The Importance of Being Wanton - Christi Caldwell Page 0,2


“Oh, Charles,” she murmured with such pity and regret that they served as answers enough. She moved closer to him, and he reached out a hand to steady her, to make sure she didn’t go tumbling below and break her neck and destroy this day even further.

His mother, however, waved him off. She wrapped her arms over his shoulders and lightly hugged him. “The truth is, Charles, sometimes we have to do things we do not want to.”

“Like marry the Gately girl?” he spat, vitriol pulling that surname from deep within his chest, from a place where resentments would forever dwell.

“Like marry the Gately girl,” she confirmed, giving no indication that she’d heard his hate-filled tone and disallowing him even that small satisfaction of her acknowledging those feelings. “Furthermore, I would be remiss if I did not point out that I think she perfectly suits you.”

And he managed the impossible that day. Charles burst out laughing, that amusement so unexpected and fulsome that he was the one who lost his balance, and the only thing that kept him on his perch was his mother’s quick and steady hand.

Except she winged an eyebrow and gave him a long look, confirming she hadn’t been speaking in jest.

“My God, you are serious,” he choked out.

“Well, I’m not your god, just your mother. But I am sincere. Very much so. You should have a care, Charles; she may be a child, but as I said, she won’t always be. The little ducks grow up and become swans. And remember, Charles . . . swans are capable of flight. As such, you would do well to not stray so far from the pond.”

Charles puzzled his brow. What in thunderation was she talking about?

Leaning over, she pressed a kiss to his cheek. “If you are clever and wise and honorable, you’ll be fortunate to never know what I mean. Now, how much time?”

“An hour?”

She shook her head. “I cannot manage that.”

“Thirty minutes?” he asked.

“Twenty.” She reached over and brushed back a damp strand that had fallen over his brow. “And another twenty to see yourself presentable,” she murmured, ever so lovingly and tenderly adjusting his rumpled cravat, perfectly fixing the folds, and smoothing the lapels of his jacket. Then with the same impressive ease with which she had scaled the tree, his mother found her way down, and lifting her hems, she headed off to meet her husband. The pair spoke for several moments. Or rather, his mother did. His father listened, periodically nodding. Raising her hands to his mouth one at a time, he placed a kiss upon her knuckles before they took their leave.

Charles stared on at them, walking hand in hand; it was a relationship he’d never understand. Because there couldn’t be two people more different than his parents: his mother, warm and nurturing and loving. And then there was . . . his father. Charles’s father, who spent most of his days in his office with a magnifying glass in hand as he read whatever ledgers or books a man such as him bothered with. Still, for all the differences between the Marquess and Marchioness of Rochester, for some unexplainable reason Charles would never understand, his mother not only loved the surly marquess but was also happy. Blissfully so.

He scrunched up his mouth. His mother and father together, and their happiness, formed a riddle he’d never solve, and one he didn’t even care to.

Perhaps, though, that was why she expected Charles should find himself like her.

But he wasn’t. He never would be. Because unlike her, he would forever be filled with resentment and anger at that which they had forced him to do.

At last, his parents’ figures disappeared from view, and Charles began to count. He counted the seconds as they became minutes. The moment he reached the agreed-upon twentieth minute, he waited another second, allowing himself that control, and climbed back down.

The moment his feet hit the ground, he donned his shoes, then started on the same path his mother and father had when a figure in the near distance snagged his notice. Her tiny frame clad in ridiculously large-for-her skirts, her golden hair limp around her face, the child stood amidst a small army of mute swans. In her white garments, she nearly perfectly blended in with those creatures that filled his family’s lake.

However, it was not the sight of either her skirts or the swans that struck him.

It was . . . her stare.

Even with the twenty paces between