Home>>read Training Lady Townsend free online

Training Lady Townsend(34)

By:Annabel Joseph

“I’m glad they’re leaving tomorrow.”

Aurelia considered how to respond. She decided to be light and teasing. “I thought they were your friends?”

“They are, but we’ve grown to seem very different. Marriage has changed me, I suppose. I’m not as comfortable in their company.”

“I am not comfortable in their company either. When we came from the woods today and they were sitting on our picnic blanket, I felt intruded upon. I know that’s not kind to say.”

“I felt the same. We’ve become used to our privacy.” He turned her a bit so she could see the half-smile on his face. “I did ask, and they hadn’t ventured into the woods, so they couldn’t have seen or heard anything.”

“Even so, I knew what we’d been doing. I feared they might somehow see it, in my manner or the way I smiled. Do you know what I mean?”

His half-smile faded. “Yes. I would not have made you feel uncomfortable in their company. If I’d known they were coming, I wouldn’t have put you in such a situation.”

“But even at dinner...” Her voice strained as her throat grew tight. “Even at dinner I worried they would somehow know.”

“Know what, my love?”

“Know that I’ve done such...unnatural things.”

Now his face grew positively dark. Not in anger, but some other haggard emotion. “You’ve done unnatural things at my request, within the confines of our marriage. I don’t want you to feel shame over it.”

“I don’t,” she lied again, stroking his forearm to soothe him. “But I don’t wish it to become common knowledge either. You know the ways of aristocratic society. If the other ladies came to disapprove of me, I could not be received anywhere. Our daughters might not find husbands.”

“Oh, Aurelia, really.” He scowled. “I’ll be a duke one day, and you a duchess. I have every hope our daughters will succeed upon the marriage mart.”

She held her tongue, not wanting him to feel reproached on this night of all nights. “It’s only that it must be so secret,” she said after a while. “You must agree with that.”

“Of course I agree with that. I’m not going to make public conversation about the time I took my wife out to the woods and switched her bottom, and put my cock in her lovely little arsehole. Not least because every peer in London would be after you, trying to seduce you away from me.”

He squeezed her as he said it, so she squirmed closer in his arms.

“At any rate,” he said when she’d calmed, “my friends have no suspicions about you. They think you an eminently proper wife, and they treated you with respect, didn’t they?”

“Yes, of course. I simply fear that every lady and gentleman I meet will see through my polite veneer and think me capable of great perversion.”

He laughed. “I am the only one who has managed to pierce through your ‘polite veneer,’ and I prefer it to stay that way. You mustn’t feel secret shame, my love. I would prefer you did not. I don’t want you to suffer for my vices.”

She gave him an arch look. “One might say being spanked every night is a type of suffering.”

“I mean, suffer mentally,” he clarified after another bout of laughter. “You are not the only lady of the ton who engages in these acts. I promise you there are other men and women of quality who enjoy such things.”

“Even so, I should not like to be known as one of them, especially among your friends.”

When she said especially among your friends, she really meant Lord Warren, and she was afraid, in this intimate moment, that Hunter knew it. He searched her face with far too much acuity. She tried to look blasé.

“My friends would never judge you,” he said at last. “On that point, you needn’t fear.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I meant to tell you something, Aurelia. There’s to be a masquerade at a neighboring estate.”

“A masquerade? Like, a ball?”

“Something like a ball. More of a party. Lord Wroxham is having a house party with several...er...masked events.”

“How strange for a country party.”

“It’s not so strange,” her husband said. “The thing about a country party is that there isn’t nearly as wide a social circle to invite. Often hosts will bring in less toplofty neighbors to fill the ballrooms and salons. When everyone wears masks, it eases social constrictions and allows a duke to comfortably and obliviously rub elbows with a lowly country squire.”

“Obliviously?” Aurelia laughed. “How delightful. Do they really not know who the other person is?”

“If they do, it’s very poor form to show it.” His droll response set her off into more laughter. He waited until she’d settled and then said, “We’ve been invited, if you would like to go.”

Aurelia felt a pang of shocked delight. She hadn’t expected this. “I’ve never been to a masquerade ball.”

“I assumed you hadn’t. People of your father’s ilk find them improper.”

“But they are improper, aren’t they?” Masquerade balls were considered quite decadent, to her recollection. Her father would never in a thousand years have permitted her to attend one.

Hunter wore a cloaked sort of expression, one she couldn’t dissect. “People do behave with rather more frivolity when their identity is masked,” he said. “I should warn you that you might see some unseemly behavior there, taking place right out in the open. The guests will sometimes make free with one another. I would insist that you stay at my side.”

“Of course.” She suppressed a shudder at the idea of some strange, masked duke—or country squire—making free with her. “I would stay right beside you.”

He chuckled. “The peril would not be that dire. Do you remember when I spoke in the wilderness walk of voyeurs?”

“Will there be voyeurs there?”

His hooded expression softened. “Yes, little grasshopper. Us. You’re no sheltered, innocent lady, thanks to me, and I think it might do you good to see that we’re not the only folks in England who enjoy partaking in depraved acts.”

She gasped. “Will there be depravity there?”

“When people wear masks, you never know what will happen. Shall we go tomorrow? It is completely up to you.”

Oh, she wanted to go, but there were practicalities to consider. “I haven’t anything to wear, no costume to disguise my appearance.”

“There are several trunks of old clothes upstairs, and I daresay wigs and masks from previous occasions. Unlike your stickler of a father, my parents attended many wild parties in their younger days.”

“Is that where you get your wildness?” she asked. “From your parents?”

He didn’t answer, only flashed her one of his provoking, piratical grins.

Chapter Fifteen: Masquerade

Hunter knew it was a very bad thing he was doing. No matter how excited Aurelia was, no matter how much he’d lied and cajoled her into delighted expectation about this country masquerade, she would not look back on this night with anything other than sadness.

Still, she deserved to know the truth about her enduring object of adoration.

He had taken all necessary steps to protect her honor, of course. She not only wore a mask, but a blowsy dark-colored wig that would conceal her identity from any friends. He doubted even Severin could recognize her, not that her brother would be at a degenerate party like Wroxham’s. As for his identity, he was far less concerned. Even if someone recognized him, they would assume the woman on his arm was a courtesan or some cheap country trollop. In his wilder days he’d been known to consort with both, sometimes at the same time.

Everything would be fine, but some part of him quailed at the stratagem he’d undertaken. Part of him wished to rap on the roof of the carriage and tell the driver to turn for home, because it was likely he’d lose Warren’s friendship tonight, perhaps August and Arlington’s too. All because he wanted Aurelia to leave off worshipping her virtuous ideal of Lord Warren, who did not exist.

She looked across at him, and her lips turned down in concern. “Are you well, Hunter?”

“Very well,” he said.

“You look a bit grim. Do you want to sit over here beside me?”

She thought he was queasy from riding backwards. Dear, innocent Aurelia. Still, he accepted her offer and switched benches so they sat shoulder to shoulder as the carriage hurtled through the night.

“You remember that you are not to leave my side tonight,” he said in the darkness.

“I remember.”

“And that we are only to be voyeurs. If there is dancing or card games, you are not to participate.”

“Why not? It’s perfectly proper for a married lady to dance or play cards.”

“Not the way they’ll do it there.”

She gave him a harried look that transformed to a smile. “This will be a grand adventure, won’t it?” she said, clasping her hands to the front of her low-cut masquerade gown. “I daresay most husbands wouldn’t allow their wives such frolics.” She grasped his hand in an impulsive, gleeful manner.