Home>>read Training Lady Townsend free online

Training Lady Townsend(32)

By:Annabel Joseph

“Of course.” The gentlemen would want to drink and relax together, and catch up on their personal news without her hovering about. She stood to take her leave, and all the gentlemen stood along with her. She acknowledged their kind regards and thought she did very well not staring at Lord Warren. In fact, she avoided his gaze altogether, tucked her head down, and went as quickly as she could from the room.

*** *** ***

As two servants poured wine for the gentlemen, Arlington relaxed back in his seat and nodded to Hunter. “I hope I won’t offend you by saying this, but I perceive Lady Townsend has blossomed. She’s not so shy and retiring as she once was.”

“No more Lady Dormouse,” concurred August.

“Yes, she must be quite happy in this marriage,” said Warren.

Hunter eyed his rival with something less than a smile. “I’m not offended in the least, as I have noticed the same thing. I’ve tried to be a positive influence. I’ve tried to bring some adventure to her previously drab and sheltered life.”

“A childhood with Laudable Lansing.” August shook his head. “I can’t imagine growing up under that man’s yoke. You know, Severin is as intolerable as the father, lofty and proper as all get-out.”

“Laudable Townsend, I think.” Arlington raised his glass to Hunter. “I salute you for making her happy. I admire you for endeavoring to improve her life.”

The men all raised their glasses in concert with the duke. Hunter knew he ought to feel flattered, even celebratory, but all he felt was a burning desire to throw a fist at Warren’s pretty face.

It wasn’t Warren’s fault that Aurelia fancied him. The rational part of Hunter’s brain acknowledged that. Warren didn’t flirt or make eyes at her, or encourage her in any way whatsoever. He had never done so. Which meant that it was Aurelia’s fault. It was Aurelia’s lingering infatuation with a man who was not at all better than him, a man who was honestly much more of a knave. He wasn’t called Wild Warren for nothing. Why did she still have feelings for the blasted man, and what was Hunter to do about it?

To be fair, she had not flirted with Warren either, but she had given him lingering looks that spoke much louder than words. Hunter had a feeling all his friends had noted it. Warren had certainly noted it, for he seemed to be having considerable difficulty meeting Hunter’s gaze.

The men drained their glasses and signaled for more, and then August sat straighter in his chair. “Are we going to ask the chap about it?” he said to the others. “Or are we going to wait until we’re drunker?”

Hunter frowned. “Ask me about what?”

Arlington traced the rim of his glass with a speculative expression. “Do you know the Wroxham estate, Townsey? Is it hereabouts?”

“An hour’s ride or so to the north. Why do you ask?”

“We ask because there’s to be a masquerade party there, by special invitation only.” August waggled his brows. “It’s to be that sort of masquerade party, my friend. The very best kind, with the very best women.”

Hunter crossed one leg over the other and studied his friends. “Where did you hear this?”

“From young Wroxham in London,” said Warren. “His uncle, the former Lord Wroxham, has finally given up the ghost, and Wroxy plans to celebrate his new inheritance and title with a debauched house party to begin tonight, although I imagine things won’t get interesting until tomorrow, or even the day after.”

Hunter stifled a grin. They must have been bursting at the seams all night to share this with him. “That sort of house party, eh? That finally explains why you’re out here in Berkshire.”

“Yes, and to see you,” Arlington said. “You are conveniently on the way and we thought you might wish to come with us.”

“You forget I’m under a moral edict from the highest offices to behave myself.”

“That’s just it,” August broke in. “This house party is far enough from London that Lansing won’t have his spies tossing you out.”

“But if he hears about it—”

“It’s a masquerade,” Warren drawled. “Meaning you can wear a mask. Plausible deniability, my friend. ‘Oh, that wasn’t me, but my third cousin, the Lord of Farflungshire, who happens to look almost exactly like me.’ You’ll be able to conceal your identity.”

