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Authors: Judith B. Glad

Tags: #19th Century, #England, #marriage, #Regency, #Regency Romance, #Romance

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BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
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"But your soak--"

"Can wait. I need some answers before I see her ladyship
this morning." He tossed the nightshirt to the foot of the bed. "Do you
know where she is?"

"I saw her headin' for the muniment room. She...uh...didn't
look too happy."

"Excellent. Not that she is unhappy, but that she is occupied.
I'll want both canes," he said as Nettles assisted him into his
breeches.

"Are ye sure...?"

"That I can walk to the stables? No, but there is only one way
to find out. Never mind the cravat. A kerchief will do. And my
brogues. Yes, yes, the woolen hose too." He contained his impatience
with difficulty. When he finally had both canes in his hand, he took a
cautious step. Yes, I can do this. "Charge."

Nettles muttered something.

Clarence thought it best not to ask him to repeat it.

Once he got Clarence to the front door, Nettles put his foot
down. "I'll fetch the dog cart. Mebbe you can walk to the stables and
mebbe not, but I'll not have all my hard work go for naught because
your pride made you try. You wait here."

Clarence obeyed, wondering who was the master and who
the employee.

Entering the shadowy cavern brought back memories, not
particularly pleasant ones. Unable to share his father's interest in
hunting and frankly bored with the intricacies of hunter bloodlines,
he had rarely visited the stables for any purpose other than fetching
a hack for a ride around the estate or a jaunt into the village. He'd
certainly never found hunters the fascination his sire had. So
Clarence was surprised when Simms, the aging head groom, greeted
him with some enthusiasm.

"Her la'ship were here t'other day, pokin' about. Had a
parcel of questions, she did, and she warn't too happy with the
answers, I reckon. I knowed that soon's ye was back on yer feet, ye'd
straighten it all out."

Some judicious questions and an expression of interest soon
imparted the full picture to Clarence. Last year his father had not
given orders for the two-year-olds to be taken to the show where
most of the sales took place. When Simms inquired, he was told not
to worry; there would be a sale held later, right here at Guillemot.
But no prospective buyers ever materialized, even though the
training of the young stock continued.

"We had to hire on two more lads, once we started working
the youngsters," Simms said, "but his lordship said to go ahead, take
on howsomever many we needed. But then he passed on, and we
didn't go to this year's sales neither, and now we're short-handed,
what with another crop of colts needin' schooled. But her la'ship said
I had to let some lads go, not hire on some more, and you know,
milord, that we can't do that, not with breeding season comin'
on."

Clarence listened, not admitting that he'd forgotten much of
what he'd unwillingly learned about the management of a stud.
Finally he interrupted Simms to say, "We'll settle all that later. Right
now we need to plan how to get rid of those three-year-olds. And
perhaps a stallion or two." Although he hadn't admitted it to his wife,
he agreed that having six stallions at stud was impractical for a
stable the size of Guillemot's. Especially since they weren't
generating any stud fees.

Simms argued for approaching some of the hunt clubs about
the availability of the three-year-olds. Clarence considered it for a
moment, and said, "No, we'll send them to Tatt's. Make plans to
transport them to London next week." When Simms sputtered, he
said, with all the authority he'd learned in the army, "I know we
won't get our money's worth, but at least we won't be feeding them.
Now about the stallions..."

The groom's' face took on a sheepish expression. "Well, now,
I reckon we might send Thunderbolt and Geraint's Pride on with the
three-year-olds. Their bloodlines are good, but they ain't been
proven. Showy they are, but neither one jumps worth a damn."

"Then why-- Never mind." His legs were beginning to
tremble. "We'll come back to this later. I want to take a look around.
We'll take the dogcart."

Once they were tooling along the lane leading to the home
farm, Nettles said, "'Pears to me your father let things slide a
bit."

"He did indeed, and more than a bit." The breeze had a bite
to it, but the scents carried on it evoked old memories, taking him
back to his youth when all he could think of was escaping this rural
backwater and seeing the world. He didn't regret going to the army,
but now he couldn't imagine being anywhere else than here, where
the loudest sounds were the raucous cries of crows warning a merlin
from their roosts. I've had enough of cannonfire and screaming and
killing.

