Say You Love Me Page 12

Frances's face was now glowing hotly, but she wasn't going to let him put the blame for their disastrous marriage on her shoulders alone. "There's no need for excuses, Jason, Molly was your mistress before you married me, and you had every intention of keeping her afterwards, which is just what you did. And that certainly never bothered me, if that is what you are thinking. Far from it. She was more than welcome to you as far as I was concerned." "How generous of you, m'dear." "There's no need for sarcasm either. I don't love you, I never have. And you know that full well." "That was not an expectation or requirement of our arrangement." "No, of course it wasn't," she agreed. "And that's all our marriage ever was to you, an arrangement. Well, I want out of it. I've met someone whom I do love and whom I wish to marry. And never mind asking who he is. Suffice it to say, he's nothing like you."

She'd managed to surprise him yet again. She wished she could have kept Oscar out of it, but mentioning him told Jason just how serious she was. He still didn't look inclined to be reasonable. Of course, when was he ever, stubborn, bullheaded man that he was? And she did still have one piece of information left to sway him with. She'd really been hoping she wouldn't have to use it. Blackmail was so unsavory, after all. But she should have known better. And she wanted out of this marriage bad enough to resort to any means-blackmail included. "I have just given you an excellent reason to divorce me, Jason," she pointed out reasonably. "You haven't been listening-" "No! You haven't been listening. I didn't want to get nasty about this, but you force my hand. Give me a divorce-or Derek is going to learn that his mother isn't dead. He'll learn that she's very much alive and has been at Haverston all these years-and in your bed. Your well-kept secret will be known to all, Jason, if you won't be reasonable about this. So which scandal do you find preferable?"

THE TOWN HOUSE WAS LOVELY, BUT KELSEY DIDN'T ASSUME it would be her new home. She was done with making assumptions. And if it was to be hers, the fact that it was very nice and tastefully furnished didn't mollify her. She wasn't sure anything could mollify her, after the horrid five days she had just endured.

Derek's driver had shown up bright and early that morning, just as Kelsey was about to leave for her daily walk to town. She'd thought he was bringing her word from Derek, but no, the man said he was there to take her back to London. No message from Derek. No explanation as to why she'd been left to fend for herself for five long days. And the driver had no other information to impart. He'd only been told to fetch her and where to take her.

She packed up quickly, everything, including the few essentials she'd been forced to buy herself, just in case where she was being taken was as spartan as the cottage had been. But she had the driver take her to Bridgewater first so she could turn over the last of the dresses she'd contracted to sew, which she had fortunately finished late the night before

She had finished the first five dresses in only three days, despite catching a miserable cold. She knew she wouldn't be getting any more money until the dresses were done. But the seamstress had liked her work so well that she'd given her the rest of the lady's order to complete, another three dresses for two more pounds.

So at least she wasn't penniless now. She'd even bought her own lunch at the inn the driver stopped at around noon-and some extra food to take with her, just in case.

After having experienced such panic that first day she'd been left alone, it was going to take a while for her to stop worrying about where her next meal was going to come from.

Derek Malory had a lot of explaining to do, and Kelsey hoped she could keep her temper under control long enough to listen to what he had to say for himself. But all the way to London she had simmered, and she had been so tense that by the time she arrived late that afternoon, her whole body ached. Added to the cold and the fever she was still running, and the fact that neither Derek nor anyone else was there to greet her, it just made her more irritable.

There was about an hour of daylight left for her to explore the town house. The driver had stayed long enough to get the fireplaces lit before he departed. And there were ample lamps and candles about for the evening.

It wasn't a large town house by lordly standards, though each of the seven rooms was a nice, comfortable size, and it was in a nice neighborhood with a small park in the center of the square. There was a separate kitchen with one bedroom for a servant or two next to it-it contained two narrow beds-a dining room with a table large enough to seat six, a parlor, a small study, and two bedrooms upstairs.

The fact that it was so completely furnished, even to having a wall of books in the study, finely framed paintings or, the walls, knickknacks on tables, ample bedding and linens, and basic long-lasting staples in the kitchen, led her to believe it was someone's home. Many lords were in the habit of renting out their town houses for long periods of time while they were off on the Continent or firmly entrenched in their country estates. But she was assuming again, which she had told herself she wouldn't do anymore.

There was a full modern bath off the larger bedroom, which Kelsey decided would be hers-if she was to stay there. As she ended her exploring she took a bath. The uncomfortable tub at the cottage-with barely warm water, since she'd had to heat and carry her own-had not been at all satisfying. This one was, though she didn't linger, not knowing when Derek might show up.

There was no fresh food to be found in the kitchen, so she made do with what she had brought along from the inn. She could have fixed up something from the staples, but she didn't really feel like cooking, her fever having increased a few degrees, as it did each evening. She hoped she'd be able to shake the cold now that she was back in London. Those long walks to Bridgewater each day in the frigid air, once in the rain, hadn't allowed her condition to improve.

It was the fever that put her to sleep on the couch in the parlor, that and the plentiful meal and hot bath, and the nice cozy fire. But when the front door opened she woke, giving her enough time to sit up before Derek was standing in the doorway. It didn't give her enough time to look awake.

Her eyes were barely open; the pins had come loose from her hair, letting it spill over her shoulders; her nose had been running, as usual; and she was just giving it a loud blow into the hanky she kept constantly in hand when there he was. And good grief, she had forgotten how truly handsome he was, especially done up all formal as he was. Whatever gathering he'd just come from or was soon going to was a special one, to have him looking so fine.

"Hullo, Kelsey, m'dear," he said with a tender smile. "It's a bit early to be sleeping. Was the trip that tiring?"

