My Wicked Little Lies
Something was wrong.
Adrian Hadley-Attwater, the Earl of Waterston, surreptitiously studied his wife over the top of the book he’d been trying to read. Evie sat at the desk on the far side of the small parlor and allegedly attended to her correspondence. Said attendance punctuated by the impatient tap of her pen and her unfocused gaze out the window and into the night. It was obvious she was distracted. He drew his brows together. His wife was never distracted. That she appeared so now was, in itself, most distracting.
Adrian had been attempting to read for nearly an hour but instead found himself watching his wife. Certainly he’d read King Solomon’s Mines when the book had first been published several months ago, but lately he’d felt the need for a bit of adventure, even if it was fictitious. Not that life was dull or boring or tedious. On the contrary, between his duties as earl, his management of the family’s finances, business, and properties, and his seat in Parliament, life—his life—was extraordinarily full. Why, he scarcely ever had an unscheduled minute. If a certain restlessness had grown in recent months, perhaps even as long as the last year, it was no doubt to be expected. It had been two years, after all, since his brother Richard had died and Adrian had inherited a title and responsibilities he did not expect. Two years since he had married Evie, also unexpected but far more delightful. No doubt every man knew a touch of restlessness after two years of a proper and respectable life.
Evie sighed and again tapped her pen absently on the table. His eyes narrowed slightly. Evelyn Turner Hadley-Attwater, the Countess of Waterston, never tapped her pen nor did she heave sighs of aimless frustration. This was not at all like her.
Perhaps she, too, felt a stirring of unrest. He was not so foolish as to think that women, even those who had everything a woman could possibly want, were so different from men as to be immune to boredom. Indeed, Evie’s life before they had wed had been somewhat adventurous, what with her travel and social engagements and whatever. Not that they had ever really discussed her past or his, for that matter. He didn’t see the point. They had agreed from the first that essentially life had begun when they had met, that nothing before mattered or was at all significant. It was as accurate as it was romantic. His life was empty until she had entered it.
She walks in beauty like the night.
The poet’s words flashed through his mind as they had from the beginning. She was the epitome of grace and charm and intelligence, everything he’d ever wanted but hadn’t known was possible until her. The poem could have been written with his wife in mind. He’d thought the same from the first moment he’d looked into her brown eyes. The first time he’d heard her laughter across a crowded ballroom. The first time he held her hand in his. Adrian Hadley-Attwater—a bit of a rogue when it came to the fairer sex—had been lost the instant Miss Evelyn Turner’s gaze had met his and she’d smiled.
Of cloudless climes and starry skies.
Two years later, he was still lost.
But was she? Tonight was the first time he’d noted any difference in her manner, but then would he have noticed? He prided himself on his powers of observation, but he was extremely busy, as was she. It was not uncommon for them to go a day or more with little contact between them save in passing at the breakfast table. Business and politics often kept him out late into the night, as did her charitable events. It scarcely mattered. He had no doubt she was as in love with him as he was with her.
Admittedly, it was bothersome when his mind drifted on occasion to the fact that he was not the first man in her bed. But they’d married when she was twenty-seven, and she was, in most respects, a woman of sophistication. And his perfect match. He’d be the worst sort of hypocrite to condemn her for the same sort of activities he’d partaken of in his unmarried days, even if women were held to a higher standard. Still, it had been nice to discover she was not overly experienced although she was most enthusiastic. He bit back a grin. He doubted there was anything to compare to a wife with enthusiasm.
And all that’s best of dark and bright . . .
He’d had no particular intention to marry. The world was filled with lovely women and they were most enjoyable. Besides, he had reached the age of thirty-six without so much as a broken heart. Indeed, had they never met, it was entirely possible he would never have married at all. Of course, then Richard had died and Evie had come into his life and everything had changed. Restless or not, he was a lucky man.
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.
Her gaze jerked toward him. “Did you say something, darling?”
“Not a thing.” He studied her for a moment. “You seem distracted tonight, my dear. Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing,” she said quickly. Too quickly. “I have just fallen behind in my responses.” She heaved another sigh, even more heartfelt, as if she were trying to make a point. “I do so hate to fall behind.”
“I know.” He chuckled but studied her closely. “Is that all?”
“Yes, of course.” She favored him with a brilliant smile that nonetheless struck him as the tiniest bit forced. Nonsense perhaps but his instincts had always been right about such things, especially her.
“You do know,” he said in an offhand manner, “if there is anything wrong, you can tell—”
“You are a dear sweet man, of course I know that. There is nothing wrong and certainly nothing for you to worry about.”
“Ah, well then, my mistake.” He smiled and lowered his gaze to the page in front of him. He could feel her staring at him and wondered if she knew that he knew she was not being entirely truthful. It might not be obvious to anyone else but it was to him. There was the vaguest look in her eye, the slightest hint in her voice, and something in the way she sat. No, the Countess of Waterston was definitely hiding something from her husband. The question now was what.
