Tamed By a Passionate Lady – Henrietta Harding

Adaline took her usual position, right at the edge of the garden, where the view out to the sea always took her breath away. Sighing deeply, she reached into the bag at her feet, taking out what she needed. Her mind ticked off the items as she went: sketchbook, with many blank pages still left within it. Two pencils, each sharpened almost to daggers. One for outlines, and one for shading. Black ink, and brush, in case she wanted to add more depth, but she usually didn’t do that out here. It was only once she was back inside, in the parlour of Birkenhead Lodge, that she settled to that task if she was so inclined. She opened the sketchbook at a blank page, gazing around for inspiration. Often she sketched the cliffs and the sea, but today they did not lure her for some reason. Perhaps she would sketch the garden instead. Her eyes skipped around to the rose bushes along the edge of the path. They were beautiful, of course; a cacophony of colour and form, ranging from a deep crimson red to the palest peachy pink, blooming with abandon. And then there were the irises, deep purple, like the imperial purple on the robes of a king, and daffodils, buttery yellow, with a knob of orange right in the centre. She sighed deeply, pencil poised. There was so much inspiration here, for a landscape artist.

On this patch of earth, on the coast of Lancashire, all was beauty for the taking. A wild, desolate beauty, to be sure, once the manicured grounds of Birkenhead Lodge were left, but a beauty nonetheless. A forlorn, grey beauty that matched her soul far more than the streets of Coventry, where she had grown up. Her pencil hovered over the page, and she bit her lip. She was unsettled this morning. Usually, as soon as she took her habitual seat in the garden to draw, she would feel some small measure of peace at least. She would become absorbed in her task, to the point that sometimes Mrs. Bolt, the housekeeper, would come out to remind her that luncheon was about to be served. But today, it was proving harder than normal. Her thoughts turned melancholy, and for a moment, she gazed at the garden intently.

She didn’t see the spectacular rose bushes or the majestic irises anymore. All was lost, and she frowned, her eyes filling with tears. She turned around restlessly, gazing back over the sea. It was grey and choppy; she saw white waves breaking far out, as the wind whipped up. The sky above was the same dull metallic grey, scudded with swiftly moving clouds. In the very far distance, she saw the tall sails of a ship as it crashed through the ocean, on its way to Ireland, perhaps, or the Isle of Man. She blinked back the tears. For one moment, she longed to be on that ship, sailing away. Far, far away from this patch of earth that she had tried so very hard to make her own. How was it possible that she still felt like a visitor within this house, after all this time? Stop it, Adaline, she told herself sternly.

You have made your bed, and now you just have to lie in it. The Lord does not look down kindly on melancholy women who feel sorry for themselves. Taking a deep, restorative breath, she turned away from the sea, studying the garden again carefully. There was a small statue, tucked away in the garden, almost hidden by the plants. A stone cherub, with outstretched wings and a bow and arrow in hand. She smiled slightly. It was Cupid, of course, the winged messenger, who shot his arrows into the hearts of men and women, causing them to fall in love. Her smile faded. Cupid had found her, it was true, but his arrow had not pierced the heart of the one that she wanted. And perhaps he never would.

She bit her lip. She was feeling sorry for herself again. This was her life, and she just had to make the best of it. Resolutely she picked up her pencil, drawing the outline of the statue. Within minutes she was blessedly absorbed in her task, her head bent over the page, her hand moving like quicksilver as she worked to capture everything that her eyes beheld. *** She had no idea how much time had passed when she suddenly became conscious of a shadow, falling across her. She glanced up quickly then stiffened automatically, putting down her pencil with a resigned sigh. “You startled me, Mr. Montgomery,” she said quickly, closing her sketchbook. The man smiled.

“I am sorry to hear that, my dear Adaline,” he replied, his eyes raking over her in that insolent manner which always made her feel so uncomfortable. “Why do you persist in being so formal with me? We are dear friends now. My name is Reuben, and I insist that you should use it, my dear.” Her lips tightened. She didn’t want to call him by his Christian name. It implied an intimacy with him that she did not want. And she knew that if she capitulated, he would see it as some kind of small victory in this persistent pursuit of her. She gazed at him steadily, in pure dislike. A tall, angular man, he had a long, almost aquiline face, with a thin nose and small, hazel coloured eyes. His sandy coloured hair ruffled wildly in the sudden breeze, for all the world looking like a bird that was about to take flight.

