Swept Away By A Wild Lord – A Novella
The next afternoon, Anastacia attended the Countess of Bedford’s tea party. As it was quite a hot day, all of the guests gathered in the garden for the hope of a breeze. And, as it was also frowned upon for a young unmarried woman to attend any event unchaperoned, Anastacia had brought along a hired chaperone, one acting the part of a distant widowed relative. Luckily for her, nary one person took close note of her companion, except to see that one accompanied her. Not even during the previous evening were there any inquiries—at least certainly not enough to raise any valid questions.
Anastacia had never been partial to these sort of gatherings. For one, she preferred the dark brew of coffee. For another, they had always seemed rather pretentious to her, even in the country. They appeared to be more about rude gossip than sharing interesting stories. But today, she tolerated the quips of the elite for one reason and one reason alone: Lord Averly.
“—Did you see Lady Honoria’s hair?
—What is Miss Fairchild wearing?
—Never mind Miss Fairchild, Lady Constance has grown as fat as a pig!
Attempting to block out the titters around her, Anastacia knew this tea party provided the perfect opportunity to enter phase two of her plan for capturing the hand of the dashing lord. So far, her plan consisted of three phases. The first had been to catch his attention, which she already accomplished. Despite the unfortunate encounter with the Duke of Blackcress, who had almost ruined her carefully laid plans, Lord Averly had remained charmed by her presence.
With the first phase out of the way, Anastacia could now focus her attention on further enticing a marriage proposal from him with a funny remark here and there or perhaps a kiss to tempt him. Just enough to keep his interest. She wanted him to become enamored with her, so enthralled by her flattery that when she, in the third phase, appealed to his heroic side, the basic urge to rescue a damsel would compel him to save her.
No gentleman could resist the title of hero. Or so she hoped.
Of course, that still did not mean her plan would succeed. Too many variables depended on others, like her uncle. If he returned to the estate earlier than expected, he would find her missing and hunt her down. Or, God forbid, if someone inquired about her family tree and discovered her distant widowed aunt was no relative at all, but a seamstress who wished to earn an extra pound. Anastacia would be done for. But she was nothing if not thorough, with plans B, C, and D in her pocket. She had thought of everything, even the possibility that one of her uncle’s friends would see through her ruse and send word to him.
So far, however, Anastacia had been accepted back into society with no one questioning her presence. And why would they? There was nothing unusual about a lady joining the marriage mart, especially with an acceptable chaperone. But it was only a matter of time before news spread of her return to society or some busybody obsessed with social distinctions opened Debrett’s and began to tattle. Both options doomed her to a fate too terrible to contemplate.
Upon entering the parlor, Anastacia was greeted by the twins, Lord Henry and Lady Harriet, whom she had met years earlier.
“Lady Anastacia, it has been ages,” Lord Henry said with a warm smile, his sister following suit.
Anastacia returned their reception with a smile of her own. “Indeed, and yet you look no older than the last time I saw you,” she murmured, and they laughed merrily at her compliment.
From the corner of her eye, she spied Lord Averly through the connecting doors that led to the garden. Her smile broadened just a touch as she gazed up at Lord Henry.
Part of the second phase included a bit of competition. It was always good for a gentleman to see that a lady had plenty of suitors to choose from. That and Anastacia did not want to seem too desperate for Averly’s attention; such desperation could risk losing his interest altogether. So she pretended not to take note of him when he glanced her way.
Anastacia’s smile widened in delight, and Lord Henry blushed. “My lord, may I say you look quite dashing today.”
“Oh! It’s his new jacket,” Lady Harriet exclaimed. “I told him he would look smashing in royal blue.”
“Indeed, Lady Harriet,” Anastacia murmured. “The color brings out his eyes.”
At the compliment, the young lord returned her grin and captured her hand, placing a soft kiss on the back of her palm. To her further enjoyment, she glimpsed Lord Averly angle her way again.
The unexpected head of the Countess of Bedford, their hostess, suddenly popped into Anastacia’s line of vision. The woman’s keen eyes scrutinized her chaperone, her lips pulling into a thin smile before turning to Anastacia.
Something akin to dread feathered down her spine.
“Lady Anastacia, allow me to say how pleased I am you decided to attend, your uncle is a dear friend of my husband.”
“Come, let us take a turn about the garden,” the countess murmured, not sparing her other three guests even the slightest of glances.
Anastacia sent them an apologetic smile as Lady Bedford led her outside. She quickly considered what she knew of the woman. Not much, only that Lady Bedford enjoyed taking lovers, mostly young married men—or so it was rumored.
Her stomach constricted into a painful knot as a sudden thought occurred to her. If the countess was acquainted with her uncle, had she figured out Anastacia’s ruse? Did she know Anastacia had no such aunt? And would the countess send word to her uncle?
“How does Sheffield fair?” Lady Bedford asked, her eyes never straying from her guests.
