Marrying for Money Ch. 07byharemgirl©
Trevor mounted the stairs two at a time to retrieve the small bag he had already prepared with fresh clothes. He made his way to the stables and found Steven had already saddled a horse for him and was about to mount his own horse for his morning rounds.
"I'm going to Charlotte. It appears that Leanna is somewhere near there, and I'm not going to return until I find her."
Steven grinned and nodded his head. "I thought as much. Be careful, big brother. I'll take care of things around here until you return, but I wish you the best of luck in finding Leanna. Hopefully you will find her quickly, for your own peace of mind."
They clasped hands and Trevor swung into the saddle. He gave one final salute before turning away and setting his heels into the flanks of his mount.
As he watched his brother canter down the drive, Steven couldn't suppress a wide grin. "Leanna, you have no idea what you are about to be faced with. Trevor never lets go of what he truly loves, and I believe he loves you best of all."
The next morning, it was very difficult for Leanna to face Neville over the breakfast table. However, she refused to take the cowardly route, hiding in her room, for she knew she would have to face him sooner or later. Therefore, she donned one of her best day dresses of mint green twill and descended the stairs, only to find that the girls were just finishing their breakfast.
Neville appeared to be waiting for her, as he sat watching his daughters eat, while his own plate remained unused. He rose at the sound of her entrance and turned to give her a charming smile.
"Good morning, Leanna," he said warmly. "I hope you won't mind, but I took the liberty of having the girls eat a bit early this morning. I wanted a chance to talk to you alone before the day gets started."
Their eyes met and held as Leanna blushed once again. She knew he was thinking of the intimate moments they had shared the night before, and she could only hope he would handle the situation with discretion. Mrs. Mayberry appeared with their breakfast, and she left with the girls.
Once they were alone, Neville gave her a wolfish grin. "I'm tempted to skip breakfast this morning," his eyes dropped to her bosom, "you look good enough to eat."
Leanna felt deliciously flustered by his words, and she had to admit to herself that it was nice to have a man's undivided attention. Her experiences with Eliza had torn her confidence to shreds.
"Thank you," she murmured with a shy smile. As they both began to eat, she relaxed, for it was obvious that Neville had no intention of embarrassing her about the previous night.
"The girls have become very fond of you," he said, watching for her reaction.
Leanna nodded and smiled warmly. "I've become fond of them too. You have two very charming daughters, and I know you are very proud."
"Yes, I am. But I also know that they need a mother." He looked at her pointedly until she met his gaze. "I'll say nothing else about last night except to remind you that I was completely serious. I have high hopes of making you my wife, if you will have me, and I hope that you will begin to think about accepting that role. I realize that it may take you some time to get used to the idea of being a mother to the girls, but I know they have already begun to accept you as their mother."
Leanna looked down and spoke in a small voice. "I'm honored that you and the girls want me as part of your family, but please don't rush me. I must wait until the divorce is finalized, and I cannot pursue a future with you until I know that I'm free to do so."
Neville nodded his head slowly in acceptance. "I understand. I'll try my best to be patient, although that isn't easy when you are so beautiful and desirable and close at hand." When she looked at him questioningly, he laughed lightly and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial level. "Don't worry, I have no intention of ravishing you, even though I think about it often."
Realizing that he was at least partially teasing, Leanna smiled. While she didn't love him, she was becoming fond of him, and she found him attractive, even if the attraction was only a shadow of her desire for her husband. She realized that she was standing at the threshold of an intimate relationship with Neville, and it was up to her to choose whether to proceed or not.
"Perhaps the day will come when I'll be willing to be ravished," she murmured, boldly meeting his stare though her heart was pounding.
Neville held her gaze for several long moments, and they both were remembering the sensations caused by their shared kiss. "I'm most anxiously waiting for that day," he replied in a husky whisper. The warmth in his eyes was a tangible thing, and Leanna felt almost as if he had physically caressed her as she stared into his eyes. Taking a deep breath, his expression returned to a semblance of normal and he resumed eating his breakfast.
"In the meantime, Mrs. Jenkins is giving her annual winter ball this coming Saturday, and it would bring me great pleasure if you would agree to attend with me."