The strong breeze whipped her hair suddenly, too, causing the pins that held her bun to loosen and scatter. She felt it falling, whipping around her face so intensely that she was forced to pull it back with her hands. “Do not do that, my dear,” said the man, in a husky voice. “Your hair looks like black silk, streaming in the wind…” “Do not say that,” she said sharply, glaring at him. “It is not…appropriate, to say such things to me. You must be aware of that, Mr. Montgomery.” He grinned, as if he had not even heard her words. With shocked eyes, she watched as he settled down on the seat beside her, pulling it closer. “Ah, Adaline,” he said, in a light tone.

“You must be aware that James has squirrelled himself away in his study, as is his morning habit.” A deliberate pause. “He cannot hear or witness anything that we say or do, which leaves us free to speak and act in any way that we desire.” She pursed her lips, staring at him with distaste. “You are my husband’s childhood friend,” she said slowly. “I do not understand, Mr. Montgomery, how you feel that just because my husband is not within earshot, that you can speak to me in such a suggestive manner.” He didn’t answer. Instead, he picked up her hand, which was resting on the top of her sketchbook. Her skin instantly started to crawl, and she pulled it way quickly, still stunned that he could be so forward with her while her husband sat oblivious in the house beyond.

A fierce stab of anger tore through her, which she restrained with difficulty. Mr. Reuben Montgomery was one of James’ closest, dearest friends; they had grown up alongside each other in Liverpool. They had known each other since they were lads. That was the only reason that she did not order him out of her home, now, and had not done so the moment that he had arrived at Birkenhead Lodge. He had arrived three weeks ago, with his younger sister, asking if they could stay indefinitely on account of the young lady’s health. Miss Isabel Montgomery, only eighteen years of age, had always been a fragile girl, apparently. She was as pale as wax, and coughed constantly, sometimes appearing quite out of breath. Her doctor had advised a long rest by the sea. James had been sympathetic and told them that they might stay as long as they wished.

She liked Isabel, who was sweet and gentle, and good company. But her brother, Reuben, was another kettle of fish entirely. From the moment he had arrived, he constantly sought Adaline, growing bolder with each encounter. He always made sure that James was not around when he harassed her. She took a deep, calming breath. These people were her guests. She had been brought up to honour guests. Besides, the presence of his old friend pleased her husband greatly. And since she could not do much to please James at all, then the little she could do was tolerate Reuben Montgomery for his sake. But that did not mean she had to tolerate his advances.

Not at all. “How long do you mean to keep up this charade, Adaline?” he said, in a low, caressing tone, which made her skin crawl again. “How long do you intend to deny your feelings for me, and deny yourself the love and affection that is your right?” “You are not my husband,” she said stiffly. “And I am not the sort of woman who seeks affection with other gentlemen. I took marriage vows, Mr. Montgomery, which are binding.” She took a deep breath. “Besides all of that, I do not hold the affection for you that you seem to believe. I beg you, once and for all, to not persist in this manner; to respect my wishes, for my sake, and for the sake of James, who is your dear friend.” He scoffed, his small hazel eyes as hard as nuts.

“Adaline, can you even remember the last time that James paid any attention to you at all?” Her eyes widened, stinging with tears. She felt as if he had reached over and slapped her clean across the face. He didn’t seem to notice how much he had hurt her, or didn’t care if he had. He blithely carried on in the same matter of fact tone. “James would not care,” he declared. “He would not even notice, my dear, if you had an indiscretion here and there. You cannot deny it…” She flinched. It took all of her effort to still sit here and listen to him. To listen to his insolence. But it was the fact that he believed that he was able to talk to her in such a way, without any consequence, which saddened her the most, almost causing her to burst into tears.

“James spends most of his time in his study,” continued Reuben. “Or when he does not, he walks alone along the cliffs. We would not even have to hide it, Adaline, and that is the truth of it. You are well aware that I am right.” She fought back the tears. She did not know what was worse: hearing this awful man say this to her, or the fact that she was very aware how true the words were. How very much aware she was that James was completely indifferent to her, despite her continual efforts to be a good, loving wife to him. “Please, Mr. Montgomery,” she said, in a strangled voice. “Please, I implore you to leave me alone.

I am very well aware that my husband and I do not have a lover’s connection…not that the state of my marriage is any of your business.” She took a deep breath. “I have promised my heart to him and I will not betray him, even if he never returns my love.” The words tasted like ashes in her mouth. To even talk about her marriage with this man wounded her deeply. To admit that this man spoke the truth about how James was towards her, and felt about her, was even harder. The only reason she had finally decided to was in the effort to dissuade him, once and for all. Reuben Montgomery had her pegged as a lonely, neglected wife. He thought that she was vulnerable, and ripe for the plucking. He must realise that even if she was indeed that wife, it made no difference.

