Before I share this weeks blog post, I wanted to say that I hope you enjoy the snippets I share each week. I told you before that I am exploring a new emotion each week. Instead of just telling you the emotion straight away, I am following the Regency language of flowers. While I will reveal the emotion in a later post, my goal is to get you learning. So tell me – what emotion does the Sainfoin symbolize, and do you feel the writing conveyed it properly?
The heady scent of honeysuckle hung in the air, fruity and warm. It teased at Celeste’s nose, an erotic aroma conjuring thoughts of nights in Thomas’ arms. Planted by Lord Blacke when his wife passed, the vines crept over the wooden gazebo; Tansy told her they represented his undying love for his wife.
Through the vibrant green and yellow, Celeste caught sight of a tall figure coming toward her. Assuming it to be Thomas, she closed her eyes, pretending sleep.
Tired was quickly becoming a permanent state.
Footsteps echoed through the secluded garden, heeled shoes clacking on the stone path. The sound bounced off the quiet surface of the pond. Beyond those waters, wilderness reigned, unfettered by human hand. On a quiet night, one could hear the distant waves of the ocean, crashing into the rocky shore.
“Come now Celeste. Do others buy this sleeping ruse?” Lord Harley’s guttural voice swept over her, soothing her frayed nerves. Smiling, Celeste opened her eyes. “Lord Harley -”
“Baldwin. We agreed.” Sitting in the chair next to her, Baldwin commanded attention with every controlled movement.
“Baldwin,” she conceded. Glancing through the gazebo opening, she said, “I was expecting my husband.”
“Fear not, Celeste. It is just I. Thomas persuaded Esther to go for a ride. He put her on the ancient hag.” Baldwin chuckled.
“The ancient hag…Oh, you mean Hera. Positively plodding. Can’t keep her from stopping near the hives to chomp at the Sainfoin, either.” Sitting up, Celeste traced negligible patterns across the arm of her chair. “Is Esther not a rider, then?”
“Oh, terribly experienced, actually. Thomas insisted however, and she’s so bloody agreeable.” The words held no censure. Did he care that his wife was alone with another man?
Thomas cared that others paid attention to her, she realized with a jolt. The jealousy displayed the night of the ball still amused her.
Her stomach fluttered as it dawned on her that she wa likely supposed to feel some of that same jealousy. No. She knew where Esther’s attention lay, and it wasn’t upon Thomas. Or Baldwin.
Turning away from Baldwin’s angelic face, Celeste took a moment to collect her thoughts. She wanted her marriage to succeed, now more than ever. Why then, could she not muster any jealousy? In fact, she felt quite ambivalent – yes, the passion was incredible, but outside of their shared bed?
“I see you have much on your mind, dear Celeste. Shall I leave you alone with your thoughts?” The warmth of Baldwin’s touch sent an electric jolt through her.
Celeste’s chest tightened as scarlet drops bled into her cheeks. Her face was on fire – what was going on?
“No! Oh, Lord Harley. I – I’m so sorry. Stay. Please, Baldwin.”
“You are sure?” I’ve no wish to intrude upon your thoughts. Especially if I am not wanted.” Baldwin stood, ready to leave if she so desired.
Celeste’s thoughts froze, heart racing. Oh, how she wanted him to stay. “No, uh – really, Baldwin. Stay. I don’t promise to be good company today, but still…”
“As you wish,” he said.
Sitting down, he threw a wink in her direction. Butterflies launched from the pit of her stomach. Sweat trickled down the small of her back. Frowning, she swallowed several times.
“Are you thirsty, Celeste? I can fetch us some drinks. Peter and Hagenbrock adore me,” Baldwin offered, concern clouding his eyes.
“Yes, please. But let me get it. You’re a guest, after all.” Helena stood up quickly. The urge to flee was strong, but she knew she would come back.
Walking up the sloping path to the terrace, Celeste stopped when Peter intercepted her. “I thought you might be ready for some refreshments, my lady.”
“Thank you, Peter. Please send down a tray of lemonade. Biscuits, too. Perhaps some of those delicious fruit tarts?” With a gracious smile, she turned back toward the gazebo. As if an afterthought, she said, “Oh, and some ale and sandwiches for Lord Harley.”
The blooming flowers surrounding the stone path intoxicated Celeste. The heady scent of the Dragon’s Blood roses warred with the sweet scent of the gardenias and sweet autumn clematis. She loved these gardens – orderly, quiet. The larger side garden was a riot of color; not so here. The roses, white with splashes of red like blood, swimming in a sea of white.
Closing her eyes, Celeste inhaled deeply, allowing the warring scents to wash over her. With them, a sense of calm swept over her.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, girl?” Lord Blacke’s voice jarred into her, spoiling the beauty surrounding her.
“Lord Blacke. How pleasant to see you. What, pray tell, is it that you accuse me of now?” Planting a smile upon her face, she turned.
“Cuckolding my son – and right under his nose. That’s what you’re doing. You ought to be run off, exposed for the whore you are.” Lord Blacke’s face grew mottled, flecks of spittle pooling at the corner of his downturned mouth.
Celeste flinched. Was he – ? “You must be mad, my lord. I do no such thing.” And what did he make of his son cavorting about the land with Lady Harley?
“I’ll pay you to leave. I’ll even sign over one of my smaller, unentailed properties. Agree to the divorce, and you’ll be set for the rest of your life.” Lord Blacke leaned forward in his wheeled chair, sightless eyes gleaming.
He dared think she could be bought? Because she was a gypsy dancer?
“No need to answer right away, girl. I can sense you’re thinking about it. I’ve the perfect estate in mind. Tucked away, far from London. Name your price.” Motioning to the servant behind him, Lord Blacke left her standing in the garden, staring after him.
Shaking away the thoughts, Celeste walked back to the gazebo. Laughter floated out to her. The soft, unaffected laugh of the young, followed by the rich baritone of Thomas.
Baldwin looked up as she entered the wooden gazebo. With a wink he said, “It appears our quiet afternoon is to be interrupted, Lady Pennbrooke. Our spouses have challenged us to lawn games.”
Forcing a smile, Helena blinked several times before saying, “How lovely, Lord Baldwin. That sounds delightful.”
Thomas and Esther rushed ahead to gather the props for a game of lawn bowling. When they were out of sight, Baldwin pulled her to a stop. Trailing a hand down her cheek, he said, “Can you deny that which grows between us, Celeste? Our spouses are having their fun – why should we not do the same?”