Lord Paisley, the honorable Marquis of Dartfort, master of Paisley Court, scion of Paisley clan, son to Lady Eleanor, brother to Ladies Clare and Henrietta, and loving husband to Lady Georgiana Paisley, knocked softly on the door of his wife's bedchambers and entered upon hearing her soft bidding.
"Good morning, my love," He said, his smile one of pure adoration as he beheld his wife, wearing a deliciously thin dressing gown, sitting in front of her dresser, her magnificent hair being brushed by her maid. "I was hoping I could still find you in your rooms."
Georgiana's maid, Ms. Withers, curtseyed and walked away from her mistress, busying herself with the breakfast tray that had just been brought up for Georgiana.
"Julian," Georgiana smiled lovingly at her husband. "Did you enjoy your ride? I am so very sorry I missed riding with you this morning. I cannot understand how I could have slept so much!"
He came to stand behind her chair. His smile grew wicked as he looked down at her beautiful reflection in the mirror.
"Can you not?" He asked mischievously, running his long fingers through her soft, golden tresses. "I would have thought it quite understandable. After all, you are entitled to have some sleep."
Georgiana blushed at his words. She had not slept much during the night. They were, as was their usual habit since their wedding, blissfully occupied with each other for most of the night. He, being blessed with a much stronger constitution than her, was still able to rise early every morning and ride before breakfast. Until recently, Georgiana was able to join him on most of these rides. But lately, she had felt a little more fatigued in the mornings and had, on more than one occasion, slept until much later into the morning.
He leaned down toward her and kissed her ear.
"You were magnificent last night," He whispered.
Her blush grew darker at his compliment and at the remembrance of their passionate night together. She rewarded him with another loving smile as she stared at their reflection in the mirror.
"Should I return for your hair later, ma'am?" Georgiana's maid asked, reminding the couple that they were not alone.
"Yes," Georgiana nodded. "Thank you, Withers."
The maid curtseyed again and left the room with a few quick steps, closing the door behind her.
"Is it my imagination, my dear," his lordship asked, "or have I somehow offended your maid?"
"Why would you think that?" Georgiana asked with surprise.
"Well," He said as he moved toward the breakfast tray. "It seems that whenever I enter any room, she manages to vacate the room with considerable haste. Would you like some coffee, my heart?"
"No, thank you," Georgiana refused quickly, wrinkling her nose at the idea.
"Shall I make you a jam sandwich then?" He asked, not having noticed her peculiar reaction to his earlier offer.
"No," Georgiana shook her head. "I am quite content with my strawberries this morning."
"But that is all you had yesterday morning also," He observed, not particularly pleased.
She shrugged and picked a strawberry from the bowl in front of her and brought it to her nose to smell it.
"I think…" Georgiana smiled wickedly. "I believe … you have shocked Withers on more than one occasion, Julian."
"Me?" Lord Paisley laughed. "What have I done that has been shocking to her?"
"Is it possible that you cannot remember?" Georgiana asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Quite possible," He nodded apologetically. "You know, on account of my lamentable memory."
"Yes," She agreed, dimpling at her husband's mock gravity. "Your lamentable memory! But I hope you remember what happened… what we did … here … in this very room only two days ago."
Her face had become crimson throughout her speech and her husband's smile grew deeper.
"Remind me again, my darling," He murmured. "What … er … did we do here in this very room two days ago?"
"You know very well what we did, sir," She reproached.
Indeed he remembered. After a tediously long meeting with his steward, he had gone in search of his wife. He had found her sitting on a bench, amidst her beloved gardenias in the garden. She had looked quite bewitching in her soft blue dress. One delicate hand was holding the book she was so engrossed in, while her other hand was absently picking strawberries out of the bowl beside her. She had smiled with pleasure upon seeing him and had invited him to join her on the bench, which he had done without delay.
"Where is everybody?" He had asked, watching his wife intently as she ate one strawberry after another.
"Your mother is in her sitting room and your sisters are walking," She had informed him as she took a bite of the strawberry she was holding, its juice moistening her lips. She licked her lips absently, savoring the sweet taste of the fruit.
"You seem to enjoy your strawberries very much, my dear," He had observed, his eyes flashing at the enticing sight before him.
"They are quite delicious," She had smiled, recognizing her husband's look of desire as he stared at her lips. "Would you like a taste, Julian?"
"I would," He had nodded and patted his lap suggestively. "Come here."