An unpleasant taste formed in Anastacia’s mouth at the question. “Very well, though he regrets not being able to join me in London.”
“Yes, yes, he is an important man now.”
Anastacia only managed a nod. Like the previous night, warning bells rang loud in her head. She noted Lord Averly, who had taken notice of the interest that buzzed around her name at the attention of the countess. And she nearly sagged in relief when Averly made his way in their direction, a happy smile on his countenance as he bowed before them.
“Lady Bedford, Lady Anastacia, I daresay you are the most beautiful ladies in attendance.”
Anastacia felt her cheeks stain a pretty red.
The countess only harrumphed.
“I had hoped to steal Lady Anastacia away for a stroll down the garden paths,” he addressed the hostess directly. “They are quite magnificent.”
Anastacia glanced over to the Countess, who gave a curt nod and said, “Do give my regards to your uncle, Anastacia, when he returns to London.” And with those parting words, words that caused Anastacia’s heart to slam against her ribs, the countess took her leave from them.
Would she ever escape feeling as if the fingers of fear constantly gripped her throat, her belly, her soul?
She managed a smile for Lord Averly. “By all means, my lord, lead away.”
He placed her hand in the crook of his arm, leading her onward. “Have I mentioned how lovely you look, my lady?” he murmured with a wicked grin.
“Yes, but I thank you, all the same, my lord. You look quite dapper yourself. Blue seems to be the color of the season.” She batted her lashes up at him, and he chuckled, a rich sound she imagined had made many women swoon.
“No one has ever called me dapper before. I think I like it. As for fashion, perhaps green shall make a comeback next year,” Averly teased before continuing curiously, “So tell me, what brings a pretty lady to London so late in the season?”
Anastacia paused. She had not expected that question, not so soon. Not at all. The reason should be clear enough but she suspected, at least to others, with the season almost over, it may seem pointless to go husband hunting. However, it was still too soon to mention marriage in his company.
“Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from arriving earlier to enjoy the advantages of London this time of year, but I gathered a few weeks are better than none.” She glanced up at him, their eyes locking. “I could not bear to miss one more tea party.”
His head tilted back as he laughed, the action causing his blond hair to bounce. “Tea parties are all the more exciting since your arrival, Lady Anastacia. Needless to say, you did not miss much, except for the elopement of Lady Penelope, which caused quite the scandal.”
“She eloped with the son of a pirate much to the detriment of her father.”
A bubble of laughter ignited in her throat. “Oh dear, I suppose there are worse men to marry.”
They walked in silence for about ten paces before he suddenly halted and turned toward her, his eyes alight with interest. “I have a confession, my lady.”
“Oh? Will I be shocked by this admission?” she said, a slight smile teasing the corners of her mouth.
“I daresay you will.”
Anastacia held her breath as she glanced at him with all the expectancy of a small child. This was it: the defining moment of her future.
“You have intrigued me from the moment I met you at the Hamilton musical, and since then, I find myself overcome with deep affection for you.”
Oh, thank God.
“My lord, I do not know what to say. I myself find you intriguing and am quite overwhelmed, if I may say so, by unexpected adoration.”
They stared at one another for a wondrous moment before his gaze dropped to her lips, which parted at his perusal. It was happening. He would kiss her if she so wanted. And she wanted. Badly. Only, they stood in a garden filled with onlookers.
“I have a confession as well, my lord . . .” Anastacia said, pausing midsentence to dart her tongue over her lower lip. If they could not kiss, she could at least play coy and have some fun.
“Is that so?” Came his expectant reply, his eyes lighting with curiosity.
“I’m quite . . . parched,” she finished with a dazzling smile.
His head snapped up, and he groaned when he noted her amusement. “You are a merciless tease, Lady Anastacia.”
“Perhaps, but I remain a parched merciless tease, my lord.”
His grin matched hers when he said, “Remain here. I will fetch something to quench your thirst.”
“I shall not move from the spot.”
Anastacia watched him make his way to the refreshment table, her heart as light as a feather dancing on the wings of a gentle breeze. Her plan had worked! Of course, there was still the matter of the marriage proposal and persuading him to elope, but the hardest part had been accomplished.
Just then a shadow fell over her, and from the silhouette, a voice emitted, “Just when I believed it got interesting . . . him leaning into you, your lips parting in invitation . . . it all went down in flames.”
Anastacia groaned as the familiar voice seeped into her skin, her spine tingling with sudden awareness. Sure enough, a few feet away stood the annoying, much-too-handsome-for-his-own-good Duke of Blackcress with a wicked glint gleaming in his coal eyes.
“What are you doing here?” She had not meant to sound so snappish, or perhaps she had, but this rakish duke brought out the worst in her. She spared a quick glance to Lord Averly, who appeared to be waylaid by a group of giggling misses, and Blackcress chuckled.
“That is no way to speak to the man you lied to, now is it, Lady Anastacia?”
Want more? Get your copy on Amazon!