Say You Love Me Page 16

Of course, he could be married, and that was why he wanted secrecy. What a horrid thought. But it was possible, and even something she'd been advised to expect. She'd have to ask him. She'd rather know, even if it were so, than constantly wonder.

She found Derek's note on the pillow next to her. His scent was still there too, which made her smile for some reason.

The note informed her that he'd be picking her up that afternoon for shopping and then dinner. She smiled again. That actually sounded like fun. She had always enjoyed shopping, at any rate. As long as he didn't intend buying her gaudy, mistresslike clothes. She sighed. That was probably exactly his intention. But if she must wear them, then she must.

It was amazing, the burden that had been lifted from her now that she was no longer a virgin. She might regret that fact, but there was no changing it. She was well and truly a mistress. No more agonizing, no more fear of the unknown. The pain was behind her. It hadn't been pleasant. But there was pleasure to look forward to. She had experienced some of it, had been promised more. And Derek was not only handsome but so very considerate of her. What more could she ask for under the circumstances?

"Well, don't you look full of it," Nicholas Eden remarked as he came into his dining room to find Derek there already, just as used to be the case so often before he'd married.

The grin that Derek had been wearing as he sat there absently moving food around on his plate altered slightly. "Full of what? Only just sat down to eat."

Nicholas chuckled. "Wasn't referring to food, dear boy, but satisfaction. It's fairly oozing out of you. You remind me of a randy rooster that's finally located the henhouse. That good, was she?"

It wasn't often that Derek blushed, but this was one of those times. And that was unusual, because ribbing about his peccadilloes from his friends tended to amuse rather than embarrass him. It was possibly because he'd sworn off mistresses and Nicholas knew that, yet he was about to admit he had a new one.

He'd had a note yesterday from Nicholas when he returned home for a change of clothes. The note said that Nicholas and the wife were staying in town for the week for some shopping and visiting, which really meant that Reggie wanted to do some shopping and visiting and old Nick had been wheedled into keeping her company. These days, Derek didn't often get out to Silverley, which was Nick's country estate where he and Reggie tended to hibernate, at least during the hectic London social seasons. And he'd been too absentminded at Amy and Warren's wedding, thinking about excuses to leave early so he could see Kelsey again, to talk much with his friend.

Strangest thing was, he wanted to discuss Kelsey with Nick, and yet he didn't want to.

They were much alike, Nicholas a few years older, a tad taller, his hair a bit darker, though streaked with gold, and his eyes more amber than brown. Nick was a viscount. Derek was too, for that matter, a title that had come with one of the estates turned over to him, though one day he would also become the fourth Marquis of Haverston.

They were also both illegitimate, which was why Nick had befriended Derek in their school days, it being a known fact in Derek's case, a secret in Nick's. Even Derek hadn't known until after Nick's marriage to his cousin Regina.

But at least Nicholas knew who his mother was, or at least he did now. The woman whom everyone thought was his mother, his father's wife, despised him, just as he did her, and had made his life miserable. It was her sister, whom Nick had always thought was his aunt, who was his real mother. She'd always been there for him, but he hadn't discovered her true identity until a few years before.

They each felt differently about their illegitimacy. When Nicholas had discovered the fact he'd been bitter, until he married Reggie, who didn't give a fig about it. Derek had always known but hadn't let it bother him-much. He had a large family, after all, who accepted him as he was. Nicholas hadn't had that type of support. But Derek did regret never having known his mother, or even known who she was. The few times he'd asked his father many years ago, he'd simply been told that she was dead, so it wasn't important.

As for Nicholas's remark, Derek admitted, "Actually, she's my new mistress."

