Read A Loving Scoundrel Online

Authors: Johanna Lindsey

A Loving Scoundrel (8 page)

Chapter 13

 

J
EREMY WAS SO FURIOUS
he was having a hard time containing it. It was so unusual for him to be angry at a woman, but blackmail! Bloody hell, that would get a saint furious.

It boggled his mind that she had resorted to that, but he should have expected it. She was smart, after all. He wouldn’t have expected that either from someone who came from the slums, but she’d proved it the night of the robbery, when she’d extricated them from a sticky, even somewhat dangerous, situation.

Remembering that he did owe her for that took a small chunk out of his anger, though only a small chunk.

This was absurd. He knew how to handle women. Where was his bloody finesse with this one? He ought to be looking on the bright side. Now that she was going to be living under his roof, he didn’t doubt he’d get her into his bed eventually.

He was nothing if not confident where women were concerned. And this one was rather unique, adorable in her manly togs, amazing in her height, incredibly lovely with those big violet eyes, and not the least bit susceptible to his charms—yet.

She was attracted to him, though. He bloody well knew when a woman was attracted to him. But she gave every indication that it didn’t matter. “Don’t touch me, don’t even get near me” was the subtle message she exuded. Was that partly responsible for his anger? Another first for him. No, he simply didn’t like being blackmailed, and by a wench he’d prefer to be making love to. Bloody hell.

He sighed. The sound brought her out of her pensive state and had her informing him, “I’ll take the maid’s job.”

“Too bad. It would have been amusing watching you bungle your way through as a footman.”

She glared at him. He raised a brow. “You don’t think so? And by the by, you don’t scowl at your employer. You ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, sir,’ ‘Very good, sir,’ and with a smile or no expression a’tall. When you’re my mistress, you can scowl at me all you like.”

She started to snap something at him but turned her back on him instead. A stiff posture, full of indignation and ire.

“Counting to ten, are we?” Jeremy said dryly.

She turned back around, gave him a tight little smile, and gritted out, “Yes, sir.”

He burst out laughing. He simply couldn’t help it. And it removed the rest of his anger for the moment. It was going to prove amusing, after all, her attempt to “better” herself. He supposed he could tolerate being blackmailed as long as the blackmailer was going to end up as his mistress.

Still grinning, he said, “Let’s get you settled then. Shall we start with your name?”

She unbent enough to answer, “It’s Danny.”

“No, I meant your
real
name. If you were sincere about turning over a new leaf, as it were, then you’ll want to start with a clean slate.”

“That
is
my real name,” she replied with a stony stare.

“Truly? It’s not short for Danielle or—?”

“It’s the only name I ’ave any memory of. If I were given another at birth, it ain’t one I’ll ever be knowing.”

Jeremy found himself slightly embarrassed. Of course an orphan might not know her real name, and this one apparently didn’t even have a surname. Deuced odd, to go through life without a last name.

He asked hesitantly, “Would you mind if I called you Danielle?”

“I would mind. I ain’t no Danielle. My friends call me Danny. Since you ain’t one o’ them,
you
can call me Dan.”

She was delightfully amusing in her stubborn adherence to being standoffish. Wouldn’t give an inch, he was guessing. Habit, he was sure. But he supposed she would have had to be defensive, growing up where she did.

“But we
are
going to be friends, dear girl, so I suppose I will get used to Danny. Actually, it’s a nice name, has a nice ring to it.”

“Get over it, mate,” she grouched, then at his raised brow, added, “Sir.”

He grinned. “Very well. On to the next subject then. Have you any dresses in that sack you’re guarding with your life?”

She shook her head. “Just my pet and one change o’ clothes.”

“More pants, I presume?”

“Course more pants,” she said tersely. “I’ve been a boy for fifteen years.”

“Good God, really?”

She was blushing now, profusely.

“Well, you do realize that you picked the job that will require feminine togs? My father might thumb his nose at convention, but I’m not my father. I don’t expect uniforms, though,” he assured her. “No indeed. This is a bachelor residence, and as such, I expect my servants to enjoy working here. No worrying about collars not being stiff enough or wrinkled skirts or the like.”

“I was expecting to wear a dress,” she said stiffly. “Did I mention I ’ave no money?”

