Virginia henley unmask.., p.7
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       Virginia Henley - Unmasked, p.7

           Virginia Henley
 

  "In theory, yes, dear boy. In practice, not a chance."

  "Why ever not?" he demanded aggressively.

  "I have made arrangements to sell Roehampton to Greysteel Montgomery, heir to the Earl of Eglinton."

  Chapter 6

  Early the next morning a footman arrived at Salisbury Court with a letter from the dowager's steward, Mr. Burke, telling Montgomery that she had reconsidered his offer to purchase Roehampton. After assessing its value, Lady Cavendish was asking one thousand pounds for the estate. If he wished the sale to be completed today and the deed registered in his name, he was to meet Burke and Lady Cavendish at the chambers of her lawyers, Benson and Wilcox, at the Inns of Court.

  Greysteel was elated at her change of heart and in his opinion the price was reasonable. He wondered what had occurred to make her change her mind, but decided to act upon the offer immediately. He scrib­bled a note of acceptance, saying he'd be at the Inns of Court at two o'clock, and gave it to the footman.

  Montgomery then went to the Temple and asked Samuel Lawson to make him out a draft for one thou­sand pounds.

  "Do you want this taken from your account, my lord, or do you wish to arrange a loan for the thou­sand?"

  "I'm buying Roehampton property—what's your recommendation?"

  "Under normal circumstances I would advise that you leave your capital intact and borrow the money. However, interest rates have shot sky-high and are climbing every day, so I do not recommend borrowing money at the moment."

  "Then I shall heed your advice. Did the cost of the war with Holland cause the rates to rise?"

  "Cromwell's treaty came too late. The navy failed to capture enough enemy ships to cover its costs. Spanish privateers ruined British trade." He lowered his voice confidentially. "The goldsmiths have done an account­ing and we estimate the government is over two mil­lion pounds in debt to us and we have decided not to extend them any more credit. Once we inform the government, all will be thrown into chaos."

  Montgomery took his money and returned to his of­fice. He'd garnered enough information from the gold­smith to write yet another report to Monck about the government's state of affairs.

  As well as being widely unpopular, the late Dutch war has been ruinously expensive to Cromwell's govern­ment. Despite the heavy taxation Cromwell imposed, there is a serious shortfall in revenue. The government is over two million pounds in debt, and its credit is virtu­ally nonexistent. Bluntly put, arrears of pay in the army and navy will continue to mount steadily. Cromwell has kept this hidden but will soon have to call a session of Parliament to authorize a massive increase in taxes.

  Montgomery sealed the letter and locked it in his desk drawer. Then he penned an almost identical let­ter to Charles Stuart, adding two paragraphs.

  “I urge Your Majesty and Chancellor Hyde to commu­nicate directly with General George Monck. If Cromwell's army starts to desert for lack of pay, the Pro­tector will no doubt order Monck to bring his Scottish force into England.

  I feel it is worth the risk to make Monck an honorable offer. Make it more advantageous for him to join forces with you than with the fanatic Cromwell. If he refuses your overture, you have lost nothing. If he accepts or even plays for time, you will have taken a giant step to­ward regaining England's throne.

  Montgomery sanded and sealed the letter. He would take it with him to the Inns of Court and prevail upon Mr. Burke to use his connections to get it across the Channel to Charles Stuart.

  From her bedchamber window, Velvet was sur­prised to see the countess, accompanied by Mr. Burke, enter her carriage. "At lunch, Christian didn't mention she was going out," Velvet remarked to Emma. "While she's away, I think I'll try that recipe for apricot face cream which Bess wrote down in her journal." The Bishopsgate garden boasted an apricot tree that had produced a bountiful crop. "If the autumn weather suddenly turns cold, the fruit will drop to the ground and be wasted."

  Velvet put on an apron to protect her dress and went out into the garden to gather some ripe apricots. She carried them into the stillroom and set them on the trestle table next to the flacon of glycerin and rose water she had made last week. The air was redolent with the fragrance of herbs that had been hung to dry and the lavender-scented beeswax candles that the kitchen maid had poured into molds yesterday. Velvet took a large wooden bowl and pestle from a shelf and then remembered that the recipe called for powdered starch. Since the laundry was next to the stillroom she took one step in that direction and was distracted by a shadow that fell across the doorway blocking the sun­light. She saw immediately that it was Christian's grandson. "Good afternoon, Lord Cavendish."

