Someone to Care (Westcott #4)(10)

She had been tempted.

Her marriage, even though it had produced three children, had been a sterile, joyless thing, and other wives strayed. It was even considered acceptable, provided the wife concerned had already done her duty and presented her husband with an heir, and provided her liaisons were carried out with sufficient discretion that the ton could pretend not to know.

Viola had sent him away.

Oh, to her shame she had done so not from any great moral conviction but because she had fallen in love with a rake and a rogue and knew that her heart would be broken if she allowed him to bed and then abandon her. She had sent him away and had her heart broken anyway. It had taken her a long, long time to get over him. Every new conquest of his she heard about and every known courtesan he paraded in Hyde Park to the outraged scrutiny of the ton had been like a spear to her heart.

He had been handsome beyond belief.

Now he was attractive beyond reason, even as he looked austere and aloof and more than a little intimidating. She could not resist stealing another look at him. His hair was silvering at the temples gorgeously. He was still looking steadily back at her.

He had made her feel young again—at the grand age of twenty-eight—and beautiful.

Now he made her feel old and . . . weary. As though life had passed her by and now it was too late to live it. All the years of her youth and early womanhood were gone and could never be brought back to be lived differently. Not that she would live them differently even if she could go back, she supposed. For she would still obey her father’s wishes, and she still would have married a bigamist and remained faithful and unhappy and ultimately a nothing and a nobody.

She had caught Mr. Lamarr’s eye again over the rim of her coffee cup and refused to be the first to look away. Why should she? She was forty-two years old and probably looked it. So what? Was her age something to be ashamed of?

Perhaps Harry was wounded again. Or dead. Ah, where had that thought come from? She dropped her gaze, Mr. Lamarr forgotten. She wondered how many mothers and wives across Britain were plagued with such fears every hour of every day of their lives. And sisters and grandmothers and aunts. For every soldier who was killed in battle there must be a dozen or more women who had worried themselves sick for years and might end up mourning for the rest of their lives. There was nothing so special about her. Or about Harry. Except that he was her son and sometimes love felt like the cruelest thing in the world.

He had gone. Mr. Lamarr, that was, and his companion. They had left when she was not looking. How foolish of her to feel disappointment that he had gone without a word or a parting glance. Most of the other people in the taproom had left too, she realized, and the noise had subsided considerably. It must be past noon by now. No doubt they had gone out into the village for the start of the festivities. Would she go out there too? Wander around to see what was to be seen? Or would she go up to her room, lie down for a while, and wallow in her self-pitying misery? How dreadful it was to be self-pitying. And to have had the feeling intensified by the sight of an attractive man who had once pursued her and wanted to bed her but had gone away today without a word. She had not even had to tell him to leave this time.

Then the dining room door opened—the one into the hallway—and she turned her head to inform the innkeeper that she did not want more coffee. But it was not the innkeeper.

She had forgotten how tall he was, how perfectly formed. She had forgotten how elegantly he dressed, how at ease he was in all his finery. And how harsh and cynical his face was.

She had not forgotten his magnetism. She had felt it across the width of two rooms. Now it was palpable.

“You told me to go away,” he said. “But that was fifteen years or so ago. Was there a time limit?”


“Fourteen,” she said. “It was fourteen years ago.”

It felt like a lifetime. Or like something from another life altogether. But here he was, fourteen years older and fourteen years more attractive, though there was a greater hardness now to the handsome, austere features. She wondered, as she had wondered at the time, why he had taken her literally at her word. He did not seem like a man who took kindly to being told no. But she had told him to go away and he had gone. His feelings for her, of course, had not run more than skin-deep. Or groin deep, to be more blunt about it. And there had been plenty of other women only too happy to jump to his every command.

“I stand corrected,” he said in that soft voice she remembered well. He had never been a man who needed to raise his voice. “Was there a time limit?”

How did one answer such a question? Well, with a simple no, she supposed. There was no time limit. She had sent him away and had intended that it be forever. But here she was, alone in a room with him fourteen years later, and he had spoken to her again and asked a question. He did not wait for the answer, though.

“Now how am I to interpret your silence?” He strolled to the table nearest the door, pulled out a chair, and sat on it, crossing one elegantly booted leg over the other as he did so. “Having sent me away once, you have nothing more to say to me? But you have already said something. You have corrected my defective memory. Could it be, then, that you hate to repeat yourself by inviting me yet again to go to the devil? Or could it be that you do not wish to admit that company—any company, even mine—is preferable to none at all when one is stranded in a godforsaken village somewhere in the wilds of England? I assume you are stranded and have not come here with the express purpose of jollificating with the locals and helping save them from being rained upon on Sunday mornings?”

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