Heiress | Chapter 17 of 31

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1914 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 10

Never had Newport seen such a party. And never had God provided a more beautiful night for a woman to betray her heart.

After all, what choice did she have? She hadn’t miscarried, which seemed a divine joke, of sorts. The stars glittered overhead, scorning Jinx as she watched her guests dance in her glorious ballroom to the orchestra from New York City, the waltzes and polkas of Debussy and Chopin swirling through the marble hall and spilling out on the open doors of the terrace.

Parked in the front circle, around the fountain, motorcars of all styles decorated her yard—De Dion Bouton’s model L’s from Germany, and Peugeots from France. Even a Ford quadricycle. Foster had his stable of motorcars polished and bedecked with wreaths of flowers, vines and ivy twined into the spokes of the wheels. Among the wreaths, glow lights sparkled, capturing the greens and reds and gold edging of the vehicles, accentuating their magnificence.

For the cotillion, Jinx had salvaged a gold-edged dress from her pregnancy trousseau, with an accompanying picture hat, swaths of red and gold ribbon at the brim to match Foster’s driving clothes.

He appeared the master of his kingdom in a black satin jacket, black leather pants, and a plaid derby he wore during the parade. He’d swept in two days before the ball as if he hadn’t spent the past month away, and spoken as few words as possible, it seemed, to accomplish his orders. Now he stood on the terrace, engaged in conversation with men from the Newport Reading Room. She recognized William Vanderbilt and John Jacob Astor, who had driven their newest acquisitions, their wives beside them on the leather seats.

Jinx rode with Foster, despite her mother’s silent objections. But really, she had no choice if she hoped to stay in Foster’s favor.

If she hoped to woo him into her charade.

She’d survived the past two weeks without Bennett’s dangerous companionship, her secret growing inside her, waiting every day for the cramping, the grief.

She hadn’t miscarried. Which meant that God indeed intended her sins to be displayed, to follow her all her days.

She knew she should be afraid. Instead, she wanted to weep with gratitude.

Meanwhile, Bennett and Elise’s social appearances in the Newport Daily News dug a furrow through her.

What would Bennett do if he knew? She longed to tell him, to see his expression. Would he feel the same sweet agony that swept her to tears in the thin hours of the night? How could such a terrible sin reap such joy?

She already loved the child inside her. And if she had to behave like a wanton chorus girl to seduce her husband, to conceal her secret, she would find the strength.

“You look most lovely tonight, Jinx.” Grayson Donahue edged up to her, his flute of champagne glittering against the electric lights on the terrace. He appeared regal and very eligible in a gold-threaded black waistcoat, top hat, and a pair of pinstriped breeches.

“Thank you, Grayson. I noticed your new De-Dion Bouton outside. It’s beautiful. I love the gold-fringed cover. Very practical.”

“I heard about your accident in the park. I’m so sorry about your carriage, but I’m thankful you are unhurt.”

“I suppose you read about it in the News?”

“Actually, Bennett related the story to me not long ago during a tennis match. He is an adept singles player.”

Just the mention of Bennett’s name could send a thrill through her. She drew in a steadying breath. “Indeed.”

“Perhaps we could challenge you and him to another match,” Grayson said. He had kind eyes. “Or better yet, we’ll best Elise and Bennett.”

Elise and Bennett. After a month of seeing their names appear together, certainly she would have grown accustomed to the cadence of it, but traitorous tears burned her eyes and she had to force a smile, turn into the night. “Unfortunately, I will be closing Rosehaven early this year. Mr. Worth has obligations in New York City.”

“But certainly you’ll stay for the wedding, won’t you?”

She tried to bite back her gasp, the way the words she should have expected dug into her even before she asked, “Whose wedding?”

“I shouldn’t say anything—their engagement isn’t yet announced.” Grayson winked at her. “But I think we both saw it coming, didn’t we? Bennett is a splendid match for Elise. I am happy for them both.” He lifted his glass, as if to toast them, and she nodded in agreement.

The night dipped around her, her stomach light. Perhaps she should sit down. She opened her fan. “When is the wedding?”

“They wanted to accomplish it before the end of the season, but since the marriage agreement was only made two days ago, I suspect they will have difficulty securing the arrangements.” He took a sip from his champagne flute. “Then again, you managed to prepare a wedding in two days’ time, didn’t you?”

