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Taming the Barbarian
"Me' Marry again'" Lady Glendowne tilted her head as she stroked the petals of a perfect yellow rose. It was as bright as a canary and peeked with precocious optimism out from amidst dark, scalloped leaves and thorny companions.
The fragrances of Jardin de Jacques were heady and ripe, teasing the nostrils, awakening slumbering senses. The sun felt warm and sensual against Fleurette's neck and bosom, for her frock, the exact shade of the impetuous rose, was cut fashionably low beneath her small, peaked chin.
She was on holiday, it was early summer in Paris, and she was accompanied by four of her closest friends, but she hardly needed those heady excuses to show such daring cleavage. Fashion and her own advancing years were reason enough. After all, she was nearly four-and-twenty.
"No. I do not think I shall choose to marry again," she said.
"You jest."Frederick Deacon's tone was stunned as he curtailed his admiration of a cluster of blushing columbine. He was short and narrow and known to flirt with anything that donned skirts. Indeed, it was sometimes whispered that he flirted with some who wore breeches.
"No," Fleurette countered. "I do not. My husband meant the moon and the stars to me, as you well know, but I have little reason to marry again."
Quirking a brow and reaching for her hand, Deacon gave her an elegant bow. "My dearest lady, if you do not yet comprehend the advantages of wedded bliss, I feel it is my responsibility, however tedious to...help you understand nuptial pleasures."
Fleurette laughed, allowed one dawdling kiss, and drew her hand carefully away. Shewas no prude, but she was hardly a demirep either, parading about in dampened gowns that showed every peak and dimple. "You are too kind, good sir, but that would hardly be proper."
"Propriety," said Lady Anglehill, distractedly eyeing a nearby statue, "is highly overrated." Jardin de Jacques was valued for its magnificent blossoms, its ancient statuary, and its lack of prejudice against artistic nudity. Not necessarily in that order.
"Be that as it may," said Fleurette, skimming her fingers along the undulating wall of stones beside which Lucy led them, "Thomas has been gone such a short while and..."
"Seven years," interjected Lord Lessenton.
"I beg your pardon'"
"Seven years."Stanford Henry, the third baron of Lessenton, was fair-haired, handsome, perfectly groomed, and impeccably dressed. "This coming August."
Fluorite's steps faltered, and her eyes became misty. "Has it been so very long'"
"Yes," Stanford said, catching her gaze. "It has."
She turned toward him, taking his hand between her gloved fingers. "But of course it has. My apologies. At times I forget he was as dear to you as he was to me."
"Such a senseless loss," Stanford said. "First my Clarice, then her beloved brother."
She squeezed his hand."Indeed, I shall never..."
"Here now," Deacon cut in, with smooth aplomb. He scooped his arm through hers, but allowed her time to do the same to Stanford, so that they stood three in a line, linked side by side. "Let us speak of happier things."
She gave him a half smile and forced her mind from sadness. After all, they were on holiday. "And what would you suggest'" she asked.
"Well..." Deacon paused as if thinking, then,"oh yes, your lucky bridegroom to be. Whomever shall you choose'"
"My dearest Frederick, you're dreadfully obvious," she said.
"I beg your pardon."He drew back as if aghast, splaying elegant fingers across the crisp white of his freshly laundered cravat.
She gave him a look, and then skimmed her gaze back to the meandering path. "I fear your need for funds is well-known."
Deacon pulled his companions to an abrupt halt. "Might you be suggesting that I love you for your bank account alone'"
"Yes," she said, and tugged them gently along in her wake. "That is exactly what I am suggesting."
"Well," he puffed and stared into the unseen horizon as if highly insulted. "'Ties entirely untrue. I also happen to very much admire your tilbury phaeton."
"You mustn't forget her horses," Amelia added from behind.The fifth daughter of a struggling baronet, she had been hastily engaged to a promising young banker from Hendershire before, as her father put it, she went entirely to buttermilk. Her mother, it was said, had gained a good five stone since her marriage, but Amelia Engleton was hardly concerned. For she had eyes like an angel and hair like a goddess, or so vowed her besotted betrothed.
"The horses," Deacon repeated dreamily. Sighing, he stared foggily into the distance again, as if imagining them even now. "I admit that seeing you seated behind the grays makes me want to strangle you in your sleep, my dear." He shook his head and caught her gaze. "No offense meant, of course."
"None taken," Fleurette said, and smiled as she thought of her horses. She had purchased the team as matched weanlings and seen to their training herself. "They are a lovely pair. You know their strides are matched to within a quarter of an inch."
Deacon's mouth pulled down sharply at the corners. "Now you're simply being cruel."
"True," she admitted, "but you did threaten my life."
"Threaten your...I would do no such thing," he vowed, then leaned conspiratorially close, "Not until after we have become lovers at the least."
"Frederick," she scolded. "I must implore you to keep a civil tongue."
"I have always believed it quite civil to speak of love," quipped Deacon. "What I find completely unacceptable is for a handsome woman such as yourself to be alone in the world."
"I am hardly alone," she argued. "I have Lucy and Amelia, you, and Stanford." She gave her brother-in-law's arm a gentle squeeze. "Who is my rock."'
"I am speaking of an entirely different kind of loneliness," said Deacon.
"Truly'" She glanced at a bower of honeysuckle that graced a stone archway.Taming the Barbarian. Copyright © by Lois Greiman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.