Say You Love Me Page 23

"Well, it's a very big roof," he said, as if that made it a little more palatable. "I take it you didn't know?" When he shook his head, she added, "And you still don't know who it is? No guesses?" "Not a clue." He sighed. "Well, with his marriage ending, it hardly matters now who she is, does it?" "No-except it's going to drive me crazy until I find out." "Should you?" "What?" "Find out?" "Absolutely." "But the fact that you didn't know, Derek, means your father has kept this woman a secret intentionally. That makes it a pretty safe guess that he'd like to keep it that way, don't you think?" "Probably," he agreed. "So you'll leave it alone?"

He grinned. "Not a chance."

WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SOME SIMPLE ERRANDS THAT required no social discourse, Derek was running into too many people he knew. First Frances. Then, at his tailor's, his cousin Marshall showed up.

That wasn't so bad, though, with Kelsey out in the coach and Marshall being left behind in the tailor's shop-or so he'd thought. But Marshall was apparently full of gossip, and he hailed Derek once more just as he reached his coach to impart some additional tidbit. And there he spotted Kelsey, even though she was doing her best to squeeze into the corner so she wouldn't be noticed-impossible, of course, with that bloody orange dress.

Marshall was Edward's oldest boy, though still three years younger than Derek. And he wouldn't be put off from meeting Kelsey. But that went well enough. Marshall didn't ask who she was or what she was doing alone with him, and Derek didn't volunteer the information. But then two of Marshall's cronies came along, and Sir William, the more outspoken of the two, after ogling Kelsey for a good five minutes, brought up a subject that seemed to come up all too frequently. "Related to Lord Langton, the earl whose wife shot him?" he asked baldly.

A simple "No" just didn't suffice. "Who is she, then?" William persisted. "I'm a witch, Sir William," Kelsey answered before Derek could. "Lord Malory has hired me to put a curse on someone.

Is this the person, Derek?"

Derek blinked in surprise, but William paled and looked so comical in his horror that Derek couldn't help but burst out laughing. And Kelsey merely looked on innocently. "Oh, I say, that ain't funny, Derek," Marshall declared. "Well, obviously, it ain't William here that he wants to have cursed," William's companion pointed out logically, given Derek's present amusement. But then, "So who is the unlucky chap?"

Derek's cousin rolled his eyes, having caught on by then. But Derek went into yet another round of laughing over that question. And obviously, he wasn't going to be answering it any time soon.

So Kelsey said quite calmly, "Surely you realize I was jesting, gentlemen? I'm not a witch-at least, not that I'm aware of." "Just bewitching," Derek finally got out with a tender smile for Kelsey, and in response he got the expected blush that compliments always caused her.

But he managed to extricate them soon after and he left before the question of Kelsey's identity came up again. He remarked on that on the way to their next stop. "That was rather brilliantly done, damn me if it wasn't," he said, giving her a squeeze. "A jest instead of a lie. Glad you thought of it, m'dear."

"And which lie would you have used this time, widow or cousin?"

He winced. "That really was not supposed to happen, Kelsey. Marshall was in the tailor's, yes, hadn't expected that, but I'd bid farewell to him three times. He kept recalling something else he wanted to tell me, and caught up with me each time, until as you saw, he stopped me once again just as I reached the coach."

She smiled at him, allowing that it wasn't his fault. This time. And she had been enjoying keeping him company, even if she was spending half the time alone in the coach.

So her rebuke was a mere "We will endeavor to keep it from happening again, won't we?" "Absolutely," he assured her.

And yet at their last stop, at the crystal shop, where he hoped to find a birthday present for his cousin Clare, he asked Kelsey to come in with him to help him choose. And here they did run into yet another acquaintance. Only this time there was no need for introductions to be made. This time it was someone they both knew-and both wished they didn't know.

It was the worst luck that David Ashford would be in that particular store at that exact time of day, and that they would run into him, literally. He had turned about to leave without noticing that anyone had come up the narrow aisle behind him and plowed right into Derek, who had to release Kelsey's arm to shove the man back.