She glanced at him, searching his expression for malice. Nothing but innocence, even admiration in his eyes, and she supposed he didn’t know that, in fact, her arrangements took less than an hour’s time.

Sometimes, she went back to that moment and wanted to rewrite it. To stop at the edge of her father’s study, as Foster met her eyes, his solemn countenance hinting at her ruined future, and run.

Why hadn’t she waited for her own match, someone to win her heart? Or perhaps she’d been so set at designing her own future, she couldn’t take her chances at a happy fate.

“Jinx, are you okay? You seem flushed.”

“I’m simply fatigued. I believe I will check with my butler on the evening’s final event.”

“There is more?”

“Of course.” She flashed him a smile.

The dancers were engaged in a German, social coordinator Harry Lehr calling the moves as Jinx moved through the ballroom, toward the dining room. She found Neville there.

Yes, the fireworks display would be lit precisely at midnight, below the cliffs. She wandered out to the front driveway, running her gloved hand over the chrome fender of a beautiful Benz.

“Hello, Jinx.”

The voice trickled through her, set something deep inside on fire. She drew in a breath to extinguish it and turned. “Bennett.”

She’d greeted him, of course, when he entered, breathtaking in the motoring suit she’d ordered for him, adding his own blue pinstriped shirt, a gold threaded ascot, and a matching derby. His blond hair curled out the back and his blue eyes pressed into hers, barely a smile on his lips before he’d taken Foster’s hand in greeting. The two men shared a warm moment and Jinx had to turn away with shame.

Bennett stepped up to her, his gloved hand rising as if to touch her then falling back. “I had hoped to talk to you tonight.”

“It’s a lovely evening, isn’t it?” She turned before he could see the wreckage his movement wrought on her resolve and wandered past a Peugeot. The moonlight cascaded over the shiny, gold-gilded lanterns, the leather seat. She plucked the petal of a white rose woven into the wreath.

Bennett stepped up behind her. “How are you?”

Wounded. Breaking. Wishing I’d had the courage to say yes to you that day in Memorial Park. “I’m well.” She fabricated a smile. “I hear congratulations are due?” She couldn’t look at him, not fully, but managed a glance.

He didn’t smile, didn’t even acknowledge her question. “I was so worried about you. But your mother said you didn’t want to see me. That you preferred me to leave. I know I should have come to see you, regardless.”

“No, she was right.” She wanted to weep. Her mother, not his own hurt pride, had sent him away. Had her mother’s lies about Esme taught her nothing? “I was fine. Thank you for finding me, for rescuing me.”

He looked at his shoes, properly shined. “I will always rescue you, Jinx, if you allow me.”

Oh, his words had lethal precision. She moved away from the Peugeot, walked out to the fountain, watching the spray weep into the night, dapple the surface of the platinum pond.

“I don’t need rescuing. Besides, I believe Elise would have something to say about that.”

“I don’t love Elise.”

She turned then. “You don’t love your fiancée?”

“It’s just a match.”

Before she could stop herself, her hand lifted to slap him. He recoiled and she jerked back. “Don’t you say that to me!”

“I’m fond of her, of course, but she is not you.”

She gritted her teeth, closed her hand into a fist. “Then don’t marry her. Don’t do to her what Foster did to me. He hates me.”

“I will honor Elise. I am not Foster. But I am not married, yet. And…my brother is a fool.”

She wanted to tell him, then, wanted to spill out the truth, to cling to him, just for a moment.

I’ll never betray you, Jinx.

“Perhaps I was the fool,” she said. “But what’s done is done.”

Bennett said nothing, examining her face before she finally turned away. “You’re right. What’s done is done. We’ll announce our engagement this week. I wanted to prepare you.”

“I hope you both live happily ever after.” She moved away from him.

He caught her arm. “Jinx, don’t do this. You spurned me.”

Her jaw tightened, and she yanked herself away, out of his grip. “Don’t touch me. Ever.” But her voice betrayed her and she pressed her hand to her mouth.

“Jinx—”

She turned and strode out into the darkness, away from the luminous eyes of Rosehaven.

