No Choice But Seduction Page 13

“I’m going to have to decline. I don’t have anything appropriate to wear to a London dinner party.”

Anthony laughed and said, “Your presence is desired, not your wardrobe. And Judy will be crushed if you don’t come.” Then he added drolly, “Wear a sack if you must, I promise you my family won’t care. So no excuses. I’ll send a coach for you in a few hours.”

And how could Katey refuse now? Anthony Malory was a stubborn man, but very nice for all that, and she would like to see Judith again, so she shyly agreed. Grace, of course, had to tell her at least three times, “I told you so,” as they dug out the nicest dress Katey owned. Far from being a sack, it was a simple pink frock with mother-of-pearl buttons. When Katey put it on and Grace arranged her hair in a loose braid that draped over her shoulder, she felt more at ease about attending the Malorys’ dinner. And before long she was on her way to the fashionable town house on Piccadilly.

That was another surprise. From the street, the Malory town house looked so narrow, but inside it was huge. It was probably three times the size of her home in Gardener. And so grand looking! Gilt frames, crystal chandeliers, shiny marble on the foyer floor. Everywhere she looked she saw elegant details. Katey felt quite out of her element. These people were rich aristocrats—what the devil was she doing there?

But that thought didn’t last long. Anthony Malory’s idea of “small” seemed rather large to Katey as a butler ushered her into a room full of people who were all saying thank-you to her. Even the butler thanked her!

Katey noticed that Roslynn Malory wasn’t dressed as elegantly as the other women in the room. Sir Anthony had probably told her about the silly issue of “clothes” he’d had to deal with when he’d invited Katey to dinner, so she had merely dressed in a skirt and blouse. That extra effort alone made Katey feel welcome, but the hug Roslynn gave her relaxed her completely.

Anthony greeted her warmly, but Roslynn pulled her back into the foyer for a private moment. “I’m so glad Tony convinced you to join us this evening. He said you put up a good fight.” Katey blushed, but Roslynn laughed and assured her, “I’m joking, m’dear. I just want you to feel welcome here. I’m hoping you will agree to accept our hospitality for longer than this evening, but we can talk about that later. Before Judy comes down, I thought you might like to know more about this unfortunate incident, as we now understand it. My cousin Geordie Cameron has always coveted my fortune, you see.”

“So it really was your cousin that your husband pummeled?”

“Don’t let that surprise you. It certainly wasn’t the first time. Before I married Tony, Geordie tried to abduct me several times. I knew what he was up to. He was going to force me to marry him so he could get his hands on the fortune my grandfather left me, and he didn’t care how he accomplished it. Tony put a stop to that, and we were sure we’d have no more trouble from him! And Geordie was sincerely contrite back then, so while Tony might blame him for all this, I don’t. I even received a note of apology from him today and the assurance that his wife won’t trouble us again, though we already knew that. Calderson’s man explained when he came here to get Judy’s story about what happened that Maisie Cameron and her cohorts had been apprehended.”

Katey realized immediately that the Malorys didn’t know that she’d been the one accused of being a cohort and had spent time in jail because of it. She started to mention it, but abruptly changed her mind. Judith was safe at home, and the Malorys were relieved and grateful for her help. They didn’t need to know she’d suffered further consequences from it.

A squeal of delight interrupted her thoughts. She saw Roslynn roll her eyes, then turned to see why. Judith was bounding down the stairs to them, and the child latched onto Katey with an exuberant hug.

“You came! I’m so glad. Father teased me that you might not. And you look so pretty in that dress.”

Katey chuckled. Had everyone heard about her limited wardrobe? “Look at yourself, all fancied up. You didn’t tell me you were the prettiest girl in England!”

Judith beamed at the compliment, yet Katey didn’t doubt it was true. The girl had her mother’s magnificent copper-gold hair and her father’s exotic blue eyes, and both parents were stunning in their looks. Katey had a feeling Judith was going to be too beautiful when she grew up. Even now, full of happy delight, she glowed like an angel.

