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My Lady Wife

Novel By: Perpetua
Romance



Lord Davies murdered his wife. He escaped the cloud of suspicion but there is no doubt in his mind that his actions lead to her death. The events preceding her death are known to none but him and a trusted servant. He travels with his guilt to London for a singular purpose, to find a wife and produce an heir without the ton looking too closely at his past.
Elinor Benning, sixth child of the Duke of Wallingford chafes at the restraints placed upon her by society. Before settling down to the staid life of a married woman, she strives to do and learn as much as she can before she receives an offer for her hand.
A childish act, a chivalrous deed and the threat of a duel throw them together as man and wife. Despite Lady Elinor’s beauty and innocence Baron Davies steels himself against any feelings for her. His intention to breed an heir and send his spoiled little wife back to London keeping the child safe with him weakens as Lady Elinor matures as a woman and a wife to become the strong partner he needs by his side.
As their mutual attraction struggles to make itself known, a wounded war veteran, a French spy, a murder revealed and a vengeful lover become obstacles to their happiness. Has love met its match, or will it conquer all?
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Chapters:

1 2 3

Submitted:Sep 20, 2010    Reads: 99    Comments: 0    Likes: 1   


Elinor walked up the steps to her rooms, the gay bonnet she'd worn for their carriage ride bouncing up the stairs behind her as she dragged it along by a single ribbon.So far, her plan, what there was of it on such short notice, was failing miserably.Lord Davies was disgustingly polite and irritatingly attentive.He had a way of making her feel comfortable and she lost sight of her goal more than once.
"All is lost," she said aloud.
Yvette, her new abigail - a gift for her upcoming birthday, walked slowly behind her."Now, now," Yvette tried to soothe her as she helped Elinor remove her gown so that she could nap before supper."I'm sure your Papa will reconsider."
"Didn't you hear?It has all been settled without me; the wedding is in three days' time."
"Lady Elinor, as your chaperone it is my business to watch over you.It is not necessarily my business to listen as well."Yvette pulled the pins from her mistress' hair as they spoke.
"Oh, Yvette, he's purchased a special license!My birthday ball, the day of my official come out is now to be a wedding celebration.I cannot let this happen, I need more time."
"Does the Baron know you are unhappy?"
"I'm not sure.I've been acting the complete ninny hammer but it does not seem to deter him.He is always as polite and courteous as a man can be."
"Perhaps he desires a stupid wife."
Elinor threw herself down on her bed. "There has to be a way out of this.Can you think of nothing?"
"Well…" Yvette stopped and pursed her lips.
"Well what?Out with it, I need any help I can get."
"There is perhaps one thing that I did hear my Lady; or rather, something that I did not hear."
"Oh please make sense Yvette!"
"It is your name my Lady.Lord Davies has never once to my knowledge spoken your name."
Elinor sat up quickly, a look of concentration on her face."You're right. He's never called me by my name.Since the night we met I've been poppet, pet, darling, sweeting, my dear girl, and once I believe I heard him call me kitten.By our wedding day I might be 'my little hedgehog,' how disgusting."
Yvette shrugged, "How could he not know your name?"
"We were never formally introduced.I wouldn't know his name if I hadn't heard Papa use it.Oh my God," Elinor's face brightened with the realization, "he doesn't know my name."
"How exactly does this help you?"
"He hasn't yet signed the settlement papers; surely my name is on them," she said excitedly."There may still be time to fix this but I need to be sure."
"How will you do that?"
"I won't," Elinor jumped up from the bed and grabbed Yvette by the arms."You will."
"What?My Lady how …"
"It's perfect don't you see?No one in my family ever calls me by my name.I'm always called little sister or darling daughter.I've no calling cards of my own as I've only been allowed to go calling with my mother."
"Surely you were announced at Lord Powell's Ball?"
"I don't believe Lord Davies was there yet."
"But your father is a Duke; everyone knows your family."
"It's only the oldest sons that ever matter.When a Duke has five daughters no one cares overmuch whether they know their names or not."
"So," Yvette asked, warming to the plan, "how is it that I am to test him?"
"Mother invited him over again tonight so that we might play cards.She is determined that he and I get to know each other better before the wedding; as if it would make me want to marry the man.I'll ask her if you might chaperone while we play and as soon as we are alone you are to call me Lady Lucy."
"Who is Lady Lucy?"