“Jinx!”

Footsteps in the soft grass behind her made her speed up, made her nearly trip. Bennett caught her, swept his arm around her waist. “Please, don’t run from me.” He turned her to face him.

She couldn’t look at him. “I have to, Bennett. Don’t you see? I have to. You’re going to marry another, and I…I’m going to have a baby.”

The words tumbled out and lay there, brutal. He let her go as if she might be on fire, so fast that she nearly fell. But she should have expected the pain on his face. The look of betrayal.

And right then, she knew. He believed that she belonged to him. Believed her to be his.

And, oh, she wanted to be.

But she needed his hurt to churn up her courage, to push him out of her life before she did something truly foolish. She added a fine edge to her tone. “Yes, Bennett. I’m going to have a child. Foster’s child. So you see, you need to stay away from me. Marry Elise. Make her your wife and please, learn to love her.”

He stepped away from her, whitened, shaking his head. “You can’t be pregnant. Foster hasn’t even been here… .”

His mouth opened. Closed. And he gave her an awful, soul-searing look, one that shook her clear through. “It’s mine. The baby you’re carrying is my child.”

She didn’t expect his softly spoken words to make her want to weep, to throw herself at him, let him hold her. Bennett must never, ever know. If he finds out he will want to woo you, to make it right between you. You must be clever, Jinx, and don’t let fate betray you, or your sins will follow you forever.

Yes, Bennett. “No. It’s Foster’s. Of course it’s Foster’s.”

He held her gaze until she nearly surrendered, until the truth pulsed at her lips. But she was a woman of society, of power.

She knew how to tell a lie.

Or, not.

His voice shook. “I don’t believe you.” He reached for her hand, but she jerked it away. Still, his voice had the power to hold her captive. “Come to me, Jinx. I will wait for you. I won’t go anywhere until you are with me.”

“Then you will wait in vain.”

A crackle, then a bang sounded in the sky behind her. She jerked as a spray of red fire exploded over the back of the house.

It was reflected in Bennett’s eyes. Then his voice cooled, crisp and quick. “Congratulations, Jinx. I wish you the best.”

He turned and left her there, in the cool, damp grass, as the fireworks destroyed the midnight sky.

* * * * *

Foster was in a good mood. Jinx stood at the edge of the terrace, bidding farewell to the last of her guests, the Wilsons, and heard his laughter twining out of the billiards room, through the ballroom, and out into the night.

It sounded so young, so unencumbered, it roused a long dormant memory. Ice skating on the pond in Central Park, his hand around her waist, laughing as he caught her in his arms, saving her from crashing onto the ice.

She watched the Wilsons take their leave, then the movement of the servants as they collected the debris of the party from the lawn. They wound up the damask table linens, extinguished the electric lights on the back lawn, and left only the stars for luminance.

Jinx drew in a breath, smelled the earthy bouquet of cigar smoke and some exotic fragrance, and turned to see Foster strolling up behind her. He had loosened his bow tie, unbuttoned his waistcoat, lost his derby. In this light, he appeared younger, the man who had driven her up and down Fifth Avenue in his sparkling new motor carriage or held her in his arms in the ballroom.

“I never danced with you this evening,” he said, his gray eyes on her. His soft tones rattled her composure.

Perhaps the party had broken him free of his contempt. She had managed the cotillion of the season.

“I apologize. I gave the first dance to your brother, as a welcoming gift, and allowed him to choose his partner. He and Elise make a lovely pair.” There, she managed the words without malice, without betraying the burn scraping her throat.

“I agree.” Foster came up to stand beside her, a softness in his eyes. She smelled brandy on his breath as he leaned down, brushed his lips against her cheek. “Thank you.”

She glanced up at him.

“For finding my brother a match. I am most pleased with Elise. She is the daughter of a banker, and her connections will benefit our family well.” He cupped his hand on Jinx’s cheek. “Sometimes your ascension to the pinnacle of society has been less than endearing to me, I admit. I had thought you might be less capable, might need me more. But in this endeavor, I find your accomplishments most…fetching.”

He leaned down again and pressed a kiss, albeit it a touch sloppy, to her neck. He wrapped his hand around her neck, angled her face up to his.

She swallowed, met his kiss.

