Seduced by His Touch(6)

By: Tracy Anne Warren

“You may not be on Papa’s list of favorites,” she admitted, “but you are on mine. Therefore you have every right to stay as my guest. In fact, why do you not remain for dinner? Martha would relish the chance to stuff you full of turtle soup, roast chicken and peach tart; all selections on tonight’s menu, if I remember correctly.”

His brown eyes warmed. “It sounds delectable. However, I really do need to be leaving shortly. A prior engagement, you see.”

“An engagement, hmm?” she teased in a soft voice. “This wouldn’t happen to involve a lady, now would it?”

His expression grew serious. “No, not at all. Besides, you know you’re the only woman for me.”

“I most certainly hope not,” she said, trying to laugh off the remark.

But he leaned forward in his chair and stretched out a hand. “Just say the word, Grace, and I’ll set matters in motion. You’re of age, so there’s no impediment to obtaining a special license. Tell me yes, and we can be married in less than a week.”

Her smile dropped away. “Terrence, don’t, please. We’ve been through this before and you know my feelings—”

“And you know mine,” he interrupted. “I won’t ever be as rich as your father, but I have money, enough to keep you in a nice house and fine gowns. I would see to it you never wanted for anything.”

Just so, she thought, lowering her gaze to the floor. With Terrence, I would be comfortable, contented even. With him, I would have everything. Everything, that is, except love.

How often she’d wished things might be different, that she could wake up one morning and find herself in love with him. How simple everything would be, then. For despite her father’s certain displeasure, she would have weathered the storm for Terrence if she truly loved him. But she did not, and to her great sorrow, she knew she never would.

She sighed. “Please, let us speak no more of this. Can it not be enough that we are friends?”

“Yes, of course,” he said, acceding to her wishes. “For now anyway. But I reserve the right to hope that someday you’ll change your mind. When you do, I will be waiting.”

Desperate to move on and put their conversation back on its earlier, easier footing, she rose and crossed the room. Taking a small key from her pocket, she unlocked a drawer in her satinwood writing desk. “I…um…I nearly forgot. I have these finished for you.” Reaching inside, she withdrew a leather-bound folio, which she carried across to him.

Silently, he accepted the case, untying the strings that held the sides closed. One by one, he studied the illustrations inside, careful as he turned the large paper sheets with their fine watercolor renderings of birds. “These are your best yet,” he pronounced. “Stunning, Grace. Absolutely stunning.”

Her cheeks warmed with pleasure. “The chimney swallow turned out best, I think. I would like to have added a bit more green to the mallard, but I suppose he’ll do.”

Terrence smiled. “He’ll more than do. It was my lucky day when we met at that ornithology lecture four summers ago. If not for that fateful introduction, I would likely never have thought of producing a series of illustrated nature books. I have no doubt this new one is going to make us a nice little profit.”

Pin money, Grace thought. At least that’s what Papa liked to call it, since her earnings never amounted to much more than her quarterly allowance. Nonetheless, the money she received from the publication of her “little watercolors” provided a small reserve for her use. More importantly, the money was hers. All hers. Derived by means of her own skills and efforts.

“We’re receiving advanced orders already,” Terrence confided as he carefully straightened the group of drawings inside the folio, then retied the strings. “Lord Ast-bury is taking two dozen this time. Told me he plans to give them out as gifts to his hunting friends.”

Her lips parted as the implication sank in. “Why, that’s dreadful. This book is supposed to be an ornithological reference guide.”

“Apparently he and his toff friends don’t care about such niceties. They like to study the birds, then go out and shoot them. Of course, what is it you said your cook is serving for dinner tonight? Roast chicken, I believe.”

She glared at him for a moment, then released a laugh. “Point taken. Are you certain you won’t stay to enjoy the carnage?”

Smiling, he shook his head. “No, but it is tempting. Look now, here is Martha with our tea.” Setting the folio aside, he stood and helped the housekeeper with the heavy tray.

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