Miracles (Westmoreland Saga 4) - Page 9

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It hit him then, that there would never be another family Christmas, not for him, and he stiffened his shoulders against the hurt of that knowledge.

At least by putting on this act with Julianna, he had made his mother feel reassured. She completely believed that he was happily married, sleeping with his wife, and diligently attempting to get heirs.

By this time tomorrow, he would be on his way to his house in Devon.

* * *

“Nicki will be on his way somewhere else as soon as our coach is clear of the drive,” Nicki’s mother told his father, as they dressed to go downstairs for supper.

In answer he pressed a kiss atop her head as he fastened a diamond necklace around her throat. “You cannot do more than you have, my dear. Don’t vex yourself, it isn’t good for your heart.”

“It isn’t good for my heart to know that, after years of associations with an endless string of unsuitable females, Nicki has managed to marry a female who is perfect for him, and for me, I might add—and he won’t share a bed with her!”

“Please,” he teased, sounding scandalized, “do not tell me you’ve stooped to asking the servants.”

“I don’t have to ask,” she said sadly. “I have eyes. If he were sleeping with Julianna, she would not be watching him with that look of helpless longing in her eyes. That young woman is in love with him.”

“You cannot make Nicholas feel something for her.”

“Oh, he feels something alright. When he forgets he hates her, he is thoroughly delighted with her, you can see that. She’s beautiful and enchanting,” she added as she slowly stood up, “and I would make you a wager that he found her to be all those things, and more, the night of that dreadful masquerade.”

“Perhaps,” he said noncommittally.

“You know he had to have done! Nicholas may have a long history of defying propriety in his personal life, but there has never been a breath of scandal that involves anyone else. He would never have taken Julianna to his bedchamber when he was a guest in someone’s house unless he were thoroughly besotted with her.”

Since he couldn’t argue that logic, her husband smiled reassuringly. “Perhaps everything will work out, then.”

His wife’s shoulders sagged. “I’ve thought of saying something to Julianna to encourage her efforts, but if she knew I was aware of her situation, she’d be mortified.” She placed a hand upon his arm. “It would take a miracle to bring them together.”

12

ALONE IN HER BEDCHAMBER, JULIANNA stood at her dressing table, the box of letters she’d written to her grandmother in her shaking hands, the Christmas presents she’d received that night on the bed. Nicki intended to leave tomorrow, he’d told her that the day he arrived, and the butler had inadvertently confirmed it yesterday.

Nicki and his parents had been very generous to her, though Nicki’s gifts were completely impersonal and only for appearances. He had given his parents their presents as if they came from Julianna as well, but it wasn’t the same. And when the moment came for Nicki to open his gifts, there had been nothing there from Julianna—a fact which he’d explained away by saying she wanted to give it to him later. He’d even managed to imply with a smile that she wanted to be private with him when she gave it to him.

But the truth was, Julianna had given no gifts to any of them, because she had nothing to give . . . nothing except the contents of the box she was holding. She had that to give to Nicki. In the last week, she’d heard him called “Nicki” so much that she’d even started to think of him in that way. She’d also done everything she could think of to make him notice her, to make him see her in a different light. She’d flirted outrageously, spent ages on her hair, and deliberated for an hour over what she ought to wear. And there had been a few times, when she thought she caught him watching her . . . times when he looked at her in the same way he’d done when he took her to his bedchamber that long ago night . . . as if he wanted to kiss her.

She was in love with him, she’d learned that during this wonderful, agonizing week with him. She’d learned other things, too, that made it seem essential to make one more attempt to heal the breach between them. First and foremost, according to Nicki’s mother, Nicki loved children and doted on his nieces. He wanted children, she said, while Nicki’s mother was hoping specifically for a grandson to carry on the family name. As things stood now, all that was impossible. Because of Julianna. She had caused this nightmare, and if there was any way to repair the damage she would do it. The scandal of a divorce would taint the whole family, not merely Julianna. Besides, there had only been a handful granted in the last fifty years anyway, so they were married for life.

An empty childless life, unless she did something, and there was only one thing left that she hadn’t already done. She had not shown him the letters. They were the only “evidence” she could offer Nicki that she hadn’t planned their meeting at the masquerade, nor schemed to trap him into marriage.