Leanna chewed her bottom lip uncertainly, unsure whether she should be seen in public with Neville when she was still married to Trevor. However, the more she thought about it, the more indignant she felt. Trevor had chosen another woman over her and had done so in his own home beneath his wife's very nose. He obviously didn't want her anymore, so why should she seclude herself from everyone? She had every right to pursue her own happiness.
"Yes, Neville, I would be happy to accompany you to the dance."
"Excellent, I had hoped you would say that." He gave her a rather sheepish look, but continued. "Now I hope you wouldn't mind terribly, but I have taken the liberty of arranging for a seamstress to visit with you today to prepare a new gown for the occasion. She is the best in the area, and I have asked her to follow your instructions in preparing a suitable gown for the ball."
Leanna was shaking her head and frowning. "No, I really cannot allow you to do that. It wouldn't be proper for you to buy me a gown. I have gowns of my own that I can wear."
"Nonsense. Look at it as a bonus for your hard work with the children. It hasn't escaped my notice that Susanna has become more like her old self every day, and I know that is due to your warmth and affection that she is beginning to come out of her shell. For that alone I owe you a debt of gratitude, so please consider a new dress as a token of my appreciation for your dedication."
Leanna was still frowning. "No, I cannot allow you to purchase clothes for me. It simply wouldn't be proper." Even as she said the words, she wondered why she was being so prudish. She was considering taking this man into her bed, for heaven's sake!
Neville rose from his chair and came to kneel beside hers. "Leanna, after what you told me last night, you will need several new dresses in the near future to accommodate your pregnancy. With any luck, your divorce will proceed with all due haste and we can be married very soon. Then I'll be buying clothes for you all the time. Please allow me to purchase you one gown in advance of that day. Where is the harm? No one will know except the two of us. And if you truly are considering becoming my wife, surely you could accept this dress as a gift from your future husband." He made the last sound more like a plea, and his earnest expression begged her to accept his offer.
Leanna looked down at his handsome face, and once again she felt her resolve softening. He really was a charming devil, and his persistence was eroding her resistance until it was very thin indeed.
"You have quite a way about you, Mr. Woodsworth." Releasing a sigh, she nodded slowly. "Alright. So that I may honor you by being appropriately garbed, I'll allow you to purchase one gown for me."
His smile was boyishly handsome as he raised her hand to his lips and deposited a warm kiss on the backs of her fingers. "Excellent. The seamstress and her helpers will be here any time now, and I have asked Mrs. Mayberry to stay with the children while you have a proper fitting done. The seamstress assured me that she would complete your gown before she leaves today."
Leanna's face registered clear surprise before she grinned. "I'm not sure whether I should be honored or upset by your presumption."
Neville chuckled and rose to his feet. "I meant only to honor you, Leanna. Now, I must get back to my duties, so I'll leave you to finish your breakfast undisturbed."
As Leanna finished her meal, she sighed wistfully, remembering their conversation. It was a welcome boost to her ego to have a man so ardently courting her, and she had to admit to herself that she was enjoying it. If only it were Trevor doing the courting. She shook her head in self-disgust. There was no sense in pining over a man she could never have when there was a very attractive man anxious to make her his wife.
The seamstress arrived with her helpers and gave Leanna a broad smile. "Good morning, my dear. Are you the woman we are here to dress?"
Leanna smiled and nodded. "Yes, I am. Please come in." She held out a hand in welcome, and the other woman swiftly brushed past her, calling out orders to the women trailing in her wake.
"My name is Mrs. Harrington, my dear." Her eyes quickly scanned Leanna's figure with a shrewd eye, and she gave her a wicked grin. "Oh my! We are going to have fun dressing you, my dear. You will make the other girls at the ball faint with envy by the time I get through with you."
Leanna laughed and blushed lightly from the compliment. "Thank you, Mrs. Harrington. Shall we do the fitting in my bedroom?"
"That would be fine. Just lead the way, my dear."
