Home > The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(9)

The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(9)
Author: Sophie Barnes


Seated at the head of the long dining room table, William regarded his wife who was sitting at the opposite end. She looked so tiny with all of that space between them, her laughter ringing through the air in response to something his father had said.

He was still annoyed with her for walking off the way she had, offering to waltz with both Stanton and Galensbury if given the chance to do so. She’d intentionally tried to irritate him, though he still wasn’t entirely sure what her motivation had been. After all, he’d practically declared her off limits to other men; she should be flattered. And yet, her eyes had been filled with sadness and her voice with pain as she’d taken her leave. He didn’t understand it, but it had touched a place somewhere deep inside of him all the same—a place he hadn’t even known existed, and that worried him. He couldn’t afford feeling pity toward her, much less anything that bordered on a more emotional response.

Still, he’d been trying to give their marriage a genuine try—had, in light of what the consequence would be, determined to make a real attempt at building a life together, with the hope that they might one day develop an affection for each other. An affection—ha! What a ridiculous aspiration when the woman he’d married was clearly not to be trusted. Only an idiot would give her a second chance.

A future image of himself back in London, cavorting in the arms of a mistress while his wife kept house in the country, shot through his mind. An estranged marriage—hardly what he’d imagined or hoped for himself, not when his own parents had loved each other so dearly. A bitter taste filled his mouth, and he quickly took a sip of his red wine to rid himself of it.

Taking a bite of his food, he eyed his sister, sitting to his left, as he remembered something. “Lucy looked rather upset after talking to you. What did you say to her?”

Alexandra shrugged as she raised her gaze to meet his. “Not much.”

“Not much?” He served her a frown that had oftentimes been used to intimidate the fiercest of men, yet it seemed to have little effect on his troublesome sister.

“I mean, I did badger her a bit I suppose. In fact, I told her that I know she married you with an ulterior motive in mind and that I plan to do what I can to discover what it is.”

William stared back at her with incredulity. What was it with women? He swore he’d never understand a single one of them. “Alex, when will you learn to keep your nose out of other people’s business?” His voice was tight, but there was still a hint of brotherly affection to it. He loved his sister dearly after all, in spite of her eccentricities.

“I’m sorry. I know I probably overstepped my bounds, but I was just trying to look out for you, William.”

He shot her a smile of reproach, but secretly, he couldn’t help but appreciate how much she cared. “I’ll let you know if I need looking out for. Until then, I do hope you’ll remember that I’m a grown man. I can take care of myself, so please don’t say or do anything else in regards to Lucy unless you’ve spoken to me first.” He waited for his sister to acknowledge his order, which she eventually did, albeit a little begrudgingly, then found himself asking, “You don’t like her much, do you?”

Alexandra shot a glance in Lucy’s direction and then shook her head. “No,” she said simply. “Her dishonesty cancels out any positive attributes that she might have.”

William considered this but found that he didn’t entirely agree with his sister’s sharp judgment. Alexandra was loyal to the bone, however. It was in her nature to protect the people she loved with fierce determination and had proved as much when she’d ridden to France two years earlier on a harebrained mission to clear his name of treason.

But, she did have a point. Lucy had made it clear she had an ulterior motive for marrying him, and he was now forced to consider if it was a powerful enough reason to merit her dishonorable actions. He found the spy in him rising to the challenge and wondered if he might be able to unravel the mystery behind his own wife. Why was it so important to her that they get married? His marriage had suddenly become the kind of intriguing puzzle he’d built his career on, and, for the life of him, he couldn’t help but smile.

“One might have said the same of me.” It was his sister-in-law, Mary, who was seated on his right, who suddenly spoke and brought him stumbling out of his daydream.

“I beg your pardon?” he asked as he raised his glass in response to a toast made by Andrew from further down the table.

“Forgive me,” Mary said, giving him an odd little smile. “But I couldn’t help but overhear Alexandra’s comment in regards to your wife. If you’ll both recall, I kept a great deal hidden from Ryan as well when we first met, yet you both seemed rather keen about the two of us getting married.”

“But your secret was something to be admired,” Alexandra stated. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “For heaven’s sake, Mary, you were riding to the rescue of ladies in distress, performing operations with the competence of an excellent surgeon. Your actions are quite heroic!”

William noticed the flush that rose to Mary’s cheeks as she said, “You think so only because you were aware of my actions, but suppose you hadn’t been. Wouldn’t you have worried that your brother was getting involved with a dishonest woman—one who appeared to be leading two separate lives?”

