Say You Love Me Page 3

His two youngest uncles, Tony and James, were the perfect examples of the wiseness of that opinion. They'd been two of London's most notorious rakes in their day, had sowed their oats long and well, and hadn't settled down to raise families until their mid-thirties. Having Jeremy, James's illegitimate eighteen-year-old son, wasn't considered raising a family early, since he was conceived without the sanctity of marriage-just like Derek was. Besides, in Jeremy's case, Uncle James hadn't even known of his existence until a few years before. "Oh, I don't know," Jeremy remarked on the subject in all seriousness. "I can debauch as well as anyone, and I do it normally." "You know what I mean," Percy replied, gazing warily about the foyer and up the stairs, as if he expected the devil himself to appear. "Some mighty queer chaps known to frequent this establishment."

Derek raised a golden brow at that, scoffing, "I've been here a few times now, Percy, to gamble and to avail m'self of one of the rooms upstairs-and its occupant. Didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. And recognized most of the chaps here." "Didn't say everyone who comes here is weird, old man. Gad, no. We're here, aren't we?"

Jeremy couldn't resist. "You mean we're not weird? Hells bells, I could've sworn-"

"Be quiet, scamp," Derek cut in, succeeding, just barely, to hold back his laughter. "Our friend here appears to be quite serious."

Percy nodded emphatically. "Indeed I am. They say any fetish or fantasy can be found here, no matter how bizarre one's particular tastes run. And I believe it now, having seen Lord Ashford's driver outside. Would be afraid a girl here would hand me some chains the minute I walk in her room," and he shuddered.

The name Ashford brought an abrupt end to Derek's hu mor, aswell as Jeremy's. They'd all three had a run-in with the fellow a few months before in one of the taverns down by the river, having been drawn by a woman's terrified screams to one of the upstairs bedrooms. "Isn't that the fellow I beat senseless not so long ago?" Jeremy asked. 'Beg to differ, dear boy," Percy replied. "It was Derek here who beat the lout senseless. Didn't give either of us much of a chance at it, furious as he was. You did get a kick or two in after he was out for the count, though, as I recall. Come to think of it, so did I" "Glad to hear it." Jeremy nodded. "Must have been foxed not to have remembered that." "You were. We all were. And a good thing, too, or we might have killed the bloody sod." "No more than he would have deserved," Derek mumbled. "The man's thoroughly demented. No other excuse for that kind of cruelty." "Oh, I agree, indeed I do," Percy said, and then in a whisper, "I've even heard that without the blood, he can't-well, you know ...

Trust Percy to lighten the mood. Derek actually burst out laughing. "Good God, man, we're in the most notorious brothel in town. No need to quibble words here."

Percy actually blushed before he grumbled, "Well, I still want to know what we're doing here. The things they cater to in this house are simply not my cup of tea." "Mine either," Derek agreed . "But as I said before, that isn't all that goes on here. They may cater to the depraved, but the girls here can still appreciate a nice, normal tumble when that's all that's required of them. Besides, we're here because Jeremy found out his little blonde Florence from Angela's establishment has moved here, and I promised him an hour or so with her before we show up at that ball we're due to make an appearance at later. Could have sworn I already mentioned that, Percy." "Don't recall," Percy said. "Not to say you didn't, just don't recall."

But Jeremy was frowning now. "If this place is as bad as you say, don't think I want my Florence working here." "So cart her back to Angela's," Derek suggested reason ably. "The chit will likely thank you for it. Couldn't have known what she was getting into, even if she was promised more earnings here."

Percy nodded once in agreement. "And do be quick about it, dear boy. Can't say as I care to even play a few hands here while you find the gel. Not if Ashford is in the same bloody room." Yet he walked over to glance into the gambling den while he said it. Then with a bit of excitement, "Oh, I say, now there's a little bird I wouldn't mind spending an hour or so with, even here. But looks like she ain't available, more's the pity-or maybe she is. No, she ain't. Much too costly for my tastes." "Percy, what are you going on about?"