"I am," Elinor said, "or rather, I'm not."
"Now you are the one talking in riddles."
"Call me Lady Lucy as often as you can tonight.If he begins calling me Lucy we'll know he hasn't signed any papers yet."
"What if he calls you Lady Elinor?"
"Then I must find another way to discourage him," she stated, "I know, I'll be unladylike, I'll cheat and curse and be vulgar.Serve us wine and I will overindulge."
"Wine makes you ill, milady."
"All the better; I'll cast up right on his boots if I have to," she said determinedly.
Yvette giggled, "And what shall I do?"
"You," Elinor clasped her abigail's hand, "will spill wine in his lap while serving.Between the two of us he'll be running out of here before midnight."
Their plan made, Elinor settled back on the bed for her nap.As her eyelids began to droop she smiled ever so wickedly as she remembered the solid feel of him lying beneath her.Some other woman, she thought as she drifted off to sleep, would be happy to have him.
* * *
Dinner dragged on for an hour before she finally convinced her parents that there was no need for them to curtail their social obligations just because of her.While they had decreed that she would attend no other social events until after the wedding, they had already accepted several invitations before what they now referred to as the 'incident.'
Elinor found herself physically herding her mother out the door to the waiting carriage while assuring her with each step that with her maid Yvette, Watson the butler, the housekeeper, thirteen maids, ten footmen, the cook and five of her staff she would be well chaperoned.
She was waving her hand frantically at the back of their coach as Lord Davies arrived and offered his arm to escort her back into the house.As if by divine inspiration the front door opened above them casting a warm golden glow over the steps.Taking Quin's arm she looked up in time to see a dark silhouette appear in the doorway."Lady Lucy," she heard Yvette call out, "please come back in the house.You're not properly dressed to go walking."
Quin smiled.Thank God for her abigail, he thought.Lucy, his fiancé's name was Lucy.A pleasant name, it was short and easy to remember.Patting her hand where it rested on his arm he spoke, "Shall we, Lady Lucy?" as he led her up the stairs.
Elinor winked at Yvette as they passed her in the hallway.It was their prearranged signal that he'd taken the bait.She blushed as she felt Lord Davies once again cover her hand with his.
Once settled in the drawing room they started their evening with a game of piquet.Yvette inquired if either Lord Davies or Lady Lucy would like her to ring for a bottle of Madeira to be brought to the drawing room.Elinor touched her fingers to her lips to keep from giggling out loud.
Elinor won the first hand of the game but suspected that he had allowed her to.Determined to beat him outright she focused all her concentration on her cards for the second hand while absentmindedly sipping her wine.More than anything she wanted to give him a trouncing that would wipe the smile off his face.Imagine, she fumed, proposing to a girl when you didn't even know her name.
"You're cheating."
Elinor dropped her cards in mock outrage, she had indeed been cheating."Sir, you dare accuse a Lady of cheating at cards?"
"Yes, and you're doing it quite badly.My dearly departed grandmother could have caught you from beyond the grave.Which one of your sisters taught you how to cheat?"
"None of them," she said haughtily lifting her chin in defiance."It was my brother."
"Then I most definitely will have to ask your brother to play cards some day.Tell me, is he a betting man?"
"Are you?"
"Am I what?"
"A betting man; do you gamble Lord Davies?"
"I never gamble more than I can afford to lose."
"I'm sorry my Lord, that was not well done of me.It's just that I don't really know anything about you other than that you can spot a cheat at cards."
"Quite.On a similar subject I was just now wondering if in private you might agree to call me by my Christian name and perhaps give me leave to use yours as well so we might begin to know each other better.We are, after all, soon to be man and wife."
Elinor felt her throat tighten.Of course if he knew her name he would want to use it.Wasn't that what she'd intended all along?She smiled shyly; she knew he was waiting for her response.This time she most definitely did not feel like giggling.She felt the tiniest burn of shame but quickly doused it with a gulp of wine."Yes Quinlan, I would like that very much."
"Quin, please; if you don't mind.The only person that calls me Quinlan is my dotty old auntie who lives in a smelly cottage with her housekeeper and ten cats."
She laughed out loud in a most unladylike manner before she could cover her mouth and regain control.
"Don't," he reached over and gently pulled her hand away from her face."You've a beautiful laugh Lucy, and a lovely smile.Never fear of showing your happiness to me."
