Today's Reading

FOUR MONTHS LATER

London—Warwyk House

Avalon took another sip of the tea and focused on the lovely gold and white furnishings in the salon. Not seeing the room during the months she'd lived outside of London at Warwyk Hall did little to change her opinion of the ostentatious decorations. Elegant but crass at the same time, it was Avalon's least favorite room in her husband's London home, Warwyk House. She'd never call it her home. Not after she'd discovered that her husband had lived with his mistress here before he and Avalon had married.

Tired of being sequestered at her husband's ancestral home at his command for months on end, Avalon had traveled to the city today. She wanted to be closer to her little sister who lived in town with their parents. At the age of seven, Sophia was growing up way too fast, and Avalon wanted to be there for her. So Avalon waited for her husband to arrive so they could at least come to an understanding. Avalon had written to Richard several times during her sojourn to Warwyk Hall without a response or a resulting visit even though she was a mere thirty minutes by coach northwest of London.

But here she sat—alone and waiting to make her plea.

Though the servants hadn't said anything directly when she'd arrived, it was clear Richard hadn't come home last night. No doubt he'd spent the night with his longtime mistress, the Covent Garden Rose. It made little difference at this point. Avalon had a sham marriage, and nothing would change it.

The silence in the salon grew deafening. Deciding to retire to her room until Richard arrived, Avalon pushed herself to her feet. Two things happened at once. Avalon's baby kicked with such force against her ribs that she gasped in pain, and the mystery woman from Mr. Harold's shop walked into the salon.

The mystery woman stopped abruptly, then slowly blinked her eyes—twice.

Avalon matched her blink for blink. The absolute wonder that she'd conjured the woman from thin air broke something light and free within her chest.

"Lady Warwyk?" the woman asked politely. "Is Lord Warwyk expecting you?"

The lightness in her chest sunk immediately. How did the woman know her husband? Why was she here?

They stared at each other again.

"You had your baby," Avalon murmured. The slim woman before had been beautiful when she was pregnant, but now she was radiant.

Suddenly, several giggling young women who appeared just shy of twenty entered the salon followed by her husband, holding a baby.

With not a single brown hair out of place and his clothes immaculate, Warwyk looked like the devil himself had come calling. At his entrance, he examined her from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. "What are you doing here? I didn't summon you."

Immediately, her newfound spirit dampened as she waited for his repugnant comments and jeers to spill her way.

"How opportune that you're here." Richard's matter-of-fact voice echoed around the room.

Every hair on Avalon's arms stood as if ready to run from the blistering diatribe that would soon erupt from her husband.

"I'd like to introduce you to the love of my life, Miss Mary Bolen, the woman I wanted to marry before your parents forced me to choose another." Richard turned his gaze to Mary and the baby he was holding. "This is our baby, Richard Bolen, the son who should be my heir," her husband drawled as he cradled the infant close to his body as if shielding it from Avalon. He hugged Mary tightly with his other arm, then loudly whispered, "At least one good thing resulted from the marriage."

In exchange for marrying her, her father had given Richard the property he'd wagered and lost at a hunting party. Avalon knew the litany by heart. She should say the words and rob her husband of his endless delight at belittling her.
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