He tasted of cigar smoke, of the bittersweet tang of brandy, and as he deepened his kiss, her chest tightened. He was never a gentleman when he drank too much. He drew back, his voice slurred. “I’ve missed you, Jinx.”

Oh, even his words could bruise. She’d stopped hoping for such affection. Now, it brushed over the wounded places of her heart like silt. “Really?”

“Mmmhmm.”

She hated the tears that burned her eyes as he kissed her again. Not exactly gentle, but not as much anger inside of it. Even, perhaps, a hint of longing, that earnestness inherent in every groom desirous of his bride.

What if it could have been like this from the beginning? Perhaps she’d tried too hard to earn his esteem. Perhaps if she’d been less capable, he might have seen her as he had before—a young girl, dazzled by his elegance, his power.

She could do this. “I’ve missed you too, Foster.” She dug deep, tried to find something of truth. “I’m so lonely without you. And afraid.”

He leaned back, his lips twisting into a smile. “What are you afraid of, peach?”

She drew in a breath, stirring up her courage. What if—what if she told him the truth? Let him see her heart? “I’m afraid you’ll never love me, Foster. Never forgive me for not being Esme. Never look at me the way you did when we first met, when you held me in your arms at the ice rink, or when you taught me to dance. That you’d never see me as…” She drew in a shaky breath, slipped her hands up to his chest. “Beautiful.”

Time seemed to stop, her heart laboring in her ears, her face hot in the darkness. Please.

Please tell me you are glad you married me, that of all the women at the ball tonight, you would have chosen me.

He laughed. She couldn’t detect the texture of it—malice, or adoration, but he shook his head as if in disbelief and bent down to kiss her again.

She let his touch, his ardor, sooth the hollowness inside. She surrendered herself, almost fled into the belief that he saw her again as naive and delectable. Most of all, she let his husky invitation to join him in his chamber be the affirmation she needed.

However, as he closed the door behind her, as he brought her into his embrace, as he reminded her to whom she belonged, never once did he affirm, Yes, Jinx, you are beautiful.

Tears ran into her ears as she yielded to him, but he never asked why. Never even stopped to inquire about her comfort.

Never spoke words of tenderness.

Her hope died in the silent business of the union. She cursed herself for wanting more.

Most of all, as she endured him, she realized that indeed, she’d known. That night, in Bennett’s arms, she had to have known.

I love you, Jinx. I always will.

Bennett’s voice haunted her, as she suspected it would, and she lay in the darkness, finally alone, Foster’s breathing heavy beside her. She curled herself into a ball, debating an escape back to her chamber, and pressed her face into the pillow. Why hadn’t she left with Bennett? Run away?

Esme had chosen wisely, even if it had been fatally. Although Oliver had died, certainly Esme had a few moments, days, years of joy.

Too well, Jinx understood the passion that had driven Esme to despair. Too easily did Bennett’s touch sweep into her thoughts.

Foster would never be Bennett. Foster would never love her, never see her as Bennett did. Never hold her as Bennett had.

Never make her feel beautiful.

Her mother’s words resounded through her, echoing, driving her to press her face into her pillow, muffle her sobs.

Please don’t lose your heart to Bennett Worth, for I fear you will never get it back.

She waited until she’d stopped her hiccoughs, until Foster began to snore, before she finally escaped to her own bedroom.

Then she stared at his closed door, her knees to her chest. At least now, she was free. Foster would claim the child as his own. She’d arranged her own fate, and, once again, made her own luck.

Because that’s what Jinx did best.

She finally lay down, cupped her hands over her stomach, and waited until the sun slid across the parquet floor of her room, until she heard him rise, and leave.

She felt brittle, as if she might shatter. She rose and stepped onto the cool floor. She dressed herself in a loose tea gown, left off her stockings, and descended from her room before Amelia could bring her tray.

“Ma’am, I didn’t know you had risen.” Neville stood at the bottom of the stairs, panic in his expression. “I will summon your lady’s maid.”

Jinx raised her hand. “No need, Neville. I will take my tray on the terrace, however.”

