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Training Lady Townsend(6)

By:Annabel Joseph

“People already believe things, Aurelia. I have a reputation to uphold.”

“Please return me to my friends. Your company exhausts me.”

“Then we shall have to build up your stamina.” His gaze raked her again, head to toe, in that coarse, appalling way.

She pursed her lips in irritation. She would not say one more word because he’d only turn it into something sordid. Fortunately, they were nearly back to her group of friends. The ladies watched them approach, bemused, whispering to one another. When Aurelia tried to wrest her hand from atop his arm, he held her fast by flattening his palm over her fingers. A subtle show of power, but it had its effect. He was telling her, quite stubbornly, that he was in charge.

Oh, how she wanted to challenge him, but all the haute ton were in attendance. Many of them were her father’s friends, and a great majority were hopeless gossips. She must be cheerful and play her part. She was only thankful for the layers of gloves and silk and linen that protected her from touching the man. When he delivered her to her table with a bow, she could barely bring a smile of farewell to her lips. She feared even her best effort came off as a grimace.

His smile though, was broad and jovial, his dark features relaxing into arrestingly handsome lines.

She would not find him attractive. She absolutely refused to.

But unfortunately, a little bit, she did.

Chapter Three: Lessons

Aurelia had always been dutiful. She had always been a very good child, the pride of her mama and papa, so no matter how much she wished to dig in her heels and refuse to walk down the aisle on her wedding day, she did not. She stood beside Lord Townsend at the altar and stammered out the vows that bound her to him for life.

Behind her and to the right, Lord Warren stood with Townsend’s other friends. She didn’t allow her gaze to drift to his handsome visage, but kept her attention fixed on her husband’s cravat, on the black pearl pin that secured its neat folds. She could not look him in the eyes or she’d run away screaming like a madwoman. She had never been allowed to make a fuss, and found herself incapable of doing it at the moment it mattered most.

Still, Lord Warren might have made a fuss on her behalf. He might have stormed the altar, scooped her up and carried her away and professed his true love for her. He might have if he understood how much she admired him, but she had only ever admired him from afar, and now it was too late.

After the ceremony, they proceeded to a wedding breakfast at Lord Townsend’s London residence, a great, echoing edifice of Italian marble, breathtaking in design and scale. Aurelia smiled until her face hurt, pretending to be delighted with her new husband and her new role as his marchioness. Lord Townsend presided over the gathering in a sleek, gold-embroidered coat, specially designed to match her ivory and gold wedding gown. The rich warmth of his garments did nothing to soften his cool demeanor. She felt unsettled each time he caught her gaze.

Trapped in this farce of a reception, she accepted the congratulations of countless family friends, including a somber Lord Warren and his impish sister Wilhelmina, whom everyone called Minette. After Minette chattered at her for several minutes about the thrill of attending the wedding, the handsome earl bent over Aurelia’s hand with a whisper of a kiss.

“I wish you a long and happy marriage,” he said.

She wanted to scream at him for failing her. She wanted to scream about everything this day, but she had never been allowed to scream so she didn’t know how. She was in every way a dutiful, well-mannered lady who did as she was told.

She felt like she was dying inside.

“Dearest Aurelia,” her mother said as she and papa prepared to take their leave. “How proud we are.” She squeezed her daughter’s hands. “Your father and I have dreamed of this day, when two great Oxfordshire families would be joined together.”

Aurelia tried to reply in some equally happy manner, because that would have been the dutiful thing to do, but she found it impossible. “I’m not certain he’ll be a good...a good husband,” she whispered.

“Oh, dear, what’s this?” Her mother patted her in an awkward way. “The marquess is a fine man. He comes from good stock.”

“Good stock? He’s not a cow, Mama.”

“Don’t be cross, dear. He’ll be a fine husband as long as you are an obedient wife.”

Her father nodded and clasped her hands. “Your mother is right, Aurelia. Be a shining beacon of love and obedience, and your husband will follow suit.” He leaned closer. “We are counting on you to rescue this young man. If anyone can do it, you can.”


