Say You Love Me Page 21

They actually thought she was looking for a husband, and why wouldn't they think so? She was, after all, at the age when most young women did look for husbands. Yet she had burned her bridges, would never be marrying. But PerWs cousin would be expected to. Percy's cousin was pure, and sweet, and still a virgin, or so they thought. "Derek is very nice," Kelsey began uneasily, not sure how to get out of this. "But-" "And very handsome," Roslynn cut in.

"And titled, if that matters," Georgina added, cringing. Roslynn chuckled. "You'll have to excuse my American sister-in-law, Kelsey. She doesn't put much stock in titles, was appalled when she found out one came part and parcel with James when she married him." "Titles are fine if you happen to like them. I just don't," Georgina clarified. "Derek is a fine catch," Reggie continued. "But I don't think he's quite ready to settle down yet. And she hasn't even met your brothers yet, Aunt George. Drew is an absolute charmer, and-" "And what makes you think my brothers are ready to settle down?" Georgina asked Reggie with a grin.

Reggie chuckled. "Actually, I don't think any man is quite ready, they just need a little nudge in the right direction. In my Nicholas's case, he had the entire Malory clan breathing down his neck, and Uncle Tony threatening to geld him, if he didn't agree to marry me." "To be expected, after he compromised you, m'dear," Roslynn said.

Reggie grinned. "But he didn't. Everyone only thought he did." "Same thing, as you well know. The truth doesn't amount to much if a scandal is involved. The issue becomes what everyone else assumes, more's the pity." "Well, I'm certainly not complaining," Reggie replied. "It was the only way I was going to get him, after all. And he's not complaining, either, for having been forced to the altar, any more than James ever did." "Oh, James complained." Georgina laughed. "James wouldn't be James if he didn't disagree on every issue." "But I'm not looking for a husband-yet," Kelsey said, hoping that would end the subject. "I only came to London for a new wardrobe, as Percy told you, not to get married," she added, hating having to further the lie, but there was no help for it. "I will be going home in a few days." "Which is such a shame," Reggie replied. "I'll have to talk to Percy about extending your stay. Why, you haven't even been to a ball yet. I'll even stay in town longer myself and accompany you. It will be such fun, Kelsey, so do think about it."

Think about it? The only thing Kelsey was thinking just then was why couldn't the lie be the truth? What Reggie was suggesting did sound like fun. And Kelsey had never been to a formal ball, had always figured she would one day, but now ... now she had to force herself to remember what she was and that such things were no longer possible.

JASON COULDN'T REMEMBER EVER HAVING TO DO ANYthing as hard as telling his family that he and Frances were divorcing. The fact that he would be creating a scandal himself, deliberately, when he had so often lectured them on keeping the family name out of the gossip mills ... well, he was sure he wouldn't be living this down any time soon, especially where James and Tony were concerned.

They might be, amazing as the thought was, settled down in marriage now and behaving themselves " but those two had always been scoundrels. And he had never stinted on letting them feel his displeasure. He didn't doubt for a minute that they would relish having the tables turned.

He hadn't asked the entire family to show up for this meeting. He had only requested his brothers to be present-and Derek. They could see to telling their wives and children later. Edward would possibly understand. James and Tony would likely be highly amused. It was Derek he was worried about, and how he would take the news. Frances was the only mother Derek had ever known, after all.

He should have told Derek first, and in private. It was cowardly of him to choose to do it this way instead. But he was hoping for some little support, at least from Edward. And he was hoping that, with the others present, Derek wouldn't question him too deeply as to the whys.

Everyone had arrived except James. Anthony had questioned him already, twice, about why they were there, but he'd given no hint, had said as soon as all were present, he'd get to it.

He stood by the mantel, waiting. Edward and Anthony had settled into a friendly argument about some mining investment. Edward would win, of course. Where investing was concerned, he was a genius. Derek was looking a bit uncomfortable, almost guilty, but the lad hadn't been involved in anything untoward that Jason knew about. Though perhaps he ought to visit a few friends before he returned to Haverston, just to keep abreast of the current gossip.