“Have you met everyone?” Judith asked, then before Katey could answer, said, “Come with me, I’ll make sure you do.”

The child wouldn’t leave her side after that. And like a perfect hostess, which she was probably already being groomed to become one day, she introduced Katey to her relatives and supplied some commentary about each person afterward.

Her uncle Edward and aunt Charlotte were there. They also lived in London. Her cousin Jeremy and his new bride—the ex-thief, Judith whispered—lived in London, too, and had only just returned from their wedding trip.

Katey was rather stiff as she was introduced to that handsome young man, the impetuous fellow who’d raced off with Judith that day in Northampton. It would have been better if he’d stuck around long enough to meet her then, which would have kept her from becoming familiar with the inside of a jail cell.

She nearly said as much, but it wasn’t in her nature to be rude, so she held her tongue. And it certainly wasn’t his fault that Boyd Anderson couldn’t recognize the truth if it hit him over the head.

“I’m sorry we didn’t meet the other day,” Jeremy apologized as he shook her hand. “But I’m sure Boyd explained why it was imperative that I get Judy home immediately.”

“Oh, he did,” Katey replied, and congratulated herself on not sounding sarcastic.

She’d half-expected to find Boyd at the Malory house, actually. She was disappointed that he wasn’t there. Not that she’d already decided what she would have said to him if he were, she just knew it would have been blistering.

Which is why it was just as well that he wasn’t in attendance, because it didn’t take her long to realize that Judith’s family didn’t even know about his blunder. How could they unless he told them? He obviously didn’t want to put his foot in that nasty puddle. He’d probably thought the Malorys would never meet her so there was no need for him to confess. But she didn’t want to put a damper on the evening by mentioning his silly accusations, either.

As for Jeremy, Katey could honestly say she’d never met a more handsome man, but she was still somewhat annoyed with him. She could see now why she’d briefly thought that Anthony might be Jeremy when she’d seen him at the hotel. Judith’s father so closely resembled the younger Malory that she would have thought Jeremy was Anthony’s son or brother, if she didn’t already know he was Judith’s cousin.

But Jeremy’s wife, Danny, was so beautiful Katey nearly gasped when she saw her! She wore an emerald silk gown, and her hair was snow-white and cut unfashionably short, but she had the most exquisite features. Katey was sure she’d never meet another woman as beautiful as Danny Malory, but then she was introduced to Judith’s cousin Derek and his wife, Kelsey, and she had to amend that—and she began to wonder how one family could have so many amazing-looking people in it.

They were all dressed so grandly, too. Danny in her emerald silk, Kelsey and Charlotte in dark velvets, even the men were wearing jackets and lacy cravats, and it wasn’t even a formal affair! If they weren’t all so warm and genuinely pleased that she was there, she would have been terribly embarrassed in her simple cotton dress, which seemed out of place amid their rich apparel and sparkling jewels. But she didn’t even think of that until later, because Judith barely gave her any time to think at all with her running stream of commentary.

“Their son, Brandon, is the Duke of Wrighton, you know,” Judith told her after she pulled Katey away from Derek and his lovely wife.

That information meant absolutely nothing to Katey. Her tutor had been American-born and had never taught her the different tiers of the English nobility. A lord was a lord to her, no more, no less.

“You’d never guess, but Derek met Kelsey in a brothel,” Judith continued in another whisper, then added, “No, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s quite an interesting story, what she was doing there.”

Katey could imagine—no, actually, she couldn’t! But the secrets this child was revealing to her were most definitely scandalous and things Judith shouldn’t even know about at her age. Thieves and brothels, and hadn’t she mentioned pirates before, too? Surely these unusual aspects of some of the Malorys’ lives weren’t public knowledge, so why was she sharing them with Katey?