  "A good afternoon indeed." A grin spread across his handsome face as his warm glance roamed over her.

  Velvet felt slightly uneasy. "If you are looking for your grandmother, my lord, she and Mr. Burke left in the carriage."

  His grin widened as he drew closer. "Yes, I saw them leave." He picked up an apricot and bit into it. "Sweet and luscious." His eyes lingered on her mouth, dropped to her breasts and then lifted to meet hers. "Fruit, ripe for the plucking."

  She realized he meant her as he popped the golden fruit into his mouth and grabbed her. When she opened her lips to scream, his mouth came down on hers and she tasted the apricot. Though she struggled frantically, he was stronger than she expected and she had to endure the kiss until he released her. The mo­ment he did so, she jabbed her fist into his solar plexus and watched him swallow the fruit.

  "Oh, my lord, surely you are aware that the pit of the apricot is deadly poison?" she asked with great concern.

  Cav's hand flew to his throat. "I know the kernel in­side a peach stone is poisonous—Christ, does the apri­cot also have lethal properties?" He ran outside and vomited into the grass.

  Velvet slipped from the stillroom into the laundry, and then into the kitchen, where Cook and her assis­tants were preparing dinner and she knew she would be safe. She masked her agitation. "The guinea hens smell delicious. Would you show me how to make the special wine sauce that accompanies this dish?"

  Velvet was relieved that Christian returned in the late afternoon. When she joined the dowager for din­ner and saw that Cav was absent, she made up her mind to tell Lady Cavendish about the incident in the stillroom. Before she could speak, however, the young lord strolled into the dining room and took the chair next to hers.

  "There you are, Cav. I trust you were able to enter­tain yourself while left to your own devices this after­noon?" Christian inquired.

  "Yes, I can always find some little thing to amuse me."

  The soup was served and Christian waited until the servant left the dining room. "You'll be nineteen soon. It's time we started thinking of a suitable match for you."

  "I shan't be satisfied with just any heiress. Nothing less than a duke's daughter will be good enough for me."

  "Since you've been blessed with title, wealth and exceptional looks, I warrant you'll have your pick, my boy."

  He glanced sideways at Velvet and grinned when she blushed. Then he pressed his leg against hers and laughed when she flinched away from him.

  When the guinea hens were served, Velvet passed the gravy boat to Christian. "I helped to make the wine sauce this afternoon. I hope you like it."

  Cav drawled, "You are very wise to become domes­ticated. A woman of your age, without a dowry, is unlikely to marry well."

  "Nonsense, a lady with Velvet's beauty and breed­ing will have many offers."

  "Many offers indeed, but will any of them be for marriage?" Under cover of the table he slid his hand along her thigh.

  Velvet picked up her fork and surreptitiously jabbed it into his hand. "Lord Cavendish has a re­markably droll wit for an eighteen-year-old boy." She saw his eyes narrow dangerously.

  "I believe you are a match for him, my dear."

  When dinner was over, Will Cavendish went off to visit his friend Henry Killigrew, who was attending nearby Gresham College, and Velvet followed the d
owager countess into her favorite sitting room. She gathered her courage to broach the subject that was causing her a great deal of apprehension.

  "Christian, I hate to carry tales, but when you were out this afternoon, Cav followed me to the stillroom and made unwelcome advances toward me."

  "Advances?"

  "He ... he kissed me!"

  Christian began to laugh. "Oh, how amusing! The dear boy has developed an infatuation for you."

  "I didn't find it amusing. He frightened me."

  "Velvet, he's a boy! Surely you can handle a young man who is smitten with you. It's rather flattering, don't you think?"

  "My lady, young Lord Cavendish is spoiled and not used to being denied what he wants."

  "Precisely! A few setdowns from you will do him a world of good. I told you that you had an irresistible allure. Perhaps now you'll believe me, Velvet."

