Lyndon Sisters 1 - Everything And The Moon

By Aaron Wagner,2014-01-31 11:26
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Lyndon Sisters 1 - Everything And The Moon

Everything And The Moon Julia Quinn For Lyssa Keusch, my most excellent editor and protector of all things chartreuse, puce, and brackish green. This paint chip‟s for you! And for Paul, even though he wants me to call the sequel Everything and Baboon. Chapter 1 Kent, England June, 1809 Robert Kemble, Earl of Macclesfield, had never been given to flights of fancy, but when he saw the girl by the lake, he fell instantly in love. It wasn‟t her beauty. With her black hair and pert nose she was certainly attractive, but he‟d seen women far more beautiful in the ballrooms of London. It wasn‟t her intelligence. He had no reason to believe that she was stupid, but as he hadn‟t shared two words with her, he couldn‟t vouch for her intellect either. It certainly wasn‟t her grace. His first glimpse of her came as she flailed her arms and slipped off a wet rock. She landed on another rock with a loud thump, followed by an equally loud “Oh, bother” as she stood and rubbed her sore backside. He couldn‟t put his finger on it. All he knew was that she was perfect. He moved forward, keeping himself hidden in the trees. She was in the process of stepping from one stone to another, and any fool could see that she was going to slip, because the stone she was stepping onto was slick with moss, and Splash! “Oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear!” Robert couldn‟t help but grin as she ignomini-ously hauled herself to the shore. The hem of her dress was soaked, and her slippers had to be ruined. He leaned forward, noticing that her slippers were sitting in the sun, presumably where she‟d left them before hopping from stone to stone. Smart girl, he thought approvingly. She sat down on the grassy bank and began to wring out her dress, offering Robert a delicious view of her bare calves. Where had she stashed her stockings, he wondered. And then, as if guided by that sixth sense only females seemed to possess, she jerked her head up sharply and looked about. “Robert?” she called out. “Robert! I know you‟re there.” Robert froze, certain that he‟d never met her before, certain they‟d never been introduced, and even more certain that even if they had, she‟d not be calling him by his given name. “Robert,” she said, fairly yelling at him now. “I insist you show yourself.” He stepped forward. “As you wish, my lady.” He said this with a courtly bow. Her mouth fell open. She blinked and scrambled to her feet. Then she must have realized that she was still holding the hem of her dress in her hands, baring her knees for all the world to see. She dropped the dress. “Who the devil are you?” He offered her his best lopsided smile. “Robert.” “You are not Robert,” she spluttered. “I beg to differ with you,” he said, not even trying to contain his amusement. “Well, you‟re not my Robert.” An unexpected surge of jealousy raced through him. “And who is your Robert?” “He‟s . . . He‟s ... I fail to see how that is your concern.” Robert cocked his head, pretending to give the matter ample thought. “One might be able to broach the argument that since this is my land and your skirts are soaked with water from my pond, then it is indeed my concern.” The color drained from her face. “Oh, dear Lord, you‟re not his lordship.” He grinned. “I‟m his lordship.” “But, but his lordship is supposed to be old!” She looked most perplexed and rather distraught. “Ah. I see our problem. I‟m his lordship‟s son. The other his lordship. And you are . . . ?” “In big trouble,” she blurted out. He took her hand, which she had not held out to him, and bowed over it. “I am extremely honored to make your acquaintance, Miss Trouble.” She giggled. “My name is Miss Big Trouble, if you please.” If Robert had had any doubts about the perfection of the woman standing before him, they melted away under the force of her smile and obvious sense of humor. “Very well,” he said. “Miss Big Trouble. I shouldn‟t want to be impolite and deprive you of your full name.” He tugged on her hand and led her back to the bank. “Come, let us sit awhile.” She appeared hesitant. “My mother, bless her soul, passed on three years ago, but I have a feeling she would have told me that this is a most inadvisable idea. You look as if you might be something of a rake.” This caught his attention. “And have you met many rakes?” “No, of course not. But if I were to meet one, I should think he would look rather like you.” “And why is that?” She quirked her lips in a rather knowing expression. “Come now, are you looking for compliments, my lord?” “Absolutely.” He smiled over at her, sat down, and patted the ground next to him. “There is no need to worry. My reputation is not so very black. More of a charcoal gray.” She giggled again, causing Robert to feel as if he must be King of the Universe. “My name is actually Miss Lyndon,” she said, sitting beside him. He leaned back, resting on his elbows. “Miss Big Trouble Lyndon, I presume?” “My father certainly thinks so,” she replied pertly. Then her face fell. “I really should go. If he caught me here with you ...

“Nonsense,” Robert said, suddenly desperate to keep her there beside him. “There is no one about.” She sat back, her manner still somewhat hesitant. After a long pause she finally said, “Is your name truly Robert?” “Truly.” “I imagine the son of a marquess would have a long list of names.” “I‟m afraid so.” She sighed dramatically. “Poor me. I have but two.” “And they are?” She looked sideways at him, the expression in her eyes most definitely flirtatious. Robert‟s heart soared. “Victoria Mary,” she replied. “And you? If I may be so bold to ask.” “You may. Robert Phillip Arthur Kemble.” “You forgot your title,” she reminded him. He leaned toward her and whispered, “I didn‟t want to scare you.” “Oh, I‟m not that easily frightened.” “Very well. Earl of Macclesfield, but it‟s only a courtesy title.” “Ah, yes,” Victoria said. “You don‟t get a real title until your father dies. Aristocrats are an odd lot.” He raised his brows. “Such sentiments could probably still get one arrested in some parts of the country.” “Oh, but not here,” she said with a sly smile. “Not on your land, by your lake.” “No,” he said, staring into her blue eyes and finding heaven. “Certainly not here.” Victoria appeared not to know how to react to the pure hunger in his gaze, and she looked away. There was a full minute of silence before Robert spoke again. “Lyndon. Hmmm.” He cocked his head in thought. “Why is that name so familiar?” “Papa is the new vicar of Bellfield.” Victoria replied. “Perhaps your father mentioned him.” Robert‟s father, the Marquess of Castleford, was obsessed with his title and his lands, and frequently lectured his son on the importance of both. Robert had no doubt that the new vicar‟s arrival had been mentioned as a part of one of the marquess‟s daily sermons. He also had no doubt that he hadn‟t been listening. He leaned toward Victoria interestedly. “And do you enjoy life here in Bellfield?” “Oh, yes. We were in Leeds before this. I do miss my friends, but it‟s much lovelier in the country.” He paused. “Tell me, who is your mysterious Robert?” She cocked her head. “Are you truly interested?” “Truly.” He covered her small hand with his. “I should like to know his name, since it appears I may have to do him bodily harm if he ever again attempts to meet you alone in the woods.” “Oh, stop.” She laughed. “Don‟t be silly.” Robert lifted her hand to his lips and placed a fervent kiss on the inside of her wrist. “I‟m deadly serious.” Victoria made a feeble attempt to pull her