No Choice But Seduction Page 40

It wasn’t apparent whom Sophie was speaking to. Herself, the room at large? Her eyes remained sadly on her daughter.

Anthony, glancing between them, burst out, “You can’t be suggesting she was in love with me!”

Sophie glanced at him and chuckled. “Goodness, no, you were still a child yourself back then. It was your brother Jason who caught her eye and her heart from the moment she first saw him.”

Incredulous, Anthony said, “Serious, no-nonsense Jason? He’s been the head of our family since he was eighteen. He never had time to socialize, much less think about romance.”

“Well, he was quite the dashing figure back then. And Letty haunted Havers Town with the mere hope that he might make one of his rare appearances in town and give her a chance to speak with him.”

Anthony’s eyes widened. “I think I was with him one of those times. She stopped us to chat. I remember thinking she was wearing her heart on her sleeve, but Jason didn’t notice it.”

At the reminder of how insignificant she’d been in the eyes of her love, Letitia snarled, “He never noticed! Half the times I spoke to him, he had to be reminded who I was!”

“You expected more?” Anthony scoffed. “You weren’t even out of the schoolroom yet. Besides, between raising the rest of us and running the estate, Jason always had too much on his mind.”

“I think you misunderstand, Sir Anthony,” Sophie said in a soothing tone that brought back a degree of calmness to the room. “This went on for years, even beyond her introdction to society. Letty had her come-out in Gloucester when she was eighteen. She tried to get out of it, but Oliver insisted. For two Seasons she ignored all offers. All she wanted was to come home so she could be near Jason again, even if she only managed to see him a few times a year. After two unsuccessful Seasons, Oliver stopped insisting.”

“Why didn’t she just tell Jason how she felt?” Anthony asked.

“It may not seem like it now, but she used to be quite shy. Besides, a lady is never that bold. You know that as well as I.”

“When it’s ruining their life, maybe they should be,” Anthony replied.

“I was going to,” Letitia admitted in a low voice. “I begged mother to invite him to dinner. It was a mistake. All he did was talk about his flowers and crops, which my father wasn’t the least bit interested in, and he swore afterwards that we wouldn’t be doing that again.”

“I take it your parents didn’t know about this great love you harbored?” Anthony asked Letitia.

“Of course not. And I never did manage to speak with him alone that evening.”

“Why didn’t you give up by then?” Anthony asked carefully. “My brother apparently gave you no encouragement a’tall, barely even knew you were alive. Why did you cling to hope that that would change?”

“Because I loved him! Even when we heard about his bastard and that he was going to raise him and make him his legal heir, I continued to love him. It was an indiscretion that obviously meant nothing to him, since he didn’t marry the boy’s mother, whoever she was. Then your sister died and he ended up raising her daughter as well. That was a fine thing he did, but the two youngsters were getting out of hand. And that’s when he cut out my heart!” Letitia snarled. “Instead of looking closer to home for a wife who would be a mother to them, he called in a favor and brought home Frances instead, an earl’s daughter. I’m an earl’s daughter! I would have loved those children and been the perfect mother to them!”

“So he made a mistake in Frances,” Anthony had to allow.

“A mistake? Is that what you call it? She despised him. Her father forced her into the marriage, but she didn’t honor it. The whole neighborhood knew what a horrible match that was! They lived estranged all those years until he chalked up yet another scandal for your family when he divorced her.”

Letitia’s scathing tone made Anthony reply defensively, “So because you didn’t have the gumption to state your case and at least make yourself a little more memorable to my brother before he was faced with needing an immediate wife—”

“How dare you!”

He raised a brow. “I’m a Malory, remember? You’ve already tarred me as scandalous, so I’ll bloody well state it as I see it. Jason was desperate for a wife back then when our niece started turning into a hoyden. If you’d had the guts to go after what you wanted, instead of waiting for it to happen with no real effort on your part, then he might have remembered you when he was looking for a wife who would be a mother for the two young ’uns.”

“You, sir, lived too long in the jaded bowels of London,” Letitia shot back. “You no longer have any notion what a true lady must adhere to.”

Anthony was obviously holding back a laugh. “Fine,” he said in agreement. “You are quite right and I beg your pardon. You hold your tongue and hope for the best, which keeps you from even entering Jason’s mind when he must pick a wife. So he ends up making the worst choice possible, when he could have had you instead. You’re absolutely right, Letitia. Your ladylike way of keeping your feelings a secret was the better way.”

Bright red shot up her cheeks, Letitia was so angry. “You’re despicable!”

“Wait, let me finish first, and possibly you can come up with an epithet I haven’t been reviled with yet.”

“I’m sure that isn’t possible.”

“Touché! But what would you call your own actions, Letitia? Sterling? Without reproach? You know, Jason didn’t want to marry back then. He didn’t have time for a wife. But he made the sacrifice for the children’s sake, to give them a mother. Because he didn’t pick you for the role, your love for him turned to hate. And you painted his whole family with the same brush, hating us all by association, and made sure your father did, too. Under normal circumstances, your father would have come banging at my door and demanded I do right by his daughter, which I would have been delighted to do. But you made sure that wasn’t going to happen. Was it jealousy, Letitia? You couldn’t stand it that Adeline might win a Malory when you couldn’t?”

She just glared daggers at him. Anthony shook his head in disgust. Katey, who’d kept silent as she listened to all that bile being tossed around, finally felt some herself. This was her mother who had been put through that hell back then, of being told she could bear her child, but couldn’t keep it. Katey couldn’t begin to imagine what that must have been like. And for what? An unrequited love that had turned Letitia so sour and bitter that she wanted everyone else to be as miserable as she was?

