With This Kiss: Part One
With This Kiss: Part One
About the Author
By Eloisa James
About the Publisher
Lady Grace is the eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Ashbrook, from The Ugly Duchess, and Colin is the eldest adopted son of Sir Griffin Barry, from Seduced by a Pirate.
Home of Sir Griffin Barry
By the age of ten, Lady Grace Ryburn had a clear understanding of her place in the world. Her mama, the Duchess of Ashbrook, made certain that her four children knew precisely how to behave in any conceivable instance, and Grace was a dutiful eldest daughter.
She had impeccable manners. She never sat on the grass, or climbed trees, or behaved in any fashion other than that which behooved a member of the peerage. She spoke three languages, played the pianoforte, and painted landscapes (poorly) and portraits (surprisingly well). She was kind to servants, old people, and dogs.
She was boring.
Grace’s little sister Lily, two years younger, was not boring. Lily never walked if she could run. She ripped her frocks, spilled her milk, and gave people sparkling looks and disobedient smiles. She didn’t obey anyone’s rules, including the duchess’s.
Their father said that Lily was a force of nature. After years of observing her sister, Grace came to understand what her father meant. Because she was so pretty, Lily didn’t have to behave. She had been adorable as a baby, and now, at eight, she was dazzling.
There was one good thing about not being the center of attention, like Lily. Grace could sit inconspicuously at the edges of rooms and watch people’s faces—the way their jaws moved, the way they blinked, the way their foreheads wrinkled when they talked. She watched the way grown-ups responded to a girl like Lily versus a girl like herself.
Since Grace was plain, quiet, and not sparkly—but very smart—she came to the obvious conclusion that it was risky to misbehave. Without being pretty, she couldn’t command love and forgiveness the way her sister could.
So Grace minded her Ps and Qs… until one August night, when her family was staying at Arbor House, the country house of Sir Griffin Barry and his family. The Barrys spent every December at Ryburn House, and the Ryburns spent every August at Arbor House, and that was the way it had been for Grace’s entire life.
Most of the year, the Ryburn estate ran smoothly, with over one hundred servants weaving and interacting, all devoted to the comfort of the duke, the duchess, and their four children. But in August, many of the duke’s servants were sent back to their own homes and most of the furniture was put under Holland covers. The great estate of Ryburn House fell to a sleepy summer silence as Grace and her family made their way to Arbor House, which had only twenty servants to take care of all of them: Sir Griffin and Lady Barry and their five children, and the duke and duchess and their four children.
It was chaos. It was glorious. The ducal progeny dreamed of it all year long. They talked longingly of days when they were in and out of the lake all day, when the air was lazy and sweet with the smell of new-mown hay, and when the children often didn’t bathe at all.
At Arbor House, the Barrys’ nanny ruled the nursery, and the Ryburns’ nannies found themselves curtsying to her. Nanny McGillycuddy believed that children, even little lords and ladies, shouldn’t have too much supervision. There weren’t nearly enough maids, and no footmen at all, and their parents picnicked with them on the grass. Ordinarily, the duchess wouldn’t dream of sitting on a blanket and eating outdoors. She just wasn’t the type, any more than Grace was.
But when the two families were together, everything was different. Sir Griffin and Grace’s papa had been pirates together, sailing the high seas, and so they told stories of sea battles, and once in a while they would actually drag out their rapiers and stage a mock fight for all nine children to watch.
Grace generally found herself watching Colin, instead. In her heart of hearts, she thought Sir Griffin’s eldest son was the most handsome boy in all England. He was tall and lean, and his shoulders already showed definition. He had a strong jaw and tumbled chestnut hair, but it was his eyes that she thought about most. They were periwinkle blue, a color she couldn’t capture with her paints, no matter how many times she mixed and remixed.
She wasn’t alone. Even her mother—whom everyone called the most elegant woman in England—laughed, and said that if she had been introduced to Colin at an impressionable age, she never would have given her husband a second look. That would make the duke growl and scoop his wife into his arms, pretending that he was going to carry her off to his pirate’s lair.
Colin was the kindest boy she knew, too. Once, when she was a little girl and skinned her knee, he had wrapped it up in his own handkerchief, and had told her how brave she was. Ever since, she had felt brave.
Now that he was a big boy, all of sixteen, she was too shy to hop into his lap the way Lily did. But earlier in the evening, she had leaned against his shoulder while he told a story about a sea dragon and a pirate treasure.
In the middle of that night Grace was woken by a moan that had come straight through the wall next to her bed. Her room was next to Colin’s, so the noise had to have come from his bedchamber. She sat up, wondering if something was wrong.
A lady could never enter a gentleman’s chamber. That was a big rule, one of the biggest rules her mother had impressed upon her.
But Colin was almost like a brother.
When she heard a second moan, she jumped straight out of bed, and without even thinking about it, made her way into his room.
“Colin,” she whispered, putting a hand on his shoulder. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m hot,” he said with a ragged moan. “Terribly hot.”
