Here's Chapter 1 for your consideration...you will find your answer:
What is the name of Jonathan's estate?
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"Julianna, how does it feel to be the spinster sister of
's most beautiful bride?" Jonathan
asked, leaning back against the creamy yellow cushion of the settee. England
"I rather think I’m the lucky one," Julianna replied, hoping she kept the bitterness from her tone. But it was hard, for Jonathan had a way of bringing a pot of water to a boil with a single word.
"How so?" he queried, his brow lifted in question.
My, he was a handsome devil. She longed to slap the smirk from his perfectly glorious lips. How she hated and loved him. The bane of her existence and the joy of her life.
She looked at her younger sister, her pale cheeks aglow with happiness as she and her new husband spoke in hushed tones in the corner of the parlor. Abby and Michael would soon be leaving to visit
trip she had always longed to make and never had. Italy
"Well? I'm waiting," Jonathan said, giving the back of her arm a pinch.
"Stop that," she scolded, smacking at his hands to cease his painful pressure. "If you must know, I wouldn't wish to marry into your family, Jonathan." She lied. "Being bound to you by friendship is enough, thank you."
"You wound me, dear Julianna. Do you hold my brother in such low esteem that you would wish he didn't love your sister?"
She rolled her eyes. "Please, I wish Abby and Michael nothing but happiness."
"Still my sweet, your words crush my tender heart. I thought you loved me." He pouted, his words in jest. A joke that left her aching.
If he only knew the truth, for love and hate battled for dominance in the darkest part of her heart, at least where Jonathan Denbigh was concerned. How could he not realize just how much he meant to her? Just how much he had meant to her since she met him at the age of thirteen. That she dreamt of him at night and now, sitting next to him, the musky scent of his cologne, the warmth of his body…well, damn it all, it was too much.
Standing, she smoothed the skirt of her azure gown and lifted her chin. "You don't need me to love you. I think you love yourself well enough."
"Touché," he said leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. "But you have to admit, I'm a little lovable."
She smiled down at him and crossed her arms over her chest. "Yes, I love you like a chicken loves a fox."
He bared his teeth and growled. "Be careful little chicken, or I'm apt to gobble you up."
"Oh really Lord Denbigh, I’m not one of your silly little half wits. Does that charm truly work on anyone?" But she had to admit, the idea of his nibbling on her had chills racing across her flesh.
"Too well sometimes," he admitted leaning back once again with an elegant ease. Lifting a long finger he motioned toward Constance Whitcomb.
Dressed in a fluid gown of saffron, Lady Constance demanded more attention than the bride herself. Long, flowing locks of gold cascaded over her creamy white shoulders. She was beautiful and she now garnered Jonathan’s full attention. Oh, to have him look at her that way. As if she was the only woman in the room.
"In fact, Miss Whitcomb has grown quite fond of the idea of matrimony," Jonathan explained, his gaze pinned to the golden beauty.
Julianna stared at the woman, just the sound of her name rankled her and sent currents of jealousy racing through her veins. She was ever so graceful and the way men gathered around the woman had her feeling like a scrubbed sow in a silken feed sack.
"Oh Lord Nesbitt, you’re so very delightful,"
Constance cooed, her gloved fingers coming to rest
intimately on the young man’s wrist.
Bennett Nesbitt smiled, his handsome face alight with joy. Did her mere touch turn men of normal temperament into grinning fools? She pulled her attention away from the pair and glanced back at Jonathan and her stomach roiled. Had she witnessed a flash of anger in the depths of Jonathan’s eyes? Dear Lord, was he serious about the silly girl?
"And you, sir?" she asked, her voice trembling. "Are you leaning toward a wedding of your own? I’m certain your father would approve of the match."
"Yes, he would," Jonathan conceded, his jaw twitching with irritation. "But I would like a wife who can read Shakespeare and understand what old Will was talking about."
"And since when does a woman's mind concern you?"
Jonathan stood and gazed down at her, his dark eyes flashing. "If I choose to share my life with a woman, I want to be able to carry on a conversation that goes beyond the latest fashion and gossip."
Julianna lifted her eyes to meet his stern gaze. "I'm sorry if I offended you," she replied. "But this is a side of Jonathan Denbigh that I haven't seen before."
His expression eased and he gave her chin a playful pinch. "Perhaps you weren't looking."
