Loving the Marquess(9)

By: Suzanna Medeiros

Louisa let the comment go. “You two have things to do.” She stood and began to clear the table. A quick glance at the clock told her it was already eight. “You’ll be late for your lessons, John.” They both knew how much Reverend Harnick disliked tardiness.

She watched as her brother finished the last of his eggs and, without another word, left. He was eighteen and should already have left for university. They couldn’t afford it, but Reverend Harnick assured them John would be able to attend on a scholarship. After their father’s death, however, John had been reluctant to leave Louisa and Catherine alone, and so, for now, he continued his studies under the reverend’s tutelage.

“And you,” she said, turning to Catherine, “there’s mending to be done.”

Catherine wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Someone will miss the marquess while he is here.”

She’d been so off-center since his arrival that it hadn’t occurred to Louisa that Overlea’s grandmother might be expecting him. Everyone in the area knew he’d been in London for the past few months. The fact he was here now could only mean he’d been on his way to his country seat, not far from their cottage. And even if his grandmother hadn’t been expecting him, someone else would know about his movements and wonder where he was.

“Maybe we should send a note,” Catherine continued.

“Yes, of course,” Louisa said. “I’ll speak to Lord Overlea about that. But for now, off with you.”

Louisa sat heavily after her sister left the dining room. Why had she not thought about Overlea’s grandmother? She would need to be told where he was. What was wrong with her?

But she knew exactly what was wrong with her. He was. Nicholas Manning, the new Marquess of Overlea, muddled her thinking. Confused her. That kiss upstairs was clear proof of that. She never should have allowed it, let alone permitted it to go as far as it had. She would have immediately put a stop to his liberties if it had been anyone else, but Overlea had a strange effect on her. One she did not like.

* * * * *

The soft chiming of the sitting room clock interrupted Louisa’s concentration. She looked up from the sewing in her lap to see that it was already noon. Catherine had long since abandoned the mending to go work in the garden. It was her favorite place to be, and now that autumn was upon them and the gardening season was coming to an end, she spent most of her free time outside.

Louisa looked down at the morning dress she was working on, admiring the pale green muslin. Since her father’s illness, she’d supported her family by taking in sewing. She didn’t earn enough for extras, but at least the necessities were covered. She hadn’t mentioned it to either of her siblings, but most of the sewing she took in was for the family who was responsible for their diminished situation. The dress to which she was currently adding the finishing trim was for Overlea’s cousin, Mary Manning.

She couldn’t be sure why the family allowed Louisa to make some of her dresses. They certainly had enough money to use only the finest modistes in London. While they did just that for the majority of Mary Manning’s clothing, Overlea’s aunt liked having Louisa make some of her daughter’s day dresses. Louisa tried to convince herself that Elizabeth Manning did so to make amends in some small way for how her husband had ruined the Evans family and did her best to ignore the small voice that whispered the older woman had no such motives. That, instead, she enjoyed flaunting their position of superiority over Louisa’s family. In the end, Elizabeth Manning’s motivation didn’t matter since Louisa relied heavily on the income her sewing brought in.

Unable to resist, she stood and held the dress against her. Closing her eyes, she twirled once, imagining what it would be like to own such a dress again instead of the dull, serviceable gowns she normally wore.

She opened her eyes and sighed deeply. She was being frivolous, hoping for things that could never be.

“That color suits you, Miss Evans.”

Louisa spun around to find Overlea standing in the sitting room doorway, one shoulder propped casually against the door frame. His glance swept over her and heat rose to her cheeks. She started to raise a hand to her hair, conscious of the tendrils that had escaped their pins, but stopped short.

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