Another flicker of shame fluttered to life somewhere near her heart.Elinor reached for her glass to quickly drown it before realizing that he was still holding her hand.Suddenly the grand drawing room felt much too small and much too warm.It had to be the wine.
"I'm sorry my dear Lucy," she heard him say."It was not my intent to make you uncomfortable."With that he slowly released her hand.
The next two hands were played with silent concentration while Elinor finished another glass of wine.She stole glances of him from behind lowered lashes while pretending to examine her cards.There was an ease about him; in the way he moved and in his stillness as well. Was that confidence or age? She wondered, before realizing she'd been staring at him outright for who knew how long, and the Baron had noticed.
"If those cards are not to your liking my dear I will gladly reshuffle and deal again."
"The cards are fine my Lord, I was simply considering strategy."
"My apologies,' he said with a chuckle, "for a moment it appeared your thoughts were otherwise occupied."
Elinor felt her face flush red and recovered her composure as quickly as she could. "I thought a moment of an amusing story that is all."
"Do tell."
Fiddlesticks! He knew she'd been staring at him and called her bluff. She searched her now story-less brain for anything that sounded amusing to keep from admitting she'd indeed been looking at him rather than her cards."My sister Regina had no less than six offers her second season," she blurted out.
"Six?That is impressive."
She saw that he was smiling again and wondered why she'd never before noticed that he had the whitest teeth she'd ever seen."Guess how she chose Benedict."
"Perhaps she was blindfolded and agreed to marry whichever one she could catch."
"No!" she laughed and slapped her hand on the table for emphasis."She put their names into a hat and drew one out; right in this very room."
"Never," Quin replied with mock surprise. Elinor waved to Yvette for more Madeira and he began to wonder exactly how much wine his petite bride-to-be could hold.She was already smiling and laughing as if she hadn't a care in the world.
"Yes, it's quite true," she continued, "and now they are madly in love."
Quin laughed."Is poor Benedict aware he was chosen in this manner?"
"No, so you mustn't breathe a word of it to him."
"On my honor I will never tell without your leave.Of if I forget that it was a secret and shout it out while in my cups."
Elinor laughed aloud again, this time remembering she had no need to cover it up."You're very amusing my Lord."
"Quin," he reminded her.
"You are very amusing Quin."
"I have several tenants that would be quick to argue that point with you.However, you make it very easy to speak freely my dear Lucy."
Yvette returned with a small tray containing another decanter of deep red Madeira.Balancing it precariously on the edge of the table, she preceded to fill their glasses.In a movement so smooth that not a hint of suspicion was aroused, the tray shifted, and as she grabbed for the decanter, spilled the wine onto Lord Davies lap.Quin jumped up from his chair, but the damage was already done and he watched in horror as a bright red stain bloomed across the front of his trousers.
"Oh, Lord Davies!I am so sorry, please forgive me."Looking convincingly contrite, Yvette reached for the fallen glass.
Elinor stood, took a sip of her wine and surveyed the damage."I'm afraid the chair is ruined and the carpet will need cleaning as well," she said matter-of-factly. "Our housekeeper will be furious."
The housekeeper?Quin shook his head, did neither one have an ounce of concern for his situation?"Would it be too much to request a towel please?"
"Immediately, my Lord," Yvette responded, and turned toward the door.
"Yvette," Elinor called after her, "Someone on the kitchen staff must have a concoction for removing wine stains; we may yet be able to save Lord Davies' trousers."
"I'll see to it my Lady."
Elinor continued to sip her wine, trying hard not to notice the stain and any other thoughts of Lord Davies' trousers.Unfortunately the red stain drew her eyes like a beacon and as she spoke she addressed his midsection."I'm terribly sorry Quin; it appears that we are to be vexed by spirits yet again."
"Apparently it was my turn for a dousing."
She lifted her gaze to his face, "We are most unlucky, are we not?It seems a bad sign for our future."
"Or, nothing more than a silly accident; you mustn't let it trouble you."
"I am not troubled," she lied. "I only wonder if you may be reconsidering your offer."
"I assure you …" he was cut off by Yvette's return with a damp towel on a tray.
"The staff swears by this remedy my Lord."Yvette took up the towel and reached to press it against the stain.
He stayed her hand as she reached out."I believe I'll take it from here Yvette."He turned his back to the women and cautiously pressed the damp towel against his upper thigh.The bright red did indeed fade.It was now a dark green.