  After the dowager countess retired, Velvet went into the library to get a book. When her eyes fell on the desk with its paper and writing utensils it reminded her that she should send a letter to Minette. She almost sat down; then her instincts told her she didn't want to be found here alone in the library when Cav returned. She picked up paper, ink and a quill box and carried them upstairs to her chamber.

  Velvet wrote an amusing letter to her royal friend, telling her about her voyage across the Channel, the downpour that had drenched her when she arrived and her unnecessary apprehension about meeting the Dowager Countess of Devonshire. When she was fin­ished, she decided to write a letter to her father. She picked up the penknife and cut a fresh quill. She had dashed off a note to Antwerp telling her father that she had arrived safely, but now wanted to thank him prop­erly for allowing her to come home to England. She wondered if she should tell him that she was being courted by Robert Greysteel Montgomery. She smiled and knew she would keep the secret to herself for now.

  When she finally got into bed, Velvet lay awake a long time thinking about Greysteel. She relived the hours they had spent together at Roehampton, and re­called the fragrant hay and the hardness of his body when he had held her captive against him and kissed her. He had the widest shoulders she had ever seen and she remembered every vivid detail of how his muscles had rippled when he'd rowed her across the lake.

  Velvet drifted into a dream. She was back at Roehampton, watching a pair of swans glide toward her on the lake. When they got close she began to whisper to them. "I wish ..."

  "What do you wish, Velvet?" Greysteel's hands cupped her shoulders and drew her back against his powerful body.

  "I wish I had someone to hold me, and love me, and keep me safe forever." She felt his hand on her hair and his hard thighs brush against her bottom. Sud­denly, her body tensed, her eyes flew open, and she knew she was no longer dreaming. Someone was in bed with her, pressing against her, and she knew ex­actly who it was. She tried to scream, but his hand cov­ered her mouth.

  "Don't cry out. If we are caught in bed together, you will be labeled a whore. I'll say you lured me in here, hoping to become my mistress. Who do you think they'll believe?"

  She could smell whiskey and guessed that he was drunk. She thought of the penknife on the writing desk and wished she had put it beneath her pillow. She lay still, her muscles tense, knowing she must escape from the lecherous young swine.

  "If you promise to be quiet, I'll remove my hand."

  Velvet nodded slowly and drew in a deep quivering breath as she felt him withdraw his fingers from her lips. She knew that if she attempted to scream for help, he would subdue her and hurt her. Instinctively, she knew that she must help herself. She lay motionless and counted to ten, then flung the covers aside and catapulted from the bed.

  Uttering a foul curse, his cruel hands made a grab for her, catching hold of her nightgown and pulling her back to him.

  She fought him, and as her hands came into contact with his flesh she learned that he was naked. If he's naked, he's vulnerable! She brought up her knee and caught him in the groin. She heard a gurgling sound and as he doubled over, she felt her nightgown tear. Suddenly she was free. She bolted from the chamber and didn't stop until she reached Emma's room.

  She leaned back against the door to catch her breath.

  "Is that you, Velvet?"

  "Yes! May I sleep with you tonight, Emma?"

  "Of course, my love. Did you have a bad dream?"

  "Yes, it was a nightmare! No, no, don't light the can­dles, Emma. I'll be all right now." She wrapped her torn night rail about her and slipped into bed.

  Gradually her trembling ceased, but her thoughts darted about frantically, searching for a way to solve her dilemma. She believed that Christian would laugh at her fears. Indeed, she had already done so. And if it came to taking sides, it would be natural for Lady Cavendish to choose her grandson over a penniless relative. He would be excused because he was drunk, but she knew that if she remained here, sooner or later the vile swine would catch her alone and force her to submit to him.

  Vivid thoughts of her childhood came back to Velvet. Her earliest memories were lessons her father had drilled into her: Never show fear; it is a contemptible sign of weakness. She had soon learned to cover her fear with bravado. Timidity, anxiety, alarm and panic were other names for cowardice, according to her father. She was a Cavendish and pride must always take prece­dence over fright. He had laughed at her audacity and encouraged her to show defiance.

