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Authors: Mary Williams

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Historical Fiction, #Historical Romance

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BOOK: The Velvet Glove
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Forget it then,’ Kate remarked, trying to sound practical. ‘I’m probably imagining things.’


I’m sure you are.’

But however easy it was to close the subject with words, facts suggested
otherwise when two days later Cassandra confided to Kate that Jon had invited her to Charnbrook for the afternoon and tea following, if her aunt, Mrs Barrington, agreed.

The words came out in a soft flurry of excitement, there was a tinge of colour in her usually delicately pale cheeks.

‘I – I was painting at a place near Feyland,’ she said, ‘it’s lovely there. I often go, and Jon happened to turn up. He said it would be all right if you came too. His mother has some watercolour sketches that are very old her grandmother did them, and she thought—’


Oh, you needn’t explain,’ Kate interrupted sharply, as a rush of jealous anger rose in her. ‘
You
go. I’m not interested in art like you are, and tea-talk bores me anyway.’


You don’t
mind
, do you? He’ll collect me – in his car, I think, and bring me back. Will Aunt Emily agree?’


You’d better ask her,’ Kate said, ‘but I’m sure she’ll be delighted for you to have any –
proper
– social connection with the Wentworths. It’s quite an achievement, you know.’

Insta
ntly she regretted the sarcasm – the touch of bitterness. To be
jealous
of
Cassie
was somehow degrading. So she forced herself to smile and added more casually, ‘It will be nice for you. And Mama will be pleased, I know she will. Only I just wish you’d said something to me before about meeting Jon. You must have been seeing him: I often wondered.’

She was staring very directly into the other girl
’s face.

Cas
sandra looked away. ‘Only once – twice with this last time. There was nothing secret about it. Not really. We just happened to like the same sort of things and places. It’s a kind of ruin near Feyland. I’ve been sketching it. I’ll show you, if you like.’

Kate
’s irritation returned. ‘Oh, don’t bother. It’s not important. You’ve done so many. If Jon appreciates your creations, that’s all that matters, isn’t it?’

C
assie’s luminous eyes widened. Her soft voice had a cool condemning quality when she said, ‘I believe you’re annoyed.’


Don’t be stupid.’ Kate turned away. ‘I’m going for a canter on Beth. You’d better get Mama to suggest what you wear for your assignment at the Wentworths. Tell her I’ve given you the pick of my wardrobe – all except the jade. That’s not worn yet.’

It was in such a mood of defiant bravado that five minutes later Kate, riding towards Woodgate, met Rick Ferris cantering leisurely round a bend of woodland fringing the village.

He drew up, reined, and she did the same, smiling.


Good morning, Kate. Nice day, isn’t it?’ His teeth were a flash of white in the sunlight. He wore no hat and with the soft wind ruffling his dark hair looked younger than she remembered in formal attire.


Yes, lovely,’ she agreed.


Looking for me, were you?’ The teasing quality of his voice, the hint of mischief, brought a flash of embarrassment to her cheeks.


Of course not. I don’t go looking for men, Mr Ferris.’

He laughed.
‘Forgive me. Of course you don’t. You don’t need to. You’re far too beautiful.’


This is a stupid conversation. I must be going. I only—’ She was about to kick Beth to a canter when he halted her.


No, please. Allow me to accompany you, or let us get things fixed.’

She stared.
‘What
do
you mean?’


Our next rendezvous.’


But, Mr Ferris—’


Rick. Remember?’

Suddenly she realized there was no point in fencing. She
wanted
to see him again, not casually, or in a crowd, but at a properly arranged date which could restore her lost self-confidence and vanity that had been so wounded by Jon’s conduct.

So it was arranged for her to visit the manor farm on an afternoon of the following week, when he would show her round the stud, before escorting her to Woodgate for a light evening meal.

‘No frills or fuss,’ he said, ‘and you need have no fear of offending the proprieties. All will be perfectly respectable. My housekeeper will be in charge. I shall have a word first with your papa, of course. So you can assure your mama I’m no wolf in sheep’s clothing.’

In this way Kate Barrington
’s association with Rick Ferris continued towards a course of deepening intimacy.

During the weeks following, she told herself repeatedly she certainly did not love him, nor ever could. Always she
’d long for Jon. But Rick was an exciting man to be with. And when he was not immersed in business matters he was fun, and he’d the capacity to make her laugh and enjoy life.

In late October when Cassie, who was still at Beechlands, stunned the Barringtons with the information that the Hon. Jon Wentworth had asked her to marry him and she
’d agreed. Kate, inwardly outraged and shocked almost beyond belief, determined desperately to steal what social publicity she could from Cassandra’s forthcoming union in being the first to wed.

By then she knew Ferris wanted her, and
was aware that he could have her only by making her his wife. She possessed all the subtle instincts of bringing him to the point. They were both intrinsically impatient, sensual people, and their engagement could be brief. He might not have the romantic allure of Jon, and she would never now be the future Lady Wentworth, but Rick Ferris mattered. She would be envied by many women and life would be an adventure. With tact and a little flattery from her he could be persuaded to give her whatever she wished – materially. Of that she was convinced. And in time, when Jon grew bored with colourless Cassandra, he’d notice his mistake.

That would be her ultimate triumph.

And so, reckless from reaction she plunged headlong into a new – and as it proved later – wildly disturbing relationship.

Kate
’s single-minded determination allied to Rick’s increasing desire for her, brought her wish to fulfilment, and in November amid a lightning blaze of publicity she became the bride of Richard Ferris. Cassandra and the Hon. Jon Wentworth were among the guests present at the ceremony and reception.

