No Choice But Seduction Page 24

“What?” he asked carefully.

She marched over to him and slammed a piece of paper in the center of his chest. He almost didn’t catch it before it floated to the floor. He didn’t glance at it yet. Roslynn wasn’t done blistering his ears.

“Why did you no’ tell me, eh?” she demanded shrilly. “Did you think I wouldna understand? It runs in your family after all!”

She spared a glare for James after that last comment. He’d stopped in the doorway to lean against the frame. He raised that golden right brow at her, despite how it must have smarted him.

To Anthony he said, “Read that bloody note. I’m dying to know what she’s just accused me of.”

“You? I’m the one she’s yelling at and I’d rather hear it from her.” He put an arm around Roslynn’s shoulders and said tenderly, “Sweetheart, I don’t keep secrets from you. What’s this all about?”

She shrugged off his arm, crossed her own over her chest again, and just glared at him. At which point James muttered, “Bloody hell,” and walked over to snatch the note out of Anthony’s hand.

“‘Keep your bastard at home,’” James read aloud. “‘I don’t want her here again, upsetting my mother and bringing back memories of a daughter that are better left dead—just as she is.’ It’s signed ‘Letitia.’”

Anthony couldn’t think of anyone by that name of his acquaintance. “Who?”

James shrugged, not recognizing the name either. But Roslynn obviously knew exactly who had sent that note.

She snapped, “You even brought her into my house and said nothing about it!” Then her fury got the better of her and she ran out of the room.

Chapter Thirty-One

WHAT AM I MISSING HERE?” Anthony said incredulously to his brother as he stared at the empty doorway his wife had just passed through. “Who am I supposed to have brought into this house?”

Something must have clicked for James because he started laughing. “I do believe she thinks Katey Tyler is your daughter. That’s priceless.”

“The hell she is,” Anthony growled. “Where’d you get that idea out of that note?”

“Because it’s just occurred to me who Letitia is.” At Anthony’s blank look, James went on, “Good God, you don’t know that Katey went to Gloucestershire to visit the family she’d never met? Her mother’s family?”

“I knew that, yes.”

“And?”

“And what?” Anthony said in frustration. “This is no time for you not to get to the point.”

James rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. “But that says it all, dear boy. Even I heard Judy and Jack talking about it. It’s why Katey went to Havers Town specifically, because her family lives there. Did no one mention to you who her family is?”

Anthony frowned. “Come to think of it, no, I can’t recall that they did. However, yes, I did know that’s why they invited Katey to stay over at Haverston for her visit, since her family lived nearby. But not much more was said about it, and I wasn’t curious enough to ask when I assumed her family must be some Americans who’d settled into the neighborhood. Roslynn may even have thought she mentioned it to me…who are we talking about, James?”

“The Millards.”

Anthony dropped into a chair, his face gone white. James, seeing his new reaction, was no longer amused.

“Don’t you dare tell me I’ve got a niece I never knew about!”

“Look who’s talking!” Anthony shot back. “You didn’t discover Jeremy’s existence until he was sixteen!”

“Beside the point,” James mumbled, then said on a drier note, “So it’s true? It’s ringing a bell for you now?”

Memories were coming at Anthony with a vengeance. Old ones, over twenty years old, pleasant ones, not so pleasant ones. It was possible. It was more than possible. It could all be coincidence, and yet his gut instinct was telling him otherwise.

He closed his eyes and dredged up an image he’d nearly forgotten. The image was vague, it was so long ago, but the eyes were like emeralds, the hair raven, so pretty with her adorable dimples and laughing eyes. Adeline Millard. The only woman in his youth who’d tempted him to marry. And Katey Tyler had those eyes, and that hair, even those dimples…oh, God.

“The bell getting a bit deafening, is it?” James said, still watching him.

“As if you’d just fired your pistol next to my ear,” Anthony replied with a bit of awe.

“Hold on. I think I need to sit down.” Doing so, James added sardonically, “All right, let’s hear how the amazing circumstance of having a full-grown daughter just happened to slip your mind all these years.”

Anthony didn’t give him a typical rejoinder. He was too incredulous and more than a little shocked by the memories and what could be the resulting circumstances, which were still flooding into his mind.

“God, I couldn’t have been more’n twenty-one I don’t think,” he said to his brother. “I went home to Haverston for Christmas that year. Come to think of it, you were there as well and getting on Jason’s nerves as usual. We rode over from London together.”

James shrugged. “We always did, until I took to the seas. And never mind putting me to sleep with the long version. The short one will do.”

Anthony did spare him an annoyed look this time before he continued, “I don’t recall what I went to Havers Town for that day, probably some last-minute trinkets to buy for the young ’uns. Adeline was there doing some shopping as well. Now I’d seen the Millard girls here and there over the years when we were all children, but this was the first time I’d seen Adeline all grown up.”

James thoughtlessly lifted that sore right brow, winced slightly, but still said drily, “Knocked you on your arse, did she?”

“You could say that. I definitely took a fancy to her and turned on the charm, if you know what I mean. I ended up sticking around after the holidays, and before long I was quite smitten. So was she. I was even thinking—bloody hell, don’t you dare laugh, James—but I was even thinking of settling down with her, that’s how taken I was. If I hadn’t had marriage on my mind, I never would have bedded her. She was our neighbor, after all.”

“I get the picture.”

“But then she went off on a European tour without a by your leave! I had no warning, not a clue that she’d been planning that trip. And no good-bye. I don’t mind admitting I was crushed. I heard years later that she married some baron in Europe and had settled down in his country, so she wasn’t coming back.”

“A lie the family spread to keep the scandalmongers at bay?”

“Obviously.”

