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this novel should not be recreated in any form without prior consent from Jane Lark
Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 ,19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33,34,35,36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65,
When Richard had gone the room had a screaming emptiness as Emerald’s thoughts swam. His entire family had joined the game of pin Emerald down, surrounding her in a pack, hemming her in and keeping her talking until he had asked his inappropriate question. Only they had heard it. Of course she had known from the beginning that Richard was a clever and persistent man. She had just never thought that those powers would be used on her one day.
The thought of what he intended to do next distracted her as she ate dinner.
“Is all well, Emma?” The Duke asked. She looked up to face his stare. Perhaps he had spoken to her before. She had not been paying attention to the conversation. “I hear Wroxeter called today?”
“Yes.” What else was there to say, she could not tell him what Richard had said. “With his sisters.”
The Duke nodded, but she could see that he saw through Richard as clearly as she had. She ought to be cautious this evening.
When they reached the Merchants’ home, The Duke remained with her after they had passed the receiving line. Emerald strained to see Richard. She saw his family first. Then she saw him. He was speaking with his brother, who had not called that afternoon. Richard’s gaze turned from his brother to her, as though he had sensed her look without breaking the conversation.
She turned away and faced her cousin.
“Shall we have some refreshments, Emma?”
“Yes, thank you.”
He patted her hand. ‘Do not worry it will not be long before you can dance and enjoy yourself.’
But her grief would not simply end when her period of half-mourning did, the emotion was not bound by time in the way that society dictated.
Every moment she could sense where Richard was in the room but he did not come close, and nor did any of his family. Instead she remained at The Duke’s side as he moved about the room speak with his friends.
As she ate supper she could see Richard seated among his family. While she struggled to converse Richard talked and laughed. Why could her heart not comply with the sensible and disciplined woman her mother had wanted of her?
As people began drifting back into the ballroom Richard’s youngest sister approached. Perhaps Emerald had stared too much. “Miss Martin, will you walk with me? I hoped you would tell me more of India.”
Oh. Emerald’s heart raced,questioning the reason for this tête-à-tête as she glanced at her cousin but she stood without asking The Duke’s permission to leave. She curtsied, “Lady Rosalind.”
The Duke glanced across the room. Richard was still seated and he had his back to them talking to his brothers-in-law.
Rosalind threaded her arm through Emerald’s as though holding on so Emerald could not escape. “Let us promenade about the ballroom?” Once they were in the ballroom where the noise of conversation and music filled the air, Rosalind leant close. “Richard would like to speak with you. He will not come near you in here to protect your reputation but he suggested, if you are willing, that we walk out into the garden and find somewhere for you to talk privately.”
“And his meeting me in private will not affect my reputation…” Emerald’s voice was sharp. It was Richard manipulating again.
His sister smiled. “He promised he means you no harm. He will be careful.”
“Are you aware how many lies your brother tells?”
They continued walking, circulating about the edge of the dancers. “I am aware of the effort he will go to, to hold people back, yes. What you said about the way he lives in India did not surprise us. But I do not think Richard is lying tonight or that he would harm you. If you wish, I will stay with the two of you.”
“No, I will speak to him alone.” She was not afraid of him.
Within minutes they were stepping out through the french-doors on to a terrace illuminated by lanterns that had been hung in the trees. No one else was outside.
Rosalind turned away from the lighted paths and into the darkness. “There is a seat farther along.” She whispered. The farther they walked the more they relied on the intermittent moonlight that reached through the shrubbery.
“Rose,” Richard’s voice reached through the darkness then he stepped from the shadows. “Emerald.” There was a rare sound of vulnerability in his tone. Rosalind released Emerald’s arm and as Emerald’s hand fell Richard caught hold of her fingers then he lifted them to his lips for an instant. She could feel the warmth through the black satin of her evening glove as he kissed them.
“Thank you,” he said to his sister as their hands lowered.
“I will leave you, but I will not go far,” it was said to Emerald, to let her know she had a chaperon.