*

The marriage of Sir William Wentworth’s son to Cassandra Blacksley took place in February of the following year at the family’s private chapel on the Charnbrook estate. Sir William Wentworth and his wife, Lady Olivia, who held the title in her own right being the youngest daughter of a duke, had grudgingly agreed to the union in the face of their son’s stubborn infatuation and determination to take off to foreign climes if any means was produced to thwart him. And, after all, as Sir William pointed out, she would not be without a dowry. Barrington had come up trumps in that direction, and the girl seemed a quiet little thing – malleable. Jonathan might have worse.


That’s true,’ his wife had agreed thoughtfully. ‘Yes, we must be thankful, I suppose, the dear boy didn’t choose Barrington’s showy daughter. I can see trouble ahead for Ferris. Mark my words – there’s a wild streak in her. But, of course, he’s no gentleman. They’re well matched in that way. Bourgeois. You could see that at the wedding – all those bridesmaids, and champagne –
really
!’


A good-looking filly, nevertheless,’ Wentworth observed retrospectively. ‘A fine figure too – tiny waist and good hips. Should breed well.’


William! I believe you admire her.’


Hm! She’s got style whatever you may say, m’dear. But there now. Ferris and his bride are nothing to do with us. We’ve our own son to think of.’


Indeed yes. And no vulgar publicity at the ceremony. The number of guests must be kept to a strict minimum. No outsiders at the service, just relatives and staff. Thank heaven for our private chapel. It would be quite odious to provoke any sense of rivalry in the press between the Wentworth and Barrington families.’


There can be no question of that, Olivia,’ William remarked drily, ‘financially speaking. As you well know.’


I was referring to class, William. Most wealthy people nowadays are of the lower social orders. Unfortunately.’

One of her husband
’s bushy eyebrows raised itself quizzically, ‘Not for
them
, my dear. I’ve no doubt Ferris’s millions are already adding more than a touch of spice to his saucy young wife’s experience.’

*

At that moment, to be precise, Rick Ferris was watching Kate with considerable satisfaction and mounting desire, prepare herself before her mirror for what was likely to prove a somewhat tricky social occasion – dinner with John Monksley, a newspaper tycoon, and the much whispered about widow, Mrs Linda Wade, who had made herself notorious in the district through her visits to Woodgate, the Ferris home. It was early December, and Rick and Kate had only returned the previous week from their honeymoon in London and the Continent.

Kate
’s first instinct had been to object. But a gleam in her husband’s eye – a certain wary challenge, had restrained her. Everything between the couple so far had been so amicable and pleasantly exciting, the wedding at Lynchester Cathedral a public triumph, to cause an unnecessary jarring note would be foolish on her part, and quite ineffectual, for she had already sensed in the short time of her marriage that when Rick Ferris set his mind to a thing he somehow carried it through.


I want you to be pleasant to Mrs Wade,’ he said. ‘She has valuable contacts in London and abroad. Her experience theatrically, and with the Press is considerable. And I’m thinking of launching a monthly
Pictorial
Gazette
dealing specifically with social matters, also with stage and cinema gossip. Picture houses are starting up. Already a film theatre has been built in Pittsburg. In another decade no city in this country will be without one – and I mean to be in a good thing at the very beginning. So – just be your most charming self tonight, will you?’ A finger touched the back of her bare neck seductively, and from there travelled down the course of one white shoulder to a breast dislodging the flimsy wrap so it fell to her waist revealing a froth of underwear. She turned her head smiling up at him. ‘Oh, Rick!
Really
. Of course I will.’

He nodded, paused a moment staring at her reflectively, then gave a little jerk to the loosening of her corsets.
‘That’s my girl. My own sweet wife.’

A moment later she was lying supine and lovely beneath him on the bed, her luxurious hair spilling its cloud over the silk pillow, forgetful of everything in that
brief sensuous interlude – even Jon, although when all was over it was still Jon she thought of, with a sense of shame, and romantic longing.

She felt confused and faintly condemning.

Rick was so
practical
. So somehow self-assured, accepting, even demanding, everything as
his
right.

The way he stood at
that moment before the mirror –
her
mirror – regarding his countenance while feeling the line of his strong jaw and recently shadowed chin, his complacency as he jerked the cord of his silk wrap tightly above the athletic hips, the hips of a horseman, irritated her.

It was not himself he should be thinking of, but still
her
, so recently ravished.

Slightly deflated, she swung her long legs
out of the bed.


When you’ve finished, darling,’ she said, ‘would you mind sparing an inch or two of the mirror? We have guests coming. Remember?’

He turned quickly to glance at her, a quirk of amusement about his lips.

‘Sorry, madam. My pleasure.’

He stepped aside and pushed the chair into its place; she adjusted her underwear,
tied the frilled petticoat at her waist and, before seating herself, said ‘Do you mind pulling this lacing up, Rick. I really haven’t got time to fiddle now. Your – guests are due to arrive in less than an hour, and there are certain things downstairs I have to attend to.’


Of course. But I think you’ll agree our little diversion was worth it.’

She didn
’t reply. Little diversion. How trivial a phrase to use. And yet how apt, how characteristic somehow of this worldly man she had married. And how little she really knew of him. Was that, for instance, indicative of his attitude to women in general? In particular to his former mistress – if what rumour said was true – the widow, Mrs Wade, who she was due to entertain that evening?

A mounting sense of rivalry quickened in her, a spurt of temper which she controlled with an effort. Rick must never know she felt a shred of resentment towards any former amour of his. To do so would be undignified, and place her at an unpleasant disadvantage emotionally.

BOOK: The Velvet Glove
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