Bound with Honor (A Regency Reimagined Novel)
Lord Archibald Cambury, Marquess of Camburton, has never wanted for anything . . . except normalcy. Although he adores both of his loving mothers, and his vivacious twin sister with her two husbands, he wants a wife. One wife. Full stop. Is that so much to ask?
Miss Selina Ashby appears to be everything Archie has always wanted in a marchioness: demure, soft-spoken, and pretty, with a quick mind and delectable humor. Yes, she is a bit forward, but he chalks that up to youth. Yes, she has a very particular friend in Beatrix Farnsworth, but he chalks that up to loyalty. He is a lord; she is a lady; they are in love. And so they marry. That should be the end of it.
But when Archie discovers that his wife is as passionate with her particular friend Beatrix as he is with his particular friend Christopher, his world is shattered. He must decide if Selina’s love is big enough for both of them—and whether normalcy is truly more important than the love he feels for both the man and the woman who have become so dear to him.
- Winner: Best Romance in the 2015 Bisexual Book Awards
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Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:dubious consent
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Camburton Castle, September 1810
“Damn it, Archie.” The Marquess of Camburton pulled his eyes away from the microscope as he chastised himself. His laboratory was usually a place of guaranteed concentration and uninterrupted thought. Lately, however, he hadn’t been able to focus his mind on anything but Selina Ashby’s bright cheeks and slightly parted lips. Even as he’d stared at the latest cowpox variolation through the scope, he had imagined Selina’s long, dark eyelashes instead of the menacing virus he was attempting to stabilize.
Archie looked out the partially open window at the afternoon sun as it shone across the deer park. Accomplishing as little as he was, he decided to give up for the day. He scrubbed his hands and dried them meticulously, then hung his apron on the hook near the door. Slipping his formal coat back on, he took one last glance around the lab and, satisfied that everything could wait until tomorrow, set off for a walk around Camburton Park.
All of the land technically belonged to him, but he had never thought of it that way. His mother had raised him and his sister to view their inheritance as a temporary gift of immense responsibility. He was a custodian for future generations. He was starting to become preoccupied with said future generations, since it fell to him to be their progenitor. He sighed at the weight of it all, of wanting very much to be correct in his decisions, to honor the memory of his dead father, and to support the ongoing work of his imaginative mother.
It was not by chance that he found himself walking near the cottages where many artists spent the summer months. Or rather, chance had turned to habit of late. For years, Archie’s mother Vanessa Cambury and her partner, Nora White, had invited painters, writers, musicians, and all sorts of inventive souls to rusticate at the large country estate every summer. Throughout Archie’s rather bohemian upbringing, he had been exposed to every manner of creativity. Perhaps that was why he had pursued a career in science, for its supposed absence of creativity. He liked order.
Unfortunately, he was now coming to realize that science held an infinite number of mysteries. Yes, there were some irrefutable scientific facts, but that was like saying all paintings were composed of paint or all books were written with words. Those facts were the barest beginnings. The study of infectious diseases had captured his imagination because of one very promising idea: a cure. It hadn’t penetrated his youthful enthusiasm that a cure sometimes took hundreds or even thousands of years to grasp.
He looked at the leaves overhead as he walked, marveling at the variety and nuances of each branch, each cell.
“Ooofff!” he grunted, then realized he’d bumped into Selina, and quickly reached for her upper arms to prevent her from falling. She was warm from her walk in the sun, more alive to the touch than in even his most fervent imaginings.
“Oh!” she gasped. “I’m very sorry to be so careless!” She slipped a finger into her book to keep her place and then held it close to her chest. He released her arms with great reluctance. “It’s such a terrible habit to be walking and reading,” she continued breathlessly, “but I simply had to be outdoors when the air is so . . . so . . . silky, don’t you agree? But I couldn’t tear myself away from this scene either. The villain is about to be discovered . . . Oh dear, I’m rattling on again.” She curtseyed formally. “Lord Camburton.”