Hunter ran a hand through his hair. The crank of it was, the party sounded damn tempting. He’d attended many such routs in his bachelor days, two-week-long orgies of drink and dissolution. He’d been so very good the past few months, staying home, playing the doting husband.

He was the doting husband, damn it.

Aurelia had once given him leave to stray, but he wasn’t sure she would now, and anyway, he didn’t want to. As tempting as Wroxham’s masque sounded, some part of him found the idea distasteful. He didn’t believe he could consort with the type of women one would find there, not anymore. Not when he compared them to what he had here at home.

“I don’t know, gents,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m not sure it’s worth the risk.”

August put down his glass with a bang. “I imagine you’ll find it worth the risk when you’re rolling about in bed with four pretties who know how to use their mouths.”

“There’s really no risk,” said Arlington, as if reasoning with a child. “Warren is right. With the mask, no one will be able to prove you were there, not even Lansing himself.”

“But everyone will know.” Hunter threw up his hands. “We recognize every gentleman at these parties, and most of the women. We call each other by name, for God’s sake. The masks are nothing more than an affectation, a false symbol of anonymity to make the things we do there more acceptable.”

“False symbol or not,” said Arlington, “attending in disguise will allow you to dispute any accusations, if in fact any are made. Which I doubt, since this is a country party among a decidedly lowbrow set.”

“Blast, Towns,” said Warren. “We thought you’d be excited. We thought you’d be half out of your mind to be with a woman. What have you been doing to satisfy yourself?”

“Spending time with my wife.”

His friends exchanged glances. Hunter pretended not to notice.

“Listen,” said August. “We admire that you’re making a go of things here. Really, it’s magnificent, but you needn’t poker up and try to pass yourself off as the perfect husband for your sake, or Lady Townsend’s. It’s just us here.”

“Yes, and we’re in no position to judge,” Warren added. “If I’m half the husband you are some day, my wife will count herself lucky. But every husband needs variety, Towns. It’s expected that any gentleman of quality will enjoy the pleasures of an erotically accomplished woman now and again.”

He wanted to tell them that his wife was more “erotically accomplished” than any courtesan he’d ever paid money to utilize, but of course he couldn’t.

“Listen,” he said, to put the matter at rest. “I may or may not go. I beg you to proceed with your plans and be off to the party tomorrow if you wish. It’s possible you’ll see me there, but I can make no promises.”

A great deal of grimacing and eye rolling accompanied this announcement.

“I hope I won’t become a damned bore when I get a leg shackle,” muttered August at a volume certain to be heard.

Warren stared into his glass, grunting in agreement. Arlington smiled at Hunter, but it was the kind of smile that didn’t quite reach the eyes.

“We will hope to see you there,” he said quietly. “If you decide you wish to come, that is. You may not have such an opportunity again anytime soon.”

Chapter Fourteen: Unnatural Things

Hunter left his friends not long after, feeling uneasy in their company, and quite tired. He thought he must have changed a great deal, to feel uncomfortable around men he once considered brothers.


Was their closeness and camaraderie at an end? Why was he headed straight to his wife’s rooms rather than his own?

He supposed in some way he wanted to reclaim her. He’d felt needling jealousy at the way she’d gazed at Warren, and then looked away as if she were doing something illicit. Perhaps she was doing something illicit—lusting after a man who wasn’t her husband.

But she had never lusted for Warren, only idolized him as some girlish fantasy that couldn’t be farther from the truth. She had loved Warren. She’d told Hunter so on several occasions, although he’d forgotten about it until Warren showed up. Perhaps three months apart wasn’t long enough to fall out of love with a person, although it was plenty of time to fall in love with a person.

He was going to Aurelia because he was quite certain he loved her, and her arms were the first thing he thought of when he needed reassurance and comfort. Even if the reassurance and comfort was needed because of her.

Perhaps they had only been polite smiles. Perhaps she had looked away so quickly for some other reason. Perhaps the guilty glances they’d exchanged were a figment of his own husbandly jealousy. Perhaps he ought not to visit her after all.