A Loving Scoundrel Page 26

Danny didn’t mind the loss of the new maid. She still didn’t really have enough to do to keep herself busy for the entire day. Even with the downstairs added to her list of duties, she was finished long before dinner. And with Drew moving over to his sister’s house for the duration of his visit, all but one of the upstairs bedrooms was empty, which meant less work for Danny up there.

Then there was Jeremy. Ifhe had his way, she’d be spending most of each day in his room. If she had her druthers, she would, too. But she had to draw the line somewhere, and lazing the day away in his bed didn’t get her work done. As it was, if he found her upstairs when he awoke, he usually got his way. She was a pushover when it came to his style of persuasion. That sexy voice of his lowered to a deep timbre when he was aroused, and his expression promised such wicked delights. Hell, just looking at him was all the persuasion she needed, he was so bleeding handsome. So although she had determined not to make love with him every single day, she was doing just that, and one day, more’n once.

He wanted her to sleep with him each night, too, but she managed to dredge up enough willpower to find her own bed each night. Actually, it was more like escape to her room before she ran into him again. And even then, he came down to her one night and spent the night in her bed. She hadn’t really had the least desire to kick him out. But shehad insisted he not do that again. And much to her own frustration, he didn’t.

She’d had to do some serious thinking about staying. Doing so meant she’d have to put her goals aside for the time being. That wasn’t going to be easy, when she wanted them so bad. But she’d reasoned a month wouldn’t be too long a delay, and during that time she’d be saving her pay, so when she did leave, she could afford to let a flat while she looked for a new job.

When she did leave—God, that was going to be so hard. Never see Jeremy again? The thought nearly brought tears to her eyes now, how much worse would it be a month from now? But what if he fell in love with her during that month? It wasn’t an impossible notion. She could fit into his world, she’d proved that the night of the ball. He might even defy convention and marry her then. And that was the deciding factor that convinced her to stay for now. That slim hope, that Jeremy could be more than just a temporary diversion, that he could be the man for her.

Jason Malory wasn’t alone when he arrived. Jeremy’s father was with him. The two brothers looked very much alike. The elder was a few inches taller, but they were both big, blond, handsome men. Jason was a little narrower of build, whereas James’s arms and chest were more muscular, reminding Danny of some of the brutes she’d watched in street fights.

James Malory still frightened her, more than any other man ever had, and for no good reason that she could think of. The overall feeling she got in his presence was that he’d as soon kill you as talk to you. Which was why Danny kept her back to them both after a single glance.

Fortunately, she’d learned the phenomenon of being “invisible” to the nobles. Mrs. Robertson tried to explain it to her one night. The upper crust, living in houses full of servants, tended go about their daily lives without “seeing” the underlings who worked around them all day, every day. Unless, of course, one of the nobles wanted something, then every single servant in the house would become visible to them again.

It was the case with these two Malorys—she hoped. And it seemed to be when she heard the elder ask as they entered the parlor, “By the by, who is this relative of Kelsey’s that I’ve been hear ing so much about since I got to town? Didn’t think she had any that I didn’t know about. Is Jeremy really courting her?”

Danny sucked in her breath. That she was the subject of their conversation appalled her. She’d never get out of there unnoticed now. And the Marquis of Haverston wasn’t likely to take lightly the scam they’d pulled off. He’d probably be furious with them all for duping the ton like that. Nor did James try to avoid answering.

“No, she’s just one of Regan’s inventions, conjured up to try to counter the Bascomb rumors.”

“Blister it, James, must you—”

“Give over, old man,” James cut in dryly. “It’s just a bloody habit, calling her that. Wouldn’t hurt for you to accept the fact that she’s Regina, Reggie,and Regan.”

“You forgot Eden.”

“Intentionally, I do assure you.”

Jason sighed. “And that’s another thing. It’s high time you and Tony let up on Nick already. He’s made her an exemplary husband.”

“Course he has. We’d kill him otherwise.”

Danny’s blood turned cold, but Jason was apparently going to ignore that remark altogether and asked again, “So there is no such relative?”

“No,” James replied. “Just a wench our niece found who’s much prettier than the Bascomb chit. She didn’t have very far to look.”

“Prettier? I was told Emily Bascomb is a raving beauty. That was the excuse I’ve been hearing for why Jeremy couldn’t keep his hands off her.”

“My son picks his women well, which is why you haven’t heard of any more scandals from him since he finished school. I already told you he ain’t touched her. You didn’t need to hear it from him.”

Danny held her breath, though it still seemed as if they hadn’t really noticed her. But at least James hadn’t stated that the “wench” who had been found was a mere maid. Now if she could just slowly work her way to the door and disappear for real. She started inching in that direction, still keeping her back to them.

“So her father actually went all the way to Haverston to pay you a visit?” James asked next.

“Yes, and I don’t mind telling you, that was a very embarrassing conversation, particularly since I had no prior warning about these scandalous rumors that have been making the rounds.”

“Rumors the lady started herself, and all lies,” James assured him.

“Be that as it may, you know very well the damage a few rumors can do, lies or not. The girl’s reputation is quite ruined now.”

James actually laughed at that point. “When she ruined it, and deliberately, mind you? Since when do we dig strangers out of the holes they dig for themselves? This is her father’s problem, not yours, not mine, and certainly not Jeremy’s, who’s barely even spoken two words to the chit.”

“It became our problem when it’s simply her word against his.”

“Then why don’t you let me see to this?” James suggested mildly.

“How? By shooting the chap?”

“Think you have me pigeonholed, do you?”