Percy glanced over his shoulder to say, "An auction taking place, by the sound of it. Don't need no mistress at my age, when a few coins spread here and there does me just fine."

Derek sighed. They obviously weren't going to get an an swer out of Percy that made any sense, but that was nothing new. Half the time Percy's remarks were a major mystery. But Derek didn't feel like trying to unravel them just now, when a few steps would let him see for himself what had set Percy off this time.

So he moved to stand beside his friend in the open doorway, as did Jeremy. And they both saw her right off, couldn't help but see her, standing up on that table like she was. A pretty young thing-at least, she appeared to be. Hard to say all splotchy with blushes as she presently was. Nice figure, though. Very nice.

And now Percy's remarks made sense. They heard the proprietor say, "Once again, gentlemen, this little jewel will make a splendid mistress. And so very easily trained to suit your own tastes, untouched as she is. Do I hear twenty-two thousand?"

Derek quietly snorted. Untouched? Coming from a place like this? Not bloody likely. But then, fools deep in their cups could be made to believe anything. The bidding, however, had obviously got out of hand, the current price absurd. "Doesn't appear we'll find a friendly game of whist here, Percy, with that nonsense going on," Derek said. "Take a look, no one's paying any attention to the gambling." "Don't blame 'em a'tall." Percy grinned. "Rather watch the gel m'self."

Derek sighed. "Jeremy, if you wouldn't mind hurrying up with your business here, I'd as soon get to that ball early after all. Fetch the chit and we'll drop her back at Angela's on our way." "I want that one."

Since Jeremy still had his eyes on the girl up on the table, Derek didn't need to ask who. He said merely, "You can't afford that one." "I could if you lent me the money."

Percy started chuckling at that. Derek wasn't a bit amused, was actually frowning. And his "No" was said in a tone that shouldn't have been brooked. But Jeremy, that scamp, wasn't easily daunted. "Come on, Derek," he cajoled. "You can cover a loan that big easily. I've heard about the large settlement Uncle Jason gave You when you finished your schooling. It included several income-producing estates. And what with Uncle Edward investing the bulk of it for you, hell's bells, it's likely three times as much by now-" "More like six times as much, but that doesn't mean I'm going to throw it away on lustful impulses, particularly when they aren't even my lustful impulses. I'm not about to lend you that much blunt. Besides, a woman like that, lovely as she is, would have to be kept in high style. You, cousin, can't afford that either."

Jeremy grinned, unabashed. "Ah, but I'd keep her happy." "A mistress cares more about what's in your pockets than what's between them," Percy put in helpfully, then immediately blushed again for having said it. "They ain't that mercenary," Jeremy protested. "Beg to differ-" "How would you know? You've never had one."

Derek rolled his eyes, cutting in, "There's no need to argue here. The answer is and is going to remain no, so give over, Jeremy. Your father would have my head if I put you that deep in debt." "My father, better than yours, would understand."

Jeremy had a point there. To hear the stories, James Malory had done things just as outlandish in his youth, whereas Derek's father, being the Marquis of Haverston and the oldest of the four Malory brothers, had had to assume a responsible role at an early age. But that didn't mean the roof wouldn't still fall on their collective heads if Derek gave in to his cousin's request.

So he said, "Perhaps he'd understand, though you'll have to admit, Uncle James is much more conservative now that he's married. And besides, it's my father I'd be answering to. Furthermore, where the deuce would you keep a mistress, when you're still in school and still living with your father when you're home?"

 

3


Jeremy finally gave a look of disgust, self-directed. "Damn me, didn't think of that." demanding as "Besides, a mistress can bloody well be as a wife," Derek pointed out. "Tried one myself once, and didn't care for the arrangement a'tall. You want to be tied down like that at your age?"

Jeremy now looked appalled. "Hell no!" "Then be glad I'm not going to let you waste my money on a silly whim." "Oh, I am, indeed. Can't thank you enough, cousin. Can't imagine what I was thinking." "Twenty-three thousand" was called out, drawing their attention back to the gaming hall. "Now there's another reason to be glad you came to your senses, Jeremy," Percy said with a chuckle. "Sounds like the bidding ain't going to end."

