Where Love Begins – Julianne MacLean

FOR THE FİRST TİME İN Evelyn Foster’s very proper and correct sixteen years of life, she was about to do something horrendously, unspeakably naughty. And contrary to what one might think—that she was young and impulsive, and therefore experiencing a thrill from the wickedness—she was not the slightest bit thrilled. In fact, she would even go so far as to say she was vexed, irritated, and most decidedly angry, for she would never have entertained such a notion herself—that it might be “amusing” for her and her best friend Penelope to sneak into the boys’ dormitory at Eton while everyone was at supper. Perhaps the most distressing part of it all was that they were sneaking in because of him. Lord Martin Langdon, the Duke of Wentworth’s younger brother, the mischievous boy who was always getting into trouble for various wild antics—like engineering a teetering bucket of water over his precept’s door, or sending a raft down the Thames fashioned with exploding fireworks, directly below Windsor Castle when the Queen herself was in residence. On top of all that, Lord Martin was, at seventeen, already known to be a self-proclaimed womanizer. He was an objectionable, disreputable young man, and Evelyn knew it in the clearest realms of her intellect. So why was she having any part of this? she asked herself for the hundredth time, shaking her head as she crossed a moonlit field with Penelope. She was there because her beautiful blond friend fancied herself in love with the rascal and could not be talked out of it. And Evelyn could hardly sit home wondering what would transpire—because, though she hated to admit it, she had her own strange and confusing fascination with him. “Hurry up, Evelyn,” Penelope whispered, as they scuttled through the dark side streets toward the campus, dressed in boys’ clothing they had borrowed from Penelope’s younger brother. “We don’t have much time, and I don’t want to get caught on the way out.” “I’m coming.” And I must be mad, Evelyn thought, feeling the chilly night air on her cheeks as she quickened her pace to keep up. At that moment, Penelope began to jog, and they hurried across the street, keeping their heads down beneath the brims of their tweed caps.

At long last, they reached the iron gate outside the chapel, and Penelope pushed it open. Evelyn winced at the piercing screech of the hinges. “Doesn’t anyone own an oil can?” “Don’t worry yourself,” Penelope said. “Follow me.” They crossed the tiny cemetery but stopped suddenly when a beagle barked at them from the other side of the fence. Evelyn jumped with fright. “Goodness, what next?” Penelope grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the back of the chapel. “Ignore him. We’re almost there. I know a place where we can squeeze through the fence and get into the courtyard.

” Evelyn was breathing hard now, not enjoying this at all. “I think we should turn around. We’re going to get caught. And if my father finds out…” Penelope didn’t stop to discuss it. She merely spoke over her shoulder. “I’ve come all this way. I’m not turning back now. I want to see where he sleeps.” Evelyn halted on the gravel path. “Where he sleeps? Penny! I thought you were just going to slip the note under his door.

” “Yes, unless I can get it open with one of my hairpins.” Unable to believe what she was hearing, Evelyn huffed in frustration. “You have gone positively mad.” Penelope stopped and turned, and though Evelyn couldn’t see her friend’s expression in the moonlight, she could hear the bright, beaming smile in her voice. “Yes, I have gone mad. Mad with love.” Evelyn felt a jolt of irritation. Or was it jealousy? No. Not that. She could not let herself entertain such foolishness.

She shook her head and stepped forward to make one more plea. “You know the stories about him, Penelope. He’s not worth it. He will break your heart. If only you would listen to reason.” Penelope reached the back corner of the cemetery near the chapel wall and wrapped her hands around the bars. “That’s your problem, Evelyn. You’re always logical, when sometimes you just have to trust your heart. Break the rules and defy reason if you must.” Evelyn continued to stand on the path, watching Penelope squeeze through the fence.

Defy reason? For what purpose? To have her heart crushed into pieces and trod upon like her mother’s had been for as long as she could remember? Penelope grunted as she continued. “And I don’t understand why you can’t see that he’s wonderful, especially after what he did for you. You should think of him as your hero, Evelyn. He saved your life! How can you think badly of him?” Evelyn recalled that day on the lake six years ago, when she had fallen through the ice, and he had pulled her to safety. “We were children,” she said with a shiver. “Of course I will always be grateful for what he did. He was my hero that day, but I cannot overlook the fact that he is no longer that boy. He has grown into a scoundrel, and everyone knows it. I do not see him with starry eyes like you do.” What would be the point? She was an awkward, unattractive girl with spectacles who was too brainy for her own good and possessed an unconventional passion for science and physics.

She was skinny as a stick, with dull brown hair and a nose that was simply too long. Never in a thousand years could she attract the attention of a boy like Martin, and the few times she had encountered him in town whenever she and her mother were visiting Penelope’s family, he didn’t even seem to know who she was or remember that he had once saved her life—even after Penelope introduced them and told him her name. He’d been too distracted by his flirtations with Penelope. Playful, blond, pretty, bouncy Penelope. Evelyn doubted he even remembered that harrowing day on the lake. He had never mentioned it or revealed the smallest hint of recognition. Penelope sounded irritable all of a sudden. “He is not a scoundrel, and I wish you would stop saying that, because I love him.” She turned, preparing to climb down into the courtyard. “Look, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to.

