posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:23:03 PM
Title: Love & Marriage
Author: me
Rating: probably up to NC-17
Disclaimer: Roswell doesn't belong to me.
Summary: The new Earl of Kingston needs a bride, the pretty Miss Parker seems to be perfect for the role, but love doesn't seem to be playing a large part in the marriage and Elizabeth wants more from her husband.
Note: Banner art by talena.

1-1-3

Love and Marriage

*One*

Maxwell Evans, current Earl of Kingston, watched the mass of people below him dispassionately. He was in need of a wife to supply him with the required heir. It was a singularly distasteful task, but he never was one to shirk the duties of his title.

His sister, Isabella, had planned this gala at her home in order to help him choose a proper bride. In this instance proper meant any high-ranking, good-looking woman. But he had his own set of standards that had yet to be met. So far all of the women paraded in front of him had been severely lacking in intelligence.

He sighed heavily and left his secluded perch and, not wishing to be announced, descended a side stairway. It wasn't as if nobody knew of his presence, the awed hush and sweep of whispers had marked his entrance nearly a half-hour past. The elusive Earl never attended any event, so this was something of a scene to the whole of the ton.

Truth was he found the whole thing bothersome and dull. Gossiping and cuckolding were the only things ever accomplished at these balls, and of course, plots of marriage minded mamas, and now he was stepping into the chaos almost voluntarily.

"What do you think Maxwell?" asked a confident voice at his side. He turned toward his older sister and gave her one of his rare smiles. Her brown eyes narrowed and studied him intently, then she sighed, noting his sardonic expression. "These are the best girls available Maxwell, if you don't prefer any of them you'll have to wait until next Season."

He shook his head. "I will have a wife as soon as possible Isabella. Kingston needs an heir."

"And then what Lord Evans? Ship your blushing bride away to the country?" He glared at the intruder, who merely smiled back prettily.

"Hello Marianna," he greeted politely, then looked past her to the man hovering at her side. "Mr. Davis."

The red-headed man gave him a curt nod, "Kingston."

"How goes the Museum of Scientific Oddities?" he inquired.

"Quite well, fascinating artifact in from the West Indies, I-"

"I would like some wine," Marianna interrupted, "Brody, would you mind fetching me some?" She fluttered golden eyelashes at the helpless man and sent him on his way. As soon as he got out of sight her demeanor changed completely. Her cat-like green eyes scanned the room avidly and then looked back at Maxwell. "No one as yet?"

"No," he agreed, "And why do you insist on stringing Mr. Davis along like that, Marianna?"

Marianna Alehandra Roberta Christianne Johsephine DeLuca-Sahn had been married and widowed within a year. She still held the title of Lady Sahn, after her husband Douglas passed away, and was enjoying the benefits that came with the wealth and freedom of that station.

She shrugged slim shoulders. "It's fun. How about Theresa Harding?"

"Who?"

Isabella rolled her eyes and smacked him with the pink fan she was holding. "I introduced you to her the other night at Lady Fenwicks's ball." She pointed discreetly to a girl dancing with young Viscount Valenti.

Maxwell eyed her speculatively. He remembered her, ambition with no brains to do with it. Her pretty blonde head was empty as those blue eyes of hers. "Not a possibility."

"There's the Troy chit," Marianna suggested.

"No," Isabella disagreed, "She was caught in the gardens with Mr. Shellow last week, you know that."

He sighed as they continued to prattle on, planning the whole of his life without a thought to his consent and compliance. They were a pair of bold women who would do everything in their power to control his life. He sighed, Lord save him from a wife of the same caliber. Not that he wanted a wife without a backbone, just one who would follow his guidance in all matters…

He frowned, catching sight of a dark swath of fabric among the bright pastels. He moved away from his sister and friend, into a position with a better view.

The girl was young, more than likely fresh from the schoolroom, but she had an air about her that spoke of quiet grace, intelligence, and, he suspected, a stubborn streak.

Yes, the tilt of her chin just there and the flash of her eyes…She had just the right amount of spunk, and it was obvious she wasn’t a slave to the ridiculous trends Isabella deemed fashionable. Her dress was simple, tasteful, not showing an undue amount of flesh, and her manner seemed polite.

“Isabella,” he called quietly. She broke off her conversation with Marianna and they hurried over to him. “Who is that woman?”

“Which one?” she asked, peering around the room.

“The one in the dark purple dress,” he expanded, cocking his head in the right direction. Isabella followed his prompt and made a growling noise in the back of her throat.

“Her dress is not purple Maxwell, its plum,” she told him, looking frustrated that he couldn’t tell different shades of the same color.

“The color doesn’t matter, Isabella, who is she?” he demanded.

“Miss Elizabeth Parker,” Marianna put in, “But you steer clear of her Maxwell Evans, or I’ll box your ears.”

Isabella and Maxwell looked at her in surprise. “Why?” his sister inquired, “Is there something we should know about her?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” Marianna said, rolling her pretty green eyes, “It’s merely that she’s a close friend of mine and I would like to see her married to someone who will love her. She deserves that.”

“And you deserve some champagne,” a new voice cut in smoothly. The three looked up as Michael Guerin, Lord of Stonevale came up bearing a glass for Marianna and a smile for Maxwell and Isabella. “You’re looking quite well Bella,” he complimented, kissing her cheek, “How’s the search for a wife going, Maxwell?”

“I believe a found a likely candidate,” he replied, ignoring the way Marianna began to bristle, “Miss Parker.”

“Ah, the fair Elizabeth,” Michael chuckled, “She’s a sweet girl, not my type,” he gave Marianna a look, “But sweet. She’d be perfect for you, Maxwell, definitely of the wifely nature.”

“She’s poor,” Marianna blurted out, shooting Michael a spiteful glance, “Her father only had enough to sponsor this one Season-”

“Well then,” Michael interrupted, “Why are you getting in the way of her finding a husband?”

“Yeah, Marianna, I don’t need more money,” Maxwell stated, “It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t have a dowry, I just need someone suitable for the position of Lady Kingston, and everyone seems to agree she fits the bill.”

“But-”

“No buts Mari,” Michael told her, grinning, “Let the man be, at least he knows what he wants.”

“And just what is that supposed to mean Stonevale?” she demanded.

“It means that Mr. Davis is on his way over here with a glass of champagne for you when I specifically told you not to see him again.”

She put her hands on her hips and Maxwell and Isabella exchanged glances, used to the scenes Michael and Marianna presented to Society. “And what makes you think you can just order me around?” she inquired, voice deceptively sweet.

“Mayhap it’s the fact that you’re sharing my-”

“Brody!” Marianna severed the remainder of his sentence, glaring at him to freeze a devil, “Would you care to escort me in the waltz?”

The man sputtered and flushed and in the end managed to squeak out an “I’d be honored Lady Sahn” and then Marianna swept away giving warning looks to both Michael and Maxwell.

Michael sighed, “I don’t get her. I mean, I love the woman, but I don’t understand her.”

“You’re not supposed to,” Isabella put in, waving to her husband as he entered from the gaming room. Alexander smiled brightly and made his way over to the threesome.

“Why so glum?” he asked, taking his wife’s arm.

“Marianna,” Michael said simply.

“Ah,” he nodded his head sagely, “Why don’t you just marry her and have done with the whole affair?”

Michael polished off the glass Brody had brought to his lover and sighed deeply. “What fun would that be?” he asked, grinning at them, and then sauntered away, intent on flirting with the Whittaker widow and putting Mari in a fine fury.

Alex turned to his brother-in-law, “And you Maxwell?”

“Marriage.”

“Ah,” he smiled at his wife, “Can’t say I can help you on that front. I, myself, lucked out.” Isabella laughed and blushed, laying her head on his shoulder.

“All right than, more specifically, Elizabeth Parker.”

“Sweet girl,” Alex said absently, staring down at Isabella lovingly, “She’d actually be quite perfect for you, now that I think about it. What’s the problem?”

“Marianna.”

“Ah-What?” He took his attention from his wife and looked quizzically at Maxwell.

“She says I’m to stay away from her.”

“Hmm,” was his sister’s input, “Mari’s like a hen guarding a chick with that one.”

“Well…” Alex appeared to mull over the information they were throwing at him, then he grinned, blue eyes sparkling with mischief, “When have you ever listened to Marianna?”



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 12-Nov-2002 8:19:05 PM ]
posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:25:58 PM
*Two*

Elizabeth Parker, known to her dearest friends as Lizzie, quietly prepared herself for the day without the assistance of a maid.

It was a rare thing in the glittering world of the ton that a young lady in her first Season should be self-sufficient enough to dress herself and do her own hair and perform all the duties of a Lady wife with minimal influence from charm and deportment schooling.

However, self-sufficiency was required when a woman was in such a position as she. The Parkers had never been extremely rich, but what money they had had was used to pay doctors from all over to treat the illness contracted by Mrs. Nancy Parker. Unfortunately, no cure was found for all the time and money spent and Elizabeth’s mother had passed away when she was ten.

Since then Elizabeth had taken over household duties. She was the one who kindly, but firmly, dismissed the servants, who kept track of spendings and investments. She was the one who saw to it that her father ate and slept and got out of the house to lessen the grief that still plagued him.

In truth, the only part of her life and her father’s that she did not take care of was plans for her marriage. She was quite content to remain in her role as caregiver and mistress of the house, but her father would have none of it. Jeffrey Parker was set that his daughter would be married to a man who would provide for her for the rest of her life.

And that was why they were in London, living in a rented townhouse, and she was going out every night to balls and dinner parties until she could barely keep her eyes open. She was to snag a husband, whether or not she wanted one.

She had argued with her father before they had come to London that the money he had hoarded for this purpose would be better spent on something useful to their small family and what few servants they had left, or invested in the canal venture near Panama, but he had turned deaf ears on her pleas.

So now she had fixed her own mind to accomplishing what her father wished her to do. She would find a husband who could care for both her and Jeffrey, or else they would be on the streets, thrown to the footpads and demimonde.

She shuddered, her delicate shoulders quivering as she thought of it. She would not allow that to happen, not under any circumstances. She looked resolutely in the small mirror above her vanity and promised to herself she would do her duty as a daughter. She would make her father happy.

And then her inspection turned from self-reflection to appearance. She was going visiting with Lady Sahn today, and as Marianna ran in very high circles of Society, she had to look perfect.

The clothes she possessed were not at the height of fashion, but Marianna said they set her apart from the typical ladies of the ton, making her appear more sweet and sensible to the men she needed to attract, and too poor for the dandies and fops to try to compromise. And luckily, most were light in color, as pastels were all the rage this Season, though some had a darker tone from her period of mourning.

Today she picked out a plain pink dress, no tucks or frills, with a pin-striped pink and white pelisse. She carefully pinned a smart straw bonnet with daises on her done up brown hair and left her room to find her father.

Jeffrey was sitting at his desk in his study when Elizabeth knocked. “Come in,” he bid.

“Father?” She entered slowly, eyes immediately landing on the barely touched breakfast tray Mrs. Lonee, their housekeeper, had left him. “Father, you know you need to eat breakfast!” she scolded, heading briskly towards his desk to pour him some tea.

“Hmmm,” was his noncommittal response.

She looked up sharply, surprised by his attitude. Normally he would laugh away her concerns and tease her about how pretty she was looking and how he shouldn’t let her out of the house. But today it was just “Hmmm.”

Elizabeth frowned. “Father what’s wrong?” she inquired, alarmed at his stunned expression.

Jeffrey turned glazed blue eyes on his daughter and he gave her a disbelieving smile. “You’ve been offered for,” he told her, still dazed, and glanced down at the parchment in his hand as if he couldn’t believe it was real.

“Haven’t I been offered for before?” she asked, confused.

“Of course,” he waved a hand airily, still smiling in that disturbing way, “But that was by merchants, minor lords…this…Oh ho, my honey bear, this is what I’ve been waiting for!” He stood and walked around to embrace her, eyes no longer distant, but triumphant.

“Who, Father?” she queried, feeling her heart drop. She’d be married off now, like a horse to auction. She held back a sigh and managed a curious smile when her father released her.

“The Earl of Kingston!” he stated with a flourish.

Her jaw dropped. “Kingston?” she repeated, as though her ears had failed her, “Are you quite certain?”

“See for yourself.” He held the letter our to her and she scanned it, as well as the envelope. And what he said was true, it was the Kingston seal, and Maxwell Evans’ bold signature at the bottom of the page.

She sat down abruptly in one of the large armchairs before the desk and stared at it blankly. “What would he want with me?” she wondered allowed, “What could I possibly offer a man such as he?”

“Lizzie, my sweet, you’re underestimating yourself,” her father cheered, “He obviously saw in you all the qualities a man as powerful as he could require in a wife.”

“But he’s never even met me!” she exclaimed. How could he possibly know if they would suit if they’d never been introduced?

A solid knock came at the study door and Mrs. Lonee stuck her head in. “The Lady Sahn is here for Miss Elizabeth.” She gave a quick nod of her head and was out the door.

Elizabeth stood and kissed her father’s worn cheek. “We’ll discuss this when I return,” she told him.

“What is there to discuss?” Jeffrey demanded, “He’s what we wanted, he’s bloody perfect! I’ll pay him a visit today, in fact, get everything laid out on the table, just so there’s no misunderstandings.”

She sighed, not wishing to diminish her father’s joy, but hoping that it all was just one big misunderstanding. She’d rather be married to someone she knew something about. Someone like Lord Valenti, or even Marianna’s cousin Mr. DeLuca, though Shawn had seemed a bit too bold…But still, at least she had a general idea about what they were about. She had no idea about this Earl’s designs on her, though they seemed honorable. She just wished she knew him, that she had been able to look in his eyes…

Treading slowly down the front steps, she entered Marianna’s carriage and smiled at her friend, though it was a little forced. Marianna smiled back, and Elizabeth knew she had caught her friend’s mood with those knowing green eyes of hers.

“What’s wrong Lizzie?”

She contemplated her new friend seriously, meeting her emerald eyes straight on. She had meet Lady Sahn at a dinner party when she first arrived in London a month ago. She had been intimidated at first by her vibrancy and forwardness, but Marianna was a woman of the world, and knew the ins and outs of Society intimately.

They had become fast friends, despite their differences, and Mari’s connections had gotten Elizabeth invited to the most exclusive parties and into the most prominent drawing rooms, which had pleased her father immensely, though Elizabeth was still awkward about her newfound popularity at times. And now, she was Elizabeth’s most trusted companion.

“What do you know about the Earl of Kingston?” she asked, knowing her friend would be aware of every speck of dirt on the man.

“Maxwell?” Marianna said, sounding surprised, then she narrowed her eyes suspiciously, “Why would you need to know about Maxwell?”

“He’s offered for me,” she confided in a whisper.

“No!” Marianna shouted, “He didn’t dare!”

Taken aback by her friend’s reaction, she straightened in her seat, staring hard at her. “What do you mean, Mari?”

Marianna blinked angry green eyes at Elizabeth. “I mean how dare he when I specifically told him, just two nights ago, that he was to leave you alone!”

“Why would you do that?’ she asked, puzzled, because Marianna had been enthusiastic in helping Elizabeth find a husband. “Is there something wrong with him? Is he unkind?”

“Oh, goodness no,” Mari soothed, “He’s just…well, he doesn’t let people in. He’s a hard man to fall in love with, because he won’t love you back Elizabeth.”

“I don’t understand.”

Marianna sighed heavily and leaned back into the cushioned seat of the carriage. She regarded Elizabeth earnestly, gloved hands steeped above leaf green skirts. “It’s hard to explain, Lizzie, Maxwell is very east to fall in love with, from a woman’s point of view-”

“But didn’t you just say he was hard to fall in love with?” she interrupted, still baffled with her friend’s logic.

“I’m saying that you’ll fall in love with him easily, but it will end up a hard position to be in, because he won’t open his heart up to you.”

“Oh.”

Marianna nodded wisely and leaned forward to pat Elizabeth’s hand. “He’s very private, and often comes of cold and callous, but he’s really a wonderful man. If I weren’t already in love with that blockhead Michael, I’d marry him myself.”

“So then what’s the problem with me marrying him?”

“It takes a long, long time for that man to let someone in Elizabeth, and by the time he gets around to it, it’s often too late. Even you, as sweet and charming as you are Lizzie, won’t get far with him, and you don’t warrant that kind of marriage. You need love, Lizzie, or you’ll whither away like a flower without sun.”

“Mari-”

“Don’t worry,” she said, waving away Elizabeth’s next words, “I’ll take care of it, he’ll revoke his offer.”

She blinked, and shook her head. “That’s impossible Mari.”

“Nonsense, I’ll knock him upside the head if he won’t listen to reason. And you don’t need to worry about gossip Lizzie, I’ll make sure no one knows he offered.” And she sat back, satisfied that she’d taken care of every possible situation.

“But my father’s already left to speak with him,” Elizabeth finished her earlier thought as Maria shot up in her seat, ruffled emerald bonnet coming askew.

“Already?” she wailed, “But that ruins everything!” Elizabeth just looked down, clasping her white-gloved hands together, suspecting Marianna wasn’t finished, and she was right. Mari rose and banged on the top hatch, shouting to her driver. “Change of plans James, please bring us to the Whitman’s residence.”

“Aye, aye, milady,” he responded affably.

“Whitman’s?” Elizabeth asked, “But Lady Whitman isn’t on our list for today.”

“We’re taking a small detour. Don’t worry. You remember I introduced you to Isabella last night at Lady Castleman’s party?” At Elizabeth’s affirmative nod she continued. “Well Bella is Maxwell’s sister, she’ll know what to do,” she rolled her eyes, “She always knows what to do.”


posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:29:20 PM
*Three*

Isabella, Lady Whitman, settled onto the cushioned couch in her library, opening the latest epic of Lord Byron’s, an intense story with ghosts and love…She sighed, no one could write anything as deeply thrilling as Lord Byron’s works.

She was just getting to the good part when Rathbone entered the library, his dark brown eyes and lined face looking at the floor. “Lady Sahn and Miss Parker have come to call, Lady Whitman.” Her butler held open the door as his mistress put down the book and walked out of her sanctuary.

What did Mari want? It had to be important, her friend knew she did not appreciate being bothered when she had a day of relaxation planned. Rathbone followed her down the steps to the entryway and then motioned to the drawing room with his head.

“Shall I have Cook prepare some tea?”

“Yes, please,” she said, giving him a gentle smile, “The spicy one from China if she could?”

He nodded and headed toward the kitchen while Isabella went to see to her guests. They rose as she entered, Marianna in an airy summer green and Elizabeth pretty in pink. She paused and studied the girl for a moment, Elizabeth met her measuring gaze with a set, if shy, expression.

In truth, Isabella found the girl charming. A perfect gem. She could see why her brother would be interested in a person like her, a rose among all the usual flowers of the ton. She practically radiated sweetness and a loving, homey feel. She would make Maxwell happy.

That is, she mused, if he let her.

“Marianna, Miss Parker.” She gestured to them to sit.

“Oh please Lady Whitman, its just Elizabeth,” Miss Parker protested, her voice low and pleasant.

“Then I am just Isabella,” she responded, giving Elizabeth a welcoming smile, hoping to put her at ease, “Now, what is this unexpected visit about? I assume you have a good reason?” She raised an eyebrow and gave Marianna a pointed look. She had the grace to blush, but leaned forward, looking solemn. “Is something the matter?” she demanded.

“Yes,” Marianna said, “Your brother-”

“Maxwell!” Isabella shrieked, cutting Mari off. She rose, one hand over her heart. “Is he hurt? Oh Marianna, where is he? Does he need me? Is it serious?” Marianna blinked, and then began to smile. “Mari! This isn’t a laughing matter, now what happened?!”

“Oh Bella,” she chuckled, “Nothing like that.” She waved a hand and put her arm around Elizabeth. “It’s something Maxwell did.”

“Oh.” Isabella sat, relieved, but then narrowed her eyes at Mari, “Are you saying Maxwell did something wrong?”

“Yes!”

Now Isabella laughed, “Please, Mari, Maxwell doing something wrong? My brother’s perfect, he’s never done anything wrong in his entire life.”

“Well…” But she trailed off as Cook entered, setting the tea tray down and bowing out. The women were silent as Isabella poured and passed out cups, after the first sip Marianna continued. “He defied me, Bella.”

“Defied you?” She felt a smile quirk her lips. “In what way?”

“He went and offered for Elizabeth!”

Isabella shot a look at Elizabeth, who had remained quiet during their whole exchange. Her dark brown eyes regarded Isabella earnestly, still sipping her tea calmly, though her hand shook a little. “Already?” was her only response.

“What do you mean ‘Already?’” Marianna demanded, “He wasn’t supposed to do it at all!"

“Mari he’s a grown man,” she scoffed, “And if he’s taken a fancy to Elizabeth then that’s his decision. We’re not children anymore, you can’t knock him down a flight of stairs if he doesn’t listen to you.” She finished off her first cup of tea. “Besides, you can’t blame him Mari, she’s a perfectly lovely girl, exactly Maxwell’s type…”

“Thank you for the compliment Lady-Isabella,” Elizabeth finally spoke, “But how does Lord Kingston know I’m perfect for him if he’s never bothered to be introduced?”

Her jaw dropped, “Do you mean to tell me he’s never spoken to you?” They both nodded. “Well, the nerve of him! Offering for you without even…Well, I’ll take care of it, you can bet your bottom dollar!” She gave a decisive nod of her head.

“I knew you’d handle everything,” Marianna said, settling down, “I told Lizzie you would,” she gave Elizabeth a warm smile, “Now that that’s taken care of, we have calling to do.” She clapped her hands and stood, signaling Elizabeth to rise also. “Good day, Bella, thank you for the tea.”

“You’re welcome, Mari,” she went to see them out, “Please come again, when you have an appointment. In fact, wait until I send you an invitation!”

Marianna responded with a smile and a wave, pinched Rathbone’s cheek as he opened the front door, and walked briskly down the front steps to her waiting carriage. Elizabeth smiled timidly and tied her bonnet into a precise bow. “Thank you for your help,…Isabella, but I don’t know how much help it will do.”

“Don’t worry, Elizabeth, I can deal with my brother.”

“It’s not that, it’s just my father…” she lowered her eyes to the floor, “He’s wanted this for me, to make a good match, and if…I just want him happy, Isabella.” Her brown eyes were now locked on Isabella’s face, imploring and deep. “I…I just don’t know what to do anymore…And Marianna, she just wants to help, but…”

Isabella laid a gentle hand on the girl’s slim arm. “Don’t worry. Now you should go before Marianna starts hollering out the carriage like a hoyden.” That comment caused a remarkable transformation and Elizabeth’s face lit up with a smile, a small, cute giggle escaping her lips.

“Good day Isabella, and thank you again.” One last smile and she also left, giving the butler a smile to through him for a loop.