The entire group crammed into her bedroom, which instantly erupted in a flurry of activity. Cases were opened revealing all manner of fabrics and trims. Leanna spent a long time looking at the fabrics, and she realized with some awe that only the finest fabrics had been chosen. They all looked exceedingly expensive, and she hesitated to choose one for a gown.
Mrs. Harrington seemed to understand her hesitation, and she patted her hand reassuringly. "Mr. Woodsworth was adamant that I bring only the finest materials, my dear. I know he wants you to choose from the very best, and he told me not to worry about the cost. He wants the gown to exactly meet your specifications, whatever those might be."
Leanna finally chose one that had fascinated her from the beginning. It was an expensive silk that had been died with deep shades of blue and green, and the colors seemed to flow like iridescent water as she turned it under the light. The two women pored over a multitude of patterns before finally finding one that Leanna liked, then she carefully selected tiny sparkling beads to trim the skirt and neckline of the dress.
Taking her courage in hand, Leanna looked at the seamstress. "Mrs. Harrington, I don't wish to sound presumptuous, but Mr. Woodsworth has made his intentions clear to me, that he would like me to become his wife. By accepting this dress, I am stating by my actions that I am receptive to his offer. Therefore, it is very important to me that the finished gown be . . . pleasing to him. When he sees me in the dress he purchased, he should feel the money was well spent."
Leanna couldn't help from blushing hotly, for her meaning would be clear to the other woman. She was giving the seamstress free reign to put her body on display for Neville's pleasure. What must the woman think of her?
A wicked smile appeared on Mrs. Harrington's wise face and she nodded her head slowly. "Don't you worry, Miss. When I'm finished with this gown, Mr. Woodsworth won't be able to keep his eyes . . . or his hands off you." Seeing that Leanna was getting even more flustered, she quickly changed the subject. "Alright, dearie. We'd better get you measured so that we can finish the dress today."
Leanna undressed, and Mrs. Harrington took careful measurements before setting her many assistants to work. When all was decided, she shooed Leanna from the room. Just before three o'clock, Mrs. Harrington called her for the final fitting.
When Leanna entered her room, she gasped in surprise. The dress was even more beautiful than she had imagined it would be. The beads had been sewn all over the skirt, and their sparkling contributed to the illusion that the dress was created out of deep blue water. When Leanna stood before the mirror wearing the dress, she stared at her reflection in stunned surprise. It was not her reflection that stared back at her, but a total stranger's, a seductress of the highest order.
The seamstresses had made the neckline much more daring than she had imagined they would, and the peaks of Leanna's breasts were only barely concealed. The dress was cut off the shoulder, and it plunged deep in the back, to show off even more of her creamy skin. It was only the tightness of the fit and the stays that had been cleverly sewn in the bodice that kept the material over her bosom.
Leanna could imagine that every man at the dance would be eyeing her breasts, waiting for that moment when the material might slip a notch lower and expose her nipples to their gaze. She had never worn such an audacious gown, and she blushed hotly, knowing what Neville's reaction would be. He had already made it clear that he desired her, and when he saw her wearing this dress, he would know without a doubt that she welcomed his attentions. Did she dare to wear the dress? Was she truly ready to take the next step with Neville?
By wearing this dress, Leanna knew she would be making a definite statement. She would wear the gown and accept the consequences. She was determined to do whatever was necessary to make sure her baby didn't suffer, growing up with the stigma of being a bastard. If Neville was willing to marry her, knowing that he must also accept her child, then she would be a fool not to accept all he offered her.
There really was no sense in waiting any longer, she would only be prolonging her own agony. It wasn't as if Trevor would care who might be sharing her bed, Leanna thought bitterly. No doubt, he had his hands full with Eliza. Neville, on the other hand, loved her. While she couldn't return the emotion, she could offer her body to him. Perhaps by satisfying his desires, she would be able to repay him for some of the kindness he had shown to her during the past weeks.
A week later, Leanna sat nervously while Mrs. Mayberry finished dressing her hair high upon her head for the ball. A peacock feather had been woven through her hair, adding even more seductive flair to her appearance, and Neville had insisted that she wear a pearl necklace and earrings that had belonged to his mother. Mrs. Mayberry finally finished with her coiffure.