She had dimpled and accepting his offer with pleasure, and bringing her bowl of strawberries along, had moved to sit on his lap. His arm had circled around her small waist, pulling her closer to smell her heavenly scent. She had picked a strawberry from her bowl, offering it to him to taste. He had taken the strawberry from her, but instead of eating it, had brought it to her lips.
"It is for you, Julian," She had said with surprise.
"I like to watch you eat it," He had said, holding it closer to her mouth. "Slowly."
She had blushed at the intensity of his gaze as she took the strawberry between her teeth. His smile had grown deeper, more rakish, as he finished feeding her the strawberry.
"But do you not want to taste it?" She had asked as she ate the strawberry with evident pleasure.
"Hmmm," He had murmured. "I think I would rather try a taste of these."
His free hand had cupped her face as he captured her lips in a slow, tantalizing kiss. Georgiana's hands had wrapped around his neck as she had kissed him back with equal ardor. As their kiss deepened and became more intense, so did his desire for her and he no longer cared what time of the day it was or how improper it was for him to carry his wife across the lawn and up the stairs in front of all the staff. He wanted her, needed her, and he most definitely could not wait.
"Those were, without a doubt, the tastiest strawberries I have ever tasted," Lord Paisley said, a satisfied smile gracing his lips as he remembered their sweet afternoon together.
"We ought to be ashamed of ourselves," Georgiana said, still flushed, not quite able to meet her husband's gaze.
"There is nothing to be ashamed of, my heart," He smiled deeper. "We made love."
"Yes," Georgiana nodded. "In the middle of the afternoon. Poor Withers was quite speechless when she found us … as we were."
"She must learn to knock," He shrugged. "Do not tell me your maid was shocked because she found the bed sheets ruffled."
"You know very well that the sheets were not merely ruffled," Georgiana shook her head. "The poor woman was horrified when she saw the red stains all over the sheets."
"They were strawberry stains, my love," Lord Paisley explained.
"I know that," Georgiana rolled her eyes. "But to her, they looked like blood stains."
"Did she think I was murdering you in bed?" Lord Paisley asked with amusement. "Although, come to think of it, you were quite breathless …"
"Julian!" Georgiana gasped and blushed deeper.
"I am sorry, my heart," He laughed. "I cannot help remembering your beautiful face when…"
"And later…," Georgiana interrupted her husband's dangerously inappropriate musings. "When she found us… when she found you… in my bath."
"I was not exactly in the tub, dearest," He corrected.
"Your hands were," Georgiana replied with no little mortification.
"So they were," He smiled again. "Did you not like it?"
"Of course I did," She said with the honesty that pleased her husband greatly. "But poor Withers was speechless when she saw us in yet another compromising position."
"In my defense," Lord Paisley said with unruffled calm. "I told the woman that I would assist you in taking a bath."
"I believe we both know that you were not assisting me in taking a bath, sir," Georgiana couldn't help smiling.
His lordship laughed his throaty laugh.
"Surely your maid understands what happens between a man and his wife," Lord Paisley said.
"Of course she does," Georgiana turned in her chair to look at her husband. "It is not our lovemaking that has shocked her. It is the frequency … and … the … duration… of it."
"What?" He asked, feigning confusion. "And what is there to be concerned about?"
"I believe she is concerned for my … my health," Georgiana whispered.
All humor vanished from his face, as he stepped closer and kneeled in front of her, placing his hands on her knees.
"Does she have reason to be?" He asked, his eyes searching hers with evident concern. "Have I been too demanding of your body?"
"No," Georgiana shook her head adamantly and cupped his face lovingly. "Oh, no. I have never been happier."
"But you have been tired," He said not quite convinced. "I must have noticed. You have been sleeping more in the morning. I have been coming to you every night and…"
"Hush!" Georgiana covered his lips with hers, effectively silencing him. His tense shoulders relaxed slowly as he began to enjoy her kiss and wrapped her in his arms, momentarily forgetting about the maid's concerns.
"I will never tire of your touch," She whispered against his lips. "Nor can I sleep without you beside me."
"But if I have been asking for too much," He pressed.
"No," She shook her head adamantly. "I have been a most willing and enthusiastic participant. Have I not shown how happy I am to receive your attentions?"
"Are you certain?" He asked softly.
She kissed him again, effectively convincing him that she was indeed certain. He wrapped her in his embrace, whispering words of love in her ear. She rested her face against his, breathing in his masculine scent, basking in the happiness of being loved by such a man. They remained thus for a long while, enjoying each other's embrace.
"What are your plans for this morning, my heart?" Lord Paisley asked, gently caressing her hair.
"I have to go to Henrietta," She said reluctantly as she stood from her chair. "I have promised to help her pack this morning."