The problem was that she could not let him see the evidence without simultaneously letting him see all of herself . . . Everything she had been and wasn’t and wanted to be. It was all in there, and once he read it, she would be more nakedly vulnerable than she had ever been in her life. It was still fairly early, and she could hear Nicki moving about. Uttering a fervent prayer that this would work, Julianna walked over to the adjoining door that connected both suites and knocked.

Nicki got up and opened the door, took one look at what she was wearing and nearly slammed it shut in self-defense. Clad in a cherry velvet dressing robe with a deep oval neck and her hair tumbling about her shoulders like molten gold, Julianna Skeffington DuVille was almost irresistible. “What is it?” he snapped, backing up.

“I—I have something to give you,” she said, moving toward him in a halo of shimmering hair, alluring skin, and rich velvet. “Here, take it.”

Nicki glanced at her and then at it. “What is it?”

“Take it, please. Just take it.”

“Why in hell should I?”

“Because it’s—it’s a present—a Christmas present from me to you.”

“I don’t want anything from you, Julianna.”

“But you do want children!” she said, looking almost as stunned by that announcement as he felt.

“I don’t need you in order to sire children,” he said contemptuously.

She paled at that, but persevered. “Any others wouldn’t be legitimate.”

“I can legitimize them later. Now get out of here!”

“Damn you,” Julianna choked out, tossing the box that contained her heart and soul onto the table in front of the sofa. “I did not set out to trap you at the masquerade. When I asked you to ruin me, I thought you were someone else!”

A slow, sarcastic smile crossed his saturnine face. “Really,” he drawled in a scathing voice, “who did you think I was.”

“God!” Julianna burst out tearily, so miserable and so insane about him that she almost stamped her foot. “I thought you were God! The proof is in that box, in the letters I wrote to my grandmother. My mother had them sent to me here.”

She whirled on her heel and fled. Ignoring the box, Nicki fixed himself a drink, carried it over to the sofa, and picked up the book he’d left lying there when he answered her knock. He opened it to the first page, then glanced at the box of letters. Out of sheer curiosity to see what ploy his clever and imaginative young wife had concocted this time, he decided to read one of the letters instead.

The one on top was dated last spring, and he presumed he was supposed to start there, though he’d never set eyes on Julianna Skeffington as long ago as that.

Dear Grandmother,

I met someone in the park today and made such a cake of myself, I can hardly bear to think of it. There’s always so much gossip about gentlemen in London—about how handsome one of them is supposed to be, and it’s always such a disappointment when you see them. And then I saw Nicholas DuVille . . . He was beautiful, Grandmama

. . . so beautiful. Hard, too, and cold, at least on the surface, but I think he laughed at what I said when I walked away. If he did, then he can’t be hard at all, merely cautious . . .

Two hours later a log fell from the grate and crashed in an explosion of orange sparks as Nicki laid the last letter aside, then he picked up the one that he had already read twice, and he read the same lines that had filled him with self-loathing.

I know how ashamed you are of me, Grandmother. I only meant to dance those three dances with him, so that Sir Francis would withdraw his offer . . . I knew I shouldn’t let him kiss me, I knew it, but if you’d ever been kissed by Nicholas DuVille, you’d understand. If you’d ever seen his smile or heard him laugh, you’d understand. How I yearn to see his smile and hear his laughter again. I long to make things right somehow. I yearn and I yearn and I yearn. And then I cry . . .

With her hip perched on the window seat, Julianna stared into the frosty night, her arms wrapped around her midriff as if she could keep out the chill that spread deeper and deeper as each moment passed and he didn’t appear. Lifting her finger to the cold pane, she drew a circle, and another inside that one. As she began the third one, an image moved slowly into the center of it—a man in shirtsleeves, his hands shoved into his trouser pockets, coming toward her, and Julianna’s heart began to pound in deep, painful beats.

He stopped close behind her and Julianna waited, searching his face in the window because she was afraid of what she’d see—or not see—if she turned and saw it clearly.

“Julianna.” His deep voice was rough with emotion.

Julianna drew a shaking breath and slowly turned her head, watching a somber smile twist his lips as his gaze met hers and held it.

“When you were thinking I was God, and then the devil, would you like to know what I was thinking about you?”

Julianna swallowed over a knot of unbearable tension and nodded.


Tags: Judith McNaught Westmoreland Saga Romance
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