A Lord’s Dream – Summer Hanford

Liza stood, half hidden behind the window curtain in the front parlor, watching. Any moment, Lord Thomas would emerge from his home across the street and stroll down the steps. She waited to catch an unguarded glimpse of him. He never looked up, never glimpsed her peering through the window. Lord Thomas thought only about astronomy, the topic he would soon arrive to discuss with her father. Liza ran her palm along the silken curtain edge, a nervous habit she’d long ago given up trying to break. The door to Lord Thomas’s London home opened. Liza tensed. He stepped out into the afternoon sun, impeccably clad in dark trousers and black coat, a cream vest hinted at beneath. He carried a bundle of scrolls, pages and volumes tucked under one arm. As usual, his blue eyes, defined by charcoal lashes, held a look of distraction, and his dark hair was in adorable disarray. Heat crept up her cheeks as she studied him. Invariably, her gaze settled upon his mouth. Her fingers drifted to her lips, where the memory of his kiss lingered. He didn’t recall their kiss, but she couldn’t forget it. Liza released a sigh and followed his progress until he reached the street. Then she whirled. She knew exactly how long she could watch and still appear to be settled in the library before he arrived. Rapid strides carried her from the parlor and down the hall. When she arrived at the library, she slipped inside and silently closed the door. Quickly, she crossed to the righthand wall, near her father’s desk. She paused, drew a slow breath, and began to meander along the shelves. She needed something to read to complete her charade, but despite her outward composure, her gaze glossed over the book spines. Their titles were incomprehensible in her agitated state. Her treacherous pulse refused to calm.

She tried another deep breath. Her stays tightened around her ribs. She must settle her thoughts and select a book. As usual, while Lord Thomas and her father talked, she would quietly read in her seat near the garden window. She would steal a few covert glances, for she couldn’t chance her father noticing her interest. At least, she’d have Lord Thomas’s deep tones to lull her. She trailed a finger along the books’ spines in an attempt to focus her attention. The story must be a fictional tale to distract her from the kiss. Perhaps a tale of pirates. She adored pirates. Pirates had dashing adventures. They marauded on the high seas. They never set foot in London parlors. Her stomach knotted. In two days, she was to open her fourth season with tea, in a parlor. She could think of few things more miserable. Her mamma had accepted the invitation in the hopes an intimate party might give Liza the chance to be noticed. She couldn’t know Liza didn’t want to be noticed. Yet she must be. She bit her lip. This, her fourth season, would be her last. She must end it wed. Even if she couldn’t have the man she wanted, she didn’t want to end up alone. Surely, if she found a decent enough gentleman, she would come to care for him. Of course, she would have the solace of children.

She resisted an urge to lean her forehead against the shelves and cry. She knew what she must do if she wished to marry. She must exorcise Lord Thomas from her thoughts. If he wouldn’t notice her, she had to find someone who would. She refocused on the titles lined up before her. The first step was a book. One so interesting, she could sit in the same room with him all evening and not give him a second thought. Her gaze caught on Daniel Defoe’s famous story of Captain Singleton. Her heart weighed heavy. Even daring deeds on the high sea wouldn’t be enough to divert her from today’s thoughts. The trouble, aside from being more than half in love with Lord Thomas and four seasons in without a suitor, was that she had no way to meet eligible gentleman. She had few friends, and those she had were all wed. Emily, the first to marry, was in confinement, expecting her first child. Fanny and her husband had gone to Scotland for the birth of theirs, for the bizarre reason that Fanny swore Scotland was filled with ancient magic. Prudence, who’d married in a flurry at the same time as Fanny, had gone to the country for the summer and hadn’t returned to London, though her husband had. Liza simply didn’t have anyone to introduce her to gentlemen. Nor could she make new friends, even at a cozy tea. She hadn’t the knack. Mostly, because she rarely spoke. She wasn’t shy. Far from it. She’d simply learned her mother was right. When Liza opened her mouth, no good came of it. Each time she considered talking, she could clearly hear her mother’s voice in her head saying, “For heaven’s sake, Liza, don’t speak, only smile. When you speak, nonsense comes out.

