A Loving Scoundrel Page 29

The silence unnerved the older man, enough for him to burst out, “Now see here. Iknow 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 isyour 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 heis 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 isyour proof?”

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 andnot 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?

Chapter 36

“BEFORETHESE TWO COXCOMBSgive their accounts, Lord Bascomb,” Andrew began the proceedings, “allow me to assure you that I adore Emily and would dearly like to marry her with your approval.”

“And who are you, sir?” Albert asked.

Andrew offered an assortment of titles and connections. Albert was impressed. Even James was impressed since he hadn’t heard them all himself.

Albert admitted when Andrew was done, “Know your father. Good man.”

“Now see here,” William began his performance with a disgruntled tone. “All those titles don’t change the fact that the child could be mine. You might not find me as suitable for your daughter, m’lord, but I assure you she found me quite suitable.”

“And who are you?”

“William Shakes, at your service. I’m an actor, sir, and a damn fine one. One of my recent performances was so sterling, in fact, that I was actually invited to attend a ball several weeks ago, which is where I met Emily. We hit it off splendidly, I don’t mind saying. And we managed to find an empty room upstairs to, well, I’m sure I don’t need to go into details.”

Albert wasn’t just embarrassed now, he was understandably furious. “My daughter consorting with anactor? Utterly preposterous!”

William ignored the rage, merely shrugged and remarked, “Hero of the moment and all that. She was determined to make my acquaintanceand make my day, I might add,” he said with a roguish wink. “I’ll even marry her, if the child is mine. Would rather not get married just yet if it isn’t. That’s assuming, of course, that you’d accept me into your family. Know there are quite a few nobles who would consider me not quite up to stuff.”

“At least you understand why you shouldn’t even be here,” Andrew said, glaring at William. “She’d never agree to marry you. Her father would likely disown her if she even hinted at it.”

“But what if the childis mine,” William countered. “You can’t just ignore that fact.”

“Which of us sired it is rather irrelevant since it might not ever come to light,” Andrew insisted.

“How’s that?”

“It could take after its mother entirely. But I’m willing to marry her and raise the child, whether it turns out to be mine or not.”

“Now that’s too bloody noble even for a noble,” William sneered.

“Not a’tall,” Andrew disagreed. “I simply want her for my wife.”

Andrew’s statement had a calming influence on Albert. The older man regained some of his composure, now that the options weren’t sounding so completely abhorrent. But then he caught sight of Drew, sitting there so relaxed and even grinning, and he stiffened again.

“You find this all amusing, do you?” Albert demanded of Drew.

“All this?” Drew said, shaking his head. “No indeed. That these two fellows have been at each other’s throats since they found out that Emily favored them both, well, yes, I do see some humor in that.”

“And just who are you?”

“Drew Anderson. I don’t think Emily realized that I’m a member of Jeremy’s family, when she batted those pretty eyes at me. Not many know that my sister married Jeremy’s father. We’re Americans, after all, and ship’s captains, my brothers and I, so we don’t get to London often. I’d just docked a few days prior to meeting Emily, so I hadn’t heard the rumors yet either, that she and Jeremy—well—”

“Get to the point, man.”

“Certainly. I travel a lot, and I’m not one to turn down a pretty wench when her intentions are so obvious. I take my pleasures where I can find them, you understand. Always have, probably always will.”

“I suppose you’re claiming the child as well?” Albert demanded.

“Hell no!”

Albert frowned. “Then what are you doing here?”

“I’m here because although I didn’t actually make love to the girl, it was damn close. We’d gone for a stroll in the garden at some party my sister drug me to and found a nice secluded spot. Another minute or so and I’d be forced to admit the child could have been mine. But we were interrupted just as I was about to… well, anyway, we dressed quickly and got back to the party. She promised to meet me later to finish what we started. I showed up at the rendezvous, but Emily didn’t. Waited a damned hour, too,” Drew added with some disgruntlement. “She would have been worth it. And then the next day I hear she’s to have Jeremy’s baby.

Hate to say it, Bascomb, but I don’t doubt she is with child, with the way she’s spread herself around.”

Albert was red-faced with fury again by the time Drew finished. James couldn’t blame him. He would never have put it quite so bluntly, whether it was true or not. Typical of Americans to be so bloody blunt.

And that was when Emily Bascomb walked into the study. She’d entered with a smile, expecting only her father to be there. Such an exceptionally pretty girl. It was too bad she was so spoiled she believed she could have anything she wanted—at any cost.

Her smile vanished at the sight of her father’s rage. But when she noticed James there, her eyes flared briefly with alarm before she assumed an inscrutable look. James sighed to himself. This might not be as easy as he’d thought, if she could conceal her emotions that easily.

“I wasn’t aware we had guests, Father.”

“We don’t. I would not by any means call these gentlemen guests.”

Andrew flushed over that remark, which caught Emily’s eye. She must have decided to play the gracious lady for the moment, because she said to him, “Lord Whittleby, how pleasant to see you again.”

“The pleasure is all mine, m’dear,” Andrew replied with an adoring look and a flourishing bow, causing the girl to give him a brilliant smile.

“So youdo know him?” Albert demanded.

Emily frowned over her father’s sharp tone. “Well, certainly. We were introduced last week at a soiree, then again a few nights ago. I wasn’t sure he would remember me,” she added coyly.

“Oh, he remembers you,” Albert said in a derogatory tone.

“And wants to marry you, thank God.”

“I’m flattered,” she began, then went very still when the rest of her father’s remark sunk in. “What d’you mean ‘thank God’?”

Andrew was quick to reply first, “Whatever happens here, Emily, please be assured that I would consider it an honor to marry you.”

“Again I’m flattered, sir, but—”

“You are fresh out of ‘buts,’ Emily,” her father interrupted sharply. “Jeremy Malory doesn’t want you and denies ever touching you.”

She sighed. A bit overdone, in James’s opinion. Too much dejection.

“I warned you that he would deny it, irresponsible rake that he is.” And then she turned toward James and with an owlish look, as if she’d only just noticed him there, “Oh, I beg your pardon, Lord Malory. But then everyone knowswhere Jeremy got his habits from.”

James burst out laughing over that remark. She was on the defensive already. She’d have to be dense not to realize something had gone wrong with her plan, with her father’s anger so obvious.

“Yes, I’m damned proud of the lad, particularly of the fact that he doesn’t lie.”

“Toyou, maybe,” she sneered. “But he’s lied about this matter—”

“Enough, Emily,” Albert interrupted. “Do you or do you not know these men gathered here?”

Her back stiffened again. James had a feeling that she wasn’t used to having her father angry with her, that that alone was disturbing her the most. She probably didn’t know how to handle it, at least, not with others present.

She glanced about the room, admitted, “I know most of them, yes.”

“The American here?” Her father wanted confirmation.

“Well, yes, I do recall meeting him. It’s hard to forget a man as tall as he is.”

“And handsome,” Drew added with a roguish grin and a wink for her.

“Fie, sir, don’t be so full of yourself,” she took a moment to rejoin in the typical form of flirtation.

Prev Next