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Home > The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(6)

The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(6)
Author: Sophie Barnes

William was stumped. Perhaps there was more depth to her than he’d imagined. Indeed, he doubted that Lady Annabelle would have cared to venture across the Channel at all, much less as far as the Ottoman Empire. His own adventurous spirit relished the notion, though he wasn’t about to let his wife know it just yet; she still deserved to languish a little. “Hm…I will think on it, my dear, and give you my answer in the morning.” The carriage rolled to a sudden halt, rocking it abruptly from side to side. “In the meantime, it does appear as though we have arrived at our destination.”

Lucy looked startled, as if she’d been so caught up in their conversation that she’d lost track of both time and place. She picked up her reticule, which had been lying on the seat next to her. “Thank you,” she said just as William was readying himself to alight, “for considering my request. It’s most gracious of you.”

He couldn’t help but feel as if he was missing something, and it filled him with uneasiness. “Make no mistake—as tempting as a trip to Constantinople in your company might be, I do not make a habit of handing out free favors. You will repay me for this, and you will begin to do so by committing to your wifely duties.”

Lucy opened her mouth to speak, but William stopped her. “One word of protest and Constantinople will remain but a dream. My motive for marrying was to produce an heir. I would have been perfectly content to let Lady Annabelle see to that task, but you were determined to interfere.

“There is a lesson to be learned from all of this, and I suggest you learn it well: actions have consequences.” His bearing was stiff as he stepped down onto the graveled driveway and turned to offer her his hand. She took it without hesitation or complaint, her chin tilted dignifiedly as she smiled down at him. But her eyes glistened with the sadness of a woman who’d resigned herself to her fate, and he realized that her bravado was not directed at him but at the servants who’d been assembled to greet their mistress.

William had never felt like more of a cad. He’d been harsh with her, threatened her even when she was barely more than a child, yet it was she who’d risen above the disastrous situation, saving them both from losing face. Damn it all to hell—she’d lured him into the parson’s mousetrap against his will, he reminded himself as she settled her hand upon his arm. Nobody in his right mind would be able to blame him for his conduct toward her. If anything, he’d been more civil than most men in his situation would have been, and yet he could not shake the guilt that now gnawed at his conscience.

CHAPTER FIVE

There was no denying it. Lucy was terrified.

Upon their arrival, William had quickly retreated to his study under the pretext of having to see to some ledgers, not to mention the correspondences that must have accumulated and about a dozen other things that required his immediate attention. Lucy rather thought he’d been seeking an excuse to escape from her for an indefinite amount of time. Sadly, she hadn’t minded in the least; in fact, she’d been rather relieved to take a break from his constant condemnation. Instead, she’d allowed the housekeeper to show her upstairs, marveling at the grandeur of the house as she went.

Dinner had been a lonely affair with no sign of William, and while she’d enjoyed her afternoon spent in solitude, she had hoped that he would make an appearance in the dining room, if for no other reason than to make her feel less absurd about being the only person seated at a table long enough to fit twenty. The sound of her cutlery clanking against her plate had resonated through the room so that by the time she was done eating, she found herself immensely relieved at the prospect of escaping back upstairs to her room.

But then her maid had come to attend her, selecting a nightgown that, to be frank, was really too flimsy and transparent for Lucy not to blush at the mere thought of donning such a garment. It had been selected by William’s aunt, Lady Lindhurst, as part of Lucy’s trousseau. The second her maid had finished combing out her hair and departed, Lucy had jumped up and grabbed her dressing gown—she wasn’t about to let William find her lounging on the bed as if she actually looked forward to what was about to transpire between them.

Instead, she now stared at the heavy oak door with as much foreboding as a prisoner awaiting the executioner. Her knowledge pertaining to the more intimate aspects of married life was limited—not because Constance hadn’t made an attempt to enlighten her, but because Lucy had been too embarrassed to listen. She now wished that she’d paid more attention, for her mind imagined an experience wrought with pain and suffering, not too dissimilar to what she expected childbirth to be like, albeit in a reversed sort of way. In fact, she was convinced that the whole affair might even be quite harmful, especially to someone like her with no experience. She instinctively crossed her legs and clamped her buttocks tightly together.

William had told her that he expected her to perform her wifely duties without complaint, but would he force her? Would it even be fair of her to put him in a position where he might consider doing so? She shuddered. No, she’d treated him badly enough already. The least she could do would be to keep her end of the bargain and submit to his baser instincts. Perhaps if she managed to play the part of an agreeable wife, then he might grant her wish and tell her that they’d soon be off to Constantinople. Besides, she’d been through far worse, she told herself, and yet she still clutched her robe against her chest with trembling hands. She really wasn’t as courageous as she’d hoped.

A soft rap at the door sounded. Lucy flinched but quickly recovered. “Come in.” Her words sounded calmer to her ears than she’d expected.