“Oh, Selina. Please call me Archie. I beg of you.”
Wrong choice of words. He knew it immediately. When he said “beg” and she looked at him like that—quick and wise—he was quite sure his tailor had mismeasured all of his clothes and cut them too small. He refrained from tugging at his collar like a schoolboy, but the urge was pressing. He stood perfectly still.
“Well, since you beg so nicely . . . Archie . . .” Her voice wasn’t singsongy exactly; more like Archie was a shiny new toy she was very eager to play with.
She was tormenting him. He knew it as well as she did. But she was so sweet about it, so honest.
“Shall we walk together for a spell?” He held out his arm in a formal, gentlemanly way.
“Yes, thank you.” She looked quickly at her book, remarking her page, then shut it completely and slipped it under her other arm. When she rested her fingers on his proffered forearm, they both shivered slightly. She pressed her fingers harder, gripping his muscle. “That’s better.”
He exhaled. Better was debatable. Unsettling was more like it.
He’d spent the past few weeks alternately avoiding Selina and seeking her out. He’d felt rather listless and enervated when he failed to track her down, and then rather overexcited and agitated on the occasions when he’d found her. Neither state was at all familiar. Archie was what was commonly known as a steady, settled sort of man. He had seen all manner of debauchery in his days at university and later in London, and he’d neither judged nor desired to participate in anything of an extreme nature. Yes, he occasionally fulfilled his baser desires when he went into town, but it was merely a passing comfort—like a warm meal on a cold day—when he and his close friend Christopher Joseph would spend a few hours in Christopher’s rooms at the Albany. He had never thought, never could have believed, a girl would overset him quite like this—on his blind side.
But this . . . this . . . girl. For dear God, that’s all she was. A slip of a girl. Blonde hair and creamy skin and dark pink lips. An English lass like any other. But she was so completely unlike any other. Or at least he was unable to dismiss her or overlook her as he had overlooked every other young woman of his acquaintance. To wit, he now imagined her as a possible wife, despite knowing very little about her past—except that it was checkered.
“How is your writing coming along?” he asked politely as they strolled.
“Well, you aim for terror, don’t you?”
She laughed, a clear burst that startled a bird from the branches above them. “Very good, Archie. Very good.” She sighed. “Alas, that’s not the kind of terrible I meant. I can’t get a word to come. Or rather, I have many words that are of the most pedestrian, hackneyed variety. As if my only inspiration is akin to the latest medicinal ointment being purveyed by a passing charlatan: Get your satisfaction here! Buy me now!” She did a fair imitation of a circus barker.
Her profile was limned by the hazy sun, until she turned her animated face directly toward him and her glittering green eyes sparked with that challenging taunt that made his heart hammer so. He faced forward quickly. “It’s difficult when we are trying to achieve subtlety, for quite often the very attempt only serves to make us that much more crass.” He would know.
“That’s it exactly!” She grabbed his forearm even more tightly. “The words whisper around me—the good words, the subtly delectable ones—and then I put quill to paper and all I’m left with are the awkward, bungling words. Stomping boots when I want a featherlight pas de deux.” She sighed and leaned into his upper arm. “But you must not encounter anything of the sort in your work. You’re more of a hunter, yes, stalking the crafty viruses? Going in for the kill.”
Even the way she talked about his work scattered his thoughts. Stalking. Crafty. Why was she so free? Why was it so enchanting? “Quite the contrary,” he replied. “The truth eludes me far more often than it presents itself. And then when I do catch a glimpse of it, I’m usually misreading the evidence or imagining something that is not even there.”
“Oh! I think it sounds fabulously exciting!” She loosened her hold as she looked off into the distance, where a pair of riders crested the low hillock.
“That must be Mayson and Rushford come for supper,” Archie offered.
“I believe you’re correct.” She kept staring. “They are a handsome couple.”
