Authors: Johanna Lindsey
“More bastards you mean?”
“No, I was thinking of marriage first.”
Claire snorted. “And who’d have me?”
Danny rolled her eyes. “No one with the way you look and act now. But you have a pretty face, Claire. There’s no need to be hiding it. I’ve a mirror in my room that doesn’t get much use. Why don’t we go and see if we can’t do something with your hair? It’s very ugly the way you wear it in that bun. And is there something wrong with your back that makes you slouch like that?”
Claire blushed and whispered, “No, I just have very large breasts that draw the wrong sort of attention.”
Danny burst out laughing. “I see I’m not the only one who needs some correcting. That sort of attention doesn’t have to be wrong if you handle it right. If your goal is to have more babies, then your priority is to get yourself a husband first, so do yourself up as bait and catch one.”
“I don’t see you taking that approach.”
“I need to better myself before I start looking for a decent husband. I’m doing that here.”
“I wouldn’t call dallying with Malory an improvement, especially if you intend to find a husband for yourself.”
“That’s true, but Malory is a prime exception to anything, if you know what I mean. He’s so bleedin’ handsome it’s purely sinful. I tried to resist him, I really did, but now that I’ve stopped resisting, I’m damned glad I did. He’s the type of man a girl just has to enjoy if she gets the chance to, a once-in-a-lifetime type of man.”
“And it doesn’t bother you that nothing will ever come of it?”
“When I have no expectation of anything other than a good time for a while? I’ll be ending it m’self in a few months, if he doesn’t end it first. I’ll be sorry to see it end, sure, but as long as I know it does have to end sometime soon, I won’t be falling on m’face with surprise when it does.”
“That’s a rather open-minded way of looking at it. Most women would never see it that way, you know.”
Danny laughed. “I ain’t been a woman for that long, Claire, so how would I know, eh?”
“You’re that young?”
“No, I just wore pants that long!”
T TAKING ANY CHANCES
where shackles of the matrimonial type were concerned. He rounded up seven actors and brought them all to his father’s house that day. And he had a stroke of luck. On the way there, he caught sight of one of his old school friends passing by in an open carriage and chased him down.
Andrew, or Andy as his friends called him, Whittleby, Viscount Marlslow, had actually shared a room with Jeremy at one of the colleges he’d attended and had been his cohort in many of the antics that had gotten Jeremy suspended a time or two and, finally, kicked out of yet another school. Andy had proven back then that he could be trusted to keep his mouth shut. That was the main reason Jeremy had lasted longer at that school than the others. Andy had frequently covered for him. He was a good sort, always willing to help a friend out of a muddle.
Of medium height, blond-haired, brown-eyed, Andrew would be considered a Corinthian if he were a little taller. A handsome chap, he was still a bachelor. He’d retired to the estate that came with his title when he finished his schooling, so Jeremy hadn’t seen him since then. He preferred a hands-on approach to managing his property, loved the outdoors, to go by his deep tan. And he was due to inherit a lot more property as well as titles when his father passed on, but that wouldn’t be for many years. So he
a prime catch. Too bad Emily hadn’t clapped eyes on him first.
After Jeremy explained the situation, Andrew agreed to be one of the liars. Jeremy had had no doubt that he would, splendid sport that he was. He’d even met Emily just a few nights ago and had thought about courting her himself until he’d heard the rumors that Jeremy was.
“Didn’t think I’d stand a chance against you, Jeremy. ’Deed not, so I put those thoughts away. Regrettably, though. She’s a damned fine-looking gel.”
“You’re welcome to her, if you don’t mind that she’s scheming, spoiled, and an adept liar who will apparently resort to any measures to get her way. She decided I was going to be her husband, and when I didn’t pay her the least bit of attention, she began her campaign of rumors that were mild to begin with, but progressed to this latest farce that she’s having my baby, when I’ve barely even spoken to her, much less touched her!”
Andrew seemed amused and explained why, “My mum used to be like that—well, not quite like that, but something of the sort. She’d spin the most entertaining tales for our neighbors, get them aghast, alarmed, on pins and needles, and be sitting back laughing to herself over their gullibility. And they never caught on. She just loved spinning tales.”
“Not quite as damaging, but…I suppose being forewarned would make all the difference. So, you’re still interested in Emily?”
“Oh, most definitely. I’ll wed her if she’ll have me, so I think I can be most convincing in that regard. Think her father will insist I marry her when
insist the babe she’s carrying is mine?”
“Now there’s a thought and just deserts, since that was her plan for me. Mention it to my father. He’ll be handling this particular performance.”
