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Vanessa by Connolly Lynne
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Diplomacy turns to danger. On a desperate mission to save the life of the man she loves, Vanessa faces her deepest fears.
Awe-Struck Publishing; February 2003
167 pages; ISBN 9781587493539
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Title: Vanessa
Author: Connolly Lynne
Lord Vesey strolled towards them, his unhurried pace not disguising his object. His imposing figure created quite a stir amongst the young females present. He'd asked Vanessa to consider his proposal three days ago, and Vanessa had been surprised, even shocked by it. Her mother knew of it, and was putting her under increasing pressure to accept, but Vanessa was determined to make up her own mind. She would face the inevitable consequences of her refusal later -- if she refused him.

She'd never considered Lord Vesey a possibility before his surprising proposal, thought him not the marrying kind. He was thirty-two and never gave any woman hopes before. Vanessa couldn't imagine why he'd offered for her. His proposal had been perfectly proper, with no hint of passion, or the regard Vanessa considered necessary to a successful union.

Vanessa released George's arm while they made their bows, and then reclaimed it, not willing to let go of him for longer than she needed to.

"Had the courage of your convictions, Marriott?" asked his lordship. Not the hint of a smile marred his stern features.

"Something like that," said George. "Leaving for France this month."

Vanessa paled and would have clutched her brother in alarm, had she not been so well schooled in correct behaviour. "This month! Oh George!" She feared for her little brother, her deepest point of vulnerability.

"I too must take my leave sooner than I thought," his lordship said smoothly. His glance passed over Vanessa, who tried to keep her face calm. She didn't know why his presence disturbed her so, made her mildly agitated inside. Perhaps it was his undeniable good looks, or his excellent address. Or the proposal. "I have to leave for Vienna shortly. Castlereagh wants me back."

"Espionage?" said George, a gleam in his eye that Vanessa mistrusted.

"Let's say diplomatic," his lordship replied with an enigmatic smile.

While her brother and her suitor talked, Vanessa finally made up her mind. She couldn't let her little brother face Boney on his own; she must go with him. Moreover, she couldn't bear to live immured in the country with her mother. If she didn't take this alternative course there seemed no other path for her. She loved Emery deeply but there seemed as much chance of him making his fortune this year as there was last year: none.

She took a deep breath, steadying herself. "My lord," she said quietly, "may I have a private word with you?"

His head whipped round to stare at her; a light dawned in his eyes, instantly controlled again. "Of course, Miss Marriott," Lord Vesey replied at once. "Please, walk with me."

Vanessa transferred her hand from her brother's arm to his without hesitation. George frowned at his sister doubtfully. She smiled blandly back to show him her complete satisfaction with the bargain she was about to make. Now it came to the sticking point she was the calm one, George the doubter.

They bowed and left George Marriott to his many female admirers, who approached him in a playful way, all of them smiling flirtatiously. Even Vanessa had to admit he struck a very fine figure in his new regimentals.

"Seal fishing," Vanessa commented dryly.

Lord Vesey stared at her in blank astonishment. She explained. "I went up to Scotland once, to my aunt's house there, on a visit. I saw some men seal fishing. They trail the bait behind the boat, and the seals follow, with every expectation of treats to come. George's uniform is the bait."

His amusement showed in a flash of white teeth. "You should have been a novelist, Miss Marriott. A descriptive passage Monk Lewis himself couldn't have bettered."

"I did think of it," she said brightly. "But I didn't think I could make my living at it, so I put the idea aside. I like to render an account of my experiences, just for myself, you understand. I keep an extensive journal."

"I should like to see some of those descriptions," he said. "I thought of the young ladies as kittens. The seal analogy has so much more to it than that."

Slowly, inexorably, he led her out the crowded Pump Room, away from the excitements of the rich at play. She nodded to one of her erstwhile admirers, a Mr. Taylor, on the way out, and remembered why she'd refused his flattering offer of marriage last season. He wasn't an idiot, as she had described him to George a moment ago, but any temptation to accept him had been killed by her vivid imagination. The thought of his short, chubby figure dressed in a nightshirt, holding a candelabrum by her bedside, his pale blue pop-eyes gazing at her in lascivious delectation killed her acceptance stone dead.

