A Loving Scoundrel Page 40

James raised a brow at her, said dryly, “Lost your fear of me at last, have you?”

Danny blushed, then hid her face in Jeremy’s back again. That “We take care of our own” had endeared James Malory to her for all time. She really wasn’t afraid of him anymore. But she still didn’t have the nerve to face her mother.

Evelyn had heard her though, and although she couldn’t see any more of Danny than her skirt behind Jeremy’s legs, she gave him her full attention and demanded, “Why is she hiding?”

“Because she’s terrified that you won’t want her,” Jeremy replied. “She lost her memory all those years ago. She’s only just getting some of it back.”

“Spare me, please,” Evelyn said derisively. “That excuse has been used before as well.”

Jeremy didn’t reply to that. He turned around and lifted Danny’s chin. “You’re making this worse, you know. She’s going to regret everything she’s said.”

“Or tell us to get lost again.”

“So she does. Then we go home, get married, start making babies.” He grinned at her. “If that’s what she’s going to say, luv, then let’s get it over with. Delaying isn’t going to change it one way or the other.”

Danny groaned. He was right, of course. She was just prolonging her fears, and getting more and more sick to her stomach because of it. She stepped away from him, saw her mother’s angry expression. It felt as if her heart just dropped on the ground.

But Evelyn had been expecting disappointment again, was still furious with them all for trying to dupe her. It took her a moment to look at Danny, really look at her, and then she was so shocked she couldn’t speak. She was seeing herself twenty years ago, nearly identical, and the child she’d thought she’d never see again.

Danny had turned away, her worst fears realized. She put her arms around Jeremy and buried her face in his chest.

Her throat had closed off, she could barely get out, “Take me home.”

She wasn’t going to cry. She refused to cry there in front of Evelyn Hilary. Later—

“Danny!”

She looked back. Her mother was extending a hand to her. Her shock was evident now. She’d paled a ghostly white.

“Oh, God, Danny, it’s really you?”

The tears started. Danny took a step toward her, then another, then ran the last few, was sobbing openly by then and even more when her mother’s arms went around her, crushing her with her own emotion. The smell she recognized, the softness, it was coming back to her, how much she’d been loved here. She was home.

Chapter 51

IT WAS A LARGE PARLOR, utilitarian, cleaned as needed, but rarely used. They sat in it, Evelyn and Danny on the sofa, Jeremy in a chair across from them. James stood off to the side, by the empty fireplace, merely observing and remarking as needed—or not.

Evelyn held Danny’s hand. She hadn’t let go of it once since she’d first taken it to lead them back to the house. She was still crying off and on, every time she looked at Danny, actually, so she tried to keep her eyes on Jeremy instead. Danny was still crying off and on as well, and it didn’t take much to set her off again. She had her mother back. She had her identity back, her real life back. She was still waiting to wake up, was still so incredulous that everything that she’d ever hoped for had come true.

She’d already explained what had happened to her on the way back to the house. Evelyn had asked that almost immediately, wanting the whole story. She hadn’t seemed that surprised when she heard it. It explained why she’d never been able to find Danny herself. She’d never thought to look in the worst of the slums.

“I thought you were dead,” Evelyn was saying now. “After years of searching, I’d finally given up all hope. And then those impostors began showing up. They had your eyes, all three of them. They bore no other resemblance. Hair color might change over the years, appearance might change as well, but eyes don’t. They’d had tutoring, obviously, from someone who knew my family very well.”

“How many were there?” Jeremy asked.

“Three. The first girl was ten, she fooled me the longest. Five years passed before the second attempt. Then another two years before the last. I had the feeling that Robert’s cousin was finding these girls and training them in what to say. He wanted Robert’s estate and title. After he tried to have Danette declared dead and failed, I think he resorted to creating a new Danny, one that he would have control of, or dispose of, to have substantial proof that she was dead.”

“I was wondering about that,” Jeremy admitted. “After fifteen years, she should have been legally pronounced dead.”

