Love According to Lily – Julianne MacLean

IT WAS AT THE YOUTHFUL age of twenty-one that Edward Peter Wallis, Earl of Whitby, raised a coffee cup to his lips and made the conscious decision that he did not want to die. Or rather, he did not want to grow old—for being young was far more entertaining. “Here comes your little sister, dashing up the hill,” Whitby said to his friend James, the Duke of Wentworth, who sat across from him at the breakfast table. They’d had the table brought outside onto the sunny stone veranda, having decided they needed fresh air to ward off the disagreeable effects of their excessive consumption of brandy the night before. Although now it seemed a rather idiotic idea, as the sun was casting a blinding reflection off the sterling silver coffeepot in the center of the table, making it necessary to squint. And squinting was never advisable when one was nursing a pounding headache. “Look at her run,” Whitby said, lounging back in his chair as he watched Lily, her blue-and-white skirts flying everywhere. “You don’t suppose she’s going to ask me to play hide-and-seek, do you? Good Lord.” “Maybe tag,” James replied irritably, resting his forehead on a finger. Whitby was still wearing the same clothes he’d worn the night before, and his face was prickly with stubble. He felt grimy and quite honestly disgusting, yet he couldn’t help smiling at Lily, who was racing toward him with a fresh smile on her face, her bright dress clean and crisp. She had just turned nine. He leaned toward James. “When do you think she’ll be old enough to realize we’re still half pickled when she comes running up the hill to our breakfast table? I swear it goes completely unnoticed by her innocent eyes when we stagger our way to find her behind the rosebushes or wherever she takes herself off to hide.” He lowered his voice to a near whisper.

“And she giggles, James. She doesn’t know we find her because we can hear her.” He chuckled and took another sip of his coffee. “Speak for yourself, Whitby. You may still be pickled, but I am sober enough to feel the throbbing in my brain, and if Lily asks me to chase her…” “You’ll tell her to go play with her dolls.” Lily came to a slow stop on the veranda, breathing hard and smiling. She wore her shiny black hair in two braids with blue ribbons that matched the broad ribbon sash on her dress. “Lord Whitby! I knew you’d be here this morning!” “And how did you know, Lily?” he asked, leaning forward in his chair and resting his elbows on his knees, ignoring the pounding in his head. “Did a little bird tell you? Or perhaps it was that spider on your shoulder.” He pointed.

Lily jumped and brushed at herself. “Where?” Whitby laughed, though it hurt to do so. Lily shook her head at him. “You are a tease, Lord Whitby. And you need to take a bath. You both do. You smell like cigar smoke.” Whitby raised an eyebrow at James. “From the mouths of babes.” “I’m not a baby,” she said.

“And for that, you shall have to be the seeker. Close your eyes.” Amused—and as always, quite unable to refuse darling Lily anything—Whitby did as he was told and closed his eyes. Lily’s boots tapped quickly along the flat stones toward the left. “Come and find me!” she called out a few seconds later. The thought of getting up out of the chair gave Whitby pause. He didn’t really want to move. “Damn, James, why don’t you go.” Whitby tipped his head onto the back of the chair. “She’s your sister.

” “But she asked you,” James said. “She always asks me.” “That’s because I never play with her. You have much to learn about discouraging unwelcome female attentions, my friend.” Knowing he’d never convince James to play with Lily, Whitby forced himself to stand, though it cost him much. “There is no such thing as unwelcome female attentions, James. Even if they are from a nine-year-old.” Whitby heaved a deep sigh and grudgingly crossed the veranda. “Here I come!” he called out. He descended the steps and immediately saw the bright, white hem of Lily’s dress behind the birdbath, which was nowhere near wide enough to hide her.