Nicholas raised a brow. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you swear off keeping any more of those?" "Yes, but these circumstances are different," Derek assured him. "So we all tend to think-for a time," Nicholas said with a touch of his old cynicism, but then he shrugged. "Well, enjoy her while you can, because the newness will wear thin soon enough and you'll be sniffing around for a replacement. Happened to me every bloody time-well, at least until I met your cousin. Should have known I was in love when I couldn't get that little minx out of my mind no matter what I did." "No, Nick, these circumstances are really different. Fact is, I'm not just keeping her, I-er-bought her."

Up went that brow again. "I beg your pardon?" "Bought her," Derek repeated, then clarified. "As in found her being sold at an auction and-bought her." "Just how much blunt are we talking about here?" Nicholas asked. "'You don't want to know." "Good God, you better hope your father doesn't learn about it."

Derek cringed at the very thought. "I know, and there's no reason he should."

Nicholas shook his head. "I assume she was just so beautiful you couldn't resist the impulse?" "Actually, that was Jeremy's reaction rather than mine. That scamp wanted to borrow the money from me to bid on her. He was bloody well determined till I reminded him he ain't got no place to keep a mistress." "So Jeremy was there?" "And Percy."

"Where was this unusual occurrence? One of our-eryour usual haunts?"

Derek grinned. Their threesome had previously been Nick, Percy, and himself, but that was before James moved back to England with Jeremy-and before old Nick got himself thoroughly leg-shackled. "'No," Derek said. "It was at the new House of Eros that's opened up since you retired from availability, a place that caters more to perversion than not, though we didn't know that at the time. Just stopped by because one of Jeremy's favorite light o' loves had moved there."

Nicholas chuckled. "So the lad asked to borrow money from you when you outbid him? That takes gall, but then gall runs in that side of your family." "Now, now, let's not get into bashing my Uncle James, whom we all know you are so fond of." Derek waited for the expected snort to that remark and got it. "'And I wasn't bidding, had no intention of doing so." "No? Then why did you?" "Because of who else was bidding on her. Ever have any dealings with Lord David Ashford?" "'Can't say as I have. Why?" "'We had a run-in with him not so long ago, one night when we were slumming down by the waterfront. Found him severely whipping a tavern wench he'd tied to a bed, so badly she'll likely be scarred for life, and this was to-prepare himself-to have sex with her. If she hadn't worked the gag out of her mouth, we never would have heard her screams."'

Nicholas made a sound of disgust. "Sounds like he belongs in Bedlam." "I couldn't agree more, but apparently he's kept his despicable habit quiet. Very few know about it, and he pays his victims too handsomely for them to file any charges. I beat him senseless that night-damn near killed him, actually. Thought that would be the end of it, until the other night, when I saw him bidding on this girl and knew damn well ,,vhat her fate was going to be if he got her. Couldn't let that happen, now, could IT' "I'd have taken him out and beaten him senseless again. Much less costly, particularly since you didn't really want the girl for yourself." "But he'd have still got her. His bid was the last one. The proprietor would merely have collected from him and turned the girl over to him later. And besides, I'm not displeased that I won her."

Nicholas laughed. "That's right, I was forgetting that look you were wearing when I walked in."

Again, Derek felt himself blushing. Bloody hell, it must be catching from Kelsey. "She's not at all what you'd figure you'd get from an auction in a place like that. She's had a superior education, what with her mother being a governess, possibly better than some ladies we know. Her manners are impeccable. And although it was stated at the auction that she was a virgin, which no one in his right mind would have believed, turns out she actually was." "Was? As in no longer is?"