"We have servants for that," He stood as well and wrapping his arms around her tried to convince her to stay. "Why should you help her pack?"
"I promised her, Julian," She smiled apologetically. "She is so very excited about her trip to Lady Summersby's estate. And, naturally, she would like my help as she decides on what to take with her."
"I should have sent my mother and sisters to the dowager house as soon as we returned from our honeymoon," He said with a wry smile. "My sisters' presence here is a major distraction to you."
"Julian!" Georgiana slapped his shoulder playfully. "You cannot mean that."
"Of course I do," He shrugged. "I demand my wife's undivided attention. I refuse to share you, even with my family."
"You sound like a petulant little boy, my love," Georgiana giggled.
"I beg your pardon," He said, feigning offence. "I will have you know, there is nothing little about me."
She blushed. It was true.
"I need you," He said, his hand gently caressing her face.
Something in her eyes must have communicated her need for him as well. He smiled with pleasure and ran his fingers through her hair.
"All right," He said with reluctant resignation. "When can I expect the blasted packing to be completed? It seems my sisters have been packing for weeks? Are they planning on staying in my aunt's state for a fortnight or forever?"
"Your mother and sisters are leaving tomorrow morning," Georgiana said. "You will have me all to yourself then."
"No distractions?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.
"None," She smiled shyly. "Just us."
"And your bowl of strawberries?" He asked playfully.
"If you so wish it," She laughed.
"I do," He nodded approvingly. "I find them rather inspiring."
She giggled, and standing on her toes, kissed his lips lovingly.
Lady Eleanor had every intention of removing herself from Paisley Court and moving to the dowager house with her daughters upon the return of her son and his new wife. After all, Georgiana was the new mistress and deserved to have the entire household to herself. Not to mention that the newly married couple were in need of privacy. However, upon hearing of the lady's intention to leave, Georgiana had flatly refused to allow them to ever consider such a nonsensical notion, as she had so aptly put it, and had advised her new mother and sisters to think of Paisley Court as it had always been; their home. Georgiana had added to her argument that considering how young and inexperienced she was in running such a grand house, she needed her mother-in-law's council in every respect. Upon Lady Eleanor's insistence to leave, however, Georgiana had cried tears of sorrow, leaving them in no doubt that their departure from Paisley court would cause her great degree of despair. His lordship, having watched the scene with admirable self-control, had found his wife's genuine tears too much to bear and had ordered his mother and his two sisters to put the notion of removing from Paisley Court entirely out of their minds. His lordship had been immediately rewarded with a loving smile of gratitude from Georgiana, which went a long way in restoring his own despair in not having the little minx all to himself. As much as he loved all four ladies, he could not help worrying how his new wife would fair with his mother and his two sisters. He was certainly not looking forward to mediating between four headstrong women.
A whole month had passed since their return from their honeymoon, and much to his lordship's relief, the ladies had indeed managed to live together in harmony. Georgiana had proved herself a loving daughter to Lady Eleanor and treated her with deference and respect. Lady Eleanor, having sensed Georgiana's need for a loving mother, had been everything that was kind and supportive. Lady Claire and Lady Henrietta adored Georgiana and enjoyed spending time with their new sister. As such, the ladies spent a great deal of time together during the day. However, much to his lordship's joy, his mother and sisters were quite understanding of his needs as well and were quite apt at making themselves scarce when his lordship was at home so as to allow the newly-wed couple time to be alone together. His lordship had a notion that he owed that luxury to his mother.
Indeed Lady Eleanor had been very sensitive to her son's needs. She understood, as perhaps her daughters failed to, that his lordship greatly enjoyed his privacy with his beautiful, young bride. And as grateful as she was to Georgiana for insisting that they continue to stay at Paisley Court, she would not dream of invading the couple's privacy. She had hinted to her daughters to be respectful of their brother's privacy and to leave the couple alone as much as possible.
Lady Eleanor had also assisted Georgiana, since her return from her honeymoon, in settling in and learning the routines of running the grand house. And having ensured that Georgiana was now more confident in her responsibilities, she had accepted her sister's invitation to stay at her estate for a fortnight with her two daughters. She believed that the two-week respite would be beneficial for all of them. Her daughters would have a chance to visit with their cousins, her ladyship would spend time with her beloved sister, Lady Summersby, and her son would have the pleasure of having his wife all to herself.
"And they can celebrate their happy news in private before they have to announce it to others," Lady Eleanor smiled to herself. "That is, if the two of them finally realize that they have a new reason to celebrate."
