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Home > The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(5)

The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(5)
Author: Sophie Barnes

“I know that I am not in a position to change your mind, but please promise me that you will be careful. If anything were to happen to you…” Tears began to prick at Constance’s eyes as she thought of Eugenia. It was still difficult for her to believe that she was dead. “I would never forgive myself.” Lucy was the closest thing she’d ever had to a child. She was thirty-six years old. Her husband had died eight years previously, leaving her a widow—the two had never managed to conceive. Caring for Lucy had given her life purpose; she loved the girl with all her heart and considered her task a huge responsibility.

From her place by the window, Lucy offered Constance a sad little smile. Walking across to the sofa on which she sat, she took a seat beside her and pulled her into a warm embrace. “I promise,” she whispered.

“Will you tell Lord Summersby who you really are?” Constance then asked, easing away a little so she could meet Lucy’s eyes.

There was a pause, as if Lucy was weighing the pros and cons of doing just that. “I doubt it would be wise,” she finally said. “I’ve no way of knowing how well I can trust him. The entire ton thinks me dead, and if word gets out that I am still alive…Well, I should hate for the news to reach Constantinople before I do.”

A soft knock at the door sounded.

“Enter,” Constance called out.

The door opened to Alexandra who, on the occasion of her brother’s big day, had bought a lovely new gown—a lilac creation that suited her blue eyes and blonde hair rather well. “My apologies for interrupting,” she said, her tone too clipped to be deemed polite. She’d clearly not forgiven Lucy for whisking her brother so hastily off to the altar. “William wishes to know if you are ready to depart for Moorland Manor.”

Lord Moorland had gifted the great estate to William upon his marriage to Lucy, insisting that Summersby House in London would offer more than enough space for himself while Moorland Manor would be put to far better use by the young couple. He’d made it abundantly clear that he hoped for the place to teem with a multitude of grandchildren, thereby adding to Lucy’s guilt since the matter of producing babies was presently the furthest from her mind.

Lucy nodded somewhat numbly. She’d no desire to spend the next three hours confined to a carriage with a man who clearly despised her. What choice did she have though? She’d made her bed, and now she must lie in it—however flea infested that proverbial bed might be. “Yes, I shall be right there,” she replied, straightening her spine and squaring her shoulders. No time for regrets now.

The first hour of their journey was spent in complete silence. As much as Lucy kept trying to come up with something to say to her husband, she could think of nothing that did not sound pitiful or stupid. Eventually it was William who spoke. “Did you enjoy the ceremony?” he asked. He’d been looking out of the window but had now turned to face her, his eyes lacking any emotion whatsoever.

Lucy nodded. “Yes, thank you, my lord.”

“Do not thank me, for I had nothing to do with it. It was entirely my aunt’s doing.”

As calm as his voice sounded, there was a level of annoyance to it that made Lucy cringe. “Yes, I know…I mean…” She shifted nervously in her seat. When she’d first met him, she’d barely been able to keep her mouth shut, yet now it was practically impossible for her to speak to him at all without her tongue tying itself into knots. “I merely meant to show my appreciation.”

“You may do so tonight, my dear—in the bedroom.” He gave her a meaningful smirk.

Lucy gasped. “Have you no sense of decency, my lord?”

“When it comes to my wife? None.” He leaned slightly toward her, his arms crossed, with his elbows resting on his knees. “May I remind you that I did not enter into this marriage willingly? However, since I do find myself in the undesirable predicament of having you as my wife, and since I really have no means of escape, I will at least take whatever pleasures I may get out of it, no matter how loathsome that may be for you. Do I make myself clear?”

Lucy could barely breathe. Her immediate instinct was to punch the insufferable man for saying such outrageous things to her, but it was his right—he was her husband. An unusual feeling assailed her, as if she was falling from a very high place and with no one to catch her. She tried to compose herself. “As I mentioned before, my lord, all that I request from you is a little assistance. As far as this…undesirable union goes, I would not have forced it upon you without being able to offer you some means of escape.”

Raising an eyebrow, William leaned back in his seat and fixed his gaze upon hers. “Go on.”

“If you help me, then I shall grant you an annulment. You will be free to marry another lady of your choosing, and considering how eligible you are, I dare say you won’t have much trouble with that, scandal or not.”

A smile of amusement spread its way across William’s lips. “And pray tell, how will you manage that?”

“If we do not consummate the marriage, then…”

William grinned in open amusement. “Is that your great plan?” Lucy stared back at him with a large degree of uncertainty. The sarcasm that dripped from his words made her edgy. “You stupid woman—lack of consummation is hardly grounds for an annulment. Where the devil did you get such a harebrained notion?”

“But I thought…”

“There are only three possible grounds: fraud, incompetence, and impotence. Let’s examine each of these, shall we? I trust that Lucy Blackwell is your actual name?”