Richard smiled as Rosalind slipped away.
Emerald glanced backwards, half expecting her cousin to appear. It was tempting fate meeting Richard here.
As though sensing she might pull away he gripped her hand more firmly. “Will you sit with me?” The stone seat was tucked into the yew hedge. She nodded but he was already leading her there.
She pulled her hand from his as they sat.
“I am no threat to you,” he said quietly, in a pitch his sister would not hear. She stared into the eyes that months ago she treasured looking into. “Why did you agree to marry The Duke of Sunderland? You cannot convince me you desire that after what occurred between us at the engagement dinner.”
“I struck you.”
“You know full well I am referring to the kiss that came before the slap.”
“It was a moment madness.”
“Madness or not, it does not convince me you would choose to marry another man. At least wait until your father arrives.”
“He will not come,” the cold penetrated the thin sleeves of her evening gown and a shiver rocked her.
“He will come. He would resign his post rather than leave you alone here after what happened.”
Emerald’s eyes were wide in the darkness, and they said she did not believe him. Her hands clasped in her lap. This was the beleaguered, besieged woman of England, not his vibrant fire filled Emerald from India––her whole body expressed defeat.
“Give him time,” Richard urged. “Do not rush into this marriage. It is not right.”
“How do you know what is right for me?”
I am right for you. The words breathed through him. “I remember what you said on the ship, you wished for more than marriage, more than than a life of parlour talk. That is all you would have with Sunderland.” I can give you more, you wanted more.
“I would have honesty and safety.”
“Emptiness. What of adventure? What of love? What of your precious happiness? Do you not wish yourself happy anymore?”
Her look sharpened but there was pain in her eyes. No grief.
He twisted sideways, reached and held her hand leaving their joined hands resting in her lap. “Do not do it.”
“I promised my mother.” Her pale eyes were silver in the moonlight.
“That you would spend the rest of your life unhappy? She would not have wanted that. Break this folly off. You do not care for him.”
“It is not as simple as that. My aunt has my purse. The Duke has paid for all I have. I am beholden to him and what would I do without their help?”
She was being honest at least.
He gripped hers fingers tighter. They felt so small and fragile. He remembered the feel of her hand aboard ship, when she’d nearly died. He should have stayed near her in London and kept calling irrespective of gossip, no matter that she’d not wished to speak to him.
“You would ask for your money back,” he answered.
“And if I they cannot return it…”
“Then you may use your father’s name at the docks to gain credit––or mine.”
“You know I cannot do that.” But as she answered her fingers held his in return and warmth pulsed into his blood as she accepted his comfort.
“You should have written to me.”
“You deceived me.” Her fingers slid free of his.
“Emerald,” he found himself whispering harshly, losing patience, he’d never pleaded to anyone but her. “Cease this misunderstanding. If I had told you I would have lied to your mother. I made a promise to her. I did not tell you because it is what she wished.”
“And your mistress?” she threw back.
“I did not have a mistress when I slept with you, I had ended that relationship.”
“The day before and she was waiting in Calcutta without knowledge of your views.” Their conversation had become an exchange of cutting whispers.
“I did not ask to speak with you to argue.” His hand rested against her cheek, touching her as he’d longed to for weeks. “I love you. It has taken me a lifetime to fall for a woman as I have for you. I did not know what I was lacking until this journey. When I knew, why would I not have made the decision to end a relationship with a mistress? What we had on the ship was good, Emerald, I dare you to deny it.”
“It was a lie.”
“My love for you is no lie. Forget all else.”
“Forget you lived a lie in Calcutta. You denied your family and your name. I do not know you. I thought I had begun to, but I did not.”
“And you know Sunderland?”
“He has not pretended to be anything he is not.”
“Nor does he pretend to love you. That is what you are choosing, a lifetime in a loveless match. You cannot imagine it. You have only known love. You are not happy now. You will be unhappy for the rest of your life.”
