Cursed & cherished the d.., p.9
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       Cursed & Cherished: The Duke's Wilful Wife, p.9

         Part #2 of Love's Second Chance series by Bree Wolf
 

  “Well, right now you are,” her husband snapped, again advancing on her. “Why do you insist on such a childish behaviour?”

  “Childish behaviour?” Glaring at him, Anna almost jumped to her feet. “Wasn’t it you who ran because I refused to agree to whatever strikes your fancy?”

  Towering over her, he hissed, “Strikes my fancy? Is polite conversation really too much to ask? And might I remind you that you ran as well?” He exhaled through his nose. “You should have stayed at Brookestone!”

  Anna’s eyes narrowed. “Didn’t you just agree that I had every right to leave? And didn’t you just apologise for leaving yourself?”

  His jaw clenched. “Well, I didn’t mean it,” he snapped. “Your stubborn insistence on this childish behaviour,” as she opened her mouth, he lifted a hand to stop her, “is most inconvenient for me. In order to talk to my wife, I had to travel all the way to town.”

  Feeling the heat burn in her cheeks, Anna fixed her husband with an angry stare. “Well, marrying you was most inconvenient for me as well! I guess we each put the other out in some way. Now, unfortunately, we have to live with it!”

  ***

  “Is this your idea of our future?” Edmond demanded as the heat burned through his body. His hands balled into fists to keep from shaking with anger. “No matter what, do you intend to simply reject every attempt at mending our relationship?”

  Again she shook her head, and her scarlet curls danced over her bare shoulders. “There is no way to mend a relationship that never was to begin with! You should have thought of this before agreeing to this bargain!” She took a deep breath, and he saw her shake as renewed anger surged through her. “Keep this!” she snapped, flinging the box at his head. “You cannot buy me!”

  Barely ducking out of the way, Edmond stared as the small box landed in the dancing flames and was immediately set ablaze. “Are you insane, woman!” He stormed toward her, grabbing her by the shoulders. “How dare you?”

  “Me?” As she glared at him, her eyes usually a sparkling green were aflame as well. “Jewellery means nothing to me. You cannot buy me for so little a price.”

  “Little? They cost a fortune!”

  “I was not speaking of monetary value,” his wife spat. “But naturally, it is the only thing of any value to you.” Trying to shake him off, she glared at him. “Let go of me!”

  He ignored her. “I do not need to buy you,” he hissed. “You’re already mine.” His gaze travelled over her face and then down her frame. With satisfaction he watched her eyes widen at the implication in his words as well as his scrutinising look. As his left hand cupped her face, his right slid lower, encircling her waist.

  Instantly, her hands came up, bracing themselves against his chest. “Let go of me!” she insisted, but her voice trembled.

  “What will you do if I don’t?”

  For a second her eyes shifted to the side as though an idea had surfaced; however as she turned back to look at him, he could see that whatever it had been she had disregarded it. “You have no right−”

  “I do,” he cut her off. “I have every right. As I said before, you are mine.”

  “How dare you?” she asked, taking a deep breath, but her body was shaking as she spoke. “You may have bought my hand, but everything else is mine to give.” He could see fear in her eyes, and his resolve wavered. “You cannot possess me without my consent. If you try to go against my will, you will set your feet on a path from where there is no turning back.”

  For a long moment, he looked into her eyes, feeling her body tremble under his hands, her own still pressed against his chest. He wanted her, badly; he knew that. But he also knew that he wanted more than just her body. He wanted her to welcome him. If he took her now against her will, he knew she never would.

  And so he released her.

  Instantly, she backed up a few steps, arms wrapped around herself, for the moment too shaken to speak.

  “I apologise, my lady,” Edmond said, feeling guilt flood his heart at the terrified look in her eyes. “That was out of place.”

  Eyes fixed on the ground, she nodded.

  “We should head home,” he said, and her eyes snapped up.

  “Home?” she whispered.

  “This is your parents’ house,” he said, eyes sweeping over the room. “I have my own house here in London. If you truly wish to stay in town, we will take up residence there. At least for a while. Would you like that?”

