“No jewelry,” Henny had advised adamantly. “He’s a vicar. He’ll likely already know you’ve been a kept woman, and you needn’t remind ’im of it by decorating yerself overmuch.”
So Evie wore no jewelry, apart, that was, from the St. Christopher’s medal she always wore. It hung warmly between her breasts, and her hand went up to touch its reassuring shape now as she stood in the drawing room and craned her head to see Reverend Sylvaine hand off his hat and coat to her footman. Who seemed puzzled, as if he’d never before seen a coat that hadn’t been brushed and groomed within an inch of its life by a valet.
And then he turned and took a few steps into the room. He halted when he saw her standing against the hearth, right below a gigantic portrait of a glowering, bearded, ruffed fellow, likely one of the earl’s ancestors.
How had she forgotten how tall he was?
Or how tall he felt, more accurately.
The very air in the room seemed to rearrange to accommodate him. She felt him as surely as if he’d disturbed a wave of it and it had rushed forward to splash her. She folded her hands against her thighs; her fingers laced together like creatures clinging to each other for comfort. She didn’t move to greet him; she couldn’t seem to speak. All of her faculties seemed preoccupied with just seeing him.
They in fact eyed each other as if the carpet were a sea dividing two enemy territories.
It was then she noticed he was holding a small bouquet of bright, mismatched flowers in one fist. It ought to have made him look beseeching. It didn’t. On him it might as well have been a scepter.
From the distance of a few days, she realized she’d made a number of miscalculations when she’d anticipated winning him over. A few things had paled dangerously in her memory: the impact of his eyes, even from across the room. That long, elegant swoop of a bottom lip. That palpable confidence, as if he were was a man who had nothing to prove because he’d already proved it.
She wondered at the source of that. He was just a vicar. He wrote homilies about goats and read them to country people on Sundays. Likely a sheltered man, whose entire world was comprised of Sussex. While she had made the unimaginable ascent from peat bogs to Carleton House to countess. She knew what Prinny’s breath smelled like, for heaven’s sake, because he’d leaned over her more than once in an attempt to look down her bodice. If a way could be found past Adam Sylvaine’s reserve, she was the one who could forge it
She glanced down at his boots, and the creased toes of them seemed to reassure her of this.
Just as the Reverend glanced down at her hands. He looked slowly up again, with a wry, challenging tilt of the corner of his mouth. Because there was no way the man didn’t understand his physical impact. He’d watched her hands lace, and he knew she was trying not to fidget.
“Thank you for inviting me to your home, Lady Wareham.”
And then there was that voice.
Her heart was beating absurdly more quickly.
“Thank you for coming, Reverend Sylvaine.” Very elegantly, graciously said, she congratulated herself.
And with that, it appeared they’d exhausted conversation.
She cleared her throat. “Are vicars allowed to imbibe? May I offer you a sherry? Will that do for a demonstration of manners?” she said lightly.
He smiled. The dimple made a brief appearance. She eyed it, as fascinated as if the moon had risen in the room. “I’ll allow it’s a start. But I’ll take port, if you have it.”
It was a contest to see who would speak most noncommittally, it seemed.
He seemed to realize the absurdity of remaining rooted to the spot and moved into the room with a few long, graceful steps. She watched his eyes touch on things: the cognac-colored velvet-tufted velvet tufted settee, the spindly, satin-covered satin covered chairs, the portrait of God-only-knew-who God- only-knew-who above the hearth.
What did he know about her? Did he imagine she ravished lovers on the settee? Was he smiling politely while the word “HARLOT” blazed in his mind like something fresh off a blacksmith’s forge?
“Of course I have port. And, oh, look! You came bearing gifts. How … very kind of you.”
She held out her arms, and he duly filled them with the flowers; and then, to her surprise, he fished a small jar from his coat pocket.
“Since you’re new to Sussex—native wildflowers. And the honey is … made by the bees that drink from the flowers.”
She eyed him cautiously. Flowers and what bees did to them—supped, flitted—were popular metaphors in the poems fevered young bloods had written to her. She wondered if it this was an innuendo of some sort.
Or perhaps everything would sound like an innuendo until she knew precisely what the vicar knew about her past.
Once again, the footman appeared. Relieved, she deposited the gifts in his arms and told him to bring port and tea.
She turned to her guest again.
“Flowers and bees,” she mused brightly. “It sounds a bit like the beginning of a sermon. Perhaps something about the lilies of the field, and how they don’t toil?”
“Perhaps. I’ll be certain to tell you if I use the idea, so you can come to church to catch up on sleep.”
And when she did, his face swiftly suffused with light, as if he’d heard celestial music.
The expression was there and gone, as if it had never been. He was politely inscrutable once more.
A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long
Book #7 in the Pennyroyal Green series
She rose to spectacular heights…
From Covent Garden to courtesan to countess, beautiful, fearless, shamelessly ambitious Evie Duggan has riveted London in every role she plays. But the ton never could forgive her scandalous—if shockingly short—marriage, and when her star plummets amid gleefully vicious gossip, the countess escapes to the only legacy left to her: a manor house in Pennyroyal Green.
He never expected to fall so hard…
He has the face of a fallen angel and a smolder the devil would envy, but Vicar Adam Sylvaine walks a precarious line: resisting temptation…and the wild Eversea blood in his veins. Adam’s strength is tested when scandal, aka the countess, moves to Sussex. But when a woman who fiercely guards her heart and a man entrusted with the souls of an entire town surrender to a forbidden desire, will the sweetest sin lead them to Heaven...or make outcasts of them forever.