Her father was already moving toward the doors. Her brother swept her into his arms, giving her a hard squeeze. “All will be well,” he said in her ear. “Because I’ll kill your husband if it isn’t, and Papa will give him hell.”

She tried not to cry, because Brendan’s gaze was telling her not to cry, but these empty, useless reassurances did nothing to calm her. She would be the one left alone with Lord Townsend once all the guests took their leave, and she wasn’t sure that being a “beacon of love and obedience” would accomplish anything at all.

“Will you v-visit me sometimes?” she stammered, turning to her sister-in-law Georgina.

“Of course. I’ll come calling as soon as you like.”


She stifled a smile. “Newlyweds don’t generally take callers for a couple of days. Perhaps next week? Brendan’s right, you know. Everything will be fine. You make a beautiful bride, and Townsend is...” She sobered. “Well. Be patient with him. I shall pray for your happiness every day.”

Her sister-in-law clasped her in a floral-scented hug, and then Brendan and Georgina joined the other guests on their way out. Her new husband bid the last of them farewell, then turned to her. Oh, for all his faults, for all the threat of him, he was rather handsome. Black hair, and piercing, intense brown eyes. Those beautiful eyes softened the effect of his sharply sculpted features. His footsteps echoed as he crossed the soaring marble foyer. His coat’s ornate embroidery caught her gaze, or perhaps she was too overcome to look up at him, now that they were alone.

“I suppose we’re married now,” she said in the echoing stillness.

“It would seem so, Lady Townsend. Are you counting my buttons? I believe there are forty or so.”

“What?” She looked up. “Oh no, I’m just...”

“Feeling shy?”

“I am shy, unfortunately. I always have been. I’ll try to be a good wife, but I’m...”

“Shy? And tired and overwhelmed? Weddings are exhausting, aren’t they?” He stepped closer and brushed a fingertip down her cheek. She strained to hear a whisper of skirts, the footstep of any servant, but she heard nothing. They might have been utterly alone in the house. He tilted her head up and searched her face with his deep, dark eyes. “You’ll want to go rest, won’t you?”


“For later.” The husky hitch in his voice unnerved her. “It’s our wedding night.”

She blinked, her gaze skittering back down to his gold buttons. One, two, three, four...

“Must you look so deflated at the prospect?” he asked.

She stared at this man, this stranger who really didn’t like her very much. He was her husband.

“Mrs. Orban,” he said in the echoing silence. A servant materialized at the head of the grand marble stairs and dropped a graceful curtsy. “Will you show Lady Townsend to her rooms?”

*** *** ***

Aurelia hid in the window seat of her new bedroom and cried. It was weak and silly of her, and doubtless disturbed the household’s disciplined staff, but she couldn’t help it. At some point, her life had slipped out of her control. Now she was married, forever, to him.

The marquess had provided her with a newly refurbished suite—a sitting room and dressing room, and a luxurious bedroom across the hall from his apartments, with a canopied bed as high as the ceiling, all swathed in lavender embroidered silk. Violets scented the air and a fluffy ivory counterpane beckoned her with promises of softness, but she couldn’t bear to go near the place where her husband would join her later on. Where he would mount her, as he said. She had no doubt he’d make it as unpleasant as possible, despite his promises to the contrary. She didn’t trust the man at all. She didn’t believe he was very sensitive or kind.

While she hid and cried, servants bustled in and out with food and wine and trunks of clothes and jewelry, and set about unpacking the necessities of her trousseau. Clement, her staunch, proper lady’s maid from home, wheedled her into a wisp of a silk shift and a ruffled ivory dressing gown and then went to turn down the bed.

Aurelia scooted deeper into the soothing darkness of the curtained window seat and gazed through the glass. With the little light left, she could see a well-tended garden, and neighboring rooftops in the distance. The window seat’s cushions were plump and soft, and the rich lavender curtains provided privacy. She wished she could hide in the little alcove forever.

“Lord Townsend will retire soon,” Clement said briskly. “You must come lie in the bed.” She crossed the room to coax Aurelia from the shadows of her newfound retreat. “Come now, there is nothing to fear.”