  For a moment, he thought he saw the will to fight him in her eyes, but then she simply nodded. “Yes, I would.”

  Releasing a breath, Edmond wasn’t aware he’d been holding, he offered his arm to his wife, and, to his utter surprise, she took it.

  Chapter Sixteen − Being Polite

  Barely sleeping a wink, Anna went down to breakfast. Finding her husband seated at the table, she sat down as well. He looked up from the paper then. “Good morning. How did you sleep?”

  “Not well,” Anna muttered, wrapping her hands around the warm cup of tea. Inhaling its scent, she took a sip, savouring its aroma.

  At her answer, her husband’s brows rose up, and he nodded. “Perfect. So let’s be frank. Whether we like it or not, we are married. I think we can both agree on that.” He looked at her with a questioning look in his eyes, and she nodded in affirmation. “Good. Well, then the only options we have are divorce,” he stopped and his eyes seemed to be searching her face, “or the continuation of our marriage. Again I’ll be frank, do you want a divorce?”

  Taking a deep breath, Anna shook her head. A divorce would destroy her life more than he ever could, and he knew that.

  “Good, neither do I.” He leaned forward. “Then the question remains, how will we continue our marriage?” He looked at her, waiting for her reply. When she remained silent, he added, “I am actually asking you. What do you want? Is it truly your wish for us to be enemies?”

  Her behaviour dragged out into the light of day, Anna suddenly felt foolish. And yet she couldn’t bring herself to raise the flag of truce. There was something about him that seemed to bait her no matter what he said. Was he serious? Or was it just a trick?

  So instead of answering his, Anna returned the question. “What about you? What do you want, my lord?”

  He smiled then, and for once his smile seemed genuine. Anna only wished she knew if it truly was. “I do not want us to be enemies, but allies instead. I want us to like each other,” his eyes never left hers, “maybe even learn to care about each other.”

  Although his voice sounded sincere, Anna’s jaw clenched.

  “You do not agree?” He sat back. “Not considering the means by which our marriage came to be, what makes you hate me so?”

  “You forced my hand,” Anna said, feeling renewed anger. “Because you couldn’t handle your own finances, I am now…”

  “What?”

  Shaking her head, Anna pushed back the chair and hastened out the door. Her footsteps echoed in her head as she sped down the hall. She knew she would never be able to tell him the real reason for her hatred of him! It would give him too much power over her. Again Henrietta’s words echoed through her head. No matter what, she must not show weakness!

  “Talk to me.” A hand closed around her arm, pulling her back. Coming face to face with her husband, Anna stared at him. How had he gotten here? She hadn’t even heard him coming.

  “Let go of me,” she insisted, feeling her own resolve weakening. Without strength she lifted her hands to push him away, but he would not release her, his blue eyes gentle as they searched her face.

  “Talk to me,” he repeated. His hand left her arm and settled under her chin, forcing her to look up at him.

  Only when his features blurred before her eyes did Anna realise that she was crying. Taking a deep breath, she shook her head, brushing his hand away as well as the tears streaming down her face. “I’ve said all that I intended. There is no more to speak of.”

  For a moment he looked sad
dened, and Anna felt the urge to comfort him. Then his eyes narrowed, however not in an angry but rather puzzled expression. “What are you afraid of?” he whispered.

  “Nothing!” Anna snapped. Unable to fight the unexpected surge of anger washing over her, she grabbed the small vase on the side table and hurled it at the wall. With a loud bang it shattered into a million pieces.

  Not looking shocked in the least, her husband merely nodded. “I have offered you all I could. If you truly are unwilling to cooperate, then there is nothing I can do.” With that, he turned and left.

  Dumbfounded, Anna stared after him, fresh tears streaming down her flushed cheeks.

  ***

  A week later, her hand resting on his arm, Anna allowed her husband to lead her up the stairs and into the stately manor of the Earl of Somercrest. Carriages lined up outside while the interior was filled with people dancing, gossiping and gambling. Crinkling her nose, Anna abandoned her husband’s side without a look back and headed for the garden parlour, knowing Henrietta would seek to leave behind the masses just as she did herself.