Having carried and delivered three children, Lady Eleanor was quite familiar with early signs of pregnancy and had not missed Georgiana's subtle changes. She was sleeping longer into the morning, and her food intake had become noticeably smaller. She avoided coffee like the plague and was showing a decided preference for strawberries. Lady Eleanor was by no means surprised by Georgiana's pregnancy. Indeed, having witnessed their undeniable attraction, and the amount of time the couple spent in their private quarters had left the ladyship in no doubt that Georgiana would soon be increasing. What surprised her, however, was her son's uncharacteristic ignorance of the matter.
"How Julian has not recognized the changes in his wife is beyond me," Lady Eleanor thought with no little amusement.
She had wondered that perhaps the couple knew and had decided to keep it a secret for a little longer. But no doctor had been called, and Julian was by no means fussing over Georgiana's diet and rest.
"No," Lady Eleanor smiled mischeivously. "They are so captivated by each other, they fail to see what must be plain for them to see."
Lady Eleanor conjectured that it must be early in the pregnancy if Georgiana has not yet become cognizant of the irregularity of her monthly courses. She decided to speak to the housekeeper in private and to request that the old, trusted servant keep a protective eye on her new mistress' health and diet. She was, after all, carrying Julian's child and, if a boy, the Paisley heir.
"Georgiana, at last you have come!" Lady Henrietta exclaimed upon Georgiana's entrance to her room. "I have been waiting for you. What's been keeping you all morning?"
"Good morning, Henrietta," Georgiana smiled "I am sorry to have kept you waiting. I slept a little more this morning. I have brought the shawl you requested."
"Thank you, Georgiana," Henrietta embraced her sister-in-law. "I do hope my brother will not be angry with me. I have already purchased so many dresses and hats and gloves, and indeed, he has been so very generous with everything, I am sure he will not like that I am borrowing your clothes as well."
Wrapping the shawl about her, she walked to the mirror to survey herself.
"Nonsense," Georgiana dismissed. "Julian will not mind at all. In fact, I have brought you something else as well."
"What is it?" Henrietta turned around with excitement.
"I thought these will go perfectly with the dark green dress that you will be wearing to the ball," Georgiana said as she reached in her pocket and held out a beautiful emerald necklace.
"Oh, Georgiana!" Henrietta gasped as she beheld the necklace. "But I couldn't possibly."
"Why not?" Georgiana asked with raised eyebrows.
"These are part of the Paisley jewels," Henrietta said. "They belong to you."
"And are you not a Paisley?" Georgiana countered as she placed the necklace in her sister's hand. "Indeed, you have been a Paisley much longer than I have."
"But…" Henrietta hesitated.
"You are just borrowing them, Henrietta," Georgiana said. "Do not argue with me. I think they will match your dress and the emeralds bring out the green in your eyes."
"Are you certain that my brother will not mind?" Henrietta asked as she put the necklace around her neck.
"I am certain," Georgiana assured as she fastened the clasp of the necklace for her. "It will make me so happy if you wear them. And Julian always does whatever makes me happy."
"I know," Henrietta laughed. "Oh, Georgiana! It makes me so happy to see you and my brother so blissfully in love. I do not think I have ever seen any man so utterly in love with his wife. He smiles every time your name is mentioned, and his eyes follow you everywhere you go."
"I am blessed," Georgiana nodded. "But you will be happy with a man one day as well."
Henrietta rolled her eyes.
"I doubt it," She said, looking at her image in the mirror again. "I become bored with every man I see. No one has ever been able to hold my interest for long. I do not think there is any man who can make me blush as Julian does you."
"That is precisely how I used to feel before I knew your brother," Georgiana smiled. "I used to watch Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth and think that I could never experience that kind of love. You see, their love was and still is quite … unique."
"I have seen how Mr. Darcy looks at Elizabeth," Henrietta agreed. "They have been married for three years now. And to still be in love as they are… well … that is very special."
"It is special," Georgiana confirmed. "But so is the love I have found with Julian."
"Oh, yours is truly romantic!" Henrietta gushed. "To know that my brother was in love with you for two years before he could even pursue you, and even then, for him to keep himself away until you were ready… oh Georgiana… if I did not love you and my brother so much, and if I didn't know how good you are for Julian, I would envy your happiness."
"You will find happiness with a gentleman who will be worthy of you," Georgiana assured.
"But worthy gentlemen are boring," Henrietta laughed. "And the exciting ones are unworthy."
"Forgive me if I do not agree with you, my dear," Georgiana smiled. "For my husband is both exciting and worthy."