James finally appeared in the doorway to the parlor where they were gathered. Anthony complained immediately, "You're late, brother." “I am?" "He wouldn't fess up to what this is about till you got here, so yes, you're bloody well late."

James snorted. "Put a lid on it, puppy, I ain't late. You, obviously, arrived too early." "Redundant, now that we're all here," Edward pointed out placidly. "Have a seat, James," Jason suggested.

James's brow rose. "This calls for sitting down? That bad, is it?" "Bloody hell, I'm on tenterhooks here, James, so sit!" Anthony said.

Jason sighed inwardly. There was no easy way to work up to a subject like this, so as soon as James joined Anthony on one of the couches, he said, "I've asked you here today because I wanted you to be the first to know, before it starts making the rounds, that Frances and I are divorcing."

He said no more, waited for the barrage of questions, but received only silence and blank stares. He shouldn't have been surprised. He'd had time to digest the thought, unpalatable as it was, but they hadn't.

Anthony finally asked, "You ain't pulling our leg here, Jason?" "No. "You're positive?" "Have you ever known me to jest about something this serious?" Jason replied. "Just making sure," Anthony said before he burst out laughing.

That brought out Edward's frown and the remark, "There's nothing funny about this, Tony." "Oh, yes-there is," Anthony got out between guffaws, "I fail to see-" "You wouldn't, Eddie," James cut in dryly. "Perhaps because you've never been called on the carpet by our esteemed eldest." "That has some significance, I suppose?" Edward asked stiffly. "'Course it does. What Tony would find amusing is that Jason will be making the scandal for a change. I find it rather refreshing myself-and long overdue." "You would," Edward said in disgust. "I was referring to the divorce, not the scandal. It was an absurd marriage to begin with and should have been ended long ago. That Jason finally came to his senses-"

Jason interrupted, explaining, "It's Frances who wants the divorce." "She does?" Edward said. "Well, that puts a different face on it. Simply prevent it."

"I've already made the decision not to." "Why ever not?" Edward demanded. Jason sighed. Edward was the one he had expected support from, not opposition. And he had figured James would be falling off the couch laughing as Anthony was doing. Instead, James was in agreement with him. Incredible. And Derek had said nothing yet. He wore a slight frown, but one of concern rather than upset. "She wishes to marry elsewhere, Eddie," Jason said. “It would be selfish of me to deny her that when we haven't had a normal marriage, as you well know."

Edward shook his head. "You knew you wouldn't have a normal marriage to begin with. Warned you at the time that you would be regretting it, that there would be no backing out of it. But no, you said it wouldn't matter, that you had no intention of ever marrying anyway." "Yes, you did warn me," Jason agreed. "And it didn't matter at the time. But am I to be held accountable indefinitely for a decision made in my youth when I was worried about the welfare of two younguns?" "This isn't your wish to divorce, it's hers, and she should bloody well know better," Edward insisted.

Anthony was sitting there grinning, delighting in watching the elders duke it out verbally. James had his arms crossed, looking his usual dispassionate self. Edward was red-faced, he'd gotten so worked up over the subject. And about the only thing that might change his tune was a bit more of the truth. "She's got a lover, Eddie. She admitted it. That's who she wants to marry,"

Anthony blinked. "Frances does? Gad, that's rich," and he went off into another peal of laughter. "Do restrain yourself, dear boy," James said to Anthony. "This ain't that funny anymore."

"But Frances? His Frances? I bloody well can't imagine it," Anthony replied. "She's such a timid little mouse. Who'd have thought she'd ever have the guts to-well, with Jason's temper'n all, she was bloody well taking her life in her hands, and especially to admit it to him. Just can't credit it, indeed I can't."