  As the crowd thinned and the noise subsided to a bearable level, Anna spotted her friend by the closed French doors leading out onto the terrace. To her surprise, she found her deep in conversation with Judith.

  When their eyes met, her sister beckoned her over, a deep smile on her face. “Anna, I am so glad you could come! I know how you detest these events, so I count myself very lucky indeed.” Pulling her into a tight embrace, Judith sighed. “It’s been too long.”

  “It has been,” Anna agreed, delighted with the happiness that shone in Judith’s eyes. “You look well.”

  “I am,” she beamed, then turned her head and scanned the room. “Where is your husband?”

  “I wouldn’t know.” Sighing, Anna turned to Henrietta, a quick smile on her face. “It is good to see you too.”

  Squeezing her hand in encouragement, Henrietta laughed. “Let’s consider ourselves fortunate that we have escaped the company of those lowly creatures for the time being.”

  While Anna smiled, a deep frown drew down Judith’s brows. “I hope you do not count my husband among those lowly creatures,” she said, shaking her head, the hint of a smile drawing up the corners of her mouth. Judith knew about Henrietta’s attitude toward the opposite sex and generally tried to dissuade her from it, only to fail every time.

  “Certainly not,” Henrietta assured her, although from the slight twitch in the corner of her mouth Anna could tell that she was lying. “Tonight my attention is focused on this lowly creature,” she said, nodding her head in the direction of the hall.

  When Anna turned her head, she found herself looking at her husband, who came strolling into the room, the earl’s young wife on his arm. Anna’s eyes narrowed as he leaned toward the woman by his side, his words unfortunately spoken too quietly for Anna to hear. In response how-ever, the Countess of Somercrest averted her eyes, a deep blush creeping up her cheeks, and giggled like a little girl.

  “Unbelievable,” Henrietta muttered next to her. “The nerve of that man!”

  “I do not know what you mean,” Judith objected. “He merely seemed to have told her something amusing.”

  Eyes widening, Henrietta shook her head. “My dear Judith, his behaviour is unacceptable. It proves the flaws in his character and his complete disregard for his wife’s sensitivities.”

  Drawing a deep breath, Anna forced a mask of indifference on her face. “I do not care what he does, Henrietta, so long as he leaves me to my own devices.”

  Glancing in his direction nonetheless, Anna found him venturing from lady to lady, an amusing story told here and a flattering compliment given there. Smiling and giggling at him, they almost trampled each other in order to keep his attention on themselves. Shaking her head, Anna remembered the occasional event she had attended before her marriage to the duke and seeing him in exactly this manner make his way through the room. Back then, she had pitied the poor creature who would one day become his wife. What a twisted sense of humour fate had!

  As her hands balled into fists, Anna had trouble containing her anger, at him, at herself…but mostly at him. Oh, how much she would love to slap this smug smile off his face right then and there!

  “That is so typical of men,” Henrietta muttered in disgust.

  Gritting her teeth, Anna hissed under her breath, “He’ll pay for this!”

  “Jealous?” came Judith’s delighted voice, a knowing smile playing on her lips.

  Shocked, Anna stared at her then cleared her throat and forced her hands to uncurl. “Not at all. Merely humiliated, Dear Sister.”

  “I see,” Judith said, but the glow in her eyes meant that she didn’t believe her.

  “May I have this dance, my lady?”

  Her head snapping back around, Anna found her husband standing before her, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. At the sight of him, her own eyes narrowed. Oh, how she wished she could tell him off!

  But Anna knew better than to cause a scene in public, and so she fought down her anger and focused on drawing in a deep breath, one after the other. All the while her husband stood before her, patiently waiting, that stupid grin never leaving his face.

  “My lady, has my offer rendered you speechless?” he chuckled, then without waiting for an answer whisked her away toward the dance floor.

  Standing up for a waltz, he drew her closer, the deep smile on his face betraying his delight with this new opportunity to put his hands on her.