hand back, but her heart wasn‟t in it. There was something about the way this young lord was staring at her, his eyes flashing with an intensity that scared and excited her. “It was Robert Beechcombe, my lord.” “And does he have designs on you?” he murmured. “Robert Beechcombe is eight years old. We were to go fishing. I suppose he bowed out. He did say that his mother might have some chores for him to do.” Robert suddenly laughed. “I am beyond relieved, Miss Lyndon. I detest jealousy. It‟s a most unpleasant emotion.” “I-I can‟t imagine what it is you would feel jealous about,” Victoria stammered. “You have made no promises to me.” “But I intend to.” “And I have made none to you,” she said, her tone finally growing firm. “A situation I will have to rectify,” he said with a sigh. He lifted her hand again, this time kissing her knuckles. “For example, I should very much like your promise that you will never again even so much as look at another man.” “I don‟t know what you‟re talking about,” Victoria said, utterly bewildered. “I shouldn‟t like to share you.” “My lord! We have only just met!” Robert turned to her, the levity leaving his eyes with astounding swiftness. “I know. I know in my brain that I only just laid eyes on you ten minutes ago, but my heart has known you all my life. And my soul even longer.” “I-I don‟t know what to say.” “Don‟t say anything. Just sit here beside me and enjoy the sunshine.” And so they sat on the grassy bank, staring at the clouds and the water and each other. They were silent for several minutes until Robert‟s eyes focused on something in the distance, and he suddenly jumped to his feet. “Don‟t move,” he ordered, a silly grin stealing the sternness from his voice. “Don‟t move an inch.” “But—” “Not an inch!” he called over his shoulder, dashing across the clearing. “Robert!” Victoria protested, completely forgetting that she should be calling him “my lord.” “I‟m almost done!” Victoria craned her neck, trying to make out what he was doing. He‟d run off to a spot behind the trees, and all she could see was that he was bending down. She looked at her wrist, almost surprised to see that it wasn‟t burning red where he had kissed her. She had felt that kiss throughout her entire body. “Here we are.” Robert emerged from the forest and swept into a courtly bow, a small bouquet of wild violets in his right hand. “For my lady.” “Thank you,” Victoria whispered, feeling tears sting her eyes. She felt unbelievably moved, as if this man had the power to carry her across the worldacross the universe. He released all but one of the violets into her hand. “This is the real reason I picked them,” he murmured, tucking the last flower behind her ear. “There. Now you are perfect.” Victoria stared at the bouquet in her hand. “I‟ve never seen anything so lovely.” Robert stared at Victoria. “Neither have I.” “They smell heavenly.” She leaned down and took another sniff. “I adore the smell of flowers. There is honeysuckle growing just outside my window at home.” “Is there?” he said absently, reaching out to touch her face, but catching himself just in time. She was an innocent, and he didn‟t want to scare her. “Thank you,” Victoria said, suddenly looking up. Robert jumped to his feet. “Don‟t move! Not an inch.” “Again?” she burst out, her face erupting into the widest of smiles. “Where are you going?” He grinned. “To find a portrait artist.” “A what?”

“I want this moment captured for eternity.” “Oh, my lord,” said Victoria. Her body shook with laughter as she rose to her feet. “Robert,” he corrected. “Robert.” She was being dreadfully informal, but his given name fell so naturally from her lips. “You are so amusing. I cannot remember the last time I laughed so much.” He leaned down and laid another kiss upon her hand. “Oh dear,” Victoria said, glancing up at the sky. “It‟s grown so late. Papa might come looking for me, and if he found me alone with you—” “All he could do is force us to marry,” Robert interrupted with a lazy grin. She stared at him. “And that isn‟t enough to send you scurrying off to the next county?” He leaned forward and brushed the softest of kisses against her lips. “Shhhh. I‟ve already decided that I‟m going to marry you.” Her mouth fell open. “Are you mad?” He drew back, regarding her with an expression that hovered somewhere between amusement and amazement. “Actually, Victoria, I don‟t think I have ever been saner than I am at this very moment.” * * * Victoria pushed open the door to the cottage she shared with her father and younger sister. “Papa!” she called out. “I‟m sorry I‟m late. I was out exploring. There is still so much of the area I have not seen.” She poked her head into his study. Her father was seated behind his desk, hard at work on his next sermon. He waved his hand in the air, presumably signaling to her that all was well and he did not wish to be disturbed. She tiptoed from the room. Victoria made her way to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal. She and her sister Eleanor took turns making supper, and Victoria was on duty that night. She tasted the beef stew she had put on the stove earlier that day, added a bit of salt, then sank down into a chair. He wanted to marry her. Surely she had been dreaming. Robert was an earl. An earl! And he would eventually become a marquess. Men of such lofty titles didn‟t marry vicar‟s daughters. Still, he had kissed her. Victoria touched her lips, not at all surprised to see that her hands were trembling. She couldn‟t imagine that the kiss had been as meaningful to him as it had been to herhe was, after all, many years older than she was. He had surely kissed dozens of ladies before her. Her fingers traced circles and hearts on the wooden tabletop as her mind dreamily recounted the afternoon. Robert. Robert. She mouthed his name, then wrote it on the table with her finger. Robert Phillip Arthur Kemble. She traced all his names out. He was terribly handsome. His dark hair had been wavy and just a touch too long for fashion. And his eyesone would have expected such a dark-haired man to have dark eyes, but his had been clear and blue. Pale blue, they should have looked icy, but his personality had kept them warm. “What are you doing, Victoria?” Victoria looked up to see her sister in the doorway. “Oh, hello, Ellie.” Eleanor, younger than Victoria by exactly three years, crossed the room and picked Victoria‟s hand up off the table. “You‟re going to give yourself splinters.” She dropped Victoria‟s hand and sat down across from her. Victoria looked at her sister‟s face but saw only Robert. Finely molded lips, always ready with a smile, the vague hint of whiskers on his chin. She wondered if he had to be shaved twice a day. “Victoria!” Victoria looked up blankly. “Did you say something?” “I was asking you—for the second timeif you wanted to come with me tomorrow to bring food to Mrs. Gordon. Papa is sharing our tithe with her family while she is ill.” Victoria nodded. As vicar, her father received a tithe of one-tenth of the area‟s farm produce. Much of this was sold to care for the village church, but there was always more than enough food for the Lyndon family. “Yes, yes,” she said absently. “Of course I‟ll go.” Robert. She sighed. He had such a lovely laugh. “... more in?” Victoria looked up. “I‟m sorry. Were you speaking to me?” “I was saying,” Ellie said with a decided lack of patience, “that I tasted the stew earlier today. It needs salt. Would you like me to put more in?” “No, no. I added a bit a few minutes ago.” “Whatever is wrong with you, Victoria?” “What do you mean?” Ellie exhaled in an exasperated gesture. “You haven‟t heard two words of what I‟ve said. I keep trying to talk to you, and all