  Only her mother had known of the vulnerability she hid beneath the surface of her bold facade. When she sensed my dread of being betrothed she told me that Greysteel Montgomery's strength would keep me safe in the face of any peril.

  She thought of him now, and his powerful image eased her terror of the lewd young lout who had tried to ravish her. Velvet contemplated going to him in the morning. If she told Greysteel that Lord Cavendish had come to her bed, he would thrash him within an inch of his life. No, no, if you tell him such a thing, he will never want you for his wife!

  Velvet knew it was time to become a woman, yet she vowed it would not be lecherous Lord Cavendish who initiated her. Though she had pledged her heart and soul to Charles Stuart, she knew that there was only one other man whose touch she could tolerate. Perhaps I can tempt Greysteel into making love to me.... Perhaps he will still want to marry me.... Perhaps ...

  When daylight arrived Velvet knew that she could not proceed with the plans she had made in the dark­ness. She had far too much pride to go running to Montgomery and give herself to him in return for his protection. She was determined, however, not to re­main under the same roof as "Cav" for one more night and knew there was only one possible place where she could go.

  Velvet made sure that Emma accompanied her back to her bedchamber while she bathed and dressed. Then she told her what had happened. "I need your help, Emma. I'm going to Roehampton until Chris­tian's grandson returns home. Please pack me a bag and take it down to the carriage without anyone see­ing you."

  "I should come with you. A lady cannot travel alone without damaging her reputation."

  "Thank you, Emma. It's very brave of you. It means deceiving the dowager countess, which is a thankless thing for me to do, but I shall leave a letter of explana­tion in her chamber and hope she understands."

  Velvet penned her letter, waited until there were no servants about and slipped it into Christian's bed­chamber. Then, as she had done every morning since she arrived, she went downstairs to take her breakfast with Lady Cavendish.

  "I wrote to Minette last night. You kindly offered to send my letters with yours when you wrote to Queen Henrietta."

  "Of course, darling. I'll write her today."

  "Thank you." Velvet gathered her courage. "May I have the carriage to go to the Exchange, Christian? I need some ingredients to make face cream and I'd also like to start my own journal like the one my great-grandmother wrote."

  "What a splendid idea. Just ask Mr. Burke to have Davis ready the carriage, and ask him to give you some money for your purchases. Your w
ants are so modest, Velvet. Why don't you buy yourself some­thing pretty?"

  "Thank you, Christian. You are too generous." Vel­vet was covered with guilt over the deception. Please forgive me for lying to you! Velvet rushed through break­fast and, when Emma appeared at the door, jumped up quickly. "I'm ready to go."

  "I wish I could garner such enthusiasm for the Ex­change," Christian declared. When she was alone her thoughts turned to Cav. "I wonder if the young lout managed to crawl home last night." She made her way upstairs and spoke to his valet.

  "Yes, my lady. Lord Cavendish is still dead to the world. He seldom arises before ten."

  "So I've noticed," she said dryly. She repaired to her bedchamber to change from her slippers and found Velvet's note.

  I beg your forgiveness for deceiving you, but feel 1 must escape from your grandson's attentions. He came to my bed last night. He was both drunk and naked and his intentions were very clear. I know you think I should be capable of discouraging him, but I've had little experi­ence in dealing with the opposite sex, and know I will be safe at Roehampton for a few days.

  The sound of carriage wheels on the driveway made Christian glance through the window. She saw Velvet and Emma hurry toward the coach and was about to open the window and call down to stop them. Instead, she glanced down at the letter and began to laugh. Velvet was jumping from the frying pan into the fire. "How very delicious. I couldn't have planned it better. She has no idea that Roehampton belongs to Greysteel Montgomery." Christian wiped away tears of mirth. "Velvet, I warrant that you are in for a de­lightful surprise. Your experience in dealing with the opposite sex is about to expand and will no doubt pro­vide you with enough worldly wisdom to add a few naughty notes to your journal!"

  Chapter 7

  When the carriage slowed to a crawl to enter the city gate, Velvet stuck her head out the win­dow to speak to the driver. "We are hot going to the Exchange, Davis. I want you to take us to Roehampton, please. The dowager countess knows about the change in plans." At least she will when she reads my let­ter.

 
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