"You were lucky," Henrietta argued. "And beautiful and well-behaved. I, however, have none of those qualities."
"You are beautiful, Henrietta," Georgiana said with conviction.
"I am ordinary at best, my dear," Henrietta waved her hand dismissively. "I have neither your classic fair coloring, nor my sister's calm and elegant countenance."
"You have your brother's intelligent grey eyes," Georgiana argued. "You have the voice of an angel and the loveliest laugh I have ever heard."
"You are too kind," Henrietta smiled. "But well behaved young ladies are not supposed to laugh. And so you see, my laugh cannot constitute as an asset."
"You have your brother's wicked sense of humor," Georgiana offered.
"Alas," Henrietta huffed with feign gravity. "That too is not an asset. I am afraid proper young ladies must neither laugh nor induce laughter in others."
"I am certain that is not true," Georgiana laughed at her sister's remarks. "But even if that were true, you still have something that not many young ladies have."
"You intrigue me, Georgiana," Henrietta raised a delicate eyebrow, "What, pray, may that be?"
"You speak your mind," Georgiana said.
"You mean I am impertinent," Henrietta teased.
"I mean you are fearless," Georgiana shook her head.
"That tends to scare away men," Henrietta said gravely.
"It scares away fainthearted men," Georgiana corrected. "And you, I am sure, would never be happy with a fainthearted man."
"No," Henrietta agreed with a sad smile. "They bore me beyond reason."
"Mark my words, Henrietta," Georgiana said with excitement. "You will meet a man, a very strong minded man, who will challenge you so much, you will never grow bored with him."
"I do not believe in miracles," Henrietta waved her delicate hand. "Nor in fairly tales. But do not worry, dearest. I shall be quite content as an old maid. I am rich and shall have no need for a man to take care of me. And I am certain that your children will supply me with enough love and amusement to sustain me for the rest of my days."
"You are quite absurd, Henrietta," Georgiana laughed. "But I do not believe in your nonsense for a minute."
"You do not believe that I could be content being alone?" Henrietta asked.
"I do not believe that you will be allowed to be alone," Georgiana said knowingly. "You, my dear, have such energy, such passion for life, you cannot help but attract men. If you have not formed a lasting impression with a gentleman yet, it is because you have not met the man who is strong enough to understand and embrace your strength and your energy."
"Well," Henrietta smiled a crooked smile that made her resemblance to her brother even more pronounced. "Perhaps when Col. Fitzwilliam marries Claire, he can introduce me to one of his friends. Perhaps a man in uniform will do for me. They are, after all, renowned for their strength and bravery."
"What are you talking of, Henrietta?" Georgiana asked, ignoring the latter part of her speech. "Has Richard declared himself to Claire? Has Claire told you so?"
"Of course not," Henrietta shook her head with amusement. "You know how private Claire is. But I know my own sister well. I have no doubt of her regard for the Colonel. And I am equally certain of his regard for her. So, I can only assume that an engagement will be forthcoming."
"Oh, I do hope so," Georgiana smiled with pleasure. "I have been wishing for it ever since they were introduced at my ball. I think they suit each other perfectly. Richard is the best of men and Claire is lovely and gentle. They will be so happy together."
"Yes," Henrietta agreed. "Although, I must say, I do not envy the poor Colonel. He will have to gain my brother's approval first. And that, I am sure, will not be an easy task."
"Do you believe Julian will refuse Richard his blessing?" Georgiana asked with no little concern.
"I have no doubt," Henrietta said with unruffled calm. "After all, Claire has quite a substantial dowry. And the Colonel is a second son. Julian will not be amenable to such a match."
"You do not seem concerned," Georgiana observed.
"As I said," Henrietta smiled mischeivously. "I know my sister very well. Julian may be difficult, but Claire is by far the more obstinate of the two. If she has her heart set on the Colonel, she will have him."
Georgiana wanted nothing more than to believe in what her sister said. But she simply could not help worrying about her dear cousin's happiness. She knew her husband was a fair man. But she also understood the facts that Henrietta had so honestly stated. Richard, as noble and wonderful as he was, was still a second son. Lady Claire, on the other hand, had both money and connection, and could have much better prospects in marriage than Richard.
"But they love each other," Georgiana thought privately. "Julian could not possibly condemn the couple to disappointed hopes. Could he?"
Well, she would certainly not allow that. She would rally for the couple and convince her husband to give them his blessing and support. After all, he loved her so much that he would never deny her anything.
Author's note: Yes, there is another book in this series. Its first chapter will be posted soon.