A Loving Scoundrel Page 16

Because it was only going to be family and close friends, Anthony and Roslynn’s young daughter, Judith, had been allowed to come to dinner. With such handsome parents, it was small wonder that Judy, as she was called, was such a beautiful child. She had her mother’s red-gold hair and those amazing cobalt blue eyes that her father, Regina, and Jeremy possessed. She was precocious, too, and quite frank in her remarks, as children tended to be.

She came over to Danny before dinner was served and after staring up at her for a few moments said candidly, “You’re very pretty.”

“So are you.”

“I know.” But the girl sighed as she said it, as if she wasn’t pleased by it. “I’m told it will give m’father grief when I grow up.”

“Why?”

“Because of all the suitors I’ll have.”

“So many?” Danny asked.

“Yes, hundreds and hundreds. Uncle James doesn’t think m’father will be able to deal with it very well. Thinks he’ll make a”— she paused to lean forward and whisper—“bloody arse of himself.”

Danny choked back a laugh. “But what d’you think?”

“I think Uncle James might be right.”

Danny couldn’t help but laugh and wished she had better restraint. She ended up drawing every eye in the room to her. She could have withstood that, despite the embarrassment it caused, except that she’d drawn Jeremy’s eyes, too.

He’d been making the rounds, chatting with each of his family as he or she arrived, and doing a good job of ignoring Danny at her station next to the door. But he wasn’t ignoring her now and his eyes were fairly eating her. And they were all talking about her now. She knew it, sensed it, even caught a snippet of conversation here and there, though not enough to figure out what they were saying about her. It was highly embarrassing to know she had temporarily become the center of attention.

Across the room, Anthony whispered to Jeremy, “Get her set up in her own place. It will cause dissent among your servants when it’s found out that you’re bedding her. Jason might have gotten away with it for over twenty-five years, bedding his housekeeper, but he had a secret entrance to Molly’s room. Doubt this house has it set up so conveniently.”

“I’m not, bedding her that is.”

“What a whopper,” Anthony chuckled. “You wouldn’t pass up a prime article like her.”

“Don’t intend to,” Jeremy grumbled. “It just ain’t happened yet.”

Anthony lifted a black brow. “Losing your finesse, dear boy?”

Jeremy frowned. “I’m beginning to think so. I have to constantly remind m’self that she’s unique.”

“Uniquely beautiful, I couldn’t agree more. But that isn’t what you meant, is it?”

“No. As it happens, there isn’t a bloody thing about her that can be called typical. Her background, her habits, everything about her isn’t what you’d expect.”

“She can’t be that far off the mark, youngun,” Anthony disagreed.

“You’d be surprised. Yesterday she talked like a street urchin. Today I caught her talking like an English tutor! And she thinks like a man. In fact, until a few days ago, she wore pants for most of her life. But as soon as she gets into a skirt, she wants a husband,” Jeremy added on a mumble.

Anthony coughed. “You?”

“No, she knows I’m a confirmed bachelor, which is why she’ll have nothing to do with me. She wants arespectable husband.”

Anthony laughed. “Well, the pants part convinced me, but now we’re back to typical. Most women do want respectable husbands.”

Jeremy raised a brow. “When she’s not the least bit respectable herself?”

“Ah, I see. Trying to move up in the world, is she? Well, if you really don’t stand a chance of winning her over, then perhaps you should consider getting rid of her, to avoid temptation as it were.”

Jeremy finally grinned. “Malorys don’t give up that easily.”

In another corner, Edward asked his wife, “Does the maid look familiar to you?”

“Can’t say that she does,” Charlotte replied.

Edward’s brow knitted. “Can’t place her, yet it seems Ishould know her.”

“So you’ve probably seen her in passing, perhaps on the street or in one of the shops. Pretty gel like that would make an impression.”

“I suppose.” He sighed. “Though it’s going to nag me now until I recall where I’ve seen her before.”

