The Duchess (Montgomery/Taggert 16) - Page 69

ely seen since you were a child and a bell that rules your life.”

She wanted to yell at him, to tell him to get away from her, that she wished he’d never returned to upset her. She wanted to tell him that he didn’t understand, that he didn’t know how things were. She wanted to tell him that her life was fine, that she had everything she needed and wanted, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t lie to him because he knew the truth.

But something else kept her from lying to him, and that was that she saw a glimmer of hope. For almost a year after Vellie had been taken away, she had continued to keep up her spirit. But Trevelyan was the fighter, not she. It didn’t take her long to realize that she was merely a follower, always had been, always would be. By the time Vellie had been gone a year, Leatrice no longer made any attempt to do anything but what her mother wanted. When she was twenty she had tried to defy her mother, but she’d lost that battle and she’d never tried again.

“What do you plan to do?” She couldn’t keep her voice from trembling with fear.

“To marry you to James Kincaid,” Trevelyan said.

Leatrice stood there blinking at him. “What?”

Trevelyan smiled at her. “It was the American’s idea. Harry’s American. Not mine. She told MacTarvit that the first thing she wanted to do was marry you to the love of your life. She thinks that if she can remove some of the old bat’s underpinnings it will weaken her. I don’t know if that means weaken your mother’s hold over Harry or the household or over Claire’s own lovely little self, but that’s what she wants to do. I thought I’d ask you if you’d very much mind marrying Kincaid.”

Leatrice opened her mouth to speak but no words came out. She sat down on the edge of the bed, looked at her brother, again started to speak and again closed her mouth. She looked away for a moment. Then, when she looked back at him, she smiled. “Aren’t Americans the very oddest creatures?”

Trevelyan’s eyes twinkled. “Had I any idea I would have forgone Pesha and explored America.”

Leatrice laughed. “To marry James? I haven’t seen him in years. Or thought of him. What’s he doing now?”

“I don’t know, but I imagine he’s still working on that one book.” He said this with all the contempt and derision that a prolific author has for one who takes years to write a single book. “It was about one of the Tudors, wasn’t it? Henry the Eighth and all his wives?”

“It was Henry the Seventh and it had to do with his economic policy,” Leatrice snapped. “And you can stop making fun of James. There’s a great deal of research to be done when writing a biography. All you have to do is travel somewhere, then write about it. He has to spend hours reading medieval manuscripts. He has to find the manuscripts first and—” She scowled at him. “Just what is so amusing to you?”

“Haven’t thought of him in years, have you? How far along is he in his writing?”

Leatrice looked away and blushed. “The last I heard he was into the sixth year of Henry’s reign,” she said softly.

“What was that? I’m not sure I heard you correctly. He’s working on Henry’s sixth wife?”

“You!” she said as she tossed a pillow at him.

Trevelyan caught the pillow. “For years James Kincaid was all I heard about in your letters. I think you wrote me about every breath the man took. I began to think he was a god on earth. I was sure I’d never met a man as wonderful as he. In all my travels I have seen many things and met many people but I have never come close to meeting anyone as miraculous as the great James Kincaid. It was difficult to believe he was the same boy who lived a couple of miles from Bramley and who used to run us out of his gardens, said our noise was scaring the birds away.”

Leatrice wouldn’t look at Trevelyan.

“Haven’t thought of him in years, eh? I always wondered, even as a child, why we were always walking past the Kincaid house. Remember how you used to hide behind trees and throw dirt clumps at him?”

“I never did any such thing.”

Trevelyan’s face lost its smile and he reached down and took her hand. “Why didn’t you marry him? Didn’t he ask you?”

“Yes, he asked me. He asked me when I was sixteen and when I was seventeen and when I was eighteen.” She sighed. “He stopped asking when I was twenty.” Her voice lowered. “And now if I’m in a carriage with Mother and he happens to see me he looks away. He hates me.”

“No doubt our dear mother—”

Leatrice stood. “Yes!” she said, her hands clenched at her sides. “Yes, yes, yes. It was the worst scene of my life and I don’t want to think about it. Now here you are, Vellie, come back from the dead and you tell me that you want me to marry James.”

“Not me. Harry’s American.”

Leatrice took a deep breath and for a moment she looked at her hands. They were shaking. She knew all too well the harshness of her mother’s punishments; this American did not. If Leatrice once again tried and failed to assert herself to her mother, she could not imagine what her mother would do to her to discourage further insurrections.

But if she were to try one more time and this time she succeeded…She didn’t like to think what this could mean. To get out of this house. To get away from the constant bells. To get away from her mother’s eternal demands and complaints.

She looked at Trevelyan. “What should I do?”

Chapter Sixteen

Three nights after Claire met her mother-in-law to be, when she went to her room after dinner, two things happened at once. The butler came to her room carrying an envelope on a silver tray, telling her the message was urgent. At the same time, the enormous portrait in Claire’s room swung back on its concealed hinges to show Brat standing there. Her hair had fallen from its usually neat single braid to lie across her forehead; there were cobwebs on her shoulders and she looked greatly surprised.

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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