He looked down at her again. Despite his mother’s decidedly liberated approach to everyone’s sexual freedom at Camburton Castle, he had never become entirely accustomed to that level of openness. When he visited Christopher in London, he didn’t go shouting announcements from the rooftops. That sort of thing was private. Or at least he’d always thought so. His mother and sister often poked fun at him for the way he clung to his old-fashioned notions of propriety, of what should and shouldn’t be said aloud, but cling he did.
Trevor Mayson was marrying Archie’s beloved sister, Georgiana, in a week’s time. Trevor also lived with James Rushford. Even this, Archie could get his mind around. Everything was fine . . . for other people. He merely had certain traditional notions when it came to his own future. He had no wish to judge.
Over the summer, he had seen Selina with her dear friend Beatrix Farnsworth often enough, and while some suspected the two of them were more intimate than mere friendship, he had never broached the subject directly. For some reason, now he felt the compunction to do so, to let Selina see he was not a moralizing man. Perhaps he also felt the courage to ask because deep down he was certain two such lovely women could not possibly be involved in anything sordid. “You and Beatrix are a handsome pair as well.”
Her face clouded instantly. “We are, aren’t we? The closest of friends.” She spoke to herself more than she spoke to him. “Were, I mean. We still are—” Selina stumbled over the words and her brow furrowed “—friends, that is. It’s just that Bea left this morning, as you must know?” Her face cleared somewhat.
“I’m sorry, Selina. I didn’t know. I apologize for my carelessness—”
“Not at all. She’s off to perform in Milan and Rome and Venice and everywhere, and it’s all very glamorous and wonderful.”
“Why didn’t you go with her?”
She looked up at him boldly. “I didn’t want to leave England.”
And wasn’t that proof enough that there was nothing more intimate than deep friendship between Miss Farnsworth and Miss Ashby? Surely Selina would’ve gone with Beatrix if they were indeed a couple. “Really?” He knew he was being childish, but he wanted more. He was greedy for her interest. And confirmation. “What is keeping you?”
She licked her lower lip, slowly, like a cat preparing to pounce. “Unfinished business . . .”
His heart felt too large for his chest. “What type of business?”
Trevor and James were nearing, and the sound of pounding hooves began to encroach on their conversation.
“Oh!” She broke the moment with a toss of her chin. “I’ve a book to deliver by December. A book that’s all clumsy, inelegant words at the moment.”
“Yes.” He exhaled to get his pulse back to a normal rate. “Your work. Of course.”
“And for you, Archie.” Her words were barely audible. Perhaps he’d misheard, he must’ve misheard—and then Trevor and James were upon them, tipping their hats to the lovely Miss Ashby, who curtseyed prettily and dipped her chin with a polite, “Lord Mayson. Mr. Rushford.” The horses were sweaty and breathing heavily from the brisk ride over from Mayfield House, and Archie had a forceful desire to protect Selina from their threatening presence. Wrong again.
She released his arm and reached for Trevor’s horse, the larger of the two. “Well, now, who is this beautiful creature?”
Archie watched, enthralled, as her small delicate hand pressed into the gleaming fur of the horse’s powerful neck. She rarely wore gloves—she said they were tedious when it came to turning pages, and since that was her primary occupation she’d had to decide between gloves and books. And of course she’d chosen books. So he was free to stare at the subtle turn of her bare wrist, the fine bones of her long, slender fingers, the ink stains on her right hand.
“Archie!” James called with a jovial lift of his chin. “How is this fine day treating you? Solving any mysteries in the laboratory?” Smiling when Archie caught his eye, James winked to let Archie know he’d caught him ogling the lady.
“Alas, no. The little creatures are still winning in some instances, and we are aiming for complete eradication. But Jenner’s on it. We’re close to having a stable enough vaccine to package and distribute on a wide scale.”
“Good to hear, good to hear.”
“Will you be joining us for supper?”
“Yes, with all the wedding plans, it’s the only chance we get to see Georgie. And we wanted to ride before dinner—nothing surpasses Derbyshire at this time of year.”