She wasn’t the type of woman to hide expenditures or exorbitant bills. Indeed, she took spending money—his money—as her due. The Earl and Countess of Waterson did need to keep up appearances. No one would ever call her frugal but she’d never been especially frivolous in her purchases. He suspected if she ever was, she would not keep it from him as she’d no doubt find it amusing.
It couldn’t be an illness of some sort. One could see she was in excellent health by the glow of her skin alone. Besides, she knew full well how Richard’s denial of his eroding health had taken a toll on Adrian. Evie would never do that to him.
Could his wife be feeling the same sort of restlessness gripping him of late? The need to do something. Anything. The desire for the unexpected, for a touch of excitement. The odd longing, for once, not to know what was going to happen next.
The thought struck him without warning. Wives who were restless . . . A cold hand squeezed his heart. He ignored it. What utter rubbish. His wife was certainly not dallying with another man. Other men’s wives perhaps but not his. That was the worst sort of conclusion to leap to and not at all warranted. He trusted her completely, with his life if necessary and certainly with his heart.
He drew a deep breath. Evie had never done anything to make him question either her affection or her fidelity. She was not the type of woman to be led astray. That the tiniest doubt now surfaced was probably more a result of his own current state of unrest rather than anything of a substantial nature on her part. He’d never really known jealousy before yet apparently he was not immune to it. That, too, was distressing—he had thought he was a better, or at least a more rational, sort of man.
“Oh bother,” she muttered, and his gaze slipped back to her. She pushed away from the desk and stood. “I’m going to finish this in the morning, which will only put me even more behind, but it can’t be helped, I suppose.” She brushed an errant lock of hair away from her face and frowned at the need to do so. “You’re right, you know.”
“I usually am.” He chuckled but his heart caught. He forced a casual note to his voice. “About what?”
“I do seem to be distracted this evening. I’m not at all sure why.” She frowned. “It could be the weather, I suppose. Do you realize it has snowed every month since October?”
“I had noticed that.”
“A foot last month alone. And then the rioting a scant two weeks ago . . .” She shook her head. “Those poor people.”
“Times are hard,” he said simply. “And jobs are scarce.”
“It does seem to me that if Parliament spent less time arguing about Ireland and more discussing putting men to work, we would all be better off.”
“No doubt. I shall propose it at once.”
She raised a brow. “With a rousing speech on the floor of the House of Lords?”
He scoffed. “Where else?”
“You’re teasing me now, Adrian, and I don’t find it the least bit amusing. Poverty is rampant, children live on the streets and people have no money for food. Something should be done.”
“Indeed, something should.” He got to his feet. “And if I could think of something brilliant, even something adequate, a plan to solve all the ills of this country or this empire, I would put it into motion without hesitation.”
She nodded in a satisfied manner, but amusement gleamed in her eyes. She crossed the room to him. “I know you would.”
He pulled her into his arms. “I would try to save the entire world for you if you wished it.”
“I know you would, darling. That’s one of the reasons why I married you.”
“One of many. Another is that it’s not necessary for you to actually save the entire world, only that you would be willing to do so. Besides, you’re the Earl of Waterston, you don’t have time to save more than a tiny portion of the world.” She gave him a quick kiss then gazed into his eyes. “Darling, if I had wanted a warrior or a savior or someone, oh, I don’t know, a man of adventure, I would have married someone adventurous.”
“And I’m not adventurous?” he said coolly although the comment was annoying.
“No, of course not. You’re reliable and responsible and dependable and honorable.”
He stared down at her. “Good God, I sound dull.”
Her eyes widened. “But you’re not, not in the least. You’re the most fascinating man I know.”
“In a reliable and responsible sort of way?”
“Not at all,” she said staunchly then paused. “Well, perhaps. But you are the kind of man one can depend upon. Not merely in times of crisis but each and every day.”
“Oh, that sounds much better,” he said in a wry manner.
“And you are kind and generous.”
“And most handsome.” She smiled. “Did I mention that?”
“No.” He leaned closer and brushed his lips along the side of her neck. “I can be adventurous, you know.”
“Well, there are certain times . . .” She shivered. “Yes, indeed . . .”
“And exciting,” his lips murmured against her skin. She loved it when he kissed her neck. “I can be exciting.”
“Most exciting . . .” She swallowed hard. “I believe I shall retire now. Shall I dismiss my maid for the night?”
“Excellent idea.” He grinned down at her.
“I thought so.” A wicked light shone in her eyes. She pulled out of his arms and started for the door. “Coming?”
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
She nodded and left the parlor.
He watched her leave then drew a deep breath. If she was trying to distract him, he would certainly cooperate. He could use a little distraction himself. Besides, it would be wrong not to. After all, he was so reliable and dependable. Although he supposed there were worse things to be considered.
Damn it all, his wife was restless, and he absolutely refused to think that her boredom was being eased by another man. Still, it would be foolish of him to ignore this entirely. Yes, something was definitely amiss. He started after his wife. In his list of attributes she’d left out determined. He wouldn’t rest until he discovered what was wrong.
And prayed it wasn’t a man of adventure.
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