Ashford was startled by the collision, but then his blue eyes narrowed as he recognized who stood before him. "If it isn't the do-gooder," he sneered. "The rescuer of damsels in distress. Did it ever occur to you, Malory, that some damsels might enjoy distress?"

A bald remark like that made Derek's hackles rise. "Did it ever occur to you, Lord Ashford, that you are sick?"

"There is nothing wrong with my health." "I was referring to your mind." "Ha!" Ashford scoffed. "So you'd like to think, but I am quite sane. And I also have a long memory. You will regret stealing this pretty from me." "Oh, I doubt that, indeed I do," Derek replied with seeming indifference. Then he pointed out coldly, "But nothing was stolen from you. It was an auction. You could have continued to bid." "When everyone knows how rich the Malorys are? Don't be absurd. But the day will come when you will regret crossing me."

Derek shrugged with little concern. "If I have any regrets, Ashford, it's knowing you're alive, when scum like you should have been tossed in the rubbish at birth."

The man stiffened, his face suffusing with color. Derek wished he would have challenged the man, but he'd pegged him correctly: a coward who only felt powerful when dealing with the weak and helpless. "That will be remembered as well," Ashford said impotently. But then his icy glare lit on Kelsey and he added, "When he tosses you aside, I'll be waiting, and you'll pay for making me wait, my pretty. Oh, indeed, you will pay....

He had shoved his pointed finger at Kelsey as he said that, would have stabbed her in the chest with it if Derek hadn't grabbed his hand. Ashford howled when the finger happened to snap in the process. But Derek wasn't done. Threats to himself he could easily shrug off. A threat to Kelsey had made him berserk. "You broke-!" Ashford was shouting, but a swift punch to his mouth cut him off.

Derek caught the other man before he could fall and, still holding him, said furiously, "You think I won't smash you to bits in here, with all this crystal surrounding us? Think again, Ashford, because I don't give a bloody damn what breaks, as long as you break with it."

The man paled, but the owner of the shop intervened. "I would rather not go out of business," he said in a worried voice, "m'lord, due to your little altercation. Could you please take this argument elsewhere?"

And Kelsey whispered, "Don't let him provoke you into causing a scandal."

It was perhaps too late for that warning. Yet a glance around revealed no other customers in the shop, just the owner wringing his hands.

Derek nodded curtly and released Ashford, but he did some finger jabbing of his own. "You like to mention regrets? Let me mention one that you won't have to worry about, because you won't have any if you ever come near her again, nor any memory of it, nor any breath left to pollute this city with. You will quite cease to exist."

He then snatched up a vase on a stand beside them, without even looking at it, and shoved it at the owner. "I'll purchase this." "Certainly, m'lord. Please come this way, if you will," the man said, and quickly hurried to his sales counter in the back of the shop.

Derek took Kelsey's arm and followed the owner. Neither spared another glance for Ashford. And within moments, they heard the door to the shop open and close behind them as Ashford left.

Kelsey sighed in relief. The owner sighed in relief. Derek was still too agitated to feel anything other than anger. He should have beat the man senseless again and to hell with scandal. He had a feeling he was going to regret not doing SO.

Annoyed with himself for not doing more while he had the chance and the provocation, he tossed the owner a large amount of money and told him, "Keep the change-and this unfortunate incident to yourself." "What incident?" the owner replied with a smile, now that all his wares were safe and his pockets lined.

THERE WAS SUCH A BOYISH QUALITY ABOUT DEREK MAlory, with his thatch of unruly blond hair and his charming smiles, that made him seem quite harmless. But on this day Kelsey had found out that the surface wasn't exactly the whole story. She had been frozen in fear upon meeting Lord Ashford again and having the horror of the auction recalled so vividly. But Derek had turned into another man entirely. And she was immensely glad that he wasn't as harmless as he usually seemed to be.

