A Loving Scoundrel Page 27

She blushed. Jeremy came quickly to her defense though. “Don’t start in on her. She just saved me from a marriage made in hell. I’m bloody well pleased with her at the moment.”

James rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. “You’ve been bloody well pleased with her since you found her. Be that as it may, her contribution to saving your arse does deserve some praise, but you ain’t saved yet. So round up your three liars and bring them to me. I’ll drill them on what they’re to say, and what will happen if they muck it up.” And then on his way out the door: “But for God’s sake, don’t pick Percy for one of them.”

Danny was able to relax immediately after James left, even grinned at Jeremy. “Does your whole family distrust your friend Percy?”

“Not a’tall. They love Percy, ’deed they do, they justknow him. I’ve no doubt had he been at the ball last week, he would have blurted out, ‘Good God, Jeremy, what’s your maid doing here!’ ”

She giggled. “He wouldn’t have.”

“Oh, he would, you may depend upon it. So we were damned lucky he was off in Cornwall for a couple days buying new horse-flesh and missed that ball.”

“Not that our performance that night did much good,” she reminded him with a sigh.

He shrugged, but he also grinned. “Don’t worry about it, luv. We might not have accomplished the original goal, but we had fun trying.”

And a lot more fun afterward, but she didn’t point that out because he was already looking as if he had some of that fun on his mind now, when he should only be thinking about collecting some friends who were willing to lie for him. She hoped her suggestion would work, she really did. Jeremy would end up getting married if it didn’t work. And she’d be looking for a new job.

Chapter 33

DANNY WAITED ANXIOUSLYto find out how Jeremy’s search had gone. When he came home that day, he didn’t look discouraged, but he hadn’t had much luck in rounding up three friends, at least, not on the spur of the moment. Most of his old school chums apparently didn’t live in London and didn’t visit often either. And he’d had only one thing to say about the young rakehells that he and Percy chummed about with who did live in London.

“Wouldn’t trust a single one of them to keep his mouth shut about this matter after it’s resolved.”

And that would ruin the entire scheme if Lord Bascomb heard about it later. Which was why Danny suggested, “Then maybe you shouldn’t be looking for friends, but some men who lie for a living.”

“I hope you don’t mean of the criminal variety?”

She gave him a disgusted look that he’d think of that before anything else. “No, I meant actors, of course. It’s their job to be convincing in the roles they play, ain’t it? So they’re good at lying—well, that is, if they’re any good at acting.”

“Damn me, they are, aren’t they? Think I’ll pay a visit to the theater district. And we should celebrate tonight, maybe a night on the town. I owe you for all these splendid ideas you’ve been coming up with, luv, ’deed I do.”

“I don’t know about that,” she replied doubtfully, but he was already back out the door, so she wasn’t sure if he’d heard her or not.

A night on the town? She had no idea exactly what that entailed, but she had a good idea she wouldn’t have the proper clothes for going out with a nabob. The ball gown had been returned to Regina, only to have it returned back to her since it no longer fit the petite lady. But still, that was an outfit for only a grand occasion, not for a night of gallivanting around London.

She finished her work early that day. Nervous anticipation helped to speed her along. With nothing else to do, she offered to help Claire with her chores in the kitchen. She hoped it would improve the girl’s attitude as well, since Claire had been decidedly frosty to her lately. Not that she’d ever been chummy, but still, there’d been a noticeable difference. It didn’t help, though she did finally find out why Claire was displaying such dislike for her now.

As soon as Mrs. Appleton left the room for a short break, after she got dinner started, Claire hissed at Danny, “You’re such a slut. I knew you’d end up in his bed. You’re just too pretty.”

Danny was stunned, but only for a moment. She was too pretty? She gave Claire a critical look and finally replied, “You’re not a slouch yourself, Claire. Well, you are, but I think you try to be. Why is that?”

Not surprisingly, Claire took offense and slammed down the knife she’d been paring the potatoes with. “None of your damn business.”

Danny shrugged and continued cutting her share of the potatoes. “Course it ain’t, but neither is what I do your business, so why’d you remark on it, eh?”

“It’s wicked what you’re doing.”

Danny laughed. “In whose opinion? So I’ve been having a little fun with the nabob. Inmy opinion that ain’t wicked as long as it’s only with him. Might ’ave took me a while to figure that out, but I finally did. And it’s only my opinion that counts. ’Sides, he ain’t married. I ain’t married. So who’s getting hurt by it?”

“You will,” Claire said simply.

That sobered Danny real quick. She’d already figured out that much for herself. He’d get tired of her eventually. She hoped she’d get tired of him about the same time, but the way she felt about him, she seriously doubted she would. But shewas going to leave in a few months, to get on with her life and to find a man who would want to marry her, not one who never wanted to get married at all.

With a sigh she said, “I pro’bly will. But that’s my concern, not yers.”

“Yours,” Claire corrected.

Danny stiffened. She’d made so many mistakes with her speech in the parlor today that having it mentioned now had been bound to set her off. “Is every bleedin’ person in this house going to correct me now?”

Claire assumed an offended stance again. “I thought you wanted to learn proper?”

“I do, but it ain’t easy, thinking every word out o’ my head, you know.”

“Which is why reminders are necessary, so it becomes habit, rather than a chore.”

The logic of that was too accurate to dispute. Danny even vaguely recalled Lucy doing the same thing when she’d taught her to talk like her all those years ago. Danny just wished she didn’t mess up when she got nervous or upset, but Lucy had done a good job of drumming that “fancy talk,” as she’d called it, out of her.

