XXX. Recovering Tainted Reputation
In any case, Lady Darla's reputation was tainted and her prospect for a good marriage was doomed. She did not know if it would be a good thing or a bad thing for Darla has always wanted to remain a spinster all her life.
But with the confession from James, made her rethink her life choice.
The Times dubbed Darla as 'Tainted Lockwood' and her reputation was in vain. It would not do any good to her if she were to remain in polite society and going to any ball to find a suitor. It would be a wasted effort.
But thankfully, she was already betrothed to one Lord James Flemington.
James was pacing back and forth in the drawing room as he was rubbing his chin. Darla was sitting at the divan while sipping on her hot tea. It has been two days since she recovered and James confessed his feelings for her. Darla knew that he was worried that their prospect of marriage will be challenged by the scandalmongers.
"You don't actually believe that they can stop our wedding, are you?" Darla asked James before he stopped and turned to look at Darla. She was nibbling on the scone that was provided by the maid as James made his way to sit next to her.
"I never thought I would be worrying about the scandalmongers but right now, I am," he said as he took Darla's hand and kissed her knuckles before he was pulling her into his arms. Darla smiled as she was leaning in, breathing his scent before she was kissing his neck. It was a turn on spot for Darla.
"So, what should we do?" she asked before James was closing his eyes and turned to look at the clouds that were gathering, warning them that there will be a thunderstorm soon.
"I don't know," he said before Darla arched her eyebrow at her betrothed. James cleared his throat.
"Well, I do have a solution but I don't think that—"
Someone burst into the drawing room as Darla and James turned to look at the newcomer. It was Lady Ashley and William, James' youngest brother. James stood up to embrace his family before the old dowager was smacking the back of his head.
"Ow! What you did that for?" James asked her as Lady Ashley was narrowing her eyes to slits before turning her gaze on Darla. She shrunk a bit under the old dowager countess' scrutiny.
"You should be in Red Cast and not eloping to be here at the manor. Now, look at what you have done!" Lady Ashley said as she threw the papers on the coffee table. Darla closed in to look at the front page before she was gasping as the front sepia photograph was her and James dancing at the Tempest Ball, leaning into one another like lovers.
To be fair, they weren't lovers but until two days ago.
"So, what? It's not like we're not betrothed or anything," James said before the old countess was looking at him. James held his hands in surrender before Lady Ashley took her seat. Will was leaning against the window sill.
"Well, the thing is that the scandalmongers were saying you planned the kidnapping because you wanted to get out of the engagement. And right now, they will be circling you like vultures they were," Lady Ashley harrumphed before Will snickered. When the old dowager turned to look at him, Will was quiet.
"That's bullshit!" James shouted.
"Language," Lady Ashley stated before they were staring at each other. James rubbed his face before he turned to look at Darla. She stared at her hands on her laps. Was it true? Was James behind all the attacks?
James hurried to kneel in front of Darla before he took her hands and kissed her knuckles. Darla turned to look at his handsome face. The face that would be hers if not for the scandalmongers' intervention.
"Darla, you know that's not true. I would never—"
"I know. I understand. I...I...I don't think you would do something so despicable to me like that as well," Darla stated as James sighed with relief. Then, when he was about to address his grandma, she added,
"But I think it would be best if I was to spend my time in Norkins for the time being. At least until the scandalmongers have something better to gossip about," she said when James was about to protest.
"That's an excellent idea. I think a time away from each other will clear your mind and help you to do the best decision in your life," her old mentor supported Darla's idea as she was smiling at them.
But James, bless him, was not smiling at all.
He did not like this. He did not like it all. James was looking at the carriage that will be taking Darla to Norkins. To the orphanage that she built as her legacy for the last 6 years. She was smiling as she was hugging his grandma before Will was bowing at her.
So much for my confession that would make her stay by my side, he mused before Darla was making her way toward him. She was gripping her skirt as she was smiling at James. He smiled but it did not reach his ears.
"So, this is it," she said as she was looking at him. James nodded before he turned to look at his grandma and brother were moving away to give them some privacy.
"You will be going to Norkins without me," he said as James was gripping her hands. Darla squeezed them.
"And you will be making your way to Hamptor," she said before James turned to look at her face. Darla was smiling weakly but the tears were brimming her eyes.
"We have gone through so much just to be apart again," she whispered as she was leaning in closer. James was gripping her nape.
"I will find a way to make this go away. And I will make sure that we will be together. We're meant to be together, you and I. I know it since I was 12 years old," James whispered huskily before Darla chuckled softly.
"I know that I love you since I saw you again after 6 years apart, James Flemington," Darla confessed before James pulled her in close and kissed her.
It was a sweet, tender kiss as well as a claim on her soul. James was gripping her waist when her petite hands were gripping his lapels. James did not want to let her go but he must for he had a plan to make sure that Darla will be his forever.
"This is not a goodbye, Darla darling. I will come for you," he said before Darla perked his lips.
"And I will be waiting for that day, James love," she said before she stepped back and went ahead to the carriage.
James stood by as he was looking at the retreating carriage that went down the road from Flemington Manor.
"Well, I think you would go to Warydeval by now since you will not be seeing her again," Will said before James snapped his head toward his youngest brother and smacked the back of his head before storming off.
"Did I say something wrong?" he asked before James was heading toward the stable to carry out his plan.
James was looking at the estate that was looming over him in Scatterford. He knew what his answer would be. It would be different when he was about to answer it on the night of the Tempest Ball.
But now, everything changed when Darla's life was in danger.
He dismounted his mare before the groom took the rein. James removed his gloves and hat as he was making his way to the huge oak doors as he was greeted by the butler of the Cascadian Manor.
"Master James! I did not know you will be here," the old butler stated as James was looking at him.
"Is his lordship home?" James asked before he was shedding his coat. The old butler blinked his eyes at him.
"Yes, in the library, my lord,"
"Thank you," he said before he moved to find his way to the library. James saw Lady Lockwood who was coming from the dining hall before she smiled as she saw James.
"James! What a delightful surprise," she said before she was looking behind him. Then, she blinked her eyes.
"Is Darla not with you?" she asked before James shook his head.
"She went back to Norkins. It was the best course of action at the moment," he said before Lady Lockwood was looking at him.
"Where is Lord Lockwood? I need to speak with him urgently," he said before Lady Lockwood smiled at him.
"Right this way," she said before she was leading him toward the library. Not that he did not know where he will be going but if his future mother-in-law wanted to show him the way, James will gladly be happy to receive it.