“Well, she’s definitely not what Maxwell will expect,” she murmured, gazing out a window beside the door, “But she’s really quite refreshing.”

“Indeed Lady Whitman,” Rathbone said, looking dazed, “A real Original.”

She laughed again, a low, rich sound that caused her husband to stick his head out of his study. “Out of the library?” he inquired, grinning at her, “Can you spare a moment then?”

“Always, Alexander,” she replied, “Always.” She walked towards him and shut the door behind her. “What do you need, darling?”

He grinned again and sat down at his chair, removing his glasses and cleaning them. “Invitations to every soiree in town,” he said, sounding disgusted as he shoved the envelopes toward her, “I can’t make heads or tails of them, but I didn’t want to come between you and Lord Byron.”

She stacked the mess into an orderly pile and gave him an indulgent smile. Men were so helpless when it came to the intrigues of Society. “I shall have to go through them later. I’m making a visit to my brother.”

“Are you expected?” he asked.

“No, but I’m his sister, I’m always welcome.” She sat on the edge of his desk and gave him a quick kiss. Then stood up and headed for the door and her cloak. “I’ll see you tonight. Remember, the opera at nine, I’ll be in the box.” His sigh of despair was lost as she shut the heavy oak door.

Chuckling she turned to Rathbone, “I’ll be taking the carriage, please have Villie lay my clothes out for the opera tonight.”

“Yes, Lady Whitman.”

She settled down in the carriage wondering what she could say to her brother to make him slow down his decisions lately. The least he could have done was court her a bit. Marianna was right, Maxwell hadn’t gotten the chance to know Elizabeth, which meant he probably wasn’t planning on letting her in enough to love her, and from what she’d seen of Elizabeth, she deserved to have that kind of love.

Alighting the front stairs of Maxwell’s townhouse, she rapped sharply on the door. It opened and she took an involuntary step back. She just could not get used to the looks of his butler.

“Hello, Lady Whitman,” he greeted in a gravelly voice.

She gave him a weak smile as he took her cloak and bonnet. “Hello, Zanial,” she replied cordially, “Is my brother available?”

“Yes, ma’am.” And he beckoned her to follow him.

She trailed him at a safe distance. She had never inquired where Maxwell had found him, but he had the look of a cutthroat about him. Continually tan, eyes black as coals, with an earring in his left ear, and a swagger you just did not see in a well-bred servant of the ton.

She stepped into her brother’s study after Zanial announced her presence, and was unsurprised to see him seated behind the large desk in front of the window. He gave her a once over and then focused his attention back on the paperwork.

“Isabella.”

“Maxwell,” she replied primly, unaffected by his cool tone.

“I don’t believe I knew you were coming.”

“No, I don’t suppose you did,” she retorted and went around back to lean over his shoulder and read the quarterly reports. Her brother sighed and gave her a look. She smiled, “I wanted to talk to you.”

“Surprise, surprise,” he drawled, “What about?”

She seated herself on his desk. “Elizabeth Parker.”

“What about her?”

“You offered for her.”

“Ah,” he nodded, understanding seeping into his expression, “Yes I did.”

“Well, take it back,” she ordered.

“What?” He scratched his forehead, “I can’t do that Isabella.”

“Of course you can,” she stated, “You just go to Jeffrey Parker and revoke your offer, at least for a time. Get to know Elizabeth.”

He shook his head, “I’ve already spoken to Mr. Parker, the notice of the engagement is going into tomorrow’s newspapers.” He sat back, arms crossed, gazing at her with a quiet challenge. “Besides, you were hounding me to get a wife and do my duty to the title of Kingston, why the sudden change of tune, sister dear?”

“You’ve never even met her Maxwell.”

“I don’t need to, from what I’ve heard she’ll make me the perfect wife. That’s all I care about.”

“Exactly, you’re not even going to make an effort. Think of Elizabeth, Maxwell, she’s being married off to a man she doesn’t even know!” Isabella sighed, “You’ve been completely insensitive about this whole situation.”

“Well its too late now, isn’t it,” he snapped.

“Maybe not,” she answered, “Have a long engagement, take her riding, dance with her a parties…Come to the opera house tonight.”

“What does the opera have to do with this?” he asked petulantly.

“Marianna invited Elizabeth to go tonight, you can talk with her during intermission,” she urged.

He narrowed his eyes. “You’re not going to drop this are you?”

“Nope,” she responded, smiling widely.

“Fine,” he relented, “I’ll come.” She tapped her finger on the desk expectantly. “And I’ll talk to her.”

“I knew you’d see it my way.”

“I know you did,” he said sourly, “Somehow I always end up seeing it your way."


posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:33:26 PM
*Four*

The theatre was an absolute crush. Elizabeth nearly lost sight of Marianna’s red gown several times, but managed to evade collision with the people around her, and caught up with her friend, who had been stopped by her cousin on the edge of the throng.

Shawn DeLuca turned burning brown eyes on her and she felt herself blush deeply. The dress she was wearing was one Marianna had had custom made for her for her birthday. It was white, tight, low cut, and not Elizabeth’s style. But Mari had been so excited and she hadn’t had the heart to tell her no.

She opened her fan and waved it in front of her in a lazy motion, blocking Shawn’s ungentlemanly view of her flesh. “Mr. DeLuca,” she greeted, smiling at him and extending one gloved hand.

He grinned back and took the hand, placing a chaste kiss in her palm while bowing. He straightened, not releasing his hold. “Please, Elizabeth, it’s Shawn. Mr. DeLuca sounds too formal for friends.” He twisted slightly, so that her arm was caught in his, and began to lead her away. “Allow me to take you to our box Elizabeth.”

“Oh, I-”

Marianna cut off her half-hearted protest by cutting between them and taking Elizabeth’s arm herself. She glared at her cousin. “It is my box, Shawn, you’re not welcome in it.”

He feigned a wounded expression. “Why Mari, you’re so cruel.” Then he smiled and winked at Elizabeth. “Until tomorrow then.” And then he left, swallowed up by the multitude to opera-goers that never seemed to diminish.

Her friend gave a disgusted snort and muttered impossible actions under her breath. Elizabeth hid a smile beneath her fan. She didn’t quite understand Mari’s dislike of her cousin, Shawn was a nice person, for all that he was a little too bold for Elizabeth’s tastes.

“Come on, Lizzie,” Marianna ordered, and tugged Elizabeth’s arm, pulling her up the stairs, where they were met by an usher, who escorted them to the Sahn family box. They sat down and arranged their skirts according to propriety.

Elizabeth had never been to an opera before and so far it seemed very exciting. People were milling about in every direction she looked, all in the height of fashion. The boxes were full of the wealthy, more privileged members of the ton, all of whom had their glasses up and were studying the other theatre patrons and making remarks.

Marianna did the same and raised her glass, peering around at a certain box and letting a smile cross her face. She turned to Elizabeth, “I believe we may be getting a couple visitors at intermission.” At Elizabeth’s curious glance she smiled wider and indicated for her to lift her own glass. Marianna pointed discreetly to a box across the theatre housing two men.

Elizabeth’s observation revealed Mari’s “friend” Lord Stonevale and another gentlemen. She drew in a sharp breath, arrested by the sight. He was the epitome of Lord Byron’s heroes; serious countenance, dark looks, and soul-stealing eyes. She had never seen a man such as he and suspected she never would again.

“Who is he?” she inquired breathily of Marianna, lowing the looking glass and staring at her friend, who laughed.

That, my darling, is Maxwell Evans.”

“Lord Kingston? He's my fiancée?” she queried, stunned. He was not at all what she had expected of her future husband.

Mari nodded. “What do you think?” Elizabeth rose the glass to her eyes again and brought him into sharp focus.

“He’s very handsome,” she commented shyly.

“Yes, he is. He’s also wealthier than Croesus and the prime catch of this Season and every one before it.” Mari gave an amused smile. “It’s good that he wants to settle down, and I know your father wants you to marry him, but it really was going to fast. That’s why Bella and I arranged for him to come tonight. To speak to you.”

“You mean he’s going to come over here?” she demanded, “He’s going to talk to me?”

Marianna’s green eyes twinkled, “Well how else do you expect to get to know him?”

This gave Elizabeth a pause. She knew Mari actually wanted this marriage to go through, but she also knew her friend wanted Elizabeth to be happy and she knew she wouldn’t if she didn’t know her husband. So she had found a way to get the two of them to talk, and Elizabeth was grateful. This way she could look into Maxwell’s eyes and see him, and her father would be happy.

“Marianna…” she trailed off, unsure of what to say, but Mari’s eyes softened.

“Hush Lizzie, the show’s about to start.” She patted Elizabeth’s gloved hand with her own and they turned their attention to the scene unfolding on the stage.

An hour and a half later Elizabeth sat back and sighed deeply. The story was entrancing, the music exquisite, and Catalani was a simply divine lead. “This is wonderful Mari,” she gushed to her friend, “Thank you!”

Marianna laughed, “You’re welcome darling, now prepare yourself, I believe my Michael and your Maxwell are headed in this very direction.” Elizabeth straightened and blushed.

“I’m getting nervous Mari,” she confided, “What if we don’t suit?”

Marianna scoffed, “You’re perfect for each other. Just don’t let him close up Lizzie, you’ll never get to know him if he’s closed off.”

Elizabeth bit her bottom lip. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to work up enough courage to speak to him. That he’d find her boring and insipid.

“Lady Sahn?”

Marianna started and glanced around wildly at their intruder. “William?” she inquired, incredulous. Then she squealed with delight and sprang up, hugging the man exuberantly. “Oh William, how fabulous to see you! I thought you were in France?”

The black-haired man shook his head and kissed Mari’s cheek. Elizabeth stood, looking timidly at her friend and William met her gaze. He gave her a slight bow around Marianna’s arms to which Elizabeth responded with a nod. She clasped her hands in front of her and waited for Marianna to introduce them.

“Lizzie this is William Darden, William this is Elizabeth Parker.”

“A pleasure Miss Parker.” He gave her a smile, teeth white against his full beard.

She dropped a tiny curtsey. “Mr. Darden.”

Mr. Darden smiled again and then turned his attention back to Marianna. “I have to get back to the orchestra pit, can I see you later? While I’m still in town?”

“Of course.” Mari was practically glowing with pleasure. “I’ll be awaiting your call.” She simpered at him and leaned up to place another kiss on his cheek when a throat cleared at the box’s entrance. The occupants turned to see a very angry Michael Guerin and an aloof Maxwell Evans.

“I’ll just be going now,” William said and kissed Mari, then he gave a nod to the entering men and was out the door.

“What was that?”

Marianna put her hands on her hips. “That was one of my very dear friends, who I haven’t seen in years, coming to see how I was doing.” Lord Stonevale just glared.

Mari dismissed him immediately and turned her bright smile on Lord Kingston, whom Elizabeth had been covertly studying all the while. He was even more handsome up close, with his dark bangs just brushing his proud forehead, his straight Grecian nose, and those lips… Not to mention his eyes, which were the most amazing shade of brown she’d ever laid eyes upon, fringed by long, dark lashes.

The only problem that she could sense was when his eyes met hers. The color was still amazing, still deep and soulful, but they seemed distant. Cold and untouchable.

“Maxwell, may I present Miss Elizabeth Parker?” Marianna introduced, “Elizabeth, this is your fiancée, Lord Kingston.” She smiled at both of them and took a still seething Michael by the arm and led him away. “We’ll leave you two alone. I believe Isabella is expecting us Michael, hurry up!” she ordered.

Elizabeth stared in alarm at the spot her friend had just vacated. Then she turned her frightened eyes on Maxwell, whose gaze on her was assessing and detached. “Miss Parker,” he commented coolly, kissing the back of her hand.

She blushed and curtseyed, “My lord Kingston.” She looked everywhere but at him. “Would you care to sit down?”

He gave a curt nod and gestured for her to sit first, which she did, taking a considerable amount of time to rearrange her skirts and giving him an opportunity to sit down and get comfortable also. When she finally looked up his eyes were trained on hers, a touch of interest in the depths. “My sister made it plain to me that you wished to speak with me Miss Parker.”

She blushed and tried to organize her thoughts as he stared at her unblinkingly. His gaze was unsettling her, the intensity in it spoke of layers to this man that he had no intention of sharing with anyone, least of all his future wife. “Yes, my lord, I do indeed.”

“May I inquire as to the nature of this discussion?”

She took a deep breath. “Our engagement, my lord,” she informed him bluntly.

He raised one eyebrow and a slight twist graced his lips, almost as if he wanted to smile. She hid a frown, suspecting he was going to be condescending. “What about our engagement?”

“Don’t you think it’s going rather quickly?” she asked delicately, “I mean, we’ve never spoken before now, how do you know if I’m what you want in a wife?” How do I know if you’re what I want in a husband? She concluded in her head.

“Elizabeth,” he started, and now his tone was patronizing, “My only requirements for a wife were that she be fair of face, intelligent, capable of running a household, and agreeable. Most people seem to think you’re the perfect candidate.”

“But what if everyone’s wrong?” she pressed, “What if I’m a horror once we’re married? Did you consider that?”

He gave a short laugh and she shivered as the husky sound traveled through her senses. “Believe me Elizabeth, Marianna would have never adopted you if you were in anyway unsuitable for our circle of friends. I have no worries as to your behavior after we are wed.”

“But-”

“No buts, Elizabeth.” His voice now was sober, hard, and brooking no arguments. “I will make this very clear Miss Parker. I expect nothing more from you than an heir and no trouble.” Her mouth dropped open in an unladylike manner. “The announcement will be in the paper tomorrow, and we will be married a month hence, and that is final.”

Her mouth shut with an audible snap and she turned angry eyes on him. “Now just a moment my lord, I will not be bullied about like a girl fresh from the schoolroom with no knowledge of the world!” she exclaimed, “Regardless of your plans for this marriage and my father’s, I expect-”

“Elizabeth,” he interrupted again “You are fresh from the schoolroom. You have no idea how Society works, and the contract your father and I reached is the best one you are going to get. This marriage has nothing to do with love or warm feelings. It is simply a convenience, one that benefits us both. I will do my duty to my title and you will do yours by your father. Is that all Elizabeth?” She said nothing, merely looked away, tears filling her eyes.

“Yes my lord,” she whispered. She felt him stand, but stayed sitting, not looking at him.

“Good evening, Elizabeth,” he said as he took his leave.

“Good evening, my lord,” she replied softly. Suddenly her face was forced upward and she was caught by the burning power in his amber eyes. He was a man of authority, of riches and influence. He was used to getting his way. She trembled as he studied her, his strong hand holding her chin in place.

“I’m not cruel Elizabeth,” he told her quietly, “I will be a good husband to you.”

She nodded, “As you say, my lord.”

He growled low in his throat and dropped his hand to scrub at his face. “I don’t want you frightened of me.”

“You do not frighten me, my lord, you merely intimidate me.” She met his eyes forthrightly, refusing to let him get to her. “I shall try to overcome that once we are married.”

He gave her a smile that made her shiver once more. “See that you do Elizabeth, see that you do.” He bent down and placed a featherlight kiss across her lips. She sat frozen, bewildered, as he left. A few minutes later Marianna burst into the box.

“Well, I think that went well!” she exclaimed, “It looked a bit tense for a time, but he kissed you Lizzie! That is so fabulous!

Elizabeth looked up at her, still trembling from the aftereffects of Maxwell’s kiss, very much afraid she was falling in love with her fiancée. “I’d like to go home Mari,” she told her friend faintly, “I’m not feeling well.”


posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:35:33 PM
*Five*

Zanial entered the room with his typical uneven gait, his black eyes darting around the study, looking for intruders. Maxwell waited patiently at his desk for the former pirate to bring him his morning coffee and the paper. The butler set the tray down and subjected his master to a glare.

“Mrs. Ifer wants to know if you’ll be needin’ breakfast,” he told him, voice low and rough.

Maxwell sighed. It was so much trouble to have to train new cooks. Soon though, Elizabeth would take over the duty and he wouldn’t be bothered so needlessly. His schedule did not allow for breakfast, and he would normally take both lunch and dinner at his clubs. “Tell her I will not be requiring it this morning.”

Zanial nodded curtly and backed out the door. Maxwell poured himself a cup of coffee and sipped it as he opened the paper to the business section, wanting to see how his investments were faring and what new ventures were in the works.

Halfway through the column on the canal project, a thought struck him. He flipped quickly to another section and paused, staring down at the announcement with satisfaction. As of this afternoon, all of London would be abuzz with the news of Lord Kingston’s engagement to Miss Elizabeth Parker. And, more than likely, Mari and Bella would be after his head.

He quickly closed the paper and folded it under his arm, then he chugged down the rest of his coffee and headed out the door of the study. He yelled for Zanial to bring the coach around and then grabbed his coat and hat. He would hide where the girls couldn’t find him.

Half an hour later the coach stopped outside one of his clubs and Maxwell got out, feeling smugly superior to his womenfolk. He turned to Zanial, who was driving. “I’ll hail a taxi back.” His response was a curt nod and a shout to the horses as he began to merge back into the morning traffic.

Maxwell walked calmly into the building and up the stairs past the gaming tables. He never gambled, it was a terrible habit, and would only play an occasional hand of whist with friends if money wasn’t betted. He never took any chances with the family’s money, it was imprudent.

He handed his coat and hat to a valet, nodded to a few acquaintances, and headed to a large chair in front of a crackling fireplace, where he settled in to read the paper without distraction.

Unfortunately a day without distraction was never afforded to one Maxwell Evans.

“Kingston.”

Maxwell suppressed a groan and looked up, face a mask of chilled politeness, letting his disturber know he was not happy about the intrusion. He became even less happy when he found out who it was. “DeLuca,” was his clipped reply, letting his disinterest be heard. He looked back down at his newspaper.

He heard a muttered curse from the man who was still hovering, even though Maxwell had made it plain he was dismissed, and then the paper was ripped from his hands.

He looked up at a seething Shawn DeLuca, aware that the other members of the club were hushed and completely centered on the confrontation. Maxwell frowned slightly, “I suggest you hand that back to me Mr. DeLuca, or I’m afraid I will be very put out.” His voice was iron hard, the warning obvious, but Shawn didn’t seem to be in the right frame of mind to recognize the warning.

He tossed the newspaper into the fire and gave Maxwell a challenging glare. Maxwell did not get up from his chair, in fact, he leaned back into it, giving Shawn a condescending smile. “Are you quite finished Mr. DeLuca?” he inquired, sounding amused, “Or is there something else of my person you’d like to burn?”

Muted laughter floated to them from the other patrons and Shawn turned red. “Bastard,” he hissed.

At this Maxwell sat up straight, features dark as death, “I assure you Mr. DeLuca, I know who both my parents are, and can trace my lineage back several generations. I shall let that slight pass, because you are Marianna’s cousin, but utter another and I will be forced to call you out.”

The other man trembled, but unwisely began to open his mouth again. Maxwell sighed, he wasn’t fond of the business of duels. One had to get up so early and then there was the fact that someone always would up injured or dead. As well as the tiny detail that dueling was illegal…

“Problem, Maxwell?”

He looked up. “Hello Michael. Alexander,” he greeted the two men who had appeared suddenly at the sides of his chair, “No problem, but I do believe Mr. DeLuca here was going to say something.” He gave Shawn his attention again, smiling predatorily. DeLuca was very red, and very angry.

“We’ll finish this later Kingston,” he informed Maxwell, then he nodded at Michael and Alexander, “Stonevale. Whitman.”

Maxwell stood and the three men watched him leave. “What was that about?’ Alexander asked.

Maxwell shrugged, “I have no idea, but I’ve been deprived of my morning paper.” He spared a mournful glance for the fire. And then prepared himself for the firing squad, because he knew his sister and friend had sent the men to do their dirty work when they realized he had escaped their wrath by ducking into a gentlemen’s club, which he also knew not even Marianna would try to sneak into. “So what do-”

He was cut off by the light smack Michael planted across his face. His friend hadn’t used much force, or Maxwell would be on the floor, and obliged to challenge Michael to a duel, but it was enough to turn his head. His eyes went cold and he touched his lip to make sure it wasn’t bleeding.

“Sorry,” Michael said, actually looking apologetic, “That was from Marianna.”

Maxwell nodded and then turned to Alexander, “And what does Isabella have to say?”

Alexander looked slightly embarrassed and gestured to the chairs, “We should probably sit down, this might take awhile.” When they sat, he pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and cleared his throat, bending down to study Isabella’s handwriting. “Maxwell,” he started, making his voice sound so like Maxwell’s sister that he had to smile, “You bloody idiot! What were you thinking?! I can’t believe…”

Maxwell listened to the reprimanding letter with half an ear, instead, he poured the three of them glasses of port, so that when Alexander’s throat began to get sore, he could parch it, and just for something for he and Michael to do for the next twenty minutes.

He didn’t understand what Mari and Bella were so angry about. They were the ones who wanted him to get married! They were the ones who tried to foist every young debutante of the ton on him! Why were they being so fickle now?

There was no doubt in his mind about Elizabeth. In truth he had begun to think he had gone into this marriage business a little quickly, but his fears had been allayed last night. Elizabeth would make the perfect Lady Kingston.

His first impression of her at Isabella’s ball had proved correct. She was sweet, sensible, and had a backbone, which was exactly what he wanted in a wife. And she had made him laugh…

She was smaller than he had originally thought, though. Petite and slender, she gave him the fancy of a doll, something delicate that needed to be protected and taken good care of. She didn’t have the goddess-like beauty of Isabella, nor the allure of silk sheets and candlelight that Marianna gave off, but she had her own something.

And it was something he was well aware other men had noticed. He had read wagers in the club’s book as to which offer a certain Miss P would accept. His name hadn’t been mentioned and it occurred to him that no one knew he had offered for her.

It had been a calculated risk kissing her before the eyes of the most prominent and influential members of Society last night, but it had made his point.

Elizabeth Parker was taken.


posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:38:53 PM
*Six*

The veil of silence that permeated the cozy traveling carriage was not exactly awkward, but it was not entirely comfortable either. Each of the two people in the carriage was deep in their own thoughts.

Elizabeth’s eyes kept straying from her view of the passing countryside to her new husband. They had been married little more than an hour ago, and had set out upon the obligatory month-long honeymoon after Elizabeth had changed from her wedding dress to her traveling dress.

Marianna and Isabella had been there to give words of encouragement, and Alexander had offered her a hug. Then Maxwell had helped her into the carriage and the silence had prevailed.

The problem, she mused, was that she had no idea what to say to him. He always seemed so aloof, even in this past month before their wedding. True, he had come to more social engagements, had been attentive to her every whim, but… He still gave her no clue as to his thoughts.

There were brief moments in time, when he was with Lord Stonevale, or Mari, or Bella, or even Alexander, when he seemed to let that impenetrable guard down. She had seen him smile, even really laugh, at certain points, and when she caught his eye in that second, they were clear and overwhelmingly beautiful.

