Love Only Once Page 29

She left, and then Faith moved away as well, pretending a sudden interest in a painting across the room.

Reggie slipped off her husband’s lap and sat beside him. She wanted to move away from him entirely, but his arm over her shoulder kept her on the sofa.

“That was—”

“Shush,” he whispered. “And smile, love. We are being observed.” She smiled up at him tightly but her eyes cursed him anyway. He chuckled. “Is that the best you can do?” Then he said softly, “It was nothing, you know.”

She didn’t have to ask what he meant. “Of course not,” she retorted ironically.

“It really wasn’t. She made an attempt to seduce me and she failed. It was no more than that.”

“Oh, I believe you, my lord,” she said flatly, her voice icy. “I believe you because I have twice been told tonight that your ex-mistresses do not interest you once they fall into the ex-category. One of your former ladies assured me that you ‘never return for seconds.’ So I must believe it even when my eyes tell me differently.”

“You’re jealous.”

“Stuff!”

He grinned devilishly. “Your informant wasn’t totally correct, love. Were you the meal, I would return for seconds and thirds and gorge myself to death.”

“Oh!” she gasped. “I am in no mood to be quizzed, sir! Good night to you.” She shot to her feet before he could grab her and left the room. He let her go, smiling to himself. He was beginning to think Miriam’s gathering was going to be just what was needed to get his wife back.

Wouldn’t the old bird die to know she had helped him! His grin widened. His mood was becoming

positively buoyant.

Chapter 37

WARM sunlight spilled into the morning and breakfast rooms, both of which were thrown open to accommodate so many guests. On the long buffet were platters piled high with eggs; kippers; ham and sausage; an assortment of toast, muffins, and rolls; and six kinds of jellies. Hot chocolate was offered, and tea and coffee and clotted cream. Footmen refilled the platters as soon as they emptied.

It was early, and many were still asleep or had availed themselves of the well-stocked stable for a morning ride. Reggie was down because Thomas had awakened at dawn and, after feeding him, she hadn’t been able to sleep again. The Whatelys were at breakfast, as well as Pamela Ritchie and the Duke of Windfield. Reggie let their conversation move around her. She wasn’t keen to put on a cheerful face again. Brooding thoughts had followed her to bed last night and were still hounding her, Nicholas at the center of those thoughts.

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t known all along what type of man he was, but, devil take him, couldn’t he wait until returning to London before cavorting with another woman? Why was he at Silverley, anyway? She certainly hadn’t expected him to be. And that constant scowl of his was so unnerving.

She ought to leave, she knew that. Divorce was out of the question, but she didn’t have to live under the same roof with him. She could return to Haverston. Uncle Jason wouldn’t mind.

But she had no right to keep Thomas away from his father. And Tess had told her that Nicholas was visiting the nursery at least twice each day, shooing Tess out so he could be alone with his son. He did accept Thomas as his, it was just doubtful he would ever get around to acknowledging that to Reggie.

She sighed deeply. Hadn’t she once said it wouldn’t matter how her marriage turned out just so long as she didn’t have to go on hunting for a husband? How foolishly naive!

“My dear, you have a visitor,” Eleanor announced as she came into the room, Lord Dicken Barrett right behind her. “George—? Oh, dear. I don’t remember.”

“George Fowler,” Lord Barrett supplied.

“Oh, yes, Fowler,” Eleanor agreed. “Sayers put him in the waiting room, what with the house so full.” Sayers was standing in the doorway, and Reggie frowned to hide her surprise. She stood up. “The waiting room is no place for George. Put him in the library. It should be empty at this hour. And have tea sent in.” She dismissed Sayers with a nod, then turned to Eleanor. “You should have slept later, Ellie, if you’re still tired.”

“I’m fine, dear. We did have a late night of it, but I enjoyed myself.” Her eyes met Lord Barrett’s briefly.

“I’ll be wide-awake once I have my tea. Do you know your caller?”

