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Training Lady Townsend(42)

By:Annabel Joseph

“You call my daughter your ‘love,’” the duke sniffed. “It pains me to see such guile. My dearest Aurelia, I have it on the most confident word that your husband recently attended a debauched event in the company of low companions.”

“The masquerade at Lord Wroxham’s estate?” she asked. “I know he attended that event, because I was with him.”

Lansing’s brows snapped even tighter, and a flush spread across his face. Hunter imagined those brows tangling into a squirming knot and almost dissolved in laughter. Instead he squeezed his wife’s hand and somehow managed to keep a straight face.

“There is so little to do out here in the country,” Hunter said. “You must forgive us the occasional masquerade ball.”

“I am very disappointed in you.” The duke directed this remark to his daughter. “A masquerade such as the one your husband attended is no place for a well-bred lady.”

“I assure you I was not the only well-bred lady there.”

“That is not my point.” The duke banged the tip of his cane against the floor.

Hunter regarded him with warning in his gaze. “I would ask you not to take that tone of reprimand with my wife.”

“How about I take it with you then?” the duke barked. “What do you mean, taking my daughter to such a licentious gathering, particularly in the company of your no-good friends?”

“What do I mean?” Hunter repeated the duke’s words in an equally hard voice. “Perhaps I’m trying to make up for a decided lack of fun in her childhood. Perhaps I enjoy seeing her smile and make merry. Perhaps she demanded to go.”

“Never. Not my Aurelia. She was taught right from wrong.”

“She was taught to see impropriety and dissolution everywhere, even when it didn’t exist. She was taught that laughter was offensive, and smiling unladylike, no doubt by you.”

“The Lansing line has always been ruled by propriety. So was the Lockridge line until you came along, a bitter disappointment to the parents who gave you life, who depend on you to maintain the family’s honor—”

“Stop, Papa. Please.” Aurelia came to her feet and glared at her imposing sire. “I’ll not allow you to say such things to my husband. I’ll not allow you to insult him here in our home.”

“I am trying to make him stop insulting you, daughter. He’s insulting your honor and the honor of our family.”

“No,” she said, holding up her hands. “You’ve interfered enough. How could you know he was at Wroxham’s masquerade? How many spies are doing your bidding? You cannot continue to monitor his behavior as if he were your child. He’s a grown man. You must call off your informants and respect his privacy.”

“Don’t you want a civil, kind husband?”

Aurelia turned back to Hunter and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I do have a civil, kind husband, and I trust him completely. He has a care for my happiness, which you never did.”

Hunter wanted to pull her into his lap and kiss her. He would have, except that it would disprove her claim that he was civilized, and Lansing looked rather on the edge of a major apoplexy.

“Your daughter has the right of it,” he said instead. “You must let us make our own way. Perhaps your interference has served some purpose, but I assure you, Your Grace, that it is no longer necessary. I have been reformed of my hellion ways.”

“How can you say so?” he said. “I have it on authority that Wroxham’s party was the very vilest of routs. Are both of you so mired in depravity that you consider such activities mere country amusements?”

“We are not mired in anything but wedded love,” said Hunter. He looked hard at the duke, infusing each word with stern import. “I am deeply in love with your daughter. Her happiness is my entire world. So you may believe I would do nothing to threaten it. Not now, not ever.”

“Yes, Papa. So call off your spies,” Aurelia added with such heat that Hunter finally cracked a smile.

“There, there, my dear,” he chided softly. “He is still your father. You mustn’t be disrespectful. He was trying to protect you.”

“I don’t need his protection any longer.”

He leaned closer, so Lansing couldn’t hear him. “Naughty Aurelia. Remember that disrespectful girls get spanked.”

She gave a little snort of a giggle through her nose, then both of them were laughing like children, muffling their merriment with their hands. The duke stared at them as if they’d taken leave of their senses, which perhaps they had.

“Your mother will be greatly disappointed to learn of these changes in you,” he said, wagging a finger at Aurelia.

His wife lifted her chin. “I’ll be mother to my own children soon. I’m a married woman, for goodness sake. I think it’s high time she let me grow up and be my own person. You too, Papa.”

Mother to my own children, she had said. His children.

Their children.

Hunter gazed at his wife with unbridled adoration. She wasn’t a mouse anymore, and what a fierce, wonderful mother she’d be.

“My dearest love,” he said, taking her in his arms. “You are brilliant.” He kissed her hard, caressing her belly where, perhaps, a child already grew. He was so charmed by the idea, he barely noted his father-in-law’s outraged gasp. The stodgy old aristocrat struggled to his feet.

“If you must engage in such amorous displays,” he growled, “then I will not discommode you by staying for dinner.”

“Thank God,” Hunter whispered against her lips. Then he straightened and said, “I’m sorry to hear it. But you’ll be eager to relay news of our marital contentment to Her Grace, and Lord and Lady Severin, who are very fond of Aurelia.”

The duke grumbled that he would certainly do so and then tottered out, clacking his cane against the floor. His valet followed with a dismissive sniff. The carriage was brought round with great alacrity, and after exchanging farewells, they waved the duke on his way.

“Well,” said Hunter, gazing down at his spitfire of a wife. “That went well.”

She burst into laughter. “It did not go well, but I hardly expected it to.”

“It did go well,” he insisted, scooping her up in his arms. “At long last you put Papa Lansing in his place, and I don’t think he’ll soon forget it. Nor will I, my ferocious little grasshopper.”

She shrieked and held tight to his neck. “Hunter! Put me down before you drop me.”

“Drop you? Never. That would be an ungentlemanly thing to do.”

She arched a brow. “And you’ve never been ungentlemanly?”

“Naughty girl,” he murmured. “The only place I’ll be dropping you is over my lap for a lengthy spanking.”

She blushed a very becoming shade of pink. “Another spanking? I’ve already had one today.”

“But we got a bit distracted in the process, didn’t we?”

Her hand slid down to rest over his heart. “In the most pleasurable of ways.”

He groaned, carrying her through the great front doors and up the stairs. “I believe I still owe you a ride, wife. A neck-or-nothing gallop. We’ll make a skilled horsewoman of you yet.”

“Of course. It’s just a matter of proper training.” She clung to his shoulders, her lips curved in a seductive grin. “And you, Lord Townsend, are very good at that.”