Read Training Lady Townsend Online

Authors: Annabel Joseph

Tags: #romance

Training Lady Townsend (3 page)

“Don’t go near her,” Lansing barked before Lord Townsend could comply. “You’re not to touch my daughter again, not until you’re putting a ring on her finger in the church.”

“No courtship then?” Lord Townsend arched a brow. “But why should there be? It’s been so businesslike to this point.”

Her father bristled. “Oh, you’re going to court my daughter. You’re going to make amends for the mess you’ve made of her reputation. You’re going to behave like the most charming, well-mannered, and attentive suitor of all time.”

“Without touching her?”

“Yes.” He nodded and rapped his cane against the floor. “I don’t care how you manage it, but you’ll convince the entire
ton
that you’re enamored of her. However you handle it, I expect her wed by the end of June.”

“The end of June?” The marquess sat straighter in his chair. “It’s April now.”

“You’ve enough time to put your affairs in order. Do you comprehend my meaning?”

A look passed between the three men that she didn’t understand. The marquess turned away first, toward her. His eyes narrowed. He despised her. The kiss, the feel of his body against hers, none of it could overcome the dread seeping into her bones. She was to marry him? This man who hated her?

He stood so abruptly that she shrank back.

“Since I cannot touch you, dear Lady Aurelia,” he said in a falsely solicitous tone, “I fear an official betrothal dance is out of the question. Therefore, I’ll excuse myself from this ball and let the remainder of this farce play out without me.”

He made a crisp bow and left. Aurelia watched him go, chewing her lip until his broad shoulders cleared the door frame and disappeared into the outer hall.

Chapter Two: Lovely
 

The Duke of Arlington’s garden rustled with swishing coat tails and embellished and ruched silk gowns. The season’s most eligible young ladies clustered in pastel groups with frowning chaperones and hawk-eyed mothers, while toplofty gentlemen sized up the possibilities for consolidating families and power. Fans fluttered and come-hither glances flew, most of them toward the garden party’s towering blond host.

“They want you, Arlington,” Hunter drawled from his position near the east balustrade. “You’d better pick one of them soon, before things come to a head.” He gestured toward young Lady Eleanor, who exchanged viciously polite glances with her rivals on all sides. She looked like a puffball, all white and soft around the edges, although marital ambition sharpened her smile. “Shelbourne’s chit thinks she has you in the bag.”

“For God’s sake, she’s the Marquess of Shelbourne’s daughter, not ‘Shelbourne’s chit.’ Could you attempt to be even a little polite and sociable? I threw this blasted party for your sake, and for your soon-to-be wife.”

Both men turned to where Aurelia sat in her protective social circle. The young ladies perched around a tea tray but none of them touched a thing.

“She looks like she’s having fun,” said Arlington.

“She looks like she’d like to jump off a cliff, but you’ve none on your vast property. You call yourself a duke of the realm?”

“I’ll have to look into acquiring some cliffs.”

At nearly thirty, Arlington was the oldest of their mad little group, as well as the most respectable, having been forced into duty and responsibility at a very young age. Outwardly respectable, anyway. The duke was possessed of long, golden hair he sometimes pulled back in a queue, and pale blue-gray eyes capable of freezing those who risked his displeasure.

“These betrothals are a dull business,” the duke said, frowning. “People who aren’t suited for one another are forced together to breed so society can proceed in the same lockstep manner.”

“It’s ghastly,” Hunter agreed.

“You’ll have a pretty wife anyway.” Arlington nodded in Aurelia’s direction.

Hunter studied her, her spine stiff and her head tilted just so to her companion. “Pretty dull, you mean.”

“You didn’t find her dull when we pointed her out at your parents’ ball.” His friend’s mouth twitched with amusement.

“I’ll get all of you back for that one day,” Hunter huffed. “Mark my words.”

“We look forward to your glorious transformation once you’ve been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the state of matrimony.” His hilarity died away, replaced by a gloom of concern. “Really, Towns, we wish you the best. If there’s anything we can do...”

“There is something you can do. Especially you, Your Grace. Go to Lansing and make an offer for her hand.”

“No point in that. She’s yours now. You’ve seen to it, for better or worse.”