you do is gaze out the window and sigh.” Victoria leaned forward. “Can you keep a secret?” Ellie leaned forward. “You know I can/‟ “I think I‟m in love.” “I don‟t believe that for one second.” Victoria‟s mouth fell open in consternation. “I just told you that I have undergone the most life altering transformation in a woman‟s life, and you don‟t believe me?” Ellie scoffed. “Who in Bellfield could you possibly fall in love with?” “Can you keep a secret?” “I already said I could.” “Lord Macclesfield.” “The marquess‟s son?” Ellie fairly yelled. “Victoria, he‟s an earl.” “Keep your voice down!” Victoria looked over her shoulder to see if they had caught their father‟s attention. “And I am well aware that he is an earl.” “You don‟t even know him. He was in London when the marquess had us up to Castleford.” “I met him today.” “And you think you‟re in love? Victoria, only fools and poets fall in love at first sight.” “Then I suppose I‟m a fool,” Victoria said loftily, “because Lord knows I am no poet.” “You are mad, sister. Utterly mad.” Victoria lifted her chin and looked down her nose at her sister. “Actually, Eleanor, I don‟t think I‟ve ever been saner than I am at this very moment.” * * *

It took Victoria hours to fall asleep that night, and when she did she dreamed of Robert. He was kissing her. Gently on the lips and then traveling along the planes of her cheek. He was whispering her name. “Victoria ...” “Victoria ...” She came suddenly awake. “Victoria . . .” Was she still dreaming? “Victoria ...” She scrambled out from under her covers and peered out the window that hung over her bed. He was there. “Robert?” He grinned and kissed her nose. “The very one. I cannot tell you how glad I am that your cottage is only one story tall.” “Robert, what are you doing here?” “Falling madly in love?” “Robert!” She tried to keep herself from laughing, but his good spirits were infectious. “Really, my lord. What are you doing here?” He swept his body into a gallant bow. “I‟ve come to court you, Miss Lyndon.” “In the middle of the night?” “I cannot think of a better time.” “Robert, what if you had gone to the wrong room? My reputation would be in tatters.” He leaned against the windowsill. “You mentioned honeysuckle. I sniffed about until I found your room.” He sniffed in demonstration. “My olfactory senses are quite refined.” “You‟re incorrigible.” He nodded. “That, or perhaps merely in love.” “Robert, you cannot love me.” But even as she said the words, Victoria heard her heart begging him to contradict her. “Can‟t I?” He reached through the window and took her hand. “Come with me, Tone.” “N-no one calls me Tone,” she said, trying to change the subject. “I‟d like to,” he whispered. He moved his hand to her chin and drew her toward him. “I‟m going to kiss you now.” Victoria nodded tremulously, unable to deny herself the pleasure she‟d been dreaming about all evening. His lips brushed hers in a feather-light caress. Victoria shivered against the tingles that shot down her spine. “Are you cold?” he whispered, his words a kiss against her lips. Silently, she shook her head. He drew back and cradled her face in his hands. “You‟re so beautiful.” He pinched a lock of her hair between his fingers and examined its silkiness. Then he moved his lips back to hers, brushing against them back and forth, allowing her to accustom herself to his nearness before he moved in closer. He could feel her trembling, but she made no move to pull away, and he knew that she was as excited by the encounter as he was. Robert moved his hand to the back of her head, sinking his fingers into her thick hair as he darted out his tongue to trace the outline of her lips. She tasted like mint and lemons, and it was all he could do not to pull her through the window and make love to her right there on the soft grass. Never in his twenty-four years had he felt this particular brand of need. It was desire, yes, but with a stunningly powerful rush of tenderness. Reluctantly he drew away, aware that he wanted far more than he could ask her for that evening. “Come with me,” he whispered. Her hand flew to her lips. He took her hand again and pulled her toward the open window. “Robert, it‟s the middle of the night.” “The best time to be alone.” “But I‟m—I‟m in my nightdress!” She looked down at herself as if only then realizing how indecently attired she was. She grabbed her blankets and tried to wrap them around her body. Robert did his best not to laugh. “Put on your cloak,” he gently ordered. “And hurry. We‟ve much to see this evening.” Victoria wavered for but a second. Going with him was the height of nonsense, but she knew that if she closed her window now she would wonder for the rest of her life what might have happened this full-mooned night. She rushed off her bed and pulled a long dark cloak from her closet. It was far too heavy for the warm weather, but she couldn‟t very well traipse around the countryside in her nightdress. She buttoned the cloak, climbed back onto her bed, and with Robert‟s help crawled through the window. The night air was crisp and laden with the scent of honeysuckle, but Victoria only had time to take in one deep breath before Robert yanked on her hand and took off at a run. Victoria laughed silently as they raced across the lawn and into the forest. Never had she felt so alive and free. She wanted to shout her glee to the treetops, but was mindful of her father‟s open bedroom window. In a few minutes they emerged into a small clearing. Robert stopped short, causing Victoria to stumble into him. He held her firmly, the length of his body indecently pressed against hers. “Torie,” he murmured. “Oh, Torie.” And he kissed her again, kissed her as if she were the last woman left on the earth, the only woman ever born. Eventually she pulled away, her dark blue eyes flustered. “This is all so very fast. I‟m not sure I understand it.” “I don‟t understand it, either,” Robert said with a happy sigh. “But I don‟t want to question it.” He sat down on the ground, pulling her along with him. Then he lay down on his back. Victoria was still crouching, looking at him with a trace of hesitancy. He patted the ground next to him. “Lie down and look at the sky. It‟s spectacular.” Victoria looked at his face, alight with happiness, and lowered herself onto the ground. The sky seemed enormous from her vantage point. “Are the stars not the most amazing thing you‟ve ever seen?” Robert asked. Victoria nodded and moved closer to him, finding the heat of his body oddly compelling. “They‟re there for you, you know. I‟m convinced that God put them in the sky just so you could watch them this very evening.” “Robert, you‟re so fanciful.” He rolled to his side and propped himself up on his elbow, using his free hand to brush a lock of hair from her face. “I was never fanciful before this day,” he said, his voice serious. “I never wanted to be. But now ...” He paused, as if searching for that impossible mix of words that would precisely convey what was in his heart. “I can‟t explain it. It‟s as if I can tell you anything.” She smiled. “Of course you can.” “No, it‟s more than that. Nothing I say sounds odd. Even with my closest friends I cannot be completely forthcoming. For example—” He suddenly jumped to his feet. “Don‟t you find it astounding that humans can balance on their feet?” Victoria tried to sit up, but her laughter forced her back down. “Think about it,” he said, rocking from heel to toe. “Look at your feet. They‟re very small compared with the rest of you. One would think we would topple over every time we tried to stand.” This time she was able to sit up, and she looked down at her feet. “I suppose you‟re right. It is rather amazing.”

