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'It was kind of you to visit an old man,' Lord Ravenscar said and smiled as the young girl smoothed his pillows and set the glass of cold water closer to his hand. 'Your pretty face has made me feel the sunshine, Miss Dawlish, and my days have been grey long enough.'
'I wanted to visit you,' Lucy assured him, 'and Mama said that I might, as Jenny was visiting. You may remember that Adam's wife is a good friend of mine, though I had not seen her for many months.'
A look of pain flitted through the old man's eyes, for the day his nephew's wife Jenny first arrived at Ravens-car was the day his eldest and adored son Mark had been murdered, nearly eighteen months ago now. The pain was plainly still too deep and grievous to be mentioned.
'You were a long time in Italy, Miss Dawlish?'
'We spent almost a year there,' Lucy replied with a smile.
Her complexion was a little coloured by the sun, for her skin had taken on a slightly golden glow, which had not yet faded. Her hair was lighter than it had used to be, a silvery blonde and fine, making her eyes seem bluer and her mouth a delicate pink.
The room smelled of the roses she'd brought for him and was clean and sweet, for Jenny and Adam had come to stay to care for him in his last days, and the servants looked after their master, as they ought.
'We visited Paris on the way home, but Papa was feeling lonely without us and so we came home last month.'
'Yes, I dare say your father missed you. It is hard when your loved ones are far away ' There was such pain and grief in his voice that Lucy was angry with Paul Ravenscar. How could he abandon his father this way? A month or two to come to terms with his grief would have been understandable, but no loving son could have stayed away this long, knowing that his elderly father was grieving.
Lucy had once thought that she might be in love with Paul. Already promised to his brother, whom she'd hero-worshipped for years, it had come to her suddenly when dancing with Paul at a ball in London that she might have preferred to marry him. She had been anxious in her mind and considered whether she should tell Mark when he was murdered. The shock had thrown them all, for how could someone as glorious be lost so easily to a murderer's spite?
Guilt had swamped her and, for a time, she had wondered if Paul might have shot his brother in a jealous fit, but she had not truly believed it-and later, when Adam and Hallam trapped the real villain, Lucy had hoped
A little sigh rose to her lips, but she smothered it and smiled at Lord Ravenscar.
'I am sure Captain Ravenscar will return soon, sir. Hallam wrote to tell him that you were unwell.'
'He should not have done so,' the old man said testily. 'Paul was engaged on work for his country-one of Wellington's aides. Why should he come rushing home just because-?' He broke off and shook his head. 'Though I shall admit that I have missed him sorely. I think I was unfair to him, Miss Dawlish. I do not believe I ever told him.' He closed his eyes and a single tear trickled down his cheek. 'Mark was the eldest and Paul Paul stood in his shadow. That was unfair, Miss Dawlish damnably unfair.'
'Pray do not distress yourself, sir,' Lucy said, feelings of pity tugging at her heart. 'I am sure you will see him soon and then you may tell him yourself.' She turned as the door opened and Jenny entered the room, bearing a tray with several little bottles, a glass and a hot drink.
'Good morning, Uncle,' Jenny said. 'It is time for your medicine.'
'I shall leave you with Jenny,' Lucy said, 'for you must take your medicines, sir-but I shall ride over again the day after tomorrow.'
'Thank your mama for her calves' foot jelly,' he said. 'I am sure I shall find it most restorative.'
'Ride carefully,' Jenny said. 'It was lovely to see you again-and the silk shawl you brought me from Italy was gorgeous.'
Lucy inclined her head and then smiled at Jenny, before leaving the room. The two young women had talked and taken tea together before Lucy came up to visit Lord Ravenscar. Seeing Jenny acting the part of the mistress of the house had brought it home to Lucy that, had Mark lived, she would have been the one to care for her father-in-law. She had known him all her life and he was as an uncle to her, a dear friend-and it hurt her to see how fragile he had become. She could only pray that he would linger long enough to see his remaining son return.
Once again, she felt angry with Paul. How could he stay away all this time when his father needed him? As far as Lucy was concerned, it was disgraceful and she would not spare him when she next saw him.
'How was dear Lord Ravenscar?' Lady Dawlish asked when Lucy entered the house. 'Was he able to speak to you, my love?'
'He is failing and very weak, but fighting it, as you would expect of such a man,' Lucy replied as she stripped off her riding gloves of York tan. She was a very pretty girl with a clear gaze, her hair wind tossed by a wayward breeze, a few springy tendrils hanging about her face where it had escaped from the fine net she wore to hold it when riding. 'I felt so distressed for him, Mama. He so much wants to see Paul and fears he will not. How can he stay away all these months when he knows his father needs him? Surely he ought to have returned months ago?'
'Do not be too critical,' her mother said with a little frown. 'You cannot know his circumstances, Lucy. The duke may have had need of him-'
'The duke might easily have found another aide to organise his work or his balls,' Lucy replied scornfully. Her mouth was hard at that moment, for in the past months since Mark's death, she had learned to hide her true feelings and to shield her heart. She had cried too many tears, both for herself and for her lost fiancé and sometimes she felt that there were none left inside her-though she had felt like weeping when she saw how fragile Lord Ravenscar had become. 'Paul is thoughtless.'