Her lips curled into a relieved smile. "Let me know the next time the reformed gentleman makes an appearance. The rake has been gallivanting all over the countryside for far too long." She said the words with humor, but her heart knew the painful truth of them.
Leaning in, his warm breath fanned across her cheek, her abdomen tightening at the close contact. All playfulness and jest slipped from his countenance. Her heart beat at a maddening pace. "You'll be the first to know. For the truth is, Lady Julianna, I believe…"
Dear God, he truly did look like a ravenous beast, ready to devour her. Had she become the only woman in the room? Or was she little more than a ploy to force
Constance to look their way?
Still, all joviality had disappeared, the taunting, the teasing that exemplified their relationship, gone. What she recognized in his eyes rivaled what she always felt when she saw him upon entering a room. Was he going to kiss her? Right there in front of everyone? Surely not! He was a rake but he wasn’t a fool. And what had changed that he would even consider such a thing?
At the dull, rhythmic tapping of wood against wood, Julianna pulled her attention from Jonathan. No easy task, for he'd never looked at her in such a serious manner before. Yet she recognized the sound and it always demanded her full consideration.
Grandmother Chesterfield entered the parlor, her graying hair pulled in a severe knot, her silver blue eyes as alert as any bird of prey. She focused on Julianna, her brow lifted in question as her gaze slid back and forth between her granddaughter and Jonathan. She puckered her lips before tapping the cane hard against the floor. As always, at the harsh sound, all talk ceased and everyone stopped what they were doing to look upon the
"Abby, Michael, your carriage is at the ready. It is time for you to grace
and allow Italy to grace you." Italy
Abby let out an enthusiastic giggle. "Oh, the warm sun, the blue skies. I can hardly wait!" She lifted the skirt of her pale gown and rushed to Julianna, blonde curls bouncing, sapphire eyes alive with happiness.
"Take care sister," she said, pulling Julianna into a tight embrace. "I will write every day to tell you about
know how much you want to go, too."
Julianna held tight to Abby, her heart aching at the idea of her baby sister being so far away. But more than that, it ached for the change that would occur when she returned to
they would never again have the closeness afforded to sisters that dwelled
beneath the same roof. England
"You take care," Julianna whispered, tears stinging her eyes. "And I will look forward to your letters."
Jonathan stood at Julianna's side, shaking his brother's hand. "Congratulations, again dear Michael. Will you write letters, too?"
Michael's cherubic face lit up, his dark eyes flashing with mischief. "I don't plan on having time to write." He grabbed his wife's hand and kissed her knuckles. "But I'm sure Julianna will be happy to share her news with you. Isn't that right, my sweet sister?"
"Will you?" Jonathan asked, turning to face her, his eyes too flashed with mischief. "Will you share their happy news with me?"
"Certainly. You know you're always welcome here. You have been since childhood. Why would that change now?"
"Things have changed. Your sister and my brother have wed. Whether or not you like it, you are bound to me by friendship and family ties."
She narrowed her eyes and stared up at him, the dull twinge of longing flared back to life. "Jonathan, why are you making lists of our connections?"
"Abigail!" Grandmother pounded the cane on the floor, her countenance demanding all chit chat cease and desist. "Your carriage will wait but your ship will not. Now please, give your grandmother a kiss."
In flurry of satin skirts and the scent of roses, Abby rushed to her grandmother's side. It was an odd display of affection. Abby sobbing on Grandmother's shoulder. Grandmother's expression offering no sign of sorrow except the single tear that ran down her wrinkled face.
"Go, child. God speed and much happiness."
Michael offered Julianna and Jonathan a final tight lipped smile as he waded into the fray of lace and linen. "Come along, Abby," he said, sliding his hand around her small waist. "Make the goodbye swift and sure. For we will see them all when summer has reached the gardens."
She nodded, her blue eyes red with tears. "Yes. I love you Julianna. Grandmother."
And hand in hand they left. Julianna watched her precious sister embark on a new life, leaving her behind. Behind and alone.
Her stomach roiled with the realization. She was indeed the spinster sister of
's most beautiful bride. England
She pressed her fingers to her temples. "Will you excuse me? I feel a headache coming on," she said, fighting through her sob. "Good evening to you, Jonathan."
"Are you all right?" he asked, tilting his head in concern. He reached for her, but she backed away. Was that pity in his eyes? God, she could take anything but pity from Jonathan Denbigh.