Katey stared at the woman responsible, who had spread her heartache around for everyone to share. “You made sure my mother couldn’t marry the man she wanted to marry. You forced her to run away to another country, to abandon her home permanently just so she could keep her child. Did she have to be as unhappy as you, Letitia? Was that really necessary? She was your only sister!”

Letitia stiffened at this new accusation. “Look at me! I’m forty-six years old. I’ve never known the touch of a man. I’ve never even held a baby in my arms. Jason Malory took every ounce of love that I ever had, leaving none for me to give to another man. But I didn’t want her to be unhappy. I never wanted that!”

Letitia suddenly ran out of the room. Katey didn’t miss the tears in her aunt’s eyes and felt a pang of remorse for causing them. Sophie was squeezing her own eyes tightly closed, holding in the pain she felt for her daughter.

Softly she said, “If it’s any consolation, she doesn’t like the way she is. She cries herself to sleep often. She thinks I don’t know.”

“I would as soon my brother never be told that he was unknowingly the cause of all this grief,” Anthony said.

“But he wasn’t,” Sophie assured him. “A man can’t be blamed for something that isn’t even remotely his fault. He never knew. To him, Letty was just a neighbor he saw occasionally in passing. He had no idea that she harbored such tremendous feelings for him. I didn’t know until years later myself, when she finally confessed all that to me. But maybe you should know this. It wasn’t malice on her part. It wasn’t even because of Jason. Yes, she had all those scandals from your family to use as ammunition to make her case, but it was simply you. She honestly thought that you would be an unfaithful husband, which would make Adeline unhappy in the end.”

“She couldn’t know that!” Anthony protested.

“No, but the path you took had already begun. You had already had a taste of the sophisticated side of London. By all accounts, you were following in your wild brother’s footsteps. And you went on to become London’s most notorious rake for more than a decade, which seemed to prove that she was right. While you might have been in the throes of first love and had the best of intentions, how long would that have lasted, Sir Anthony? Can you honestly say you would have been a faithful husband at that young age?”

Anthony opened his mouth, then slowly closed it. He sat back thoughtfully for a few moments, then finally raised his brow at Sophie.

“You’ve made your point, madam. A good one. While I love my wife, Roslynn, with all my heart and would never dream of being unfaithful to her, as you say, I spent more’n a decade sowing my oats, so I was quite ready to settle into matrimony with her. All those years ago with Adeline, who can say? Exemplary husband or worst husband imaginable? No, I can’t honestly say which I would have been.”

Sophie nodded and squeezed Katey’s hand a little more. “It was an unfortunate event in our lives. But this lovely child came of it, and we can be grateful for that.”

Anthony smiled at Katey. “Indeed, we can. Her mother didn’t come home, but Katey has and is finally a member of my family. Thank you for giving us the answers we were missing. I would like to read that letter you had from Adeline, if you wouldn’t mind?”

“I’m afraid I can’t oblige you in that. I threw it away. It was too heartbreaking and I was rereading it too often. She blamed me as well, you see. And although I sent her countless letters m’self, begging her to come home and bring her new family with her, she never answered any of them. So I can only assume she never forgave me.”

“Don’t assume that,” Katey said quickly. “In fact, that she let you know she was all right and where she ended up speaks for itself. She didn’t want you to worry. As for not writing again, I don’t think she ever read your communications. She used to toss unopened letters into the fireplace. I can only guess that she didn’t want to be reminded of her old life, when she was content with her new one.”

Sophie hugged Katey for that. “We have so much to talk about, m’dear. Perhaps you’d like to stay here for a while so we can have a good visit?”

Katey would have liked that, but Anthony declined for her. “We’re staying at Haverston, so she can ride over again tomorrow. She’s only just entered my life, so my protective instincts are currently running rampant.” He smiled to make light of it, but he was unmistakably serious. Unsaid was that he didn’t want her having any more confrontations with Letitia. “For the time being, I would prefer to keep her close at hand, you understand.”

Chapter Fifty-Five

IT WAS QUITE LATE when Anthony and Katey returned to Haverston. Sophie had insisted they stay for dinner, and Anthony couldn’t refuse yet another suggestion of hers. Nor did they leave directly afterward. Katey and Sophie had too much to talk about that wasn’t painful, and Letitia had thankfully not joined them again to put a damper on the remainder of the evening.

Settled into the coach, his arm around her shoulders in a paternal, protective fashion, Anthony was a bit hesitant in asking his daughter, “You’re not upset with what you learned today?”

“No, actually, I’m relieved. I have a vivid imagination. I had expected much worse.”

“I’ll send Sophie an invitation to come to Haverston tomorrow—alone. I’d rather not expose Ros and Judy to Letitia, but I think they’d both enjoy meeting your grandmother. From some of the things she said tonight, I have the feeling Letitia has scared off most of their visitors over the years, so the old gal might appreciate the stimulation of a small gathering as well as being around children again.”

“You’re probably right. But I don’t expect to avoid Letitia indefinitely. In fact, I expect her to get used to me eventually and lose some of her abrasiveness.”

“You’re more optimistic than I.” He chuckled.

As late as it was, someone had waited up for them—the lights at the front of the house were still lit. It was probably Roslynn. She’d been dying of curiosity about what had happened all those years ago and had even pouted a little when Anthony refused to let her come along for the visit. He was surprised to find James in the wide entryway instead, leaning against the parlor doorway, brandy in hand.

“I was beginning to think you were staying the night at the Millards,” James remarked.

Anthony grinned. “Didn’t expect to see you here, old man. A little too curious to wait until we returned to London?”

James scoffed. “I was due for a visit with the elder. Haven’t seen him since I got back from the Caribbean, you know, and then I sailed again with you.”

“Sure,” Anthony replied doubtfully, since he knew Jason had sent word to the family that he was coming to London next week for a visit.

But James wasn’t quite done with his explanation. “And I brought the Yank with me.”

Prev Next