Chapter Seventy-One: Portraits and Kisses


Previously on Mistaken Identity: After Jes discovered Ian and Conrad together, Conrad thought she would never forgive him for lying to her. But when Conrad gives Jes a letter, informing them that her father’s ships had been found, she realizes it was an act of love. Once Conrad explains his reasons for pretending to be his brother, Jes realizes he is not the villian she believed him to be.


Conrad’s cheeks hurt from smiling. He must have smiled even while he slept because the pinch in his face was still present when he awoke.

As he walked into the breakfast room, his step lightened and his stomach pitched in anticipation of seeing Jes. His hopes sank as he looked about and found her noticeably absent. He grumbled under his breath as he turned and left the room.

Where could she be? There was little time left before the carriages would be called up and she would move on to Morley Park. Conrad checked the library and found it empty. He snapped his fingers as the image of her little painting room entered his mind.

Taking the stairs two at a time, he found himself outside of storage room. The door stood slightly ajar, a quiet humming coming from inside. Conrad quirked a brow. The sound was not unpleasant. Curious.

He put a hand to the door and pushed it open even further. The curtain at the window was pushed all the way to the side, flooding the room with light. Jes sat on a small stool in front of a large canvas, bathed in the same sunshine. The image took his breath away.

He stepped inside just as Jes looked up, a smile crinkling the corners of her eyes when she saw him. Ripples of excitement started in his toes and moved throughout his body. How had he not realized sooner how much he loved this woman?

She stood up, tension hovering around her. “Good morning, my lord.”

Conrad growled, taking a step closer. “We are to be my lording, today, Miss Standish? I thought we were past all that.”

The small frown turning down her lips brought a smile to his face. She did not like the formality any more than he did.

Her head tilted to one side as she watched him. “I was only making sure last night was not a dream.” Her voice was quiet.

Conrad reached out and grasped her hand in his. Rubbing his thumb over her knuckles, he slowly shook his head. “Although it would have been a most incredible dream, I can assure you, Jes, it is reality. Which makes it all the better.”

“And what does reality hold for us today?” She stood tall with her head high, but he could hear a touch of insecurity in her voice.

“I believe you and your mother are destined for Morley Park, are you not?”

Jes nodded her head. “And where are you destined for, Conrad?”

He smiled at her use of his Christian name and took her other hand in his. “I thought we discussed this last night. I am for London. There is a matter which needs my personal attention.”

“What exactly did we discuss? I do not recall a conversation about London.” She looked at their hands.

Conrad sighed. What did she want him to say that he had not already told her last night? “If I do not go to London, we must wait three long weeks.”

Jes let out a short, but deep breath, frustration evident in her taut stance.

“Wait for what, Conrad?” She pulled her hands from his, twisting them together. “What would happen in three weeks if you do not go to London?”

His brow creased in confusion. What could she possibly mean? Had he not asked her to marry him just last night? His thoughts halted. Had he? Conrad thought back on their conversation from the night before. Yes, surely he had asked her. But in his mind he could not conjure the moment the actual question had ever left his lips. His eyes widened as he realized something else he had neglected to tell her.

He closed the distance between them, her skirt swishing against his legs. Raising a hand to her cheek, he felt his chest warm as she leaned into it, placing her own hand over his.

“Jes.” Her name came out on a whisper. He put his other hand on her waist, mostly sure she would not back away. Pulses of tingling heat shot through him when she moved her body closer to him and her eyes fluttered shut. He dropped his head as she raised hers, meeting somewhere in the middle. His lips brushed against hers, tentative at first. But then something exploded within him and he could not pull her close enough. Wrapping his arms around her, he felt their heartbeats racing in unison.

He pulled back slightly, resting his forehead against hers. “Jes, my love. I’m an idiot.”

Her gaze moved to meet his.

“If I made you uncertain of my feelings— I am sorry. I love you and want you to be my wife. As soon as possible.” He paused. “Will you marry me?”

She leaned forward and pressed another kiss to his lips. He felt her body relax as he deepened the kiss

“Are you going to leave me wondering if you return my affections?” He whispered breathlessly between kisses.

She smiled beneath his kisses. “Do you truly wonder?”

He pulled back slightly, raising a brow. “No. But I should like to hear it all the same.”

Moving his hand from her cheek to the back of her neck, his thumb rubbed lightly back and forth along the slope of her neck and shoulder. He sprinkled a fluttering of kisses along her cheekbone—ending at her earlobe.

His mind felt foggy, unable to think. His only thought was he wanted her to himself. The idea startled him. And he backed up a step. Then several more. He needed to put some distance between them or— he did not want to think about he wanted. At least not yet.

A moment of hurt flickered through her eyes. “I love you, Conrad. More than I ever thought possible.”

Never had the sound of his own name sent such a thrill of excitement and contentment through his body.

“Does that mean you agree to marry me?” He stepped toward her again, drawn to her. He left a small space between them, but was close enough to reach out and wind a loose tendril of hair around his finger.

The curl stretched as she pulled back from him. Determination glittered in her eyes and she set about gathering up her brushes, putting them in a pile on a canvas cloth on the nearby table. “Are you still planning to depart for London today?”

Conrad tilted his head. “You know why I am going to London, Jes. I need to procure a special license. Did I not say I wanted us to marry as soon as possible?”

She looked up from her brushes, an adorable pout on her lips. “But it will only shorten the time by a week, at most.”

His heart melted, which he suspected was all a part of her plan. He suspected she knew the affect she was having on him. “Two weeks is better than three.” He reached for her hand, pulling her to him. Sliding his arms around her waist, he pulled her up against him. “Perhaps we can meet in the middle. I would enjoy London all the more, if I was accompanied by a breathtaking young lady and her mother.”

She stepped out of his arms. Putting her hands on his shoulders, she pushed him back until there was space between them. “I have a difficult time thinking when you stand so close.”

Conrad stepped toward her, but she stepped back. They preceded this way for several steps, until she was backed into the corner.

He placed a hand on the walls on either side of her shoulders. “Will you accompany me to London, Jes?” Her smile grew. Life with this woman would never be dull, of that he was certain.

She ducked under his arm quicker than he could catch her. Dancing to the far wall, she turned around, laughter bubbling in her voice. “I thought you wished to ask my cousin for his consent? What if he withholds it after we have gone all the way to London?”

“He will not. I can assure you of that. Shearsby is one of my closest friends. He will be overjoyed.”

She tilted her head at him, doubt evident.

Conrad faltered. “Perhaps not overjoyed. But he will not withhold his consent.” When she did not look convinced, he moved closer. “Truly, you believe he would think me unworthy of you?” His brow furrowed. He shrugged a shoulder in defeat. “He would be correct, considering my actions of the last few weeks.” His plans no longer seemed guaranteed. “What if he does not approve?”

She snorted as laughter erupted. Her eyes grew wide and her hand flew to cover her mouth.

Conrad could not help his own chuckle.

Stepping forward, she intertwining her fingers with his. “I know my cousin, Conrad. If I am happy, he will be happy for us. There is no need to worry.”

Conrad dipped his head, resting his brow against hers. “And are you happy, my love?”

“Very much so.”

###

Someone cleared a throat from the doorway.

Jes jumped back, nearly pulling Conrad with her as they tried to disentangle their fingers. She felt her face heat when she saw her mother standing there, a knowing look on her face.

They had not been caught doing anything so very untoward. But they had been very untoward just moment before and now, thanks to Jes’s blushing, there was very little for her mother to guess on. Gah!

Conrad cleared his throat and Jes returned her gaze to him. Her heart flip-flopped. Then he smiled at her and her knees went weak. Would he always elicit this reaction?

“Lady Rachel.” There was joy, but not guilt, evident in his tone. “How are you this fine morning?”

She turned her shrewd gaze to him. “Very well, Lord Kendal.” Her eyes flicked between them. “I hope I did not—interrupt anything.”

Conrad grinned, a bit wickedly in Jes’s opinion.

Ah! Now her mother surely knew.

Her mother shook her head, an exasperated sigh pushing through her lips. “At least the door was open,” she muttered.

Jes looked with wide eyes at Conrad over her other’s head. She had forgotten the door had been open. What if a maid had seen them?

Conrad continued to smile. He stepped around her mother and came to stand beside Jes. Retaking her hand in his, he laced his finger through hers then turned to Lady Rachel. “I was asking Jes if the two of you would do me the honor of accompanying me to London? I have a matter of business….” He looked over at Jes and the love she saw there made her feel in awe. How had such a man fallen in love with her? She felt a bit jealous when he pulled his eyes away from her and looked again to her mother.

Jes wanted to reach up and bring his gaze back to her, but she didn’t. Instead, she placed it high on his arm, squeezing his tight muscle beneath. The pink tint which came into his earlobes told her he was affected as much as she.

“My business should only take a day or two at most. Then I can escort the both of you to Morley Park. There is something I wish to discuss with His Grace.”

Lady Rachel looked as if she was trying to hold back a laugh. “I shall pen a note to my nephew and inform him of our delay.” She headed to the doorway, where she stopped and turned back. “Thank you, Lord Kendal.”

Conrad looked perplexed. “For what, my lady?”

“Surely you must know how grateful we are for the information you obtained about my late husband’s ships.”

Conrad waved her away. “I am just glad I could be of service, Lady…”

“But there is more,” she cut him off. “I have always thought my Jes beautiful, but she has never shined as she does with you. You make her laugh—something which has been absent for too long.” Lady Rachel smiled through glistening eyes. “Thank you for giving me my daughter back.”

Before she could cross the threshold Conrad stepped forward. “I love her, my lady.”

She turned again, her head nodding. “I know.” Then she stepped into the hallway and disappeared.

Jes stood still, her throat tight with emotion.

Conrad came behind her. Sliding his arms about her waist, he pulled her against him, resting his chin on her head. The canvas lay in front of them. “You have been painting Shearsby?”

Jes nodded “He has yet to sit for his portrait. I thought I could present it to him as a gift when we arrive, to thank him for allowing us to live at Morley. Neither my grandfather nor my uncle would have allowed it.”

“It is a lovely present. When I saw it yesterday, I was not able to discern who it was.” Was that a touch of jealousy in his tone? Or was it something else? Jes turned her head, looking at him from the corner of her eye. A sheepish look crossed his features.

Jes grinned, slightly bumping her shoulder into his chest. “You thought it was you, did you not?”

Conrad shrugged, even as his face deepened in color. “The room was dark and I only saw the silhouette.”

She turned in his arms, looking up. Grasping his chin between her thumb and forefinger, she turned his head to one side. “When a person is as handsome as you, it is hard to imagine why you were not the subject?”

He turned his head quickly, brushing a kiss along her finger tips.

Rising up on her tiptoes, she looked into his eyes. “I plan to remedy the error as soon as possible, but only if it can hang in my personal sitting room.”

His pressed a kiss to her forehead and then the tip of her nose. “Or we could hang it in the gallery with all the other portraits and you can just keep me in your personal sitting room.”

Jes ran a finger over his jaw. “Yes, that is a much better plan.” Jes leaned up, pressing her lips to his for one last kiss—thrilled to know that there would be more of them to come.

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mindyburbidgestrunkauthor

Mindy loves all things history and love, which makes reading and writing regency romance right up her alley. When she isn’t living in her alternate realities, she is married to her real life Mr. Darcy and trying to raise five proper boys. They live happily in the beautiful mountains of Utah. You can follow her on her blog at http://mindyburbidgestrunkauthor.blogspot.com/ and on Facebook at @mindyburbidgestrunk.

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