“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—”
No parlour or kitchen, or dare I say it, chair that I could sit on in the meantime?”
“Miss Murphy is currently occupying the only parlour, my Lord, and has given strict orders not to be—”
“Ah, but I should not think she shall mind if I take tea with her; Miss Murphy and I are old acquaintances.”
“I’ll thank you to announce my arrival.” Vaughn grinned satisfactorily at the stuttering man.
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.
“Miss Murphy has stated that she is not expecting you and cannot possibly receive you without the proper warning.”
Think! Think, man!
“… some extremely important news which I cannot possibly wait to impart to her.”
Vaughn held up his hand, silencing the butler at once. “Personally.”
“You may enter, my Lord,” he announced, rather reluctantly.
The image made her heart beat a trifle too fast for her liking.
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.
He looked every inch a Viscount, as per usual, in a tailored morning suit which seemed to accentuate his athletic form.
“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…
She struggled briefly for an appropriate description of their… encounters.
“—after you’ve treated me in such a manner?!”
“And what manner would that be?”
“Must you insist on embarrassing me every time we meet, my Lord?”
His tone was defensive, yet mockingly so.
“You may sit down, by the way.”
“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.”
“Always so aggressive, aren’t you?”
“And with good reason!” Estelle countered.
“Reading, were you?”
“I…well yes, I was, but—”
“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.”
“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.”
Vaughn questioned, bewildered.
“You find passionate, all-consuming love tedious?”
“Then you don’t think they feel genuinely for each other?”
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.”
“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.”
“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!”
How far would you go to get what you want?”
“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.
This wicked, cunning, charming, elegant, eloquent beast of a man.
The handle on the door creaked.
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.
Her eyes immediately fixing on his mock-casual stance against a bookcase (on which he had leaned back upon a mere millisecond before).
“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.”
How many unsuspecting women had he used that one on?
“Oh, my Lord, you are too much!”
“There’s no need to apologise, Miss Harrington. It was my fault entirely. I admit that I was inspecting your book collection.”
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.
“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!”
“Oh but… won’t you stay for tea, my Lord?” Marielle rushed.
“No, No, I couldn’t possibly—”
“We understand, my Lord,” she cut in before Marielle’s desperation became embarrassingly obvious. “You must go, of course.”
Estelle ignored the way he tried to catch her eye on his exit.
“Oh, what a burden it is to be so in demand, Estellise! These gentlemen are all so tiring.”
“Tell me about it.”