Seduced by the Dandy Lion
Marianne poured another cup of tea and passed it to Martha, the parlor maid. As Martha delivered the cup, Marianne continued to play “mother.” The six ladies of the ton seated around the room had become her dearest friends and acquaintances. Vanessa, Lady Summersborne, immediately to her left sharing the settee and her best friend, had seen her through some truly difficult times. Having befriended her shortly after Drew’s disappearance, Vanessa had been there no matter what challenge had befallen Marianne. And her father-in-law had tried his best to appropriate her dowry. Vanessa had been there offering moral support and sage advice. Of course, Vanessa, at least eight years her senior and a widow, had greater knowledge of the ton and its hazards.
She handed another cup to her maid.
The door slammed open to admit a tall, broad-shouldered man with a wild mane of hair who stormed in like a lion about to corner his prey. Marianne’s gaze flew up to sapphirine eyes blazing with purpose. Her breathing hitched. The room fell silent as a church at Sunday service; not even a teacup tinged against its saucer. He ignored the other lionesses in his lair and focused exclusively on her.
Slowly Marianne became aware of someone calling her name.
“Marianne, Marianne, you are spilling the tea. You must be burning your fingers. Marianne.” Vanessa’s voice, soft but insistent, brought her back.
Sharp prickles of heat stabbed her fingertips as Marianne felt the hot tea running over the edge of the saucer, the cup already filled to overflowing. She reclaimed her purpose, hastily setting the cup down in the puddle now being absorbed by the once-white tea tray linens. Some of the tea had poured into the sugar bowl and creamer, the bowl a mass of dissolving cubes, the tainted cream overflowing its rim.
She calmly looked up into blue eyes that had turned from fierce to compassionate. “My lord, you have returned. Welcome home.” Gesturing to the maid, she added, “Martha, please remove the tea tray. I’m afraid I’ve made quite a mess of it.”
Martha lifted the tray and headed for the door which Marianne’s friend, Lady Mumsford or Alice as she’d been given permission to call her, hurried to open for burdened maid.
Then the real drama ensued.
Alice, turning away from her voluntary duty, glanced back at her. “I must be leaving, Marianne. I believe I’ve forgotten an important engagement.” She returned to a nearby seat to gather her belongings. With a respectful curtsy to the newly present earl, then to Marianne, she said softly, “My lord, my lady, good day,” and was gone.
In like manner, the other four ladies seated about the room made their departures in short order. Claiming various reasons most likely freshly fabricated due to the miraculous reappearance of the long-missing now Earl of Reignsfield, each made the proper curtsy and escaped.
Drew stood his ground at the center of the room, nodding to each departure but not letting his gaze leave Marianne’s face. Her gaze remained locked with his.
“Marianne,” came Vanessa’s voice quietly beside her, “I will call upon you in a day or two. It seems you have much to tend to here at the moment.” Vanessa rose, made her curtsies, then followed the others out silently closing the door behind her.
Marianne took a breath and swallowed hard, not about to relinquish her hard-won independence at this late date.
“So you’ve deigned to bless us with your presence once more, my lord.”
A rap came on the door and the butler entered. “Blevins, would you be so kind to bring a fresh tea service so I may serve the lord of the manor? Thank you very much.”
Returning her attention to her long-lost husband, she regathered her composure as she waved a hand toward a chair. “Would you care to sit down and tell me of your sojourn?”
Drew headed for the hearth where he placed an elbow on the mantel as if to pose for a portrait–The Lord in his Fine Youth.
Marianne’s gaze traveled from his fine leather Hessians up the cream-colored breeches that fit snugly to muscled legs that needed no padding, higher to a slim waist covered by a dark blue waistcoat shot with gold and a well-fitted cut-away jacket covering shoulders so broad she felt her mouth go dry.
The man once noted as the pre-eminent dandy of the ton was nowhere to be seen, not a ruffle in sight, his neckcloth simply but perfectly tied. The quizzing glass, too, failed to make an appearance despite the intense level with which he studied her. He simply stood by the fireplace as if he owned the place.
Which, of course, he did.
She surreptitiously twisted the ring on her left hand, her wedding ring, the one he himself had placed there almost four years ago.
Gone was the dandified man who had deserted her; this was an experienced male with golden skin, blazing midnight blue eyes, and rich, deep mahogany-colored hair flecked with red and blond streaks, the longer strands barely tethered back from his face in a leather thong, the shorter lengths dramatically framing a face with a strong jaw and high cheekbones currently set in determined resolution.
Her gaze met his once again. What should she say? Where should they start? How could they start anew now?