Unlocked (Turner 1.5) - Page 15

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“Elaine,” he said, “I—”

But his head shot up. A door had opened across the street. And then…


Slowly, Elaine turned. She hadn’t needed to see the speaker to know who it was. Lady Cosgrove stood on her own doorstep, her eyes wide in disbelief.

“What is she doing here?” Elaine heard herself ask.

Lady Cosgrove’s eyes grew larger and more murderous. “I live here,” she hissed, starting across the street with long, swift strides. “Do you suppose I would be oblivious to a matter that concerned my own cousin’s welfare? Do you suppose me so stupid as to let you inveigle him into a match so far beneath him? Truly, Evan, it’s a good thing you consulted me, because—”

“You told her?” The words slipped out of Elaine’s mouth before she could think them through. “How could you?”

His hands bit into her shoulders. His face was gray, washed of all color. He took a step back as if she’d slapped him.

And…and she had. Just not with the palm of her hand. His lips pressed into a thin white line. He pulled away from her and turned to his cousin.

“Diana,” he said tightly, “have the goodness to talk directly to me, if you are going to discuss my welfare. And Elaine…” He paused, took a deep breath.

She winced, waiting for the words she knew she deserved. If you don’t trust me now, there’s no point in proceeding any further.

But he didn’t say anything about the hurt in his eyes, and somehow his silence cut all the deeper.

“We’ll talk later,” he said. “Now go, before the servants wake.”

Chapter Ten

“A note for you, my lady.”

The folded paper that her maid slid into Elaine’s palm seemed as light and flimsy as her whisper.

Mary didn’t need to say that the missive had arrived via a clandestine route. Had it come by way of the front door, a footman would have brought it up. But then, had it come via the front door, news that Elaine was corresponding with a bachelor might have spread about town.

Hardly the worst gossip that could circulate, after last night.

She could be ruined. Oh, it wouldn’t herald a complete end to her good reputation. Evan wouldn’t let anything so dire happen. They would marry.

Still, when she shut her eyes, it was not her reputation that she thought of, but the expression on his face when she’d accused him of telling Lady Cosgrove. Never mind the impossibility of her accusation. It didn’t matter that she’d been tired and the woman had seemed to threaten her newfound happiness. With those thoughtless words, she’d banished the relaxed trust she’d seen earlier that night. His eyes had gone wide with hurt and the tips of his ears had turned white. She could hear the pained gasp he’d given. And the look on his face, when she’d assumed that he had spoken of her—it had skewered her through.

Of course he’d been hurt by her words. Her first panicking impulse had been to shy away from him. After everything he’d said and done, she still hadn’t trusted him.

She knew what Evan wanted from her. Not mere desire, not just friendship. He’d said it himself: he wanted someone who would hold onto him and never let go. But at the first sign of danger, she had shoved him away.

Her hand clenched around the note in her hand. The paper crackled. Elaine sighed and unfolded it.

Elaine, the note read. Don’t worry about Diana. I’ll manage her. It may take some time, though—I might not be over this afternoon to speak with your father, as we’d discussed. Perhaps we shall see one another at the ball this evening. Yours, W.

So formal. After last night, his note seemed stiff and impossible. And how was he to manage Lady Cosgrove? For God’s sake, the woman lived across the street. He would come and talk to her and not visit with Elaine? Not even stop by for fifteen minutes?

She bit her lip hard and thought of what she ought to say to him, how she should respond. She had a sudden vision of her turning pointedly away from him that evening. And wouldn’t that occasion talk, after their months of cozy friendship? The whole situation made her want to weep.

She was tired. She was overset. And she was imagining a life without him over a note that he’d dashed off in a hurry.

“It’s nothing,” she said to herself.

But it wasn’t nothing. After all these years, she was still waiting for him to hurt her. She’d not thought of it in months, but she’d been holding on to the pain of her past, always expecting the worst.

He’d hurt her. He’d made her feel awful.

But he hadn’t plunged her head underwater. She’d done that to herself.

And if she continued to flinch at every good thing that came her way, she would do it again and again and again, drowning everything she could have. He’d known it too. She didn’t need to forgive him. She needed…

“Enough of this.” She spoke the words aloud, slicing her hand through the air as she spoke.

“My lady?”

Elaine glanced behind her in surprise. Mary was still waiting behind her, stifling a yawn.

When Elaine had been hurt in the past, she had retreated inside herself. It was time to make a change.

“Mary,” Elaine said, clambering to her feet, “we have only a few hours, and I’m going to need a new gown.”

Evan was trapped by pillows. The afternoon sun filtered through his cousin’s sitting room. The room was papered in resplendent gold and green; Evan felt rather out of place in his sober brown. A profusion of tiny cushions, embroidered in cunning patterns, flocked about him. If he moved, he would knock them to the floor.

Diana sat opposite him. They’d exchanged only the most inconclusive of greetings. She’d ushered him into the room and had rung for tea, and they’d sat in awkward silence until the tray arrived. Only the faint lines gathered about her mouth suggested her distress.

She had scarcely spoken with him since that evening at the house party last summer. She had informed him at

a family gathering in the autumn that he would soon come to his senses. Two weeks later, she’d asked him to drop his friendship with Elaine. He’d refused, and since then they had exchanged only stilted words when their paths crossed.

Now, even with the servants departed, they clinked their teacups at one another. Evan contemplated how to proceed.

But Diana set her saucer on the table next to her and turned to look out the window. “You know, Evan,” she said softly, “I would never say or do anything to hurt you.”

He leaned to place his cup on a nearby table. As he shifted, a forest-colored pillow tumbled to the floor. “I know. But—”

She waved her hand. “I know what you’re thinking. I would never spread rumors saying that I saw your precious Elaine in the morning with an unknown man, either. I wouldn’t think of it.”

He simply met her eyes levelly. She snorted.

“Very well. I considered it for a few moments, but no longer. If I did any such thing, you’d simply tell everyone it was you, and you would marry her instantly.”

“You know me too well.”

Her lips pressed together. “I do.” She reached over and took his empty cup. It was a familiar ritual to have her refill it and then add a half-spoonful of sugar. She handed it back, almost unaware of what she’d done. “But I hardly see how this matters. You’re going to marry her in any event.”

Yes. He was. But she’d not asked a question. She hadn’t needed to do so.

“Don’t.” She adjusted the teapot on the tray. “Please don’t.”

“If you tell me I can do better than her, this conversation is at an end. Besides, after last night, I haven’t any choice in the matter. Even if I’d wanted one.”

Diana lifted her head, but only to look out the window. “Don’t,” she repeated. “Please. You’re the brother I never had. I’ve missed you these last months. But how can we be friends with her around? She will never forgive me. If you marry her, I shall lose you forever.”

He swallowed.

“I knew you…you were interested in her. I guessed it quite some time ago. Do you remember that time, when you asked me if we mightn’t stop laughing at her?”

Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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