A Lady of His Own (Bastion Club 3) - Page 147


She met his blatantly intimidating gaze. “Except that there’s more at stake here, something more important than just catering to your protective instincts.”

For a moment, he stared into her eyes, then he sighed tensely and looked away. And sotto voce in idiomatic French reminded himself of the futility of arguing with her.

She tightened her fingers, squeezing his hand. “I understood that.”

He glanced at her, and humphed.

They were both trying to lighten a fraught moment—fraught with emotion rather than threats. Dealing with emotions had never come easily to either of them; what they now had to face, to manage, accommodate and ease, was daunting.

He was descended from warrior lords; one of his strongest instincts was to protect, especially those he cared about, especially the females in his life. Especially her. She’d accepted that in drawing close to him again, his protective instinct would flare again, and it had, even more fiercely than before. But she was neither weak nor helpless, and he’d always acknowledged that and tried to rein in his impulses so they didn’t unnecessarily abrade her pride. However, this time the danger was immediate and very real; he wouldn’t easily be persuaded to let her face it with him.

She searched his dark eyes, saw, understood, and felt certain, this time, that it was important she be with him; why, however, wasn’t easy to explain.

Slipping her fingers from his, she slid from the bed and stood; clasping her elbows, she walked a few paces, then turned and slowly paced back.

Charles watched her, saw the concentration in her face as she assembled her thoughts. As she neared the bed, he sat up. She lowered her arms; he reached for her hands and drew her to stand between his knees.

She looked into his eyes, her gaze steady; her fingers locked with his. “There are two reasons I need to go with you. The minor one is that this ‘game’ was a Selborne enterprise—concocted, instituted, and executed for years by Amberly and my father. Amberly represents his side of it, I represent my father and Granville, who are no longer here. It’s right that Amberly should have one of us beside him to the end.”

She paused, then went on, “I could point out how old and frail he is, but it’s more a question of family loyalties, and that’s something I know you understand.”

He arched a resigned brow. “No point arguing?”

“In my shoes, you’d do the same.”

He couldn’t contradict her. “What’s the other, more important reason?”

You. Sliding her fingers from his, Penny raised her hands and framed his face, looked into his midnight eyes. She watched his expression harden as he read the resolution in hers. “It’s important to me to see this through with you, by your side. We’ve been apart for a long time; I’ve been out of your life for more than a decade, and you’ve been out of mine. If we’re to marry, if I’m to be your wife, then I’ll expect to share your life—all of it. I won’t be cut out, shielded, tucked away even for my own safety. If we’re to marry, then I’ll be by your side not just figuratively but literally.”

She now understood how important that was—for him no longer to be alone, for her to be with him. She’d decided to accompany him to London more than anything because instinct had insisted she should.

Instinct hadn’t lied. Alerted by it, she’d watched him since they’d left Wallingham; she could now see beyond his mask most of the time. She’d observed how he’d behaved and reacted during the grueling journey, through their arrival here, their interview with Amberly and Dalziel, and even more tellingly, in dealing with his womenfolk. She’d seen how he’d coped with her beside him, and contrasted that with how he would have managed if she hadn’t been.

If she’d harbored any doubt of the difference her presence made, his behavior over the evening would have slain it. When they’d greeted the first guests, she’d seen how inwardly tense he’d been, although not a hint showed, even to his sisters; his mask of devil-may-care bonhomie was exceptionally good, exceptionally distracting. At first, knowing his background and experience in ballrooms, she’d been at a loss to understand his difficulty, then she’d caught him swiftly scanning the room, and realized—he held everyone at a distance. He was used to being completely alone, even in a crowd, guarding against everyone, trusting no one…except her.

As the evening wore on, and he realized she didn’t mind being used, that she was amenable to being his link, his connection with the glittering throng, his interactions with others subtly changed, shifted. By the end of the night, much of his defensive tension had left him. When he laughed, it was more genuine, from his soul.

She was the only person he trusted unreservedly, without thought. She could be his anchor, his trusted link with others, one he now, after all his years of being alone, desperately needed. His mother understood, possibly the only other who saw clearly; from across the ballroom, she’d smiled her approval. A few other matrons who knew them both well probably suspected.

He needed her. He’d told her so, in multiple ways, but she hadn’t truly appreciated how real that need was. She was still getting used to the situation; she had yet to learn how, between them, they needed to deal with it.

Lost in his eyes, in all she could now see, she drew in a deep breath; releasing his face she lowered her hands, found his and let their fingers twine and grip. “We’ve missed a lot of each other’s lives, but there’s no reason for that to continue. If we’re to face the future together, it has to be all the future, side by side.”

His eyes had narrowed, gaze sharp as he searched hers, reading her message. She wasn’t agreeing to marry him; she was establishing parameters. After a moment he confirmed, “That’s the sort of marriage you want—the sort of marriage you’ll agree to?”

“Yes.” She held his gaze. “If you want all of my future, then I want all of yours, not just the parts you think safe for me to share.”

Not the wisest ultimatum to put to a man like him. She’d tried to avoid it, but cloaking his need and her determination to fulfill it in her usual willful stubbornness seemed the simplest way forward.

His expression impassive, he stared at her for ten heartbeats, then he carefully set her back from him, stood, and paced away. His back to her, he stopped. Hands rising to his hips, he looked up at the ceiling, then swung around and impaled her with a gaze that held all the turbulent power of a storm-racked night. He’d spoken of violence and it was there; she knew it wasn’t feigned.

“What you ask isn’t—” He sliced off his next word with an abrupt gesture.

“Easy?” Propping her hip against the bed, she folded her arms and lifted her chin. “I know—I know you.”

He held her gaze, then exhaled through clenched teeth. “If you know me so well, you know that asking me to let you go into danger—”

Tags: Stephanie Laurens Bastion Club Historical
Source: readsnovelonline.net
readsnovelonline.net Copyright 2016 - 2023