Grace headed for the washbasin, wrung out a cloth, and brought it back to the bed. She wiped his face, trying not to get the bedclothes wet. “I’ll ring for a maid,” she told him, settling the neatly folded cloth on his brow.
“No maids will come,” Colin said, with another moan. “Nanny McGillycuddy is old. She’s too old to get out of bed.”
Grace frowned at that, because she realized that his fever must be terribly high if he thought he was in the nursery. On the other hand, he might be right about the maids. In her mother’s household, maids always came within two minutes of a bell, but the same could not be said for Arbor House. “I could fetch our nanny,” she offered.
Colin flung himself on his side, and the cloth slid off from his head to the floor. “I’m so hot. I shall die in this desert.”
“Don’t be silly. Of course you won’t die.” Grace reached over so she could feel his head. That’s what her nanny always did when she was ill.
He grasped her wrist and squinted up at her. “It’s Lily, isn’t it? You’re my favorite. I’ll love you forever, if you’ll please give me some water, sweet Lily.”
Grace froze. He thought that Lily was coming to his aid?
There were times when Grace was so jealous of Lily that she wanted to scream, and this was a perfect example. Colin liked Lily so much that he didn’t even realize that Grace was standing right next to him. The truth of it pinched her heart and made her angry.
The glass on his bedstand was empty, so she went back for the pitcher. She brought it to the bed, but before she could fill the glass Colin sat up and rea
“Let me pour you a glass,” she said, pulling back as he grabbed at it.
“You’re a brick, Lily,” he said. “You’re the b—”
His voice broke off as the pitcher upended on his head. Water struck his face and ran in a flood down his chest and even splashed onto Grace’s nightgown.
For a moment, she felt only satisfaction. She wasn’t such a good girl right now, was she?
Then a terrible feeling gripped her stomach. She had poured water on Colin, who was ill. Dying, maybe. Never mind the fact that he was laughing, albeit weakly.
She ran for the door, crying, “Mama!”
Her mother bundled her back to bed, and Grace lay there, sleepless, until the noise stopped next door and she knew that they had moved Colin to another room because his bed was wet.
The next morning her mother said, “Sweet pea, you should have rung for a maid when you realized Colin was in need of help. And how did he end up soaking wet?”
“He moaned, Mama. I heard it right through the wall.” She couldn’t stop herself from telling the rest. “He thought I was Lily, and he said that he’d love me forever. I mean, he’d love Lily forever.”
Her mother raised a slender eyebrow. “Why would he love Lily forever?”
“If she would give him some water.” Grace swallowed. She’d never had to admit to naughtiness before. “So I gave him the water.”
Her mother pressed her lips together tightly, as if she were trying not to laugh. Then she said, “Grace, you do know that one never throws water at a gentleman, no matter how irritated one might be?”
“And a lady never visits a gentleman’s bedchamber in the middle of the night, particularly if she hears moaning?”
Grace didn’t quite follow that last part, but she nodded again.
The duchess stooped and gave her a hug. She smelled so good, like wildflowers and silk. “It sounds as if Colin deserved it,” she whispered.
Her mother was like that. She understood things.
Grace leaned against her shoulder for a moment. “He thought I was Lily,” she repeated, unsure why that hurt so much.
“It was because you are a young lady who doesn’t even sleep in the nursery any longer,” her mother said, giving her a kiss. “Colin wouldn’t dream that you would be wandering the halls… but Lily, of course, is another matter.”
“But he said that she was his favorite.”
“He’s changed his tune this morning. He can’t believe that she overturned a pitcher of water on his head!”
Her mother’s eyes were dancing, and that made a little giggle bubble up inside Grace.
“He won’t die of a chill?”
“Absolutely not. He’s already feeling better.”
No one else ever learned the truth. Lily was furious when Colin told the whole drawing room that she had been the one to break his fever, and perhaps save his life.
“I wouldn’t save his life if he paid me a half a crown!” she told Grace later. “He’s a horrid boy and I think it’s mean of him to tell everyone that I poured water on his head. Not that I wouldn’t, because I would!”
Lily’s eyes gleamed in a way that Grace recognized, but she didn’t really care. She’d caught Colin’s fever, and it was making her head ache.
The rest of the feud became family lore among the Ryburns and the Barrys. Lily marched down to the lake and carefully skimmed off all the frogspawn she could find. Then she sent the youngest maid in the household to Colin’s bedchamber with a plate of hot toast spread with “beef jelly,” the better to strengthen him.
Colin ate every piece.
Two years later
On the way to Ryburn House
Colin Barry, the eldest son of Sir Griffin Barry—but not heir to his father’s title, as he’d joined the family by way of adoption—was absurdly pleased to be home for Christmas. Although in point of fact he wasn’t headed home; after leaving his ship, he had picked up his brother Fred at Eton and they were on their way to the country house of the Duke of Ashbrook.