It gave her hope during her short engagement. There were women of the ton who had felt it in her best interest to inform her that Maxwell Evans was a cold fish. Of course, Elizabeth had taken note that these were also women who had thrown their poor daughters at Maxwell’s feet whenever he entered a room, or women whose eyes followed him across a room with a hungry stare…

But… Shawn DeLuca had also warned her that Maxwell was a hard, cruel man, who would never let her be herself. When she had brought her worries to Marianna, her friend had said not to believe a word her cousin said. Elizabeth was going to take her word for it, because she had known Maxwell since they were children, and she wouldn’t lie to Elizabeth.

She was going to put what Shawn had said out of her mind. Maxwell wasn’t cruel, she could see that when she looked in his eyes, guarded or not, and maybe he would be domineering, but Mari said every man was that way, except Alexander, he let Isabella walk all over him…

“I hope you don’t mind a working honeymoon,” Maxwell said. Elizabeth looked at him sharply, then gave a soft smile at his attempt at conversation.

“No, it’s fine,” she told him.

“It’s just I’ve been gone for a whole Season, my properties will need reviewing, I must find out what’s needed, find a supplier…” he trailed off.

“I understand,” Elizabeth said, “I’ll just make myself useful around the house.”

Maxwell gave her a crooked smile, “I just won’t be around a lot… I don’t want you to feel abandoned.”

“I understand, my lord, really.” She gave him a hesitant smile and clasped her hands nervously.

“We’re married now Elizabeth,” he said, “You really should call me Maxwell.”

She blushed, “As you wish, my lord.”

He raised an eyebrow, “Elizabeth?”

Her blush deepened “Maxwell,” she said firmly, and looked up at him through her lashes. He gave her a gentle smile and went back to the paper he had set aside. She felt like sighing, it was obviously the end of that conversation.

The silence continued for another two hours, occasionally broken by a muttered comment on the idiocy of such and such a decision that Maxwell read about in the news, but those were not directed at his bride.

When the carriage finally rolled to a stop, Elizabeth was half asleep. Maxwell had given her a light shake and gave her a smile when she blinked up at him drowsily. “We’re here,” he informed her, and then alighted from the carriage and offered her a hand.

She took it, grateful for the support as she tried to stand and walk on cramped legs, and descended the carriage as he drew her to him. For a moment she felt a connection with this man who was her husband. She realized she felt safe and protected in his arms…

It was true, she thought, as she gazed at him, she had begun to fall in love with him.

“What do you think?” he inquired, turning his focused stare on her, and she blushed again and finally looked at her new home. A gasp escaped her lips and she moved forward from under his arm, gaping at its enormity.

Kingston Mansion was indeed magnificent. “My lord,” she whispered, “It’s amazing. I’ve never seen such a place.”

She turned her wide eyes back to him and felt a flash of anger at his amused smile. Then she berated herself for betraying her lack of sophistication. It was obvious that he was well acquainted with this type of show of wealth, and as his wife, she would learn to familiarize herself with the same thing. But right now, she was too wonderstruck to pretend.

Servants were scurrying around them, taking bags, talking to the driver about where to unhitch the horses, and Maxwell ignored it all, merely took her arm and escorted her up the stone steps and into the front hallway, where Zanial, who had come up a week earlier to prepare the house for his master and mistress’s arrival, waited with a woman and a girl.

The butler gave them both a curt nod and gestured that he needed a word with Maxwell. “One moment Zanial,” he said, “Elizabeth, this is Mrs. DuPree, she’s the housekeeper, and her daughter Laurie. Now, Zanial,” he and the butler moved away from the womenfolk.

Elizabeth gave them a tentative smile, clutching her purse in anxiety. She hoped they liked her. “How do you do?” she asked, “I’m Elizabeth.”

Mrs. DuPree dropped a stiff curtsey, which Laurie eagerly copied, “That’s fine, your ladyship,” the older woman said, “As the master said, I’m the housekeeper, you come to me if you have any problems. Laurie here is going to be your maid-”

“It’s my honor, my lady,” Laurie interrupted, smiling fit to crack her face in two. Her enthusiasm caused Elizabeth to give a real smile, which only made Laurie grin wider. She reminded Elizabeth of her brother-in-law Alexander.

Elizabeth was about to speak again, when Maxwell called to her, “Elizabeth, it seems there’s a problem, I’m going to have to leave-”

“Where is he?” came an irate voice, and a woman came barreling into the hall, “Oh, your lordship, thank Heavens!” Elizabeth blinked as the blunt-nosed blonde woman hurried up to Maxwell. “Lawrence has done it again! The nerve of that man… You’ve come just in time, my lord-”

“Calm down Jennifer,” Maxwell cut into her tirade, “Zanial has just informed me of the problem and I was on my way.”

She gave a huge sigh, “Thank you, my lord.”

He nodded and then looked over to Elizabeth, “I’ll be back as soon as possible, Mrs. DuPree will see you get settled in.” And with that he was out the front door, Zanial and Jennifer behind him.

Elizabeth turned back to Mrs. DuPree. “Well, I have to get back to the kitchens,” she said briskly, “Elsie’s been having trouble with that Meredith, no doubt that stable boy, Robert, has something to do with it,” she regarded Elizabeth, “Dinner will be on the table promptly at seven, his lordship most likely won’t be attending, that Lawrence is worse than that old coot Milton.” She shook her head and gestured to her daughter, “Laurie will show you to your room.” She gave another curtsey, “Good evening, my lady.”

Elizabeth sent Laurie a bewildered look as the younger girl led her toward a staircase. Laurie giggled, “You’ll get used to it, my lady. Mother runs the whole house, and it gets turned upside down whenever Master Maxwell comes. He normally spends all year in London, you see. Elsie is our cook, Meredith is one of the serving maids. She’s seventeen, only a little bit older than me, and she’s put out that I got to be your maid. She acts like she’s royalty most times, always ordering me about… Anyway, Robert is new, and Mother doesn’t like him…”

As Laurie chattered on, Elizabeth studied her new companion. The girl was about sixteen, three years younger than Elizabeth herself, she was of medium height, with blonde hair pulled back in a braid and quick blue eyes. Elizabeth thought they’d get on rather well together.

“Anyway, Milton lives in the woods a few miles from the mansion, he’s a hermit.” She rolled her eyes, “He’s harmless, but Mother’s right, he’s crazy as a loon.”

“And this Lawrence fellow?” Elizabeth asked, getting into the drama of Kingston.

“Oh, he’s taken up with Milton, always blathering on about this and that. No one pays him much mind, but sometimes he’ll climb into a rowboat and sit in the middle of the lake.”

“Why?” That just seemed ridiculous to Elizabeth.

Laurie shrugged, “He says he’s waiting for ‘them’.”

“Who are ‘them’?”

She shrugged again, “It’s something Milton got into his head. Jennifer despairs of doing anything with him, but she’s afraid he’ll drown or starve himself out there. Lord Kingston is the only one able to talk any sense into the man.” Laurie stopped outside a door and opened it, then she threw her hands up, “We all warned Jennifer not to marry him.”

But Elizabeth was suddenly captivated by the room. “Is this mine?” she asked, gesturing to the room.

Laurie blinked, then giggled and ushered her into the bedroom. “Of course, silly,” then she blanched, “I mean, my lady.”

Elizabeth waved away her impropriety, smiling, “Please, call me Elizabeth.”

Laurie gave her a brilliant smile, “Oh, I couldn’t, my lady, Mother would box my ears, she would.” Elizabeth was about to protest when Laurie moved toward the closet, where her bags were. “Let’s get you unpacked.” Elizabeth nodded as Laurie got to work, and wondered around the room.

It was large and airy, there was a window looking over the lake that had flowing white and lavender curtains. She could see a speck in the middle of the lake, and another moving towards it. She assumed it was Maxwell going to get Lawrence. The carpet was an ivory white, the walls the same pale shade of purple as the curtains, there was a delicate vanity and writing desk, and then there was the bed. It was a big canopy bed. She fingered the soft, white comforter and then drew her hands over the diaphanous white fabric that acted as curtains around it, held back by lavender silk cords tied to the bedposts.

“This is a beautiful room,” Elizabeth commented.

“Isn’t it though?” Laurie replied, straightening. She smiled, “And it suits you just so, soft and gentle like. It’s got such an elegant feel to it, but it’s dainty at the same time.” She gave Elizabeth a shy smile, “Lord Kingston had it specially done for you. Mother had all the maids working to redo it before you came.”

Elizabeth blinked, “You mean it wasn’t like this before?”

“Oh no,” Laurie exclaimed, “Lady Diane liked bold colors, there was ever so much red and blue in here…” She gave a laugh, shaking her head, “His lordship sent word a month ago that he’d be bringing a new bride home and he gave strict instructions on how he wanted your room to be. We cleaned and redecorated in a hurry, you can be sure.”

“Oh,” Elizabeth responded astonished. How had Maxwell known her tastes so well? She absolutely loved the room, and it was hers, wholly hers. Her husband had designed it just for her. She felt hope swell in her heart that he just might learn to love her back. After all, if he could take the time to discover her likes and dislikes, he might take the time to know her…

“His lordship’s bedroom is just through there,” Laurie continued, pointing to the double doors on one of the walls, “He just redid his during his last visit.” Elizabeth gazed at the doors, suddenly curious as to how he had decorated his bedroom. She was anxious for any little clue to his personality, anything that might help her understand him. “Ah, well,” Laurie stated as the chiming of the hall clock reached them, “Supper time, best get you to the dining room. I’ll give you a tour of the house and grounds afterwards.”

Elizabeth nodded absently, dragging her attention from the doors leading to her husband’s room. She shot another look out the window, where there were two specks still out on the lake as the sun began to lower in the sky. A sigh escaped her, it looked as if Mrs. DuPree had been right, Maxwell would not be joining her for dinner.

Twenty minutes later Maxwell had still not come in and Elizabeth was finished with her meal. She thanked the servants for clearing her dishes and let Laurie show her around. She met a lot of people, and began to relax. She was liking Kingston very much. The two girls explored the estate until it was too dark to do so, and then Laurie suggested Elizabeth prepare for bed.

Laurie hummed to herself as she helped Elizabeth out of her traveling dress. Elizabeth felt odd, but she didn’t want to dismiss Laurie just because she could do everything herself. It was obvious Laurie really wanted to be useful, so Elizabeth let her brush her hair and begin to braid it for bed. There was a short silence between them when they heard noises from Maxwell’s room.

“It looks like his lordship is back, Lawrence must have been more trouble than usual,” Laurie whispered, “I’ll leave you now.” She gave Elizabeth an impulsive hug and headed to the door. “Good luck,” was her parting word, along with a wink.

Elizabeth blushed fiercely as the door closed. She rose and walked to it, locking it, then she looked to the connecting door and walked over to it, unlocking it. She twisted her hands together for a minute, wondering what she should do. Wait for him in the bed? She shook her head, unsure, and the half done braid whipped her in the face.

She blinked in surprise and then went to the vanity, sat down, and undid the first part of the braid, and began to brush her hair out again. Elizabeth tried very hard to focus all her attention on brushing her hair out, but mostly, she was listening to the muffled noises coming from the other bedroom. She heard him dismiss his valet and put her brush down, her hands shaking.

The connecting door opened abruptly and Elizabeth started, turning instinctively toward the intrusion. Maxwell stood framed in the doorway in a black dressing robe. She trembled, knowing he wasn’t wearing anything underneath that dressing robe. She contemplated standing, but figured her legs wouldn’t support her, so she just sat there, staring at him.

He stepped into the room, shutting the door behind him, and their eyes finally met. She drew in a ragged breath at the fire burning in his incredible eyes, and then he began to walk toward her…


posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:41:47 PM
*Seven*

Her eyes were amazing. They were so large in her face, and so dark and deep. A man could drown himself in her eyes.

And that was precisely what Maxwell found himself doing as he walked steadily toward where she sat. Elizabeth had not moved since he entered the room, she had merely stared at him unwaveringly with those luminous eyes of hers.

He stopped in front of her, their eyes still locked, and reached down to help her stand. She was trembling in his grip, but she still met his gaze unblinkingly. Maxwell loosened the belt of her white dressing gown and pushed it from her shoulders, lace hems fluttering as it fell to the floor.

A small intake of breath escaped Elizabeth, and she looked away from him, arms instinctively rising to cover her self. He stopped the gesture by taking hold of her arms lightly, and stared at her, frowning slightly. She still would not meet his gaze.

He could see the faint flush of color on her smooth cheek in the moonlight from the window. “You are still frightened of me,” he stated, voice even.

Her head swung back to look at him, eyes wide, “I am not afraid of you, my lord,” she protested, “I told you that before.”

“You told me I intimidated you,” he said.

She nodded slowly, “So you do.”

“You told me you would work on that,” he reminded her.

“I’ve tried, my lord,” she replied, “But you do not make it very easy.” She blushed again and looked down at the floor.

He took one hand from her arm and lifted her chin so that she had to look him in the eye. “And what do you mean by that, Elizabeth?”

“Forgive me, my lord,” she said softly, “But you are never really around long enough for me to get to know you.” His frowned deepened and he opened his mouth to dispute her words, but she continued. “I know you’re a very busy man, so many people depend on you, but…” she hesitated, licking her lips, and his attention was diverted, “It makes forming a rapport rather difficult, my lord.”

He tilted her chin up a little more and leaned his head down, intent now on her soft-looking lips. “I also believe, that you were,” his breath hitched as he brushed his lips across hers, “going to call me Maxwell.”

“Maxwell,” she murmured as he closed in on her again.

This kiss was different then the one he had given her at the theatre a month ago. This kiss was not a warning to anyone, but it was still a claim. Elizabeth was his. His wife.

And she was responding as such, her returning kiss was eager, although timid, and her fingers tangled in the hair at the base of his neck. Maxwell pulled her up against his hard body, and she gasped, breaking the kiss, her eyes surprised and a little alarmed.

She was an innocent, he reminded himself, and he pulled away slightly, judging her expression. It was obvious she was unsure how to progress, that she didn’t know what to do about his evident arousal, and he supposed that as her husband, it was his job to teach her.

His hand brushed down her throat, resting on the ties of her thin lawn nightgown. Elizabeth shivered, and the act caused her nipples to harden to points and push against the flowing fabric. He stifled a groan, he had already been aware of the dark flowers of her breasts, and the triangle of black curls at her core, the transparent white material of her gown left little to imagination, but her reaction to him was sweet.

Maxwell wanted her. He hadn’t thought about it before, hadn’t thought of her, that way before. She had merely been a suitable candidate for a wife, someone capable of everything he required. But this past month she’d stirred a desire in him he’d never known before.

It was her eyes, the way they unwittingly caressed him. It was her spirit, the way she’d suddenly say something, with such enthusiasm and intelligence. It was her pure heart and gentle soul. She enticed him like no other woman had in the course of his life.

He undid the laces at her throat and then ran his hands down her sides, bunching the fabric in his hands. Their eyes met for an instant and then he raised the nightgown above her head and threw it on the floor.

Maxwell ignored the clothing and began an inspection of his bride. She had tiny feet, shapely legs, a trim torso, firm breasts, slender arms, and little hands that were fluttering nervously. He drew in a ragged breath at the thought of those hands on his body, and met her gaze, his eyes blazing. Hers were wide, bottomless, and slightly defiant, as if daring him to comment on her form.

By God, he thought with wonder as a half smile claimed his face, she’s a small thing. Small and exquisitely delicate. Like a doll… His smile grew and it cause her to tremble, but not with fear. Pure male satisfaction coursed through him, causing his own body to clench with anticipation, and he moved toward her with all the speed and grace of a large cat.

He picked her up and placed her in the middle of the bed, and then knelt over her, removing his robe and tossing it to the floor. “Oh my,” was her shocked whisper. Her eyes widened even more as she stared at him.

Maxwell couldn’t stand it anymore. He was throbbing with need of her. He parted her legs, making her quiver again as his fingers traced the petal-smooth skin of her ivory thighs. He settled himself between her thighs, erect manhood poised at her entrance.

He propped himself up on his elbows so that he wasn’t crushing her, and stared down at her face. She was lying, body flushed, eyes downcast so that her thick, dark lashes swept her cheeks, her dark brown hair was spread thick and silky against the white pillow.

His hands found their way to her hair of their own volition, tangling in it as he lowered his head down to hers. His lips brushed across her forehead, down to graze her eyelids, then a quick touch to her parted lips, his tongue darting out briefly to stroke hers, and then down to her vulnerable neck.

Her head tilted upward without his prompting, and he sucked lightly on the velvety skin. One of his hands disengaged from her chocolate tresses and traveled down the length of her body, making her arch up into his body. It speared the tuft of curls above her womanhood and coaxed apart the protecting nether lips of her heat.

She was wet. Hot and wet and slick as he slid one finger into her. She made a small noise and her arms came around his shoulders, clinging to him. Maxwell placed a gentle kiss onto her lips and removed his finger, fitting instead the blunt head of his erection and beginning the slow penetration of her untouched body.

“My lord,” she remonstrated, tensing up, but he cut her off.

“Hush, Elizabeth, everything will be all right, just trust me,” he informed her. He could feel her trying to relax, could feel her slight nod against his shoulder.

“I trust you,” she whispered, and he could hear the unshed tears in her eyes. A strange feeling hit him in the gut, and he smiled, proud of his small, brave wife, and feeling inexorably pleased with her admission of faith in him.

He went slowly, so very slowly, being as careful as he could, even though his body was raging at him to plunge into her tight passage and explode. He could feel her inner walls expand to accommodate him as he thrust further into her. His embrace tightened when he broke through her virgin barrier and she uttered a little shriek.

Maxwell stopped, allowing his hands to run over her figure lightly, he pressed kisses over her face, her throat, her chest, until she was once again pliant in his arms.

Then he began thrusting again, her body still tight, but more welcoming, and he slid more easily in and out of her, creating a friction of movement that had her shifting restlessly for completion. His own control was fading fast, and he reached one hand down to her curls again, finding the swollen nub of sensitive flesh and rubbing hard.

Elizabeth’s legs quivered, and she moved against him recklessly, eyes locked on his, pleading silently. “Say my name, Elizabeth,” he demanded, voice rough with passion, “Say it.”

“Maxwell!” she cried, and he sent her tumbling over the edge of oblivion, her fingers digging unfelt into the muscles of his back as she shuddered around him.

His essential control vanished with the clenching of her silky walls, and he sunk into her one last time, finding his own release with a hoarse shout.

Minutes, though it seemed like a pleasure-shrouded eternity, later, he came back to himself, sleepy and satisfied. He should get up, go to his own room, but he couldn’t bring himself to move.

His head was resting comfortably on Elizabeth’s breasts, her arms were still around him, and her legs were hooked over his. He was still inside of her. Yes, he should definitely move.

But he didn’t. He was content there, in Elizabeth’s arms, her even breathing lulling him to find his own sleep. He hadn’t really slept in years, and Lawrence had been so bothersome today… He’d move to his own room in a few hours, right now, he just wanted to…

Maxwell woke up to sunlight on his face. He felt extraordinarily well rested and contented. But then he frowned up at the filmy white material of the canopy. Where was he?

He sat up, arms supporting his weight, and his hand came in contact with a stiff spot. He threw the covers back and stared at the spot of dried blood on the sheets. Last nights events came rushing back to him and he looked around wildly. The bedroom was completely empty. Where was Elizabeth?

He frowned and got out of the bed, picking up his dressing robe and putting it on. Then he headed to his own room and started getting dressed. He was tying his cravat when a sound from Elizabeth’s room caught his attention and he flung open the connecting door.

Laurie DuPree gaped at him for a moment, hands full of soiled linens, and dropped a curtsey. “Good morning, your Lordship.”

He gave a curt nod, “Where is my wife?”

Laurie blinked, “Lady Kingston is bathing, my lord,” she told him, sounding bewildered.

Maxwell nodded again, thoughtfully this time. “Then I’ll meet her for breakfast, please tell your mother to set the table for two.” He gave a dismissive nod and left the room.

He sat down at the dining table a few minutes later with a cup of coffee and the morning paper. He was just pouring his second cup when Elizabeth breezed into the room. She walked past him, her clean scent alerting his senses, to the other end of the table, where she sat, not looking at him, a pretty blush staining her cheeks.

Servants stood at attention at the kitchen door, and helped serve the food that just came out. Elsie and Mrs. DuPree came out to check on them and Maxwell sent them, and the servants, away. He needed to discuss something with Elizabeth in private.

Once the room was cleared, Maxwell looked across the table to his wife, who met his gaze shyly. He gave her a smile, “Elizabeth-”

“My lord,” Zanial entered the room, gave a brief bow, and continued, “There’s a dispute in the village that needs your attention.”

Maxwell sighed and looked at Elizabeth. They would have to have this conversation later. “Have my horse saddled, I’ll be right there. Please excuse me, Elizabeth.” And he stood, heading out the door, leaving her staring sadly after him.


posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:48:20 PM
*Eight*

They were back in London again. The Season would be coming to a close in a few months time, and they would be heading back to Kingston Manor, but Maxwell had felt it necessary to return to Town in order to finish up some business dealings.

Of course, Maxwell always seemed to have business to take care of. She knew he tried to find some time to be alone with her, but something always happened and he’d be torn away by duty.

It got so that their only time alone was at night, when they were consummating their marriage. Elizabeth loved those nights. She loved the way he touched her, the way he kissed her, the way he pleasured her, the way she could pleasure him…

But it was afterward that she loved the most. When he fell asleep in her arms, and she could hold him, and stroke his hair, and whisper to him of her love for him. She lived for the intimacy of those moments.

And she was deathly afraid that they would shortly becoming to a halt, because he would have what he wanted of her. An heir. Elizabeth was positive that she was breeding, and it was rankling on her soul.

“So…”

Elizabeth raised her head, and looked, surprised, into Marianna’s curious green eyes. “So…” she echoed.

Marianna gave an exasperated shriek and leaned forward, eyes twinkling with merriment. “So…How was it?”

“Kingston is perfectly lovely, I enjoyed my honeymoon immensely,” Elizabeth informed her, smiling in remembrance. She and Laurie had ridden all over the lands so that Elizabeth could get a feel for her new home, and they had visited both Milton and Lawrence, and formed a book club to discuss the latest novels, and Elizabeth had met ever so many women with similar interests and had many new friends.

Marianna rolled her eyes, “I wasn’t talking about the trip, I was talking about the…” She leaned forward and Elizabeth leaned toward her, confused. “Consummation,” Mari hissed in her ear.

Elizabeth drew back quickly, heat rushing to suffuse her face. “Marianna!” she exclaimed, shocked.

“Come on, Lizzie,” Mari giggled, “Give us all the details.”