No trace of last night’s cotillion remained—she’d trained her staff well. The planters flanking the broad steps overflowed with ivy and geraniums, the pond glittered with goldfish, the back lawn glistened with the dew, groomed and free of litter. She stepped off the terrace and ran her toes into the thick, silky sea grass. It tickled the soft flesh on her feet. She lifted her skirt and waded out into the thick of it, lifting her face to the sun, letting the heat wash into her.

Anything to not feel so empty, so hollow.

Anything to erase the feel of the sea on her feet.

She didn’t even realize she was crying until she heard the voice behind her. “Jinx? Are you all right?”

She turned. Whisked her hands across her cheek. “Father. I didn’t know you were in town.”

He had aged since Esme’s departure, his dark hair streaked with gray, his eyes tired. He rarely left the newspaper, and when he did, he stayed most often at his private rooms at the Casino. Today, he wore his typical black suit, waistcoat, and jacket, a bowtie at his neck, a pocket watch strung across his belly into his side pocket, fully attired, even in the early morning hours. “I need to discuss something with you. However, you seem upset?”

The unfamiliar tone had the power to unhinge her. She shook her head. “I’m fine. To what do I owe this call?”

Her father walked out beside her. Faced the ocean. “Your husband came to me this morning.” He waited, and she watched a pelican search the currents for breakfast. “He wants an annulment.”

She stilled, unsure what words to form. But just last night…

“He says, since you have been unable to give him a child, he needs to find someone who can provide him with an heir.”

She burned with the swell of shame inside her. She stared up at her father and must have worn something wretched in her expression, for his face softened, his voice kind.

She nearly didn’t recognize it.

“I know of your situation, Jinx.”

That rooted her still. “What situation?”

He drew in a breath then lowered his voice. “I know you are in a family way. And your mother suspects that it is not Foster’s.”

Jinx looked away but her father caught her arm. “Jinx.”

She rounded on him, yanked her arm from his grip. “Don’t you dare stand here and judge me. Don’t you dare.”

Instead of the rise of fury she expected, however, he met her eyes. “I fear my sins have become yours.”

Something snapped inside her. “My sins are nothing—nothing like yours.”

He continued to hold her gaze. “Yes, in fact, they are. But perhaps you don’t have to live my fate.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “I don’t understand.”

He tore his gaze from hers then, to the ground, and walked ahead of her. She didn’t move. Didn’t breathe.

Finally, “I betrayed your mother.”

The edges of her mouth hardened, her teeth clenched.

“I should have never done it, but, like you, she couldn’t bear a child. And the pain of that bled into our marriage. Kept us apart. I—I found solace in the arms of another woman.”

She knew this, but said nothing. Let him confess, tell her what he’d done. Tell her which of his daughters was illegitimate.

She steeled herself for the truth.

“She bore me a daughter. And I brought her into my barren, dead marriage and asked my wife to raise her as her own.”

Please, don’t let it be—

“Esme was the light of my life, Jinx. I couldn’t hide it, I know, and for that I apologize.” He glanced at her, and the pain in his eyes made her want to forgive him.

She’d let out her breath too.

He continued walking, and she followed. “I should have divorced your mother, perhaps. Taken Esme and raised her with the woman I loved. But I feared being cut off from my family, from our means. And I feared your mother’s father. He would have ruined me.”

Yes, Grandfather, what little Jinx remembered of him, would have brought her father to his knees. At the very least run him out of town, socially, if not economically.

“I was a coward. And then—then you were born.” He stopped at the edge of the yard, where the grass tumbled into the sea. Below, the waves splattered against the rocks, receded, threw themselves again.

“You were the only good thing to come out of our loveless marriage, Jinx.”

She looked up at him, caught his gaze on her.

“You were the other light of my life, Jinx. But your mother wouldn’t let me near you. Said I didn’t deserve you—which of course, I didn’t. But I did love you, Jinx. I still love you. I’m sorry I never told you that.”

She looked away, afraid of the emotions on his face. Of the way her breath caught, her throat tight, burning.

He stood, watching the waves climb the shore and then fall in a mass of frothy defeat.

“I knew from the beginning that you and Foster wouldn’t be a good match.”

“You knew?” Her voice emerged as a fractured whisper.

“I didn’t want either of my daughters to marry Foster. I knew of his philandering. But my desire to protect Esme from scandal pushed me into arranging the marriage. I thought Foster’s pedigree would protect her. But he has instead ruined you also.”

