Avalon put her hand on the nearest chair to steady herself. It was just her luck that Richard's best friend, Gavin Farris, the Earl of Larkton, and his younger brother, Mr. Devan Farris, had joined their macabre play. Larkton typically ignored her, but Devan Farris was a true menace.
He was one of Lord William Cavensham's best friends, and Devan hated her for jilting Lord William.
The two men's eyes grew wide as they surveyed the scene before them. The tension grew unpalatable between all of them as no one spoke a word.
Finally, Richard lifted one arrogant brow. "Welcome, gentlemen. You're just in time to see me throw out Lady what do you call her?" His gaze landed on Devan Farris.
"Don't, Warwyk," Devan said. He tilted his head as if baffled, before his eyes widened in understanding. He turned to his brother. "You brought me here for these women?"
Devan's brother didn't answer.
"Aha, I remember. You call her Lady Warlock," Richard cawed like a crow. "Warlock
means a creature who's hostile toward men. A perfect description, Farris. She is a witch with a cold personality to match."
Everyone's gaze rested on hers.
"Leave now," Richard growled.
Heat hotter than Satan's h ell scalded Avalon's cheeks. For a moment, she grew faint and she locked her fingers around the chair, determined not to fall. She took a deep breath, then slowly released it, summoning every piece of pride she could muster while her heart lay shattered. She would not let them see how much Warwyk had hurt her.
Without another word, she quit the room. Once she was outside, she collapsed against the hallway wall while her mind grappled with what had happened. Footsteps grew louder.
"Lady Warwyk?" Devan Farris called.
The gentle lilt in his voice irritated her. "Leave me be," she snapped.
Ignoring her command, he took a step closer and held out his hand. "May I help you or escort you somewhere?"
The regret in his warm green eyes made her cringe inside. How embarrassing to be seen reeling from Warwyk's disdain. He might think she cared.
"I think you've helped me enough for one day." Avalon pushed away from the wall, then headed toward the family quarters. Two steps later, she stopped. With as much grace as she could muster, Avalon turned slowly so she wouldn't lose her balance. She regarded him as if he were a rotten piece of cabbage. "Aren't you supposed to be celibate while you're in seminary school? What exactly
do they teach you at Oxford besides cruel name-calling?"
Without waiting for his reply, she continued on her way. She could feel his gaze on her back. In response, she lifted her head a little higher. Under no circumstances would she show Devan Farris or the others any weakness.
When she reached the marchioness apartments, she directed her loyal lady's maid, Henrietta Calvert, to pack all her belongings for a return trip to Warwyk Hall, the ancestral seat. Avalon decided then and there to move into her own town house as soon as her baby was born, one that she would demand that her husband gift her in celebration of the baby's birth.
Along with the town house, Richard would also shower her with endless new gowns, accompaniments, furs, and expensive parures of rubies and sapphires. He might as well add a set of emeralds to the bunch. They'd match Avalon's green eyes. Plus, her husband would commission a fine black lacquer coach and purchase four white horses to pull it—much like he'd done for Mary Bolen.
And her husband would also order the most extravagant negligées for Avalon from Mr. Harold.
Every woman in town would be envious of Avalon's newfound good fortune. She'd keep the gifts as insurance. She'd never be financially or, more importantly, emotionally vulnerable or susceptible to her husband's cruelty or her parents' outlandish demands again.
And Richard would pay all of that and more. For there was one thing of value that tied Avalon to Warwyk. It was something that Richard desperately wanted—an heir.
He'd better pray for a boy as hard as Avalon would, for there was one thing for certain in their marriage.
He'd never touch her again.
This excerpt ends on page 13 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book She's Faking It by Kristin Rockaway.