Everywhere they went that day, from the village, where they
stopped for a bite at midday, to the cottages where a few laborers
still lived, he saw signs of neglect. The home farm, never a
particularly productive place, showed no evidence of recent
cultivation, the small woods where he'd occasionally trapped conies
were tangled with deadfall and almost impassable. Even the pond,
where once ducks, both wild and tame, had nested and fed, was fetid
and weed-grown.

No wonder my wife was outraged. I may not be a farmer,
but I'd be a fool to ignore these evidences of neglect. My father must
have been demented.

"I've seen enough," he told Nettles, when they'd turned back
at the farthest boundary of the estate, where two fields were so
weed-infested that they could not have been cultivated nor used as
pasture for several years, were the last straw. His inheritance was
worthless. And he couldn't even sell it.

"I owe my wife an apology."

"Huh!" was all Nettles said, but the single syllable held
approval.

Chapter Ten

Nettles pulled the sheet up to Clarence's waist. "Ye're all but
healed up, sor. A few more days and we can stop the soakin'."

He reached around and scratched through the sheet. "Thank
God. My skin's as well cured as a hog's belly. Ow!"

"What?"

"I scratched too close. That hole in my arse might be all but
healed, but it's still damn tender."

"You be careful. Start pokin' around and ye'll undo all the
good these soaks have done ye." He moved around out of Clarence's
view, but from the sounds he was making Clarence knew he was
making the bathing room tidy and turning back the bed.

"Get out of here, Nettles. There are maids to do all
that."

"Yes sor. But I might as well, since I'll be stickin' close so I
can help you to bed."

Experimentally, Clarence reared up on his forearms. When
that didn't hurt, he rolled himself over onto his back. A sharp twinge
in his arse told him he did indeed have more healing to do, but it was
nothing like it had been. Gradually, carefully, he levered himself up
into a sitting position, being careful to put most of his weight on his
left buttock.

"Ere now, what the hell are ye up to?"

"Asserting my independence. I'm tired of being an invalid.
Time I was on my feet again." Earlier, when Nettles had assisted him
to the bathing room, he'd realized he'd been taking more of his own
weight every day, that today Nettles was doing little else but steady
him. Even the awkward slide into the tub had been easier, for he'd
been able to support himself on his left leg. Finally.

"What's the date?" He'd deliberately avoided counting the
days of his recuperation, knowing that doing so would only slow the
passage of time.

Nettles pushed the drawer shut and turned away from the
bureau. "I ain't sure exactly. Hold--" A faraway look came into his
eyes. "March. Maybe the middle. One of the maids was saying at
breakfast that Easter was comin' up in a bit, and that it was close on
the beginning of April."

"So it's been around two months. I should be able to walk on
this leg without doing it any harm. Let's see." Without waiting for
Nettles to cross the room, he slid from the table on which he'd lain
daily while Nettles had massaged and manipulated his broken leg.
He'd been determined that its muscles would not atrophy.

"Wait--"

He had no intention of doing so. Carefully, for he was not a
foolish man, he set his left foot upon the floor and put a little weight
on it.

A little more, and he felt the muscles in his thighs begin to
tremble.
Great God, I've no strength left!
"Hand me the cane,
will you?"

Nettles picked up one of his crutches.

"The cane, Nettles."

"But sor--"

"Sergeant."

"Yes, sor." He set the crutch aside and handed Clarence the
walking stick.

The amber handle was warm in his hand. He set the stick
solidly on the floor and stepped forward tentatively with his right
foot. Muscles continued to tremble, but they functioned. Leaning
heavily on the cane, he swung his left foot forward, put his weight on
that leg. His knee wanted to flex, his ankle to flop, his thigh muscles
to cramp. "Damn!"

When Nettles would have slipped his shoulder under
Clarence's armpit, he waved the man away. The distance to his
chaise longue couldn't be more than ten paces. Surely he could take
those steps.

