Home > The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(4)

The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(4)
Author: Sophie Barnes

“Once the ceremony is over, we shall reconvene here for a small reception and wedding breakfast, and when I say small, I mean it. We will be no more than twenty people at most.”

Miss Blackwell blinked. “I had hoped we might marry at the Grosvenor Chapel.”

There was no reason for William to deny her such a wish, provided that the Grosvenor Chapel was available at such short notice. But, seizing the opportunity to give her a taste of her own medicine, he found himself saying, “Considering that you’ve had a say in everything else so far, I do believe I’ll be the one deciding this.”

Miss Blackwell drew a breath as if to add something but apparently decided against it, for she quickly closed her mouth again and merely nodded. “As you wish, my lord.”

Were her eyes glistening? Damn it all, but he felt awful.

He was trying to formulate an apology of sorts when the door to the parlor opened and his aunt marched in. “I hope you haven’t begun planning the wedding without me,” she said, sounding far too chipper for William’s liking.

“What a pleasant surprise,” William said as he rose to greet her, though his eyes remained fixed on his father. This was undoubtedly his doing.

His father smiled. “You did say that she would be able to help with the preparations.”

“Did I? As far as I recall, that was your idea.”

His father seemed to consider this for a moment, eventually shrugged, and said, “Ah yes, now that you mention it, I do believe you’re right.”

“Oh my,” Aunt V exclaimed, “is this your betrothed?”

William gave himself a mental kick. Once again he’d managed to forget about protocol, and while he might get by without it in his father’s company, his aunt was another matter entirely. Stepping forward, he held his hand out toward Miss Blackwell, who mercifully took it, allowing him the gentlemanly gesture of helping her rise. “Aunt V, it is my pleasure to present to you Miss Blackwell. Miss Blackwell, this is my aunt, Virginia Camden, the Viscountess of Lindhurst.”

“It is an honor to make your acquaintance, my lady,” Miss Blackwell said as she performed a perfectly executed curtsy.

The corner of Aunt V’s mouth drew upward to form a crooked smile while her eyes swept over Miss Blackwell’s entire form. By the time she was through, William felt confident that his aunt might have unnerved his betrothed more than he had done, for she looked far more concerned about her fate now than she had ever looked before—whatever confidence she’d had seemed to have vanished entirely under his aunt’s scrutiny.

But then Aunt V’s smile broadened, and her eyes took on that gleam that meant she was getting excited about something. “I have just the gown in mind for you, my dear, and with that hair and those eyes…William, you’ve no cause for concern as far as your children go—with a mother this stunning, they’ll be very precious indeed!”

“I…er…” was all William managed to get out before his aunt cut him off.

“Bryce, you must be so pleased, so very pleased indeed.”

“Oh, I can assure you I am,” Bryce said, beckoning for his sister to claim the remaining seat on the sofa. When they were once again comfortably seated and Aunt V had been offered a cup of tea, he said, “Virginia, I do believe you arrived at exactly the right moment. William was just telling us about his plans for the wedding.”

He wanted to strangle his father. This was clearly an ambush. His father must have known that he would try to make a stand against Miss Blackwell and had apparently decided to champion her cause against him—why, he could not imagine. And he’d certainly picked the right person for the battle, for when his aunt raised her eyebrows and said, “Pfft! Weddings are not for men to plan,” he knew he’d lost his footing.

Aunt V barely drew a breath before rattling off a list of things that would have to be attended to in preparation for the big day. Alexandra’s jaw dropped when she was issued orders to visit the florist, while Ryan began to squirm in his seat when he was told to accompany William to the jeweler’s. Apparently Miss Blackwell was deserving of a lovely new set of earrings for her big day.

Bloody hell!

And through it all, his father just sat there with that annoyingly smug expression upon his face, right until Aunt V, bless her heart, decided that he should be the one to hire the musicians. Served him right.

But as the minutes ticked by, William began to feel an urgent need to assert himself before the situation got completely out of hand. “Aunt V, we are not planning a big event, just a small function with the closest family.”

His aunt tilted her head a little and frowned. “You are the heir to an earldom, William. Surely you must realize that there are notable members of the ton who must be invited for the sake of propriety.”

William groaned.

“Now then,” Aunt V continued, “where were we? Ah, yes…the menu…”

His aunt had just begun suggesting some sort of seafood roulade when Miss Blackwell unexpectedly said, “I do apologize, Lady Lindhurst, but I think I may be in need of some fresh air. Would you mind terribly if I stepped outside to the garden for a moment?” Even more unexpectedly, William found her turning to look directly at him. “Perhaps you would care to escort me, Lord Summersby?”

Would he ever? Trying not to look too happy about the promise of escape, he made a stoic effort not to smile as he offered Miss Blackwell his arm. “Certainly.”

