Driven By Desire: Part Thirteen
He seemed relaxed as she strode back in, finding an impatient looking Sienna staring at him. His hair had come completely disheveled from the style she had put it in and his cravat was mussed.
“I got it,” his grin took over his affable face, “I got it. It’s open.”
Sienna started at him, mouth slightly agape. He had spent the entire day tinkering away with the case and they had decided to break it open when they returned home that evening with force, albeit carefully applied force. Her grandfather was hopefully going to return the next day and they both wanted something to show him.
Sienna, momentarily abandoning any thought of the evening, moved towards the door from which Antonio had returned though, “Well, let’s take a look befo-”
He grabbed her arm. “We need to go,” he said firmly. “It will be here when we return.”
“Are you going to tell me what’s inside?” Sienna asked as Sienna took Antonio’s arm and left the townhouse.
“It’s a large scroll, something like a family tree I think.”
“A family tree?” Sienna asked as he steered her into her carriage, parked outside.
Antonio shrugged. “I unfurled the parchment and tacked it to my work desk, but I thought you would want the first real look. It’s hard to concentrate when someone is berating me to attend a dinner party,” he teased.
“I wasn’t berating you,” Sienna settled into her seat. “I was gently encouraging you to hurry up.”
Her cousin held back a laugh and she turned to watch the lights of London move by as they made their way to the ducal townhouse, deep in the heart of the most fashionable part of town. She was in no mood to go out suddenly, the prospect of spending the evening with Anders was the only thing keeping her from canceling their plans.
As they pulled up to the massive house, Sienna was suddenly gripped by nerves. She was entering Anders’ domain, or at least his family’s domain.
The Roathset townhouse, like their estate to the south, was massive, even by London standards. It stood alone and there had to be at least four rooms on each floor, Sienna surmised, but the sheer size of the building. It took up the plots of at least three usual homes, and was in perfect condition, ornate, even from the outside. It was grand, much like the family it housed. Yet it wasn’t overly extravagant, it had an air of refined elegance and subtle power that hung in the very air surrounding the home. Everything was of the highest quality, but the mansion itself was still clearly a home. It wasn’t stuffy or overbearing, it was comfortable and relaxed but still dignified.
They were greeted by a butler who took Antonio’s great coat and Sienna’s overcoat, exposing the gown Sienna had bought just that morning at her modiste, a gown of deep garnet, set as far off her shoulders as her Madam would allow. They were brought upstairs to the parlor where they were immediately greeted with enthusiasm by the Duchess herself.
Anders, having spent the day wavering between something he identified as anticipation mixed with nerves, was not prepared for the vision she presented, and he had girded his loins the moment he heard the softness of her voice downstairs, but nothing he could have done could have helped him control the ache she created in his groin. The gown showcased her fair skin, the soft lines of her neck and collarbone and drew attention upward, her face radiated a sense of hope Anders hadn’t seen on it yet, and it warmed him deeply. She wore simple jewelry, her hair was once again studded with pearls and two dangled from her ears, but she had kept the creamy expanse of her décolletage free of ornamentation, the shadow between her breasts that the low cut of her gown showed off was enough. His needs intensified as she gaze met his.
It was her laugh. He wished he could hear that sweet noise emanating from her lips more often, something to remind him that, under the hard exterior she presented to society, she was still the women whose eyes would glaze over with passion in an instant.
He was half of a mind to simply forbid her from attending any event in her current state of dress, before he smiled to himself.
He seriously doubted Sienna allowed anyone to forbid her from doing anything, and perhaps the lucky few who succeeded in doing so regretted it for the rest of their lives.
She, in any case, seemed perfectly at ease.
It was refreshing to hear her talk of simple things, her voice was lighter, weightless, when not bogged down by the constant burden and sorrows of recent events. To see and hear her voice her opinions of seemingly normal topics of conversation was a simple joy that reminded him that her future didn’t need to be constantly filled with woe; that, one day, she could recline in her drawing room and pass the simply enjoying company.
