That Perfect Someone Page 35

“Welcome home!” Gerald beamed when he caught sight of her. “I didn"t anticipate your being successful so soon. Come, let"s sit on this delightful balcony you had built for me and you can tell me all about it.”

The doors to the balcony were open wide, letting in the warm, fresh air. Arthur led Gerald in that direction. Julia followed and sat next to him. How many times had she read to him here in the summer months? She"d been sure he never absorbed a word, but that hadn"t stopped her from trying, just in case he did.

She sighed at his expectant look. “It didn"t work, Papa. The earl called our bluff.”

“Called it how?”

“With a special license to marry immediately and a pastor at his heels. We"re married.” Gerald frowned as he asked carefully, “That isn"t a happy statement, is it?”

“No indeed.

He sighed. “I"m sorry, I shouldn"t even have asked that. But you and Richard appeared to be getting along so well when you were here together, I got the notion that you might be liking each other after all these years and that something might still come of it.” Feeling a tightness in her throat, she glanced away before answering. “We do like each other, we"re just not the least bit suited for each other. He lives a life of high adventure across the ocean, where he spends most of his time at sea. I"d rather be adding up profits in an account book—here.”

“Then if you two didn"t want to marry at that point, why did you? I told you I would deal with any scandal. Why didn"t you just refuse?”

She wished he hadn"t asked that. She could feel a blush mounting her cheeks. While she hadn"t actually made love to Richard that night, witnesses would say otherwise.

“I was sort of in my underclothes—in Richard"s room.”

Gerald cleared his throat. “I see.”

She winced. “Actually, there"s more to it. It was part of our charade. We wanted the earl to think we were, well, sleeping together, so he"d believe we really did want to marry and relax his guard. He"d been highly skeptical. We thought that might convince him. It never once occurred to us that he"d pounce on it as an excuse to marry us immediately instead. He barged into Richard"s room with a pastor and some other witnesses. Just as Milton no doubt hoped, he caught us in a compromising position. So the whole charade backfired on us. And Richard won"t even stay in London long enough for a divorce.”

“You mean he won"t agree to one?”

“Oh, he will, just not here. He"s leaving the country tomorrow. So if I want the divorce, I have to go all the way to his home in the Caribbean to get one. He"s so angry that it came to this, he won"t listen to reason.”

“I"ll talk to him.”

“That"s just it, he won"t discuss it. If there were more time for him to calm down and think logically, he might see reason, but there isn"t. And I even understand why he"s so furious. All these years he stayed away, but it wasn"t to avoid me, it was to keep his father from getting what he wanted. Yet the earl just won the battle with this marriage.” Gerald said in disgust, “Milton Allen isn"t going to get anything out of this other than the dowry I committed to.”

“I"m glad to hear you say that. I wish he wouldn"t get even that, after everything he"s done, but I understand the dowry was promised to him in the contract. Yet he could have had more.

It makes no sense that he turned down your other offers, does it? And he still thinks he"s going to get a lot more, which—I hate to say this, Papa, but it makes me fear for your life. And Richard is playing right into his hands by leaving again. If you die, Milton will have control of everything through the marriage.”

He chuckled at her. “Don"t let your imagination run wild, dearest. The answer is as simple as my not breaking the tie when I should have because your mother always begged me to wait.

Then the accident incapacitated me and Milton continued to think the marriage would still make us all one happy family. And families take care of their own, even their black sheep.” She understood what he was getting at. Even her cousin Raymond, who could be considered their black sheep because he disdained any responsibility and led a frivolous life, was still supported by Gerald and would always be. He was family. And now Milton was family, unwanted, but dammit, family nonetheless.

“That implies you"ll help the earl out when he comes knocking at the door,” she pointed out.

“And I don"t doubt he plans to, endlessly.”

“No, it means nothing of the sort. It just explains why he still thinks I will help him. You should have let me talk to Milton. I would have made it clear that I don"t forgive or forget.

And he"s earned my enmity, for what he did to his own son, and for the tears he"s caused you.” She chewed at her lip, still worried. “But he doesn"t know that yet. And what if he"s beyond reasoning with, due to his obsession with your wealth and—” Gerald gently put his finger to her lips. “Hush. If it will relieve your mind, I"ll have a legal document drawn up today that will prevent him from ever inheriting anything of mine and have it delivered to him posthaste.”

“I like that idea. I also want everything put back in your name before I leave, so we can do that at the same time.”

Gerald nodded, but then sighed. “So you really are going all the way to the Caribbean?”

“It won"t be for long. A few weeks and—”

“It"s three or four weeks just to get there.”

She sighed. “Well, I"m going to find a bright side to it—somehow. I"ve never traveled before, other than here in England and to France a few times, so I suppose it will be an interesting trip. And once Richard calms down, he"s easy to get along with.”

“Is he?”

“Yes, very. He"s nothing like the man—well, the boy I used to know and hate. Living abroad for so many years away from his father has changed him dramatically—at least when he isn"t around his father.”

Gerald gave her a curious look. “Are you sure you want a divorce?” That odd emotion was welling up in her again. All she could think to say was “I"m sure he does.”

“That doesn"t answer my question.”

No, it didn"t, so she confided sadly, “I can"t deny there were moments when I began to think he actually would be perfect for me. But our way of life just doesn"t match anymore, Papa.

He"ll never come back to England, not as long as his father still lives here. But can you imagine me living in the tropics where it"s always so hot I"d be longing for a flake of snow? I can"t imagine it, and—and he doesn"t love me.”

“I see.” Gerald sighed. “This isn"t how I wanted you to get out of this mess I got you into.”