"I-I'm sure I will be." She moved past him and facing her grandmother, she dipped her knee. "Good night, Grandmother."
The matriarch reached out and touched Julianna's cheek, her gnarled fingers warm and soft. "Good night, child. I'll see supper is sent to your room."
Unable to fight the tears any longer, Julianna rushed into the hall and up the spiral staircase to her room.
This morning the house had been filled with joy and anticipation. But that was behind her now. Her stomach throbbed with emptiness for she needed to speak to her sister and her sister was gone.
Throwing herself on the bed, she filled her pillow with her anguish.
"What just happened?" Jonathan asked, looking to Lady Chesterfield and wondering why she didn't follow Julianna. If he could, he would have followed her. He would have offered her a hankie or pinched her arm until she squealed and forgot about her sorrow.
His stomach clenched at the memory of those tears sliding down the young woman's cheeks. Damn it, he didn't like seeing Julianna cry. Not one little bit. Seeing her irritated with him, he liked. Sad, not at all.
"She realized her sister has gone and she's alone," Lady Chesterfield replied moving deeper into the room, her cane tap-tapping against the oaken floorboards.
"But she's not alone," Jonathan replied, curling his hands at his sides. One sister marries and suddenly the other is lonely? Confusion mixed with frustration. He'd never understand the fairer sex. Never. "She has a doting grandmother and friends who care for her a great deal."
"Indeed," she replied, looking imperiously down her nose at him. "Now, follow me into my study. We have much to discuss and it needs to be done alone."
He glanced over his shoulder at Bennett Nesbitt. The man had practically drooled all over Julianna’s slippers at the wedding and now he turned his wet nose toward
that Constance didn’t relish a wet nose.
Still, he followed Lady Chesterfield to her study as directed. One simply didn’t not do what Lady Chesterfield asked. It was bad form or stupidity. Either way, you ended up doing as you were told with a pat on the head or switch to the legs. Having known her since his youth, he chose the pat on the head.
Once alone in the powder blue room, Lady Chesterfield shut the door. "Do you consider yourself one of Julianna’s friends?"
The question caught him off guard. "Yes, of course."
Lady Chesterfield insinuated herself atop the well worn chair behind her desk. Resting her head on the back cushion, she peered at him, her stare unnerving to say the least. "Sit, Jonathan. Keep me company."
He released an exasperated sigh. "Aren't you going to see to her? Make sure she's all right? If I were in your position, I most certainly would."
"Sit, Lord Denbigh." There was an edge to her voice that had him plopping down on the nearest wingback like a five year old in trouble for pulling a little girl's braids.
She closed her eyes, her lips pursed.
"I'm sitting," he grumbled, setting his elbows on his knees. "Was there something you wanted of me? For if not, I think I'd like to return to Denbigh Hall. I'm tired and in need of a strong drink."
"My how you do go on," Lady Chesterfield mumbled.
He stood feeling utterly annoyed with the woman. Where was the hostility coming from? By God he wasn't going to stand there and take it. As fond as he was of Lady Chesterfield, as much as he respected her, he really was no ones whipping boy. "Yes. And I'm going to return home. Please give Julianna my warmest regards and tell her I'll call on her in the morning."
Her lids popped open and her silver eyed gaze came to rest on him. "Stop!" she shouted. "Sit down. I haven't given you leave yet."
He crossed his arms over his chest and smirked. "I didn't realize I needed your permission."
"This is my home. Julianna is my granddaughter. You sir, are too close to her for her own good."
"What?" he asked, the smirk slipping from his face. "Too close?"
"Yes, that's what I said." She too stood, the formidable woman was locked in a tiny body. Yet she may as well have been six feet tall and three hundred pounds. For she had him trapped with her words. "She hasn't had a suitable caller in months."
"And that's my fault how?" he asked, hating the direction this conversation was taking. Hating the notion that he caused Julianna any hardship. Hating the idea of her with a suitor of any kind. She was his friend first and foremost, not some sop’s lover.
"It's your fault because by all appearances, you two are connected. You walk with her to town. You come to play whist. You dance with her at balls and sing with her at parties."
He sank back down in the chair and brushed a dark blonde curl from his forehead. "She has been my closest friend since childhood," he mumbled impotently. "I didn't think…"
"And neither did I. Not until your brother married Abby and I saw the sorrow in Julianna's eyes. She is the eldest. She should have wed first."