“You did, didn’t you?” He grinned again. “Not to worry. My housekeeper will be able to help in that regard and to get you otherwise situated and instructed. Come along. Much as I enjoy your company, I suppose I should turn you over to her now.”

She followed him, but stopped when they reached the bottom of the stairs, told him, “You’ll let her know you hired me? That she can’t fire me? The last time I tried to be a maid, soon as I met the ’ousekeeper I got fired. She didn’t like the way I talked, or looked.”

“I can imagine,” he said dryly.

“No, ye can’t,” she snorted. “Ye’ve never tried to be a maid b’fore.”

“Well, no, I don’t suppose I have.”

“Don’t be laughing at me again, Malory. I won’t tolerate it. And that was in a lower-class ’ousehold, not one up ’ere on the bleedin’ rich end o’ town.”

He wiped the grin off his face. “So you
have
tried honest work before?”

“Never got a chance to. Either got fired quick or couldn’t get ’ired. Can’t read, ye know, which don’t give me many choices for jobs.”

“Would you like to be able to read?” he asked curiously.

“Sure I would, but I’m too bleedin’ old for any schooling now.”

“But you’re never too old to learn. Regardless, you needn’t worry about anyone firing you here. You didn’t exactly get hired under normal means, now did you?”

He was surprised that she actually looked embarrassed by that reminder. She wasn’t going to be easy to deal with. Stepping on eggshells around her came to mind. It was that defensive stance of hers, ingrained, that so easily took offense. And she didn’t have a deferential bone in her body. Cocky guttersnipe was what she was. But that was to be expected from someone who’d never had to deal with their betters before—except to rob them.

“Come along,” Jeremy suggested. “Mrs. Robertson is probably in the back of the house somewhere. You’ll like her. Motherly sort. She—”

He got no further before the front door opened and his cousin Regina barged in. Bad habit, Reggie had, of not knocking. Of course, she did live just down the street, and she did know that he’d yet to find a butler.

She was startled by his presence there in the hall. “Goodness, didn’t expect to find you this quickly. Were you on your way out?”

“No, just getting my new servant situated.”

She looked at Danny then and tossed her a brief smile, but to Jeremy she said, “Well, that settles that.”

He raised a brow at her. “Dare I ask what?”

Reggie sighed. “I came to offer you one of my footmen. Billings returned from his leave of absence. Have to have him back, of course. He’s like family. But that new man who took his place has worked out splendidly, too. But I don’t
need
three foot-men, only two, so I was hoping you could take the new man. But you don’t need two, one will do you fine. And—”

“Hell’s bells, Reggie, don’t write a book about it. Spit it out.”

She gave him a reproachful look. “I was getting to the point. This fellow here is too young to be a butler, so it’s obvious you’ve just hired your footman. Which is perfectly—”

Danny interrupted her this time. “I’ve taken the maid’s job, ma’am. Decided footman would be too easy.”

Reggie blinked at her, then rolled her eyes at Jeremy. “Very funny. I see why you’ve hired him. He’ll amuse you endlessly with drollery like that. Now I must run. I’ve hundreds of things to do today. And don’t forget you’re coming to dinner.”

“I am?”

“You
did
forget!” she said, appalled.

He grinned at her. “No, I’d say you did. This is the first I’m hearing about it.”

“But Nicholas was going to stop by to—famous, I suppose
he
forgot. Well, never mind. Now you do know, so don’t be late. Uncle Tony and Ros will be there. And Drew. Derek and Kelsey, too. I’ve even invited Percy.”

“Drew is back in town?” Jeremy asked in surprise.

She nodded. “His ship docked this morning. And since your father and George are visiting Uncle Jason at Haverston, I imagine Drew will be at loose ends. Though I also expect George will be rushing back to London as soon as she knows her brother is here.”

“So you thought to entertain him?”

“Of course. Your father might still hate his brothers-in-law, but the rest of us like them well enough.”

Jeremy chuckled. “You know he doesn’t hate them. He just— well, doesn’t
like
them. Principle, don’t you know.”

“Yes, just like he doesn’t
like
my husband,” she grouched.

Jeremy laughed. “Well, old Nick did try to get him hanged.”

“So did George’s brothers, but who’s counting,” she huffed on her way out the door.

