Chapter 7

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The evening after the Sutherland ball, 1821

"How did you like Lady Olivia?" Peter asked.

"She's fine."

"Fine? She's wonderful, Jacob. How can you even think about hurting her? Don't you think she's gone through a lot already?" An ugly frown wrinkled Pete's brow.

"If she's so wonderful, why don't you marry her yourself?" Jacob fairly spat.

"We wouldn't suit," Peter said shortly, his cheeks reddening.

"You have feelings for her," Jacob said, eyeing his friend shrewdly.

"I do not." But his cheeks turned an even deeper shade of red. At Jacob's unrelenting stare, he muttered, "it was years ago."

"That's a relief. Otherwise this might have affected our friendship," Jacob smiled mirthlessly.

"When did you become so ruthless?" Peter asked with a disbelieving shake of his head.

"You call this ruthless?" He laughed.

Peter rather thought this wasn't Jacob's worst. His eyes were empty, completely devoid of the joy and jest for life that he'd admired Jacob for.

"She's merely means to an end," he was saying.

"I don't like this one bit."

"You don't have to. You're not going to be a part of this."

"Have you tried to speak to the Duke? Maybe he'll change his mind?"

Jacob's empty eyes were suddenly filled with rage.

"I already visited him the other day."

"And?"

"He spat on me and asked me to leave."

Peter gasped.

"I would've called him out for this but I would've surely hanged after killing the bastard. And I'd promised my uncle that I would become the next viscount. Besides, I have something else planned. Did you know that Henry Cavendish loves his daughter very much?" Jacob smiled.

Peter nodded, swallowing uncomfortably.

***
"Today I shall sketch here," Olivia announced to no one in particular. She made herself comfortable on the park bench. Sally, her maid settled down near the closest bench and went back to doing her mending. She knew that Olivia liked to be left alone when she sketched.

She began to draw the outline. But drawing the shrubbery held no appeal today. She'd thought that this outing would clear her mind, that drawing this view that she'd drawn at least a dozen times before would restore some modicum of normalcy. But her coal just wouldn't obey.

After long minutes, she was done with her sketch. Except, it wasn't a picture of the park. It was a picture of him.

He looked boyish and young, the way she'd remembered him all these years, not the way he'd looked last night. The man Olivia had met at the ball was very different from the one she'd met in Derbyshire all those years ago. Although he still had the ability to set her heart racing, she'd sensed a darkness in him.

Clearly, he'd gone through a lot, she thought, idly tracing her finger along the sharp angles of his face.

She'd wanted to ask him what had happened, she'd wanted to know why he was in London. And why he had danced with her as if there was nothing else he'd rather do.

This man, the new Jacob Townshend, did not belong in a ballroom, she thought with a sudden grin. He'd put all those Lords with their padded clothing to shame with his naturally muscled body. And his beard, it was almost medieval! But she'd liked it. When he'd looked at her with his brooding gaze, she'd wanted to tug at it, if only to soften his face.

Olivia blushed anew at her thoughts. She wasn't a girl of eighteen anymore. Such thoughts did not befit a spinster of her age.

Over the years, Olivia had learned to forget him. In fact, she hadn't thought of Mr.Townshend in years. But one dance with him and she was back to behaving like a love sick debutante.

This wouldn't do. She couldn't let herself fall for him again. It had been hard enough to forget him the first time. Well, she'd simply make sure that she didn't run into him.

"How hard could it be?" She said out loud.

A stallion stopped before her and Olivia had to look up. She snapped her sketchbook shut.

Mr.Townshend was seated on his horse, looking down at her with an amused expression as he tipped his hat. Oh Lord, he had probably seen her talking to herself. Olivia resisted the urge to flee and smiled up at him.

"Good day, Mr.Townshend," she said sunnily.

"It must be a good day if I've had the fortune of running into you," he grinned, dismounting his horse.

He was staying longer? Olivia didn't know why she was pleased, she'd wished to avoid him entirely, hadn't she?

But just because she knew he spelt trouble didn't mean that she didn't want to bask in his smiles, rare as they were.

He sat down next to her without leave, scandalously close. So close that it felt like he was towering over her, so close that she felt the spicy scent of his body tickle her nose. She had to make a conscious effort to not melt into a puddle of mush. And he wasn't even touching her! He looked so at ease, his legs crossed in a casual way while she was having trouble breathing.

"Can I look?"

Olivia blinked up at him. Look at what? He must have read the confusion on her face because he signalled to the sketchbook, again with that half smile, as if he knew of the effect he had on her. Of course he was asking for the sketchbook, what else was there to look?

"No!" she said a little too forcefully, clutching the book to her chest. His eyes widened but he held his hands up in surrender.

Olivia wanted to kick herself. Now he'd think her a ninny.

She steeled herself, taking deep breaths. She'd handled the ton with grace all these years, she'd be damned if she let one handsome man befuddle her.

"That is a fine horse you have there, Mr.Townshend," she signalled to his horse which had to be the most beautiful and muscled stallion she'd ever seen. He must be quite rich, she thought, if he rode such an expensive horse.

"I found him in Fortescue's stables," he smiled proudly.

God, but his smile was devastating. She couldn't help but imagine how it would feel if he ever looked at her the way he was looking at his horse.

And then he turned to look at her again, his smile gone. "I don't wish to pry, Lady Olivia, but I heard about your engagement. And I-"

"You mean the one where the groom didn't turn up at the alter?" she interrupted, her eyes flashing with something.

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