Selina finished her conversation with Trevor while petting his horse, and then the two men continued on their way, trotting slowly across the park toward the castle.
Archie pulled a clean handkerchief out of his pocket. “Would you care to wipe the smell of horse sweat off your hands?”
Dear Lord, this man was put in her path to give her every sordid thought. The mere mention of “sweat” and “hands” and “wiping” coming out of his prim, delectable mouth made her want to—
Her gaze flew from his lips to his eyes, those amber eyes that always appeared so brilliant and tentative and eager all at once. Men were supposed to be full of blustery conviction and arrogance and superior notions. Men were not supposed to be biddable. Men were not supposed to tempt her the way the Marquess of Camburton tempted her.
Damn it, Selina, you are not that sixteen-year-old miss with no control of your emotions! As her fingers rested on his forearm, she tried to steady the frantic beating of her heart, gripping harder onto him as if that would ground her somehow.
Falling in love with the Marquess of Camburton was absolutely not on her agenda! She had books to write. She had her own life to lead. Not to mention Beatrix had barely been gone a day! Even though Bea had given Selina her blessing should she decide to pursue her burgeoning feelings for the marquess, Selina had believed herself to be a bit more in control than this. She’d fancied it would be a lark, a safe male friend with whom to satisfy her curiosity about what it would be like to be with a man.
Here she stood next to Archibald Cambury, attempting to be immune to his kind, gentlemanly ways, and instead her heart was pounding wildly . . . and not just with lust. She actually admired the man. The way he spoke about her relationship with Bea with such understanding and acceptance, the way he listened to her when she talked about her work, and the way he looked at her with such devotion. She wanted him, yes, to touch him and fulfill her own dreamy sensual desires, but she also felt the beginning of something far deeper—a desire to protect and nurture him and to be protected and nurtured by him in return. She wasn’t just smitten.
In fact, Selina was beginning to entertain the previously preposterous notion that she might actually wish to marry the Marquess of Camburton.
She accepted the handkerchief out of polite habit, then, without thinking, brought it to her nose, wanting to inhale the warm scent of Archibald Cambury’s pocket square . . . wanting to inhale Archibald Cambury.
“Thank you,” she murmured through the fabric. He watched her hands; he always watched her hands. But her hands were so close to her eyes that he was forced to meet her gaze.
“Archie . . .”
When he licked his lips, she reached for him, and her book fell from between her arm and her ribs. “Damn it, Selina!” she chastised herself.
They both bent simultaneously to fetch the book and nearly banged heads. He got to it first, and they rose slowly at the same time. He was a good four or five inches taller than she was and, unaccountably, that made him even more precious—like one of those German boarhounds on the estate that, despite its size, still thought it fit on her lap.
He held out the book for her to take it back, but she ignored the gesture and reached for his face. She gripped the handkerchief in one hand and trailed the other along his slightly rough jaw. It was the first time she had really touched him, skin to skin, and the surge of power through her fingertips was even greater than she had dreamt it would be. “Archie . . .”
His eyes closed and a gentle moan escaped him as her fingertips continued to explore the planes of his cheeks, the turn of his jaw, the arch of his brow. She avoided his mouth, savoring the anticipation, watching him closely as his nostrils flared and the tip of his tongue touched the corner of his lips and then retreated. She toyed with his ear, lightly caressing the edge and wondering if the silky texture was similar to the sensitive skin of a man’s cock.
Standing perfectly still, except for those stunningly desperate breaths, Archie resembled a statue, or a treasure—something awaiting discovery, or about to be pillaged. “I want you, Archie . . .” Words escaped her when she saw the color flood up his neck and cheeks. She had never seduced anyone, and the power of it was beginning to fill her with a throbbing energy. Not that she’d ever been passive—she’d been with three loving, attentive women over the past five years, with whom she had been exuberant and fearless—but she had never initiated any of those relationships. In the first two instances, they had found each other, a shared joining of equals. And Beatrix, well, Beatrix was like a force of nature; she had taken Selina with her sheer intensity, in a passionate night that had unfurled into three years of companionship and deep, abiding love.
