Chapter 5

“If you would just let me wait—”

“Miss Harrington is not in, my Lord, I have told you—”

“And I have told you that I do not mind waiting—”

“Pardon, my Lord, but you cannot wait—”

“Are you telling me that there is nowhere I could wait for her?

No parlour or kitchen, or dare I say it, chair that I could sit on in the meantime?”

The butler sniffed.

“Miss Murphy is currently occupying the only parlour, my Lord, and has given strict orders not to be—”

The Viscount verbally jumped on the butler’s slip.

“Ah, but I should not think she shall mind if I take tea with her; Miss Murphy and I are old acquaintances.”

“My Lord—”

“I’ll thank you to announce my arrival.” Vaughn grinned satisfactorily at the stuttering man.

“I…but…”

The butler resigned himself, begrudgingly, to a losing battle.

“Very good, my Lord.”

Vaughn leaned against the wall as the butler disappeared through a door. There was a feminine muttering from within the room, and Vaughn could have sworn a book was dropped onto the floor in haste to stand up.

However, following the re-emergence of the butler, the door to the parlour was closed shortly after him (to Vaughn’s annoyance).

“Miss Murphy has stated that she is not expecting you and cannot possibly receive you without the proper warning.”

“Well, give my deepest, heartfelt apologies to her before stating that I have…”

Think! Think, man!

“… some extremely important news which I cannot possibly wait to impart to her.”

“Well, my Lord, I can—”

Vaughn held up his hand, silencing the butler at once. “Personally.

The Butler eyed him warily before returning to the parlour. Vaughn resumed his position against the wall. There was more feminine muttering and then a long pause.

The Butler once more appeared.

“You may enter, my Lord,” he announced, rather reluctantly.

Estelle doubted she had ever been so nervous in all of her life. She half expected him to come in and pounce on her, claws outstretched like the beast he was.

The image made her heart beat a trifle too fast for her liking.

Memories of the night before were still swimming in her head – the whispered words, the forbidden friction of his lips on hers… Why was he here?! It was enough to drive a girl mad.

Perhaps she had gone insane, letting him enter when his presence in this house broke every rule of propriety she knew. What was she thinking!?

The plain fact was, she really wasn’t thinking at all.

When he entered, she regarded him with a mask of indifference, as if meeting him for the first time.

He smirked.

“Miss Murphy.”

Estelle looked on with wariness.

He looked every inch a Viscount, as per usual, in a tailored morning suit which seemed to accentuate his athletic form.

“What are you doing here?”

“I thought I’d pay Miss Harrington a visit. Is that such a problem?”

“I daresay it is when you have been informed of her absence.  Not to mention the fact that I’ve told you to stay away from us both.”

“To be fair, you never said anything about staying away from your charge…

Only you.”

“And do you really think I would let you go anywhere near her after…”

She struggled briefly for an appropriate description of their… encounters.

“—after you’ve treated me in such a manner?!”

Vaughn smiled knowingly.

“And what manner would that be?”

She hated the fact that his grin widened at her silence.

“Must you insist on embarrassing me every time we meet, my Lord?”

Embarrassing you? I think that’s a little harsh.”

His tone was defensive, yet mockingly so.

“You may sit down, by the way.”

Estelle cleared her throat, crossing her arms moodily.

“I am aware of what I may and may not do in your company, my Lord. I simply choose not to become comfortable in your presence because it is absolutely pointless.”

Vaughn ‘tutted’.

“Always so aggressive, aren’t you?”

“And with good reason!” Estelle countered.

Vaughn bent to pick up the tome, splayed open on the floor.

“Reading, were you?”

“I…well yes, I was, but—”

“Your taste strays to Shakespeare, I see. Or is it simply romance that draws you?”

“I can assure you that I have absolutely no interest in romance, my Lord. It is the poetry that… ‘draws’ me, if you must know.”

“But surely the romance lies in the poetry.” Vaughn argued. “Surely, Shakespeare intended his verse to be interpreted as a means by which to convey the beauty and poetry of love…”

“What is your point?”

“My point is that, on some level, you enjoy the poetry because of its romantic subject matter. Therefore it is, in fact, the romance that draws you.”

“On the contrary, my Lord, I find the romance of Romeo and Juliet to be naïve and shallow, not to mention absolutely tedious.”

“Tedious?”

Vaughn questioned, bewildered.

“You find passionate, all-consuming love tedious?”

“I find it hasty and idealistic between children who do not know any better.”

“Then you don’t think they feel genuinely for each other?”

“I don’t think they have any idea of what love even is! Let alone what is genuine and what is not.”

Vaughn stared at her, disbelievingly. “So you think…what, that they simply assume their attraction to one another?”