Jeremy almost felt out of breath after that brief visit. But Reggie was like that, a whirlwind of chatter. He glanced back at Danny to find her looking a bit dazed as well. He imagined all that rapid chatter hadn’t made a bit of sense to her.

Considering the conclusion Reggie had drawn, Percy as well, for that matter, Jeremy asked her curiously, “Am I the only one who sees the woman in you?”

Her lips twisted in disgust. “Aye, you are. It’s the pants. They usually serve me well, but didn’t fool you none.”

He took a step closer, but he only had to glance down a few inches to meet her eyes. “No, I’d guess it’s the height. You’re taller than many men. That’s very rare.”

She broadened the space between them again before she spat out, “Like I can bleedin’ well ’elp that.”

“Don’t get defensive. It’s not a bad thing to be tall. Though come to think of it, Mrs. Robertson will probably have trouble finding you any ready-made clothes. Having you making the beds wearing your—”

He stopped that thought abruptly. Thinking of her near a bed quite undid him.

“Was that yer sister?”

A safe subject, thank God. “No, m’cousin Regina Eden. She and her husband, Nicholas, have a town house just down the street from here, though they are more often at Silverley, his country estate.”

“It were easy to tell ye were related. Yer whole family like that?”

“No, most of the Malorys are big and blond like m’father. There’s just a few of us who took after my great-grandmother’s side, m’self included. Why, I look so much like my uncle Tony that most people who meet us think he’s m’father.”

“Ye look like ye find that amusing.”

“But it is.”

“I’ll bet yer father don’t think so.”

He chuckled. “Course not, but then that’s why it’s amusing.”

Chapter 14

 

D
INNER WAS RELAXED THAT NIGHT
. It usually was when it was just family and close friends. Anthony had to get in a few digs at Reggie’s husband, Nicholas, of course. It was the one thing that James and Anthony Malory were in complete agreement on, that Nicholas Eden, former rakehell, just wasn’t good enough for their favorite niece and never would be. That the brothers had both been notorious rakes themselves before they married didn’t make a bit of difference.

Reggie was special to them. All four Malory brothers had had a hand in raising her after their only sister died. And despite that Reggie so obviously adored her husband, James and Anthony weren’t going to let Nick forget that he’d be dealing with them if he ever hurt her.

But Anthony’s digs tonight were more good-natured than derogatory, and after his wife, Roslynn, kicked him under the table as a gentle reminder to behave, he turned his attention to Jeremy instead.

“So how’s the new residence shaping up? All staffed and furnished and ready for a grand party?”

Jeremy coughed. “Half-staffed, barely furnished, and as for parties, perhaps by the winter season.”

“You have your own place now, Jeremy?” Drew Anderson, his stepmother’s brother, asked in surprise.

Jeremy grinned. “Just. Uncle Tony and m’father decided it was time for me to experience true bachelorhood.”

Anthony coughed now. “Bloody hell, makes it sound like we bought him a license to debauch.”

“I believe he does that very well without a license,” Reggie replied with an impish grin.

“Don’t encourage him, puss,” Anthony scolded. “Charming scamp that he is, the idea was to introduce him to property management in running his own household, to become his own man, as it were.”

“Well, he didn’t need help with that,” Reggie disagreed. “He’s been acting the man since he was twelve.”

“I didn’t mean
that
sort of manly endeavors.”

“Och, Tony, you’re falling for her teasing,” Roslynn chimed in with her soft, Scottish brogue. “We know your intentions were good ones.” Then she teased a bit herself, “Though you do need to leave management out of your excuse, since he’s been helping your brother manage our investments for quite a few years now.”

Jeremy came to Anthony’s rescue this time. “Inspecting rentals, seeing to repairs, and keeping agents honest is quite different from dealing with a household staff.”

“And good servants are so hard to come by, especially those you want to keep,” Reggie added. “By the by, Jeremy, how’s your new footman working out?”

“Actually, I’ll take your man,” Jeremy replied. “Send him round tomorrow.”

“Splendid. But I hope you didn’t let that handsome young lad go just because I offered—”

“No, no, nothing like that.”

Jeremy didn’t bother correcting his cousin about the sex of his new servant. He’d installed Danny as an upstairs maid, so there wasn’t much chance of Reggie coming across her again. And truthfully, he didn’t want to talk about her or explain why he’d hired an ex-thief—well,
hopefully
an ex-thief—to work for him.