And Beatrix had encouraged her over the past few months, egged her on even, when it came to the marquess. “Why don’t we invite him over?” she’d taunted.
“He would never!” Selina had replied, knowing what Beatrix was suggesting. “Archibald Cambury is looking for a wife, not an orgy.”
But Beatrix was gone for now. And it was just Archie and Selina standing here under this beautiful tree, with him holding her book and her touching his magnificent face.
“I’m going to kiss you now, so if you don’t want me to, you must stop me.”
His eyes opened slightly—amber shards burning with desire—but otherwise he remained perfectly still. She stood on the tips of her soft-soled summer shoes. When her lips touched his, they both pressed against each other, quivering. He dropped the book again, God bless him, and put his strong hands on her upper arms the way he’d done earlier when he was trying to stop her from falling. But now it felt like he was holding on, afraid he would be the one to fall.
“Selina . . .” His voice was thick and full of want, as he brushed his lips against hers. “Selina . . .” He pushed her away, but kept his hands on her in that firm, almost accusatory way. “It’s not proper.”
God, how she loved his propriety. She wanted to slink around it like a randy cat, rubbing herself against his upstanding self. “I don’t want to be proper when I’m with you,” she whispered.
He shook her slightly, then looked ashamed that he had manhandled her. The inner battle was divine. She wanted to push him to the edge of that conflict, force him to release all that inappropriate, violent lust despite himself. She adored his aristocratic ways, because unlike the airs and grasping of her own family, his devotion to his place in society was entirely authentic. In all their walks around the estate and quiet strolls across his lands, she had seen the depth of his commitment to a life that many would see as a burden of birth, or something to be leveraged for financial or social gain. Not Archie. Getting to know him over the past few months had proven to her that he was that rare creature: a true gentleman.
But beneath that, simmering just there where no one else could see it—or perhaps no one but she had ever been permitted to see it—resided a crouching animal, some part of him that he held in check. That was the part of him that she wanted to break free. Against his better judgment. To get him to unleash it on her.
He exhaled through his nose. “Please don’t say such things. I don’t want to do anything to compromise you, Selina.”
She repressed a laugh at the idea she could be compromised. “Very well.” She stepped back, and he was forced to release her. With Beatrix gone for at least three months, she had more than enough time to pursue Archibald Cambury. Three months? Three days would probably be enough to get him to his knees, where (quite certainly) he very much wanted to be. “I know proper matters to you.”
“Does it not matter to you?” He bent to pick up the book from its second tumble, and handed it back to her.
They began walking again. “I suppose not. My parents were very strict, and I decided many years ago that I would not live my life in the same way, filled with fear of society or the opinions of some imaginary jury. Or God.”
He held his forearm out again, defaulting to tradition. She went along, resting her hand easily on the fabric of his coat and walking in time with him. “Do you not feel the prick of your own conscience?” His voice held a hint of worry.
She let the silence spread easily around them while she thought about that, finally answering with a slight laugh. “Of course I have a conscience. I just— Oh, I don’t know. I don’t believe in sins of the flesh, I suppose.” She paused again, and then blurted, “Did you know I was in hospital?”
“What? No. Were you ill? I’m so sorry to hear it.”
“No, actually. I wasn’t ill. But I was a problem. I wouldn’t be quiet. My mind wouldn’t settle. I didn’t like embroidery.” She laughed again. Without looking at him, she realized the truth of it. “I think my parents put me into a lunatic asylum because I refused to broider.”
“How long were you . . . there?” The tenderness of his concern almost made her feel more sorry for him than she did for the injustice done to her. Almost.
“How long was I imprisoned, you mean?”
“No! Your family wasn’t imprisoning you; they were caring for you. They must’ve thought they were doing what was best.”
“Oh, but you have a generous heart.” She remembered the daily ice baths and restraining devices, and suppressed a shiver of disgust. “My family does not care for me, not in the way you mean.”