“Please don’t,” Isabella said from her seat in the chair across from the couch where Elizabeth and Marianna were sitting. “I do not need to hear all the ‘details’ about my brother.” She shot Mari an annoyed glance above her teacup, eyes relaying disgust at the topic.

For some reason, Elizabeth found the situation vastly humorous, and began to giggle. She was glad she had agreed to tea at Isabella’s this afternoon, she needed to be with her friends.

“Ignore her,” Marianna advised Elizabeth, smiling a bit her self, “Tell me.”

“I’m not listening,” Isabella sung out, putting down her cup and covering her ears, “I’m not listening.” And she started humming.

Elizabeth blushed again and looked from Bella to Mari. “It was wonderful,” she told her softly, “Maxwell is very considerate, and gentle, husband.”

“But did you have an orgasm?” Marianna demanded loudly.

“I’m not listening!” Isabella cried, glaring at Marianna.

“Yes,” Elizabeth muttered.

“Ah,” Maria sighed, and leaned back into the cushions, “Good for you. And good for Maxwell, too, at least he didn’t royally screw this marriage thing up.” She grinned at Isabella. “We’re done discussing your brother’s sexual prowess now, Bella!” she shouted.

Bella shrieked, and removed her hands from her ears, throwing a pillow at Marianna. “I can’t believe you sometimes, Mari!”

Elizabeth’s friend caught the pillow easily and held it to her chest. She rolled her green eyes at Isabella and stuck out her tongue. Bella responded in kind, but Mari missed it, intent now on Elizabeth. Elizabeth, unsure of why she was under such intense scrutiny, averted her eyes.

“So…” Marianna said slowly.

“Oh, don’t start that again,” Isabella reprimanded.

Mari glared at her, “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted… So, if Maxwell is such an amazingly good lov-“ she broke off at Isabella’s growl, “Husband,” she amended, “Why do you look so depressed?”

She hesitated for a moment, regarding her friends, both of whom were looking at her with worried expressions. She took and deep breath and looked at them. “I have reason to believe that I may be with child,” she confided.

The two other women blinked. “But that’s fantastic, Elizabeth,” Isabella gushed, “Maxwell will be pleased.”

“I know,” she replied in a small voice, “But once he has his heir, he won’t need me anymore. I won’t even have the nights with him anymore.”

“What do you mean?” Maria asked.

She gave a shrug. “It’s just that I never get to see him in the day time because he always has important duties to attend to, and we only had the…the nights, to be together. And if I am breeding, then he won’t have to spend that time with me either.”

They were blinking a lot again. “You think he’s going to abandon you?” Isabella finally demanded.

“No!” Elizabeth exclaimed, “That isn’t what I meant… I just… I don’t know how to say what I’m feeling. Can we please just forget I mentioned it? Please?” She looked at them pleadingly, until they both gave assenting nods. She took a deep breath, pushing down her insecurities about her marriage, and smiled at them, “Thank you. And please don’t mention this to Maxwell, until I’m sure.” They nodded again, and Elizabeth’s smile widened.

She looked at them pleadingly, until they both gave assenting nods. She took a deep breath, pushing down her insecurities about her marriage, and smiled at them, “Thank you. And please don’t mention this to Maxwell, until I’m sure.” They nodded again, and Elizabeth’s smile widened.

There was silence for a while, Mari and Bella looking at her, and her not looking at them, but them Isabella broke it. “I wish I was with child,” she told them, voice low.

Elizabeth at once felt ashamed for bringing up such a sore topic for her friend. “Oh, Bella,” she crooned, “I’m so sorry-” Isabella waved away her apology. “I’m sure it will happen soon,” Elizabeth consoled her.

Bella shook her head, “Alexander and I have been married for eleven years, and there hasn’t once been the slightest indication to give us hope.” She gave a sniffle and dragged out a silk handkerchief, dabbing at her brown eyes. “I’m nearly thirty!” she exclaimed, “I should have at least three children by now!”

Elizabeth bit her lip and exchanged a glance with Marianna, and both women prepared themselves for the oncoming tirade.

“And you know what the worst part is?” Isabella continued, “Those damn gossip harpies. I hear them all the time, saying how Alexander should divorce me and find a new, young wife, who is obviously capable of bearing him children. Hah! Maybe it isn’t me, do they think of that? Maybe Alexander has the problem. Maybe I should be the one filing for divorce!” The other two women gasped, and Isabella looked at them. “Oh don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing, think of the scandal…”

“Bella!” Marianna yelled in outrage.

Isabella looked at her calmly, and then broke out laughing. Elizabeth and Marianna just stared at her, open-mouthed. “That was payback, Mari dear, for your earlier chat about my brother.” At the anger rising in Mari’s eyes, she chuckled again. “Really now, Marianna Alehandra Roberta Christianne Josephine DeLuca-Sahn, did you think I meant such nonsense? I love Alexander!”

“Well,” Marianna said, blushing, “Sometimes it’s hard to tell with you Bella. You should have been an actress.”

Brown eyes rolled, “Now that would have been a scandal.” The three of them giggled, and Elizabeth gave her sister-in-law a grateful look, aware that Bella had done a masterful change of topic so that Elizabeth wouldn’t have to deal with Marianna’s pestering.

A knock sounded against the library door. “Come in,” Isabella called. Laurie, whom Elizabeth had brought with her from the Manor to act as personal maid, entered tentatively.

“What is it, Laurie?” Elizabeth inquired, rising.

“We should be leaving now, my Lady, if you want to meet Lord Kingston for dinner back at the townhouse,” she suggested shyly.

Elizabeth looked at the clock in surprise and realized the day had been spent. “Goodness!” she cried, “I really must go.” She smiled at her friends, “Thank you for having me over Bella. No, don’t get up, I’ll see myself out.” She hurried to the door of the library, but paused on her way out and turned back to Mari and Isabella. “Promise you won’t inform Maxwell?”

“We promise,” they chorused.

She sent them another grateful smile and headed to the hallway, where Laurie was waiting with her coat, and then she was on her way home, to her husband.


posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:50:58 PM
*Nine*

Maxwell looked up from his plate as his wife came hurrying in. She looked rushed, taking off her bonnet as she sat down, her hair stuck in the hatpins and coming out in wisps around her face… His lips quirked upward in a smile, she looked delightfully disheveled.

“I’m sorry I’m so late, my lord,” she apologized, her brown eyes earnest.

He gave her a gentle smile, “It’s quite alright, Elizabeth, I know how my sister and Marianna can be. Did you have a nice time catching up?”

To Maxwell’s confusion, a blush suffused her cheeks, and she looked away from him. “We had a very in depth discussion about the trip, my lord, Mari was most interested in hearing all about…Kingston.” She gave a decisive nod and smiled at him innocently.

He narrowed his eyes suspiciously, knowing the pause between her words had had a significant meaning, but he couldn’t figure out what. “Really? She’s never been that interested in Kingston’s affairs before, I can’t imagine why she’d start now.”

The color rose higher and she picked at her food with her fork, still not meeting his eyes. “I do not believe it was the…affairs that she was interested in, but rather…”

She trailed off and Maxwell looked up from his plate sharply, “Elizabeth?” he inquired.

“I…don’t feel…” she finally looked at him, and he was alarmed to see she had lost all her color. She swallowed heavily and one hand moved as if reaching for him, and then she swayed and collapsed, falling from her chair to the floor.

“Elizabeth!” he roared, springing up from his own chair, knocking it backwards onto the ground, and he rushed to the other side of the table, where his wife lay, still as death.

“Lordship?”

Raising his head, he looked above the table, and saw Elizabeth’s maid near the door. “Get the doctor,” he ordered.

Her eyes widened, “Why? What has happened? Is my lady, all right?” The questions were posed to him in rapid fire succession, and he could not get his mind to stop spinning long enough to form a coherent answer.

“Just go,” he commanded again, voice harsh with desperation, “I want Doctor Hardy here in five minutes!” The tone of his voice surprised the blonde, and she whirled, running quickly, and he could hear her calling for Zanial.

He blocked everything out except Elizabeth. He turned her over onto her back, tilting her chin upward so that she could breathe, and then made sure she was breathing, and that he could still get a heartbeat. She was, and he did, though it was too erratic for his liking.

Maxwell scooped her up into his arms and carried her from the dining room, upstairs, to her bedchamber. Very carefully, he laid her petite form on the bed, and made sure she was in a comfortable position. He hovered over her, afraid to leave her, but wanting to know exactly when the doctor arrived.

“Maxwell…” His wife’s eyes fluttered open, and she looked at him, smiling weakly, “Are you all right, my lord?”

He blinked at her, shocked that she was asking about his well being when she was the one who had just fainted. Elizabeth frowned and made to sit up, but he put out a restraining hand. “Lie still, the doctor should be here shortly.”

“I don’t need a physician,” she protested.

He raised one eyebrow and stared down at her in disbelief. “The fact that you just fainted at the dinner table suggests otherwise.”

She blushed, “I had not eaten all day, my lord, no doubt it finally caught up with me.”

“What were you doing not eating?” he demanded.

She looked away from him again, then turned her head back, but kept her eyes on the coverlet. She opened her mouth to speak, but a commotion from outside prevented whatever it was she was going to say.

Maxwell spun and strode toward the door leading to the hallway, and flung it open. Zanial stiffened and gave him a nod. “Doctor Hardy,” he announced.

“Thank you, Zanial,” he dismissed his butler and then turned to the forty-something doctor. “Doctor Hardy, thank you for coming on such short notice, Elizabeth has just woken, but I’d like you to check on her.”

Hardy nodded and moved past Maxwell and into the room. Maxwell prepared to follow, but spotted the maidservant lingering anxiously around the door, trying to peer into the room. She was obviously very loyal to Elizabeth, and Maxwell smiled at the thought of his wife’s virtues, the kindness in her that inspired such devotion.

And then he thought of something. “Laurie?”

The girl looked at him, hands clasped together. “Your Lordship?”

“My wife…She admits she has not been eating. Is this true?”

“No, my lord, she eats, but she can’t seem to keep it down,” Laurie replied, looking sad, “It’s such a shame, for she needs the nourishment now more than ever,” she gazed at him, as if he knew exactly what she was talking about, which he didn’t.

“Why now?” he asked.

She blinked at him in surprise, “You mean, my lady has not told you the good news?”

“What news?” he questioned.

She glanced away from him, avoiding his gaze much as Elizabeth had done earlier. “It would be best it my lady informed you herself, Lord Kingston,” she murmured.

“Inform me of what?” he pressed, voice rising.

Laurie just gazed at him, blue eyes wide, frightened of his tone and the position he was putting her in. Maxwell was about to issue another command of obedience, but Doctor Hardy came out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

“My lord? Might I have a word?” Maxwell nodded and moved toward him, allowing Laurie to flee the hallway.

“Will she be all right?” he inquired urgently.

The doctor was nodding, expression sympathetic. “She’s an extremely small woman, if you’ll excuse my saying so, and that fact will cause complications as she progresses…”

“Progresses in what?” he interrupted, wondering what the devil it was everybody knew, but wouldn’t tell him.

“The pregnancy,” the doctor told him, frowning.

“You mean…Elizabeth is breeding?" Shock coursed through him. His wife was carrying his child, possibly his heir…

“Yes, my lord, and, as I was saying, it will be difficult. I don’t know if she’ll be able to carry the child to full term.” Maxwell glared at the other man, angry with his pessimistic attitude. Elizabeth would be fine, and so would his child. Doctor Hardy seemed not to notice his fierce regard. “She tells me that she’s having trouble keeping solid food down. I would suggest thin soups, broth, to your kitchen staff.”

“Of course,” Maxwell nodded, shifting on his feet and staring at the door hiding his wife from his view. Was she all right in there alone?

“And Lady Kingston should not be subjected to any type of strenuous activity, including parties, riding…” He looked at Maxwell seriously, “And also nightly tête-à-têtes.” He stressed the last, giving Maxwell a pointed stare. “Undue endeavors might cause a miscarriage.” Doctor Hardy was trying to hammer home the dangers, and Maxwell was grateful, but irritated. He could take care of his wife. “I’ll drop by periodically to check up on her Ladyship,” Hardy offered.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Maxwell put in, and began steering the man toward the stairs leading to the front hall, “Your help was much appreciated, and I will take your words to heart. Now,” he gestured down the stairs, “Zanial will see to your payment and schedule a return visit.”

And with that dismissal, Maxwell went back down the hallway and knocked on the white door that lead to his wife’s room. “Come in.”

He entered, and made sure the door was shut firmly behind him, then turned to face her. She gazed back at him, eyes enormous in her still pale face, although he was relieved to note that she had regained some color back. He stalked over the rose colored carpet and stood at the foot of the bed.

It was a four-poster, made of lacewood, and the coverlet was white, with pink roses embroidered on it, and a pattern of golden leaves accented the pale flowers. The sheets were white, the pillows she was propped up on were white and rose pink. It was a very feminine room, Isabella had designed it for Elizabeth in the month following their engagement announcement.

He had to admit that the colors became his wife beautifully, but he gained a sense of satisfaction knowing she was more partial to the chambers he had made for her at Kingston Manor. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he inquired quietly.

“I meant to, tonight, just before I…” she trailed off, “I wasn’t completely sure, but my monthlies have not come, and I am not…myself at times. My body began to feel different, and Doctor Hardy has confirmed my suspicions.” She gave him a large smile, though he noted with some consternation, that it had a quality of sadness about it. “Congratulations, my lord, you will have a child before this year is out.”

A smile graced his lips, and he moved to the side of the bed and sat down, taking her hands in his own. “Thank you for that, Elizabeth,” he whispered, kissing her small hand, and was alarmed when it trembled. “Doctor Hardy has said you should not be subjected to any type of taxing behavior. And since today has already proved eventful, it may be a good idea for you to rest.”

She gave a small nod of agreement, and granted him another small smile. “I am feeling rather fatigued,” she agreed, “If you could send Laurie to me to help me change into my nightdress… I find myself too weak to get into it myself.” She gave a small, self-deprecating laugh, and moved to sit up a bit higher. Maxwell immediately moved to support her.

“I will help you,” he offered. And she looked at him surprised, but nodded in acquiescence.

“Very well, my lord.”

Maxwell was at a loss for a moment, not sure what to do, as he had never helped a woman dress before, but when she started pulling the pins from her upswept hair, he leapt into action.

The pins were dark as her hair, and hard to find, but his hands seemed able, for they found the cool metal among the silky strands easily, and pulled them out as gently as he was able, placing them on the bedspread for the time. He assumed he wasn’t hurting her, as she didn’t make a sound, just sat up, pillows behind her, eyes closed, leaning slightly toward him.

When he had finished the task, her long hair fell in waves around her slim shoulders, and she opened her brown eyes, “Thank you,” she said softly, gratitude in her soothing voice. He nodded and grasped the handful of pins, looking at her questioningly. “The vanity,” she told him, knowing what he was asking.

He got up and moved over to the small vanity against the wall, setting the pins on the white surface, the gold gilding glinting in the setting sunlight from the window. He moved next to the closet, finding one of her nightgowns hanging there, and brought it back to the bed, where she was fiddling with the pearl buttons on her dress’ cuffs.

Maxwell took up one hand, turning it so that he could see the tiny button. Elizabeth met his steady gaze, tears in her eyes, and he understood how frustrated she was at being so helpless. He gently undid the buttons on first one cuff and then the other, and then her moved so that he was behind her.

There was a line of matching buttons going down the back of her dress, along the curve of her spine, which he set about undoing as his next undertaking. He swept her thick hair to the side so that he could reach the top button on the high neckline, and then unbuttoned it, revealing her smooth skin beneath.

His hands trailed down, undoing the buttons in their path, each separation presenting another inch of her olive skin to his view, and Maxwell suddenly became aware of the thick silence, of the sound of Elizabeth’s ragged breaths, and of his own developing arousal.

The move was almost unconscious as he bent his head, his lips moving against the softness of her nape. He heard her gasp, felt her shudder, and her head lolled back in response to the tender caress.

As his mouth traced the curve of her jaw, his hands began to remove the dress from her body, pushing the silky fabric down her arms, away from her breasts…

“Maxwell,” she sighed, turning her head so that their lips would meet. And abruptly he recalled the doctor’s warning, and looked away from her tempting lips, ashamed that he had almost endangered both his wife and his unborn child. “My lord?” He looked back at her, and her eyes were now a mixture of desire and confusion.

His eyes descended to where the material of her dress clung to her skin, her breasts straining against it as her breath came more quickly. He couldn’t stay here with her alone, not like this, it was too much, he wouldn’t be able to control…

He stood, “I’ll fetch Laurie.” He walked swiftly to the door and opened it, not surprised to see the maid pacing at the end of the hallway. “Laurie,” he said shortly. She looked up and fairly ran to him, and then past him, into the room, and to her lady.

He gazed at his wife as the blonde rushed about the room, and she stared back at him. A lost, hurt looking her beautiful eyes that pained him deeply. He shut the door, leaning against the wall outside her room and listening to the girlish murmurs within.

She would bear his child before the year was out. Her small, supple body would grow round as the babe grew within her… And he could not touch her. He could not give in to the urges of his body, urges he could barely control when she was around, when her clean, sweet scent teased his senses, and her body called to him…

No, he raged at himself. He couldn’t think of her like that, not until the child was born and they were both safe. Until then, he would have to stay away from her, away from the force she had managed to put on him…

Maxwell closed his eyes and raised his head. God, give me strength, he prayed, I’m going to need it.


posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:53:12 PM
*Ten*

Marianna was angry.

And it was all Michael Guerin’s fault!

She had been married at eighteen to a man forty years her senior. She couldn’t complain, Douglas had been very kind, had made no demands upon her due to his physical condition, and had provided for both her and her mother until the day he died of a stroke.

When he died, Marianna had come into possession of the Sahn fortune, hers to do with as she pleased, as Douglas had no living relatives. When he died, Marianna had been forced into the intrigues of Society.

Suddenly, it was as if every male in London was swarming her. They all wanted the wealthy Sahn widow as their paramour. Marianna had been nineteen, overwhelmed, and still a virgin. Her mother, Aimee, also a widow, had never abandoned the titillating scene of the ton, and was involved in an affair with James Shirrif, Lord Valenti, and was away when her daughter’s husband passed away.

As it was, Mari turned to her oldest friends, Isabella and Maxwell Evans, for help. Isabella had been married for two years at that point to the affluent Alexander Whitman, and had enough social status to protect Marianna from various plots for her money and title by the upper class men.

She stayed a widow, and free, for years after that. Until Maxwell came home from traveling abroad, bringing with him an old friend from his school days. The one and only Michael Guerin, Lord of Stonevale. Marianna had fallen, and fallen hard.

Her relationship with Michael was a tumultuous one. He smirked, she glared, he grunted, she insulted, he gave back, she yelled, he kissed, she melted… It was an ongoing cycle, ending in the loss of her virginity and her heart. Her mother hated him, saying he would never commit, that he was a bad influence, but Aimee couldn’t argue with the fact that Michael came from good money, had no reason to use Marianna, and that he didn’t seem to be going away.

But their on again, off again dalliances got to be too much for her. She broke it off, saying she couldn’t deal with it anymore, and he just shrugged and walked away.

So, Marianna did what any self-respecting widow would do. She had a series of affairs. She had been going with Neal Hallstaff, when Michael had showed up on the scene again.

She remembered that night as if it were yesterday. She had spotted Michael the minute she had walked into the ballroom on Neal’s arm. He had been chatting with Isabella and Alexander, and he had looked over, his brown eyes had met her green, and then they had narrowed, coming to rest on her arm linked with Neal’s.

The scowl had not left his face all that night, and Marianna had played it to the best of her advantage, hanging on Neal’s every word, laughing at every joke, dancing much too closely, and Michael’s expression darkened with every succeeding moment.

Finally, in the middle of a waltz, Michael had cut in, whisking her away from Neal, the dance floor, the ballroom, the house, and towards his carriage, his townhouse, and his bed.

She had thought the matter resolved then, and things were again good between them, for a few months at least. He told her he was going away, that his father had disappeared and he had to investigate and manage the lands. He had told her he loved her, and then he had said good-bye.

And he had left, and he sent her no word for months, and she had not been bothered, sure that he would be back. And she had been right, he had come back, and he had not informed her. She had spied a glance of him at one of Isabella’s parties and had been shocked out of her wits.

She had jumped in her carriage and headed straight to the Evans townhouse. Maxwell had been in the library when she came storming in, demanding how long that Stonevale had been back in Town. Maxwell regarded her with amusement and told her two weeks.

She had broken down in tears.

Maxwell, alarmed, called for his mother. Diane had rushed in, took one look at Marianna, and called for tea. Maxwell had left the room, and she and Diane had had a long chat about men and love and how to go about things properly. Lady Diane had been a wonderful woman, Marianna had missed her guidance these past years.

Anyway, they had decided the wisest course of action would be just to ignore him. Marianna had turned her attentions to a Mr. Brody Davis, the curator of the Museum of Scientific Oddities in the Pall Mall. He was a widower, had one child, Sydney, and was infatuated with her.

Michael had countered her act of defiance by paying homage to young Miss Courtney Banks. Rumors circulated around London of when the couples’ impending nuptials would be announced. She, furious, had confronted Michael at his home. There had been a large argument, which ended as most of their fights did, in bed.

She had been angry with herself, and humiliated by her weakness, but Michael had laughed and held her close and informed her that Courtney was a very nice girl, and that she would make Nicholas Crawford a lovely wife. Marianna had just stared at him, open-mouthed, and everything had been all right.

And everything had remained all right for years, occasionally there would be a serious fight, she would flirt with Brody or another man, and he would respond by fawning over some random widow or schoolroom chit, but all and all, everything was normal.

Until now. Now, he had gone too far! It was bad enough he had tried to create that scene at the opera eight months ago, but it was even worse to burst into her drawing room, in the middle of tea, and challenge William to a duel!

William Darden was an old friend, one she had met at thirteen. He had been her first kiss, but he had been poor, and had gone off to make his way in the world when he was fifteen. And he had done it, he was an accomplished musician, and she was very proud of him.

Unfortunately, he had had to leave London with the orchestra and had only just returned to visit with her. They had been catching up when Michael whirled in, hair a mess, his cravat untied, bellowing at William in a most unseemly manner.

They had stared at him in amazement, she had no idea how he had known of William’s presence, until his jealousy led him to the unthinkable and he ordered William to meet him at Layton’s Field at dawn the next morning. She had rose, irate and ready to bash some sense into him, when William had apologized for whatever slight he had made.

“Michael, of course, was completely red at this point, and just glared at William. According to dueling rules, if the challenged party apologizes, the duel is considered over, no shots fired. But Michael, being the blockhead he is, obviously felt this an unmanly way to resolve the issue, whatever the issue supposedly was, and began to sputter about cowardice and such. Well, I just got so fed up, I told him if he didn’t leave that instance I’d challenge him to a duel myself!” She ended her tale with a self-righteous nod, surprised when her companion broke into a fit of laughter.