The door eased open, and William entered, dressed in a deep blue velvet robe. Pausing for a moment, his eyes sought Lucy’s, and as they did, a crooked smile forced the corners of his mouth upward. Whatever apprehension she felt about what was to happen, she couldn’t help but suck in a breath. Her husband was truly a feast for the eyes with his dusty blonde hair, gray-blue eyes, and well-defined jawline. “You look lovely,” he told her as he nudged the door closed behind him.

“Thank you, my lord.” Her words were softly spoken.

William cursed beneath his breath. A better man would have thought of a far more appropriate word than lovely. To be fair, the woman who sat before him in her white dressing gown, her head held high while her fiery red hair cascaded over her shoulders, deserved better than that. In truth, she was completely and utterly mesmerizing—indeed, it was enough to make a wave of heat wash over him.

William’s body tensed. This was ridiculous. He’d been with countless women before. Why then did he suddenly feel as nervous as a young lad about to have his first encounter with a female? Lucy was his wife after all, and he was merely following procedure—doing his duty so to speak. They both were. He drew a tight breath and made his way toward her. “I trust the room is to your liking?”

Looking flustered, if not a bit shy, Lucy dropped her gaze to the floor. “My lord, I couldn’t have asked for better accommodations. Thank you.”

William steeled himself for a moment, reminded that however calculating Lucy had been, she was still an innocent. She was on unfamiliar ground, about to embark on a life-altering experience with a man she barely knew. It couldn’t be easy for her. Not to mention that he’d practically run off like a coward the minute they’d arrived, avoiding her completely until this moment. Truth was, it had all been so overwhelming—the rushed wedding; a manipulative wife who, in spite of his better judgment, still made his blood pump faster through his veins; the fact that, regardless of his best efforts, he’d had no say in anything for the past week, save for his own attire. And with both his aunt and father on her side, he’d also found himself saying his vows at the Grosvenor Chapel rather than at St. George’s. He felt as if she’d laid siege to his life, and all he could do was stand by and watch it crumble around him. Still, he ought to have given her a tour of her new home rather than leave her to herself for hours on end. She was after all in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by unfamiliar people, and with a newly acquired husband who, from her point of view at least, wished to have very little to do with her outside of the bedroom.

With this in mind, he approached her with greater caution, and as he reached her side, he held out his hand, allowing his fingers to glide across her cheek, fascinated by the softness of her skin. Gently lifting her chin to force her gaze upward, the quivering lips and tear-filled eyes that greeted him were like a blow to his stomach. What on earth did she imagine he might do to her?

Without a word, he sank down next to her on the bed and put his arm around her, pulling her gently against him until her head came to rest upon his shoulder. “What are you so afraid of?” he whispered, brushing his fingers gently through her hair the way his mother had done when he was a small boy and needed soothing. A loud sob was all he heard in response to his question. “We got off to a terrible start, you and I, but we are married now, Lucy, and what we are about to share is only natural. I won’t lie to you—there is bound to be a little pain involved, but it will be brief, and after that…” Dear Lord, she was actually trembling with fright. Swallowing hard, he forced himself to continue. “After that, Lucy, I promise you that you will enjoy it. At least I shall do whatever I can to make it so.”

Raising her head, her eyes locked onto his, and William instantly caught his breath. Even his heart was beating a little faster than usual. He closed his eyes for a second. It was absurd. This woman had treated him most unfairly. She’d been entirely selfish, taking away his freedom without a single thought for his wishes. And yet…and yet somehow, she was having a far greater effect on him than any other woman he’d ever known. Did he resent her? Of course—it was difficult not to in light of everything that had happened. But what was done was done. The best they could do now would be to make the most of it, like she’d suggested earlier in the carriage, and try to move past it. After all, the rest of their lives would depend on it. That wasn’t to say that he was about to forgive and forget from one moment to the next. She would still have to prove herself to him, and, unfortunately for her, doing so would be much more difficult now that he knew what she was capable of.

“I…” Lucy began, but her voice faltered. She paused, then took a deep, quivering breath. “All of this…I have no idea what to do, what to expect, or what you might expect of me. What if I disappoint you? And the mere thought of…of getting undressed in front of you when I’ve never even kissed anyone before kissing you at Trenton House that night…” Her words trailed off while her cheeks flamed with visible embarrassment.

William felt his heart tighten. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel uncomfortable. However, they were husband and wife now, and this was their wedding night. Part of him feared that if they couldn’t get this part of their marriage right, then they’d stand no chance at all with the rest of it. Hoping to reassure her, he said, “I think you’ll find that your mind has turned this into a far greater ordeal than it is likely to be for either one of us.” He shifted a little in order to face her. “And, if I may make a suggestion, a kiss does seem like a lovely way to begin.” Lucy’s eyes roamed over his face. It was almost as if she was searching for something. He couldn’t tell if she found what she was looking for, but to his relief, she eventually nodded her agreement. “I’ll let you set the pace,” he then said, forcing a calm and soothing tone that he hoped might put her at better ease. “I’ve no intention of rushing you into anything that you’re not ready for, especially not when this is your first time.”

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