They walked on quietly, and she could tell the unaccountability of her parents not loving her was causing his brain to stutter. “Was it for a few weeks, then? They put you in someone else’s care?”
“It was over a year. A full cycle of the seasons . . . so I have something to remind me . . . all year round.”
“But they must’ve wanted you to be healthy.”
“No, they wanted me to be tamed.”
That silenced him completely. He was a brilliant man, she knew that from the way he looked at the world, from the walks they’d taken—the very proper walks—when he’d discussed his research, or the sonata that Beatrix had played, or Nora’s latest painting. He saw things clearly. And those things that perplexed him, he was able to ponder at great length. He was patient.
“I can’t imagine such a thing.”
She burst out laughing again and pulled her hand from his arm. “I can see why!” She spun around, her arms wide and free, encompassing the seemingly infinite breadth of Camburton Park, with Camburton Castle shimmering in the distance. “You were raised here in paradise, and you were raised by Vanessa. Did she ever tell you no? Even once?”
His brow furrowed adorably. How a man of twenty-eight could have the innocence of a child, she knew not, but she never tired of his virtue. He looked as though he were quite methodically going through every interaction he’d had with his mother over those twenty-eight years, before he finally replied. “I can’t think of . . . Now that you ask . . . I think not. Of course there were matters of etiquette and behavior and that sort of thing, but when it came to our own ideas? No. In fact, I think she may have even encouraged us to disagree with her. She would laugh and throw up her hands when we would question her authority, and kiss us on our heads and tell us how beautiful we were.” The realization appeared to strike him hard, perhaps the guilt of how lucky he was.
“See? Heavenly. Whereas . . .” She hated being glum. It was so tedious talking about her puritanical childhood. Beatrix had been a glorious remedy to all of that. Any time Selina even approached the dark edges of memory, Beatrix would laugh and tell her to celebrate her freedom, her escape from the clutches of those small, mean minds that had raised her. She would usually make love to her at times like that. “You are free now. Dwell in that,” Beatrix always said.
Archie reached for her hand and, rather than the formally proffered forearm, he laced his gloved fingers through her bare ones. They walked hand in hand like that for another quarter hour or so. Eventually they ended up at her cottage as dusk fell. She looked appreciatively at the late summer wildflowers and riotous blooms that filled the small front garden. And she was lonely already.
And grateful. She sighed. Lonely and grateful.
The writing life had turned her into a walking conflict: she craved the peace and isolation that would allow her to write, but she loved the sounds and scents of another person nearby. She was selfish, and she knew it. About that, at least, her parents had been quite astute—Selina Ashby wanted things.
“Here we are.” He stood away from her and clasped his hands behind him.
“Yes, here we are.” She stared at the bright-red front door, then back into his eyes. “Would you like to come in?” She’d meant to ask it in a casual way, but her desire betrayed her, and she knew she sounded like some sort of throaty seductress.
He stepped back another pace. “Oh, I think not.”
“Of course, yes. You need to get back to the house in time for supper.” She turned toward the setting sun as if it held all the answers between them. “I’m going to stay here at home for dinner tonight. I think I need a bit of quiet.”
“I’m going to London.” He said it like a bark.
“Oh?” She looked back at him. “Yes, that’s right. For your sister’s wedding.” She wasn’t sure why he was telling her. Initially, his advances and withdrawals had amused her, but lately—today especially—she was feeling agitated and needy around him. She wanted to go into her cottage and pleasure herself before she did something stupid like beg him to touch her. When he failed to elaborate, she continued, “Very well. I hope you have a pleasant journey.”
“Come with me.”
“What?” Good God, when he spoke in that halting, desperate way, she wanted to tear off her clothes and pull his lips to her breasts. “To London?”
He settled somewhat, still with his hands clasped behind his back, which (unfortunately for his propriety), drew her attention to the bulge in his tight, revealing breeches. She forced her gaze back to his eyes.