She nodded, then shook her head. Damn, this was no time to have her mind muddled with sleep. "I would've been here sooner," he continued as he started forward. "But the wedding reception I just came from had all my family present, and it's deuced hard getting away from family. By the by, what's happened to your nose?"

She blinked. But her fingers came up automatically to touch her nose, and the rawness she felt there gave her an inkling of what he was referring to. She'd gotten so used to not having a mirror at the cottage that she hadn't even thought to look in one at the town house, but she could imagine the damage all that nose blowing had done. "I have a cold," she began, but the very mention of it cleared her muddled state and brought her anger surging forth. "Imagine that. A cold I caught while walking to Bridgewater. Why would I do something so silly, with the weather as cold as it was, you might ask? Well, I was starving, you see, and with there being no food in the cottage, and none miraculously appearing, I was forced to use the only transportation I had, my feet, to go and get some. Of course, I had no money to do that, so I was also forced to find work just so I could eat."

The heavy sarcasm at the start of her diatribe stopped him cold, but it was that bit at the end about finding work that stuck in his mind. He equated work for someone of her profession as only one thing, what she would find easiest and most familiar, which was selling her favors.

That this is what occurred to him became apparent when he asked sharply, "And just what kind of work did you find in Bridgewater?"

That that was all he was interested in knowing, after everytiling she'd said, had her hissing, "Not what you're thinking!

But what if it was? Would my starving have been preferable?"

That she was obviously accusing him of something brought up his defenses. "I'm deuced if I know what you're talking about," he snorted. ""How could you have been ever, close to starving, when I sent you several weeks' worth of food? And my driver was left there at your disposal, so there was no need for you to walk anywhere unless it was your choice to do so."

She stared at him incredulously. Either he was suffering some sort of delusion or he was lying. And what, after all, did she actually know about him to indicate that he wasn't a liar? He had seemed nice enough. He had seemed kind. But that could have just been some ploy so she wouldn't suspect that he enjoyed making people suffer deprivation, and panic, and fear. And if the latter was true, then she was in a much more horrid position than she had assumed, being bound to him because of the auction until he decided to end their relationship.

That so infuriated her, that he actually might be that cruel, she came to her feet and started throwing whatever came to hand at him, stressing with each throw, "There was no food delivered! Your driver did not show up until today! And if you think you can deceive and confuse me with denials to the contrary, you-"

She didn't get any further because he didn't just stand there letting her aim missiles at him. He easily dodged the first one, and the second went over his head as he dived at her, pushing her back down onto the couch with himself landing on top of her.

After she got her breath back from the impact, she shrieked, "Get off of me, you clumsy clod!" "My dear girl, there was nothing clumsy involved in the position you now find yourself. It was quite intentional, I do assure you. "Get off of me anyway!"

So you can resume your spat of violence? No, no. Violence is not going to be part of our relationship. I could've sworn I already mentioned that." "And what do you call squashing me like this?" "Prudence, actually." And then he paused, his eyes getting greener by the second as he stared down at her. "On the other hand, I'd also call it quite nice."

Her eyes narrowed. "If you're thinking about kissing me, I wouldn't advise it," she warned. "No?” "No."

He sighed. "Ah, well." But then a half grin formed as he added, "I don't always take good advice."

There was no way to stop him from kissing her, in the position she was in, especially when his hand came to her chin to keep her from even turning her head to the side. But his lips brushed hers for no more than a second before he jerked back as if he'd been burned, and in fact, it was the heat of her fever that he'd felt. "Good God, you are ill, aren't you? You're bloody well burning up. Have you seen a doctor?" "What, pray tell, would I have paid a doctor with," she asked tiredly, "when I only earned enough coins with my sewing to feed myself?"

At that his face flushed angrily, and he shot to his feet to growl down at her, "Explain yourself. Were you robbed? Did the cottage and everything in it burn down? Why didn't you have any food, when I sent down plenty?" "So you say, but as nothing arrived, I would say you didn't.,,

He stiffened. "Do not accuse me of lying, Kelsey. I don't know what happened to the provisions I arranged to brought to the cottage, though I will find out. And I did ma those arrangements. I also left the coach and driver there f your disposal."

He sounded sincere, he really did. She wished she coul know for certain that he was. But she allowed it might be prudent now to give him the benefit of the doubt until she had proof to the contrary. "If you did," she said as she slowly sat up, "I certainly didn't see hide nor hair of him, at least not until this morning. if

"He was to check with you daily, to see if you would need him. You're saying he never did?" "How would I know if he did or not, when I was rarely there? Or didn't you hear me say I had to walk to town each day just to buy my food?"

It finally dawned on him just what she had faced-alone. "Good God, no wonder you jumped down my-that is to say-oh, Kelsey, I am so sorry. Believe me, if I'd had any idea that you weren't comfortably settled in the cottage, I would have returned immediately."

He looked so appalled that she felt like reassuring him. Actually, aside from the panic and worry, it wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't winter, and if she hadn't caught a cold. And now that the anger was leaving her, the symptoms of that cold were becoming overly noticeable again.

She leaned back against the couch, feeling weak after expending all that angry energy. "I believe I could do with. some rest-" "And a doctor," he cut in as he scooped her up and started to carry her from the room.

"I can walk," she protested. "And a little rest is likely all I need, now that I can stay out of the cold."

He winced, though she didn't notice. She was getting dizzy as the walls passed by her at what seemed an alarming rate of speed. Was he running up the stairs? No, she was merely fainting, which she promptly did.

She awoke slowly, but smiled at Jason when she turned to find him sitting on the side of her bed. She hadn't expected him to return to Haverston that night. He had planned to stay over in the London house since Amy's wedding reception would likely go on so late. But that he was suddenly there in the middle of the night, and in her bedroom, was a normal occurrence, not one to give any alarm. "Welcome home, my love."

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