Chapter 7

“Oh do stop fidgeting, Estellise!”

Lady Marielle Harrington exclaimed.

“It’s only a little cleavage!”

The governess’s head shot up guiltily, her hands falling limply away from the neckline of her dress.

“Do you not think it just… a little too much?”

Marielle sighed.

“Estelle, that neckline is positively nunnish compared to some I’ve seen. Why, last week, Lady Harris donned a garment which was more akin to a handkerchief than a dress! You certainly have nothing to worry about.”

Estelle watched the debutante preen. Unlike her charge she knew she had nothing beautiful; feet that were not dainty, a bosom that was not large, legs that were too long…

How stupid she had been to think that tonight would be different! To think that tonight people might ask her name instead of merely asking for Marielle’s!

It doesn’t matter whether my neckline is lower, she thought miserably, or even that Marielle has lent me her perfume!  

Because no man had ever shown any interest in her, and she doubted they ever would.

She had but one real kiss for the whole of her life, and it hadn’t been out of tenderness or longing, it had been to bloody silence her.

Kissed out of sheer exasperation!

What a sad story she was!

Estelle’s thoughts drifted further toward the infuriating Viscount.

Why did he show up to her residence, claiming to visit Marielle when she knew it was simply a gesture to antagonise her?

To tease.

It was as if, as he grinned across the room at her when Marielle had not been looking, he was proving the power he had over women, over Marielle.

Over her.

Well, enough was enough! The next chance she got, Estelle vowed to confront him, ask him, demand from him the truth.

What did he want from her?

That evening, and another party was in full swing. The country mansion was absolutely swarming with eligible bachelors and debutantes alike, as well as the spinsters and chaperones who were paid to keep an eye on them both.

“… and it turns out she is pregnant, of all things! ” Liddy exclaimed. “They are to be married immediately, of course, and move before the month’s out! The girl’s life is ruined! All because of a night’s passion with her footman!”

Estelle shrugged. “Perhaps it is not entirely ruined, Liddy. After all, they might be in love.”

“But my dear girl, it is because of love that her life is ruined, don’t you see?”

Estelle regarded her old friend, besmused.

“I don’t understand what you mean, Liddy.”

“Well, just think about it. If it weren’t for love, she would never have broken class codes by talking to him in the first place. One day, she’ll look at her life and realise that love is no substitute for security and respect. By then it will be far too late.”

“I see your point. Well, perhaps it is time I look for Marielle…”

“Sit down and let her be, girl,” Liddy chided. “She’ll only be this age once, you know. I’m surprised you’re still worried, especially since Viscount Afonsine has made his intentions clear to you.”

Estelle froze.

“I-I-I… I don’t I don’t quite u-understand your… ”

Did Liddy know what had happened between her and the Viscount? But how? And what did she mean by ‘intentions’?

“My dear, I was merely referring to the visit he made to the Harrington residence today. I assume he intends to court her with your permission, for the gesture can be read as nothing else. Why, it is the talk of the ton.”

“Oh! Oh, right! Of course, well, I—”

“Stop right there. What on earth did you think I meant? What are you hiding?”

Estelle bit her lip.

“I-I’m not—”

Lord Afonsine!”

The crush parted just enough for Estelle to make out Lady Millerna Landgraab, bedecked in finery from her latest benefactor, attracting the Viscount’s attention from across the room.

Vaughn, even under-dressed in riding clothes, looked as piratical and charming as ever as he took Millerna’s hand and smiled slyly down at her.

Estelle suspected their relationship had, at one point, been fairly… personal.

As their hands lingered for a few moments more than was proper, Estelle began to think that perhaps it still was.

Estelle frowned with disapproval at the woman who had conducted more affairs with married men than Estelle had fingers and toes.

Indeed, she doubted that the blonde had any morality left at all in that perfectly proportioned body!

“That is Viscount Afonsine? Why, he is devilishly handsome,”  Liddy acquiesced, lightly, “Dangerously so.”

She regarded Estelle out of the corner of her eye.

“Would you not agree?”

“I… I couldn’t possibly say!”

Liddy chuckled under her breath.

“Who is that gentleman that has joined the Viscount and Lady Millerna, Liddy?”

“Lady Millerna’s younger brother; Charles Landgraab, Duke of Sunset Valley. An introvert, apparently. He’s only seen socialising with the Viscount, and rarely at that.”

“That’s… odd, for a Lord.”

“Rumour has it that he hates having women fawning over him. Supposedly he was to be married three years ago, but his fiancée died shortly before the wedding.”

How awful!”

“I heard it was a riding accident. Clearly he still blames himself.”

“How can you tell?”

Liddy sighed.

“Oh, darling, it’s all in his eyes.”

“So how does he know the Viscount?”

“Boyhood friends. Apparently, Lord Landgraab was the only person who could convince the Viscount to return from Barnacle Bay. They set up business together overseas. A very lucrative venture, so I hear.”

