Say You Love Me Page 33

Jason sighed. "Why didn't you tell me of this foolishness when we last spoke?" "Because I knew this would be your reaction. But I'm going to follow my heart. I have to. I love her too much not to. So I will ask her again, and again, until she agrees."

Jason shook his head. "You're not thinking clearly in this, Derek, but at least she is. And I can hope she will continue to-"Jason!" Molly burst into the room all aflutter. "I just heard that Derek wants to marry ... his..." She fell silent, blushing furiously as she noticed Derek there. "Oh, forgive me, I thought you were alone."

It was the blushes that gave them away, because Jason was now wearing one, too. "Good God, she's your mistress?" Derek guessed.

They both said "No!" at the same time, and with too much emphasis.

Derek just chuckled, not fooled in the least. "Damn me," he said. "Never would've figured it was you, Molly." And then he glanced toward his father, grinning. "You should have married her. I wouldn't have minded calling Molly 'mum, indeed I wouldn't. In fact, she's been more of a mother to me than Frances ever was."

At which point Molly burst into tears and ran back out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

Derek blinked. What had he said? "Bloody hell," he mumbled to himself. "Didn't mean to make her cry." And he looked to Jason for an explanation. "She-er-gets rather emotional during the holidays. Happens every year." "That's too bad. But assure her that I'm not shocked or anything-well, I am shocked. Never would have suspected it was Molly. But I am fond of the old girl. It will just take some getting used to, I suppose." "Why don't you not get used to the idea?" Jason suggested, he thought reasonably. "I would as soon you forget about it entirely."

Derek grinned, shaking his head. "Can't do that. Puts you in the same boat with the rest of us imperfect males who just can't resist the fairer sex. I rather like that, damn me if I don't." "Bloody hell."

The discussion hadn't ended in the dining room after Derek and Jason left. If anything, it got more heated after Jeremy let it slip that Derek had bought Kelsey in an auction and explained where that auction had been held.

Reggie had a devil of a time keeping her promise to Kelsey, but keep it she did. However, knowing the truth, she was in full support of Derek's decision and made no bones about it. Her Uncle Edward was the loudest against it, but that wasn't a bit surprising, conservative as he was.

That her two youngest uncles were also against it was annoying, though. She knew damn well that if they were faced with the same decision as Derek, they would have done exactly the same thing, and to hell with public opinion. "She could be the sweetest,'nicest gel this side of creation, and it still wouldn't work," Edward said. "It would be different if no one but the family was aware of the facts, but that ain't the case." "She was also quite innocent before Derek got his hands on her," Reggie pointed out, perhaps a little too bluntly. "I suppose that makes no difference, either?"

Edward went red-faced. James chuckled. Jeremy sat up, blinking. "Hell's bells, cousin," the lad said. "The elders are present."

Reggie was already blushing herself by then, but Anthony further admonished her, "You're too much the romantic, puss. You know Eddie boy is right on the mark. That room full of gents who watched Derek buy her weren't around later to hear if the chit was innocent or not, nor would they bloody well care. But they sure as hell ain't going to forget her. And if Derek ends up marrying her, you think the story of how he got her won't spread even wider?"

"That was certainly a mouthful, old chap," James said. "Could have just summed it up with the simple fact that the wench will never be accepted by the ton."

Reggie snorted. "This family has weathered many a scandal, most of which can be laid at the door of just two of its members." She looked pointedly at Anthony and James as she said this, before adding, "I hardly think that one more is going to break us." "Won't hurt us a'tall, Regan," James agreed, and for once his brothers didn't jump immediately down his throat for using the pet name he had for Regina. "Kelsey is the one who won't be able to overcome that sort of scandal, and neither will Derek. Society will shun them both. In my case and Tony's, for that matter-we did the shunning, so it didn't bloody well matter to us whether we were accepted or not. But Derek don't feel that way. He's a social creature, always has been. And if Kelsey cares anything at all for the lad, she won't take that away from him." "Quite a mouthful there yourself, brother." Anthony chuckled, to which James merely shrugged.

But Reggie sighed. Derek hadn't mentioned that Kelsey had refused him, so she couldn't introduce that fact either. And the whole argument was pointless anyway, since Kelsey wasn't going to marry him.

So she defused the subject by pointing out, "I believe Derek said he wanted to marry Kelsey, not that she had agreed to marry him. She could well refuse him, and that would be the end of that." "Refuse Derek, prime catch that he is?" Edward snorted. "Don't see that happening, 'deed I don't." "It's possible, Uncle Edward," Reggie replied. "You haven't met her, but she strikes me as a very sensitive sort, and not at all grasping. I'd wager that she'd rather leave Derek than cause him any harm. And she'd consider his social ruin as harm."

WHEN KELSEY OPENED THE DOOR TO HER ROOM AT THE inn, she was expecting Derek, not his father. And it was definitely his father. Jason Malory introduced himself immediately, leaving no doubt who he was, not that she'd had any. He also marched right into the room without an invite. But he so intimidated Kelsey with his formidable size and his harsh expression that she wasn't about to point that out.

She was quick to say, "Derek isn't here," hoping that would send him on his way.

It didn't. And she was so flustered by his presence that she only realized after the fact that she shouldn't have volunteered that information. But obviously he knew. "Yes, I just left him at Haverston," he said. "Figured you'd be nearby, with him as smitten as he is and this the closest inn.”

She was already blushing as she asked, "Then it's me you wish to see?" "Indeed," he said. "I want to hear what you think of this nonsense." "Ah, which nonsense would that be?"

"Derek wanting to marry you.”