Derek hesitated a tad before nodding because he felt that blush coming up again. He groaned mentally. And finally realized that the problem might be that he simply didn't want to discuss Kelsey in this vein, even with his best friend. Which was silly, of course. She was just another chit he'd enjoyed bedding, and Nick was undoubtedly right. The newness would wear off soon enough, and he'd be back in the Social whirl searching for the next lady to catch his interest. "At any rate, I'm not displeased that I have her. The extra cost wasn't even for her but to thwart Ashford, which I'm very pleased to have done. Trouble is, it turns my blood cold, knowing that I only stopped Ashford this one time, that he's still out there finding penny whores to scar up and pay off, and God knows who else he"s put through the pain and horror of his sexual habits. He's no doubt a regular at that house that caters to his sort, though unlikely to his degree of brutality. I'd bloody well like to see him stopped-for good. Any ideas?" "Short of killing him?" "Well, yes, short of that." "Castrate him?" "Hmmm, do you really think that would work,"' Derek wondered, "when he apparently derives so much pleasur from inflicting pain?" "'Maybe, maybe not, but it'd be bloody well deserved, if everything you've said about him is true." "Oh, it's true all right. I might have been a bit foxed that night we found him with that poor girl, but I didn't imagine anything. Percy and Jeremy were there and just as sickened as I was."

Nicholas frowned thoughtfully. "I take it the girl won't help if he's taken to court?" "No, she was in too much pain that night to even talk coherently, but I went back to find her a week later, when she was beginning to mend, and she flatly refused to point a legal finger at him." "Because he's a lord?"' "That might have influenced her, but it was more that he'd paid her handsomely up front, more money than she could have made in two or three years doing what she does, and she was afraid she'd have to give it back. And the amount was negligible to Ashford. I checked. He comes from enoug wealth that he could be doing this several times a week and it wouldn't dent his pockets."'

'I assume you offered her a like sum or more to press charges?" "Oh, yes, that occurred to me immediately," Derek admitted. "Unfortunately, that was when she admitted she knew what he was going to do and had agreed. Doesn't matter that she couldn't have known just how bad it would be or that she'd end up physically scarred from it. And ironically, she hasn't realized yet that those scars are going to damage her future trade, nor did I have the heart to point that out to her."

Nicholas sighed. "You've taken on quite a dilemma here, dear boy. I'll give it more thought, but at the moment, I can't think of anything to help you solve it, not when he's covering his arse in being honest, or at least partially honest with these girls in explaining up front what he wants. And unfortunately, he'll find an endless supply of cheap whores in this town who will jump at the chance for the extra blunt without thinking the thing through before it's too late and done." "My thoughts exactly," Derek said. "I hate to say it, but you know, you ought to be asking your Uncle James for advice. It's right up his-er-area of expertise, wouldn't you say?"

Derek grinned. "Already thought of that. I'm meeting with him tomorrow morning." "Good. Associating with the scum of the earth, as he's done, tends to give one a different perspective. Now, enough of this seriousness. Glad you stopped by. 'You can keep me company today while Reggie gads about." "Delighted to-this morning anyway. Have plans for this afternoon myself, though." "That's quite all right, old chap. I'll commandeer what tirne of yours that I can. Miss you, you know, since I've rnoved Out to the country. You don't visit often enough. And by the by, I've picked up a new racer I want you to see."

"Percy did, too," Derek replied. "You'll be drooling when you see his."

Nicholas chuckled. "Already did that yesterday. Who, d'you think I got my new racer from? Managed to talk the dear boy out of another one."

”ARE YOU MARMED”

Derek blinked. They'd no sooner sat down in the carriage when Kelsey dropped that question on him. But it had been on her mind ever since she woke up that morning. And although she should have led into asking, more tactfully, she didn't know how much time they'd have before they reached their destination, and she did want an answer. Today. And she got just what she was hoping for. "Gads, no!" he exclaimed. "And I don't intend to be for a very long time." Her relief was immediate and obvious, making him add, "No, no, dear girl, you're not stealing me away from anyone." "Not even from another mis ress.

He snorted. "Especially not-that is to say-dash it all, tried having a mistress once and it bloody well didn't work Out. Wasn't going to have another, but, well, circumstances changed my mind." "Circumstances? Are you saying you bought me for other than the obvious reasons?" "Well, yes, actually," he replied a bit hesitantly. "I couldn't let Lord Ashford have you, now, could 1, when I know what sick perversions he's capable of."

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