  Anna fumed.

  “You look ravishing tonight, my lady.” He winked at her, then slid his hand a little farther down her back.

  Anna drew in a sharp breath, gritting her teeth at the harsh reply that wanted to fly from her lips. The only reason why she denied herself the satisfaction of putting him in his place was the fear that she might not be able to stop herself should he tease her further. Her hand already itched with the need to slap him!

  “I noticed you seemed quite desperate for my company.”

  Anna snorted. “Hardly.”

  “The way you observed me suggested otherwise.” He winked at her, and a deep smile curled up the corners of his mouth. “Was I mistaken?”

  “Indeed you were, my lord. I merely noticed the inappropriate behaviour displayed by you this evening. Although I can hardly say I am surprised, for as far as I am aware you have always been lacking in this regard.”

  Eyes opening in feigned shock, he shook his head. “I was merely being polite. Is it not customary to exchange pleasantries at these events? Please, if I am mistaken, do correct me!” A delighted smile played on his lips.

  “Do not pretend to be shocked by my observation, my lord, or feign ignorance as to why you gave affront,” Anna hissed, feeling her skin crawl as his hands on her tightened. Glaring up at him, she moved her feet out of place to the music and emphatically stepped on his toes.

  “Ouch!” he protested, then narrowed his eyes. “You did this on purpose,” he observed. “Have we resorted to physical means? Should I be looking out for vases flying at my head?”

  “Can you not ever be serious?” Anna snapped, stomping on his toes once more.

  Wincing, he laughed. “I try not to.”

  When the music ended, Anna smiled up at him. “This was delightful. We should do it again sometime.”

  Eyes narrowing, he held her close, lowering his lips to her ear. “Careful, little vixen. You’re playing with fire.” Then he lifted his head, his eyes burning into hers for a moment longer, and walked away.

  Watching him leave, Anna shivered.

  Chapter Seventeen − Insignificant and Worthless

  Trapped in a house with a woman who loathed the very sight of him, Edmond took to avoiding her. After all, it was not just any woman, but his wife. How had he gotten so entangled in something as simple as a marriage? He had chosen a bride and now everything should be settled. Only that it wasn’t. Far from it.

  Once again, Edmond found himself on
the road, not knowing where to go until Westmore came into sight. Entering his friend’s home, he hoped to escape the sound of angry silence and shattered artefacts at least for a little while. As much as he enjoyed teasing her, he knew that with every day they passed in this manner the chance grew slimmer and slimmer of them ever reconciling.

  “Edmond!” a melodious voice called, and he rose to greet his friend’s wife. Looking into Rosabel’s smiling face, Edmond marvelled at Graham’s good fortune. Their match had not been born out of love either, and yet today unconditional love shone in their eyes whenever they beheld each other.

  “Good day, I apologise for trespassing onto your hospitality once again.” Glancing past her, he added, “Is Graham not here?”

  Rosabel shook her head and beckoned him to sit. “He took Georgiana to town.” Her head indicated Lawrence standing in the doorway. “Can I offer you a refreshment?”

  “A cup of tea would be wonderful.” Absentmindedly, he rubbed his arms. “There certainly is a chill in the air these days.”

  Rosabel’s eyes narrowed.

  “What is it?” Edmond asked, starting to feel uncomfortable.

  “Why are you back here?” she asked bluntly.

  “Are you saying you want me to leave?”

  Eyes still fixed on his face, she smiled. “You know that that is not what I’m saying.” A delicate smile curved up her lips. “But I know you. You are trying to distract me with idle chit-chat.”

  “Distract you from what?” Edmond asked innocently, or at least he hoped he did. Although they had not grown up together, in the three years they had known each other, Rosabel had developed a distinct sense for the truthfulness of his words that usually only sisters possessed. In many ways, she reminded him of Leonora, the sister he had lost years before. And although he had expected to feel guilt over such a comparison, Edmond cherished the thought that in a way Leonora was still with him, returned to him in the form of a new sister. As annoying as her keen sense of his state of mind was at the moment.

 
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