Yet she thought she was invisible. Smiling and chuckling, he shook his head. “Perhaps you’re behind the azaleas!” He walked softly toward the birdbath. “Or here, under the bench!” Lily giggled. “What’s that I hear?” Whitby said, stopping only a few feet away, seeing her as plain as day. “You must be hiding in the hedge!” She giggled again, and he lunged around the birdbath. “Found you!” Lily screamed and took off, and Whitby ran after her, throwing his arms around her and tickling her ribs until she bent over, clutching her side. She laughed and screeched until he stopped and slapped his hands over his ears. “Great Scott, Lily. My head.

” She straightened. “You’re getting too old for this, aren’t you, Lord Whitby? One of these days, you won’t want to play with me, and you’ll be very dull like James. Very old.” “James isn’t old.” “Well, he’s certainly dull,” Lily said spitefully. Whitby felt honor-bound to defend his friend. Or perhaps he was inclined to help Lily understand that her brother was a complicated man. If he was reserved, he had his reasons. “He’s dull because he doesn’t play hide and seek? Surely he’s interesting in other ways.” Whitby could certainly think of a few.

“He doesn’t play anything. Like I said, he’s practically an old man. As bad as my father was.” Whitby narrowed his eyes at her. His tone became serious with a gentle reprimand. “I doubt that, Lily.” She shrugged casually, and he could see she regretted the remark, for her father had been a cold, cruel man. To compare anyone to him was beyond exaggeration. Whitby bent forward to speak to her at eye level. “I promise I will never stop playing with you, Lily, because I have no intention of ever growing old.

” “Everyone grows old.” “Not me.” He straightened and rested his fists on his hips. “I will stay young forever. Young at heart at least.” Lily smiled. “Then I shall grow up and catch up with you in years, and then we can get married. I should like that.” “Married! Good heavens, Lily, what are you thinking? I am the worst rake in the world, and you, darling, are a child.” He tugged at one of her braids and turned to walk back to the veranda for more coffee, which he sorely needed.

After running around just now, his headache had returned with a vengeance. He rubbed the back of his neck as he walked, oblivious to the fact that Lily had run off without a word in the other direction with tears in her eyes. Chapter 1 Wentworth Castle, Yorkshire October 1884 WİTH THE LATE-AFTERNOON SUN BEAMİNG in through the lace curtains, bathing her room in bright, shiny light, Lady Lily Langdon sat at her desk, tapping her foot impatiently on the floor while she tapped her pen in a similar rhythm upon the letter she was trying to write. She gazed at the clock on the mantel, ticking away in the silence, while the sunlight reflected off the silver-and-gold plated face. She was anxious and edgy. She couldn’t pretend not to know why. She knew enough about her own emotions to understand it. It was the first day of her brother James’s annual shooting party. The guests had been arriving all day, and in a very short time, she would be dressing for dinner in one of her elegant gowns and donning heavy jewels. She’d already chosen the right gown for the evening—her dark blue satin Worth with the black velvet roses emblazoned on the hem.

She need only select the right earrings to go with her sapphire necklace. Then she would be ready to venture downstairs and meet the guests in the drawing room. Lily continued to tap her pen upon her desk, still feeling frustratingly anxious. It was not something she enjoyed, mingling in a room full of strangers. Of course, they wouldn’t all be strangers. Her family would be there, and friends of her family, some of whom she had known forever… Perhaps that’s why she was anxious. A knock sounded. She rose from her desk chair, crossed the room and opened the door. “Mother…” Her mother, Marion, the dowager duchess, stood in the corridor with her hands clasped in front of her. She wore a long-sleeved black day dress, buttoned stiffly around her neck.

Her dark gray hair was pulled into a tight bun at the back of her head. “Lily, I must have a word with you.” Lily stepped back and invited her into the room. While her mother gazed around at everything—the pile of unfinished letters on the desk, the modern novel lying open on the bed—a sense of inadequacy swept through Lily. She quickly moved to close the book and turn it over, face down, wondering if she would ever be able to disregard the enduring weight of her mother’s disappointment in her. Lily’s mother had never understood Lily’s romantic nature, in particular when it made Lily take exception to her duties, for Marion was a strict, humorless woman, and she would never even consider questioning her own duties. Marion sat down on a chair, while Lily sat on the sofa opposite. They gazed at each other uneasily for a few seconds before Marion spoke. “Lily, as you know, the guests have been arriving throughout the day.” Lily nodded.