He spoke softly. “Yes. Would you like to accompany me to London? In addition to my sister’s marriage celebration, I have several appointments and a lecture to attend, so I am going to town for the week. With my prior obligations, I wouldn’t be able to escort you anywhere, but I thought perhaps you would want to see your publisher, or might wish to visit a friend. I have room in my carriage. Mayhap it was a silly invitation. I regret—” He began to sketch a small bow of apology.
He startled. “Yes?”
“Yes.” She smiled broadly through the word. “Yes, I would love to accompany you to London. And once there, I shan’t inconvenience you. I shall stay with my father’s sister, the one from whom my mother is certain I inherited all of my worst attributes—she is forward and brash and shameless. And wonderful. She designs sets for the theater and lives near Drury Lane, and she has been wishing for me to visit all this past year.”
“Very well, then.” He was pleased, she could tell, but he was keeping it all buttoned up in that riveted way of his. “We will leave Monday morning at first light.”
“Very well. And thank you . . . Archie.” Saying his name aloud felt like the greatest intimacy. She lifted herself up on tiptoes and kissed him quickly on the cheek, then turned and ran the last few steps into her small home. The door shut behind her, and she waited breathlessly until she heard his footsteps recede down the path and off into the park. Then she slid to the floor, set her book aside, and reached her hand between her legs, burrowing under the multilayered folds of her dress. She was swollen and wet, and it didn’t take more than a minute—imagining Beatrix suckling at her breast while Archie pounded into her pussy—for her to come in a brilliant flare, right there on the floor.
In the misty dawn of Monday morning, Vanessa and Nora stood close by in the forecourt while the footmen hoisted Selina’s bag onto the rack at the back of the carriage. Archie watched out of the corner of his eye as Selina waited slightly apart from the rest of them, in that observing way of hers, as if she could look and not look all at once.
Vanessa kindly included her. “Farewell, Selina. I’m sorry we won’t see you in London. You know you are more than welcome to attend the wedding.”
“You are too kind,” Selina replied graciously. “But it is a family affair, and I will also have my own commitments. But thank you again. I look forward to hearing all about it when we return here in October.”
“Yes,” Nora agreed. “We will all be back in a few weeks, isn’t that right, Archie?”
“Yes, Nora. We’ll all be back.” He opened the carriage door for Selina. “But now we must depart if I am to reach London in time for Jenner’s lecture tomorrow evening.”
“Yes, you must go.” Nora hugged him and smiled. “We will see you in a few days, my dear.”
As soon as the carriage door shut, the horses began trotting away at a steady pace. It was an excellent carriage, well sprung, comfortable, and amply stocked for the rigorous three-day-long trip ahead of them. He removed his hat and set it on the seat next to him. After checking to make sure everything was secured properly, he stared across at Selina and let himself look his fill. She happened to be peering out the window with a seemingly oblivious concentration, the edge of her poke obscuring part of her profile, yet accentuating the turn of her jaw and her delicate chin.
He loved observing the world; he especially loved observing Miss Selina Ashby. Archie was no artist himself, but even though Nora was not his mother by birth, she was still one of his parents. He had inherited her habit of seeing the world carefully, noting the hints and shadows of things.
“Archie?” Selina asked without turning from the window.
“Yes.” He almost said, Yes, love, as he did to his mother or Nora or his sister, Georgie. Selina was beginning to reside in the same chamber in his heart.
“What do you think of me?”
He tried to laugh it off. “What a strange thing to ask, Selina. I think very highly of you. You must know that.”
She turned slowly, and the way her hat framed her face made her look even more like a portrait, a perfect ivory cameo or immaculately painted miniature. “I mean, do you think of me? Do you . . . imagine me?”
He suddenly realized six hours spent in this confining manner would be an eternity. He might need to ride up on the box with the coachman if this sort of intimate conversation was the only alternative. “I think of you often. I think of you . . .” His throat was dry, so he reached for the hamper. “Would you care for some tea?”