No Choice But Seduction Page 5

“Is that what you did?” Judith asked. “Left like the other children?”

“Not as soon as I would have liked to. My mother was there, you see, and it never occurred to me to leave without her. She had no one but me after my father died. Well, she did, but her family had disowned her, so they didn’t count as family anymore.”

“Why’d they do that?”

Katey shrugged. “To hear her tell it, they were wealthy aristocrats and very concerned with social classes. They refused to let her marry my father simply because he was an American. Well, possibly because he was a merchant, too. ‘In trade’ was how my mother put it. They apparently objected to that as well.”

Judith wasn’t surprised. “It’s a kind of snobbery that’s common among the gentry. Many of them look down on anyone in trade.”

“Do they? Well, that sounds awfully narrow-minded to me. If my father hadn’t been a store owner, he never would have gone to England in the first place, wouldn’t have met my mother, and can you imagine, I never would have been born!”

Judith gave her a look that said clearly, Please don’t talk to me like I’m a child. Katey almost burst out laughing. The little girl did really seem years beyond her age.

“He came here to open a shop?” Judith asked next.

“No, I doubt that ever occurred to him. You see, at home he had all the suppliers he needed for his store from the nearby town of Danbury, but he didn’t really sell anything interesting, just necessities and produce from the local farmers. He came here to England to see if he could find something more exotic to sell and found my mother instead. So she eloped with him, burned her bridges you could say, and she never saw her English family again.”

“I thought I recognized your accent.” Judith grinned. “I have American relatives now m’self. But why didn’t your mother come home to England after your father died?”

Katey sighed to herself. It’s what she had wanted her mother to do, and she’d broached the subject at least once a year for the last twelve years since her father had died, but Adeline Tyler despised her family for turning their backs on her, and she flatly refused to ever set foot in England again. Besides, she had taken over the running of the store and actually enjoyed the work. It was like a further slap in the face to the Millards, her English relatives, that she was now in trade herself. Not that her family ever knew that, since she didn’t communicate with any of them, but she seemed to silently gloat about it.

To the curious child sitting next to her, Katey said, “When my mother’s family disowned her, she more or less disowned them, too. And I think she despised England because of it.”

Judith nodded. “But what’s all that got to do with your maid doubting what you told her?”

Katey chuckled. She’d thought the girl had forgotten about that, but since she hadn’t, Katey asked her, “Have you ever been so bored because one day runs into the next, giving you no memories worth recalling?”

“Never,” Judith replied instantly.

“Then you’ve been very lucky, because that’s what my life was like growing up in Gardener. And I wasn’t the only one who woke up each day with nothing to look forward to. The villagers who were left were all old, and they all led uneventful lives. They didn’t seem to mind, but if something exciting happened, they certainly enjoyed hearing about it. So every once in a while I gave them something exciting to hear about.”

“You lied to them?”

Katey blinked. The child wasn’t only beautiful, she was intelligent and too perceptive by half. And while Katey would never dream of discussing such things about herself with a stranger, she felt an unusual kinship with the girl, probably because they had shared Katey’s first real adventure on her grand tour.

“Goodness, I never thought of it as lying. I merely created minor fabrications, embellishments, really, about things I happened to witness. For instance, when I noticed Mrs. Cartley’s cat on top of her roof next door, it had seemed like the cat was stuck up there, afraid to come down. Now I love animals, and I wasn’t about to leave it up there. And I knew the Cartleys weren’t home because they’d left to visit their daughter in Danbury that morning and wouldn’t be back for several more hours. So I went over and climbed Mrs. Cartley’s rose trellis to get up on their roof, but by the time I actually got up there, the cat was gone!”

“It got up the nerve to jump down?”

“No.” Katey chuckled. “It got down the same way it climbed up, with a ladder! I forgot that Mr. Cartley had been repairing his roof earlier that week. He’d left his ladder leaning against the back of their house. The excitement was over, and very bland excitement at that. So instead of mentioning that to Mrs. Cartley later, I told her that her cat had got up on our roof, which was much higher, our house being two stories, and that my maid risked life and limb to climb up the old oak tree next to our house to save it. Grace ended up being the heroine for the month, which she didn’t mind one bit, and it gave everyone something to talk about instead of the weather.”

“That sounds like my cousin Derek claiming the fish he caught this summer was two feet long, but his wife told us later it was only six inches. It was more interesting hearing that it was a big fish, but it was certainly funny when we found out it wasn’t even big enough to keep. So that’s the kind of tales you tell?”

“Similar—but not exactly. You see, I was about your age when I started getting ‘creative’ sometimes in describing what I saw and did. I’d had a bad disappointment that year. I thought I’d be going to school in Danbury, where I could finally meet some other children my age, even if it did mean two long rides each day on my pony, there and back. But an old professor retired to Gardener the year before, and my mother managed to talk him into tutoring me instead. So when I saw a stranger stealing tomatoes from my mother’s garden out back while I was helping her roll out biscuits for dinner, I merely watched, figuring if he was hungry enough to steal them he was welcome to them. But when she came back in the kitchen, I thought she might blame me for the missing tomatoes, since she knew I was upset with her for keeping me at home, so I told her I chased off a thief with the rolling pin I’d been using.”

“You got to help in the kitchen?” Judith said. “I wish I could do that, but our cook just feeds me a sweet and tells me to run along.”

Katey was amused that the child was more interested in the cooking than the thief. “We only had one maid, Grace,” Katey said, nodding toward their sleeping companion. “So we all shared in the chores.”

“Would your mother really have noticed a few missing tomatoes?” Judith asked.

“Oh, yes, she knew exactly how many tomatoes were on her plants and exactly how many were ready for picking. She loved her garden. I did, too, come to think of it. I spent many an hour with her in our backyard.”

