Say You Love Me Page 13

He was that. Jason Malory had been her love for more than half of her life. Molly had always been a little bit incredulous that a man of such consequence as the Marquis of Haverston could fall in love with her. But she no longer doubted his feelings for her.

In the beginning, he had dallied with her as a young lord would with any pretty maid he suddenly discovered living under his roof. He'd been twenty-two and unmarried. She'd just turned eighteen, and had been dazzled by his hand- someness and the charm that very few people ever witnessed.

They had been discreet, of course-very secretive, in fact because he still had younger brothers living with him, and he felt he must set a good example. He'd even tried to end their affair once when they'd nearly been discovered by one of his brothers. He'd tried to end it again when he felt duty bound to marry. He should have sent her away, but of course he couldn't, not after the promises he had made to her.

He actually managed to stay away from Molly for almost a year, though. But then he'd come upon her one day when she was alone, and in an instant their passion had flared as if it hadn't lain dormant for all those months, and of course, it hadn't. It was almost a physical pain for them both if they couldn't touch when they needed to touch. They suffered too much, each of them, during those separations. And after he'd ended the last one he'd sworn, never again.

And he'd kept his word. She was nearly a wife to him in every way but one, the one that would actually make her a wife. He discussed his decisions and concerns with her. He cherished her when they were alone. And he spent every night with her when he was at home, with no fear of discovery, since he had installed a secret panel in her room that led to the one that had already existed in his room.

Old as Haverston was, there were numerous secret exits from the house that had been needed in years of political and religious turmoil. The concealed exit in the master's bedroom led to stairs and passages that ended in the cellar, where there were two other hidden exits, one led outside, and one led directly into the stable. But the passage to the cellar passed behind the servants' quarters as well, and it had been a simple thing for Jason to put in another hidden opening right into her room, which they had both been using ever since.

Jason had brought a lamp with him as he always did, but it still took Molly a few moments to discern that something was wrong.

She brought a gentle hand to his clenched jaw. "'What is it?" "Frances wants a divorce."

Molly grasped the complications of that immediately. Divorce might be quite common among the lower classes, but it was next to unheard of among the gentry. That Lady Frances, an earl's daughter, a marquis's wife, would even consider such a thing ... "Has she lost her senses?" "No, she's having an affair with some little twit she met in Bath and now wants to marry him."

Molly blinked. "Frances has a lover? Your Frances?" He nodded with a growl. Molly still couldn't quite believe it. Frances Malory was such a timid little woman. It was quite possible that Molly knew her much better than her husband ever had, because they had spent so much time together whenever Frances was at Haverston. She knew that Frances was intimidated by Jason. One of his tirades could bring the poor woman nearly to tears, even when his wrath wasn't directed at her. She also knew that Frances detested Jason's size-huge, strapping male that he was-because it added to her fear.

Molly had always been in an awkward position, having to deal with Frances as the lady of the house, and listen to her female confidences, when she was Jason's lover. On the one hand, she was grateful that Frances didn't love Jason, because she wasn't sure if she could ever have handled the guilt that would have caused. On the other hand, it had always annoyed her whenever Frances would ridicule or demean Jason for no good reason. Molly could find no fault with him. Frances found nothing but fault.

"I find this quite ... amazing," Molly said thoughtfully. "Don't you?" "'That she wants a divorce?" "Well, that too, but more that she has a lover. It's just so well, it's not her, if you know what I mean. An idiot could figure out that she doesn't like men in general, at least that's the impression she gives when she's around them. And we've spoken of it before, if you'll recall. We even concluded that her aversion stemmed from a fear of sex. But obviously, we were wrong-or she got over her fear." "She got over it, all right," he fairly snarled. "And this has been going on behind my back for I don't know how long!" "Jason Malory, you are not going to get up in arms because she's been having an affair with another man, when you have never touched her yourself, and while you have been-"

He cut in, "'It's the principle of the thing-" She cut back in, "So?" He sighed, the angry stiffness leaving his body. "You're right, of course. I suppose I should be glad that Frances has found someone else, but blister it, she doesn't have to marry him."

