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Training Lady Townsend(36)

By:Annabel Joseph

She took a step back, closer to her husband. She felt horrified. Sickened. This was the man she had idolized as the very pinnacle of kindness and virtue? This man, who leered at her and cavorted in this dissolute state? She turned to her husband but his gaze was locked on the other man’s.

She turned back to Lord Warren. He had grown very still as he took a closer look at her, at her gown and her wig. He cursed under his breath, shoving his grotesquely large phallus back into his breeches and doing up the buttons. “Damn you, Hunter,” he hissed, putting space between him and his giggling wenches. “What are you about?” He turned to Aurelia with a look of dismay. “My lady, forgive me. I did not realize—” He turned back to Hunter, his hands in fists. “I should blacken both your eyes for this, you filthy bastard. I should bloody well drag you outside.”

Aurelia feared they would indeed come to fisticuffs, but she was too overwrought to care. How could she ever look at Lord Warren the same way again? Since entering this chamber, she had seen too much, heard too much, and seen far, far more of her former tendre than she could ever hope to forget. She lifted her skirts and turned blindly for the door, running down the stairs, pausing only to push away an inebriated gentleman who groped at her. She flew through the crowded great hall, past laughing, cavorting revelers and out of the house into the cool breezes of a dark autumn night.

*** *** ***

His wife stared out the window as the carriage barreled back toward Somerton. She’d torn off her wig as soon as they entered; it rested now in the corner of the bench, along with her mask and his. She hugged herself, blinking rather more than she usually did.

“Forgive me,” he said in the darkness. “I’m sorry if you were troubled by what you saw.”

“Why would I be troubled?” she asked in a taut voice. “What Lord Warren does is none of my affair.”

“I wanted you to see, Aurelia. I wanted you to realize Warren is not the virtuous swain of your dreams.”

She turned and stared at him. “You knew he would be there?”

“All of them were there, grasshopper. August and Arlington too.”

“But you took me there to see him, not them. You took me there to see...that.” Her voice rose along with the heated color in her cheeks. “You said we ought to go so I could see the two of us aren’t so different. It was all a false premise, a lie.”

“No, I wanted to show you that too. Please, don’t be angry. I was tired of you being…deceived.”

“Deceived by whom?” she snapped.

She pursed her lips and looked back out the window. He rubbed his forehead and thought about joining her on the other seat. He wasn’t sure he’d be welcomed.

“I wish you hadn’t done this,” she said a moment later. “You might have just told me.”

“You wouldn’t have believed me unless you saw him for yourself.”

“And so you took me into that room and humiliated both of us! Honestly, Hunter, how petty and childish. Lord Warren must be furious. I doubt he will remain your friend.”

“I don’t care about his friendship so much as I care about losing you.”

“Losing me? I’m right here,” she said, throwing up her hands.

“Losing you to him,” he barked. “You still care more for him than me.”

“I most certainly do not. Don’t be ridiculous.”

Ridiculous. Petty. Childish. Such flattering words. He didn’t care what she thought of his actions tonight. He had done what he must to cure her of her infatuation. He hadn’t done any more than any husband might do.

Aurelia stared from the window a long while in silence. “I have been very foolish about the world,” she said when she finally spoke again. “I thought most men were like my father, men with honor and good morals. But most men are like those men at the party, I suppose. No one ever told me. I didn’t know.”

“There are plenty of men with honor and good morals,” Hunter said. “But your Lord Warren is not one of them.”

“He’s not my Lord Warren. He never was. And I don’t know how you or I should judge him, considering the things we do.” She bit her lip hard, plucking fitfully at the edges of her gloves. “I have no room to look down on anyone. I suppose I am no better than those giggling, slatternly women back there.”

“Yes, you are,” he said sharply. “You’re the Marchioness of Townsend. You’re my wife, as much as you love another.”

“Loved another.”

“Still, you loved him. Yesterday, the day before, you loved him, before I revealed to you who he truly was.”

