Eight – A Slow Conquering of the Heart
Beth lived in a kind of suspended fear for three long weeks, before she dared to relax. She was convinced Fenton would summon her and tell her she was dismissed from his services. Yet, day after day passed without that happening and she began to breathe more easily again.
Then she started wondering why Fenton left her in peace. From what she knew about him, he was a shrewd and evil man who would not leave such an opportunity unused.
In those three weeks, Fenton did everything to belie his reputation as a cold and evil man.
He was kind to Lily and Oliver when he attended their riding lessons, giving only mild corrections when necessary. Encouraging the children with outings, he not only gradually gained their trust but also won their hearts in allowing them to have one of his hunting bitches’ pups as a pet.
Sometimes, totally unexpected, he would appear in the classroom and just sit quietly at the back. Listening to the children reading or helping them with French and arithmetic, he managed to shut out Beth on those occasions, so that she was forced to leave the classroom. Instead of taking offense, Beth welcomed those encounters of Fenton with his children, for they benefitted from them. Lily and Oliver were actually happy, and Beth loved to see them happy. She had come to love Lily and Oliver, it was as simple as that.
At dinner, Fenton was kind and deferential, having interesting and very neutral conversations in which he also took care to include his mother. Evening meals were pleasant and entertaining but superficial. Beth could not help thinking he was just biding his time, soothing her suspicions and making ready to strike when the time was right. She had, after all, crossed the line of decent behaviour by her break-in attempt.
Then, one evening, Fenton announced he would be going to London for a while.
“I have been neglecting some aspects of my business, My Lady,” he addressed his mother. “I need to go talk to my lawyers in London. Would you care to accompany me and do some shopping?”
The Dowager Baroness replied swiftly.
“My Lord, you know very well I do not care for London anymore since your esteemed father died. My health is not as good as it was and I do not think a prolonged carriage journey will improve it.”
The next day, Fenton had Parsifal saddled and departed for London, leaving Beth with an odd feeling of abandon.
After barely a two mile ride, Fenton halted at an inn on the London road, tossed Parsifal’s reins toward the stable hand and strode inside. The landlord came running and bowing with as much swiftness his rotund form permitted.
“Good day, my lord Brixton! How can I serve you?”
“Ah, Widdicombe! What news? How is your good wife and family?”
“Very well, sir! Our Evie just had her second baby and my Lizzie has gone to give her a hand with the little ones. Was you wanting a room then, my lord?”
“No, just a pint of your excellent ale and send your youngest – Rickie, I believe his name is – to me, will you?”
Rickie, ten years old, lithe and fast, skidded to a halt in front of him just seconds later.
“Wha’ is it ye want, melord?”
“I have a job for you, Rickie. One that is worth a golden boy if you do it right.”
“A … a gol’en boy! Blimey, melord! I’d do anything fer that!”
Grinning, Fenton explained what it was he wanted Rickie to do for him. He was to go and spy on Brixton Hall from the shrubbery. Whenever Rickie would see a light going up in the library, he was to rush back to the inn and tell the baron.
Beth crept down the stairs of Brixton Abbey as soon as she saw the lights go out in the servants’ quarters. With Fenton away, she now had ample opportunity to go searching his desks again. For more than two hours, she meticulously looked for proof or clues about the fatal accident but she found none. Discouraged, she went back upstairs, tears of powerless rage in her eyes. On the first floor, she paused, a thought coming to mind. Fenton’s rooms! He could very well be hiding some compromising evidence there!
With renewed hope, she stole towards the Baron’s chambers, her burglar’s keys at the ready. The door opened silently to a set of rooms as lovely as they come. A large sitting room with a desk and bookcases, some comfortable chairs and a low table, and two doors on either side. One of them led to a dressing room, full to the rafters with Fenton’s clothes, boots, cravats and other items. The other one led to the bed chamber where the large four poster occupied most of the space but there was also an extension that contained a big copper bath tub. Everything was upholstered in the most exquisite taste, and Beth sighed at the sight of it. She would never in her life possess such beautiful rooms.
But, back to her quest, she admonished herself and headed for the large desk. There were four drawers to the left side and a cupboard door to the ride side. All of them were locked. Beth began using her keys and, after a couple of minutes had all the locks open. The contents of the desk were predictable. Documents concerning the estate, ledgers, a writing wallet, nothing out of the ordinary. Yet, at the back of the bottom drawers, her probing fingers encountered something promising – a small booklet covered in bright red Moroccan leather – a diary!
The light of the moon not being enough to read by, Beth lit a candle, sat down in the comfortable desk chair and began reading. Twenty minutes later, she knew she had found the proof she needed. Time to go back to her room.
“Ah, I see you found it! Is it enough, my dear mademoiselle, or do you need extra proof on my involvement in the accident that caused your mother’s death?”
Beth literally froze in horror! Fenton? Yes, there he was, sauntering towards her with his easy long stride and his charming smile on his handsome face. She was done for! Struggling for words but not finding them, she slowly backed towards the windows. His hand shot out and grabbed hers, snatching the diary out of her hand with his other hand.
“Did you think I had not recognized you from the start, Beth? You have changed a lot, I will give you that, but you still have those chocolate brown eyes of yours. They are unique, my pretty, and incomparable to any other pair I have gazed into since I drowned into yours. Do you have any idea how long those eyes have haunted me? More than ten long years, ma petite gouvernante.”
Her heart hammering in her chest as if it was on the verge of exploding, Beth saw the hard glint of desire in those blue-grey eyes and felt the answering tug deep inside her. As Fenton wound his arm around her waist, she all but whimpered with a need that shot through her from head to toe. She actually did whimper when his mouth came down on hers for a savage kiss.