Seven – Under Attack
To Beth’s infinite relief, Fenton had no chance to go further down this dangerous path because Raleigh, the butler announced that dinner was ready. The three of them, Beth and her charges, made it through the meal with tolerable ease. Lily and Oliver were quiet but ate well, only darting quick glances at the baron, every now and then, as if they were not entirely sure what to think of him. When the dowager rose to retire, Beth gathered her charges and made it upstairs as well, ignoring Fenton’s dark, brooding gaze.
“I am so very proud of you, my darlings!” she praised while the children were readying themselves for bed. “You have behaved like real genteel-born children, without any flaws, at all!”
“The old lady is very …” Lily frowned for the word so Beth supplied it.
“Yes! Her eyes were like glowing coals! It thought she was going to set me aflame!”
“Silly!” Her brother scowled. “Eyes cannot do that! The baron was nice, do you not think so, mademoiselle?”
“Yes, he was,” Beth agreed and gestured them to bed. She tucked them in and kissed their brows. “Now, you two have a good night’s sleep and then tomorrow, we will go on a walk to collect wild flowers.”
“Can we go and see Granny, too?”, came Lily’s small, sleep-stained voice.
“Promise! We will do that! Sleep well, darlings!”
Stephen Fenton sat behind a desk in his library enjoying a fine old brandy. He had shed his coat, opened his waistcoat and rolled up his shirtsleeves because he truly needed to wind down after the day he had. The cuts and bruises he received in the cottage fire, were troubling him so he poured himself a stiff brandy. With only one small lamp breaking the darkness of the late September night, he leaned back, resting his head against the wall. He did not need more light because he was not working. A glass of brandy and a quiet room were all he needed tonight. He wanted to do some thinking.
Too many unfamiliar feelings harassed him, too many strange emotions but none of them unwelcome.
First, there was the budding warmth he was beginning to feel for his twins. They were fine, sweet children and all these years, he had not known that. He had been a fool, not only for begetting them with silly, young, inexperienced Molly Bradley, but also, once they were born, for not paying attention to them. He needed to remediate that.
Secondly, there was Beth Williams. Pretty, lively, intriguing Beth Williams, who did not want him to know she was in England, on his own estate, in his own home. Did she want revenge for what he did, all those years ago? Stephen could understand that. He had done a terrible thing and so had his father in hiding the truth about her family’s carriage accident.
The lamp on the desk sputtered and went out. Cursing under his breath, Fenton stood and fuddled with his tinderbox to light the other one when the door of the room opened and someone entered, carrying another small lamp. He ducked behind a book rack and waited. Who could this be, sneaking into the library, that late?
It was a woman but the small lamp did not give enough light to see her face. Fenton, however, would have recognized her everywhere. Beth! That ramrod straight, very slender figure, the way she held her head and the elegance of her step had become very familiar during the weeks she was staying in his home.
What was she doing, he mused. Placing her lamp on one of the many desks in the room, Beth ducked a hand into her skirt pocket and retrieved something that looked like a small briefcase. She took several items out of it and began picking the desk drawer lock. Fenton was stunned! Why would she want to investigate his desk?
In the space of half an hour, Beth searched most of the locked-up furniture in the library and sorted through the contents, becoming more impatient by the minute. Fenton watched her the whole time with growing anger, until he could no longer stand it.
“Good evening, mademoiselle,” he said quietly, stepping from behind the book case. Beth startled so violently that she nearly jumped.
“My lord? Oh, I … I am sorry to have disturbed you. I … erm … was looking for a book and I ignored you were here.”
“A book, you say? Well, mademoiselle, books aplenty, as you can see, but you will not find them in a desk,” he said in a low voice, coming to stand beside her so closely that she was forced to step away.
Her back was now against one of the book cases and in the lamp light, Fenton could see her huge, dark eyes widen with fear. Her breath came in short, shallow intakes, causing her chest to rise frantically beneath the black bombazine of her dress. Fenton’s eyes wandered from her alabaster throat over her face and hair and back to her mouth. That mouth slightly opened and was extremely lovely. He bent his head and touched her lips with his in the lightest of kisses. Her mouth was cool, smooth and firm. She did not draw away but softly whimpered, a sound that went right down to his groin.
Tracing the curve of her cheek with a trembling finger as his hand slipped around her head, Stephen could feel the rapid beat of her heart in her slender neck. Her hands came up to rest upon his chest, the warmth of her small palms searing through the fine cotton of his shirt.
In all her twenty-five years, Beth had never been touched by a man. The tender assault of Fenton’s warm mouth was exquisitely pleasant and caused her breath to catch fiercely in her throat. Under her hands, she could feel the muscled wall of his chest, hard as steel and unmoveable as rock. Yet the sensation was strangely reassuring and filled her with an immense feeling of safety. She realised she was not afraid, only increasingly excited as her fingers slid sideways to his back. The movement brought her closer to him and she was forced to tilt back her head so that it lay cradled in both his hands. His mouth was still on hers when he spoke softly.
“What did you come here for, ma belle? What were you searching for? It was no book, was it?”
Pressed close to a healthy male in a sorry state of dishabille should have terrified her, Beth thought, yet it did not. Instead she felt safe and content.
Then, realisation struck her! Safe? In the arms of the man who caused the death of her mother and Julian?
Now, finally, terror shot through her like lightning. Beth tore herself free from Fenton’s grasp and fled.
For a split second, Stephen envisaged going after her and forcing Beth to explain her strange behaviour but then, he gave up the idea. Instead, he lowered himself back into his chair and considered the events that had just taken place.
God! He could not believe what he just witnessed. Beth, trying to pick a lock using a set of real pickpocket instruments!
Beth had been searching for something, that was obvious, but what? He would have to find out so that he could unearth what it was that had brought her here. Stephen realised he had now the perfect opportunity to throw Beth out on the streets, since she had been found out stealing.
Yet, for some reason, he did not want Beth to leave Brixton Abbey at all!