Beguiling the Earl(7)By: Suzanna Medeiros
The flare of annoyance on Nicholas’s face told him they were both thinking of what they’d gone through the previous fall when Nicholas had enlisted Kerrick’s help. At the time, Nicholas had thought he was suffering from the same illness that had already taken his brother and father, and he had asked Kerrick to father a child with Louisa to keep the marquisate from falling into his unscrupulous cousin’s grasp. Kerrick had been reluctant to agree to the plan from the beginning and had decided he wouldn’t go through with it when he realized, not long after meeting her, that Louisa was very much in love with her new husband.
It also hadn’t taken him long to discover that Nicholas, even though he tried to deny it, very much wanted his wife only for himself. A lesser man would have taken advantage of the opportunity provided by Nicholas’s scheme. Louisa was a beautiful woman, after all, and at the time she’d been trapped in a marriage with a man who went to great lengths to distance himself from her. But despite her seeming fragility, Nicholas’s wife had a core of steel, and he’d known right away that she wouldn’t be swayed by any efforts on his part to seduce her. And he’d respected his friend’s feelings too much to even attempt it. He was only glad that everything had worked out in the end.
“What am I missing?” Clarington asked, breaking into the heavy silence.
Nicholas was the first to look away. “Nothing,” he said, his jaw tight. “Ancient history.”
Kerrick didn’t elaborate. One of the reasons Nicholas had chosen to approach him about fathering his heir was the knowledge that Kerrick would take the secret of his insane plan to the grave. Clarington had been away on his honeymoon at the time and hadn’t even learned of Nicholas’s marriage until the whole situation had been resolved.
“We should go, then. An afternoon of investigating greenery awaits us,” Clarington said in an obvious attempt to lighten the atmosphere.
The four who made up their party for the outing exited the house amidst a chorus of good-byes and general chatter. Clarington helped first his wife, then Catherine, into the waiting carriage before following, leaving Kerrick to enter last. When he did, he found himself seated opposite Catherine.
He kept his tone casual as he revealed that the head gardener would lead them through their tour. The look on Catherine’s face—a mix of happiness, excitement, anticipation—more than made up for the extra effort he’d already gone through that morning.
Catherine could barely contain her excitement at the prospect of seeing in person many of the plants she’d only seen pictures of in books. She’d found it tedious when, shortly after arriving in London for the start of the season, she’d discovered that every member of the ton seemed content to limit their enjoyment of nature to afternoon rides in Hyde Park during the fashionable hour, or to visiting the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens for its famed evening entertainments. Much to her disappointment, she’d learned that when it came to plant life, there was nothing truly of note in either place.
She only half listened as Clarington informed Kerrick of what he’d missed during his absence from town. She wasn’t surprised to discover that men were only too happy to take part in gossiping, though she suspected they would take umbrage at her using that term. They probably considered it keeping abreast of current events.
She tried not to stare, but Kerrick was seated directly opposite her and it was only natural for her to look at him. If it were possible, he was even more handsome than when she’d last seen him the previous fall. His dark hair was shorter than she remembered, but she liked the stark haircut on him. The sharp planes of his face were more noticeable now. And how had she forgotten the way his deep blue eyes crinkled when he smiled? Her eyes were drawn again and again to his mouth, and she found herself wondering just what it would feel like to kiss him.
She remembered, again, how he had held her in his strong arms as he’d waltzed with her the night before, and indulged in a daydream wherein he’d stopped and, his eyes never leaving hers, pulled her to his chest and kissed her. She couldn’t hold back her sigh at the fantasy. Kerrick’s gaze swung to her face, and for a moment she had the mortifying notion that he knew what she’d been thinking.