Derek wasn't amused, had, in fact, stiffened upon hearing that bid, and not because the ridiculous price was still escalating. Bloody hell, he really wished he hadn't recognized the voice behind that last bid.

 

"TWE NTY-THREE THOUSAND." Never would Kelsey have believed the bid could have gone that high. But knowing she could fetch such a price did nothing for her vanity. In fact, she couldn't even be pleased that it would solve her aunt's and uncle's problems for a very long time. No, she was too horrified to be pleased.

He looked ... cruel. That was the single word that kept coming to mind. She wasn't sure why. The slant of his thin lips perhaps? The narrowed, cold gleam in his light blue eyes as he watched her squirm beneath his gaze? The chill that had run down her spine when she first caught his eyes on her?

He was in his early thirties, she would guess, with coalblack hair and the patrician features common to many lords. He wasn't ugly. Far from it. But the cruelty in his looks detracted from the handsomeness that might have been found there. And Kelsey was hoping that the old man who had started the bidding, even with his disgusting leers, would continue to outbid that one.

And Heaven help her, it had come down to just the two of them. The few others who had offered a bid or two at the beginning had dropped out when they'd noticed the frigid looks coming their way from that other lord, looks ominous enough to chill the most hardy soul. The old man was still bidding because he simply hadn't noticed, possibly due to poor eyesight or because he was barely cognizant; he appeared foxed.

And then she heard a new voice upping the bid to twentyfive thousand, followed by a yelled-out question from an-other man nearby, "What do you need with a mistress, Malory? I hear you've got the ladies standing in a line waiting to get into your bed."

That remark produced a lot of laughter, and even more when the new bidder replied, "Ah, but those are ladies, rn'lord. Perhaps I'm in the mood for something-different."

Which was an insult to Kelsey, but perhaps wasn't meant to be. He didn't know, after all, that she'd been every bit the lady until she walked into this house. In fact, there was nothing about her at the moment to indicate that she was other than what they all thought her to be, which was no lady at all.

She had been unable to see who the new bid had come from. The voice had sounded from the general direction of the doorway, but the exact position of the speaker was hard to distinguish with so much noise going on in the room. And there were more than a dozen men in that area, sitting as well as standing. It was impossible to tell. Yet the man she didn't want to buy her apparently knew who the new offer had come from, because he was now glaring in that general direction. But again, Kelsey couldn't tell exactly who had drawn his murderous look.

She held her breath, waiting to see what he would do. A glance at the old man showed that he likely wouldn't be bidding anymore. He'd actually nodded off, and no one seemed inclined to wake him. Well, he'd sounded pretty foxed when he had been bidding. Apparently the drink had done him in. But her savior, whoever he was, would he continue to bid against that other lord? Or would he be intimidated like those others? "Do I hear twenty-five five?" Lonny called out.

Silence. And Kelsey suddenly realized that all of the other bids had jumped by five-hundred-pound increments-except the last one. The man called Malory was the first to raise the amount by two thousand. An indication that he was very serious? Or too rich to care? Or perhaps he was too deep in his cups to have been paying much attention. "Do I hear twenty-five five?" Lonny repeated, a bit louder so as to reach the back of the room.

She kept her gaze on that blue-eyed lord, waiting, praying he'd sit down and bid no more. Veins were standing out on his neck, he was so furious. And then, amazingly, he stalked out of the room, knocking one empty chair over in the process, shoving men aside if they didn't step out of his way in time.

Kelsey looked to the owner of the house, to see his reaction, and Lonny's disappointment confirmed it. The departed lord was bidding no more.

"Twenty-five thousand then, going once..." There was only a brief pause before Lonny added, "Going twice..." Another pause, just a tad longer. "Very well, sold to Lord Malory. And if you will step into my office just down the hall, m'lord, we can conclude this business."

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