Choosing to ignore the question, Alexandra said, “Let’s not forget that you probably wouldn’t be married if it weren’t for me—honestly, the amount of times I had to champion your cause with Ryan…countless!” Reaching for a grape, Alexandra pointedly popped it in her mouth while William did his best to hide his grin. This little repartee was becoming more amusing by the second.

“Granted,” Mary agreed. “But that is beside the point, and before you say otherwise, Alexandra, for I can see that you are quite eager to do so, I merely think it prudent to suggest that you ought to give Lucy the benefit of the doubt. It is true that what she did was wrong, but I still believe that it would be wise to refrain from calling the kettle black.”

William choked back a laugh while Alexandra simply gaped at her sister-in-law, apparently unable to comprehend her candor. “Excuse me?”

“All I am saying,” Mary continued blithely, “is that from what I’ve been told, you weren’t exactly forthright yourself when you first met your husband. Indeed, if anyone here is a master of deception, then it surely must be you.”

Alexandra responded with a pout. “I didn’t trap him against his will.”

“You did other things that we’d best not discuss at present,” William muttered. “May I remind you of a certain duel?”

“That was…” His sister wisely clamped her mouth shut in order to avoid saying anything else. And while they didn’t discuss Lucy or his marriage any further during the course of their meal, William had to admit that both women had given him something to consider.

Retiring to the parlor with the ladies while the gentlemen enjoyed their after-dinner drinks in the library, Lucy decided that dinner had gone quite well. Everyone seemed to have had a pleasant enough time, and considering how hungry they’d all been thanks to Stanton and Galensbury’s delayed arrival, Cook’s bountiful feast had been met with unsurpassed greed.

She herself had had a lovely conversation with Lord Moorland about agriculture—not that she knew a great deal about it for that matter, but her Uncle George, who’d managed her parents’ estate before their departure from England, had spoken to her at great length about various varieties of corn, when to harvest, and how to determine what to plant for the following year’s crop. She couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old at the time, but she still had fond memories of riding out into the fields with him.

From what Lord Moorland had told her, Moorland Manor dealt mainly with wheat, while her uncle had shown a clear preference for barley. Her father hadn’t seemed to care one way or the other. He’d been much too busy advancing his political career from what she recalled. She closed her eyes momentarily as the memory of both him and her mother came rushing back to her. It hardly seemed as if the time that had passed since that terrible night had healed the wound that ran so deep inside her chest.

Sucking in a breath of air, she opened her eyes once more only to find Constance staring back at her with concern. “Are you all right?” she asked with the beginnings of a frown.

Lucy nodded as she took her by the arm and steered her toward a couple of chairs that seemed forgotten in a corner. “Yes, thank you—just one of my flashes.”

“I worry about you, Lucy. It doesn’t appear as though the…incident…is getting any easier for you to deal with.” Taking her seat, she patted the one next to her and watched while Lucy sat. “Keeping all this anguish and hatred inside you cannot be good for you. Perhaps if you were to confide in your husband…”

Lucy expelled a deep breath. Things were rocky enough between the two of them without her giving cause to further arguments. “I know that I will have to do so eventually if I am to ask for his help, but I find that it’s a difficult issue to approach at the moment—especially with the state of our relationship in mind.”

“And what exactly is the state of your relationship, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Lucy breathed a heavy sigh. Looking around, she noted that all of her guests were otherwise occupied with one another and were therefore unlikely to pay the least bit of attention to the fact that she and Constance had secluded themselves. A maid stood by the doorway, and Lucy quickly waved her over, asking her to bring a hot cup of tea for each of them, which she swiftly did with great efficiency. Once this had been accomplished, she returned her attention to Constance. “He resents me.”

“That is hardly surprising.” The words were gently spoken, and yet they still stung.

“I realize that, though I hadn’t expected to feel quite so miserable about it.”

Picking up her cup of tea and taking a slow sip, Constance sought out Lucy’s gaze. “I gather you like him then, perhaps more than you’d expected?”

“I don’t know.” It was the truth really. Since they’d met, her relationship with William had been a frantic rise and fall of emotions. At times he seemed cold and distant toward her, perhaps even angry and irritated by her, while at others he appeared quite caring and considerate. On top of this, there was the fact that he somehow seemed capable of weakening her knees with a mere smile or quickening her heartbeat with no more than a touch—not that he did so that often, yet it was making her feel not only uncomfortable but incredibly uncertain of herself as well.

Constance studied her for a moment. “He’s quite handsome, you know.”

A helpless laugh escaped Lucy’s lips, as if she hadn’t noticed.

“Have you…?”

Lucy looked at her friend in confusion. “Have I what?”

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