Home > Her First Desire(4)

Her First Desire(4)
Author: Cathy Maxwell

For money, she had the ruby ring and what she’d earned from the Mayfair neighbors for her remedies. There was enough to help her make a new start.

Gemma snuck down the stairs without being seen and slipped out into the garden. She traveled through the alley. Within an hour she’d sold her ring. It had not fetched much. The stone was very small. Just like Paul. And his brother.

However, the money did pay her fare on the cheapest seat to Maidenshop—and her desperate hope for a new life.

And later, when she found herself settled on the top of a very crowded post on its way to Newmarket, she thought of the dear man whose death had given her a small ray of hope.

The wind wiped away her tears.



Chapter Two



Maidenshop, Cambridgeshire


“Kiss me,” Clarissa Taylor demanded as she spun around to face Ned Thurlowe. They traveled on a wooded path, not far from the house and yet out of sight from prying eyes.

The unfortunate problem was that Ned hadn’t been paying attention to anything she’d been saying on their walk. Including this demand. His mind was on his patients. As the only doctor in the area, his time was always in demand. He also took pride in his work whether it was setting a broken arm, battling a child’s fever, or even healing the abscess on a horse’s hoof. A country doctor had to be ready for anything, and Ned reveled in the challenges.

Besides, he and Clarissa had been betrothed for a little over two years. Yes, it was an unusually long waiting period before tying the knot, but the truth was, Ned wasn’t that excited to marry. He’d only offered for her because after she’d been orphaned by her adopted parents, the Matrons of Maidenshop had decided her best course of action was marriage. She’d been two and twenty, a ripe age for matrimony. As a babe, she’d been left as a foundling on the church steps. The Reverend Taylor and his wife had taken her in and by all accounts had loved her dearly. Unfortunately, they were now dead and she had no family. She was dependent upon the charity of the villagers and lived with Squire Nelson and his family. Understanding what it was like to be a bastard and an unwanted member to the family, Ned had agreed with the matrons that someone honorable should secure her future . . . and that someone had turned out to be him.

He definitely wasn’t an ardent suitor. It had taken him a year to start using her given name. He kept forgetting. And he only had time to call on her once a week, although he prided himself on being punctual. He presented himself to her every Friday at precisely two o’clock in the afternoon for a fifteen-minute social call.

Dependent on the weather, they always walked this path. Usually, Clarissa prattled on about her week and he pretended to listen. He chose to focus his mind on matters that were important to him—such as scientific musings or his lecture series or even the future of The Garland tavern.

Ned was chairman of the Logical Men’s Society. For several generations the Society had called The Garland home. However, now that the owner, Old Andy, had passed, there was concern amongst the members of what would become of this meeting place that was so important to them. Then again, no one had placed a claim on the building. So far it had been theirs to use. Ned didn’t know if he should be concerned about the matter or not.

And he didn’t want to let his fellow members down. He enjoyed being in the Society. For once in his life, he felt he truly belonged. In London he was trailed by whispers. In Maidenshop, he was a valued member of the community.

So his mind was busy when Miss Taylor made her demand and he walked right by her. He took several steps before he realized she was not with him.

Being a gentleman, he stopped—and then he comprehended what she’d said. Kiss her?

She’d even closed her eyes and puckered her lips. She waited, facing the direction where he’d been.

What should he do now?

Before he could make up his mind, Miss Taylor’s eyes opened. She gave a shake of her head as if surprised he was not where she’d expected him to be. She unpuckered her lips. Her lovely brows came together in vexation. A becoming shade of rose bloomed on her cheeks.

Clarissa was a singularly beautiful woman. She had honey-gold hair, large green eyes, and a smooth complexion. That she found herself promised to him these past few years was not a fault of her looks, but of her birth.

And it wasn’t her fault he was not quite ready to marry.

He just didn’t really want to kiss her.

And he wasn’t certain why . . . except he didn’t trust the entanglements of women. Their pursuits were frivolous to him—and, as humans, they could be remarkably cruel.

That didn’t mean he hadn’t had liaisons. Women liked his looks, and a man had needs. He just kept his affairs far from Maidenshop and always made sure he had the upper hand. He had no desire to copy his father, who had made a fool of himself between London’s most famous courtesan and a furious wife. Ned had been an innocent trapped in that triangle and he’d learned hard lessons well.

He also didn’t wish to embarrass Clarissa. Was she wrong to ask for a kiss? Any other man would probably have claimed one long before now.

So he returned to her where she stood, leaned forward, and gave her a peck on the cheek.

She didn’t hide her disappointment and he understood. He’d felt a bit like he was kissing one of his half sisters—although he was fonder of Clarissa than he was of them.

Her gaze dropped to the ground. Her thick lashes fanned across her cheeks. “I didn’t mean like that.” There was a pause as if she struggled within herself. “I wished—” She forced herself to meet his eye. “I wished for a firmer kiss.”


Again, her brows drew close. “What do you mean why? Is that not a reasonable request? It seemed time.”

She was right. He had no explanation that made sense.

At his silence, she said, “When are we going to marry? I don’t want to pressure you. I know we are not a love match and you offered for me because the matrons put your back against a wall.”

“It wasn’t that dramatic.”

“Yes, it was.” She started walking along the path leading to the house again. She was wearing a gown of green worsted. The early March wind tugged at the ribbons of her bonnet. “You think I don’t know that Mr. Balfour had refused on the grounds he was a determined bachelor? Of course, he’s changed his tune now and seems happy in his marriage. As for the other suitable bachelor in the parish, the Earl of Marsden, I cannot tolerate that man. He is so selfish.”

“Mars is one of my closest friends—”

She held up a gloved hand. “I mean no insult . . . although I don’t understand why you or anyone admires him. He really has no purpose in life.”

“He does,” Ned offered weakly although, as of late, there was truth in her assessment.

“You could have said no when the matrons went after you,” she continued. “I would have gone out into the world as a governess or a companion. I could have done that.” She spoke as if she was trying to convince herself, and Ned could curse himself because there were times he had wished she had.

Instead, he reached for her arm and swung her around. “That is a hard life and no one wanted it for you. Most of all myself.” That was true. “I know what it is like to be thrust out into the world. Of course, I am fortunate. My studies equipped me to be on my own. But you don’t want to be a companion to some deaf and crotchety old lady. Or live the governess’s life of moving from household to household.”

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