Marianna stared incredulously at Elizabeth as she giggled helplessly, tears leaking out of her brown eyes. She felt a smile tug her own lips, and soon fell prey to the younger woman’s infectious laughter. “I guess it is a bit funny,” she admitted, wiping tears from her own eyes.

“Oh, Mari…” Elizabeth smiled and took her friend’s hand, “I needed that, thank you.”

Marianna’s smile grew a touch sad as she squeezed the small hand in her own. “How are you doing, Lizzie?” she asked gently.

Elizabeth’s smile grew and she placed her free hand on her round belly. “We’re doing fine, Marianna,” she reassured her friend.

Elizabeth was about six months along, and the Doctor had confined her to her bed for the last three months of the pregnancy. So, instead of Elizabeth coming to tea at Marianna or Isabella’s, which was about the only time Maxwell allowed her out of the house since news of the child, unless he took her for a carriage ride around the park, but those had been infrequent trips, her friend’s came to her.

Truthfully, Mari hated seeing Elizabeth so weak. She was thin and pale, seeming to wane before Marianna’s very eyes. But there was also this light to her, an internal glow that made Mari a little envious. She reached out and placed her own hand on the protruding flesh, hidden beneath a nightgown.

Elizabeth moved her hand slightly. “There, he’s kicking,” she said softly, proudly.

Mari gasped as she felt the light thump against her pressing hand. She exchanged smiles with Elizabeth. “Is it a boy?” she inquired.

“I believe so,” Lizzie replied, her smile wistful, “I hope so…”

There was a timid knock on the door, and it opened, Elizabeth’s serving maid entered carrying a tray. She looked at them with large blue eyes and dropped a curtsey, “Begging your pardon, Lady Sahn, but it’s time for my lady’s dinner.”

Mari gave the faithful girl a smile, and then turned it to Elizabeth as she rose. “I should get going anyway,” she planted a kiss on Elizabeth’s forehead as she leaned back against the pillows, “I visit again tomorrow, darling.”

“Farewell, Mari, make sure you give Lord Stonevale my regards next time you see him.” Marianna shot her a look and got an impish grin in reply.

“You mean, if I start speaking to him again.”

“Of course,” was the laughing answer.

Marianna left the bedroom with a smile and wandered down the stairs at a leisurely pace. Maxwell’s butler was pacing up and down the front hallway. “Hello Zanial,” she greeted.

He looked up at her, black eyes sharp, and tugged at his earring. “He’s in his study,” he informed her without prompt.

Marianna smiled at him in gratitude and headed for the shut door, entering without so much as a perfunctory knock. Maxwell looked up, saw her, and looked back down. “Marianna.”

“Maxwell,” she returned.

There was silence for long moments, Mari walking around, touching this and that, until she sat herself down at the edge of his desk. There was nothing about him that indicated he was uncomfortable. Nothing that is, except the white-knuckled grip he had on the book in his hands.

“How is she?” he finally asked, looking up at her, amber eyes red and pleading.

“Why don’t you go see,” she suggested.

He looked away, the book dropping forgotten onto the desk. “I can’t,” he whispered.

“You won’t,” she countered.

“It’s my fault, Mari,” he rasped, “I did this to her. And I can’t… I can’t see her like that… I can’t see her and know, know I-”

She swore, interrupting him, and he looked at her. “You’re a coward Maxwell,” she stated. His eyes darkened in anger, and he opened his mouth to speak, but she didn’t let him. “You love her, and yet you sit here, wallowing in self pity, when you should be upstairs with her, letting her know you’re there for her.”

She could tell her accusation had stung, but he put up his façade. The one he had never before shown to her or Michael, or Isabella, or Alexander, and the fact that he now did scared her. “You speak of things you have no right to speak of, Marianna.” His voice was flat, hard, and he rose to his feet. “Leave now.”

She stood, hand clasped to her throat, taken aback by his tone. “Maxwell…”

“Now, Mari,” he repeated.

She backed away, toward the door, and stared at him, lit from the back by the fire, and she was frightened. This was not her childhood friend. This was a man hurt in his soul and unwilling to admit it.

“I will leave,” she told him slowly, “But not because you command it, Maxwell Evans, but because Elizabeth is my friend, and you are my friend, and you are not yourself.” She turned, but paused again at the door. “I will forgive you.”

And then she left. Needing to see Michael, to talk with him, to vow her love for him, and to hear the same in return. And she was no longer feeling so envious of Elizabeth.


posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:55:25 PM
*Eleven*

Maxwell was sprawled in front of the unlit fireplace, staring broodingly at the darkened bricks of the hearth. A whisper of fabric made him turn his head toward the bedroom. She stood there, wrapped in her dressing robe, one eyebrow raised, and an amused smile curving her bow-shaped pink lips.

She walked into the salon with a sway of her hips, and perched herself on the arm of the chair he was sitting in. “What is the matter, Maxwell?” she inquired softly.

He sighed deeply, and looked up at her. His eyes, long since adjusted to the dark of the room, noted everything about her. Her eyes were as blue as the sky he had compared them to when he first met her, though there were lines around them that had not been there in his youth. It surprised him for a moment, to recall that she was only a few years his senior.

Avalyn had always managed to retain the girlish appearance that had caught so many of the young gentlemen of the ton’s eyes. She had had many lovers over the years, and was reigning queen of the demimonde, but Maxwell was the only one she had ever formed a friendship with as well a carnal relationship.

The remained friends and lovers over the years, she becoming his official mistress for a while, but once he had inherited the title of Earl of Kingston, they had dissolved the partnership with mutual amiability.

When the pressure of Elizabeth’s pregnancy had got to be too much, he had turned to her. And she had accepted him with open arms. It did not matter to her that he was married, it did not matter to her that he was often preoccupied when they made love, and it did not matter to her that he cried out another woman’s name when he found his release in her arms.

“Maxwell?” she repeated when he did not answer her. He looked away from her, and still did not answer. Now it was her turn to sigh. “Maxwell, please, I have not fully acquainted myself with your thoughtful silences again. It’s been over two years… I cannot read your mind.”

“It’s nothing you need to concern yourself over, Avalyn.”

“Ah,” she said, and rose, walking around the chair so that she stood behind him, “So that’s the way it is.”

“Avalyn-”

“Let me try to reason this out, Maxwell,” she interrupted, forestalling his excuses. He was silent as she wandered in front of him again, going to the fireplace and putting a log on with some kindling. The silence continued until a blaze lit the room. Avalyn stood, warming her hands as warmth began to permeate the small sitting room. She turned to him once more, a contemplative look in her eyes, and, not for the first time, he found himself comparing her to Elizabeth again.

His wife was as different as Avalyn as night was to day. Where Elizabeth’s hair was dark as mahogany, thick, and long, Avalyn’s was light as buttercups, fine, and unfashionably short. Where Elizabeth’s eyes were brown and bottomless, Avalyn’s were azure and gemlike. Elizabeth was also smaller than Avalyn, slimmer, shorter, all around more petite and vulnerable.

And the biggest difference of all, he no longer desired Avalyn as he did his lovely wife.

“My guess is that your current attention, which has not been directed toward me for some time, is fully on the charming Lady Kingston, is it not, my lord?” He blinked at her caustic tone, but did not contradict her words.

And so, she continued. “The question is, as the former Miss Parker was reputed to be intelligent, gently bred, enchanting, all around perfect woman, and prime candidate for marriage, why is the man who wed her here, in my home?”

He winced as she concluded her speech. Apparently he had been wrong when he thought his fixation with Elizabeth had not mattered to her. “I cannot sleep,” he admitted finally.

She frowned, “Why not?”

He got up, too restless to just sit and stare, and began to pace around the room, a little angry with himself that he could not manage to contain his emotions. Maxwell knew his response would hurt Avalyn, because the simple fact of the matter was, “She’s not in my bed.”

“I beg your pardon?” Avalyn queried, obviously not understanding his obtuse answer.

He blew out a deep breath and stopped pacing. “Elizabeth. I can’t sleep because she’s not in my arms.” For some reason he felt as if a great weight had been lifted off of him. He’d never before put into words how important his wife had come to be to him. Maxwell knew most of the ton believed the poor Miss Parker to be trapped in what was surely a cold, loveless marriage, and he allowed them to believe it.

He would not put Elizabeth in a position that someone could use her to injure him just because it was known he held her in very high regard. He knew it would kill her to cause him any sort of pain or trouble. She was so loyal that way…

“When I hold her, Avalyn, when I make love to her… It’s different than with anyone else. I feel different…”

He trailed off, remembering the one month they had spent together in the country. That small amount of time, those few nights, and he had become addicted to the feel of her, the scent of her, her taste, her voice crying his name… It was the only time she called him by his given name, he mused, when not engaged in lovemaking, she always referred to him as ‘my lord’, no matter how he protested.

“I cannot touch her now,” he told Avalyn, who was watching him with a guarded expression, “Not until the babe is born.” He heaved another sigh, “She so small, and it’s hurting her so much…” He turned away from the light as he felt stinging heat prick his eyes. “And it is all my fault. But still, I can’t stay away from her, no matter how I try…”

Maxwell turned back to Avalyn, “Sometimes,” he whispered, “Most recently, I’d open the doors between our rooms, and she’d be sleeping there, the moonlight from the window on her face… She looks like an angel, Avalyn, and I can’t believe she’s mine.”

He did not see the expression on his mistress’ face as his mind conjured up an image of Elizabeth just a few weeks ago, sleeping peacefully. It had become his habit, since the doctor had forbidden his wife from him, to sneak into her bedroom and just lie beside her, listening to her breathe, until the temptation to wake her became so great and he had to flee from the house and out onto the streets, to spend the remainder of the night in Avalyn’s arms.

But since that same night, he had not been able to observe his wife sleeping without feeling the heart-wrenching guilt of knowing he was having an affair behind her back.

“You love her.”

The soft accusation broke through his reverie, and he scowled at Avalyn. “You are the second person in less than three months to make that assumption,” he told her.

“Assumption?” she repeated, sounding as if she was on the verge of laughter, “That is the God-honest truth, Maxwell Evans. You are in love with your wife.”

“Avalyn…” he trailed off, “I will admit that I care for her a great deal. I would be a very hard man if I did not hold at least some small amount of affection for Elizabeth, but love… Our relationship does not resemble my parents, or Michael and Marianna’s, or even my sister and Alexander’s, and those are the only examples of love I have ever seen in the Polite World, Avalyn. So no, I do not-”

“You won’t let yourself see, Maxwell,” she interjected, refusing to let him finish the statement, “I have known you for years, and you’ve never been this out of control before.”

He drew himself up, “I am in perfect control of myself.”

She rolled her eyes, and gave a snort of disbelief that made him jump. “Maxwell… I’ll let you believe what you want to believe, but I suggest opening your eyes before something drastic does it for you.”

“What are your implying?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” she said quietly, “But I would like to put an end to our liaison, my lord Kingston.”

He gazed at her for a brief moment, and then nodded, “I feel that would be best, also.”

She gave her own nod, and followed him as he gathered his things. Avalyn pressed a gentle kiss to his lips as he put on his greatcoat. “I’ll miss you,” she informed him.

He gave her a small smile and kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry, Avalyn.”

She shook her blonde head and opened the front door. He stepped out into the cool night and turned to say farewell, but she beat him to it. “Don’t be sorry, Maxwell, it’s not your fault I fell in love with you,” she confided nearly inaudibly, and then she shut the door on his stunned expression.

Maxwell blinked dazedly and wandered onto the side of the street, deciding to walk home instead of hailing a hackney, he could use the time to think. And he suddenly realized that he had a lot to think about.

A carriage pulled up beside him, and, just as he was about to dismiss the driver, the door opened, and he was dragged inside.

He regained his balance quickly, and set about on his assailant, when he paused and dropped to the seat. “What the devil are you doing up at this hour, Stonevale?” he demanded roughly.

Michael, looking as if he had just risen from slumber, gave him a dour look. “I could ask you the same question, Kingston, but I won’t, because I already know the answer. How is Avalyn?”

Maxwell ignored the jibe, it was obvious his friend was out of sorts. “Michael?”

“Well, I’ll have you know that I was awoken from a very pleasant dream of Marianna by your wife’s sobbing maidservant.”

“What?” he exclaimed, straightening in his seat, and fixing Michael with a piercing glare.

“She was absolutely hysterical about not finding you, said I was her last hope, and wailing about Elizabeth dying-”

“WHAT?!” Maxwell exploded.

“I’m sure its just nonsense, Maxwell, she was abnormally panicked, and over-dramatic,” he grinned, “She reminded me a bit of Mari.”

“Stonevale, if you don’t shut up and get me home, they will be finding your body on Layton’s Field within the week,” Maxwell growled warningly.

“I’d actually prefer Brent’s Field if at all possible,” Michael replied easily, “The grass is much greener.”

“Stonevale-”

The carriage came to an abrupt halt, and Maxwell was out in an instant, completely forgetting about Michael. He strode up the steps and into his townhouse in a hurry, to be confronted by a shaking Laurie before he could ascend the staircase.

“Oh, my lord, thank Heaven, Lord Stonevale found you!” she cried, “I was so frightened, I could barely move!”

“Laurie!” he bellowed, and she froze, eyes wide, “What is going on?”

She clasped her hands together. “My lady is having the baby, my lord,” she told him quietly.

For a very long moment, Maxwell couldn’t breathe. He was going to murder Michael for the allusion to Elizabeth dying, and then he pushed past the maid and took the stairs two at a time, shouting for Zanial to fetch Doctor Hardy. The manservant appeared at the top of the stairs.

“He is already here,” he stated in his grave voice.

Maxwell nodded, “Thank you.” And he continued hurrying along the hallway, toward his wife’s room. A scream erupted from behind the white door, causing him to stumble, but he caught himself and pushed into the room.

Alarm raced through him at the tableau before him. Hardy and his assistants were gathered around Elizabeth, who was nearly covered in blood, and straining against one of the assistant’s hands as he held her down. And then the anger came, and he stalked toward them, intent on ripping the young man’s hands off of her.

Another scream ripped from her delicate throat, and the anger turned again to fear. “What are you doing to her?” he demanded icily, his voice cracking.

Four heads turned to look at him, the two assistants staring slack-jawed at the awe-inspiring Earl of Kingston, the doctor opened his mouth to speak, but Elizabeth’s eyes, which were nearly blind with pain, fixed on him, and she made a small noise of distress.

He immediately moved forward, only to be blocked by Doctor Hardy, “My lord,” Hardy said quietly, “Please remove your presence from the room, you are upsetting her Ladyship.”

His expression darkened with rage, and he took Hardy’s hand from his arm and leaned down so that they were nose-to-nose, intent that Elizabeth not hear what he was about to say. But before he could tell the good doctor to remove himself from the house, Elizabeth gave another shriek.

Hardy quickly turned from him and went back to Elizabeth, and Maxwell was frozen again as he watched his wife writhe in agony, a feeling of helplessness washing over him that he did not enjoy.

Her beautiful brown eyes caught his again. “Maxwell…It hurts,” she whimpered. Guilt tripped him up again and he backed out of the room, eyes still locked upon Elizabeth as he shut the door. “MAXWELL!”

He closed his eyes, aghast at what he had done to her, and slid to the floor beside the door. He listened for hours, cringing with each anguished cry that drifted through the wooden barrier.

Several times Laurie was called in and out of the room to get fresh linens and warm water, and each time she came out again she’d stare at the door as if her heart was breaking, and she’d start to weep, but then she’d catch sight of him, slumped on the floor, and she’d take herself off until she was called for again.

This time though, when she came out, she was cradling a bundle of swaddled cloth, and she bent down beside him. Maxwell stared at her dully as she held out the bundle. He looked from it to her, uncomprehending, until she gave a smile. “It’s your son, my lord,” she whispered, and Maxwell blinked at her. She held out her armful again, and this time, he took it from her.

He stared down at the little face staring back up at him, and felt an immense warmth suffuse his body, and tears came to his eyes as he stared down at his son. Laurie rose, satisfied, and went back into the room, leaving Lord Kingston alone with his heir.

Maxwell ran a finger lightly over the chubby cheeks of the babe, and twirled the fine dark curls on his head. Tiny eyes opened, squinting up at his father, and a little hand flung up to catch Maxwell’s hand, wrapping around one finger. A smile broke out over Maxwell’s face, the first true smile he’d given in several months.

This was his son, his and Elizabeth’s. He was a father.

At the thought of his wife, Maxwell turned his head to the door, wondering if Elizabeth would have the chance to look at there son, and the berated himself for coming up with such a morbid idea. Elizabeth would be fine.

As if reading his mind, the two assistants came out of the forbidden bedroom. Maxwell stood, carefully holding his son to him, and ignored them as they passed, exchanging glances about his disheveled appearance and blood-shot eyes.

Doctor Hardy came next and approached Maxwell with a brief nod. “My wife?” he demanded.

Hardy didn’t say anything for a moment, and then he smiled. “Lady Kingston will be back to her usual cheerful self in a matter of a few weeks.” Maxwell breathed a sigh of relief, and adjusted the angle at which he was holding his son. “However,” the doctor continued, and Maxwell wanted to curse him to hell, “It would be wise not to put her Ladyship in such a position again. I truly do not believe she would survive another traumatic pregnancy, such as this one.”

“Of course,” Maxwell murmured, hating him, “Now, Zanial will see to the bill. Good night, sir.”

He left the doctor and went inside, hesitating only a moment. The scene was hardly different then it had been the first time, except this time Elizabeth was lying quietly, and Laurie was attending her. At his entrance, the blonde maid looked up. She dropped a quick curtsey and then came forward.

“I’ll put the little master in the nursery,” she said softly, “If your could please carry her Ladyship to the bath, my lord, I’ll come by to attend, and I’ll get one of the other maids to tidy up the room…”

Maxwell nodded and handed his son over to Laurie, who swept the now crying boy out of the room. He tiptoed over to the bed, and very gently lifted Elizabeth from the tangled, blood encrusted sheets. She gave a small moan and her head lolled against his shoulder. Maxwell felt a lump form in his throat and he quickly carried her down the hall to the already drawn bath.

He parted her dressing gown and threw the spoiled material to the ground, then he lowered her into the steaming water, wincing as the clear water took on a pinkish tint.

Elizabeth’s eyes fluttered open, and her hands clung to him. “Maxwell?”

“Hush, Lizzie,” he soothed, “We need to get you cleaned up.”

Her tired eyes met his, and she relaxed, leaning back against the cool tub. Maxwell took up a soft cloth and some of her herbal soap, and began to lather her tenderly. Her eyes followed his every move as he ran the cloth over her slender arms. For a moment, he gave into the temptation that was Elizabeth, and ran a wet hand through her hair, planting a brief, chaste kiss on her lips.

Her lips parted, her tongue flicking out to taste where his lips had been. “Thank you,” he told her.

A blush came to her pale cheeks, “Is… Did…” she shook her head, “Where is our child, my lord?”

“Laurie took him to the nursery while you bathed, Elizabeth.”

“Him?” she echoed, “Then it was a boy?” He nodded, smiling, and she managed an answering smile. “I had hoped…”

The door to the bathing room opened and Laurie stood there, holding their crying, wriggling son. “Begging your pardons,” she said breathlessly, “But the little master wants his breakfast, and he won’t take no for an answer.” Elizabeth laughed, a sound that was music to Maxwell’s ears, and extended her arms to take the boy.

Maxwell watched silently as his newborn son settled into his mother’s arms, and Elizabeth bent her head, a smile on her face, humming under her breath, and gave him a gentle kiss.

This was his family, Maxwell realized. Protectiveness streaked through him as he gazed at his wife and child. He had almost lost Elizabeth, it would not happen again. He would never put her life at risk like that again. Never, he vowed fervently, never again.


posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:58:36 PM
*Twelve*

The ballroom seemed as if it were literally glowing, the ensconced candles creating a hazy, romantic atmosphere through which the dancer’s waltzed. It was a tremendous crush, people thronging in and out of the gardens, the game room, having chats by the windows… Marianna said she’d be the smash of the Season.

Elizabeth didn’t care. The only thing that made the success of the perfect party important was that now, perhaps, Maxwell would look upon her favorably.

That was what she was doing now, searching for her husband, dodging compliments and dance invitations all the while. He had told her he would make an appearance, and he was a man who kept his word.

She finally spotted him casually talking to the lovely, but annoying, Theresa Harding. Frowning, she lifted her skirts just so, and approached them. “My lord?”

At the sound of the low voice, Maxwell turned around to see his wife. “Elizabeth,” he replied coolly. Her smile faltered for a moment at his tone, but then reappeared, if slightly forced.

“Lady Kingston,” Theresa chirped, “How are you?”

“Quite well, Miss Harding,” she replied graciously, “Congratulations on your engagement.”

The woman blushed, catching the slight tone in Elizabeth’s voice that indicated she should be with her fiancee and not Elizabeth’s husband. “Thank you, Lady Kingston,” she responded, tone light, “Kyle and I make a fine match, don’t you think?”

“You are very well-suited to each other, Miss Harding.”

“I agree completely.”

Elizabeth turned in surprise at the sound of the voice behind her, coming up against Maxwell, her back to his front. He laid a brief, steadying hand on her waist, and then greeted the intruder in a pleasantly bored tone. “Valenti.”

“Kingston,” was Kyle Shirrif, Viscount Valenti’s cheery reply. Then he bowed over Elizabeth’s hand, “Lady Kingston.”

“My lord,” she murmured, dropping a deep curtsey.

He rose, a rakish smile on his lips, gave her a saucy wink with one summer blue eye, and extended a hand to Theresa, who was gazing up at him with adoration. “Theresa, darling, care for a gallop?” She laughingly put down her cup of tea and put her hand in his, letting him lead her out to the dance floor. Kyle tossed a parting “Excuse us!” at the couple left standing at the window, and then devoted his full attention to his fiancee.

Elizabeth watched them wistfully for a minute or two, achingly aware that had Maxwell not offered for her, she would have been wed to Kyle. And part of her wished that had happened, because Kyle seemed so full of life, so possible of love… But the other part of her knew that she never would have fallen in love with the Viscount the way she had with Maxwell.

She loved him, for all his faults, and he had many even if no one but she could see them, and she didn’t seem able to stop, even when she knew she should, because he would never feel the same way about her.

She sighed heavily and started to walk away to find Marianna, but Maxwell caught her arm. She looked back at him curiously, “My lord?”

“Would you care to dance?”

Elizabeth was stunned speechless by the hesitant hope in his voice, and by the invitation. She knew he hated to dance, hated parties in general, but he had really just asked her to join him for a dance. And what more, she was quite certain she saw a glimmer of warmth in his eyes. “Of course, my lord,” she accepted, placing her hand trustingly in his.