His voice betrayed him. “I am sick of my own machinations. Sick of trying to arrange and deceive and pretend.” He drew in a breath and looked at her in a way she didn’t recognize. “I lost Esme. And I fear losing you too, Jinx.

“Jinx, if you want to have a life with Bennett, I will protect you. I will have your marriage annulled and provide Bennett with a job. You will not go hungry. Yes, you may lose your position in society, but you will not have to look over your shoulder with regret. Marry Bennett with my blessing.”

With his blessing.

She couldn’t breathe. And then, yes, she could. Could breathe full and thick and glorious, and for a long moment she thought she might take the drafts with the pelicans.

But, “Bennett is engaged to Elise Donahue.”

Oddly, his face curled into a smile. “Can it be that I know more of society gossip than Jinx Worth?”

Her pulse had the power to deafen her. “Stop toying with me, Father. What do you know?”

He checked his watch. “Bennett and Elise had a terrible row last night in the yard of Rosehaven. Something ugly and having to do with him being in love with another woman.”

Jinx closed her eyes.

“She didn’t mention you—I’m not sure she even knows. But she did tell him that she would not abide a marriage of convenience.”

“Then she does not know society.”

“Indeed. I fear her brother’s marriage spoiled her. Put ideas into her head.”

“Is it so terrible to love and to want to be loved? To share something…” She bit back her words, pushing away the images, the senses that rushed at her.

“Perhaps not. Perhaps…not.” He tucked his watch back into his pocket. “As I rose this morning, I saw the Casino porters loading Bennett’s trunks onto a carriage. He has hired a yacht to ferry him back to Paris.”

The words dismantled her. She pressed her hand to her lips, hating the cry that nearly issued.

This was for the best. Surely, for the best. But she pressed her hands against her stomach, at the lurching there, the way she wanted to crumble.

Her father caught her arm again. This time, she allowed his support.

“I know you care for him. And with Foster set against you… Go to Bennett. Have his child. Live happily with the man you love.” His eyes glistened, and she knew he longed to say those words to Esme. “I will support you as I can. You may not have the power you now possess, but perhaps that won’t matter.” She stared up at him as he cupped her cheek then, leaned over, and kissed her forehead. “You have my blessing, my daughter.”

* * * * *

“What are you doing, Mrs. Worth?”

Amelia stood at the door of Jinx’s room, holding her morning tray. She entered the room, set it down on the bureau. “Are you and Mr. Foster leaving?”

A bag lay on her bed—she’d found it in a storeroom down the hall, where they kept her summer ball gowns, stuffed onto dress forms. Now, a few of her things—a corset, a pair of bloomers, her jewelry cases—lay upon her bed.

She had no idea how to pack for her escape from this life. Maybe she should take nothing.

Maybe she should leave it all behind, just like Esme.

She turned to Amelia, not sure what to say. “I…I’m leaving Foster.”

Amelia gave her the expression she expected, wide eyes, the intake of breath. Indeed, she might have reacted the same to those words, laying out so naked, if they hadn’t already been burning through her head for the past thirty minutes.

She was leaving Foster. She let the words slide through her again, unlock something deep inside.

“I’m going with Bennett to Paris.” At least, she hoped so. She turned to stare at her scattered items. “I don’t have much time before Mr. Foster returns.” Maybe she didn’t need them. None of them, none of this life.

She heard Amelia close the door. “He has already arrived.” Her voice shook. “Mr. Foster has such a temper. How will you leave?”

She looked at Amelia and must have worn a desperate look, because her lady’s maid drew herself up, nodded. “I’ll get your bathing costume.”

“But I’m not going to the beach.” Except, Foster didn’t know that, did he?

“You’re brilliant, Amelia,” she said as the maid returned, holding her bathing attire: the black-sleeved tunic, tied at the neck, her corset, full-length cotton drawers, and the shorter skirt.

Amelia loaded the clothes into the valise. Closed it. Paused. Then, “I will be happy to accompany you,” she said. She met Jinx’s eyes, something rare, bold. “I cannot stay here with Mr. Worth and his—his valet. There is an evil there that disturbs me. His valet watches you, miss, and sometimes follows you when you go out, even when Mr. Worth is at home.”