'Now, dearest, I do not like that in you,' her mother said in some distress. 'You were always such a caring girl. Not that I mean you have changed towards your father or me-but you are harsh to Paul. You must remember that he was devastated by ' Lady Dawlish faltered. 'I know you, too, suffered grievously, my dearest '
'Yes, but some of my grief was guilt because I did not love Mark in the way I ought as his wife-to-be. He was my hero and my friend, Mama-but I was not in love with him. He swept me off my feet when he returned a hero from the wars and asked me. Had I married him we might both have been unhappy, for I do not think he was in love with me either. There were times when I sensed he wished to tell me something-but he was killed too soon.'
'Oh, Lucy dearest ' Her mother looked even more upset. 'If that is true, why are you still so affected by what happened? I hoped that you might meet someone in Italy or in Paris. There were several gentlemen who showed interest, but you gave them no encouragement. Even that charming count who paid you so many compliments. I am sure he would have asked had you given him the least encouragement.'
'I did not wish to marry any of them, Mama.'
'Your father was asking me only last evening. He worries about you, Lucy. He wants to see you married and to know you are settled. We should both like grandchildren.'
'Yes, I know,' Lucy said and there was a catch in her voice. She turned her face aside, as she said, 'I must be a sad disappointment to you, Mama. I did try to like the count and the Marquis de Sancerre was very pleasant but I could not face the idea of being his wife. You would not wish me to marry simply for the sake of it?'
'No, certainly not, Lucy,' Lady Dawlish replied. 'I am sad and disappointed, as you say, but only for your sake. I pray that you will find someone who can make you put the past behind you and think of a new life. I should not like to think of you wasting your youth.'
'If I do meet someone who makes me feel that way, I shall tell you, Mama,' Lucy promised. 'For the moment I would prefer to live with you and Papa.'
'Very well, I shall not lecture you. You know your own mind best, Lucy-but it would make Papa and I happy to see you the way you used to be. You were always laughing, talking so fast that I could hardly keep up with you. Now you seem so serious.'
Lucy smiled, but made no further reply. She went up to her room, to change her gown and tidy her hair. Catching sight of herself in the pretty oval-shaped mirror in its frame of satinwood with painted decoration, she saw a face slightly too pale beneath the tan, which would soon wear off now that she was back in England, her eyes were large and dark, her mouth set in a hard line. Had she changed very much? As a girl she had always been ready to laugh and tease her friends-but she had carried so much pain inside her for too long.
She was concerned that her manner was causing her parents distress, but she had not been aware that they sensed the change in her. Had she become hard or uncaring? Lucy did not think so the only person she felt anger against was Paul Ravenscar.
He had stayed away so long. Before he went away to Italy, he'd spoken of visiting her when she arrived in that country; she'd believed that once his grief had abated he would do so, but long before she set foot in Rome, he had gone back to Vienna and joined Wellington's staff. In all the long months since he had not once written to her.
He cared nothing for her! Lucy's heart and her pride had felt the blow of his indifference. Had he loved her, he would surely have made an effort to visit her. Even if he believed it was too soon for them to marry, he could have told her of his feelings asked her to wait until he was ready. Instead, he'd ignored her and Lucy's grief over Mark's death and her feelings for Paul had turned to anger.
Why had he looked at her that way when they danced? Why touch her hair with his lips? Why hold her and look into her eyes when he helped her dismount from her horse? Why, oh, why had he engaged her feelings if he cared nothing for her? She had been a fool to care for him. Mark was worth ten of him and yet she had not truly loved him in the way that a wife should. She believed that, had they married, neither would have been truly happy.
Perhaps she was incapable of loving anyone with all her heart. Lucy dragged a brush through her tangled hair, her throat tight with distress. If she could not fall in love, then she must look for a man who could keep her in comfort and would be kind to her.
It was not the marriage she had hoped for, because she was a romantic girl, but perhaps it would be less painful-to love someone was to suffer. Lucy had learned that lesson well these long months.
She owed it to her parents to marry, so she must put away this foolish grief. She had grieved long enough for her friend Mark, and Paul was not worth her tears. She would not continue to think of him and make herself miserable.
She would forget the past and be happy. Somehow, she would make a new life and if a gentleman she liked asked her to wed him, she would say yes.
'How is he?' Paul asked of the butler, as he handed over his hat, gloves and riding whip. His grey eyes were anxious, his dark-brown hair ruffled as he ran his fingers through it nervously. 'Please tell me he isn't dead.'
'Lord Ravenscar is very weak,' the man replied sadly. 'However, he still lives-and will be glad to see you, sir.'
'Thank you, John. I shall go up to him at once.' 'Mrs Miller is with him, sir. She sits with him as much as she can, but he still has a few visitors. Miss
Dawlish came this morning. She left no more than an hour since-'
'Indeed? That was kind of her,' Paul said stiffly. He took the stairs two at a time, not bothering to shake off the dust of the roads in his anxiety. He knocked softly at the door of his father's bedchamber and then went in. His gaze went immediately to the bed and the shock took his breath. Lord Ravenscar had been unwell when he left home, but still a strong man-the man in the bed looked thin and fragile, close to death. Guilt raged through him, making his chest tighten. By the looks of it he was almost too late.
'Father ' he said and went forward, his throat catching with emotion. 'Forgive me for not returning sooner.'
'Paul, my boy.' The old man's hand trembled as he offered it and Paul clasped it between both his hands. Jenny smiled at him and moved away from the bed.
'I shall leave you together,' she said. 'Stay and talk to your father, Paul. We are all glad to have you back.'
'Thank you. We shall talk later.'