“I‟ve never said that to anyone else,” he said. “I‟ve thought it all my life, but I never told anyone until now. I suppose I worried people would think it was stupid.” “I don‟t think it‟s stupid.” “No.” He crouched next to her and touched her cheek. “No, I knew you wouldn‟t.” “I think you‟re brilliant for having even considered the idea,” she said loyally. “Torie. Torie. I don‟t know how to say this, and I certainly don‟t understand it, but I think I love you.” Her head whipped around to face him. “I know I love you,” he said with greater force. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me, and I‟ll be damned if I let myself be ruled by caution.” “Robert,” she whispered. “I think I love you, too.” He felt the breath leave his body, felt himself overtaken by such powerful happiness that he couldn‟t keep still. He pulled her to her feet. “Tell me again.” he said. “I love you.” She was grinning now, caught up in the magic of the moment. “Again.” “I love you!” The words were mixed with laughter. “Oh, Torie, Torie. I‟ll make you so happy. I promise. I want to give you everything.” “I want the moon!” she shouted, suddenly believing that such fancies were actually possible. “I‟ll give you everything and the moon,” he said fiercely. And then he kissed her. Chapter 2 Two months passed. Robert and Victoria met on every occasion, exploring the countryside, and whenever possible, exploring each other. Robert told her of his fascination with science, his passion for racehorses, and his fears that he would never be the man his father wanted him to be. Victoria told him of her weakness for romantic novels, her ability to stitch a seam straighter than a yardstick, and her fears that she would never live up to her father‟s strict moral standards. She loved pastries. He hated peas. He had the appalling habit of putting his feet up when he sat downon a table, a bed, whatever. She always planted her hands on her hips when she was flustered, and never quite managed to look as stern as she hoped. He loved the way her lips pursed when she was annoyed, the way she always considered the needs of others, and the mischievous way she teased him when he acted too self-important. She loved the way he ran his hand through his hair when he was exasperated, the way he liked to stop and examine the shape of a wildflower, and the way he sometimes acted domineering just to see if he could rile her. They had everythingand absolutely nothingin common. In each other they found their own souls, and they shared secrets and thoughts that had heretofore been impossible to express. “I still look for my mother,” Victoria once said. Robert looked at her oddly. “I beg your pardon?” “I was fourteen when she died. How old were you?” “I was seven. My mother died in childbirth.” Victoria‟s already gentle face softened even more. “I‟m so sorry. You barely had a chance to know her, and you lost a sibling as well. Was the baby a brother or a sister?” “A sister. My mother lived just long enough to name her Anne.” “I‟m sorry.” He smiled wistfully. “I remember what it felt like to be held by her. My father used to tell her that she was coddling me, but she didn‟t listen.” “The doctor said my mother had a cancer.” Victoria swallowed painfully. “Her death wasn‟t peaceful. I like to think that she‟s somewhere up there”—she waved her head toward the sky “where she isn‟t in any pain.” Robert touched her hand, deeply moved. “But sometimes I still need her. I wonder if we ever stop needing our parents. And I talk to her. And I look for her.” “What do you mean?” he asked. “You‟ll think I‟m silly.” “You know I would never think that.” There was a moment of silence, and then Victoria said, “Oh, I say things like, „If my mother is listening, then let the wind rustle the leaves of that branch.‟ Or, „Mama, if you‟re watching, make the sun go behind that cloud. Just so I know you‟re with me.‟“ “She‟s with you,” Robert whispered. “I can feel it.” Victoria settled into the cradle of his arms. “I‟ve never told anyone about that. Not even Ellie, and I know she misses Mama just as much as I do.” “You‟ll always be able to tell me everything.” “Yes,” she said happily, “I know.” * * * It was impossible to keep their courtship a secret from Victoria‟s father. Robert called at the vicar‟s cottage nearly every day. He told the vicar that he was teaching Victoria to ride, which was technically the truth, as anyone who watched her limp about the house after a lesson could attest. Still, it was obvious that the young couple shared deeper feelings. The Reverend Mr. Lyndon vehemently disapproved of the match, and told Victoria as much on every possible occasion. “He will never marry you!” the vicar boomed, using his best sermon voice. Such a tone never failed to intimidate his daughters. “Papa, he loves me,” Victoria protested. „It doesn‟t matter if he does or doesn‟t. He won‟t marry you. He‟s an earl and will someday be a marquess. He won‟t marry a vicar‟s daughter.” Victoria took a deep breath, trying not to lose her temper. “He is not like that, Father.” “He is like any man. He will use you and discard you.” Victoria blushed at her father‟s frank language. “Papa, I—” The vicar jumped on top of her words, saying, “You are not living in one of your silly novels. Open your eyes, girl.” “I am not as naive as you think.”