He was halfway there, with Nettles hovering anxiously at his
elbow, when the door opened.

"What the devil are you doing?" his wife demanded, just as
his toe caught on the carpet. "Trying to kill yourself?"

She caught him before he could fall. Later Lisanor wondered
how she had moved so quickly, for the door was fully three yards
from her husband.

Instead of him sprawling upon the floor, probably with
Nettles atop him, he had landed on her. His hands were on either
side of her head, one leg was wedged between hers, and they were
nose to nose.

While she fought to draw a breath, she thought she heard
him say, "That will be all, Nettles."

He raised himself slightly, taking his weight off her chest.
The action only served to press his hips more firmly against hers. His
hips, and--
Good heavens, is that what I think it is?

"Are you injured?"

Having finally found her breath, she said, "I don't believe so.
Are you?"

Nettles had come to his knees beside them. "Sor? M'lady?
Are you all right? Shall I call for Carleton?"

"Go away, Nettles. We're both fine. Her ladyship will help me
to my feet."

"But--"

"Sergeant!"

"Yes, sor."

Guillemot remained atop her as Nettles walked slowly,
hesitantly to the door. When it had closed behind the bâtman,
he said, "I confess that I had intended to use more finesse in bringing
you to this position."

Lisanor had been attempting to decide the best way to get
him safely off the floor, but his words made her freeze in place. "My
lord?"

He bent his head and brushed his mouth lightly across hers.
"We have been married nearly four weeks, and I've only kissed you
once. Well, twice now, but the one just now hardly counts. You have
a lovely mouth, my dear." Before she could respond, he was
addressing her mouth in a way that neither of his previous kisses
had prepared her for. His tongue slipped lightly along the seam of
her lips, as if requesting entrance.

With a long, soft sigh of pure pleasure, she allowed it. For a
brief moment, before she came to her senses. With both hands on his
shoulders, she pushed him from her. "My lord, this is not--"

His sigh was expressive, but of what she was unsure. "No, it
certainly is not the time or place for what I have in mind. Will you
assist me to my feet?"

That task proved more difficult than she had anticipated,
and certainly than he had hoped. Before he was safely ensconced
upon his chaise longue, she had learned several words far more
colorful than any she had heard in the barns.

"I beg your pardon, my dear. Clearly I overestimated my
degree of recovery." He was still sweating, and the lines of pain on
his face, which she had thought less deep these past few days, were
strongly evident. Even his voice was weaker.

She sat on the edge of the chaise, laid her hand upon his
chest. "There is an old saying, my lord, about not running before you
can walk. Perhaps if you were to begin with shorter distances...or use
two canes."

He turned his face away. "Or perhaps I should accept that I
will never be the man I once was."

"Oh, for God's sake! We are none of us the persons we once
were. Time passes and we change, we age. Perhaps you will never be
able to run a footrace again, or charge up a--whatever it is that
soldiers charge up--but you are perfectly capable of managing your
estates, of taking your seat in the House, of-- Are you laughing at me,
sir?"

"No, my dear. I am not laughing. Not exactly. I think... I
believe I am giving thanks."

He caught her hands and raised them to his lips, which now
bore a small smile. "It is my good fortune to have wed the most
practical, commonsensical woman in England. You have not only
brought me the means to salvage the disaster wrought by my father,
but you have reminded me that the battle is not won by the faint of
heart."

She did her best to ignore the wish that he would kiss more
than her hands. "I believe our bargain to be beneficial to both of us
equally, my lord."

"Lisanor?"

"Yes, my lord?"

"Say my name."

"Your-- Guillemot."

"No, my given name. Guillemot is an institution, not a
person. Say
my
name. Please."

Aware that his request had some significance to him, she put
the respect she'd come to feel for him, along with the affection she'd
just realized she had for him, into her tone. "Clarence."

Again he kissed her fingers. "Thank you. And now, would
you please call Nettles back. I could not walk ten paces today, but I
intend to make another attempt."

"I would be happy to assist you."

"And give me another attempt to crush you? I think not. But
you can, before you go, answer me one question."

BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
7.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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