The Earl of Diamonds
Cedric Lovell was just returning from his morning ride of his estate, when he noticed an acquaintance coming up the front driveway. He pulled his horse to the side and waited.
"Well, Hensley, since I have already paid off our bet from the Newmarket races, and you certainly would not waste your time on a visit, what brings you out to Norfolk?" he said scathingly.
"Now is that anyway to talk to someone who came all this way to give you some interesting news?" Lord Hensley admonished. "How about inviting me in for a drink and a little refreshment after this hot, dusty trip?"
"So, you have some London gossip, do you? About anybody I know?" Cedric asked, "Well, do come in and give me the latest. It definitely has been exceedingly dull being forced out here on a repairing lease . . . and I'm not doing so well on the repairing of my finances."
After they had settled down in the study, and the servant had departed, Hensley brought Cedric up-to-date on the gossip.
"The main bit of news is the theft of those Raynhurst diamond bracelets," he continued, as he sipped his brandy.
Cedric, hiding his alarm at the news, stopped as he was lifting his glass to his lips, lowered his eyes a moment before looking up nonchalantly and asked, "Are you saying someone had stolen the bracelets from Raynhurst?"
"Not directly from him, but a couple of his mistresses had their bracelets filched. London is all a buzz with this on-dit, especially since there isn't much else going on in town. The burglary happened . . . oh . . . I guess it was a few months ago, but rumors now are getting vastly exaggerated. It is being blamed on a spurned high-flyer who did not receive a bracelet for her services to Raynhurst, and she has taken to retaliation by confiscating the other bracelets out of jealousy. Everyone is speculating on whom it could be, and even White's betting book is starting to fill up."
Keeping his face blank of expression, as he listened, Cedric thought, What luck! Bow Street must not be looking for any house burglar, if everyone thinks it is one of Raynhurst's mistresses. What a great distraction that would create if I went back for more diamonds! The ton will be so busy blaming the demimonde, I won't have to worry about runners from Bow Street with all the false leads everyone will fling at them!
Realizing Hensley was asking him a question, he shook himself out of his musings and said "So sorry Hensley, I didn't hear you, for now you have me thinking about Raynhurst's ladybirds!" he laughed.
"I knew you would appreciate the news, especially since it involves your cousin. Have you seen him lately? I have heard he is at his Estate in Sussex with his mother. From what I gather, no one seems to know his opinion on this whole mess," he said slyly.
"Aha! That is the real reason you came here!" Cedric smiled knowingly. "You thought I might have some inside information, from the family connection, on who might be the mysterious female villain."
Hensley, with flushed face, stammered, "You can't blame me for trying. After all, I have a wager on at White's too, you know."
"Too bad I can't help you, but I have not seen my Cuz for some months now," he replied.
Feeling in a much better mood, with a new scheme for adding more diamonds to the ones he had hidden away, Cedric said lightly, "Well, I just might come back to Town early, and see if I can't get in on the wager myself. I remember there was this one little redheaded wildcat that should be a good contender, since I heard that she never received a diamond bracelet for all her efforts," he lied, hoping Hensley would believe his story as he devised his plan.
"Redhead? Was she an actress he met at the Covent Gardens Theatre? I do remember, last winter someone like that . . . practically falling all over him every time he was there," he said thoughtfully.
Cedric smiled as he thought, It would be nice if they were all fools like Hensley . . . so easily duped!
On the way to visit the dowager Duchess of Westborough, Raynhurst was deep in thought as he rode next to the carriage of his mother and Aunt.
Just last week, before they left their estate in Sussex, he ran into Sir Leland at a neighbor's dinner party.
Leland mentioned the fact that the dowager Duchess had inquired about him and said, "Apparently, when she had inquired about a Major Taggart, she did not know that you were the Earl of Raynhurst. I guess she has a friend who asked her to check to see if you had survived the war. I told her you were alive and well!"
If she is making inquiries to my mother, and at the War Office, then she really does know about the marriage. I hope I can get some information about the granddaughter from her, without mother getting curious for the reason.
Elise and her grandmother were in the Drawing Room, when they heard the carriage pulling up to the front of the house.
Elise jumped up out of her chair, "I am so nervous!" she said anxiously.
