Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Jade Lee's Winning a Bride (Part 11) - Free Newsletter Serial


"What space is there in a ballroom? You need the open skies. You need…” Me. My home. My life. “You need to be here in Yorkshire for that.”

Catch up with Will and Josephine here >>


Chapter 11

Will hurt in every part of his body. But since he deserved the pain, he remained stoic as he sat on his tree root by the creek. He’d yelled at Josephine. Worse, he’d yelled at her in front of the entire village.

She hadn’t deserved it. Boys from the entire county had been coming to watch the canal construction. Nannies, mothers, workmen—any number of adults couldn’t prevent boys from being boys. And Tadd wasn’t the first child to go for an unintended swim.

But he’d been angry, hurt first by her engagement to the Scot, and then again by his mother. He was angry at his failure of a brother, but mostly, he was frustrated by his complete inability to make a difference in anything. He was useless. Which made it all the more vile that he had accused her of exactly that: being useless. He’d been bellowing at himself, but that didn’t help matters when he’d seemed to all the world to be angry at her.

He heard her arrive. He knew she would. They had been making this midnight assignation by the creek for so many years now that even his debacle couldn’t stop her from coming. One glance at her and his guilt tripled. Even those times when she’d been crippled by a migraine, she hadn’t looked so defeated. As if the life had been beaten out of her.

He’d done that to her, and he didn’t know how to make amends. After all, he knew the village still viewed her whole family as outsiders. And he’d just reinforced that in spades. He decided to begin with what little he could do, speaking before she even settled on her rock.

“I’m so sorry, Miss Josephine. I was wrong—”

“Don’t call me Josephine.”

“Uh. Sorry, miss.”

She released a heavy sigh. “You called me Jo and I… I’d like it if you kept calling me that.”

He blinked, then turned his gaze away from her moonlit form. “It’s not my place, miss. I was wrong and—”

“Oh stubble it, Will. We both know you do what you bloody well want, when you want. And you were right about the boys. You’re always right and I’m always…” She dropped heavily on the stone. “I’m always at loose ends.”

He almost laughed at that. They made an odd pair. She was a lady of leisure, and so she felt useless. He didn’t have enough hours in the day, and yet he felt equally unimportant. And they both had that gnawing restlessness that said louder than anything else: you are doing it wrong; something inside you is off. And yet for all his struggles, he knew no more than the day he’d first left school at sixteen, too poor to pay for the next term.

They sat in silence then, but unlike most nights, the quiet didn’t soothe him. Neither did he wish to pick at her. He had done enough damage today. So instead, he spoke quietly.

“Is it true? Do you intend to marry the Scot?”

“Yes.” Her voice was a low whisper. “The wedding will be in London during the Season.”

“So you love him, then.”

She turned to him, her eyes narrowed in confusion. “Love? Of course not. I barely know him.”

“Then why?”

She laughed, but the sound was bitter. “I forget sometimes that you have spent almost your whole life up here in Yorkshire. I am marrying him because he is a gentleman. And he is marrying me for my dowry. We get along well enough.” She looked back out at the creek. “He believes I need a hobby.”

He gaped at her. “A hobby. What hobby?”

She shrugged, her voice curt. “I don’t know. Stitching. Gardening. Fishing. He doesn’t care what it is so long as it occupies my time.”

“Do you want to do any of those things?”

“Of course not. If I did, I would be doing them already.” She pushed away from her rock and paced to the edge of the creek. A moment later, she was bending to untie her boots and take off her stockings. “But that’s just the point. I have no purpose. Nothing to occupy my time.” She sighed as she stepped into the creek far enough for the water to bubble over her ankles. “Except nearly killing Tadd.”

“He did that on his own. And you couldn’t have stopped him.”

She whipped around. “I bloody well could have! You said so! I should have watched him closer. We shouldn’t have gone—”

He bolted forward, grabbing her arms with a slight jerk. “Those boys have been at the canal every day since they arrived. With the nanny or without, it doesn’t matter. All boys sneak away and find us.”

She blinked, obviously startled, but not by his words. Her eyes were on his mouth, and as he watched, she wet her lips. A flash of dark pink, a shimmer of wetness on her lips. He felt heat from her body, and without conscious thought his hands gentled until they were a caress.

“You are another man’s fiancée.”

She nodded, a quick dip of her chin. “I know. But…”

She didn’t finish her words, so his mind created an answer of his own. “But he is a gentleman, and you long for something else. Someone rough like me.”

“I don’t know what I want.”

“Yes, you do. You want me.”

She didn’t deny it, but he saw the anguish in her eyes. “You said this was temporary. It doesn’t end the restlessness.”