“Oh, I say, I finally get to meet your father? Splendid! Always wanted to, you know. Amazing reputation that man has, unparalleled in the ring, and in duels for that matter, and did you know…
Jeremy listened with half an ear as they continued to his father’s house. He wasn’t hearing anything he didn’t already know about his sire, and the amusing part was, Andrew didn’t know the half of it.
And then he was met with another unexpected stroke of luck. Drew had also volunteered to be one of their liars, and he already had his story lined up. Ironically, it was no more than his usual approach where women were concerned, so for him, it was merely a matter of inserting Emily’s name in the tale. So it merely remained for James to pick a third from one of the actors Jeremy had brought along.
Jeremy was looking forward to the performance that would take place at the Bascombs’, but when he mentioned it, James told him flatly, “You ain’t going along, puppy. Your presence ain’t required and would only give the chit an opportunity to test her own acting skills. The idea here is to surprise her enough that she blunders with her own story.”
Jeremy was forced to accept that, but bloody hell, it wasn’t going to be easy waiting in the wings to find out if the plan would work. But at least Danny could take his mind off it. Indeed, when he was around her, he could barely think of anything else.
It still boggled his mind, the change in her. She enjoyed making love, no doubt about that. Once she got over her objections, it was as if she’d never had any. What bothered him was her approach to their relationship: no ties, no obligations, just mutual enjoyment. It was almost
how she wanted it handled.
Bloody hell, come to think of it, it was almost identical to his own usual approach with the ladies. But for once, he didn’t want it that way. He would have liked to have Danny a little more committed than she wanted to be—well, actually, a lot more. He would have liked to spend more time with her each day than she was willing to give him, and not just in bed. It was becoming damned frustrating that he couldn’t, that he had to keep their relationship a secret to avoid alienating his other household servants. If she were his mistress, he could spend all the time he wanted with her, could dress her accordingly and take her out to the many places where mistresses were acceptable. But she wasn’t the least bit interested in that, much to his chagrin.
But at least she was there, in his house, accessible, well, for the most part. She wasn’t around though when he got home. And when he finally gave up waiting and went down to her room, he heard female laughter coming from inside telling him she wasn’t alone. Bloody hell. So much for their celebrating tonight. Of course, celebrating
a bit premature, when he wasn’t quite out of the muck yet.
ASCOMB TOWN HOUSE
was rather small, but then Lord Bascomb and his lovely wife came to London rarely, and many of the gentry these days were of the new opinion that letting a house sit staffed, but otherwise empty, was a waste of good servants. Of course they wouldn’t admit it was a waste of good coin. That was merely an added bonus of not keeping a town residence. The new trend seemed to lean more toward renting a furnished flat if a trip to London was required, or merely staying in one of the grand hotels if the visit was brief.
Bascomb had business interests in town, which was probably why he kept a town house there. And they were putting it to good use for their daughter’s come-out. And for all that it was small, it was grandly furnished with some exceptionally nice pieces and artwork. The Bascombs were rather rich, after all, just intelligently frugal.
James Malory paid his visit the next morning. He’d sent word the day before that he was coming, so his being kept waiting, and in the small foyer no less, he found rather amusing—for a while.
Albert was at home. The butler had informed James, after letting his master know James had arrived, that Albert was quite busy, so James might wish to return at a more convenient time. James had merely sent the fellow back with the message that he wasn’t leaving.
“Rather rude of him, don’t you think?” Andrew remarked after twenty minutes had passed.
“Probably just an indication that this entire matter has upset him,” Drew suggested.
“I don’t doubt he was upset,” James replied with some annoyance. “Enough to hie off to Haverston and lay it all before my brother Jason.”
“Then perhaps he just feels it’s already settled and would be a waste of time to discuss it further,” Andrew suggested. “Which would again be rather rude of him not to at least say so.”
“Jason might have given him the impression that it was settled,” James allowed. “But I highly doubt it. Jason is good at telling a man what he wants to hear, but not really telling him anything.”
Drew chuckled over that. “Wish I could figure out how that’s done.”
“With finesse, dear boy, a lot of finesse,” James replied. “And you have figured it out, you just use it exclusively with women.”
sort of finesse.” Drew grinned.
Five minutes later James’s patience ran thin and he told the younger men, “Come along, but wait outside the door until I call you.”
The butler, standing guard outside his master’s study, thought to stop James from entering it. It was a brief thought. A good look at James and he decided to open the door instead and announce him.
Albert had been reading some document at his desk. He glanced up and then sighed at the sight of James entering the room. “This really isn’t a good time.”
“So I was informed, though I doubt any time will be a good time for this, distasteful subject that it is. But considering you took this matter to the wrong Malory, you’ll make time, won’t you.”
It wasn’t a question by any means. Albert understood that and set his document aside. James had never met the chap before. He was rather distinguished looking, dark brown hair with lighter shades at the temples suggesting it would soon be gray. James was surprised it wasn’t gray already with a daughter like Emily.
