Chances and Circumstances – Chapter 4

Writing 0 No Comments

Veronica likes to hide in the garden, she always has… probably because she’s too curious for words and people tend to forget that they can be heard inside a hedge maze…

Three days passed, and Veronica told herself that the tears would stop soon, if only because she would soon cry all the tears she had inside of her and there would be none left. She reasoned with herself as she sat, curled up in a tiny hole in the hedges. She was sixteen years old, old enough to listen to herself when she told her silly eyes to stop watering. Her favorite hiding place as a child had apparently grown over after a couple years of neglect and no use. There used to be the perfectly sized alcove here, rounded branches creating a little green cave for a young girl to hide in. But either she had grown, or the bushes had, because now she was very tightly packed in the niche in the hedge.

There was a rustle of silks, and Veronica froze. Through the branches and leaves, she could see her Nurse looking for her.

“Miss Norwick, I know you’re out here!” Nurse’s voice was getting closer to Veronica’s hiding spot and she contemplated creeping down further in the hedgerow. She decided against it, since that would definitely give her away, and so she inched out a little. Nurse stood at the end of the path section but was facing the other way. She didn’t know where Veronica’s secret alcove was, but she’d know it soon enough if she bothered to look backwards. She took a few steps forward and moved in the opposite direction, calling for her young charge as she moved away from her. Stealthily, Veronica slid out of the hedge and pressed herself against the hedge for a moment, listening intently. She could hear her name being called, but the sound was drifting further away. She breathed a sigh of relief, and set off at a steady pace to the out edges of the maze. The side facing away from the house maintained some of it’s rambling wildness, instead of being conformed to the straight lanes and flowerbeds of the main garden area. She heard another set of shoes on the path behind her and stumbled backwards into a corner of the maze.

It was her brother and his friend. They had been trying to entreat her to join them at dinner the night before, but she’d declined, taking her meal in her rooms again. She wouldn’t eat with them yet, not until the tears stopped. They were quietly arguing about something, and Veronica’s curious nature overtook her. She ducked behind a wall of hedge and followed along, listening to them.

“-think she should be out here this late, it will be dark soon.” That was Lord Bradford, undoubtedly referring to Veronica. She thought it very strange that the young man who had once yelled at her and shamed her for her curiosity would be concerned about her welfare.

“Well, I don’t think you should be marrying that vile little snip!” Thom’s words took her aback before she realized they were having two conversations, of which she dearly hoped she was not the subject of the second. The outrage in Thom’s voice was rare.

“She’s not that bad, Thom,” Bradford said, resignedly. Their voices stopped moving down the path, and Veronica crouched down to peer through the branches. Two pairs of strong legs in breeches and knee high boots stood facing one another on the pathway on the other side of her hiding spot. They were facing off over this “snip”, whomever she was.

“She’s a damn gold-digger, Richard! You know that’s why she’s so game. Her mother is probably foaming at the mouth at the idea that you’re courting her daughter! But I’ve seen her, she doesn’t love you. She throws herself at every available male who makes more than two hundred a year!”

“I know that, Thom,” Bradford sounded tired, as if they’d had this argument before, “But show me one honest woman of good breeding in that awful city that isn’t after my name or money!”

“Dammit, man! See some sense! There ARE decent women out there! And why are you in such a hurry to be wed anyway? You’re not exactly over the hill!”

Bradford muttered something quietly that Veronica missed. It was impossible to miss Thom’s reaction, however.

“To hell with that! You’re still young and you have plenty of time before needing an heir! Hell’s teeth, Richard, you’re still practically young enough to be the heir yourself!”

Bradford said nothing, but there was a sharp clip of boots as he stalked off. Veronica wished she could see their faces, because she was sure that whatever expression the Earl had just displayed was enough to give even her thoughtless brother pause.

Swearing softly, Thom’s boots turned back and went towards the house, shouting, “Veronica, get back in the house!”

At first she’d thought that he’d heard or seen her, but no, he was merely shouting at her as he stalked back into the garden salon.

Veronica stepped back from her spot and straightened up. She wandered aimlessly for a few minutes, thinking, something her father had assured her was not really required by ladies of good taste. They were supposed to fill their days with frivolous doings and goings and not to question things (namely, the decisions made for them by their fathers and husbands) or weary their minds with endless pursuits of knowledge. She smiled grimly as she thought about the conversation she’d just overheard. Whomever the frightful lady in question was, Veronica felt that she almost pitied the poor creature. To be known as a flirt was probably bad enough, but to have a parental, and indeed, a societal expectation of it was so much the worse.