Lady Aurelia turned to speak to the simpering young woman at her side. Minette, Warren’s amiable younger sister. So prim. So proper, all of them. “You’re a duke,” Hunter said. “Lansing would at least consider you.”

“She’s always been promised to you.” His friend’s voice took on a strange tone. “Funny, if not for the adjoining property, I might have had her.”

“Would you have wanted her?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. You’ve known for years this was coming, so buck up and be a man about it.” He pursed his lips, staring across the garden. “Your Lady Dormouse does have a magnificent set of breasts. No wonder Lansing kept her hidden away.”

Out of principle, Hunter refused to moon at his fiancée in public, although he’d had similar thoughts about her breasts, her hips, her pleasingly round
derrière
. She was womanly, lush. Ripe, one might say, which made her prim mousiness that much harder to bear.

“She’s in love with Warren.” The words burst out, apropos of nothing. Arlington looked over in surprise. Hunter stared back, trying to act as if it didn’t prick him.

“Ah well,” said Arlington. “All the ladies love Warren. He puts on a good show with that fancy hair and that devilish tailor of his. I wouldn’t take it personally.”

“I don’t take it personally,” Hunter scoffed with a bit too much conviction. “I don’t give a whit if she lusts after every man in Christendom. I’m no pillar of fidelity. I expect I’ll continue in my old habits after we’re wed.”

“Then stumble home to your wife looking—and smelling—as if you just rolled out of whore’s bed?”

“Not a whore, my friend. A specialized lady of a fine erotic house.”

“I know the ‘erotic houses’ you frequent,” Arlington mused. “I know the names of every one of your ‘specialized ladies,’ and I tell you, you’ll need to be discreet. Laudable Lansing won’t tolerate a philandering son-in-law.”

Hunter didn’t much care what the Duke of Lansing would tolerate. He’d spent a decade training a coterie of women to cater to his sexual tastes, and he wasn’t going to throw them all away because of a forced marriage to an uptight prude.

Bounteous bosom or no, he doubted the virginal Lady Aurelia would submit to erotic punishment, or sodomy, or oral copulation. He wouldn’t give up these pleasures, for he found them essential to his life’s happiness. He’d only have to be more careful in seeking them out. He’d pay a little extra for his partners’ silence if he had to, to reduce the gossip after he was married. Once his new wife learned what he was into, she’d probably pay the courtesans herself to keep him out of her bed.

And if she complained about his extramarital activities, he’d explain that it was the way of the
ton
, and that she had no power to control him. He’d be a decent husband, as far as he could, but he had no intention of living like a monk only to protect her sensibilities.

“We ought to arrange a decadent orgy the night before the wedding,” said Arlington. He paused, considering. “Two nights before the wedding, perhaps.”

“Don’t arrange anything of the sort. I’m planning to remain celibate that entire week, so I can muster up enough lust to deflower my bride.”

“A week? You’ll never manage that.”

“I can survive a week with no women. It’s the least I can do for Lady Aurelia, to show some stiffening in my affections on our wedding night. How about an orgy the following week? I’ll be desperate for pleasure after I take a few trips between those ice-cold thighs.”

Arlington grimaced. “We’ll have to be awfully careful about such things. Maybe the orgy’s not a good idea. Lansing is a stickler for proprieties and he could make your life—and your father’s life—a bloody hell if you rub him the wrong way.”

“I’ve already rubbed him the wrong way.” Hunter stared morosely at his future bride. “Which is why I have to be here playing the lovelorn fiancé like a damned milksop.”

“Go and talk with her, would you?” Arlington nudged him the lady’s way. “I threw this party so you could prove to the quality that you’ve been reformed by this engagement, publicly at least. Why don’t you go kiss some hands and smile at some simpering ladies?”

“Bugger you, Arlington.”

“Then after, we’ll visit some houses of iniquitous congress, where you can reward yourself for your impeccable manners and respectability. Go on. Don’t stand here talking to me.”

Hunter heaved a sigh. “Very well. I’m off to court the Lady Aurelia, if she doesn’t run away from me first.”