The child didn’t notice the melancholy that had snuck up on Katey with those memories. God, she missed her mother. It was such a stupid accident that had taken her life last winter, a mere slip on a bit of ice.

Judith sighed next to her. “That’s another thing we don’t have, vegetable gardens. My uncle Jason has lots of buildings at Haverston, his estate in the country, just for growing things indoors year-round. The gardens in our square in the city, though, just have flowers. Cook buys all our food from the market.”

It was odd how one child might look at chores with envy, another might see them as a bother, and yet another could see them as merely a break from monotony.

“So you lied to your mother?” the child asked baldly.

Katey blushed, hearing it put that way. “I had to tell her about the thief. He was very real. I just didn’t want her to know that I stood there and did nothing to try to stop him. But it caused such a to-do in the village that the men were out hunting for that thief for days. It gave them something to talk about for nearly half the year. You should have seen how it put the ‘life’ back into them, if you know what I mean. So although my mother gave me a terrible scolding for risking my life and warned me never to do anything so foolish again, I learned something else from that incident. I learned how to remove the boredom from all our lives, if only briefly.”

“So you often embellished events you witnessed?” Judith asked.

“Yes, she got in the habit of creating excitement out of thin air,” Grace said as she sat up across from them with a yawn.

“Not often,” Katey told her maid.

“Often enough to make me the heroine of the village,” Grace grumbled.

“You’ve enjoyed being the heroine. Why, the entire village cried when you left. They merely waved good-bye to me.”

Grace chuckled. “Very well, so I did enjoy that part of it.”

“I can’t imagine what it must have been like, not having something exciting going on all the time,” Judith remarked. “With my family, there is always something interesting happening. Why, my uncle James and aunt George went off just last month to chase pirates. And at the end of summer my cousin Jeremy married a thief who turned out to be the missing daughter of a baroness.”

Katey blinked. Even Grace looked doubtful, then rolled her eyes at Katey as if to say, The chit has picked up your bad habits this quickly? And it did sound as if the child was doing some embellishing of her own.

Katey was about to laugh, but then Judith added, “Did you come here to meet your English relatives?”

Katey went still. That was one subject she didn’t want to discuss. She’d had every intention of doing so on the voyage over and had been looking forward to it. And after they arrived in England, she’d gone straight to Havers Town, which, according to her mother, was the closest town to the Millard family estate in Gloucestershire. But once there, she’d abruptly changed her mind.

“She did,” Grace answered the girl. “She just didn’t have the guts to knock on their door and took us off to Scotland instead.”

“That’s not why we came here,” Katey said, annoyed with her outspoken maid. “It was just something to do while we were here, and now it’s something that can be done some other time—or perhaps never. They probably don’t even know I exist. Besides, we were already planning on touring Scotland.”

“How can you not want to meet your family?” Judith asked, amazed.

“They disowned my mother. I never understood how they could want nothing more to do with their own child. It was a mean thing to do, and I’m not sure I want to acknowledge a relationship to people like that.”

Judith nodded, but Grace, glancing out the window, suddenly said, “You might want to brace yourselves. There’s a reckless driver coming down the road, and if Mr. Davis hasn’t noticed, he might not move us out of the way in time to avoid a collision.”

Judith peeked out the window and paled. “It’s her! The woman who stole me is driving that coach.”

“Katey’s story was true then?” Grace demanded, glancing between Katey and Judith.

“Yes, all of it,” Katey replied.

“Well, it looks like she’s slowing down,” Grace said, still watching the approaching coach. “I’m guessing she’d like a word with us.”

Katey’s mouth tightened. “I’d like a word with her, too, but I’ll have to forgo giving her a piece of my mind. It’s more important that we get the girl home to her family.” And then Katey told the child, “Duck down so she can’t see you if she tries to look in the window. And don’t worry. We won’t be letting her anywhere near you again.”

Chapter Five

BOYD HAD NEVER SEEN Sir Anthony Malory as upset as he was yesterday in Hyde Park. When Boyd found him, the man was half out of his mind with worry. But he’d expected that because several of Anthony’s servants whom he’d passed had told him just how terrified the man was. They had found his daughter’s horse on the other side of the park and they feared she was lying in the bushes somewhere bruised, broken—or dead.

Malory didn’t even give Boyd a chance to tell him he had news. He’d practically dragged Boyd off his mount when he rode up to him and lifted him off his feet by his lapels to shake him. Malory was nearly six inches taller than Boyd, so he was quite capable of doing that.

“Where’s the army you were supposed to bring?” Anthony had shouted at Boyd. “I know bloody well my brother has got at least a half dozen male servants in his employ.”

Usually Boyd wouldn’t stand for being manhandled like that and would already be throwing punches. It was a bad habit he’d developed as the youngest of five brothers who rarely got the upper hand with any of them—unless he was using his fists. But he felt for this man and knew what it was like to be frantic with worry over a family member. That Anthony’s brother James had been responsible for Boyd’s worry about Georgina had long ago been forgiven. Mostly.

But because he understood what the man was going through, Boyd hadn’t tried to explain to Anthony, he’d simply shoved the note in his face. He managed not to fall to the ground when Anthony abruptly released him. And he watched warily as Anthony read the note.

Suddenly Anthony stopped shouting, and an odd calmness descended on him. Well, not so odd. While most of the Andersons got loud when they were angry, the Malorys tended to react in the opposite way. It was when they were quiet that you needed to worry.

“Money?” Anthony had said, looking up from the note. “They frighten my daughter and drive me half-mad for money? They can have all the bloody money they want, but I’ll have their hides in exchange for it.”

Prev Next