Ideally, his company.
Ander felt his chest swell in an unfamiliar way at that thought. Sienna had risen from her seat to stand over Sophia’s shoulder to look at the latest fashion plate Sophia was considering, but her eyes were fixed on his, a small smile on her lips.
Antonio had come to stand next to Anders who was still rooted to his spot by the fireplace. The two men gazed upon the domesticity of the scene before them before Antonio broke the spell, “I’ve never seen her like this before, either.”
Anders shot him a questioning glance before Antonio sighed and spoke again, “She’s never really had female companionship, at least of women her own age, before.”
“And why is that?”
Antonio shrugged, “In our line of work, especially when the stakes were so high when she was older in France, you can’t afford to make close friends. This is the first time for her that she knows she in is one place to stay.”
“I’m here for as long as she needs me.”
“What exactly did you both do in France?” Anders asked.
Antonio turned to face him, a look of slight surprise on his face, “She hadn’t told you?”
Anders shook his head.
“Ask her about it sometime. You must have been able to piece it together, you know what her father was, she was his eyes in the ballrooms and with the young bucks of the emperors court while I-”
He was cut off by the announcement for dinner.
Anders inwardly groaned and strode over to his mother, offering her his arm to lead her downstairs for the meal.
She waved him off. “I’m perfectly capable of finding my own dining room, Lysander. There are ladies about, however, who could use your arm.”
With that she departed the parlor and gracefully went downstairs.
Sophia had claimed Antonio’s arm on the pretense that she was never escorted anywhere by a man she wasn’t related to and waited for Anders to stand at attention before Sienna before bowing then demanding her hand, one she readily offered.
He lead her into the dining room at the front of the house, her palm burning his upper arm through the starched linen and woven material of his shirt and coat.
If she was affected in anyway by his touch, she didn’t show it, Anders noted. She didn’t show anything, ever, not if she didn’t want to.
He pulled back the chair next to his and gently placed his palm on her lower back before helping her sit.
Her mouth parted and the glance she sent him went directly to the part of his anatomy he was trying to exert all of his control over.
He seated himself quickly and tried to focus on the meal instead of how often their hands touched when reaching for a fork, or how her skirts gently grazed the crispness of his breeches under the table.
The meal passed pleasantly, with no lack of conversation on any side.
They were halfway through the main course of lamb when a rather frantic knock on the dining room disturbed them.
The Duchess’ eyebrows rose as her butler opened the door, his face pale.
“I have a messenger here from the Crowther estates, Your Grace, for the Baroness.” He said breathlessly.
The Duchess nodded as Sienna rose from her place and shot a questioning glance at Antonio, seated across from Anders. Both men rose but Sienna waved them down as she exited the room, shaking her head at Antonio who looked to move to depart with her.
All three Pensam’s looked at Antonio expectantly as the door closed behind her.
“Perhaps Lord Crowther has returned from his estates earlier than expected,” was all he could offer.
The four of them sat there, very aware of the silence that had settled in around them.
A silence which seemed to drag on.
After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened and Sienna entered the room, visibly shaken, Anders and Antonio immediately stood.
Her eyes found all four sets of eyes individually, one black, two an airy light blue and one set of sapphire from which she drew the strength to speak, “Your Grace, I’m afraid I won’t be able to finish out our evening as planned. I’m afraid I need to depart your residence immediately,” she blinked. “My grandfather has been shot.”
The two seated ladies joined the gentlemen and stood, but Sienna held up a shaking hand, “I’m told by his messenger it’s not fatal, but I need to ride at once for Crowther. Thank you for your hospitality, Your Grace.”
With that she curtsied low and swept out of the room. Anders immediately followed, Antonio a beat behind him.
She was in the front hall, donning her gloves and coat when they caught up with her.
“Sienna, you-” Anders began, not even realizing he used her given name.
