Unlocked (Turner 1.5) - Page 3

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“I was thinking of discoursing on my comet,” Lady Stockhurst was saying. “They did tell me I might be made an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society, if ever my findings were verified. Although they haven’t quite come round to that yet.”

Poking fun at Lady Stockhurst would give Evan about as much amusement as jabbing a puppy with a sharp stick.

But what was her daughter to do? She couldn’t very well say, “No, don’t give a lecture—they all just want the excuse to laugh at you.”

“That’s lovely,” Lady Elaine said. As she spoke, her eyes cut toward Evan, her glance sharp and unforgiving.

It didn’t matter what he wanted. How could he have thought to paper matters over with a mere apology? He’d left this behind, unfinished, all those years ago.

And now his old sins were returning to haunt him. This time, he wasn’t going to let them win.

“Wasn’t that a lovely evening?” Lady Stockhurst, Elaine’s mother, hummed to herself as she moved about the tiny sitting room that had been allotted to them. She flitted like a butterfly, light and graceful. Like a butterfly, her interest landed on a silver-backed brush that lay on a chest of drawers. When she picked it up and turned it about, the light from the oil-lamp reflected off its surface into Elaine’s eyes.

Elaine winced and looked away.

“And you danced three times.”

“Yes,” Elaine said uncomfortably. “I did.” She sighed. “At least that’s three times better than the last ball.”

Her mother set the brush down with a click. “No, it is infinity times better, the ratio of naught to three being boundless. If you continue to attract dance partners at an infinite rate, at the next ball you attend, every man in all of England will ask you to dance.”

Elaine smiled. “You’re being ridiculous, Mama.”

Her mother frowned. “Yes,” she finally admitted. “It is rather optimistic to extrapolate a geometrical trend from two data points.”

Elaine sighed. Her mother was…well, she definitely wasn’t stupid. Lady Stockhurst probably understood more than half the Fellows of the Royal Society. On the subjects of astronomy and mathematics, she was the most discerning person that Elaine knew.

For just about everything else…while her mother was not stupid, she could be remarkably oblivious. A more attentive mother might have looked at Elaine and seen a daughter who had failed to find a husband after eleven Seasons. Any other parent would have realized that Elaine was a social failure. But Elaine’s mother looked at her daughter and saw perfection.

Elaine tried not to overturn her mother’s illusions too dreadfully.

“It is so nice that Westfeld is back.” Her mother traced a dark imperfection on the mirror and then inscribed an elliptical orbit around it.

“Mmmm.”

As she spoke, Lady Stockhurst marked the perihelion on her orbit and measured it with her fingers. “You know, I always thought he was rather sweet upon you.”

Elaine stared straight ahead. Out of the corner of her vision, she could catch a glimpse of the maid they had brought with them. Mary paused in the act of brushing her dress, her eyes bobbing up toward Elaine’s in an unspoken question.

Elaine looked away and chose her next words carefully. “Perhaps you overestimate. You thought Viscount Saxtony was interested, too.”

An annoyed wave of her hand. “And he was—if only he had not been so fickle as to marry elsewhere.”

“You said Sir Mark Turner was in love with me.”

“As well he should be, if he’s any notion what is good for him. You should make a fine couple—both blond and tall. He needs a wife. And you are both so popular.”

Elaine bit her lip. Sir Mark Turner was wanted everywhere because he’d been knighted by the queen. If Elaine was wanted anywhere, it was to serve as the butt of their jokes.

Lady Stockhurst smiled faintly, and smudged out the orbit she’d drawn on the mirror. “Did I mention I’m to give a lecture?”

“Yes.” Elaine shivered. Her mother would give a lecture, and everyone would snicker at her. Elaine had sat through those before—the snide whispers about how amusing it was to see a woman aping a man. It was hard for Elaine to ignore insults when they were directed at her personally. But it was excruciating to bite her tongue when those voices mocked her mother.

Still, her mother never seemed to notice. She would take their sarcastic jeers at the end as honest applause. Elaine alone would seethe on her mother’s behalf, furious and humiliated and unwilling to steal the brightness from her mother’s eyes by telling the truth.

“I’m glad we came,” her mother said with a decisive nod.

Elaine stood and walked to her mother, and set her arm around her shoulders. “I am, too,” she said. And she truly was. Her mother would enjoy it, and if she didn’t know, could it hurt her?

But her mother’s shoulders seemed thin and fragile. Lady Stockhurst was brilliant and confused and…and utterly dear.

“Tell me,” Elaine said, “surely you were not thinking of Westfeld in the ballroom. What did you have on your mind?”

It was the right thing to say. Her mother smiled immediately. “Yes, well. I was thinking that it is a matter of simple mathematics to determine the gravitational forces between any two bodies. Add in a third, however, and the equations turn to a mess. There were so many bodies in the ballroom—so many forces. One could not simply apply perturbations to project the future.” She shook her head briskly. “This is why people are so hard to understand. I cannot even estimate their gravitational pull.”

In spite of herself, Elaine smiled. Her mother would never figure out that her daughter was practically a pariah. She would never be able to fit the censure and laughter and insults that her daughter suffered into equations.

Perhaps that was why, after all these years, her love for her daughter had never altered. She was impervious to social reality. She saw only what she wished to see, and for that, Elaine loved her fiercely.

Her mother turned and walked to the door of her bedchamber. “I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings,” she said in parting.

Elaine held her smile until her mother disappeared.

Lord above. The party would last another two days. Forty-eight hours with Lord Westfeld and Lady Cosgrove? It was going to be hell.

Chapter Three

If Dante had chosen to make an example of Evan, he could not have crafted a more particularized version of hell.

Evan had tried to warn Diana off Elaine—at first subtly, then more pointedly. The afternoon after the ball, Diana had spent a good ten minutes encouraging Lady Stockhurst while the other ladies subtly tittered into their gloves. And so Evan had taken her aside.

“Leave her alone.”

She pretended confusion at first. “Why, whatever do you mean? Lady Stockhurst loves to share her ideas.” A dimple peeked out on her cheek, and her eyelashes dipped down, as if she expected him to share in the joke.

Once, he would have. “That’s not what I mean. You’re doing this to humiliate Lady Elaine, and I’ve had enough of that.”

His cousin continued to smile, but her dimple faded. “I’m doing this for you.”

“I don’t want it. Cease. Immediately.”

Her face fell. He shouldn’t have felt like a cad for remonstrating with her, but he did.

He scrubbed his hand through his hair and tried again. “We started the game when we were children.”

They’d been cousins, growing up on neighboring estates, ignored by all but their nursemaids and tutors. And even though Evan had gone away to school, when he’d stayed there summers she had been his only companion. After their quiet, somewhat solitary childhood, they’d entered society together. The heady whirl of constant company had been overwhelming—frightening and fun and impossible, all at once.

He protected her. She protected him. Together, they’d been unstoppable.

Truly, someone should have stopped them.

He shook his head. “We’re not children any longer. There’s no need for this.”

She set her hand on his wrist. “You’ve been gone, Evan. You don’t remember what London society is like. They’re wolves out here, and it’s devour or be devoured in turn. If you don’t grasp your place in society, you’ll have it torn from you. Just like your Lady Elaine.”


Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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