Covet: A Regency Menage Tale
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by Kristabel Reed
Category: Erotica/Menage Erotica/Romance
Description: The truest torment is wanting something you know you can never have. Charlotte Tremaine knew this feeling all too well. She covets the freedom to do as she pleases, but has never let herself dream of being with the man she loves. The problem is, she loves two men. For the last three years, Charlotte has survived her stifling home life by living through correspondence with two childhood friends now off at war. Once they return, will she be able to summon the courage to tell them of her feelings? Or will she let the convenience of mourning an aunt she despised keep her hidden and isolated? Fear lurks in the shadows and threatens to keep her cloistered. When William Stanton and Grayson, Earl Warrington return from war, she teeters on the brink of having what's she has always wanted. Torn between William and Grayson, Charlotte must first learn to trust herself before she can trust her heart and body to them.
eBook Publisher: Ravenous Romance, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: March 2012
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [253 KB]
Reading time: 159-223 min.
Rivenhall, Essex County
* * * *
"Charlotte, stop loitering by the windows and come back here."
With a reluctant sigh, Charlotte Tremaine forced herself to tear her gaze from the windows. She rubbed her arms to ward off the chill, and wished she thought to take her dressing gown with her as she looked across the room. Littered with fabrics, gowns, ribbons, and hats, it looked nothing like the austere household she'd become accustomed to.
In the dressing room, she heard her cousin, Lydia, call her again. Resigned, Charlotte picked her way across the room, skirting buried ottomans, dancing slippers, and open trunks.
The dressing room offered more of the same: piles of fine silks and opulent damasks covered every available area. Charlotte had never seen such luxury in this household, let alone been on the receiving end of such finery. She felt more than a little overwhelmed.
Lydia hadn't spared one shilling of her husband's considerable wealth.
And even though Charlotte could afford all of this, and much more should she choose, as the new mistress of Willow Hall, Lydia had insisted. She said it was her way of repaying Charlotte for her years in this house when Lydia had run as far away from Essex County as she could. Lydia had abandoned Willow Hall and her ill mother, and had never looked back until now.
Charlotte watched her cousin from across the room, studying her critically, but could still feel no malice towards her. Lydia had done what Charlotte could not; : leave Rivenhall and this house. Instead, she had stayed in the repressive environment and tended to her ill aunt for two reasons: William and Grayson. She had suffered through Lavinia's illness and poor temper until her aunt's death.
She did wonder if Lydia resented the fact Lavinia had left her wealth to her, but Charlotte hadn't asked. Lydia hadn't contested the will, hadn't demanded money, and had orchestrated Charlotte's first season on her own. If Charlotte wanted it, or Lydia deemed it necessary, Lydia bought it.
Charlotte did suspect Lydia's guilt stemmed more from abandoning her to Lavinia, rather than abandoning Lavinia.
"Mrs. Hayward," Lydia continued once she spotted Charlotte lingering in the doorway, "needs to adjust the bodice." She gave Charlotte a pointed stare. "Please, Charlotte."
Nodding, Charlotte felt a stab of guilt for not appreciating Lydia's guilt-induced gestures more fully, and obediently crossed the room. The mistress's room, with the open curtains and unshuttered air, it felt far different than when her aunt occupied it. The rooms overlooked the rear gardens, not the manor house across the fields she Charlotte longed to see. However, she stood quietly on the stool and allowed the seamstress to poke and prod.
Only from long experience could she endure the tediousness of the fitting. She'd long practiced hiding her thoughts and emotions from Lavinia. But now, with word of their return, Charlotte found her endurance tested.
"Miss Charlotte," Mrs. Hayward said with a quick smile up at her, "your gown will be simply lovely with this fine muslin."
"Yes," Lydia echoed, coming up behind the seamstress and eyeing Charlotte critically. Her face softened and she smiled. "The dress is exquisite and you'll be the talk of this season, cousin. I've arranged it all," she continued, looking happier than Charlotte had seen her in many years. "Hollingsworth's younger sister, though newly married, is just your age, and extremely popular among the ton. She's agreed to be your guide through the ballrooms."
"Lydia," Charlotte said, choosing her words carefully, "you've gone through such trouble for all this." She paused, glanced pointedly at the seamstress, then back at her cousin. "But I've told you, I expect to spend some time with old friends here in Rivenhall."
"Yes, yes." Lydia waved a hand, not looking at all convinced. "And I understand your desires, but it's good to be prepared for a season. You'll be officially out, dear cousin, after your presentation at court."
She circled Charlotte as if eyeing particularly tender prey, and continued. "You don't want to limit your prospects, especially without first taking note of all those prospects."
"Yes, Miss Charlotte," Mrs. Hayward interrupted. "Your cousin speaks the truth. And if you have your eye on a special young man, it's best he know that other young men have their eye on you, too."
Charlotte nodded, but didn't respond. She didn't have a solid argument against the women, especially since it had been over two years since she'd seen either Grayson or William. While their correspondence had been faithful since both men had joined the army, it had been too long since she'd last seen them, since they last visited Rivenhall.
Two months had passed since the latest letter she'd received from either man, but knew them both to be in transit from France back to England. Their exit from the continent could not have been easy in the chaos following Waterloo, and she had to remind herself of that. A pang of grief stabbed through her at the memory of Robert, and it was moments like this when she missed him. It had been nine months since his death, a mere month before Aunt Lavinia.
That month had been hell for Charlotte. Every day wondering if a letter from either man had arrived and she had unable to receive it.
Robert had been her one true ally in her correspondence with William and Grayson; Grayson's older brother and the Earl of Warrington, he had been her co-conspirator in hiding her friendships from Lavinia. Her aunt disapproved of Charlotte's friendships with Grayson and William, even though they'd been friends since long before the men had gone to war.
Charlotte had been convinced that Lavinia's goal was to keep her a spinster; , and her sole purpose to keep Charlotte in the house to fetch and carry for Lavinia. And wWhile she resented her aunt for just that, she had endured it. Where else could she have gone?
Charlotte couldn't change what Lavinia had done. Shaking off the resentment and bitterness at her aunt's actions, Charlotte couldn't change what Lavinia had done, she turned her thoughts to more pleasant things.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Lydia pick up a length of fabric. She heard her cousin and Mrs. Hayward discussing the day gown and how the color would complement Charlotte's green eyes. She didn't bother to join the conversation. Not only did she not have experience in balls, gowns, or seasons, she had other things on her mind.
The last letter she'd received from Grayson indicated he planned to return this week. Happily, William's letter had arrived shortly afterwards, and indicated the same plan. Robert would have been happy for her, for them. For some inexplicable reason, Robert seemed to understand her confused feelings for both William and Grayson.
The thought of that had Charlotte blushing. But Robert always had a way of putting her at ease and had never teased her for her feelings.
Lydia didn't understand her attachment to Grayson and William, and Charlotte wasn't certain her cousin could understand. She'd married the first man to offer. Oh, Charlotte suspected she and Hollingsworth shared great affection for each other, but so far as Charlotte could tell, that wa's where it ended.