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Lady Fiasco: Chapter 5

Chasing Regrets

The Earl of Wesmont sat brooding in his library, every bit as miserable as Lady Alameda had predicted. Raindrops streaked down the long windows. He stared blindly outside, not seeing the trees of his park, nor the birds playing in the wet grass. Instead, he saw Fiona’s wet hair splayed out on the sand and her dark exotic eyes looking up at him. She haunted him. Her laughing specter teased him as she floated in yesterday’s shimmering sunlight and water. He could not escape the image of her face flushed from his kisses as she lay unresisting in his arms. Equally haunting was the image of her stricken face after he had rebuffed her.

Tyrell rubbed his fingers against his temples and forehead and looked away from the window. He remembered Fiona’s face when she was a young girl twirling in her party frock, looking up at him with those bewitching eyes of hers. It had been a Yule party. He’d come home on holiday from Eton. At twelve years old, he was too old for the children but still too young to be truly interested in his parents’ conversation.

The children gathered at the far end of the ballroom to play together and practice dancing. Tyrell remembered wandering between the two groups and finally sitting down near the children. Fiona stood tall for her age, a handsome child, not fussy and frilly like the other girls, but natural and athletic. She had caught him watching her, and giggled. Without missing a step, she had skipped merrily along, changing hands and dancing vivaciously to a country dance. He had laughed back at her.

When that dance finished he’d bowed with great ceremony before the little imp, and asked her for the next set. She, with equal flourish, executed a deep curtsy and rose with a teasingly solemn expression on her face. He partnered her for a minuet and while stepping around her during the dignified turns, he teased her about the time she had forced her pony to jump the creek in his father’s pasture and landed both horse and rider in the drink. She ignored his jibe and retorted, with considerable heat, that her horse was not a pony. Her mare was smallish perhaps, but most assuredly not a pony. She’d been an adorable minx even then.

That seemed like a lifetime ago. Now, Fiona was a woman. The only human being who seemed capable of making him laugh or smile. For a few moments, in her company, he had actually forgotten about the hellish battlefields of Spain. When he was with her, life did not seem like one endless nightmare. And he had thanked her by humiliating her.

The Earl of Wesmont slammed his fist down on his desk. “Damn me for a coward!”

He yanked the bell cord, and paced impatiently. Finally, he flung open the door of his study and yelled at the servants. “Get me that blasted valet my mother hired! Tell him to bring me something to keep this infernal rain from soaking me to the bone. I’m riding out. Now!”

* * *

The world smelled of fresh mud as he headed Perseus toward the upper meadow lake. A broad brim hat and an oilcloth kept out most of the moisture, but Tyrell felt confined and hot in it. With any luck at all, Fiona would be in her boathouse reading a book, or painting a picture of her precious lake enshrouded in clouds. He had to find her alone to apologize. It wouldn’t do at all to sit down to tea in Lady Hawthorn’s drawing room and say, “Thousand pardons, Miss Hawthorn, for attempting to seduce you the other day.”

He grimaced to himself. He had to find her alone. Fiona might not force him into marriage, but Lady Hawthorn certainly wouldn’t hesitate to make him see his duty. Marriage was out of the question. He’d suffocate altogether if anyone added one more ounce of responsibility onto his shoulders. He couldn’t do it, no matter how badly his mother wanted him to produce an heir. No matter how far he’d crossed the line with Fiona, marriage was unthinkable. He had no heart left to give.

He found the boathouse deserted. There was no sign that she’d been there that day, no bread, nor cheese on the table, no clothes hanging in the corner, just the blue swimming dress, and the dreary smell of dampness. Only rain had entered the old boathouse that day. Tyrell shut the door and climbed back onto Perseus. The big white horse bowed his head in the drizzle, and sniffed at the steamy air. They trudged dismally home together.

Tyrell did not give up. He circuited the upper meadow lake later that day, and twice again the next day. Finding the lake perpetually bereft of Fiona’s presence he decided he must make a call to Lady Hawthorn’s stuffy drawing room. After his abominable behavior, Fiona may have decided it was dangerous to visit her beloved lake alone. Or perhaps she had drowned herself in a fit of shame. Hang it all! Where was that dratted girl?

He perched on the edge of Lady Hawthorn’s hot yellow sofa, suffocating in a conflagration of garish paisley draperies, and several Chinese vases filled with gigantic, pink, ant-infested Peonies. On the sofa next to him, Emeline coyly batted her eyelashes. It was a grotesque circus calculated to smother a man past all reason.

“Where is Miss Hawthorn?” he asked, unable to circumvent any longer. When Lady Hawthorn answered him, he stared at her in disbelief.

Fiona was gone. Gone to Brighton with her aunt, Lady Alameda.

For the love of all the saints! Even he’d heard of the notorious Countess Alameda. What was Lady Hawthorn thinking, allowing Fiona to go away with a woman like that? And for a stay of an indefinite length.

Gone!

Tyrell thought that his cravat might strangle him. He ran his finger around his collar. Tiny beads of perspiration trickled down his chest, mixing with the starch from his shirt, producing a hot, itchy, irritating concoction.

Emeline twittered on like an annoying parakeet. “They’re staying at the Pavilion. Wouldn’t that be lovely this time of year? To be near the sea and surrounded by all the Prince Regent’s distinguished guests.”

“A rackety crowd,” he mumbled and stared at the vase of peonies on the tea table. The flowers oozed sticky sweet sap, and if one more ant crawled out of one more big pink blossom he was going to grab the whole disgusting mess of flowers and beat them to pieces on Lady Hawthorn’s yellow couch.

Tyrell rose suddenly. “Must go.”

At their startled expressions, he looked wildly around the room. “I’ve urgent business elsewhere.”

He scarcely remembered to bow before stalking out of the room. He did have business, and he was fairly certain that business was somewhere near the seashore.


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