Thankfully, the conversation turned in other directions after that, because having been reminded of her, Jeremy became quite distracted with thoughts of his new maid. It was a novel experience, having to deal with two such opposing emotions where she was concerned, anger and desire. The anger he could control, the desire he wasn’t so sure of. The anger should have canceled the desire. But it didn’t, not even a little.

Being distracted around his family had its disadvantages as Jeremy found when he realized Drew Anderson was coming home with him. He wasn’t sure how he got elected to put Drew up until his father and his stepmother returned to town, though it was probably because the whole family knew he and Drew had hit it off well, and now that Jeremy had his own bachelor residence, they figured Jeremy would enjoy the company. Which was true enough.

He liked Drew Anderson. They got along famously, enjoyed the same things, which was women and more women. They’d had some rousing good times together since the Anderson brothers had started coming to London, after their only sister, Georgina, had married into the Malory family. But now was
not
a good time to have a houseguest, and in particular, one as handsome as Drew was.

George had said of her brother once that Drew had a sweetheart in every port he’d ever sailed into, and that was probably true. The second youngest of the five Anderson brothers, Drew was the most devil-may-care of the lot, and at thirty-four, still a fun-loving rogue with no intention of ever limiting himself to just one woman, so matrimony was absolutely out of the question for him. Even seeing how nicely his older brother Warren, confirmed bachelor that he’d been, had settled into marriage with Amy Malory and had never been happier wouldn’t change Drew’s mind. Like Jeremy, he was of the firm opinion that variety was the spice of life, and the more of it the better.

Above average in height at six feet four inches, in prime shape from captaining his own ship for so many years, Drew was definitely a man the ladies cast their eyes toward. With a golden brown mane of curls and eyes so dark it was impossible to guess if they were anything other than black, he was an extremely handsome man—which was why Jeremy
wouldn’t
have invited him to move in, no matter how temporarily, at least not now when a female was under Jeremy’s roof that he had designs on himself.

Which had Jeremy saying as they walked the short distance to his house, “Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer a hotel for a few days, Drew? My house is barely furnished yet. Beds for every bedroom are about all I’ve bought so far. The other rooms are still empty. I’ve even been eating in the kitchen m’self.”

That room at least was filling up nicely, now that he had a cook and had given her carte blanche to get whatever she needed. And his own bedroom was fully furnished, thanks to George’s insisting he take everything from his old room.

Drew chuckled. “A bed is all I need.”

“It’s too early for bed,” Percy added. His house was just a few blocks away, so he was walking with them. “Aren’t we going—”

“Not tonight, Percy,” Drew cut in. “It’s been a busy day for me. Docking is always a headache here with so many ships waiting in line for it. And I also spent a good portion of the day at the Skylark Shipping office and have to return there in the morning.”

“You pulling my leg, old man? Thought all you sailors were eager for some female company after being at sea.”

Drew grinned. “Absolutely, but I’d prefer to seek that sort of entertainment when I’m fresh and thinking of beds as other than objects to sleep in. Tomorrow night?”

“Certainly. Looking forward to it. Jeremy? Are you up for—”

Jeremy decided to interrupt before he was tempted. “I’m due for a good night’s sleep m’self, Percy. Still haven’t caught up from coming home at dawn the other night.”

Mention of their trip out of London to Heddings’s house had Percy agreeing. “Quite right. Now you mention it, bed does sound rather appealing, don’t it?”

Jeremy didn’t go directly to bed himself. As soon as he showed Drew to his room, he went to his own and yanked on the bellpull connected to the servants’ quarters. He hoped his housekeeper had explained to Danny what the bell’s ringing in her room signified. He doubted she’d be asleep this early, then again, she could be.

Actually, it might work to his advantage if she was and the bell woke her. Danny, soft and drowsy, had him thinking of things other than showing her what a lazy employer could be like. Waiting on him hand and foot had been the plan, but not if she was susceptible to his charms instead. He’d have to play it by ear, retribution or some immense pleasure.

She must have been awake because she arrived soon enough to indicate she hadn’t needed to dress first. He’d been undressing down to just his shirt and pants when she rapped loudly on the door. He opened it quickly and yanked her inside before Drew investigated the noise.

“ ’Ere now,” she objected, and jerked her arm out of his grasp.