"Chin up, my dear. Remember, you are legally his Countess, and you must behave as such. He does not know you are here, so you have the advantage. Now, stand over by the window out of the line of vision as they come through the door, I want to watch his reaction when he sees you," she said firmly, then added tenderly, "You look so very beautiful!"
The butler made the announcement of their guests' arrival before showing them into the room.
Entering, Lady Marion stepped forward and curtseyed. "Your Grace! It is so good to see you after all these years!" she said excitedly.
"Now Marion, you used to call me Lydia, and I am so glad to see you again. And Emily, how nice it is to see you too!" she said laughing, as she met her long time friends.
Elise stood by the window, with her hand tightly holding the back of a chair. Her heart leaped, and she felt her breath catch at the first sight of him when he came through the door. She looked at his profile, with the lock of sable-brown hair falling carelessly on his forehead, his powerful physique in the hunter-green superfine coat, and cream-colored pantaloons. All her resentment forgotten, she realized she still loved him. He is more handsome than I remembered, she thought.
The Duchess waited until Raynhurst had walked up to her, and she had his full attention. As he bowed, raising her hand to his lips, she announced, "I would like to introduce you to my granddaughter, Elise."
The Duchess felt him tighten the hold on her hand, and his eyes flew to hers in surprise, before he turned to where Elise was standing.
There was a moment of stunned silence, as Stephen looked at Elise. His mind whirled with visions of her from the past and put them together with the vision of loveliness, in front of his eyes. The honey-colored hair in an upswept style of curls, the violet-blue eyes, and delicate features, the perfect curved figure in a pale blue silk dress. She is mine. This beautiful woman is my wife. Along with that came the dawning that he loved her, and would never want anyone else.
His mother, and Aunt Emily were also taken by surprised at the announcement, but recovered sooner. "Oh my, you look just like Eleanor!" she said in astonishment, as she started to walk toward Elise.
Before his mother had taken two steps, Stephen hurried across the room. Then he stopped, torn between whether to grab her and kiss her, or shout in angry frustration, over the many months of searching he had done.
Elise, speechless, just stared, waiting for him to make the first move.
Looking into those violet-blue eyes, shining with a mixture of love and apprehension, he gave in to his passionate desire for her, that had been eating away at him for the past three years.
"Oh God, I thought I would never find you!" he whispered, as he took her into his arms. "I could not get you out of my mind!"
"Oh, Stephen" she sighed and melted against him in relief, as she turned her face up to his. His kiss was as demanding as she remembered, and she returned it passionately.
Lady Marion, and Aunt Emily, shocked at the scene in front of them, looked at Lydia, who was smiling complacently at the romantic couple still embraced.
"Stephen! What is going on here?" his mother shrieked.
Reluctantly pulling apart from their kiss, he turned, still with his arms around Elise, and with a smile said, "Mother, this is my wife, Mrs. Stephen Taggart, the Countess of Raynhurst.
"Your . . . your wife! . . . you're married! . . . but when . . . you never said . . . Oh dear!" and she collapsed on the chair nearest her.
Aunt Emily, still flustered, rushed to her sister's side while she fumbled in her reticule for the vinaigrette.
The Duchess pulled the bell cord twice, and then came over to them to hug them both. "I knew this would work out!" she said smugly, "and now, we have another introduction to make."
The parlor door opened, and the nursemaid walked in holding Anthony's hand.
Raynhurst looked at Elise, and then at the little boy who toddled toward them. Raynhurst went down on one knee, as Anthony grabbed onto Elise's skirt.
"Anthony, this is your Papa. Why don't you give him a big hug?" she said in a trembling voice.
Stephen looked into the wide green eyes of his son's so like his own. A lump formed in his throat, he swallowed and said gently, "Come here, son, and let me get a good look at you," Anthony reached out with both arms, and Stephen pulled him close in an embrace.
Elise's tears rolled down her cheeks as she watched the scene she had dreamed of for so long.
The Duchess too, had a happy tearful smile. Marion and Emily gazed in astonishment.
Anthony pulled back and looked with concentration at the man's face. Then suddenly with a happy expression, he reached up and patted the side of Stephen's face with the birthmark, and said eagerly "Papa's!"