Sienna spoke coolly, fully in crisis mode as she tried to maintain her intended control, “I sent the messenger to the Strand townhouse, as well as Crowther Mansion so all the staff is apprised to the situation. I also sent instructions to have our mounts ready, all I’ll need to do is change and we can ride for Crowther tonight, we can be there in a few hours if we’re careful not to overwork the horses.
“Grandfather had just left his estate, on his way back to London. He was hit on the leg, nothing vital, or so he says, but I also think Grandfather could be on his deathbed and still think he could go hunting. When the runner departed he was dropping in and out of consciousness.
“I’ll need Rickard to draft several letters for the hostesses of any events we were supposed to attend this week, as well as make arrangements for any staff from the Mansion to be moved out to his estates until he recovers,” she had finished dressing for the cold, “Why aren’t you ready?”
Antonio stared at her, took a deep breath to control his frustration before he quietly began speaking in Tuscan.
From what Anders understood, he agreed with everything Antonio was saying.
Sienna kept on shaking her head and repeating a litany of “No. No, no. No.” to everything he said. “No, Antonio. Lui è me Nonno. Ho bisogno stare con lui, Antonio. No. Antonio, sonno Baronessa di Strand, allora ascoltami!”
Antonio shook his head and continued their argument.
“Sienna, you can’t go.”
The cousins stopped, turned and looked at Anders, standing in the doorway, “I don’t know what all that,” he gestured, “meant, but it’s too dangerous. It will be the dead of night when you reach his estates, even being as close as they are and a ride like that at night is dangerous even when someone isn’t trying to kill you. I hate to say it, but in the eyes of the ton, you leaving will mean you think all hope is lost. You need to stay here to stay strong for your grandfather, to remind the ton and whoever is trying to kill you that he, and you, are still very much alive. You owe it to your grandfather, to your family,” to me, he added silently, “to stay alive.”
He struck a chord with that last phrase.
Her lower lip quivered slightly as she stared at him, slightly stunned.
She drew a deep breath, blinked back tears, and let it out slowly. “Alright.” She spoke quietly. Then, turning to Antonio, “Will you” she began but he was already nodding. She continued, “Right. My house here…I’ll be safe. But you need to go, he needs someone he can trust with him, especially now. As much as I don’t want to be here, staying alive might be more important right now.”
Antonio began dressing as Sienna continued to speak, “Take whatever you need from what we brought back with us, Evander should be saddled and enough to get you there, but even so, watch for the marshes. Grandfather says they are the abbey’s natural defenses, it will be a long ride alone,” her lips thinned as she thought.
“I’ll leave the back way, in case anyone is watching the house, and I’ll lay down the usual tracks to throw them off in case I’m followed. I only worked Evander lightly today, he should be up for a good gallop.”
She sighed, “That would be best. I would like it to appear like we don’t know this has happened, I think.”
“The new won’t reach the gossip mongers until very late this evening, or even tomorrow, so that’s plausible,” Anders offered.
Antonio had finished dressing, “How will you get back? Come with me now?”
Anders’ voice was grave; “I’ll drive her back later. If anyone is watching the house now and sees her leaving, they’ll know she knows.”
Sienna threw her arms around Antonio’s neck, “Stay safe. Keep Grandfather safe. Send word when you can, through the usual channels,” she paused. “Stay safe,” she ordered one final time.
Antonio bent and kissed in a fatherly manner on her on her forehead, opened the door and disappeared into the cold night.
Anders followed him, passing Sienna and placing a reassuring hand on her arm. Antonio turned to face him when they had both been enveloped by the darkness, out of Sienna’s view and hearing.
“Keep her safe. By whatever means necessary, you need to keep her safe. I don’t like leaving her,” the Italian paused and stared Anders down, “I’m trusting you,” he finished softly.
Anders knew what that mean, what Antonio was telling him. “I will,” he promised, and added silently, now and forever.
With one last glance as the slim figure standing in the doorway, Antonio hopped in the carriage and was gone.
To be continued…