“Yes,” Reggie replied. “But I can’t imagine what he’s doing here.”

“Well, you had best see to him. Dicken and I will just have a little something to eat before going on our ride.”

Eleanor, riding? Imagine! “I didn’t know you enjoyed riding, Ellie.”

“Oh, my, yes. But it’s so much nicer when you have someone along for company.” She leaned closer, adding, “You and Nicholas must try it.”

Reggie answered noncommittally and left the room.

George Fowler stood up the moment she entered the library, coming forward to bow over her hand.

She had forgotten what a pleasant-looking young man George was, with his mop of sandy brown curls and neatly trimmed mustache, his dark green eyes and well-cut figure. He was a little on the short side—no, not really. She mustn’t compare every man to her husband.

“I fear I’ve come at an inconvenient time,” he apologized. “The fellow who took my horse grumbled that there wasn’t room for even one more in your stable.”

“It’s a bit of a squeeze, but I am in no way inconvenienced.”

“But you have guests to attend—”

“Not at all,” she assured him. “This is my mother-in-law’s gathering, planned before we arrived. Mostly her friends—and my husband’s— and only a few are up at this hour. Do sit down, George.” They seated themselves facing each other. “You’re welcome to stay, too, if you like. You probably know most everyone here, and I’m sure we can find you a place for the night, if you don’t mind sharing a room.” He grinned happily. “I would accept, if I hadn’t already received a summons from my mum. She’s on holiday down in Brighton and I thought I would stop by to see you on the way, see how you’re getting on.”

Reggie smiled at him. He had gone far out of his way in order to see her. “It has been a long time, hasn’t it?” She opened the subject happily, remembering how charming he could be.

“A deuced long time,” he emphasized.

Hallie brought in tea, and Reggie poured.

“How is your mother, George?”

“As well as can be expected, considering her disposition.” He said this with a grimace, as if he expected quite a drubbing when he arrived in Brighton. “The whole family’s well. Speaking of family, I saw your Uncle Anthony at the club last week. He seemed in the boughs over something. Nearly came to blows with another fellow just for bumping into him.”

Reggie knew what that meant. A week ago would have been the time Anthony learned that Nicholas was back.

“Uncle Tony has his moods, though fortunately he doesn’t have them often.”

“And do you?” His expression was suddenly serious.

“Have moods, George? Don’t we all?”

“You don’t mind being buried out here in the country? I would perish within a week.”

“I love Silverley. I always did prefer the country—”

He seemed disappointed. “I thought perhaps you… weren’t happy here. One does hear things.” He coughed. Was he embarrassed?

“One should close his ears, then,” she chided. “I’m happy, George.” But she couldn’t look him in the eye.

“You’re sure?”

“She has told you so, Fowler,” Nicholas stated coldly from the doorway. “And since that is obviously what you came to find out, I shall appreciate your leaving.” Reggie jumped to her feet. “Nicholas!”

“That’s quite all right, Reggie,” George offered, standing.

“That’s Lady Montieth , old chap,” Nicholas said smoothly, eyes bright. “You will remember that, won’t you?”

Reggie was incredulous. “You don’t have to go, George, really you don’t.”

“Oh, but he does, I insist.” Nicholas then turned and bellowed into the hall. “Sayers! The gentleman is leaving.”

Reggie flushed crimson. “I’m sorry, George. There is no excuse for such rudeness.”

“Think nothing of it.” George bent over her hand, ignoring for a moment the indomitable man in the doorway. “It was a pleasure seeing you again, however briefly.” Reggie waited only two seconds after George slipped out of the room before she emitted a cry of rage, her cobalt eyes shooting sparks at Nicholas. “How dare you? Did I throw your whores out? Did I?” She barely paused for breath. “You are insufferable, sir, utterly!” she raged. “Is this another preposterous rule of yours? First you refuse to allow my family to visit here, and now my friends are not welcome!”

“I would not call an old love a friend,” he retorted.