Since it was rather hard to believe, James glanced at Jason again for confirmation and got a curt nod, as well as, "It's true. I was shocked myself, as you can imagine. But after digesting it, I could hardly blame her for being unfaithful when I've never-that is to say, she's never had a true marriage with me." "Jason, that's hardly pertinent," Edward said, still frowning. "Marital ties have been known to be ignored by both spouses, but divorce has never been the answer, not in our circles." "Never is incorrect," Jason replied. "There have been divorces in the ton, they are just rare." "My father knows well enough the stigma that will follow a divorce," Derek said, finally speaking up. "I think it’s rather decent of him to give the old girl what she wants."

Jason smiled at his son, his relief tremendous. Derek's opinion, after all, had been the only one he was truly concerned with. "Come now, Eddie boy," James added at that point. "Even the lad can see that this dead horse has been beat enough." And then to Jason, "You should have made it clear that you weren't asking for a vote here, that your decision has been made. Your problem, brother, is you've always put too much weight on the opinion of your peers, when as long as you have no regrets over what you do, then it's bloody well no one else's business, is it?" "That is a luxury not all of us can enjoy," Jason pointed out. "Not when we must deal with the peerage on a regular basis. But as you say, the decision has been made, and it will be acted upon today. And thank you, James, for siding with me on this." "Good God, is that what I've done?" James exclaimed with feigned surprise. "Come along, Tony, let's adjourn to Knighton's, where you can beat some sense back into me. I seem to have misplaced mine this morning."

Anthony grinned. "That was probably as hard for him to say as it was for you to stomach, but I'm all for beating some sense into you, for whatever reason." "I don't doubt." James snorted.

Jason smiled fondly after his two younger brothers as they left the room. And then he met Edward's disapproving gaze and sighed. "You're making a mistake, Jason." "It's been duly noted that you think so. I prefer to think of it as correcting a mistake I made long ago."

DID YOU FIND OUT WHAT M'FATHER CALLED A FAMILY MEETING for," Derek said the moment he entered the parlor.

Kelsey had been sitting in an overstuffed chair by the window sewing on something. She quickly stuffed that something in the corner of the chair before she glanced up at him, looking rather flustered.

But her voice was as calm as usual. "I wasn't aware of any meeting that was called. Was I supposed to be?" "That's right, you'd left the room last night with the women before that subject came up."

Her frown was abrupt. "Let's not bring that up again, if you don't mind."

He winced. She had been more than a little displeased the night before when he had taken her home. She had been bloody well furious that he had put her in a position where she'd had to lie and pretend.

One of the things she had said in particular had stuck in his mind. "If you are obviously so ashamed of me that you have to call me a widow or someone's cousin when you in-troduce me, then do not take me to places where it will be necessary to introduce me."

Ironically, he'd realized he wasn't the least bit ashamed of her, that he was actually proud to be seen with her. And it had occurred to him, after he'd thought about it, that the real reason he hadn't tried very hard to come up with an excuse not to take her to Reggie's the night before was possibly that he had wanted his family to meet her. And that was so bloody absurd, it didn't bear examining. No, he wasn't ashamed of her not at all. It was her relationship to him that was shameful and needed to be concealed, and there was, unfortunately, no way of getting around that. "Was it so difficult, dealing with my relatives?" he asked. "Your family is very nice, at least the women are. Your uncles are rather strange in that they like to argue and bicker, but that is nothing to me. The point is, they were deceived and shouldn't have been. You know very well you should never have taken me there." 0

He knew it. But it was done, couldn't be undone. And as long as they were on the subject, he told her, "My uncles know." "Know what?" "That you're my mistress." "You told them?" she cried, appalled. "No, they both figured it out for themselves. They've each had countless mistresses of their own, you see-before they were married, that is. It was still my fault, though, because it was apparently the way I was looking at you last night that gave it away." "And how were you looking at me?" "Rather ... intimately." "Why ever did you do that?"

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