Seduced by His Touch(6)

By: Tracy Anne Warren

“Will you stay for tea?” she asked, laying her brown-paper-wrapped parcel of books on the sofa before taking a seat beside it. “You know Martha will be here, as soon as the kettle can be set to boil. She’ll bring a tray of sandwiches and sweets, then make you up a big plate, all the while fussing about how thin you are, and why don’t you eat better at home.”

“She forgets sometimes that I have a mother of my own.”

“Who lives by the seashore in Lyme. An excuse such as that will never do, not in Martha’s estimation at least.”

He smiled and took a chair opposite. “I’ll stay long enough to appease her, but then I ought to be going.”

Grace paused, well aware of his preference for not tarrying. “Papa won’t be home until after seven. You know he meets with his investors every Thursday night.”

“True. Still, it’s easier not to chance an unexpected encounter. I’m not high on your father’s list of favorites, you know.”

Sadly, on that point, Terrence was correct. For reasons Grace had never understood, her father did not approve of her friendship with Cooke and barely tolerated her continued association with him. She assumed his dislike stemmed from the fact that Terrence was the publisher of a small press—successful in his way, but nothing to compare with the immense achievements and ambition of her father.

She should surround herself with a better class of people, Papa liked to complain. Do everything in her power to move up in the world by marrying a man of wealth and rank, instead of dabbling in the silly, nonsensical pursuits in which she insisted upon squandering her time. “I didn’t send you to that fancy ladies’ academy so you could rub shoulders with the likes of paper-inkers and wood-cutters!” he would rail every so often after one of Terrence’s visits. If he could have bullied Grace into severing the connection, she was sure he would have banned Terrence from the house long ago.

“You may not be on Papa’s list of favorites,” she admitted, “but you are on mine. Therefore you have every right to stay as my guest. In fact, why do you not remain for dinner? Martha would relish the chance to stuff you full of turtle soup, roast chicken and peach tart; all selections on tonight’s menu, if I remember correctly.”

His brown eyes warmed. “It sounds delectable. However, I really do need to be leaving shortly. A prior engagement, you see.”

“An engagement, hmm?” she teased in a soft voice. “This wouldn’t happen to involve a lady, now would it?”

His expression grew serious. “No, not at all. Besides, you know you’re the only woman for me.”

“I most certainly hope not,” she said, trying to laugh off the remark.

But he leaned forward in his chair and stretched out a hand. “Just say the word, Grace, and I’ll set matters in motion. You’re of age, so there’s no impediment to obtaining a special license. Tell me yes, and we can be married in less than a week.”

Her smile dropped away. “Terrence, don’t, please. We’ve been through this before and you know my feelings—”

“And you know mine,” he interrupted. “I won’t ever be as rich as your father, but I have money, enough to keep you in a nice house and fine gowns. I would see to it you never wanted for anything.”

Just so, she thought, lowering her gaze to the floor. With Terrence, I would be comfortable, contented even. With him, I would have everything. Everything, that is, except love.

How often she’d wished things might be different, that she could wake up one morning and find herself in love with him. How simple everything would be, then. For despite her father’s certain displeasure, she would have weathered the storm for Terrence if she truly loved him. But she did not, and to her great sorrow, she knew she never would.

She sighed. “Please, let us speak no more of this. Can it not be enough that we are friends?”

“Yes, of course,” he said, acceding to her wishes. “For now anyway. But I reserve the right to hope that someday you’ll change your mind. When you do, I will be waiting.”

Desperate to move on and put their conversation back on its earlier, easier footing, she rose and crossed the room. Taking a small key from her pocket, she unlocked a drawer in her satinwood writing desk. “I…um…I nearly forgot. I have these finished for you.” Reaching inside, she withdrew a leather-bound folio, which she carried across to him.

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