The Countess:Madison Sisters 01(4)

By: Lynsay Sands

“Chrissy!” Suzette started to her feet with relief when Christiana entered, but stopped abruptly when Dicky fol owed. She then watched with obvious frustration as he ever so slowly walked Christiana to a seat and saw her settled.

“So?” Dicky arched an eyebrow as he took up a position on the arm of Christiana’s chair where he could loom over her like a bird of prey about to pounce. He then eyed her sisters like they were naughty children. “What was so urgent that you had to arrive here at such an ungodly hour?”

Suzette’s gaze slid to Christiana and then to Lisa before she forced a cool smile and sweetly lied, “Nothing at al . We just missed Chrissy terribly. It has been more than a year since your marriage and you have not brought her back to visit as you promised.”

Christiana could feel Dicky stiffen at the chastisement and sighed inwardly. Here was more he would punish her for later.

“I am an Earl, girl, an important man who is far too busy to waste time gal ivanting about the countryside when there is work to be done here,” Dicky said stiffly.

“Ah, wel , we are seeing each other now,” Christiana murmured to forestal her sister saying anything else. “And I am very happy to see you. You must tel me everything that has happened since I left home.”

Much to her relief, Suzette caught the hint and immediately launched into tale after tale of life back on their country estate. She actual y seemed to begin to enjoy the endeavor, devilment sparkling in her eyes as she recounted who had married, who hadn’t, and every bit of gossip she had heard no matter how trivial. As for Lisa, she sat silent, her worried gaze remaining warily on an increasingly impatient Dicky as Suzette babbled on. It was a relief to al of them when he suddenly stood to announce, “I shal leave you ladies to your nattering then. I have more important issues to attend to.”

On that pompous note, he left them, moving much more swiftly than he had al owed her to on entering.

“Thank God,” Suzette moaned when the door closed, her gay, trouble-free facade dropping away. Anger immediately replaced it and she sat forward to demand, “What the devil is going on, Chrissy? Does he act like that al the time? My God he was nothing like that when he courted you. He—”

“Hush,” Christiana hissed. Standing, she moved swiftly to the door and knelt to peer out the keyhole. When al she saw was empty hal , she released a relieved breath and moved back to her sisters.

“How bad is your marriage?” Suzette asked quietly as Christiana settled on the couch between her sisters. “You look tired and miserable. He’s not treating you right, is he?”

“Never mind that,” Christiana said wearily. There was little anyone could do about her situation and discussing it would merely bring her misery to the surface. It was easier when she simply didn’t think about it. “What is going on? Why are you two here?”

Suzette and Lisa exchanged a glance and then Lisa final y spoke up for the first time since their arrival and announced, “Father has been gambling again.”

“What?” Christiana gasped with dismay. “But he promised never to gamble again after Dicky paid off his last gambling debts.”

It was how she’d ended up married to the man. Her father had landed them in hot water with one aberrant night of drinking and gambling. He’d raised what money he could by sel ing family heirlooms to meet the debt, but it hadn’t been enough, and he’d been at a loss as to how to pay the rest. The creditors had been knocking on the door when fortune had seemed to smile on them in the form of Dicky. He’d arrived at Madison Manor with an offer of marriage for Christiana, and on hearing of their dire straits had offered to clear the remainder of her father’s debts in exchange for Christiana’s hand in marriage.

To her father’s credit, he’d refused the offer until Dicky had convinced him that he loved Christiana. Dicky had claimed to have seen her at the local fair that summer and spoken to her briefly, which she hadn’t recal ed at al . He’d also claimed he’d been fascinated and found out al he could about her and that everything he’d learned he’d found pleasing.

His words had been convincing and her father had been swayed, but despite his dire straits, had insisted that while he would give his blessing to the union      , it was only if she was wil ing. Unfortunately, Christiana had been easy enough to persuade. Dicky was handsome, wel off and an Earl. Any girl would be flattered to be courted by such a man. And what a courtship! He’d been the sweetest of men, cal ing her his little rosebud and romancing her with touching poems and declarations of undying love. It had al been rather heady to a simple girl who had spent her life quietly in the country with only her sisters and one neighbor boy for company, and in no time at al he’d swept her off her feet and gained her agreement.

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