Lucy drew a sigh of relief the minute they stepped out onto the terrace. She’d accepted an invitation to tea only to find herself swept away in a dizzying array of wedding preparations. Noticing that Lord Summersby had looked quite put out by his aunt’s sudden interference, she’d waited as long as she’d thought necessary before excusing herself. Not that a stroll in the garden with a fiancé who held a grudge against her was much better. Hazarding a glance in his direction, she realized that he was looking at her a bit oddly. “What is it?” she asked, fearing that a piece of her attire might be out of place.

He frowned. “I was under the impression that you were unwell, and yet you look surprisingly healthy now.”

Oh…that.

“May I be honest with you?”

“Now would be as good a time as any,” he said, his eyes narrowing.

“Right.” Good Lord, he was making her nervous. “Well, it did seem a bit overwhelming in there and I…” He raised an eyebrow, and she felt the words cram together in her throat. He seemed far more imposing today than he had last night at the ball. She took a deep breath. “Well, the thought of fresh air did seem awfully tempting, and since you looked like you wouldn’t mind rescuing, I thought I’d ask you to join me.”

He stared at her for a moment. “Miss Blackwell, I have no idea what to make of you. Your actions last night were extremely selfish, you lie as if it is second nature to you, and you seem quite without regret about either. But still, there’s something…desperate about you. I have a feeling this doesn’t come as easily as you might want it to seem. What is it that you wish for me to do?”

Lucy wished she’d kept her mouth shut. She feared for her life and would now have to worry that the little she’d said in his family’s presence might place her in even greater danger. This was a family of spies; it was second nature for them to question everything, and she’d just offered them all a puzzle. If word got out that she was still alive…No, she couldn’t risk saying more until she was certain that they were in private and that he could be trusted. Turning back toward the house, she said, “My lord, I do believe it’s time for us to venture back inside. I’ve no desire for your aunt to think that I deliberately tried to avoid her company.”

He caught her by the arm. “Avoiding the truth will not endear you to me,” he told her firmly.

She looked down at where his hand touched her, hating the way her heart was responding. Forcing a serious expression, she looked up and met his gaze. “Sometimes, there is no choice.”

He let her go, but as she started making her way back inside, she heard him mutter, “On the contrary, Miss Blackwell, there is always a choice.”

CHAPTER FOUR

“This is not what your parents would have wanted for you, Lucy.” Constance’s eyes were filled with concern as she watched the young woman who’d been in her care for the past six years. “You’ve made a tremendous sacrifice, and on top of that you’ve forced an unsuspecting man into marrying you. What were you thinking?”

“You know the answer to that,” Lucy said. As soon as the cake had been cut, she and Constance, the Countess of Ridgewood, had retreated to the parlor of Summersby House for a quiet chat while the rest of the guests continued to enjoy the celebration in the ballroom. “For six years I’ve been planning my revenge, and I swear to you, I will have it, no matter the consequences.”

“Even if it means destroying the lives of others? What has Lord Summersby done to deserve a lot such as this?”

Pacing the room, Lucy ignored the question, offering only a reproachful glare in response. “He’s rated the best agent within the Foreign Office. If anyone can find the man I seek, then it surely must be him.”

“But to go as far as marriage?” Constance couldn’t hide her shock. She recalled how sweet and quiet Lucy had been as a child. The tragedy surrounding her parents’ deaths had made a detrimental impact on her. It was understandable of course, but she still worried that the path that Lucy now felt compelled to follow would only lead to more pain and suffering.

“You and I both know that it would be highly unseemly for a young, unmarried woman to travel alone with a single man whom she’s not related to and has only just met. My reputation would be ruined, but, most importantly, so would yours.”

Constance knew that she was right of course, but that was hardly enough to make the situation any better. It certainly didn’t excuse what Lucy had done, though she was finding it difficult to make her see that. “I worry for you, my dear,” she said softly. “All of these years, your heart has been so full of anger…I shudder to think of what you will do once you find the man you seek—if indeed you find him. More importantly, I fear for your safety. For whatever reason, he killed your parents and probably would have done the same to you if your mother hadn’t helped you flee.”

“I am reminded of Mama’s sacrifice every day.” Her voice was hard and unwavering as she turned her gaze on Constance, but as she briefly closed her eyes, Constance couldn’t help but notice the tears that were pooling beneath her lashes. “Sooner or later, I will find him, of that you may be quite certain.”

Constance sighed. She knew there was little point in trying to dissuade her; the whole affair had become a fixation. “What makes you think that Lord Summersby will even be willing to help you? The man will not be likely to grant you any favors in the near future after what you did to him.”

“I’ve still to find a solution to that problem,” Lucy agreed.

 

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