” Liza sighed and pulled free Defoe’s work. Like the books, she was all but on the shelf, and it appeared that no gentleman would ever take her down, especially not Lord Thomas. She was nearly twenty-two, after all. Ancient. A click and the pad of boot-shod feet on carpet caused her to turn. Lord Thomas closed the door behind him. He saw her and offered a bow, somehow accomplished without dropping the haphazard pile of research he carried in one arm. That, he crossed to deposit on the table. “Good evening, Miss Milton.” “Good evening, Lord Thomas,” she said. “Look at all that. Did you rob the Royal Society?” She left Defoe’s book by her chair and went to the table, drawn there like a doomed moth. Lord Thomas often needed assistance organizing his materials and Liza was hungry for any excuse to be near him. “I may have.” He shuffled papers. “Don’t tell your father.” She reached his side, covertly inhaled the rich scent of shaving soap, and began turning the pages nearest her face up and in the same direction. She’d gleaned a bit about astronomy over the years, but didn’t need that knowledge to understand that anyone could read notes more easily if they were arranged with the letters facing the same way. Normally, it would be wholly unacceptable for Liza to be closeted with a man. Lord Thomas wasn’t even wed. His wife had died over three years ago, but long before he became a widower at age twenty-seven, he’d been working with Liza’s father. She’d grown up playing in the library while the two rambled on about rotations, drew star charts, and used strange devices to measure the distance between dots on pages. Somehow, no one seemed to notice she’d reached womanhood and should be barred from time alone with the widowed earl. Maybe the problem was her stick-thin frame. No one noticed she’d grown up, especially not Lord Thomas.

“Thank you.” He pushed another stack over, his hand grazing hers. “I don’t know how they end up like this.” Trying to ignore the heat of his touch, she forced a light tone. “I daresay it’s because, at least once an evening, my father throws the lot of them in the air in frustration.” She couldn’t help but smile, for her portly sire was adorable when he lost his temper, which he only did with numbers. He would wave his arms and march about, and rant about ellipses until his face turned red, then he would collapse into a chair. Lord Thomas offered a return smile. His hands stilled. He stared at her for a long moment, as if to study her face, then dropped his gaze to the table. He set to shuffling pages with greater vigor. Liza suppressed a sigh. Lord Thomas’s mind wandered. She often caught him staring at her. She wanted to be flattered and wished those were admiring looks, but she knew better. He was still in love with his late wife. As soon as he realized his eyes had drifted to Liza, he would look away and return to his current task. He cleared his throat and tamped down a pile to line up the page edges. “Yes, well, he refuses to believe Carl Friedrich Gauss’s straight edge wasn’t marked. Your father can’t quite get his polygons to come out right. I suppose that drives him to mild madness.” “I don’t see what seventeen sided polygons have to do with astronomy,” Liza said, so she could keep listening to his voice. She put down the last few pages and hopped up onto the table. She sat on the edge, facing Lord Thomas, and swung her feet. It was another wholly inappropriate habit she’d engaged in for as long as she could recall, and another action that he overlooked.

Beside her, he straightened to his full height. He pushed a hand through disarrayed dark hair. “They don’t, really. He simply wishes to draw them. He says if a German can do it, every Englishman ought to be able to.” He looked her up and down. “I think you’re crushing his latest attempt.” “They’re pages. They’re already flat.” She shrugged. Might he be thinking about what she was crushing them with? “Can you draw one?” He gave her a suspiciously bland look. “If I could draw a perfect heptadecagon with only a compass and a straightedge, I wouldn’t breathe a word of it in your father’s library.” Liza smiled. Aside from being handsome, Lord Thomas was easy to talk to, and because they’d known each other for so long, she was permitted to speak as she chose. He never made her feel like a blathering idiot. Well, only once, the night they’d kissed. She’d definitely been a blathering idiot that night, over three years ago, on his birthday. Though it ate away at her that he could kiss her and not remember it, she also counted herself lucky he’d been so intoxicated he didn’t. Otherwise, she would surely have lost his friendship. A ponderous tread sounded in the hall. She hopped down. Her father was not as tolerant of her sitting atop his papers as was Lord Thomas. The door opened to reveal her father’s broad frame. His face, flushed from the long walk down the hall to the library, broke into a jovial smile. “Liza, dear, there you are.

Did you help Thomas?” He maneuvered into the room, toward the table. “You did, I see. Thank you. Never met a more disorganized mathematician. That’s a good girl. Go read on the couch. We men have ellipses to discuss.” “Yes, Papa.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek, then headed toward the window seat and her pirates. Pirates, she knew, were like astronomers. They used the stars every night to navigate their adventures. Liza suppressed a giggle. For the life of her, she couldn’t picture her father or Lord Thomas doing anything so spontaneous as having an adventure. She took the book, settled into the chair and folded her legs under her in an unladylike fashion. With a contented smile, she began to read to the soothing backdrop of her father’s and Lord Thomas’s voices.


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