By the fireplace, Travis remarked to his brother with a sigh very like his father’s, “I suppose Jeremy’s already staked his claim.”

Marshall chuckled. “Course he has. Damned if I’d make her play the part of maid, though.”

“Maybe she likes being a maid.”

“More likely she hasn’t realized yet that she don’t need to lift a finger to do anything other than keep our cousin happy. That lucky dog.Where does he find all these beauties? I never see him at a gathering that the prettiest gel there isn’t trying to gain his attention. Emily Bascomb has set her cap for him, of course, and she bowled me over, she did,” Marshall confessed. “Was considering courting her, even had her interest—until our cousin showed up and caught her eye.”

“I know what you mean,” Travis said. “Wish Jeremy would get married already. Deuced hard to get anywhere with the ladies, with him around. Had the same problem with Derek before he married.”

“We’ll be old and gray before Jeremy ever considers marriage. Damned if I would either if I looked like him and had women throwing themselves at me all the time.”

And in the center of the room, sitting on one of the two new sofas, Regina said to Kelsey, “Can’t imagine what Jeremy is thinking, to install her in his house. I think Uncle James is going to have to have a talk with him, about flouting convention.”

“Itis a bachelor residence, m’dear.”

“Yes, I know, and if he wants to keep his mistress here, I doubt the servants would raise a brow. And as long as he’s discreet about it, it won’t make the gossip mills. But he’s hired her to his staff, so there will be problems in the lower quarters.He might not have to deal with that, but the poor girl will.”

Kelsey patted Regina’s hand. “I think you should let him muddle through this one on his own. He’s never had his own servants before. He’ll get the hang of it. His father and uncle certainly did. Notorious rakes that they were, I’m sure they ran smooth households.”

If Danny knew that every Malory in the room thought that she was Jeremy’s mistress, she wouldn’t have been embarrassed, she would have been furious—and caused a scene guaranteed to get her fired, blackmail or not. But she was blissfully unaware of the conclusions that the Malorys had reached about her. And although shedid guess that she was being talked about, which embarrassed her, Percy’s arrival took her mind off it.

He stopped by her as he entered the room, frowned for a moment, then said. “Ah, I have it! Twins. Met your brother. First-rate chap. Did me a good turn, for which I shall be eternally grateful.”

Danny wasn’t sure what to say to that. Correct the mistake he’d just made and risk having him blurt out that she’d been wearing pants a few days ago?

Jeremy saved her from having to answer at all. He knew what Percy was capable of spilling and obviously didn’t want it spilled in front of his family.

“You’re late, old chap. Barely enough time for a drink before dinner. Come along and we’ll fix that.”

“Don’t need a drink,” Percy replied. “Looking forward to finding out if you got lucky with a cook, though. But by the by,where did you find the twin sister of our little cutpurse? Don’t tell me you went even deeper into that den of thieves than the tavern we found that night?”

Since Jeremy had already led Percy halfway into the room, there weren’t many who didn’t hear what he’d just said. Jeremy put his hands over his eyes with a groan.

Danny decided it was a good time to go see if dinner was ready to be served.

Chapter 20

TRUSDYER’S LUCKwas improving already. He’d given the matter a good deal of thought, several days’ worth, and had decided if he was going to kill the wench proper he ought to get paid for it proper this time. He wasn’t going to be greedy about it. Getting his luck back was the better reward. But as long as he was going to kill her anyway, why not get paid for it as well, he’d reasoned.

So he went to find the lord who’d wanted her dead. He remembered where he lived. He hadn’t been sure he would, as he had only been there twice before. But he recognized the house. And the lord was at home.

That’s where his luck was improving, because the chatty servant who let him in told him that his master lived in the country now and rarely came to London anymore, perhaps only once or twice a year. That he’d just arrived a few days ago for a brief stay to conduct some business left Tyrus incredulous that he could get so lucky. In fact, the lord was due to return to the country in the morning. Another day of debating and Tyrus would have missed him completely.