He led her into the dancing square, among all the whirling couples, and the orchestra struck up a waltz. She blushed, unable not to when his large hand rested gently on the small of her back, and he began to lead her into the steps of the dance.

The waltz was all the rage in Town, as it had been since her first Season, but for some reason, dancing with Maxwell made it seem ever so much more exciting and sensual. He was an exceedingly graceful dancer, for all he hated to dance, and he held her to him closely, swinging her with ease through the complicated steps.

There was just something about her husband. His hands, his eyes… The way his clothes fit him, how his black hair just brushed his stately forehead… Even the way he held her. There was nothing as intimate in her life as being close to him, breathing in his masculine scent… It reminded her of the nights on her honeymoon those few years ago.

Though it seemed as if an eternity had passed since that fanciful time. Those nights were almost like a very lovely, thrilling dream for her… One she had been awoken from rudely.

“How is Christopher?”

A smile flit across her face at the thought of her rambunctious four-year old son. “He’s finally fallen asleep, my lord.”

Maxwell gave a deep chuckle, “How many stories did it take this time?”

She let out her own laugh, “Only two, tonight, Zanial must have worn him out earlier this evening.” Another laugh escaped her as she pictured the dangerous-looking butler playing tag with her energetic son. Christopher could have gone on for hours, but Zanial had eventually forfeited and the boy had been led, pouting, upstairs to meet his tutor.

Maxwell had arranged for one to come everyday since they had returned to London to teach Christopher the basics of a proper education. Their son was an extremely intelligent young man, and being tutored kept him out of trouble. She could barely recall the number of times his curiosity had led him to near fatal accidents, and her heart beat a little faster as she remembered how near she, Laurie, and Zanial had come to not reaching him in time on several occasions.

Christopher’s loss would have devastated the entire household, including Maxwell. It was something she never understood. How her husband could love their son, and his sister, and his best friends, but he could not bring himself to love her, his wife…

The waltz ended and Maxwell gave her a bow and led her off the floor toward Marianna and Isabella. He gave his sister a perfunctory kiss on the cheek, and then turned to her. “I have an appointment to make with Michael, I bid you all a good evening.” He nodded at them and then strode off through the crowd. The women sighed.

“It’s good to see you Isabella,” Elizabeth said warmly, giving her friend’s hand a squeeze, “How is motherhood agreeing you?”

Bella was practically glowing, “Wonderfully,” she enthused, “I could barely leave Phillip tonight, but Alexander said I needed to get out…’ She trailed off, blushing. Isabella had become pregnant a few months after Christopher had been born, to the delight of the Whitman family, and also Kingston’s heir. Phillip and Christopher had formed a solid friendship and oftentimes went exploring together when Bella and Alexander had come to visit Elizabeth at the country estates.

The was Elizabeth’s first Season back in London since Christopher’s birth. She had felt it wiser to have him spend his first few years in the pure atmosphere of the country, rather that in the middle of the ton, and Maxwell had agreed, as he had much work to do at their various estates and landholdings, so all had benefited.

But now they were back in London, and the gossip that had died down in the years away had started recirculating, much to Elizabeth’s dismay. And speaking of gossip, she just caught a snippet of a nearby conversation, and from the look on Mari’s face, she had too.

“I can’t believe you didn’t confront him about that whole thing!” she hissed to Elizabeth, “You should have demanded a divorce.”

A sad smile came to Elizabeth’s face. “I had no cause, Marianna, and no desire to have such a scandal attached to our names. Besides, if anyone had been demanding a divorce, it would have been Maxwell, but he does not seem to want one much either.”

Marianna’s lips pursed, and her green eyes flared in indignation for her friend. “You can’t help the fact that you can’t have more children, but didn’t have to have that affair!”

“Mari!” Isabella scolded, “Keep your voice down!”

Green eyes rolled, but Marianna ignored Bella. “I still can’t believe you let him get away with it,” she muttered.

“Mari,” Elizabeth sighed, “We’ve been over this.”

“He had an affair!"

“And how many men in this room haven’t done the same? At least with Maxwell it lasted less than two weeks, some men have the same mistresses for years, Mari, you know that. They have whole other families with women they’re not married to! How can I complain when all my husband did was seek release when I could grant him none?” Her voice dropped off, and she was alarmed to discover tears pricking her eyes. She dabbed at them with her silk handkerchief and then met Mari’s sympathetic, yet angry, gaze.

“How do you know it was only two weeks?” she demanded.

“He stopped sleeping in my room,’ she whispered, confiding for the first time her most cherished memories. “When I first got pregnant, and we could not…make love any longer, he still came to my room, and lay with me as I slept. When he woke, I pretended to be asleep still. He does not know I knew. When he…took up with…her, he stopped sleeping beside me. Then Christopher was born and he couldn’t look at me without guilt clouding his eyes.”

“Lizzie…” Mari murmured, but Elizabeth shook her head.

“He can look at me now, without the shadow in his eyes. It’s taken him nearly four years to get over it, Marianna, and he watches me as I sleep again. Don’t ask me to ruin the only thing I have left, Mari. Please.” Her brown eyes pleaded with her friend to drop the subject once and for all.

Mari sighed and linked her arm in Elizabeth’s. “I didn’t know it…” She shook her head, “I’m sorry, Lizzie.”

Elizabeth managed a small smile. “I realized it’s stupid, Marianna, but I love him. I love him, and I can’t stop just because I should.”

“You shouldn’t!” Isabella put in, linking her arm through Elizabeth’s free arm. “You make my brother a better person, Elizabeth, even if he can’t always see it.”

There was a thoughtful silence among the three women for a time, and then the light chatter and pleasant mood of the soiree encroached on them, and they started discussing more trivial matters.

“I have to say, the red was a bold choice,” Isabella mused, referring to Elizabeth’s gown. Pastels were still in fashion, but Elizabeth had not felt like the eighteen-year old debutante she had been her first Season, and by not following fashion then, she had caught Maxwell’s eye. “It looks very dashing on you, Lizzie.”

“Yes,” Mari agreed, “I have a feeling all the young chits will be running to their dressmakers tomorrow to attempt a copy of it.” She exchanged a devilish smirk with Bella. “After all, Lady Kingston is the trendsetter of the Season…”

“Indeed,’ Bella chimed in, “In fact, my modiste was just commenting, idly of course, about what a pleasure it would be to fit the Lady Kingston with a masterpiece of her own creation…”

“Fine,” Elizabeth capitulated, “I’ll get a new wardrobe.”

The two ladies grinned in triumph, “We have an appointment tomorrow at three o’clock, Mari will pick you up.”

Elizabeth’s jaw fell open, they had been planning this! She opened her mouth to give them a piece of her mind, when Mari spoke up rather rudely. “What do you want?”

“I wish to extend the Lady Kingston an invitation to dance,” was the lazy reply.

Elizabeth met Shawn DeLuca’s indolent gaze and offered him a hesitant smile. “Perhaps just one,” she conceded, “I am not as young as I used to be, and find I tire easily.”

“Nonsense,” Shawn assured her, as he led her to the dance floor, leaving an open-mouthed Marianna and a frowning Isabella behind. “You look just as you did when I first laid eyes on you. Absolutely enchanting.”

Elizabeth let out a laugh as a blush suffused her cheeks. “You jest Mr. DeLuca.”

“Shawn, please my lady, we are friends, are we not?”

She blinked, she didn’t know him very well, but he had always been very kind to her, and she did look upon him favorable in the scheme of things… “I believe we are, Mr…” she blushed, “Shawn.”

He grinned, “As such, I offer my services.”

“What services?” she asked in bewilderment.

“As escort,” he elaborated, “Unless Kingston has changed his policy on avoiding London social life, the position must be filled.”

“Oh…I suppose,” she pondered, knowing he was right, and that Maxwell would not accompany her on her forays into Town, “I could always have another dancing partner if Lord Whitman and Lord Stonevale are otherwise engaged…”

“So we’re agreed?” he inquired.

She nodded, “Agreed.”


posted on 12-Nov-2002 8:00:39 PM
*Thirteen*

Maxwell came from his study just as Elizabeth descended the stairwell. He stood stock still for a moment, watching her. She was so graceful, so much a lady, and she looked beautiful. The rich, blue ball gown she was wearing made her skin seem to sparkle.

He drew in a breath as his eyes roved her exquisite form hungrily. Desire nearly drowned him, and he forced himself to look away. When he turned back, she was at the foot of the stairs and giving him an odd look. “Are you well, my lord?” she asked with concern.

He gave her a reassuring smile and moved to help her with her cloak. “Fine, Elizabeth.”

“Are you sure you do not wish to accompany me?” she invited.

He shook his head. “Michael should be here shortly to discuss a business arrangement.” She nodded in understanding, and gave him a brilliant smile, one that made him weak in the knees.

Maxwell did not know what he was thinking, allowing her to go out with only Marianna and Isabella to chaperone her. For Heaven’s sake, she was not even wearing a chemisette to conceal the gentle swell of her breasts from the view of the ton’s most lecherous lords and annoying rakehells… If he had any sense at all, he would lock her in her room, away from any other male!

Unfortunately, that was not an option, as he had done enough to hurt Elizabeth these past few years, he didn’t need to ruin her fun now that she was going out again. So he let her go, watching from the doorway until the carriage disappeared from sight.

He did not wait long before Stonevale arrived. Michael charged into the study, not bothering to be announced, and went right to the brandy decanter, pouring himself a glass. He swallowed it in one gulp, winced, and then glared at Maxwell, who had one eyebrow raised in bemusement.

“Well then, since you’re here, we need to confer about the coal mine-”

“Are you going to Isabella’s ball tonight?” Michael inquired of his friend. Maxwell looked up from his desk, surprised at the interruption as well as the topic of it.

“I hadn’t planned on it. Why?” He frowned at Michael, who wasn’t looking at him. “Stonevale?” he prompted warningly.

“I’m just saying…I mean, Elizabeth’s going, right?”

Maxwell’s frown deepened, “Yes, I saw her off less than half an hour ago. But what does my wife have to do with anything?”

Michael pursed his lips. “You know Marianna’s annoying cousin Shawn?”

“I’ve met Mr. DeLuca, yes. I didn’t find him very…pleasant,” Maxwell concluded tactfully, referring to that rather tense situation the day he and Elizabeth’s engagement had been announced.

“No one does,” Michael responded flippantly, “Aimee’s the only one who can stand him.”

He tapped his fingers impatiently, “What does Mari’s cousin have to do with Elizabeth or Isabella’s party?”

“Well… You see, you know the fact that you abhor Society? And the fact that you never escort Elizabeth anywhere?”

“What of it?” he asked, ignoring the feelings of guilt Michael’s words were producing. He had better things to do than dance a waltz and gossip. Besides, Elizabeth had Marianna and Isabella to entertain her. She didn’t need him hanging around her ruining her evening.

“Shawn’s kind of stepped in…”

His brow furrowed, “What are you talking about Michael?”

“Maxwell, he’s trying to take your place. He wants her. I don’t know if it’s just to make you look bad or if he really has a tendre for her, but…either way, people are talking.”

He stood, “It’s just meaningless gossip. Elizabeth wouldn’t betray me Michael, you know that.” No, his wife would never make him look bad. She was too loyal to even consider the possibility.

“It’s not Elizabeth I’m worried about Maxwell, it’s Shawn. He’s not exactly known for his discretion. He gambles in the worst gaming hells, runs with a rather fast bunch of dandies, and has never had a woman say no to him,” Michael warned.

Maxwell shook his head and began to pace. “I doubt he’s ever tried to seduce a woman of Elizabeth’s caliber and position. He’s in for a rude awakening.” Michael said nothing in response and Maxwell glanced up at his friend’s skeptical expression. “She won’t,” he told him decisively.

Michael shrugged, “Don’t get mad or anything Maxwell, but you’re not exactly an ideal husband.”

“What the devil is that supposed to mean?” he demanded fiercely, amber eyes spiraling into blackness.

Michael held up his hands in a gesture of peace. “Calm down Maxwell, I’m just saying that you need to think about Elizabeth. She’s given you a son. She’s giving you her loyalty, her…love. She’s young, she expects the same in return, and so far…You haven’t been very forthcoming in those departments.”

“I can’t exactly give her an heir Michael,” he said dryly, ignoring the rest of Michael’s statement.

His friend groaned. “You are deliberately missing the point. You never show her any affection, any sign that she means something to you. Bloody hell man, you have a mistress!”

“I haven’t seen Avalyn in years, despite what gossip the town has been circulating.” He wiped at his forehead angrily. Why did the whole of London feel his personal life was something to be dissected in every drawing room, at every club…Suddenly he frowned, “Does Elizabeth know about Avalyn?”

Michael snorted, “The bloody Continent knows Maxwell, of course she does.” Maxwell paled and shouted for Zanial to get his valet. He was going to Isabella’s, he needed to talk with his wife.

The ride to his sister’s party took forever. Maxwell tapped his foot impatiently on the floor of his carriage, and drew back a curtain to look outside. The street was packed with carriages. He sighed, he should have known, but he had been out of Society for so long he had forgotten the crush of London nights.

He opened the hatch in the roof and Zanial peered down at him. “I’m going to walk,” he announced, and proceeded to do just that.

A ripple of silence swept around the ballroom as every occupant of the large place took a moment to scrutinize the Earl of Kingston. Maxwell ignored them, searching instead for the royal blue dress he knew his wife was wearing.

Not seeing the bright fabric anywhere his anguished eyes caught his sister’s, who seemed to know what he was so worried about. Bella gestured toward the open doors leading to the garden. Maxwell nodded and set off at once, the members of the ton clearing a path for him. He walked briskly through the perfectly cared for gardens, statues, and fountains. The warm, fragrant night air had no effect on him as he strained his hearing for Elizabeth’s soft, gentle voice. He finally heard her low, throaty laugh as he passed a secluded location.

He paused, the seductive sound making things low in his body tighten. Carefully, quietly, he concealed himself behind the intricate hedging, and stealthily spied upon his wife and Marianna’s bothersome cousin.

He resisted the urge to step out and hurt DeLuca when he took Elizabeth’s hands in his own. For some irrational reason, Maxwell couldn’t stand the sight of another man touching his wife. He oft times found himself forcibly relaxing his clenched fists when even Alexander or Michael greeted her. It was another of the reasons he did not go out with her, if he did not see, he would not react.

But now he was seeing, and he was reacting. Maxwell took a deep, calming breath, and the red haze cleared from his mind. He needed to know her reaction to Shawn’s overtures. Needed to know she wouldn’t go behind his back.

The thought that Elizabeth would made him ill, and his heart denied it fiercely, but his mind acknowledged the truth in what Michael had said. As a husband, he was most definitely lacking, but he knew his wife would never turn to another man, certainty of the fact resonated in his very soul.

But, by all accounts, Maxwell Evans was a practical man, and so, he pushed aside his emotional state and concentrated on the intellectual. He had to know. And, from the look of things, he wouldn’t have to wait long.

His wife’s face was curious as she watched the man before her take several deep breaths. Then he knelt before her and Maxwell felt his hackles rise. Shawn opened his mouth and those dreaded words came out. “I love you, Elizabeth.”


posted on 12-Nov-2002 8:02:49 PM
*Fourteen*

Elizabeth was stunned. She stared down at her friend, slack-jawed and wide-eyed. Confusion was running rampant in her mind. What was he saying? Why..? Suddenly she pulled her hands from his grasp and stood, causing him to fall over. But he was up again in an instant, arms outstretched to embrace her.

"Shawn, please," she protested holding out an arm to forestall him, "I do not know what you are about sir, but I won't tolerate such…indecencies."

"Elizabeth…" Shawn smiled and stepped closer, Elizabeth took another step back, causing him to frown. "Surely you know by now how much I care for you?"

She shook her head, "I thought we were friends, Mr. DeLuca."

"Shawn, Elizabeth, please, and we are friends, but we could be so much more." He reached for her again and she stumbled away, near tears.

"I am a married woman Mr. DeLuca," she told him firmly.

"You are married to a brute Elizabeth. Kingston will never love you, not like me."

She froze again, knowing what he said was true, but it didn't matter. She loved her husband, whether or not he returned her affections was not up for debate. She wouldn't hurt him like this, not for anything in the world. Her brown eyes regarded the man she had thought her friend coldly.

"Mr. DeLuca, what my husband feels or does not feel is none of your concern. I am the Lady of Kingston, Maxwell's wife, and the mother of his heir. I will not betray my husband for some ludicrous plot of yours to...to hurt him!"

"Elizabeth-"

"Stop." She drew herself up and stared him in the eye. "If you desist in this insane notion of yours and leave me now, I will forget this ever happened and we can go on being friends. If you do not, I will never forgive you and I will inform my husband of your unwelcome advances."

Shawn was silent, staring at her immovable face with a stoic expression, and then the tiniest bit of hurt leaked into his eyes and she felt her heart go out to him. But she was determined to stand strong on this matter and she would not relent. "Elizabeth," he started again.

"I believe my wife asked you to leave DeLuca." Elizabeth gasped and spun around, her heart beating faster at the sound of her husband's cool, commanding voice. Maxwell approached them at an unhurried pace, eyes black with contained rage, attention fixed on Shawn. She trembled, knowing how strong he could be, how much power was in his lean body. He would injure Shawn if provoked, and she knew Shawn would provoke.

"Kingston," Shawn drawled, "What an unexpected surprise." Maxwell said nothing in response, merely took Elizabeth's arm and placed her behind him, sheltered from Shawn's bold stare.

There was a long silence. Elizabeth was pressed tightly to her husband's back, she could feel the tension straining in his body and knew this confrontation had to end. "My lord," she said softly, "I wish to go home." His body relaxed slightly with what she knew was an agreement, and he turned his back on Shawn, peering down at her with the only warm expression she had ever managed to get out of him. Concern.

Maxwell wrapped her shawl more tightly around her and took her arm, leading her back towards the well-lit ballroom. He turned back when they had gotten about five feet, looking at Shawn, who still stood where they had left him. "You would do well to remember that I do not forgive as easily as my wife," he commented mildly, but the threat laced in the undercurrent of his husky voice was unmistakable.

They paid their respects to Alexander and Isabella, said goodbye to Marianna and Michael, and walked with stately grace to their waiting carriage. Elizabeth didn't look at her husband as he gave directions to Zanial to take them once around the park and then home. She knew he was going to lecture her, he wouldn't stand to be in such a close proximity if he wasn't.

"Elizabeth, would you mind explaining that little incident to me?" She noted with surprise that his tone was gentle, the reproof only slight.

She gave him a tentative glance, unable to read his eyes in the darkness of the carriage. "I'm not quite sure, my lord, I never thought he would… Mr. DeLuca is one of my friends you see. He dances with me when Lord Whitman and Lord Stonevale are otherwise engaged. I needed some air after the waltz tonight and he escorted me to the gardens for a walk… We were talking and then he just…" she trailed off, "I never suspected…"

He leaned forward and took her hands, "I believe you Elizabeth. I just wanted to hear you say it."

"I would never betray you, my lord. Not for anything." She looked deeply into his eyes, willing him to see her earnestness, her love for him. But he only gave her a kind smile and released her gloved hands, sitting back into the darkness.

"I know Elizabeth," he repeated, "But there are other matters we must discuss."

She was surprised, what other problems did he have with her? What had she done wrong now? she wondered, what possible thing had she done recently to upset him? But she couldn't think of anything, and so she waited, with bated breath, for his revelation.

“What matters, my lord?” she inquired.

He gave a heavy sigh, and she could hear the rueful smile in his voice as he began to talk. “I have had something brought to my attention, something I was already aware of, but didn’t feel necessary to admit. And it was a bit of an eye-opener to have this advice given to me by Michael, who is, possibly, one of the densest men on the planet when it comes to matters of the heart.”

Oh, no. Elizabeth felt her heart drop. She had told Marianna not to say anything! But of course, Mari had taken it into her own hands and had Michael tell Maxwell of Elizabeth’s insecurities. Lord’s sake, she probable made him memorize a whole speech! Elizabeth would kill her!

“What did Lord Stonevale say, my lord?”

“He informed me that I wasn’t being a very good husband.” And there was that contrite note again.

“Nonsense,” she protested, “You are a wonderful husband. You have provided for my father, you take wonderful care of Christopher, you’re people love you… There is no cause to complain, my lord. You mustn’t listen to Lord Stonevale.”

“Ah,” he said above her protestations, “You call me a wonderful husband, and yet you make no mention of yourself while tallying up all my good points.”

“My lord…” she murmured.

“Elizabeth,” he paused, as if trying to work out his wording, and then continued, “I do realize that I am somewhat lacking in all the traits a woman finds attractive. I am not Alexander.” She gave a high, tittering laugh, and then fell silent, not wanting to hear what she knew was coming. “I know I’m not around a lot, that my duties keep me from spending time with you and Christopher, and I also realize that that would leave you lonely for companionship.”

“Oh, no, my lord, I am not without friends,” she objected, voice rising, “I have Marianna and Isabella and Laurie, and Christopher keeps me busy, and when he’s with Phillip I barely have time to catch my breath-“

“You know that is not what I meant, Elizabeth,” he interrupted her.

“I know, my lord,” she replied, feeling subdued, “But I do not understand why you would bring it up when I have already assured you that I would never betray you in such a fashion.” She looked at him, wishing she could see his expression in the dark carriage, but she could only make out the general outlines of his face.

“You say that now, Elizabeth, but Society has a way of pressuring those in it to follow the norms. We’ve been away from London for four years Elizabeth, away from its influences, but now we’re back, and certain people, like Mr. DeLuca, will hang about for the express purpose of convincing wives to cuckold their husbands-“

“It is not just wives, my lord,” she spoke up, becoming angry, “Most infidelities taking place in the ton occur because the husband is having an affair!” She could feel his flinch from across the carriage, and felt a shameful sense of satisfaction in hurting him as he had hurt her.

His tone was mild when he spoke again. “All I am saying is that if you do give in, please remember to exercise discretion. I could not bear it if something were to happen to you-“

“Discretion!” she burst out, not hearing his next sentence, “I am not the one with a mistress, my lord! You are, and the entire ton is intent on speaking of it within my hearing.” She lowered her voice, “I realize it has been a few years since you last saw her, my lord, but did you think of discretion then? Did you think of anything besides your own pleasure?” she demanded, “Because I certainly know you were not thinking of me and the ramifications your actions would cause. So do not dare to speak to me of discretion!”

Her voice rose again, and she bit back a sob of frustration, “I know I am not what you expected in a wife, my lord, but I never thought you hated me so…” She felt a tear drop down her cheek and wiped it away impatiently with her hand, feeling the wetness soak through he glove. Elizabeth waited now for him to say something in admonition, but it never came.

