“I shall come to you this evening, my lady,” Lord Markham said from the connecting door leading to his chambers. The deep timbre of his voice shattered the oppressive silence that blanketed their shared sitting room like a funeral shroud.
Sophie visibly jumped. Deep in her own reflections, she did not hear the soft click of the door opening or the first tentative steps of her husband as he approached. Tearing her gaze away from the lovely enclosed garden courtyard beyond the window, she forced herself to rise and face him, backing into the silver-blue and rose pink brocade covered chaise longue when she found him right in front of her.
Lord Markham’s hand shot out to steady her and she tensed at both the speed of the action and the sudden shock of heated contact on her elbow. Raising his eyebrows, he dropped his hand and stepped back. “As I had thought, you are not attending,” he said with a hard edge to his voice. “I have called your name a number of times and you have refused to answer.”
Sophie flushed a deep shade of crimson, not at all due to Lord Markham finding her woolgathering. Recognising the quality in his voice quite well, she knew instinctively what his inevitable reaction would be. How could she not? Considering she had lived in close proximity with the explosive temper that her uncle possessed for as long as she had.
Refusing to succumb to cowardice, she gathered all of her pride into a neatly stiffened backbone and looked him straight in the eye. “Would that be the name I was given at birth, my lord, or the one I neither wanted nor asked for?” she asked bitingly.
Lord Markham’s countenance swiftly changed from bland indifference to harsh annoyance. “Damn you, Sophie. Why must you continuously challenge me?” he growled lowly.
“Challenge you, my lord?” she asked incredulously. “You are the one that came in here accusing me of ignoring you, when I simply did not hear you. Did it not occur to you that I may not have answered because I still do not recognise the name I had foisted on me less than five hours ago?”
“You were not the only person trapped into this marriage, my lady. I will thank you to remember that.”
“Be that as it may, my lord, but unlike you, I may not do as I please. When things become too much, I may not leave and go to my club, or to stay out all hours carousing with my friends, or pursue my illicit pleasures. I must conform to Society’s strict rules of conduct, quite unfairly I might add. I came in here to have some peace and time to reflect on what has just happened. Must I always be at your disposal; am I to offer you blind obedience every minute? Or am I allowed to have some time to myself and have the opportunity to make my own decisions?”
Peter did not quite know where to start. Was she blaming him personally for the disparagement between the genders in their Society? “Society’s strict rules are there for a reason, my lady. They are there for your own protection. You cannot be out alone at all hours because some nefarious gentleman may hurt you. Not all of them are honourable. You must allow me to guide you in all things, to trust me to make the correct decision for you.”
“Protection, my lord? Where was my so-called protection when my guardian made the decision of whom my husband shall be? Did he make the correct decision? No, he did not. Instead, he chose to decide my future on a game of chance. My uncle is one of the gentlemen you mentioned as being nefarious. A man the law considered to be a suitable gentleman to have my best interests at heart held complete control over my life.”
Ceasing to listen to his wife’s diatribe, Peter’s gaze roamed from her sparkling grey eyes, her flushed face, her cherry red lips, down to the bodice of her ivory gown stretched taut across her bosom, toward her hands on her delectably curved hips, then back up to her lips, ripe for kissing. An image of her in their marital bed flashed briefly through his mind. Her beautiful brown hair fanned over her pillow, her eyes darkened with desire, her lips parted in invitation.