“You are seventeen years old!” he yelled. “You couldn‟t be anything but naive.” Victoria snorted and rolled her eyes, aware that her father hated such unladylike mannerisms. “I don‟t know why I bother to discuss this with you.” “It is because I am your father! And by God, you will obey me.” The vicar leaned forward. “I have seen the world, Victoria. I know what‟s what. The earl‟s intentions cannot be honorable, and if you allow him to court you further, you will find yourself a fallen woman. Do you understand me?” “Mama would have understood,” Victoria muttered. Her father‟s face turned red. “What did you say?” Victoria swallowed before repeating her words. “I said that Mama would have understood.” “Your mother was a God-fearing woman who knew her place. She would not have crossed me on this measure.” Victoria thought about how her mother used to tell silly jokes to her and Ellie when the vicar wasn‟t paying attention. Mrs. Lyndon hadn‟t been as serious and grave as her husband had thought. No, Victoria decided, her mother would have understood. She stared at her father‟s chin for a long moment before finally lifting her eyes to his and asking, “Are you forbidding me to see him?” Victoria thought her father‟s jaw might snap in two, so tense was his facial expression. “You know I cannot forbid it,” he replied. “One word of displeasure to his father, and I will be tossed out without a reference. You must break it off.” “I won‟t,” Victoria said defiantly. “You must break it off.” The vicar showed no sign of having heard her. “And you must do it with supreme tact and grace.” Victoria glared at him mutinously. “Robert is calling on me in two hours. I shall go walking with him.” “Tell him you cannot see him again. Do it this afternoon, or by God I‟ll make you sorry.” Victoria felt herself grow weak. Her father had not struck her for yearsnot since she was a childbut he looked furious enough to lose his temper completely. She said nothing. “Good,” her father said in a satisfied manner, mistaking her silence for acquiescence. “And be sure to take Eleanor with you. You are not to leave this house in his company without the accompaniment of your sister.” “Yes, Papa.” On that measure, at least, Victoria would obey. But only that. * * * Two hours later Robert arrived at the cottage. Ellie swung open the door so quickly he didn‟t even manage to bring the knocker down for a second rap. “Hello, my lord,” she said, her grin just a bit cheeky. And no wonder—Robert had been paying her a full pound for every outing on which she managed to make herself disappear. Ellie had always believed wholeheartedly in bribery, a fact for which Robert was undyingly grateful. “Good afternoon, Ellie,” he replied. “I trust your day has been pleasant.” “Oh, very much, my lord. I expect it to grow even more pleasant very shortly.” “Impertinent baggage,” Robert muttered. But he didn‟t really mean it. He rather liked Victoria‟s younger sister. They shared a certain pragmatism and a penchant for planning for the future. If he‟d been in her position, he‟d have been demanding two pounds per outing. “Oh, you‟re here, Robert.” Victoria came bustling into the hall. “I didn‟t realize you had arrived.” He smiled. “Eleanor opened the door with remarkable alacrity.” “Yes, I suppose she did.” Victoria shot her sister a slightly waspish look. “She is always very prompt when you are calling.” Ellie lifted her chin and allowed herself a half smile. “I like to look after my investments/‟ Robert burst out laughing. He extended his arm to Victoria. “Shall we be off?” “I just need to get a book,” Ellie said. “I have a feeling that I will have a great deal of time to read this afternoon.” She darted down the hallway and disappeared into her chamber. Robert gazed at Victoria as she fastened her bonnet. “I love you,” he mouthed. Her fingers fumbled over the bonnet‟s strings. “Should I say it louder?” he whispered, a wicked grin crossing his face. Victoria shook her head vehemently, her eyes darting over to the closed door of her father‟s study. He had said that Robert didn‟t love her, said that he couldn‟t love her. But her father was wrong. Of that Victoria was certain. One had only to look at Robert‟s twinkling blue eyes to know the truth. “Romeo and Juliet!” Victoria blinked and looked up at the sound of her sister‟s voice, thinking for a moment that Ellie had been referring to her and Robert as those ill-fated lovers. Then she saw the slim volume of Shakespeare in her sister‟s hand. “Rather depressing reading for such a sunny afternoon,” Victoria said. “Oh, I disagree,” Ellie replied. “I find it most romantic. Except for the bit about everyone dying at the end, of course.” “Yes,” Robert murmured. “I can see where one wouldn‟t find that bit romantic.” Victoria grinned and nudged him in the side. The threesome made their way outside, crossing the oDen field and heading into the forest. After about ten minutes Ellie sighed and said, “I suppose this is where I leave off.” She spread a blanket on the ground and looked up at Robert with a knowing smile. He tossed her a coin and said, “Eleanor, you have the soul of a banker.” “Yes, I do, don‟t I?” she murmured. Then she sat down and pretended not to notice when Robert grabbed Victoria‟s hand and dashed out of sight. Ten minutes later they arrived at the grassy shore of the pond where they‟d first met. Victoria barely had time to spread out a blanket before Robert had pulled her down to the ground. “I love you,” he said, kissing the corner of her lips. “I love you,” he said, kissing the other corner. “I love you,” he said, yanking off her bonnet. “I love—” “I know, I know!” Victoria finally laughed, trying to stop him from pulling out all of her hairpins. He shrugged. “Well, I do.” But her father‟s words still echoed in her head. He will use you. “Do you truly?” she asked, staring intently into his eyes. “Do you truly love me?” He grasped her chin with uncharacteristic force. “How can you even ask that?” “I don‟t know,” Victoria whispered, reaching up to touch his hand, which immediately gentled its hold. “I‟m sorry. I am so sorry. I know you love me. And I love you.” “Show me,” he said, his voice barely audible. Victoria licked her lips nervously, then moved her face across the inch that separated them. The moment her lips touched his, Robert was on fire. He sank his hands in her hair, locking her against him. “God, Torie.” he rasped. “I love the feel of you, the smell of you. ...”

She responded by kissing him with renewed fervor, tracing his full lips with her tongue as he had taught her to do. Robert shuddered, feeling white-hot need rock through him. He wanted to sink himself into her, wrap her legs around his waist, and never let go. His fingers found the buttons on her dress, and he began to undo them. “Robert?” Victoria pulled away, startled by this new intimacy. “Shhh, darling,” he said, passion making his voice rough. “I just want to touch you. I have been dreaming of nothing else for weeks.” He cupped her breast through the thin fabric of her summer dress and squeezed. Victoria moaned with pleasure and relaxed, allowing him to complete his task. Robert‟s fingers were shaking with anticipation, but somehow he managed to open enough buttons to let her bodice fall open. Victoria‟s hands immediately flew up to cover her nakedness, but he gently pushed them away. “No,” he whispered. “They‟re perfect. You‟re perfect.” And then, as if to illustrate his point, he brought his hand forward and grazed the tip of her breast with his palm. Round and round he went, moving his hand in tiny circles, sucking in Everything and the Moon 29 his breath as her nipple tightened into a hard bud. “Are you cold?” he whispered. She nodded, then shook her head, then nodded again, saying, “I don‟t know.” “I‟ll warm you.” He cupped his hand and wrapped it around her breast, branding her with the heat of his skin. “I want to kiss you,” he said hoarsely. “Will you let me kiss you?” Victoria tried to moisten her throat, which had gone quite dry. He had kissed her a hundred times before. A thousand, possibly. Why was he suddenly asking her permission? When his tongue drew a lazy circle around her nipple, she found out. “Oh, my God!” she burst out, barely able to believe what he was doing. “Oh, Robert!” “I need you, Torie.” He buried his face between her breasts. “You don‟t understand how I need you.” “I-I think we must stop,” she said. “I can‟t do this. . . . My reputation ...” She had no idea how to put her thoughts into words. Her father‟s warning rang ceaselessly in her ears. He will use you and discard you. She saw Robert‟s head at her breast. “Robert, no!” Robert inhaled raggedly and pulled her gaping bodice together. He tried to redo the buttons, but his hands were trembling. “I‟ll do it,” Victoria said quickly, turning so that he would not see the red shame on her face. Her ringers were shaking, too, but they proved more nimble than his, and eventually she managed to right her appearance. But he saw her pink cheeks, and it nearly killed him to think that she was ashamed of her behavior. “Torie,” he said softly. When she didn‟t turn around he used two fingers to gently prod her chin until she faced him. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. “Oh, Torie,” he said, wanting desperately to haul her into his arms, but settling for touching her cheek. “Please don‟t berate yourself.” “I shouldn‟t have let you.” He smiled gently. “No, you probably shouldn‟t have. And I probably shouldn‟t have tried. But I‟m in love. It‟s no excuse, but I couldn‟t help myself.” “I know,” she whispered. “But I shouldn‟t have enjoyed it so much.” At that Robert let out a bark of laughter so loud that Victoria was sure Ellie would come crashing through the woods to investigate. “Oh, Torie,” he said, gasping for air. “Don‟t ever apologize for enjoying my touch. Please.” Victoria tried to shoot him an admonishing glance, but her eyes were far too warm. She allowed her good humor to rise back to the surface. “Just so long as you don‟t apologize for enjoying mine.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her to him in the breadth of an instant. He smiled seductively, looking rather like the rake Victoria had once accused him of being. “That, my darling, has never been a danger.” She laughed softly, feeling her earlier tension slip from her body. She shifted position, settling her back against his chest. He was absently toying with her hair, and it felt like sheer heaven. “We‟ll be married soon.” he whispered, his words coming with an urgency she hadn‟t expected. “We‟ll be married soon, and then I will show you everything. I‟ll show you how much I love you.” Victoria shivered with anticipation. He was speaking against her skin, and she could feel his breath near her ear. “We‟ll be married,” he repeated. “Just as soon as we can. But until then I don‟t want you to feel ashamed of anything we have done. We love each other, and there is nothing more beautiful than two people expressing their love.” He turned her around until their eyes met. “I didn‟t know that before I met you. I—” He swallowed. “I had been with women, but I didn‟t know that.” Deeply moved, Victoria touched his cheek. “No one will strike us down for loving before we are married,” he continued. Victoria wasn‟t certain whether “loving” referred to the spiritual or the physical, and all she could think to say was, “No one except my father.” Robert closed his eyes. “What has he said to you?” “He said I must not see you anymore.” Robert swore softly under his breath and opened his eyes. “Why?” he asked, his voice coming out a bit harsher than intended. Victoria considered several replies but finally opted for honesty. “He said you won‟t marry me.” “And how would he know that?” Robert snapped. Victoria drew back. “Robert!” “I‟m sorry. I didn‟t mean to raise my voice. It‟s just— How could your father possibly know my mind?” She placed her hand on his. “He doesn‟t. But he thinks he does, and I‟m afraid that is all that matters just now. You are an earl. I am the daughter of a country vicar. You must admit that such a match is most unusual.” “Unusual,” he said fiercely. “Not impossible.” “To him it is,” she replied. “He‟ll never believe your intentions are honorable.” “What if I speak with him, ask him for your hand?” “That might appease him. I have told him that you want to marry me, but I think he thinks I‟m making it up.” Robert rose to his feet, drawing her up with him, and gallantly kissed her hand. “Then I shall have to formally ask him for your hand tomorrow.” “Not today?” Victoria asked with a teasing glance. “I should inform my father of my plans first,” Robert replied. “I owe him that courtesy.” * * * Robert hadn‟t yet told his father about Victoria. Not that the marquess could forbid the match. At four and twenty Robert was of an age to make his own decisions. But he knew that his father could make life difficult with his disapproval. And considering how often the marquess urged Robert to settle down with the daughter of this duke or that earl, he had a feeling that a vicar‟s daughter wasn‟t quite what his father had in mind for him. And so it was with firm resolve and some trepidation that Robert knocked on his father‟s study door. “Enter.” Hugh Kemble, the Marquess of Castleford, was seated behind his desk. “Ah, Robert. What is it?” “Have you a few moments, sir? I need to talk with you.”

Castleford looked up with impatient eyes. “I‟m quite busy, Robert. Can it wait?” “It is of great import, sir.” Castleford set down his quill with a gesture of annoyance. When Robert did not start speaking immediately, he prompted, “Well?” Robert smiled, hoping that would set his father‟s mood aright. “I have decided to marry.” The marquess underwent a radical transformation. Every last touch of irritation disappeared from his expression, replaced by pure joy. He jumped to his feet and clapped his son into a hearty hug. “Excellent! Excellent, my boy. You know I have wanted this—” “I know.” “You are young, of course, but your responsibilities are grave. It would be the end of me if the title passed out of the family. If you do not produce an heir ...” Robert declined to mention that if the title passed out of the family, his father would already be dead, so he would not know of the tragedy. “I know, sir.” Castleford sat down against the edge of his desk and crossed his arms genially. “So, tell me. Who is it? No, let me guess. It‟s Billington‟s daughter—the blond gel.” “Sir, I—” “No? Then it must be Lady Leonie. Smart pup, you are.” He nudged his son. “Old duke‟s only daughter. She‟ll come into quite a portion.” “No, sir,” Robert said, trying to ignore the avaricious gleam in his father‟s eye. “You are not acquainted with her.” Castleford‟s face went blank with surprise. “I‟m not? Then who the devil is she?” “Miss Victoria Lyndon, sir.” Castleford blinked. “Why is that name familiar?” “Her father is Bellfield‟s new vicar.” The marquess said nothing. Then he burst out laughing. It was several moments before he was able to gasp, “Good God, son, you had me going there for a moment. A vicar‟s daughter. Quite beyond anything.” “I‟m quite serious, sir,” Robert ground out. “A vicar‟s . . . heh heh— What did you say?” “I said I‟m quite serious.” He paused. “Sir.” Castleford took stock of his son, desperately searching for a hint of jest in his expression. When he found none he fairly yelled, “Are you mad?” Robert crossed his arms. “I‟m utterly sane.” “I forbid it.” “Begging your pardon, sir, but I don‟t see how you can forbid it. I‟m of age. And,” he added as an afterthought, hoping to appeal to his father‟s softer side, “I‟m in love.” “Goddamn it, boy! I‟ll disinherit you.” Apparently his father didn‟t have a softer side. Robert raised an eyebrow and practically felt his eyes turn from light blue to steely gray. “Go ahead.” he said nonchalantly. “Go ahead?!” Castleford spluttered. “I‟ll turn you out on your ear! Cut you off without a farthing! Leave you to—” “What you‟ll do is leave yourself without an heir.” Robert smiled with a hard determination he had never known he possessed. “How unfortunate for you that Mother was never able to present you with another child. Not even a daughter.” “You! You!” The marquess began to turn red with rage. He took a few deep breaths