She smiled at him. "'I assume you have no intention of agreeing to a divorce, because of the scandal. So what's actually got you so upset?" "She knows, Molly."

She became very still. She didn't have to ask for an explanation. Just by his expression, she knew it wasn't their affair he was referring to, which she had always suspected Frances was aware of and was even relieved about, because it kept Jason out of her own bed. No, this was about their other secret.

"She can't know. She's just guessing." "It makes no difference, Molly. She's still threatening to tell Derek and the rest of the family. And if the lad asks me outright, you know I won't lie to him. We thought only Amy knew about us, from that time she walked into my study and found me kissing you that Christmas several years ago. Blasted punch, that I know damn well Anthony spiked, didn't give me sense enough to keep my hands off of you." "But you spoke to Amy, and said she swore she would never tell." "And I'm sure she hasn't."

Molly was beginning to panic. She was the one who had wanted the secret kept, and Jason had given in to her insistence because he loved her. But from the day he had decided to make Derek his official heir, she had been horrified that the future Marquis of Haverston would be embarrassed if he knew that his mother had been a mere parlor maid. She didn't want him to know. It was bad enough that he was illegitimate. But at least he assumed his mother had been a member of the gentry, if a promiscuous one, and that she had died shortly after his birth.

In not telling Derek, she had given up her right to be a mother to him. That hadn't been easy, but at least she had always been nearby, had been there to watch him grow and knew she always would be. Jason had sworn to her that she ,A ould never be sent away where she might never see Derek again.

Derek was grown now, was rarely at home anymore, but her feelings still hadn't changed. She still didn't want her son to be ashamed of his mother. And he would be. How could he not be? After all this time, for him to learn she wasn't even dead, and worse, that she'd been his father's mistress allthese years ... "You told her she could have a divorce."

It wasn't even a question. With this hanging in the balance, of course he would agree to the divorce. "No," he admitted.

"Jason!" "Molly, listen to me, please. Derek is a full-grown man. I have every faith that he could deal with this now with little difficulty. I never wanted it kept from him to begin with, but I let you talk me into it. Once done, it was too late to change the story, at least while he was young. But he's not young and impressionable anymore. You don't think he would be happy, at this point, to know his mother is alive?" "No, and you said it yourself. It was too late before to tell, and it's still too late. I may not know him quite as well as you do, Jason, but I know him well enough to know he'll be furious, not just with me, but with you, for lying to him." "Nonsense." "Think about it, Jason. He's never felt deprived. He's always had a huge family. He always had dozens of shoulders to cry on when he was a child. He was never lonely. He even had his cousin Regina here for a playmate after your sister died. But if he finds out the truth, he'll think he was deprived, don't you see? At least, that will probably be his first reaction. Then the shame will set in-" "Stop it! That drivel might've washed twenty-five years ago, but times are changing, Molly. The common man is making his mark in the world, in literature, in the arts-in politics. You have nothing to be ashamed of-" "I'm not ashamed of who I am, Jason Malory. But you gentry have a different way of looking at things. Lords always have and probably always will. And they don't want their fine, aristocratic blood mixing with the common man's, not for their heirs, anyway. And you're a prime example yourself. Or did you not go out and find yourself an earl's daughter to marry, a woman you could barely tolerate, just to give Derek a mother, when his real mother was sleeping in your bed?"

She regretted saying that the moment it was out. She knew he couldn't marry her. It simply wasn't done. And she had never, ever complained to him about it, accepting what he could give her of himself, accepting her place in his life. That she had been hurt when he married Frances, she had vowed he would never know. That she might have felt some resentment occasionally that she couldn't be his wife, she had hoped he would never know. But after a stupid, thoughtless remark like that ...