Instead, she saw him lean forward from the corner of her eyes, and turned to face him, confused, but before she could speak, he had grasped her arm and pulled her onto his lap, his mouth fixed on hers. She sighed, and clung to him as he broke away, his eyes suddenly clear, an intense longing in their honey-brown depths.

“Maxwell…” she breathed, gazing at him with wonder.

“Damnation, woman,” he growled, “I don’t hate you!” And then his mouth closed on hers once more, and she was lost…


posted on 12-Nov-2002 8:05:41 PM
*Fifteen*

She thought he hated her. The very idea was absurd. Who could hate someone as innately good as Elizabeth? A person would have to be pure evil to even consider such an emotion, and, for all his faults, Maxwell was not evil.

When she had said those words though, something in him had snapped, and he could no longer sit there idly, arguing with her. So he had done as he had imagined doing since they got into the carriage and her sweet scent had enveloped him, he pulled her to him and made love to her.

Elizabeth melted against him, small and warm, and he gentled his kiss, afraid to harm her. She always seemed so delicate, and he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he ever abused her, even in the midst of passion.

But urgency began to overwhelm him as the anticipatory atmosphere of the phaeton turned into something more. His wife clung to him as he grasped her leg, sliding his hand up the stockinged length to the heated skin above the silk garter. She gasped as he switched her position, causing her to straddle him on the velvet-covered seat.

“Maxwell?”

Their eyes met, and his groin swelled further at the feminine desire burning in her dark brown eyes. But there was an underlying hesitance in them that he wanted put to rest.

“Touch me,” he ordered, voice low and hoarse with need.

Elizabeth’s beautiful eyes widened, but she did as he bid. Lifting a gloved hand upwards, she stripped it of the satin material and then the other, and then reached for him.

His eyes fluttered closed as the smooth skin of her fingers traced his jaw gently, then drifted lower to untie his cravat, and then lower still, easily unfastening his trousers. He sucked in a breath at the feel of her hands on his manhood, lightly curving around him…

Maxwell’s eyes opened suddenly in his need to look at her. A quick grin crossed his face as Elizabeth’s eyes widened again, and she looked away. She had been watching him.

He ran one hand up her still arm and cupped her cheek, feeling the heat of her blush, but she turned her face back to him, and met his steady gaze shyly. He tangled his fingers into her elaborately coiffed hair, causing the curls to loosen and fall from their pins, and drew her lips down to his once more.

Their mouths feasted on one another, the kisses tender and fierce all at the same moment, and his hands buried further into the mass of her hair, mussing it into further disarray, and then slid downwards, trailing along her smooth shoulders until they encountered the thin sleeves of her ballgown.

She gave another quick intake of breath as he pulled the tiny sleeves down, exposing her rounded breasts in the process, and her spine straightened, causing his arousal to come into contact with her moist heat.

Maxwell groaned, unable to take the torture any longer, and seized her petite waist, impaling himself within her.

They were both still for a long moment, breathing deeply as she adjusted once again to the feel of him, and he reveled in the homecoming. It had been nearly four years since he had last made love to her, an eternity to him of longing and need and desire for her warmth, her body, the feel of her…

Elizabeth pulled away slightly, and looked him in the eye, licking her pink lips until he was forced to give them attention once more, the invitation was too great.

Sometime during that kiss, his hand found their way to her breasts, now rosy and full with want, and hers to his shoulders, where she held onto him tightly as she lowered herself down and then raised herself back up.

He could not suppress the moan of pleasure that escaped him at the feeling of being within her once more, of moving through her tight, hot channel. It was his Heaven, and she was his own personal angel.

His hands gripped tighter around her waist, prompting her to a faster pace, a request she obliged, her movements immediately becoming rapider as she rode him.

He slipped one hand beneath her foaming skirts, and up her creamy thigh, until he came at last to her dark curls. Maxwell’s breath caught, his clamoring for completion increasing as he watched his wife, her face a mask of ecstasy, as he gently thumbed the small nub of sensitive flesh he found there.

Her eyes opened, his name escaped her lips, and she convulsed around him. He went rigid, the feel of her tightening around him engendering his own release, and emptied himself into her with a hoarse shout of exultation.

She collapsed onto him bonelessly, and he wrapped his arms around her fragile body, holding her close as his own breathing began to deepen, and his heartbeat slowed. “Elizabeth?’ he inquired softly, wanting to ensure that she was all right.

“Hmm?” Her head tilted back on his shoulder, and her long eyelashes fluttered drowsily.

Maxwell smiled and gently touched her cheek. “Never mind, dearest, just close your eyes and sleep.” She gave him a fleeting grin, and nodded, her head falling to his chest once more.

He was allowed a few minutes of peace in that position, caressing her lustrous hair and she slumbered quietly in his arms, where she belonged, and then the carriage slowed, and Maxwell heard Zanial descending from the driver’s seat.

He swore in panic and quickly reached over, careful not to disturb his sleeping beauty, and latched the door. Then, as swiftly as he was able, he removed Elizabeth from his lap, fastened his breeches, and wrapped her in his greatcoat.

“My lord?” It was Zanial’s rough, gravelly voice, and Maxwell was sure that his inscrutable butler’s tone had an abnormal tinge of humor to it.

He unlatched the door and descended, then leaned back in and gently lifted Elizabeth’s sleeping form, sufficiently covered in the thick material of his coat. When he turned, Zanial was staring at them, smirking. He ignore the uncharacteristic attitude and went up the stairs and into the unlocked town house.

Laurie met him as she came running out of the kitchen, took one look at her lord and lady, and gave him a disapproving frown. “What did you do to my lady?” she demanded, shaking her head and gesturing to Elizabeth’s loose hair, crumpled skirts, and the stocking slipping down her leg.

Maxwell gave the servant girl his own disapproving frown, accompanied by a scowl. “What my wife and I do is none of your concern, Laurie,” he told her, and then swept past, carrying Elizabeth up the staircase and to her room.

He settled her into her bed, divesting her off her ballgown and stockings, and thoughtfully helped her into her nightgown, although that took a bit of doing with her completely asleep. He was obliged to call for Laurie, much to his dismay, in order to get her properly tucked in.

The blonde maidservant promptly banished him from the bedchamber and out into the hall while she removed the pins from Elizabeth’s hair and brushed it out.

Maxwell stared, glowering, at the shut door for awhile, until he decided to wait in his room until Laurie left. But as he began to implement his plan, he noticed a light coming from under the door of the nursery. He shook his head and headed towards it, opening the door and surveying the scene inside with amusement.

His son sat on his bed, playing with wooden toy soldiers Zanial had made for him earlier that year. Maxwell watched for several moments, grinning at the noises Christopher was making to supplement the actions of the tiny men, before he put on an expression of chastisement and cleared his throat.

The little boy looked up wildly, his amber eyes surprised when they alighted on his father, and then he gave Maxwell a half-smile. “Do you want to play?”

Unbidden, a smile bloomed on Maxwell’s face, chasing away the look of reproach, but he still managed to put a touch of reprimand into his voice. “What are you still doing up, young man?”

Christopher cocked his head to one side, looking cherubic, and smiled again. “Waiting for Mama to come tuck me in.”

Maxwell shook his head and moved forward, clearing the toys to the floor and sitting down next to his son. “Mama’s asleep. She had a busy day.”

“Oh.” Christopher looked disappointed.

“Is there anything I can do?” Maxwell inquired, looking at Christopher seriously, “I know I’m not as great as your mother, but I can tell a pretty fair story if I concentrate.”

His son regarded him, but then shook his head. “It is all right, Father, I can sleep without a story. I’m a big boy,” he paused, and then continued, “And Mama says I’m not to bother you because you’re so busy.”

Maxwell started with guilt, and shook his head in denial. It was true, he hadn’t been around lately because of business, but he never wanted his son to feel that he was too busy for him. He knew what it felt like to have a father neglect him for other, more “important” matters, and he was not going to allow Christopher to deal with unnecessary feelings of inadequacy that accompanied such disregard.

“Christopher…” The boy met his eyes again, and amber regarded amber with equal earnestness, “I am never too busy for you, do you understand me? If you want to do anything, if you need anything, you can come to me, no matter what I’m doing, all right?”

His son nodded, and then got a thoughtful look in his eye. “Papa?”

“Yes?”

“Uncle Alexander is taking Phillip kite-flying at Vauxhall tomorrow afternoon… Do you think, maybe, we could go to?” His expression was so hopeful that Maxwell grinned and relented, making a note to cancel all appointments for the morrow.

“Of course.”

Christopher gave a little yell and then jumped up, hugging his father exuberantly, and then was burrowing under his covers, ready for bed. “’Night, Papa.”

“Good night, Christopher.” Maxwell smiled and kissed his son on the forehead, then rose, ready for bed himself, and made to snuff out the candle illuminating the room.

“Papa?”

Maxwell stopped and looked down at Christopher, who was gazing up at him, looking hopeful once more. “Yes?”

“Will you tell me a bedtime story?”

Maxwell’s grin grew, “Of course,” he said, sitting back down beside his son.

An hour and four fairytales later, Maxwell had finally managed to get Christopher asleep, and was on his way to his own bedchamber. He dismissed his valet and walked to the connecting door, opened them, and walked into his wife’s silent room.

He took a deep breath as he stared down at her, sleeping peacefully. And then he leaned down and brushed a tender kiss to her forehead. She sighed and turned over, hugging her pillow. Maxwell smiled and whispered ‘good-night’ and then went back through the doors and changed into his own nightclothes.

It was in the privacy of his own bed when the magnitude of tonight’s events struck him.

He had lost control and put Elizabeth in danger once again.


posted on 12-Nov-2002 8:08:35 PM
*Sixteen*

It was the laughter that caught her attention. Elizabeth peered curiously down the front hall as she descended the staircase, heading for the library and noontime tea. A smile lit her face as her son came rushing toward her, cheeks ruddy from wind, and a kite tucked under one small arm.

“Hello, darling,” she greeted him, bending down for a hug, heedless of the dirt and grass stains he was smearing on her buttercup yellow afternoon dress, “How was your day?”

“Smashing, Mother,” Christopher enthused, looking up at her with twinkling amber eyes, “My kite went much higher than anybody’s, even Father’s!”

She gave a soft chuckle and smiled at him, “That’s wonderful, darling. But remember,” and she gave him a serious look, “Boasting is ungentlemanly.”

Christopher sighed, “Yes, Mama.”

Elizabeth smiled again, “Now go clean up,” she ordered, with a ruffle to his dark hair, “Your tutor is waiting in the drawing room, and I believe you are learning geography today…”

“Aww, Mama, must I?”

“Yes,” she said firmly, and then shooed him along upstairs to clean up. Laurie met him halfway up and escorted him to the washroom to make sure he didn’t attempt an escape, as he was so fond of trying. Her smile quirked slightly to the side in remembrance of past exploits, and then she turned, intending to reach the library this time, but the sight before her made her pause.

Her husband stood only a few feet away, watching her with one of his rare half-smiles. He looked positively divine with his wind blown hair, dark as midnight, and his lean, god-like body, standing in his naturally elegant way, and he was smiling at her. Though there was a shadow in his beautiful eyes that she knew too well.

Guilt. He regretted last night. She had, of course, expected it since she woke up this morning and realized that the night before had not been a deliciously vivid dream, but a reality.

Well, she was not going to stand for it any longer. She refused to allow him to feel guilty for something he had no control over. And if she had to, she’d make him lose that precious control again, just to prove it to him.

“Good afternoon, my lord,” she murmured as he stepped closer, “Would you care to join me for tea?”

He hesitated a step, as if not expecting the invitation, but nodded, “Yes…Yes of course, Elizabeth.” And he followed her into the library. Elizabeth shut the door behind him and locked it. It would not do to be interrupted during this crucial conversation she was determined to have with her husband.

There was a silence as they sat on the settee in the middle of the room and she poured them two cups of tea. She handed his cup to him gently, blushing when their hands brushed, and resolved to speak first, as it seemed he could not work up the daring to start the discussion. “Did you have a fun day, my lord? Christopher seemed to enjoy it greatly.”

He looked at her, bewildered for a moment at a topic so far from the one he was brooding over, and then smiled. “Yes, I had a very nice afternoon. It was good to spend time with my son.”

“He didn’t bother you?” she inquired, a little anxious, “It didn’t interfere with your plans for the day, did it my lord?”

“No!” he exclaimed, and then turned to her, impatiently taking her cup and his and putting them on the small table in front of the sofa, and then he took her hands, gazing at her earnestly. “Elizabeth you must understand something, and I realize I have not made it clear in these years we've had together, but I am always available if you or Christopher needs me. Family is more important than any business.”

She blinked several times, he seemed sincere, but… He had never been around before, why… Oh, bother, she would not question it. Not if it gave Christopher the father he needed. “Are you quite sure?” she couldn’t help but ask,, “I mean, you are a very busy man, my lord, you have so many responsibilities…” she flushed and looked down at their intertwined hands, “I just want to be sure that Christopher will not annoy you overly and distract you from your vital affairs-“

“Elizabeth,” Maxwell interjected softly, “Nothing Christopher can do will vex me, he is my son, I will always have time for him.” But never time for her… She pushed away the bitter thoughts and tilted her chin upwards, meeting his eyes again. “And for you,” he concluded.

She drew in a quick breath, eyes going wide. “But you have never had time for me before!” she burst out, unable to stop herself.

Maxwell winced, and then it was his turn to look away. “I realize it seems that way, Elizabeth, but…” he turned back to her, “You are my wife. It is my duty to protect you, to keep you safe from any harm. And I fear, if I were around you, that I would not be able to control myself in the face of such temptation and I would be the one to cause you harm.”

What was he saying? It was absolutely preposterous. “I do not understand what you are saying, my lord. You would never hurt me,” she declared adamantly.

“No? Then how do you explain last night? I lost control and-“

“I provoked you,” she interrupted, “My lord, we both said things last night that we did not mean. It would be best to forget they were ever said.”

“That is not what I meant, Elizabeth.”

“Then what do you mean?” she wailed, frustrated that she could not understand him, though she tried so very hard.

“I meant when we made love!” he exploded, jumping to his feet and pacing before her. Elizabeth stared at her normally inscrutable husband as he muttered like a madman. “You could be pregnant right now! Pregnant! I could be killing you right this very moment because I could not control myself! I didn’t even think to use protection, and I had a French condom in my coat pocket because I knew I would not be able to trust myself much longer, but I forgot, and-“

“My lord!” she entreated, braking through his babbling tirade. “I am not a porcelain doll, my lord,” she informed him, “I will not break if you make love to me!”

He stared at her, slack-jawed, and she stood regally, squaring her shoulders, and she walked to him. “Elizabeth…” he whispered.

She stopped when she stood directly in front of him. “I love you, Maxwell Evans,” she announced, trembling in her heart of hearts as she finally admitted it aloud, to him. His amber eyes widened, but she lifted her hand, signaling him to stay quiet, and she took a deep breath and continued in her long-awaited profession of love. “I realize that you do not feel the same way for me, my lord, but that does not change my feelings. It has not in the four years of our marriage, and it likely will not for all the years in our future.”

“Elizabeth,” he said again.

“I am not finished, my lord!” she scolded, and then composed herself, “I am your wife, and it is my duty to care for you, to bring you solace…release.” She reached up and took hold of his jacket lapels, forcing him to retain eye-contact. “You have denied us both what would bring us pleasure, and I refuse to allow you to revert back to that point in our marriage when we finally began making progress last night!”

“Eliz-“

She kissed him. She surprised even herself by her boldness, but she was quite sure Maxwell would be scandalized by her brazen behavior. But then she lost herself to the feel of him, and the shock of her actions only came back when they parted. She flushed a rosy pink, but refused to back down now that she had started. “Make love to me, Maxwell,” she commanded.

His expression, a mixture of dazed and ruffled, transformed into astonishment. “Here? In the library? In the middle of the day?” he asked.

She felt a smile curve her lips at the disbelief in his voice. She could comprehend his incredulity, she was amazed with herself, herself, but she was relishing in the power she seemed to have over him, and the fact that she was winning this previously losing battle. “Yes,” she confirmed, her voice soft and husky, alluring even, “Here, in the library, in the middle of the day.”

And then she kissed him again, more enticingly this time, and her fingers trailed up his chest, along his shoulder, and untied his cravat. They broke for air and she removed the jacket from his body, letting it fall to the library floor as he kissed her back.

Elizabeth gasped as his mouth moved from hers down to her sensitive neck, and then still lower, her dress crumpling to the floor before she even realized he had undone the tapes. In response, she unbuttoned his shirt and bared his muscled chest to her hungry view.

She blushed as he picked her up, naked, and carried her the short distance to the settee and lay her down upon it. She felt wickedly sensual, and knew that seducing her husband in such a manner was unladylike, but when Maxwell had his breeches undone, and his thick shaft sprung free, hard and ready, Elizabeth didn’t care.

Her hands skimmed lightly over his smooth chest as he moved atop her, and she held him close, parting her thighs to accept him as he settled between them. She was already wet and wanting. She had waited years for him to come to her like this, and now that it was happening, her heart was swelling with happiness.

Elizabeth didn’t care about decorum at the moment. What she cared about was her husband.

They moved together as if they had never been apart, their sighs intermingled, their caresses seemed choreographed, and the sweet, delighted moan of names and incoherent whispers of unnameable feelings took them back to their first nights as man and wife.

She vowed she would not let him regret again.


posted on 12-Nov-2002 8:10:14 PM
*Seventeen*

Maxwell slumped into the chair, staring blindly at the roaring flames in front of him. Elizabeth…his mind was whispering, and he winced in pain, snatching up a brandy decanter and pouring himself another glass.

Things had been going well. He and Christopher were spending more time together. He and Elizabeth were talking more, laughing more… And he was able to sleep at night, held closely in his wife’s arms.

And then she had gotten sick.

“Maxwell…” He looked up at his friend through bloodshot eyes.

“What Michael?” he demanded harshly. Michael recoiled slightly, but it was just enough for Maxwell to catch sight of Shawn DeLuca lurking in the doorway.

He rose, chucking the brandy into the fire, and glared at the other man, fists clenched. “DeLuca,” he bit out, “I don’t believe you are a member of this club.” Michael stood now too, but to hold Maxwell back.

It was probably a good thing too, because he was sore tempted to grab the gun case off the wall and shoot a hole through Deluca’s head. But who, in his place, wouldn’t? This was the man who had attempted to seduce Maxwell’s wife into an affair.

Maxwell had never known, until that moment in his sister’s garden nine months ago, when Elizabeth had denied Shawn out of love for her husband. Out of love for him. Just how much his wife meant to him.

And also, because of that night. Because of his jealousy and selfishness, Elizabeth now lay bleeding to death in her bed.

He should have kept away, should have resisted the temptation she provided. But he had been weak, and had lost control of his sensibilities yet again, and Elizabeth was the one who had to pay for his mistakes.

“Leave now DeLuca, before I do something I won’t regret.” His tone was unyielding. He was prepared to kill Shawn in cold blood at this moment. He had never hated anyone as much as he had come to hate Shawn DeLuca.

“Believe me Kingston,” Shawn replied, voice as hoarse as Maxwell’s, “If you want to call me out I’ll be more than willing to bring the pistols, but it won’t help anything.” Maxwell said absolutely nothing. “How-how is she?” he continued.

Now Maxwell glared, “How my wife is doing is none of your concern.”

“I love her too!” Shawn exploded, brown eyes flashing as Maxwell’s amber one’s expressed even more anger.

“Shut your mouth DeLuca!” he shouted, “You are never to speak of her or look at her, or…or get within twenty feet of her ever again!” He seethed, and took one menacing step forward, “So help me, DeLuca,” he bit out, “If I even hear mention of you being in the same building as her, I will not hesitate to run you through on the nearest pointed object I can find!”

The other man was silent for a time, and they glared at each other, Michael shifting nervously on one side. “Fine,” Shawn finally relented, “But you’re going to listen to me first.” Maxwell frowned, but Shawn stepped closer, forcing Maxwell to look up at him. “She loves you,” he said, “For some insane reason Elizabeth loves you. She loves every annoying, pompous, dictating thing about you. I don’t understand it, and I don’t want to believe it, but it’s true. And you…you are so blind not to see what you have. She’s gorgeous and sweet and…and completely perfect. She’s perfect Kingston, and she loves you.” He took a deep breath, “Open your eyes Kingston, look at her. See her.”

Maxwell didn’t reply and Shawn sighed heavily. He gave them a nod and then put on his coat and left. He stared after his nemesis’ retreating back and looked at Michael. “I’m going home.” He needed to see his wife.

The carriage rumbled to a halt outside his townhouse and he quickly got out and walked up the front steps. Zanial opened the door immediately. “How is she?” he asked once the door shut behind him.

His butler let a brief smile cross his normally inscrutable face. “The doctor just left twenty minutes ago, Lady Elizabeth is resting now. She’ll be all right, sir,” he paused, “And young Christopher is in the nursery with his new sister.”

Maxwell grinned, resisting the urge to sob from relief, and left Zanial by the door, heading upstairs. Elizabeth was fine and he had a healthy daughter. Then he frowned, he really needed to get around to firing Dr. Hardy and getting a new family physician.

Hardy had once again given a grim proclamation of Elizabeth’s death, and that of the child’s too when he had first came to check up on Elizabeth after she got sick. Max had been afraid that what was causing his wife's sudden illness was another pregnancy, and he had nearly castrated himself with fear.

When she went into labor, Maxwell had been appalled at the amount of blood that had come out of his small wife, and had lost his rationale and rounded on Hardy, demanding to know what was wrong. With Christopher, the birth had been hard, but no where near as dangerous as this one…

Hardy had scowled and banished him from the bedroom. For awhile, he had paced the hallway, but Elizabeth’s cries had driven him mad with frustration and he had come to his club to escape them.

And yet, they had still rung in his ears, in his mind…In his very soul. Elizabeth…

But the doctor had been it seemed, as usual, and the relief was a release all it’s own.

He entered his bedroom and dismissed his valet, going straight to the door connecting his room with his wife’s. He hesitated a beat, but took a deep breath and opened the doors.

Moonlight streamed in from the window, illuminating the small figure on the bed. Maxwell tread slowly and silently to the bed and studied his wife. The sheets had been changed, no spot of blood or sweat stained them from the difficult labor she had just gone through. The only physical sign was her unusual pallor.

He sat and brushed a trembling hand across her forehead, tucking a limp strand of mahogany hair behind her ear. She stirred and her large chocolate eyes opened, peering up at him dreamily. “Maxwell?” she whispered.

He smiled, “Go back to sleep Elizabeth,” he ordered gently, pulling the coverlet higher up over her body.

“Did you see her?” she inquired, “Did you see our Diana?”

“Not yet,” he murmured.

“She’s perfect…” Her eyes fluttered. You’re perfect, he thought.

“Sleep, Lizzie.”

“Maxwell…I love you,” she told him, half asleep.