and continued in a calmer fashion. “Perhaps you have not reflected adequately upon the unsuit-ability of this girl.” “She is entirely suitable, sir.” “She won‟t—” Castleford broke off when he realized that he was yelling again. “She won‟t know how to fulfill the duties of a noblewoman.” “She is quite bright. And one could find no fault with her manners. She has received a gentle education. I am certain she will make an excellent countess.” Robert‟s expression softened. “Her very nature will bring honor to our name.” “Have you asked her father yet?” “No. I thought I owed you the courtesy of informing you of my plans first.” “Thank God,” Castleford breathed. “We still have time.” Robert‟s hands curled into harsh fists, but he held his tongue. “Promise me you won‟t ask for her hand yet.” “I will do no such thing.” Castleford regarded the firm resolve in his son‟s eyes and met it with a harsh stare. “Listen to me well, Robert,” he said in a low voice. “She cannot love you.” “I fail to see how you could know that, sir.” “Goddamn it, son. All she wants is your money and your title.” Robert felt a rage welling up within him. It was unlike anything he had ever known. “She loves me,” he bit out. “You will never know if she loves you.” The marquess slammed his hands down on his desk for emphasis. “Never.” “I know it now,” Robert said in a low voice. “What is it about this girl? Why her? Why not one of the dozens you have met in London?” Robert shrugged helplessly. “I don‟t know. She brings out the best in me, I suppose. With her by my side, I can do anything.” “Good God,” his father snapped. “How did I raise a son who spouts such romantic drivel?” “I can see that this conversation is pointless,” Robert said stiffly, taking a step toward the door. The marquess sighed. “Robert, don‟t leave.” Robert turned back around, quite unable to show his father the disrespect of countermanding a direct request. “Robert, please listen to me. You must marry within your own class. That is the only way you will ever be sure that you were not married for your money and position.” “It has been my experience that women of the ton are quite interested in marrying for money and position.” “Yes, but it is different” Robert thought that this was a rather weak argument, and he said so. His father raked his hand through his hair. “How can this girl know what she feels for you? How could she help but be dazzled by your title, your wealth?” “Father, she is not like that.” Robert crossed his arms. “And I will marry her.” “You will be making the biggest—” “Not another word!” Robert exploded. It was the first time he had ever raised his voice to his father. He turned to leave the room. “Tell her I‟ve cut you off without a farthing!” Castleford yelled. “See if she‟ll have you then. See if she loves you when you have nothing.” Robert turned, his eyes narrowing ominously. “Are you telling me that I have been disinherited?” he asked, his voice chillingly soft. “You‟re perilously close to it.” “Have I or have I not?” Robert‟s tone demanded an answer. “You may very well be. Do not cross me on this measure.” “That isn‟t an answer.”

The marquess leaned forward, his eyes steady on Robert‟s. “If you were to tell her that marriage to her would almost certainly result in a vast loss of fortune, you would not be lying.” Robert hated his father in that moment. “I see.” “Do you?” “Yes.” And then almost as an afterthought, he added, “Sir.” It was the last time he addressed his father with that title of respect. Chapter 3 Tap. Tap tap tap. Victoria slammed awake, sitting bolt upright in the space of a second. “Victoria!” came the hissed whisper from her window. “Robert?” She crawled down the bed and peered out. “I need to talk with you. It‟s urgent.” Victoria glanced around the room, quickly judged that the household was fast asleep, and said, “Very well. Come in.” If Robert thought it was odd that she was inviting him into her roomsomething she had never before donehe did not mention it. He climbed through the window and sat down on her bed. Oddly he made no attempt to kiss her or pull her into his armshis usual methods of greeting her when they were alone. “Robert, what is wrong?” He didn‟t say anything at first, just stared out the window at the north star. She put her hand on his sleeve. “Robert?” “We must elope,” he said baldly. “What?” “I have analyzed the situation from every direction. There is no other solution.” Victoria touched his arm. He always approached life so scientifically, treating every decision as a problem to be solved. Falling in love with her was probably the only illogical thing he‟d ever done in his life, and it made her love him all the more. “What is wrong, Robert?” she asked softly. “My father has cut me off.” “Are you certain?” Robert looked into her eyes, stared into those fabulous blue depths, and then made a decision he wasn‟t proud of. “Yes,” he said, “I‟m certain,” neglecting to mention that his father had only said, “Almost certainly.” But he had to be sure. He didn‟t think it was possible, but what if Victoria really was more dazzled by the possessions than she was by the man? “Robert, that is unconscionable. How could a father do such a thing?” “Victoria, you must listen to me.” He grabbed her hands in his, clutching them with a ferocious intensity. “It doesn‟t matter. You are more important to me than the money. You are everything.” “But your birthright . . . How can I ask you to give that up?” “It is my choice to make, not yours, and I choose you.” Victoria felt tears stinging her eyes. She had never dreamed that she might cause Robert to lose so much. And she knew how important the respect of his father was to him. He had worked his whole life to impress him, always trying and always coming up just a little bit short. “You must promise me one thing.” she whispered. “Anything, Torie. You know I would do anything for you.” “You must promise me that you will try to make amends with your father after the marriage. I—” She swallowed, hardly able to believe that she was putting a condition on her acceptance of his proposal. “I won‟t marry you unless you do. I couldn‟t live with myself knowing that I was the cause of your rift.” A strange expression crossed Robert‟s face. “Torie, he is most stubborn. He—” “I didn‟t say you have to succeed,” she said quickly. “Just that you have to try.” Robert lifted her hands to his lips. “Very well, my lady. I give you my vow.” She offered him a smile that pretended to be stern. “I‟m not „your lady‟ yet.” Robert only grinned and kissed her hand again. “I would leave with you tonight if I could,” he said, “but I will need a bit of time to amass some funds and supplies. I don‟t intend to drag you across the countryside with nothing but the clothes on our backs.” She touched his cheek. “You‟re such a planner.” “I don‟t like leaving anything to chance.” “I know. It‟s one of the things I love best about you.” She smiled sheepishly. “I‟m forever forgetting things. When my mother was alive she always said that I would forget my head if I weren‟t in possession of a neck.” That prompted a smile. Robert said, “I‟m glad you have a neck. I‟m rather fond of it.” “Don‟t be silly,” she said. “I was merely trying to say that it is nice to know that I‟ll have you to keep my life in order.” He leaned forward and brushed the gentlest of kisses on her lips. “It‟s all I want to do. Just keep you happy.” Victoria looked up at him with damp eyes and curled her face into the crook of his shoulder. Robert let his chin rest on the top of her head. “Can you be ready in three days time?” Victoria nodded, and they spent the next hour making plans. * * * Robert shivered against the night wind, checking his pocket watch for what must have been the twentieth time. Victoria was five minutes late. Nothing to be alarmed about; she was terribly disorganized and was frequently five or ten minutes late for their outings. But this was no ordinary outing. Robert had planned their elopement to the last detail. He‟d taken his curricle from his father‟s stables. He would have preferred a more practical vehicle for the long journey to Scotland, but the curricle belonged to him, not his father, and Robert didn‟t want to feel beholden. Victoria was to meet him here, at the end of the road leading to her cottage. They had decided that she would have to slip out on her own. It would be far too noisy if Robert drove the curricle to her house, and he didn‟t want to leave it unattended. It would only take five minutes for Victoria to make her way to him, and the area had always been quite safe. But damn it, where was she? * * * Victoria scanned her room, checking for any last item she might have missed. She was running late. Robert expected her five minutes ago, but at the last minute she