“He was not an old love. And you are a fine one to talk, with four of your old loves sleeping in this house last night. Why, you were probably even with one of them—or more than one!”

“If you had shared my bed last night, you would know where I was.” Her mouth dropped open, then angrily snapped shut. Share his bed after she had caught him with another woman? He was annoying her on purpose. Well, he’d succeeded in rousing her fury.

She squared her shoulders. “Your disgraceful behavior has made up my mind for me, sir. I refuse to live another day with such a churlish boor. I am going home.”

That brought Nicholas up short. “This is your home, Regina.”

“It might have been, but you have made it intolerable.”

“You’re not leaving,” he stated flatly.

“You can’t stop me.”

“I can indeed do just that. See if I don’t!”

Silence followed. They glared at each other, and then Regina stalked out.

Nicholas’ shoulders drooped. Why the bloody hell had he lost his head like that? He had intended to coax her back to her old self, then woo her into his bed tonight. Everything could have been right by tomorrow. What the everlasting hell was the matter with him? She was right, his behavior was insufferable, and he didn’t even begin to understand it himself.

Chapter 38

THE door crashed open with a resounding bang. Reggie swung around from the vanity seat, brush still raised to her hair.

“What? No trunks packed yet?” he rasped.

Reggie slowly put her brush down. “You’re foxed, Nicholas.”

“Not quite, love. Just enough to realize I’ve been pounding my head against a stone wall for no reason.”

“You’re spouting gibberish.”

He shut the door, leaning against it, his amber eyes on her face. “Consider this. The house is mine. The room is mine. The wife is mine. I need no more license than that to take her to bed.”

“No arguing, love,” he broke in.

She warned frostily, “I think you had better leave before—”

“Will you scream, love? Bring the servants and guests running? They don’t dare intrude, you know. You will suffer from acute embarrassment tomorrow.”

He was smiling at her, the brute. “You will not have your way, Nicholas Eden.”

“But I will,” he corrected agreeably. “And let’s not have any hysterics.”

“When I get hysterical,” she said through gritted teeth, “you will know it.”

“Good of you to be so reasonable, love. Now, why don’t you take off that pretty thing you’re wearing?”

“Why don’t you go—”

“Madame!” he appeared shocked. “If you cannot be civil—”

“Nicholas!” Reggie shouted in frustration. “I am in no mood for nonsense.”

“Well, if you’re in a hurry, love, I will oblige you.” He started toward her, and she dashed around the large bed, putting it between them. He kept coming, moving around the bed now.

“Don’t come any closer.” Her voice rose with each word. But he did.

Reggie jumped onto the bed and rolled across it. She looked up to find him grinning. He was enjoying the chase.

“I want you out of here this second!” Her voice cracked with fury.

He stepped up onto the bed, bending to avoid being clobbered by the canopy, and she ran for the door.

The crashing sound of Nicholas jumping off the bed made her change direction. Behind the Queen Anne chaise longue was safer.

Nicholas went to the door, locked it, then put the key on the ledge over the door, well out of Reggie’s reach.

Reggie looked at the ledge she couldn’t possibly reach, then back at Nicholas. She grabbed a book from the table next to her and threw it at him. He nimbly sidestepped it, chuckling at her efforts, and removed his coat.

“If you persist, Nicholas, I swear I will scratch your eyes out!”

“You can try, love.” He smiled. He moved toward the chaise and pulled her out from behind it, holding her to him firmly.

“Nicho—”

His lips silenced her. A moment later he dropped her on the bed and pressed her against the mattress with his long body. His mouth devoured hers, leaving her no chance to breathe, let alone rail at him. Her fingers gripping his hair could not move his head, nor could her bucking dislodge him. She bit his lip, and he pulled back, grinning down at her.

“You don’t want to do that, love. How can I kiss you properly if you’ve taken a chunk out of my kisser?” She gave a vicious yank to his hair and he growled, “I should have plied you with wine again.

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