“But it is the Viscount that is a more salacious topic.

Gossip circles in Barnacle Bay call him a womaniser, a rogue, a rake; breaking hearts, stealing hearts, he owned them, then let go of them without a second thought…”

“His brother is renowned as well, however definitely not for the same reasons….”

Estelle leaned in, intrigued.

Vaughn has a brother?

But if she thought the learn more from Liddy, she was soon disappointed.

“Now, I hate to trouble you, but I suddenly feel terribly parched. Would you take the trouble to fetch an old widow a glass of champagne, before she continues spinning her gossip?”

As she headed upstairs, Estelle’s mind reeled over the new information. So Vaughn had a brother? Strange, that he had never mentioned him…

A furtive, bitter thought snaked through her head:

It’s not like he told you anything about himself in the first place…

It was only then, so wrapped up in her seasonal ponderings, that Estelle clumsily bumped into someone. Falling ungracefully into the stranger, Estelle felt two strong arms catch her waist.

She jumped at the contact, and stumbled immediately out of their embrace. “Ah! I’m so sorry, do excuse my clumsiness—” She gasped. “You again!”

“Is this how you apologise to everyone you smack into awkwardly?”

Estelle made to push him aside.

“I have already apologised to you, my Lord, now if you would just let me through—”

He didn’t budge. Instead he leaned back casually and smirked that hateful smirk.

“Where must you get to so hastily, chick? A secret rendezvous on the terrace, perhaps?”

Estelle’s mouth dropped open in indignation.

“Do not be ridiculous!”

The viscount’s gaze slid over the cut of her dress briefly.

“There is nothing ridiculous about it.”

To her horror, she reddened, then caught the eye of a lord passing in the hallway.

“I— will you please let me through! People are beginning to watch!”

Let them watch.”

Estelle blinked at the Viscount’s boldness. Again, she considered his motives. The media would have no hesitation painting a scandalous affair between a lowly governess and the Afonsine heir on the front page news.

Why, it would surely be the talk of the town for months, should they be caught!

On the other hand, her mind countered, maybe that was exactly what he wanted.

Maybe he wanted to get caught. Maybe Vaughn wanted to spit in the face of those who had revered him, to prove that he too contained undesirable traits.

Admittedly, it wasn’t exactly reasonable but it held a twisted ring of truth to it.

She could almost imagine him laughing at the aghast faces of his admiring public.

Surprise! Look everyone! I’m not as perfect as you thought I was!

I fooled you all!

His eyes took in her figure once again. Estelle regarded them warily when they returned to her own, darkened.

“I’ve never seen you in a dress like this before.”

“A-and? Since when did you see fit to concern yourself with my wardrobe?”

He flashed a lopsided smile. “I am only paying you a compliment, my dear.”

“Well don’t! Besides, you have only seen me three times in your entire life, and the first time it was dark; so pardon me if I do not—”

“Ah yes, I remember. We were alone at a rather droll soiree, weren’t we? Just like we are now.”

He pulled her against him, suddenly.

“Meet me by the staircase in ten minutes.” He muttered, low and soft near her ear.

But as she looked up at him, she saw the darkness, the danger and fire still lurking in his eyes, and she realised…

He had wanted her.

He still wanted her.

And the thought terrified her more than anything she had ever known.

After he had left, Estelle barged her way through the sea of bodies in front of her in order to get away and returned to where Liddy stood.

“Why, Estellise, you appear to be missing my drink!”

Estelle blinked at the aggravated widow before remembering her excuse for leaving in the first place.

“O-Oh, well… you see, they didn’t have any champagne left, and I know how you hate lemonade…”

She swallowed, her gaze straying to where the Viscount stood.

“I’ll have to go back and check… i-in ten minutes or so.”

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8 responses to “Chapter 7

  • kathleen

    Oh what a fantastic update! I really love Liddy, she seems to have a handle on what’s going on but also seems to be a good sort.

    • Becki

      Liddy is a real sweetheart, isn’t she? Hehe. Thanks for the support ~ I rushed this chapter a bit and thought the latter half of it was particularly bad quality! Next chap. will be better, I promise x

  • middletonlegacy

    Loving Liddy! She’s such a great person, and I love reading about her. I really like the atmosphere you’ve set on, you portray it really well. Can you maybe check out my new chapter if you have time? 🙂

  • Beth :)

    Poor Estelle, it’s horrible for Vaughn to mess around with her like that. I love the way you write Liddy, she seems very no-nonsense but in a nicer sort of way. Great chapter, I came here off the Theroux legacy which I loved as well 🙂

    • Becki

      Haha, I know, right? Is Vaughn sly, or what? But he does have his reasons…

      *cough* BACK STORY *cough*

      … but whether they’re justifiable will be up to you readers to decide!

  • Taina

    Poor Elle. He’s using her and if he wasn’t so damn hot I’d be pissed at him! no champagne huh? Ten minutes, huh?

    mmmhhhmmm….

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