“I wouldn’t tell just anyone that,” Judith said, seeming to read Katey’s thoughts. “You’re special.”

Katey blushed furiously. That was one of the nicest compliments she’d ever received. But she wondered about the child’s uncanny perceptions.

“I’m nothing of the sort—but why did you say so?” she asked.

Judith shrugged. “It’s odd, but I feel like I’ve known you forever.”

That really was odd, because Katey felt an affinity for the girl, too. But then Judith reminded her of herself at that age with her friendliness, her curiosity, and her thousand and one questions!

“It was probably because we talked so much about ourselves when we met, and later in your coach,” Judith suggested. “I’ve never talked so much to anyone else like that, ever, who wasn’t family.”

Katey smiled and glanced about the room. “And you certainly have a large family.”

Judith giggled at that, a sound that reminded Katey of how young she was. “This isn’t even half of them! I believe the count is up to eight separate Malory households in London now, though you might want to ask my mother to confirm that. But even that doesn’t account for all of my family.”

Katey found that hard to fathom. She was an only child with no aunts and uncles, no cousins, not even grandparents—at least none that she knew of. It must be nice, she thought, to have so many relatives. And maybe she should go to Gloucester again and this time actually knock on the Millards’ door.

Dinner was announced shortly after that. The table was extremely long, giving Katey an idea of just how many family members occasionally showed up to eat at it. With just ten of them present tonight, Roslynn seated the group at one end of the long table, putting Katey between Anthony and Judith, while she sat across from them.

There wasn’t a single pause in the conversations, which ranged from horse racing and the merits of Derek’s newest stallion, to the ladies’ opinions on the latest fashions that had lower waistlines. Charlotte liked the new style, while the other three women still favored the comfort of the French Empire style.

When Charlotte asked Katey her opinion, she had to admit, “I’m afraid the closest I’ve been to a seamstress in five years is a visit to one this morning. I did order one fancy dress and took the seamstress’s advice. She said she would only make gowns in the new lower-waisted style.”

“How rude of her,” Kelsey said.

“And probably a whopper,” Danny added. “I know how shopkeepers operate. She just wants you to tell all your friends where you bought the latest fashion.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Katey tried to assure them. “It’s going to take her four days to make that single gown. I didn’t have time to look around for a different seamstress.”

“That’s ridiculous! It doesn’t take that long to make a gown,” Roslynn said. “She was probably just looking for an excuse to charge you more. I’ll send my seamstress to you tomorrow. She’ll make you as many gowns as you like in whatever styles you prefer and in quick order, too.”

“Thank you, but that isn’t necessary. I’m traveling, so I don’t need a wide variety of clothes. And my ship sails next week.”

“Going home to America?” Anthony asked.

“No, I have no family left there, so I doubt I’ll ever return.”

“She has family here in England, she just doesn’t want to visit them,” Judith piped in.

Katey’s blush made Roslynn gently scold her daughter. “That’s privileged information, puss. Katey will mention it if she wants to. You don’t do it for her.”

Judith’s lower lip trembled slightly, which made Katey leap to her defense. “That’s quite all right, really. I do have family here, but I’ve never met them, and I didn’t think I’d have time to visit them before I sailed to France. But I couldn’t obtain passage any sooner than next week.” She paused to smile at the child and squeeze her hand under the table. “After our discussion, Judith, I’ve been reconsidering visiting them, and now that I have a little more time in England, I probably will. But your mother is right, I’d rather not discuss it.”

She’d said a lot for not wanting to discuss it! But the Malorys took the hint, and Anthony changed the subject by asking, “What’s luring you to France? Shopping?”

“No, it’s the next country I’m visiting on my tour.”

“How many countries are you planning to see?” Edward asked.

“All of them,” Katey replied. “I’m actually going to tour the world.”

“The world?” Jeremy nearly choked on the bite he was taking. “Hell’s bells, most people just want to tour the Continent, but you want to see the whole world?”

Prev Next