She shivered. “There would be love, he has children. They love me and I them. He is marrying again to give them a mother.”
God the foolish, openhearted––adorable––woman. She was beautiful in spirit as well as face. “Do not sacrifice yourself for his children.” His hand slipped to her arm. “They are not your responsibility. They will have nurses and governesses to love them and a father.”
“But they have no mother.” Tears glittered in her eyes and rolled onto her cheeks before dripping onto her gown.
Now he understood. The night on the ship, when he’d heard her in the day cabin, she’d cried like this. He’d gone to her then and kissed her, he should have only offered comfort and nothing more––not love. She was crying for her own mother again. Her forehead fell onto his shoulder. He held her, embracing her rigidly, every muscle in his body taut, pain hitting him like a punch with a knife blow. He owed her the comfort that she had sought in the beginning. He ought to concede, if to be left alone was what she wanted. Mark and Joseph had been right on the ship, she’d been coerced into his bed.
She did not love him. That was the knowledge that was growing like fermenting bread. His feelings were unrequited.
Even the night he had come to find her here she’d only sought comfort in his kiss, grasping hold of something she knew and understood in her new uncertain world. Perhaps she was right, Sunderland was perfect for her. He was reliable and trustworthy––not the spawn of the devil––a restless, groundless man. She would be safe with Sunderland. Perhaps not loved yet happy to some degree.
He ought to let her go.
He would know the grief that she knew then.
His fingers longed to comb through her hair but it was curled and pinned, he could not disturb it. Instead his palm lay on her back feeling her sobs run through her body. “All will be right,” he whispered. “Your father will come and if you choose Sunderland, so be it, just speak to your father first.”
Richard wouldn’t go back to Calcutta. If she returned there he would not want to be where she was and have to pretend nothing had happened between them. Nor would he remain in London, not when he would have to watch her marry someone else, be it Sunderland or another man. Someone who would be right for her. Richard was not. He would go to another country, another continent. Perhaps America––was that far enough away to forget her? He had already commenced the arrangements here, he could leave. He had informed his man of business about his plans and spoken to Frederick, who was prepared to accept the responsibilities of Earl in Richard’s stead, overseeing everything, and taking a proxy vote in the House of Lords. Richard would bid Frederick wed and bear heirs too. This family did not need sons born by him. He had never planned for children anyway, it was only Emerald that had stirred up such madness of wanting in his head.
“Richard?” Rose must have heard Emerald crying.
“A moment more,” he responded. Rose’s dark eyes took in the scene, seeing Emerald’s distress and Richard’s comfort.
She disappeared back into the darkness.
“Emerald.” He kissed her temple. This would be the last time he touched her. She did not pull away. He straightened and his fingers lifted her chin so he could look into her eyes. The moonlight shone on her face revealing her desolation and the tear stains on her cheeks. “Have Rose take you to your aunt. Insist your aunt take you home tonight. Sleep and tomorrow eat. I can see you have not been doing so. When you feel stronger, speak to Sunderland and tell him you want to wait until your father arrives, at least you will want him there when you marry. But your father will give you another choice, to go home.”
He longed to kiss her but he did not. It was what he had done that night on the ship when he should have given her confidence that her pain would end. It would end.
God he hoped it ended. Could a lost-love hurt forever?
He rose, holding her hand. She stood too.
“Rose,” he called into the night air. She reappeared almost instantly. “Emerald is feeling unwell. Please take her back to her aunt and ask that she take Emerald home.” He caught Emerald’s gaze for a moment as he let go of her hand. “Goodbye.”
She turned as Rose took her arm. Rose looked back as they began to walk away. He nodded. Rose smiled. Emerald may not love him but he was not unloved. Even Alicia and Amelia held affection for him, no matter that he’d cut these ties years ago. He would send more letters and gifts, but he would not come back.
He did not follow them back to the ballroom but left via the stables. There was a ship docking tonight.
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama
The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last episode in the Marlow Intrigues series
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75 now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks) 😉
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark