An Unexpected Temptation (The Townsbridges #5) - Sophie Barnes

Chapter One

BALANCING AT THE EDGE of the sofa, Athena waited for her four-year-old niece, Lilly, to make her next move.

“Come on,” Lilly’s older brother, Lucas, said. “You’re taking forever.”

“It’s hard,” Lilly said. She stared at the low stool she was meant to get onto next. “My legs are too short.”

Athena had deliberately placed the furniture with this in mind. She knew Lilly could make the jump with ease, but after misjudging the distance between two stone benches in Hyde Park a few weeks earlier, the girl was fearful of falling and getting hurt once more. Sympathizing, Athena grabbed a throw cushion and tossed it onto the floor. It landed between Lilly’s chair and the stool.

Lucas jerked toward her with a glare. “That’s cheating.”

“Would you rather your sister be eaten by crocodiles?” Athena asked. Lilly hopped down onto the cushion, freeing up the chair so Athena could move forward.

“No,” Lucas grumbled. “But she could have made that jump. And now she’s about to grab the treasure.”

“Unless you’re able to reach it first,” Athena told him slyly.

“Not possible,” Lilly said with confidence.

“What did I say at the very beginning,” Athena asked, “when you insisted there were no crocodiles in England?”

“To use our imagination,” Lucas said. His eyes suddenly widened. He seemed to study his surroundings with greater care. A grin widened his mouth as he eyed the folded blanket hanging over the back of the loveseat. “I’m making a bridge.”

“You can’t,” Lilly said. She turned to Athena. “Can he?”

“I can’t very well stop him after I made an island pop out of nowhere for you.”

“I’d rather play hide and go seek,” Lilly grumbled. She crossed her arms and pouted while her brother triumphantly claimed the biscuit tin at the center of the room.

“We can do that next,” Athena said. “After you have survived the pit of doom.”

Lilly blew out a breath and leapt across to where her brother stood. Athena jumped forward as well, landing on the stool as the door to the parlor swung open.

“What on earth is going on in here?” Athena’s mother, Viscountess Roxley, asked. Mouth agape, she stared at Athena. As it turned out, she was not alone. The rest of the house party stood immediately behind her.

“Playing,” Athena told the assembled group. She and her entire family had been invited to spend the second two weeks of December at the Marquess and Marchioness of Foxborough’s estate. The Foxboroughs’s daughter, Abigail, had married Athena’s brother James three years prior.

“That is what one does in the nursery, Athena. Not,” her mother informed her, “in the parlor belonging to one’s host and hostess.”

“I’m sorry,” Athena said, “but the nursery furniture isn’t very conducive to jungle adventures.”

“It’s quite all right,” Lady Foxborough said with a slight frown. “I’m sure we can put the room to rights quickly enough if we all lend a hand.”

“William,” Athena’s oldest brother, Charles, told their sibling. “Help me move the sofa, would you?”

Athena hopped off the stool and picked up the blanket Lucas had used as a bridge. She proceeded to fold it.

“Do we still get our biscuits?” Lucas asked while hugging the tin.

“Yes,” Athena assured him, “but you may have to share with a lot more people now. Unless you make a hasty escape.”

Lucas gave the doorway a quick glance, then grabbed his sister’s hand and promptly took off, with Lilly tripping and squealing behind him.

“Honestly,” Athena’s mother sighed. “Could you not try to set a better example for them?”

Athena shrugged. “They can learn about rules and decorum from everyone else. From me, however, they shall learn how to have fun.”

“Which is why we left them in your care in the first place,” Charles’s wife, Bethany, told Athena with a twinkle in her eyes.

“And we have every intention of doing the same with Benedict once he’s old enough,” Abigail said. “So I hope this won’t be the only time we’re tidying up this room.”

Athena shared a look with her mother. The lady’s features softened until she allowed a smile. Athena knew she’d only chided her because she believed it was her responsibility to do so, not because she actually minded the ruckus. If anything, Lord and Lady Roxley both welcomed the boisterousness their grandchildren provided. As they put it, it made them feel young again. But they were very aware that this was not a view shared by all since most members of the upper class preferred to have their children hidden away and cared for by governesses.

“Hopefully, the weather tomorrow will be clear so we Copyright 2016 - 2024