Far from it. He'd actually broken the man's finger. Deliberately. And she had little doubt that he would have broken much more if it hadn't been pointed out that he wov'd be making a scandal if he did so.

She had said that because she knew how he felt about scandals, and knew it would likely put an end to the altercation, which it did. Why she had done so she wasn't sure. Perhaps because she didn't want to witness him being so violent. Or because the poor owner of the store was so worried for his goods. Or maybe just because she was feeling some protective instincts suddenly where Derek was concerned and didn't want him doing something that he would later regret. The latter was definitely worth worrying over.

She had previously determined that this business of being a mistress needed to be kept as impersonal as possible. But trying to keep it that way was becoming more and more impossible. She liked Derek, liked being with him, liked making love to him, liked everything about him. And unless he did something drastic to alter that, she was afraid those feelings were going to get much stronger.

That was a horrible thought. She didn't want to love Derek. She didn't want to agonize over the day he would tell her he had no further use for her. And that day would eventually come. When it did, she wanted to sigh in relief, not cry her heart out.

He'd had a mistress before, she knew, so she had reason to worry. In one of the conversations with Percy and Jeremy, it had been mentioned that Derek had ended the relationship in a matter of months, not years.

The exorbitant extra cost he had spent to acquire Kelsey didn't matter "Very much to him, as wealthy as his family was. So she couldn't count on that coming into the equation. No, when he was ready for someone new, she would definitely be sent on her way, regardless of her own feelings. It was that simple. And she didn't know how to make it any easier to bear when that day came around, not if she was goir,,- to do a stupid thing such as fall in love with him.

Derek was silently brooding now over the incident with Ashford, though he sat with his arm protectively around her, his hand absently rubbing her arm. Since Kelsey was doing her own brooding, it was a quiet ride.

When they arrived at the next stop, Kelsey wasn't going to budge from the coach. Derek didn't ask her to. But he wasn't gone long. And when he returned, he handed her a package.

"It's for you," he said simply. "Open it." She looked at the small box in her hand warily, afraid she knew why he was giving her a gift, especially since he was looking rather guilt-ridden. Opening it, she found a heartshaped pendant made entirely of tiny diamonds and rubies, on a short, thin golden chain that would hang just below her neck. Very simple, very elegant, very expensive. "You didn't have to do this," she said softly, still staring at the pendant. "Yes, I did," he replied. "I'm feeling so guilty right now that if you don't say you forgive me, I'll probably burst into tears. "

Her eyes shot up, wide with the thought that he was serious, but his expression told her otherwise. She chuckled, but only briefly. He wasn't serious about crying, but he did feel guilty.

He smiled ruefully. "Today has been somewhat of a disaster all the way around, hasn't it?" "Not completely," she said, and her blush gave her away. "Well, not that," he agreed with a grin. "But the rest-I am truly sorry you had to even be in the same room with that bastard Ashford, let alone be subjected to that distasteful encounter."

She shuddered inwardly. "He's a cruel man, isn't he? I saw it in his eyes that night he was bidding on me, and again today." "Worse than you can imagine," Derek said. He went on to explain just how sick the man really was, telling her everything, or at least alluding to it, so she would understand his warning. "If you ever see him again, Kelsey, when I'm not with you, leave wherever you happen to be immediately-that is, if it's safe to do so."

She had lost nearly all of her color and actually felt sick to her stomach. "Safe?" "As long as there is no likelihood that he will follow you. You never want to find yourself alone with him, Kelsey. Intrude on strangers if you must, scream for assistance, but whatever you do, don't let that man anywhere near you." "No, I wouldn't," she assured him. "Ideally, I hope I never see him again. But if I do, and I see him first, he'll never see me, I promise you." "Good, now say you forgive me."

She smiled at him. "I do, even though you have nothing to be forgiven for. Now, take this back and get your money returned. You don't have to buy me jewels."

He chuckled at that. "Kelsey, m'dear, that is a very unmistressly thing to say. And I'm not taking it back. I want you to have it. It will go very nicely with your lavender gown."

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