Jinx had always harbored a fear of Lewis O’Farrell, with his cauliflower ears, a nose that jagged down his face. She had noticed his black eyes that followed her with a sort of undisguised contempt.

She wanted to forbid him from the house when Foster wasn’t at home. But, he was still a servant. “He is a vile man, I admit, Amelia, but—”

“Please, ma’am. I will be happy to serve you, even in Paris. I have no one here.”

For the first time, Jinx considered her, the young girl who had turned into a woman while caring for Jinx. She’d cared for Jinx after her miscarriages, fitted her into her finery, made herself invisible in their home, always alert for her mistress’s needs.

“Yes. Of course.” Jinx had the sudden, mad urge to touch Amelia’s hand, to squeeze it. But they weren’t exactly sisters.

“Help me dress then fetch your things. I will wait by my carriage for five minutes.”

Amelia cinched Jinx inside a day dress then left with the valise.

Jinx pressed her hand to her chest. Took a breath. She ran her hand over her body, where Bennett’s child grew. Closed her eyes and heard her own voice. Is it so terrible to love and want to be loved?

Perhaps not.

She didn’t look for Foster as she left, although she was glad he wasn’t in the dining room, nor the front salon. Perhaps he’d gone out.

With his valet.

She waited inside her covered landau, the glass windows and convertible top up, curtains pulled just enough so she could shrink back should Foster see her.

The door opened and Amelia climbed inside. She held Jinx’s valise, now bulging, to her chest. “I haven’t much,” she said, and opened the valise.

Inside, a small bag, tied at the top, was tucked inside.

Jinx drew in a breath. She hadn’t realized she’d given Amelia such a small life.

She signaled to the driver, holding her breath, but he pulled them out of the driveway, toward Belleview Avenue, without fanfare.

Without the faltering of her heart.

She clasped her hands on her lap, mostly to keep them from shaking. She couldn’t look at Amelia.

“To the harbor,” she said to her driver once they’d reached Belleview.

You have my blessing, my daughter.

She tried not to let those words taste bittersweet in her mouth. But perhaps her father had found his own healing in surrendering those words.

They finally turned onto Thames, and she drew back the curtain to locate Bennett. In the harbor, shiny yachts caught the sun and she spied the Jinx listing at anchor out in the marina.

Further on, in the shipping port, fishermen would be hauling in their morning catch, ships waiting to be loaded.

Here, however, porters loaded trunks into a yacht moored along the long pier. She read the name—the Shamrock, a beautiful three-masted yacht bound for Paris. She spotted Bennett on the dock, the wind in his hair, wearing a white linen suit, his hands in his pockets as he talked with the captain, and her heart gave a rebellious, joyous lurch.

He hadn’t left without her, just like he promised.

She tried not to listen to the voice pulsing inside, the one that told her that Foster would find them, hurt them.

No. He wanted to annul their marriage. Those words, from her father, had woken her, finally, to the truth. Whatever marriage they had was a disgrace to their vows, however selfish they’d been. Foster hated her. In fact, she had no doubt he’d be relieved if—

They pulled up across the street to the wharf, and as she watched, her breath caught.

Amelia leaned up, stared out the window. “It’s Lewis.”

Foster’s valet stalked down the pier toward Bennett.

Bennett looked up, his expression not welcoming. Lewis handed him something, Bennett took it, shook his head.

He turned away and flung whatever he held in his hand into the sea.

Lewis turned and walked away. Positioned himself at the end of the dock.

“Foster knows,” Jinx said quietly. He had to know. He didn’t want her for himself, but he didn’t want his brother to have her either.

“Mrs. Worth—”

“If I go out there, Lewis will see me.” She looked at Amelia then back to the valet. He hadn’t moved, and she thanked the shades she’d drawn, hiding her.

“We must go, now, Mrs. Worth.”

Yes. What did it matter that Foster knew? She’d be with Bennett, in Paris. She reached for the handle, opened the door.

On the dock, Bennett was boarding the yacht.

No. She glanced at Amelia, shook her head. “No!”