Before he could address it, she continued, hoping to distract him. "Frances is apparently determined to give you a scandal either way, Jason, and one isn't much worse than the other, so let sleeping dogs lie, please. You and Frances have lived separately for most of your marriage. Everyone knows that. So do you really think anyone will raise too much of an eyebrow if you divorce? I would imagine most of your friends will merely remark, 'Surprised you didn't do it sooner.' Tell her you've changed your mind." "I gave her no definite answer," he grouched. "A matter like this needs thinking upon."

Molly sighed in relief. She knew her love very well. just by his tone, she knew he'd been swayed to her reasoning. She didn't know which point had done the trick. She didn't want to know-as long as her secret remained safe.

SHE LOOKED SO FRAGILE LYING THERE, HER HAIR STRINGY with sweat, moisture on her pale brow and cheeks, her breathing shallow. But Derek knew there wasn't much that was fragile about Kelsey Langton. Quite a temper she had, even when ill. He could just imagine what it could be like when she was feeling up to snuff.

He couldn't blame her for trying to brain him with a candle holder, after what she had endured. He'd sent his driver back to Bridgewater to find out what had happened, and had the story from him the previous night. He'd had no way of knowing that the maid he'd instructed to deliver what was needed to the cottage had already been fired by his housekeeper and so had no reason to comply or even to give those instructions to someone else. She had simply packed up her things and left. And Kelsey had had no way of knowing that either.

Derek hadn't been able to tell her yet. She hadn't been lucid enough since the evening before, the doctor's medicines finally working to free her cold, and as the doctor had warned, her illness had gotten much worse before it improved. But she had just broken her fever and was sleeping peacefully at last. It had been a long night. It had been an even longer two days, because he'd barely left her side since she had fainted in his arms three nights before.

She made a terrible patient, grumpy, argumentative. She hadn't wanted him to do anything for her, had wanted to get up and do for herself. But he had insisted, wiping her down with cool wet cloths, at least those limbs she would reveal to him, bringing her meals to her, unappetizing as they were. He was bloody well all thumbs in the kitchen.

A cook was to show up today for an interview. He had sent his driver to the employment agency to arrange for some help before he returned to Bridgewater. Whoever showed would be hired on the spot, because if Derek never stepped into a kitchen again, it would be too soon. The other servants could wait until Kelsey was feeling up to hiring them.

The night of passion that he had envisioned upon her return to London certainly hadn't worked out as he'd hoped. And he'd left Amy's reception early that evening only to be met with passionate fury instead of what he'd been so looking forward to. But there would be ample time for that now that he had her installed in London.

It was the sunlight streaming into the room that woke Kelsey. Derek had forgotten to close the curtains again the night before. But then he overlooked many little things like that, things that servants usually tended to. Not that it mattered, as helpful as he'd been trying to be. He was feeling remorse, when quite possibly he had no reason to be remorseful. But he was still trying to make amends, and that said a lot for him.

It was the second morning she had awakened to find him still in the room with her. The day before he'd greeted her with tea, broth, and medicine. This day he Wasn't just there, he was also in her bed.

It was quite a surprise waking to find him there beside her. And quite a chore trying to rack her sluggish mind to find if there was a reason for him to be there other than that he'd just been too tired to find somewhere else to sleep. But she couldn't recall anything beyond the light meal she'd had the night before and that she had barely kept down, and her raging fever.

She felt much better this morning though, a little weak, a bit bedsore after being confined for two days, but the constant heat that she had been living with was gone. In fact, for the first time in days she was a bit chilled. She noticed that the fire in the room had burned down to a few embers, and that her sleeping gown was damp from the night sweats.

The large body next to her was quite a temptation as a source of immediate warmth, but she didn't have the nerve to snuggle close to Derek, even while he was sleeping. He might have tended her these last days, Might be her soon-tobe lover, but she still barely knew him-and. she wished she hadn't remembered that he was going to be her lover. The very thought made her uncomfortable, with him so close. Well, not so much uncomfortable as ... physically disturbed. She was suddenly too aware that he was a large, handsome male, and with him sleeping, there was nothing to stop her from taking her fill of looking at him.

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