That Perfect Someone Page 34

Milton didn"t leave them wondering for long. Much too congenially he said, “I didn"t really expect this to play out this way, but just in case it did, I brought our parish pastor along.” Knowing exactly what that meant, Julia began to panic, but Richard didn"t acknowledge the danger they were in. “What for?” he demanded.

Milton smiled, exuding triumph. “You"ve compromised her. You aren"t going to try to deny it, are you? After you"ve already admitted it and when I"m standing here seeing the proof of it along with these good witnesses, who will, of course, also bear witness to your wedding—

tonight.”

Richard said nothing, but his fists clenched. Julia found her voice and quickly pointed out,

“This isn"t legal when the banns—”

“—are irrelevant when I have a special license that doesn"t require the posting of banns,” Milton cut her off. “I"ve had it for nine bloody years.”

She was beginning to see there was no way out of this. Here she was lying in bed next to the man she"d been betrothed to since childhood, and it wasn"t just the earl who had caught her in this compromising position. A pastor was present, too. But she knew Richard was going to refuse to go through with the marriage, and then what? Would they both be shipped off to Australia this time?

“Why are you doing this when we"re planning to be married at a proper wedding ceremony?” she asked frantically.

“You can still have your grand wedding, m"dear. This is merely my insurance.”

“No, this is you forcing the issue and putting a tawdry stain on it,” Richard said furiously.

Milton tsked. “It"s nothing of the sort. If you love her as you say, you should be delighted to marry her sooner.” But then Milton added with a knowing sneer, “Or were you not really intending to marry at all?”

Richard didn"t answer. Julia said quickly, “If you had a license and were going to force a wedding, why didn"t you just send for me when you had Richard before, instead of putting him on that convict ship?”

Milton flushed angrily at her mentioning that in front of the pastor and the other men, but he said quickly, “Would you have come for a wedding? No, you would have sent someone to verify that Richard was back and agreeable, and finding out that he was still against it, you would have run in the opposite direction, wouldn"t you? Can you deny it, when a week later you came to tell me that nothing had changed between the two of you so you weren"t getting married? No, he needed to be willing before you"d come to the altar, and he wasn"t—yet.” She noticed it only made Richard angrier to hear Milton"s previous motives spelled out, but she insisted, “That isn"t true. I never said I wouldn"t marry him if he was here to be married.

Whether he was agreeable or not, I would have honored that contract.” Milton waved his hand impatiently, dismissing her words. “I don"t believe you. But since you"ve both had such an amazing change of heart and claim to love each other now, it doesn"t matter, does it? Enough talk. Please rise and prepare to take your vows.” The silence was suddenly deafening. Richard didn"t even try to conceal his rage, it was in his posture, in every line of his face, pouring from his eyes, and the tension in the room grew apace. He wasn"t going to let his father win this long-standing battle. He simply wasn"t going to answer, and that was answer enough. Julia held her breath, waiting for Milton"s reaction, unable to think of anything else to say that might prevent or delay what was going to happen.

Richard finally spat out, “I knew it was a mistake to come here,” and Julia braced herself for the violence that was sure to follow that remark. But then she stared at him incredulously when he added, “Hurry up, Pastor. My bride has been embarrassed enough.”

Chapter Forty-five

SHE WAS MARRIED, TO him. Julia was so close to tears she didn"t dare say anything yet, didn"t dare even glance at the angry man sitting across from her in the coach on the way back to London.

She was still so embarrassed she didn"t think it would ever go away. She"d had to stand there with a blanket wrapped around her for her wedding. They wouldn"t even give her an opportunity to dress first. The pastor had immediately begun the ceremony. She"d had to be nudged for her replies, she"d been in such a mortified daze, and nudged again for her signatures. Three times she"d had to authorize that travesty with a pen, for the parish ledger that the witnesses had also signed, for the document Milton wanted for himself, and for the document that was handed to her, her proof that she was married, as if she needed proof after that.

When that door had closed behind all those witnesses, and Milton"s laughter could be heard on the other side of it, Richard had looked as if he wanted to kill something, really kill something.

She was still too shocked over what had just happened to feel angry, but she did realize they"d made that much too easy for the earl. She tried not to sound accusatory, but she had to ask Richard, “Did you consider this possibility when you decided on our demonstration?”

“Hell no, I didn"t. And now isn"t a good time to talk to me, Jewels. Go pack, we"re leaving.” He"d said no more. She didn"t argue because she wanted to leave Willow Woods as much as he did.

Leaving at night didn"t make for a fast exit though. Most of the servants had retired so they had to be awakened to help with the baggage and to bring the two coaches around. But they wouldn"t be racing down too many dark roads. She was sure Richard would find them an inn where they could spend the night once they were far enough away from Willow Woods. But he didn"t. He stopped only long enough to gather Ohr and a few of the guards, who could spell the drivers of the two vehicles because he intended to reach London before nightfall the next day.

Julia slept the rest of the night, despite the emotional turmoil that had begun to get worse.

She was simply too tired not to nod off, even while sitting up. At one point Richard leaned over to push her down on the seat she had to herself so she could be more comfortable. She barely noticed, going right back to sleep.

She finally woke at midday, feeling rested, yet not a bit more prepared to deal with having a husband who was furious that he was a husband.

Richard still said nothing as she sat up and wiped the sleep from her eyes. He just handed her a basket of food they must have stopped for. It didn"t look as if he"d had any of it himself.

It didn"t look as if he"d slept, either.

He was staring broodingly out the window. Every so often a muscle ticked in his jaw. His hair was loose and had been since she"d pulled it free of its queue last night in bed. But he was wearing a jacket and a loose cravat. Such an odd contrast that long hair made with his finely tailored clothes. He was half aristocrat, half daring adventurer, but still so handsome, even though he was putting up this cold, angry wall between himself and the world. It made her wonder what he"d really been doing all these years. What had made him so unconventional?