“I love you, too,” he informed her, voice inaudible, but it didn’t matter, because she was already lost in her dreams.


posted on 12-Nov-2002 8:13:43 PM
*Eighteen*

Elizabeth sat in the kitchen of the town house, staring out the window into the back gardens and musing. She had had the dream again last night. The wonderful dream that had been haunting her, and it always seemed so real… But she knew it was a dream, because in real life, Maxwell would never utter those three little words…

I love you.

She sighed and looked over a Mrs. Ifer, the housekeeper, who was humming under her breath as she made tea. A smile flitted across her face.

She was happy to be back into the swing of things. Diana had been born a week ago, and was a healthy little girl, but Elizabeth was having trouble getting back to her old self.

The bed had become her permanent home for several days following her daughter’s birth, and Laurie had been required to bring Diana and Christopher to see her when they needed their mother. Her maidservant grudgingly reported that Lord Kingston was doing an admirably job looking after the children in her absence, and Elizabeth had rejoiced, happy the Maxwell was devoting more and more time to his family.

He was also popping in to visit her more often too. Their time together was softer than in old days, and Maxwell always whispered, as if afraid to give her a headache by talking too loudly.

She wanted to laugh at his cautious attitude, only she was distressed to find that she would get headaches. And she was tired all the time, and fretful. Dr. Hardy had come by yesterday and told her she was recuperating, albeit slowly, and that it might be best if she left London for a time.

She found herself inclined to agree with him. This morning, she had woken up and told herself she was going to get out of bed, and she had managed well right up until Laurie had entered the room and scolded her.

The blonde girl had been positively horrified by her mistress’ behavior, and had ordered her to sit right back down. Elizabeth had felt so week, that she had complied with relief, but she was determined to make her way downstairs today.

Luckily, Laurie knew her well, and helped her into a lilac-colored morning gown and walked with her down the stairs, arms ever-ready to support Elizabeth if she stumbled. They had slowly made their way into the kitchen, where Mrs. Ifer had given her a light breakfast and Laurie had left her to complete some chores.

And now she sat, content, watching the bustling cook preparing the midday tea.

The tray was set with a tea set, the black porcelain was hand-painted with white roses, outlined in gold leafing. Maxwell had shipped the set in from China, just for her. She adored it…

A sigh escaped her again and Mrs. Ifer looked up from where she was arranging strawberry tortes on the tray. “Is something the matter, yer Ladyship?” she inquired.

“No,” Elizabeth assured her, laughing, “I was just thinking.”

“Ah,” the older woman nodded, “Well, I let you to yer thinkin’ alone righ’ now, got to bring his Lordship his tea.”

“Oh!” Elizabeth exclaimed, “May I, Mrs. Ifer?” She pushed herself up from the table and eagerly made her way over to the housekeeper, gazing up at her hopefully.

“I don’t know, Laurie said yer not to be taxed…”

“It won’t be any effort, really,” she replied, mentally ignoring her trembling limbs, which were just now getting used to activity again. “Please, that way Maxwell and I may take tea together, and talk a bit.”

The woman’s lips twisted thoughtfully, but finally she nodded, carefully handing over the tray to Elizabeth. “Hold on one moment,” and she grabbed another cup, setting it on the tray, then she opened the kitchen door and gestured Elizabeth out, “He’s in the study, knock first.”

Elizabeth walked with care to the study door, and then bit her lips, staring at the intimidating wooden carvings along the edging, and then she looked down at the tray in her hands. Balancing it with painstaking slowness, she knocked and opened the door, steadying the tray quickly as it began to shift around. She held it tightly for a moment, one foot in the study, trembling from the weight, and then gave a sigh of relief as the pastries and cups stopped rattling and settled down into their former positions.

Stepping fully into the room, she tread delicately over to the large desk, behind which sat her husband, and set the tray down on it. Maxwell looked up, and his eyes widened. “Elizabeth!” And then he rose, hurrying around the desk to escort her into the chair before the desk.

“Please, my lord,” she murmured, “Do not let me distract you from your business.”

He shook his head, glanced at the paperwork he had just sat down, and then picked up the dainty looking teapot, pouring the tea into the two cups Mrs. Ifer had provided. “That’s nothing,” he informed her, handing out a cup and saucer to her.

She took them, her fingers brushing his, and she blushed, but she did not take her eyes off his. There had been something fairly amorous about watching his large, strong hands treating the fragile china so gently, something that reminded her of his hands on her body, soft and tender…

They both cleared their throats at the same times, and her blush deepened. “Should you be out of bed, Elizabeth?” he asked, frowning.

“I am recovering quite well, my lord,” she returned.

“I can see that,” and there was a small smile in his tone, “But that does not mean you should be out and about just yet. You are still healing, and I wouldn’t want you to hinder what progress you’ve made by pushing yourself too hard.” She bit her bottom lip and looked down into her tea cup, swirling around the stray tea leaves floating in it.

“I know you worry, my lord,” she responded in a low voice, “It is just that I will go mad cooped up in my bedroom day in and day out.” She looked up at him imploringly, “I need to do something, to see my children and my friends.”

“They come visit,” he countered.

“It’s not the same,” she declared, “I need to be involved, not lying passively around. Please Maxwell, I know you’re taking wonderful care of the children, but I feel like I’m missing so much by being apart from them most of the time!”

Maxwell sighed, “They’re missing you too,” he admitted, “I mean, you know Christopher does. And Diana,” he smiled, “She’s so young, but her face just lights up when she’s taken to visit you.”

Elizabeth smiled herself, remembering the feel of her baby nestled in her arms once more, with Christopher curled up next to them, watching his sister curiously, and Maxwell leaning against the bedpost, a half-smile in place, one hand reaching down wonderingly to caress Diana’s head, touch Christopher’s arm, or stroke Elizabeth’s cheek…

She had loved the past few nights like that, just the four of them, a happy, loving family…

“And I wished to speak to you, my lord.” She looked back up at him, leaning casually on the desk, sipping his tea.

He raised an eyebrow, “What about?”

She looked back down, steeled her resolve, and tilted her head back up, “I was wondering if it might be possible for the children and I to take a holiday to one of the country estates?”

“A holiday?” he echoed, and then shook his head, “Now is not a convenient time for me to leave London, Elizabeth.”

“You wouldn’t have to come,” she spoke up, leaning forward, “I know you have business to attend to, my lord. That’s why I suggested it be just me and the children. You could come visit us whenever you’re available, of course, but I really feel it would be best if we left London as soon as possible.” He was staring at her, and she nervously tucked a strand of hair that escaped her bun, back behind her ear. “My lord?”

“What has put this notion into your head?” he asked, sounding amazed. She opened her mouth to reply, but he continued. “Are you worried about DeLuca?” he demanded, “You needn’t, I’ve put him in his place, he won’t bother you again.”

Now it was her turn to stare. Why would she be worried about Shawn? She shook her head, putting the topic of Shawn DeLuca away. “No, my lord, it is merely something Dr. Hardy suggested, and I fully-“

“Hardy?” Maxwell interrupted, “The man’s a bloody idiot! You can’t take anything he says seriously.” She blinked in surprise at the anger in his voice, and drew back as he began to pace erratically around the desk. “That doctor is an absolute quack, a moron… He is never to set foot in this house again…” Maxwell continued to mutter as he sat down in his chair, and Elizabeth began to consider calling Zanial in to calm him, but then he looked at her, gaze piercing, “When was he here?”

“Just the other day…”

“Devil take it!” he shouted, and jumped up, pacing again.

She was feeling alarmed by his behavior, and made an effort to pacify him. “My lord, never mind Dr. Hardy-“

“There is no bloody way that man should be referred to as a doctor!” he interrupted yet again.

“Maxwell!” she shouted, and he stopped, staring at her, “I feel it is in my best interest, as well as that of the children’s, to go. London is not a healthy environment for a newborn and her mending mother. The country would provide fresh air and more room to walk about…” she trailed off, recognizing by his hard face that she wasn’t going to win this argument.

“You are not leaving London,” he stated, and the finality in his voice made her heart drop. She gave a defeated nod and rose, collecting the tea cups and tray and making ready to exit the room.

“Good day, then, my lord,” she murmured as she passed him.

He caught her arm and when she looked up at him, his face softened, “Elizabeth…”

There was a knock, and Zanial entered. He bowed to them both and then straightened, looking at Maxwell. “The carriage is waiting, my lord.”

Her husband gave a frustrated sigh and gave her a mute glance of apology. “I have a ship coming in at the docks,” he said by way of excuse, “We’ll finish this conversation later tonight.” He leaned over and planted a kiss on her forehead, and then he left, casting one last look over his shoulder before the heavy door shut.

Elizabeth sighed and headed back to the kitchen, feeling stronger than she had this morning, though she was getting a little tired… Entering the kitchen, now preparing for dinner, Mrs. Ifer gestured her to put the tray down on the small table near the back door. A young boy was sitting there, he had obviously just delivered the milk the cook was using to make a cake.

She joined him, offering him a torte, and they munched together in silence for awhile, and then, inspiration struck her. She scrutinized the boy and then leaned forward. “Excuse me, do you think you could do me a favor?” she queried.

The boy swallowed, eyes wide, “What, yer Ladyship?”

“Could you find me a carriage and bring it here within the hour?”

He nodded and stood. Elizabeth stood also and drew out her purse. She handed the boy a pound, smiling at his stunned expression, and laughed when he scampered out the back door, repeating assurances.

When he had gone, she whirled around and hurried to the library. Christopher lounging on the settee, reading a book. He looked up as she entered, “Mama?”

“No lessons today, darling,” she told him, “We’re taking a trip.”

Christopher sat up, “Really? Where to?”

“Kingston,” she replied, grinning at his enthusiasm, “Now, put the book away and go pack.”

“When are we going?” he asked, suddenly looking apprehensive, “Father won’t be back until tonight.”

“Your father isn’t coming, Christopher, and we’re leaving shortly, so go.”

“But Mama…”

“He’ll come visit us soon, sweetheart,” she consoled him, “He just has some business to take care of here in town.” He pursed his lips and then nodded, running from the room. Elizabeth followed at a more sedate pace, smiling as she heard his small feet pounding their way down the hallway to his room.

She went into her own bedchamber and began packing. When she had finished she set her two bags out into the hallway to pick up on her way downstairs and headed toward her son’s room. He struggled with the over-flowing bag and she laughed, dumping out the clothes and toys and reorganizing everything so that it fit. “Go put them with mine,” she ordered him playfully, “And if you’re feeling in a particularly helpful mood, drag them downstairs to the front door, while I get your sister ready.”

Once he rushed to do her bidding, she went into the nursery, stopping abruptly and staring at the person in front of her. “Laurie?”

The blonde girl gave a sheepish smile and clutched the small bag in her hand, Miss Diana is all ready, my lady,” she informed her mistress.

Elizabeth smiled gratefully and picked up her daughter. “Thank you, Laurie.”

They walked downstairs in silence and reached the front door just as a knock sounded upon it. Christopher opened it with effort, much to the women’s amusement, and his own pride, to reveal the delivery boy on the top step.

He bowed, “Here it is, yer Ladyship,” he said, gesturing to the waiting carriage.

She smiled at him, pleased that the carriage and driver looked respectable. “Thank you very much,” she praised him, handing him another pound, and then moved past him with her children and Laurie.

The footman came forward to take their bags and Christopher hopped into the dark interior of the coach. Laurie took Diana from her, and Elizabeth ascended inside herself, leaning out to take her baby.

“I don’t think this is such a good idea, my lady,” Laurie said, carefully passing Diana to her mother, “His Lordship won’t like it.”

Elizabeth shot a look at her son, who was too occupied with exploring the velvet seats to notice the conversation between his mother and her maid. “Everything will be fine Laurie, but I really feel that Diana and I will fair better in the country.”

“But, my lady, why can’t I come?”

“For the same reason I’m not telling you are destination, Laurie. If Maxwell asks, you know nothing and therefore can not be held accountable for my actions.” Elizabeth smiled at her friend. “I would hate to lose you, Laurie.”

She nodded her blonde head, “I understand, but I still don’t like it,” she said stubbornly. “Be safe.”

“We will,” Elizabeth said, “I’ll write as soon as we get settled in.” The footman was suddenly there, politely shutting the door, and Elizabeth waved good-bye as the driver gave the order to move.

She settled back into the seat, holding Diana to her, and lifted her arm as Christopher halted his exploring and cuddled up to her. “Mama?”

She looked down as he tilted his angelic face up to hers. “Yes, sweetheart?”

“Are you sure Papa will come?”

She smiled and dropped a kiss on his black curls. “I’m positive, darling. He will always come.”


posted on 12-Nov-2002 8:16:46 PM
*Nineteen*

The night of Diana’s birth had been a tumultuous one. That night had caused him to reevaluate what he held most dear to his heart, and he had come to the stunning conclusion that what that was, or, rather who, was his wife.

That he cared for her, he had known for a long time, but that he loved her… It had been something of a revelation to him.

He was a coward. He knew it, even as he presented the façade of utter perfection to the world. He had almost started to believe the deception himself, but then Elizabeth had come into his life and he wasn’t able to hide the fact any more. She had changed him so much these past years together, and he had never managed to notice before that night.

He was afraid to open up to anyone, but most especially with her. He shouldn’t be though. She was his wife. She wasn’t going to ridicule him for falling in love with her. She wouldn’t consider him a fool for laying his heart on the line. But he was so afraid…

It had been almost involuntary that night, when he said those three small words to her, it was almost as if he had to say them, or he’d never be able to again.

But he hadn’t said them again, because he had let that same cowardice from before control him yet again. He had allowed himself to revert back into the man he had been before Elizabeth.

And she had fled from him…

By God, it hurt. He felt tears prick his eyes and his hand tightened unconsciously around the side of the crib. Maxwell stared into the empty bedding, where his daughter should have been lying peacefully, asleep.

But Diana was not in her cradle, and Christopher was not in his bed. His children were gone, as was his wife.

And it was his fault, as usual. He always seemed to muddle things up with Elizabeth. This afternoon, it seemed, he had gone too far. Maxwell sighed, recalling the argument they had had earlier. It seemed Elizabeth had not submitted meekly to his will and had escaped from her horrid husband to the countryside, where that halfwit of a doctor had suggested she go.

That was his fault again. He had let his anger with Dr. Hardy overpower his common sense, and not let Elizabeth in on his personal misgivings. He really had no problem with her wanting to go live at one of their country estates. In fact, he preferred living there than in London, but he had business to finish up in town, and if he had succeeded in making her understand his need to talk to her later in the evening, he would have informed her of his wish to wait so that he could go as well.

But she had not desired his presence. Hadn’t she made that very clear when she said, ‘for the children and I to take a holiday.’ There had been no mention of him coming, no hint that she wanted her husband there as well.

It was like having a dagger stab him in the heart and then twisting it around to procure the greatest damage possible. It seemed he had lost what little affection he had managed to gain this past year…

His mind replayed that bright afternoon not even a year past, when Elizabeth had smiled up at him so seductively, her beautiful brown eyes so full of want… And Diana’s birth, her whispered confession of love, how he longed to hear it from her once again…

But chances were he never would, not if things continued on thusly. Maxwell suddenly straightened and turned from the empty crib determinedly. He would hear those words from her lips again, even if he had to go to the ends of the world to find her.

Fortunately, that would not be necessary. All he needed to do was discover which country estate she had fled to. Unfortunately, he had a lot of holdings spreading in all directions from London. But he was quite certain she would not go too far, not with their precious children. He stalked down the hall, looking for Laurie, she would know where Elizabeth had gone…

Maxwell Evans was tired of playing the coward.

Maxwell caught Laurie fidgeting in the middle of Elizabeth’s bedroom. “Laurie, might I have a word?”

The maidservant spun, her face as white as a sheet. “M-m-my lord?” she stuttered. Maxwell just watched her, eyes inscrutable. She knew something.

“Lady Kingston is missing, as are my children,” he informed her coldly.

Her blue eyes widened. “Oh,” she said, voice a mere breath.

“Where do you suppose she could have gone to?” he inquired.

“I-I don’t know, my lord,” she whispered, wringing her hands.

“I think you do,” he countered.

She bounced up and down on her toes. “Please don’t do this to me, my lord,” she pleaded, obviously torn between loyalties. Tears sparkled in her eyes. Maxwell knew it wasn’t right, but he really needed to find Elizabeth.

“Laurie.” And the warning in his voice was obvious to the twenty year old.

“I really don’t know, my lord, she said it would be best if I didn’t know.” Laurie stepped closer to him, distraught. “She didn’t want me to get in trouble with you for withholding information, so she didn’t tell me. Honest, Lord Kingston.”

He relented. “I know she’s gone to the country, Laurie, I just don’t know what estate, and I don’t want to waste time searching each one. Perhaps you could give me your opinion?” She wavered, biting her lip. “Please Laurie,“ he begged. Letting his desperation seep into his voice and expression.

“My lady seems to prefer Kingston Manor,” she said softly, glancing around as if afraid to be caught in her betrayal. “She considers it her sanctuary.”

Maxwell grinned, “Thank you, Laurie!” he exclaimed and then ran from the room.

He roared for Zanial on the way down the front stairs, and the manservant appeared immediately. “Prepare my horse,” he ordered, and then went into his study to write a note for Michael. He handed it to Zanial with instructions as he mounted the gelding, and then he spurred the horse into a gallop, towards Kingston Manor and his wife.

The ride was hard and long. He had left from his townhouse at dawn and attained at his final destination in the middle of the next night. He had not stopped for rest or food all day long.

Mrs. DuPree met him at the front door after he let a stableboy lead his horse away. “My lord Kingston!” she exclaimed as he strode past her, “What’s the matter?”

“Is Elizabeth here?” he demanded, looking at her.

She blinked, but nodded, dropping into a bobbing curtsey, “Her Ladyship arrived yesterday with young master Christopher and little Diana. She’s just putting them to bed now, would you like me to inform her of your arrival?”

“No,” he said, walking away, “I will tell her myself.”

“As you wish, my lord,” the housekeeper called to his back.

Maxwell ignored her, climbing the stairs to the third story of the old estate and walking down the hallway. He could see lights coming out of the rooms at the far end of the hall. The nurseries. Elizabeth’s low voice floated out to him and his body tightened, and then he smiled as he heard his son’s questioning voice.

He did not intrude on their time together. Instead, he crept silently into Elizabeth’s room, shutting the door quietly behind him. He stared at the unchanged room and let the memories wash over him as he tread slowly over to the bed.

He remembered their first night together as husband and wife. He recalled the way her body had tempted him through the thin nightgown, her innocence, her eagerness, her gorgeous eyes fixed on him… The pleasure he had found in her arms, and the peace.

Elizabeth was his. He had claimed her that night, and he was determined to keep her. He loved her too much to let her go…

Now, he just had to convince her. And so, Maxwell waited.


posted on 12-Nov-2002 8:18:02 PM
*Twenty*

The nursery was quiet. Diana had finally fallen asleep and Elizabeth tiptoed across the room and out the door. She continued down the hallway and opened another door. The shaft of light let in from the corridor pooled around her sleeping son.

She studied him from her position, noting with wistfulness how much he resembled his absent father. Same face, same ears, same dark hair, and the same amazing eyes. The only difference was that when Christopher turned those golden brown orbs on her, they were filled with love.

Maxwell had never once looked at her with any sentiment akin to love. The most she could get out of him was an indulgent fondness and, in the beginning, passion.

Elizabeth sighed and shut the door with a soft click. She wouldn't think of Maxwell now. He'd come soon enough, and the weight of his anger would…Well, he wouldn't be happy with her.

He was just being so arrogant! Ordering her around like that… London wasn't the right environment for her or the children. Even the doctor agreed to that. She didn't understand how Maxwell could be so callous about their health. It was true that he often disregarded her feelings, but he would never intentionally cause her harm, and she knew he'd rather die than hurt his children…

She sighed again as she shut the door to her bedroom. She undressed in the dark room, having the strangest feeling that someone was watching her. Quickly she tied her dressing gown over her thin lawn nightgown and spun around.

His eyes were assessing her, but not in the cool, indifferent way she was accustomed to. The amber dark depths were sparking with some unfamiliar emotion, deeper than anger, or even passion. It was something she had never seen in his eyes before. Something that made her heart beat faster. Something that sent delicious shivers down her spine.

His arresting eyes burned into her, making her tremble. "Maxwell," she rasped.

"You ran away from me," he stated, tone low and reproachful.

She shook her head. "I ran from London, not you my lord. I would never run from you."

He came toward her, the shadows moving across his face, making his expression impossible to read. She stood, waiting, watching the play of moonlight on his body. He was still dressed in the clothes she had left him in yesterday when she walked out of the library to pack for Christopher.

When he was standing before her, she realized he hadn't shaved, hadn't slept. There were bags beneath his eyes, made all the more hollow by the blue and gray dimness of the room. Her heart went out of her and she reached up, cupping his cheek. He leaned into her touch, pressing his own large hand against hers.

"I've been a coward," he said quietly.

She blinked in surprise. Maxwell had never, in all the years they'd been married, spoken to her like this. Like he was confiding something to her he could barely admit to himself. "You are the most courageous man I know, my lord," she countered, not understanding his thinking.

But he shook his head, moving away from her. She let her hand drop to her side and stared after him, not sure what he wanted from her, or what he needed. All she knew was that he was hurting, and she wanted to help him. "Mari and Bella…Michael, everyone… They're all right."

"Right about what, my lord?" she inquired, stepping hesitantly toward him until she grasped his arm. He swung around to face her, eyes clear in the light from the window. She refrained from crying out at the confusion in them. "Maxwell," she begged, "Tell me."

He gripped her arms, blunt fingers digging into the tender flesh of her arms, but she didn't care. If only he'd tell her…As long as she could help him, it was all right.

"I love you," he whispered fiercely, his grip tightening, as if afraid she'd run from him again. Her eyes widened at his words and she blinked rapidly, hoping against hope this wasn't all some dream…but no, the pain from his hold was real.

"Maxwell-"

"I've been too weak to tell you," he continued, releasing her again and pacing about the bedchamber, "When you were pregnant with Christopher I was so afraid, and then with Diana…You almost died…" He stopped, staring at something only he could see. "I only acknowledged it then, that night, when I found out you were okay. That you would be all right." He turned to her again, eyes pleading, "I think I've loved you forever, since the first time I saw you, I just wouldn't let myself see…feel… But I'm telling you now Elizabeth, I love you."

Every single thought in her brain had been in suspension during his ardent speech, and now, all she could think was 'he loves me' over and over and over again. The concept hadn't surfaced yet that this was what she'd been waiting for. That he finally felt for her what she felt for him, it was just 'he loves me'.

"Elizabeth?" he questioned, voice unsure.

She looked up into his soulful, honest eyes, and she ran to him.

*The End*