I’ll be there.
T he last person Jemma expected to welcome into her bedchamber that night was her husband. Though of course she would have to invite him in at some point if they were to embark on their heir-making activities.
“May I come in?” Beaumont said, looking furious, as always.
Jemma opened the door without saying a word. At least he didn’t appear to be attired for bedroom matters. She was not prepared for that sort of intimacy with him. Not yet.
He strode over to the center of the room and stood there as if he were planning to make a speech in parliament. “Obviously, we have matters to discuss.”
“I actually wanted to ask you about your health,” Jemma said, rather surprised to hear herself say the words.
Beaumont shrugged. “My doctor feels that I fainted as a result of overwork and general stupidity, rather than a signal problem with my heart. But I may have less time left than I would prefer, given my father’s early demise.”
That casual statement gave Jemma a slightly sick feeling; for all they lived apart, they were man and wife, after all. She nodded, and made her way over to a chair by the fire.
“That is one of the reasons why I must ask you to curb any injudicious activities,” he said, obviously choosing his words with care. “We are at the beginning of a revolution in the House, to be led by young Pitt, and I would not want my private life to become a distraction.”
He seemed to be waiting for a response, so she said, “Experience has taught me that your idea of discussion is entirely one-sided, so you may continue as you wish, Beaumont.”
He scowled but started to talk about propriety and parliament and other boring topics. Jemma began thinking about the chess game she had in progress. Her queen pawn was bottled up—
She raised her eyes. “Yes, Elijah?” It gave her an odd frisson to use his given name, knowing that he hated the intimacy of it. In truth, her husband was quite good-looking. It was a shame that he was impossible to live with.
She stood up again. “Let me itemize your demands. You want me to behave with utmost propriety in every situation. You would prefer that my brother not live in the house due to the presence of his illegitimate child. In fact, you may just have ordered me to send him away although I am hoping I misunderstood you. I should also dismiss my secretary. You would prefer I entertain no lovers, take in no brothers, and chatter with no friends. Have I understood you?”
“Some version of that would be very helpful to me. Do you agree?”
“Absolutely not.” She walked over to her chess table and stared down at the game as if she were contemplating a move, though to tell the truth, her heart was beating quickly with rage.
He made a sharp movement behind her but said nothing.
She turned back to him, leaning against the table. “My brother has come to pay me a visit in a house that is mine as well as yours. Obviously, you have grown mightily in your own estimation during the years I lived in Paris. You did not used to be so unilaternal nor so tedious.”
“I request”—he spat out the word—“the very minimal that any man might expect of his wife. I ask only that you not have yourself carried naked into the dining room, nor—”
She laughed. “Did that story reach London?”
“Did you think it would not?”
“I didn’t do it, you know.”
“Unfortunately, the truth matters little since the story arrived here with your name firmly attached to it, and all sorts of details regarding the size of the platter and the number of footmen required to hoist you into the air.” His eyes raked her figure, up and down. “I would have guessed that four footmen could have managed the business, but I’m told it was eight.”
She smiled at him. “My breasts and hips have grown since my salad days when you and I shared a bed. To be safe, I would have commandeered eight. But as a matter of fact, Catherine Worlée was brought in on a silver dish, and it wasn’t even at a party of mine. I’m sure you would have enjoyed her company; she was something of a professional comrade to men of your ilk.”
His eyes narrowed to daggers. “What a shame I never met her. Although I can imagine it would be confusing to be unable to tell my wife apart from a courtesan such as Mademoiselle Worlée.”
“I doubt it would be confusing to you at all,” she said. “After all, you are accustomed to paying women for the privilege of sharing their bed, are you not? Whereas I”—her heart was beating so quickly she could hardly hear—“engage in the sport for pleasure.”
He turned away. “This quarrelling will get us nowhere. All I am asking, Jemma, is that you not scandalize all of London. I have work in Parliament. I know you find it uninteresting, but it is important work.”
“There was a time I found it interesting. But that was before I realized that your mistress found it so fascinating that she visited you in your office to discuss it.”
He raked a hand through his hair. “For God’s sake, Jemma, will you forget that? I’m sorry that you opened the door. I still can’t believe that the clerks let you into my office without warning.”
“Never underestimate the charm of a young bride wishing to surprise her spouse.”
“We have discussed this before,” he said through clenched teeth. “One of the few pleasures of our marriage in the past years has been that we rarely quarreled during my visits to Paris.”
“During those visits, you never questioned my decisions, nor acted ashamed of my entertainments.”
“You were in Paris. Now you are here, in my house—”
“My house as well. I am home, and you will simply have to accustom yourself to that notion. I am home, with my disreputable friends, and my illegitimate nephew, and my entertainments. I am not a good political wife and I never will be. I will do my best, however, to tailor my flights of fancy to your hidebound notions. Luckily for you, I have no lover at the moment, nor do I intend to take one.”
This would obviously be a good time to discuss the question of marital visits, but she was too angry. A mad, irresistible impulse was beating in her heart, a wish to make him sorry for describing her in such tawdry terms, for implying she was incapable of understanding politics.
There was a moment of stiff silence. Jemma sat down at her chess table, refusing to look at him again.
He walked over and looked down at the game. “You are playing, I see?”
“I have yet to find a partner in this country. Unless you would consider a return to the board?”
“My games of strategy take place on a larger stage.”
She raised her head and met his eyes. They were black, marked by eyebrows that winged up at the edges. He had the straight nose and strong chin of his forefathers. “I suppose that is designed to make me feel petty. I would remind you that women are allowed no role in those larger games of strategy. Perhaps I play chess because I am not allowed to play in a larger sphere.”
“How dull your life must be, to cherish one move all day,” he said slowly, staring at the board. “Very pretty. A deceptively placid position. Black has some powder left, but White is nicely set up.” He raised an eyebrow. “Your skill has indeed grown, Jemma. I take it your silence is an assent.”