Page 85 of Earl of Deception

Jenny did not want to listen to what this woman had to say. With her head held high, she said. “I find it odd that I’m the one still attending school, yet you are the one acting like a child. I understand if you’re jealous because I’ve encountered such feelings before.”

Lady Ayles’s eyes narrowed as Jenny took another step toward her. “Nicholas loves me. I suspect that, on some level, it hurts to know he never loved you, but that has nothing to do with me. Therefore,my lady,” she put as much contempt into those two words as she could muster, “you may leave.”

Lady Ayles let out a laugh worthy of the stage. It was no wonder she and Nicholas had parted ways. She was far too dramatic for him. “I would urge you to read them before you find yourself married to a man who is in love with someone else,” she said.

Without another word, Lady Ayles left Jenny alone in the room.

Shaking her head, Jenny glanced at the letters on the table. The idea of tossing them into the fireplace was tempting. Yet a seed of doubt had planted itself in her mind. Was there anything in there that Jenny needed to know?

With her heart pounding in her chest, Jenny picked up the letters, five in all. She unfolded the first. It was indeed addressed to Lady Ayles and signed by Nicholas, but what drew her attention were the words written in between.

“It would be prudent for you to request an annulment so you can return to me.”

Tears welled in Jenny’s eyes as she went to the next letter.

“I’ll do whatever is in my power to salvage what we once had.”

But it was the final letter that caused her to let out a choked sob.

“Know that I love you and always shall.”

The pages fell from numb fingers. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Jenny had asked him if he had ever loved Lady Ayles, and both times he had denied it. But it was more than that. He had sworn that Jenny was the only one he had ever loved.

Yet not only had she heard the words, but she also felt their sentiment. Surely something so pure and right could not be imitated. Could it?

Images came to mind. From the moment they had first met, he had used her. Even he had admitted as much when he first called on her.

How could she have been so naive to fall for his tricks? He had used her as a fiancée to gain access to Lord Tulk. Then he had used her as Patrick Thompson to further his plans. Their engagement had been a means to an end. Would he suddenly devise another plan that required him to marry her? A marriage that also ended as a farce?

Biting at her lip, Jenny tried to rationalize all that she knew. Nicholas had trusted her. Yet when it came to Lady Ayles, he avoided any discussion.

Now, after all they had endured, after all she had seen, Jenny understood one thing.

Nicholas, Lord Dowding, truly was the Earl of Deception.

Gathering the dropped letters, Jenny made her way to Mrs. Rutley’s office. The headmistress was away, but if any of the students wished for some privacy to write letters, she allowed them to use her desk if it was available.

The strokes of the quill were guided by anger, the nib nearly tearing through the parchment on several occasions. Her letter to Lord Dowding was short and to the point.

Whatever they had—or pretended to have—was over.

When the ink had dried, she sealed the letter. But as she went to leave the room, she found herself blocked by Mrs. Rutley.

“Jenny, what’s wrong? Have you been weeping?”

“Lord Dowding lied to me,” Jenny replied. “I want nothing to do with him.” She pushed forward the letter toward Mrs. Rutley. “Will you please send this at once?”

Mrs. Rutley looked at the folded parchment. “Are you sure you don’t want to discuss this first?”

Jenny shook her head. “There is nothing to discuss. He was untruthful about Lady Ayles and his feelings for her. I can’t trust a man willing to lie so easily.”

“There may be a good reason—”

Jenny’s temper flared. “Good reason?” she demanded. “There is never a reason to lie. You taught me that. But you were right about what it means to become a woman.”

Mrs. Rutley crunched her brow. “What do you mean?”

“The difference between a girl and a woman. You said the latter learns from her mistakes. Well, Lord Dowding is a mistake, and I’m going to learn from it. So please, send that letter for me.”

Tags: Jennifer Monroe Historical
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