Lucy nodded, for she could not under any circumstances give him her real name; he’d know who she was immediately.

“Now, I know that Lady Ridgewood gave her consent to our union, for I spoke to her myself, so no grounds there I’m afraid. As to whether or not you are of sound mind…If you ask me, then you are undeniably as mad as a March hare, though I doubt any judge or jury will agree. As for impotence, I assure you, that I would rather hang myself before declaring anything of the sort, especially since such a claim would be matrimonial suicide. So there you have it—it seems that you and I are very much stuck with each other.”

Lucy gaped at him. His expression was one of arrogant condescension. It was unfathomable. She’d been so sure of herself, so quick to act with the assumption that it could all be reversed. He’d assist her, she’d compensate him for the trouble she’d caused, and they would part ways. What a bloody little fool she’d been—too rash and blinded by her own purpose. The result: she’d trapped herself as much as she’d trapped him, as it turned out. Ironically, the last thing she wanted was a husband. She’d forced the marriage out of necessity alone, but once she found her parents’ killer and exacted her revenge, she’d hardly be able to return to a quiet family life at her husband’s side. Besides, what did she and her husband even know about one other? Nothing, absolutely nothing. It was galling.

“Feeling faint, my dear?” William’s tone was mocking, and Lucy couldn’t help but spot a look of pleasure in his gray-blue eyes. She couldn’t blame him—not after what she’d done. They were now in the same boat, however heartbreaking that might be.

A blend of panic and fear swept through her. Not only would they be stuck with each other for life, but he’d already alluded to his marital rights. After everything that had happened thus far, she doubted that he would be gentle with her and nothing terrified her more. “If that is indeed the case, then I am doubly sorry for my actions. I will do my best to make you both happy and proud, of that you may be quite certain, my lord.” She paused, carefully considering how best to phrase her next sentence. She needed to pacify him because if they could become friends somehow, then he might be more willing to allow her requests. “Perhaps it would be wise of us to become better acquainted with each other.”

He regarded her thoughtfully before saying, “Yes, I think that would be a splendid idea. I’m very curious to discover if you have any singular trait that I might find agreeable.”

She let the jibe slide, confident that he would respond better to a gentle wife than an argumentative one. “Promise me that you will stay with me a while at Moorland and that you will not hasten back to London at the first opportunity.” What she wasn’t ready to tell him was that she feared being alone—her days plagued by memories and her nights by terrible dreams.

Suspicion flickered across his face, eyes narrowing as he pinned her with his gaze. “For a moment there you almost had me fooled, yet I believe your real intent is to have me do your bidding. That’s why you wish to keep me by your side, and you’re hoping to do so under the pretext of desiring to better our acquaintance. You are sly in your attempts at manipulation, but you forget who you’re dealing with.”

Of course he was right, but Lucy knew better than to admit as much. Her only hope right now was that of retreat. “Let’s forget about my reasons for wanting to marry you for now. It’s nothing that cannot wait a while longer. Considering that we are bound to each other for life, whether it be for better or for worse, I think it prudent for both of us to try and make this marriage work—don’t you?”

William pondered that for a moment. In truth, he longed for nothing more than to dump the wretched woman at Moorland and then head back to London in the hopes of forgetting all about her. However, he couldn’t deny that the duration of his marriage might be made a little more bearable if he and his wife were given the opportunity to make amends and move past this bumpy beginning of theirs. “What do you have in mind?” he asked.

“I thought perhaps a wedding trip might be a good start—an escape from all of this and a chance for us to spend some time together.”

William stared at her in horror. A wedding trip? Who the devil had ever conceived of such a ghastly thing? “You do realize that I’m a man and not a girl in a frilly dress?”

His wife’s cheeks colored instantly. “Yes,” she muttered with a hint of awkward embarrassment. “It would indeed be difficult for me not to notice as much, my lord.”

Something about the way in which she said that pleased him immensely. “Ah, a compliment at last.” His smile, as brief as it was, was at least genuine. His curiosity peeked, he narrowed his eyes on her. “If I were to agree to such a thing, might I ask where you’d like to go?”

Lucy’s eyes met his in a deadpan stare as her lips curved into a charming smile that instantly made him feel as if his heart had just been dislodged from his chest. “Constantinople,” she told him sweetly.

“Constantinople?” Well, the woman was certainly full of surprises. “A tad bit further than I’d imagined. Why the devil would you want to go there?”

“It has long since been a dream of mine,” Lucy told him, her eyes straying to the window of the carriage. She was quiet for a moment, her thoughts clearly elsewhere until her gaze returned to him, and she said, “I’ve read a great deal about the people there, the culture, and the history. It intrigues me.”

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