“Attraction and love are two very different things! Of course they’re attracted to one another! That’s the premise for the superficiality of their relationship. It is plainly lust which fuels their attraction, not love.”

The Viscount took a step closer to her.

“But do you not think their love grows from lust? Do you not think it is the lust and attraction which allows them to learn of each other on a deeper level?”

“Indeed I do not! It merely serves to show that Romeo is a boy and Juliet is a girl and they want each other – and that’s the thing isn’t it? They’re selfish. They’re only out to satisfy what they think they need, what they want.”

Vaughn rolled his eyes.

“But Romeo marries her, for christ’s sake! And there is nothing selfish about that, believe me. No man in his right mind would marry before he was forced!”

“Well just think about it!

How far would you go to get what you want?”

Vaughn’s gaze darkened. His smile fell. And then he whispered something that made her remember exactly who he was, exactly where they were. Exactly what he was capable of.

“I wouldn’t need to go anywhere, Estelle. I take what I want.”

Estelle felt the depth of his words, felt their heat and their fire, knew the danger. She saw him lean in, felt herself losing the battle within herself to get away from this stranger who kept invading her dreams like a phantom.

As her eyes closed, flashes of warning danced before them, of Marielle, of propriety, of dignity and virtue and… everything else that had fallen away for this beast of a man.

This wicked, cunning, charming, elegant, eloquent beast of a man.

The last time they had kissed, it had been improper and entirely his doing. Yet now, Estelle felt herself wanting…something. It terrified her that she had no idea what it was.

The handle on the door creaked.

Marielle swept into the room, unannounced by the Butler who had obviously not expected the debutante to run into the parlour before him.

Her cheeks were delightfully flushed from the outside air, and her smile radiant, as always, ready to greet whichever man lay in wait for her.

“Lord Afonsine!” Marielle gushed.

Her eyes immediately fixing on his mock-casual stance against a bookcase (on which he had leaned back upon a mere millisecond before).

“Miss Harrington, what a pleasure it is to see your beautiful visage so early in the morning.”

“But my Lord, it is well past midday!”

“Perhaps, though I would say that your presence would brighten any room enough to confuse a man so.”

Estelle fought the urge to roll her eyes.

How many unsuspecting women had he used that one on?

Marielle seemed delighted with such mindless flattery. She blushed sweetly as Vaughn walked over to her.

“Oh, my Lord, you are too much!”

“Please sit down, my Lord. Forgive my chaperone for not inducing you to do so when you arrived.”

“There’s no need to apologise, Miss Harrington. It was my fault entirely. I admit that I was inspecting your book collection.”

“Oh, it is frightfully dull, isn’t it? Nothing but Shakespeare and books about history and astro… something or other. There’s nothing for a genteel woman like me to read. It’s all gobbledegook.”

Vaughn chuckled lightly. “Indeed. And no doubt Miss Murphy would agree?”

Estelle blinked in surprise, but Marielle answered before she had chance to form a response.

“Oh no, Estelle practically lives in this room, don’t you, Estelle? Can you believe it, she reads the silly things every day!”

The governess slouched further into the couch, as if to become part of the furniture. After all,  women who expressed interest in expanding their intellect in such a way were often labelled as blue-stockings…and deemed absolutely unsuitable for marriage.

“Tell me, Miss Harrington, how would you like to come as a guest to our annual house party tomorrow fortnight?”

For a moment, Marielle’s eyes seemed ready to pop right out from their sockets.

“W-Well, my Lord, this is… what a surprise this is!”

Estelle’s breath caught. If Marielle accepted that would mean…!

“Please do not look so alarmed, Miss Harrington. As I said, the party is annual; a tradition in fact. As per usual, my Mother has asked me to find and invite appealing company. You would be welcomed most warmly onto the guest list.”

“Oh, my Lord, that sounds wonderful! I would love to attend, of course!”

“Well, I regret that I must take my leave so soon, but duty calls, I’m afraid.”

“Oh but… won’t you stay for tea, my Lord?” Marielle rushed.

“No, No, I couldn’t possibly—”

But—!

Estelle jumped up.

“We understand, my Lord,” she cut in before Marielle’s desperation became embarrassingly obvious. “You must go, of course.”

He made his excuses again, said his goodbyes in good humour, and complimented Marielle about four times more before finally leaving the room.

The pair moved to the window, catching sight of Vaughn as he rounded the corner, out of sight.

Estelle ignored the way he tried to catch her eye on his exit.

Marielle sighed.

“Oh, what a burden it is to be so in demand, Estellise! These gentlemen are all so tiring.”

Estelle flopped back down onto the couch and released a sigh of her own.

Tell me about it.”

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6 responses to “Chapter 5

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