“As it happens, there is a particular gentleman who arrived not more than an hour ago—a young man I encouraged Sophia to invite, as I believe he is a charming and respectable young man. He is Lord Richard, the Earl of Stellerton’s youngest son.” A youngest son. Lily squeezed her hands together in her lap. There was a time when her mother would only consider an eldest son as husband material—for Lily was after all the daughter of a duke. But Lily was twenty-one now, and not exactly without her share of knocks and scratches. She suspected her mother was becoming desperate. “How old is he?” Lily asked, grasping frantically for calm, intelligent questions when all she really wanted to do was leap out of her chair and say, “I don’t want to be shepherded.” But she didn’t leap out of her chair because she supposed she did want guidance. She was afraid of trusting her own judgment when it came to men.

She knew how foolish one could become when blinded by passion, for she had become infatuated with someone once—Pierre, a charming Frenchman with an enchanting accent. That man had turned out to be something very different from what she believed him to be. Yet, for a brief week or two, she had fancied herself quite in love with him. And then there was Whitby. Always Whitby. But he did not see Lily as a woman. He saw her as a child or sister. To hope for something more where he was concerned was unrealistic and foolish. So yes, she needed guidance, because she wanted to get on with her life. “Lord Richard is twenty-six,” her mother replied.

“I met him when he arrived, and I can say, without hesitation, that he is very handsome.” Lily lowered her gaze. “You know I don’t consider looks to be the most important quality in a husband.” “Well, you did at one time,” her mother said flatly, revealing the embers of resentment that still smoldered over Lily’s recklessness with Pierre. Lily wondered if she would ever be able to make up for that misstep. “Is he expecting to meet me tonight?” she asked. “Is that why he came?” “Yes. Like you, he does not enjoy London during the Season, and he is looking for a quiet country girl.” That sounded promising. “What do you plan to wear this evening?” her mother asked.

“My blue Worth with the black velvet roses.” Her mother’s gaze drifted toward Lily’s dressing room. “The blue Worth…” She pondered it for a moment. “Perhaps something more traditional. What about the green gown you wear with your cameo?” The green gown was certainly more traditional. It had long sleeves and a lace neckline that was far less daring than the blue gown. “If you think it would be more appropriate…” “I do. Lord Richard is a highly regarded young man, and he has just taken the chaplain’s position on his father’s estate. His father seems to think he has a bright future with the church and might one day become a bishop.” “He sounds perfectly ideal.

” Lily crossed her ankles and squeezed her hands together on her lap. “But what if he finds out about what happened with…?” It was difficult to say Pierre’s name. She didn’t like to think about how foolish she had been. “Lord Richard might not want me,” she said. “I might hurt his chances of becoming a bishop.” Her mother frowned and spoke in a firm voice. “That is water under the bridge. No one knows but the members of this family—” “Whitby knows.” Her mother said nothing for a moment. It was no secret that she had always detested Lord Whitby, ever since the first moment she’d laid eyes on him.

He was the one who had befriended James at an early age and had exerted more influence upon him than she’d ever been able to do. When she did speak, her voice was strained. “Yes, unfortunately he does, and I wish that were not the case. If I had had any say in the matter three years ago…” She stopped herself. “I suppose that is neither here nor there. The point is, Lily, you must move on. You were young and you made a mistake, but thankfully there were no lingering effects from it.” Her mother was of course referring to the matter of Lily’s virginity. She still possessed it. “But what if Lord Richard approves of me and wants to marry me? Would I tell him what I did?” An image of Pierre’s dingy boardinghouse room flashed in her mind.

She thrust it away. “I can’t imagine keeping something like that a secret from my husband.” Her mother’s brow furrowed. “Why ever not?”

.

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