Beautiful Tempest Page 75

“Which is why I can think of that time of doubts now and laugh.”

“I don’t have doubts, nor am I miserable like that. I’m just so bored!”

“Well, lying in bed all day for no reason, of course you are. But your mother has a fix for that. She’s going to host a ball.”

“The devil she is! My mother never has parties of any sort unless they’re for the extended family. She’d never, ever arrange a ball.”

“Yes, she would.” Judith smiled. “She is in your father’s study making the invitation list right now.”

“Why would she?”

“As I said, to get you out of bed.”

Jacqueline snorted. “The Season is over.”

“Yes, but that only means the debutantes have gone home—or are having engagement parties. London doesn’t come to a halt just because the Season is over. The ton will still have their entertainments.”

“But not my mother. Besides, Father wouldn’t allow it.”

“You really think he would butt heads with George about it? She is so thrilled to have you home, safe and sound, and wants to see you happy.”

“Well, maybe not. She did cry for nearly a week after we returned, and he’s still making amends as if it were all his fault.”

“Joyful tears, but that’s not the kind she shed while you were away.”

“He knows. But my mother should have been reassured by Damon’s note—I read it, and as he told Jeremy and me, it wasn’t at all threatening.”

“When do mere words reassure a mother? She was still worried sick about you the entire time you were gone, while you were off fighting pirates and having a grand old time. My mother even offered to buy them a ship so they could hie off to search for you themselves, but saner minds prevailed, since that would have been like looking for the proverbial needle.”

“It wasn’t all grand,” Jack reminded her cousin.

“The last week or so was, to hear you tell it—well, until he went one way and you went another. For God’s sake, Jack, the very moment he was no longer your enemy, you told me you were tossing him in bed. Admit it—or admit that you’re in love.”

“Nonsense—but, about that ball . . . If Mother makes it a masked ball, I might attend. Damon’s had time to return to England if he is going to return. He could sneak into a masque like he did before.”

“So you do want to see him again?”

“Certainly. I wasn’t nearly done with him. He was magnificent—when I didn’t have anger clouding my eyes. I miss him. I so wish you could have met him, you’d love him.”

Judith raised a brow. “I will, but you don’t?”

“Just a figure of speech.”

Judith squeezed Jacqueline’s hand. “Why are you denying these feelings?”

“Because it’s too soon,” Jack mumbled, still unwilling to admit what she was really feeling, even to herself, though she did allow, “But next year I might love him.”

“I wouldn’t have expected to hear such nonsense from you at this point, Jack Malory,” Judith scolded with a tsk. “You’ve said you miss him, said you’re not done with him—and don’t think I don’t know what you meant. But you can’t keep doing that and not get with child, and then your father really will kill him.”

“You don’t understand—”

“I understand perfectly since I was part of that pact we made not to marry until next year. But everyone, including me, warned you how unrealistic it was. And answer me this: D’you really think you’ll find someone else who makes you feel the way he does? Why the devil would you still want to wait when you’ve already found your perfect man?”

“Father isn’t going to let me have him,” Jacqueline whispered.

“Oh.” Judith sighed. “There is that.”

Chapter Forty-Nine

DAMON ARRIVED IN EAST Sussex to an empty house, no butler at the door, no one in the halls. What the devil had happened here? But then a young maid ran from the back of the house, ignoring him, and went out the front door, which he’d left open.

Incredulous, he followed her outside and called, “Wait! Where is everyone?”

The girl paused long enough to turn and say, “At the family cemetery, sir. Our lady is being buried today. If you’ve come for the funeral to pay your respects, you may still be in time. I overslept!”

She ran on and disappeared around the side of the large mansion. Damon didn’t move, felt poleaxed. Now he’d never be able to catch his grandmother at a lucid moment so she could answer his questions. That hope was gone forever. He wished he’d gotten here sooner. But it had taken a week in Jamaica to get his father settled in a new plantation, then Damon had spent another week in London trying to see Jack. But every time he knocked on the door to her house in Berkeley Square, one of two butlers—they really did have two—slammed the door shut. Only the first time, after he’d given his name, was he told, “Cap’n’s orders, you ain’t welcome.” They wouldn’t even take the flowers he’d brought her, so he’d had someone else deliver them, but they wouldn’t accept those, either!

He’d still kept an eye on her house, hoping to catch her when she left it, but she never did. He was going to have to try something more drastic when he returned to London, even if it meant confronting her father. There would be no pleasantness this time with that man—well, there never had been, but Malory’s boon was over and he’d made it absolutely clear that Damon couldn’t have his daughter.

But Damon was prepared to brave anything for her—if she would have him. He just needed a chance to speak to her without her father in attendance, to tell her he hadn’t been teasing when he’d asked her to marry him. He should have admitted it that day on his ship, but she’d seemed so annoyed at the idea. Would she still be? Was there really no hope of his ever making her his wife?

He knew where the cemetery was, on both sides of the small chapel beyond the tall hedges at the side of the house. The chapel spire could be seen above the hedges, which is how he’d found out it was there. He’d investigated it just once, fearing he’d find his mother’s grave in there, but he didn’t.

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