Of course, the nabob might not see him when he heard his name. They had parted association with bad feelings, after all, because of Tyrus’s failure. The man might even try to kill him again. But Tyrus reasoned that incident had been spawned by anger, and the lord had had fifteen years to calm down about it.

He was made to wait though, for nearly three hours. Deliberate he didn’t doubt. But he wasn’t leaving, if that was what the lord was hoping he’d do. He was going to demand a lot of money to finish the job he’d been hired to do all those years ago. That was worth a little wait.

The hour was approaching midnight when the servant finally came to take him to his master. He was in an officelike room toward the back of the house, sitting behind a desk. Standing on either side of him were two men who looked like street thugs. Tyrus’s palms began to sweat.

He had to wonder now if he’d been fooling himself. Perhaps he wasn’t as lucky to find the lord at home as he’d first thought. Had he been kept waiting so those thugs could be summoned to kill him?

Before the lord could give an order to have him removed, permanently, Tyrus blurted out, “Wouldn’t ’ave come ’ere if I didn’t think you’d want to ’ere wot I ’ave to say.”

“Sit down, Mr. Dyer.”

Tyrus let out a sigh of relief and grinned cockily as he took the seat across from the desk. The two thugs, though they kept their eyes on him, were expressionless. “You remember me, do you?”

“Unfortunately, I do, at least your name. I must admit I wouldn’t have recognized you. Your appearance has changed drastically, hasn’t it?”

Tyrus’s lips twisted in annoyance. The nabob was referring to his hair, of course. Forty-two years old, not a wrinkle on his face, yet his hair had turned pure gray a number of years ago. While the nabob hadn’t changed much at all. He must be nearly fifty now himself, yet looked much younger.

“Runs in the family,” Tyrus lied. “You’ve faired well, m’lord?”

“Extremely well—no thanks to you.”

Tyrus wasn’t sure if he should be relieved to hear that. If the nabob wasn’t desperate anymore to get rid of the girl, then he wouldn’t be paying for it. But on the other hand, if his pockets were pleasantly plump these days, then he might just pay even more than Tyrus had planned to demand, to get the job finished.

“The hour is late,” the lord said tiredly. “State your business, Mr. Dyer.”

Tyrus nodded. “I’ve found the girl, the one that got away. She’s still alive.”

“Yes, I know.”

Tyrus’s hopes just plummeted. “You know?”

“There was a commotion on the street the other day near my bank. I was close enough to see what the trouble was. Couldn’t quite believe my eyes to find the girl the cause of it.”

“I know wot you mean. Doubted m’sight, too.”

“I’d almost forgotten about her. I would have had her declared dead all those years ago when she never surfaced, but I got—convinced—that wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“You didn’t follow ’er?”

“Certainly I did, but I lost sight of her a few blocks away.”

“I didn’t. I know where she lives.”

The lord had been sitting back, giving the impression he wasn’t all that interested in the subject. He sat forward abruptly now, causing Tyrus’s hopes to soar again.

“Where?”

Tyrus chuckled. “You don’t think I’ll be giving you that sort o’ information for free, d’you?”

The lord sat back again, gestured at his two companions, who immediately started moving around the desk. Tyrus nearly knocked his chair over in his haste to get out of it. He nearly fell, but recovered nicely and came up with a pistol in his hand. The thugs stopped immediately as he waved the gun between them. They weren’t expressionless now, they were looking quite angry.

Nervously, Tyrus demanded, “If you still want ’er dead, I’ll be doing it, and you’ll be paying me twice wot you promised before, ’alf now and ’alf when I tell you where the body is. I ain’t taking no chances wi’ you this time, m’lord.”

The man laughed. “Not a penny without results. You’ve already proved how incompetent you are, Mr. Dyer. You’ll have your payment, but only if you succeed this time.”

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