decided that she might need a warmer dress, so she had to repack her bag. It wasn‟t every day a young woman left home in the middle of the night. She ought to at least be certain that she packed the right belongings. The miniature! Victoria smacked herself on her forehead as she realized that she couldn‟t possibly leave without the small painting of her mother. Mrs. Lyndon had had two done, and Mr. Lyndon had always said that Victoria and Ellie would each take one when they married so they would never forget their mother. They were tiny paintings; Victoria‟s fit in the palm of her hand. Still clutching her satchel, Victoria tiptoed out of her room and into the hall. She made her way to the sitting room, silently crossing the rug to the end table where the small portrait sat. She snatched it up, stuffed it into her bag, and then turned around to go back to her room, where she planned to leave through the window. But as she turned, her bag connected with a brass lamp, sending it crashing to the floor. Within seconds the Reverend Mr. Lyndon came storming through the doorway. “What the devil is going on here?” His eyes took in Victoria, who was frozen with fright in the middle of the sitting room. “Why are you awake, Victoria? And why are you dressed?” “I ... I ...” Victoria shook with fear, unable to force a word from her mouth. The vicar spied her bag. “What is that?” In two steps he crossed the room and snatched it from her. He yanked out clothing, a Bible. . . . And then his hand rested on the miniature. “You‟re running away,” he whispered. He looked up at her, staring at her as if he could not believe that one of his daughters would possibly disobey him. “You‟re running away with that man.” “No, Papa!” she cried. “No!” But she had never been a very good liar. “By God!” Mr. Lyndon shouted. “You‟ll think twice before you disobey me again.” “Papa, I—” Victoria couldn‟t finish the sentence, for her father‟s hand had come across her face with such blinding force that she was knocked to the ground. When she looked up she saw Ellie, standing motionless in the doorway, her expression petrified. Victoria shot her sister an entreating look. Ellie cleared her throat. “Papa,” she said in a gentling tone. “Is something amiss?” “Your sister has chosen to disobey me,” he snarled. “Now she will learn the consequences.” Ellie cleared her throat again, as if that were the only way she could summon the courage to speak. “Papa, I‟m sure there has been a grave misunderstanding. Why don‟t I take Victoria to her room?” “Silence!” Neither girl made a sound. After an interminable pause, the vicar grabbed Victoria‟s arm and roughly hauled her to her feet. “You,” he said with a vicious yank, “are not going anywhere tonight.” He dragged her into her room and shoved her onto her bed. Ellie followed fearfully behind, hovering in the corner of Victoria‟s chamber. Mr. Lyndon poked his finger at Victoria‟s shoulder and growled, “Do not move.” He took a few steps toward the door, and that was all the time Victoria needed to make a mad dash for the open window. But the vicar was fast, and his strength was fueled by rage. He threw her back down on the bed, giving her face another vicious slap. “Eleanor!” he barked. “Get me a sheet.” Ellie blinked. “I-I beg your pardon?” “A sheet!” he bellowed. “Yes, Papa,” she said, scurrying off to the linen closet. In a few seconds she emerged, carrying a clean white sheet. She handed it to her father, who then began to methodically tear it into long strips. He bound Victoria‟s ankles together, then tied her hands in front of her. “There,” he said, surveying his handiwork. “She won‟t be going anywhere this evening.” Victoria stared at him mutinously. “I hate you,” she said in a low voice. “I will hate you forever for doing this.” Her father shook his head. “You‟ll thank me someday.” “No. I won‟t.” Victoria swallowed, trying to work the quiver out of her voice. “I used to think that you were second only to God, that you were all that was good and pure and kind. But now Now I see that you are nothing but a small man with a small mind.” Mr. Lyndon shook with rage, and he raised his hand to strike her again. But at the last moment he brought it back down to his side. Ellie, who‟d been chewing on her lower lip in the corner, stepped timidly forward and said, “She‟ll catch a chill, Papa. Just let me cover her.” She pulled the blankets up over Victoria‟s shaking body, leaning down to whisper, “I‟m so sorry.” Victoria shot her sister a grateful look, and then rolled herself over so she was facing the wall. She didn‟t want to give her father the satisfaction of seeing her cry. Ellie sat on the edge of the bed and looked up at their father with what she hoped was a gentle expression. “I‟ll just sit with her, if you don‟t mind. I don‟t think she should be alone just now.” Mr. Lyndon‟s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Oh, you‟d like that, wouldn‟t you?” he said. “I‟ll not leave you to untie her and let her run off to that lying bastard.” He yanked on Ellie‟s arm and pulled her to her feet. “As if he would ever marry her,” he added, shooting a scathing glance at his elder daughter. Then he pulled Ellie from the room and proceeded to tie her up, too. * * * “Goddamn it,” Robert bit out. “Where the hell is she?” Victoria was now more than an hour late. Robert imagined her raped, beaten, killedall of which were extremely unlikely to have occurred on her short walk down the road, but his heart was still icy with fear. Finally he decided to throw caution to the wind, and he left his curricle and belongings unattended as he ran up the road to her house. The windows were dark, and he crept alongside the outer wall to her window. It was open, its curtains ruffling gently in the breeze. A sick sensation formed in his stomach as he leaned forward. There, in the bed, was Victoria. She was facing away from him, but there was no mistaking that glorious black hair. Cozily bundled beneath her quilts, she appeared to be asleep. Robert sank to the ground, landing in a silent heap. Asleep. She‟d gone to bed and left him waiting in the night. She hadn‟t even sent a note. He felt something turn in his gut as he realized that his father must have been right all along. Victoria had decided that he wasn‟t such a catch without his money and title. He thought about the way she‟d pleaded with him to make amends with his father—amends that would surely result in the restoration of his fortune. He thought she‟d asked that out of concern for his well-being, but now he realized she‟d never been concerned with anyone‟s well-being but her own. He‟d given her his heart, his soul. And it wasn‟t enough. * * * Eighteen hours later, Victoria was racing through the woods. Her father had kept her prisoner through the night and morning and well into the afternoon. He had untied her with a stern lecture about behaving herself and honoring her father, but she let only twenty minutes go by before she climbed through her window and ran off. Robert was going to be frantic. Or furious. She didn‟t know which, and she was more than a little apprehensive about finding out. Castleford Manor came into view, and Victoria forced herself to slow down. She had never been to Robert‟s home; he had always come to call at her cottage. She realized now, after the marquess‟s vehement opposition to their betrothal, that Robert had been afraid his father would treat Victoria rudely. With a trembling hand she knocked on the door.

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