“I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”

James nodded, accepting the apology. Danny caught that as she moved a few more inches toward the door. But then Jeremy burst into the room, having been fetched by Henry. He managed to notice her first with no difficulty and even gave her a smile that shehoped his relatives didn’t notice.

But then he said, “Hell’s bells, I hope this visit ain’t what it looks like, Uncle Jason.”

Jason Malory cleared his throat. “Albert Bascomb came to Haverston yesterday.”

Jeremy groaned and dropped down on the nearest sofa. “Whatever he told you, it’s all lies.”

“So your father has informed me,” Jason replied.

James added for Jeremy’s benefit, “The chit has played her last card and painted the foulest picture of you, youngun, that you seduced her, promised her marriage, then tossed her aside as soon as you got what you wanted from her—and that she’s now pregnant with your child.”

“I knew she was already hinting at that. But if she is pregnant, it ain’t mine. I never touched the wench, never eventhought about touching her. Not that it matters, when she’s obviously convinced her father.”

“I see you already understand the gravity of the situation,” Jason replied. “And to make matters worse, Albert Bascomb was a school chum of mine. Wasn’t well liked. Full of himself, if you know what I mean. He made a remarkable marriage, though. Courted a beauty in his neighborhood before she had a chance for a London season and got her to marry him. They had only the one child.”

“And spoiled her rotten. I already know most of that. Reggie’s good at ferreting out that sort of information and passing it on.”

“Well, what you may not know is Bascomb, through his wife, has some very high connections.”

“So what you’re saying is I’ll have to marry the wench?” Jeremy said.

“As a temporary measure. After it’s proven that she isn’t pregnant, we’ll get it annulled, of course. So you will have to ‘continue’ to keep your hands off of her.”

Considering the turn the conversation had taken, Danny couldn’t help but turn and stare at Jeremy. He looked despondent, as if he had already accepted his fate. She looked despondent as well, though she didn’t know it. Jeremy married was Jeremy out of her reach, and she hadn’t gotten nearly enough of him yet to satisfy her craving. Whether it was a marriage in name only or not, it still meant he’d be off-limits to her. And she wasn’t about to stick around and deal with his wife, either.

James Malory didn’t look despondent, he looked like hell warmed over. “You really should have mentioned these were your thoughts on the matter before we got here, Jason. You know bloody well I won’t allow my son to be thrown to the wolves, as it were. Bascomb never should have gone to you in the first place. You ain’t the boy’s father.”

“He probably came to me because of our prior association. And he knows your reputation. Frankly, the idea of his bringing this matter to you probably scared him to death.”

James snorted. Jeremy sighed and said, “The problem is that Lord Bascomb is quite convinced I’m the culprit here. And he’s convinced because he believes his daughter. Which is understandable. Why wouldn’t he, after all?”

Danny took the moment of silence that followed that remark to blurt out, “Then he’ll just have to be unconvinced, won’t he?”

“How?” Jeremy asked her, having no trouble including her in the conversation as if she’d been in it from the start. “I’ve already disputed it. Fat lot of good that did.”

“The lady has based her scheme on a lie, so why don’t you counter it with some lies o’ your own, eh?” Danny suggested logically.

As if he’d also known she was there all along, James replied, “How’s that going to help? It’s still her word against Jeremy’s.”

Danny was even more nervous, having to speak to James directly, particularly since he was still frowning. But for Jeremy’s sake, she got out, “Weren’t thinking o’ having Jeremy do the countering. No, that wouldn’t do a’tall. It’s her lie against his truth, after all. But what if it were her one lie against two others—hmmm, no, make that three others for good measure?”

“What the deuce is she talking about?” Jason demanded of no one in particular.

Danny had no trouble answering the elder Malory. “Well, it’s a matter of a child now, aye? She says it’s his. You know it ain’t. But I’m guessing there’s no child a’tall. There’s no way to prove that though, is there, least not for four or five months down the road, and she wouldn’t be waiting for the wedding that long, would she now? And she could always lie again later and say she’d lost the babe—after she’s married to Jeremy, of course.”

“So where do these other ‘three’ come into play?” Jason asked.

“Three other men who claim they’ve bedded her. She’ll deny it, but even she will see that three to one ain’t good odds. Can you think of three men who would lie for you, mate?” she asked Jeremy directly.

“Certainly, but—damn me, that just might work,” he said with a wide grin.

James started chuckling. “Indeed, dear boy, especially if all three confront her at the same time, with her father present to hear it. Brilliant solution, indeed it is. Surprised I didn’t think of it m’self.”

“I believe I shouldn’t be hearing any of this,” Jason said with a stern look, but then gave his younger brother a barely discernible nod of approval and added, “I’ll leave it in your capable hands, James.”

“Thought you might.” James grinned.

Jason prepared to leave, but he stopped by Danny on the way out. He studied her face for a few moments, a frown growing on his brow.

He couldn’t have helped notice the duster in her hand, yet he said to her, “You are familiar to me, though I can’t seem to figure out why. Have we met before?”

“Not that I recall, m’lord.”

“Worked at Edward’s house, did you? Or Reggie’s? Is that where I’ve seen you?”

“No, this is m’first time working as a maid, anywhere.”

“Odd. It’s going to bother me now, till I recall where I’ve seen you.”

Danny was starting to get uncomfortable. She hoped she’d never robbed the bloke, but it was possible. She doubted it, though. When she used to pick pockets, she’d rarely picked men of his size, who would have had an easy time keeping up with her if she’d had to flee. And he had a presence she wasn’t likely to forget.

James must have been having the same thoughts because as soon as Jason left, he said to her, and in a most derogatory manner, “Lightened his pocket at some point in your previous career, did you?”

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