“Keep it down. I have company across the hall.”

She raised a brow, indicating she wasn’t quite buying that excuse. “Wot are ye wanting then?”

Apparently having secured a job, a roof over her head, and food just down the hall hadn’t improved her disposition any. But she appeared to regret her choice of words immediately because she broadened the distance between them.

Jeremy knew well that to say what he really wanted would be a serious mistake at this point. She wasn’t ready to hear it. His expression said it though, something he couldn’t seem to control when he was near her.

But to put her at ease for the moment, he quickly replied, “I need a new bottle of brandy. You’ll find a stock of them in the pantry.”

“Ye called me up ’ere for that?” she asked incredulously.

“When ye could’ve fetched it yerself?”

His eyes widened innocently. “Why ever would I do that, when I have a maid now?”

She started to snarl something, but snapped her mouth shut and left to get the brandy. Jeremy had a hard time keeping the grin off his face, but managed it before she returned a few minutes later, brandy in hand.

He’d made himself comfortable in one of the chairs by the fireplace. She approached and shoved the bottle toward him. He merely nodded toward the mantel where the empty bottle sat.

“Pour me a glass while you’re there,” Jeremy said, then continued derisively, “And I hope I don’t need to add, bring it to me?”

She made a sound of impatience rather loudly and dumped nearly a third of the bottle in the snifter, much more than was needed. It was a large snifter. She obviously didn’t know any better.

He sighed, showing some impatience of his own with her ineptitude, and instructed, “No more’n an inch next time.”

Her back stiffened as she turned with the snifter in hand. It was a wonder the brandy didn’t slosh all over him, she thrust it at him so forcefully. Too bad. He would have had her clean it up. The thought of her leaning close and dabbing a cloth over his chest was quite delectable.

“You might as well turn the bed down while you’re here,” he suggested. “Mrs. Robertson did explain your duties to you, didn’t she?”

“Not yet, though I doubt bed turning is one o’ them.”

“Of course it is, and I’ll expect to find it done each evening. You’ll catch on soon enough, I’m sure. By the by, how did it go with Mrs. Robertson after I left you in her care? Any trouble? You did seem to have some fears in that regard.”

She seemed to relax slightly with the new subject and, with a shrug, headed toward the bed to yank down the covers. “She’s a nice old bird, she is. She had me repeating m’self a few times until she got used to my speech, but she didn’t seem to mind it.”

“Danny, Danny,” he sighed. “Look at the mess you’ve made. Turning down the bed is done neatly, not as if you’re changing the bedding. I expect to slip under the sheets, not fight to find them.”

She blushed over the scolding, but she didn’t balk at trying again. That surprised him. She’d blackmailed her way into the job, so she didn’t really have to take it seriously. Apparently she was going to though, which opened up numerous possibilities that he would find enjoyable, but she probably wouldn’t.

“Don’t forget to fluff the pillow, too,” he ordered.

She stiffened again just before she slammed a fist down in the center of his pillow. Jeremy had to bite back a laugh. Retribution was
so
sweet.

“My boots now.”

She glanced at him with a nervous frown and slipped back into her slang. “Wot about them?”

“Come help me get them off.”

She didn’t move, sounded quite nervous again when she asked,

“Don’t ye ’ave a man for that? Wot’s the position called?”

“A valet. And, no, don’t need one. I have you—to see to such minor details.”

She closed her eyes. He thought he even heard a groan, though he wasn’t quite sure. Was it the pause? Was he actually getting to her, despite her disagreeable mood? His own blood was warming. Seeing her next to his bed made him want to see her
in
it.

“Come here,” he said, his voice turning sensual.

Her eyes opened wide, but she still wouldn’t approach him. He supposed he’d made her too nervous.

To alleviate her fears for the moment, he glanced at his feet and reminded her, “My boots? I’d like to get to bed
some
time tonight and without them.” She
still
didn’t move, so he said tersely, “Need I remind you that you wanted,
insisted,
on having this job?”

That got her moving. She fairly flew across the room to grab hold of one of his boots and started yanking on it. It wasn’t coming off that way, of course. She tugged and yanked some more. It still wasn’t budging from his foot.

He finally said dryly, “I suppose you don’t know how to do this either?”

“I do,” she said in her own defense. “I was just hoping you nabobs wore boots that came off easy.”

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