He pressed at the stain again and noticed an additional change; whatever chemical reaction turned the red to green was now burning the flesh underneath his trousers.
"Is it working, Lord Davies?" asked Yvette.
"Not yet," he replied through clenched teeth.
"Perhaps if you removed your trousers it would be easier," he heard his fiancé offer.He turned to them just in time to catch a glimmer of something in Yvette's expression.Amusement?
She looked almost as if she'd done it on purpose.The thought stilled his hand.He had no proof and it certainly appeared accidental.It was difficult to think with his bollocks on fire but he was determined not to show it."My trousers look to be a total loss, but I believe they shall stay with me."
Elinor giggled, "Oh, of course."This time when she reached for her glass, he moved it from her reach.
"It's late and you are starting to look a bit rosy in the cheeks.I think it best that I take my leave and you retire for a good night's sleep.With your permission I will call on you again tomorrow.Your mother has suggested a trip to the zoological gardens.Does that suit you?"
Elinor ignored the sour look on Yvette's face."Yes, I would like that very much."
"I'll call at eleven then and perhaps we can tour the gardens and luncheon in the City.We need to speak more of our plans for after the wedding.I'm sure there are things you will need to begin packing for our trip."The hotter his skin burned, the faster he spoke.
"What trip?"It had never occurred to her that they'd be taking a honeymoon journey.It had never occurred to her that they'd be leaving London at all.
"To my estate, Evenswood Grange, I'd like to get you all settled in so you can begin redecorating or whatever it is that women do to a new home to make it their own.You need to become familiar with my tenants and employees before the next harvest home celebration and you'll want the changes to the house finished before winter I'm sure."
She felt the blood drain from her face as she asked, "And where is your estate?"
"Cornwall," he replied, counting the minutes until he could rip his trousers off and soak his manhood in a cool tub.
"Cornwall?Cornwall! But that's days and days away from London."Any notion she had of living the life she'd always expected and wanted began to fade.
"It is quite a journey.Evenswood is a beautiful piece of land between Wadebridge and Bodmin Moor. I know you'll come to love it as much as I do.You've never seen the likes if it I'm sure."
"I can't go to Cornwall; I want to stay here in London."In her mind she watched as visions of her perfect life withered.
His patience worn as raw as his skin, he replied, "Lucy, I live in Cornwall and when we are married you will come to live at my estate in Cornwall."
"I most certainly will not."No Almacks, no Vauxhall, no box at the opera; each dream flickered out like candle-flames.Her breath caught in her throat with the certainty of it.
"You most certainly will.Your father and I have agreed upon this."
Emboldened by the wine, Elinor placed her hands on her hips."Then my father can live there with you because I will not.I'll stay here at your townhouse in London and you can go about your business sheepherding or farming, or whatever it is that you do.You can visit with me every Season."
"Lucy, you're being childish.I do not own a London townhouse.I've only rented one for this Season and I have no interest in returning to London unless urgent business calls for it."He placed his hand gently on her shoulder."I realize that this has all happened very quickly but in time you'll be much more agreeable."
She stepped away from his hand and glared."If I am that disagreeable Lord Davies, then perhaps it is best that you beg off our engagement.I will bring no suit against you."
He stared at her in disbelief, "Your reply to my proposal led me to believe that you were indeed amenable to our situation."
"My feelings have changed."
"Have I done something to make me despicable in your eyes?"
Elinor took a step forward and raised her hand, stopping just short of touching his arm."You've been a perfect gentleman my Lord.I don't wish to leave my parents."She shook her head, "I don't wish to marry anyone at all yet, it is only my first season and I especially do not wish to live in Cornwall."She felt a tear making its way down her cheek.
"You'd be ruined."
"I don't care."
He laughed at that."Well dear your Father cares about that very much."He tilted her head back so that he could look into her eyes, "I care as well.I would never allow you to be ruined because of me."
"It isn't fair," she sobbed into his coat."We didn't do anything wrong.Surely you would be happier if I jilted you?"
"I don't think the seriousness of this has yet occurred to you. Should I beg off I will spend the rest of the season being thought of as a despoiler of innocents and my entire journey will be for naught.We seem to rub along together well enough; I came to the City to find a wife and I am not unhappy that I will be returning with one"
"I didn't intend to find a husband my very first season."She thought of all her pretty gowns and dancing slippers going forever unused; the rides along rotten row that would never be taken, the parties and games she would miss, and regret left a lump in her throat.