Vanessa stole a glance at Lord Vesey and tried to imagine him in the same situation. She felt sure he wouldn't gloat, as she was sure Mr. Taylor would have done, but he might stare at her in that deep, thoughtful way of his. His tall, well-muscled figure was certainly more attractive than Mr. Taylor's. She found it hard to go any further with that thought when her breath caught in her throat. She hurriedly pushed it away from her. She felt the strong muscles of his arm under the fine cloth of his well-cut coat. She deliberately stopped herself thinking about what was underneath. She was determined to do this, for George more than for herself. If Vesey were going abroad and she were his wife, she'd go too, and then she'd be closer to her brother. The only son of Mrs. Marriott, George was the hope of the house, and besides that, she loved him dearly.

Once out in the open, Lord Vesey led her away from the crowds. They walked at a comfortable pace, and exchanged small talk until they approached a pleasant house not far from the Pump Room, set in a small side street; one of many in a long line of fashionable residences. His lordship produced a key and they went in.

A footman, surprised to see his master home at this time of day, stood up from his seat on one of the hard hall chairs. He took Lord Vesey's coat, hat and gloves. Then he accepted Vanessa's hat, gloves, and the thin shawl that was all she had in the way of protection against the sharp wind coming in from the hills that day. Vanessa repressed an urge to rub her hands against her chilled arms. She knew the goose pimples stood up on them.

"Is the fire lit in the drawing room?" his lordship asked, and Vanessa wondered if he'd noticed her discomfort. He hadn't seemed to.

"Yes my lord, but Ecarte is in there."

Vanessa lifted an eyebrow in silent query.

"My chef," explained his lordship with a wry grin. "He cooks divinely but his tantrums are devilish."

"The small front parlour is warm and empty, my lord," the footman said helpfully.

Lord Vesey gave his servant a small, courteous nod. "Thank you."

He led Vanessa into the room at the front of the house. It was quiet here. Vanessa heard the hooves of the occasional horse when it passed by the house, and the crackle of the welcome fire, but nothing else. The room was filled with the kind of furniture that at once proclaimed it as a hired house, one of the many procured for a few weeks in the season when Bath became fashionable, though Brighton had long since overtaken it as the place to go. Good quality, not the best, and with no particular style, no personal preference. Of course, his lordship might take no interest in his surroundings, might be one of those men who never noticed, much as her father had been, but for some reason she couldn't define, she doubted it.

The silence fell heavier while she marshalled her words. "My lord," she said suddenly, "Your offer -- the other day --"

"I remember it," he said evenly. He stood a few steps away from her and watched her steadily, no expression in his dark eyes. He wasn't making this any easier.

Vanessa swallowed. "I have thought about it, and... and if you please, I would like to accept." There, It was done! Not the most elegant acceptance, she knew she'd rushed the last few words, but she'd done it.

Unhurriedly he came forward, took her hand and kissed it softly. She shivered, and wondered why, since physically she felt a lot warmer, thanks to the fire.

"Thank you," he said. "You make me the happiest of men."

Vanessa stared at him wonderingly. Did he know why she'd changed her mind? Did he think she had more than an ordinary regard for him? She didn't know. She knew she liked him; even his sternest mien was a welcome change to some of the vacuous young men who'd approached her in recent years. She knew she could stick to the bargain she made with him. It was one of her reasons for choosing him. She also knew that if he gave his word to her, he would keep it. His reputation was for straight dealing, and if he promised something, it inevitably came to pass. He didn't make too many promises.

He was going abroad, and so was her beloved George. Would Vesey take her? She didn't yet know what kind of wife Vesey was looking for; the complacent type who had babies and lived in the country, or a partner for his diplomatic activities. She hoped for the latter, but either would be better than what she had now.

Vanessa loved George so much, and the action she was about to take both removed the financial burden from her brother's shoulders, and gave Vanessa a valid excuse to follow him. If his lordship wanted a diplomatic wife. Somewhere deep inside she felt it was wrong, to marry a man for the financial security he brought to her, but this was the way her society operated, and she only followed its dictates. If Society didn't want her to do that, she thought savagely, they should have given women more security of their own. She hated herself at that moment, and then she studied Lord Vesey, and pushed her venal thoughts aside. Perhaps there was something else. At least she liked him, although she didn't know him very well.

"Can it be soon?" she said.

"As soon as you wish," he replied, and at last moved to her, and drew her to him.

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