He"d given her silly, teasing answers that she couldn"t possibly believe when she"d asked before. But now that the knot was tied, as it were, she had a right to know the truth.

“You are a pirate, aren"t you?”

She regretted the question the moment after she blurted it out. This was no time to discuss his past when they hadn"t even discussed what they were going to do about their future. And it didn"t yet look as if he"d calmed down at all.

He didn"t look at her, but he said, “No—not anymore.”

She hadn"t expected to hear him confirm it. “You used to be?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn"t you try to convince me of it?”

“When you found it so hilarious that I could have lived such a life?”

“But a pirate, Richard?” Then she said in her defense, “I didn"t find it ludicrous that you could be a pirate, I simply didn"t believe that pirates still exist. You do know what century this is?”

He glanced at her. A half smile formed on his lips. Had she just cracked that wall of anger?

“I have a feeling you"re thinking of bloodthirsty cutthroats. “You"re right, they lived in another age. Let me tell you about my captain, Nathan Brooks. He"s Gabby"s father and a kind, good-hearted man—who used to be a pirate.”

She was soon fascinated, listening to him, and watching the way his eyes lit up when he spoke of his adventures aboard The Crusty Jewel. He told her how he"d met Ohr, and then Nathan and the rest of his crew, how they were like family to him now. Yes, they had loosely called themselves pirates, but they were treasure hunters, too.

“That was always Nathan"s real passion and what we spent at least half our time doing, hunting down old pirate treasure. And that"s actually all we do these days. After Nathan spent some time as a hostage himself, he washed his hands of anything to do with pirating. It was an easy decision for him to make, though, with Gabby marrying into the Skylark shipping family, who quite frown on that sort of thing.”

“So you really like the Caribbean?”

“Like it? I love it—but not everyone does. It"s beautiful, but there isn"t a single thing about it that"s similar to England. It"s a completely different way of life from what you know, harsh at times, the heat extreme. The English who go there soon wilt and return home.”

“You didn"t.”

“I was forced to adapt because I didn"t have a home to return to.” He turned back toward the window, the wall firmly back in place now that he was reminded of why he hadn"t had a home to go back to. She looked down at her lap, sadness overwhelming her. The ring on her finger caught her eye, her wedding ring. Milton must have quickly bought it off one of the servants to present it at the wedding. It didn"t fit and was as ugly as her marriage ceremony had been.

A tightness formed painfully in her chest. She wished she hadn"t learned these things about Richard"s life away from England. A part of her, an emotional part, liked that she was married to him. She was afraid that she"d grown too attached to him over the last month and now she"d fallen in love with him. But from everything he"d just told her and how he loved the new life he"d made for himself in the Caribbean, there was obviously no place for her in it. But even if she could fit in, she couldn"t ignore that Richard didn"t like their current state at all. He couldn"t have made that clearer. So she had to make it right for him and at least offer him a way out. Yet, hesitating to broach the subject, she waited too long.

The coach stopped in front of her home in Berkeley Square, and Richard opened the door for her and handed her down to the curb. He didn"t leave the coach himself. Too angry even to come in with her to tell her father that they were married?

There was no help for it. She felt he was going to close the door without even a good-bye.

“I"ll start divorce proceedings immediately,” she promised him. “You needn"t—” He cut in sharply, “You want a divorce?”

No sigh of relief? No thank-you? Anger still spewing forth? She grit her teeth. “Yes, of course. Neither of us expected or wanted this to happen.”

“Whatever you want, Jewels,” he said with a poignancy that she didn"t quite understand. But she must have mistaken it, because he added brusquely, “I"m leaving.” He started to close the door. “Wait! You"ll need to be present for the divorce. It shouldn"t take more than a few weeks. Where can I reach you?”

He stared at her for a long moment before he said, “I guess you better pack for a long trip. If you want that divorce, you"ll have to come with me. I"m not staying in this country another day. If The Triton isn"t ready to sail, I"ll catch another ship. I"m going home where I can breathe and forget about that ruthless bastard again.”

“You"re not thinking logically. It will only take a little while longer, then we can be done with this.”

He shook his head adamantly. “If I stay here another day, I"m going to go back there and kill that son of a bitch. I need to get far away from that temptation. Immediately. So take it or leave it, Jewels. You"ve got the rest of the day to think about it.”

“Just like that? Wait! Where are you going? I"ll need to be able to find you to let you know if I—agree.”

“You can send the message to Boyd Anderson"s house, since that"s where Gabby and Drew are staying, and I"ll be meeting up with them.”

Richard closed the door and slammed a fist against the ceiling for the driver to move on. She stared at the departing vehicle incredulously. My God, what had just happened? She was doing him the favor of getting him out of this quickly, yet he wouldn"t cooperate?

Chapter Forty-six

THE DECISION TO LEAVE England with Richard wasn"t as hard to make as it should have been.

Julia made it before she even entered her home that day.

Waiting for her maid to get out of the second coach, she told the girl, “Have more trunks brought down from the attic and pack them today. I"m going on a long sea voyage with my husband.”

But stepping inside the house, she immediately glanced upstairs where her father was and knew that the hardest part of that decision was still to come. She didn"t like having to admit she"d failed at anything, and that farce at Willow Woods was the biggest failure of her life.

Her father was in his room, but not in his bed. Arthur was helping Gerald exercise his legs by walking him back and forth across the room, Gerald"s arm over Arthur"s shoulder for support. She was glad to see they were diligently working on getting his muscles back into shape.

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