He hadn’t been in England in more than a year; he’d been at sea, fighting the wind and the waves, wearing the uniform of the Royal Navy. His father had taught him everything he knew about sailing, and inasmuch as Sir Griffin had been a notorious pirate—before he became an equally notorious justice of the peace—Colin had an unfair advantage over other young men his age. Those lessons explained why he was carrying with him a commission from His Majesty’s navy stating that Mr. Colin Barry, midshipman, had received a commendation from Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn.
Colin saw that commendation as an expected step on the way to being the youngest captain ever to be given his own ship in the Royal Navy. He had a burning wish to make his father proud, and since he knew perfectly well that his mother would never allow him to become a pirate, a naval captain was next best.
“How are all the Ryburns?” he asked Fred.
Fred shrugged. “Grace and Lily are fine. The twins are still in the nursery.”
“How is the terror herself, Lily?” Last time he’d seen her, she’d been an eight-year-old with the temper of a young devil. Her own mother nicknamed her The Horror. Of course, that had been two years ago.
“Annoying,” Fred said shortly. “She thinks she’s grown up and she acts like a romp. Grace is much better.”
It was hard to imagine Lily becoming a young lady. Whenever he thought of her he got a little lurch in his stomach, remembering the frogspawn she’d tricked him into eating. Not to mention the toad she put in his bed a few days later.
“Oh!” Fred said, looking up. “One thing did happen. Grace almost died; did Mother write you about it?”
Colin frowned. “She mentioned an illness, but I didn’t realize Grace was truly in danger.”
“Something is wrong with her lungs.” Fred looked away, out the window. “I hate that.”
“I’m sorry,” Colin said gently. “Will she get better?”
“Of course she will!” Fred scowled at him and bent his head back over his book. “I have to learn this Greek.”
Colin nodded, not that his brother noticed. There were five siblings in his family: himself, Margaret, Alastair, Sophie, and Fred. Given the four in the Ryburn family—Grace, Lily, Cressida, and Brandon—nine children had tumbled about together for large stretches of his childhood. To lose one would be inconceivable.
Lily was the loudest and the naughtiest Ryburn, which made it all the more unexpected when they were greeted by a charming young lady, who curtsied with a sprightliness that made her perfectly groomed curls bob around her shoulders, and generally behaved like the daughter of a duke. Even so, Fred regarded her with a healthy skepticism, and Colin felt a bit wary himself. There was something about Lily’s smile—no matter how charming—that suggested she was enjoying her own performance.
“My poor darling Grace is closed up in the nursery, which is such an insult for a young lady of twelve,” the duchess said, after a few minutes. “You did hear that she’s been ill?”
“I was very sorry to learn that,” Colin said. “I hope she’s feeling better.”
“She’s much improved. We may take her to Spain after Christmas to see if sunshine might help her turn the corner. Do go and see her. Grace always loves news of you.”
“In the nursery, you said?” Colin felt rather sick at the thought. Grace was the quietest of the ducal progeny, but he hated to think of her confined to bed.
He climbed the stairs as Lily’s giggles drifted from the sitting room behind him, punctuated by the duchess’s laughter. A moment later he poked his head around the nursery door. Grace was sitting up in bed, her vivid red hair in a braid. Her fingers looked very delicate, holding a book.
Colin froze. It was the one thing he hated about being in the navy: the fact that people died. Not just men on his ship, but the enemy as well. He was haunted at night by images of a ma
He shook himself. Grace was not dying. She had improved. The duchess said so.
She looked up. “Colin!” Her face lit up. “I’m so happy you’re back safely!”
He walked over to her, and sat down at her bedside. “Poor Grace! You’ve grown as thin as a pennywhistle.” He took her hand, which was as white as her face. His heart was thudding in his ribs. He had hated learning lessons about death at sea; it was even worse to encounter that threat at home.
“I’ll be better in no time. Mother and I are going to travel to Spain after Christmas. What about you? Have cannonballs been whizzing past your ears?” Her hand tightened on his. “We worry about you so.”
“A cannonball did hit my ship last month,” he admitted.
“That must have been awful.”
He looked down at her fingers against his sun-darkened skin. “It was, rather. I don’t like to think of you almost dying, Grace. No more of that.”
“I don’t intend to die,” she replied, with the kind of quiet dignity that characterized her.
Colin studied her face for a moment and then smiled. She had a little pointed chin and huge gray eyes; she looked a bit like an elf. “How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Grace turned up her nose. “I’m a young lady, so you mustn’t ask that sort of thing.”
“You’re twelve,” Colin said, remembering. “My goodness, by the time I next have leave, you’ll probably be dancing your way through your first season.”
She shook her head. “It’s years away, and you must come home sooner than that. Besides, I hate dancing.”
“It’s impossible to imagine a young lady who hates dancing,” he said teasingly, adding, “though in truth, so do I.”
“I prefer to paint. I’ve had to spend a great deal of time in bed, so Mother bought me some proper watercolors.” She reached to the side and handed him a sketchbook.