Kelsey gasped. "He told you that?" "He told the whole family that." Kelsey grasped the nearest chair and worked her way into the seat. Could she expire of shame? It certainly felt as if she could. "He shouldn't have done that," she said in almost a whisper. "I agree-but why do you think so?" "Because, as you say, it is nonsense. I have no intention of marrying him. I told him so." "Yes, he mentioned that, too. My concern is, how serious are you in your refusal? Because he isn't going to give up the notion." "If that is all that worries you, Lord Malory, you needn't let it. I am aware of the scandal that marriage would cause, and it's not only Derek I wish to protect from that but my family as well." "Your family?" He frowned. "I wasn't aware that you had any family. Who are they?" "That isn't important," Kelsey told him. "It is enough for you to know that my family means everything to me. I am in this position because-well, that isn't important either, but I knew when I did what I did that I would never be able to marry. Suffice it to say, a scandal of this sort would harm my family as much as it would yours, and I have no intention of letting that happen."

Jason's expression relaxed considerably. He even looked sornewhat embarrassed himself. "I begin to understand," he said gruffly. "I'm sorry there is no solution to this matter. I have a feeling you would have made Derek an excellent wife, if it were possible for him to rnarry you.”

"Thank you. But I will endeavor to make him happywithout marriage."

Jason sighed. "I never would have wished my own situation on my son-but I'm glad he has you."

That was the nicest compliment she could have had from him. He didn't stay to embarrass either of them with further sentiments. He rushed off, actually, probably because he didn't want to run into Derek. But she figured that Derek already knew, that he must have seen his father in the hall, when another knock came only minutes after Jason had left.

But again, it wasn't Derek standing there, nor had Jason decided he had more to say to her. This time it was Derek's mother. But Kelsey didn't realize that at first, not until she had a chance to note how identical a few of their expressions were, how they had the same smile, and how worried the woman was.

"I'm sorry to disturb you at this late hour, Miss Langton," the woman began. "Do I know you?" "No, there's no reason why you should." The woman smiled. "I'm Molly Fletcher, the housekeeper at Haverston. I've only just found out about you, and Derek's just found out about his father and me-and, well, I need to talk to him."

Kelsey was blushing again, furiously. Derek's damned announcement had obviously traveled through the servants' quarters already, but ... "You and his father?" The answer came to Kelsey before she got the question out. "Oh! I'm sorry. No need to explain. But Derek isn't here." "He's not? I saw him leave Haverston. I thought surely he was coming to you." "And you assumed I was nearby." "Why, yes, I did."

Kelsey shook her head in amazement. Did all men travel with their mistresses? Or was that just standard practice for the Malorys? "Well, if he's not at Haverston, I have no idea where he is." "Then he's gone off to be alone," Molly said, wringing her hands. "I was afraid of this. It's what he always did as a child when he was upset. He'd go off alone to brood." "But why would he be upset?" Kelsey asked. "He's been mad with curiosity lately to find out who you were, that is to say, who his father's-well, I would imagine he's relieved to finally know." "He wasn't supposed to know, Miss Langton. He wasn't supposed to ever find out. But since he has, well, I don't want him to think badly of me."

Kelsey frowned, not quite understanding the woman's concern. "That would be a bit hypocritical of him, don't you think?" "Not necessarily," Molly replied. "There are other factors-but it's not important. I'll wait and speak to him another day." Then she too left.

When the next knock came at the door, Kelsey no longer assumed it would be Derek. It was, though, and he had one arm hidden behind his back. He brought it around to hand her some very exquisite roses.

She smiled in pleasure. "Goodness, where did you find these at this time of year?" "I raided m'father's conservatory." "Oh, Derek, you shouldn't have."

He grinned, pulling her into his arms for a tight squeeze. "He won't miss them, with the hundreds of different varieties that he has. But I certainly missed you today."

Kelsey stiffened, recalling her other visitors. "I'm surprised you had time to, seeing as the day has been so eventful for you.

He looked down at her warily. "How would you know it's been eventful?" "Your father was here."

He let go of her to rake a hand through his hair. "Bloody hell. He didn't upset you, did he?" "No, why would the fact that you told your whole family about us upset me? As for your father, he just needed some reassurances that I wouldn't be marrying you." "Bloody hell," Derek said again, looking quite exasperated.

And before he had fully digested that, she added, "'Your mother was here, too." "My mother!" "Yes, she was worried that you were upset over what you found out tonight." "Found out? Oh, you're talking about Molly? But she's not ... my ... No! She can't be. He told me my mother was dead!"

Kelsey blanched, hearing that. "Oh, Derek, I'm so sorry. I assumed that you knew who your mother was, just that you didn't know that she was still your father's mistress. But please, I was only guessing-and obviously, incorrectly. She didn't say she was your mother." "No, she wouldn't. I was never to know, apparently. But I see it clearly now. She's my mother, all right. And damn them both for keeping that from me."

DEREK WAS ABSOLUTELY FURIOUS. His MOTHER WAS alive-and not just alive; she'd been living all those years right there in Haverston. And they hadn't seen fit to tell him. They'd let him think that Molly was no more than a servant. They'd let him think his mother was dead.

That couldn't be forgiven. Jason could have told him anything else, that she had run off, that she was too ashamed to have her identity known, that she wanted nothing to do with the son she'd borne. Anything else would have been easier to stomach than that she had been there all along and he had been unaware.

He went looking for his father. He supposed he should have given himself time to calm down first. Kelsey had suggested that, had tried to stop him from returning to Haverston that night.

But he was too livid to listen to reason. And the more he thought about it, the angrier he became. There would be no calming down, at least not until he had some answers.

He didn't find his father in his room, nor anywhere else in the main part of the house. He either wasn't there-or he was with Molly. Derek suspected the latter and went down to the servants' wing to find out. He didn't need to ask which room was hers. He'd been there many times as a child, when he'd fallen into the habit of taking his woes to Molly. And how natural it had been to do so, now that he thought of it.

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