“I’m sorry,” Claire added. “I didn’t mean to change the subject.”

Danny couldn’t help laughing at that, considering the subject that had been changed had been what Claire called Danny’s “wicked” behavior. “You should try being so wicked. It improves the disposition greatly.”

She’d been joking, to show there were no hard feelings, but Claire amazed her with the reply “I did.”

“And?”

Such a long silence followed, Danny was sure Claire wasn’t going to explain. But then she said, “I got to know my last employer well, too well. It led to the worst grief imaginable.”

Danny wasn’t sure what to say. Worst grief imaginable was an odd way to describe a broken heart, so maybe…

“Did he die?” she asked hesitantly.

Claire snorted at that. “Don’t I wish.”

Danny frowned. “So you hate him now?”

“No, I can’t really say that I do. I’m not even surprised by what he did. If I want to be completely unselfish, then I can’t even say I’m sorry for what he did.”

“Blimy, what’d he do?”

Another long silence followed. Claire seemed to be fighting with herself, on whether to say any more. And the subject was obviously painful to her. Moisture had gathered in her eyes.

Danny was about to say forget it when Claire said, “It was just one time. A mistake. It shouldn’t have happened. I didn’t even like it—well, not all of it. And I shouldn’t have got a child fromjust one time, but I did.”

Good God, she’d had a baby and it died. No wonder she’d mentioned grief.

“Claire, you don’t need to—”

“I was happy about the child,” Claire continued, as if Danny hadn’t spoken. “I didn’t think I would be, but my life was an end less round of work and sleep, with nothing out of the ordinary ever happening to me. The child could have changed that, would have, too, if—if—”

Claire was crying in earnest now, though silently, large tears rolling down her cheeks. Danny didn’t know whether to try to hug her, when they weren’t close at all, or leave for now, so Claire could work on composing herself. Her urge was to hug her when so much grief was just pouring out of her.

Danny started to, then thought better of it again. Theyreally weren’t close, and Claire might take it the wrong way, might be completely offended if Danny offered sympathy. After all, the girl had given every indication of disliking her from the very beginning.

She opted instead to press more, thinking Claire might feel better if she talked about it. Maybe she’d never had anyone to grieve with her, to help her share her loss. It did seem as if she’d kept all this grief to herself.

“How did it die?” Danny finally asked.

Claire blinked and stared at her, a frown forming. “Die? He didn’t die. They stole him from me.”

Danny stared now. “Eh?”

“His lordship didn’t believe the child was his, at first. He’d scoffed and said some really nasty things that boiled down to ‘one time doesn’t make babies.’ That’s what I’d thought, too, but I’d found out differently firsthand. But I wasn’t going to try to convince him. I didn’t want him to acknowledge the child or anything like that. I was mostly worried I was going to lose my job over it. And the rest of the staff did scorn me for getting with child without a husband to show for it.”

“So you left?”

“No, I wish I had. But my aunt was still there. She’d gotten me the job, just like she did here.”

“Here?”

“Didn’t you know?” Claire asked. “Mrs. Appleton, she’s my aunt.”

Danny didn’t know, and the two women bore no resemblance at all, so she wouldn’t have guessed. But she was more interested in the girl’s story and asked, “What happened after the child was born?”

“His lordship’s sisters came to see the baby. He’d mentioned it to them, you see, that I’d tried to pretend it was his. I don’t know why he bothered to tell them.”

“Maybe he thought you’d go to them about it and he wanted to warn them not to believe you.”

“Possibly, though I wouldn’t have. They weren’t very nice ladies, either of them, so going to them about anything was unthinkable. Two bitter old maids was what they were. I avoided them whenever they visited.”

“But they came to see your son?”

“Oh, yes, and insisted he was the very image of their brother when he’d been a baby. His lordship was their younger brother, you see, much younger at that, so they’d both been around when he was born.”

“So they acknowledged him as family?”

“Yes.”

“But wasn’t that a good thing?”

“Hell no. They insisted I had to give my son to them to raise. You see, their brother was getting past middle age and had never produced an heir. They’d been frantic that he never would. But I’d supplied the heir. They could stop worrying and nagging him about it.”

“So you just gave him up?”

The tears started again. “They didn’t give me any choice. They were going to claim I’d committed all sorts of crimes and get me imprisoned if I didn’t turn the boy over to them and agree to never see him again.”

“Could they really do that?”

“Oh, yes, very easily. Who’d believe a lowly kitchen maid against two ladies and a lord of the peerage, after all?”

“But why’d they insist you never see him again. You were his mother!”

“Because they didn’t want him to know that. He’s their heir. They’re raising him to be an acceptable member of the ton.”

“Without a mother? Produced him out o’ thin air, did they?”

“Oh, his lordship has a wife. I didn’t know that, or I never would have—well, you know. But I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know. Don’t think most of the staff did, either, she’d moved out so long ago. I assume they didn’t get along well, so she refused to live with him. The sisters had mentioned she’d run crying back to her family.”

“Why didn’t she just divorce him?”

“The gentry don’t do that.”

“But they’re going to claim the child is hers? She agreed to that?”

“The sisters can be very convincing.” And then Claire leaned forward to whisper, “They were going to tell her that their brother would come to live with her again. I gathered she’d agree to anything to avoid that.”

“Theytold you that?” Danny asked incredulously.

“No, but they discussed it in front of me, how they were going to handle it, as if I weren’t there and hearing every word.”

The invisible phenomenon again. Absolutely amazing, how that worked.

“I take it you weren’t allowed to work there anymore, after that?”

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