You can wait here. I will be faster on my own anyway.” Evelyn paused a moment, considering it. She could wait there, couldn’t she? She could avoid watching her beautiful friend wallow in the romance of her first love affair, sighing and boasting about how much her handsome prince loved her in return and how happy they were. Blast it, why did Penelope have to choose him to chase after? Couldn’t she have picked someone else? Why Lord Martin? Evelyn watched her friend climb down the wall and disappear from view, then heard her shoes hit the ground on the courtyard below. “Are you coming or not?” Penelope whispered heatedly. Evelyn felt the knot in her belly tighten and knew she could not possibly stay behind. She had to go because Martin was in a strange way hers, even if she knew she could never have him. “All right, I’m coming,” she said grudgingly, marching to the fence. A few minutes later, Evelyn and Penelope were standing on the grass outside Martin’s dormitory, under Penelope’s cousin’s open window on the ground floor.

“Hoist me up,” she said, raising a booted foot. Evelyn huffed with frustration and bent forward to form a stirrup with her hands, a maneuver they were adept at, as they had been climbing the same rocky outcropping behind Penelope’s house for years as a shortcut to town. An instant later, Penelope was climbing into Gregory’s room, then turning and offering her hands out the window. “There’s no one here. Take hold.” Evelyn locked wrists with Penelope and climbed the wall. It was another maneuver they knew well, and it was unimaginably easier without corsets. Though climbing through the window itself held some challenges. As soon as she was safely inside, Evelyn, who was an only child, wiped her hands on her breeches and glanced around. The room was very plain, with dark blue bed linens and a single framed picture on the wall.

“I have never seen a boy’s room before.” Penelope, who had four brothers, merely shrugged. “Let’s go. Lord Martin’s room is only three doors down, but we need to hurry. I doubt we’ll have much more than fifteen minutes before a few of them start coming back.” “Do you have the note?” Evelyn asked, focusing on the practicalities in order to distract herself from the sheer panic she was feeling, having snuck into a boy’s dormitory. Not to mention that it was Martin’s. Penelope tapped her jacket pocket. “Right here.” Evelyn had read the note earlier.

It was full of flowery, romantic outpourings of love. With Martin’s reputation with the girls, he would probably read it and head for the Highlands. Evelyn had tried to warn Penelope about that, but she just wouldn’t listen. She wouldn’t listen to anything Evelyn said. They opened the door a crack and peered into the quiet corridor. Ascertaining there was no one about, they tiptoed down the hall to Martin’s door. “This is it,” Penelope whispered, her eyes bright. “This is where he lays his beautiful head each night. What do you think he dreams about? Me? Could I dare to hope? He did tell me I was the prettiest girl in Windsor. Remember?” Evelyn stared speechless at Penelope, wondering if this could possibly get any worse.

“All right, we’re here. Slip the note under the door, and let’s go before we get caught.” Penelope nodded and reached into her pocket but paused before she bent to slip it under. Her eyes shifted to the doorknob. No, Penelope, don’t… But Evelyn didn’t say those words because she knew it would make no difference. Penelope was desperate for Martin in every way, and she was not going to leave without attempting to see his bed, and heaven help them, sniff his pillow. “I just want one little glimpse,” Penelope whispered, wrapping her hand around the knob. “Please, make it quick.” Evelyn glanced over her shoulder to ensure no one was coming, then struggled with her confusing mix of emotions—the anger toward Penelope for dragging her into this and the strange exhilaration flooding her veins for what they were about to see. Lord Martin’s bed.

She supposed she should admit it to herself. She wanted to see it, quite shamefully in fact. So she prepared herself to follow her friend inside. Penelope lifted a finger to say “shh,” then slowly turned the knob. Thankfully, the door didn’t creak, and they were very quiet as they tiptoed into the dark room. But when the light from the corridor spilled across the floor, there was a sudden movement to the left. The bed linens flipped over, the mattress squeaked and bounced, and Evelyn and Penelope found themselves gaping with open mouths at a young man’s naked chest—Martin’s chest!—as he sat upright and squinted into the light. “Bloody hell,” he said, holding up a hand to shade his eyes. Neither Evelyn nor Penelope could speak. Nor could Evelyn tear her eyes away from that bare, muscled chest and his tousled black hair as he ran a hand through it in exasperation.