She glared at him. “What do you mean to say?”

He waved a hand. “Nothing. I mean to say nothing.”

“You think I’m a slut. A whore who lusts after other men. Is that it?”

“Aurelia, don’t.”

“You made me this way,” she cried. “You wanted me to be wanton.”

“Yes, for me! Only for me. I never meant you to get wet in the quim at the thought of bedding my goddamned friend.”

His wife stood with the carriage in full motion and cracked him hard across the face. He grabbed her hand before she could hit him again and pulled her against him. She struggled as he held her by the wrists. “That was foolish.”

“You’re foolish,” she said, her lips inches from his. “You don’t understand anything about how I feel. You’ve never tried to understand.”

“I understand everything,” he replied in a flinty voice. “I have always understood from the bitter start. I saw the looks you gave Warren across the table last evening. You appeared as besotted as you ever were. Perhaps that’s why you’re so angry right now. Perhaps that’s why you fled the party as if the devil’s own hounds were at your heels.”

“I fled because he disgusts me, and you disgust me too.”

“Ah, my dear.” His grip tightened on her wrists. “I’m sorry to learn I disgust you. It didn’t seem so last night, or the night before.” A raging ache burned inside him, an ache of hurt, an ache of loss. He didn’t want to share her affections with any other man, especially a man he called a friend. He didn’t want to share her body, her lusts, her desires. She may not love him, but she was his, damn it, and he wouldn’t let her forget it. In a blind fit of heat, he gathered up her skirts, holding them beneath the arm he had wrapped about her waist.

“No,” she said. “Leave me alone. Don’t touch me.”

“I will touch you. You are my wife, not Warren’s nor anyone else’s. Mine.” He drove his fingers within her, and found her copiously wet. “I disgust you, do I?” he mocked as she cried and fought against him. “Even so, you’re primed and ready to be fucked.”

“No, I’m not. Stop this.”

He ignored her, reaching between them to unbutton his breeches. His arm tightened at her waist as she struggled. He tried to kiss her but she turned her head away and instead he tasted tears on his lips.

“You’re hurting me,” she said as he thrust another finger up inside her. “I don’t want you, not like this. Not angry and vengeful.”

“Just close your eyes and pretend I’m Warren,” he snarled in a voice that didn’t sound like his own. She pushed at him as he positioned himself, and then she threw back her head and let out a blood-curdling scream.

That scream at last brought him to his senses. His groom was slowing the carriage, undoubtedly troubled by the noises coming from the passenger compartment. He couldn’t have been half as troubled as Hunter.

He released his wife. She backed away from him, pulling down her skirts and smoothing them in a jerkily frantic way. “I said not to touch me.” Her voice trembled, rasping and low, as if the scream had taken all the sound out of her. “I don’t want you to touch me. I want you to leave me alone.”

Hunter stared at her, still half in shock at what he’d done. “I’m sorry, Aurelia. I shouldn’t have—”

She held up a hand when he moved to comfort her. “Don’t. Please.” She huddled in the corner of the coach, trembling, her eyes wide and tearful. It was the same look she’d given him on their wedding night. Were they back to that? The distrust, the loathing?

And it was all his fault.

He banged on the wall above his head to signal the groom to stop. It took only a few seconds for the carriage to roll to a halt but to Hunter it felt like an eternity as Aurelia stared at him in that haunted way.

“I shall comply with your wishes,” he said, standing to disembark. “I will leave you alone. I pray you will go home to Somerton and try to forgive me for what just occurred. I was…not myself.”

She began to weep again, copious tears he had caused through his jealousy and temper. “You’re leaving?” she asked in a wretched voice, peering out the door into the dark countryside. “Where will you go?”

He didn’t have an answer for that. He only knew he couldn’t bear to stay in the carriage with her after the way he’d frightened her. The way he’d hurt her. He shut the carriage door and called up to his man.