Veronica supposed she should be grateful that Papa had decided she would be eighteen before she would come out. She had bristled at his insistence that it would take that long for him to “train ladylike dignity and grace” into her, but now she was almost glad that she didn’t have to put up with simpering misses and postulating lords. Perhaps she could retire to a nearby cottage of sorts and live out her days in solitude and spinsterhood. She knew her brother loved her enough to never force her to marry and since it was unlikely that he would feel inclined to present her at a Season, she supposed that a quiet little cottage not far from here would do her quite well. As long as she didn’t have to wear anymore hated black! She giggled, a rusty sound that had not been heard in a very long time.

“Now that is a sound to relish,” came a quiet voice from the shadows nearby. Veronica started and realized that it had gotten darker as the sun went down and that she was now face to face with that dratted man, the Earl of Renmount.

“I’m sorry, my lord, I didn’t realize this area was occupied.” She dropped a graceful curtsy and silently thanked her father for the endless hours of practice. Bradford would not be able to tell tales on her being any less refined as those city ladies he clearly loved to hate.

“If you’ll excuse me, my lord,” she turned to go, but his voice stopped her.

“Wait, please, Miss Norwick, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have startled you. I… I meant what I said the other day, you know. I wasn’t just being placating.” His kindness stopped her and made her blink back more tears. Damn him!

“Thank you, my lord. Excuse me,” and she turned again. She was about five steps from him when she realized that she had something she was desperately wishing to ask him.

“Do you love her?” The words tumbled forth before she could think any wiser of it. Lord Bradford seemed just as surprised as she was at the question.

“Do I love her? Whom are you referring to, Miss Norwick?” The Earl eyed her carefully.

“The woman in Town that Thom is so worried about your marrying. Do you love her? Is that why you would wed her, knowing full well she does not return your affections?”

“No,” he said resolutely, “No, I do not love her. But she’s a lady, and I’m in need of an heir sooner or later, so why not? She’s attractive enough, I suppose,” he seemed to be speaking to himself now, “though not what I’d originally thought of when I thought to take a wife.”

“May I ask, my lord? What did you think of then?” Her curiosity was getting the better of her. She was in very real danger of upsetting him with her rampant questioning. He had certainly not shied away from shoving her off the last time she got curious. The vague remembrance of her girlish inquiries made her blush and she was grateful for the falling darkness. But rather than looking angry or displeased at her line of intrigue, he seemed contemplative. As if he’d considered not responding, then changed his mind.

“I had thought to offer for a lovely young lady that I have known for many years. She has always caught my attention in the limited time we’ve spent together.”

“So why don’t you, if you are already inclined toward her?”

“Because I’m fairly certain she hasn’t realized that I hold these feelings, much less have them herself.”

“Oh,” she was sorry she’d asked now. He seemed so sad, so resolutely sure that his perfect match didn’t want him. “I’m sorry for you, my lord. She is a foolish girl, to not realize when a man desires her.”

Somehow, his smile didn’t lighten the mood between them. If anything, it only served to make her very aware that they were alone in the almost darkness. She licked her suddenly dry lips. Would anyone know if she abated another of her curiosities?

“Yes, Miss Norwick? Was there something else you wished to ask?” His tone was light and teasing, and he stepped in a little closer, shortening the gap between them.

“My lord, I – Well, I don’t know that Thom told you, but… I have no intention of marrying.” This surprised him.

“And why not? You’re a fascinating young lady with a sizable dowry and a brother who loves you enough not to force you to wed against your wishes.” He seemed honestly confused. She tried to ignore the fact that he had summed up her situation quite clearly. It was harder to ignore the idea that he might find her fascinating. Instead, she pressed on.

“As it is, I have no interested parties, and no suitors at present. I shall have no intention of gaining one, either.” She steeled herself against her next words. “But I would like very much to know what it feels like to…” she turned away, suddenly feeling the weight of her question, and shame at her brazenness flooded her cheeks. “Oh never mind it!”

She turned and dashed to the house. He caught up with her before she got too far. Pulling her out of the light from the upstairs windows into a smaller crevice in the bushes, he smiled down at her. His hands were wrapped around her upper arms, rubbing them gently as if to ward off a chill.