"So your only complaint is with the timing of this arrangement?"
"I do not dislike you Lord Davies but neither do I love you.I don't know you well enough to feel anything for you at all."
"Love? Good God Lucy, who said anything about love?"
"So you do not love me either?"She already knew the answer, yet a small part of her wanted to hear he'd gone madly in love the moment he saw her.
"As you have already stated, I don't know you well enough to feel anything for you at all.However, I do feel that in time we could develop a companionable friendship."
She sniffed loudly and he handed her his handkerchief.Companionable friendship made them sound like cousins, she thought.She'd imagined her first kiss a thousand times and it was always with someone she loved and who loved her madly in return.
As she tidied herself Quin indulged his curiosity by drawing a long strand of her hair through his fingers and smiled.It really did feel like silk and momentarily took his mind from his discomfort.
"Go to bed now poppet and speak to your Father in the morning.I'll call at eleven and whatever news you have for me we will speak of then."He drew another long strand of hair through his fingers."I'll take my leave."
As soon as the door closed behind him Yvette stuck her head around the corner, "Cornwall!"
Elinor nodded glumly, "Not only does he refuse to beg off he expects me to live in Cornwall.There's nothing in Cornwall but corn, big rocks and the occasional thatched-roof cottage.I don't believe they have a social season at all."
"You must speak to your Father my Lady."
"I have little hope that I will change his mind."Head down and shoulders slumped in defeat; Elinor began walking to her bed chamber.
After helping Elinor retire to bed, Yvette sat in her small attic room quietly crying angry tears.How she yearned to be able to escape to the countryside and live a quiet life; to perhaps even have her mother and father living in a nearby cottage.She shook the thought from her head, those were the dreams of an innocent child, and she was no longer an innocent child; she was a traitor and a spy.
One long year of her life wasted ingratiating herself into the household of an influential Duke only to be exiled off to Cornwall with his daughter and a Baron with no interest in politics. Yesterday she was 365 days closer to saving her parents and now it was all for naught.
Her parents were back in France in a cramped dirty prison, she didn't even know if they were truly still alive.The French agent assured her they were, and that every bit of information she passed along brought them closer to her.But it had been a year since he'd shown her their letter.Yvette reached under her bed and eased the well-creased vellum from its hiding place.There was no need to light a lamp to read it; she'd memorized it months ago.She was their only hope.
How would she explain that instead of being lady servant to the Duchess, she'd been given to her youngest daughter as a birthday gift and would soon be moving to Cornwall?How she yearned for a friend, a confidant, someone to share her fears with.She liked to imagine that in other circumstances Lady Elinor would be a friend, but with her betrayal it would never come to be.
* * *
Quin began ripping at his clothes before the carriage jerked into motion.Within moments his trousers were pulled down to his knees and he sighed with relief as the cool night air soothed his reddened skin.
He was being truthful when he told her he was not unhappy to have found a wife.Sure she was young, he thought, but one wife was as good as another in the end.If she managed to talk her father into jilting him it would certainly add another complication to his quest to find a suitable bride before the beginning of August.If only he could have found someone closer to his own age who was yet able to produce an heir.Someone more mature and yet amusing with a beautiful smile; someone very much like Lady Lucy, only older.
As the carriage shuddered to a stop, he reached for the door thinking only of the tub of cool water he'd be soaking in within minutes.He took a step before his half-lowered trousers caught and tangled in his legs as he pitched headfirst out the door.
Madly grabbing at anything that would slow his descent, Quin managed to tumble out onto the street unharmed just as a soft rain began to fall.Grabbing his lantern and jumping down from his perch, his coachman ran to his side.
"Lord Davies, are you harmed man?Shall I fetch a doctor?"He stared in disbelief at the site of his master lying on the damp pavement with his pants down and what looked to be a raging case of the French pox."My Lord, I..."
"For God's sake, it's not what it looks like.Give me a hand up."Quin was helped to his feet as the coachman stared in disbelief."I suffered an unfortunate accident whilst visiting my betrothed.It was nothing to speak of.Ever.Do you understand?"
"Perfectly, my Lord."
Gathering up his dignity as well as his trousers, Quin walked up the steps where the butler stood near the open door.At his questioning expression Quin replied, "Oh shut up."




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