She was stunned, paralyzed by the shocking display of skin before her eyes. He was so handsome, she couldn’t breathe. Her mental prowess returned however, when someone else’s head popped up from under the covers—a young woman’s head. Her frizzy red hair was matted and tangled, and she was clutching the covers up to her neck. Evelyn could see her naked arms and shoulders and knew enough about sin and wickedness to understand what monkey business they’d been up to. She felt suddenly nauseous. “Blimey, don’t you know how to knock?” the girl in the bed shouted, then she reached behind her head and biffed a pillow, knocking over a half-empty bottle of rum, which smashed on the floor. The pillow hit Penelope square in the face, knocking her cap off. “Get out, ya’ bloomin’ idiots!” Penelope’s wavy hair came loose from the pins and fell down upon her shoulders. Martin sat up straighter.

“You’re girls.” He looked carefully at Penelope. “I know you. What’s your name again?” She let out a sob and fled from the room. Evelyn quickly followed, shutting the door behind her. She did not allow herself time to think about what she had just witnessed. Another door opened around the corner, down the hall, and fast footsteps approached. She bolted in the other direction, following Penelope into her cousin’s room. Penelope was already scrambling out the window, sobbing uncontrollably. Evelyn darted to the window.

“Be quiet, Penny! Someone heard us! We have to get out of here!” She tossed herself out and hit the ground beside Penelope, then took off in a sprint, grabbing her friend’s arm to drag her faster across the dark field, but Penelope was crying so hard, she could barely keep up. “Don’t think!” Evelyn said, without looking back. “Just run as fast as you can!” They scrambled down a drainage ditch at the edge of the field, then back up the other side to reach the shelter of some buildings. Evelyn looked back at the dormitory and saw lights illuminating the windows. There seemed to be frantic activity in the building. No doubt, Martin had been caught with the girl in his bed and probably wouldn’t be flirting with Penelope anytime in the near future. Not after this. He would be furious with her, to say the least. A few minutes later, they were free of the campus lights and making their way home to Penelope’s house, walking quickly along the river. Stopping to catch her breath, Evelyn checked over her shoulder and was panting when she spoke.

“I think we’re safe now. Let’s just hope Lord Martin doesn’t tell anyone it was us.” Penelope stopped and sank to her knees on the grass. “Oh, Evelyn! Did you see her? How could he?” Evelyn swallowed hard over her own shock and disbelief, and the strange, intense twinge of possessiveness she was feeling. Who was that girl and what precisely had she been doing to him under the covers? Evelyn didn’t want to know. It made her sick just to think about it. Sick! She knelt beside her friend. “I’m so sorry, Penny.” Penelope continued to weep inconsolably, while Evelyn fought to bury her own distress and pat the dirt down hard on top of it. She would not let herself give in to the idea that she was hurt by any of this.

What just happened was no surprise. She knew what kind of boy he was and she had warned Penelope about it beforehand. Martin was wild and dangerous. He was not worthy of anyone’s adulation. She laid a comforting hand on Penelope’s shoulder. “You tried to tell me,” Penelope sobbed, “but I wouldn’t listen. I just wouldn’t hear it, but you were right all along. He is a scoundrel. A despicable, vile, loathsome cad! I hate him!” She broke into another fit of sobs. “You’ll be all right,” Evelyn said gently.

“You’ll get over this.” “Will I? How? I loved him, Evelyn! Loved him! He was the only man in the world for me, and now I’ll be brokenhearted for the rest of my life! Oh, I don’t want to live! I should drown myself in the river tonight! Then maybe he’ll regret what he did to me.” “You’re not going to drown yourself,” Evelyn said firmly. “He’s not worth it.” Penelope hiccuped. “You’ve said that before, but you don’t understand, Evelyn. You don’t know what it feels like to be madly in love! You’re far too sensible. You have no idea what I am going through!” Evelyn gazed intently into her friend’s weepy eyes, saw the unabashed despair in them, and wanted to shout back at her with fury and inform her that yes, she did understand. More than Penelope could ever know. But she did not shout those words because she knew that Penelope was right on one level.

Evelyn was indeed sensible. Too sensible to ignore her firm prudence and allow herself to surrender completely to her emotions. And thank God for that. After tonight, she would work even harder to be prudent, because she could never again put herself in the path of such peril. She did not want to end up like Penelope, weeping her heart out over a rake like Martin who didn’t deserve her tears. “No one could possibly know how devastated I am,” Penelope sobbed. “He doesn’t love me! Oh, why didn’t he love me? What’s wrong with me?” Evelyn shook her head. “Nothing’s wrong with you. You’re a beautiful girl, and someone else is going to sweep you off your feet again before you know it.” “No, I will never love again.

I’ll enter a convent.” Evelyn sighed and stood up, helping Penelope to her feet. “Come on, let’s get you home. You’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.” “I will never feel better. My life is over.” But Evelyn knew her friend. She would get over this, and she would fall in love again, too, probably with the very next young man who flattered her. That was Penelope. She was openly passionate, she enjoyed attention, and the young men certainly enjoyed giving it to her.

Thankfully, Penelope found the strength to stand and walk, and Evelyn put an arm around her to lead her home.


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