“I know, but at least that damn contract has been satisfied and will never haunt me again.”

“But a divorce is a serious matter. The ton that you hobnob with will consider it a scandalous solution. There will be repercussions that won"t be pleasant, at least in a social sense. You may find yourself not invited to their parties, even snubbed.”

“Are you suggesting—?”

“No, dearest, if this is something you feel you must do, then I will support your decision.

And I"ve merely mentioned the worst that could happen, but it may not be so bad as that. Your situation is unique, after all, with a fiancé gone for so many years, and you were even kept waiting for three of them. That may gain you sympathy, or at least understanding for why you couldn"t forgive him.”

With the ton? If they considered something “simply not done,” the reasons wouldn"t matter.

She could well lose all her friends over this.

Her father seemed to read her mind and suggested, “Why don"t you contact Carol before you leave and see what she has to say about all this? Arthur told me she hasn"t lived next door since she married, but does she live too far away for a quick visit? I didn"t think to ask when she stopped by the other day to express her delight over my recovery.”

“She and Harry do live at his country estate, but they also have a London house, and with the summer Season of parties under way, she"s probably still in town. That"s an excellent idea, Papa. I would like to see her before I leave for my brief vacation in the Caribbean.” He chuckled at her choice of words. “If, as you say, Richard"s company doesn"t aggravate you like it used to, then you might as well enjoy the trip. The islands in that area are reputed to be quite beautiful, though perhaps a bit warm at this time of the year.”

“A bit? Richard made it sound a lot hotter than that. But I don"t intend to stay any longer than I have to. I wish you could go with me.”

“That isn"t possible. Even if I were physically fit, one of us still needs to hold down the fort here. But would you like to take Raymond?”

“Good God, no. Then the trip would be nothing but aggravating.” As soon as she left her father"s room, she wondered if she would have time for everything she needed to do that afternoon. She sent off a message to Carol first, hoping her friend could come to her so they could talk while she was packing. She didn"t want to leave and miss the solicitor, either. And since she hadn"t seen Carol since the Malory ball, they had a lot to catch up on.

But she"d barely sent the footman off with her note when Carol burst into her room while she was laying out clothes on the bed for her maid to pack as soon the extra trunks were brought down.

Obviously, Carol had already been on her way to visit, and her first question was “How did you end up married?”

Amazed that Carol already knew, Julia asked, “How did you find out?”

“Are you joking? Your servants downstairs are talking about nothing else since your maid spread the news. Your butler mentioned it the moment he let me in.” Julia sighed. She was going to have to give her maid a tongue-lashing. The girl really was too quick to gossip.

But Carol surprised her even more when she added, “But I already knew what you were supposed to be doing at Willow Woods.”

“How?” But then Julia guessed. “Never mind, Father said you paid him a visit while I was gone. I take it he mentioned it?”

“Yes, I came by to see you, but once again you weren"t home—it"s almost laughable how many times you and I must have just missed each other that week. So I visited with your father instead, since I hadn"t seen him since his recovery. But he only mentioned where you"d gone and why because he assumed I already knew. He knows you and I tell each other everything. I was so disappointed that I didn"t hear it from you. Your father didn"t exactly go into detail when he realized I didn"t even know your fiancé was back in town.”

“I told you about him that night at the ball—”

“You did not!”

“Yes, I did—well, indirectly,” Julia said. “Actually, I didn"t know it was Richard yet, either.

The Frenchman? You remember now?”

“Him? Oh, my. But didn"t you say he was in love with someone else? A married woman?”

“Georgina Malory.”

Carol gasped. “He has a death wish?”

“No, and I"m sure that was merely an infatuation. He never once appeared melancholy again when she was mentioned. As daring as I now know he is, I don"t doubt he was just enamored of the risk of pursuing her.”

Carol sighed. “But this means you aren"t really married, doesn"t it? You just let your maid think you are for some reason?”

“You should probably sit down,” Julia said, then brought Carol up-to-date.

And after hearing it all, even the more intimate details that Julia would never tell anyone else, Carol said in amazement, “That"s quite a—predicament. No, don"t cry!” Julia couldn"t help herself. “The irony is, he"s my perfect someone, but I"m not his.”

“Good God, you love him? After all these years of hating him, you actually love him?”

“I didn"t say that.”

“You didn"t have to.”

“But I don"t want to live so far away from everything I know, in a place that sounds so foreign.”

Carol rolled her eyes. “You won"t know that you don"t like it until you"ve actually been there. So what other doubts do you have?”

Julia said in a small voice, “He doesn"t love me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well, no, but—”

“Maybe he"s having some of the same doubts you are?”

Julia bit her lip. “I"m not sure.”

“Then you"ll have to find out, and you"ll work it out. You"ve got a whole ocean to cross before you stand before an official to end a marriage maybe neither of you wants to end. Let Richard know how you feel.”

Chapter Forty-seven

GABRIELLE AND DREW HAD been waiting for Richard to return to London before they set sail for the Caribbean, so making the preparations to depart in the morning wasn"t an inconvenience, Drew assured his friend. Richard was relieved that Gabrielle wasn"t at Boyd"s house when he arrived there because he knew she would insist on a full accounting of what had happened at Willow Woods. His emotions still volatile, Richard wasn"t ready to discuss it. He merely told Drew that it didn"t go well.

What an understatement that was. When he"d stood in his old bedroom at Willow Woods, watching his father smirk, he"d realized his detestable sire was actually forcing on him something he wanted! The woman he"d been tied to most of his life. Yet getting what he wanted meant his father won, too. That"s what was so bloody unacceptable in his mind.

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