“Then explain to me this: why didn’t they just rope you in if they knew you were the father of her child? That is a very good reason to get married. Jason would have demanded it if he’d found out. You know how he is. And you and her apparently wanted to get married. I don’t get it.”

Neither did Anthony, except…“They never did open their door wide to me.”

To which James snorted doubtfully. “You’re a Malory. You were a prime catch.”

Anthony raised a brow this time. “Your memory failing you, old chap? You and I had begun causing scandals before that Christmas, and Jason had already shocked the ton as well when he made his bastard his legitimate heir. You may not have noticed it, or just didn’t give a damn, which was more likely the case, but we were already starting to get the snub from the more prudish in London.”

“The Millards snubbed you?”

“It wasn’t quite that bad. Let’s say Adeline’s parents tolerated me, but it was obvious they would have preferred I wasn’t courting their youngest daughter. I even got the impression they were humoring me, that they were sure I’d lose interest and hie m’self back to London. They may even have thought I was just toying with Adeline, but because I was a Malory and also a neighbor, they didn’t just show me the door. Letitia, on the other hand, was very blatant in her dislike of me and never tried to hide it.”

“So you remember her now?”

“Too clearly,” Anthony said with a sigh. “To put it mildly, she was a cold bitch.”

James grinned. “You call that mild?”

“Exactly my point, cold as in glacial. Every time I called on Adeline, I had to deal with scathing remarks from her sister. It was a very real rancor she had, as if I’d personally insulted her.”

“Did you?”

“Of course not. I was in the bloom of first love, James. I was bloody well nice to everyone! I would have thought it was because she hadn’t married yet herself, and she was at least six years older than Adeline.”

“Ah, missed her boat, did she? So it was merely the bitterness of an old maid spilling out on her younger sister’s beau?”

“As I said, that’s what I would have thought, but she wasn’t caustic with others, only with me. And I had occasion to watch her around other people. She could be just as sweet as Adeline was—all right, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. She wasn’t that sweet, but you get the point.”

“Well, not that it matters, other than to explain why she was so nasty in that note she sent you. So what is your conclusion? Is Katey yours?”

Anthony closed his eyes again with the thought. He was still having trouble believing that he might have a full-grown daughter.

“She’s the right age to be mine. There’s even a slight resemblance to Adeline, though not enough that I would have noticed right off. But she also has her eyes, her hair, even her dimples.”

“Why do I detect a but in your tone?”

“None of that is conclusive. You have to agree it could simply be coincidence.”

James nodded, but added, “It’s not coincidence that Adeline is Katey’s mother.”

“No, there is that. But we don’t know Katey’s exact age, do we? She’d have to be twenty-two for me to be her father. And Katey told Judy that her mother had eloped with the American Tyler and got disowned by her mother’s family because of it. When did she even meet that American? She’d been trysting with me at the time!”

“If Katey is twenty-two, I’d say there is a lie in that story somewhere. But if she isn’t, hell, Adeline could have returned from Europe early, met the American, hied off with him, got pregnant on the ship taking them to America, all without you knowing any of it, since you were back in London by then. And Katey herself says Tyler is her father. It’s only Letitia Millard who has implied that you are.”

“But Letitia would be in a position to know, wouldn’t she?” Anthony said. “And what Katey believes to be true is merely whatever Adeline told her. It’s not uncommon for a mother having a child out of wedlock to hide that shameful fact from the child. Molly is a prime example. She refused all those years to allow Jason to tell their son that she was his mother.”

“Do I detect a hopeful note there?”

Anthony flushed slightly. Some of the shock was wearing off, and he couldn’t deny that awe and, yes, even delight were taking its place. If an unexpected daughter had to show up on his doorstep, he couldn’t have asked for a nicer one. The girl had pluck, she had courage, and she’d already endeared herself to his family. Incredibly, he realized he’d be proud to claim Katey Tyler as his daughter.

To his brother, he said, “Judy would be thrilled. She took to Katey as if they were—”

“Sisters?” James cut in with a laugh. “Sorry, old boy, but you don’t claim a daughter who isn’t yours just to thrill the one who is.”

Anthony slumped a bit in his seat with a sigh. “I know. This has thrown me for quite a loop, you know. I’m not thinking clearly yet.”

“When do you ever?”

Anthony ignored the goad to add, “Adeline would have told me, wouldn’t she? I mean, why wouldn’t she? She could have come to me at any time. I was staying at Haverston. I was very accessible.”

“You’re not going to have your answers unless you pay a visit to the Millards yourself. You do realize that, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ll probably have to pry the facts out of them. They aren’t going to welcome you.”

“I’m aware of that, too.”

“Well, also keep this in mind. This could be a hoax cooked up by Letitia, for whatever reason. You admit she disliked you, unreasonably so. Katey shows up, giving her the means for a little revenge.”

“Revenge?”

“Exactly. How would you feel if you take Katey in, believing her to be yours, grow to love her, then several years down the road Letitia drops the bomb that she lied, that the chit isn’t yours at all.”

Anthony rolled his eyes. “That’s a bit far-fetched, but I get the point. I still have no idea why Letitia despised me, but I won’t just take her word on this. Oliver Millard is deceased, but Adeline’s mother is still alive. I’ll go straight to her.”

“If they let you in the door. You know, Katey never said, but considering Letitia’s note, I’d hazard a guess that she didn’t have a cordial visit with these relatives of hers. And she was in a tearing hurry to leave England, so much so that she was willing to let the Yank off the hook of his guilt by renting his ship. To put that unpleasant meeting behind her most likely.”

Anthony shot out of his seat with a gasp. Mention of Boyd recalled their last conversation with him. Oh, good God, he didn’t really advise Anderson on how to seduce his own daughter, did he?

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