“There really isn’t anything to discuss further, other than a date for the wedding,” Albert insisted. “Have you come to supply that?”
James didn’t answer. He pulled one of several chairs near Albert’s desk to the side of it, so he’d have a good view of the performance when it began. It was a comfortable chair, which was a good thing. He had a feeling this wouldn’t be a brief visit.
The silence unnerved the older man, enough for him to burst out, “Now see here. I
your reputation and I refuse to be bullied.”
James raised a brow. “Come now, old chap. Where d’ye get the idea that I bully? I either ignore or I—well, it won’t come to that, I’m sure.”
A flush rose up Albert’s cheeks. “Then get to the point, Malory. What are you doing here?”
“Well, it’s a strange thing about rumors. They tend to either titillate, amaze, or enrage, depending on one’s perspective and involvement.”
“I’m aware there are rumors of a highly embarrassing nature. Whoever spread them should be shot. But unfortunately, they happen to be true.”
“I beg to differ. It’s fortunate they aren’t true a’tall.”
“So your son intends to deny his responsibility? That’s rather cowardly—”
“You will refrain from slander, Bascomb,” James cut in. “I tend to take that sort of thing personally.”
It was said in the mildest of tones and yet Albert still paled, but then blustered, “This is
grandchild as well as mine that we are discussing.”
“If it were my grandchild, you can be sure we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“The truth will come to light on its own,” Albert said confidently.
“Indeed it will, but it won’t be the truth you’re expecting, and it won’t surface until it’s too late. So I’ve brought you a few other truths to chew on.”
“Is this where you make threats and promise to kill me?” Albert demanded.
James burst out laughing, not because of the question but because it was asked so indignantly. “I don’t know what you’ve heard about me, Bascomb, but it was probably only half true, I do assure you. Another case of rumors not adding up, don’t you know.”
“I doubt that,” Albert mumbled.
“Suit yourself. But as I was saying earlier, because of the rumors currently making the rounds, one of which has Jeremy all but married to your girl, my house was besieged this week by two outraged swains of your daughter’s who weren’t aware that Jeremy has his own residence now. They thought he could be found living with me. There was a third, but he
staying with me, unfortunately. Wife’s relative. Hard to get rid of.”
There was a cough outside the door, but Albert didn’t seem to notice. “And?” he asked with a scowl.
“Well, imagine my surprise when they each insisted that they have more right to marry Emily than Jeremy does, since they got to her first.”
“Got to her? Just what are you implying?”
James lifted a brow again. “Do I really need to get vulgar in my verbiage, Bascomb?”
The man flushed with anger, stood up, and leaned forward, his clenched fists turning white. “If you think you can make these insinuations without the least bit of proof, Lord Malory—”
“And where is
Albert flushed again, but this time because he got the point quite sharply. James let a moment pass for it to sink in more fully, that what Albert had instigated was based purely on the tale his daughter had spun.
James then said, “I would suggest you get your daughter down here to see what she has to say for herself. Actually, I insist.”
“You insist? This subject is unthinkable for a girl of her tender years—”
“Rubbish. The subject is hers, created by her supposed indiscretion. Did you really think you could force my son to marry her and
have her tell her side of the tale to us? And I’ve brought my proof with me, all three gentlemen who claim to know her—very well.”
“And you didn’t bring your son? Why not? If Emily must be subjected to this embarrassment, then I’ll hear what your boy has to say as well.”
“He’ll merely tell you he don’t know the chit a’tall. So what is the point of hearing him say it? You are the one making demands here, Bascomb, not my family. Do keep that in mind.”
Rigidly, Albert marched to the door to tell his man to fetch Emily. Seeing the three strangers there as well, he said curtly, “Come in. I’d prefer to hear what you have to say before my daughter arrives.”
The three filed into the room. Only Drew made himself comfortable in the remaining chair by the desk. Andrew stood stiffly to the side, while the third moved over to one of the windows for better light. Actors always worried about the lighting.
Andrew didn’t appear nervous, merely anxious. James had been surprised to hear that he still wanted the chit for himself. He would have wished him luck in the matter, but luck as he saw it would be that the lad wouldn’t get the conniving chit.
The actor, William Shakes—James was amused every time he said the stage name to himself—was eager to perform. He saw this as an opportunity to test his acting skills on a more personal level. The Bascombs might have seen him perform, however, and recognize him as an actor. Which was why he wasn’t going to lie about who he was.
It was pushing the limit, using the chap. Rather tawdry that a lady of Emily’s stature would consort with a man out of her class. But then Emily Bascomb had deliberately tarnished her reputation beyond repair, so what was one more slip here or there?