*** *** ***

 

Aurelia’s whole body went tense as Lord Townsend ambled across the lush expanse of garden. Her future husband looked well enough in his fine embroidered coat, his black hair neatly tamed. Even his expression gave no cause for offense. His dark brown eyes were soft and his features arranged in a semblance of pleasant greeting, but Aurelia recognized his distaste for her. She felt it in every part of her body whenever he was around. Her companions’ idle chatter tapered off as he stopped before their table.

“Will you have some tea, Lord Townsend?” chirped Lady Wilhelmina. “Or one of these delicious confections?”

“There’s only one delicious confection I’m hungry for at the moment.”

Aurelia flushed hot as his eyes settled on her. The women giggled as though he was charming, but she felt humiliated. Must he profess to be
hungry
for her? How crass, how gauche...how completely made up. She hated that they must playact false affection between them.

“Lady Aurelia,” he said brightly. “I couldn’t stay from your side a moment longer.”

She was obliged to offer her hand, and when she did, he bowed over it, brushing a kiss across the back of her glove. “Lord Townsend,” she replied in a voice she hoped sounded equally bright. “It’s a lovely party, isn’t it? The weather is fine.”

“The beauty of the day pales in comparison to your charms.”

Mockery. Lies. If only Lord Warren were here, she wouldn’t feel so agitated, but since her official engagement to Lord Townsend, the man had made himself scarce. Lord Townsend gave her a desultory smile. She imagined he knew every one of her thoughts and mocked her for it.

“Ladies,” he said, looking around at her companions, “would you be so kind as to spare my dear Aurelia? I had hoped to stroll with her about His Grace’s picturesque grounds.”

By asking her friends for permission, he’d more or less stymied her ability to decline. She sighed and rose to take his arm. He covered her gloved hand with his and guided her past clusters of party guests, along the outer perimeter of the duke’s gardens. When she glanced over, she didn’t see his face, but rather the outline of his muscular shoulder, encased in his meticulously tailored coat. Must he tower over her? But his father was tall, and his mother too. She supposed she would bear grotesquely tall children unless she could find a way out of this engagement.

“It is a lovely day, isn’t it?” she said, because she couldn’t think of anything else to say to his daunting shoulder.

“Yes, and a lovely party, as you mentioned some moments ago. You seem to find everything lovely. What a charming quirk.”

Aurelia wished she could quirk him right between his eyes with the heel of her slipper. “I only meant to make polite conversation.”

“Ah, well. I can do that too if I apply myself. Which facile and boring topics shall we discuss? We’ve already touched on the weather, but I suppose we can revisit it.” He turned his head up to the sky. “What a beautiful day, with the clouds and the breeze, and the flowers blooming so madly.”

Aurelia refused to be baited. “I do think it’s beautiful. It was kind of His Grace to host this party in our honor.”

“His Grace likes to do kind things. He’s a very proper chap.”

“You call the duke ‘His Grace’? I heard you were close friends.”

“We’re longtime friends, and I’ve called him many things in the course of our history, but in such a
lovely
setting”—he emphasized her word with exaggerated mockery—“I find myself inclined to adhere to formalities.” He gave her a speculative look. “Is that what you and your friends do at your tea table? Gossip about me and Arlington?”

“No, we don’t do anything of the sort. It’s only that your name comes up in conversation, now that we’re engaged.”

“That must be a trial for you.”

Aurelia decided not to answer. In truth, it was a trial, just like everything else about this engagement. This was the third social event they’d attended in one another’s company. The opera had been easy—they’d simply sat beside one another in silence until they could leave. Riding in Hyde Park had been easy too, since the bustle of people and carriages made conversation impossible.

This garden party was far too quiet, and strolling on the Marquess of Townsend’s arm felt too intimate for her tastes.

“Out of conversation already? No more
lovely
topics?” he jested. “We’d suit one another better if you weren’t such a mouse.”

“I am not a mouse.”

“Look at me and say that.”

To her chagrin, she realized she’d ducked her chin practically to her chest. His closeness unsettled her, no matter how she tried to ignore it. His conspicuous maleness tied her in knots. This great, ungainly man was going to be her
husband
. He was going to live with her and get children on her. She’d been sheltered, but she knew how children were made. Well, for the most part.

“I am not a mouse,” she said in a firmer voice, almost managing to meet his gaze.

“They call you Lady Dormouse.”

“That’s not a very gentlemanly thing to point out.”

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