She did love James. She loved him fiercely, with her whole heart, and had loved him almost from the moment that she had set eyes upon him. The fact that he did not reciprocate her affection was beside the point. She would never betray him. Even if the man sitting beside her was charming, and handsome, and took her breath away, she still would not do it. But this man was none of those things. This man made her skin crawl, with his slimy advances, the deliberate way he spoke to her behind her husband’s back, and his disloyalty to his friend. What would James think, if he knew about it? She tightened her lips. Perhaps Reuben Montgomery spoke the truth when he said he simply would not care. And that was perhaps the saddest thing of all, in this sorry state of affairs.

Reuben gazed at her steadily. “We are in the middle of nowhere, Adaline,” he said slowly. “If it is judgement you fear, you need not. We are so isolated here, on this forlorn coast in Lancashire, that gossip is not a concern.” He paused. “And my sister and I shall be here for an indefinite period, do not forget. Isabel’s health is unlikely to improve dramatically, and her doctor did recommend a long stay, after all.” She shook her head in disbelief. It was simply as if he had not heard one word that she had uttered. The man was so totally on his own course it was as if he was deaf to her.

As if her will was almost an obstacle that stood in his way of getting what he wanted. She had felt his eyes lingering on her from the very start, almost from the minute that he and his sister had arrived at Birkenhead Lodge with their array of luggage. Isabel had been apologetic, saying that she was sorry to inconvenience them, and how grateful she was for their hospitability until she was well enough to return home. Reuben had accompanied his sister as her chaperone and had acted as if it was his right to be here. He had surveyed the house and the grounds in an almost speculative way, too. Almost insolently. It had angered her, but there wasn’t much that she could do about it, was there? He was James’ dear friend, and it wasn’t as if her husband would listen to any of her concerns about him. Or if he would even care. She glared at him. His tone was insolent, now, almost threatening her, with his extended stay.

Telling her that he was ensconced here, and there was nothing that she could do about it. Reuben knew as well as she did that James was oblivious, and even if he was aware, he simply would not care. She had no way of stopping this man. No way at all, if he did not respect her wishes and leave her alone. It was simply intolerable. Abruptly, she stood up, quickly placing her things back in her bag. She glared at him again. “While my husband is alive, there will be no other man for me, Mr. Montgomery,” she said, through tight lips. “Now, if you will excuse me, I must go inside.

Good day.” She marched off, without waiting for his reply, her face burning with the shame of it. I will not cry, she told herself fiercely. I will not let that man make me cry! He had utterly spoilt her morning. Her brief sense of peace, when she had been sketching, was shattered now. The one thing that she did, which gave her joy and release, and he had ruined it for her. She went in through the back door, walking through the kitchen. Mrs. Hargreaves, the cook, was hard at work as always, stirring a pot of bubbling soup on the hob. Nellie, the maid who helped her, was busy cutting up onions and leek for the traditional Lancashire stew that she knew was on this evening’s menu.

The elderly cook smiled when she saw her. “And how are you today, Mrs. Townshend? Did you get much drawing in, then?” Adaline smiled back. She liked Mrs. Hargreaves. She liked all of the servants at Birkenhead Lodge, even though she hadn’t chosen any of them. They had been a part of the house when she had arrived there, but they had been warm and friendly from the very start, welcoming her as their mistress. Sometimes, she thought they were the only friendly faces she saw. “A little bit,” she replied. “I find it so restful, and the garden is looking lovely at this time of year…” Mrs.

Hargreaves nodded. “That it is, lassie! Spring is always grand in this part of the country.” She studied her closely. “But why are you looking so pale? I thought the spring air would do you the world of good.” “Am I?” asked Adaline, biting her lip. “I do not know…” But suddenly, the cook looked out of the window. Reuben Montgomery was strolling casually across the lawn, whistling. “He looks like the cat that just ate the cream,” remarked the cook tartly. “Will Mr. Montgomery be at luncheon, or is he leaving the Lodge this afternoon?” She glanced sympathetically at her mistress.

She knows, thought Adaline miserably. She knows that Reuben Montgomery torments me. She could tell that Mrs. Hargreaves didn’t like the man, and she didn’t like what he was doing to her. But it wasn’t like the cook had any power to change it.

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