took over. He ushered them into a lavish sitting room where Charles was already waiting for them. The butler announced them and took his leave.
Charles rose and crossed the room to greet Virginia. "Miss Templeton, I'm so glad you were able to come," he said kissing her hand.
"Thank you. This is my maid, Lucy," she replied indicating Lucy who was taking a seat in the corner.
Charles merely glanced at the girl before ringing for his own maid to bring them some tea.
"Well, Miss Templeton, what have you been up to this past week?" Charles inquired as a maid entered carrying a heavy tray. She was clearly struggling with it, but Charles paid her no mind.
The girl set the tray down rather heavily on a side table. Charles gave her a stern look and the maid bobbed her head and murmured, "Pardon me, sir."
Charles frowned and replied only, "Pour," indicating that he wished her to serve the tea.
Virginia was appalled at the way in which Charles was treating his maid. She would never be so rude to any of her servants. Lucy was almost like a sister to her and the other servants in the house were as close as family. Virginia wondered if Charles even knew this girl's name.
As she handed Virginia her tea, she made a point of saying thank you, hoping that Charles would take the hint but he didn't even notice. She told him about going shopping with Violet and was telling him about how fascinating it was to see all the travelers in town but Charles only seemed to be half paying attention. His mind was somewhere else.
"Is something bothering you, Mr. Thompson?" she inquired. "You seem distracted."
"Hm?" he appeared startled by her question. "Oh no, no. Nothing serious. I'm sorry if I haven't been giving you my full attention. I will endeavor to be more attentive." He reached out and covered her hand with his own. "And please, call me Charles. May I call you Virginia?"
Blushing, Virginia looked away and said, "Yes, that would be fine... Charles."
The remainder of the visit passed pleasantly, but once again as she rode home in the carriage she could not help but feel that something was amiss. "Lucy, what did you think of Mr. Thompson's behavior this afternoon?"
"He was a perfect gentleman Miss Virginia," she replied. "Although..." she hesitated before continuing.
"Although? Although what?" she prodded.
"Well, it almost seemed as if...well...as if..."
"He were holding something back? Maybe even hiding something?" Virginia suggested.
"Yes, exactly," the maid replied. "As if he was hiding something. I think there may be more to this courtship than meets the eye," she added.
"I thought maybe it was my imagination. Trying to find fault so I would have an excuse to refuse him."
"Miss Virginia, it is only a suspicion. I may be wrong. I have never met the gentleman before and maybe it's just his way. Or perhaps he's nervous in your presence and we're interpreting his actions incorrectly."
"Hmm, you may be right."
"Maybe you should give him a little longer before you decide. After all, you may regret it if you're wrong. He would make an excellent match for you."
"You're right Lucy, I'll give him a little longer. Maybe all he needs to do is get to know me better."
Satisfied with her decision, they arrived back at home where Virginia sought out her father to tell him how her visit with Charles had gone. He would be delighted that they were now on a first name basis.