A Princely Dilemma. Elizabeth Rolls
There had been nowhere else to go. Her father’s will stipulated that until she married, or turned thirty, she must reside with either her uncle Bartholomew or her French émigré grandmother.
Madame la Marquise de la Marchèrand had received her willingly, if coldly. Even her enduring disgust at her daughter’s elopement twenty-three years earlier with a wealthy English merchant did not blind her to the advantages of chaperoning a young lady worth two hundred and fifty thousand pounds.
‘Soit. So be it. We will contrive. Bad blood, oui.’
Her Gallic shrug said it all.
‘Et pas de beauté. You are no beauty. But with such a fortune, here in England—a land of shopkeepers!—it will suffice for many.’
The old lady had sniffed disdainfully.
‘In la belle France it would not be so. Such a bourgeois connection, it would be incroyable. Unthinkable! But while there may be none in this nation fit to ride in a carriage with the French king, there will of a certainty be many suitors for such a fortune.’
As opposed to suitors for plain, bourgeois Linnet Farley.
Instead of pointing out that the last French king and his queen had lost their heads two years before and their young son remained imprisoned in the Temple, she had submitted to Grandmère’s decrees, preferring brutal candour to lying sweetness. If all she could expect was to be married for her money, then she would do it with her eyes open and choose for herself.
And she had. She had chosen Severn, almost from the minute of meeting him. Severn, whose smiling blue eyes had offered friendship…or so she had thought.
She blinked away the hotness behind her own eyes, grabbed the washcloth and soaped it. It would all be perfectly fine, if only she had not permitted herself to believe that Severn felt something for her. That beyond his pressing need for her money to pay off his father’s debts and save his family, there had been a genuine liking for her. There had been something in his smile, something affectionate, almost a caressing, that had always left her warm, tingly and slightly breathless. She still felt that way, only now there was that cool reserve in his voice, a certain distance when he spoke to her.
Ignoring the lump in her throat, she washed herself. She had hoped it was just discretion after that dreadful time Grandmère had caught them together and she had been in his arms, about, she had thought, to be kissed. And very willingly too. After that he had been all that was polite and proper, keeping a decent distance at all times.
Even on their wedding night. Oh, he had bedded her. Gentle, careful and considerate, he had made her his wife. With the lights out. Just as Uncle Bartholomew had suggested to Joseph. And left her room as soon as he had assured himself that he had not hurt her too much in taking her virginity. It was the same each time he came to her, and each time she found it harder and harder to just lie still and silent beneath him, her heart pounding, her body shivering with the need to move against him, with him. It was even harder not to ask him to stay afterwards, to hold her for just a little while. She dared not. Apparently Grandmère had been right; it was folly for a lady to wear her heart on her sleeve. It was better off kept safely away from sight, if not intact.
She could no longer hear her maid, which suggested that it was probably time for her to be out of the bath, ready for the hated curling iron. Sitting up, she braced to stand; the outer door opened, and she froze.
‘Your mistress is here?’ That deep, quiet voice that brushed every nerve.
‘Yes, Your Grace.’
The door closed, and he spoke again. ‘Madam?’
Madam wondered that the bath didn’t evaporate in steam, she was blushing so hotly. ‘I’m…I’m here, sir. In the bath.’
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