XXIV. The Flemington Manor
Lady Ashley, his grandmother, had asked him to accompany her from Flemington Manor in Fiktown to Red Cast so that she would not be alone when she rode her carriage. Being the good, obedient grandson that he was not, Will complied for he needed to get away from the academy in Hamptor.
Away from her.
He put the teacup on the saucer as he heard his grandma's footsteps that were coming into the room. Will turned to greet her as she was smiling at her youngest grandson that finally managed to get away from his study for a while.
"It's always good to see you, William. How are you, my dear?" his grandma asked before he kissed her cheeks. Lady Ashley was wearing simple traveling habits with a shawl to cover her shoulders as if the cold could penetrate her.
"I am fine, grandmamma. How are you doing?" he asked before the old dowager countess was smiling at him.
"Never better. Now that I am not alone to travel to Red Cast," she said before Will saw that the footman was handling her traveling trunks to the carriage that waited in the courtyard. They will be leaving early for Red Cast today.
"So, are you packed with the stuff that you needed, my dear?" the old dowager asked Will before he nodded.
"I have arranged it at the top of the carriage. I hope there is still room for your trunks," Will teased her as Lady Ashley was shaking her head. Then, she was putting on her kidskin gloves before she was nodding at the footman.
"That would be all. We will be leaving now," his grandmother said before Will put the teacup down and went after her. After all, he did not want to be left alone in the manner as they will be dining and dancing in the palace courtyard when the Tempest Ball started.
William just hoped that he would not be forced to join the festivity.
"Here we are," James announced as the carriage stopped in front of the manor that he had grown up in. It was standing tall among the trees and the lake that was behind the estate. James wondered if anyone was home when the sun was setting low on the horizon.
"Where is everyone?" Darla asked before she stepped out of the carriage as James was helping her down. She was holding her skirts before smoothing them with her hands. The wind was picking up as James looked at the skies.
It was going to be raining tonight.
"Shall we get inside then? It looks like it is going to rain," James said as he ushered Darla inside the manor. The butler was surprised to James with someone when he was bringing someone that he never saw before.
"Master James! I thought you would be heading to Red Cast already. Lady Ashley and master Will had left the manor this morning," the old butler said before James smiled at him.
They did, didn't they? Why am I not surprised if my grandma was involved? He thought before he was patting the old butler on the shoulder.
"But I hope the food is in? I don't want to starve Lady Darla Lockwood here when it is her first time in Fiktown," he said before the butler was nodding his head.
"Of course, my lord. We will prepare the supper as soon as possible," the old butler said before he went to the kitchen after taking their coats.
"Well, this is...cozy," Darla said as they went to sit in the drawing room. The fire was just warming the room as the maid just started it. The logs were piling against each other as Darla was rubbing her hands and arms to get the warmth going on her skin.
"Here, you must be cold," James said as he was rubbing his hands on her arms. Darla startled that James was brave enough to touch her that he chuckled softly.
"Everyone would not believe you when you said that you're in love with me and my betrothed if you're afraid of my touch, Darla darling," he said huskily. Darla turned to look at him as her amber orbs were shining in the low light. He was about to kiss her when a maid was coming into the room as Darla stepped away from him.
"The supper is ready, my lord, my lady," the maid said before she bobbed her head and went away. Darla was tucking her ringlet behind her ears before she cleared her throat.
"Shall we get to the dining hall then?" she asked James before he nodded. Then, they were off to get their supper into the stomach.
Stop being such a ninny, Lockwood. You don't like him and you don't yearn for his touch, Darla scolded herself as she was sitting in front of James at the dining table. She was sipping on the stew that was prepared by the Cook and it was delicious.
"This is tasty. What was it called?" Darla asked when the silence was too deafening between them. James wiped his mouth with a napkin before his sapphire orbs were settling on her face.
Calm the fuck down, Darla. You're not in love with this man. You hate him.
"I don't know. I never ask what it was but I think it was meat with vegetables. If I taste that correctly," James said before Darla pushed the stew away and took a loaf of bread. She broke it and dipped it inside the stew. Then, she chewed on it before she moaned.
"This is better with the bread," she said gingerly as she was smiling at James. He was staring at her before he smiled and focused on the food again. Darla tried to fill in the silence but gave up when it was obvious that James wanted to be left to his thoughts alone.
Afterward, they were sitting there as they were sipping on the wine that was served. Darla was sipping on the champagne as James was rolling the liquor inside the flute. She was still observing the dining hall before she was focusing on the portraits that were hanging around the room.
"Who are those?" she asked, feeling lightweight in her head as she was sipping on the champagne. Darla never thought why she did not drink after dinner before. It was marvelous!
"Those? Oh, that's my grandparents from my father's side and my parents," James said as he was smiling when he was looking at his parents' portraits. Darla can see the resemblance of his sapphire orbs from his father and the brown hair from his grandfather.
"They're beautiful," Darla slurred before James turned to look at her.
"You never had liquor before, do you?" he asked, tilting his head a bit before Darla shook her head.
"No, I have. I love liquor but not usually drink a lot at the same time," she chuckled before her head was swaying. Darla tried to stay awake as she was trying to focus on James' handsome face but it was all blurry now.
"You're handsome. I think that's why people are drawn to you," she said before James' facial expression sent her laughing. It was priceless.
"You should see yourself. It was hilarious that you never heard that statement before," Darla said as she cackled. Not so much like a lady now since her head was flying in cloud nine. James cleared his throat.
"Well, I did hear it before. Just not from you, Darla darling," he said before she frowned at him. She never knew why James called her that stupid endearment. It's not like he liked her or something. They're enemies after all.
"Why do you call me that?" she asked as she stood up from her chair. James did the same as Darla was swaying from left to right, trying to balance herself.
"Call you what, Darla darling?" James said before Darla narrowed her eyes at him.
"That! Darla darling! You and I both know that we're not sweethearts or anything. And I declared you're my mortal enemy. So, why would you do such a thing?" she hiccupped as she was walking toward James, swaying in her steps.
"Darla," James came to her as he was holding her elbows. She turned to look at the handsome face that was too good for his own good. And Darla's sanity was slipping away as she was reaching out to trace his face with her fingertips.
"Why do you have to be so handsome and yet so cruel to me? I am confused," she mumbled as she was locking her eyes with sapphire orbs. James took a deep breath before she tiptoed and pulled his head closer. She was about to kiss him until blackness was claiming her.
Darla went limbless in his hands as James was sighing, cursing that he did not get a kiss that was initiated by one Darla Lockwood. Then, he chuckled softly as he hauled Darla into his arms bridal style before moving to her bedchambers.
The maid was surprised to see that James was holding Darla that she went to help to remove the coverlet and he deposited Darla on the mattress.
"You're dismissed. I will look after Lady Lockwood," he said before the maid was bobbing her head and went out. They would surely talk about this later on, he thought before James turned to look at his supposed betrothed.
He was pushing some hair away from her forehead as Darla was mumbling something in her sleep, probably to curse him. James smiled before he was perking her forehead as he breathed in her sweet scent.
"Why I call you Darla darling was beyond me as well. I thought at first I want to annoy you but when I saw you with that baron kissing, I think I have a different meaning altogether when I call you that endearment, Darla darling," he said as James was looking at the woman that was matched by his parents to be his bride.
But the real question remained, will James accept Darla if not for the match itself?