“He did try and was furious when his petition got thrown out. My grandmother was still alive then, and she was close friends with the judge.”

“This was your husband’s only surviving relative?” James asked.

“Yes. He was a third cousin, though, and illegitimate, which was why the title would have passed through to Danny’s children before it would go to him. But he could have gotten it if he could have had her declared dead before she started having children of her own. Do you have any?” she turned to ask Danny.

Danny blushed. “No, none yet.”

“Soon though,” Jeremy added with a grin.

Evelyn sighed. “I don’t suppose I could prevent this marriage? I’ve only just found her and already I’m going to lose her?”

“No, but you can come to London and live with us if you’d like,” Jeremy offered.

“That’s very generous of you,” Evelyn replied. “But I couldn’t intrude on newlyweds. I will however move back to London, if that’s where you’re going to settle, so I can see Danny often. I had our old house there torn down to the ground and never rebuilt. Knowing what happened there—” She paused to shudder. “But I could rebuild now. I still own the land.”

“I have no memory of that house,” Danny said.

“That isn’t surprising. It was your first trip to London. We’d only been there a few days, which were mostly spent shopping or in the park, where your nurse took you to play. So you weren’t in that house very long before the night the murders occurred. I would have died that night as well, I have little doubt, if my grandmother hadn’t broken her leg. We were very close, she and I, and she was all I had left. My own parents had died when I was young, and my grandmother raised me after that. So I couldn’t rest until I saw for myself that she was all right.”

“So you were here when it happened?”

“I hadn’t even gotten here yet, I’d left London that afternoon. The news did come to me here though. I was destroyed. I nearly lost my mind. Robert was the love of my life. I’d known him since I was a child. His family estate is near here. I only went to London for a season to force his hand. We were already in love. It just took him longer to realize it. The possibility that Danny had escaped the mayhem was the only thing that sustained me during that time. But not knowing what happened to her was anguish in itself.”

“I don’t doubt that Miss Jane would have returned me to you, if she hadn’t died herself,” Danny said.

“Oh, I know she would have. She was a good woman. Which made it hard for me to keep up my hope. I finally suspected something had happened to her to prevent it. And you were too young yourself to find your way home. I never dreamed you had lost your memories completely.”

“They’ve been coming back to me slowly, since I met Jeremy. I remembered that park I had played in. I remembered my first name, though I didn’t like it very much.”

Evelyn laughed. “Neither did we. It was Robert’s mother’s name, though, so we were obligated to give it to you. But even he didn’t care for it and was the first to call you Danny instead.”

Danny smiled, but continued hesitantly, “And I recognized the man who did the killing that night, when he found me and tried to kill me again.”

Evelyn paled. “When was this?”

“Just recently. He died himself in the attempt though, so we didn’t find out who he was.”

Evelyn sighed. “I’d always suspected it was Robert’s cousin. He was the only one who stood to gain by Robert’s death. And he’d always hated Robert. But there was no way to prove it. And he wasn’t even in London when it happened.”

“His name wouldn’t happen to be Lord John Heddings, would it?”

“John Heddings, yes, but he’s no lord. How did you know? You’d never met him. He never visited us after you were born, hating Robert as he did, and we never mentioned his name. I’d only met him a few times myself, before we were married. You could sense his animosity when he was around Robert. He never tried to hide it.”

Jeremy explained, “He’s been living in a grand house not far from London, and pawning himself off as a lord. Obviously, no one has bothered to check his background. But he’s been a gambler and jewel thief for quite a few years, which is how he’s been supporting himself in such high style.”

“And he tried to kill me as well,” Danny added. “We were trying to catch him stealing, because we knew he was a thief. But when he saw me, he recognized me, or rather, recognized you in me, so he knew who I was. He mentioned that other man, that he’d failed again to get rid of me, that he was just as incompetent as he’d been fifteen years ago. And he said he’d finish it himself, just before he tried to kill me. Jeremy showed up in time to stop him. I knew then that he was the man who’d sent that other one all those years ago to kill me. We couldn’t prove it, though, and weren’t aware that he had a motive.”