“It doesn’t.” And yet holding her this close, he didn’t care. He wanted her in his arms. It was all he could do to keep himself from throwing her to the ground and taking her like the animal he was.

“I don’t know what is wrong with me,” she whispered.

He touched her cheek, his fingers curling around her jaw as his thumb brushed gently along her skin. She was so soft, so beautiful. “Nothing,” he rasped. “Nothing at all.”

“Liar,” she whispered. Her body was leaning toward him. He ought to resist, but he wasn’t that strong. The hand that he’d held on her shoulder slipped lower and back. Soon he was wrapping his arm around her waist and tugging her tighter against his groin.

“I’m not lying, Jo.” Her scent was drugging. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, imprinting her scent on his mind. And in that moment, a memory flashed through his mind. “Do you remember the first time we met here? By the creek?”

“I was restless. It had been so hot during the day, but I couldn’t sleep. And the trees seemed to be talking to me. I know that sounds ridiculous but—”

“I hear their whispers every night.”

She smiled and released a tight breath. “Megan was afraid of the woods. Still is, I think, but I love them.”

“It’s the quiet.”

She nodded. “But the land is filled with life. Scurrying animals, the hoot of an owl.”

“The crunch of the sticks beneath my boots and the gurgle of the water.”

“The rain cleans the air,” she whispered. “Which is silly because it makes the soil smell.”

“It makes the land fertile. Strong.”

She flashed him a smile. He could tell she understood. She felt the land as he did. She knew the call to be here, and just like that he knew what she needed. It came as a flash of insight, more felt than understood. But in that moment, he knew the truth about her. He knew what she needed, and it wasn’t his touch. And it certainly wasn’t some damned hobby. She needed a connection to the land to make her happy, and he had just the solution.

“Tomorrow, one o’clock, come to my home. Do you know where the castle is?”

“Of course I do, but that’s luncheon. Mama will be—”

“Make an excuse. It’s important, Jo. Promise me you’ll come.”

She smiled. “Of course I will. One o’clock.”

So simple, so easy. Did she know the excitement that showed in her eyes? Did she realize how close their bodies were? Meanwhile, his mind hopped back to what they’d been saying before.

“Do you remember that first night I saw you?” he rasped. He was speaking as a way of distracting himself, of slowing what he knew would happen eventually. But not just yet. He would hold onto his honor for a few moments more. “You were like a wild animal.”

“I was braying at the moon like a dog!” she said, and this close—still touching her face—he could feel the heat of her blush.

“You were so incredible, I wanted to capture you, to own you like a pet. And yet I knew to tame you would be to destroy you.”

She frowned at him. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Have you ever seen an eagle fly? It soars. On land it’s too large: unwieldy and ugly. It squats in the trees and makes the most god-awful sound. But the moment it launches into the air, it’s like you’re looking at an angel. You cannot imagine the width of its wings. There is grace in every stroke, and when it attacks, there is nothing deadlier in the skies.”

She tilted her head and frowned at him. “Are you comparing me to a fat, ugly eagle?”

He chuckled, and the vibration seemed to roll from his body into hers. He knew because he felt her tremble against his hands. “You were like an eaglet trying to launch into the sky. I could see the struggle in you, feel the frustration.” He dropped his forehead to hers. “I still do,” he said. “You are so close. I can feel it.”

“But I can’t fly.”

“You can. Sweet Jo, I know you can. You just need the space to run.”

She sighed. “That’s a rather mixed bag of poetry, especially for a dour Yorkshireman.”

He smiled at that, but she didn’t let him speak.

“But it’s just poetry, Will. It doesn’t apply to me.”

“And how do you know that? Because you couldn’t find yourself in London? What space is there in a ballroom? You need the open skies. You need…” Me. My home. My life. “You need to be here in Yorkshire for that.”

She shook her head once, her forehead rolling back and forth across his. “I need to get married and have children.”

“Is that what your mother says? What the Scot thinks?”

“It’s what everyone thinks.”

He touched her chin then, tilting her head up so that their mouths aligned. “They don’t matter, Jo. They don’t know you.”

“And you do?” she said, her breath a heated caress across his lips.

“Yes. God, yes, I do.” And then he kissed her. A press of his mouth, a sweep of his tongue, and the slow, steady possession of her body. He hadn’t intended it to be more than a kiss. He knew it was wrong. Even thinking of her was wrong, but she was in his arms. Her mouth was open and her tongue swept across his in a wild tease. He couldn’t have her. He couldn’t!

And yet, as he touched her face and invaded her mouth, he knew he would. It had been inevitable from the first moment she breached this haven five years ago. He would have her. Here. Tonight.

Then no matter whom she married, she would be his.




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