Raynhurst laughed, his eyes still brimming with tears, composed himself, and said "Yes, you have one just like Papa's!" as he ran his finger gently over Anthony's birthmark.
"Why he does! Look, Emily, he has that birthmark!" said his mother, coming out of her shock.
"Stephen, you will have to tell me when this all happened! How could you keep something this important from your Mother?" she said, admonishing her son. Looking at Elise, she rose from her chair and walked over to her.
"I can only say that although I am astounded, I am also elated to know that my son had married Eleanor's daughter. I could not have dreamed of anything so perfect. And now I have a grandson too! ......this has certainly been quite a revelation!" she said with apparent delight.
"I think we should all sit down, and enjoy a glass of wine to celebrate, while your son tells you all about it, Marion," the duchess said, as she pulled the bell cord.
While everyone was getting settled, Stephen, sat with Elise on the sofa, holding Anthony on his lap. He leaned toward her and whispered in her ear, "Let me tell a suitable story to my mother, do you agree?" She blushed, and nodded in agreement.
After the wine was served, with a glass of juice for Anthony, a toast was made and Raynhurst started on his story.
He said he had met Elise in Spain, fell in love, and married before he left for the fighting in Vitoria. After the war, because of his injury, he was unable to return to her, and they were separated. Neither knew how to locate the other, as they did not exchange background information in the short time they were together. On his return to England he enlisted the aid of his solicitor, and while tracing her he learned of the birth of his son. Therefore, he thought it best not to mention the marriage until she was located through his solicitor.
The Duchess going along with the story, said that she helped Elise try to locate him through the War Office.
"I never heard of anything so amazing! How terribly romantic . . . and you did not know that she was Eleanor's daughter when I had told you about my friend, Eleanor, last month?" she asked.
"Well, yes, by then I did, but I wanted to talk to the Duchess first, before I said anything to you," he hedged.
Elise, listening to his version, noticed all of the facts were there, but in a "suitable story" as he phrased it. Still she wondered if he would have come back for her, had he not been injured.
After the discussion ended, the Duchess asked Raynhurst if he decided on how to make the announcement of the marriage.
"Now that you mentioned it, I believe we will have to make more than an announcement, because there is Anthony, as my heir, to consider. Do you not think it a good idea if I went to the London Times, and let them do a news article of the whole story?" he asked.
"An excellent idea!" she agreed, "Everyone loves a romantic story, and it will stop any speculation or gossip originating with just an announcement."
"Do mention Eleanor in the article, Stephen, she would have liked that," Lady Marion beseeched.
"Yes, she would have liked that," the duchess said quietly with tears in her eyes.
Elise feeling a little guilty about the truth of what really happened, silently agreed that her mother, and Grandfather, would have appreciated the way her reputation had been saved.
Raynhurst looked at Elise, knowing what she must be thinking, he decided it was time to get her away from here so they could be alone.
"If I'm to go to London in the morning, I hope everyone will not mind if I spend some time with my wife. I have not seen her in three years, and I think it is time we were reacquainted." He looked at Elise to see if she agreed. She nodded, and squeezed his hand she had been holding.
"We could go to the York Inn, have a quiet dinner, and stay there tonight," he suggested.
The three older ladies blushed, remembering when they were young, and stammered agreement that they should have time alone.
His mother rose from her chair, and came over to Anthony sitting on Raynhurst's lap. "I would dearly love to get to know my grandson, and this will be a good time while the two of you are gone. Come, Anthony, let me tell you about your papa."
Raynhurst smiled in gratitude at his mother, as he lifted Anthony down to go to her.
Raynhurst had sent word ahead to the Inn to reserve their best room. So when they arrived the room was set up with a table already laid out for a very cozy candle-lit dinner.
Guiding Elise into the room, he dismissed the waiter and closed the door.
Turning her to him, he cupped her face in his hands and said, "I'm not hungry for food, are you?" she shook her head, and he continued, "And I am not in a drunken state as our first time. I want to remember every little detail of this evening . . . and . . . I want to make love to you as you never been loved before," he vowed, as he kissed her gently.
He lifted her up in his arms, and carried her to the spacious bed in the next room.
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