“My God, so I was right,” Evelyn said. “I’ll have him prosecuted!”

“You’ll have to get in line,” James remarked. “The younguns have already had him arrested for theft as well as attempted murder.”

“Then I’ll make sure the charge is changed to murder. He’s not going to get away with this, now that I know for certain he paid to have my Robert killed.”

“Be assured his days are numbered, Lady Evelyn,” James said.

“My family also has a vested interest in this now, since Danny will soon be one of us.”

“Ah, yes, another reminder that I’m soon to lose her. But until the wedding, she’ll be staying with me. I don’t suppose you’d agree to postpone the wedding?”

Jeremy was already groaning over that “she’ll be staying with me” remark. To his future mother-in-law, he now said, “Not bloody likely.”

Evelyn tsked at him. Danny grinned at him, though, before she told her mother, “I was about to say not bleeding likely m’self.”

“So you love him then?” Evelyn asked softly.

“Oh, yes, with all my heart.”

James rolled his eyes, said dryly, “Let’s not get mushy before dinnertime, children. And do keep in mind it will be separate bedrooms for the duration. Have to take this chaperoning business seriously, don’t you know.”

Which had Jeremy groaning again quite loudly.

Chapter 52

THEY WERE MARRIEDin late August. The banns had been posted in Evelyn’s shire, as well as in London, shocking the ton. It might have been rumored that Jeremy was courting the Langton beauty, but no one had thought he wasreally going to put the shackles on.

Danny learned that Regina Eden often came to the rescue when tricky situations arose, and explaining why Danny had been introduced to the ton as a relative of Kelsey Langton’s, but was now Evelyn Hilary’s daughter, definitely fell under tricky. But Reggie smoothly let it be known that she’d merely forgotten to mention that the Langtons had adopted Danny and raised her as their own since it had at the time appeared she had no family.

It was a magnificent wedding. After thinking for so many years that she wouldn’t have the opportunity to arrange her daughter’s wedding, now that Evelyn had the opportunity again, she outdid herself.

Danny was offered a new gown, in any design of her choosing, or the gown Evelyn had been married in. Never having thought that far ahead, and actually, thinking she wouldn’t need a real wedding dress to get married in, since her marriage aspirations hadn’t been that high, she chose her mother’s dress. It was too beautiful to pass up, ice-blue satin and lace that was so soft it felt like silk. And it fit her perfectly! It had taken her a while to notice, during their reunion, that her mother was exactly as tall as she was. That was one of the reasons that Evelyn hadn’t wanted a season in London, and why she’d left immediately after Robert had proposed. She’d always been self-conscious about her unusual height. Robert, actually, had been no taller, so Danny got all her height from her mother.

It was odd how their relationship developed over those weeks before the wedding. It was almost as if they’d never been separated. The warmth was there, the love was there, there was no hesitation in giving it. And Evelyn wanted to know every single aspect of the years she’d been denied. They talked endlessly together, sometimes into the wee hours. They laughed, they cried. More and more memories were recalled, of those first years Danny had spent with her parents. God, it was so nice to have her mother again.

While she was so happy she felt she’d burst with it, Jeremy wasn’t. He’d all but been asked to leave! Told he would just be underfoot, told he would have Danny the rest of his life, that he could wait just a few more weeks, no, he wasn’t happy in the least. But he sent letters to her each day, completely forgetting that she couldn’t read them. Actually, she was to find out later that the fellow who had delivered the first one was supposed to tell her to save them, that Jeremy would read them to her after they were married, but the chap had been so dazzled by Danny’s smile he hadn’t mentioned that part. So Danny had her mother read the letters to her each day, and if Evelyn did a lot of blushing over those readings, Danny was too engrossed and thrilled by the depth of Jeremy’s passion to notice.

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