“Please, do go on, Miss Norwick. I’m enraptured as to what your question might be.”

Her eyes filled with tears, her face flushed. She was cold and hot all at once. She had to say it. She would hate herself more than she hated this awful black gown if she didn’t try it at least once.

“My lord,” her eyes fell to her feet and she mumbled out the rest, “I want to be kissed.”

“But, my dear, what of your reputation?” He asked, suddenly serious. She looked up at him like he was an idiot.

“If I’m not going to marry, what difference does it make of my reputation?” She wrenched her arms from his grasp and took a step back. She was brought up short by the wall of branches behind her, and she suddenly wished to be back inside, in her room, on the other side of the locked bedroom door. Alone.

Liar, a tiny voice inside her head whispered, You don’t want to be anywhere but where you are now. Right here, with him. Lying to yourself won’t change that.

He brushed a soft hand across her hair where it feathered against the side of her face.

“And why me? Why ask me?”

“Because I know you well enough to know you won’t want to marry me, and you won’t use this as an excuse to trap me into something I don’t want either.”

“You barely know me,” his voice was low, his words soft and was he inching closer or was that her imagination?

“I know you’re a good man.” she whispered at him in the dark, “Too good a man to take advantage.”

“See? That just goes to show, you know nothing about me at all.” His lips were firm and warm and dry as they pressed into hers. She was taken off guard by how gentle they were. There was no roughness, just soft, gentle massaging of their lips together. Her mouth parted on a soft breath, and she felt him pull her into his arms. Hers went up to loop around his neck and she pressed herself against his solid body. He ground out something rough and heated in the back of his throat before slanting his mouth a little over hers and kissing her deeply. His tongue slipped out to tease at her mouth and dance across her own. She moaned softly, but was suddenly pressed firmly against the bushes behind them.

Her body shuddered at the sudden cold air between them. He was literally holding her at arm’s length, and she felt her lips tremble.

No! she thought fiercely, You asked for this. DO NOT CRY!

He pulled in a long, shuddering breath and then released her as if she were heated iron. She slumped back a little, catching her breath. She shivered, and he eyed her closely.

“You are a dangerous temptation, Miss Norwick,” he stated, still unsteady. Her chin shot up in challenge.

“And you are a rogue,” she stuck her tongue out at him, and he narrowed his eyes at her.

“Do not protrude that delicious little tongue at me, Veronica. You’re not too old for me to take over my knee!”

For some reason, the idea of him holding her across his lap and spanking her made her shiver again, this time from anticipation rather than cold. But she was properly chastised. She had asked him to kiss her and kiss her he most certainly did. She briefly wondered if all kisses were like that? If so, she couldn’t see why anyone would ever stop kissing!

“Good night, my lord, and… thank you.”

“Do not thank me, Veronica! That makes this so much worse.” He ground out, running a hand through his hair.

“I don’t know what you mean, my lord, but I should really be getting inside. Good night.”

“Sweet dreams,” he murmured as he let her turn and run for the house like the hounds of Hades were at her heels.

He hadn’t meant to kiss her like that. Hell, he hadn’t even been planning on actually kissing her. He’d just wanted her to ask him to. Then he would remind her that proper young ladies did not go about soliciting kisses from young men they hardly knew. But she was too sweet, and so innocent. She had blinked those big eyes up at him wonderingly and he’d fallen for it. He couldn’t resist the pull of her, and the chaste kiss he’d meant to bestow ignited when their lips touched. She was passion and fire embodied in a lithe young figure. He’d nearly lost it when she had pressed into him. Only her tiny sounds of rapture had managed to make it into his befuddled brain and he came to his senses. Unless he’d intended to compromise her fully, he had to stay away from her.

And what did she mean, she wasn’t going to get married?! What did she plan to do? Live in a a little hovel somewhere on her own? She had to be aware enough that Thom would, by necessity of needing an heir, eventually marry and his wife would then be the lady of the house, supplanting her current role.

She is sixteen years old, Richard reasoned with himself, heading back into the house, she is young, and will likely change her mind several times tonight, much less in the coming years. Once she is Out, she will see how her natural beauty and refreshing personality attract the attention of devoted young suitors and she will be all aflutter to be married.

Shaking off the sudden, ridiculous surge of jealousy that thought brought over him, he made his way to Thom’s study. There was sure to be a decanter in there, and something to take his mind off the tragic young woman in the garden was exactly what he needed.

Leave a Reply