"No," Lady Chesterfield replied. "I don't believe you do. You must sever ties with her."
His gut tightened and he sprang once again to his feet. "I'll do no such thing! How can you ask that of me?"
"Because I love her and if you care for her at all, you'll let her go. She needs to move forward and find someone to make a life and a family with. Bennett Nesbitt showed a great deal of interest in her until he saw the pair of you huddled together after the wedding."
He paced back and forth before the fireplace, his hands shoved deeply in the pockets of his jacket. "You're asking me to leave and never come back? Don't you think Julianna will find that rather odd? I don't want to hurt her." Hurt her, hell. The thought of never seeing her again, never hearing the sweet tinkle of her laughter, never ever spending another relaxing moment in her company… Well, that hurt him. Hurt him more than he ever expected. And the very idea that Lady Chesterfield would see her with that fop? Blast it, it was unconscionable.
Lady Chesterfield pounded her cane against the floor so hard that it echoed against the thick plastered walls. He stopped pacing and faced her. "Then you marry her."
His mouth dropped open. Was she serious? Surely, he had misheard. Marry Julianna? "That would be like marrying my own sister."
"She's not your sister. She's a beautiful woman. Open your eyes man."
The thought of her silky brown hair and wide blue eyes had him momentarily forgetting what Lady Chesterfield had requested. Yes, she was indeed beautiful, and smart and sweet and he most certainly did have feelings for her. Why just this night, he wondered, and not for the first time, how it would be to kiss her full lips.
"So, you either marry her or sever your ties with her. Those Lord Denbigh are your choices, for at this moment I am considering terms for her engagement."
She stared at him through those eerie eyes, her graying brow lifted as she waited for him to answer.
"Does Julianna know of your plans? I hardly think--"
"Marry her or sever ties," she interrupted. "Those are your options, for she will be engaged by summer’s end and every single person of the ton will know it is coming well before then."
"I'm not prepared to wed," he said, clenching his jaw so tight his teeth threatened to shatter. He would not be forced into a marriage, not by anyone, not even Lady Chesterfield.
"Then you've made your decision." She pointed a crooked finger at him. "You’re dismissed."
"Good luck to you and God bless Julianna," he shouted bitterly.
Lady Chesterfield shook her head, a wicked smile lifting the corners of her lips. "Look at Julianna through fresh eyes Lord Denbigh. Who is truly the loser here? You have taken her for granted too long and if you wait much longer, it will be too late. She will be the wife of another and lost to you forever." Jonathan stared at the woman. "You dismiss me as if there are no feelings between Julianna and me."
"You dismiss her as if her feelings don’t matter. She is deeply enamored with you, Jonathan. Does that not mean anything?"
Jonathan bit back the disbelieving chuckle that nearly popped from his lips. "Julianna in love with me? Don’t be silly. She couldn’t possibly—"
"I know," Lady Chesterfield agreed, nodding her head with vigor. "She is entirely too good for a man who would disregard her as you have. And yet she has the tenderest of feelings for you." She leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers, eyeing him as if he were the most fly ridden platter at a picnic luncheon.
"I can’t disagree. I have lived my life as a single man doing what I please with whom I please. Surely, if she loved me as you say, she wouldn’t have allowed me to continue pursuing my passions without as much as a word. Without as much as a hint of jealousy."
"I have born witness to your philandering ways, Jonathan and if you recall properly, not once did Julianna condone your rakish behavior. Why when she learned Constance Whitcomb was coming to the wedding she very nearly lost her breakfast."
"Lady Constance is a weed," Jonathan retorted and glanced toward the door. Maybe he should rush up the stairs to Julianna’s room and confront her. Surely, they would have a good laugh. Love him? Poppycock!
"A weed?" Lady Chesterfield interjected. "What does that mean?"
He sighed. May as well show his true colors once and for all. "It means she is pretty enough but not something I want in my garden."
"Disgusting Lord Denbigh. I would have liked to think more of you."
He deserved that and he knew it. "I beg your pardon."
"The time for pleasantries is obviously over," Lady Chesterfield said, standing. "Is Julianna someone you’d like to plant in your garden, for if she is not the best flower you have ever seen, then it is time to end her torment. Allow someone worthy to pluck her and make her his."