Savage In Silk(9)

By: Donna Comeaux Zide

Shocked by her mother’s rude accusation, Mariah had turned, hoping to watch Jean-Paul deny it. Her faith had turned to dismay, then wounded pride as his proud face flushed angrily. He remained guiltily silent. Mariah had whirled and rushed to her room, unable to bear the humiliation. During the week that had followed, he’d sent note after note, but she’d destroyed them all without reading them. Finally she’d instructed the house steward to refuse any letters from the count and she and Mama left for St. Louis a week later.

At home, Mariah had refused countless invitations, lacking interest in everything. At last, her mother had insisted she begin seeing Jack Carterette again. She’d grown up with him and the two families had always assumed there would be a marriage. A year had passed since then and though Jack had proposed several times, she’d managed to put him off indefinitely. The truth of the matter was that she couldn’t stand him. He was boring and dull and nothing in his nature justified the overwhelming conceit that seemed to ooze from his every pore. Although she knew she’d face a battle when the time came, Mariah had already decided she wouldn’t be forced to marry him. Her parents had always been sensitive to her feelings and she knew she could persuade them to see her side. “Come in!” Mariah called in answer to the soft knock at her door. Expecting her French maid, Colette, Mariah was surprised to see her mother enter.

Close to fifty in age, Susannah Draper Randall looked more like a woman of thirty-five. She always moved in the same ladylike manner, stressing by example how she thought a lady of quality should act. She drew the drapes, flooding the room with early light and the heavy fragrance of the garden below. At Mariah’s side, she bent for her kiss and sat next to her on the bed.

“Good morning, darling! No doubt you’re surprised to see me so early,” Susannah said as she reached out to fondly brush the ebony curls from the girl’s eyes. “I’ve something important to discuss with you. I just had an extremely uncomfortable visit from Gloria Carterette.” At the mention of Jack’s mother, Mariah shifted uneasily. Susannah studied the delicate features of the child she’d adopted at birth. No one but John knew of her real relationship as Mariah’s grandmother. She had arrived at her uncle’s farm in Hannibal in time to see her daughter Lilith give birth to the child. Although she had already decided to put the baby up for adoption, one glance at the baby’s sweet little face had changed her mind. Susannah had decided to take the baby herself. Lilith had been happy to be rid of her and even more happy with Susannah’s offer to let her return to her beloved Bitterroot ranch. When John had proposed to her seven months later, she’d told him the truth. A childless widower in his fifties, John had been content to accept the ready-made family and when he’d married her, had legally adopted Mariah as his, adding his mother’s maiden name as the girl’s middle name.

Now, seventeen years later, Mariah Randall was the epitome of a well-turned-out young lady. The most expensive fashions enhanced the natural beauty of her figure. Actually, she resembled neither her real father nor her mother. The only indications of her Indian heritage were the heavy masses of ebony hair, the high, exotic cast of her cheekbones and an unusual, star-shaped birthmark high on her left cheek. Other than those features, she was a blend of Susannah herself and Susannah’s mother. It was hard to name one individual feature as more beautiful than the rest, but her green eyes, veiled beneath long, heavy lashes, were strikingly attractive. Mariah still hadn’t asked what Mrs. Carterette had wanted and Susannah had the feeling the girl would rather avoid the subject.

“I think you know why Jack’s mother called, Mariah. She and Mr. Carterette are puzzled and more than a little hurt by your reluctance to accept Jack’s proposal and set a definite wedding date.”

“Wedding!” The green eyes widened like those of a startled fawn. “We only vaguely discussed such plans, Mama.”

“Well, everyone just assumed … there was never any doubt there would be a wedding. Surely you can’t be hesitant about accepting Jack?”