A Loving Scoundrel Page 30

“And this one?” Albert asked, pointing at William.

“No, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him before,” Emily said mildly.

William assumed an angry pose himself. “I like that,” he said indignantly. “It was fine and dandy to dally with me, as long as your father never found out about it, eh? Now you’re going to deny it?”

“Deny what? I don’tknow you. What else is there to deny?”

“Good God, d’you really not remember? You were a little foxed at that ball, but I’ve never heard of a woman not remembering something like this. Or have you slept with so many men that you can’t keep track of them all?”

Emily gasped in outrage, her face flaming. William had overdone it. Getting vulgar was guaranteed to offend, true or not, so her reaction couldn’t be judged merely on the statement implied.

And she turned her offended outrage on her father. “Is this what has you upset? A stranger comes here and tells you the most outlandish lies and you believe him! And I’ve never been foxed in my life—well, that one time at Mama’s birthday party last year, but you already know about that, and no men were around.”

“Your drinking habits aren’t an issue, sweetheart,” Drew put in. “I’m not here to claim your baby is mine, though you’ll have to admit it was a close thing.”

She swung around with another gasp to face Drew. “My God, you, too? What is this, a conspiracy cooked up by the Malorys?” And then she turned to her father again, her expression imploring. “Papa, I swear they’re lying!”

“All three of them?” Albert said in a tired voice as he sat down behind his desk. “One I could have doubted, even two, but all three?”

Emily glanced at Andrew, gave him a hurt look. “Surely not you, too?”

He flinched at her portrayed disappointment. There was a distinct possibility that he might break down and confess all. He did still want to marry her, after all. And sinceshe knew he was lying, he’d have a bloody hard time working around that if he got his wish and Albert did give her to him. However, he must have recalled that this little scenario was exactly what she’d planned for Jeremy, that they were merely throwing the same lies she’d started back at her, so she was hardly in a position to carry a grudge.

“My main concern is the child,” Andrew told her. “Which could be my heir.”

“Weboth know it’s not yours!” she snapped. “So stop this nonsense.”

“We know nothing of the sort. I understand your need to make denials. But don’t forget that I still want to marry you. I’m willing to raise the child, whether it’s mine or not, and willing to overlook your”—he paused to glance at the other men—“many indiscretions.”

Again her face flushed severely, but no embarrassment was left, only pure rage, and she turned it back on her father. “You have subjected me to these horrible accusations, none of which are even remotely true. Can’t you see what they’re doing here? This is a complete farce, a conspiracy contrived by Lord Malory there, I don’t doubt, just to get his son out—”

“Enough!” Albert snapped. “Don’t make me any more ashamed of you, girl, than I already am.”

That had to hurt. She did draw in her breath before she said, “So you’re going to believe them instead of me?”

She managed to get some tears rolling and to look utterly devastated. Drew’s expression wavered. He was a sucker for tears. Andrew turned around so he’d be less affected. William rolled his eyes, recognizing a fellow performer.

Fortunately, Albert knew his daughter well and her tactics. “I know you’re capable of lying, Emily. It’s a bad habit you got into growing up. And I know you do it very well. I just never dreamed you could lie about something like this that has such irreparable consequences.”

She stiffened. The anger was back so quickly, it was apparent it had never left, had merely been briefly concealed for her moment of melodrama. She chose to direct that anger at James now, having decided he was responsible for ruining her plans.

“I know you instigated this, Lord Malory. But you didn’t give it much thought, did you?” she said scathingly. “I can’t imagine how you thought you could pull this off, when I can prove they’re all lying.”

James lifted a sardonic brow. “And how would you do that, m’dear, when it’s your word against theirs, three to one as it were— no, make that four to one, since Jeremy has also branded you a liar?”

“Jeremy be damned, I can prove it because I’m still a—”

She realized what she’d been about to say and cut herself off, but James pounced on the opening she’d supplied. “A virgin?”

James stood up. Emily took a step back, realizing belatedly just whom she’d verbally assaulted. But James was no longer interested in the chit. She’d done exactly what he’d hoped she would.

“My apologies, Lord Bascomb, that this visit was necessary,” James said.

Albert nodded stiffly. His expression was self-explanatory. He was embarrassed over the whole affair, now that he realized to what lengths his daughter had gone to entrap a husband.

“By the by,” James added, “in case it hasn’t occurred to you yet, she’s the one who started the rumors and escalated them. I wouldn’t recommend shooting her, but I would recommend some discipline. The girl can’t go around deciding other people’s futures on a whim. My family is done with yours. See that it stays that way. After you, gentlemen,” he said to his companions.

Drew and William filed out of the room. Andrew didn’t move. “Go ahead, m’lord. I believe Lord Bascomb and I still have much to discuss. Emily’s reputation still needs salvaging, after all.”

“I’ll salvage my own reputation, thank you very much,” Emily snarled, and marched out of the room herself.

James lifted a brow at Andrew. The smile he got in return said Andrew was still staying. The boy must be in love, to still want the girl after witnessing her theatrics and temper firsthand.

Chapter 37

BACK ATJEREMY’S TOWN HOUSE, Danny was upstairs dusting that morning when the screaming and shouting started. She thought there was a brawl out in the street at first, it was that kind of noise, some cheering, some shrieking. When she realized the noise was coming from directly below her, she rushed downstairs to find out what was wrong.

The commotion led her to the kitchen. Claire was there. She was holding a pot in her hand, as if it were a weapon. Carlton was there. He had a broom hefted over his shoulder. Danny would have guessed that those two were having a rather serious fight, except they weren’t facing each other. Mrs. Appleton was there, too, but she was ignoring the uproar, just standing at the stove adding some spices to the stew she was cooking for lunch.