Workmen on the dock turned to stare at her, gulls cried overhead, the sea lapped against the pilings. Motorcars braked, a horse reared, snorting as its driver yanked back the reins.

Lewis turned her direction; she could see him searching.

“Mrs. Worth!” Her driver disembarked, pulled her back toward the curb. “Be careful.”

Bennett hadn’t heard the commotion, hadn’t turned, hadn’t run after her.

And, as she looked around her, she couldn’t move. Her own actions made her tremble. What was she thinking?

“Let’s go, now, ma’am!” Amelia had pushed out of the landau behind her, holding her valise. “Run!”

Eyes still watched her, and now they were casting off the ropes.

No. A lady didn’t run. She didn’t make a scene. She didn’t… She couldn’t run out on the dock like a wanton woman after her seafaring man.

She drew in a shaking breath. She couldn’t live as a tarnished, shamed woman. She’d worked too hard to create this life. Her life. She could live with her husband ignoring her, without his love, with his indiscretions—what Fifth Avenue woman didn’t? But she couldn’t live with the stamp of adultery, of betrayal upon her. She couldn’t be the fodder for Page Six.

And if she ran out on this dock, in the middle of a blue-skied Newport day, in full view of every tongue-wagger…

Jinx pressed her hand over her mouth as the yacht drifted from the pier, the motor stirring the waters to carry it into the marina then out to sea.

“Where are we going, ma’am?” Her driver jolted her from the view of Bennett’s yacht disappearing toward the ocean. Dressed in last night’s livery of a black leather waistcoat, a topcoat of suede, a top hat, only the best attire for her footman. A trickle of disgusting sweat dripped down his cheek.

She ignored the distress on Amelia’s face and found her voice. “Bailey’s Beach, please.”

He nodded then helped her back into the landau.

The landau jerked, and she caught herself on the handle inside the door. They pulled along the marina, and Lewis turned.

His dark gaze fell upon the carriage. Jinx drew back, shaking.

It didn’t matter what Foster suspected. She had a child now—his child, for all he knew. A child she would love and who would grow up to be strong and healthy. A son of Worth.

The sun’s full attention bathed Bailey’s Beach as her coachman helped her down at the entrance into the hands of the Bailey’s porter, a footman in gold livery. He knew her by sight, of course, and let her enter the grounds.

If she wanted to dispel any rumors kindled from Bennett and Elise’s debacle last night, she needed to make an appropriate appearance at Bailey’s Beach.

It would be her last before she took to bed rest.

Amelia had said nothing and now acted as if they had intended, all along, to bathe. She set to work securing the bathing machine, and Jinx waited in the shade until the four-wheeled, donkey-drawn carriage was erected. When she entered, she found a pitcher of orange juice and a basket of fruit waiting.

Amelia would serve as her dipper, and she helped her change into her bathing costume. Jinx even donned the required rubber-soled bathing boots, lacing them up the leg.

“Ready, ma’am?” Amelia asked, her voice strangely cool.

Jinx nodded and they sat as their attendant drew the carriage toward the sea. She heard the waves scraping the shore and looked out the front as the donkey waded into the waves until the water reached the level of the wheels. Then the attendant unyoked him and drew the animal around to the front.

The attendant drew down the awning in front to afford her privacy, then Amelia helped her into the water.

Jinx stepped down, dipping one covered foot, then the other, into the surf. The water swelled around her, lifting her skirt, but even as she waded deeper, the wool kept the freshness of it from her skin.

The cover of the bathing machine obscured the view of the ocean, but Jinx imagined it, stretching out beyond her enclave, an immense blue, waves free to roam from shore to shore. And somewhere in that expanse, Bennett had sailed away from her.

She wet her hands, drew the water to her face. Oh, to dive in. She longed for the chilly lick upon her legs, the mortar of sand between her toes, the salt in her mouth.

To let the sea baptize her.

Instead, her costume weighed upon her, tossed her off balance in the rile of the waves. She lurched forward and Amelia caught her.

“Careful, Mrs. Worth, you don’t want to fall.”

Jinx let Amelia steady her, dug her rubber-booted feet into the sand, then took a long breath, staring down at the darkness swilling around her knees, at the dark, tented puddle of sea that belonged to her. “I won’t fall.” No, not ever again.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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