On this visit to Swinbeck Castle, Lydia was finding the country less boring than usual. Quite apart from the young and lusty lover who kept her amused and the servants scandalised, she was gaining unexpected entertainment from joining the committee that was organising an assembly in the nearby town.
She sniggered inwardly. The most recent committee meeting had been particularly funny. The other ranking lady was a nobody from a trade family who had married into a title. Lydia made a point of opposing her at every turn, just for the pleasure of seeing how the other three women, toadies all, coped with trying to please both her and the upstart. The upstart had a higher title, but Lydia had the higher pedigree.
She didn’t attend every meeting, of course. She was on the committee to lend it her name and influence, but the commoners could do the actual work, and she included Lady Upstart Avery, who was as common as muck.
This afternoon, though, there was no meeting and Chirbury’s nephew was asleep in her bed. The game they’d played until dawn had involved a number of challenges for young Nat, sending him running and climbing all over the castle, with the challenges becoming more demanding and the rewards more intimate as the night wore on.
Lydia’s exertions had been confined to the interludes between challenges, and she’d drunk water while he tossed down brandy. She was wide awake and looking for something to do.
After a long soothing bath, she submitted herself to her maid’s hands. This girl was one of Carrington’s cast-offs, and credited Lydia with her change in status. No need to tell the girl that she’d developed too many curves to retain Lord Carrington’s interest. Gratitude made her loyal. And she’d become quite skilled at dressing hair, mending dresses, and creating lotions that softened her mistress’s skin.
Dressed at last, she checked Nat, but he was still asleep. She toyed with the idea of waking him. Still, he’d be of more use well rested.
She frittered away half an hour trying on jewellery. Most of these were family pieces. Her stepson, Tony, had asked for some when he married his little mouse. She told him he could pry them out of her dead, cold hands.
Still, she’d sent him a few pieces when she sent him her daughters. Not the best pieces, of course. But she was grateful that he’d taken his four half-sisters: Carrington’s daughter by his second wife, and her own three girls.
Carrington had not been amused at her decision to send them away five years ago. “Do you think I am a danger to my own daughters?” he challenged her, impaling her with his pale blue eyes. She denied it, of course, but still she knew, deep in her mind, that her intervention had been too late for the step-daughter.
She didn’t dwell on such thoughts. She’d learned as a trembling teenager, offered to Carrington by a debt-ridden brother, not to think about past or future, but to enjoy the moment as well as she could, and to please her husband.
Sending her daughters away was the one time she defied him, and even then, she did it without his knowledge and faced him only when—weeks later—he noticed his daughters were gone.
Though he punished her for her presumption, Carrington didn’t confine her as he promised, or send to bring his daughters back, which was confirmation of a sort, if Lydia cared to think about it.
She did not.