Carlton was bending over, looking under the cupboard. Claire’s eyes were moving wildly about the room, searching for something.

“What’s wrong?” Danny asked, wondering if she should pick up a weapon, too.

“A rat got in,” Claire said. “I found it in the pantry. It ran in here.”

“A rat? In a neighborhood like this?” Danny said doubtfully.

“Not unheard of, m’dear,” Mrs. Appleton remarked with a glance over her shoulder. “They’ll go where there’s food, and we have a well-stocked house.”

“And the aroma o’ yer food, lass, would lure ’em all the way from the docks,” Artie, the butler, said cheerfully as he came in behind Danny.

That got a blush out of the cook. Danny was marveling over that when Claire shouted again, “There! It’s behind the dry sink.”

Carlton leapt in that direction and thrust his broom under the long piece of kitchen furniture to flush the rat out. It worked. The rodent dashed for the next nearest place to hide, the big cast-iron stove that Mrs. Appleton was standing in front of. She still didn’t move, was just stirring her pot of stew, which made it difficult, but not impossible, for Carlton to get his broom underneath the stove.

“Stop it,” Danny said, but no one was listening to her at the moment.

Claire was shouting suggestions and warning Carlton not to miss again—he’d gotten in one swipe of the broom when the rodent had dashed for the stove. Artie was laughing quite loudly over the footman’s antics.

Danny started to give another warning, but the stove wasn’t close enough to the floor for the rodent to feel safe under it, particularly with the broom swishing toward it. It ran out in the open this time. Carlton straightened and raised the broom over his head for a good whack, and Danny dove straight at Carlton, knocking them both to the floor.

“You missed the rat, Danny,” Artie snickered.

“Weren’t aiming for it,” she snarled, and sat on top of Carlton’s chest to keep him supine long enough for him to listen. “He’s m’pet,” she told the incredulous footman. “You try to kill him again and I’ll be coming after you with that broom, see if I don’t.”

He looked up at her wide-eyed, more amazed that she was sitting on him than that she kept rats for pets. “Didn’t know he was yours,” Carlton offered.

She nodded, accepting that, was about to get off him when Jeremy walked in, having been drawn by the noise as well, and said, “You’re fired, Carlton.”

Danny glanced toward the door to see that Jeremy wasn’t smiling. In fact, his expression indicated he was dead serious. “What’s he fired for?”

“For trespassing.”

That was an odd way to put it, but she understood what he was getting at. Carlton did, too, because he dropped his head back on the floor with a groan.

Danny tsked at Jeremy. “He wasn’t. I knocked him on his arse because he was trying to kill my pet.”

“Then he’s fired for that, too,” Jeremy said.

Carlton groaned again. “You ain’t fired, man, so stop with the groaning,” Danny snapped as she got to her feet. She spared a glare for Artie as well, who was back to laughing his arse off.

“You actually keep a rat for a pet, Danny?” Claire finally got around to asking.

And Jeremy said now, “Oh, good God, a rat? Carlton, you’re no longer fired.”

Danny was getting quite irritated by that point. “He ain’t a rat, he’s a mouse.”

“Danny, that thing was huge!” Claire disagreed. “It can’t possibly be a mouse.”

“So he’s a little fat. I feed him good is all. But he’s not a rat.”

“Do you even know the difference between a mouse and a rat?” Claire asked.

Danny thought about that for a moment and had to admit, “Probably not. He’s still my pet, whatever he is.” She bent down so the large pocket on her apron opened against the floor. “Come here, Twitch.”

She hadn’t seen where he went to hide this time, so it took a moment for her to see him poking his head out from under the dough box. She didn’t have to call him again. The moment he saw her looking directly at him, he scurried across the floor and went straight into her pocket.

“I’ll be damned,” Artie said. “Ayep, that’s definitely ’er pet.”

“Didn’t know a rat could be tamed,” Claire added in amazement.

“Mouse,” Danny mumbled.

Claire chuckled. It was a rich sound. Most of them had never heard it before.

All three men were staring at Claire now. Jeremy raised a questioning brow. “What’d you do to yourself, lass? You look—softer.”

“She’s a raving beauty now, ain’t she,” Carlton added. He might actually have thought so, or he might merely have been making an effort to further relieve Jeremy’s jealousy.

Claire didn’t blush though, probably because she didn’t believe him. But she grinned and told him, “Don’t be filling my head with nonsense.”

The change in the girl really was startling, but then confidence was an amazing thing. For Claire it softened all her rough edges, allowed her to flirt and tease and not take it seriously. She’d stopped slouching, too, and she reallydid have big breasts, which was the first thing Carlton had clapped eyes on this morning when he’d seen the “new” Claire. Getting her hair out of her face, dressing her in some of her prettier blouses and skirts that she’d buried in the bottom of her trunks, just those simple changes made her look so different, she was barely recognizable.

But confidence had finished off the new package, was responsible for the smiles, the laughter, both of which altered her expressions and showed off a pretty face. She wasn’t a raving beauty by any means, was a bit on the plump side, but all in all, she was a pretty girl who would have no trouble attracting men now.

Danny was mostly responsible for cracking Claire’s shell, and she was right proud of that. They’d spent hours together last night in her room, then in Claire’s room, talking and laughing while they changed the way Claire looked. They’d formed a bond. Danny felt she had a close friend now and she’d realized just how much she’d missed having one since she’d left home. Someone to talk to about things that mattered. Someone to share triumphs and failures with.

“You children need to get back to work,” Mrs. Appleton said, mindful that the master of the house was still there. “You can play with Danny’s pet some other time.”

Danny rolled her eyes and headed to her room to put Twitch back in his box. He must have gotten comfortable with his new surroundings, to make him go exploring farther than her room, timid as he was.

Prev Next