"There you are Ma'am. What do you think?"
Leanna turned to survey her image in the full length mirror, and she was filled with awe. Standing back from the mirror, Leanna had to admit that she looked ravishing, and her nerves settled with the knowledge that Neville couldn't help but be pleased with her appearance. The color of the fabric kept changing as she turned from side to side, adding an air of mystery to her gown. She was fully aware that she would be tempting Neville in this dress, and she shivered nervously when she thought about the night ahead of her.
Her presence on his arm was guaranteed to raise speculation, and with her wearing such a seductive gown, Leanna knew what conclusion the other guests at the ball would draw about her relationship with Neville. They would all assume that she and he were lovers. After tonight, there would be no going back.
Leanna knew that Trevor should have received her letter weeks earlier, but so far, he had not returned the divorce papers to her attorney. The fact that he hadn't even bothered to reply to her letter should be proof enough that she wasn't important to him. The bitterness of that knowledge hardened her resolve, and smoothing her gown once more, she left for the ball.
Leanna had descended a few stairs when Neville appeared in the doorway of the parlor to watch her. It was obvious that he had been listening for the rustle of her dress, and she kept her eyes averted until she finally reached the landing. She felt absolutely ravished by the heat in his eyes, so she really didn't need to ask what he thought, but she did. Looking up at him, she smiled and raised a brow.
"What do you think? Do I look presentable?"
Neville's responding smile was completely lecherous. "I think that I have never seen a more beautiful and desirable woman, and I'm tempted to forget that I'm a gentleman."
He scanned her figure thoroughly from the crown of her head to her slippers and back again, pausing for several long heated moments on her barely constrained breasts. The desire in his eyes caused her to swallow hard. She knew what he was thinking. Since the night on the balcony, she herself had wondered several times what it might be like to share this man's bed. Would she ever be able to make love to Neville without images of Trevor rising between them? She mentally shook herself back to the present moment. It was up to her to give an indication of which direction she wanted their relationship to take.
Leanna laid her hands on Neville's shoulders, and she gave him a flirtatious smile. "Nevertheless, I'm sure you will behave as a gentleman," she caressed his neck, letting her eyes speak volumes as she murmured huskily, "at least until we return home from the dance."
Neville caught his breath. She had never been so bold with him, and he settled his hands possessively on her hips, anxious to explore this new side of her. He found it almost impossible to raise his eyes from her décolletage. "We could forgo the event entirely, Leanna. You know I want nothing more than to make love to you."
Perhaps it was the heat of his stare that was unsettling Leanna, but she suddenly felt the need to stall. She was not a tease, and she fully intended to share his bed, but she had been expecting to have the whole evening to prepare for the event. Leanna gave Neville a coquettish pout, running a fingernail lightly down the side of his jaw as she flirted with him shamelessly.
"But you promised to take me to the dance, and I was looking forward to it."
Neville groaned. "When you place such temptation in front of me," he murmured, not trying to hide the fact that his eyes were delving into her bodice, "I am hard pressed to remember anything beyond my raging lust to have you. But I did promise. Shall we?"
They were soon seated in the coach, and as they lurched into motion, Leanna was briefly thrown against her companion. "I'm sorry," she murmured, as she pushed upright once more.
"That was quite alright, sweet Leanna. I just hope we have a bumpy ride."
Leanna looked up to see his devilish smile, and she raised a brow. "You seem to have only one course for your thoughts to follow lately. I'm not sure wearing this dress was such a good idea after all."
Neville chuckled and reached to squeeze her hand affectionately. "I'm sorry. It's just difficult to think of anything else when you are near and looking so utterly tempting. I fear that you have already captured my heart and mind, and you simply mean to torment me."
Although his words were spoken teasingly, Leanna detected a note of truth underlying them, and she bit her bottom lip. "Neville, I too have been suffering. I'm tired of being so lonely and unhappy, and perhaps it would be better for both of us if I stopped fighting the attraction between us." She looked down at her hands. "I cannot deny the fact that I still love my husband. However, it's becoming more and more apparent that he doesn't want me, and I'm determined to look toward the future."